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Fri October 7, 2011
Author Interviews

Barry Eisler's 'Detachment' From 'Legacy' Publishing

Originally published on Fri October 7, 2011 12:38 pm

Thriller writer Barry Eisler has turned his back on traditional publishing — or as he calls it, legacy publishing. His latest book, The Detachment, was released as an e-book in September. It comes out in paperback in October. Both versions are published by Amazon.

No longer satisfied with just selling books, the online retailer now has its own publishing arm, which is starting to attract some successful writers like Eisler. The best-selling author shook up the publishing world last March when he walked away from a two-book, half-million-dollar deal with St. Martin's Press. Instead, Eisler announced, he would self-publish his next book electronically.

"Amazon read about it and approached me with what is essentially a hybrid deal, the best of both worlds," Eisler tells NPR's Lynn Neary. Eisler retained control over packaging and business decisions that were important to him. The digital title was released about a month after the manuscript was finished. And he was thankful to have "the entire Amazon marketing juggernaut behind the book" — something an author misses out on when self-publishing. "Amazon offered me the best of both worlds, and it really worked out well," he says.

It works for Amazon, too. The company uses popular books to attract customers to buy not only its e-reader — the Kindle and now its tablet device, the Fire — but other products as well. That isn't an option for traditional publishers, whose interests lie deeply and exclusively in books. But Eisler says that like any company, publishers exist to make money.

"To say that publishers really care passionately about books as though they are concerned about what's better for the world ... I'm sure when they look in the mirror they feel that way. ... We all do," he says. "But in fact, what they care about is preserving their own position, perks and profit — that's just what establishment players come to do over time."

At the end of the day, what matters to Eisler is how easily and how cheaply he can get his writing into the hands of his readers. "What I care about is readers," he says, "because without readers I can't make a living. ... And I think it's a bad thing for the world if people don't read anymore. I want people to read a lot. To that end, if I can find a way to get readers books that cost less and are delivered better and faster, I want that."

And as far as he can tell from his experience with the e-release of The Detachment, it's working: "Sales of The Detachment have blown away sales of any of my previous titles," Eisler says.

But not everyone is celebrating his success. His decision to self-publish, he says, was initially greeted with a lot of enthusiasm and excitement from people advocating for changes in the publishing industry. A best-selling author walking away from a big advance from a legacy publisher was a milestone for the self-publishing world.

"But then, when I signed with Amazon, those 'attaboys' turned to cries of 'Hypocrisy!' and 'Eisler is a sellout!' and that sort of thing," Eisler says.

But Eisler stands by his decision to sign on with the distribution giant. "My objectives were to make more money from the title to get the digital out first, and to retain more control over business decisions," he says. Self-publishing was a good way to achieve those goals, but Amazon's deal was a better way.

"If a better way comes along ... of course I'm going to take it," he says. "Publishing for me is a business, not an ideology."

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Transcript

LYNN NEARY, host: Thriller writer Barry Eisler has turned his back on traditional publishing or, as he calls it, legacy publishing. His latest novel, "The Detachment," was released last month as an e-book. It comes out this month in paperback. Both versions are published by Amazon.

No longer satisfied with just selling books, the online retailer now has its own publishing arm, which is starting to attract some successful authors like Eisler. The best-selling writer shook up the publishing world last March, when he walked away from a two-book, half-million-dollar deal with St. Martin's Press. Instead, Eisler said he would self-publish his next book electronically.

BARRY EISLER: So I made this announcement, OK, I'm going to self-publish the book. I'm not going to take the big – the seemingly big legacy advance. I can do better on my own for a variety of reasons. Amazon read about it and approached me with what is essentially a hybrid deal, the best of both worlds. I retain the kind of control over packaging and those sorts of business decisions that are important to me.

And the digital title comes out as soon as it's ready, which in this case, was about a month after the manuscript was done. I mean, that's what you can do with digital. You can – as soon as it's done - meaning edited, line edited, copy edited, proofread - you can upload it. And then of course, the entire Amazon marketing juggernaut behind the book, which is something you, as a self-published author, can't do on your own.

It is good to have a powerful, competent distribution partner - other things being equal. So Amazon offered me the best of both worlds, and it's really worked out well.

NEARY: Now of course, Amazon uses books to attract customers to buy not only its e-readers, the Kindle, and now their tablet devise, but you know, other products as well. And that isn't an option for traditional publishers, so they are in a kind of untenable situation. And they care deeply and exclusively about books.

EISLER: It's been my experience with all bureaucracies and all establishments, that they start out serving some wider good and over time, come only to serve their own interests. To say that publishers really care passionately about books is though they're concerned about what's better for the world. I'm sure when they look in the mirror, they feel that way. We all do.

But in fact, what they care about is preserving their own position, perks and profit. That's just what establishment players come to do over time. Mostly what I care about is readers because without readers, I can't make a living, and nobody reads books. Which is a bad thing for me, as someone who makes a living from writing. And it's a bad thing for, I think, the world, if people don't read anymore.

So I want people to read a lot. To that end, if I can find a way to get readers books that cost less and are delivered better and faster, I want that.

NEARY: So let me ask you about the numbers for "The Detachment." So far, you said it's already been released electronically, and how is it doing?

EISLER: Let me put it this way. Sales of "The Detachment" have blown away sales of any of my previous titles.

NEARY: So you're feeling pretty good about your decision at this point, I'd think.

EISLER: Well, I'll tell you one thing that's a bit strange about the experience, is when I first announced that I was going to self-publish "The Detachment," there were a lot of atta-boys on Kindle boards and various blogs dedicated to changing the publishing industry, principally self-publishing.

A lot of people were really excited - like, hey, that this is it, this is a kind of milestone – which, I think, in some ways it was - for a New York Times best-selling, legacy published author to walk away from the big money to self-publish. But then when I signed with Amazon, those atta-boys turned to cries of hypocrisy, and I was just a sellout, and that sort of thing.

And my response to those accusations was look, I told you what my objectives are. My objectives were to make more money from the title, to get the digital out first, and to retain more control over business decisions. Those are my objectives, and self-publishing seemed like a good way of achieve those objectives.

But if a better way comes along - and the Amazon model is a better way for me - of course I'm going to take it. Publishing for me is a business, not an ideology.

NEARY: All right. Well, thanks so much for talking with us, Barry.

EISLER: Thank you, Lynn.

NEARY: Barry Eisler is a former CIA operative turned thriller writer. His latest book, "The Detachment," is available on Amazon now and in print later this month. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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