Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Ebook Dilemma

A Man Who Wears Hats of Many Talents…

My warmest memories of Tom are not merely from his work at Murder Ink, the world's first mystery bookstore, but as a member of the planning group at my apartment a few years ago, when the MWA-NY Mentor Committee devised mysterious ways to encourage new MWA writers in their work!

Welcome again to CWC, Tom, and congratulations on your new achievements in this mysterious, challenging world of crime fiction!

We have the same intitials - TJS, but I wish I could be as famous as Tom!

T.J. Straw

Hello again. Two years ago, my first post in the Crime Writers’ Chronicle was about venturing back into the world of publishing after a long absence. Now I’m posting a sort of progress report based on my experiences in the last two years. It’s mostly positive, but not all. I’ve noticed a problem in our industry that you may have noticed as well, and I think we should address it.

First, the good news: I have two new titles since I was last here. A Penny for the Hangman was published last October, and Mrs. John Doe will be published this coming October. Mrs. John Doe is something new for me, a novel of espionage and international intrigue, and it’s the first novel I’ve ever written that isn’t set in the USA. My title character is a classic “innocent bystander” running all over England and France, pursued by shadowy assassins who are willing to kill her for something she inadvertently has in her possession. I had a lot of fun writing it, and early readers seem to be enjoying it. I’m also writing a new novel about a type of criminal I’ve never tackled before: con artists. And my entire backlist is now back in print, so I’m doing well at the moment. Still, there’s this problem…

My two new titles are ebook originals from Alibi, Penguin Random House’s new line of electronic-only mysteries. This means they are not available in “book” form, either hardcover or paperback. My self-published backlist titles are also available only as ebooks—I can’t yet afford to offer them in a print-on-demand paperback format. And that’s my problem: A lot of people are missing out on my works, both newand old. Why?

Because they refuse to read ebooks.

Yes, it’s true. I know, because people have gone out of their way to tell me that. Electronic publishing has been heralded as the publishing wave of the future, the new format for reading. Ebooks are the convenient, space-saving, paper-conserving, eco-friendly, relatively inexpensive alternative to hardcovers and paperbacks. Unfortunately, many readers simply will not purchase them. And that’s only half the problem.

While there is a resistance in the marketplace, there is also a problem in the industry itself. The major (and minor) publishers have not yet developed a way to market ebooks effectively. They run ads here and there, but what else can they do? You can’t hold ebook signings in brick-and-mortar bookstores where the product itself is not available for sale. You can’t send the authors around on tour to promote the work. Where would they go? Where would they appear when they got there? How would they sell the ebooks? Similarly, literary magazines and journals don’t review ebooks, only “real” books, so there’s no chance of good reviews that might spur sales. And most literary awards do not recognize electronic publishing. There may soon be a Pulitzer or Edgar or Hammett category for ebooks, but they don’t have them yet.

In other words, anyone who publishes electronic-only ebooks—like, for instance, me—has very few opportunities to promote their work or even have it recognized by the literary community. I’d like to be able to report that this state of affairs will soon change, but I see no early signs of it happening anytime soon. Ebooks—the “wave of the future”—are being greeted with decidedly mixed feelings, and we writers who have no choice in the matter are the ultimate victims of this Catch-22 situation. I have no idea how this is all going to end. If anyone out there has ideas or suggestions, I and many other writers would love to hear them.

I’d like to thank Thelma Straw and the Crime Writers’ Chronicle for inviting me here again and allowing me to present this to you. Later, folks!

© 2015 Tom Savage

TOM SAVAGE is the author of eight novels and numerous short stories. Many of his short works (plus a brand new novella!) are available in his collection, Jumbie Tea and Other Things: 8 Tales of Mystery and Suspense. His next novel, Mrs John Doe, will be published by Penguin Random House in October 2015. His bestselling novel, Valentine, was made into a Warner Bros. film. He lives in NYC, where he worked for many years at Murder Ink®, the world’’s first mystery bookstore. Visit him at


  1. Thanks, Tom. Your insights will be a real help to many! tjs

  2. Promoting an ebook is like trying to tame an octopus, or better yet, cuddle with one. The advice out there for ebooks is blog, then post on four or five dozen websites, create a following by constantly commenting on other websites and then seek out other venues to respond to. Well, after all that is done, who has time to write. Publishing has become a very strange business. Glad to hear that you are still in there writing and I wish you tons of luck with these latest publications.

  3. Thanks, Margaret. I've been getting the same advice you've received, and it's frustrating--like one of those perpetual motion machines that used to drive me nuts in science class. They tell us to blog, guest blog, saturate Facebook and Twitter, run a personal website, and advertise wherever and whenever we can afford it, then repeat all these steps ad infinitum. I've been doing all these things (except Twitter), and so far it only seems to generate more work and no sales. And I have a big publisher behind me--I can't imagine how difficult it must be for people who are self-publishing. We need some concrete solutions to this whole ebook problem. Thanks for your comment.

  4. Generous of you to post this on your own blog today! it benefits all - hope other guests will take take note in the world of Blogdom! Thelma

    1. Thanks, Thelma, but I thought linking these posts to our own websites/blogs was part of this process. It should be. Tell all your guest posters to do that. And thanks again for having me here!