Tuesday, December 17, 2013

First Interview!

WARL 1320 AM RadioI'm going to be on WARL 1320 A.M. Radio Wednesday, December 18th at 9:00 AM for my first interview. Morning Show host Domenic Cotoia will be talking with me about Aggadeh Chronicles Book 1: Nobody.
If you live in the local area, tune in for a listen! If you don't you can listen to the live stream via the internet.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Tools of the Trade, v. 2.0

John Scalzi recently posted what he was using for writing tools. I’ve done so in the past, too. In my post, I focused on the programs, Scalzi listed his books and what he used writing each one. I think that was a more interesting way to do things. I should state, this subject is a moving target, as I'm always on the hunt for an excellent writing program that allows me to format my writing properly, but doesn't get in the way of writing.
The list below will give readers an idea of what writing software is in use, and will give readers a look at what titles I am working on for the future—assuming I can still afford to continue as a writer. The following list is what I’m writing now:

Aggadeh Chronicles Book 1: Nobody
Pages (v. 4.3), Mellel, TextEdit, BBEdit—For now, Pages is my primary writing program of choice, mainly because it can output directly to EPUB, which makes my life significantly easier. Secondarily, I also like the auto-correct system in Apple’s OS X, something which other programs such as Mellel didn’t take advantage of to any great degree. I was using Grammarian on top of Mellel, but as OS X advanced Grammarian didn’t and became problematic to use. One thing I absolutely love about Mellel is that it stores its files as XML files, which means my work is available in human-readable format should anything go horribly wrong.

Aggadeh Chronicles Book 2: Dragon
Pages (v. 4.3), BBEdit—Again, Pages continues to be my tool of choice for the above-mentioned reasons. Now, all the programming geeks out there are saying, “WHOA! BBEdit? For real?” Yes, for real. I use BBEdit by Bare Bones Software for editing the code in the EPUB file to tweak and correct it until it is proper. I use BBEdit for people that want a personalized copy of the ebook and buy it directly from me. Bare Bones maintains a humble marketing approach by saying BBEdit “Doesn’t Suck.” That greatly understates just how useful I find this program.

Aggadeh Chronicles Book 3: Oracle
Pages (v. 4.3)— Just a few pages of notes collected for this one, plus a number of pages into the opening. I was considering moving this to be the second book, but decided to keep it in the original order.

Pages (v. 5.0.1)—I’m trying Apple’s newer version of Pages for this hard science fiction, but I find it falling short. In an effort to bring parity between the iOS and OS X versions of Pages, Apple removed some functionality from the OS X version of the program. I expect a lot will be returned later, but for now it is annoying enough I’m not happy with it. For one thing, an author lives and breathes by word counts. I hate that Pages 5 places the word count in a floating window that hovers over my work making it difficult to see my work. Bad move.

Music on the Wind
Pages (v. 4.3), Mellel—I’ve merely written the notes on this story so far. I’m about halfway through it. What do I do when I’m feeling burned out from writing? I write something else. MotW is evolving more into a YA novel. I’ll just have to see where it is going as I further develop it.

Light of the Moon
PalmOS, Word, TextEdit, vi, Mellel, Pages (v. 4.3)—Yes, you read that correctly. I actually used vi from the Unix command line to write portions of this story. Many of the notes were written on my Palm Pilot during lunch breaks back when I was employed. Light of the Moon is actually one of my older story ideas, but I couldn’t come up with a satisfactory ending. This was one of the four stories I laid in front of me to choose when I decided I was going to go full time into writing. For now it sits on a shelf until I am ready to tackle it again. For those of you who are curious, yes, the story is based on an idea I had from a piece of music I heard: Brian Eno’s First Light. (Hah! I bet you expected me to say Debussy’s Claire de Lune, didn’t you?)

Word, TextEdit—I have (had) a very old version of Word (Part of Microsoft Office). I upgraded hardware and software, and it was no longer compatible with what I was using. Word is an industry standard, but I was really taking the hell out of it with my writing. So I gave up using it. Also, more to the point, I was sick and tired of every time there was an upgrade, the file format of the DOC files would change. I was concerned about recovering my writing from the files should something ever go wrong, so I stopped using it. Yoshimi—about fourteen chapters along so far—is a story about the science of magic. A hard science fantasy, I guess. Some of the concepts have trickled into Aggadeh Chronicles, but you won’t get any hints of either story, other than I, as an author, was trying to come up with a firm set of rules for bending reality.

An Unwanted Hero
TextEdit, Mellel, Pages (v. 4.3)—There are so many stories about young adolescents finding themselves in other worlds and becoming heroes through some hidden power they didn’t know they had. What happens when the battle is won and they return home? In this story, the hero returns home after seven years in another world and tries to reconnect with friends and family. I’ve only a few pages of notes on this, mainly as a mnemonic so I don’t forget about the story too much.

The Stars Within My Grasp…
Pages (v. 4.3)—Again, this is just a few pages of notes for now. It really has the length to go for a few books, or perhaps to be worked into an animated series. A boy on the verge of manhood has dreamt of becoming a Ranger all his life, but has his dreams crushed when it turns out it was a classmate who was being scouted. When the classmate and the girl he has a crush on are kidnapped by a militant group, he steals the technology used by the Rangers to rescue them. Is doing what is right truly worth losing everything?

A Writer’s Chronicles
Pages (4 & 5), BBEdit—I use Pages to write my whining missives tripe  blog entries. Then I copy-and-paste it into Blogger, then use BBEdit to edit the resulting HTML so it displays in the manner that I want it displayed on my blog.

Word, TextEdit, vi, Mellel, Pages (v. 4.3)—A witch fairytale in modern times.

The Witch and the Huntsman
Pages (v. 4.3)—A romance between a witch living on the fringes of society and a huntsman with a surprisingly open mind. Just a short for now. Eventually I'll expand it to a longer story when I put my attention to it.

Overall, I’m using Pages 4 because it delivers functions I need right now for self-publishing, the ability to create the basic EPUB file that I refine into the final ebook that is released for publication. Pages 5 I find to be a disappointment, because it has been watered down from Pages 4, and seems more to be geared to writing office documents rather than writing novels.
Mellel is an excellent program for writing novel-length documents, but it falls short of my technical needs.
I can’t criticize Microsoft Word, because I was using a version that was so old and behind the times, it would be a disservice to base my opinions on that old version. Many writers use it, many don’t. It is considered the industry standard. You should decide for yourself.
What do I want in a word processor?
  1. The ability to output to EPUB, the industry standard for ebooks.
  2. The ability to format the pages according to various book formats. I am writing books, not office notes. I want a preset for a 6x9 US Trade or a 6.8x4.25 Pocket Book. I don’t need my books formatted for 8x11 printer paper.
  3. Allow me to define a chapter heading. Not have to choose an HTML H1 heading and settle for that. When I have defined that Chapter heading, use that heading to separate the chapters when outputting to EPUB. That would make my life so much easier. Top margins, drop caps for the first paragraph, other ornamentations would be nice.
  4. I do want to try and get the look and feel of my book as close as possible on the screen while I’m writing it. Normally, I don’t get to see how it will truly look as an ebook until I have loaded the active ebook into my ebook reader. And it is difficult to figure out how many pages a book will be in print if I don’t have the page size defined correctly.
  5. DON'T give me fixed presets, fonts, and styles for the above. I don't want my book/ebook coming out looking like everyone else's. DO give me an alert if I exceed industry standard parameters, but don't stop me from crafting my work the way I want it done. 
With the growth of people seeking self-publishing routes, you would think the producers of writing software would wake up and start trying to cater to that crowd. No one to my knowledge has done that yet. Whoever does it is going to own a very exclusive market, for sure.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Print vs. Digital 2

