This is the third in a series of interviews with authors about their experiences dipping their toes into the epublishing pool.
Spinetingler: When did you write Nightjack?
Tom Piccirilli: As near as I can remember it was somewhere between Headstone City and The Midnight Road.
Has Nightjack been shopped around?
My editor at Bantam knew I wanted to break into crime fiction, and so she rightly decided that NJ wasn’t the proper novel to follow-up TMR since that’s essentially a thriller with just the smallest dash of (possible) supernatural touches. NJ would’ve been a step backwards into horror/dark fantasy rather than moving forward directly into so-called straight crime.
What led to the decision to e-publish Nightjack?
When my old friend Dave Wilson of Crossroad Press approached me to publish some of my material in digital format, I decided what the hell and gave him the book along with several other pieces and out of print novels. I’m a total Luddite and while several people told me to just stick all my own stuff up on a Kindle, working with Dave has been the perfect relationship. He takes care of all the cover art, layout, formatting, orders, audio releases, etc. I don’t have the time or inclination or talent to do any of that.
How did you decide on the price point?
Everyone in the world was releasing their work for .99 and claiming to be a bestseller on Kindle. Maybe it’s true. But I worked damn hard on my fiction, and dropping it for less than a buck, and after Amazon’s cut earning literally only a few pennies just wasn’t the route I was going to go. I have to believe that my work is worth 3-5 bucks, for Christ’s sake. Those that disagree have a plethora of other material to nab up instead.
Would you like to share and or talk about the sales results so far?
Growing slowly but steadily every month. No great shakes the way some e-book big guns are claiming, but if I can earn a couple hundred bucks extra every month, and see that number grow, and know I’m reaching more and more readers with more and more material that otherwise just would’ve sat on a shelf turning yellow, then I’m happy.
Any feedback from readers?
Folks are digging the work. Most of it is my relatively new stuff, say over the past five years. I hope there’s not some kind of a downslope in sales when I start putting older material on. I’d hate to think I sucked that much serious ass that early in my career.
Is this something you will consider doing again?
If the opportunity feels right, then sure. But I’m not turning my back on NYC traditional publishing. I still make my bread and bones there. But as for rereleasing the out of print material, then most definitely.
What are your hopes and expectations? Do you hope to create enough buzz to get a print publisher interested?
Where Nightjack is concerned, sure, it would be nice to see the book in a traditional print format one of these days. But the novel is rather wonky, a strange mix of horror, dark fantasy, and crime, and so I think traditional publishers would have difficulty marketing it to a particular audience, especially since I’ve been doing what I can to establish myself as a crime/noir/hardboiled writer these past several years. So I can understand their reticence.
The publishing industry has changed dramatically over the past few years. For you, what’s been the most surprising change? What changes are having the biggest impact?
Certainly the death of bookstores is impacting everybody. It doesn’t matter how good a book is if there’s no outlet for it. B. Dalton’s is gone, B&N and Borders are floundering, so many specialty shops are closing down, it’s heartbreaking to say the least.
The Kindle seems to be a double-edged sword. It’s simplified self-publishing, and hindered predatory presses that exploit aspiring authors, but it’s also helped open the floodgates to unedited works that could deter readers from purchasing self-published works.
The ease of print-on-demand publishing started that trend several years before Kindle got off the ground. Already tons of unedited, typo-riddled self-published works were showing up on Amazon and in stores. The ease of publishing and e-publishing throws a young writer’s learning curve completely out of wack. It’s fine to have the arrogance of youth and think you’re the new Hemingway. That’s a natural part of the process. But back in the day an agent or book or magazine editor would be there to smack you on the nose and say, “Look, this just isn’t good enough. You need to go back and keep trying. Keep learning. Keep polishing, and maybe someday you’ll learn your craft well enough to become published.” Now the bar is so lowered that a lot of writers don’t realize they’re not Hemingway. They’ve done what they set out to do. Get published. Even if only grandma reads their self-published novel. Even if their numbers on Kindle are in the ten millions. It doesn’t matter. They’re blinded and weakened by having attained their moderate dream so goddamn easily. They want to be published. They don’t want to be writers.
