Sunday, May 15, 2011

"Thar’s Gold in Them Thar Computers…" by Robin Burcell

Robin Burcell, an FBI-trained forensic artist, has worked as a police officer, detective and hostage negotiator. The Bone Chamber is her latest international thriller about an FBI forensic artist. Face of a Killer received a starred review from Library Journal. She is the author of four previous novels. Visit her website at:


"Thar’s Gold  in Them Thar Computers…"
by Robin Burcell

E-Books, the new gold rush? This thought occurred to me as my kids were researching the California Gold Rush, learning about the pioneers of 1849 braving the deadly trek from the east coast to the west. I was struck by the similarity of the pioneers in search of the mother lode to the modern-day writers in search of an (as of yet) untapped market for their e-books.

Looking back to 1849, there are documented letters and newspaper articles about men discussing their lives in the west, some finding a large nugget and striking it rich, and some finding next to nothing and wondering how they were going to survive.

Fast forward to the computer age. History repeats itself, not in gold dust but in e-books, which for some writers amounts to the same thing. E-books aren’t anything new (nor was the search for gold back then). We undoubtedly know writers who have been e-publishing for years. Still, it wasn’t until internet sales of paper books started to take off that anyone sat up and noticed, especially when a vast number of brick-and-mortar bookstores ended up on life support. Suddenly (it seemed) e-books appeared on the horizon with a new zeal, bringing on a surge of writers who realized there was gold to be had on the hard drive of their computers. It didn’t matter if they had a legacy of being traditionally published or had never been able to crack that New York market.

This new type of reader was willing to embrace both the veteran and the novice author alike as long as their stories were entertaining.

Some writers struck the mother lode, the Amanda Hockings and John Lockes of the e-book craze. Articles in well-respected journals and blogs outlined their growing wealth. Additionally, these same editorials pointed not only to other writers who were eager to cash in, but to writers who gave up their New York  contracts in favor of going digital, most vocally Joe Konrath and most surprisingly Barry Eisler. I was reading yet another blog by yet another writer who chose to be very open about the number of e-books she’d sold during a certain time period. One need only do the math to come to the stunning realization that many of these authors are earning a lot of cash.

Money aside, there are still writers who dream of that New York publishing house, and a few, like Boyd Morrison, used the internet sales of their e-books to land a print deal.  And yet, sometimes through all the hype, it’s easy to miss the writers who are barely making a trickle, maybe a couple hundred dollars a month—if that—with their e-books. It’s nothing that puts them on any bestseller list or in the Wall Street Journal, or highlighted in any blog, but it’s certainly sales they didn’t have prior to putting their books online.

There was a time when an e-published writer was considered something of a fraud if they attempted to bypass the gates of New York. Those that dared to do so rarely received acknowledgment from their traditionally published peers, and some undoubtedly felt slighted or snubbed. Perhaps that’s why the success of these e-pubbed authors who were never published in print remind me of the scene in Gone With The Wind, when carbetbagger Emmie Slattery returns to town as one of the nouveau riche, and gets her chance to turn up her nose at the now-destitute Scarlett O’Hara (who once did the same to Emmie). But I digress.  The Civil War was several years after 1849—which, according to history books, was a time of such excitement that perfectly respectable and civilized folks dropped everything to head west in search of gold.  Or in the case of today’s writers, to eagerly turn on their computers in search of the next bestseller to e-publish.

So, writers, what’s on your hard drive? Anything besides backlist that you’re tempted to upload? And those of you who are readers, have you discovered a new-to-you writer via e-books that you’ve never before seen in print?


Peg Brantley said...

Robin, terrific post. And just so you know, I thoroughly enjoyed The Bone Chamber. Well done!

I have found so many new (to me) authors because of e-books. Joseph Finder (who I actually saw first on Twitter, then downloaded Paranoia and loved it); Tim Hallinan who hooked me with A Nail Through The Heart, also on Kindle; L.J. Sellers who tackles social issues that clearly have meaning to her. I'm sure there are more, but those are the ones that come to mind at the moment.

Peg Brantley said...

Oh, and . . . the finish is in sight of a terrific first draft (well, I like the story, the first draft undoubtedly needs work) that will ultimatelyl be my first e-book adventure. A second manuscript is waiting to be edited.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Peg! And congrats on finishing that manuscript. Always a good sign when you still like it, even in the first draft stage!

Kaye George said...

I couldn't begin to say what's on my e-reader. Dozens and dozens of books, short stories, and anthologies. I actually lose track sometimes. I went to buy a book today and the internet told me I already had it!

It's in my queue and I'll get to it eventually, I'm sure.

L. J. Sellers IS one of my newly discovered authors. Tim Hallinan is on my list To Buy.

Anonymous said...

