On Novels and Miracles.

13 May

Riddley Walker

Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker came at me from out of the blue. I’d read a review somewhere—this was thirty years ago, when book journalism was still going strong—and I thought I knew what I was in for: a post-apocalyptic adventure in a ruined landscape, narrated by a young boy. I got a whole lot more.

Here’s the opening (ellipses mine):

On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly been the last wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadnt been none for a long time before him nor I aint looking to see none agen. . . . He done the reqwyrt he ternt and stood and clattert his teef and made his rush and there we wer then. Him on 1 end of the spear kicking his life out and me on the other end watching him dy. I said, ‘Your tern now my tern later.’ The other spears gone in then and he wer dead and the steam coming up off him in the rain and we all yelt, ‘Offert!’

Offered, indeed. Hoban offers up the boy and his universe just the way Riddley offers up the wild boar: raw, magical, and utterly complete. He gives us not just one world but a pair of them—the world where Riddley lives, and the world that collapsed before it. He gives us not just a novel but an entire language, and by immersing us in it he teaches us how language not only embodies understanding but shapes and enables it. We have to work if we want to understand the things that Riddley has to say, but before long the oddities of his speech begin to fade. Ultimately, in the way of all magic tricks, they disappear completely.

The less I describe the book, the better, so let’s leave it at this: Its mysteries are many. Its characters breathe. Its sights are indelible and its sounds will never entirely stop echoing in your ears. All of that would have been enough, of course, to leave a lasting impression. But the thing about Riddley Walker that changed my life was the completeness and the complexity of it. The integrity. It was, in John Gardner’s words, a “vivid and continuous dream”—and Hoban had made it all up out of whole cloth. Right down to the words themselves.

It was a miracle. Coming as it did from the author of a well-known series of children’s books (Eloise the Hedgehog), it was even more than a miracle. It was evidence that a dedicated craftsman, armed with imagination and commitment, could reinvent himself while inventing a world. I didn’t know it yet, but that’s what good novelists do.


You can read all the details of my journey from Random House to my own imprint in Unmediated Ink: Notes from the Self-Publishing Revolution.

For One Week, Thief Goes On Sale.

6 May

I’ve written before about ebook pricing, mainly in a post called “On Pricing, Giveaways, and Literature as Lunchmeat.”

(I also cover it in Unmediated Ink: Notes from the Self-Publishing Revolution.)

To make a long story short, I’ve priced both Kings of the Earth and The Thief of Auschwitz at 9.99, because I think that’s what a good book is worth in an electronic format. Ten bucks is what I’m happy paying, and it’s what I’m happy asking.

Right now, though—and for one week only—I’m putting Thief on sale for half of its cover price.

How come? For the same reason anybody does: to get more copies out there in the world, increasing word of mouth and building momentum.

Also because the more people read it, the happier I’ll be.

So, for the next seven days, The Thief of Auschwitz—called by Howard Frank Mosher “the best and most powerful work of fiction ever written about the Holocaust”—is on sale everywhere ebooks are sold for just $4.99.

Tell your friends.


Links: AmazonBarnes & NobleKoboiBooks


You can read all the details of my journey from Random House to my own imprint in Unmediated Ink: Notes from the Self-Publishing Revolution.

My Publisher’s Weekly Column.

30 Apr


Publisher’s Weekly recently ran this excerpt from my new book. It’s locked up behind a subscription-only paywall, though, where most folks—including me—can’t see it. So here goes…

Stress-Testing A Hybrid Publishing Model

A few months ago, I set out to use the tools of self-publishing to release my new novel, The Thief of Auschwitz, as fully as possible in the manner of traditional publishing. I’d been down the traditional path twice, and although critical reception to my books had been gratifying—both were starred in Publisher’s Weekly, Finn was an ALA Notable Book, and so on—I hadn’t seen a bestseller yet. Kings of the Earth, thanks to timing and availability, fell off a cliff in spite of topping the Summer Reading List at The Oprah Magazine. So as I drew near to offering my third novel to editors, I grew afraid of seeing it tossed into that same neglectful abyss.

I decided that if there were a tipping point between traditional publishing and self-publishing, I was standing on it. On one hand, I had literary credibility. On the other, my audience was loyal but not enormous. I wasn’t making such a fortune for big publishing that anybody would miss me.

