When I wrote lately about putting some of my backlist on Kindle, I wondered aloud if this was a Good Thing – or the Slippery Slope.
The truth is, I suppose, Kindle is here and here to stay.
I recommend this article by George Packer in the New Yorker, about Amazon and their total control of information.
Be that as it may, for authors I think it is the new best thing – and here is one reason for thinking so.
After my GREENBACK: The Almighty Dollar and the Invention of America inspired a 5 part BBC Radio 4 series at the end of last year, I revised and republished the book as a Kindle download. Here it is:
It was immense fun – not least because every author, coming at a book after a gap of several years, sees what he wants to do differently this time round. That’s why would-be authors are often advised to put their manuscript in a drawer and forget about it for a while: when they come back to it they have the advantage of reading it anew, as a reader, not as the writer. That clunky paragraph? That darling line which you should have murdered first time round (cf. murder your darlings: Auden)? That digression which seemed so fascinating when it was something you had just discovered yourself?
Well, you follow my line of thought here, no doubt.
With a published book there’s usually nothing to be done about it – the book is there, it’s done, pasted between boards and out in the world.
But with GREENBACK for Kindle, I got a second bite at the cherry.
I trimmed it. I boosted up the argument I had made too faintly. I corrected the error a kindly reviewer had mentioned, en passant. I lopped a whole six pages – that digression! – from a chapter on the American Civil War. I performed literary liposuction on every chapter and the book was better for it. Honest. I made it zippier, funnier and more focussed.
And then, in about twenty minutes, I published it on Amazon.com. On Amazon.co.uk. On Amazon.fr and Amazon.de…and so on.
The story of the world’s favourite currency available to the whole world.
And here’s another reason for liking this process, one that should resonate with readers and authors but not, maybe, with publishers.
It’s control. I set the look, and the price – and when I want to get more people to see the book, maybe buy it – I can do a price promotion.
Right now, GREENBACK is available on Amazon.com at a ‘special’ price – ie, cheap. And that has the astonishing and slightly alarming effect of raising sales tenfold.
I cut the list price – $7.99 – by half. And have just sold ten times as many copies of the book. Go figure.
At $3.99 it is, I think, too cheap. It’s less than a throw-away magazine, or a skinny latte, or a bowl of olives in a restaurant. And it took me four years’ work.
On the other hand, writers want readers.
Ps But hurry! The Offer, as they say, Ends Soon!