30 April 2012

Hotel: 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! Heck, Chris the Nuclear Kid does when he remembers to (and I can drag him away from video games)!

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 at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!

I am now - when I remember to do so - updating these in a podcast feed (dubbed "Radio Free Steven the Nuclear Man" by Laurence). You can subscribe with this link (http://bit.ly/stevereads) in your podcatcher or phone, or swing by http://bit.ly/stevesdrabbles.

Oh yes, I also mention Net Impact as well - check it out!


Roach MotelThe school's playground equipment squeaks behind Gretchen and Harvey as they crawl under the brambly bushes. Gretchen stands on the far side, a smirk flitting between her pigtails as Harvey wheezes, out of breath.

Harvey looks up, past his classmate, and sees it first. "Candy!" The children run for the strange building, entranced by the candycane pillars, the gingerbread walls, the icing trim.

Their teacher's voice carries across the bushes. "Harvey! Gretchen! Recess is over!" Reluctantly, the children leave.

Inside, two witches glare furiously after the children.

The older witch snaps off a bit of peppermint. "Don't check out, huh?"

27 April 2012

Starting a Dead-Simple Webserver Using Python

technology.pngI ran across this post, which pointed out that the popular programming language Python has a built-in webserver.
It's definitely not for anything like production use, but if you just want to share a few files over your home network, it's great.   And because it's Python, it should run pretty much the same no matter what operating system you have Python installed on.


PLEASE NOTE:  CONFIGURE YOUR ROUTER AND COMPUTER FIREWALLS BEFORE LEAVING ANYTHING LIKE THIS RUNNING.


The command is pretty simple - from a command prompt, type:
python -m SimpleHTTPServer

and you'll be up and running.  Point the browser at your computer's local IP address (find it on Windows, Mac, Linux) and port 8000.  So let's say your computer is at 192.168.1.1.  In the browser bar, you type
http://192.168.1.1:8000
and boom!
Of course, me being me, this wasn't enough.  So I made two bash scripts - one to call from a terminal window (like, from an alias), and one to call using Zenity so I could choose the directory.  They should also be embedded below; YMMV with those. While Zenity is cross-platform, bash isn't.
With convention season coming up, this is an interesting alternative to carrying around thumbdrives, don't you think?  Just remember to shut down the server when you're not actively using it.
Terminal script:

Zenity GUI script:

26 April 2012

Review of "Hidden Collection" and "Inquest" from The Crimson Pact: Volume One

This is a review of two stories in The Crimson Pact: Volume One. While I am the publisher of the book, I'm also a reader. I also do not have a story in the text, and I've worked to keep all of these reviews as impartial as possible; I hope you agree.

If you wish to check out The Crimson Pact, stop by its website at http://thecrimsonpact.com. While it's only currently available in digital formats, if you have a computer, you can read this book. Not only is there a PDF version at the website, but you can read it on a free desktop reader from Barnes & Noble or Amazon.


Hidden Collection by Sarah Kanning

This story hits a lot of good notes for me. A college student working at a library suddenly stumbles upon something unexpected in the stacks...



It's urban fantasy, and written in the light way so many such stories are, but doesn't hesitate to go dark at a moment's notice. It might just make you look at libraries in a different way...

Inquest by Barbara Webb
Two priests - we learn they are Templars - are traveling home when a seemingly-abandoned town makes them suspicious. Their investigation turns up something they never expected - with horrible consequences.


This is a moodier, darker story than Hidden Collection. While there's demons, they aren't the only bad guys running around. They might not even be the worst. The characters really come to life in this story - I can so easily see this being part of a much bigger world and story.

These two stories come right after each other in The Crimson Pact: Volume One, and really beg to be reviewed together. They're about the same length, and both hint at bigger worlds and bigger stories than what we actually see on the page. But what fascinates me is the stark difference in tone between the two. That kind of variation, living literally (ha!) side by side in a book, drives home how important diversity is in an anthology.

An entire anthology of either style of story would become trying after too long - especially with anthologies the size of the books in this series. Mixing up the pacing and tone between stories keeps the reader fresh, and allows us to experience the highs and lows with the characters a little more intensely.

25 April 2012

Moon - 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! Heck, Chris the Nuclear Kid does when he remembers to (and I can drag him away from video games)!

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 at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!

I am now - when I remember to do so - updating these in a podcast feed (dubbed "Radio Free Steven the Nuclear Man" by Laurence). You can subscribe with this link (http://bit.ly/stevereads) in your podcatcher or phone, or swing by http://bit.ly/stevesdrabbles.


Day 350/365 - Chaaarge!"Captain, you are to take out the Russian guns." The messenger begins to turn his mount to return to the command point.

I cough, catching his attention. "Sir, which guns?"

"Those guns," he says, and casually waves his hand toward the Russians.

My gaze travels down the length of his arm, down the wide open valley past two ridges of Russian troops, and directly toward the enemy steam mechs.

"We're doomed," my sergeant says.

