Tag Archives: e-book

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.

Advertisements

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

Gatekeepers of Publishing: Where are you now?

Image

The world of publishing is changing. This change has been foretold for years, but the seismic shifts have really taken place in the first few months of this year, 2012. The key seems to have been the simplification of the self-publishing process, making publishing an e-book something that almost anyone can do.

There have been strident complaints and dire warnings, of course, and not all of them have come from those institutions and individuals that stand to lose out in the new world. Many writers are warning that the flood of new published books contains a higher percentage of dross, of ill-considered, badly-written, unedited drivel than was previously unleashed.

Well, yes. Obviously.

In the pre-digital publishing age, to get your book into print you really had to do some work. Aside from the initial legwork of putting together the right 100,000 words, you had to impress an agent, likely as not. That agent had to approve of your manuscript enough to take you one, then work with an editor to get your manuscript into the best possible shape. Then the three of you put that manuscript out to tender for publication. Then the whole bunch of you, writer, editor, agent, publisher, would have to start trumpeting the arrival of your baby, and touring the known world to drum up trade.

And the likelihood is, you’d have a to wait quite a while before the money you earn from your book outgrew the advance you’d been paid.

So all this meant being a published author was a tough job, tough to get, tough to keep and really tough to make a living from. It also meant that readers could expect a  certain standard when they picked a book off the shelves. You may not like the story, but the spelling would be right, the grammar would be good, the plot should be without holes, the flow would be right – page eighteen would not skip to page twenty five. The mystic “They” would ensure these things.

But now…. Well, if you download an ebook you have no guarantees. None. Because anyone can upload anything. I know this to be true, because I did it. I took some old stories I had written more than a decade ago, I formatted them with a few clicks of the mouse, made a book cover in less time than the formatting took and uploaded the whole package to Amazon. The whole process (barring the writing, which was already done) took less than a day. I didn’t need anyone’s permission, didn’t have to have my grammar and spelling checked (other than to get rid of Word’s little red lines, of course) and didn’t need to meet anyone’s standards to get published.

And this IS a bad thing. In the process of selling my own ebook, I have bought other people’s. Very few are as good a printed books. Most are worse. A lot worse. Even the one I bought from a company purporting to be an online publishing company, pushing a brand and touting years of experience in publishing had basic errors in typography, spelling, grammar and craft. The story, to be blunt, was rubbish.

So the question is, where are the gatekeepers? If no one is preventing the publishing of bad content, what will stop the flood of sub-standard material? Initially, nothing. It’s new, it’s exciting, and it’s easy. All those people who were envious of J.K. Rowling’s rise from single Mom to multi-millionaire now have the chance to put their talent where their motuhs are. No one is stopping them from writing and publishing their own novels, no one is going to stop publication because they “don’t get how brilliant my novel is”. No, you write that puppy and put it out there. Amazon have even devised the KDP Select scheme to help you promote your book by offering it for FREE for a limited period!

And this is where the gatekeepers will arise. Not in corporate form, but in the person of the public. Because bad content can only sell for so long. People will take all kinds of things for free, but if you’re pushing a bad product, word will get around. Before long, the good reviews are going to be the first things prospective readers look for. We will learn to protect ourselves from bad content, and those who haven’t got the ability to work at their writing will fall by the wayside.

All writers say at some point in their career, that they aren’t doing it for the money. Well, rejoice! For now, if all you want is to have your work published and available, you can do that. You have the freedom to publish and not make a penny. But if you’re looking to become a famous and wealthy author, it’s still going to take work, it’s still going to require knowledge of the craft, study, perseverance and co-operation with other professionals to produce the best possible content.

And once you’re done with the preparation, you either engage ANOTHER professional, or you become your own salesman and work your tail off a second time.

I planned this post in my head yesterday, then forgot all about it until I read the article linked below.

http://www.graspingforthewind.com/2012/03/16/are-gatekeepers-disappearing

5 things you should know about working from home

When this was all I did, I kept EVERYTHING to hand

I’ve been thinking a lot about working from home recently. Partly because I’ve been thinking a lot about the way I work, and partly because my friend Lucy sent me this: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/working_home That made me laugh, but it’s all true.

I’ve told the story of my becoming a full-time writer many times in this blog, and if you’ve read through my back-posts, you’ll have seen me go back to being a part-time writer. Now I feel it’s more important than ever that I capitalise on my chances to work from home. I keep the thought of going back to working full-time at home as my ultimate goal.

