Hey Amazon! Let’s make something NEW!

The new cover for the new edition - same photo, new subheading.

The new cover for the new edition – same photo, new subheading.

E-publishing will kill REAL books!

Real books will never die!

The arguments have been raging about e-books since they first became a thing, way back in 19-I-can’t-be-bothered-to-look-it-up. So far, I think we can agree, real books have survived, and e-books like “50 shades” and “The Martian” have become real books and vice versa. (Sidebar: Now wondering about the viability of a “Fifty Shades of Red: Survival and sex on Mars” blockbuster series… Studio Heads, you have my phone number – it’s on that restraining order.)

Anyway, it’s become clear to me that e-books are not pushing their best features. Why should they just be regular books but on tablets? Yes, I can take fifty books on holiday in a pocket-sized device (I have big pockets), but that’s only one advantage. E-books can do full colour photos at no extra cost. They can include sound clips, video clips and other multi-media hyperlinks. These are all cool, but they feel like gimmicks.

Last week I looked at one of my early publications: “Troubled Souls“. It was supposed to be a collection of short fiction, but because one of the stories got away from me and mutated into a novella, it ended up as only three stories and the opening chapters of the novella. Neat, but not great value for money, even at the low price I set. I’ve written other stories in the intervening time, and I realised that some fit the Troubled Souls profile. I updated the file and uploaded it, then notified Amazon that I wanted to roll out the changes to people who had already paid for the book. They weren’t too sure about that. Here’s what they said:

“Because customers may lose their highlights, bookmarks, and notes when they download updates, we only send out updated content to correct serious readability issues, like overlapping text or cutoff images.

 If your updates fit the criteria above, please provide details and specific examples (including location numbers) of the content updates. Then, we’ll review the changes to make sure the readability issues have been corrected, and then we’ll take one of these three actions:

 Corrections to distracting errors. If we find only minor corrections, we won’t notify customers by e-mail, but we’ll activate their ability to update the content through the “Manage Your Content and Devices” page on Amazon.com.

 Corrections to destructive or critical errors. If we find major corrections, we’ll alert the customers who already own your book via email. These customers have the option to use the “Manage Your Content and Devices” page on Amazon.com to receive your book updates.

 Corrections to critical errors needed. If we find more major corrections are needed, we will temporarily remove your book from sale. We’ll notify you of the issues we found so you can fix them. Once the improvements are made, just let us know and we’ll email customers just like we do for major corrections.”

But I’m not correcting an error – I’m adding content! I want to give my readers more, at no extra cost. Ok, so this may not look great from the point of view of Amazon’s business model, but think about it. Imagine you saw a collection of short stories for sale, and you knew that buying this one book would allow you to receive MORE stories for FREE as the author wrote them. A collection that grows over time. Amazon already allows subscriptions for e-magazines, like the excellent E-fiction series, so what’s the difference here?

I guess it’s that users have to approve an update to data they’re storing locally, but this is a big issue for me. I want to add content to “My Cosplay Disasters” too, but I don’t want to have to go to the trouble of personally contacting the three people who have bought it and sending them the new file. This should be an automated process.

So come on, Amazon, let’s make a new thing, a book that gets bigger with time, a book that adds new content without further purchases. It’s possible, and it’s unique to e-books. It’s something they can do that no other form of publishing can. Let’s do it.

I dare you.

The updated “Troubled Souls” is available now. The un-updated “My Cosplay Disasters ” is also available now, to be updated later with fresh disasters.

EDIT: Twenty four hours later…

I received an email from Amazon KDP:

Hello,

I’m following up on your feedback on the recent response received from our Kindle Direct Publishing team.

Thanks for your feedback about notifying the existing customers of a book about the updates made to its content file. Though we currently don’t have this option, the customers can always contact our customer service team via the below links and get the updated content file for free.

To contact our customer service department via phone: http://www.amazon.com/clicktocall

To contact our customer service department via chat: http://www.amazon.com/clicktochat

Meanwhile, what I can do for you right now is, I’ll take your concern as feature request and communicate the same to our business team for consideration as we plan future improvements.

I’m unable to promise a timeframe at this time, however, we are still evolving and feedback like yours motivate us to dive deep and unearth ways and means which helps us in making publishing on KDP a happy experience.

Please be sure to check our forums periodically for updates:

https://kdp.amazon.com/community

Thanks for your understanding and support. We look forward to having to providing continued support to you.”

Not bad, Amazon, not bad.

The books of July 2015

We took some friends to see Second Beach, still hot at sunset....

We took some friends to see Second Beach, still hot at sunset….

It’s been dangerously hot in BC during June and July, unusually so. There’ve been wildfires across the province, some accidental, some not. School let out, and visitors came, so we’ve had lazy days in the sun, crazy days being tourists in our own town, and the whole spectrum in between.

There haven’t been many days lazing in a hammock reading books, but there are three I’ve read in July that stand out.

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Growing up in the UK, I never watched Saturday Night Live, but it’s hard to escape the many SNL alumni who populate the film and television shows we all watch. Tina Fey has been a voice on animated movies, characters on film and television, and a name that appears again and again on the internet, especially when there are comedy awards happening.

The cover of “Bossypants” is quite distinctive, and I’ve seen it on the shelf in the library often enough to be curious about it. Like many autobiographies of the rich and famous, it’s not actually a blow-by-blow account of their lives in chronological order, but a series of anecdotes. Not everything in the book is something you want to know about, but it’s presented well, and I like her sense of humour. What does come across clearly is the staggering prejudice she’s had to overcome – in the comedy improve troupes, in the comedy clubs, in television and in movies. People have told her that “audiences aren’t interested in a sketch with just two women” and other unbelievable things . All of these nuggets of wisdom clearly based on no experience whatsoever, since Tina Fey and Amy Poehler took the internet by storm with the two-woman sketch of Sarah Palin being interviewed by Katie Couric. Tina Fey is not “funny for a woman”, she’s funny. In fact, she’s hilarious. Her sections on parenting were so true they made me laugh even while remembering the agony of parenting small children.

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman

This book has been out for a while, but I’ve been resisting reading it. Now that I took the plunge, I can’t remember for the life of me why I was so reluctant. I’ve read all of Neil Gaiman’s books, and a stack of his Sandman comics (though not all) and they always have the same effect: I wish I wrote with a special fountain pen, so I could screw the cap firmly on and put it away for ever. Then I would lie down with a bag on my head, secure in the knowledge that nothing I ever wrote could be half as good as Neil Gaiman’s simplest short stories.

Like Stephen King, Neil Gaiman is living proof that short stories can be amazingly powerful, that they have just as much ability to ensnare the mind as full-length novels. Reading a collection like this is like having a dozen novels at your disposal, with the added advantage that this collection includes a story about Shadow Moon, so you’ve got another sequel to the astonishing “American Gods” (another sequel because there’s another Shadow short story elsewhere, and Mr Gaiman says there’ll be at least one more in the future.)

It would be sad to think that there’s no future for short stories. Amazon made provision for authors to write short stories with their “Kindle Singles” program, and of course, there’s nothing to stop us Indie authors writing and publishing any number of collections of short fiction. What seems to have gone forever is the ready market for short fiction – the magazines that used to accept short stories and give some respectability to new authors. I hope the sales of collections like this and others helps dispel the myth that short fiction isn’t popular.

The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree by S.A.Hunt

I often stumble across great books thank to my friends on Google Plus, and this one was no exception. Having heard a great deal about it from other friends, I finally made the acquaintance of the author himself and downloaded the book. As a bonus, the edition I bought is books one and two, saving a wait when I got to the end of book one. Anyone who has read the Gunslinger books by Stephen King will feel a thrill of familiarity, but truth be told the only thing the two tales have in common is that the lawkeepers of the alternate worlds are gunslingers. In the land of Roland of Gilead, the world has moved on and things are collapsing. In the world that Ross stumbles into, civilisation is alive and well, with a gunslinger on the throne. Comparisons become useless at this point. The story is epic in scale, but well told and original. I will be picking up book three soon.

Due to technical difficulties (my own, not his) I haven’t been able to read my ARC of “Spirit Hackers” by Aaron Crocco, but since I’m a big fan of his “Chrono Virus”, I’m happy to recommend it. “Spirit Hackers” should be released soon, so check aaroncrocco.com for the latest news

As frequently happens, I’ve read a bad book this month too. I’m not going to name names, because reviews are subjective things. Suffice to say, this was a book that had fulsome praise on the back for its ingenuity and unique voice, etc etc. That’s all well and good, but I believe stories should have a beginning, a middle and and end. You don’t need to put them in that order, but as a writer you have a contract with the reader. “Here’s a world,” you say “and here’s the people in that world. Here’s something happening, something worth your attention.” If you do it right, you’ll grab my attention early on, you’ll make me care what happens to those people – whether I want to see them succeed, or want to see them defeated by their enemies, well, that depends on the situation you’re writing about, doesn’t it? But what I really, really don’t want is the story I got from this book: “Here’s an insignificant man. He doesn’t like himself. He’s got a great girlfriend, and he doesn’t understand why she likes him. He cheats on her, and everything goes wrong. Now things are genuinely unravelling for him. His family is broken, dying, he has no girlfriend, the woman he cheated with doesn’t want him…The end.” You know what? I made it sound better than it was. Not only was there no resolution in the story of the central character, but the secondary story that he was writing throughout the book ALSO has no resolution. It is literally interrupted in the final sentences by a ringing telephone, and never finishes. And that’s the end of the book.

You are free to tell me that this is a very worthy thing, that not all stories have a neat conclusion, that the author wanted to write a bleak, dystopic analysis of the psychological makeup of the modern western male. And to that I will say “He shouldn’t have thanked his agent in the back of the book for “giving me the chance to try my hand at comedy” then.”

The next book on my stack is “Go set a watchman”, despite my reservations. I didn’t read “To Kill a Mockingbird” for a long time, but when I did get around to reading it, there was still a “19” at the start of the year.

What’s been your favourite book this year?

E-book writing software: Sigil

This was the page that showed I had some problems with the first draft of the text...

This was the page that showed I had some problems with the first draft of the text…

E-books aren’t generally complicated things. You can bash them out in almost any word processing program, then just save them as html files. Then you upload them to your chosen platform, where you may need to jump through a few hoops to conform to their formatting requirements.

Certainly, you CAN make things more interesting by including hyperlinks and styles, then an active table of contents or index to help your reader jump back and forth through the book, but even so, a few clicks in Word can fix those things up for you.

If you’re an intermediate computer user (someone who doesn’t look for the “any” key, can reboot a router and prevent a download adding Macafee to your desktop) then you should be able to sort out those features with some experimentation and consultation with Google search.

Great Canadian cover

But what if your book contains a lot of illustrations? Working in Word can be problematic. For my e-book “The Great Canadian Adventure“, I used Serif PagePlus 6, a  desktop publishing program that claimed to have some special features exclusively for e-book production. While the process worked, it was a steep learning curve with several restarts and not a lot of guidance.

Available NOW at Amazon!

Available NOW at Amazon!

This time around, for “My Cosplay Disasters“, I wanted things to go a little smoother. However, only thirteen pages in, I was running into all kinds of formatting errors that I couldn’t fix.

Then my friends Amy Knepper and Lisa Cohen told me about Sigil, an e-book editing program that allows you to edit text or or html  code direct, and it will build the table of contents for you.

Amy kindly reformatted the pages I had already completed, which gave me a template for the rest of the book. Lisa lent her personal preference for the CSS.

To check that the pages I was producing were formatting properly, I would periodically save the file and export it to another program, a desktop e-reader called “Freda” to check how things looked. This helped me spot when things went wrong, as well as the more mundane issues like typos and spelling mistakes.

When I had completed the book, I tried uploading it to Amazon’s KDP program, but I was told the file contained a broken link. I went back and manually checked all the hyperlinks I had included, as well as the table of contents itself. Having no luck there, I was getting frustrated, but then tried the “preflight” check facility within Sigil itself. That found a whole bunch of “invisible” links, where I had inserted pictures, but the files had fallen out of the book somehow – in the code, there were still links to pictures that weren’t there.

Like any new program, it took some mucking about to understand exactly what I was doing, but by saving a few different versions, I ensured I was never more than one re-load away from a working copy, no matter what changes I made. Putting together “My Cosplay Disasters” didn’t take nearly as long as I thought it would, and there were considerably fewer re-starts than with PagePlus.

When I’m producing “Murder in the Kingdom”, the second “Eddie and the Kingdom” book, I’ll do it all in Word again, because it’s entirely text and simple enough to throw together. But later this year there’ll be an update to “My Cosplay Disasters” when I add in the saga of constructing my very own Stormtrooper Helmet.

WP_20150702_011

Clickbait revealed

June hasn’t been a great month for achievements – I haven’t completed my latest play, haven’t published the e-book I’ve been editing for the last six months, haven’t written any new sketches or advanced the DIY projects in the house.

Because of this general sense of failure, I thought I’d save other web users a little frustration, and reveal what’s behind some of those irritating clickbait posts – the ones that you know won’t be worth your time, but are phrased so artfully you really DO want to see what they’re about. We all know we’re only being dragged to the site so we can see (and hopefully click on) the revolutionary new diet pill, or weight loss regimen that’s paying to advertise there, but still… What DID those puppies do that was so adorable it would make your heart melt?

Raspberry baby

http://www.newslinq.com/dad-blows-raspberries-on-wifes-pregnant-stomach/

The baby moves away from the raspberry blowing, distending the lady’s stomach. Everyone laughs.

Life saving

http://www.newslinq.com/lifeguard-saves-child/

The lifeguard saw a boy in difficulty and saved him.

Cow leg

http://www.weloveallanimals.com/this-cow-is-saved-from-slaughter/

It was given a prosthetic leg.

Old man punch

http://www.trendzified.net/old-man-boxer/

He knocks both of the would-be attackers to the ground and remains unharmed.

Leopard lunch

http://www.suggestedpost.eu/mouse-steals-lunch/

The mouse chews at the leopard’s lunch. The leopard tries to nudge the mouse away, but the mouse doesn’t leave until it has eaten enough. There is a series of photographs of this encounter.

As a public service, if you have encountered any clickbait that you’re curious about, but don’t have time to watch, send me the link and I’ll check it out for you, summarize it and publish it in the next clickbait roundup.

A year of citizenship and a new publication

Just over a year ago, we took our oath and became Canadian citizens.

Just over a year ago, we took our oath and became Canadian citizens.

So, what has changed for us in that year? What does it mean to be a citizen, as opposed to the Permanent Residents we were before?

Well, not much. We have shiny new passports that mean we don’t have to stop at the border and get visas to cross into the US (saving time and $6 each!). We do get to vote now, which is a privilege and a responsibility, and means we have to think about what our politicians are doing, and how we might get them to stop doing it.

However, even a year on, it still feels like more of a statement than a tactical move – we were saying “we’re here to stay”, and since we’re still here, I guess we were right about that.

It’s been a few years since I published my first e-book, and while I’ve had a few sales and things, I’m not rolling in cash and movie rights offers. While discussing online publishing with some friends, I realised I’ve only used the Amazon Kindle programme to publish with. Since I was hoping to run a talk at my library on the nuts and bolts of E-publishing (A “how-to” rather than a “Write an e-book and become a Bazillionaire!” type of talk), I thought I should check out the other options.

The main counterpart to Amazon is Smashwords. After asking around, most people seemed to be of the opinion that Smashwords is harder to use than Amazon, but they place your e-book in a wider variety of places, electronically speaking.

I dug out an old manuscript, then downloaded the Smashwords style guide to format it correctly. It was not easy, or fun. I use Word a lot, but I don’t do much that is creative and exciting, so using the Smashwords Template and altering the style of each paragraph and manually building the hyperlink chapter headings was actual work for a change (Amazon requires less formatting, but this simply means the ultimate look of your typesetting is up to you. Mine is, therefore, dreadful.) The end result was a little quirky, with each first paragraph after the Chapter Heading in a different font to the rest of the text, but I thought that might be how they roll at Smashwords.

Odder than that was the fact that I hit “Publish” and a few hours later got a congratulatory message saying it was done. Then I got a message saying there were errors with the text and the cover image. I changed the cover image size to the required dimensions. Nothing. I changed it to greater than the required dimensions, and that was ok. I fixed the text and got the congratulations message again.

Seven people downloaded the free first 20% of the book. I’m fairly sure two of them were me. None of us noticed that I had left a chunk of placeholder text at the end of the book, because that wasn’t part of the free download. None of us bought the whole book as a result of the free sample.

I noticed a button that would let me enter my book into the “Premium Catalog”, so naturally I pressed it. This generated a new message telling me about errors that didn’t matter before, but were critical now I was playing in the big leagues. All these errors, by the way, were simply that my formatting did not match up to the requirements of Smashwords – they had nothing to do with the quality of the prose itself. Smashwords cannot detect one dimensional characters, hackneyed plots, on the nose or trite dialogue, or clichèd situations. I can state this with utter certainty.

Having reformatted the whole book once more (and removed the placeholder text at last) I achieved the dizzy heights of the Premium Catalog. Twenty four hours later, I’m still poor as a church mouse, but my book is theoretically available through Barnes & Noble online, iBooks, Kobo (which powers the bookstores of multiple other retailers such as FNAC in France and WH Smith in the U.K.), OverDrive, Flipkart, Oyster, txtr, Baker & Taylor (Blio.com and the Axis360 library platform), and others.

If only it was a good book.

You’ll notice there’s no link to my newly published book. This is because I am not kidding about the quality of it, and I was publishing it simply to try out the process. My conclusion is this: If you’re a wannabe writer and you have some basic skills, go with Amazon. It’s easy and most people will find you if they go looking. If you are serious and you know your way around a Word Processor, it’s worth using Smashwords because of the range of places they can put your book. With some active marketing on your part, you could reach a lot of people.

If you’re really smart and have some time on your hands, write two different series of books, and place one series on each platform.

In Character

Damian Trasler:

If you’re writing a script, you’ll need a character list, and if you’re writing your character list, read this post from Lazy Bee first!

Originally posted on beewaxing:

At the start of every play there is (or at least, there should be, even for a monologue), a list of roles.  The main point of this list is to tell the reader who’s in the play.  The reader might be a producer, director or actor, it might also be the publicist for a show.  I have some strong views about what should be in this list – and what should not.  These are opinions, of course, but they are based on some degree of rationality…

They’re Characters

I take the view that ‘cast‘ means the actors who play the characters.  The list should therefore be headed ‘Characters’.  (You could also say Dramatis Personae, but only if you want to sound pompous.)

Name Names

I know it sounds obvious, but the character list should list every character, preferably by name, but certainly with a clear tie to the way…

View original 804 more words

New sketches available (at last!)

Frog Man's mild-mannered alter-ego, the millionaire playfrog....

Frog Man’s mild-mannered alter-ego, the millionaire playfrog….

The Amazing Adventures of Frog Man and Amphibian Boy

The Non-Emergency Call

Minimum Security Holiday

For all my talk earlier this year about knuckling down and producing more stuff, I feel like I’ve been running behind. April was the month for editing “Eddie and the Kingdom 2″, and while I’ve done the proofreading part, I haven’t managed the re-writing, or finding a cover artist. Should be publishing it, actually am not…yet.

But this week I got a welcome series of emails from Stuart at Lazy Bee Scripts saying that three of my most recent sketches have been published, giving me the necessary kick up the ambition to get on and complete my latest one act play idea this month.

Yes, I may be building a stormtrooper helmet too….

It will look better when it's finished, obviously...

It will look better when it’s finished, obviously…

…but I’ll be knuckling down to work on “Under the Hood” any day now.

Ooh! Something shiny!