Monday, October 16, 2017

I'm Becoming an X-Ray Technician!

Not really. I mean, I won't be x-raying people. But Amazon's KDP platform now offers the ability to create ae edit X-Ray files for Kindle books. X-Ray is a cool feature in Kindle books that lets you find out about characters and terms (places, organizations, etc) used in the story. It's handy especially for books with a huge cast of characters.

I blogged about X-Ray before, when Amazon created the file necessary to create that feature for my first book The Sixth Discipline. That method relied on my having created the set-up in Shelfari, but I don't think that site even exists anymore. It was absorbed by GoodReads. Now, however, I don't need to rely on Amazon creating X-Ray for me, because KDP has given me the tools to do it myself. I've already created and published files for several books.




KDP has a pretty good write-up on what to do in their help section. The only thing that wasn't clear to me is that you need to click the "Item Reviewed" link for every character or term you edit and are ready to publish. I really do like that you don't have to have done all the characters to publish. And the program that creates the list that yo work from is pretty good. It captures pretty much all the characters names; if anything it errs on the side of too much rather than too little, at least when it comes to terms.

I'm excite to think that when Alien Bonds comes out, it will have X-Ray from the get-go!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Writing technology into stories

As someone who was born smack in the middle of the 20th century, I know first hand that the pace of change has accelerated. When I compare my childhood with my children's I see huge differences:

When I was a kid:

  • Only a few moms worked outside the home; not everyone had washing machines and not many had dishwashers.
  • Rural areas still had party telephone lines; when the phone rang, they had to listen for the pattern of the rings to see if it was for them or for someone else who shared that line.
  • Not everyone owned a television set, and most who did had a black and white set.
  • Dogs ran loose, for the most part. If there were leash laws, they didn't apply in suburban residential neighborhoods.
  • If you had kids and could afford it, you owned a set of encyclopedias, because that's where you looked things up.

When my kids were small:

  • Very few moms were stay-at-home mothers; everyone had washing machines and dishwashers. 
  • Everyone had a phone and after about 2000, many had cell phones; my daughter had one at about age 10.. After the Columbine shooting, I wanted to be able to call her any time. 
  • People owned multiple TVs, some of them huge, and all of them with color screens.
  • Only people with really well trained dogs ever let them run loose. 
  • If you could afford it, you had internet access, either dial-up or DSL. Encyclopedia salesman were out of business. 
Actually, my kids are about six years apart in age, and even that made a difference in when technology influenced their lives. My son was a teenager before he got a cell phone. 

Putting the detection in detective fiction

I was thinking about this recently because I read a fair amount of  older novels, very often mystery novels. Publishers (or in some cases authors) are willing to price older titles very reasonably in ebook form, so I often pick them up even if I don't know the author. I can't always tell when the book was published because usually the date shown in the meta data is the date of the ebook only, so I look for clues as to when the story is set. If there are no references to dates or to world events, it can be difficult to tell if a story is set in 1910 or 1930 or even 1940. After WWII, some differences appear-- cars, and telephones become more common. But from about 1970 to 1990, it can be difficult to pin down the time frame. 

The one thing that makes it clear a book is set in the last 20 or so years is the presence of cell phones. in fact, if it's only a cell phone, with a physical keyboard and no web browsing ability, it's usually set in the 1990s.  

Tomorrow's technology today

As someone who writes science fiction, I pay attention to how people use technology.  I can tell you the cell phone has had a huge impact on fiction. Nowadays, if a writer wants to strand a character in the middle of nowhere or lock them in a haunted house or otherwise make them inaccessible, he has to account for the character's cell phone.

And of course, in stories set in the far future, the trick nowadays is to guess how the future will work. Which can be damned hard when it seems like the future is happening every day. When we look at the communicators in StarTrek TOS, we might wonder why Mr Spock needs a communicator and a tri-corder. If our "phones" can do so much, why can't theirs? 

But of course, another factor is, what do people want technology to do? Do they really want a device sitting on the kitchen counter than can hear and possibly see everything that goes on?  Will they trade convenience for privacy? 

I guess the future will tell.








Thursday, September 7, 2017

Turnabout is now in other ebook stores!

I always launch new ebooks in KDP Select, which means they're only available on Amazon, but eventually, I let that enrollment expire and launch in other stores.  That has happened with my newest novel Turnabout, now available as follows:

Buy links

US Kindle store (also available in every other Kindle store)
iBooks
B&N Nook
And as a paperback: AmazonBarnes & Noble

Updated: Finally got Google Books to accept my file; or rather, their tech staff did. I have to say both B&N and Google Books could make their interface easier to use.

