Pretty, isn’t it?

It’s the cover of my new book, THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC, a complete collection of the Matthew Scudder short stories, including one brand-new one never before published anywhere. I could natter on about the book at great length and with considerable enthusiasm, and in fact I’ve done just that in a newsletter. If you subscribe to my newsletter, it should be landing in your email box before long; if not, I’ll be posting the newsletter on my blogsite’s new Matthew Scudder page.

The newsletter’s designed to tell you all about the new book, and induce to you part with $2.99 for the eBook or $14.95 for the trade paperback, as you prefer. This blog entry, on the other hand, will be less about the book and more about my decision to publish it myself.

It’s not as though self-publishing were my only option. I’ve been writing professionally for over fifty years, and if all the folks who’ve published my work were laid end to end, it’s probably no less than they deserve. (Rim shot!) In 2011 alone, I’ve had five new books published: three books for writers (The Liar’s Bible, The Liar’s Companion, and my early–days memoir, Afterthoughts), all eRiginals from Open Road; A Drop of the Hard Stuff, the new Matthew Scudder novel from Mulholland Books; and—just out—Getting Off, from Hard Case Crime.

I think it’s likely that one or another of these excellent publishers would have given THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC a home. But I never looked in that direction.

See, the idea for the book grew out of my experiences in eBook self-publishing. For over a year I’ve been offering short stories for Kindle and Nook, uploading them myself and pricing them at 99¢ apiece. (I blogged about my experience in that regard, along with my thoughts about the future of short fiction in the eWorld, in Whither the Short Story.)

My Matthew Scudder stories were natural candidates for this treatment, at least the more recent ones that wouldn’t need to be scanned first. But something held me back, and then one day I realized I had enough stories for a book, and that they probably ought to be a book. If the eBook audience found my non-series short stories acceptable at 99¢, wouldn’t they embrace a full book of stories about my most popular character at $2.99?

I thought they might. And wouldn’t it add value to such a book if I were to write a new story for it? I already had one vignette, “Mick Ballou Looks at the Blank Screen,” which had appeared only as the text of a 100-copy broadside, so it was something none of my audience would have read before; if I added a new full-length story, I’d definitely have something to sell.

I had lunch with two friend of mine, Brian Koppelman and David Levien, and by the time we got up from the table I had an idea for the new story, and an offer from Brian (a major Scudder fan) to write an introductory appreciation of the character.

So far my experience at self-publishing was pretty basic. I’d only recently begun buying stock photos and cobbling them into eCovers for the stories I uploaded. Now I had a real book in mind, and much of its contents would need to be scanned and proofread, and I realized some professional assistance would relieve me of much of the heavy lifting while assuring I’d wind up with a professionally formatted, high quality product available on all major eBook platforms.

I picked the well-recommended Telemachus Press to shepherd the book through the process on a work-for-hire basis, leaving me to run the risks and reap the rewards. With the new story (“One Last Night at Grogan’s”) written, and Brian’s terrific intro in hand, I felt sufficiently confident to opt for a Print-On-Demand trade paperback edition as well.

When I told my friend Otto Penzler what I was planning, his response was immediate and enthusiastic; he’ll be bringing out a deluxe upscale hardcover edition, signed and numbered, limited to 100 copies and retailing at $150. (Quite a jump from the $2.99 eBook!)

That’s what I’ve done, and how I came to do it. But it still doesn’t address the questions of why I took this road.

For one thing, I didn’t see THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC as something that would have commercial publishers champing at the bit. Short stories? And the bulk of them previously published? They’d very likely see it as a book that could be published profitably, but not as a lead title, and hardly a hot ticket. I’d get an advance, but it wouldn’t be a huge one, and the book might not generate much income beyond that modest initial sum.

At least as big a factor in my decision was that I figured going it alone would be fun. I’d be taking a deep plunge into a pool in which I’d already wet a toe, and I expected the experience would be, at the very least, bracing.

And it would be rapid, too. I didn’t even get the idea for the book until July, didn’t write “One Last Night at Grogan’s” until August, and now the book’s on sale. What’s that, three months? They’ve been busy months, let me tell you, and it’s a rare day that hasn’t saddled me with decisions to make and actions to perform. But that’s better than sitting around unsaddled, just waiting for something to happen.

Will I see a return on my investment?

Well, that depends on sales, doesn’t it? I’ve been told that I’m leaving money on the table by pricing the eBook so low, that the package I’ve put together could easily command a price of $4.99 or $6.99 or $9.99. But I’ve never wavered from my conviction that $2.99 is what I want to charge for THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC. I’d rather maximize the number of copies sold than the per-copy profit.

And it’s hardly a loss leader at $2.99. If it sells copies, I’ll do fine.

I suspect there’ll be a modest demand for the trade paperback as well, and I know there’ll be a call for autographed copies. As of this writing, a dozen of the country’s leading mystery booksellers have ordered signed copies, and I’ll also be able to fill individual orders for signed books at my website bookstore.

I don’t think I’ll lose money. I may do as well as I would with a traditional publisher. It’s my hope—and I don’t think it’s an unrealistic one—that I’ll do better. I’m almost certain I’ll sell more copies, and I think I may make more money, too, even at the low price I’ve set.

And what will the future hold? Will I become a permanent resident in the world of Indie Publishing?

Much of the future’s charm, I’ve long felt, is that one is never given to know what it may or may not hold. I’m certainly in no rush to abandon traditional commercial publishing, and my next novel will be coming from Mulholland sometime in 2012. I’ll have more backlist titles emerging as Open Road eBooks, and a pair of early pseudonymous works are scheduled as a joint-venture double volume via Subterranean Press and Hard Case Crime.

But if THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC does even moderately well, and if I continue to enjoy the whole indie-pub process as much as I have to date, well, I’ve got one book in mind that’s a perfect candidate for self-publication, and ideas for a couple more.

Oh, before I forget: One attraction of self-publishing is that you don’t need an agent to do it. Well, that’s inarguably true—but I damn well need my agent, and once THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC covers its costs, it will be my pleasure to send him his commission on further receipts, even as it will be his happy chore to represent the book’s translation and audio rights.