But past the enemy guns, I see the full moon, still visible in daylight. It has not yet set, and I smile a knowing smile.

24 April 2012

Some notes on selling anthologies for a year...

As you might remember (ha), I'm the publisher of The Crimson Pact series of anthologies.  Volume One came out a bit over a year ago, so I actually have a nice little graph to show some interesting things about sales.
sales_tcp.jpg
Click the image to embiggen
So there's some pretty obvious trends going on here.  Each volume so far (data above is just for volumes one and two, aggregated from all digital sales) has spiked in sales shortly after release.  That's not a surprise.  Nor is the bump during the last quarter of 2011 - though our sales were higher in November and the first part of December.  Not quite sure what's up with that.

The first interesting thing is the increase of sales during the summer convention season as folks promoted the books.  It definitely increased interest among consumers.

Second, notice that sales of volume one track almost exactly the sales of volume two upon its release.  Pretty powerful evidence that later releases from a series impact sales of earlier releases.

I don't think that was new readers just buying all of the series at once.  There's a second, smaller bump in volume two's sales in early November, and again in first quarter 2012 where the shape of sales diverge.

My suspicion is that these folks heard about the series with the release of volume two, picked up volume one, and later purchased volume two.

While there's a lot of sound and fury out there about digital sales, I think having some evidence really, really helps.  So here's your takeaway:

Your sales of one book do not stand alone.  Continuing to put out content - especially that is related to other material - has a measurable impact on all your sales.

22 April 2012

My story "Taste of Moonlight" appears in "Title Goes Here" 11, out now!

Thought I'd take a quick moment to link to Title Goes Here 11, where my story "Taste of Moonlight" appears. 

Aside from the amusement I have that I've used "Insert Title Here" for names of blogs before, I'm glad to see this particular story show up.  It's a short work (flash fiction by most people's standards), but I'm pleased with it. Since it's so short, I can't tell you too much about it... but it's a nice bit of nasty work.

Maybe if you ask me nicely, I'll read it at a convention or something...

If you want to keep track of my publications, you can either keep checking the fiction page on my website to see all of them so far, then follow/subscribe/rss/whatever the Tumblr I have just for my publications as they go live.

20 April 2012

Tastes Like Human: A Book Review

review.pngtl;dr - Tastes Like Human: The Shark Guys' Book of Bitingly Funny Lists is an okay "bathroom book" of lists, but falls short of the goal of Cracked. Three out of five rabid wombats.

Sometimes writing one review will get you a chance to write another. It's an interesting proposition; the first book tends to tinge the second. That applies to Tastes Like Human: The Shark Guys' Book of Bitingly Funny Lists. One of the authors offered me a digital review copy because I had reviewed Cracked's book, and said theirs was similar.

You're probably at least vaguely familiar with Cracked. The snarky irreverent style - often centered around list-style posts - will simultaneously amuse and inform. And Tastes Like Human does have a lot of list-style entries... and that's where the resemblance both starts and stops. Tastes Like Human simply tries too hard to be Cracked - and falls short. The snark ventures into mean-spirited instead of staying (mostly) in the absurd. Unlike the Cracked offerings which are unusual, unexpected, and sometimes mind-blowing triva, the factual elements are simply... well, trivia.

I knew pretty quickly that Tastes Like Human was going to fall short of my expectations, but kept coming back to it. I would read a little bit here, a little bit there. (That's part of the reason it took me so long to write this review.) And that's when I realized that this book does have a role that it's perfect for - the bathroom book.

I remember my grandfather had a book like that once (though my grandmother supplanted it with supermarket tabloids). It was something to read while you were on the toilet. Entertaining enough, but not something you'd get sucked into. Tastes Like Human falls squarely in this category, and there it succeeds.

As a digital eBook, Tastes Like Human: The Shark Guys' Book of Bitingly Funny Lists retails for $2.99.

18 April 2012

You Can't Rely on the Public Backlash by Dismissing the Public Backlash: Using Critical Thinking With Amazon

publishing.pngThe shrillness has returned to eBook discussions - and it's really easy to get sucked into the new echo chambers (same as the old echo chambers).

It's not about the strength or intensity of someone's opinion - otherwise I should be indicting myself. It's not about the extremity of their position either - otherwise I should be indicting myself again. It's about people insisting you must believe their world-view.

Currently this is most present in the Amazon haters and Amazon lovers.   But this applies to all arguments about corporate motivations. Stick with me here.1

I warn about worst-case scenarios, and point out how they're possible (or even likely). I hope both that I'm wrong, and if I'm not wrong, I hope that making that forecast changes the situation in the future. For example, take the stink made about Apple's eBook software - do you really think they would have changed anything about the EULA without the negative press?

Publicly pointing out possible points of corruption helps prevent corruption.

Over the last week and a half I've heard a lot of Amazon defenders say that concerns of an Amazon monopoly/monopsony strategy are groundless because Amazon is so concerned about negative backlash2.

But here's the things, folks: You don't get to rely on a company's fear of a consumer backlash without having the backlash first. Discounting and mocking those who would lead the public backlash weakens the public backlash you're counting on to keep the company in check.

