Interview with Jay Hartman

Today I welcome Jay Hartman, Editor-in-Chief at Untreed Reads for coffee, pie and a chat about E-Publishing; something many writers have questions about.

Jay, welcome, let me pour some coffee and get you a slice of pie, with sharp cheddar on the side.

What inspired you to start Untreed Reads and be one of the first to dive into this brave new world of E-publishing?
Mmmm. Apple pie with cheddar. Having lived in upstate New York as a child, this is a combination I can appreciate.

I've actually been in the ebook industry for over fifteen years. In fact, a friend of mine and I did the market research to help Random House and Simon and Schuster create their ebook divisions. For most of the past decade or so I had focused on reviews and commentary and the promotion of independent publishers. Three years ago I decided it was time to start publishing, as I really wasn't finding the types of material I wanted to read when I would visit online ebookstores. I partnered up with K.D. Sullivan, an author of multiple titles on proofreading and editing (published through McGraw-Hill and Barron's) and the rest, as they say, is history.

What has most surprised you about publishing since you started Untreed Reads?
I think the rapid growth of the industry and how quickly the technology is changing has really surprised me the most. Fifteen years ago people laughed at me when I said that one day people would really enjoy reading ebooks on portable devices. Now you've got a slew of potential devices on the market, you can check ebooks out from the public library and in many cases ebooks are outselling their print counterparts. I had hypothesized all of these things happening, but seeing them happen so rapidly within such a short range of time is pretty astonishing.

What has been the biggest challenge in getting a seat at the table of publishing?
And where do you see Untreed Reads at that table 5 years from now?

I think visibility is always going to be the biggest challenge. With so many people competing in the ebook space, particularly those authors who are going the self-publishing route, the ebook market is getting glutted pretty quickly and there aren't a lot of tools available to readers to help them be able to separate the really great material from the poorly-edited, poorly-written stuff. Competition is good, but I think readers do still look to publishers as a type of gatekeeper to help readers find works that have been well-constructed and are worth their time. After all, just because you can publish a book doesn't necessarily mean you should publish a book.

I do think in five years we'll be recognized as one of the leaders in independent ebook publishing, and some of that has really already started. We've begun distributing other ebook publishers as well as self-published authors, and I think people are starting to understand the value-add that comes from working with folks who have been in the industry for a long time. There aren't a whole lot of other publishers out there that have people on their staff that have worked with ebooks for as long as we have, and I don't anticipate that getting any smaller. As we continue to get great works from our New York agent partners and from our regular submissions, I think you'll be seeing Untreed Reads pretty much everywhere.

How are you able to keep book prices so much lower than the E-books offered by the traditional big publishers? And how does that affect the authors?
One advantage is that big publishers have to design for print and for ebook. By us not doing print at all, we're able to eliminate those associated expenses. Realistically, though, publishers that charge $9.99 or more for a fiction book are living in the old world of print pricing. Most independent ebook publishers have understood for some time that there's no need to charge such high prices. Our costs are typically less, though I must stress in no way are they insignificant. To have a properly designed cover, a professional proofread, employees to promote and get titles to distributors and retailers, these all cost money. If you want to stay in business as a publisher, you've got to recoup those costs. On the bright side, being able to charge $4.99 for a full-length work means you'll sell more copies and be able to give your authors more royalties and at a higher percentage.

In my opinion, the self-published authors who give away their works for free or only charge $0.99 for a full-length work are the ones that are more harmful to the publishing industry than the ones charging $9.99. These are typically folks who don't understand that publishing is a business, and that if they're looking to make a living as an author they aren't going to do it that way. It also devalues and cheapens their work in the eye of the reader. If the author doesn't think their work is worth more than a dollar, why should a reader bother with it? Reports come out every year that show readers may collect books at $0.99, but they don't actually read them.

Do you see the E-book replacing paper altogether or is there room for both on the shelves?
Print will probably never die unless we run out of trees. There is still something magical about holding a paper book in your hands. It's a very sensory experience: sight, smell, touch. Electronics are convenient, but they do lack that human aspect. However, I do think print is an endangered species. If we don't find a way to bring down printing costs so that a new hardcover is less than $27 or a paperback is less than $7.99, or if we don't find an alternative printing material than a dead tree, there will eventually be an end to print. I won't see it in my lifetime, but it's not completely unreasonable to think it couldn't happen in another generation or two.

What do you think is the most important thing a writer can do, aside from write well, to increase their chances of success?
Authors need to accept their limitations. When an author tries to be their own proofreader and editor, they're going to fail. You can't be that close to the work and see the errors or improvements that are needed. Pay the money to have your work professionally evaluated and have a thick skin about making changes.

Also, it's always astonishing to me the number of authors who don't promote their work. There are tons of authors out there in the world today, and millions of choices for readers. Expecting that readers will somehow miraculously find your work, or that a publisher should do all of the work in getting the word out is doing the book (and the author) a huge disservice. Nobody is closer to the work than the person who created it, and that's the person who should be shouting from the rooftops about it.

Lastly, an author needs to decide why they're writing. Do they just want people to read the book? Do they want to make a living doing it? How do they measure success for themselves? Every one of these possibilities means a different way of approaching the business of writing. And writing is a business; the actual craft of getting your dreams and ideas on paper is only half of it. If you're not willing to also be a smart business person to accomplish your goals, then you're definitely in the wrong industry.

What secret talent do you have? Which everyone who reads this blog will promise to keep secret. And does it help you as an editor?
I have the ability to get pretty much anyone to relax and feel comfortable with me in about two minutes. I'm a pretty honest guy, so nobody ever has to worry about putting up pretenses with me or getting the used-car-lot routine. This has been tremendously helpful as an editor, as I've never really argued with an author about covers or edits or anything else. I genuinely love working with my authors, and whether they are new to Untreed Reads or been with me since the beginning, they usually end up telling me they feel right at home. And who could ask for more than that?

Thank you for taking time out from reading the many submissions you receive to chat with me and I look forward to many, many years of good books and stories published by Untreed Reads.
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