Jon Clinch, author of the bestselling novels FINN and KINGS OF THE EARTH, is making a big publishing move. In January, he will be releasing his riveting novel, THE THIEF OF AUSCHWITZ, and publishing it independently. Recently, he was interviewed by Ron Charles of The Washington Post. Check out that piece here.
Below Jon answers a few questions about the direction of publishing today and why he chose to forge a new path for himself.
Q: We hear a lot these days about the death of big publishing. Are the rumors true, or premature?
A: It’s not over yet, that’s for certain. What becomes of publishing in the months and years ahead will be a matter of making the best use of technology on one hand and humanity on the other. Technology is really good at the physical stuff—at solving manufacturing and distribution problems. Witness e-books, and the electronic marketplace that has sprung up around them. But when you start looking beyond the physicality of the book as an artifact, you begin to see the parts of it that technology can’t touch. Not just the skill that goes into writing it, but the intelligence that goes into vetting it, the insight that goes into marketing it, and the personal connection that goes into getting it into the hands of readers. Big publishers have been fairly competent at those things all along—particularly as regards large, commercial projects—but the distribution side of things has begun falling apart under its own weight.
I believe that the technology-savvy independent who managed to deliver on the human part of the equation—the connecting with readers part—will be the one who thrives.
Q: What have you given up by going independent? Editorial input? Marketing support? Credibility?
A: Editing is a very personal thing that varies by the writer. When the time came for a detailed discussion of Finn, for example, my editor had three little Post-It notes stuck to the manuscript. We dispatched them in a couple of minutes.
Marketing support, of course, is huge. Big publishers create bestsellers by spending energy and money on them. They also create failed books by ignoring them. It’s pretty simple. As a long-time marketing guy myself, I believe that I can make something happen in that department on my own. I can certainly make enough happen on my own. (A big publisher will, of course, define enough very differently than I do.)
As for credibility, I’m lucky enough to have published a couple of novels that were extremely well received by the press. 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. 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 I enter into this with some good credentials and name recognition.
Q: Why haven’t other literary writers done this?
A: I have friends who write all kinds of books. Literary stuff, of course, but also thrillers and mysteries and horror and chick lit and so on. The genre folks have been much more willing to adapt to the new world of self-publishing than the literary folks have been, and I suspect it’s a matter of perspective. Literary writers revere the publishing system itself and everything that goes with it—the imprints where their heroes were published, the long apprenticeships through Bread Loaf and Squaw Valley, the physical weight of a hardcover book—far more than they revere the part of the business that has to do with commerce. They’re willing to take a small advance or no advance at all to be published by even the smallest of small presses, because it signifies that the house has found them worthy. Writers in the genres don’t see it that way. To them, a reader is a reader is a reader. I have to confess that they’re probably right.