Revisiting the whole print-versus-digital argument. I already addressed one aspect of this subject before in another postThis time, I’m looking at the issue of which do readers generally prefer? The print version of a book or the digital (ebook) version of a book? I'm not questioning whether one is superior over the other. Simply, which do people find themselves preferring.
Let’s just cut to the chase: in a recent poll by The Guardian, a British daily newspaper, 79% of the respondents preferred print books to ebooks. Goodreads had similar results in a 2010 poll (still live and collecting votes) that shows 80% of readers prefer printed books.
Seems like print books pretty much have the lead. But not so fast.
A more scientific poll conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2012 revealed something that countered the above results. Surveying avid readers, they approached the subject by asking which was better—an ebook or a print book—in several different situations. The ebooks came out ahead by a fair margin. One key point in this survey focused on “Reading in Bed.” This point addresses the issue of actually holding the book, and it found that readers were nearly split between ebooks and print books, with ebooks getting a small lead.
Looking ahead, I’m willing to bet that by the end of the holiday season when retail sales are tallied up, they will find that the print/ebook spread will probably be around 65%/35%. Thirty-five percent is still a pretty damned good portion of the market.
Over the past few years, ebook sales surged past sales of print books, particularly during the holiday periods. This had everyone ringing the bell for the impending demise of printed books. Yet, sales of printed books would surge back during other parts of the year. I don't see ebooks completely replacing printed books any time soon. 
When looking at what people prefer—not counting the survey by the Pew Research Center—the results I found on this question came from polls set up on various web sites. The problem with these polls was the questions were not qualified. Meaning, how many of those people who responded to the polls saying they prefered printed books had actually tried reading an ebook on an ebook reader? I’m sure if the poll-takers qualified the question to read, “If you use an ebook reader, which do you prefer…?,” the results would be different.
With this in mind, I was talking with someone who said he vehemently preferred print books to ebooks if he had ever actually read an ebook on an ebook reader. His answer was, “No.” That means, he really didn’t know what it was like to read an ebook. It also disqualifies his answer from being valid, because he cannot truthfully compare the two. (How can you say you like stuffed nup-nups if you've never even seen a stuffed nup-nup?)
Even though I liked the idea of ebooks, when I was trying to determine whether or not my book would work as an ebook, I was still unsure how well it would work out. So I tested the issue. I bought a few ebooks and read them on my iPhone—including one I already owned as a print book. Reading on a smart phone really pushes the envelope between ebooks and printed books. I had pretty strong doubts about it. Surprisingly, I found myself able to become as immersed in the story while reading it on my iPhone as I was reading the same book in print. Reading on a dedicated ebook reader was as pleasurable as reading the book on paper.
I was sold on the concept and decided when I wrote Nobody, releasing it as an ebook would be a good choice.
I enjoy reading and become just as immersed in a story regardless of whether it is on paper or on a digital display. Ebook? Paperback? Or Hardcover? To me, there’s no difference; they are merely different containers for the same story. I have become just as lost into reading a story on a web page as in a printed book.
You, as a reader of this blog, are probably a good candidate for reading books as ebooks. You are already used to reading articles on web pages. That’s all an ebook is: a self-contained web page. Each chapter in an ebook is merely an individual web page. Where you scroll down through a web page in a browser, you “flip pages” in an ebook reader as you go through the chapter.
So what is the key issue with switching to ebooks? What problems create resistance in readers?
In my opinion, it's conditioning and habit.
I spent 48 years holding books in a certain way. Picking up an ebook reader and reading a book on it for the first time was awkward.
Holding an ebook reader this way
works great—until you fall asleep
and your arm goes limp.
I bought a cover for each of my ebook readers, with the thought that it would be more natural to hold it like a printed book. I was wrong. All the weight of the reader in a cover is on one side. Plus, you are not twisting and turning to look at one page or another on an ebook reader as you would a paper book. Ultimately, I find I prefer to remove my ebook readers from their covers when reading them. Doing so led me to finding a comfortable way of holding the ebook reader while reading. A slight variation of that allows me to hold the ebook reader suspended above my head while I’m laying down reading—far more easily than holding a printed book in that position.
If you are buying an ebook reader for the first time, think carefully why you are buying a cover for it. A book-like cover does not make an ebook reader feel like a book. One reader on TYWKIWDBI, Cathy M., noted she got a cover for her Kindle that was like an easel so she could prop it up on the table while eating. Think of a cover as more protection for the ebook reader rather than making it look like a book and you will probably choose something that is more appropriate.
I was surprised to find that an individual ebook reader is lighter than most paperback books.
My father has often been fond of a rule of thumb used in marketing: "weight equals value." If I placed two coins on a table in a darkened room, one made of aluminum and one made of gold, you would easily be able to tell which one was made of gold just by picking it up. The aluminum one would feel cheap because it was so light. One attribute of print books that some people say makes them better than ebooks is their heft. An ebook—which is composed of electrons held in a certain state of energy—weighs less than .0000000000000000000003g, according to U. of California Scientist, Dr. John Kubiatowicz. An entire library of ebooks loaded onto a 4GB memory card in an ebook reader would still weigh less than a single bacterium.
The weight of an ebook reader leads to an interesting statistic in ebook sales: older generations are adopting ebooks faster than younger generations. The key issue being, it is easier for a senior citizen to hold an ebook reader than to hold a printed book. Especially if said individual has arthritis.
Another plus for senior readers is the font size of an ebook can be increased to make it easier to read. Large-print books are huge and heavy.
There is a psychological aspect to a physical paper book. I am less compelled to pick up an ebook reader and start reading than I am when I see a book laying on the table. I attribute this to conditioning. See book, must read book! Yet, as I pointed out above, once I start reading I am as lost in that story in any medium as I would be reading it on paper.
There is one place where ebooks just cannot compare to paper books: the library. Sure, a single ebook reader can hold a massive library. But there is nothing like walking into a room that is filled with shelves of books. You can tell something about the person by the selection of books showing. Even more by the ones that look more worn and creased than the others.
This can work both ways, though. I have walked into a few houses where the shelves have been filled with books that had obviously never been opened. Set up more as decorations and intended to impress visitors. Problem is, it only impresses those people whose opinions really don’t matter and makes the homeowners look like buffoons to those who they truly should be trying to impress.
Another point comes to my mind. As an author, until I can afford to put Nobody and the subsequent Aggadeh Chronicles novels into print, I won’t know the pleasure of  riding on the subway and seeing someone reading one of my books. That’s something I can look forward to, I hope. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

