Saturday, November 07, 2009

Fred Zackel and Dave Zeltserman on e-books

There's been a lot of discussion over Kindle and e-books over at the Rara-Avis e-mail list (the list is about noir and hardboiled literature) and I thought that at least two of the posts would be worth to post here. (The Rara-Avis posts are archived here, though, but not many know that.)

The first is writer Frederick Zackel
(Cocaine and Blue Eyes) and the second is writer Dave Zeltserman (Fast Lane, Small Crimes, Pariah, etc.). Dave's post was a reply to Fred's, which kicks off from the recent Bouchercon crime fiction festival. The discussion went on from here, but you'll have to find about that from the Rara-Avis archives. And oh, don't forget to check what Ed Gorman said about the issue here.

Can we start a discussion about Kindle, something deeper than "it's the Beast 666" or "I think the future will be Kindle-licious."

Bouchercon was fun. Went to panels, got free books and bought other books. Got some of them autographed, even.

But what stood out was Kindle. This guy from Amazon had a panel about the Kindle. The room was standing room only ... with writers and not readers or zealous fanatics. The session also went over its hour time limit, got kicked out, and then moved out into the hallway, where it stayed informally for almost another thirty minutes.

I liked what I heard. Kindle seems like the most feasible (most plausible) place for most older books and manuscripts down the line.

A friend of mine has a kindle and uses it on airplanes and for reading in bed at night. He swears by it. Buys ten books at a time.

About an hour or so after Amazon's panel ended, I bumped into the Amazon guy in the hotel lobby. He said -- and this is what got me the strongest - that Kindle would link manuscripts with whatever is listed at Amazon.

Before I met this Amazon guy, I meet some disgruntled, disgusted, frustrated, pissed-off writers at Bouchercon. As soon as their rights revert back to them, these guys were switching their manuscripts to Kindle.

All these manuscripts can get cobbled together as a sort of virtual backlist through Kindle. Maybe one of them ms. can help sell the others.

Kindle was the talk in the hotel bar after hours. Which surprised us.

I met one writer at Bouchercon whose agent is trying to get all thirty (yes, 30!) of his books onto Kindle. Most are out of print, he said, and his publisher won't offer them. He wasn't worried about the book collectors. Collectors will always buy and trade his old hardcover stuff. But his new readers -- until now (maybe) -- will never get a shot at reading them.

One writer said, "Nobody autographs a Kindle." But she had four out-of-print books she was worried about. Whatever's out of print is no longer out of print. And because it's electronic, it has no effect on the collectors who want a hard copy no matter what. And people who read it electronically can also get linked to everything else in your series ... and, if they wish, order hard copies to keep forever.

We also met a writer whose agent shopped a manuscript but couldn't find it a home. The agent told the writer, give it to Kindle, the writer sold 7000 copies, and Simon & Schuster bought it for a future hardcover. I spoke with the guy; he was in shock.

Mister 7000, we started calling him; we saw him everywhere. Oh, I know that story is the old "once upon a time it happened ..." and it only happened once. It's not about that.

I liked what the guy from Amazon told me about Kindle. You upload the manuscripts, then there's more fiddling around, whatever, and you get to set the price for the piece. Prices are kept low so you get those who devour books.

And here's Dave Zeltserman:

E-readers (Kindles, Nooks, Sony, iPhones, what have you) seem to be the future. When this future arrives, who knows? Personally I think it will take eReaders coming down in cost ($50 or less) for that to happen --maybe they'll be like cell phones where the e-book stores sells the readers cheap to lock you into buying e-books from them. As a reader, I don't want to move from paper to spending more time staring at a screen, as a writer, I'm very concerned with the effect this will have on bookstores, especially the independents.

For newer writers, it's the independents who support us -- they're the ones discovering us, recommending us and handselling us. It happened with Michael Connelly, as well as many other authors, and they're the ones now selling Small Crimes and Pariah. My fear is as more and more indies get knocked out of business and books are bought for e-readers, it will make it nearly impossible for newer writers to be discovered and read except by a very small niche of readers.

I suspect over time as 100s of thousands of out of print and self-published books are dumped onto the kindle store and other e-book stores that these stores will more and more resemble Walmart, where only a handful of the biggest bestsellers are given prominent display space and all other books buried deep in the web-site. I also suspect as the volume of books grow on these stores, the chances of any book being bought at high enough volumes to attract a real publisher is going to be close to 0.

So to summarize, I think this trend will be disastrous for most writers (although probably a boon for the biggest names), unless all you're aspiring to is to sell a few hundred copies of your book.

But this is clearly the future. I'm just hoping it takes a while to get here.

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