Give Us Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Ebooks

Lady Liberty

Life’s a bitch.

In the New York Times, Tony Horwitz spills the details of his ill-fated attempt to publish an original work of long-form journalism in digital format.

After receiving an advance and using all of it to cover his travel expenses, Horwitz learned that his publisher — a nimble young company with grand ambitions for digital publishing — was giving up and going  home. Horwitz was able to find a new publisher, Byliner. They specialize in publishing original ebooks, and (I can say this, right?) about a year ago, I very nearly took a full-time job with them. Although Byliner did almost nothing to promote Horwitz’s story after publishing it, it still managed to top the Kindle Singles bestseller list — with a meager 700 or 800 copies sold — at which point Byliner made the dubious decision to stop selling it on Amazon altogether.

Writers of the world, we feel your pain. Publishing online is rough, especially if you want to earn money while doing it. But we’ve done it. Here at Fiction Advocate, with a volunteer staff of three people, we have published original works of long-form journalism in digital format, and we have done it well. When we published “The Real Holden Caulfield” by Michael Moats, it was excerpted in The Awl, The Rumpus, and Berfois, and praised online by The New Yorker, Readers Digest, Andrew Sullivan, Three Quarks Daily, Bookslut, Bookforum, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and The Second Pass. Craziest of all, the ebook was profitable from day one, thanks to the fact that we don’t pay ourselves, so any income is pure profit. We’re still giving Michael Moats his royalties. It’s not enough to live on, but it’s money that he continues to earn fairly and reliably and transparently.

Don’t get suckered by flashy start-ups who think they’ve cracked the code of digital publishing.

Trust the little guys, like us, who do it for love.

We’re open for submissions of fiction, non-fiction, and criticism.


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