There is only one motivation that any publicly-owned company has: Make more money for the shareholders. All other motivations must serve that primary one.

Fight Club Quotes
From Fight Club

Rather than fix something, it's often easier to pay people off - or simply use enough PR to make them think the problem is fixed, a la greenwashing.

What do I suggest? Read critically. Read multiple points of view. Actively look for people (and blogs) you disagree with. Ask hard questions. Get as much hard data as you can - and treat conclusions skeptically until you get that hard data. Remember that all corporations exist only to get money for their shareholders - and everything else is in service of that one goal.

Keep both the best - and worst - case scenario in mind when making your plans, and be ready for both.


1 As always, this is not actually about Amazon being "good" or "bad". This is about their current economic position in the eBook market. Swap any other company in there, and they'd be trying to do essentially the same thing.
2 These are merely two prominent examples, not the sum total.

17 April 2012

So You Wanna Make an eBook? eBook errors In The Wild

Spend any amount of time in the eBook community, and you'll find people who state their personal preferences as dogma.  These are, however, preferences.  For example, Passive Guy thinks eBooks should open at the beginning of the story, whereas I think the cover is still vital... to the extent that I feel cheated when the cover presented is just the "text cover" page.  I like the analogy given in this Atlantic article (which PG quotes):

“I’m not sure they should be called ‘covers,’” says Bill McCoy, the director of International Digital Publishing Forum, which oversees the EPUB system. Rather, “It’s really more an introduction to the experience you’re going to have in consuming this content.” For McCoy, this is comparable to an entrée into a video game or DVD main menu page.
 Which is about right.  Consider the real cover for The Crimson Pact: Volume Three with the "text" inside cover:

Says "This Will Be Bad-ASS!"
Says "We Chose A Font Other Than Papyrus!"

But there are some aspects of eBook design that cannot be overlooked, no matter your personal preference.  These problems don't "fail to enhance", they actively get in the way when someone is trying to read your book.  (An earlier example is here.)

Particularly when you're converting text from something like a PDF - which has hard carriage returns at the end of each line.  Take a look at this real eBook, Crimson Intent:


 That isn't "ragged right" alignment.  Those are hard returns throughout the text.  One of my co-workers spontaneously came to me with this book.  She said (and I'm barely paraphrasing):

"I could have overlooked the typos and random capitalizations here and there, but this is so hard to read!  I have to keep going back and figuring out what they meant.  Thank goodness it was free."

You never want someone saying that about your work. 

16 April 2012

Embrace - 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! Heck, Chris the Nuclear Kid does when he remembers to (and I can drag him away from video games)!

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 at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!

I am now - when I remember to do so - updating these in a podcast feed. You can subscribe with this link (http://bit.ly/stevereads) in your podcatcher or phone, or swing by http://bit.ly/stevesdrabbles.



The mecha's cockpit slides closed. My comrades stand three abreast of me, our craft hissing as the boilers reach operating temperature. Through the viewport, the XO signals us by semaphore. The English are at the far end of the valley. We are to strengthen our artillery and men emplaced upon the ridge. Our mecha will deny the British this valley; their only logical move will be into the path of our reinforcements.

I move my hands, shifting the mecha's in a giant salute before my squad moves to the ridgetop.

Surely the English will not enter our deadly embrace.

14 April 2012

Podcasting My Drabbles

storytime.png
I am now - when I remember to do so - posting my read drabbles in a podcast feed. You can subscribe with this link (http://bit.ly/stevereads) in your podcatcher or phone, or swing by http://bit.ly/stevesdrabbles.

I am posting both a new one and a "classic" each week, so if you'd rather hear me in the intimacy of your MP3 player or phone instead of your computer, you can do so.

As I'm not a podcasting guru, I've probably jacked up the configuration somehow. Please let me know if there's any problems.

Currently, you should find this week's story, "Sick", as well as the classic story "Airplane".

We'll see how this goes. (Damn, that's what I said about Twitter as well...)

13 April 2012

eBooks: Special characters in URLs not always supported in eBooks

This post is part of So You Want to Make an eBook?. I'm working on a second version, but as before I'm releasing this book in sections on my blog. You can find all the posts here.

One of the nice cross-promotional things you can do with your eBooks is to place links to your other work, or have links to resources outside the book itself.  As more people read on tablet-like devices (arguably the newest nooks and Fire are low-end tablets themselves), having external links is a very doable thing.

Except.

First, some retailers (I'm looking at you, Apple) will not allow links to outside retailers.  I can confirm this firsthand - it happened with the afterword of Net Impact (Don Bingle's great spy thriller - check out this review, then pick up a copy!).  There's some books that are available on Amazon or B&N, but simply are not available on iTunes... but that didn't matter.  I ended up removing the links for iTunes alone - and that's another reason I (and Seth Godin) recommend that authors be able to sell or distribute their own book.

