The old view of self-publishing is that it’s for writers who couldn’t get in print any other way. That’s changing, say recent stories in Time magazine and the New York Times. Both cite examples of authors who put out their own work, found an audience, and landed publishing contracts. Pocket Books Publisher Louise Burke told the Times that self-publishing is “no longer a dirty word.”
None of that is news to Colchester writer Jim DeFilippi, 65, who’s seen things from both sides. Back in the 1990s, Harper Collins put out his first novel, Blood Sugar, a mystery that drew raves from Newsday and Publisher’s Weekly. But DeFilippi’s “top-notch agent” moved on to bigger deals, and his second novel, Duck Alley, didn’t sell well. “A year ago,” recalls the retired Winooski High School English teacher, “I caught myself begging some young person at one of the New York agencies, ‘If you could just read the first 10 pages ... ’ — and then I realized, I’m too old for this.”
DeFilippi didn’t want to keep collecting rejections from agents and publishers, themselves scrambling to survive in a recession economy. He didn’t expect to get rich off his novels, which he describes as evading simple genre definitions: “I call them crime novels, but some of them don’t have villains, or the villains don’t get caught.”
But DeFilippi did want to write. And he wanted to make his books available to readers. Print-on-demand companies (which produce physical books) were “too expensive.” So, though he’d never heard of Portable Document Format and “didn’t know anything at all about websites,” DeFilippi set out to get his novels online. With his son’s help, he set up a site — JimDeFilippi.com — and turned his manuscripts into PDF files.
Six novels are currently available for free download. They range from Blood Sugar (the rights have reverted to DeFilippi, but he had to scan the book into his computer), to Jive Palace (a riff on Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood), to the recent Cop, Cop, Lawyer, which continues the story of Blood Sugar’s Long Island-based detective.
DeFilippi has also made his books available to users of Kindle, the electronic reading device sold by Amazon.com. (Last week, Jon Stewart played with version 2.0 on “The Daily Show.”) Like Stewart, DeFilippi is still skeptical about the Kindle, which bears a $359 price tag. “They don’t look or feel like a real book; they look like an old 1980s cellphone,” he says. “Book readers, young and old — they need something that looks like a book in their hands.”
Though DeFilippi says some folks from the publishing world have read his site, “I’m not going to make much money from this, if anything,” he acknowledges. He used to dream of fame, he says. But now, “the real joy is, you just get this book together, and it feels right and good.”