Interview With Dave Zeltserman about E-publishing Blood Crimes

Blood Crimes dave zeltsermanThis is the sixth in a series of interviews with authors about their experiences dipping their toes into the epublishing pool.

Dave Zeltserman is the author of the e-book Blood Crimes and a member of the Top Suspense Group.

Spinetingler Magazine: When did you write Blood Crimes?

Dave Zeltserman: 2006.

Has Blood Crimes been shopped around?

When I first wrote it, my agent at the time had her hands filled with trying to sell Pariah and The Caretaker of Lorne Field and she didn’t want to take this on. I switched agents, and after my new agent sold Essence and Caretaker he read Blood Crimes, got excited by it, thought it would be an easy sale and sent it out,. My editor at Serpent’s Tail liked it a lot, but they’re not about to publish a horror/crime hybrid. We had editors at the some of the major publishers fall in love with this book and try to acquire it, but they couldn’t get buy in from their bosses–either there was a competing vampire book, or it was considered too noir for a thriller or too much horror for a vampire book. I think part of the problem was that this was in 2009 when things started to go South with publishers, and also by that time the vampire genre had gotten co-opted as more soft porn for teens.

What led to the decision to e-publish Blood Crimes?

Joe Konrath makes everything look so easy! That’s the smart-ass answer. One reason is that one of the producers involved in Outsourced loves this book and wants to do something with it, but it makes things so much harder in Hollywood if the book’s not published. The writing was on the wall that I wasn’t going to get a deal with NY, I didn’t want to take it to a small press, so I decided to put it out myself. Of course, a big part of my decision was also knowing in my gut that this is a good book that readers of crime and horror fiction will like.

How did you decide on the price point?

I chose $2.99 because of the %70 royalty paid at that price, and that seems to be the price readers are settling on as acceptable.

Would you like to share and or talk about the sales results so far? Any feedback from readers?

Sales have not been good. Feedback has been great–so far all the readers I’ve heard from really dig this book. I’ve been talking with my friend + fellow writer, Allan Guthrie, about this, and he had a similar experience with his novella e-books that he put up where he had to drop the prices to $0.99 before they started selling.The large reading masses out there seem to want to try readers they’re unfamiliar with at a $0.99 price. I might be totally off-base here, but what I’m finding is readers who’ve read me before price doesn’t seem to be an issue, but to get new readers I’m probably going to have to drop the price to $0.99 as Al’s been urging me to do. One thing that’s making me resistant is that Outsourced is coming out now in print, and it will get well-reviewed in at least several newspapers and should sell well, so I’m hoping those readers, and also the ones who are now reading Killer and The Caretaker of Lorne Field, also look to see what e-books I have.

Is this something you will consider doing again?

I don’t see much choice. This seems to be the direction we’re moving. But this is a big challenge to midlist authors on how to crack this e-book market since it’s completely different market than print.

What are your hopes and expectations? Do you hope to create enough buzz to get a print publisher interested?

Again, I’m doing this partly in hopes that this helps the film project, but also to start to try to carve out a space for myself in the e-book market since this seems to be what the future holds. I am selling more and more books to foreign markets, so I am hoping that Blood Crimes gets some foreign deals. Blood Crimes is also the first of a planned 5-book series, so I’m hoping this one sells enough so I can write the rest of the books in the series.

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?

The most surprising would have to be the speed that everything is happening at. Things that I thought would take several years are taking months. What’s unclear is with some of these changes–such as bookstores closing and publishers retrenching–how much is due to e-books and how much to the recession? It’s damn depressing doing an event at a bookstore where you get to meet the owner and other employees, see how passionate they are about books, and then see the store close weeks afterward. That’s happened to me twice recently, as well as scheduling an event at LA’s Mystery Bookstore only to see them close before I could go out there. It’s awful to see this, both as a reader and writer.

The biggest impact is how readers are deciding which e-books to buy. According to writers who I’m talking with who are having success at this (and Joe Konrath has been advocating the same), the formula for selling e-books is the right price, cover art and a snappy book description, where the book almost doesn’t seem to matter anymore. High sales with Amazon help feed higher sales, and there’s no distinction between pro writers and previously unpublished writers jumping into this–the e-books that are going to sell are going to be ones that are marketed the most aggressively, and hit the sweet spot as far as these other factors.

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.

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?

