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Interview by Lee Masterson
Fiction Factor - Firstly, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. How does your writing schedule affect your family/social life?
Douglas Clegg - It doesn't affect it. I've always written, and I've always had people around me during those times. I can begin writing at 2 am or sometimes at 3 in the afternoon, when everyone else is doing something else.
FF - Purity is available right here on Fiction Factor. What made you decide to release an e-book for free?
DC - Well, more than anything: because I could. The hardcover had come out and sold out quickly from Cemetery Dance Publications (www.cemeterydance.com), and the novel is so short, at about 120 pages or so, I didn't know where it would live next. I decided to self-publish it as an e-book, but then I wondered what I'd charge for it, and would the people who'd bought the $30 hardcover feel like I'd just slapped them. So, I figured, what's the value of the hardcover? Well, first, it's a beautifully constructed book, and each copy is autographed and has interior illustrations. The e-book wouldn't have those elements. Basically the e-book would have to be a different experience, and I wanted it to be read and not just hanging there at my website. So, I needed to offer it freely to readers. But, I always like to get paid for each edition of my books (I like making a living as opposed to not.) So, I incorporated some marketing for my current paperback, Naomi (http://www.douglasclegg.com/naomi.htm) into the e-book of Purity, and added some notes on the writing of Purity, and the suggestion that the reader tip me (as you would a waiter or a performer) by buying a copy of Naomi or one of my other paperbacks.
FF- What specific pros and cons surround the e-publishing industry for fiction writers?
DC - Well, I only see pros for the writers. The cons are for the seller and the publisher, and this probably involves numbers. Most e-books will not sell
very many copies -- yet. By "very many copies," I mean, it won't yet compete with what publishers in New York can get out in mass market paperbacks
Part of the problem is, as of spring 2001 when we're doing this interview, the hardware for readers is not yet there. Or it's too expensive. The software also can be improved (although you should check out www.nightkitchen.com for their TK3 Reader which really makes e-book reading a wonderful experience. They've just created a TK3 version of Purity at their site, also.) And further: people still like the experience of curling up with a print book.
My guess is e-books will eventually create a niche market within publishing, somewhat similar to audio books but perhaps a bit stronger; but with the exception of a half-dozen titles per year, will never be more than a marketing device for print books until the software and hardware are perfected and standardized. I would guess that textbooks and articles will be the main market (and probably already are), followed by genre fiction titles (Romance, Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Horror) because the readers and writers in these genres tend to embrace innovation when it means they have more opportunities to read their favorite kinds of books.
But I do think they're powerful marketing devices for fiction right now -- and nothing else out there in the offline world can match them for this except perhaps television promotion, which is out of price range for the marketing of the majority of fiction. Stealth Press (www.stealthpress.com)
is right now offering a free download of John Shirley's short story, "My Victim," as a way of introducing readers to Shirley and getting something out to his fans, in order to bring them to his brilliant new collection, Darkness Divided. Dorchester Publishing (www.dorchesterpub.com) has a special e-book for my novel Naomi, again given away free, called "Spend an Hour with Naomi," which is about six chapters of the book, as a way of getting reader involvement so that people will want to go get the book. In many ways, e-books can be used as invitations to the world of the book.
Back to pros and cons: the only con I see for a writer is that other writers will be jealous of them if they do something innovative and interesting with their e-book rights. I know people are scared of Internet theft, but I've
noticed that it happens a lot less than you'd expect given the free and open spaces of the Internet. Most websites have been very respectful of my e-books and their care and feeding.
FF - Has releasing an e-book helped or hindered your writing career?
DC - Helped it. Immeasurably, each time. Doing NAOMI as the Internet's first publisher-sponsored e-serial in 1999 jumped my print numbers for the paperback
of that book in 2001 into the 125,000+ range rather than the low 50,000 range where they had been before the eserial. The hardcover of Naomi was done as a limited edition from Subterranean Press (www.subterraneanpress.com), and within seven weeks of publication, all 1,500 copies had sold out from the publisher.
Doing Purity in e-book -- well, it has had over 100,000 downloads (I'm no longer counting past the 100,000 point), and I'm guessing that some of those people have sent it to a few friends each, so its reach will go far and wide over the next year or two, and I hope will bring more readers to my fiction.
There is no downside to this at this time.
I do believe that the writers that will be most helped with e-books will be the ones who: 1) have offline print books available or 2) have a very unique niche market for their books.
I am not really good at figuring out the market for my books (I always think: intelligent and curious readers, and my guess is this makes up most readers in the world), but if I were to write a book about frog-collectors who also
cross-dress and vote Republican, now, *that* would be quite a niche market!
FF - From an author who has had some experience in each field, what major differences have been most noticeable with e-publishing vs. traditional print publishing?
DC - Fewer books are sold in e-book, as of 2001. This may change in the near-future. But right now, this is just a fact to face as an e-book writer.
If you can sell 1,000 copies of an e-book in 12 months, you're doing really well; you would be kicked out the door if that's all a paperback sold from a New York publishing house. However, here's the advantage to those 1,000 e-books sold: those are readers that a new writer can take to a publisher and say: I published my e-book, sold 1,000 copies, which means: there IS a market
for my books. It just has to be reached better than I can reach it. This is more powerful than most e-book writers can imagine.
On the other hand, I'm speaking from the viewpoint of someone who makes his daily bread primarily by writing fiction. If someone just wants to write, slowly developing a readership over many years, and enjoys the e-book process, it will be rewarding. There are certainly e-books that take off in sales, and no one can really predict which ones will and which ones won't.
