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'Empire Falls' Author Richard Russo Gives E-Publishing A Try

Jun 29, 2013
Originally published on June 29, 2013 3:44 pm

Richard Russo, the writer who won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for his book Empire Falls, published a new novel six months ago. If you're wondering how you missed it, it might be because Russo chose not to publish with a traditional publisher. There are no hardcover or paperback copies of Nate in Venice -- it's only available by subscription on Byliner, a digital publishing service, where you can only read it on an e-reader, phone or tablet.

Russo tells NPR's Lynn Neary that the difficulties of marketing a print novella helped push him toward e-publishing.

"I kept hoping it would be a novel," he says. "But Nate in Venice — I just had a feeling that it was going to be in that kind of no-man's-land ... at around 125 pages. Too long for The New Yorker, too short to ever be a stand-alone novel, at least in physical form. So I was ready to try something a little different."


Interview Highlights

On how he felt about e-publishing before Nate in Venice

"I think like most writers I at least started out being a little bit weary, and I have gone on record more than once being very dubious of e-publishers driving down the price of novels so much that they are really undermining the life of the physical book. ...

"If this had been a genuine novel, I would have published it like my other books."

On the experience of e-publishing

"I'm very happy with the experience both artistically and economically. Economically, it's a no-brainer because the other option was my drawer. So anything that they were going to pay me was far better than it was going to do in my drawer waiting for another one or another two of the same length or a collection of short stories to make it a part of. But artistically it's also been interesting too because, you know, part of my doubts about electronic publishing has always been that will you get really good editorial advice? But I found myself working with a very talented editor who was every bit as demanding and scrupulous as I've been fortunate enough to work with all along."

On the rebirth of the novella

"I think that the novella in particular is very likely to see a real resurgence as a result of electronic publishing. I mean, it's always been a wonderful form. Most of my favorite Henry James work is in that longer, short form. Think of The Turn of the Screw and Daisy Miller and The Aspern Papers. I much prefer those over James' longer works, actually. Give me Turn of the Screw over The Princess Casamassima any day. I think that these longer forms, thanks to digital publishing, are going to see a resurgence. And wouldn't that be lovely to have e-publishing actually be there as a force of good? That would be lovely indeed, wouldn't it?"

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Transcript

LYNN NEARY, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary. Richard Russo, the writer who won the Pulitzer Prize for his 2002 book, "Empire Falls," published a new book six months ago. And if you're wondering how you missed it, it might be because Russo chose not to publish with a traditional publisher.

There are no hardback or paperback copies of "Nate in Venice" because it's only available by subscription on Byliner, a digital publishing service. So you can read it on an e-reader or a phone or a tablet and by it in a digital bookstore, but not anywhere else.

Richard Russo joins us from WMEA in Portland, Maine. Welcome to the program, Mr. Russo.

RICHARD RUSSO: Oh, it's great to be here.

NEARY: Now of course, all of your previous novels have been released in hardcover editions first and I'm just curious about your own sort of evolution. What's your own journey been in terms of digital publishing?

RUSSO: Well, I think like most writers, I at least started out being a little bit weary and I have gone on record more than once being very dubious of e-publishers driving down the price of novels so much that they are really undermining the life of the physical book.

"Nate in Venice," is really a novella and it's kind of that no-man's land between a short story and a novel. If this had been a genuine novel, I would have published it like my other books.

NEARY: So because, "Nate in Venice," is a novel and it's around I guess about 100 pages maybe.

RUSSO: Yeah.

NEARY: And I guess traditionally those are very hard to market.

RUSSO: Virtually impossible.

NEARY: Yeah.

RUSSO: Yeah.

NEARY: Did you conceive this as a novella from the beginning or did you think of turning it into a novel and is this something of an experiment even with the writing of it?

RUSSO: Oh, I kept hoping it would be a novel.

(LAUGHTER)

RUSSO: But "Nate in Venice," I just had a feeling that it was going to be in that kind of no-man's land that I mentioned before, at around 125 pages. Too long for The New Yorker, too short to ever be a standalone novel, at least in physical form. So I was ready to try something a little different.

NEARY: And how do you feel so far about it? Do you feel like it's getting enough readership? Are you happy with the experience thus far?

RUSSO: Yes, I'm very happy with the experience, both artistically and economically. Economically it's a no-brainer because the other option was my drawer. So anything that they were going to pay me was far better than it was going to do in my drawer waiting for another one or another two of the same length or a collection of short stories to make it a part of.

But artistically it's also been interesting too because, you know, part of my doubts about electronic publishing has always been that will you get really good editorial advice? But I found myself working with a very talented editor who was every bit as demanding and scrupulous as I've been fortunate enough to work with all along.

NEARY: Something else I think about reading digitally and the length of this book. I wonder if this length is going to become more popular for people because, in a way, it's easier to read shorter books on an e-reader than a big book.

RUSSO: I think that the novella, in particular, is very likely to see a real resurgence as a result of electronic publishing. I mean, it's always been a wonderful form. Most of my favorite Henry James work is in that longer short form. Think of the "The Turn of the Screw," and "Daisy Miller," and "The Aspern Papers." I much prefer those to James' longer works, actually.

Give me "The Turn of the Screw" over "The Princess Casamassima" any day. I think that these longer forms, thanks to digital publishing, are going to see a resurgence and wouldn't that be lovely to have e-publishing actually be there for a force of good. That would be lovely indeed, wouldn't it?

NEARY: Yes, it would. Writer Richard Russo. He joined us from WNEA in Portland, Maine. Thanks so much for talking with us.

RUSSO: I enjoyed it, Lynn. Thank you.

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