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.