I’d miss things about them, though. Distribution, for one. Self-publishers usually go straight to the Kindle, and often stop there. Not me. I didn’t want to limit the book to Amazon or even to an ebook format. That meant releasing it through multiple sites, and creating a print-on-demand paperback that could sell online and in stores. (I love independent bookstores. They’ve been kind to me, and I would never cut them out.)

I’d also miss reviews. Many papers and magazines that loved Finn and Kings—even those that named them to their year-end best-of lists—shun self-published books. Nonetheless I printed ARCs, hired a publicist, and set a release date four months out, giving time to any editors who might decide to read anyhow. (Several did, including the Wall Street Journal and the Jewish Daily Forward. For this I am grateful.)

Along the way, I definitely ran into unexpected roadblocks and bottlenecks—things that divide the mechanisms of self-publishing from the mechanisms of big publishing, things that can stand in the way of a little guy who tries to behave like a big guy.

  1. Without pre-sales, you’re losing out. Alone among the online sellers, only Apple lets independents set a future publication date and ring up pre-sales. To keep my pub-date promise to the press, then, I couldn’t make the ebook visible on the very sites where it would no doubt have pre-sold the best, including Amazon.
  2. Indie booksellers hate print-on-demand. They hate the low margins and the lack of a return policy. They also hate CreateSpace, the Amazon division I’m using to print books. I reached out to hundreds of indies, and these were recurring themes. A couple wrote me to say that no book touched by CreateSpace would ever darken their shelves, and a few assumed incorrectly that I’m being published by Amazon. I wrote back each time, explaining my limitations as a small businessman with no corporate backing. (I should add that most indies who wrote said they would eagerly stock the book. I’ve linked to them on my web site.)
  3. ISBNs are forever. I made the mistake of attaching to the paperback the ISBN that CreateSpace provides, not realizing that every reference to Thief in every catalog in the world would thenceforth show “CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform” as publisher, not my own “unmediated ink.”
  4. Time is not on your side. CreateSpace spits out November 1, 2011 as the publication date for Thief. I hadn’t even begun writing the book then. Nonetheless, some editors who expressed an interest in covering it were put off by that dating error. It looked as if my publicist were pushing an old book.
  5. Leaks happen. To make Thief available to booksellers for the launch, I opened CreateSpace’s bookstore sales channel 30 days ahead. Instantly, listings for the paperback began showing up on Amazon and B&N. It was frustrating, in light of my pub-date promise to the media. All I could do was hope nobody would notice.

Enough. The book has launched, it’s selling, and that’s that. This list of issues is far from complete, and they add up to little when compared against the independence I’ve gained by doing all of this myself. (In some measure I brought them down on my own head by insisting on doing everything the hard way.) I’ve made some mistakes as well, and if I choose to go this way again I’ll do better next time. Perhaps by then the systems will have improved a little. I can always hope. I always do.


You can read all the details of my journey from Random House to my own imprint in Unmediated Ink: Notes from the Self-Publishing Revolution.

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Publishing.

26 Apr

UI Ebook Cover

Here’s the beginning of my new book, Unmediated Ink: Notes from the Self-Publishing Revolution:


I’m one of the last people you would have expected to self-publish.

I’m old-fashioned, for one thing. I don’t like change. I care about physical books. I believe in literature and in the role it plays in shaping culture.

More than that, though, I’ve had a pair of novels nicely published by one of the world’s biggest publishing houses. The first, Finn, was named an American Library Association Notable Book and was chosen as one of the year’s best books by the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and the Christian Science Monitor. It won the Philadelphia Athenaeum Literary Award and was shortlisted for the Sargent First Novel Prize. The second, Kings of the Earth, was named a best book of the year by the Washington Post and led the 2010 Summer Reading List at O, The Oprah Magazine.

So what happened? Read on.


Rather than leave you hanging, here’s the full Table of Contents. From The Writer’s World to Publishing Particulars, Unmediated Ink is full of insight into how books really find their way into the marketplace today (and how they sometimes don’t.)

