30 July 2011

Sans Spam: But Think Of the Publicity!

selfpromotionThis post is part of a project tentatively titled Sans Spam: Self Promotion For Authors. I'm releasing this book in sections on my blog, but when it's all finished I will offer the whole thing as a single eBook. Everyone who donates toward its production (use the coffee cups to the right, note that it's because of this effort) will get a free copy of this eBook. You can find all the posts here.

There could be a great big narrative setup for this post, but honestly, the political crap in Washington right now has lowered my patience for beating around the bush. So let's just get to it:

Increasing publicity without having something to sell after you have the public's attention is bloody stupid.

Arundel Publishing has Chasing Eden1 up for US$0.99 on Amazon. The other two books in the series - Beyond Eden and Treasure of Eden are priced at US$2.99. It's pretty straightforward - they want you to try Chasing Eden, and if you like it, buy the rest of the series. All three were released digitally within several weeks of each other.

I like this setup. It makes sense as an author, a publisher, and a consumer. As a consumer, I get to try new books out inexpensively - it's only a buck. Publishers get more exposure - "Hey, why not try the book for a buck?" - and the authors still get paid by getting loyal readers who buy the rest of the series.2 It's a loss leader.3

What continues to puzzle me are the folks who put their only novel up for a dollar - or insist that their books be given away free "to increase publicity". At the last con I attended, I had one author tell me that they didn't make a cent with the sales of their book - but they were selling a whole lot. I really wanted to smack them.

Look, the days of getting a national audience by just giving away content ended shortly after Cory Doctorow did it with Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. It's not - if you'll excuse the pun - novel to give away a novel. Instead of looking like a sophisticated (or idealistic) publisher/author, you look like a desperate used car salesperson. You look like someone who doesn't believe enough in their own work to demand a fair price.

When you price your books - digital or print - make sure that you are compensated fairly.4 Otherwise, get used to having to work that damn day job forever.

1 I converted this series, by the way.
2 Well, if they're decent writers.
3Amazon's whole business model was set up on being a loss leader for years until people were so accustomed to buying online that they could actually start making money. And it worked. Novels aren't like that... though maybe you could work serial fiction that way.
4 Crowdsourcing and donation models are valid, by the way. But at the same time, you have to make sure you're ready to pull the plug (or change funding models) if the donations don't flood in.

This post was part of Sans Spam: Self Promotion For Authors. I'm releasing this book in sections on my blog, but when it's all finished I will offer the whole thing as a single eBook. Everyone who donates toward its production (use the coffee cups to the right, note that it's because of this effort) will get a free copy of this eBook. You can find all the posts here.

28 July 2011

Work in Progress: Standing Desk

I had a kludgy standing desk in the apartment. It was a serious kludge... but enough for me to get to like it. (I sit a lot at work.)

Except I gave away some of the bits I used for the kludge when I moved into the house.

And then I remembered - I relocated the dogs with the fireworks, and suddenly I've got an office space again!

I verified that the wifi reached (yes, especially after I moved the router), had enough extension cords (power outlets are at a premium here), and went to shelf-y town. Two hours later, this is what I have. (Click to embiggen and see notes.)

Standing desk in progress

The cords still need arranged and cleaned up some - the rat's nest is not okay by my standards. But! The cool things are this:

1. Can get the laptop back out at a moment's notice.
2. Related: That bottom shelf is the right height for a kneeling chair and the laptop.
3. I can move most of my office-related stuff in there, and therefore keep it out-of-sight-and-mind when I'm not working.
4. Used already-owned stuff.


27 July 2011

iPhone Wallpapers

random.pngSo I've got a smartphone now.  (iPhone 3GS, actually.)  And because I know, deep in my bones, that Macs are really *nix boxen with ribbons and bows on them, I had to get me some not-iFruit wallpapers.

So I'm sharing them here with you.  Most of them are modified wallpapers that I run on my desktop - and honestly, I couldn't tell you where they came from.  So don't do anything commercial with them, etc.  I claim no credit save cropping the suckers. [Edit: One shot is by Ansel Adams, titled 'Tetons and the Snake River'. Thanks JureF!]

[Edit - the Dropbox thing didn't work well WITH iPhones...]

So here's my iPhone wallpapers.  Everything from Torchwood to nature stuff to some modified default Ubuntu wallpapers...  and the ones that look "boring", make sure to look at them full size.  That leather one is nice...















26 July 2011

GENCON 2011 - 7 days and a wakeup

Yes, GenCon is on its way. For the last several years, GenCon for me has been synonymous with The Writer's Symposium - otherwise known as the four-day writer's bootcamp convention hidden inside a gaming convention.

If you look at my "appearances" calendar in the sidebar, you'll see I'm on a scadload of panels - but (with the exception of Thursday afternoon) I'll be in the general vicinity, often at another panel. If you're going to be at GenCon and wanted to pick my brain, toss me an e-mail and we'll schedule a time.

And again, let me tell you the same things I've been saying at other cons:  If you want to talk to a writer, either schedule time with them (offering to buy food and beverages helps) or go to their readings.  Seriously.

And if you're wondering if there's really THAT much programming... well, let me give you the entire Symposium Schedule:

8 a.m.
Pick Our Brains: We’re early risers. If you are too, come get a jump on the Writer’s Symposium activities and have a chat about this and that. From publishing and writing to the weather in Chicago and vampires in Toledo, we’ll cover whatever strikes your and our proverbial fancy. Science fiction, fantasy, romance, thriller, and horror authors Donald J. Bingle, Maurice Broaddus, and Elizabeth Vaughan

Reality in Fantasy: How much does armor really weigh? How fast can a horse run? How far can a longbow shoot? Why is it important to know these things, and how do you use them without letting reality get in the way of a great story? Learn to make your writing feel “real” even when you’re penning a fantasy story.

9 a.m.
Writing Your First Novel: No more excuses! It’s time to write that novel you keep talking about! But what does it take to move the story from your imagination to the page? Our panelists have been over that proverbial hump and are willing to give you a nudge.

Fantastic Females: Dynamic women should rule the pages of your manuscript . . . not the mousy types waiting to be tied to a railroad track. Our panelists discuss how to avoid weak clichés and over-used stereotypes, and how to craft strong, interesting ladies that advance your story.

10 a.m.
Selling Short Fiction: Selling short fiction can be a long road, especially in a marketplace with dwindling print anthologies and falling magazine sales. But short fiction is still an art worth pursuing. Our panelists discuss markets, techniques, and how penning short stories can improve your chances of publishing novels.

Plot a Novel in One Hour: You can do it! Devise a storyline that’ll take your cast of characters from prologue to epilogue and do it in just one hour! We’ll show you how, in a mere hour, you can come up with a rich plot that you can flesh out into an outline and then a novel.

11 a.m.
To Plot or Not: Is it better to write by the proverbial seat of your pants or to painstakingly outline each chapter? Both approaches to writing novels, short stories, and game material work, but is one method better? Our panelists discuss the pros and cons of plotting in advance.

The Buddy System—How to Collaborate Without Killing Your Co-Author: Some say a co-authorship is twice the work for half the credit and pay. Others say having a writing partner produces better material and makes the task more enjoyable. We’ll look at how to successfully approach a co-author project—whether a novel or game material.