The bestsellers are going to sell a lot of e-books regardless. They’ll probably do even better in e-books than they’ve been doing in print, since a lot of readers confused by all the choices will stick with the names they know and won’t have bookstore employees recommending news writers to them. But for midlist writers, publishing credits won’t mean much. As far as most readers are concerned they’ll be lumped in with newer writers who are jumping into this–so a newer writer who markets themselves more aggressively and smartly, will do better than established midlist authors. And they’re probably better positioned to do this since us midlist authors are still hanging onto print and the older paradigms.

The fact is it’s going to be tough for most people to make money at this. Amazon is advertising 810,000 e-books available for the Kindle. If you sell 3 e-books a day, the ranking will be around 20,000, and that will translate at a $2.99 e-book price to roughly $180 a month or $2000 a year, which is on the absolute low end for advances, the type you’d get from a small specialty press. So right now 790,000 books that have been put up on the Kindle store are doing worse than if they had gotten a low deal from a small press. Much worse, actually, since these books probably don’t have much chance of getting foreign deals or film options. And of the 3000 or so books which are selling enough where an author could make money to compete with a traditional book deal, probably half or more of those are traditional bestselling authors. So it doesn’t leave much room.

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?

Gawd, I hope not! Right now you’ve got video games and movies to provide more visual-type storytelling. I like the quietness of reading, and would hate to see that disappear!

I’ve often thought that publishing was just a bit of technology away from opening the door to publishing companies started by authors, much like record labels sometimes are. We’ve seen a lot of musicians start with a known label and establish themselves, and then start their own label to enjoy a greater share of the profits and artistic control, but they also sign on other artists and the label produces music by other artists. That seems to be more possible within publishing than ever before. For example, what if Dan Brown or James Patterson started their own publishing companies? Wouldn’t that be an enormous blow to their publishers, who make millions off their books?

I think it would be a huge blow, but it won’t happen as long as the publishers keep paying them millions in advances, and that will keep happening as long as they can sell a sh*tload of these books at Walmart and other box stores. If enough readers move to e-readers, that’s going to stop. Most e-books from midlist writers and new writers trying to survive this space will price their books at $2.99 or less, and these books are less susceptible to illegal downloads, but I’d have to think that’s not the case with $10.99 e-books coming from traditional publishers. So yep, I can see some point in the near future where the biggest names will be doing it themselves, and that’s probably going to be the death of the Big 6. OTOH, I can see smart independent publishers prospering in this.

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?

I think the midlist is basically dead as far as the large publishers go, if not completely yet, they will be in the next few years. So we’re only talking about the bestsellers, and as long as the publishers can keep throwing millions their way in advances, they’ll keep them.

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?

I think over the next few years a lot of the writers who you’ve been reviewing will only be publishing e-books–whether they’re doing it themselves or with a small press. So I guess it comes down to whether you want to keep reviewing these authors you like or only reviewing bestsellers.

What are your thoughts so far on the e-publishing experiment so far?

It’s not as easy as Joe Konrath makes it sound! I’ve been talking to a lot of very good pro midlist writers, writers who are putting out great stuff, and none of them other than Al have been selling much of anything in this space. It’s an entirely different game. I think the hope for all of us is that the readers who’ve been reading us in print will eventually find our e-books, but all of us have to adapt and learn how to sell to this e-book market.

What is Blood Crimes about and why should Spinetingler readers go buy it now?

Blood Crimes is really a kick-ass book, a very high octane mix of crime and horror, and is one of my best. Think Pulp Fiction with vampires. I had this series in mind for years, and because of that I avoided Charlie Huston’s vampire series so I wouldn’t borrow anything from him. I had several readers who were fans of Huston’s series read Blood Crimes, and their take is that while Huston’s books were horror books with a hardboiled PI, mine was more of a crime novel with vampires. Anyway, the Nerd of Noir would probably pass out if he reads this book!

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In addition to the e-book Blood Crimes Dave Zeltserman is the author of the novels Outsourced, Killer, The Caretaker of Lorne Field and Small Crimes, as well as many short stories and a collection of short crime fiction, 21 Tales.

He is a member of the Top Suspense Group.

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Brian Lindenmuth

Brian is the non-fiction editor of Spinetingler magazine and one of the fiction editors of Snubnose Press. In addition to Spinetingler his work has appeared in Crimespree magazine and at BSC Review, Galleycat and the Mulholland Books website. He also heads the Spinetingler Award committee.

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About Brian Lindenmuth

Brian is the non-fiction editor of Spinetingler magazine and one of the fiction editors of Snubnose Press. In addition to Spinetingler his work has appeared in Crimespree magazine and at BSC Review, Galleycat and the Mulholland Books website. He also heads the Spinetingler Award committee.

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