Friday, July 22, 2016

Where Magic Rules is re-launching!

So, now that I have mastered InDesign, I am working on putting out my books in print, via CreateSpace. This is going to be a fair amount of work, so I started with the shortest, the fantasy novella Where Magic Rules, which is only 25,000 words long. I made it free a while ago, and have left it that way until now.

[For those who care, the way to make a book free in the Kindle store is to load it to a platform like Smashwords, which will let you make it free forever, and also sends it to the B&N Nook store, the Apple iBooks store, Kobo, and others, as a free book. Once AMazon knows it's free on those platforms, they will price match.]

Now, however, as the paperback is coming out, I am going to price the ebook version at its original price of 99¢ but I will offer it free to anyone who buys the paperback. The Amazon program for this is called "matchbook."

So, if anyone wants a free fantasy novella on Kindle, get it now! In a day or two, it will cost 99¢ (or $5.99 for the paperback).




Sunday, July 3, 2016

Telling True Stories

I never had any ambition to write nonfiction. I'm too much of a control freak. In addition, I love the freedom of science fiction and fantasy to write my own rules, and create my own cultures.

Nevertheless, I admire good story telling, and when the story is 100% true, it's wonderful to see someone tell it well. I recently watched the Ken Burns PBS documentary series on the Roosevelts (Teddy, Franklin, and Elinor). The full title is The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, and it is about their personal, intimate lives. This series is fabulous for so many reasons! And it's good story telling.

Teddy 
The series opens with Teddy, as he came first chronologically. I really hope this series gets shown in classroom across America. For one thing, Teddy illustrates how new our country is. He was a 20th century president, yet he was born during our Civil War, and watched Lincoln's funeral cortege as a small boy, from a window of his grandfather's house.

He was also an amazing person. He was born into wealth, but also into terrible health. He had asthma back when there were not good treatments for asthma. He was considered very sickly. He also suffered from time to time from depression. But he made himself into a strong, active person by the strength of his will and from determination (and, of course, he wasn't hampered in this by working for a living).

Franklin was a sixth cousin. Also well-to-do, he was the only child of his mother, who was much younger than his father. He had an older half-brother by his father's first wife, but does not seem to have seen him much.
A young FDR

One thing I never knew is that FDR chose his eyeglasses to match the kind worn by his cousin Teddy. I had always assumed that they were just a common thing back then, but he admired his cousin a lot.

Also, while Teddy was a Republican, he was a progressive Republican (what a concept, these days!) , and his cousins all supported him even though Franklin's family were Democrats.

Elinor was actually named Anna Elinor. Her father Elliott was Teddy's brother. He was a doting parent, but also an alcoholic with mental health issues. Both her parents died when she was a child, first her mother and two years later her father. Her mother was a beautiful woman, but Elinor herself was always considered plain. She had rather a lonely childhood, and in many ways, an unhappy marriage. She and Franklin had six children, all of whom survived to adulthood, and outlived their mother.

Over her long life, she became known as a tireless worker for good causes. She supported her husband's career even through he wasn't faithful to her, and she never spoke publicly about her pain.

Elinor as First
 Lady of NY State

The series makes clear that what ties all three of these people together is not just their name, but a sense of duty. They lived and breathed duty. They lived well documented lives, writing tons of letters and giving speeches that make their beliefs plain. Teddy may have loved the limelight, but he was always motivated by what he saw as his country's good. Franklin was a better president than husband (doubtless true of many, many presidents), and Elinor herself might have been more comfortable as a First Lady than as Franklin's wife, but both of them knew they could do more good together than apart.

If you haven't seen this series, then you might want to check it out. Ken Burns is a master at story telling. And telling you about his work gives me a chance to use one of my favorite little jokes. Elinor was clearly a feminist. After all, she kept her name after she got married. :)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Check out my book on the Kindle Scout site!

Kindle Scout is the program Amazon started when they killed the ABNA (Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award) contest. The deal with Kindle scout is, an author posts a never-before-published book-- cover and manuscript-- of at least 50,000 word. Amazon displays the cover and the first 5,000 words of the book for 30 days. People (Amazon customers, the author's fans, anyone a US Amazon account) can nominate the book to be published as an ebook by Kindle Press. In fact, they can nominate 3 books per month.  As a nice bonus, if a book wins, everyone who nominated it gets a free copy a week before it's released, with some encouragement to write a review.

The process isn't purely a popularity contest. The Kindle Press editors review each book that gets enough nominations to merit it, and they decide what gets published, not the number of votes. But it needs some nominations in order to be looked at.




My book is called Alien Bonds. It's a science fiction romance set on a world in my ThreeCon universe. Here's the blurb from Kindle Scout:

  • Imagine Pride & Prejudice if Lizzie Bennett had gone to the dance, met Mr. Darcy, been overcome with desire, and gone home with him that night. Now imagine Mr. Darcy as an alien, and the party happening in the far future on another world. In Alien Bonds, two lives are changed in an instant. Dina Bellaire and Kuaron Du both know they can’t go back to the way they were before they met. They just have to convince the rest of the universe that what happened to them is real.

Okay, that's the romance. The science fiction part comes from my creation of an alien world where a person's looks don't matter. No one chooses a mate; biochemistry does the selection based on pheromones. It doesn't matter if you're short or tall or thin or fat. No one is gay or straight. People can still be beautiful, but no one is considered sexy. Pairing off is entirely a matter of being near the right person. Once the pheromone lightning hits, those two people are bonded for life. What impact would that have on their culture? Or actually, their cultures, since no world would ever have just one.