Reading: Paul Genesse and Patrick Tomlinson whisk you away to lands of wonder and mystery as they read some of their latest writings. It’s the best lunchtime entertainment at Gen Con, and you can’t beat the price.

You Slay Me: Hang ‘em. Poison ‘em. Blow ‘em up. Slice ‘em to ribbons. Or just run ‘em over with a train. Our panelists discuss methods for killing characters—heroes and villains alike. They’ll cover how to time a death scene right, how to give the death meaning, what details to leave in and out, and how to decide which ones should “bite the dust.”

1 p.m.
How Not to Get Published: Writers often commit errors that thwart their chances for success and send them down a dead end rather than along the road to publication. Our panelists discuss mistakes writers make and what you can do to increase your chances of catching an editor’s eye.

Tackling Writer’s Block: Have you faced a malevolent force that prevents you from finishing your manuscript? How can you defeat the dark power that keeps your fingers motionless on the keyboard and your brain in neutral? Our panelists have battled this dreaded demon, and they’ll teach you how to best it!

2 p.m.
I’ve Finished My Novel, Now What . . .: What do you do with your finished novel? Approach an agent? A publisher? Put it on your shelf and admire the stack of papers? Start on the rewrite? We’ll look at the next steps, including how to delve into your second manuscript. After all, the true test of an author is not stopping after the first book.

Roleplaying Games Make Better Writers: It’s often said, “Don’t let the reader hear dice rolling in your fiction.” Roleplaying games make you a better storyteller, help you create balanced, detailed characters, and provide wonderful inspiration, but too much “game” in your fiction can lead to disaster. Our panelists help you figure out where to draw the line.

3 p.m.
Stealing One Hour of Anton Strout’s Life: Gen Con’s author guest of honor, Anton Strout, will wax eloquent, field questions, and discuss his urban fantasy novels and upcoming projects. Interviewed by Elizabeth Vaughan.

Writing RPG Short Stories and Novels: The fiction that springs from games frequently ends up on bestsellers lists. Our panelists discuss the highs and lows of writing game-related fiction and offer tips for breaking into the market.

4 p.m.
The Rules of Writing: New York Times Bestselling author Michael A. Stackpole presents the Rules of Writing. These are the insider tips and tricks that you’d pick up in the first five years of your writing career, all presented here in an hour. Gleaned from personal experience and the experience of writers dating back to the 1930s, these tricks will cut three years out of your development as a writer.

Pick Our Brains: We’ve written short stories, novels, roleplaying game material, comic books, and more. Now, we’re ready to share our publishing secrets with you! You lead the discussion in this “anything goes” panel. Come pick our brains . . . if you dare!

5 p.m.
21 Days to a Novel: New York Times Bestselling author Michael A. Stackpole presents his three week program for preparing yourself to write a novel. This set of 21 exercises is broken down to give you everything from character creation to world building, practical plotting devices, dialog development and character voice creation tools. This program is a practical kick-in-the-seat-of-the-pants place to start your career.

Reading: Brad Beaulieu and Dave Gross provide dinner theater at its finest when they read to you from their latest works. Grab some food and bring it down for an amazing hour of free entertainment.

6 p.m.
Read and Critique: Have your prose critiqued by professionals.  Presenters will have three to five minutes to read their material. They will receive verbal critiques based on the “critique sandwich” method. Attendance is limited to those being critiqued. Pre-registration is required.

Reading: Elizabeth Vaughan and Stephen D. Sullivan whisk you away to distant worlds when they read excerpts from their favorite new projects. Grab some food and come on down for an hour of great entertainment.

8 a.m.
The Name Game: A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but a book title? You better have something with punch so the reader will pluck it off the shelf. And a title with zing can entice an editor or slush reader to give your story a look. A good name can also make your heroes and villains memorable and help define their character. We discuss the fine are of naming.

The Sword is Mightier: A rousing sword fight can get the reader churning through the pages of your book. But you better know how to make it feel real. Our master wordsmiths share their expertise in writing the good fight.

9 a.m.
Why Your Book Needs an Invisible Orangutan: Or a talking cat, schizophrenic robot, mind-reading halberd, god-touched skateboard . . . or an undead alien haunting your protagonist’s wine cellar. When is it a good idea to use a bizarre entity as a character or plot device in your fiction? How can a sentient sword enhance your story without making it too unbelievable or ridiculous? Our panelists offer techniques for making the absurd fit right in.

Big on the Small Press: Writers can find big opportunities to break into publishing through the small press. Learn where to go, and what it takes, to make it big in small press. Our panelists include small press publishers, editors, and writers.

10 a.m.
Urban Fantasy: The genre’s still hot, and bookstores continue to make shelf space for sky rise-dwelling vampires, private detective zombies, and Manhattanite trolls. Our panelists discuss what elements make a fantasy urban, the market for it, and tips for finding your way inside.

The “Novel” Approach to Editing: Finishing your novel isn’t enough. Now you have to edit it—polishing off the rough edges so it’s nice and shiny before you fire it off to an editor or agent. We’re “old hat” at putting the finishing touches on manuscripts, and we’re ready to dish out our sage advice.

11 a.m.
Make ‘em Squirm: Bubonic Plague? That good ol’ Spanish Inquisition? Parasites, gruesome deaths, depravity, torture, pandemics, psychopaths, cannibalistic cults . . . and those are just for starters. Our panelists discuss plot devices intended to make readers squirm. Just how uncomfortable can you make it to turn the pages? Are there lines you shouldn’t cross? Is anything off limits?

Villains as Heroes: Can your main character be something far less than a knight in shining armor? There’s something alluring about a “bad boy,” and if carefully executed, you can make the star of your tale downright dirty. We provide insight into how to handle the anti-protagonist. 

Reading: Steven Saus and Marc Tassin bring their stories to life at this afternoon reading. Bring your lunch and enjoy an hour of mystery, adventure, and excitement in a picnic for the mind.

Fictional Food: Real spacemen don’t eat grilled cheese! Little details help make your fiction real and add depth to your characters. Fictional food can also reveal important information about the climate and culture you are crafting. Learn how to make up food and diets that are exotic but still believable.

1 p.m.
The Structure of Scenes: Well structured scenes make for compelling story telling. How can you construct powerful scenes for a novel or short story? And how do you string scenes together to create a vivid and stirring piece of writing? Learn everything you need to know about the art of structuring scenes.

Love Between the Sheets (of paper): Chaste or steamy, romance can help drive your story, enrich your plot, and make your characters more complex. But writing an effective romance is a challenge. And just how far should you . . . or your characters . . . go?

2 p.m.
Resourceful Writers: Writing is largely a solitary endeavor, but there’s a world of resources, organizations, and web sites to keep you company. Our panelists discuss some of their favorite resources . . . places they turn to when looking for literary guidance.

Sharing Worlds and Work for Hire: For many authors, “shared world” fiction is their ticket into the publishing world. Work-for-hire projects can even land you on bestsellers’ lists. How do you find the work? Just what constitutes work-for-hire? And what are the good, bad, and ugly aspects of it?

