Tag Archives: Amazon

Free again!

Free until Friday! Probably should have mentioned this  earlier...

Free until Friday!
Probably should have mentioned this earlier…

Thanks to an attack of camping, I’ve been offline for the first couple of days of the free giveaway of “Tribute” my only YA novella (so far…)

“Tribute” tells the story of Lisa, who has grown up thinking that legendary rock guitarist Stone was her father, only to discover, on the day of his funeral, that she might actually be the child of the band’s frontman and long forgotten star, Pitch Blend.

Lisa struggles to bring her parents together and find her own place in the world in this coming of age story.

Which is free, on Amazon until Friday.

Amazon US

Amazon CA

Amazon UK

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.

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

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.

Free e-book this week!

Yes, this book is FREE on Amazon all this week.

Yes, this book is FREE on Amazon all this week.

To celebrate…. well, nothing at all, sorry, it’s just because I can…. I’m setting “Troubled Souls” as a free e-book for the whole of this week. Starting today, Feb 23rd (Happy Birthday Ronnie!) you can get this book for nothing. Nothing to pay now, nothing to pay later. It’s a good deal, because you also get the first chapter of “Eddie and the Kingdom” free inside this book. It’s a meta-bargain. Especially considering that the sequel to Eddie and the Kingdom, “Murder in the Kingdom”, is due out in a couple of months.

 

Hmm. Maybe I should do something about that. Like write it, or something.

 

Anyway, THIS book is free, you can get it here:

Amazon US: http://amzn.to/TroubledSouls
Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/TroubledSoulsUK

If you enjoy it, or even if you don’t, please leave a review on Amazon. Or Goodreads. Or the local newspaper. Or on a plaque attached to the side of deep-space probe, if you feel alien life needs to be warned.

Sounds Wonderful

Audible logo

I’m a reader. Always have been, always will be. I read at night and at the breakfast table, on my breaks at work, and while I’m waiting for Middle Weasel to finish Ringette practice.

But there are some times when it’s not practical to have your nose in a book. When I go running, I’ve found that reading is a hazard to those around me, as well as myself. When I’m ironing, it’s tricky to manage the iron, the garment and the book. Tasks like cleaning the bathroom floor become very tricky.

So it was that a few years ago I became a member of Audible.com. I’d amassed a reasonable collection of audio books on cds, but switching them back and forth between the car and the household cd players had resulted in scratches and lost discs. I was looking for a better solution. Audible have a big range of audio books, and their app can be downloaded to phones, pcs, and tablets. I have it installed on my phone, on my desktop, my kindle and my netbook. I pay a membership fee each month, which entitles me to one free book each month.

The mathematicians out there will be pointing out that my book is not, ACTUALLY free, because I’m paying my monthly membership. And that’s true, but the membership is a flat rate, and it’s often less than the regular price of the book I choose to purchase. Along with that, there are special offers available to members that turn up often, like $4.99 deals, or “Buy one, get one free” offers.

My app told me yesterday that I now have 61 books in my library, which made me think about my most recent acquisitions. There were two books that I bought and listened to quite compulsively. Normally, as I’ve said, the books are background to a dull task, but these two were so engrossing that I used my phone as a portable sound system and listened to them as I walked the dog, drove to work and did the shopping.

File:Anansi Boys.png

The first was a book I had read years before. Neil Gaiman’s “Anansi Boys“, read here by Lenny Henry. (Find the book on Amazon HERE ) In my memory, it had taken on the sinister tone of “American Gods”, a book I’d read much more recently. When it came up on Audible, I began to listen and suddenly remembered how much I had enjoyed it. It was FUNNY! The story has serious moments, even some gruesome ones, but the telling is delightful, the characters far out of the usual way, and Lenny Henry achieves the miraculous in delivering believable voices for people who range from young women to middle aged men to ancient crones. The magic in the story fits well into London and Saint Andrews, and best of all, the ending is more than satisfactory (I have a deep-rooted distrust of ambiguous or downbeat endings).

Wool | [Hugh Howey]

This, then, was a book I knew once but had forgotten. But a recent offer gave me the chance to try a book I had heard about, but never read. Hugh Howey’s “Wool” had sparked a lot of interest because it began life as a self-published short story, then pressure from friends and readers brought about the novel, which sold so well online that it became a “real” book, then a NYT bestseller. I had resisted getting a copy, because, frankly, it sounded dull. “Wool” as a title made me imagine it was about the wool trade. I’m sure you could write a “Sarum” style history of the wool trade in Europe, and have exciting characters and helicopter chases and so on. I’m sure reviewers would have to work quite hard not to use the phrase “Spins a yarn” when writing about it.