Five Things You Should Know About Working From Home

  1. It may not be for you. Sorry to be blunt, but it isn’t easy. And there’s two parts to that. It isn’t easy to be productive in the home environment, and it isn’t easy to find a job that’ll let you work from home in the first place. Yes, people will sell you books explaining how telecommuting is changing the face of the workplace, but I dare you to go ask your boss if you can work from home. He’s likely to say “For god’s sake, you’re a Zoo Keeper! How are you going to feed the lions? Facebook?” Ok, he’ll only say that if you’re a zookeeper, but I bet he doesn’t agree.
  2. Working in your pyjamas isn’t as much fun as you might think. No, really. I see this used as a justification all the time. Folks saying “I used to have to wear power suits every day, and now I sit at the computer in my pyjamas and make $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$!”. For one thing, unless you’ve got a computer in your pyjamas, that sentence is grammatically incorrect. For another, how businesslike are you going to feel, in your pyjamas? I once had to do a serious interview with a genuine TV personality. She returned my call unexpectedly early, and I found it hard to remain detached and focussed on taking notes because I was in my dressing gown while talking to Charlie Dimmock. By the way, she doesn’t know this, so please don’t tell her. One traumatised person is enough.
  3. It can be lonely. Just run through in your head how many people you talk to every day at work. Even if you hate the people you work with, can you imagine spending the day alone? You like the thought of that? What about the next day? And the next. And the next. Every day, just you and your PC, only communicating with others by phone or email. You will find yourself cruising Facebook, looking for live users to chat to for the pure human interaction. Well, that’s my excuse. If you find yourself on You Tube looking at kittens, give it up.
  4. An unstructured day can be unhealthy. Now I know that some of you can spend waaay too long in the office. One of Mrs Dim’s first bosses had his desk next to the front window and would always be visible in his office until seven or eight, his face glowing in the light from his monitor. Turned out he was playing Solitaire most of the time, and he ended up having a heart attack at his desk. What was my point? Hang on. *pause* Oh, yeah. even if you like to hang it on at the end of the work day, there are little clues to keep you in the regular rhythm of work. You probably can’t get into the office before 6am. You see everyone else going to lunch between 11am and 3pm (FROM 11am to 3pm if you work in advertising) so you know it’s lunchtime. And at some point they’ll turn off the lights and lock the doors so the cleaners can get to work. If you’re childless and working from home, who’s going to regulate YOUR working day? You are, that’s who. So if you let lunchtime slide because you’re on a roll, or start working at five in the morning, no one’s going to stop you. But no one’s going to make you go outside either, no one’s going to make you take a break, make you eat something. There are days I go outside to collect the weasels from school and I am surprised by the sunshine. If the light’s bright outside, I close the blinds so I can see the words on the screen, and then four hours later I step out the front door….It’s a wonder I don’t disintegrate into a pile of ashes.
  5. People won’t believe you’re working. If you’re a parent returning to the work environment via working from home, the chances are you’ll know other parents who aren’t out at work all day. They may well believe it’s ok to drop in on you at coffee time (read: any time their kids are at school/playgroup/college/scoring dope) and talk your ears off while you’re wondering if your partner will be angry there’s no money coming in from your business today. If you’re at HOME, you’re not at WORK, folks, no matter how fancy your home office is. If you’re working, don’t answer the door. If you answer the door, don’t blame me.

Slightly less clutter, slightly more productivity in slightly less time

So now I’m trying to empower my business, big up my personal brand, claim my webvibe and…you know, earn some money. Today (and I still can’t believe I did this) I decided to take some positive steps towards increasing sales of my e-book (www.tiny.cc/ghfo9) and so I went online and discovered the excellent blog by Kristen Lamb . I followed her advice and bought her e-book ‘We are not alone“. Yes, read that bit again. I wanted to promote my e-book, so I went out and bought an e-book. Should I just have sent myself that  money? All will be revealed when I have read through “We are not alone” and followed the advice within. If I can consolidate my social media platforms and expand my webpresence without losing my grip on my brand….I’ll be very surprised.

I have to live like this so I’m able to live like this….

Nose to nose with Moose

What Moose did on Holiday...

I was going to call this post “Work/life/work balance” but then I saw the current title on a T-shirt worn by a customer at work. Much better, if more long-winded.

A long time ago, so long it was still probably before the Multiple-Weasel era, Mrs Dim and I were busy with stuff. There was work, and there were social events, and there were outside work hours commitments that we both had. So much so, that we rarely had time together of an evening. So we came up with Chinese Night. Every Friday, no matter what, we would get take-out, a decent movie and have an evening together. Six months later, we realised that however much we enjoyed the Chinese, we felt terrible the next day, and introduced Steak Night instead.

