This post, by Lawrence Block, originally appeared on his site on 4/22/12.
All these things happened in the space of a week or so:
1. My friend Pat reported that the POD paperback of the book he’d co-authored with my friend Dick had gone on sale quietly at Amazon, with a score of copies sold in the first several days. (The eBook has already been selling for a month or so.)
The book is Bitter Medicine: What I’ve Learned and Teach about Malpractice Lawsuits (And How to Avoid Them), and I’ve been peripherally involved with it since Dick showed me some chapters he’d written several years ago. Dick is Richard Kessler, a retired surgeon and professor of medicine, with extensive service as an expert witness in malpractice lawsuits. Pat is Patrick Trese, also retired after a distinguished career as an Emmy-winning writer and producer at NBC News; in the course of it he’d also written and published a couple of books. I’ve known them both for thirty years or so, and they’ve known each other for about as long, and the partnership turned out to be a good fit. They put in a lot of hours over a couple of years, and wound up with a solid professional manuscript that told important stories in an accessible manner.
But nobody was interested. A couple of agents agreed to look at the manuscript, kept it forever, and then returned it. A publisher, in an uncharacteristic moment of candor, said essentially that every retired doctor wants to write a book, and many of them do, and nobody cares.
And then Pat had a revelation. Neither of the book’s authors was in it for wealth or glory. Dick had had a very important and useful tale to tell, and Pat had found a way to tell it clearly and forcefully, and what they both wanted was for it to be read. And Pat knew a couple of people who’d embraced the revolution of eBooks and self-publishing, and figured why not?
Pat’s work on Bitter Medicine is done, but he’s keeping busy. His first book, Penguins Have Square Eyes, grew out of his experiences as a TV reporter in Antarctica; it came out in 1962, and now fifty years later he’s tweaking it for self-publication. And he’s hard at work on the revision of a big thriller he’s had in the works for as long as I’ve known him. Some agents have seen versions of it over the years, and encouraged him, but this this time he plans to publish it himself.
2. My agent told me about a new client he’d just signed, a romance writer. She’d published several books with a commercial publisher, and then they dropped her. So she started publishing herself in eBooks, and in a little over a year she was making eight or ten times what she’d been earning in the past. She’d tried handling her own foreign rights, but it took too much time and she didn’t really know what she was doing, so she needed someone to represent her overseas, and negotiate other sub rights.
Now that she was doing so well, she said, publishers had come around, telling her how much they could do for her. “I tell them I already know what they can do for me,” she said. “They already did it.”