3 p.m.
Taking Aim: Writing Military Fiction: It takes work and research to get it right, but the rewards can be well-crafted tales that propel you onto the bookshelves. Moderator Bill Fawcett has best-selling military-books under his proverbial belt. Come and learn from an expert.

Sword and Sorcery: It’s alive and well on the bookstore shelves, but sword and sorcery has evolved through the decades. What makes a modern sword and sorcery tale sing? What can you do to make your book fit into the genre without being clichéd or “old hat?” And who’s publishing sword and sorcery today?

4 p.m.
Writing a Successful Series: Series and serial presentations have, since the dawn of storytelling, dominated entertainment. New York Times Bestselling author Michael A. Stackpole guides you through the intricacies of designing a series from the ground up, with special emphasis on techniques designed to maximize in the new era betokened by digital publishing. E also discusses ways to build mysteries and suspense into your work, to keep readers coming back again and again.

Pick Our Brains: We’ve been in the business a while, have lots of novels and short stories to our credit, and we specialize in fantasy and science fiction. Spend an hour chatting with us and we’ll share some of our coveted “trade secrets.” Matt Forbeck, Tobias Buckell, Wes Nicholson

5 p.m.
Plotting: New York Times Bestselling author Michael A. Stackpole unravels the mysteries of creating compelling plots. A novel is a huge undertaking, written over weeks or months, and the plot has to hold it all together. From creating an outline to maintaining flexibility, this seminar gives you the insider knowledge that will separate you from all of your peers.

Reading: Donald J. Bingle and Tobias Buckell transport you with their magical prose in an hour of readings. Bring your meal and kick back for some of the best dinner entertainment at the con.

6 p.m.
Read and Critique: Have your prose critiqued by professionals.  Presenters will have three to five minutes to read their material. They will receive verbal critiques based on the “critique sandwich” method. Attendance is limited to those being critiqued. Pre-registration is required.

Write and Critique: You’ve been to our workshops and seminars, listened to our august advice, and taken copious notes. Now try to apply it! We’ll give you an assignment, a little time to complete it, and critique your efforts. Attendance is limited, and pre-registration is required.

8 a.m.
Writing Right—Dialog and Dialects: 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.

Setting as Character: Where you set your tale can be as important as the characters you populate it with. Crafting a vivid setting that is integral to your plot is an art. Our panelists will discuss how they paint their backdrops and offer suggestions about how you can bring your own settings to life.

9 a.m.
Worldbuilding—Geography: A fantasy tale is made more believable when the world it is set in is well thought out and has a measure of logic. Our worldbuilding experts share their techniques for engineering countries—and even entire planets—that will make your story breathe.

Thinking in Threes—Approaching the Trilogy: Writing three books is more work than one, but it goes beyond the mere output of words. Approaching a three-book arc takes a different approach to plotting and research. In a trilogy, the bar is raised by your publisher and readers. We’ll show you how to reach it.

10 a.m.
Worldbuilding, Gods, and Magic: Crafting religions can be divine! Fabricating magic systems can be downright enchanting! It takes a significant amount of work and thought to put together the arcane aspects of a fantasy setting. Our veteran worldbuilders guide you through it.

Category 4 Brainstorm: Sometimes, ideas don’t come easy. It may take a lot of work and rumination to cull a workable idea for a story or book. We offer techniques for brainstorming and discuss the resources we turn to when our thoughts go stale.

11 a.m.
Worldbuilding—Men, Monsters, and the Creatures Between: Men, elves, and the like cannot live in isolation, and monsters don’t materialize out of nowhere. People and creatures need to fit into the world’s ecology and have a life cycle that makes sense, otherwise your readers will see your world as unrealistic and not worth reading about. Find out what makes creatures and races believable.

Confessions of a Slushie Machine: Want to find your way to the top of an editor’s slush pile? Don’t want to end up in that proverbial circular file? Take notes! Our panelists talk about what they look for when wading through the slush piles, finding the worst of the worst, and uncovering a few rare gems.

Reading: Gen Con guest of honor Anton Strout and Gregory Wilson take you on a trip to the fantastic as they read from some of their favorite pieces. Skip lunch . . . or bring it with you . . . and enjoy a snack for your mind!

What’s in a Word: The authors of The Hobbit, various Star Trek novels, and A Wizard of Earthsea created languages to make their worlds come alive. It seems easy enough . . . but how do you keep your characters from having names and discussions that look like someone slapped the keyboard? Panelists will discuss methods that authors and game designers use for creating “authentic” fictional languages and reveal their own techniques.

1 p.m.
Tension and Conflict:  How do you build tension? What’s more . . . how can you sustain it and avoid the pitfalls of not having enough in your fiction? Panelists present techniques for turning your work into a page-turner.

Make it Steamy—a Look at the Steampunk Genre: Some say it’s what the future would look like if it had come along earlier . . . say, in the Victorian era. Steampunk has been around for quite some time, but it’s risen in popularity over the past few years. Our panelists look at the genre and discuss how to get published in it.

2 p.m.
Balancing Act—the Fine Art of Creating Balanced Characters: Mr. Perfect is a pretty dull chap. Well-rounded characters—ones folks enjoy reading about—have flaws and foibles. How do you add the right amount of baggage to a hero, villain, or sidekick? How can you avoid stereotypical troubles and latch onto something sparkling and masterful?

Part-Time Writer in a Full-Time World: You have a day job. Or you’re a full-time student. Maybe you’re a stay-at-home mom who has kids underfoot. How can you juggle the “real world” and find time to write that novel you’ve always dreamed about? Our panelists have full-time careers and have managed to write a plethora of short fiction, novels, and trilogies. One even landed on the USA Today bestseller’s list. They’ll share their techniques for fitting it all in.

3 p.m.
Writing and Rewriting History: Historical fiction and Alternate History are hot! Want to learn how to work in these genres and make your prose sizzle? Our panelists teach you how to make your historical fiction fresh, exciting, and where to look to market it.

How I Met My Hero: Our veteran authors discuss how they crafted their favorite heroic characters, put them through the literary wringer, and managed to let them find a reasonably happy ending. It’s great fodder for helping you discover your own hero.

4 p.m.
Twenty Ways to Kill Your Novel: New York Times Bestselling author Michael A. Stackpole walks you through the twenty most common "first novel problems" (which plague more than just first novels) and provides a host of solutions for them. If you dread hearing someone say, "I liked your novel, but...," this seminar is guaranteed to erase the sorts of problems that lead to just such a statement.

Trends in Terror: What’s the hottest thing going “bump in the night” right now? Are vampires still in? Are zombies taking over the urban landscape? What sort of creepies are crawling their way onto tomorrow’s bookstore shelves? And how can you find a piece of the action?

5 p.m.
Characterization: Characters are king in literature and New York Times Bestselling author Michael A. Stackpole brings you a toolbox full of techniques to create compelling and memorable characters. Readers read for and remember characters, and after this course, yours will be unforgettable, which will keep them coming back for more.

Reading: Lawrence Connolly and Kelly Swails offer up a feast for the mind as they read from their latest works. Stop by before heading off to dinner—or bring your dinner with you—and enjoy some of the best entertainment at Gen Con.

