Paul Levine's iconic hero Jake Lassiter burst onto the mystery scene with TO SPEAK FOR THE DEAD, the first in a widely acclaimed series that has since gone out-of-print. Now Lassiter is making a triumphant return — with the out-of-print titles on the Kindle and with a brand new hardcover release entitled LASSITER coming this fall. So I thought I'd ask Paul what it's like being one of the few authors these days who is both still very active in print and yet diving head-long into the uncharted waters of the ebook biz.
LEE: You're a recent convert to the Kindle… and in the space of just a few months, you've released many of the Jake Lassiter backlist as ebooks, including MORTAL SIN. Have they been successful? What have you learned from the experience?
The success of the books has startled me. “To Speak for the Dead” and “Night Vision,” the first two Jake Lassiter novels, both hit number one on the Kindle “hardboiled” and “legal thriller” lists. So did “Reversal,” my stand-alone Supreme Court thriller. “False Dawn” and “Mortal Sin,” the next couple Lassiter books, hit number two.
These books were long out of print and originally appeared in hardcover in the early 1990’s. So, the point for all authors is this: books you thought were long dead have an afterlife. You can resuscitate your out-of-print and out-of-mind books by electronically publishing them. Also, and this is BIG: the books gather momentum and grow each month. This is the opposite of our experience with dead-tree books, which have the same life expectancy as yogurt in the fridge.
LEE: What are the chances that you'll write an original ebook some day soon?
I have three more Lassiters to put up on Kindle and Smashwords, which then distributes to B&N, Borders, Sony, and the rest. Then…and I haven’t said this publically before…I’m publishing “Ballistic.” It’s a loose nukes thriller I’ve adapted from a spec feature script I wrote some time ago. The script had some close calls, but never was made. After that, who knows?
LEE: Do you think releasing the out-of-print Lassiter books will give your traditional, hardcover release next Fall of LASSITER a sales spike? Or do you think it will work the other way around?
Both, I hope!
But let’s be realistic. I’m the publisher of the “old” Lassiters, so I can charge $2.99 on Kindle and Kobo etc. Will those buyers shell out $25 for a hardcover? Should they? Remember, too, that I have no control over what Bantam will charge for the e-book edition. I will plead for as low a price as possible, but we know that won’t be anywhere close to $2.99.
LEE:. Do you think it's wise for unpublished authors to self-publish? What about mid-list authors who have been dropped? Is this the future of publishing…or just an additional revenue stream for authors?
Some smart-alec at the Bouchercon e-books panel said that self-published authors were producing a “tsunami of swill.” Wait! That was you. It’s true, of course, but as you also pointed out, there is some very good fiction being written by otherwise unpublished authors. It’s so damn hard to break into mainstream publishing now that it’s inevitable that some good writing will be left at the door. The problem is that way too many writers lack the training or discipline or just plain talent to produce readable fiction. Separating the wheat from the chaff produces…a lot of chaff.
For mid-list authors who’ve been dropped, it’s a different story. They have the training, the experience, and some audience. The Internet can provide a new source of income…and satisfaction. We write because we have to….because it’s an illness, a fever…not just for the bucks. If you want to get rich, open a burger joint across the street from a community college.
As for the future of publishing, I’ll borrow William Goldman’s line about Hollywood, “Nobody knows anything.”