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Alert the media: LB GOES INDIE!

September 28, 2011

Pretty, isn’t it?

It’s the cover of my new book, THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC, a complete collection of the Matthew Scudder short stories, including one brand-new one never before published anywhere. I could natter on about the book at great length and with considerable enthusiasm, and in fact I’ve done just that in a newsletter. If you subscribe to my newsletter, it should be landing in your email box before long; if not, I’ll be posting the newsletter on my blogsite’s new Matthew Scudder page.

The newsletter’s designed to tell you all about the new book, and induce to you part with $2.99 for the eBook or $14.95 for the trade paperback, as you prefer. This blog entry, on the other hand, will be less about the book and more about my decision to publish it myself.

It’s not as though self-publishing were my only option. I’ve been writing professionally for over fifty years, and if all the folks who’ve published my work were laid end to end, it’s probably no less than they deserve. (Rim shot!) In 2011 alone, I’ve had five new books published: three books for writers (The Liar’s Bible, The Liar’s Companion, and my early–days memoir, Afterthoughts), all eRiginals from Open Road; A Drop of the Hard Stuff, the new Matthew Scudder novel from Mulholland Books; and—just out—Getting Off, from Hard Case Crime.

I think it’s likely that one or another of these excellent publishers would have given THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC a home. But I never looked in that direction.

See, the idea for the book grew out of my experiences in eBook self-publishing. For over a year I’ve been offering short stories for Kindle and Nook, uploading them myself and pricing them at 99¢ apiece. (I blogged about my experience in that regard, along with my thoughts about the future of short fiction in the eWorld, in Whither the Short Story.)

My Matthew Scudder stories were natural candidates for this treatment, at least the more recent ones that wouldn’t need to be scanned first. But something held me back, and then one day I realized I had enough stories for a book, and that they probably ought to be a book. If the eBook audience found my non-series short stories acceptable at 99¢, wouldn’t they embrace a full book of stories about my most popular character at $2.99?

I thought they might. And wouldn’t it add value to such a book if I were to write a new story for it? I already had one vignette, “Mick Ballou Looks at the Blank Screen,” which had appeared only as the text of a 100-copy broadside, so it was something none of my audience would have read before; if I added a new full-length story, I’d definitely have something to sell.

I had lunch with two friend of mine, Brian Koppelman and David Levien, and by the time we got up from the table I had an idea for the new story, and an offer from Brian (a major Scudder fan) to write an introductory appreciation of the character.

So far my experience at self-publishing was pretty basic. I’d only recently begun buying stock photos and cobbling them into eCovers for the stories I uploaded. Now I had a real book in mind, and much of its contents would need to be scanned and proofread, and I realized some professional assistance would relieve me of much of the heavy lifting while assuring I’d wind up with a professionally formatted, high quality product available on all major eBook platforms.

I picked the well-recommended Telemachus Press to shepherd the book through the process on a work-for-hire basis, leaving me to run the risks and reap the rewards. With the new story (“One Last Night at Grogan’s”) written, and Brian’s terrific intro in hand, I felt sufficiently confident to opt for a Print-On-Demand trade paperback edition as well.

When I told my friend Otto Penzler what I was planning, his response was immediate and enthusiastic; he’ll be bringing out a deluxe upscale hardcover edition, signed and numbered, limited to 100 copies and retailing at $150. (Quite a jump from the $2.99 eBook!)

That’s what I’ve done, and how I came to do it. But it still doesn’t address the questions of why I took this road.

For one thing, I didn’t see THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC as something that would have commercial publishers champing at the bit. Short stories? And the bulk of them previously published? They’d very likely see it as a book that could be published profitably, but not as a lead title, and hardly a hot ticket. I’d get an advance, but it wouldn’t be a huge one, and the book might not generate much income beyond that modest initial sum.

At least as big a factor in my decision was that I figured going it alone would be fun. I’d be taking a deep plunge into a pool in which I’d already wet a toe, and I expected the experience would be, at the very least, bracing.

And it would be rapid, too. I didn’t even get the idea for the book until July, didn’t write “One Last Night at Grogan’s” until August, and now the book’s on sale. What’s that, three months? They’ve been busy months, let me tell you, and it’s a rare day that hasn’t saddled me with decisions to make and actions to perform. But that’s better than sitting around unsaddled, just waiting for something to happen.

Will I see a return on my investment?

Well, that depends on sales, doesn’t it? I’ve been told that I’m leaving money on the table by pricing the eBook so low, that the package I’ve put together could easily command a price of $4.99 or $6.99 or $9.99. But I’ve never wavered from my conviction that $2.99 is what I want to charge for THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC. I’d rather maximize the number of copies sold than the per-copy profit.

And it’s hardly a loss leader at $2.99. If it sells copies, I’ll do fine.