NOT Watching the Numbers

One of the more difficult things I find is to ignore how my book ranks on any given bestsellers list. The primary example in my mind is the Amazon Bestsellers list. I’m sure there are many who may argue with me, but for a self-publishing author trying to sell an ebook, the Amazon Bestsellers list is the most important one to be ranked.
Yeah, this is the real sales chart of Nobody from the start.
What about the New York Times Bestsellers List? For any author, that is the preeminent list to appear. Your title appearing on that list announces to the world that you have arrived as an author. But good luck getting on that list if you are self-published. NYT has traditionally ignored self-published authors. The only exceptions to this are those who are selling millions of copies. It’s hard to ignore a self-published book that is being bought up by almost everyone and is being turned into movies. The New York Times only began listing ebooks less than three years ago, when it became impossible to ignore the sales figures in and the growth of the ebook market.
USA Today, another big list for an author to appear on, does list self-publishing authors, and they were an early lister of ebook rankings. More than a few self-publishing authors had sales of their ebooks skyrocket after appearing on USA Today’s list. I remember reading an article about two or three years ago that commented it was USA Today’s policy to list self-published ebooks that pressured New York Times to add ebooks to their list. (I think it is safe to assume that NYT would disagree with that notion.)
Still, the leader in ebook sales is Amazon. People looking to buy books for their Kindle, that is the first place they will go. When Amazon is listing a hot book high in their top-100, it will get noticed by people perusing that list for their next read. Also, a hot selling book will be automatically added to the weekly promotional email, advising readers about new books they may want to read. 
The importance of bestsellers lists brings up the chicken and the egg problem: do sales drive the bestsellers lists or do the bestsellers lists drive sales? The answer is, Yes, to both.
Your book won’t appear an any bestsellers list if it doesn’t sell any copies. It won’t necessarily appear on a list if it sells a bunch of copies. But it will sell a LOT more copies if it does appear in the bestsellers lists.
So why would I want to ignore where I stand on the bestsellers list if that ranking position is so important to selling more books? It’s because sometimes that number doesn’t exactly represent how well my book is selling.
I’ve sold a few hundred copies of Nobody since releasing it over two months ago. While this isn’t exactly raking in the dough, it does put sales of Nobody ahead of other books in fantasy and science fiction compared to when they were initially released and went on to become hits.
Since the release, I’ve watched my ranking swing widely up and down, ranking as high as #8,000, and sinking to as low as #200,000 and back again. Whenever it takes a huge dive in the rankings, it usually means that some big-name author has just released their latest title. My biggest single drop was about 80,000 ranks, a few weeks ago when Nora Roberts, John Grisham and Steven King all released new books at the same time on the same weekend. It’s happened a number of times, each caused by a top-end author releasing a title. It simply shows how the ranking system works on Amazon. It isn’t just your book being ranked, it is everybody else’s books, too. When someone’s goes up, others are going to get knocked down.
Watching my rank plummet like that was very disheartening. It doesn’t exactly help the creative process when I see numbers like that. That’s when the second-guessing begins. Did I make the right choice in pursuing this? Can I really afford to continue on with the second book?
Yet, within a day or so, my rank would snap back up to where it was before the big releases. Sales have continued at a fairly steady pace, which is not reflected by the rank. Or, perhaps another way of putting it is because sales have been steady, my rank keeps snapping back to where it was, in spite of the occasional big dips. Reviews on Nobody continue to be strongly positive.
Because of this, I decided to ignore the weight of my ranking. To avoid the issues with seeing that rank sink.
With positive reviews, steady sales, and a good start out of the gate, I believe that Nobody has what it takes to be a hit. It is merely a matter of getting more people interested in reading it. That means getting the word out.
What does it take for a book to be a hit?
The general metric seems to be around 10,000 copies sold would indicate that a book is a hit. But you have to take time into consideration. A book selling 10,000 copies over a 30-year period would not be considered as much of a hit as a book that sells 10,000 copies in a week.
A best seller would be selling 10,000 copies or more per day.
One author described the path of his novel’s success. For almost two years, it was selling about a dozen per month. It was the last three months of that period that something changed. His sales went from a dozen per month to a dozen per week and then per day. The next month he broke 3,000 copies in one month, then the next he passed 10,000. Another author gave a similar account. She wrote her book, put it up as an ebook, and went back to her regular life. She even forgot about checking up on her ebook. It was several months later when she hit an ATM machine and happened to glance at her receipt as she was walking away. The balance was several thousand dollars too high! When she got home, she jumped online to check her bank accounts expecting to find trouble and discovered that the extra money came from royalty payments. Her book had been discovered by readers three months earlier and became a hit.
Both authors quit their day jobs.
Successes like these help remind me that I can make it as an author. I just have to keep pushing it—and myself—along. Hopefully, this might also help other people make that decision to just go for it and start writing. What ultimately determines one’s success as an author is the quality of the story being written. If you can weave a good tale, people will want to read it.
So, while I do keep an eye on the numbers, I also try not to watch them too closely so I can focus on writing. There are a few hundred readers out there who are eagerly awaiting Dragon to hit the shelves!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Social Media Anxiety

I always intended to create social media channels to advertise my writing and projects. Many artists have used this method to get word to fans and to potential fans. It was easy, while writing, to plan out the schedule of when and where to set up announcements. The problem was, the accounts I set up and played with became too personalized. Too much private information connecting family and friends with the outside world was available via those channels.
Under the Rock 2013 © William D. Richards
Those who know me well will recognize this is a self-portrait.
The solution was to take a good hard look at what I had done and what I had done wrong when I first worked through these things. Google+, Facebook, Twitter—I had set them up the wrong way and used them incorrectly. Albeit, I had set up a couple of them before I really began to look at them for promotional purposes. The concept was correct, but my implementation was all messed up.
In the business of writing, your name is your brand. J.R.R. Tolkien, Stephen King, Robert Heinlein, J.K. Rowling—mention any of these authors and most people will recognize them instantly. While I knew that, I didn’t properly set up my communications with that in mind. As a result, I didn’t have my branding set up correctly. It’s akin to hanging your laundry in the lobby of an office building.
I had to go back to square one and start all over again.
It took three tries before I got Twitter right. My first Twitter account was definitely a private thing. The name on the account wasn’t even my own. The best thing it was used for was learning how to use Twitter. I let that one sink into the swamp. The second Twitter account I created was a bit better, but didn’t use my brand name. I created it before I gave it some thought and realized the mistake I made. So that one burned and then sank into the swamp. But the third one stuck! You can find it here. (Now, all I need are some curtains for the windows in the tower…)
I made the same mistake with Google+ as I did with Facebook. As I said above, I began using them more for personal communications. Good for learning how to use them, bad for commercial use.
The new Google+ page is here. If you do a Google search, of course the old G+ site comes right to the top. I figure with time, that will fade and the new one will be at the top. Think of the former as an archeological curiosity and look to the new one for information on my writing.
Last and certainly not least, is the new Facebook page. I had created a page for Aggadeh Chronicles, but I barely touched it while I was buried in the writing and editing. I admit, it will probably not be used as much as it should. At some point, I may delete it and make sure everything on FB points to the new author page.
By creating the commercial page, I can now advertise more freely. I was really uncomfortable with the thought of pushing out announcements that would only be seen by friends and family. You can only put out commercials so many times before people start turning it off. With the commercial pages, I can now put the announcements there, separated from private and personal communications among family and friends. Friends can get the daily life messages through the private page and fans of my book can get news and announcements via the public commercial page. One has to maintain duel personalities, one for the public and one for private. It sucks when friends are getting bombarded with the public persona and communication mixed in with the personal stuff. Hopefully I can keep the two properly separated.
Now all I need to do is get over this issue with telling people what I’m doing and actually advertise. “A man who doesn’t advertise is like a man who is winking in the dark. He knows what he is doing, but nobody else does.
So starts the new chapter…

