Some more on the whole e-book thing

Regarding Sunday’s e-book post, now that I’ve mentioned the possibility of putting out some of my stuff in e-book form, I might as well say some more:

So first of all, what would you put out?

Like I mentioned in the Sunday post, I have a couple of novella length stories that are pretty much unpublishable in today’s climate as well as some short stories that were published in small press magazines that are long unavailable by now. Instead of leaving those stories to rot on my harddrive, I might as well do something with them. In particular, I am thinking about some interlinked stories I wrote featuring the same characters. Those would be ideal for (re)issuing as ebooks.

First of all, there is the Silencer, a 1930s pulp style masked vigilante. I created the Silencer when I became fascinated with the pulp era and particularly the incredible wordcount that pulp writers such as Walter B. Gibson, creator of The Shadow or Norvell Page, author of The Spider put out month after month. Besides, I’d always been fascinated by the art, fashion and history of the 1930s, so I created my own pulp vigilante hero and started writing pulp pastiches. The result was pretty good and some of those tales were published.

As of this speaking, there are three finished Silencer stories at 8000 to 14000 words each plus two or three of unfinished ones. Two of those stories sold, one was even reprinted. I wrote the remaining story for an anthology that didn’t take it and have been sitting on it ever since. The market for pulp style heroics is not exactly huge. I’d probably bundle the existing Silencer stories as a Tales of the Silencer e-book and maybe add some bonus material plus a free story as a teaser/sample.

The second series of interlinked stories features a pair of groovy 1960s style spies/adventurers. I wrote those when I became interested in Modesty Blaise, started reading the Bond novels rather than just watching the films, began rewatching The Avengers and Mission Impossible and just generally immersed myself in the golden age of spy fiction. I even named British spy fiction as one of the subjects for my final written MA exam, but my supervisor picked the other two subjects, probably because he was more familiar with them. I remember when I handed in my topic suggestion/outline, he looked at it, pointed at the name Peter O’Donnell and said, “Uhm , I’ve never heard of this writer.”

Once I got interested in the genre, I created my own pair of groovy 1960s adventurers/spies (technically, just one of them is a spy). Plus, I’ve always liked the fashions and art and design of the 1960s – I think you can see a pattern here. It seems as if my way of exploring and analyzing a genre involves trying to write it.

So I wrote a 25000 word novella about a pair of adventurer/spy characters, one American and one Soviet, and handed it in as a term paper for a university creative writing class (incidentally to the same teacher who did not know who Peter O’Donnell was). I got an A and was stuck with an unpublishably long story in a not very popular genre. I did revisit my 1960s adventurers later on for “The Other Side of the Curtain”, a story of approx. 10000 words which was published in Thriller UK magazine which seems sadly defunct (a pity, since they published several of my stories and articles). I started another story, The Glass House, but it remains unfinished. There also was a vignette featuring one of the characters, which would make a great freebie or teaser.

Again, those stories would be ideal for e-publishing because they are unlikely to find a home another way and the connected nature makes them ideal for bundling or selling separately as installments. And if I want to write more stories about either characters and/or salvage the unfinished stories, great. I can simply put up Volume 2. In many ways, the pulp model is appropriate here, because more or less connected stories featuring the same set of characters were a mainstay of the pulps and their predecessors, the dime novels and penny dreadfuls of the nineteenth century.

Another work that I’d really like to rescue from oblivion is A Soldier’s Story, a speculative tale set during the Vietnam War. At 25000 words, this is another of those awkward novella length pieces. Back when I wrote it, the editor of the university lit mag wanted to publish it at once, except that it would have taken up about three issues of the magazine as it was then. And they couldn’t put it out as a chapbook, because they had only just published a chapbook and didn’t have the budget for another. I subsequently sent it to F&SF and got a “Doesn’t quite work for us” rejection, which pretty much exhausted the potentials markets.

What all of those stories have in common is that they are unlikely to find a home otherwise because of their length and that they either already have been published or got positive feedback from people like the university lit mag editor who know what they’re talking about. So I basically know that those stories were good enough to appeal to someone besides me.

