Not too many people are inspired enough by their army reserve duty experience to write a full-blown novel, but that is exactly what Herzliya resident Richard Steinitz decided to do.

The New York-born veteran immigrant, who served more than 20 years in the army reserves, spent much of his service at an outpost along the Israeli-Jordanian border. During long stints in a bunker monitoring movements on the other side of the fence through a telescope, Steinitz could not help but become enchanted by the gazelles that often wandered into his field of vision.

“It made a real impression and the experience nagged me for a long, long time, until I had no choice but to write about it,” recalls Steinitz, explaining what led him to write Murder Over the Border, the story of Yossi Abulafia, an Israeli policeman on reserve army duty who unwittingly takes a picture of what appears to be a murder on the other side of the border.

Steinitz – who was frustrated at the lack of accurate or interesting works of fiction in English about Israel – developed his story, which takes the protagonist on a journey from Israel to Holland and through a series mysterious events, against the backdrop of the peace process.

However, despite his clear commitment and investment in the novel, like so many other first-time authors, he was unable to find an international agent or publishing house willing to take on the work.

“I tried and tried and tried to get an agent interested enough in the book so that they would be willing to take me on and find me a publisher,” he explains. “I didn’t succeed at all, though I continued to look for one for years.”

Then one day, Steinitz wrote to a friend and said “too bad there isn’t a place where you can just upload a book and let people download it,” and his friend responded, “Have you tried Amazon?” Almost as easy as uploading a photo onto Facebook, Steinitz self-published Murder Over the Border as an e-book on Amazon just over a year ago.

“It was a huge relief for me to get it published this way and my hope, of course, is that loads of people will see it and buy it,” he says. “Amazon is to be complimented – and blessed – for making this avenue available to all authors. It’s just a wonderful opportunity.”

AND IT’S an opportunity that is rapidly growing, thanks to the recent uptick in electronic reading devices such as Kindles, Nooks and iPads, as well as the ease with which e-books can be paid for and downloaded.

According to a survey published recently by the Pew Research Center, one in every five American adults read an electronic book in the last year. Moreover, figures relating to the e-book industry suggest that it has grown from $78 million in sales in 2008 to $1.7 billion in 2011. One book industry expert estimates that sales of books in digital format will reach $3.55b. by the end of 2012.

While Steinitz himself has yet to see much profit from his book – he blames the need for self-promotion and publicity, which was traditionally the role of the publisher – Matt Rees, another Israel-based English-language author, says the new platform provides a multitude of opportunities never known before for writers here.

“Naturally if you live a long way from media centers like New York or London, the Internet gives you an opportunity to reach people with your work that was previously closed off,” says Rees, who has published both long-form journalistic pieces and short stories in e-book format, in addition to series of novels in print.

“Writers who haven’t been published before have a very, very, very tough time finding a publishing company to give them a chance,” observes Rees, a journalist and former bureau chief for Time magazine here.

“Publishers are worried about profits being cut off with the decline of book shops in the US and the lower profit margins of e-books,” he explains, adding: “publishing online gives you a way around that and, when you publish on Amazon, your story is also available elsewhere in the Amazon empire.”

Despite the benefits, Rees is aware of the need for self-promotion that goes with self-publishing and admits that “success really depends on setting up a professional- looking blog as a center of reference for readers.” He also points out that designing a good cover for the book is important.

Another challenge is getting mainstream newspapers or literary magazines to review or reference self-published works. So far most are wary of touting self-published works in e-book format, but with the industry growing so rapidly, the genre can’t be ignored for too much longer.

“Whereas in the past it was considered a little infra dig to publish something yourself, all the rules of the game are changing now and it’s a brand new world for writers,” he says.

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