  • Background: The Music Business
    • Bruce Springsteen
    • John Hartford
    • OK Go
  • Publishing Realities
    • Doc
    • Kings Of The Earth
  • The Writer’s World
    • Advances
    • Royalties
    • How I Got It Wrong
    • Finn — What Happened
    • Kings of The Earth — What Happened
  • Publishing Particulars
    • The Venture Capital Model
    • Returns
    • Shelf Space
    • Criticism
    • Independents and Amazon
  • The Experiment: What Came After
    • Getting To The Truth
    • Production
    • Pricing
    • Results
  • Moving On:  The Thief of Auschwitz
    • What I Might Give Up
    • What Other People Said
    • What Book People Said
  • Step by Step
    • Editing
    • Unmediated Ink
    • Cover Design
    • Ebook Production
    • Paperback production
    • Publicity
    • Advertising & Promotion
    • Bookstore Outreach
    • On The Web
    • Pricing
  • Outcomes
    • The Upsides
    • The Downsides
    • My Hybrid Publishing Model
  • Lessons For The Future
    • Reversion of Rights
    • Literary Fiction vs. The Genres
    • Serialization
    • The Best Writer In The World

You probably ought to read it, don’t you think? It’s available here for download.

You Don’t Need A Kindle.

24 Apr

Folks have surely noticed by now that my latest book—Unmediated Ink: Notes From the Self-Publishing Revolution—is available only for Amazon’s Kindle platform.

That doesn’t mean I want you to buy a Kindle. Not when you can turn almost any computer, tablet, or smart phone you might own into a Kindle reader for free. Just go here and download the application you need.


I’m not a Kindle guy. I do, however, have the Kindle app loaded onto my iPad, my iPod Touch, and my Macbook Air. I’m not as fond of it as I am of the iBooks reader, but it works just fine and it accurately syncs my reading among all three devices. Which is kind of magical, when you think about it.

So if I’m not interested in your buying a Kindle, why did have I published Unmediated Ink only at Amazon? (So far, at least.)

Good question.

It’s an experiment, like everything else I’ve done in the way of self-publishing. By going exclusively with Amazon for now, I’ve placed Unmediated Ink into the Kindle Direct Publishing Selects program. That means that readers with an Amazon Prime account (free two-day shipping and so forth) can borrow it for nothing.

“But how do writers get paid for that?” you ask.

Another good question. The calculations, to tell the truth, are a little cloudy, and the math is all based on how deeply Amazon sees fit to fund the program in any given period—but I understand that in the past it’s generally worked out to about two bucks per loan. Which is pretty much what I’m making on a sale, so that’s all fine with me.

Unmediated Ink is loaded with this kind of stuff and more, including info on advances and royalties and what’s really going on in the publishing business right now.

Go check it out, whether you have a Kindle or not.

Another Literary Voice Goes Solo.

17 Apr

I was happy to read in today’s New York Times that David Mamet is bringing his next book into the world without benefit of a big publisher. It’s an example of the kind of increasing momentum that will help self-publishers of serious literary books find a voice in the marketplace.

Rather than going it alone as I did, Mamet is working through his agency, ICM Partners. (ICM handled Kings of the Earth, my most recent novel with Random House.) As to Mamet’s reason for going solo, Sloan Harris, co-director of ICM’s literary department, told the Times that “big publishers focused mostly on blockbuster books and fell short on other titles — by publishing too few copies, for instance, or limiting advertising to only a short period after a book was released.”

Or, as Mamet himself said, “publishing is like Hollywood — nobody ever does the marketing they promise.”

Amen, amen, amen.

My own sense is that self-publishers don’t need the layers of management and complexity and cost that come with publishing through their agencies. We’ll see how all of that shakes out in the months and years ahead.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to Mamet’s new book. How about you?


The details of my journey from Random House to my own imprint are now available in Unmediated Ink: Notes from the Self-Publishing Revolution.

In Which I Tell You Everything I’ve Learned.

16 Apr

Just out in the world this morning is my brand-new ebook, Unmediated Ink: Notes From The Self-Publishing Revolution.

UI Ebook Cover

Here’s the description from Amazon:

In January of 2013, Jon Clinch—author of the widely acclaimed Finn and Kings of the Earth—stepped away from Big Publishing and released his latest novel, The Thief of Auschwitz, independently. As a veteran of traditional publishing and an experienced advertising creative, he tackled the entire project—from editing to design, from web development to marketing—with nothing but his own two hands.

Unmediated Ink is his story—an honest and revealing and deeply heartfelt exploration of both sides of the self-publishing gulf, written by someone who’s actually been there. Whether you’re a curious reader, an industry follower, a multi-published author, or a potential self-publisher, it’s the insight you need right now.

Go check it out.


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