I have two more finished novellas in my drawer, but those are older and would probably need some work before their publishable. There is another science fiction novella which is maybe 80 to 90 percent finished. I abandoned it once I realized it was yet another of those utterly unmarketable pieces and yet to small a story to expand into a full length novel. All of those are potential candidates for future e-books, if the first ones do well.

I have more backlist inventory, e.g. two interconnected SF shorts published in a defunct magazine, two very voicy stories featuring a snarky female spy (both published), two or three pieces of short crime fiction, etc… In the long run, I might also put up a collection of historical erotica (I sold several of those), but for now I’d like to keep the adult stuff under wraps, because I work at a school and publishing racy fiction is not really appropriate, even if my students won’t be able to read it and probably have seen worse anyway.

In short, there are several future possibilities, but for now I’d start with one of the three possibilities mentioned above and see how it goes.

So do you expect to get rich with this?

Not really, though it would be nice. I hope to recoup my costs and make some extra money. But the way I see it, I can either leave those stories rotting away on my harddrive, where they neither find readers nor earn money, or I can get them out into the world as e-books, gain readers and maybe earn some extra money.

Thanks to the success of Amanda Hocking, Joe Konrath and others, the potential success and profit inherent in indie publishing is on everybody’s mind right now. Many people have responded to the success of Amanda Hocking by now, including Jim Hines, Lee Goldberg, John Scalzi (watch out for commenters using the opportunity to slag paranormal romance – sigh), Kevin O. McLaughlin and Nathan Bransford (with a follow up here).

The tone of all of those posts is very similar: Amanda Hocking is an outlier. Yes, she found a huge success, but don’t expect to do the same. And don’t write off traditional publishing just yet. Indeed, this is even what Amanda Hocking herself says.

And you know what? All of them are right. Not every indie author is Amanda Hocking or Joe Konrath. But there are many more indie authors out there aside from Amanda Hocking and Joe Konrath. There is the Book View Café for example. There is British author Stephen Leather who reports his experiences here (Also see this Guardian article about Stephen Leather and Amanda Hocking). And increasingly, when I go to the website or blog of a writer, I see that in addition to pursuing traditional publishing, those writers also offer backlist books, unmarketable material or bundled short stories as e-books. And with very few exceptions, everybody who has gone this route seems happy with their decision.

Short fiction of marketable lengths will still make the rounds at the various paying short fiction markets before I put it up here. Both Prisoners of Amaymon and “the novel” will go on submission at traditional publishers, once they’re ready. My first finished novel, the Steampunk regency romance Colfrith, will probably go back on traditional submission, too, though I’m still not completely sure what to do with it.

But given the current upheaval in the publishing industry, I don’t see why I shouldn’t try both indie and traditional publishing.

So when can we expect to read something?

This may take a while longer, because if I’m going to go the indie route, I want to do it properly. I’m currently doing research regarding formatting (Estara recommended B10 Mediworx), platforms, business models (particularly considering that I am not a US citizen or resident) and cover design. I have a pretty solid idea of the cover style I want for the Silencer stories and the 1960s spy stories and I’ll either have to find an artist whose style matches what I have in mind or I’ll have to do it myself. Luckily, I have some connections because of my translation work and my work for a small press magazine. This goes for copyeditors, too.

Anyway, I am currently educating myself on how to best pull this off. I’ll also have to talk to my accountant (who will probably freak out) about the business and tax side. Luckily, there are a lot of sites out there to help aspiring indie authors. What is more, Dean Wesley Smith has just started a new series on starting your own micro-press which promises to be very helpful.

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12 Responses to Some more on the whole e-book thing

  1. Pingback: Some more on the whole e-book thing | Cora Buhlert | U.S. Justice Talk

  2. Sherwood says:

    Go for it! I’ll certainly read the one about the spies.

    • Cora says:

      Thanks for the encouragement!

      I think you’d enjoy The Other Side of the Curtain. It’s set in East Germany in the late 1960s.

  3. Estara says:

    Steampunk regency romance Colfrith,

    This genre seems to a lot of publishing houses – indie and big – the next big craze from what I gather – you could always try the not so traditional e-publishers like Samhain, Carina Press (Harlequin), Avon Impulse (Avon).

