By B.C. Manion
Taking characters on new adventures is part of Odessa mystery novelist James Swain’s daily routine — but now he’s the one exploring a new terrain.
At the beginning of October, Swain plunged into the world of electronic self-publishing by releasing four new eBooks: “Jackpot,” “Wild Card,” “The Program” and “The Man Who Cheated Death.”
The move comes after years of success in the conventional publishing world. Swain’s books have been published in the United States, France, Japan, Russia, Germany and Bulgaria. The author also has received writing accolades for his work and has created characters, such as Tony Valentine and Jack Carpenter, who have developed a following of their own with readers.
The Valentine books are in development in Hollywood for a television series, Swain said, adding that he wrote a script last year.
Even with his solid track record, Swain is enthused about the possibilities of electronic publishing.
“This is empowering,” Swain said. “So many people have books they want to put out there.”
He said he saw evidence of the growing interest in electronic publishing during the recent St. Petersburg Times 2010 Festival of Reading.
Swain sat on a panel at the festival with Carla Jimenez, co-owner of Inkwood Books, an independent bookstore in south Tampa. They discussed a topic that’s near and dear to readers: “The Future of Books.”
The conference room, designed to seat 100, was packed well beyond capacity, Swain said.
“Probably 80 percent wanted to know how to do this (electronic publishing). The other 20 percent was already part of this (electronic publishing) community,” Swain said.
He said he became attracted to the possibility of publishing eBooks in August, after listening to author Joe Konrath speak on the topic at a mystery writers’ conference in Sarasota.
Swain said he’d already written some books, and had already been paid for two of them – but the rights had reverted to him for those books because they had not yet been published.
Electronic publishing offers enormous potential for authors, Swain said. But in order to be successful, a book must be able to attract an audience and the author must have an entrepreneurial bent, Swain said.
“When I launched these books, I sent out about 1,500 e-mails to fans and people we know,” Swain said.
The sales began immediately and he’s now selling books at a clip of about 75 to 100 books a day, he said.
The books can be read on a Kindle or by using an app that’s available for free from Amazon, Swain said.
He thinks that reading devices, such as Kindle, have much more to offer than simply allowing people to read books.
“They’re stores. They’re libraries. You have access to so much when you own one. Even (if it is an app) on a computer. The world is at your fingertips.”
The great thing about Kindles is that Amazon has thousands of eBooks that are available for free, including classics such as “Pride and Prejudice,” Swain said.
“It’s like I handed you a library,” Swain said. “Culturally, it’s absolutely fantastic. For writers like myself who are waiting for books to get out, it is fantastic.”
Amazon rewards authors who offer books at an affordable price, Swain said. Amazon pays authors 70 percent, if they price their books below $10, he said.
“I price the books inexpensively, $2.99,” Swain said. That seems to be the sweet spot – it is about how much someone spends for a cookie and a cup of coffee, he said.
By comparison, the same book would cost more than $25 in hard cover and at least $7.99 as a paperback, Swain said.
Swain said his previous work gives him an advantage over unknown writers. “I have a connection with readers. I have a following.”
That being said, Swain thinks eBooks can offer an outstanding avenue for finding new readers and for giving new authors a chance to get their work published.
Electronic self-publishing allows readers to buy books at lower prices. It also gives authors more control over their final product, including the design of the book cover and blurbs promoting a book.
“I can’t tell you how many times my publisher put things up that were inaccurate,” Swain said. The covers have also been a problem sometimes, he said. Too often they’ve been based on what sells, rather than whether they convey the book’s content, he said.
Swain said he doesn’t know where his quest into electronic self-publishing will lead, but he’s certain the industry will grow.
“I think what we’re all seeing is – this (eBook) business is expanding and the book sales business is contracting.”
He hopes people will give eBooks a try.
“People are pointing at them saying, “Oh, they’re going to ruin the book business. They’re not. The book business was already having a lot of problems well before it started. This is going to save the book business.”
To download a free app for reading eBooks or for more information about Swain or his books, go to www.jimswain.com