6 p.m.
Writing Success in the Post-Paper Era: New York Times Bestselling author Michael A. Stackpole—the first author to offer fiction on the iPhone/iPod Touch through Apple's Appstore—gives you an up to date look at the digital revolution and explains how you can profit and develop your career. Mike's watched his Internet income from writing double every year for the past three years, with the trend accelerating in 2011. If you intend to have a successful career in writing, this scouting report and practical action plan for the future is a must.

Reading: Ramsey Lundock will entertain you mightily with Dunkel Froline. Maxwell A. Drake will offer up one of his finest fantasy pieces. Stop by before the Eye of Argon session begins.

7 p.m.
Read and Critique: Have your prose critiqued by professionals.  Presenters will have three to five minutes to read their material. They will receive verbal critiques based on the “critique sandwich” method. Attendance is limited to those being critiqued. Pre-registration is required.

Eye of Argon: No, it's not a part of the Head of Vecna.  It's possibly the worst published piece of fantasy fiction ever written.  Thousands of gamers and fantasy/sci fi convention attendees have lol'd themselves silly just trying to read a page of Jim Theis' purplish (or is it "scarlet emerald?") prose out loud.  Some are unable to finish a single sentence.  Some are unable to start a single sentence.  This year, we're going to spice things up even more!  Assigned parts?  Live action?  Interpretive dance?  Translations by babelfish?  Sequels, prequels, and parodies?  Worldwide premier of "Arm of Grignr?"  Doing the "wave?"  It's not that I'm not telling you because it's a surprise, it's that we haven't quite figured it out.  But rest easy.  We're committed to making you laugh so hard you'll be committed, too—or at least Diet Dr. Pepper will squirt out your nose.  Eighteen and over only, please (for bad language—not dirty, just bad, really bad).  Besides, there's nothing that makes a GenCon event more desirable than limiting attendance.  Mrifk!

8 a.m.
Pick Our Brains: How dare you consider sleeping in on the final day of this year’s Gen Con! We bet there’re still questions whirling in your brain about worldbuilding, the publishing industry, sprucing up your manuscript, and whatnot. We’re here to provide as many answers as possible.

Care and Feeding of Your Editor: You’ve got the acceptance letter, but now what? How do you keep your editor happy and asking for future manuscripts? What can you do to make their life easier, your writing more attractive to them . . . and what can you expect from them in return?

9 a.m.
Business of Writing—the Basics: Be prepared to take notes. Now that you have your world built, your characters filled with angst, and your plot twisted, we’re going to give you more than a few tips on preparing your manuscript. We’ll also provide sage advice on catching an editor’s eye . . . in a good way.

Gender Bending—Men Writing Women and Vice Versa: We’ve brought this session back because it was so successful last year! How can a man write a female character . . . and do it well? Can a woman get in the head of a male protagonist . . . and make that character believable?

10 a.m.
Business of Writing—Agents, Query Letters, and Pitches: Writing might be an art, but there’s a side that’s all business. Do you need an agent, and how do you get one? How important is the query letter, and how do you write one? And what about pitches? We’ll offer the tools you’ll need if you want to get serious about the business of writing!

Pub-pourri: Did you miss a topic or two during the four days of Gen Con? Or maybe you still have a burning question regarding character development, crafting a magic system, complicating a plot, or approaching an editor. We’re here to stir your imaginations and answer as many questions as our brains will allow.

11 a.m.
Nothing But ‘Net: The Internet is a useful tool for research, finding writer’s resources, joining a writer’s group, and submitting internationally. But it’s also a great way to promote yourself and get your writing out there. We’ll tackle Facebook, Twitter, web pages, and software.

Genres—What Are They and How Do You Mix ‘Em? Fantasy, Science-Fiction, Romance, Paranormal, Horror . . . etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. What defines a “genre?” Which ones offer the best opportunities for finding yourself in print? And when—and how—is it okay to mix them?

25 July 2011

So You Want to Make an eBook? : Full Page Images

ebook_cover_200I recently complained about the ability to both provide full-screen cover images and to provide full images, since it appears that Stanza for the iPhone does not - and probably will not - support SVG.

Again, my big thing is cross-platform compliance, and that's where I'm running into trouble. Putting your image in an SVG "wrapper" will let you zoom it in and fill the screen. That code is pretty straightforward:
<svg xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg" 
viewBox="0 0 497 765" 
preserveAspectRatio="xMaxYMax meet">
     <image width="497" height="765" 
In this case, it's for an image 497 by 765 pixels (hence the viewbox size). Do note the differences - it's image not img, and xlink:href instead of src. The problem is, not all readers support SVG. There is a solution, but it is still slightly flawed. The solution is the switchstatement. (You will find references to the epub:switch statement, but epubcheck doesn't seem to like it, so I use ops:switch here.) Each line that begins with a < is a new line.
          <svg xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg" 
viewBox="0 0 497 765" 
preserveAspectRatio="xMaxYMax meet">
               <image width="497" height="765" 
      <ops:case required-namespace="http://www.w3.org/Graphics/PNG/">
           <div id="frontcover2a">
                 <img width="497" height="765" 
src="images/frontcover.png" alt="frontcover"/>                   
           <p>Front cover</p>

What is supposed to happen is that the reader only displays the first renderable option. If it can display the SVG, it shows that. Otherwise, it shows the image. Otherwise, it shows the text as a fallback. My Sony Reader does this wonderfully (and usually, if my PRS-300 will do it, so will everything else).

The problem is that the two biggest ePub readers for the iPhone render it incorrectly. Stanza skips over the SVG properly and shows the image... but also shows the text afterward. iBooks is just as bad - it shows all three versions. It is important to note that this behavior is not up to spec.

Unfortunately, that means we still have to cope with it.

So here's my interim solution. For your front cover, use a simplified version of the switch, like this:

<ops:switch xmlns:ops="
          <svg xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg" 
viewBox="0 0 497 765" 
preserveAspectRatio="xMaxYMax meet">
               <image width="497" height="765" 
           <div id="frontcover2a">
                 <img height="100%" 

Two front covers won't bother most people; we're used to seeing repetitive front pages (and most of your readers will not see repetition - we're talking ONLY about these two readers). For interior images, you can either repeat the switch (and risk having some readers wonder why there are multiple copies), or simply substitute this:

           <div id="frontcover2a">
                 <img height="100%" 

It's not ideal - you may get whitespace on the edges, but it'll work in 99% of the cases.

Folks, aside from the research, writing this post and formatting it for the blog took about an hour and a half. While these posts are going to be incorporated into the next edition of "So You Want to Make an eBook?", I'm also sharing these tips and refinements as I come across them. If you find these posts useful, toss a donation into the coffee cups or buy the current edition. Thanks!

24 July 2011

Full-page image support in ePub

ebook_cover_200In the "Everything You Want to Know About eBooks" panel yesterday, I mentioned that while there is an ePub standard, support on different devices for that standard is a completely different story. I just got my nose rubbed in that as well with three conversions that I'm in the midst of doing. Particularly when it comes to forced pagebreaks and full-page images.

All of them look great on both Sony's reader devices and nook; I know this. It's when you start talking about portable devices that it gets strange.

I've been checking with iBooks and Stanza on my iPhone. Neither seems to support style-based pagebreaks, which is quite simply annoying for the front matter of books. It also makes things difficult when there are full-page images.

