30 June 2011

Pogostick - A 100 Word Story

storytime.pngYup, it's flash fiction time again! As always, this is based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. It's a great exercise for writers - writing a good drabble is a lot harder than it appears, but is still a "small" task so you can get around that idea of it being too much work. And then you get a random (and often bizarre) writing prompt to shoehorn you out of writer's block! Go read the rules for the Weekly Challenge and participate!

Also, mad props to Cyn from my writing group for helping with the female voice so you don't have to hear my bad imitation of a female voice!

The player below should have the audio for this week; if it doesn't, you can find the audio here to download. You can also read and hear the rest of the entries (and vote for your favorites) at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!

Lucha Vavoom - HalloweenSarah's hand on my shoulder was soothing. "Relax, Jase. Convergent evolution doesn't have to happen the same way everywhere."

I shoved words through clenched teeth. "Yes. It. Does. That's what it bloody well means." An alien moved past the viewport, its body telescoping on the upward arc. "And then with Charles..." I stopped as his spacesuited figure went by, riding an alien like a pogostick. I spluttered wetly in indignation.

Sarah laughed. "It's harmless. They like it, so hush." She turned to get a communique. "Oh."

"What?"

Sarah grinned. "We just found a planet where life looks like hula-hoops."

29 June 2011

Act Like A Grown-Up Business

publishing.pngThere's no way to say this nicely - I'm worried about a specific small publisher. 1

Not me. Hell, no - while I'm sometimes crap about my personal finances, I do my damnest to make sure that my business operations will fail gracefully and elegantly. 2 Each project is currently funded separately from each other in order to provide this kind of modular design. Sustainability is important to me.

I could have gone into debt to provide advances against royalties, but chose not to specifically in order to keep things sustainable. Money earned is reinvested to grow the Alliteration Ink machine, and when there's a sufficient cushion to safely move to the next step, I will.

That goes for my rental business in Second Life. I've got the framework ready to double my size - but don't quite have the capital to do it yet. Probably by the end of the summer I'll be ready to move forward with that. Even though it looks like this is a good time to expand my business, I am going to wait until it's sustainable.

So I get worried when I see small presses that are far larger than I (even paying pro rates) turn to irregular fundraising mechanisms for relatively small amounts of money. 3 This is how I think about it as a businessman:
If this deal is so fantastic with such a great return, then why isn't the business owner investing in it? Either the return on investment is uncertain, or the business is so financially strapped that they cannot invest... which makes the whole venture uncertain.

They are acting like a startup, not a stable (or even semi-stable) business. They aren't acting like a grown-up. And there is little in the way of public disclosure of funds or funding to reassure my fears.

I am not happy with this analysis. I hope I'm wrong.4 I have several friends who have some degree of affiliation with this publisher, and stand to do badly if I'm right. I think it will be bad for the industry if I'm right - both as another small publisher and as an author. This is all made worse by the continuing flux in the publishing industry.

There is only one possible solution that reduces this uncertainty: Financial transparency. Unlike many other industries, it is not the backroom deals that determines our success. Even at the "traditional publishing" level, our finances can screw us, but not cause our success. Instead, we succeed through the quality of our products.

I believe in the quality of the work and writing I produce, so I am unafraid to expose financial details. Ask, if I'm not telling you enough to believe in what I'm doing.

I wonder if the rest of the industry is willing to follow my lead.



1 I'm not naming this publisher on purpose. You either know about this already or you don't. I'm illustrating a principle.
2 That means that it will disturb as little as possible.
3 Defined as "I can put it on my credit card right now".
4 Full disclosure: said publisher apparently does not care for me personally. Wev. That's not why I care.

26 June 2011

You're Always Learning - eBook Tip

Another little tip and trick - the old way of using the "name" HTML element is not supported in ePub... but you can just switch your targets to "id" tags instead.

<a href="webpage.html#partofpage">

This would take you directly to the middle of a web page (or ePub page). There was a target to tell where the link ended up - but that way's changed. [h/t here for the solution...

OLD WAY:
<a name="partofpage"></a>

NEW WAY (What's this about a new way?)

<a id="partofpage"></a>

Origins on Sunday with Steve

I'm currently at Origins in Columbus - and here's my schedule for today! When I'm not actively on a panel, I will most likely be at the Library area in the dealer's room - stop by and say hi to us!

Rm 216 – 12 PM: Writing Support: Don’t write in one of those proverbial vacuums. Discover the plethora of writing organizations and web sites that can help improve your prose and help you peddle your short stories and novels. Included is a look at the alphabet soup available: SFWA, IAMTW, RWA, MWA, HWA, etc. Panelists: Jean Rabe, Marc Tassin, Steven Saus

Rm 216 – 1 PM: Second Bananas. Supporting characters—sidekicks, lieutenants, minions, and the like—can make your major characters and plot more complex. Your hero needs a best buddy or confident, a sounding board for dialogue, someone to turn to when the villain gets him down. And your villain . . . lackeys are good. Marc Tassin and Steven Saus show you how to abolish cardboard cutouts while preventing your second bananas from stealing the show.

