From the Boskone 49 science fiction convention BYTE's Daniel Dern interviewed famed science fiction author and BYTE veteran Jerry Pournelle. In this segment, Jerry discusses the two secrets to writing success in the electronic age: a good editor and good publicity.
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DANIEL: What can you tell us, what are one or two of the products you have enjoyed using over the last year?
JERRY: If you're looking for trends... my head isn't working as well as it should be, today...the biggest trend I can see in the last couple of years is the total collapse of the publishing business as I knew it. When I was a youngster, and first getting into the writing racket, you would spend all your time trying to satisfy a bunch of editors in New York. Nowadays, they're almost irrelevant. I make more money out of the electronic editions of my books, many of which are 30 and 40 years old, than I do out of print editions. And that's true of many people.
The publishing industry as we knew it is pretty well gone. It consists of Amazon, one big book chain--Barnes & Noble--and a lot of little specialty book stores. You don't have coffeeshops and bookstores and your local bookstore and places of that kind anymore. We have to learn to adapt to that in the publishing business, and we certainly have not.
How many people here in the room are here because you want to learn something about the writing racket?
DANIEL: Is there anyone here who wants to learn from Jerry about the writing racket? One hand, two hands... Is there anything you don't know about the writing racket, Mr. Coville? Bruce Coville in the back has raised his hand. What, sir, is your question? I'll repeat it.
Bruce Coville: I don't have any specific question, I'm waiting for Jerry's wisdom to come at me. Why don't you talk about ebooks? I'm very interested.
DANIEL: Jerry, what wisdom do you have? Any thoughts or suggestions about ebooks? How do we buy them, how do we sell them. How do we promote them?
F. Paul Wilson, a well-known horror writer, has also written extensively for BYTE on the changes in the publishing industry..
JERRY: I can talk about ebooks, because I'm making a lot of money from them. In order to keep up with the technology, I have put some of my books up in ebook form myself, which is mainly to say Eric Pobirs does most of it for me, but I watch over his shoulder and know how it's done.
And it's a fairly easy process for any intelligent person. It's mostly being meticulous about the formatting. You have to put it into the format you're going to have it published in, and then read it in that format, and you'll discover that periods are in the wrong places, there are line feeds that shouldn't be there. It's all kinds of nonsense like that. And you have to go over it a piece at a time, proofreading.
Now, that's the easy part.
The hard part, of course, is writing something that is in fact publishable, and the hard part of that is that very few authors are much good at editing their own materials. Bruce [Daniel] can tell you that about me. I have to acknowledge that one of the reasons I have done as well as I have over the last 40 years is because I've had some very good editors.
DANIEL: There was a session I went to earlier, which you missed, Jerry, on some of the aspects of turning your books into ebooks. Bruce Coville, I believe, wanted to know, once you got them ready for people to buy, how you promote them so people know about them? Buying them is easy, but promoting is still the hard part. Is that fair, Bruce? Jerry, since you're doing this yourself, how, besides posting on your Web site, how do you tell people that they're available and they should buy them?
JERRY: Promoting has always been the big job. It's the case that it used to be the publishers did some promoting for some books. But science fiction was never much promoted by publishers, except in a few cases. I'm one of the beneficiaries of that. When we did Lucifer's Hammer, Playboy Press, which was the hardcover publisher--everybody forgets it was Playboy Press--Playboy Press did a smack-on job of promoting it. And they promoted it so dang well it ended up as number two on the bestseller list, and stayed there at number two for 14 weeks, and stayed there for 25 weeks, and ... the book is still selling to this day.
So the simplest way to sell a lot of ebooks is to have a lot of ebooks, and have one be a bestseller. Now that's not going to help you very much.