Steak Night has stood the test of time, and even made the transition to Canada. It’s actually survived longer than the demands on our time that made it so important. Even after four nights of slumping on the sofa, glassy-eyed in front of cable tv, we still got excited about Steak Night and debated hotly about what kind of movie to get.

And this is what I think of when people talk about work/life balance – I think about Steak Night. That was us, balancing our life against work with one precious night a week. It worked, more or less, getting us through the mad early days when Mrs Dim’s Career in the military was on the ascendent, and we had fencing classes, Theatre Club, Saddle Club, Families Club and so many other things to keep up with.

But now it’s my own work/life/work balance I’m struggling with. I don’t work a lot of hours at the World’s Largest Home Improvement Retailer, but I notice that when I’m not doing that, there’s a lot of other stuff to do. We’re renovating, so there’s the staircase to build, the flooring to arrange, the law suit to persue. There’s the regular raft of domestic duties to keep up with, sometimes complicated by the renovation (this week we’ve moved the washing machine down to the basement, which meant a mountain of washing appeared during the time it took to unplumb and re-plumb. Along with a huge bill from the plumbers. Like all renovators, we have more bills than a flock of geese right now, but it’s all in the plan. Or a plan.) That all comes under the heading of work, since I don’t intend for life to consist of washing socks, so Mrs Dim and I try to fit in time for walks, for trips out as a family (even for simple things, like walking Moose down the local trails.) We managed to give Mrs Dim a reasonable Birthday to compensate for the Mother’s Day Disaster (of which we do not speak..) so we are managing a reasonable work/life balance.

But like I said, it’s the work/life/work balance that’s been bothering me the past few days. I’m still a playwright, still a reviewer of plays, still the author of an e-book that is taking shape sooooo slowly but will be very, very good and just what you need if you’re considering writing a play for the Community Theatre Group near you. I know I am all these things, but to believe it, I have to DO some of those things. I’m not going to totally blame the outside influences of the real world – I know there are occasions when I’m in front of the computer and I fail to use them efficiently (for example, I’m blogging right now when I *could* be writing or reviewing. Reviewing is on today’s “to do” list. Blogging isn’t.) but I can’t help thinking longingly of those halcyon days only a few months ago when I would return from walking the Weasels to school and pile into some play reviewing before ticking some things off the domestic list and knowing all the time that tomorrow would be more of the same, not taken up with Greeting Duties.

This is, of course, another ungrateful whinge. The regular job is not demanding or difficult. I get time to think, I get to talk to all kinds of people and I have  new circle of friends. It allows me to keep collecting the weasels from school, and seems flexible enough to cope with the Summer Holidays and the occasional half-day holiday that the school springs on us. And let’s not forget, the wages allow other exciting things, like paying for the mortgage or weekly groceries. I need to remember that when I had all that luxurious time on my hands, I wasn’t much more productive than  am now, I just filled more time with Facebook and games. So, in amongst the phone calls, washing, reviewing and carpentry today, I shall be looking for balance.

A watched phone never boils…..

I really wanted to wait until I’d heard something from someone about employment, because I always think a blog without something positive is a whinge. But, there’s also the feeling I’ve  mentioned before, about an idea not being properly developed until it’s been expressed. Makes me wonder about “Think before you speak”.

So here I am, at Friday, a whole week into February and still with only the usual suspects of work. I spent yesterday in a fever of creativity, reviewing a play and writing two and half sketches. TLC have been asked to write a sketch evening on a specific theme and I decided it was time I tackled the sketches I’d volunteered for. If you asked me, I’d have said I don’t like working that way, that I prefer to wait until I get a great idea and then work that one out. I would have said I can’t write to order, or if I do it comes out as merely workmanlike. Modesty prevents me saying the two sketches I completed yesterday were good, but the better of the two made me laugh while I was writing it, and the second one made me laugh when David re-wrote the ending to make it funny. The third will have to wait to be written up, since I wrote it longhand while watching Eldest and Middle Weasel doing their Ice Skating lesson.

I don’t know what people think it’s like, writing for a living. I can tell you what it’s like for me.