Rm 226 – 2 PM: Pros and Cons of the Small and Large Press: We’ve been published by major New York houses as well as small press companies and have had varying degrees of success with both. We’ll discuss the differences between writing for a large publisher versus a small one, and the advantages and disadvantages of both. Panelists: VJ Waks, Steven Saus

25 June 2011

Origins On Saturday with Steve

I'm currently at Origins in Columbus - and here's my schedule for today! When I'm not actively on a panel, I will most likely be at the Library area in the dealer's room - stop by and say hi to us!

Saturday:

Rm 226 – 11 AM: Setting As Character. In some tales the setting is as key as the heroes and villains who stride across the landscape. Some writers are able to paint their setting so well that their readers sweat in the bayou, shiver in the arctic, and gag in the swamp. We’ll discuss techniques for turning your story’s backdrop into a place so vibrant, mysterious, scary, or enchanting that the reader will feel a part of it . . . and all without letting your prose go purple. Panelists: Jean Rabe, Marc Tassin, Steven Saus

Rm 226 – 12 PM: Writing Right—Dialog and Language: Whatchu wanna learn ‘bout writing conversations? There’s a right method for capturing dialects and slang without making your readers strain their brains in an effort to fathom what you mean. Learn the techniques for adding flavor and a smidgen of grammatical incorrectness. Panelists also discuss creating languages to make your worlds come alive. How do you keep your characters from having names and discussions that look like someone slapped the keyboard? Panelists: Steven Saus, Walter Hunt, Janine Garner.

Rm 226 – 2 PM: Nothing But ‘Net. Our web gurus demonstrate that the Internet is a great writing tool. But if you spend too much time hooked to it, you won’t have time to write. They’ll show you what resources are worth using, what you should stay away from, and how to avoid Internet addiction. They’ll also cover web pages, blogs, Twitter, and various writer-help sites. Panelists: Steven Saus, Bryan Young

Rm 226 – 4 PM: The Business of Writing: Agents, Query Letters, and Taxes. The fun part is writing your story. But there’s a “work’” element to consider and we’ll cover that here . . . agents, expenses, tax deductions, contracts, conventions, and more. Panelists: Jean Rabe, Walter Hunt, Steven Saus

Rm 226 – 5 PM: The Techniques of Terror: Our resident horror-masters discuss how you can frighten your readers. What writing tools do you need to send shivers down their spines? They cover the different styles of horror writing and who are the best authors working in the genre today. Panelists: Steven Saus, Bryan Young, Marc Tassin

Rm 216 - 6PM: Reading: I'll be reading (most likely) "Kicking the Habit" and "Hero, Everyday".

24 June 2011

Thousandth Post - eBooks I've Known Before

random.pngI know I talk a lot about eBooks, but you might have wondered which ones I've had my hands on (in some fashion, at some point).

So for my thousandth post on the blog, I thought I'd give you a bit of a list. Some items are still pending publication, and a few have been pulled (!?!), but I've worked on them...
And that's not counting my own books, or the new relationship with a small publisher that I'm working on. Wow. And that's just a year's worth of stuff - I thought about doing this last year around Origins as well.

Wow.

BRING ON THE NEXT YEAR!

23 June 2011

eBooks, Conventions, and conversions oh my...

random.pngSome miscellany as I get ready to head over to Origins (scheduled appearances Saturday and Sunday, but you may be able to catch me Friday!)...

I hate formatting stuff for Smashwords. I'm occasionally asked to do so by customers, and I always regret it. The very simple reason is this: I can't see and directly manipulate the codes in Microsoft Word.

Since ePub is (at its heart) glorified HTML, I can easily track down a problem. In Word (which "meatgrinder" then converts), I have to hope that the word processor is showing me everything... and then have customers annoyed when the hidden codes do some funky stuff.

In related news, I learned a new way of displaying images:

<div>
<svg xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg" xmlns:xlink="http://www.w3.org/1999/xlink" version="1.1" width="100%" height="100%" viewBox="0 0 489 747" preserveAspectRatio="xMidYMid slice">
<image width="489" height="747" xlink:href="images/coverfile.jpg"/>
</svg>
</div>

Theoretically, this should work a bit better. Theoretically. (Yes, I'm taking notes for V2 already.) You can find more on the SVG standard here and here.

21 June 2011

Waiting for the Penguin

I have put up with the expiring beta releases for a while now.

But soon, my pretties, sooooooon....

What am I waiting for?

Why, for this:




Scrivener for Linux (oh yeah, and Windows, too). Due July 2011. Be there.