From the first Amazon review:
"This is a fascinating story, looking at a lot of society’s issues from a different view point, but still exploring them in a very interesting way. Buxton creates some wonderful characters to tell this story. Marjani and Esi are two that stand out amongst a cast of exceptionally well written characters that don’t just tell this story, but through their portrayals give us a true understanding of what it is like to live in this alternate universe.
Buxton has also done an interesting job of creating Makoro, building this alternate universe and timeline, and how it has evolved under such different circumstances."
And, as a bonus, I dropped the ebook price to $2.99, at least for now.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

I'm about to give birth to a new series!

I have a new 3-book series planned. All three books take place in my ThreeCon universe and all are set on the planet Wakanreo, so I'm calling it the Wakanreo series. The first title is called Alien Bonds. I just updated the Coming Soon page to include the back cover blurb. As that update says, this one is a science fiction romance.  Here's a little piece of the cover draft.



The entire premise behind the series is that a culture is affected by what the rules are for couples pairing off. On Wakanreo, the native sentience species doesn't select their mates. The process is purely biological.  When an un-mated adult gets close to someone to the first time, it either happens or it doesn't but it can't be controlled— not to make it happen and not to stop it from happening.

What would a society be like with that kind of mate selection process? As I envision Wakanrean societies, looks would matter a hell of a lot less. Also, there would no real stratification of classes, and no contempt for people in menial positions. And since there is no control over mating, there is also no shame over it, regardless of who it happens with.

On the other hand, what happens when the person you mate with is a thief or a murderer? What if you're bound for life to someone who doesn't respect you or just plain doesn't like you? So much for happily ever after. Imagine what that would do to fairy tales, ballads, great literature?

The second book will be called Alien Vows, and the third Alien Skies. I have a rough draft of Books 2 and 3, but they both need a lot of work. Book 1, though, is getting close! The cover is almost ready, too.

I feel like I should go buy some candy cigars to hand out.

Friday, August 18, 2017

A Kindle feature for writers

One thing my lovely Kindle Voyage doesn't do is read out loud. Older Kindle models can read aloud, though, and I keep an old Kindle Touch for just that reason. Because I'm my own production department, I sometimes make edits even after the copy editor has gone over the book. For one thing, some of her question/comments make it clear I need to re-write a sentence or even a paragrah. This means I can introduce new errors,

When I'm getting a book to the page-layout stage, I send a copy of the file to the Kindle Touch and then have the KT read the m.s. aloud to me, while I follow along in InDesign, the page-layout software I use. I find that proofing this way makes it much easier to identify mistakes. On the screen or even on paper, I can read a line like this:

"Yes," she said, "I do plan go with you,"

. . . and totally miss that the word "to" is missing! So long as the missing word is tiny, my brain just fills in whatever is left out. But when I hear that sentence read aloud, the mistake is completely obvious. In addition to errors, sometimes I realize I have used the same word too often, just from hearing it over and over. Whatever the problem, I stop the robot voice, make the correction and then go on.

Another advantage is, I get to hear how someone might pronounce any made-up words. I'm working on a new manuscript, a science fiction romance called Alien Bonds. It's a novel set on an alien world with a lot of made-up names and words. When the robot voice tries to pronounce my invented words, sometimes it's the way I would pronounce it and sometimes it's a little different. Sometimes I like it better, and sometimes I think it sounds totally wrong. But either way, it gives me information.

I assume that the reason the newer Kindles don't read aloud is that not enough Kindle owners were using that feature. It's by no means a substitute for audio books, by the way. The robot voice does not do a great job at inflection and pacing. It will recognize that a sentence ends with a question mark, and infect the proper questioning tone, but it won't pause at all before the next word. It will pause for commas and periods, just not question marks. Go figure!  Also, the robot voice has to guess whether to pronounce "read" as "reed or "red" and so on. There are a fair number of heteronyms, like bow (either a weapon or a polite action) which can make for humorous mistakes Sadly, I don't think Amazon will do any work on improving the robot voice. But they might add speakers to future Kindles if audio book sales pick up.

The robot voice is a  reasonably fast reader (you can control the pace) but it takes a lot of concentration so I work slowly. I will post a photo of the cover of Alien Bonds soon, as it's almost ready.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Dueling promotions and Amazon lets me see the future!

I've been running two promotions this month, one to advertise that Turnabout is only 99¢ (for a few days only) and one to advertise that The Sixth Discipline is free.

