A few months ago visiting CreateSpace I took special note of the promotion spot they’d included for a new indie CS author. The promos have been there for a long time, but this one startled me: It highlighted a writer I knew (through his books), one I’d been reading for more than three decades.
The highlighted novel was The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons, and the the writer, as you may have guessed, was Lawrence Block, a deeply experienced and solidly-selling author of about 50 mystery and other novels and several nonfiction books, some of them on the subject of fiction writing. (One of those has one of my all-time favorite titles: Telling Lies for Fun and Profit.) The bulk of his books, published over half a century, have been published by houses such as HarperCollins, Macmillan, Dell and Arbor House. Some have been turned into movies. He is a grand master of the Mystery Writers of America, among many other commendations. His books remain popular and continue to sell.
He’s certainly not at CreateSpace because he “couldn’t find a publisher.”
So what’s he doing in this new world of self-publishing?
In an e-mail interview, he recalled “My first venture into self-publishing was thirty years ago, which I’ve blogged about occasionally, was a home seminar for writers called Write For Your Life. I printed 5,000 books and sold them, and that was that.
“When technology allowed me to bring out backlist titles as ebooks, I rushed to take advantage of it. Then, just about four years ago, it occurred to me that I’d written a book’s worth of Matthew Scudder short stories over the years, and that while many of them had been included in my omnibus volume of short fiction, they could make up a book of their own, especially if I wrote one more story for the volume. Now my regular publisher might well have been persuaded to bring out such a book, but I couldn’t delude myself that it would be a hot ticket, likely to fly off the shelves of America’s remaining bookstores. And I saw it as great opportunity to try self-publication. I enlisted Telemachus Press, an excellent work-for-hire company, to handle ebook and POD paperback production, and The Night and the Music has been selling steadily since its debut in the fall of 2011.”
Block has been recovering from publishers the rights to some of his older books, republishing himself through print-on-demand.
“In a sense, things came full circle a year and a half ago with the POD paperback publication of ‘Write For Your Life’,” he said. “HarperCollins issued it in ebook form some years ago, but I could see from reader feedback that it was a book people wanted to be able to thumb through as one can only do with a printed book. So I got it ready for CreateSpace, with a nice new cover, and it’s been selling very nicely with no promotion beyond word-of-mouth.”
He’s also begun to publish new (original) work himself, sometimes using small publishers for the print versions, and keeping (and using) the e-publication rights in his own ways.
This has been ramping upward in recent years. “One thing I always had the urge to do was self-publish an original A-list novel, and I did this on Christmas Day of 2013 with a brand-new Bernie Rhodenbarr mystery, ‘The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons’. I could have published the book with my regular publisher, but I really wanted to do it myself. And I didn’t want to wait a year and a half for it to be on sale. After all, I’ve reached an age where it’s not really advisable for me to buy green bananas. This way, I wrote the book in July of 2013 and five months later it was on sale.”
How well has it worked out overall?
“I think, in the short run, I probably left some money on the table. But in the long run I think I’ll come out ahead. More to the point, I did it the way I wanted to do it and had fun throughout.”
I checked out how several other successful authors – with a solid traditional-publishing background – entered and approached self-publishing. I’ll have more on that in my next post.