20 June 2011

HOLY CRAP ORIGINS!

Origins - one of the two big Midwest gaming conventions - is going to be this week, and I'm going to be all up in that.

"Wait," says conveniently hypothetical person, "I thought your friends made fun of you for going to GenCon and doing writer stuff instead of gaming. Why are you going to Origins?"

Why, to do writer stuff instead of gaming.

Mike Stackpole and Jean Rabe have been working to bring something like GenCon's Writer's Symposium to Origins. Hence, The Library.

I've gone over the schedule, and it looks to have a lot of what makes the Writer's Symposium great. No-holds-barred-no-pretention panels on everything and anything related to writing (and genre writing). Here's some examples (and these are JUST the panels I'm on):

Saturday:

Rm 226 – 11 AM: Setting As Character. In some tales the setting is as key as the heroes and villains who stride across the landscape. Some writers are able to paint their setting so well that their readers sweat in the bayou, shiver in the arctic, and gag in the swamp. We’ll discuss techniques for turning your story’s backdrop into a place so vibrant, mysterious, scary, or enchanting that the reader will feel a part of it . . . and all without letting your prose go purple. Panelists: Jean Rabe, Marc Tassin, Steven Saus

Rm 226 – 12 PM: Writing Right—Dialog and Language: Whatchu wanna learn ‘bout writing conversations? There’s a right method for capturing dialects and slang without making your readers strain their brains in an effort to fathom what you mean. Learn the techniques for adding flavor and a smidgen of grammatical incorrectness. Panelists also discuss creating languages to make your worlds come alive. How do you keep your characters from having names and discussions that look like someone slapped the keyboard? Panelists: Steven Saus, Walter Hunt, Janine Garner.

Rm 226 – 2 PM: Nothing But ‘Net. Our web gurus demonstrate that the Internet is a great writing tool. But if you spend too much time hooked to it, you won’t have time to write. They’ll show you what resources are worth using, what you should stay away from, and how to avoid Internet addiction. They’ll also cover web pages, blogs, Twitter, and various writer-help sites. Panelists: Steven Saus, Bryan Young

Rm 226 – 4 PM: The Business of Writing: Agents, Query Letters, and Taxes. The fun part is writing your story. But there’s a “work’” element to consider and we’ll cover that here . . . agents, expenses, tax deductions, contracts, conventions, and more. Panelists: Jean Rabe, Walter Hunt, Steven Saus

Rm 226 – 5 PM: The Techniques of Terror: Our resident horror-masters discuss how you can frighten your readers. What writing tools do you need to send shivers down their spines? They cover the different styles of horror writing and who are the best authors working in the genre today. Panelists: Steven Saus, Bryan Young, Marc Tassin

Sunday (Sunday sunday sunday....)

Rm 216 – 12 PM: Writing Support: Don’t write in one of those proverbial vacuums. Discover the plethora of writing organizations and web sites that can help improve your prose and help you peddle your short stories and novels. Included is a look at the alphabet soup available: SFWA, IAMTW, RWA, MWA, HWA, etc. Panelists: Jean Rabe, Marc Tassin, Steven Saus

Rm 216 – 1 PM: Second Bananas. Supporting characters—sidekicks, lieutenants, minions, and the like—can make your major characters and plot more complex. Your hero needs a best buddy or confident, a sounding board for dialogue, someone to turn to when the villain gets him down. And your villain . . . lackeys are good. Marc Tassin and Steven Saus show you how to abolish cardboard cutouts while preventing your second bananas from stealing the show.

Rm 226 – 2 PM: Pros and Cons of the Small and Large Press: We’ve been published by major New York houses as well as small press companies and have had varying degrees of success with both. We’ll discuss the differences between writing for a large publisher versus a small one, and the advantages and disadvantages of both. Panelists: VJ Waks, Steven Saus

With panelists like Aaron Alston, Jean Rabe, Mike Stackpole, Tim Zahn - and local favorites like the wonderfully steampunk Sarah Hans - why aren't you there already???

19 June 2011

Random eBook Conversion note

Ran across this twice, with two different books. Starting a paragraph with something like this

<p>&nbsp;<span class="i">

...ends up with the paragraph not rendering at all on some readers. (Including, I believe, iPad.) This apparently flakes something out in the process of going from ePub to Kindle files! Keep an eye out for this one!

[Edited 6/23/11: It was a Kindle app on iPad, not the iPad's eBook reader that was causing the problem.]

Father's Day - A 100 Word Story (WARNING: DARK.)

storytime.pngYup, it's flash fiction time again! As always, this is based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. It's a great exercise for writers - writing a good drabble is a lot harder than it appears, but is still a "small" task so you can get around that idea of it being too much work. And then you get a random (and often bizarre) writing prompt to shoehorn you out of writer's block! Go read the rules for the Weekly Challenge and participate!
The player below should have the audio for this week; if it doesn't, you can find the audio here to download. You can also read and hear the rest of the entries (and vote for your favorites) at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!