I have the computer I work at set up in the Living Room. It’s not the ideal place during the evening, but with the Weasels out getting educated it makes as much sense as anywhere else. I have a coffee-making machine ten steps away, so I have to get up at least every five minutes. I have nowhere near enough food, which is a good thing. I don’t have reference books to hand, or manuals on writing. I read those at night (seriously – at the moment it’s  “How to Build a Great Screenplay”). There is clutter on the computer desk – story cds, game boxes (The kids leave them out and I never bother to put them away unless it’s time for the big clearout.) There’s a Dictaphone there today too, thanks to a rummage in the deep storage the other day. I found it and thought I might need it for something. I didn’t, but I’ve been using it as I walked the dog the last couple of days. I keep thinking it’ll be brilliant for capturing the bright thoughts I have when I’m out and about, but it’s rubbish. I should have remembered, because I once spent several months dictating a novel into that same machine, then typing up the copy. On a tiny machine like that, my voice is whiny and nasal, plus I huff and puff like an old man riding a Space Hopper down a cobble street. I finished the novel, a children’s book, and it was rubbish. (I liked some of it – the page numbers mostly. I may use them later in another book.) There’s usually a pad or blank paper for scribbling things on, but they tend to be lists of stuff I should be doing, or things that people have phoned up to tell me. I also have a hard copy of the e-book so far, because I was doing revisions on it the other day. I’m still clinging to the idea it’ll be finished by the middle of this month, but that may be just the copy written. I suspect the actual production ( there are diagrams to include, which I haven’t drawn, and the cover needs to be re-done by David) will take a bit longer. It’s still easier than trying to produce a real-world book, since the typesetting and design are completely under my control (in that I say “David, how do think the design and typesetting should go?” David’s a print and design professional you know. I can trust him on this stuff. Plus he makes my sketches funnier. AND he won the Dame Academy Panto Dame competition in Milton Keynes. Not someone to be messed with.)

I listen to music while I write. I’d rather listen to stories, but the words get in the way. Strange, because the lyrics are my favourite part of most songs, but the singing slides straight past my ears and into my brain, so I don’t have to worry about it turning up on the page. I don’t pick specific music for different types of writing – I have a big file of my favourite tracks – seven hour’s worth, give or take a minute, and they wander out of the speakers on random play. Doesn’t make much difference to me, as I only HEAR it when I stop writing. I hate writing in silence, but I’ll do it if I have to. The best days, the days I dream of, are when whatever I’m writing is so interesting, so much fun that nothing else matters. The coffee goes cold and the music fades away, there’s nothing but the pictures in my head flowing down through the keyboard and onto the screen. When everything is going well, my hands can’t keep up and I can’t stop smiling. I think that’s something else people don’t get: Writing can be miserably hard work, it can make your head ache and slice your confidence to ribbons, but at the best moments it’s like flying. I am at my happiest when I’ve written something I’m pleased with. Doesn’t matter what. If I’ve got the idea down complete, I’m irrepressibly cheerful

So this week I’ve applied for a few more jobs and had some in depth discussions with some potential employers. I swapped quite a few e-mails with a Vancouver blog who wanted freelancers to interview Vancouver-based directors. They were willing to pay, so I volunteered my services. We talked about it, and then all of a sudden they said they were “going with other applicants.” I tried not to feel crushed, and concentrated on the online audio-book company that wanted a story re-written as a script. They also wanted some kind of adaptation done, which sounded like they wanted an additional narrative frame around the story to “put it in context”. I asked a couple of reasonable questions* and then sent them in my idea. Since they were also asking for voice actors, I pointed out that I had a fine English accent and would make a brilliant villain in one of their productions. They seemed to reply to both the e-mails out of sequence, but to be honest, neither reply made a lot of sense. The second e-mail said simply :” I concerned that people would get bored with the sequential nature of it.” I concerned. I concerned? I can forgive a typo (except when I’m proofreading) but the rest of the sentence was just as baffling. He’s worried about people getting bored with the sequential nature of the story, and he’s running a business selling audio books to people CHAPTER BY CHAPTER? Heavens, let’s avoid giving people anything of a sequential nature! We’ll keep ’em interested by starting with chapter five and then skipping ahead to seven, then three…. I may be just a little bitter.

My friend and neighbour across the way, Sue, is waiting for employment news too, but she’s been waiting six months. Actually, that’s not a fair thing to say. She’s been working very, very hard to find work for six months, and has been through more interviews than I’ve had coffees. I really wouldn’t mind if today’s her day instead of mine, because I haven’t tried nearly as hard as she has.

Following up on yesterday’s creative storm, I’ve finished my latest bunch of play reviews and now I’m going to pile into the domestic tasks. If there’s time later, I may go back to some other projects that have been a little neglected, but I also have to do the rounds of the job sites. If you’re curious about the writing process, e-mail me. If you have a script you think needs assessing, you could try the Lazy Bee appraisal service (Lazy Bee are my publishers, and they employ an experienced Script Reader to assess submissions for them. Ok, it’s me, but I’ve been a published playwright for over a decade, reading scripts and reporting for over three years, and I took a course on Script Reading with the Script Factory in London.)

*Including “What the hell are you talking about?”