Banker-Turned-Author Rides E-Book ‘Tsunami’ at 99 Cents a Novel

Banker-Turned-Author David Lender
Author David Lender, a former managing director at Bank of America, has published three fiction novels set in the financial sector. Photographer: Manette Loudon via Bloomberg

David Lender has wanted to be a writer since college. Now after a 25-year career in finance, he’s become a top-selling author of novels going for 99 cents each on Amazon Inc.’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble Inc.’s Nook.

Lender, who majored in English at the University of Connecticut, outlined his stories on planes and in cars during his work in mergers and acquisitions at Bank of America Corp. and other Wall Street jobs. The result is three self-published tales of suspense set in the financial world that became bestsellers in the “thriller” category of Seattle-based Amazon’s electronic bookstore.

Lender is an example of how new authors are capitalizing on the popularity of electronic books to break into the business without a publisher’s backing. Amanda Hocking, the 26-year-old author of vampire books such as “My Blood Approves,” sold about a million e-books on her own before signing a $2 million deal this year with St. Martin’s, part of Macmillan Group.

“E-books are the future of publishing,” said Lender in an interview. “This is a tsunami, not just a temporary thing. I don’t need to have my books on the shelf because I already have a viable business in the e-book platform.”

E-book sales hit $441.3 million last year from $61.3 million two years earlier, according to the Association of American Publishers. Two-thirds of readers surveyed by the Book Industry Study Group over the 2010 holiday season said they have switched “exclusively or mostly” to e-books from print books. The popularity of e-books gives self-published authors like Lender access to wide readership and saves on publishing costs.

99 Cents

Lender, 58, began writing his first novel, “Trojan Horse,” in the 1990s while working in international banking. He hired editor Richard Marek to teach him how to write a thriller and sent his manuscript to various literary agents.

“I would get up at 5 a.m., exercise and then write for an hour and a half before going to my real day job,” Lender said.

As the demands of his banking career grew, he put the manuscript aside. He joined Bank of America in the late 1990s, left to start a private equity firm and then returned to the bank to work in mergers and acquisitions. In 2005, he left Bank of America again to build the New York office of Cascadia Capital LLC, an investment bank he has since left.

Lender finally took the time to finish the manuscript. He didn’t know anything about publishing until his brother cut and pasted a draft of “Trojan Horse” onto an Amazon Kindle so he could see how it looked.

“At that point my attitude was, ‘What have I got to lose?’” Lender said.

First Sales Dismal

He released “Trojan Horse” on the Kindle and the Nook in January for $9.99. When sales were dismal, he researched the price points of other independent publishers and settled on 99 cents. The e-book took off.

“It took me a month or two to figure it out,” he said. “When I got to 99 cents, it just exploded.”

Lender then published “The Gravy Train” and “Bull Street,” two other books he worked on since leaving Bank of America. Together his three e-books have sold 100,000 copies this year so far, earning him almost $35,000 since January. He also does financial advisory work through his own firm, David T. Lender & Associates LLC.

The 2010 holiday season marked a “turning point” in e-books, the New York-based Book Industry Study Group said in a statement in April. The availability of new e-readers such as Sony Corp.’s Reader and Kobo Inc.’s eReader in the last year is one reason for the e-book industry’s success this year, according to Andi Sporkin, chief communications officer of the Association of American Publishers. Lower price points and the conversion of older books into electronic format also help, Sporkin said.

Publisher Signing?

For independent publishers like Lender, the growing number of e-readers in the hands of consumers is a promising first step. Lender believes paper books won’t disappear, and he also put out his novels in print, including his latest, “Bull Street,” in paperback for $12.99 through Brindle Publishing. His e-books still comprise more than 95 percent of his sales. He said he’s already completed a quarter of his next novel.

Though Lender said he’s been approached by a New York-based literary agent, he stopped short of pursuing his original goal of entering a traditional publishing deal.

“My view is that this is a platform I can use going forward,” he said of e-books. “If I don’t go with a major publisher, I don’t think it’s really going to hurt me.”

After a 25-year career on Wall Street and an “enjoyable” transition to publishing, Lender said he would encourage other bankers to pursue similar personal activities they enjoy.

“It may take a decade to really make it happen, but they can do it,” he said.

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