I must admit, Kaye, having an e-reader does make it convenient to try authors one hasn't read before. I have books on mine that I haven't gotten to--never mind the physical books on my shelves I haven't gotten to!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Although I'm traditionally published, I *do* have something I'm interested in putting out Straight to Kindle.

The problem is the time find a good cover artist, to find a good formatter (I want it to look professionally done), to make sure the document is well-edited (which *editors* always did for me, before!) It's time I don't have right now, so the project is on the back burner. :) Great post, Robin!

Patty said...

Love my Kindle, have many "new to me" authors to try, yet what excites me most is the fact that authors who were low-mid-list are now getting back in print. One I'm really looking forward to is a local South Dakota author, Kathleen Taylor, her Tory books are wonderful and I can't wait to get them on my Kindle. Soon, she keep promising.

Anonymous said...

You're absolutely right, Elizabeth. Time is a factor for many. My girlfriend, who writes romance, has 32 books beneath her belt, and many, many that the rights have reverted to her. When I suggested she turn them into e-books, she said she didn't have the time. My feeling? It may be worth the investment to pay someone to do it for her. Seems there are lots of services out there that have popped up just for that.

Anonymous said...

Patty, you've struck the nail on the head regarding mid-listers and out-of-print authors. This opens up a whole new world for readers who have not been able to read something recommended, because the book was not in print.

L.J. Sellers said...

Robin, your writer friend needs to hire a cover designer and a formatter and get those books out there.

Because the untold story is that there are a lot of authors in the middle, not getting rich, but making more than a few hundred a month. Many of us are making enough money to support ourselves and/or families with our e-book sales.

In that regard, e-publishing is similar to traditional publishing, with many levels of success.

And thanks Peg and Kaye for mentioning me. My ears were burning.

Anonymous said...

Agreed, L.J. Wish you could go over there and convince her!

That being said, I just read a sample contract on a site that will upload author's books "for no upfront fees." The contract stipulates royalties. (It did not say what percentage.) I suppose that if someone had no money whatsoever, this might be a necessity, but personally, I'd scrape the money together to ensure that I was the only one getting royalties on my work, not someone who recently hung up a shingle because opportunity presented itself.

Buyer beware. Just like in the gold rush, it seems that someone's always willing to think of a way to get rich off of others labors.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Something to remember---from a time standpoint, the gold rush was over quickly.

Cynthia Wright said...

Great piece, Robin! As you know, this is a hot topic for me, and I've been doing lots of research lately. I hope to have some of my backlist in ebook form by mid-summer... Thanks for your great advice :-)
Cynthia Wright

Anonymous said...

Very good Point, Kevin, and one I'm sure is on the back of everyone's thoughts.

And Cynthia, glad you enjoyed it. Very smart to do the research, and not just jump on the bandwagon because it is there.

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Robin, Hey - Welcome!!! Always fun to have you here and you always come up with interesting questions for discussion. Thank you!

And welcome to everyone else. Thanks for stopping by.

I have discovered a new writer or two since getting an eReader. Barbara O'Neal for one. I had not heard of her until I saw her at The Lipstick Chronicles Blog, and decided to try her work via eBooks and have fallen in love with her work.

I've also downloaded a LOT of backlists and out of prints things - novels and short story collections.

jenny milchman said...

I am thrilled that the gates are open to writers whose work might not otherwise have ever gotten out there, or to breathe new life into out of print titles by authors. My hope is that the new e frontier can coexist with traditional publishing, which I think does some things uniquely well. Neither indie nor trad is for everybody--which is why it's great to have options.

And now I'm going to look up your work--Peg's rec does it for me every time!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for having me! Always a pleasure!

I certainly agree that having both venues for authors is a plus. It will be interesting to see what the future brings, and how the two publishing worlds will coexist. (And on an aside, if you do find those books, you'll have to let me know what you think of them! Me, adding my thanks to Peg, too!)

Peg Brantley said...

Peg bowing to Jenny and Robin. Reminds them she loves dark chocolate. And hugs.

Anonymous said...

Noted, Peg!

Britt said...

Robin, I have more than 200 books on my Kindle. Some are classics. Of the remainder, I would say 90% are by writers I had never heard of. Some are great, some pretty good, the mediocres are there and a few really terrible ones, too. Since I mostly buy the $3.99 and under, I expect to find some that aren't up to snuff. But they are vastly outweighed by the good ones. And I find I learn a lot from those that aren't very good, just as I do from the better ones.

I'm planning to offer my own first book ("Message from Panama") on the web this summer and am hoping there will be a lot of adventurous souls out there like me who will give it a try.

Thanks for posting and kicking off this discussion.

Britt Vasarhelyi
p.s. I discovered LJ, too!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for letting us know, Britt!

And you'll have to give a shout out when you do put your book out there!