Former diplomat Mitchell Reiss becomes latest author to take the e-road

By Hillel Italie, AP
Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Former diplomat, now author, takes the e-road

NEW YORK — Mitchell Reiss is a former diplomat and special envoy who has worked on peace treaties in Northern Ireland and discussed nuclear weapons with North Korea.

The president-elect of Washington College, he is currently writing “Negotiating With Evil,” a guide to talking — or not talking — to terrorists and insurgents.

A few years ago, Reiss would have released his book through a traditional publisher. But he has chosen to issue an original e-book through Open Road Integrated Media, a year-old digital publisher co-founded by former HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman and film producer Jeffrey Sharp, whose credits include “Boys Don’t Cry” and “You Can Count on Me.”

“This is the way of the future,” says Reiss, 52, who served as director of policy planning at the U.S. Department of State from 2003-2005 and was special envoy to Northern Ireland from 2003-2007. “I think working with Open Road brings two immediate advantages — the book gets out very quickly and it’s a great way to reach a global audience.”

As sales for traditional books remain flat and as the e-book market quickly expands — up to 8 percent for some publishers, more than double from a year ago — authors become more likely to take chances. Prize-winning author John Edgar Wideman recently published a collection of “micro stories” through Internet publisher Crime writer J.A. Konrath, who has enjoyed strong sales from self-publishing e-books, is releasing a novel through’s AmazonEncore, a program for “exceptional overlooked books and authors.”

Friedman and Reiss say they met a year ago, when both were traveling in Africa. They immediately liked each other. Freidman found him an “appealing fellow. Intellectual, yet totally approachable.” Reiss said he was “totally captivated by the revolutionary idea she had to change the publishing industry.”

“As they said in that movie (’Jerry Maguire’), she had me at ‘hello,’” says Reiss, whose previous books include “Without the Bomb” and “Unbridled Ambition.”

Reiss will receive no advance, but will share 50 percent of the profits, double what traditional publishers usually offer for e-books, a core source of tension with authors and agents who believe that 50 percent should be the standard.

“Negotiating With Evil” will come out in September (a paper version will soon follow), supported by what Friedman calls “traditional and nontraditional marketing,” including reviews, television appearances, blog postings and videos that will be far more lively than someone sitting “in front of a blue screen.”

“That is not going to move the needle,” Friedman says. “Exciting videos are going to move the needle.”

Open Road’s most notable acquisition has been electronic editions of several books by the late William Styron, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Confessions of Nat Turner” and his best-selling memoir about depression, “Darkness Visible.” Styron published for decades with Random House Inc., but his family cited Open Road’s higher royalties and sophisticated marketing plan. (Random House claimed to own the e-rights, but has not moved to stop publication, in what spokesman Stuart Applebaum calls an “exception” in deference to the wishes of Styron’s family.)

The Styron e-books were released May 4 and sales so far have been slight. “Sophie’s Choice,” winner of the National Book Award in 1980 and later made into a movie starring Meryl Streep, was 2,024 on the Kindle best-seller list as of early this week. “The Confessions of Nat Turner” was 19,437, “Darkness Visible,” was at 18,756.

“We are very happy with the initial interest in Styron’s e-books and the first week’s sales, especially since we haven’t as yet launched our online marketing campaign which will be ramping up and ongoing throughout the year,” said Rachel Chou, chief marketing officer for Open Road.

HarperCollins is owned by News Corp.; Random House Inc. is a unit of owned by Germany’s Bertelsmann AG.

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