Oh, yeah: and buy Nobody!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


Hey! I’m on Goodreads now!
Of course, this brings to mind the question, “What the hell took you so long?”
The answer is, because I was too busy writing to allow myself other distractions. Now that the writing for the first book is complete, I was looking around for various channels to promote my book. With so many friends and family on Goodreads.com, it seemed a logical choice.
It also was a vital necessity.
Goodreads is not just a review site. Amazon (now owner of Goodreads.com), Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo all have reviews that are posted by people who purchased and read any given book. Goodreads goes way beyond that. It isn’t a site of reviews by people who read the book. It is a site of people who love to read and want to refer books they enjoyed to other avid readers. A good recommendation on Goodreads carries a lot of weight.
I set up Goodreads to echo my blog entries; we’ll see how that works out. I must admit I am not the most prolific blogger out there. Most of my time writing goes into stories. But it makes a good diversion when I’m stuck on one part or another of a story and it gives me a channel by which to vent myself of thoughts or frustrations that might get in the way of the creative process.
For all you Goodreaders out there who are new to me, the best way to contact me is via my web site. I am an infrequent user of social media and reaching me through those channels is not the most reliable method. Email from my site always reaches me.
I’ll be highlighting my favorite books on Goodreads as time allows. I hope my recommendations are helpful to other readers looking for something good or new to read. And I certainly hope you all enjoy Aggadeh Chronicles Book 1: Nobody!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Numbers Game

On August 26th, too long after midnight, the “Go!” button was pushed and Aggadeh Chronicles Book 1: Nobody was released and went live on the ebook markets.
My timing of the release could not have been worse.
It was just before the holiday weekend—when people would be heading for picnics and barbecues instead of sitting at their computers looking for something to read. My primary audience was either moving into college or moving their kids into college. With the summer ending, people are switching from vacation/holiday mode to school/work mode. Activities and organizations that were shuttered during the summer months restarted. There is a lot of scurrying around as people try to get themselves back onto the schedule. Recreational reading takes a backseat during the month of September.
Still, sales have been steady and the feedback has been excellent. Readers who posted their review on Nobody: The Pirate Arc have read the full version now and updated their reviews to show their satisfaction. (Thank you!)
Overall, I’d say the prospects are looking very good for Nobody. Satisfaction is high among those who have bought it and there is a good deal of interest in the story among those who haven’t. It’s simply a matter for me to convince those who haven’t to do so.
How well will it do?  I really can’t predict that. I’m betting—hoping—it will do well enough that I can make a living at this.
Friends have sent me interviews of highly successful, self-published authors and in those interviews where they talked about the actual sales numbers, my book is doing better than theirs were at the same time scale. That’s very encouraging. It’s easy to get excited reading and listening to those interviews.
Hugh Howey’s Wool was first published in 2010 and it wasn’t until October 2011 that readers took notice of it. In that time, according to Howey, Wool went from selling a dozen per month to a thousand per month, then three thousand in November and finally ten thousand in December. I hope to sell ten thousand copies of Nobody in a year. To do that in a month would be incredible.
That is the sad truth of reality: the majority of self-published books that finally hit it big took years to reach that point of success. Most authors in this category comment how they put out their books and then went about their lives. I remember one made the comment she was surprised one day when she looked at her bank account balance and discovered several thousand more dollars than should have been there. This was how she discovered that a few months before, her book became a hit—almost two years after she published it. It is unusual for a book from an unknown, self-publishing author to take off right away.
What does it take to get a book to surge in sales?
The obvious answer is people must start buying it. But that isn’t the complete answer. People not only have to buy it, but they have to enjoy reading the story. Then they must tell other people about it. Word of mouth is the best way to sell a book.
The surge that every author prays to see depends on the numbers.
Twice, Amazon put Nobody in their promotional emails and twice, I saw sudden jumps in sales that corresponded with those promotions. In fact, I noticed the sudden, odd jump in sales and suspected there had been a promotion before I went to email and confirmed it. That also resulted in a huge jump in Amazon’s ranking system, and that caused Nobody to be featured a second time. The first promo happened before the weekend and that resulted in four times the books sold than normal. The second promo occurred a few days later in the middle of the week and so didn’t have quite the impact, yet still sold more than twice the normal rate.
What does it take to get your ebook to be promoted in one of the mailings? Sales. More to the point, sales velocity, the rate at which a title is selling.
Nobody has had a very steady sales rate over the past month. That keeps it fairly steady in the rankings. But if sales began to increase to a higher number each day, then the sales velocity is increasing. This is a sign that a book is a hit. If a book is becoming a hit, then the distributor is going to want to push it in order to sell more and thereby make a faster profit. It is a feedback loop. The more the book sells, the more the seller wants to sell it in order to make more money. The more the seller promotes it, the more it sells.
At the same time, the more the book is being pushed and more people buy it, the higher the number of people that read it will like it. Therefore, more people are likely to leave a personal and positive review on the book’s sales page. This in turn, encourages more people to take the plunge and buy the book to see what all the buzz is about.
When charted, this is where the line showing sales begins to suddenly curve upward at an ever steeper angle. This is when a book becomes a hit.
What triggers this surge? Luck is a large part of it. Timing is another, where you get the book to market just at the right time when people are looking for something new to read. The hard work of the author trying to promote his book is another other part of it. Getting the local paper to write an article about you and your book or getting on the local radio station would let you reach a few thousand people in a very short time. From this, you could get a couple hundred people interested in your story, and that could result in sales.
Just a few dozen sales over a day or two can push a new book very high on the ratings list. If the velocity keeps up for a few days, the rank goes higher, and more people will see the book in the promotions. This, as said above, results in more sales and a greater sales velocity.
Every successful, self-published author comments how the sales of their book surged suddenly and exponentially.
At the same time, the book is competing against thousands of other books. Like a stampeding herd of buffalo, each one is vying to get ahead of the other. So a book’s ranking on the bestsellers list at any given time tends to swing wildly.
Any bestsellers list is not important to a reader. All the reader wants is a good book. Readers don’t care how a book ranks so long as they enjoy the story. So what makes the bestsellers list so important to a writer?
The answer is visibility.
Steven King, Nora Roberts, R.K. Rowling—they all have millions of readers. If they put anything out, it is a guaranteed hit and a big moneymaker. Publishers and distributors will advertise months in advance about the release of any new book from such authors. Fans can’t wait and other readers may have their curiosity piqued at the premise of an upcoming story release. Writing is a business and when there is a guaranteed windfall the businesses are going to jump at it.
By contrast, an unknown writer may have created his or her first novel and pushed it up through the current self-publishing networks. It could be the most groundbreaking, thought-provoking, society-changing literary masterpiece to come along in centuries. Yet, it might languish for years because no one has noticed it.
When a book moves up on the bestsellers lists, it begins to get attention from distributors looking to make a bigger profit. As such, they will put this where it can be seen by the most customers who might be interested in buying it. That means greater opportunity for sales and this directly affects how many digits are on the royalty check received months later by the author.
So I watch these numbers. The direct numbers of copies sold and the rank my book has reached. Together, they give me a rough projection of how things will go in the near future. One shouldn’t obsess about these numbers, but these numbers cannot be ignored either. When running a business that sells a product, one has to pay attention to whether the product is selling or is a complete flop. A writer has to pay attention to how a book is selling. If it isn’t selling well, then money is going to run out before long.
Here’s the hard part: when and how do you determine that your book is a flop? This is particularly hard when considering what I said above that it could take a couple years for a book to catch on. Harder than that is to ask, “Why?”
On this, I don’t have enough experience to comment authoritatively. But I can at least put forward my own opinion.
First, sales slowing to a trickle is a pretty good indication that a book has run its course. When you go from three copies per day to three copies per month, it’s a pretty good indication that the market for that book has been saturated. Over time I’ve noticed the shelf life for most books seems to be around three years before publishers stop printing them. A title might still have legs for years, with slow sales continuing without letting up. But often, the market moves on to newer titles.
If sales on a book just never really get off the ground before things come to a stop, then that book might be considered a flop. 
A smart author will have their second book ready to go by the time the first book begins to cool off.
Second is reader reaction to the book. When complete strangers are telling you they enjoyed your story, that is the greatest indicator of success. If sales aren’t going all that well and yet people you meet tell you they loved your book, that indicates the failure to sell is due to lack of visibility and you need to work harder promoting your book.
If reader reaction is fairly cool or non-existent, then that’s pretty much the end of it.
For me, the most gratifying reviews of Nobody came from readers who had written reviews for the original excerpt and then came back to update their reviews for the full version. (Mr. McDonald and RWB, that meant a lot that you felt compelled enough to come back and say something more. Yes, I’m working hard on books two and three, with more to come!)
Negative reviews don’t actually affect the sales of a book, unless the vast majority of reviews are negative. In truth, bad reviews can often spur sales, as other readers want to see if it is really as bad as people say. As the old saying goes, there is no such thing as bad publicity. Most potential customers ignore negative reviewers as being trolls, especially when the reviewer seems to attack the author directly.
Positive reviews do affect sales. One, when a potential reader sees a large number of positive reviews, they are more likely to go along with the crowd and buy it to see how it measures up to the hype. Second, if a lot of people are loving a given title, then the distributors are going to start promoting it in order to cash in on more sales potential. A book loved by a large number of people is more likely to have greater success and sales if more people hear about it.
Just how important are good reviews?
Imagine someone going to their local book club and talking about your book. If that person told the other members how enjoyable your book was, that could be a dozen sales in one evening when the others go home and jump online to buy your book. The sudden surge in sales can increase a book’s ranking in the bestsellers lists which in turn results in an increase in sales velocity. 
The worst kind of review? None at all. The best way to kill off a book is to let it die on the vine unnoticed by anyone. Imagine that same book club member saying nothing about your book. No one knows about it, therefore no one will buy it. THIS is what ultimately kills a book.

