Author Jim Hanas Talks eBooks, eReaders And Giving Away Content For Free


Author Jim Hanas has been dabbling in digital publishing for the last few years. We caught up with him to talk about eBooks, eReading and his new eBook short story collection Why They Cried, which will be released by Joyland and ECW Press this fall.

EBN: What is your idea of digital publishing?
JH: I didn’t set out to get into digital publishing. I got into eBooks six years ago as a reader when I started downloading books from Project Gutenberg and other sources. And as a not-so-prolific short story writer, I had built up a small backlog of stories that had been published — in places like McSweeney’s and One Story — that were no longer really available to the people who might most want to read them — people who where reading my blog, for instance. So in 2006, I packaged two stories together and started distributing them as an eBook. I called it Single — and designed the cover to look like a record — because I collected a ton of indie-rock 7-inches when I was a music writer in the ’90s. I saw it as this “fiction single” I was slinging out of the back of my virtual tour bus.

EBN: I noticed that you were giving away free eBooks during Labor Day. Does this kind of thing help drive downloads?
JH: Downloads have grown over time. Another reason I put Single out there was to see what the market for electronic fiction was like firsthand. In those days, it was pretty weak, except for authors like Cory Doctorow who had large followings. The technology wasn’t really there yet. At one point, I posted a tutorial about how to import my eBook into the notes function of an old-style iPod. It seems funny, now that the iPad has arrived.

I doubt I was able to give away 500 eBooks the first year. Now, as eBooks have grown, I give away around 500 a month. That’s not a huge number from a commercial standpoint, but an annual circulation of 6,000 would be considered pretty respectable for a start-up literary magazine.

EBN: Do you have an eReader? Which one?
JH: I read for years on Windows Mobile smartphones running Mobipocket. Then I skipped eInk and all the dedicated readers. I primarily read on my iPhone, using the Kindle app and the Stanza app, for paid and free content, respectively. I read on my iPad, too — using the same apps — but less than I thought I would. The iPhone is more convenient for the New York commute.

EBN: How are eBooks poised to help authors? What challenges do they present?
JH: I was reminded of what eBooks are already doing for authors when I was soliciting blurbs for my new collection, Why They Cried. Everyone wanted to read hard copies, so I had to have copies made. Each one cost $18. I could have gotten them done for half that, but I was in a hurry. Even then it might have cost me $4500 ten years ago, to give away the books I’m giving away every month now for free. In short, that’s 500 readers a month I wouldn’t have reached at all. It’s easy to lose sight of what a windfall that is.

As for the challenges, it’s the same as it is for the rest of the content business: getting paid. The good news is that a lot of people are trying a lot of things in an attempt to figure that out. For Why They Cried, I’ve hooked up with an independent Canadian publisher with a long history, ECW Press, that has launched an eBook imprint with the Toronto-based lit site Joyland. Both are committed to eBook publishing and to figuring out a model that can benefit both author and publisher. I don’t know that they — or I — will figure it out, but someone will. From The Rumpus’s Paper Internets imprint to Mischief + Mayhem, it seems like there’s a new publishing permutation launching everyday.

EBN: How do you build your audience online?
JH: That’s an interesting question. When I first started making my eBooks available, I tried giving them away where the lit readers were. That was a big failure. Almost no one knew what I was talking about, and so-called literary readers were among the last to stop romanticizing print. That’s changed a lot in recent months, but a few years ago it became clear that you couldn’t take eBooks to lit fiction readers, you had to take lit fiction to the people who were already reading eBooks. So I experimented with most of the eBook sites out there and determined that delivered the best results. People actually discovered and downloaded my books there. Feedbooks is where my current publisher found my work, in fact, and it’s still where the bulk of my downloads come from. My advice to anyone else would be to try different things, cut the ones that don’t work, and focus on the ones that do. Experiment constantly.