The other problem I ran into while working on digital conversions of two Now You Tell Me! books for Arundel publishing.  (These, by the way, look great.  I wish I'd had Now You Tell Me! 12 College Students Give the Best Advice They Never Got when I went into college, and even as a writer, the stuff in Now You Tell Me! 12 Actors Give the Best Advice They Never Got is useful - especially about learning from observation and getting in character's heads.)

Anyway, you might notice links like this in your browser bar sometimes:


http://www.dickinson.edu/academics/programs/spanish-and-portuguese/content/Semana-Po%C3%A9tica/

Depending on how modern your browser is, when you click it, the last part of that link may render as Semana-Poética in the address bar (what it's supposed to be) instead of Semana-Po%C3%A9tica.  As far as the computer's concerned, though, the second is the actual HTML encoding. 

Except it didn't work when we proofread the eBook - it went to an error page.   Amazon links (among others) often kick back errors when you're running through ePubcheck - because of the ampersand in the URL (and we know how I feel about ampersands).

The simplest solution for both of these is to use an url-shortening service, such as tinyurl or bit.ly.  Both will take your mangled mess of an URL and convert it into something that both passes ePubcheck and will get your readers where you want them to go.

This post was part of So You Want to Make an eBook?. If you find this useful, buy the current version or toss me a few bucks in the coffee cups to the side there and encourage me to get it bloody well done. You can find all the posts here.

The Smartest Thing Said About The Great eBook Kerfluffle of 2012

John Scalzi's blog post is spot-on about the Great eBook Kerfluffle of 2012.

Key quote:

"[All companies] have a fiduciary duty to their shareholders to maximize value. You are the means to that, not the end. The side these companies are on is their own side, and the side of their shareholders. This self-interest doesn’t make them evil. It makes them corporations."

While I've tried to keep this point visible, I've not done so as well
as he has here. *So far as motivations are concerned, corporations are corporations.* Neither Amazon or B&N or the "Big Six" or any of the rest are more or less evil than any other. (caveat: People within them might be, but the people in a system do not equal the
system. And yes, this applies to Google too.)

What *I* am trying to do is to figure out the economic ramifications of the strategies currently in play, and take some guesses about how that will play out for people in my position. Hence my "be able to DIY, no matter how you do it now" approach.

*Currently* Amazon is the 800# gorilla in the room, and is (IMHO)
acting like it. Thinking that Amazon (or any other player in this) is *individually* good/bad/etc is ignoring the social and economic ruleset they're all participating in. The structure of the system - just like chess - dictates what kind of moves are advantageous.

What's interesting - and scary - about the Great eBook Kerfluffle of 2012 is that it will, in some way, alter the rules of that game in
unknown ways. If you're busy demonizing (or beatifying) any individual corporation instead of talking about the *system*, you've missed the point.

- I'm mobile blogging, please excuse formatting SNAFUs

12 April 2012

Why I Sold Out To the Man (or Amazon) - and how you can still get a book free through FRIDAY!

I actually did the e-mail promotional blitz thing Monday night. I told EVERYONE I could reasonably justify telling that Tales of the Crimson Pact was available FREE on Amazon until Friday.

Which means that quite a few people who pay attention to such things figured out that I'd enrolled that title in the KDP Select program. Which meant there were quite a few people wondering what what the bleeding hell I was doing selling out to that company.

It's a justified question. Less than a month ago I was talking about how Amazon is the Wal*Mart of booksellers, how we should have expected them to screw us over, and that the bullying will get worse for independent authors and small publishers like myself.

These things are still very, very true.

So why would I voluntarily put any book in KDP Select? Four simple reasons:

1. I think the performance of one book in a series impacts the performance of the rest of the series. This is also why I've made digital author copies available to all authors who have contributed to this series of anthologies.  If they can read, review, and promote other volumes, it helps them.  (There is no earn-out period for any of my anthologies so far - royalties accrue from day one.)

2. Keeping all the properties out of KDP Select isn't fair to my authors.  Whether I like it or not, KDP Select has had results for some - but not all - authors.  It's only fair to them that I try to earn the greatest amount of money for them as possible, and that means participating with KDP Select in some fashion.  Regardless of how I feel about Amazon (or any retailer), the authors deserve to have the book available where people will buy it.

3.  I have an obligation via my mission statement.  As I mentioned yesterday:
Alliteration Ink is designed to be a test bed for new strategies and methods that allow authors, publishers, and others in the industry to adapt and thrive in these changing times.
To be able to fairly report on the service, I should probably, y'know, try it.  And yes, I will be reporting on it.

4.  I chose which book to offer very carefully.  Tales From the Crimson Pact is a digital sampler.  It's four stories selected from The Crimson Pact: Volume One.  They show the breadth and width of the anthology, along with being some kick-ass stories in their own right.  That book was designed as a promotional venue from the beginning.  Hopefully, you'll try the sampler and come back to the full three volumes of the anthology for more.  Heck, maybe you'll even buy it from the website and make sure the authors get the most possible money.