Father's Day

I pull the card from the pile of paper and read it.

"I'm sorry I lied to you, Dad." It is a heart cut from notebook paper.

Fucking appropriate. I crumple the yellowed sheet.

I don't remember the child in the school pictures. That kid's gone.

I remember the times my son attacked me. The times he bit, kicked, struck me as I held him, whispering I loved him while waiting for the police to arrive.

I remember finding the knife he said he'd kill us with.

I read this year's "Happy Father's Day" cards and try not to die.


No, I'm not talking about Chris the Nuclear Kid. Context here. Yes, I'm fine. Thanks. It's only mostly true.

17 June 2011

Small Error in "So You Want to Make an eBook"

alt="ebook_cover_200" />If you bought "So You Want to Make an eBook" directly from me, you already know this: In the ePub and Mobi versions there are a few typos. Unfortunately, they're somewhat significant typos... for example, instead of this:

&nbsp;

it shows

& nbsp

The PDF versions are correct. Those who bought directly from me have already been notified and provided a way to get a corrected copy. If you bought the book from Amazon or Barnes&Noble, please contact me so that we can get you set up. (I will ask a detail that's in the book that's not on the website, so please don't ruin my faith in humanity, okay?)

Don't waste your time selling your eBook everywhere, just sell where it matters. Pareto says so.

publishing.pngI've been reading The Four Hour Workweek - recommended, with cautions, by an old friend of mine. Some bits of it resonate more than others, but those bits that do...

For example, the Pareto Rule, or the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of outputs come from twenty percent of inputs. This goes for profits, for aggravation, and so on.

I'd heard about this back in my economics classes as well, but hadn't paid much attention to it. But now with the rise of eBooks, there's a perfect way that the Pareto Rule comes into play.

The Pareto Rule explains sales in the digital marketplace.

A while back, a small publisher was looking for an (unpaid) intern to find new marketplaces to sell eBooks through. I knew this was a bad idea at the time (I didn't take the position), but really couldn't explain why. I've had this reaction to Smashwords as well - their big shtick is distributing to lots of places at once.

But now I can tell you why I had such a strong reaction to both. The Pareto Rule explains why this point of view is crap.

The Crimson Pact (as well as my own short stories and "So You Want to Make an eBook?"), have all mostly sold through Amazon, secondly through my own store, then Barnes & Noble, and then everyone else. The 80/20 rule is definitely in effect.

There's nothing inherently wrong with distributing to those other stores - not at all. The question is "How much energy do you really want to put into it?".

The answer to that damn well better be less than the amount of payout you're getting back from it. Otherwise you're totally wasting your time - and in this digital economy, time is the only scarce resource.

16 June 2011

Things I Learned From Jury Duty

rant.pngIn no particular order:

1. Having your attorney compare throwing eggs at a house with littering does not help your case.

2. Nobody's a "good guy" in these court cases. It's uncomfortably close to Judge Judy. And much less fun.

3. It doesn't matter if the guy's a dick, if you're caught retaliating, you're the one screwed, not him.

4. There are some people whom I was really, really glad were NOT on the jury with me. (Yes, I'm looking at you, "Guy who admitted administering vigilante justice while in the courtroom" and "Guy who couldn't remember which felony conviction he was on probation for."

5. Keeping jurors until 8pm so it's just "one day" only leads to pissed off jurors. Attorneys - you do not want this.

6. It is bad for a juror to laugh at counsel's stupid-ass argument in open court. (Sorry, judge!)

And now I still have to go to the day job in less than nine hours. ARRGH.

15 June 2011

Future Visions of Relationships Past - A 100 Word Story

storytime.pngYup, it's flash fiction time again! As always, this is based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. It's a great exercise for writers - writing a good drabble is a lot harder than it appears, but is still a "small" task so you can get around that idea of it being too much work. And then you get a random (and often bizarre) writing prompt to shoehorn you out of writer's block! Go read the rules for the Weekly Challenge and participate!
The player below should have the audio for this week; if it doesn't, you can find the audio here to download. You can also read and hear the rest of the entries (and vote for your favorites) at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!


Future Visions of Relationships Past


You'll come home after a long day. A day spent trying to forget the things you'd said the night before. A day spent remembering the hateful words your lover said.

Those surprising, unexpected words, like uncorking Chianti and finding frothing sour vinegar boiling out of the narrow throat.

Of course there's problems, you'll rehearse, opening the door, but we can--

The first splash of acid - or maybe for you it's a gun, or a knife, or an iron, or a bat - takes you unprepared.

Great minds think alike, you'll muse as your lover purges the toxic relationship from their life.