I suspect there’ll be a modest demand for the trade paperback as well, and I know there’ll be a call for autographed copies. As of this writing, a dozen of the country’s leading mystery booksellers have ordered signed copies, and I’ll also be able to fill individual orders for signed books at my website bookstore.

I don’t think I’ll lose money. I may do as well as I would with a traditional publisher. It’s my hope—and I don’t think it’s an unrealistic one—that I’ll do better. I’m almost certain I’ll sell more copies, and I think I may make more money, too, even at the low price I’ve set.

And what will the future hold? Will I become a permanent resident in the world of Indie Publishing?

Much of the future’s charm, I’ve long felt, is that one is never given to know what it may or may not hold. I’m certainly in no rush to abandon traditional commercial publishing, and my next novel will be coming from Mulholland sometime in 2012. I’ll have more backlist titles emerging as Open Road eBooks, and a pair of early pseudonymous works are scheduled as a joint-venture double volume via Subterranean Press and Hard Case Crime.

But if THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC does even moderately well, and if I continue to enjoy the whole indie-pub process as much as I have to date, well, I’ve got one book in mind that’s a perfect candidate for self-publication, and ideas for a couple more.

Oh, before I forget: One attraction of self-publishing is that you don’t need an agent to do it. Well, that’s inarguably true—but I damn well need my agent, and once THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC covers its costs, it will be my pleasure to send him his commission on further receipts, even as it will be his happy chore to represent the book’s translation and audio rights.

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51 Comments
  1. I think you’ll find great success. You’re quite savvy with the online shenanigans, always have been. I was surprised back in the day to see your AOL address in the back of “Fun and Profit!”
    And you’ve got a stunning cover for this collection that will still catch the eye when thumbnail size. Something all e-publishers should strive for.

  2. Good to see, and I’ll be curious to hear what you think when you get a few months post-publication on this. Short-story collections seem perfectly suited for indie publishing (not that other types of books aren’t), and I think the more of us who publish them, the more readers will start looking for them. Right now, they are an afterthought on most big sites when listing genres and types of books — listed near the bottom or in a sub-menu. I wonder if that will still be the case in a year or two. Joel Friedlander had a good post yesterday that related to that: http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2011/09/what-is-a-writers-mvp

  3. Well! I will just trot my happy ass right over to the– Amazon button!

    Congrats on the newest “baby.” Thanks in advance for what I’m sure will be more terrific stories.

  4. Whoo hoo! Thank you thank you thank you.

    (And yes, thank you for pricing at 2.99, too. While I would pay a higher price, I live in Michigan where pinching pennies is essential.)

    • Thanks, Camille. And it’s hard to think of a place where pinching pennies isn’t fast becoming the leading indoor sport…

  5. Why isn’t there a clearly marked, direct link to buy the bloody book, which is what I want to do? What, I have to think? Push through a series of links?

    Fine. Just because you don’t have a post-literate 15 year old handy to help you, *I* have to go through all this trouble.

    (Just joking… except of course there should be an obvious “buy” link above the fold)

    Heavens! On closer examination, it appears there is *no link* anywhere on this page to buy the book! Yikes, amigo.

    • Tom, there will be. The blog went up before the book went liven on most sites. It’s on sale at Nook; it’s still clearing hurdles at Amazon et al. Therewill be links, compadre. And if you go to Matt Scudder’s page you’ll find signed copy links to mystery booksellers.

  6. Congratulations, Larry. It’s lovely to see your latest adventure in publishing. And thanks for the inspiration you continue to provide. Cheers.

  7. jackandmarilynerickson permalink

    Lawrence —
    I’m really enjoying your enthusiasm for the dynamic new world of self publishing. I’ve enjoyed your books when you were going only with conventional publishing, and thought that you’d just continue down your merry way on that familiar path. Then when all the excitement started a couple years ago, I imagine the synapses starting firing in your brain “. . . . mmm . . . wonder what that would be like for Bernie or Matt . . . .”
    I’m the smallest of fishes who plunged into that pool a year or so ago and been having so much fun and fantasizing about what the publishing / epublishing world will look like a few years down the road.
    I’ve picked up a few of your Kindle stories and writer’s guides and enjoying them for the content but also for where you’re marketing them.
    I’m loving your blog and feeling your excitement. Keep it up and share your glories!
    Jack

    • Thanks, Jack. I can’t even guess what all of this eWorld will look like a couple of months down the road…

  8. Congratulations and yes, I think fun is the best reason of all. I’m happy!

  9. HOWARD VICTOR CHAYKIN permalink

    LB

    I’m not sure you’d remember me, but Denny O’Neil–for whom I worked as a comics artist–introduced us many years ago, when we both had hair. He identified you as Larry, and me as Howie, and I hope you hated that as much as I did and do.