This raises an obvious question. For writers starting out today, with few or no substantial publishing credits to their name, what should they do? Is it likely writers who don’t have the prior approval of established publishing houses can make a name for themselves and achieve the level of success some established authors are presently enjoying?
There’s always a chance to finding some critical success in some fashion, though I have no idea how it’s done. The magazine industry is in complete disarray as well, but there are professional magazines and small press publishers, places where new writers can sharpen their skills and build some credits. Or they can just keep sharpening their first novels over and over and submitting them until they sell. How do you find success? Nobody’s ever truly been able to answer that except to say that it starts with you writing as well as you can.
We’re getting to the point where print-on-demand can mean producing a book in a pretty short window of time, and ordering stock of items one at a time is a possibility with books. Do you see e-readers as a bridge to a future revolution in storytelling that allows for a whole new type of experience that incorporates reading and viewing and other sense, such as being able to hear the wind through earphones as you’re reading text, or hear music or a specific background sound? Or are the differences in the audiences too great?
I don’t think the disparity between reading what has come to be known as a “book book” and reading on Kindle is as great as some people think. I know a bunch of bibliophiles with massive libraries who have taken to e-readers very quickly and easily. Will having sound f/x change the way we read? We’ve already got audiobooks so I suppose that’s already the natural extension. Will there be more and more middle ground between audiobooks and e-books mixing the formats? Sure, why not. Will it be a revolution? I doubt it, but who knows.
Are the traditional publishers really as far behind as they seem to be? Do you think that publishers are going to change their percentages and dealings with authors to avoid losing writers? What do you think the publishers have to do to remain competitive and retain their talent over the next few years?
Most writers are midlisters, and midlisters aren’t likely to suddenly be massive bestsellers in digital format, although some might do well. Will publishers give up more rights to keep their midlist alive? I doubt it. Publishers are interested in their major writers not their lesser knowns, and that’s the way it’s always been. Things won’t change much for the mooks and mutts of the middleground. Will the bestsellers get better deals if they threaten to jump and start their own companies or publish their own stuff on Kindle? Possibly. But the bestsellers are already being taken care of like the cuddly bunnies they are, so there’s probably no need for them to play any more hardball than has already gotten them to where they are. I don’t know, I suppose we’ve got to see how it all shakes out.
I’m sure it’s possible that at some point, complaints and demands for refunds could become enough of a headache for Amazon to do something. Meanwhile, what do we authors do? What about reviewers and organizations? Let’s use Spinetingler as an example. We’re having an on-going dilemma. Should we run reviews of books that are self-published? Should we consider them for the awards? Behind the scenes, the writers behind such works argue their position. We’ve only opened the e-book door to anthologies, because of the realities of the short story market. What advice would you give us about how to proceed? What would you, as a writer, like to see happen?
Ultimately I suppose the only criteria is quality. E-published material should be looked at like any other material. If it’s good, it deserves all the same accolades and reviews and notice and award nominations as if it’s published in a traditional format. I’ve written novels that have only sold a few thousand copies and yet won awards. Noted writers with works on Kindle will probably achieve those numbers, so why not take note now? The realities of the short story market are the same realities for the novel publishing market. It’s no different than when print magazines used to sneer at e-zines. Now e-zines have standards all their own. It’s all getting harder and harder. Anything that anyone can do to help ease the marketplace, help another writer, promote a good book can only be beneficial to all of us.
What is Nightjack about and why should Spinetingler readers go buy it now?
It’s about a group of individuals all suffering from multiple personality disorder who escape from a mental hospital together after a woman is (possibly) raped and murdered. Between the four of them, and their alternate identities, there’s something like 167 suspects. The protagonist of the story, Pace, can see and interact with each alternate, which include gods, monsters, historical figures, private eyes, wizards, and Jack the Ripper. Together they’re forced to defend themselves against the wealthy father of the murdered girl, and eventually they’re all drawn to a Greek island where fantasy, history, and reality all seem to merge. Like I said, it’s pretty damn wonky.
In addition to the e-book Nightjack Tom Piccirilli is the author of more than twenty novels including SHADOW SEASON, THE COLD SPOT, THE COLDEST MILE, THE MIDNIGHT ROAD, THE DEAD LETTERS, and A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN and THE LAST KIND WORDS due out in early 2011 from Bantam Books.