Worst are full-page images - usually for covers, but also maps. Stanza seems to hate them. Period. No matter how I encode things - if it's a large image it will not scale. iBooks seems to scale some images, and not others. Some go off the screen, some


So this morning, before and after my panels, I'll be trying to tackle this problem until my laptop's battery gives out. When I find a good solution - at least one that's supported by iBooks consistently - then I'll let you all know here.

21 July 2011

Publishers Making Money From Author Copies is Bull

publishing.pngSo far this week, we've talked about print book prices. We've talked about how print books should cost more than digital books. And we even asked where the extra money goes when traditional publishers produce digital books at the same price as the print version.

But there's more.

I publish as Alliteration Ink, and have very clear core values:
  • Quality Will Out: Secret market tricks do not differentiate products and services. Quality sells products. This applies to the design of an eBook, as well as the words inside it.
  • Yog's Law: Money flows toward content creators.
  • Financial Transparency: Everybody involved with a project knows its performance. Each project's performance will be made public so that others can learn from our successes and mistakes.
  • Profit Sharing as Risk Mitigation: Profit sharing allows for innovation by lowering the capital investment needed.
  • Profit Sharing as Fruits of Labor: To the maximum extent possible, content creators will be compensated by how much revenue the fruits of their labor brings in.
  • Non-Zero-Sum Game: I help make awesome books, at affordable prices, and get creators the money they deserve.

There's one more thing. I play paladins. That's what led to a lot of my ranting about digital distribution scams, schemes, and general schenanigans.

As I went about creating a print version of The Crimson Pact: Volume One, I realized that CreateSpace has a wonderful calculator for determining two things - the royalties for each sale and the cost of your own copies of the book. This isn't something I am afraid to share - part of my job as a publisher is to justify why I get a slice of the pie. My slice is usually based around the amount of time it takes me to do the job in question. The remainder of the money goes to the authors who created the awesome stories. That's the way it should be.

Except that's not the way it always is.

It's been "business as usual" for authors to be able to purchase copies at a discount. While it's never been explicitly said, I've always had the assumption that publishers were just breaking even on those copies. I mean, that's the difference between a publisher and a printer. A publisher making money is based on being able to sell the book better than the author alone. Otherwise the author just needs a printing press and contracted artists and editors.

Let me repeat that - it's important.

A publisher making money is based on being able to sell the book better than the author alone.

This is (at least in part) the rationalization for the publisher taking a cut of the profits. It goes to pay for the sales force, the marketing, distribution, and advertising. The publisher expects to make money selling the book to readers, not by selling the book to authors.

We've heard about the scams. You can go on Writer Beware and find some egregious examples of Vanity Publishers in Sheep's Clothing and Pay to Play Anthologies. While some of these examples are obvious, others are not. There's two key quotes from those pages that apply here. Let's take a look at the first one:

The companies [that pressure authors to buy copies of the book] make a big point of emphasizing how much profit writers can realize if they sell the books, since they're purchasing them for less than list price. But for someone who doesn't already have a captive audience, it's not so easy to flog several hundred books. It's much more likely that contributors will never get their money back.

You might already know where we are going with this. A trend has started where "small publishers" do not pay any money up front. Sometimes there are promises of royalties after the book or anthology earns out, sometimes the payment is in contributor's copies of 40% - 50% off the cover price. This is the exact same behavior; it's just a matter of degree. Because now we can find out how much it cost to manufacture that book - and find out how much the publisher is making from selling our own work back to us.

Let me give you two real-life examples. I'm not going to name the publisher, and ask that you not name them in my space either. I use calculations from CreateSpace for two reasons:
1. More than a few small and independent publishers (including me now) use them as a printing solution. You may have several books from CreateSpace already in your library and not know it.
2. CreateSpace isn't the cheapest game in town. This is the equivalent of planning your coffee budget by using Starbuck's prices and then drinking Folger's. That means that my calculations below are on the low end of things.

The first book was an anthology, 330 pages in length, retailed at $29.95, and was sold to contributing authors at a 50% discount (e.g. $15 each) and one complimentary copy. No royalties were paid. The publisher required a pre-order of one hundred and twenty books from the contributing authors.

So let's plug that into CreateSpace's calculator.

So it looks like the publisher's barely making anything (a dollar a copy) unless they go the "Pro" route, and... oh, wait. That's the royalty calculator. The publisher bought the books and then shipped them to the authors 1. So what's that look like per book?
The per-book price doesn't change with the number of copies, by the way. So at the standard rate, that's $6.90 profit for the publisher per book, and at the Pro rate (after a one-time fee of $39) that's $10.19 profit per book. Shipping to the publisher would be $51 with standard shipping for 120 copies.

So... if they went the standard route, after shipping that's $598.8 profit. If they went the Pro route, that's $1026.98 profit. From selling copies to authors. Before a single book was sold to the general public.

The second book had a similar model (anthology, about 200 pages), but a lower retail price and theoretically will pay royalties 2 on sales other than author copies, and contributors could purchase copies at $9 a book. Let's assume the Pro route this time to avoid redundancy, and take a look at these two calculations.

In case you're math challenged like me, the publisher made $5.68 on each contributor copy. That's not only about the same amount as a sale on Amazon - it's actually more money for the publisher, because then the publisher doesn't have to pay the authors a share.

Maybe this is standard business practice.  It's not illegal, not at all. 

I do not give a damn. It's bullshit. This is taking advantage of authors. This is making authors into your primary customers. And now it's time for the second quote from Writer Beware:

A publisher that turns its authors into customers has little incentive to get books into the hands of readers, and is not likely to invest much money in marketing and distribution.

Don't get me wrong - I enjoy making money. Hell, I'd like to do this publishing gig for my full-time job.  I like publishing, and understand that there are expenses (and risk) that the publisher bears. I did - and continue to do - a lot of work with The Crimson Pact. I get 12%. Period. That's what I do to earn my cut. I believe that I could make my money back (and more) selling the book to the general public. That's how this works.  

If a publisher builds in a profit for themselves (as apparently this one did), then they are inherently less interested in making a profit through other sales.  If a publisher does not believe a book will make a profit through sales to the public, then they should not publish the book.  Therefore:

I believe that the only ethical thing for publishers to do is to sell contributor copies at cost.

Without the contributors, there would be no damn book. Publishers must at least regard authors as partners, not indentured creative servants, who'll work for next to nothing to see their work in print.

Authors, you have the tools to find out how much stuff really costs now. Hold your publishers - including me - accountable. Ask publishers for numbers. You must do this for yourself - with the rapid changes in the industry, you cannot expect anyone else to act solely in your best interest.

Remember, there is a reason I hold Yog's Law in such high esteem:

Nobody will read a book filled with blank pages.

Always remember that. Always.

Doing the research, screenshots, and writing up posts like this takes quite a bit of time, folks. If you've got the cash to spare, buy one of the books over there or drop a few bucks in a coffee cup. Thanks.

1 The authors were also charged shipping, so no slack there.
2 A 1/14 share of 25% of net reciepts. So if a sale on Amazon netted $5.67 for the publisher, each author gets ten cents. Royalties have to reach $20 before they get paid... but you can use that money to buy more author copies... extra credit for figuring out why that's especially sneaky!

