In 2007, Alison Clement won the Ken Kesey Award for her novel Twenty Questions. In August of this year, Alison acquired the rights to Twenty Questions and made it available as an e-book.
Last month Paper Fort talked to Tina Boscha about e-publishing. This month we ask Alison some questions about her decision to offer Twenty Questions as an e-book.
Paper Fort:Can you describe how you decided to publish your book as an e-book?
I wasn’t interested in e-books until a friend, writer Sara Backer, turned me on to a Barry Eisler interview about e-publishing. At the time I had just finished writing a new novel, Watching Rhonda Honey, and was preparing for the long slog of looking for an agent. You send a query and wait. If the agent likes what you say, you send your first 50 pages and wait some more. Maybe she wants to read the whole manuscript, so you send it and wait again. The agent is probably very kind, but she doesn’t fall in love with the novel.
This doesn’t bother me. My heart is no longer broken by rejection. What bothers me is the length of time it all takes. I’m too old to wait around anymore. I feel very finite these days. And then, if you find an agent, you wait again while she shops it around. If she is unsuccessful, it’s hard to find another agent to represent your book because everyone wants a virgin. If she does sell it, you’re so grateful you don’t question money or terms.
If you’re me, you hardly read the contract because hooray! your book is being published. Maybe you hate the cover, maybe you don’t like the title, but the marketing department has the final say. They also decide how to market your book, or, quite possibly, they decide not to market it. You can’t really blame anyone. It’s hard to sell books. People are losing their jobs. Bookstores are closing down. Everything is up for grabs.
While I was going back and forth with the idea of e-publishing my new book, I got the rights back to my published novel, Twenty Questions. I published it electronically last month. One of the benefits of e-publishing is that you can sell the book so cheaply. I’m selling Twenty Questions for $4.99. E-publishing makes it possible for people to buy books inexpensively, although they are not books that give you a tactile experience or sit invitingly by your bed at night.
I’m now doing final edits for my new Rhonda Honey book and plan to e-publish it within the next couple months. Also, I should add that, because Twenty Questions was already published, it’s eligible to be offered as a print on demand book by the Author’s Guild. So I can offer it in either format. I hope writers realize this. If your book is out of print and the rights have been reverted, you can publish it, usually at no cost, through the Author’s Guild.
Paper Fort: How did you regain the rights to your book so that you could publish it as an e-book?
Alison: My former agent, who continues to be an ally, requested the rights back for both of my published novels. Simon & Schuster simply sent a rights of reversion letter—allowing all rights to the book to revert to me—and that was it. Generally, if you’re requesting the rights back yourself, you need to send a certified letter to your publisher with a request. The procedure should be spelled out in your contract. I haven’t yet been successful at getting rights reverted for my first book, but that’s a long story.
Paper Fort: What was the most satisfying about the process? Would you recommend this to other writers?
Alison: It was easy. It was immediate. I had complete control over the process. It was not expensive. Once it was formatted, I uploaded it to an independent e-book distributor, Smashwords. Publicity is the hard part, but isn’t that always true?
Can I also tell you the least satisfying part? It’s the feeling that in some way I’m betraying the independent bookstores. Barry Eisler points out that when we talk about e-books, we’re just talking about a delivery system—that it’s still story, it’s just a different way of delivering that story. I think that’s a good way to look at it. But at the same time, we don’t want our bookstores to go away. We want our libraries. We need a new model, a model that supports our writing but at the same time preserves the best of what we have now.