E-Publishing, Part 1: In The Beginning

It's only in the last few years that the world was ready for electronic book publishing, and now it's unstoppable.

F. Paul Wilson, Contributor

January 19, 2012

4 Min Read

F. Paul Wilson

As told by Repairman Jack...

Wilson thinks he's a publisher now. Sort of. He's got a bunch of digital titles in print in various formats, and even a couple available as POD (that's Print On Demand for the non-cognoscenti). Even has a name for his company: Wilsongs. Cute, huh?

I'm not going to attempt anything like a comprehensive history, simply one writer's journey through the e-pub maze. I was along for the ride—an intimate part of it, in fact—so I know.

Wilson flirted with electronic publishing very early on—like 1993—when he became involved with the granddaddy of all ebooks, Brad Templeton's ClariNet Library of Tomorrow. But the world wasn't quite ready back then for what ClariNet was offering.

Through the years, he kept the electronic rights to his fiction whenever he could. Why? Well, just because. No big deal until the aughts. E-rights didn't exist in the 60s and 70s, and when the publisher would add "electronic" to the laundry list of rights it wanted in the 90s, he (via his agent, Al Zuckerman) would cross it out. Never a peep from the publisher. My how things have changed. These days, electronic rights can be a deal breaker.

Come May 2005, he hears from Simon Lipskar at Writers House (his literary agency) that Amazon is starting a new project, Amazon Shorts, with an eye to making short fiction and nonfiction by established authors available for download. He immediately sees what this means: Amazon.com is getting into the publishing business. Interesting.

Here's the plan: They'll charge $0.49 a pop and are offering a sixty-forty split. It's invitation only so he's got to keep mum because there's a non-disclosure agreement involved. Does he want in?

Hell, yeah, he wants in. Forty percent of $0.49 is only a hair shy of 20 cents, but it's a forty-percent royalty. Whoever heard of a 40% royalty? He knows the future when he sees it. He signs the NDA, then realizes he's too booked up to write something new. No problem. He's got this old story about Yours Truly called "The Long Way Home." He wrote it back in 1992 for Joe and Karen Lansdale's Dark at Heart, a small press anthology limited to 400 copies. So at most, 400 people read the story more than a dozen years ago, and it's never been reprinted. Virtually a new story. So he sends it in.

An agent from Writers House emails him the next morning that Amazon is "adamant" about no previously published material. Well, so much for that. Too bad. Would have been nice to get in on something new like that.

Six hours later the agent is back: "Sounds like Amazon realized how ludicrous their position was in regard to your piece, because they've changed their minds. In fact, Jeff Bezos himself said to screw the technicality in this case."

Nice to know Jeff Bezos has even heard of him. Even nicer that after Amazon Shorts is launched in August, "The Long Way Home" becomes the #1 fiction download for 2005 and for all of 2006. (It held the #2 spot in overall downloads, with the #1 spot going to a nonfiction investing piece.) Eventually Shorts was opened to any author who had a backlist on Amazon and the catalogue of stories and articles grew to nearly 2,000.

Truth be told, despite the popularity of his story, Wilson didn't exactly clean up. Amazon Shorts was not a runaway success with the public. But one thing he did notice was a definite uptick in his backlist sales. People who read "The Long Way Home" wanted to read more about Yours Truly, and so they followed the links to Wilson's older Repairman Jack titles. At the time, he figured this was the strategy behind Amazon Shorts. He was probably right to a point, but he was definitely wrong too.

Because in the fall of 2007, just a little over two years after Amazon became a publisher, it introduced the first Kindle.

And that, as they say, was the game changer.

Next time: Kindle Nation

Repairman Jack is the alter ego of F. PAUL WILSON, an award-winning New York Times bestselling author of more than 40 novels and many more short stories. His work, spanning horror, adventure, medical thrillers, science fiction, young adult, and virtually everything between, has been translated into 24 languages. Currently he is best known as creator of the urban mercenary Repairman Jack. (http://www.repairmanjack.com)

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