So go check out Tales From the Crimson Pact on Amazon - it's FREE through Friday.  (If you don't have a Kindle, you can use your smartphone or their PC reader).  The full anthologies are available at many other stores - check the website for an up-to-date listing with links directly to your eBookstore of choice.  And remember, if you buy from the website, the authors get the most money and you get a bundle with the ePub, Kindle, and PDF versions of the books!

11 April 2012

Why Amazon Lowering eBook Prices Is Shit For Authors - and What Readers and Authors Can Do About It

Let me just start with "Oh, I hope I'm wrong."  Because if I'm wrong, then I'm on the winning side. But I'm strongly figuring that I'm right, and it's not going to be pretty for us writing types.

Hopefully you're a writer - or reader - who gives a damn about that. Give me a moment to explain why this anti-trust crap is going to bork us writing folks over, and what you - as an author OR reader - can do about that.

Amazon is ready to drop eBook prices in the wake of publisher settlements. First, I don't bloody well buy that there was collusion, and secondly, DoJ better bring some anti-trust suits against Amazon right damn quick if they're willing to call this unfair trade practices. I mean, one of the things in the settlement is that they not "offer a price-matching program to keep e-book prices lowest on one platform (currently Apple’s iBookstore)". You mean, like Amazon currently does, and has borked over authors with?

Okay, background.  I do digital publishing.  As an author and publisher I usually charge about $5 for a book-length work, $2-3ish for a novella-length work, and a buck for a single short story.1 As a publisher, I give 2/3 or more of the net profits of each book to the authors.2

So here's the three big ways this will bork authors and small/indie publishers and authors... and ultimately you.

1. That author publishes with one of the "Big 6" New York publishing houses. If those publishing houses can't make the same profits off of eBooks selling through the Wal*Mart of book retailers, someone is going to not get paid as much. I can damn near guarantee you that the authors will see their percentage of eBook royalties shrink.

I mean, seriously, folks.  We see this all the time.  Businesses lose money, but CEOs get multi-million dollar golden parachutes.  School districts lose levies, and while teaching positions get cut, administrator jobs somehow stay untouched.  You get the idea.

2.  Amazon gets to be the bully a hell of a lot more.  Amazon's been a real dick this year - the market equivalent of a jock pushing around everyone smaller than him in high school.

DoJ just gave this guy a nerd-hunting license.
Seriously.  This is the equivalent of saying "Hey, local business association, quit picking on Wal*Mart by not selling them stuff as cheap as they want you to."

This is seriously messed up.  And if you think we're done with this, you're being hopelessly clueless. Anyone taking bets on how long that 70% royalty is going to stay in place? Anyone?

And sooner or later, they'll go after their customers as well. Again, look at Wal*Mart - they raise prices faster than their competitors, and the higher their market share in an area, the higher their prices. Amazon is following Wal*Mart's business pattern, and that's not a good story for anyone but Wal*mart.3

3. Your author publishes with a small publisher or is an established self-published digital author. If so, they were probably (unless they published non-fiction) already pricing their books below $10. (So much for the Big Six and Apple controlling all eBook prices, huh?) So now, the price on all eBooks will shrink... and your favorite author and small publisher will get screwed.

See, I figure the Amazon cheerleaders are busy thinking that only the upper ceiling of prices will come down, and their precious $9.99, $4.99, or $0.99 eBook will get to stay right at the same price point. That is not how shit works in economics, people. It's all about perception. Sure, the top price may be too much, but it's still the standard for "top of the line". Common perception is that all other prices are set proportionately to that top price.

For example, I recommend movies based on how much people should pay for them - full price at midnight, full price, matinee, second run (or rent/DVD/stream). And that roughly maps to the book market as well.

holyf#ckamazon.png
Notice how much lower those black hash-marks are?  That's authors getting paid less.  That ain't whining folks, that's economics.


So Amazon is talking about taking that $15 new-release blockbuster eBook and lowering it's price to that of a feature eBook.  I would expect market forces to shrink all other eBook prices by a third.  Maybe the Big Six won't notice that as much, but the rest of us aren't exactly playing with huge per-book profits here.  And with KDP Select - and yes, I know, I know, that post goes live tomorrow - has already established that "free" is the new "$0.99".

There is a bottom line for creating a good eBook.  Even if you're talking about doing all of it - art, editing, conversion, uploading - on your own and not paying anyone, it's a crap-ton of time.4

I think that time - whether for the author, publisher, artist, layout folks - is worth something.  And folks, I did my ramen-eating time.

What You Can Do

Readers: learn to sideload eBooks onto your readers. Don't let one store dictate prices to you. Buy books from DRM-free sources, like the author or Kobo. Buy your eBooks directly from authors and small publishers whenever possible. Know that once the DRM is off (hint: search "remove DRM eBooks Barnes & Noble nook", even if you have a Kindle), you can convert an eBook from ePub to Kindle format simply using Calibre (no matter what you're running on your computer), or even Amazon's own Kindlegen. Yes, it's easier (I hear) to buy an ePub from B&N, download it, break the DRM, and then convert it to Kindle format than just break the Kindle DRM. Just pointing out that it's possible to buy from ALL sources and use them on your Kindle.