Selling a book is much like lighting a fire. It takes a lot of effort to get a good fire lit, but once it catches it just flares up and goes. Only then can you sit back and enjoy the warmth and glow of the fire. Getting a book to sell requires that you have to promote the book to let people know it exists. Once you get enough people curious about your book that it begins to sell quickly, the process becomes self-sufficient. The numbers of sales and rankings become the warmth and glow of your career as a writer. Remember, like a fire, if you want to keep up those sales, you have to keep adding fuel to it. More stories and more promotion.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

…Now What?

At long last, Nobody is available for purchase!
Amazon came online fairly quickly. Barnes & Noble was up the next afternoon. Kobo came up fairly quickly, but they assigned the wrong ISBN number to it; I had to take it off sale and resubmit it to get the correct ISBN number to show. Apple’s iBookstore– Well, Apple is Apple. It can take up to two weeks, it seems, for Apple to finish processing a submitted book. It will get there eventually…
I’m confident Nobody will do well. People who I know have said it is good and people who I don’t know have said it’s good. Looking at that, I’m pretty confident then that most people will like it.
I did introduce one error during the construction of the ebook. This resulted in the first section marker in Chapter 1 not being centered. Then readers discovered some errors that got past the editors.
Big face palm for those. An update has already been pushed up to the distributors (except Apple). One more update will be sent up as soon as Apple clears Nobody on the iBookstore.
So, now what?
First off, I have to start promoting. A colleague of mine understood strongly the value of advertising. In his office, he had a cartoon on the wall that said, “A man who doesn’t advertise is like a man who is winking in the dark. He knows what he’s doing, but nobody else does.” Apt words.
I’ve started pushing on Facebook. Probably the easiest place to start. I only hope my friends forgive me for sounding like a broken record for the next couple of weeks: “Buy my book! Buy my book!”
The trick to succeeding with Facebook is to have your friends share the entry, not just “like” it. Sharing has much more impact than liking, and it actually posts the link on your timeline so your friends can actually see it. If you just like it, it goes into the recent activity list for a few minutes and is gone. If your friends didn’t see it within those few minutes, they’ll never see it. Your effort goes to waste. But when you share, it lingers for a long time. When your friends see you say, “Hey! I know this guy! Give his book a try!” or “I read this and it was really good!,” that carries a lot of impact with people and has much more effect.
Then there are the more traditional ways.
I have a friend who is managing editor at a local paper. I figure once I have a good count of sales and the book is moving, I can ask if he’d like a local interest piece on yet another local author. (We’ve had a lot of them lately!) The same for the local morning radio station. Then strive for regional contacts to get the word spread out of the local area.
Of course, blog about it.
The important thing isn’t just for me to spread the word, but to get others to do it, too. Just as many hands make light work, many voices broadcast the message farther. Word of mouth is the best advertising for anything, but is also the slowest.
I’ll be a guest on a local radio station, talking about my book and the writing process. Maybe a few other things, too, about self publishing.
Then I need to tap some friends of mine still in the journalism business to see if they are interested in a local interest story about me publishing Nobody.
There are other things I’d like to do as well.
‘Meet the Author’ events. I can talk to people about my story and about writing in general. I’ve gotten a lot of requests for autographed copies. It’s rather difficult to sign one’s autograph on a computer file. So, I figured I’d print up a few hundred “covers” of Nobody on heavy card stock and use those to sign autographs for people who have bought the ebook.
Actual physical books of Nobody will have to wait for a while. It’s pretty expensive to print books so it’ll have to wait until I have the money to do it. I am seriously considering a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the printing. Serious enough, I already spoke to a shipping company about the estimated cost for a mass shipping, should I move forward with the program. The last step is to talk directly with an offset printer to find out what my costs will truly be and what I must do to prepare the narrative for the printing process. I may be a neophyte on the matter, but I do have a pretty good idea of what I need to do. Once I have all that, it is merely a matter of watching the sales numbers to see if I sell enough copies so I can afford to move forward with the printing program.
I’ve begun work on the next book, Dragon (working title). Assembling my notes and thinking of various scenes I’d like to see in the story. Preparing character outlines and clarifying the maps, goals, rules, etc. In Dragon, the story becomes more complex. Where Nobody was fairly black and white, now there will be situations and characters that fall into grey areas in the middle. It’s one thing to create a character like Lowe who is evil scum. It is a lot harder to create a villain with whom the reader can sympathize to some degree. Then there are those characters who might not be villains, but  aren’t exactly allies, and those whose motivations aren’t quite out in the open.