One advantage to advertising a book, even a free one, is if you sell or give away enough copies it gets into Amazon's ranked groups (100 top free science fiction, e.g,), and folks who didn't get the email promotion notice it.  Turnabout did okay, It made it to:


But The Sixth Discipline jumped up to:
Even though the email promotion for T6D was Friday, it's still going strong; I've given away over 200 copies today.. But in checking for free downloads via the KDP interface,I discovered something I had never noticed. Using my phone (I was walking the dog and when we stopped to rest in the shade, I checked my numbers), the Sales Dashboard tab let me select tomorrow's date as part of my date range! And when I did that, I could see I already have 23 downloads, presumably from time zones where it's already August 6. 

The screen shot below was created in Firefox, as I discovered the Chrome browser didn't let me select a one-day future date, but the Firefox version did.  I highlighted the date range so you can see it's for those two days. I couldn't include Thursday because it had over 1,000 downloads and that would make tomorrow's 23 too small to show as more than a tiny blue line.



The really odd thing is, I was using Chrome for Android on my phone when I noticed this! 

Also note, these numbers are for Amazon only. iBooks and B&N take a little longer to report "sales figures" because I get them via Smashwords. 






Monday, July 24, 2017

Praise for TURNABOUT

Scottish book blogger David Killie posted a lovely review of Turnabout on his blog An Eclectic Bookshelf. David is indeed an eclectic reader, You should check out his blog if you're interested in finding new books to read.

Here's an excerpt from the review:

"Overall, this was an entertaining read with a creative and engrossing story which had me hooked very early on. Don't be fooled by the initial chapters on teleportation, this novel is much more than that and I think it would specifically appeal to those who like Sci-Fi novels which explore dystopian alternative societies. Personally, I really hope that there is a sequel in the future as I want to know more about the interaction between our own world and the alternative one."

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Smashwords Summer sale is on!

Smashwords is an ebook retailer and distributor. Authors and small press publishers use Smashwords to sell their books on that site, and to push them out to retail partners, like iBooks, B&N Nook store, Kobo, and others. The summer sale lasts through the end of July and applies only to sales directly from Smashwords. However, since they provide ebooks in both epub and Kindle formats, it's not limiting to buy from them. Their FAQ has lots of info on how to get the ebook file to your Kindle or other ereader.

All my books on Smashwords (which is all my titles except for Turnabout) are either free or half price ($1.50 instead of $2.99) during this sale. Check out my Smashwords author page to see my books or browse the catalog of sale books. Use the special coupon code (e.g., SSW50 for half price books) when you check out.

Please post a comment here if you have any questions on or problems with the sale.

And have a happy 4th of July!


Friday, June 16, 2017

Win a Kindle copy of TURNABOUT!

I'm running another giveaway of Turnabout, but for a Kindle copy this time. There are still two copies left to win!


The giveaway runs until June 29 or until all copies are claimed.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Amazon has redesigned the Kindle Highlights page

Kindle readers have, from day one, had the ability to highlight text in Kindle books, and to add notations. I blogged about this in 2011, because it's a very useful feature for book reviewers. While you are reading, highlighted text appears shaded (on a Kindle Fire you can choose shading colors) and notes look like footnote references. But what makes this feature so useful is you can access these notes and highlights from your web browser, which means you can copy and paste them into a Word document or blog post or email or whatever.

Now Amazon had redesigned the web interface, and changed the URL. Here's the old look, which was accessed from https://kindle.amazon.com/your_highlights:



Usable, but pretty bland, no?

Here's the new look, accessed from https://read.amazon.com/kp/notebook:



Not only is it visually more interesting, because of the book cover from on the left, but the edit and delete notes and delete highlights buttons are easier to see. When you sync your Kindle, edits you made to the web version are copied back to your Kindle. That's pretty cool! 

Sadly, they did not change the limitation that makes this page only display notes and highlight from books bought at the Kindle store. Any other item on your Kindle, whether it's an MS Word doc containing your shopping list, or a Project Gutenberg copy of War and Peace, is treated as a "personal document." It can be highlighted and annotated on the Kindle, but those will not appear in the web interface. 

Even the look of the tab in the browser is different. New on the left, old on the right:



What I find most interesting is that Amazon has spent the time and money to enhance an existing feature, which suggests that readers are, in fact, using that feature. I can only assume they use the data they collect to plan their development efforts. If so, I wonder if the growth in audio-books will make them restore the read-aloud function, which is not available on the new e-ink models, like the Voyage and the Paperwhite.  They put some development into helping people with limited or no vision with the Voiceview feature, so I would hope they wouldn't give up on read-aloud Kindles. 

Updated: I miss the Update button! It seems slower to load to me, although that might be a function of  Chrome since it seemed to load OK with Edge.