You're a Good Man, Jim C. Hines

(Sorry, I just had to make the Peanuts reference.)

It's great that other authors read this blog at times - because they help me when I make mistakes (or expose my ignorance).

For example, yesterday's post.

Jim C. Hines kindly let me know that he actually does make a greater percentage of royalties from digital sales than print ones. And that is awesome.

Seriously, it is. It's great to know that there are still folks and companies trying to be fair and do the right thing.

It's easy to think of all of "publishing" as one big entity, but it's not. I fell into that trap while writing yesterday's post.

There are publishers - small, indy, and "traditional" that are doing horrible things to writers. Offering less for digital sales, trying to seize digital rights they don't own, and even attempting to retroactively change royalty percentages on digital sales.

As Jim rightly points out, this doesn't mean all or even necessarily most do that. The information isn't there - and everybody's contracts might very well be very, very different.

So take yesterday's post - and the one that will go up later today - as an exercise in principles. If you're not getting a larger royalty from digital sales (and they're priced the same), find out why. Even when I give concrete examples, they are examples of principles.

Thanks again, Jim, for helping me keep my head straight.

20 July 2011

eBook Pricing - Where's the Money Going?

publishing.pngSo I've talked about pricing of eBooks and paper books, and how they end up having to be quite a bit different.

Which leads to a big-ass question: Why is this not the case with other publishers?

Go look at some recent releases by traditional publishers. For example, I'll use Snow Queen's Shadow, which I bought both the paper and electronic versions of. (Why? Because Jim's that good of an author and I really enjoy his work, that's why.) Look at both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The print and electronic editions cost exactly the same price, even though they do not cost the same to make.

I see three possibilities (please, suggest more if I'm missing something):

1. The print books are being sold at a price where the publisher loses money. Without a complete plan to move digital, I don't see where this would be a smart or sustainable move. Doesn't mean it's impossible, but it's damn unlikely.

2. The print books are being sold at a sustainable price, and the publishers are raking money in hand-over-fist on the digital copies. I can kind of understand this - maybe. Because there are fewer players involved (you don't have shipping, printing, etc), the creative folk's pay should go up as well.

Why? Because the money spent for storage, printing, and delivery is now unallocated.

Graph For Blog
(My percentages for this graph are totally fictional and should be used as illustrative purposes only.)

The short of it is that royalties should always be the same or higher for digital books if they are sold at the same cost.

To the best of my understanding, this isn't the case (if anything, I hear of traditional publishers trying to lower royalties on digital sales). So where the hell is the money going?

3. Print books are being propped up by keeping eBook prices higher. Digital publishing costs less and can, at the same time, get more money to content creators. But digital publishing seriously disrupts the existant business model - for good or ill. (Think about all the jobs that are no longer needed.) I suspect that left to their own devices, novel length eBooks would be distributed in a normal curve around the $5 price point. I further suspect that more people would read digitally if they saw price savings over print books. Regardless of the motivation, I believe that keeping eBook prices the same as print book prices slows the adoption of digital readers.

So what does that mean for me as a small publisher?

1. Yog's Law comes first. Money flows toward the author.

2. Print books will cost more than digital books. Pricing will be so that authors will get (approximately) the same per-unit-sale profit. That is, I price a specific markup over cost, not to meet a specific price point.

3. Financial transparency. As a publisher, I should have to justify my percentage of the profits. Period. And if it's not clear, the authors have every right to get the hell out of town.

Appearing at FandomFest (Louisville, KY) this weekend!

Long ago, I was stationed at Fort Knox, KY - and one of my best memories of that time is going to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show in Louisville. So it's very cool that I'll be back in the Louisville area this weekend at FandomFest. I've put my schedule in the Appearances calendar. I'll also be at the tables quite a bit, and generally wandering about. It looks to be a strong, rather large event, in a rather nice city. Swing by if you're in the area!

8:00pm Panel Room A Publishing Nightmares
11:00 Panel Room C Reading

5:00pm Panel Room B Everything You Wanted to Know About eBooks (M)

9:00am Panel Room B Creating and Finding Writing Opportunities

19 July 2011

Paper and Digital books - Should they cost the same?

publishing.pngSo yesterday I talked a little bit about pricing - and valuing the work at different prices due to its length. But that's pretty straightforward - I believing in pricing to value the author's work.

But this leads to another problem.

Different formats cost vastly different amounts to make. I'm not sure if it's more a matter of communicating this to authors and publishers than to readers. I'm using CreateSpace to make print books at the moment, and I'm aware that there might be cheaper (but less noob-friendly) options. Still, it serves to illustrate my point rather well. I will have to price the print version of the Crimson Pact around $20 in order to make the same average profit. 1 (Remember, my business model has 75% of the reciepts going to the authors.)

Sure, CreateSpace provides a much cheaper version for the creator/author 2. As a publisher, I'll continue to do exactly the same thing - provide author copies at cost to the authors and any print copies I sell are poured into the royalty structure.

But let's not forget the major point here: The cost of the print book must be higher than the digital version, even with POD, to keep the same amount of money flowing to the author. This cost is solely the production and shipping of the dead-tree edition, and after the creators all get paid.

1 The way CreateSpace has things set up, royalties are dependent upon where/how the book is sold. I aimed to keep the average author profit the same as the digital edition.
2 More on this in a day or three...

Voting for the Ennies

If you're not a gamer, you may not have heard of the Ennie Awards. But they're a big deal in the biz.

I'd like to endorse a few products and people when you're voting (which you can do here. This is not a comprehensive list, but my recommendations. You do not have to register for anything in order to vote. You do not have to be attending GenCon in order to vote

Eoris Essence - Best Cover Art and Interior Art (seriously, look at the website)
Shanghai Vampocalypse - Best Electronic Book
Mutants & Masterminds Hero's Handbook - Best Game
Happy Birthday Robot! - Best New Game
BattleTech 25th Anniversary Introductory Boxed Set - Best RPG related product

You can also vote for next year's judges. I would highly recommend these individuals:

Matt Muth
James Surano
Jody Klein
Kennan Bauman

Thanks, now go vote!

18 July 2011

eBook Pricing - How long is your book?

publishing.pngThere seem to be - at least for the consumer fiction market - some shaking out price points for eBooks. Short story to novella length seems to be $0.99 to $1.99, novels are an accepted price anywhere from $4-8, and the occasional big release as more than that. We saw this with [LINK] The Wise Man's Fear - the eBook cost nearly $15 on release day, but it's a thousand-page book instead of a 200 page book.

And that gives us a problem, namely:

Communicating the size of the book when it's a digital file. While prepping The Crimson Pact for a print release, I realized that with a 5.5" x 8.5" size it was four hundred and forty four pages. Most of the anthologies I see in this book size are half to two-thirds as long. This is a big book.

But when it's a digital release, you can't really communicate that. We've tried with "over X hours of reading enjoyment!", but that's not a way folks seem to normally think of reading books. Page length seems to be a great way to communicate length to the general public - but what trim size? The Crimson Pact would be even longer if it was the smaller paperback size! And "page count" is meaningless with eReaders.