14 June 2011

Buy Our Food Or The Starving Kid Gets It

Seriously, ConAgra Foods, who the hell do you think you're kidding? This is a beautiful scam:

"When you activate your purchase and enter this code... a monetary donation will be made enabling one meal to be secured by Feeding America.." (emphasis mine)

Don't get me wrong. It's nice that your last year's effort with Child Hunger Ends Here generated 2.5 million meals. I guess I'd be more impressed if that wasn't also 2.5 million sales.

Donate the money, ConAgra. Sure, bask in the glow. Use it as a PR windfall.

But don't expect us to pay for your charity. I think you can afford it a hell of a lot better than us.

Seriously. Your net profit for Q3FY2011 was over $215 million (beating projections, even though you made 14 million less than last year). I love this from the press release (read carefully, emphasis mine):
ConAgra Foods and the ConAgra Foods Foundation have also donated $35 million to Feeding America, including a recent five-year, $10 million pledge from the ConAgra Foods Foundation, the largest donation ever made to Feeding America specifically to fight child hunger.

Who knows over how long that 35 million has been donated? And that nice $35 million includes a pledge over the next five years. That's only 2 million a year.

Sure, that's a lot to you and I.

It's one percent of ConAgra's net income. And on top of that, it's apparently contingent on you giving more money to them.

Again, donate the money, ConAgra. Sure, bask in the glow. Use it as a PR windfall.

But don't expect us to pay for your charity.

09 June 2011

eBook Spams and Scams

publishing.pngYesterday I mentioned that I want to get the information on how to make eBooks into as many hands as possible. It's not (just) to make me money - it's because of something that Dean Wesley Smith predicted:

I have started to get eBook conversion spam, looking to take money from authors.

The quality varies dramatically - some being (mostly) legit companies, others being closer to the Sith side of the Force.

For a (mostly) good example, the Jenkins Group sent me an e-mail that read (in part):

Jenkins Group has many affordable book marketing and publicity opportunities for your book; please be in touch with me for a FREE ebook conversion quote and/or book marketing consultation on or before June 17th via the contact information provided below. I look forward to helping you sell more books in 2011!

The Jenkins Group does a lot more than eBook conversion - and apparently haven't been too bad about it. I am concerned that they spammed me, or that they think that a free quote for services is a big deal. (Think about the thought process behind paying for a quote: "Okay, so if you want to work with me, you'll have to work with me and give me money first." Really? And then I'm supposed to be grateful you'll tell me how much money I have to give you for free?)

That's not the bad one, though. The bad one came from Solvedge, where they (in a big list of things) say they do digital publishing and eBook conversion. They're a "Chicago-US based technology company" that has its "production centre" in Chennai, India. (As a legal note, I have used Small Print Project's "Reasonable Agreement" to make mincemeat of their stupid EULA.)

I had to wonder about the quality of the service when the quality of the English-language e-mails strongly resembled the output of Babelfish. More than once, I've had to rely on my knowledge of the language to determine how to best format an eBook.

They quote a price of USD 0.35 to over a dollar per page, depending on the "complexity of the inputs". Of course, I don't know what "per page" really means. 250 words a page? 500 words a page? They later said "by what is on the physical page". Having taught college classes, I've seen some pretty fancy font work.

Let's assume 250 words a page (typed, 12-point Courier, double spaced). My rate's $2/1000 words. My minimum price is $15 - so let's say a short story of 7,500 words. They're cheaper by a third - $10.50. A hundred thousand word novel would be $200 with me, and $140 with them. Still not bad, right? That's assuming the lowest possible rate.

Of course, I've got a lifetime guarantee on my work (my lifetime, naturally); I don't know what guarantee they have (if any). So I thought I'd check out the quality of their work (if they're just running it through Calibre, for example, and charging people money for that). I asked for a quote on a short story I'd already converted myself.

When I asked for a quote, they said they'd start converting it. Which was, um, odd. I wanted a quote, right? So they quoted me the lowest price, and said I could pay by PayPal.

"P.S. We would like to have a minimum order or USD 100+ for the conversion."

Wee bit of a loophole there, huh? They wanted "to have a minimum quantity of pages which comes around USD 100. If your volume (i.e the no. of pages are less we can have an advance payment transferred and can be deducted.)". Sure, they claim you can use the rest of the cash toward other projects - but what if I was done after one conversion?

So I called it like I saw it: The minimum price was $100.

Oh, no, I was told. The problem was just that:

the overall cost comes around USD 17.5 and for such small amount we cannot invoice you, as you might be aware of the bank transactions who charge more than this. That is why we normally ask our clients for a minimum order for USD 100 or the no. of pages can be adjusted for further files.

This is generally all service providers ask for such prices and even heavier than ours.

Emphasis mine: Beware of the "industry standard" excuse.

