Here is my full interview for my hometown magazine. There's a link at the end to see the article on the site. It did result in a few extra sales.
August 6, 2013
Do you remember your introduction to e-books? The time when many of us claimed we would never read a book digitally and mourned the close of Borders?
Doylestown author Neil Ostroff was one of the disbelievers. He has lived in Doylestown for 20 years and lives and breathes writing. He is the author of nine novels, mainly thrillers and science fiction. Titles include the imaginative “Silent Invasion” and the crime novel “Degenerates.”
After plugging away for four years with a big New York agency, Neil discovered what he had never seen coming: indie publishing. Also known as self-publishing, the e-book revolution was completely foreign to him. The agent he signed with in 2006 loved his novels yet critiqued them like any mainstream publisher.
“Every time [the draft] came back it would be a different thing,” Neil explains. “It would be… this scene does not appeal to twelve-year-old girls. And it was either [change it] or take out the scene.”
Neil learned that all agencies categorize authors into genres and prefer them to stay there. They are looking for a bestseller that may be from a specific genre, but which appeals to the masses. Neil also learned that after 18 months of editing, publishers give books a month or two on the shelves. If it doesn’t sell, the author is often cut from the agency.
The turning point for Neil from an agent to indie publishing was a catastrophic moment in a friend’s life. His friend was told he had pancreatic cancer and two weeks to live. Neil and his wife made the decision to hospice him.
“It was an incredibly powerful experience watching as his life slipped away and how he dealt with it psychologically,” Neil recalls. “When the day finally came that he passed on, I was there to… pull the sheet over his head. I’ve never been the same since.”
This painful experience inspired his novel “Drop Out,” which examines the meaning of life. Neil’s agent was not happy. “Drop Out” was a change in genre.
Neil did not hesitate. “I decided I couldn’t just let it sit in a drawer,” he says. He began to explore indie publishing and tested the waters with his first e-book, “After.”
He realized all you need to publish an e-book are an editor and a cover artist. E-book authors have freedom to be creative and keep most of the royalties. Neil prices his e-books around $2.99 and keeps 60 cents. In contrast, he would receive 15% royalties through an agent.
Upon realizing the possibilities of indie publishing, he published his other novels as e-books and found great success with “Drop Out,” selling thousands of copies. He uncovered the secret as to why every indie publisher has an equal chance at success.
“Amazon is not a bookstore, it’s a search engine,” Neil explains. When an e-book is first published, it’s put in the top of the Amazon algorithm, meaning it shows up more prominently in search engines. If the book sells, it remains at the top of the algorithm. Amazon does not separate indie books from agency books.
Through indie publishing, Neil mastered self-promotion. He once considered himself an introvert, saying, “I wrote feverishly for 10 years, like non-stop, you know, that whole thing in the dark room.” Now, with the Internet, Neil joyfully replies to readers every day.
He promotes his books on at least 115 websites and has more than 2,000 followers on his blog, “Always Writing.”
Neil shares his insight on the future of e-books, comparing them to CDs in the music industry. He believes it is only a matter of time until someone cracks e-book encryptions and free downloads are accessible. He sees a future where authors publish free e-books and simply sell ad space.
Neil does, however, still sees a need for big publishers. “You can’t give an e-book as a gift,” he explains. “An author can’t sign an e-book."
The modern writer has two paths to choose from, each rewarding in its own way. Neil will not see his books at the library, but he has absolute control.
Indie publishing may not be a full-time career, but Neil says that all it might take is one viral hit. Ironically, he has been approached by agencies since finding success online. This once nonbeliever, however, is sticking with e-books for now.