Saturday, October 10, 2009

An Interview with Seth Harwood by Karen Batchelor

Obscurity, Our Enemy

According to web-savvy author Cory Doctorow, "Our enemy is not piracy, but obscurity." Seth Harwood concurs; he gives away his hard work.

Seth's main character is Jack Palms, a former celebrity who has kicked a drug habit, fled Hollywood and gotten into shape. He finds himself in San Francisco entangled with KGB agents turned cocaine dealers. The story is all action, all the time.

Seth started writing about this character after working on his MFA in Fiction from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Because he loved action movies, he decided to try writing action heroes. Jack Palms was born.

After finishing the first in the series, Jack Wakes Up, he started giving it away. He serialized the story in podcasts—free audio recordings—online to attract a reader base. It worked. The adventures of Jack Palms drew a large audience—large enough to convince print-on-demand publisher Breakneck Books to take a chance on a debut novelist. The POD system creates a higher per-book price, but a much lower risk-to-publish. Since that publication, hit #1 in crime/mystery on, Seth has bought out his contract with Breakneck and signed with Three Rivers Press (Random House), a big, traditional New York publishing house.

Apparently Three Rivers does not agree with the philosophy of both Doctorow and Harwood. Although they will make the first few chapters available free online, the publishers will not allow the entire novel online for readers to download as a PDF. His podcasts, however, are all still free.

Seth is now working on a prequel to the four Jack Palms books (Jack Wakes Up; Jack Palms II: This is Life; Jack Palms III; Czechmate) and he is podcasting as he writes, once again intending to create a large fan base before the book is even available in paper.

The wave of the future is lapping the shores of the present. Seth sees our new markets expanding into e-books, iPhone applications, Kindle-readable, whole books to download in a PDF format online and audios. But he doesn't think the book of paper will ever go away. It's still his favorite way to read.

Seth is a busy guy. Not only does he write, but he also teaches, and he will be teaching us October 24 at our 2009 Conference at the Flamingo Hotel. He is on a panel with others who understand new and different ways to move books from obscurity to the limelight.

Editor's Notes:

[1] Seth Harwood was our guest speaker at the Redwood Writer general meeting on September 13.

[2] Seth Harwood spoke at a Writer's Digest conference in New York September 18-19 and this fall is teaching an online creative writing class for Stanford University. Check out or find out more about him and download his podcasts at

[3] Seth Harwood is part of a four-member panel at our October 24th conference. Joining him are Gil Mansergh, Kemble Scott, and Patricia V. Davis on the topic of "New Ways to Get Published." Their session is slated for 2:00 – 3:00 pm in the "Technology and Business" track. For more:

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