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

By NPR Staff

June 29, 2013

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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