Obviously, there's a general correlation between how much the average person is willing to pay and the length of the book. But right now, the general public (and people watching pricing) don't have a lot of ways to signal anything other than "novel length" or "less than novel length". One of the most awesome things about digital publishing is the ability to not have to worry about the length of a book - it'd be crap if we find ourselves limited by our pricing structure.

I'm leaning toward the "trade paperback" page size (5.5" x 8.5") to give a sense of page count. What do you think?

Sans Spam: Guest Post at the Locoblog

selfpromotionThis post is part of a project tentatively titled Sans Spam: Self Promotion For Authors. I'm releasing this book in sections on my blog, but when it's all finished I will offer the whole thing as a single eBook. Everyone who donates toward its production (use the coffee cups to the right, note that it's because of this effort) will get a free copy of this eBook. You can find all the posts here.

I've got a guest post up at the blog for Loconeal Publishing. It's about the two ways of trying to sell your book - and what each of them communicates to readers. Go check that puppy out!

15 July 2011

Deciding when it's "worth it"

soc_econ.pngWhenever you start talking to authors about what kinds of deals you should sign, there are often caveats. Should you do work-for-hire? "Depends on whether it's worth it to you." Should I sign something that gives rights away for the life of copyright? "Maybe...is it worth it to you?"

Remember that just like return on investment has to define both "return" and "investment" are, the idea of whether or not you're paying "too much" requires defining a couple of variables. This becomes important not only in self-promotion, but also in running your writing business and determining how you use your time.

For an example, we'll use a dog kennel. Specifically, the one I got J-Dog.

Unlike L-Dog, fireworks drive her crazy. This last year the fourth of July fell on a Monday. I had people setting off fireworks from Friday night on. She tried to hide under my desk, under my legs, and behind a recliner. The last (knocking down a floor lamp in the process) was it.

She had to get a better kennel. Kennels are supposed to help dogs by providing a "cave-like" atmosphere. J-Dog's kennel was a wire one with no walls. She much preferred L-Dog's, but he was busy using his own.

So I searched. Second store I went to, there was a near-perfect match to L-Dog's kennel. I bought it, and because the wheels were missing, I got a ten percent discount. I later found a little bit of (unimportant) damage. I probably should have gotten a twenty five percent discount. It was an item old enough it wasn't in the system that was missing parts and had a break in the wall.

I'm still happy.

Even thought I might have been annoyed - that would have been a sizeable chunk of change - I chose to be happy about my deal. It was a seller's market - that means I was probably going to buy the kennel regardless. They got what they wanted - and so did I.

That's the kind of decision you have to make. Don't let yourself get ripped off, but at the same time, don't hold yourself back because of a "might be" that isn't actually there.

13 July 2011

Adjusting the Contrast on my Sony Reader

technology.pngMy walkthrough is for a Sony PRS-300, but the original directions are for a Sony PRS-505. It is very possible that this goes for all Sony readers - but I DO NOT GUARANTEE IT. YOU WILL VOID YOUR WARRANTY DOING THIS. (I considered voiding the warranty a challenge...)

I just replaced my Sony PRS-300 - the eInk display does NOT do well with any degree of twisting torque, so don't put that sucker in a pocket where a seatbelt overlaps it!

The problem is that there was a significant degree of "ghosting". That's when the last displayed image (or text) remains faintly on the screen when you change the page. There's always going to be a bit of ghosting - but it can be bad enough to mess with your reading experience. That was the case with my replacement reader. (Images of ghosting from this webpage which I direct you to later.)

I was afraid I'd have to send it back (or just live with it) until I ran across some hacking directions. Luckily, I had the old one to mess with as well, so I thought I'd give you a walkthrough.

TOOLS NEEDED: A good set of eyeglass/electronic screwdrivers, both flathead and Phillips head.

First, I got a copy of the service manual from the MobileReads forum. PDF Link (again, for PRS-300) here. I'd run across guide for adjusting the contrast on another model (link) and then a guide for replacing the PRS-300's battery here. You'll want to look at both of them.

The repair manual can be intimidating, so rest assured that you don't have to do anything more violent than the "replacing the battery" instructions. Follow the instructions on removing the battery up until where you actually take the battery out. Note: The decorative strip is somewhat fragile, so be careful with it. You can use a small flathead screwdriver. Also note - there are two rare-earth magnets that are not held in by anything else.

Now the back of your PRS-300 should look like the one in this flickr photo (clickthrough to embiggen and see annotations):
Hacking the PRS-300

The screw that you're interested in is annotated there - a closer view is here (again, click to embiggen):
Hacking the PRS-300

Here's the important bits:

1. It is a TINY screw. If your smallest Phillips doesn't work, get another one. Do NOT try to use a flathead with this.
2. It is VERY easy to strip this screw. In fact, the one I took pictures of *is* stripped - you can't even tell it's a screw any more. Turn slowly. There's a small amount of resistance, but not much. There ARE limits on how far you can turn the screw.
3. Empirically I found that clockwise is less ghosting and (slightly) less contrast. Counterclockwise is more ghosting and contrast.
4. You MUST turn the page in order to see the change - remember, eInk doesn't update until you force it to.

Once you've got it adjusted the way you like it, then replace the decorative border and replace screws. The screws will hold the border in place.

Five screws and a little bit of elbow grease later, and my Reader is just the way I like it!

11 July 2011

A Mess of Reviewing Going On

review.pngHere's a mess of reviews to tide you over - short, but sweet. Links are to the Amazon digital versions, if applicable.

Dig Up The Vote: Patrick Tomlinson's short story is perfect election-day reading. It's fun, just a little bit creepy, and not quite what you think you're expecting. (Full disclosure: I did the eBook conversion for this short story.)

Tides From the New Worlds: This collection of Tobias Buckell's short fiction is a treat. These twenty stories range from airships on foreign worlds to Carribean rituals on Earth. Buckell's interests and stories are so varied that this collection both surprises and delights. Of special note is "Smooth Talking", which is the first thing of Tobias' that I ever read, and got a gasp of delight when I ran across it again!

You Might Be A Zombie and Other Bad News: Cracked has amazingly reinvented itself from a MAD magazine ripoff to a fascinating list of edgy stories and trivia. While I spotted a few ... well, not errors, but "not quite rights" ... this book of trivia and simply bizarre stuff is fascinating. Just remember to fact-check before you cite.

The Wise Man's Fear: Patrick Rothfuss is a modern master of the fantasy tale. This huge volume is easy to read, but contains so many other stories within it that it's like reading several other novels at once. Awesome story, and awesome storytelling.

Dead Waters: Anton Strout has completely hit his stride as an author, with a pitch-perfect Simon Canderous story. The characters are tightly written, the jokes natural and loose, and the bads ... well, they're bad. This book continues the excellence that was book three.

In Hero Years...I'm Dead: Mike Stackpole has written what might be considered the "other" Watchmen plotline. Here, heroes are not maligned (or as rare) as in the Watchmen series - but examines what happens as heroes grow older... and sometimes grow up. Full of action and sharp humor, this book is well worth the time and price.

