Speech Delivered by Warren Adler
At the NIST Electronic Book 2001Conference in Washington, DC, November 6, 2001
Last year at this convention, I announced my intention of putting all of my 23 backlist novels on the web. I had concluded that it was the only alternative available for an author like myself with a large backlist of books, translated into 30 foreign languages, many of them declared out-of-print by various publishers.
I had pointed out then that my books had survived two adaptations to major motion pictures The War of the Roses, now a cult classic, and Random Hearts, a movie starring the aging heartthrob Harrison Ford, now making the rounds on TV screens throughout the world. There was also one wonderful adaptation of three of my short stories into a PBS miniseries called The Sunset Gang. Thus, I laid claim to my fifteen minutes of fame. Ahead, I saw only a dark future of galloping anonymity, a condition that, I still view as highly unsatisfactory.
My objective in reaching out to the lifeboat that I perceived floating on the web was to extend my literary career during and beyond my lifetime, attempt to brand my authorial name and give me assurances that my books would be available during the life of my copyrights, meaning seventy-odd years after my demise. Call it looking ahead.
To many this action was seen as an act of extreme egoism, temporary insanity and possibly, great or blind courage. I am happy to report that it was all of the above.
As I speak all of my novels are, indeed, available in the English language on the web in most, if not every e-book format and Print-on-Demand configuration both in hard cover and trade paperback. Creating this infrastructure required, in addition to an inordinate outlay of hard cash, an enormous effort of will and tenacity. Think of what it required. I had to be sure I owned all the rights. I did not want to court violations in cover art and had to create entirely new covers, opting for a generic design. To make matters more complicated, I had to recreate the novels in every competing digital format.
There is, after all, no one standard. No need to preach to the choir here. You all know the drill. In fact that’s why we’re here. My 24 books are now listed in over 240 ISBN numbers since each volume in each format requires it. The process is akin to sausage making. You don’t want to know what ingredients go into it, but I am happy to report that the worst is over. My books are now ubiquitous and available for sale everywhere books are sold on the net and in brick and mortar stores.
Now that the English language infrastructure is complete, I am in the process of exploring conversions in other languages. My plan is to start with the European languages, then move on to those in Asian tongues.
The thing about this process is “in for penny, in for a pound.” It’s like an addiction. I am also exploring putting my work in audio formats, where I have the rights. The technology currently exists for making digital movies at a fraction of the cost involved in current movie making. Perhaps some day.
So now I’ve gone and done it. So what! Now I’ve been going around the world telling people that I’ve done it and what I’ve learned. I’ve spoken in Paris, London, and Frankfurt and continue to spread the word of my project at every available podium on our continent.
The strange thing about my predicament is that I’ve discovered that I am the only author in the world, with my output, vetted by major publishers, who has done this. Am I a visionary or a fool? That will be for others to judge.
Here is what I have learned. And remember I am speaking only from the author’s point of view, not just an author, but also a novelist, not just a novelist, a mainstream novelist, meaning that I am not a genre writer although six of my books can be roughly categorized as mysteries.
I consider my books modestly popular. Let us say they are an acquired taste, hybrid concoctions of thrillers, stories about love, sex and general angst, characters in the throes of deep conflicts locked mostly in dysfunctional relationships with a flash of dark humor thrown in here and there. In other words, a compendium of contemporary life in America.
The results of my first couple of months of activity are as follows:
- I am selling a lot more books than I had when they were out-of-print and my sales were nil. Now that’s a no-brainer. What is most important to note is that a revenue flow has begun, thank God. I am gaining more and more readers daily, some as far away as China or Russia. I know because they write to me and I answer them. Don’t listen to the nay sayers in the media. I tell you from personal experience. E-books are selling. Print-on-Demand is selling. Not enough for the big publishers locked into their own expectations and paradigms requiring instant results, but they are selling. The trickle has become a stream and the stream is expanding faster than our media moguls know. When will the stream become a river? Sooner than we think.
- I am beginning to discover who exactly is reading my books, allowing me to interact with them by e-mail. I am harvesting their names and slowly building my list of loyal followers. It is akin to looking for the raisins in raisin-bran , but by patience and persistence the list is growing.
- I have discovered which format is winning the e-book sales wars and which e-tailers are doing the best for my books. Please don’t press me on this. I don’t want to piss anybody off. Remember, too, that I am operating in an environment where genre books, particularly science fiction have been dominant. E-tailers have put my books in the category of contemporary fiction, which I accept as reasonably descriptive.
- While my new books are being published by traditional publishers with cross-referencing to my website and other e-tailers, I expect to have increasing difficulties obtaining exclusive e-book rights of my future novels. Nevertheless, as I build my own infrastructure and develop my cyber-marketing skills I am beginning to glimpse a value-added element to any future novels and believe that I will find a happy medium to share e-rights with my future publishers.
- I have always known that my principal challenge will be marketing, creating awareness of my authorial name, in other words, branding. To achieve this, I am sending a periodic letter, which I call an e-sheet, to both readers and interested parties with every increasing frequency. The letter contains news and information of interest to my circle, items such as new formats and languages introduced, if any, new ways of receiving my work. For example, one of my e-tailers is offering my short stories as single purchases in lieu of the collected stories in book form and is also offering short stories previously published to which I own the rights. The e-sheet also reports on any movie or television deals, if any and other little tidbits of interest, including my pearls of wisdom of events of the day. If any of you wish to receive these frequent tomes I would be happy to collect cards and put you on our list. You might find them surprisingly interesting and, if you don’t, we have a farewell option. I am also exploring postings on news groups and other methods of contacts via e-mail and, of course, an emphasis on harvesting names and e-mails of potentially interested parties. Nor am I averse to advertising, although finding the targets represent a further challenge. Indeed, this talk and the many talks that I am making around the world is all part of the marketing strategy. I post these visitations on my site.
- I have discovered that readers are also interested in the lives of authors, heaven knows why, but I am always happy to oblige and my website www.warrenadler.comhas sections where one can see how I live and learn as much about me as I am willing to divulge.
- There is also the element of experimentation. For example, a number of years ago I wrote a novel titled Bound for Glory which was about the rescue of a young woman from a cult. In those years, I had difficulty finding a publisher who was interested in the subject matter. The basic theme of the novel was how a sinister and determined cult could brainwash people into believing that there was a paradise awaiting them after death if they would just adhere to the teachings of the cult leaders. Since timing is, after all, everything in life, I put it on ice after a couple of submissions, believing that the moment would come when this subject would generate more interest. Alas, it has, with tragic results. We all now wonder how young men can give up their lives for such a dubious reward as 72 virgins with dark eyes. 72 virgins for an eternity. This is paradise? Give me a break. Thus, the timing is perfect. My novel is right on target. Submitting it now to a publisher would probably get interest but the time required to get it into the marketplace would be too long. Thus, I will be putting it out as an e-book and Print-on-Demand in a month and market it through my own sources. Just an experiment, but, in my opinion, worth the effort.
This then is an interim report on my wild and wooly project. My commitment remains focused and disciplined. I am quite encouraged by these preliminary results and will continue to press ahead. At this stage, I can see no downside to this effort and I truly believe that, while it is still quite lonely on this ocean of uncertainty, other authors will eventually discover my wake and put their boats in the water to follow it.
In the meantime, as a gesture of solidarity with our mutual cause, may I suggest that you buy a book or two or perhaps a complete set. They look lovely on a library shelf. But then you can judge for yourself whether my project is noteworthy or foolhardy.