Was it easy to get digital rights for the books youve converted?
C.M. Mayo: Each book has its own story. The contracts
for some of my older books, such as Sky Over El Nido (University
of Georgia Press, 1995), did not even contemplate e-books. In
contracts made a few years later, such as for my travel memoir,
Miraculous Air (Milkweed Editions, 2007), I had to negotiate
for any digital rights.
By the mid to late 2000s, publishers were beginning to realize
that digital rights might have some value, but few were actually
exploiting them. What I managed to negotiate was a clause that
let them keep the digital rights but only for three years, at
which point, if the publisher had not yet exploited them, the
rights would revert to me upon request. Only a little later,
in 2008, when I signed the contract for my novel The Last
Prince of the Mexican Empire (Unbridled Books, 2009), I couldnt
keep the digital rights; the publisher insisted on them.
fact almost all, I would thinkwho published books before the mid 2000s,
are in the position I am, with works that might find new life
in digital editions. The problem is, it isnt as easy as
it might sound to convert an ancient file into the files for
uploading to Amazon, and other e-book stores. There are services
that will convert books that come without clean Microsoft Word
files for about 500 dollars. Having done the work myself, I have
to say, that price is about fair, and it makes me appreciate
why many small publishers, short on staff and strapped for cash,
have not yet gotten around to converting what backlist they can
into digital format. But I imagine this will change as the technology
An important clarification: what
is a book? Because an essay, a collection of blog posts, a short
story, really, anything can be turned into a so-called e-book.
Several of my e-books with Dancing Chiva are individual stories
Finally, there are works in the
public domain. Anyone can have a go at those. Dancing Chiva will
be bringing out some very oldbut undeservedly obscureworks
in subjects of particular interest to me, such as Baja California
and Mexicos Second Empire / French Intervention of the
1860s. They will have the added value of translation, editing,
did you have to do exactly to get your books ready for e-book
There are many answers to this question because there are many
formats. A PDF e-book, for example, can have a full-color cover,
elaborate design throughout, and include photos and what-have-you.
Because I firmly believe that book design matters very much for
both appeal and ease of reading, in my PDF e-books I have taken
great care in selecting fonts, and designing each page. The trickiest
part, however, was figuring out how to encrypt the PDF and then
program the website to allow a direct download after payment
For a Kindle version, on the
other hand, other than a black and white cover, the formatting
is standardthere are a few choices of font and size, all
left up to the reader, not the publisher. As described on Amazon,
the process sounds simple: you start from a Word document, walk
through the steps provided on their website, and voila. But in
fact, many people, including me, have found that they end up
with garbled punctuation and lines jumping all over. Sometimes
the culprit is an indentation or stray marginthe Word document
you plug in really does have to be impeccable. But in other instances,
the source of the problems remains a mystery. What helped me
solve this problem was running the Word document through the
open source program called Sigil.
As for Nook and iBook versions,
Im working on these now. In the meantime, PDF e-books downloaded
can be opened in iBooks on the iPad.
Why did you start Dancing Chiva, your niche press?
First, because some of my publishers did not have the wherewithal
to bring out e-books and, as I owned the rights, I figured, why
let the digital rights languish? And why, when I can just upload
them to Amazon and iBooks, let some other publisher take a bigger
cut, leaving me a small slice of royalties? When Unbridled Books
brought out the Kindle and iBook editions of my novel, The
Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, in 2009, it found many
readers. It was news then, though it isnt anymore: the
e-book market is exploding.
Second, there are several works
I want to publish but that I know are not commercial, so in attempting
to place them with an agent or directly with a publisher, I would
be wasting my time. But I believe in these works; I know they
have readers, relatively few as they may be. For example, this
November, I am publishing my translation the first into
English of Francisco I. Maderos Spiritist Manual.
Mexican historians have written about Maderos Spiritist
Manual, but it certainly deserves to be brought out in English.
Why not for its centennial?
Third, Ive been teaching
creating writing for over a decade, and slowly but surely, Ive
been writing about various techniques of fiction. Ive brought
several blog posts together in a 50 page e-book, C.M. Mayo
on Creative Writing, and Im working on a second volume
for January 2012. Yes, I could write a proper book and have my
agent sell that, but Im so busy writing other books, that
wont happen anytime soon. In the meantime, I can offer
the 50 page e-book as a gift to my students, and also to anyone
who signs up for the newsletter www.dancingchiva.com/join.html.
Has the reception for Dancing Chiva been different in the U.S.
and in Mexico/the Spanish-speaking world? Or has it been the
It is too early to say. Right now Dancing Chivas website
is only in English. There will be a Spanish page when I launch
the e-book of my novel, El
último príncipe del Imperio Mexcano later
this year. What I can tell you is that I am optimistic. The novel,
published by Grijalbo Random House Mondadori, is a bestseller
in Mexico, widely available in bookstores throughout the Republic.
With the e-book, I hope to find readers in Mexico, the U.S.,
and elsewhere who would otherwise have trouble finding the book.
Are there e-book readers in Mexico? Yes. And while it is true
that Mexico lags behind the U.S. in adopting technology, the
lag is not so much as many people suspect. Most urban teenagers
in Mexico are hooked on Facebook; Mexican politicians are tweeting;
and Mexican businesses e-mailing newsletters and coupons. Many
Mexican businessmen travel with a Kindle in their briefcase.
How long until larger numbers of Mexican readers start downloading
e-books? I say, not long.
But a note about publishers.
I dont think most readers, even fairly sophisticated ones,
whether here, there, or in Greenland, notice or would even know
the difference between one publisher and another. The ones who
care are bookstores and reviewers. Why? Because they know that
the publishers with muscle are the ones that move the merchandise.
So writers care about publishers because publishers are gatekeepers:
they decide which books get distributed to brick-and-mortar bookstores,
who gets promoted to major media. But in the online world, there
are fewer and less effective gatekeepers. Im not saying
theyve disappeared. I hope to publish my next novel with
a publisher who knows how to get its books reviewed by major
newspapers and prominently displayed in bookstores. Im
just saying that I dont think most readers, when they see
a book listed online, notice or care much about who published
it. And that works to the advantage of small publishers.
With the ability to work with traditional publishers and generate
niche e-books and limited editions with your own press, do you
feel you have the best of both worlds?
Indeed! And you writers out there, why not start podcasting?
Blogging? Making YouTube videos? Uploading your work as e-books?
It doesnt require much moneyjust vision, audacity,
and time. With the explosion of the digital world, our creative
opportunities are infinitely richer.