    Suffice to say I’m a huge fan of the work, the Scudders in particular, and I’ve never bothered to tell you, so here it is.

    The new book is just swell, by the way–and needless to say I’ll be grabbing the ebook.

    Best,

    HVC

  10. Dan Luft permalink

    $2.99 is perfect price. I’ve paid as low as three bucks for many of your books in stores but those were used copies and you never saw a dime. It will be a pleasure to pay you.

    • Believe me, the pleasure will be mine, Dan! And I think it’s a good price myself. I’d always prefer to keep the price down. I’m old enough to remember paperbacks with a cover price of 25¢; I had no money back then, but I could buy every book I wanted. I figure $2.99 is a little less than 25¢ was then…

  11. Absolutely great idea! If you feel like telling us more about it, drop me a line at jvdsteen@hotmail.com, my readers at http://www.sonsofspade.tk will be very interested in it!

  12. Buddy Gott permalink

    I’m sure this will do very well for you. Even readers like me who have read all of the Scudder short stories aren’t going to hesitate to pick it up. Just for the two new stories alone, $2.99 is a very good deal.

    I’ll tell you though, the title “One Last Night At Grogan’s” has me a little concerned. I dig that bar and don’t want to see it close anytime soon!

  13. Holy crap. Howard (Ironwolf, Sword of Sorcery, American Flagg, Black Kiss) Chaykin is a Lawrence Block fan. I can die happy now. Well, not that I want to…

  14. I just got a Kindle and this will be my second book added. And I can’t wait to publish my own indie ebook. If it is good enough for the great Lawrence Block, then it is good enough for me!

  15. What Jaye said! I trotted over to Barnes and Noble and bought! I’ve been a fan for nearly 30 years!

  16. Larry — thanks, and sorry for being snippy (if I was). Can’t wait to read it.

    • Tom, I have to thank you: three of those bookseller links were corrupt. (Not the booksellers themselves, I assure you; they’re all impeccable.) But for your comment, I might not have found out for a while. (They’re all fine now.)

  17. Lawrence- Enjoyed that post very much. I think $2.99 is a very good price.

  18. Mr. Block (I know you through your books, but not well enough to call you “Larry.” Lawrence, maybe.) Delighted to buy the indie book — especially Scudder, especially Mick Ballou (he’s as fascinating to me as Keller is). In light of some caustic comments on some newsletters about e-book publishing, it’s nice to see a successful and first rate author embrace the genre. I love books, but I love my Kindle, too. It’s a better soporific than pills for getting to sleep at night.

    Cheers!
    Maria

  19. Good luck with this collection, Lawrence Block, it will have great appeal–and not just to us fans who go back 30+ years. So many times, when an anthology appears with one of your stories, it raises the bar on all the others in the book. What a great idea to put yours all together under one cover, so to speak, as an affordable “pulp-like” priced ebook. Best, RC

  20. Glad to see it wan’t just me wondering WTF I was doing wrong at Amazon…. I’ll keep an eye out for it.

    • Kathy, it just cleared a hurdle there, moving from “in review” to “publishing”. I swear it’s like watching paint dry.

  21. All righty! It’s live on Amazon.

    I just bought it. NOW my ass is happy.

    Thanks, Larry.

    • Mine too, Jaye. Not to mention my finger, which was getting a cramp from hitting the “refresh this page” button at Amazon…

  22. A. C. Ellis permalink

    A Lawrence Block work not be a success? A Matthew Scudder stories not selling? Right.
    I’m on my way to purchase my copy right now!

  23. Bobbe permalink

    Already hit the one click button. You made good reading on the AT. Thanks

    Bobbe

  24. Lotus permalink

    This is the first ebook I have bought (have downloaded several free ones to my ipad). I really enjoyed it! You are one of my favorite writers. I already had 5 of the stories from a British collection that was in a one of your “grab bag boxes” I bought from your website, but it’s great to get all of them on my ipad as I really enjoy your work. I’m a big fan, keep it going!

    Thanks,

    Lotus from Berkeley, CA

  25. I just bought my copy for kindle. Now that the rainy season is here in Northern California, I’m looking forward to cozying up by the fire with an adult beverage and enjoying the hell out of it.

  26. Great to see an already-accomplished author experimenting with this indie publishing thing! I’ve just published my first novel through iUniverse, and it’s already selling like gangbusters. Keeping my fingers crossed that I can enjoy a fraction of your success.

    I’ll be returning to your blog to read updates on the experiment 🙂

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Book Bits #38 – Lawrence Block, Alice Walker, Old Farmer’s Almanac, Pottermore | Malcolm's Book Bits and Notions
  2. Self-Publish or Go the Traditional Way? The Debate « On Getting Published, Good Books, and Living Goddesses

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