Booklocker (www.booklocker.com) has had some major e-book bestsellers that have sold in the several thousand copy arena, mostly targeted to active Internet niche markets. B&N Digital is about to launch their line of e-books
with a big Dean Koontz title that is extremely collectible, as well. Other e-bookselling and e-publishing sites will have their chances at creating more than what has been created in the past, also. So I'm not saying all e-book sales are comparatively low -- just that most are, and the writer should go in with his or her eyes open to this. Similarly, if you publish in hardcover
or paperback, you probably won't sell 100,000 copies off the bat. It just happens more rarely than one would think.
And use some ingenuity to make the e-book stand out. A good book to help with this is How to Publish & Promote Online by MJ Rose and Angela Adair-Hoy (www.publishandpromote.com)
I will maintain that for most writers, an e-book is the best way to market print books. This is why I've done a few free ones -- I want to introduce readers to my work, I want to give a gift to fans who have been supporting me all these years, I want to experiment and do something fun for me that makes me feel active in my own career, and I want to reach as many people as possible with the e-book in as short a period of time as is possible.
Having said all this, I'm working on a book for writers in particular, that will be in e-book sometime soon, and I'm hoping to create a strong enough book for the e-book market that it sells several thousand copies. I'm sure each writer needs to feel this way when launching a book -- so don't take my words as negatives. Every exception will change the course of e-book history.
And there will be more exceptions this year than last year or the year before. It changes fast on the Internet. The truth today is not the truth in
12 months when it comes to the e-book industry.
I love e-books as an alternate way of reading a book.
FF - When it comes to self-promotion, what lengths have you gone to in order to increase reader-awareness of your work?
DC - I've pretty much depended on my fans to promote my books for me. I actually don't do a lot of self-promo -- but I do book-promo. I do have a fairly private newsletter list (well, it's open to the public, but I'm assuming only fans of my work would enjoy it) -- to subscribe, someone just needs to send a
blank email to: DouglasCleggemail@example.com. This is where I usually present weekly notes and then the yearly serials to my readers. I also directly ask my readers to go to their local bookstores or to mention my books to their friends. It seems bold, on the one hand, to do this; but it seems like the right thing to do, since, in fact, if one of my favorite writers asked me to do this, I'd happily do it. I love the people who write the books that I enjoy.
Self-promotion is an interesting term. I've heard writers tell me they think it's unseemly, and yet these same writers will send out a self-generated
press release that talks about themselves in the third person and will make statements like this: Joe Blow's brilliant and heart-breaking new novel of suspense, Wackawacka..." I could never write that. I pretty much write direct notes to readers and visitors to sites with which I interact, and say, "My book is coming up. Here's what I'm doing with it. Here's what I've been up to." Or I'll hire a publicist to do a press release mailing, but the publicist writes the release. Yes, what I'm doing is self-promotion, but I doubt I could ever write, "Douglas Clegg's fantastic new novel of terror, Naomi, is so wonderful you'll feel yourself up while you read it." However, I will write: "I'm donating all my profits from the paperback edition of Naomi to the National Down Syndrome Society. Please pass this on and help get the word out. Thanks." That seems reasonable to me and not at all unseemly.
Oh, and then I brainstorm on ways of presenting my fiction, whether in e-book or other forms -- I brainstorm with friends who are much smarter than I could ever be. Sometimes, my fans come up with the brainstorm. They are pretty smart folks. It's important to come up with new and innovative ways to get readers involved and excited. But you know what? There'll be more of this in my upcoming book, co-written with a major name in e-books and Internet marketing. I think that brainstorming is going to be a big part of the
future for most novelists -- and this involves putting more than one brain to the storm.
FF - For those readers who are not so familiar with your work, could you tell us a little about your writing?
DC - Well, I've written over a dozen novels, several dozen short stories, won a couple of awards, and had five editions of books out in 2000, and it looks like four or five in 2001, including The Infinite, Leisure Books' first hardcover ever (September 2001); Naomi, the paperback of the eserial novel and hardcover; Nightmare House, the hardcover of my e-serial of 2000; Dark of the Eye, a new Subterranean Press hardcover limited edition of my novel from
1994; Goat Dance, my first novel, newly published in a beautiful hardcover by Vox 13; and Boogeyman, a new novel from Subterranean Press, to be published sometime in the fall. And perhaps one or two others. The two paperbacks of mine that have sold the best recently and made some bestseller lists have been You Come When I Call You and Naomi.
FF - Are you working on anything new at the moment?
DC - Yes, I'm working on Thriller, my first novel for Tor, which will be out in hardcover sometime in 2002. I've also gotten about halfway through my novel
for Leisure's hardcover line in 2002, called The Hour Before Dark.
FF - What was the best piece of advice you've received in regard to your
DC - Keep writing.
FF - If given the opportunity, would you do anything differently?
DC - Yes. I'd be born rich and as an only child.
FF - What piece of parting advice would you give to aspiring authors?
DC - Keep writing. Enjoy the process and incorporate it into your daily life so that it's a normal function of your day. Getting published is not the goal. The goal is writing a great story, and writing it well. Getting published is only a symptom that you may have accomplished your goal.
FF - Thank you once again for taking the time to answer our questions.
You can visit Douglas Clegg at www.douglasclegg.com,
or you can download his free version of Purity, right here on Fiction Factor
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