Luckily for everyone, this is NOT what the book is about. “Wool” is actually about the inhabitants of a Silo. They have lived in the silo for generations, knowing that the air outside is toxic, and that talk of wanting to leave, or criticising the silo can get the expelled, forced to clean the sensors that provide the only view of the grim world beyond. Life in the silo is sparse, but bearable. The story begins with the Sheriff, who has served many years, suddenly expressing his desire to go outside. His wife went mad three years before and was sent outside, and now he wishes to go after her, even though her body is clearly visible through the sensors, slumped dead on a nearby hill.

This sounds gloomy, and the truth is that the story IS grim. There are many secrets and conspiracies in the silo, and the good people who rise to the challenge brought about by the Sheriff’s decision don’t always come out of things well. At times I was worried that a bad ending would mean I had listened to the whole story only to be disappointed. However, despite the tension and the grim nature of the events, I think the story ended well, and I’ve since discovered there are sequels – this is the first of a trilogy, but it works well as a standalone tale.

Thanks to audible, I have a great library of stories, read to me by some terrific narrators. The fact that the company is now a subsidiary of Amazon may put some people off, but I don’t mind – Amazon publish my e-books, after all. It also means that I never forget my Audible login, as it’s the same as my Amazon one these days. For someone who hates to be without a book, it’s a great alternative.

I have not been paid by Audible or Amazon for this piece. Although, you know, if they DID decide to pay me a bunch of cash, I wouldn’t say no….

Publishing House – growing new authors

The standard cover - minus author details...

The standard cover – minus author details…

Kids have always written stories in school. Whether it’s part of your English class, or to help you learn a language, or even just as a way to get to grips with forming words, kids write stories.

In the school my weasels attend, they’ve taken the story-writing a step further. As part of the Publishing House program, parent volunteers help the kids develop new stories, getting them to think about character, location, description and plot. The kids write up the stories, fill out a basic “Meet the Author” page and choose an outline for the illustration frames.

Then the stories, along with the author information and frame choice, are passed along to other volunteers (one of whom is me) and they put the whole thing through a desktop publishing program, printing out the story under the picture frames booklet style, with a front cover bearing the title and author name, and the “Meet The Author” details at the back. Every book shares the same simple cover – title, author name. The writers then receive their published booklet and put in their own hand-drawn illustrations. Then the cover of the book is laminated and the whole thing assembled permanently.

The next part is the best – all the published books go into the school library. When the kids go to choose books from the library, they can choose to read books written by their friends or they can choose their own books. They can see the books they wrote on the shelves, just like Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, Nancy Drew, The Hungry Caterpillar…

I think it’s a brilliant program, especially now that publishing ebooks has become so easy. Children are learning that it doesn’t take much to put your words into print, and seeing those printed words gives you a very good idea of what it means to write a book. You see your story and say “Yes, it’s fun, but it’s not very long… Maybe I need more description here? Did I start telling the story in the right place? I know what this bit means, because I wrote it, but someone else might find it confusing…”

I hope the kids who try Publishing House find a useful mix of pride and disappointment – pride that these are their words on the bookshelves, and a little disappointment because it doesn’t quite look like they wanted it to. That little disappointment is what will push them on to write more, to work at their craft until they are writing the kinds of stories that reach out from the page and steal hours from your day.

Amazon’s e-publishing program is doing much the same for adult writers, but I think too few of them get to see their work from the outside – they don’t go into the library and pick their own book off the shelf. I make it a practice to download a copy of each book I publish, and I see what they look like from the outside. Often I see little things that I should do differently next time. Formatting issues, typos, cover design… These little touches matter as much as good story. And while I work on my own tales for the next publication, I’ll continue publishing the words of the next generation of authors.

Did you ever publish your own book as a child? My brother once wrote a great story called “Mark and Markos” about a boy and his robot, which he wrote and illustrated. Dad liked it so much he made copies on the old Roneo duplicator (a thing that did what photocopiers do now, but it took longer and was much, much messier. Plus you got to turn a handle round and round until it had printed enough copies….)