Karla Homolka e-book a publishing breakthrough
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Independent journalist Paula Todd knew it was a gamble when she published Finding Karla: How I tracked Down a Serial Child Killer and Discovered a Mother of Three as a $2.99, 46-page e-book, rather than in hard-cover print or as an article for one of Canada’s leading magazines.
But time was against her.
“Other reporters were on Homolka’s trail, too, and I had no idea how close they were,” Todd, a former Star reporter, says.
“I didn’t have the luxury of waiting a year for it to see print as a real book or two or three months for publication in a magazine. And I’d spent a lot of my own money tracking her down. I couldn’t make it back on the kind of money magazines pay.”
But till recently e-books were unproven in Canada as a viable publication option for breaking news, long-form reportage and non-fiction. Would readers buy a single news story on Kindle or Kobo or iBooks, or would Todd’s scoop, one of the year’s biggest, slip by unnoticed, her work uncompensated?
Less than two months after its publication, Todd has her answer. Finding Karla holds down the top position on Amazon Kindle’s non-fiction singles bestseller list and No. 5 on Kobo’s e-books list, says her Toronto agent/publisher, Derek Finkle.
It’s a 14,000-word account of how the reporter and former TVOntario/CTV host tracked the convicted killer and former wife of multiple murderer Paul Bernardo to her home on Guadeloupe, in the Caribbean, and interviewed her.
Finkle didn’t have exact numbers: “They’re protected by a confidentiality agreement, but I can say that in its first week on sale, Paula’s e-book generated 10 times more than she could have earned by selling it to one of Canada’s top-paying magazines.”
Finkle is founder of the Canadian Writers Group, just two years old and for all intents and purposes a one-man operation. It represents 120 freelance Canadian writers, of mostly non-fiction, seeking alternative publication platforms to conventional print media, which are diminishing in size, circulation and financial wherewithal.
Industry insiders say Finding Karla has sold as many as 65,000 to 70,000 copies, generating as much as $200,000 in gross sales revenue. That’s not too shabby, considering the most Todd might have been paid for a freelance magazine piece is $15,000.
It was Finkle, an investigative journalist and former editor of the men’s magazine Toro, who convinced Todd of the benefits of taking the e-book gamble.
Finding Karla is the first breaking news e-book published in Canada, “maybe anywhere,” Finkle says.
As a hot news story it immediately cut across other media platforms — newspapers, TV, radio and magazines — increasing the e-book’s profile and potential audience. Finkle and Todd both believe it’s a game-changing pattern other freelance journalists will be quick to embrace.
“There’s really no ceiling to what you can make when the news value of a story like Paula’s presents opportunities to sell photos to magazines and newspapers, and excerpts for print publication, as well as set fees for public and TV appearances,” Finkle says.
Taking his cues from American e-book singles publishers Byliner and Atavist, which specialize in extended non-fiction between 5,000 and 30,000 words, Finkle has published works by six Canadian writers this year, including Blindsided by Russell Smith and Leslie Anthony’s Bones of Contention.
“Narratives work better as e-books than think pieces and the first three titles we published were updated, reformatted magazine articles,” says Finkle, who recommends his clients retain e-book rights when making deals with regular print publishers.
That’s a breakthrough that opens the door for writers to pursue previously untapped sources of revenue.
“E-books brought Russell to new audiences, from New Zealand to Serbia, that he might never have had if his story had been published only in Toronto Life,” Finkle says.
“Till now writers received no extra revenue when magazines published their work online.”
For Todd, who found Finkle in a Google search, the new relationship is a good fit, she says.
“He told me he was working on a new model of e-book with a breaking news element, but I couldn’t tell him what I was working on in case word got out before I was finished.
“All he needed to know was how many words I was writing.”
The e-book experience has been a revelation to Todd, who teaches journalism at Seneca College.
“There’s a way now for freelance journalists to support their work through direct sales, and to remain autonomous and original. It’s such a simple process, completely liberating. I think e-books can benefit journalism on all platforms: TV, radio and print.
“Would I do it again? Absolutely!”