So I replied that I was "skeptical of [the] claim that banks charge more than USD 17.5, since you listed PayPal as a payment source. Their rates are public - and nowhere near that high."

My final e-mail from them said: "Paypal does not charge like this and I know but in case if we are receive as wire transfer or cheque the bank transaction charges are heavier." (You can also see that the English goes downhill as they get further off-script.)

So let's run through this again:
  • I get an unsolicited e-mail.

  • They quoted a price for converting a work that was not really the price, because your minimum price is much higher.

  • They defended a high (unadvertised) minimum price by citing fees that do not apply to my situation.


  • This is exactly the sort of bottom-feeding scum that tries to cash in on authors adjusting to the changing world of publishing.

    And this is exactly the kind of scam that my eBook - or any other that teaches how to create an ePub - combats.

    There is no reason an author with a backlist shouldn't be getting that backlist up digitally, however they're comfortable making that happen.

    There is also no reason an author should deal with any company that isn't reliable and up-front.

    08 June 2011

    So You Want to Make an eBook - THE EBOOK

    You might have noticed it off to the right - "So You Want to Make an eBook?" is now itself an eBook. Thanks again to you all who have donated and offered comments.

    The eBook is retailing for $9.99. You can currently get it from Amazon and Barnes & Noble - Kobo and the iBookstore will be coming soon. However, if you buy it from me, you'll get the Kindle, ePub, and PDF versions all bundled together (and help support me a little bit more).

    You'll often hear people talk about using an automated program to convert to eBooks, and say it's good enough. Heck, I thought that too. What I - and so many others - have found, is that no automated converter is perfect. We've found that knowing how to make an eBook by hand gives us control when the programs don't co-operate.

    Whether you use another converter or an automated system (like Smashwords), I think it's vital that authors have a reference in order to maintain control over their own work.

    It's like having the manual for doing an oil change on your car. Even if you always go to SpeedyWombatLube, having that choice - and the knowledge on how to fix your car if they screw up or go out of business - is real power.

    I wrote this book to be accessible to a computer-literate (but not guru, wizard, or sysadmin) level. I don't go into lots of details, but walk you through the steps to do a basic conversion - and show you where references are to find out more yourself.

    I'll also be posting updates intermittently here - the information changes quickly, and I keep running into new things. For example, did you know you can get horizontal rules to render in ePub? I didn't until yesterday. Or that Barnes & Noble now wants a minimum of 700 pixels on a side for your cover image?

    Even if you've only read the blog version, I'd appreciate an honest review on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. That makes a big difference in helping others find the book.

    And yes, I want people to find the book... but not just to make me money. I'll tell you why tomorrow.

    07 June 2011

    Oceans of Venus - A 100 Word Story

    storytime.pngYup, it's flash fiction time again! As always, this is based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. It's a great exercise for writers - writing a good drabble is a lot harder than it appears, but is still a "small" task so you can get around that idea of it being too much work. And then you get a random (and often bizarre) writing prompt to shoehorn you out of writer's block! Go read the rules for the Weekly Challenge and participate!
    The player below should have the audio for this week; if it doesn't, you can find the audio here to download. You can also read and hear the rest of the entries (and vote for your favorites) at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!

    Dolphin, Underwater The oceans of Venus slip over my head. Finally, I can breathe properly again.

    Raina slides into the thick atmosphere to my right. Her shape, like mine, resembles the long cylinder of a porpoise. Radar and telemetry keep us together despite the waves and currents of the thick atmosphere. I remember the fiction of my father's youth.

    "It's like the orbital elevator ships are fishing," I commoed.

    Her right eye fixes on me. "The only thing to fish for in this hellhole is us." A flick of her tail sends her toward base.

    I still watch out for Venusian kraken.

    03 June 2011

    Digital Publishing Finances (one quarter in)

    We just finished 2011Q2, and I'd like to take some time to talk about Alliteration Ink's finances as a digital publisher. While Alliteration Ink provides eBook conversion, critiquing, distribution services, and virtual apartment rentals in Second Life, those aren't the main focus of my discussion here. (The very short version of the above: All other publishing services exist, and traffic varies widly from month to month. The rentals in Second Life are still profitable and sustainable, which is the whole point for me. This may have to do with me serving the lower-cost end of the market.) Spec The Halls is still on target to begin on Midsummer's Night.

    Primarily, this is about sales of The Crimson Pact: Volume One. ("So You Want to Make an eBook?" actually went on sale 1 June, I've just not had a chance to write the official announcement and link to the stores.)

    Over Q2 we sold 120 copies of the Crimson Pact - not counting CDs that were sold by authors individually. This brought in revenues of $442 (numbers are USD rounded to the nearest integer). The largest revenue source was our own sales ($192) followed by Amazon ($178). Barnes & Noble made us $62, followed by $12 at Smashwords. Due to various silliness (and my own issues), the book only recently became available at the iBookstore and Kobo bookstore; those numbers are not included here.

