From St. Martins, to Self Publishing, to Amazon: Q&A With Barry Eisler

Livia: Barry, good to have you here with an excerpt from The Detachment on the day it goes on sale.

Barry: My pleasure, Livia, and thanks for having me.

Livia: It's impossible to consider The Detachment without also considering the story behind it. You announced back in March that you had walked away from a half-million-dollar offer from St. Martin's Press to self-publish the book. Then, at BEA in May, you announced that the book would be published instead by Amazon's Thomas & Mercer imprint. Can you tell us a bit more about the unusual path to publication for this book?

Barry: Well, it's a long story, told more fully in Be The Monkey, my online conversation with Joe Konrath available for free download from my website. But the gist of it is, I was looking for a digital split (legacy publishers offer authors only 17.5% of the retail price of digital books), a level of control over packaging and pricing, and time-to-market that's impossible with a legacy publisher. Those three items are of course entirely possible with -- indeed, they're the essence of -- self-publishing, so I decided to self-publish The Detachment.

But when Amazon heard about my decision, they approached me and essentially offered me the best of both worlds: the kind of split, control, and time-to-market I wanted from self-publishing, combined with Amazon's marketing muscle. Also, no ridiculous non-compete clauses, and I'm still self-publishing short stories, the odd book on publishing, and political essays, and have complete freedom to do what I like with all future works. In short, Amazon offered a better way of achieving my objectives, so I went with Amazon. This disappointed a few self-publishing ideologues -- that is, people for whom self-publishing is the end, rather than a means -- and I get that, but publishing is a business for me, not an ideology, and I'll use whatever means seems best-suited for achieving my objectives.

Anyway, so far, it's been a terrific experience. All the Amazon people I've worked with are smart, creative, and a lot of fun. I knew I was in for a different kind of publishing experience from the beginning, because the draft contract they presented me was the best publishing agreement I've ever seen -- and they were open to my suggestions for how to make it even better. They seem determined to build a publishing arm that's predicated on what's best for readers and authors, and I think they're off to a great start.

Livia:  Here’s Chapter 2 of Barry’s new thriller, The Detachment, available today exclusively from the Amazon Kindle Store (and in paper in bookstores everywhere on October 18). You can read other chapters, and Q&A with Barry on other topics, at the following blogs:

Chapter 1Truthout: The Politics of The Detachment
Chapter 3Buzz, Balls & Hype: The book’s image system
Chapter 4Jungle Red Writers: Combining the series worlds of Rain and Treven
Chapter 5A Newbie’s Guide to Writing: Publishing a book with Amazon

* * * * *

Chapter 2

Ben Treven and Daniel Larison sat on stools at the window counter of a Douter Coffee shop fifty yards south of the Kodokan on Hakusan-dori, sipping black coffee and waiting for the two contractors to return. Treven had wanted to join them, to get a firsthand look at the man whom up until the week before he’d thought to be a myth, but Larison had insisted there was no upside to sending in more than two of them, and Treven knew he was right. It bothered him how easily and naturally Larison had established himself as the alpha of the team, but he also had to admit that Larison, in his mid-forties, ten years Treven’s senior, had seen more of the shit even than Treven had, and had survived heavier opposition. He told himself if he kept his mouth shut he might learn something, and he supposed it was true. But after ten years in the Intelligence Support Activity, the deliberately blandly named covert arm of the military’s Joint Special Operations Command, he wasn’t used to running into people who acted like his tactical superiors, and even fewer he thought might be right about it.

Treven was facing the window in the direction of the Kodokan, and saw the contractors, whom he knew only as Beckley and Krichman, approaching before Larison did. He nodded his head slightly. “Here they come.”

Larison had instructed all of them to use their mobile phones as little as possible and to keep them shut off, with the batteries removed, except at previously agreed-upon intervals. The units were all rented, of course, and all under false identities, but good security involved multiple layers. The CIA’s careless use of cell phones in the Abu Omar rendition from Milan had led to the issuance of arrest warrants from an Italian judge for a bunch of CIA officials, including the Milan station chief, and Treven figured Larison was applying the lessons of that op to this one. Still, the current precautions struck him as excessive—they weren’t here to kill or kidnap Rain, after all, only to contact him. On the other hand, just as with sending only the two contractors into the Kodokan for the initial recon, he supposed there was no real downside to the extra care.

The contractors came in and stood so they were facing Treven and Larison and had a view of the street. Treven had seen plenty of foreigners in this section of the city, but even so he knew they were all conspicuous. Treven’s blond hair and green eyes had always been somewhat of a surveillance liability, of course, but he figured that to the average Japanese, such features wouldn’t much distinguish him from Larison, with his dark hair and olive skin, or from any other Caucasian foreigner, for that matter. What the natives would notice, and remember, was the collective size of the four of them. Treven, a heavyweight wrestler in high school and linebacker for Stanford before dropping out, was actually the smallest of the group. Larison was obviously into weights, and, if Hort could be believed, maybe steroids, too. And the contractors could almost have been pro wrestlers. Treven wondered if Hort had selected them in the hope their size might intimidate Rain when they made contact. He doubted it would make a difference. Size only mattered in a fair fight, and from what he’d heard of Rain, the man was too smart to ever allow a fight to be fair.

“He’s there,” the man called Beckley said. “Training, just like last night.”

Larison nodded. “Maybe we should switch off now,” he said in his low, raspy voice. “Two nights in a row, he’s probably spotted you. Treven and I can take the point.”

“He didn’t spot us,” Krichman said. “We were in the stands, he barely even glanced our way.”