My goal is to have Dragon released next year. Time to place your bets, everyone! ;-)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

So Far, So Good…

I’m very happy to report that since the release of the book on Monday, in the past three days I’ve sold several times more books than the short story sold in the same time period. Admittedly, in raw numbers it isn’t all that many right now, but I think I can take it as a good sign of things to come.
When I pushed The Pirate Arc out back in November, I think it was ranked around 115,000 on the Amazon Bestsellers list. Nobody debuted around 9,000!
There were still some errors in the narrative, a few things that got through. Corrections are already being made and have been pushed up to the servers. So, if you think you found something, just sync your ebook reader to your account and the refresh should come down. If the mistake you found is still there, send me an email (showing chapter number it appears in and copy the text of the error) so I can fix it. That’s one of the nice things about ebooks: mistakes can be fixed. (You can send me an email via my web site.)
I’ve already pushed one update up to cover some issues. I’ll be pushing up a second today. And if anything else shows up, a third before the weekend.
It’s amazing the silly things that got through! Most errors (six so far) were dropped or disarranged words. One error was actually right underneath one of the earlier edits, and as such had been overlooked. None of the editors, nor myself, caught these. It’s a case of the same tired eyes looking at the same text too many times. Errors were caught be readers with fresh eyes.
I’ve only myself to blame on this. Two of the errors were of the sort that I had to slap my forehead and exclaim, “How the hell did I miss THAT?
So, keep those coming! These are things I would have preferred to have caught before the release. But at least this guarantees a better product for people who will buy the book in the future, as well as those who have already bought it.
Of course, for those people who care about such things, you might want to store the original file elsewhere so it doesn’t get overwritten if you want to keep it as a collector’s item. (First edition, with all the errors!) Truth is, that is how first editions of collectable books are identified: by the errors in them that were replaced in subsequent editions.
What didn’t make it into the book?
A number of things, actually.
Originally, the story began with Nem’s childhood. I decided to remove that, because it had too much the feel of a boy’s adventure tale and would have set the wrong tone for the series. Aggadeh Chronicles is no children’s series.
Second, is the little dreamer, Ophelia, whose dreams replaced the story of Nem’s childhood. Ophelia has a much greater role in the story besides dreaming. But we don’t get to meet her until Nem gets to meet her.
Third, the Great Lady Oracle. Said to be the most beautiful woman in the world and the most powerful. Yet, for all her power, she has little control over her life. She is the living goddess, the head of an Empire and cannot command it. Her desire to free herself of the constraints on her life has significant repercussions for the rest of the world—and for Nem. I was going to show a little more of her life, but decided against it as it created too much jumping around in the story.
Then was Nem’s life in the islands of the Southern Archipelago and the days leading up to the attack on Gulahg when they were encamped in a hidden fjord while Nem created the crystals that would sink the pirate ships. Problem was, I found the section of him creating the crystals to be too mechanical. Sure, it involved the sinking of a ship when a crystal was dropped, but overall it just wasn’t that interesting a chapter. And Nem’s life in the islands was tangential. It didn’t really move the story along, so I dropped it from the narrative. Relative to this, was how Nem came to be on the Island Dancer. A storm damaged the ship he served as navigator and the navigator of the Island Dancer was injured in the same storm. Essentially, the captains of the ships traded navigators as the most efficient means of completing business for the two vessels. The editing process trimmed this part back to merely a thought and comment on Jess Gowan’s behalf.
The big question? What is Nem’s backstory?!
I get asked that a lot. Mum's the word.
You get to know and discover Nem as the other characters in the story learn about him.

He is, after all, just a nobody…

Monday, August 19, 2013

So You Wanna Write?

Artist Noah Bradley recently posted his opinion on going to art school. I found what he had to say really struck a chord with me. In that vein, what would my recommendation be for anyone wanting to learn to write? My recommendations are thus:

  1. Read.
  2. Write.
  3. Take some courses.


When you read, you see how the words are laid out by the team of the writer, the editor, and the typographer. Find books that are your favorite and read them.
Then, look at them!
How are they laid out? How does the artist structure his words and sentences? How does the punctuation work? When you are reading, you unconsciously see these things. They guide your eyes and mind to follow the words. They help lay out the rhythm and emotions behind the words.
You should try to look at them consciously as well. Find a particular part in a book that you really enjoyed and instead of reading that passage, look at it. Look at the words and punctuation and see how they are used and interact. I would suggest you copy this post into a word processing document, delete all the periods, and then try to read it. The document becomes unreadable. Remove all the commas and you won’t know where to breathe while reading it.
The old phrase, “Monkey see, monkey do,” is very apt here. The books you read do have an influence on your writing. I write better if I have read something just before I start writing. The proof of this is there are fewer errors reported back to me when I write a chapter after reading a favorite book.
I will often pull out a book and find a section to see how the author presented a scene or idea that might be similar to one I’m writing. Just as a programmer keeps a reference book on hand when writing code, a writer should keep a few books on hand for comparison of style. Keeping old favorites on hand means you will have a better idea of where to find a particular passage for reference.
By the same token, I avoid reading certain books when I’m writing. Especially if they are similar in theme to the story I’m writing. The last thing I want to have happen is I unconsciously copy something from Title A into my own work. It happened once in high school. I wrote a story for creative writing, and my teacher gave it a glance, looked up at me, and said, “Ah, you were watching Star Wars recently, weren’t you?”
It turned out one of the place names I created was a slight modification from the name of a character who appeared in Star Wars. I was absolutely dumbfounded that I could have done that—not to mention utterly humiliated. To this day, I still feel embarrassed when I think about it.
This is why you should always have a friend or relative read what you wrote before bringing it out to the public. If that person is well read in the genre you are writing, hopefully they will catch any such gaffs. If anyone catches something like that in my writing, I assure you I will lay it on cement, pull out my favorite flame thrower—set to 451°F—and reduce said writing to ashes.


If you have an idea for a story, sit down and quickly write out a description of it. Do it before you forget about it. Often a good idea for a story just might be one scene or one vision. Even though it is really intense when you first think about it, such ideas are ephemeral and can fade greatly in just a few hours. If you choose to sleep on it, it might be gone when you wake the next morning.
The idea for Aggadeh Chronicles began as a vision I imagined where a young man was sadly looking after his comrades running for safety, and then turned, drawing his sword to face alone what was threatening them. The image was so intense, I immediately began writing out the scene so I wouldn’t lose it. I wrote nearly non-stop for three days, producing over 15,000 words of notes about his story, the people he meets, and the world he lives in. A few months later, I had amassed nearly 90,000 words of notes describing character back stories, histories of various locations, and rules that the world followed. There were also scenes that would appear in the stories, interactions between characters and a few other things. All this, as well as a general description of how the story would run.
As long as you’ve written something down about your story idea, it will live. Even if you set it aside, when the time is right to pick it up again the notes will help you get restarted.
The more you write, the faster you will be able to write, the more you will be able to write. Writing is a physical act as much as mental, and you need to exercise your hands to hone up your ability to type. This is no different than an athlete training to improve on skills and condition. (Well, perhaps a little less aerobic…) Your hands have to be able to keep up with the thoughts your mind creates.
At the same time, you have to learn to pace yourself. Screaming along at a furious pace might get a lot of typing done in a short period of time, but if you don’t pause to think once in a while, your narrative may meander or come out as gibberish.
The most obvious reason to write? If you don’t write, you won’t have written anything. So much for those story ideas. It may seem like a stupid thing to say, but how many people do you know make the comment that they’d like to write a book someday? How many of them make that comment more than once? Anyone who says that two or more times wants to write a book, but they are waiting for an excuse or for someone to prod them along.
Well? Write! Sit down and start pumping out ideas.

Take Courses.