    The one thing about the Book View Café as an example is that its a group of previously published authors releasing backlist and new (and Joe Konrath was traditionally published before, as well) – so they HAVE somewhat of an audience for their new venture. Quite a few of them are concurrently publishing with the print publishers, too.

    Yes, the business model thing is a fiddly bit of work from what I gather – I believe when you publish via Kindle you need a US credit card or something?

    Re: historical erotic romances – you could always use another pen name. There are LOADS of established e-publishers always looking fore new fodder in that genre, you’d just have to research the best conditions and the most reliable publishers (I’ve read books by Loose ID, Samhain, Liquid Silver, Ellora’s Cave, Carina Press).

    In any case: good luck ^^

    • Estara says:

      While I think of it – Meljean Brook had an extended steampunk romance week last year on her blog: with interviews and all.

      And I’d be interested in the 60s spy stuff and the Steampunk regency romance myself ^^ – especially if there should be an Emma Peel-like character involved.

      • Cora says:

        Thanks for the link. I’m currently three quarters through The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook and enjoying it very much, but I don’t normally visit her blog.

        And there’s a bit of Emma Peel and Modesty Blaise in my 1960s spy heroine. Regarding the Modesty Blaise books by Peter O’Donnell, I don’t know if you’ve ever read them, but they’re very good. Much better than the Bond novels from the same period.

    • Cora says:

      I wrote Colfrith back at university (partly due to a misunderstanding, because according to the course announcements my creative writing teacher wanted to focus on historical fiction that semester, which wasn’t true at all) when Steampunk was just a minor subgenre and there was no such thing as Steampunk romance at all. The closest thing were some historical fantasies and magical regencies. I had just completed the third draft, when I entered the exam phase and Colfrith was pretty much forgotten in favour of my MA thesis and exams. At one point I planned to submit it to Juno Books, because they published Steampunk romance and historical fantasy, but then Juno was bought up by Pocket books and focused mainly on urban fantasy, so Colfrith ended up in limbo once more. It definitely needs a read-through and very probably some work. Then it’ll go out to publishers, especially since there now actually is a market for that sort of thing.

      The historical erotica is more kinky than sexy and doesn’t really fit in with what is published by Samhain, Ellora’s Cave, etc…. (for starters, some of those stories don’t end even remotely happily and there’s quite a bit of violence). They’ve also been previously published at a magazine which emulated the Man’s Adventure magazines of the 1950s to 1970s. The closest German equivalent were the “Sex Life of Genghis Khan” pseudo-factual pieces in Praline or Neue Revue, if you’ve ever been exposed to them. I sexed up an unsold story, submitted it to the magazine on a whim and had it accepted. It turned out that I was pretty good at writing erotic fiction (who’d have guessed?) and I sold several stories to that magazine until I ran out of ways to describe women’s breasts. The experience was definitely valuable, as I got a lot more comfortable with writing about sex. Those stories also earned me more money than anything else I’ve ever written.

      The business side is a bit difficult, e.g. Barnes & Noble doesn’t accept non-US authors for its nook at all. One of my credit cards should work for Amazon and I actually have a US tax number (long story) which will hopefully make things easier.

      • Estara says:

        A happy end would be an advantage to an erotic romance, true ^^. But maybe there are now kinkfic publishers, too. I just haven’t read any of that.

        While I knew of Praline and Neue Revue my mother and grandmother always read Frau im Spiegel, Gala, Brigitte, Freundin, Journal für die Frau (which I bought some issues of myself) – my money went into books and US comics at the time.

        • Cora says:

          Well, Praline and Neue Revue were more intended for men. My Dad occasionally bought one of them on holiday and when I ran out of better stuff to read, I would reach for those mags in desperation. They were really, really trashy.

          • Estara says:

            Yes, I can imagine ^^. I don’t think my dad has ever bought a book himself – although he did use to read quite a bit: my parents had a longrunning membership in the Bertelsmann Club, he liked getting political nonfiction books and he still has a subscription to Der Spiegel.

            These days he seems to only sit in front of the TV solving Sudoku puzzles in the women’s magazines my mother buys and reads.

            • Cora says:

              My Dad mainly read motorcycle magazines these days and the daily newspaper. I’ve given up buying books for him, since he never reads them anyway.

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