Beckley grunted in agreement. “Look, if the guy were that surveillance conscious, he wouldn’t be showing up at the same location at the same time every night in the first place. He didn’t see us.”

Larison took a sip of coffee. “He any good? The judo, I mean.”

Krichman shrugged. “I don’t know. Seemed like he had his hands full with the kid he was training with.”

Larison took another sip of coffee and paused as though thinking. “You know, it probably doesn’t really matter that much whether he saw you or not. We know he’s here, we can just brace him on his way out.”

“Yeah, we could,” Krichman said, his tone indicating the man found the idea hopelessly unambitious. “But what kind of leverage do we have then? We found him at the Kodokan. Tomorrow he could just go and train somewhere else. Or give up training, period. We want him to feel pressured, isn’t that what Hort said? So let’s show him we know where he lives. Brace him there, make him feel we’re into his life in a big way. That’s how you get people to play ball—by getting them by the balls.”

Treven couldn’t disagree with the man’s assessment overall. He was surprised Larison didn’t see it that way, too. But Larison must have realized his oversight, because he said, “That makes sense. But come on, he must have seen you. Treven and I should take the point.”

“Look,” Beckley said, his tone indicating the tail end of patience, “he didn’t see us. Krichman and I will take the point.” He gestured to one of the buttons on his damp navy shirt. “You’ll see everything we see, through this. If he spots us, and I doubt he will, we’ll switch off like we planned. Okay?”

The button was actually the lens of a high definition pocket video camera that shot color in daylight and infrared-enhanced black-and-white at night. Each of them was similarly outfitted, and each unit transmitted wirelessly to the others on the network. A separate unit, about the size of a pack of playing cards, could be held in the hand to display what the other units were transmitting. It was nothing fancy, just a stripped-down and slightly modified version of the Eagle Eyes monitoring system that was increasingly popular with various government agencies, but it enabled a small surveillance team to spread out beyond what traditional line-of-sight would allow, and also enabled each team member to know the position of all the others without excessive reliance on cell phones or other verbal communication.

Larison raised his hands in a you win gesture. “All right. You two cover the entrance of the Kodokan. Treven and I will wait here and fall in behind you when you start following him.”

Beckley smiled—a little snidely, Treven thought. And it did seem like Larison, maybe in a weak attempt to save face, was pretending to issue orders that had in fact just been issued to him.

Beckley and Krichman went out. Larison turned and watched through the window as they walked away.

Treven said, “You think he’s going to come out again at the same time? Hort said he was so surveillance conscious.”

Larison took a sip of coffee. “Why do you think Hort sent those assholes along with us?”

It was a little annoying that Larison hadn’t just answered the question. Treven paused, then said, “He doesn’t trust us, obviously.”

“That’s right. They’re working for him, not with us. Remember that.”

Colonel Scott “Hort” Horton was Treven’s commander in the ISA, and had once been Larison’s, too, before Larison had gone rogue, faked his own death, and tried to blackmail Uncle Sam for a hundred million dollars worth of uncut diamonds in exchange for videos of American operatives torturing Muslim prisoners. He’d almost gotten away with it, too, but Hort had played him and kept the diamonds for himself. Treven wasn’t entirely sure why. On the one hand, Hort’s patriotism and integrity were unquestionable. A black man who might have been denied advancement in other areas but who was not only promoted, but held in awe by the army meritocracy, he loved the military and he loved the men who served under him. Yet none of that had prevented him from fucking Larison when he’d needed to, as he’d once tried to fuck Treven. He’d told Treven why: America was being run by a kind of oligarchy, which didn’t seem to trouble Hort much except that the oligarchy had become greedy and incompetent—grievous sins, apparently, in Hort’s strange moral universe. The country needed better management, he’d said. He was starting something big, and the diamonds were a part of it. So, he hoped, would be Treven and Larison, and this guy Rain they’d been sent to find, too, if he could be persuaded.

So of course Hort didn’t trust them. They weren’t under duress, exactly, but it wasn’t all a positive inducement, win-win dynamic, either. Larison had to be looking for payback, as well as a chance to recover the diamonds. And Treven had wised up enough to recognize the strings Hort had been using to manipulate him, and to know he needed to find a way to cut them, too. There was the little matter of some unfortunate security videos, for example, that could implicate Treven in the murder of a prominent former administration official. It didn’t matter that it had been a CIA op and that Treven had nothing to do with the man’s death. What mattered was that Hort and the CIA had the tapes, and might use them if Treven got out of line. So for the moment, the whole arrangement felt like an unstable alliance of convenience, all shifting allegiances and conflicting motives. Hort would never have sent them off without a means of monitoring them, and under the circumstances, Larison’s injunction that he remember who Beckley and Krichman were really working for felt gratuitous, even a little insulting. Maybe the man was just chafing at the fact that the contractors didn’t seem to give a shit about what Larison assumed was his own authority. Treven decided to let it go.

But what he wouldn’t let go was that Larison had ignored his question. “Same place, same time, same way out, two nights in a row?” he said. “That sound like our guy?”

Larison glanced at him, and Treven could have sworn the man was almost smiling.

“Depends,” Larison said.

“What do you mean?”

“Rain spotted them last night for sure, when they were there for longer. Very likely, he spotted them again tonight, too.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I would have spotted them. Because if this guy is who Hort says he is, he would have spotted them. Because if he’s not good enough to have spotted them, Hort wouldn’t even be bothering with him.”

Treven considered. “So what does that mean, if he spotted them but comes out the same way at the same time anyway?”

This time, Larison did smile. “It means I’m glad it’s not us walking point.”

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