Authors: KNOW HOW TO BE INDEPENDENT OF ANY ONE RETAILER OR ONE CONVERSION METHOD. Because you don't know when the folks you're relying on will notice, and start raking you over the coals.

Everyone:  Spread the word about this.  Spread the word that authors deserve to be paid.  And then do what you can to pay them.


1 Don't bitch until you quit buying soda at restaurants or as single servings EVER again. Economy of scale, y'know.
2 This is because I'm well aware how limited of services I offer; other publishers may be well within their rights to offer less. That's a different post.
3 Worth noting - I think Barnes & Noble would kill for an opportunity like this, as would any other retail company. Amazon just got there first.
4 And yes, Amazon does charge a per-download fee for that 70% royalty rate. So the per-unit cost does not shrink to zero.

Folks, this post took me a good hour and a half to write, link, and proof. If you find this useful, buy the current version of my HOWTO make an eBook or toss me a few bucks in the coffee cups to the side there. Thanks.

How to sell your eBook directly to consumers, in person, the low-tech, easy, and cheap way.

[EDITED TO INCLUDE UNZIPPING AND QR CODE GENERATOR]This post is part of So You Want to Make an eBook?. I'm working on a second version, but as before I'm releasing this book in sections on my blog. You can find all the posts here.

As Mike Stackpole pointed out a while back (I'm writing this on Easter Sunday, so it's new to me but old to you), Google decided it wasn't going to distribute eBooks through independent bookstores (via networks like indiebound) any longer.

This blows chunks for a couple of reasons.  Mike and I have independently covered a lot of them - but there's a quick way to sum it up:  When authors (or publishers) lose control of their content, they are open to being screwed.

Really.  This is why I advocate for folks to not get those "free" ISBNs;  you're suddenly declaring another entity the publisher-of-record of your work.  (Solution for independent authors - either find someone like me who will sell you an ISBN at a reasonable fee, or band together so you can buy them in bulk.)  Selling your own books means that if the Pareto rule about eBook sales changes, you can change with it.  If a retailer decides to just change your eBook price, you're not screwed.  If you know how to convert the text yourself (like, by getting my eBook that tells you how), then you're not stuck using someone else's software or service (or giving your content to someone else).

Anyway, as Alliteration Ink, my mission statement includes:
Alliteration Ink is designed to be a test bed for new strategies and methods that allow authors, publishers, and others in the industry to adapt and thrive in these changing times.
So I'm going to tell you how you can be selling your digital book yourself.  Here's how I do it, how you can do it with minimal investment - and how we can get our eBooks in independent bookstores as well.  (Yes, there's one catch, sort of.)  I'm riffing on - and expanding on - the material in this section of "So You Want to Make an eBook?"  An alternative is using the method described here, but doesn't let you have any kind of physical artifact.

I have been using e-Junkie for a little bit over a year, and I've been quite happy with the service, and recommend it.  There is a free option (Fat-Free Cart) that does what the tin promises, but the free version won't work with this concept.  You can use other software and services - for example, ZenCart is a free one that you install on your website.  I had problems with ZenCart simply because my hosting package isn't up to the database demands and it ran REALLY slowly.

Whatever solution you choose, it must have (links are to the HOWTO for e-Junkie, here's their "getting started" link):


1.  Coupon codes per product
2.  Secure downloads (usually through IPN)
3.  Handle Paypal or Google Checkout (or some other service that can handle credit cards)
4.  Affiliate Program (if doing web-based ordering)

I strongly recommend making a bundle of the ePub and Kindle formats of your eBook by putting them both in a ZIP file.  (I do PDF as well, but that's just me.)  I also include instructions on sideloading the file in the ZIP archive.

Okay, with me so far?  Set up your digital product for sale.  Aside from the product page (here's the one for The Crimson Pact Volume Three), you will also have the option for "Buy Now" button codes.  For e-Junkie, there's a very special checkbox you have to click - it provides a place for folks to enter a coupon code.   Keep track of all of these - I personally use Zim as a desktop wiki (Windows and *nix), but you can use pen and paper if you really want.

On your webpage or blog or wherever, you can set up a regular "storefront" page.  Here's the one for Alliteration Ink;  Mike Stackpole's is here or the DJ Pogo's is here for comparison.  Nothing new or horribly surprising here.  That's not the cool bit, but if you're only interested in selling on your website you can stop here.  If you want to sell your eBooks at conventions or in bookstores, read on.

See, there have been lots of ideas about how to get eBooks in stores.  Gift cards is a popular one to talk about - but I've yet to see the price point below $1 a card.  CDs aren't a whole lot better, and flash drives get damn pricey.  This isn't a big deal for conventions and the like, but that's leaving bookstores out of the mix.

A retailer is going to want a percentage of sales, and when you've taken $1 (or more) off the top, then have to give 30%-60% to a retailer, plus ship the things and do inventory control... well, it's not worth it.  So you have to cut the costs by at least half - and I think I'm a long way toward the solution.