    As you may remember, 75% of the revenue went directly to the authors. Out of that $331, the average Q2 payment was just under $21, though the actual payments ranged from just over $10 to just under $30.

    Again, this does not count individual author CD sales. (Authors buy the labels from me at cost, then sell them personally at $5. They get to keep the difference, which stays in author's pockets, as it should be.)

    The remaining 25% was split between myself and the editor, Paul Genesse. This is largely because both Paul and myself sunk some money into the project up front. (In fact, I still am, since I paid authors up through 31 May, and both Amazon and B&N are just getting around to paying me for March.)

    Again, this is long-term investing. The average author's take has doubled since the initial "push" ended in April. That's a little below my expectation. Yet I saw that during and after Memorial Day weekend - as we started promoting the book at conventions - sales popped right back up again. As many of the authors are attending different conventions, I'm interested to see if this effect continues to build. (I'm guessing yes.)

    And finally, Volume Two is under production. If you want to get into Volume Two, flash submissions are due 6/6/11. Guidelines and more are available at http://thecrimsonpact.com.

    Thank you all for your support so far, and I look forward to working with you in the future.

    Guest Blog: Richard Lee Byers

    publishing.pngRecently, Richard Lee Byers suggested that some of us trade blog posts. I gladly agreed, and he quickly posted a blog entry by me. Unfortunately, I was in the middle of getting the "So You Want to Write an eBook?" entries up, and so put off putting up his return post... and then something else happened, and then something else... You get the idea.
    Which is a shame, because Richard wrote My Adventures in Nontraditional Publishing: The Saga So Far. It's a nice, honest look at his experiences - and that's what is really important. Be sure to check out the rest of Richard's blog and his large backlist of work.


    MY ADVENTURES IN NONTRADITIONAL PUBLISHING: THE SAGA SO FAR

    When Steven and I discussed exchanging blog entries, he suggested that I write about my experiences with nontraditional publishing. Okay by me. Considering that there haven’t been that many of them, it shouldn’t take too long.

    The first came about when the Symposium, a group of writers to which I belong, decided to publish an anthology of mostly reprint stories by the various members. (It’s called Stalking the Wild Hare, by the way, and full of good stuff; check it out.) If there’s one thing I’ve got, it’s old short stories from long out-of-print anthologies. So I dug one out of the vault.

    Because someone else was doing the editing, as soon as I selected an old story, my work was done. For me, the process of contributing to the anthology absolutely could not have been easier.

    That’s the good part. The bad is that the book never made me a penny and never will.

    The reason is the financial arrangement under which the book was published. There was no advance and no royalty. The understanding was that the contributors would make money, or at least attempt to, by buying discounted copies of the book from the publisher and selling them for a higher price.

    That let me out because I just don’t peddle paper-and-ink copies of my stuff, not through the mail and not sitting at a table at conventions, either. It’s not that I feel like I’m too much of a big shot to do it. God knows, I’m not, and I know some fine writers who go this route. But I wouldn’t enjoy doing it, and honestly, unless you’re already a star, I don’t see how you generate enough profit to make it worth your while. This is particularly true if you’re traveling away from home to peddle your stuff. You pay for a hotel, gas, food, possibly a dealer’s table, and you end up having to sell scores of books just to break even. Rather than even attempt it, I’d rather spend my time at a con introducing myself to potential readers by appearing on panels, networking, and just having fun.

    I should note, though, that some writers swear to me they make a profit sitting at a table pushing their books at a con. Fair enough, but I sure don’t know how, and I suspect they must be the rare exceptions to the rule.

    So that leads to the question, why did I contribute to Stalking the Wild Hare? Well, two reasons. One is that since my friends were keen to put the book together, I just felt like being a part of it. The other is that I hoped the story would introduce me to a few new readers who would then go on to buy my novels. And since the story I contributed was already written, sold, and paid for once, it didn’t seem like I had much to lose by sending it out into the world again for free.

    Still, unless it was another friend or group of friends putting together a project, I wouldn’t contribute to a book on that basis again. That’s not a judgment on the business model itself. It’s a realization that the particular business model and I are a poor fit.

    My second venture into nontraditional publishing came when Steven himself and Paul Genesse asked me to contribute to the spanking new Crimson Pact universe. (Also good: check it out, too.)

    Once again, it was pleasantly easy for me to do this. I’d already published one story that Paul wanted to reprint in the first volume, and I had an already written but previously unsold story that fit into the second.

    With this project, I was happy to be back in somewhat more familiar economic territory. When I contribute a story to an anthology from DAW or another big publishing house like that, I receive an advance and, in theory, royalties, although my experience has been that the majority of these books don’t sell well enough to generate royalties. The Crimson Pact anthologies don’t pay advances, but the contributors are in for a share of the royalties.

