Monday, September 5, 2011

Risky Business: Guest post by J.E. Fishman

I met J.E. in New York at Thriller Fest. He let me butt in on a conversation and I found that he was up to date on the publishing world and was doing things that most authors were scared to do. He is the model for DIY publishing as he has done his research and looks and feels like a New York Press. Great cover, editing and distribution. Take note as this is just the beginning and I am sure we will all see more of this amazing author.

Risky Business

Life is risky. We fall ill, we trust too much, we have business or career setbacks. One accident, one wrong word to our boss, giving in to a single temptation…boom! All of a sudden we’re fighting for our lives or watching our bank account empty or our spouse walk out the door. No wonder we avoid additional risk when possible or lay off our risk on others when we can persuade them to take it.

Writing is risky. From deep within us we conjure images and characters and stories, then lay them out for the world to judge. No wonder books like The Courage to Write by Ralph Keyes become perennial bestsellers. Some people find writing so risky that they can’t get past the blank page.

Publishing is risky. All that effort and money and time expended up front, then the book put out into a crowded and noisy world where it’s just as likely to get swamped as it is to get noticed. No wonder publishers and independent authors so often cut corners on their way to the marketplace.

We know all these things are risky, but here’s something we rarely acknowledge: Every time potential book readers consider whether to buy your book, they, too, are weighing risk. Not just the risk of wasting their money, but also the risk of wasting their time, which is usually far more important.

People can judge a picture’s value at a glance, judge the quality of a garment at a touch, the taste of a meal perhaps by a single bite, but it can take hours of immersion in a book before we know whether it was worthy of our time.

Thus, before we commit to purchasing a book (or even reading one we acquired for nothing), we look for signals as to its riskiness. Do we know the author’s previous work? Are there reviews? What does the jacket tell us? How do the first few pages read?

When I decided to publish independently — and to do so via Verbitrage, the authors’ consortium that I founded — I realized I had to find ways to tell readers that their risk would be minimal. Here’s what I did:

1. I wrote the best book that I could and solicited feedback from a group of readers to make it better.
2. The manuscript I chose to publish, Primacy, fit into a popular genre — in this case, thrillers.
3. I signed up a professional editor with a stellar reputation.
4. I found a distributor that would offer my book not only through select websites but also through the book trade.
5. I committed to offset printing the physical books, a process that still yields a higher quality product than print-on-demand technology does.
6. I hired two of the best designers in the business for the jacket and interior.
7. Finally, I engaged a world-class publicity firm that could help me get media attention.

These things were all risky because they cost me money, time and other considerations. But they lower the risk my customers must take. The jacket grabs their attention in the familiar way of major commercial fiction. The story engages them and doesn’t let go. The book — if they’ve bought the physical version, not the ebook — feels substantial in their hands and looks like a book should look in all the subtle ways. And they’ve likely found it through a reputable bookseller rather than in some far-off corner of the blogosphere.

Will it work as a business proposition — this allocation of risk away from the book’s purchaser and onto myself? It might not; it’s a risk, after all. But early signs are encouraging.

Primacy has received good notices from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus, the latter listing it in mid-August as one of five “Top Books to Pre-Order This Week.” Barnes & Noble decided to carry it. Before publication date, I received word that some wholesale warehouses had gone quickly out of stock and re-ordered. Most important, the book will appear on tables and face-outs at 185 Hudson News airport stores this fall.

By now maybe you’re wondering about the subject matter. Kirkus succinctly described Primacy this way: “In Fishman’s eco-thriller, a voluble primate threatens to bring down the animal-testing industry.” Yeah, it’s a thriller about a talking ape. Sound familiar?

I didn’t have Planet of the Apes in mind when I wrote Primacy, but that doesn’t mean I won’t benefit from the glow of the film’s success. That would be a break I couldn’t have anticipated, but as the saying goes, you gotta be in it to win it.

With the movie’s success, buying and reading Primacy may seem to strangers like even less of a risk than it would have otherwise. That should be fine with them and it sure is fine with me. As Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors only the prepared mind.”

About the Author
J.E. Fishman’s first novel, the mystery Cadaver Blues, was serialized on The Nervous Breakdown in 2010. He is author of Primacy: A Thriller, available wherever books are sold. When he isn’t writing fiction or blogging, Fishman — a former Doubleday editor, literary agent, and ghostwriter — works as an entrepreneur, dividing his time between Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and New York City. Follow him on Twitter (JEFISHMAN) or Google+ (J.E. Fishman) or find him at Verbitrage (

If you want to buy PRIMACY you can get it here: Amazon and B&N.

Author Aaron Patterson: Blog: The Worst Book Ever.

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