In 2011, when suspense writer Barry Eisler turned down a large six-figure contract with St Martin’s Press in order to self-publish, some self-publishing enthusiasts were disappointed: Eisler ended up taking a new contract with Amazon Publishing. Now, those critics may be mollified: Eisler has retrieved the rights to his first eight novels. The ones that feature John Rain, his fictional assassin, are being self-published now, and not only with new cover art, but with new titles.
His books’ British titles, he says, were better, but in the US he suffered a series of publisher-imposed plays on the character’s name for many years—“ridiculous compromises,” he calls those titles in an explanatory note on his Amazon author page. So it is that the original Rain Fall, in its self-published reissue, is titled A Clean Kill in Tokyo. Hard Rain has been retitled A Lonely Resurrection; Rain Storm is being self-published as Winner Take All; Killing Rain is being produced by its author as Redemption Games.
It’s an interesting look at one reason for self-publishing we hear less about than, say, avoiding a disadvantageous royalty rate with a publisher, or a faster route to market. “The right title matters—if only because the wrong one has the same effect as an inappropriate frame around an otherwise beautiful painting,” Eisler says.
He is, however, content to have his new work published by the Thomas & Mercer imprint and the latest John Rain novel, Eisler’s 10th book, Graveyard of Memories, is due out on 11th February. And when it comes to making the journey “backward”, if you will, moving from being traditionally published to self-published, Eisler echoes many colleagues in saying that he finds the workload for the author to be about the same.
In an interesting deployment of resources, Eisler points out that his fictional output has a non-fiction foil, based in his blogging on issues of human rights, torture, and mass surveillance. (His writing on these issues can be found on his site, barryeisler.com, in a blog series called “Heart of the Matter”.) Suspecting that experiences encountered during his three years in covert service with the CIA might be informing his interest in these matters, I get back a fast answer during our #PorterMeets:
It can seem a short hop for Eisler from human rights to author rights (wait, did I just imply that authors are human?): He’s an outspoken critic of the US Authors Guild under the outgoing presidency of Scott Turow, recently asking, “Where’s the part about how the ‘Authors Guild’ has secured for authors digital royalties better than the 25% legacy industry lockstep? Where the AG has succeeded in preventing legacy publishers from draconian rights lockups?” Which prompted The Bookseller editor Philip Jones to ask:
And when I ask Eisler if policy allows him to tell us why he left the CIA after three years in clandestine work, I end up wondering if we’re not also getting a look at Barry Eisler’s feelings about the larger, corporate, traditional publishing houses he has left, largely, behind: