Tag Archives: e books

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

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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.

After NaNoWriMo

Not a winner

November did not seem to last very long. With my brilliant plan in place, I only had to find fifteen sessions to write my complete story. not fifteen days, just fifteen writing sessions. I was so confident in what I had prepared, that I didn’t even start on the first day.

The initial sessions were easy, reaching my quota of words and completing each chapter with time to spare for household chores. But a strange thing happened as time went by: I slowed down. It took longer to complete each chapter, and by the time I had reached the 30,000 word mark, I was struggling to stay focused.
Ordinarily, I would put it down to story fatigue, to being tired of figuring out this story as I went along , but I had already done all the heavy lifting in this story: I had an outline of the whole thing and a detailed outline for each chapter. All I had to do was expand that outline into the real thing.

Since I hadn’t been writing every day, I hit this wall around the 21st/22nd of November. I still had 20,000 words to write, and yet I was writing less for each chapter and getting it down slower and slower. I whined about it on social media, and appealed for help, but of course the only real answer was to sit down and get on with it.

By the last few days of November it became clear that I would finish the story by the deadline of the 30th, but I would not reach the NaNoWriMo word goal of 50,000 words. There simply wasn’t enough story to tell, and I wasn’t going to resort to padding just for an electronic certificate. The trial had been to see if the new method I was experimenting with would help me write more in each session and complete a project in a shorter time. The results are simple: Yes.

On average I wrote around 3,000 words in an hour and a half each session. I wrote a novella totaling over 47,000 words in less than a month, when the first e-book in this series (about the same size) took almost a year to complete.

It’s proved to me that planning a project out in advance is a time saver, and a more efficient way to work, which is great because I have ambitious plans for the coming year – 4 one act plays and 2 full length plays, along with at least 20 sketches. There’s also the fact that this book has ended on a cliffhanger that suggest a very exciting third- and final – Eddie and the Kingdom story.

Though I don’t get the certificate, the t-shirt or the commemorative mug, I’m content. I got the book I wanted, and the results I hoped for. I have a new way fo working, and that should be more rewarding than any certificate.

Eddie and the Kingdom” will be on sale at a reduced price until book 2 – “Murder in the Kingdom” goes on sale. After a new cover design and a lot of editing and beta reading. Volunteers for either task, sign up in the comments section.

Is it time to stop e-publishing?

Today looked a lot like Tuesday. There are school trips to volunteer for, evening meals to be planned before Karate, the washing has to go on…Tuesday stuff.

Just because it looks professionally printed, doesn't mean it makes sense...

Just because it looks professionally printed, doesn’t mean it makes sense…

But then I got to the computer and a friend had posted a link to Chuck Wendig’s latest post. Here it is:

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/02/03/slushy-glut-slog-why-the-self-publishing-shit-volcano-is-a-problem/

Apologies for the profanity – it’s his, not mine, and it’s just the way he is, bless him.

I like Chuck’s posts, and I like his books. He writes in a way that sounds like a snarl, like the words come pouring out at speed, but I’ll bet he revises and works really hard on every sentence. In fact, since my e-copy of one of his books was published with some editing notes left in, I KNOW he does that.

Anyway, I like to read his books and his blog, and I usually find myself in agreement with what he says. In the case of e-publishing, what he tends to say is “There’s no problem with it, but since there are no Publishing House Editors, or agents involved, YOU have to be the guardian of the quality of your work.” There’s literally nothing stopping you typing a stream of consciousness novel and uploading it with a crayon drawing for a book cover.

In his latest article, Chuck argues that the very freedom that e-publishing has brought has clogged the virtual bookshelves. Finding decent books amongst the dross has become harder and harder, and many people are taking price points, or even the self-publishing aspect itself, a indicators of quality. You can see the logic – “I downloaded five $0.99 books, and all of them were terrible. I won’t bother with books that are sold so cheaply.” Or “Every self-pubbed book I’ve read has been riddled with mistakes. I’ll stick with traditional publishers from now on.”

The very first e-book I bought was “Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister”, by Gregory Maguire. It was for my Hewlett Packard iPaq, and it had some beautiful illustrations, as well as the text. That was a book that had recently come out through a traditional publisher. I later bought “The Hunger Games” and “Save the Cat!”. These books looked, on my e-reader/phone, just like they did in the stores.

Then I bought a book that was self published. The author had set up a small press, but was writing their own books as well as advising and publishing others. (No gender indication or clues here.) The book wasn’t good. The cover was pretty enough, looking more professional than amateur, but the story was unlikely. Within the first two chapters I was openly scornful of what I was being asked to accept, and I had already found upwards of ten spelling or grammatical mistakes. Although I had downloaded the book on a free offer, it was going on to charge around $7 per copy, and this was only the latest in  a series of books by this author. This book had been written by someone with experience, edited and proofread, and yet it was still a very bad book.

Perhaps the problem is identifying the difference between a bad book and books we don’t like. “On the Road” is held up as a classic novel. My Father-in-Law has two copies. I read it years ago and despised it. I found the characters unlikeable, their journey pointless and the whole book depressing. Does that make it a bad book? I don’t think so. I won’t read it again, but I know that other people reading it have found it to be marvelous and inspiring and so on. No one reads it and says “I hated all the spelling mistakes, and the main character’s name changes spelling three times through the book.” As a novel, it’s done properly, despite the author writing the whole thing on one continuous roll of paper. It’s been properly edited and proofread and packaged. It’s a good book, and I just don’t like it.

Compare that with other books I’ve read, where the story might have appealed, if it weren’t for the constant errors and formatting disasters that drag me out of the story and make me grind my teeth. It’s a bad book.

All these are things I thought of while reading Chuck’s blog today, and it made me think about the eight or nine e-books I have on Amazon. I’m giving one away currently, and it’s not setting the world aflame. The last few days I’ve been wondering if there was any way to get more people to download it, to review it, to tell their friends about it. And now, I’m considering removing it, along with all the others.

I like the books I’ve written. The collections of short stories were fun to produce, and writing longer things was a novel experience (heh heh heh!) But as I mentioned before, it’s been two years since I began putting my work up on Amazon, and in that two years, though some books have sold, I’ve not earned anything from them. And in addition to not earning, I’m adding to the heap of books people have to wade through to find what IS worth reading.

I wonder if it’s time to admit to myself that writing prose is only ever going to be a hobby, and if that’s the case, is it something I need to share with the world? My plays have a publisher and moderate success – they have a purpose, in that they are sold and performed all around the world, every month. I get an income from those sales, and people out there get plays to act in. But these e-books go out into the world and I worry that they don’t sell, even though I’ve told myself there’s nothing riding on those sales, that I’m just publishing for the fun of it. Well, that doesn’t feel like a worthwhile reason any more.

All this has more weight right now because I have few commitments this week – no library shifts until Saturday, just the one school trip to volunteer for today, and the laundry already more than half-done. I have the Romance Challenge novel standing at 7,500 words, and four days of writing might see most of a first draft completed. That would leave a week of half-days to finish and revise and publish before my self-imposed deadline of Feb 14th.

And then? Do I watch the stats for another e-book, telling myself it doesn’t matter if it sells, but wishing it would? Wouldn’t my time this week and next be better spent working on sketches and pays for TLC and planning Tiniest Weasel’s birthday, and something for Mrs Dim for Valentine’s Day?

It’s not that I’m thinking about stopping being a writer. That’s something I’ve thought about before and rejected, because I couldn’t stop being a writer. But maybe I can do without the extra worry of publishing e-books. If I’m finding my head full of short stories, I can write them down, but there’s no need to take them further, and if I do, there are always competitions out there, if you look hard enough.

Answers in the comments please – vote “Give it up!” or “Stick it out!” . Remember, the e-books were never meant to turn me into the next JK Rowling or Hugh Howey, so it shouldn’t be about financial success.