    Obviously, from my selfish perspective, an advance would have nice, but I understand that wasn’t in the budget, and I’m okay with that. I also understand it’s important for the contributors to help get the word out about what starts life as a very low-profile project, and I’m okay with that, too. It’s salesmanship, but a different kind as sitting at a table in a dealer’s room behind a stack of books smiling hopefully as people wander past avoiding eye contact or, even worse, pick up a book, tell you that it looks “good,” “cool,” or “interesting,” then put it down and walk away without buying it.

    Long story short, schedule permitting, I likely will contribute to further Crimson Pact volumes or other projects based on the same model, although financially speaking, it would be rough on me if none of my projects, novels included, paid advances.

    My third foray into nontraditional publishing is one I can only discuss in generalities. There’s an app coming out that will sell short stories about a selection of ongoing characters. Writing one of these is comparable to writing a single issue of a superhero comic or a single episode of a cop show, and I’ve done two, each starring a different character.

    Economically speaking, the work is the exact opposite of The Crimson Pact. There’s payment on acceptance, not awful but not lavish, and no royalties, ever, no matter what.

    Some writers will tell you that if you have no hope of ever seeing royalties, that’s a bad deal, even if you’re working on a property you didn’t create. Which raises the same question Stalking the Wild Hare did: Why did I get involved?

    Again, there are a couple reasons. I like and respect the man in charge, and I understand he’s putting together an experimental venture with limited resources. It’s an interesting experiment, and it should be fun to be a part of it and see how it goes. And if it turns out to be a spectacular success, I hope the terms for writers will improve, and the boss will remember the guys who were interested in working with him from the get-go.

    Meanwhile, the work paid and paid promptly, and any professional writer will tell you that’s never a bad thing.

    Which brings us to my most recent venture. I’ve electronically self-published a collection of my short fiction called The Q Word and Other Stories. I’ve already written about the process in detail on my blog; suffice it to say here that it’s been a pain in the ass as I’ve struggled to learn a lot of things quickly to get the project live on Amazon and Smashwords.

    But I got it done for next to nothing (it turns out that e-publishing can be dirt cheap), every copy sold pays a sweet royalty rate of which I, as the author of the whole damn thing, keep every penny, and as with The Crimson Pact, I’m working in a paradigm I’m comfortable with. I don’t have to sit behind a table at a con or at my computer collecting money and dispensing copies of the book. Online stores are doing that for me.

    But also as with The Crimson Pact, in another but no less critical sense, I still have to be my own salesman, only much, much more so, because this time, there isn’t a whole slew of contributors to trumpet the existence of the project. There’s just me, and no one will know the collection even exists unless I myself get the word out, even though I can’t afford advertising. I have to make up for that with energy and creativity, by doing things like trading blog posts and plugging the book on convention panels and social media sites.

    But that’s all right. I can do that stuff, and since the book cost little to produce and I was never counting on it to be a major source of income, it won’t ruin my life if it doesn’t sell a zillion copies.

    In fact, no matter how the book fares, creating and promoting it is turning out to be an interesting, enlightening experience. It also pleases me that after all my years in the business, there’s finally a collection of my short fiction. I like writing short stories, some of mine come out pretty decent if I do say so myself, and I want the work available to interested readers whether that turns out to be handful or a multitude. (Hey, I can dream, can’t I?)

    So that’s where I’ve been and what I’ve done. I’m not sure what conclusions one can draw from it, except that there’s more than one way to go about being a nontraditionally published author. Publishing is changing so quickly that I imagine there are many more than the four I mentioned. So it behooves all of us who don’t have the New York houses pounding on our doors with rolled-up seven-figure contracts to look around and find out what opportunities are available.

    Now for the flagrant self-promotion I implicitly threatened earlier:

    I’m Richard Lee Byers, the author of over thirty traditionally published fantasy and horror novels as well the ebook collection The Q Word and Other Stories. The book is priced to move at $2.99 and available for all platforms here:

    https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/rleebyers

    I hope you’ll check out the free sample. If you like it, please consider buying the ebook, reviewing it, and recommending it to others.

    The Kindle edition of the collection and all my other books are available here.

    http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_17?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=richard+lee+byers&sprefix=richard+lee+byers#/ref=sr_pg_1?rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Arichard+lee+byers&keywords=richard+lee+byers&ie=UTF8&qid=1305312892

    Friend me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, and read my blog here:

    http://rleebyers.livejournal.com/

    01 June 2011

    The Awesums Mashup

    This is the musical genre I want to see take off.  Seriously, folks.  The first video is an awesome mash in and of itself.





    I do not mean this.  This makes my brain hurt.  A lot.