07 July 2011

Revised Model of eBook Sales


Executive, plain language summary: If you sell a book to everyone in a room on the first day, you won't sell any more until you go outside the room, or the people in the room finish the book, go outside, and talk to their friends. Long-run sales volume should roughly equalize no matter what you do, but short-run sales may be very different based on promotion.

I (along with lots of others) have predicted that because digital books will stay on bookshelves essentially indefinitely, that sales won't go down. It's not hard (including my own reports on the first volume of The Crimson Pact) to find that sales slump off after an initial spike. You can also look at the numbers reported by Jim Hines and Tobias Buckell, who are also experimenting and being very forthcoming with data.

So what gives? Was I wrong?

I've got a significant background in the sciences 1, so I'm okay with my hypothesis being wrong. But I'm not okay without knowing why I'm wrong. Especially in the social sciences, finding out why (or how) you're wrong often leads to the greatest breakthroughs.

One part of the initial hypothesis seem valid. The first volume of The Crimson Pact is still selling, which mirrors the experience of Jim and Tobias. That wouldn't be the case if they'd been rotated off the shelves in a physical bookstore, so that's a point for the original hypothesis.

The next step is to look for confounding variables. There's two that I've been able to identify.

The first confounding variable is in my business plan. Myself, Don Bingle, and Sarah Hans were all at Origins the other weekend. Because of the way I handle CD copies of the book (they're treated as "author copies", and are sold to the authors for the expense of making them), those copies are not counted in the sales numbers. So while I sold several CD copies of the book (mine get counted; I'm the publisher, not an author), any copies that Sarah or Don sold are not reported as sales of the book. While this gives the authors - especially the flash fiction authors in the anthology - a chance to make more money from their work, it means that sales are underreported by an unknown amount. So while I see spikes when I or others mention the book on our websites or blogs, I didn't see as much of a spike from Origins - and I think that's why.

The second confounding variable is that we publicize the book. As I pointed out before, I can tell from sales numbers when The Crimson Pact gets publicized. Likewise, when Tobias mentioned his book on his blog (and when he played with the numbers), sales went up (profit did NOT, which alone makes reading his post worthwhile). Therefore, I believe that we inflated initial demand for a short-run gain, which then fell back to a more organic demand curve.2 While I doubt that I drew the curves quite right (I did it in MS-PAINT, okay?), the area under the green curve should be equal to the area under the red curve. That is, the organic demand curve and the inflated demand curve should sell the same number of books by the time the inflated demand curve equalizes back out.

demand curves for ebooks

Of course, demand is not infinitely asymptotic. There is a finite number of people who are able, let alone willing, to read your book. (Of course, this is the INTERNET, so there's a damn lot of them.) Also, I've not attached numbers to the graph. I believe - given the evidence to date, that these curves are an accurate model regardless of sales volume. Now, perhaps for one author that original "spike" is five thousand units and for another it might be five.

As always, this is a marathon, not a sprint.

So while I think I was wrong in the details, that was because of a failure to take all variables into consideration. My original prediction made it seem like sales would never drop regardless of other factors, and that's patently not true.

demand curves for ebooks

It is possible to inflate your sales above the natural, organic demand for your work. While this is not necessarily a bad thing - the additional exposure will help - I would expect long-run demand to equalize out.

1While my degrees are in the social sciences, I try to maintain as close to the same rigor as I would for the hard sciences. And yes, economics is a social science, despite all the freaking math.
2I postulate - and this is a wild guess - that demand drops below the organic demand curve but does not fall to zero, and that the system will return to equilibrium. This would largely be due to the effect of blogging, word of mouth, reviews, and so on

05 July 2011

Sans Spam: Introduction

selfpromotionI've learned a lot in a couple of years as an professional author.

What's been strange is how much of it was meant for a completely different audience.

Everything I've learned about running a business was aimed at someone different than me. An executive, an "official" business person. That's one reason I am so thankful for Kris Rusch's Freelancer Survival Guide and Dean Smith's Think Like A Publisher. They specifically address the strange intersection of business and art that is publishing and writing.

Self-promotion, however, hasn't gotten that kind of high-level overview. I've cobbled lots of things together in my life - some of them worked, some failed spectacularly. But I've been learning and experimenting. I'm a natural introvert - but a lot of the people I know in publishing and writing think the opposite. That's the result of years of learning, experience, and screwing stuff up.

All too often, self-promotion seems to go along with signing smoking documents in your own blood at a crossroads at midnight.

You don't have to.

I'm going to share what I've learned. Some things you'll already know. Some things will smack you between the eyes. Some you'll want to get more information on (and I'll have a bibliography and resources at the end).

Much like So You Want to Make an eBook?, I'll be putting it out on the blog, with the search tag "selfpromotion". One change will be that the first post in this series (besides the introduction) will go up as a guest blog.

I hope you enjoy this series - and more importantly, I hope you find it useful.

This post was part of Sans Spam: Self Promotion For Authors. I'm releasing this book in sections on my blog, but when it's all finished I will offer the whole thing as a single eBook. Everyone who donates toward its production (use the coffee cups to the right, note that it's because of this effort) will get a free copy of this eBook. You can find all the posts here.

04 July 2011

As American As... - 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!

Levee in the MistShe struggles in the trunk. The Chevy's steel frame muffles her thumps and cries; the cotton in our ears does the rest.

The CEO of EMI glances at me, but I stare determinedly ahead. This is too important. Too much rides on today. This isn't our normal gig, but it's one we have to play.

She is gorgeous, even tied, even gagged. I knew - KNEW - how she was responsible from everything from Greensleeves to Blueberry Hill.

We shoot her, bullets thrashing her flesh, her body tumbling down the dusty levee. Our careers in the music industry are safe once again.

01 July 2011

eBook Pricing - Valuing Author's Work

publishing.pngLet's talk about eBook pricing not as some simple economic supply and demand curve, but as valuing writers. I'm going to propose something a little outrageous: Readers will pay just as much for an eBook as any other format, but only to support the artist.

Let me explain.

At Origins, I heard a panelist say that it was insulting to authors to offer the electronic version for less. "It's the same work that is in the print book - why should it cost any less?"

A member of the audience spoke up: "I would gladly pay more for an eBook if I knew the money was going to you. But are you getting that extra money?"

Most knowledgeable readers know the answer to that question: "No". Add in the rights grabs and unilateral royalty adjustments that the big houses have been doing lately, and the answer really becomes "Hell no!"

"But," says convenient hypothetical strawman, "those are knowledgeable readers. Most consumers aren't that way."

Possibly. But I've been field-testing my sales pitch for Volume One of The Crimson Pact across several cons and signings now. And I can tell you that one phrase has tipped more fence-sitters into taking a chance on the book than any other:

Seventy-five percent of each sale goes directly to the authors.

It's a closing line. I've seen it make a difference to average readers - folks who don't know about any of the rest of this. People who do not give a damn about "spoilage" or "return policies" or "shelf rent".

But they do care about supporting the authors they like.

Want them to take a chance on your work? That's when the lower prices come in. Better people than I have done the math - but it boils down to this: The lower cost of digital publishing means that more of each sale goes to the author. Enough more that a $5 eBook sold independently will make more for the author than a $10 eBook through a traditional publisher.

The creative talent still gets paid, but the overhead gets stripped out of the way.

And that's how it should be.