Go to random.org's string generator and use that to create a lot of one-use coupon codes for the price of the whole book.  (Hint - if you have a bunch of books priced $4.99, then you can have them be for any $4.99 product.)  Enter those into e-Junkie's discount system.

Then you print up the covers.

Have someone do a digital variable printing job for you (where only the code value changes - you'll see what I mean in a second) or use mail merge and a label template.  I stuck labels on the back of 4x6 photos I printed at a local store.  However you do it, you have the cover of the book on one side and a little bit of the text at the very top.  Should cost fifty cents or less per unit, depending on how you do it and the volume.

On the back of the card, you put something like this:

To get your eBook, enter this code http://bit.ly/ainkstore  [CODE]

(Note:  If you want to use a spiffy QR code (those square things you see), there's a free online generator here:  http://goqr.me/)


Authors now have something to sign as part of the sale when they're at conventions.   And more to the point, the cards go to the bookstore on consignment.  When they sell the eBook, they give the card to the customer who can download the thing right then on their smartphone, or at home, or whatever.  The retailer takes their cut.  If they have a website, make 'em part of your affiliate program.  Boom.  The landing page on the back of the card should be really simple - check mine out.

Further - you can have your post-sale page have links to free unzipping tools for iOS and Droid. Put the appropriate links in your checkout page, and you can serve PDF/Kindle/ePub in a zip file, even to tablets and smartphones, without an intervening computer in the way. Links and discussion of that here: http://ideatrash.net/2012/05/theres-app-for-that.html.

The only catch is how to let people in the bookstore know your books are available.  I'd thought about making book-sized cardboard boxes for display with the cover, back blurb, and maybe a brief sample with the legend "Take this box to the register to purchase".  Problem is that I can't find a box printer that will handle the small runs I need.  Another bookseller suggested a catalog with digital publications in it - that's a real possibility if an organization like indiebound gets behind it and helps to distribute catalog pages.

It's not a complete solution - I don't have the network and reach to implement this on a wide scale - but it's a far sight further along than anything else I've seen.  And for very little investment, any author who is independently selling eBooks can sell directly to fans at conventions - and sign it.  Two big problems with digital sales, solved in one fell swoop.

This post was part of So You Want to Make an eBook?. This section alone took me a good hour and a half to write, link, and proof. If you find this useful, buy the current version or toss me a few bucks in the coffee cups to the side there and encourage me to get it bloody well done. You can find all the posts here.

10 April 2012

Sick - A 100 Word Story (NSFW language)

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! Heck, Chris the Nuclear Kid does when he remembers to (and I can drag him away from video games)!

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 at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!

(And yes, folks, while this story draws on autobiographical elements, it's not autobiographical, if you know what I mean. I'm fine.)


I'm Sick Of Trying To Be ToughShe was sick. Lied about everything- her parents, her past. Did drugs and fucked her lovers in front of the infant. Blew a grand on a drug fueled orgy when we were reconciling.

Her child was sick. It explains the shit smeared on the wall, the threats and violence, the last videotaped assault, the knife and murder plan hidden under his bed.

His second mother was sick. Her father's abuse, a string of others, the reinfected by the violent child. Gone now - maybe healing, maybe not.

But I see the common factor.

He's in the mirror.

Time to heal.

09 April 2012

Volume Three of The Crimson Pact is available - and sample stories available for free!

The third volume of The Crimson Pact is now available for your eReader!1

This volume continues the demon-hunting adventures of The Crimson Pact across the multiverse! As with all the other volumes, each author's heroes fight against the forces of evil in a wide array of settings and genres, but the action and evil-stomping never stops. If you're looking for anthologies that never stop and stand still, these are the ones for you.

Seriously. The broad range of The Crimson Pact is one of the main reasons it was the first project I picked up as a publisher. No matter what kind of genre fiction you like, there's something in these books for you. Hours of entertainment - all for less than five bucks.

Still not sold? Then let me tell you this: To celebrate the release of Volume Three, you can get "Tales From The Crimson Pact" - a sample pack of four stories from Volume One - for free from Amazon for the next five days. From the 9th until the 13th. It features Inside Monastic Walls by Chanté McCoy, Monsters Under the Bed by Patrick Tomlinson, Brother's Keeper by Lester Smith, and An Ideal Vessel by Sarah Hans.

Check it out for free before the 13th - and after that, it's still less than a buck to try. And when - yes, when - you like those stories, check out the rest of the anthologies. (Three of those stories have sequels in later volumes, after all...)

1 If you buy the anthologies directly from the publisher, you get ePub, Kindle, and PDF formats. If you buy it from elsewhere, make sure they have a format your reader can handle!

06 April 2012

The Crucifixion was Assisted Suicide

essay.pngYeah, the title's to get your attention - but this is a serious theological thought experiment.  Put the horror and outrage to the side for a second, and work through the implications here with me.

