A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to talk with Vermont mystery writer Archer Mayor, who’s begun to sell part of his older titles independently, as both physical and electronic copies. Here, we talk about his Joe Gunther series, wading into the electronic market, self-publishing and readers. Note: Due to technical difficulties, this isn’t an exact transcript, but it should be fairly close.
Geek Mountain State: Over the past couple of years, you’ve been selling the first half of the Joe Gunther series independently after requiring the rights to the books: how do you see the rise of self-publishing going for the literary public, in general?
Archer Mayor: For the public, it’s clearly a good thing, because it’s an embodiment of that marketing model called the long tail. This is very much the long tail. You put a juke box in a bar, but instead of 53 hits, you have thousands of titles. It’s a consumer’s dream. The publishing market is a publisher’s dream! For example, when I put Open Season out as an eBook [for free], it’s received 180,000 downloads. There’s no financial benefit to me there, but it gets my name out. That’s the problem for the long tail. The producer has to be able to stand out amongst those millions of offerings. How do you get the consumer to notice me? There are thousands of people out there who troll for free books – they don’t care about me, but they read it, hopefully enjoy it, and move on. They don’t pick up the next book because it’s not free.
The second book isn’t seeing as many downloads.
GMS: Is there a bump?
AM: There’s a bump, but it’s hard to figure out if that’s the cause. There’s a lot of factors. There’s a lending library at the Welcome centers across Vermont – borrow one, and read it, and go return it. There are other options through AM press. If I see a bump for Borderlines, it’s small – it’s nowhere close to the free downloads. It’s complicated paradoxical. It doesn’t cost a lot to do, which is a plus. I get a good royalty, and I have to pay a certain start up cost, but it hasn’t taken long to earn more than that.
GMS: How does your traditional audience see the eBooks?
AM: Because I have all the books available as books, they’re relaxed. They can have their 14.95 tradebacks. They can get them on my website. They’re happy. The complaints might come when there’s only eBooks. I’ve done both. A wrinkle to that – I may be only one of the very few people to do this – I’ve got the rights for books 1-14 outright – paperback, eBook, they’re mine. Now, In addition to that, the New York publisher – Macmillan, handles my new hardbacks. They also do the paperbacks. But there were four titles in between what I own outright, and what Macmillan currently publishes. Ashette owns these ones. I went to them and asked for them back as eBooks only – I know you’ll never publish them as paper books again – but since nobody’s doing anything with the paperback rights, and can I have them back? They were astonished, went to their legal department and talked. My agent went to them, they went out and got drunk and forgot to ask about me. I said, there’s nothing but happy memories, and I sent her back to get the rights back – once I get going, I’ll have the remaining four back in paperback.
GMS: You’ve recently started selling eBook copies of your novels, through Amazon.com and the iTunes bookstore: have you been finding new audiences because of this?
AM: I think there’s always a silent minority of readers while we’re talking on Facebook and Twitter. I’ve got an e-mail newsletter called the Guthergram that has 2000 members. Those are good numbers, but that’s not enough to sustain. The eBooks, however, are selling, but I don’t actually know if they’re new readers or not. I think in a way, it’ll be interesting to see if that happens again this year when my 23rd book comes out. I think they’re growing, but it would be interesting if there’s cross-pollination between the hardcover readers and the eBook readers. It’s hard to track. I think this is part of the wonder, that we’re all out in this brand new brave world, and we’re trying to get an answer. We’re trying to create a protocol to see what works and what doesn’t. To be honest, we can’t figure it out. There are some books that are elusive bestsellers, and we’ve always been trying to figure out why they are like that. It’s fun to fuss with. But jeeze, I’m exhausted – I do far more publicizing than before, and I don’t know if it’s doing any good.
GMS: Something that I saw recently is that you released a new short story called Snow Blind, which has been released exclusively online, through Amazon and Barnes and Noble: is this a one-off experiment, or do you think that there will be other stories in the future?
AM: For the moment, it’s a one-off. It was an older story – my girlfriend was the movement behind this – she sadly should be on the line, but she’s doing other stuff. She handles a lot of the details, but I haven’t a clue as to what any of the details are – I don’t know how well it’s selling yet. I’ve already got some people asking if it’ll be published somewhere else. Plus, I already did that and nobody bought it! The mysterious press published a bunch of their author’s short stories, but don’t know if anyone ever read it. I’m not a short story author by instinct – I’m too long winded!
GMS: With all of these changes in publishing over the last couple of years, which has struck you the most?
AM: The exhaustion factor. It’s the monkey see, monkey do factor. Tweeting comes around, and everyone says I’ve got to tweet, I’ve got to tweet!’ I remember saying, guys, Joe Gunther fans don’t tweet. I mean enough is enough. Facebook is good, but you can drive yourself insane. They either spend most of their time clogging the airwaves trying to get people to notice them, and after a while, I’m not sure if this is sensible anymore. There’s a small element inside me that says if 80 percent of the time is selling, and 20 percent is the quality. What happened to build it and they will come : you’re trying to hand sell to everyone who comes by. I don’t have anything against tweets, any more than I have anything against lips and tongues – they need to be used appropriately!
Many thanks to Archer for talking with us! You can become a fan on Facebook or follow him on Twitter. His website can be found here. His next book, the 24th in the Joe Gunther series, comes out this fall.