Going back to Mr. Bradley’s original point about whether or not to attend art school. I would say, there is enough argument on both sides of the issue.
Could I have started a writing career if I had not attended college?
The answer is yes, I probably could have. The talent to write is just something I have. The ability to create stories appears to be something I was born with. Unfortunately, I did not recognize that I could actually do it.
I wrote a lot of creative stories in college. By hand, jotted down in notebooks when I should have been taking notes. At some point when I have free time, I’ll break out those notebooks and transcribe those writings into digital format. There was some good stuff in those writings.
But that writing I did also showed I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know how to take it to that next level; to actually create a manuscript for submission. Every time I would work myself up to the point to consider it, I would get reminded of how often writers were rejected. All that time invested only to be turned down. I chose to focus my efforts on getting jobs so I could make a living. I figured that I would get to writing seriously, once I had enough money that I didn’t have to worry about paying the bills. (Stop snickering!)
I would chew the ears off friends for hours telling them about one story idea or another. 
What finally got me to writing—other than being out of work and completely steamrolled by the recession—was the decision to do it. To organize myself as a writer and move forward. To take my story ideas beyond the stream of consciousness description and actually make a story out of them.
But there are some things that I could do better. Manage myself better. Organize my thoughts better. And the way to do that is to learn.
For anyone, I would recommend a course in grammar and punctuation. (One look at the tears of blood streaming from my editors eyes should be enough to convince anyone of that!) Sure, dialogue should be in the vernacular, but the rest of the writing should not—unless it is a first person narrative. Even if you are confident in your skills as a writer, a course in basic grammar serves as an excellent refresher to help you stop any bad habits before they become an issue. My bad habit? I write the way I speak. I punctuate changes of voice inflection or pauses to breathe. This might work if you’ve ever heard me speak, but to the average reader it would be incredibly irritating because my punctuation style interferes with the inner voice.
It is vitally important to know how to properly structure your paragraphs and sentences. Readers do notice when this is sloppy!
Also, the fewer errors you make, the faster editing goes. That means the story gets out to the market faster and readers are much happier.
I took one course in creative writing in college. I confess, I didn’t get much out of it as far as improving the technical parts of writing. But I did get the first, real professional critique of my writing out of that course. I’m happy to say, it was very positive. He did point out a few weak areas for me to correct.
In this case, I have to echo Mr. Bradley and say I’m not sure how much value there is in teaching creative writing. I think a creative writing course should be more of a coaching program. At the same time, I think my opinion is weak and easy to argue against. Part of a creative writing program is to teach someone how to think of different ways of expressing something. Similar to the Zen Koan, ‘What is the sound of one hand clapping?,’ you have to learn how to think and perceive in different ways.
I think a vital course for creative writing is the more technical side of writing: organizing and creating the manuscript.
Most creative types just want to sit down and write the story. What happens when you do that? The story tends to meander around and shoot off into tangents that get away from the main plot line. This is why I tell people to sit down and write out a stream-of-consciousness description of the story. This is the version that no one other than the author should ever see. Once it is done, you sit down and read through it. Start breaking it up into small pieces. Each piece will become a chapter.
This way, you can create an outline of your story. Each piece describes something that happens in the story, and you have to write a chapter that covers that happening. The outline becomes the skeleton of your story. It will force you to stay within the proper guidelines of your story. By keeping your story framed around this skeleton, you will avoid those meanders and tangents that could make a story tedious. Also, it will guide you to actually ending the story.
You really do need to be more organized and professional in how you write a story if you want it to become something that could be submitted for publication. It is entirely possible to have a great story idea, but for the story to be completely unreadable because the writing is so bad or disorganized.
I think the most important course that should be offered for wannabe writers is a course about the business of writing! It is vital you should understand just how the book publishing business works. Even if you are going to self-publish, you should be aware of how it works. You should know about what to look for in a printer if you want to print up your books, and know about how much it is going to cost. You should understand what an advance is and how it works, when royalty payments should be made. You should understand this well so you can recognize when something is going wrong and when you should consider ending your working relationship with a publisher. So you can recognize a good deal vs. a bad deal in a contract, or when a contract is lopsided. You could be taken advantage of by an unscrupulous agency if you don’t recognize it. That could cost you thousands of dollars in the long run.
Another thing that could be in this course is about the tools of writing. How a manuscript is prepared for printing. How you prepare a manuscript for creating an e-book—I have five days until the launch of Nobody, and I’m still struggling to make Adobe InDesign work! 
I would also strongly recommend a business course geared for writers. How to set up a S-corporation and why. What can you claim as a business expense and what you have to do when it is time to file your taxes. Basic accounting so you can keep on top of your expenses. Why investing and how to do it should be an important part of your writing business. Writing is as much a business as it is an art form. If you want to make money by selling a book, you should accept that you have to treat it as a business. Writing is art, selling a book is business. If you don’t know what you are doing, you are going to have problems that will cost you over the long term.


Getting a B.A. in English does not make you a writer. It does not guarantee future success as an author. Heck, there are a lot of people with degrees in technical fields who have gone on to successful writing careers. College is the last free lunch you’ll get before the reality of life hits you in the face with a blunt instrument. The one time you can live like an adult and still act like a child. Use that free time to enrich your mind.
It isn’t just courses that prepare you to become a writer. Expand your horizons. Explore art galleries presenting work by your fellow students; see if you can’t figure out what they were thinking when they created it. Go see plays and shows on campus. Attend a meeting of a political/religious/social group you strongly disagree with and listen to what they have to say sympathetically and without judgement; try to understand why they think the way they do. Go out and party with your friends; learn how much you need to drink to get a warm buzz without getting drunk. Get laid; find someone who would be interested in finding out if the Kama Sutra is really all it’s purported to be. Go camping and learn to cook over an open fire; there’s nothing like chilling out in the middle of nowhere with absolutely no technology or distractions for a night or two. Check out the reading lists of various literature courses and actually read the crap; they are great sources of inspiration for a new story and you might find something you really enjoy.
Get a life. Learn to live. Write about it. (If you include your sexual exploits, I recommend heavy encryption….)

And now, back to work. I’ve got five days….

Monday, August 5, 2013

Death of an Email Address

A long time ago, in another lifetime, I worked in the rapid prototyping industry. Where many science fiction fans only dreamed of the day they could walk up to a computer and say, “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot,” I could do it for real. Only, it took hours to generate the tea cup, and the moment any hot water hit it, it would melt from the heat. But the process worked.
I was proud of the work I did. For a while I was one of the few people in the world who could take someone’s engineering drawings, create a 3-D model in a computer and have it generated into an object hours later. The downturn in the economy that got me into the field also left many engineers out of work who turned to doing the same kind of work. I have to admit, I was somewhat outclassed out of work. My last claim to fame was I had a knack for creating stable models that could be tessellated for stereo lithography work where others could not.
I created one of the first commercial web sites on the new [then] World Wide Web. With it, I created my first personal email address. It was mine! Not something that was handed out or assigned.
While involved in this field, I was a participant on the Rapid Prototyping Mailing List (RPML). The mailing list was highly active and ideas and networks spread far and wide.
Stupidly, people didn’t heed the warning about protecting their computers with anti-virus software. The RPML gained the ignominy of being at the top of the list for the spread of junk email and email-spawned worms and viruses. Junk emailers (aka “spammers”) discovered the list and began using it to pump junk email far and wide.
The junk took over and the RPML succumbed to it like the victim of a virulent cancer.
More important to the junk emailers wasn’t so much the delivery of garbage, but the harvesting of active email addresses. Did you ever get one of those emails forwarded from a friend saying, ‘Oh my God! Pass this on to ten people and you’ll get a winning lottery ticket!’? At the head of this email being forwarded were hundreds—if not thousands—of email addresses. Obviously your friend didn’t send it. Ever wonder who creates these things?
The people who create these emails are the very same vermin who run junk email businesses. They use them to harvest email addresses. They know thousands of well-meaning people will forward a heart-rending email about helping “Ailing Annie” collect a thousand stuffed animals before she dies from [insert horrible disease here] to many of their friends. As time goes by, the email will eventually make the rounds and get sent to the malfeasant who created it, and he now has thousands of email addresses collected to which he can send more important emails about deals on V•1•a•G•r•4 and potentially lucrative monetary transactions from Nigeria.
Once your email is on one of these lists, it will never, ever, escape. Even if one junk emailer is murdered by one of his colleagues, the list will pass to someone else and through that individual to others. Ad infinitum.
Still, I held onto the email address and I’ve continued to use it for years. Almost 18 years, in fact.
It was always getting flooded with junk email on a daily basis. The record, set back in 2000, was 7823 junk emails in one day. That whole week was nuts.
There was always an ebb and flow to junk email. It would reach annoying peaks and then back off for a while. Like the smell from a leaking sewage pipe, it just never went away. In recent years, I began to debate whether or not it was worth keeping that address active.
Last year, I received an email threatening that they would put my email on the junk email lists unless I paid them a sum of money. Written in very bad English, might I add. I actually laughed out loud. The stupid dip shits should have considered the fact that the email address in question was already on all the junk email lists. I ignored it. Nothing ever came of it.
Recently, an uptick in junk email got me thinking about retiring the address again. I admit, it was a fairly clever campaign. The flow started with just a few emails here and there, and slowly increased over time. It reached a point where I realized I was receiving an average of 30 junk emails an hour. The junk email filters were handling the vast majority of it, but there were enough getting through that it was starting to be annoying.
I came to the conclusion that it was time to retire that address. I unplugged the accounts from the email server.

