Ebookery: Anthony Neil Smith

Anthony Neil Smith has a long history in crime fiction. He cooked up the ezine Plots With Guns back in 2000, which he’s been running either as publisher or editor since that time, with a brief hiatus mid-decade. He’s also behind some of the raunchiest noir of the last ten years: The Drummer, Yellow Medicine, Choke on Your Lies, and the finest noir novel to feature an armless, legless woman as the primary villain, Psychosomatic. Neil Smith has been anything but conventional. And now he’s into ebooks in a big way. I interrogated him recently about his efforts.

You made your rep first with Plots With Guns, then in independent press – Point Blank, Two Dollar Radio, Bleak House. Was diving into ebooks a natural for you?
Nope. I had to be dragged in kicking and screaming. Or, I was the one who covered his ears and sang “La la la” until a fellow writer told me how many of the damn things he was selling. I mean, I just wanted to be read! So once I got into ebooks, I began to love it. It’s a lot of fun.
You dipped your two in the water some years back with To the Devil, My Regards, which you wrote with Victor Gischler. Did you think ebooks would become as viable as they are now when you published it?
I thought, actually, that the damn things were a failure. No one wanted either version we published (one with Blue Murder as a subscription model, and the other as a download for Palm Pilots and other handheld things from Coffee Cup press), so we laughed it off, thought it was a fun experience, then put it away. No one said word one about ebooks after than for a while, at least not that I saw. Then suddenly there are Kindles and Nooks and shit, and people were buying books. I was surprised. Guess I always saw it coming, though, if I think about it for ten seconds.

Your first original ebook (after To the Devil…) was Choke on Your Lies, which has a rather eye-catching cover. What was behind your decision to self-publish it?

My agent sent it out to some publishers, but we got no love for it. It was a bit “risky”, not a mainstream book, so I thought about my options: send it out to small publishers and wait a year for an answer (then another year if someone actually took it), or sell it in the e-reader market on my own. Since my agent, Allan Guthrie, was selling a ton of his novellas on Kindle, I asked if he thought I should give it a whirl. He liked the idea, so I got it up there. And even though that means zero mainstream print reviews (they’re instead all on the Amazon site and some blogs) and grassroots promotion, I’m still happy with its progress.
By the way: the model on the Choke cover is Erin Zerbe, who has wonderful pics all over the internet. I’m hoping to have her return for the next book’s cover, too.

Tell us your ebook strategy.

Right now, it’s still “build your audience”. At all costs, I want more readers. I’m a story teller, and I like people to read the things I write. So I’m willing to let my backlist sit at 99 cents each as a way to interest readers who haven’t heard of me yet. They can buy everything I’ve written for six bucks.  There’s no use making a little extra money per ebook if it means hardly anyone is reading. So I’m letting it ride. Eventually, I’ll have to charge more, but the market is still searching for the sweet spot–the amount we’re willing to pay so that the writers and publishers actually can afford to keep doing it.

Do you see a future doing print at this point?

I hope so. I don’t know how, but I see paperbacks as still *the* best way to publish a book, and I hope I am somehow able to find a larger publisher willing to take me on and support my career that way. We’ll see.
What do you have in the pipeline?

I’ve got a thriller coming out as an e-book this Fall. I can’t say more than that right now except to say it’s *not* self-published. Looking forward to sharing more when I can. And I’m working on a couple of projects that I hope to show the world next year.