My introduction to the world of e-books was back in 1999, when author Pauline Baird Jones encouraged me to send one of my novels to an electronic publisher. My initial reaction was “Sure, or, in a similar vein, I could print out my manuscript, sprinkle a little Fresh Step on top, and let my cat defile it.” But after a little more research, I decided to give it a try, and in 2000 three of my unpublished novels came out as e-books. (Out of Whack was also supposed to come out that year, but its route to publication was hampered by the minor detail that the publisher sucked.)
Back then, you were an “e-book author” before everything else. Stephen King had given the format a bit of legitimacy with Riding the Bullet, but 99.999% of the e-book authors were not Mr. King. I could’ve played a drinking game with the number of times I heard “Let me know when it’s a real book.” Despite my insistence that my publishers provided cover art, formatting, editing, etc. there was still a very real perception that E-Book = Self-Published = Crap.
But, hey, I threw myself into e-books full force. I spent three years on the board of EPIC, an e-book authors’ organization, two of them as President, and emceed the EPPIES awards banquet (in a tux!) nine times. I continue to emcee awards banquets (in June, I’ll emcee the Bram Stoker Awards for the third time) but I will never, ever, ever, ever be on the board of a writers’ organization ever, ever, ever again. That way lies a descent into the gaping jaws of madness.
In 2003, my novel Mandibles appeared in actual print, and was soon followed by a few others. It was print-on-demand and thus didn’t really appear in bookstore shelves, but the “When are you going to publish a real book?” question had been answered. I still liked e-books, but I was no longer required to be a passionate proponent of them to market my work. Sweeeeeet.
Though the hardcover edition of my 2006 novel Pressure was available as a $25 trade hardcover and did get bookstore distribution, almost all of my work after that was part of the limited edition market. Unlike e-books in 2000, hardcover limited edition horror novels had a built-in market, and books like The Sinister Mr. Corpse, Disposal, The Haunted Forest Tour, and Gleefully Macabre Tales all started out exclusively available in $35-$50 editions. It was fantastic, because these books looked incredible, but in terms of reaching actual readers…well, your potential audience is not huge when you’re offering 250 copies of a $50 book. Once again, the format overshadowed the content.
And then, in 2009, it finally happened. My first mass market release. The paperback edition of Pressure was in bookstores everywhere for $7.99. My sister picked one up at a military base in Korea and my dad got one in a grocery store in Alaska. There was nothing to block anybody from reading this book. It was cheap and easily available. If you wanted a copy of Pressure, by golly you could get a copy of Pressure. Dweller followed. Suddenly, it was ALL about the content. There was nothing to explain except that it was about being best buddies with a serial killer.
I did a ton of book signings for it, and what question kept coming up? “Is it available for my e-book reader?” Being polite, I did not shout “Are you freakin’ KIDDING ME??? It’s a $7.99 paperback on the table right in front of you!”
In 2010, I looped around right back to where I’d started, with Draculas, a novel written exclusively for the e-book market. It wasn’t quite where I started, because this time I was piggybacking off JA Konrath, F. Paul Wilson, and Blake Crouch, but still, the world of publishing had changed to the point where it actually made sense to not even try to get a print contract!
In 2011, I looped around again with The Sinister Mr. Corpse…except that this time, there wasn’t even the cry of “It’s not self-published! My publisher is like any other publisher except for the format! I’m a real author, dammit!” The Sinister Mr. Corpse is a self-published e-book. Eleven years later, after clawing my way up through the ranks, getting my work in a format that everybody in the world would agree was a “real” book…I decided that the best home for my zombie comedy novel was to upload it to Amazon and Smashwords myself.
I can’t deny that there’s an element of frustration in watching the market change just as I broke through, but at the same time, it’s incredibly exciting. I can control the price. Upload it whenever I think it’s ready. Write whatever the hell I want. I have to admit that I’m nowhere near ready to abandon the pursuit of traditional publishing, and my next novel is going to my agent and not Amazon…but still, the freedom, and the possibilities the whole Kindle revolution offers are jaw-dropping.
Unless The Sinister Mr. Corpse tanks. Then I’ll be completely bitter.