For the first time in nearly 18 years, my email has been quiet for an entire evening.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

I Don't Have to Write…

For the first time in many years, I don’t have to write!
At those words, most of the people who know me are covering their mouths and running for the shadows, snickering.
No more, “I can’t, I have to beat this deadline.” No more worrying about how many words were going to be counted on this day. The last period has been placed and the manuscript is being Q.A.-ed.
It’s done.
Preliminary reports aren’t too bad. Only one, “How the hell did that get missed?” So there is still a little cleaning to be done. But all the heavy lifting has been done. This means, the countdown to launch has begun.
The ISBN for Aggadeh Chronicles Book 1: Nobody has been set: 978-0-9834857-1-1. The copyright will be filed shortly, as soon as the latest edits are put in place and the manuscript is ready for print.
The target date for release is August 21st. Note, that isn’t entirely written in stone. But it is the target. So long as I don’t get hit with the need to rewrite a section, any adjustments should go quickly.
Thanks for your patience!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

And So It Begins…

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) began its lawsuit against Apple, Inc. over an alleged ebook price fixing scheme between Apple and seven book publishing companies. The publishers settled and paid hefty fines up to as much as $75 million. Apple stands alone to fight stating they did not collude to fix pricing on ebooks.
The DOJ’s case seems to hinge on one particular email sent from Steve Jobs to James Murdoch of HarperCollins Publishers, where Jobs wrote:

“Throw in with Apple and see if we can all make a go of this to create a real mainstream ebooks market at $12.99 and $14.99.”

Sounds pretty damning to me!
Unless you read the text of the original email and get that line in the context in which it was written. Then it doesn’t seem quite so clearcut about the intent. It does come across as more of an example or statement of opinion than it does as a conspiracy to set pricing on ebooks. Still, Jobs is suggesting a price-point in that email.
The DOJ states they have a lot of evidence to support their allegations against Apple. Either way, it is in the court now and will be on public record. The next couple of weeks, we’ll see where this goes.
For me, it brings forward the issue of what to charge for an ebook. The publishers want people to pay the same for an ebook as they do for a hardcover book. Personally, I think this is being greedy.
The setup costs for an ebook are the same as it is for a hardcopy book: editing, typesetting, etc. But the production and distribution costs are not. While hardcopy books have materials, warehousing and distribution costs, an ebook has nothing. Once that file is saved onto the server, there are no more costs with distributing that file.
And before purists pounce upon me pointing out the electricity costs and equipment costs of the servers needed to distribute the ebook file, let me point out that the infrastructure to distribute the files already existed as the distributers were selling files for applications, music and movies. An ebook is just another file stored on the server’s hard drive and creates no further overhead or investment to distribute that file.
Once an ebook file is on the server, its production and distribution costs are $0. No need to purchase ink, paper, create new printing plates, trucks, gasoline, etc. Until the file is deleted, it is there for sale to anyone who wants to buy it. And there is now no longer a reason to allow a book to go out of print. Because unlike a printed book, a file costs nothing to store and takes up no physical space. A warehouse can cost millions. An entire library can be stored on a $10 flash drive. There no longer is a reason to say, “This book isn’t selling anymore, so we’re going to stop printing and storing it to save money.”
Once sales of an ebook have covered the setup costs, each sale is 100% profit. Well, okay, if you sell it through a distributer, the distributer is going to take 30%–35% of the sale price. But there are still no further production costs to that ebook file.
That’s why it irritates me when I see companies pushing ebooks for $13–$15.
The publishers claim that they must sell at these prices in order to stay profitable. Then why aren’t they selling the hardcover books at $50 and softcover books at $22?
A bit closer to the truth is the argument that the publishers don’t want to “devalue the book” to the customer. Their concern is having done to them what Apple did to the music industry: set the price of songs to 99¢ per song. That pretty much destroyed the pricing model the music industry: $20 per song. (Based on one good song on a CD and 12 tracks of absolute crap. Forcing the consumer to fork over $20 just to get that one hit song.)
Apple now offers top list songs at $1.29 per song on iTunes Music Store. Most people consider this a fair price for a song.
There is something to be said about undervaluing a product. You need to make enough money to bring home a livable income.
The author Dean Wesley Smith published this piece on pricing ebooks fairly.
For me, the key word is “Fair.” The customer should get a good value for their money.
There is another side to being fair: compensation to the author for two to three years of no income while writing the book.
Which brings us back to Apple and their agency pricing model.
Basically, Apple did not and does not set the pricing on the ebooks sold through iBookstore. Apple leaves that to the publisher.
I chose my price at a point that I thought was fair to both the customer and myself. At no time did I receive an email from Apple telling me my price was too low.
Right now, Apple pays a straight 70% royalty on every ebook sold. Regardless of price, even at 99¢.
If Apple loses the DOJ case, it is possible they may change their terms and force authors to go with a minimum selling price or they get half the royalty payment. This is how Amazon handles this. With that other distributer, you can sell your book for 99¢ if you wish, but they’ll only pay you a 35% royalty. You have to sell it for $2.99 or higher to get 70% royalty on the sales. That makes for a very strong incentive for an author to keep an ebook priced $2.99 or higher.
Where do I think Apple could get burned? On the “Most favored nation” clause in their pricing contract, whereby a publisher agrees not to allow their goods to be sold at a lower price through another distributer. If Distributer-A puts the ebook on sale at a 15% discount, then the publisher must ensure that the ebook is sold via Apple for the same price. If the publisher doesn’t, then they could be in violation of their contract and Apple could terminate the contract and withhold all unpaid monies. In a way, this clause could be used to facilitate price fixing by forcing the publishers to keep the same price across the board and not allow any retailer-specific sales to happen. This means no variation in pricing and no competition and no choice for the consumer.
Naturally, these are only my wild guesses at what may transpire. I can only offer layman conjecture, rather than professional commentary on this matter.
I don’t think ebook prices are going to really change all that much, regardless of what the court hands down to Apple and the DOJ. Consumers will eventually steer the pricing. If publishers and distributers try to push pricing that consumers are not willing to pay, then the whole market will eventually collapse, as it has done in the past.
If they push unfair pricing, they open the door for newer, smaller publishers to get a chance to get their foot in the door. This in turn, will drive the market toward lower prices, so long as they aren’t being artificially propped up at a higher level as the DOJ is accusing of Apple and the publishers.