Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Up with e-shorts!

I bought Allan Guthrie's novella Bye, Bye Baby last night, and I asked last week when someone was going to put out a collection of Scott Phillips' short stories.

I mention this because I bought the Guthrie as a downloaded e-book, and if electronic books are here to stay, we might as well take advantage of what the medium can do. I don't mean weird technological gimcrackery that in most cases adds up to nothing more than what a simple paperback does at a fraction of the cost, I mean the flexibility to publish narrative forms such as novellas and short stories that might be economically unfeasible as traditional books.

Bye, Bye Baby is about seventy pages; hard to imagine a publisher taking a chance on a traditional book that size (though Five Leaves Publishing Crime Express series does so with, among other novellas, Guthrie's Killing Mum, and Barrington Stoke with his Kill Clock). But lower production and distribution costs might encourage them to do so with books in electronic form.

And where is a reader to turn who loves an author's short fiction and would like it collected in one place, as I would with Phillips or Jean-Hugues Oppel or Dominique Manotti? (Ken Bruen, too, though he's popular enough that some publisher might be able to sell his collected shorts as a traditional book.)

Short-story collections by a single crime author are few and far between, and I suspect uncertainty about their sales prospects helps account for this. So why not sell collections as cheap e-books, or even let readers build their own books electronically out of the short stories they want to read?

What are the barriers to doing things this way? And which crime writers would you like to see come out with collections of short stories?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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24 Comments:

Blogger Dana King said...

I think it's a great idea. There's also a marketing point there: short stories that can explore different aspects of a character's personality and experience that weren't appropriate (or didn't fit) for the novel. Give them away if you have to, especially if it's a series character. Keep your readers happy with little doses of Elvis Cole or Jack Reacher while they're waiting for the next novel to come out.

I also like the idea that length becomes an insignificant consideration. I've read a lot of padded books that spread 180 pages of story into 280 pages. This need never happen with an e-book.

August 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, that's not a bad point. E-books might give authors more freedom to obey that old dictum about starting at the beginning and then, when you get to the end, stop, however many words into the story that end might be. Of course, that need not be a consideration in traditional books, either, except for marketing considerations. In any case, it's nice to think of the e-book as a means toward the death of padding.

I like your suggestion about other ways novelists might use novellas.

A few years ago, Ed McBain asked a bunch of crime writers to write novellas of about 20,000 words, and he published them under the collective title Transgressions, both in one big book and in conventional paperback-size books of three or four novellas each. Donald Westlake, one of the authors (an excellent Dortmunder novella) introduces one volume with some thoughts on the difficulties of publishing the novella form. E-books are a way around that.

August 04, 2010  
Blogger Dana King said...

I read one of those collections, with McBain, Westlake, and Walter Moseley. All were good, tight stories. I'm already a fan of all three, but novella would be great ways for new readers to get their feet wet, much better than short stories, which can't range as far.

August 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Westlake novella, "Walking Around Money," was one of his best Dortmunder stories -- distinctive because the abbreviated length forced him to focus on fewer characters (no gang this time, just Dortmunder and Kelp). And that contributed to a sharper focus on the economically shaky rural setting.

And it appears that I misremembered a bit. Westlake did indeed remark about the difficulties of the novella, but he did so in remarks on his own Web site about "Transgressions." The introduction to the book, which also discusses these difficulties, is by McBain.

August 04, 2010  
Anonymous Garbhan said...

Love the idea, Peter. I actually explored the idea with my publisher, Guildhall Press, of setting a separate e-folio for niche books and booklets that wouldn't sell in the print numbers needed to make a profit/break even. A publisher's imprimatur is important with e-books though - the reader needs a guarantee of both quality writing and editing.

(Peter, I submitted a short second comment on the Taylor thread - but it didn't appear...)

August 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Garbhan, I'd thought of that, too, the importance of a publisher's imprimatur. This could be a way, too, for publishers to issue (and make money from) formats that find a home only with difficulty in traditional books.

Please resubmit the Taylor comment. I will talk to management and ensure that it gets in.

August 04, 2010  
Blogger Dana King said...

Re: Garbhan's comment:

Would the publisher's imprimatur matter for an established writer? I doubt the average fan could tell you which of an author's books were put out by which publisher, but they know their favorite authors.

August 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, I was to going to suggest that an author' imprimatur could be just as important. But I think Garbhan's point is well taken. Go outside the traditional medium of novels, expecially with e-books' ease of distribution, and the reader will want to avoid the stigma of self-publishing.

August 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

In this case, the names of Scott Phillips and Allan Guthrie were the draws. If, say, Scott Phillips were to self-publish a collection of his short fiction, I'd but it, though it would be nice if it included stories that already appeared in anthologies issued by conventional publishers.

August 04, 2010  
Blogger Simona said...

This is a bit on a tangent, but talking of short stories reminded me that Camilleri has published at least three collections of stories featuring Montalbano (sorry, I am too lazy now to double-check, but three are the ones that I can name off the top of my head). As far as I know, none of them have been translated into English.

