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. 



Monday, May 29, 2017

Win a paperback copy of TURNABOUT!

I'm giving away three copies of Turnabout, my hot new release. I kind of like the blurb I came up with for the giveaway title:

It's not a super power if you can't control it!

Go here to enter, and (hopefully) win! Remember, paperback giveaways go fast!



NB:  This requires  US mailing address to enter.


Friday, May 26, 2017

TURNABOUT has launched!

So, Turnabout  is now available in paperback and on Kindle! I always launch first on Kindle only,as far as ebooks, because that way the book can participate in KDP Select, which allows Amazon subscribers to borrow the book. They pay a flat fee, and the author is paid based on the number of pages they read. The agreement lasts 90 days, at at the end of that time, I will decide whether to renew Kindle Select or launch on additional platforms.

Meanwhile, here's the blurb!


  • Jason Miller's biggest worries were keeping up with his homework, paying for his classic jazz habit,and hiding the fact that he carried a flip phone. But then one day he finds himself teleporting from place to place, a talent he can't control. It gets worse when he lands in an alternate world, one that has many, many more women than men. It sounds great until Jason learns the downside to being a precious commodity: Having a harem is no fun when you're the one who's locked up.



Cover by Alexander Von Ness

Friday, April 21, 2017

Formatting an ebook: New Amazon tool for self-published authors

If you want to self-publish ebooks, you need to learn some things about ebooks. Ebooks are really just files, and in those files the underlying format is HTML tagging. the same tagging that drives the web. There are two main sets of tagging schemes. Epub (sometimes written as ePub) works for iBooks, Nook, and pretty much all others bookstores. Amazon's Kindle, though, has its own format based on mobi. It still uses HTML tags, remember, but it's a different set of rules on which tags do what and how files are structured.

Amazon's KDP platform for self-publishing actually allows authors to upload a MS Word file. If you have a novel that is all text, and you use Word's formatting styles consistently, KDP does a good job of converting the files. If you want new chapters to start on a new screen, for example, you need to be sure the word style for the chapter name or number creates a new page in print. But of course, you can't really tweak the format easily. If you want to change something, you need to go back to Word, edit the file, reload it to KDP, and look at it again. If you have the kind of book that has fancy formatting or lots of images, this can be tedious.

As first reported by The Digital Reader, Amazon has launched  a beta version of a new tool called Kindle Create.  The Talking New Media blog checked it out, too, and reported on their first impressions.




The new tool is different because you download it and run it locally, o your PC or Mac, and then preview the results from within the app itself. It takes over 500 MB of disc space, but hard drives are pretty big these days. 

Although the Amazon page only mentions Word files, the program will accept PDFs, but there was some discussion in the comments on the Talking New Media post that suggetsed it wasn't really converting the PDF but just wrapping it in code that made it into a "print replica" not a true ebook. 

I'm not sure this new took will help me that much since I have started putting my books out in paperback, also. I now use Adobe's InDesign which can produce a print-ready PDF and also an epub file from the same input. But if you self-publish books with a tricky format and want to try this new tool,Amazon is actively soliciting feedback.