For Christians, this is the day that we commemorate that Jesus was crucified as a sacrifice for our sins.  (Specific dogmas vary a bit on the "original sin" thing, but the basic point is usually accepted.)  And while there is variance as to "how" divine Jesus was -- man, fully man AND fully God, or just fully God made flesh -- there is agreement that Jesus knew it was coming.

Maybe it was just a matter of knowing that Judas had betrayed Him, but it's not usually presented that way.  Some faiths assert that Baby Jesus knew from day one the whole deal.  (Hence the myrrh.)  When Jesus went to Gethsemane and prayed, He knew.  Knew he was going to die if He continued on the same course, and did it anyway.

Now here's my serious question - suicide is frowned upon by nearly every Christian denomination.  And Jesus effectively committed suicide by cop.

"Ah," says my hypothetical reader, "but Jesus wasn't seeking destruction.  He was doing something necessary and for a good cause.  So it's totally different."

Sort of.  Those three points have their own problems.  Necessary and for a good cause suddenly provide one heck of a big loophole in the "no suicide" argument.  They take the rule of "no suicide" and make it into "no suicide unless it's for a really good reason."  (And then we're just negotiating the price.)

Not seeking destruction seems like it would be the important bit, but there's two problems with that.  First, it's based on the idea that there can only be one reason or cause for something... and that all others are irrelevant.  Jumping on a grenade may save your comrades -- but you're sure as hell not trying to save your own skin.  And second, we've made actions irrelevant -- only intention matters when determining if something is right or wrong.  (And we know what's paved with good ones of those!)

Every way I try to cut it, Jesus knowing that he was going to His destruction -- and choosing to do so despite knowing how easy it would have been to skirt Jerusalem -- creates a huge theological sticky wicket.

Your thoughtful comments are welcome -- and if you know a way to resolve this ethical/theological conflict, please DO tell me!

04 April 2012

Characterization, as taught by the Dresden Files (television vs books)

Quick review of The Dresden Files television adaptation after two episodes this morning:  I have never seen an adaptation simultaneously get so much right AND wrong.  If you've read the books and if you're a writer, it's worth watching for this simple fact alone.

See, a lot of adaptations change things about the characters (or don't, even if "fans" think they do).  And that's okay, to an extent.  I actually like Paul Blackthorne's take on Harry's demeanor.  And that's a huge part of what is right about the series so far.  Again, I'm only two episodes in, but this is where I would normally decide to stick with it or not.  That and I've seen a few jarring things about the characters.

There are some serious changes, though - and while they seem cosmetic, they're not.  Harry's shield bracelet doesn't actually ... well, shield.  (It does the pocket protector trope instead.)  Bob the skull (Terrence Mann) is walking around Harry's combo office/studio apartment (that's right, no basement, no sub-basement) and talking with folks right off the bat, and apologizing instead of being a sarcastic ass.  Karrin Murphy (Valerie Cruz) doesn't look like Murphy (though she is shorter than Harry, we don't see the combination of small stature and awesome fighting ability that defines Karrin right off the bat in the books), and suddenly has kids as well.  The duster is ... well, a slightly oversized leather jacket.  There's no staff - at least not so far, and no blasting rod, and Justin is suddenly his uncle?  And where the hell is Harry's pentacle from his mother?

Admittedly, these might seem like small details - and in one sense, you're right.  The series (so far) captures a lot of the mood of the books pretty well.  But those items up there aren't just eyecandy - they actually make a difference in the plot and characters over the course of the series.  (Apparently only Valerie Cruz read any of the books prior to filming, and I'll say that I think her take on Murphy's persona is pretty damn good too.)

But despite the skill of the actors, omitting and changing those details makes this a different series, not an adaptation.  In contrast, while the Lord of the Rings movies aren't the same as the books, the characters are still recognizably the same as they are in the books.  With The Dresden Files, I'm constantly in the uncanny valley.  I think I know these people... but I don't... but they're too damn familiar to treat them as wholly separate characters.

It's a shame, but also a boon for those of us involved in storytelling.  By contrasting what makes a character recognizably the same person from adaptation to adaptation, we learn what parts of characterization are important.  It's one thing to hear it from a panelist or teacher, but another to actually experience it.  If you have an Amazon Prime membership, you can watch the episodes for free here, or find them on Netflix here.

I do, however, recommend reading the books first.

02 April 2012

The Charge of the Steam Brigade - 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! Heck, Chris the Nuclear Kid does when he remembers to (and I can drag him away from video games)!

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 at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!


The valley lies before me.  Sounds of muskets and dying men echo, bringing the scents of gunpower and blood.  I close my eyes on the carnage and wonder if I shall see home and Elizabeth again.

My sergeant's hand rests upon my shoulder.  "Captain, look."

But I do not need to look.  I do not need intelligence from the balloon scouts.  I do not need to strain to hear the sound over the din of battle.

I can feel the gargantuan footfalls as the enemy's steam walkers come over the ridge.

"Goodbye, Elizabeth," I say, and rejoin the Light Brigade.