August 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I think two of the collections were Gli Arancini di Montalbano and La Prima Indagine di Montalbano. At first I thought short stories might be a better way to practice Italian. But then I thought reading one of the novels chapter by chapter, first in English, then in Italian, might work better. I did this with one of Janwillem van de Wetering's novels in Dutch, and found it an interesting experience.

August 04, 2010  
Anonymous Garbhan said...

Peter and Dana, I'm going to go out of a limb here and say that the vast majority of authors need to be edited and need to be copy-edited. In my entire time in newspapers and publishing, I can only think of one substantial piece (a 700-word book review commissioned from a college professor) that we didn't have to dot an i on. E-books, for all their benefits, could easily become a quick-fix solution for writers who can't get their rough work and/or table-scraps to the printed page. And it's for this reason that some of the bigger e-supermarkets are already refusing to deal with self-publishers.

August 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I can't remember a newspaper piece that did not need at least copy editing, and I get articles after they have, in theory, been edited already.

Garbhan, I am encouraged to learn that some e-supermarkets are wary of self-published books. Some people worry that e-publishing will break down all barriers and standards, which may sound good until one reflects on the seal of approval that a publisher's imprint and a bookseller's shingle have always provided.

That said, it would be nice if e-publishing expanded opportunities in the manner discussed here as a counterbalance to the constriction of opportunities elsewhere in publishing. This might reduce the compulsion to self-publish.

Now, what are some of those e-supermarkets? I am interested in anything that implies diversity and competition in e-book publishing and distribution, since concentration of too much power in too few hands is by far my biggest worry about the book industry.

August 05, 2010  
Anonymous Garbhan said...

E-supermarkets would, for me, include Amazon, eReader.com, ebooks.com, waterstones.com and the Apple and Vodafone (UK) e-bookshops. Some do cater for self-publishers, but I was at an industry conference in December, where both Waterstones and Vodafone insisted they would only deal with accredited publishers. And I got the impression others there were likely to follow their lead. Ultimately though, all these supermarkets take 30 percent of every e-sale from their 'shop-windows', so you'd suspect they'd never turn down a big name even if s/he didn't present via a publishing house.

August 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Garbhan, Bye, Bye Baby is to be published by the same house that issued Guthrie's novella Kill Clock, a house that had the intriguing idea of using crime fiction to lure reluctant and, I think, dyslexic readers as well. When cutbacks forced the house to delay, though not suspend, Bye, Bye Baby's publication, Guthrie asked for and received the electronic-publishing rights and issued the e-book through an outfit that is based at least in part on self-published books.

In cases like that, probably exceptional, self-publication serves readers well.

August 05, 2010  
Anonymous Linda said...

I just read in the Wall Street Journal that Dorchester is going to ebooks and is not going to publish any mass market paperbacks anymore; and that Hard Case Crime, therefore, is looking for another publisher.

August 06, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Linda. I'll look for that article. (Do you know if it's online?) Hard Case would certainly lose something without those cover paintings. I hope it finds a publisher that won't give everything up for e-books.

August 06, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter, in case Linda doesn't get back for a while or if you haven't already found it, the 06 Aug article is entitled "Mass Paperback Publisher Goes All Digital" and is available free at the WSJ Web site.

August 06, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter, your comment that "Hard Case would certainly lose something without those cover paintings" is amusingly ironic in light of this quote from the WSJ article: Romance fans in particular have already embraced e-books, in part because customers can read them in public without having to display the covers.

Maybe it's a girl thing. We want to read bodice rippers; we just don't want to see those bodices being ripped.

August 06, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It makes sense that Hard Case would seek a new home now that Dorchester is going all-electronic. No other imprint I know of so celebrates its cover artists.

August 06, 2010  
Blogger Brian Lindenmuth said...

Tom Piccirilli has written a few of what he calls "noirellas" (crime fiction novellas) over the the last couple of years. All of which are great.

Just last week he released the latest one called Short Ride to Nowhere as an e-book for just a couple of bucks.

His novella length fiction is great but it's not something that the bigger or more mainstream publishers are touching right now. This seems to be a great way to get this stuff out there.

I'd love to see an enterprising publisher (Tyrus, New Pulp Press) take all four of the noirellas and bundle them together in a hardback or trade paperback.

August 16, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Brian, a few days after I posted this comment, I read a comment by Marcus Sakey that e-books may a good place for short stories. It would be nice to think that momentum is building toward putting the idea into practice.

August 16, 2010  
Anonymous Mike Dennis said...

I like the idea of a single author doing a collection of short fiction, Peter. In fact, Vicki Hendricks has one such collection that just came out. It's called FLORIDA GOTHIC STORIES, and I did a review of it on my website. You can go directly to it just by clicking on my name above.

I'm really pleased to see novellas sticking their noses above the waterline, too. It's about time. IMHO, there's a market for them.

Maybe we'll see more such things in the future.

August 29, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the note. Vicki Hendricks was the one author I could think of who had published a recent collection of short stories. Her story in that superb second issue of Murdaland makes me want to read more. Unlike with other authors, I can do so easily,

I hope you're right about a market for shorter fiction. I don't see why publishers and authors could not take advantage ot teachnology and bring this about.

August 29, 2010  

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