Anyway, Alien Bonds has 30 days to live on Kindle Scout. Please visit it, and click the "Show full excerpt" button. If you like it, consider nominating it (hit the Nominate button!). Remember, you can nominate up to three books if you see something else you like! If you have any questions about my book or the Kindle Scout program, leave me a comment, and I'll answer.


Monday, May 30, 2016

Balticon 50

The Liars' Panel raises money for charity
Every weekend of the year there's a science fiction convention somewhere in the US. Memorial Day weekend is Balticon and this year was its 50th anniversary, so it was a big event. The guest of honor was George RR Martin, and they also invited back lots of previous GoH's so the crowd was huge.

Even though it's only an hour and half or so to drive (less if the traffic is good), we went to stay at the con hotel because that's a lot more fun. I went to a bunch of panels, participated in the Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading, and met a lot of friends. It was a lovely weekend! Here are some more photos of guests and panels:


Larry Niven

Jody Lynn Nye at the Broad Universe reading

Hikdy Silverman moderates Tales from the Slush Pile

John Picacio setting up for his Artist GoH presentation

Connie Willis explains where her story ideas come from

Brick Barrientos runs the science fiction trivia contest

And of course, we saw a lot of great hall costumes! I didn't get to take near enough photos because it was too crowded to be able to stop and block the aisle by taking photos. 










Me in front of the TARDIS



Friday, May 20, 2016

GoodReadsBub?

I occasionally blog about book promotion, especially in reference to free books, but also about how hard it is to get a book in front of folks who might want to read it.  One service I've mentioned often is BookBub, the gold standard of email promotion for ebooks, They have a website, but their marketing power comes form their massive email subscriber list. None of the other services compare in scope, and for this reason, BookBub is now extremely popular with traditional publishers who are running sales of ebooks. It's difficult for self published authors to get a slot in the BookBub list.

Now, the mighty BookBub might be getting some real competition. Today I got an email from GoodReads, the popular reader-centric site, which was bought by Amazon a few years ago. It looks like GoodReads will be offering a daily email of books for sale.


Once I logged on to try it, I was able to choose specific authors as well as genres, and also specify my preferred ebook platforms (Kindle, Nook, iBooks, etc), so they are not just offering Kindle deals.

What I don't know is, how does GoodReads know about these deals? Are they getting paid by someone to list the books, or do they just scour the web looking? Certainly they will money on every Kindle books sold, but what about non-Kindle deals?  Or maybe they figure if they can cut into BookBub's business, they won't have to pay associate fees to sell the books. 

One feature GoodReads has always offered is a "want to read" list. You can tag a book as "want to read," and now GoodReads will tell you when it's on sale.  Likewise, they can tell you if an author you follow has a promotion running. 



I wonder if GoodReads will expand this service to cover print books. While ordering a print book online night not have the immediacy of getting an ebook download, if you rely on online ordering for your print book needs, knowing about special offers, and price reductions could still be a great thing for you. But then Amazon probably already does that directly, based on your buying history. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Conquering InDesign

Considering that my husband calls me a “Kindle evangelist,” I have spent a lot of time lately working on printing books. I just finished a semester-long class at my local community college. The course title was Desktop Publishing but really it was How to Use InDesign.

InDesign is an Adobe product that will handle page layout, and also allow you to export an ePub (ebook) file,. As I found out from the course, it will also export simple Adobe Flash files, for say, a series of click-through screens. And, it can export interactive PDF, if I ever need to do that. It's a very powerful but complex product, and I had had no luck in learning it on my own, which is my usual method with new software. InDesign has an incredible number of functions and as a result, the menus often have long list of unrelated options. Also, it use “tools.” That is, you change the function of what the mouse cursor does by picking a tool from a list.

The basic function is selecting things, but the software doesn't stop you from using menus if you have a tool other than the Select tool in use. This can get you in trouble! For example, I discovered that if you're using the Type tool when you place (paste in) a graphic file, InDesign creates that image as an anchored graphic that won't budge, no matter how much text you add in front of it,  Who knew? I'm sure it's that way to provide a shortcut for people who know what they are doing with InDesign. Until recently, that was not me.


As you can see by the above image of a full print cover, I started small, with my only novella, Where Magic Rules. Because it's so short, I didn't even try to put text on the spine, but I'll do that with the next book.  Once I have WMR ready to go, it will join Saronna's Gift as a paperback for sale on Amazon.

And of course, InDesign does the page layout beautifully. You can quickly and easily impose proper book format, with the first page of a chapter having its own unique layout. I love it!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The self-publishing process: Should I do print?

If you've made the decision to self-publish, the next think you need to decide is whether to publish print books or ebooks or both.

POD

To self-publish in print, almost the only viable option, unless you are rich enough to invest the money needed to print several thousand copies of your book, is to use a POD service. POD stands for print on demand, a process that takes advantage of new technology that melds a high speed printer/copier machine with a book binder. So far as I know, the only commercially available one is called the Espresso Book Machine. Some bookstores have invested in these machines, but they are expensive, so they are not generally affordable for a small business. But several online companies are out there, including Lulu and CreateSpace (from Amazon) and Barnes and Noble, that provide a way to print and sell your book using their POD machines and their websites.



However, even the POD process requires that you format the manuscript properly, and create a PDF that looks like a typeset book, with all the correct information on the title page (front and back) and with proper headers and footers, including page numbers. That is much harder than it sounds! Some people use MS Word templates from companies like Joel Friedlander's Book Design Templates. Other use desktop publishing software, like Adobe InDesign (which can also produce an epub file for the ebook version). But InDesign is complex and not free, so that's a real investment of time and money.  There are commercial services that will format print books, just as there are for ebooks, but all of them have the same limitation: correction workflow. If you give a commercial services a word processing file, and they give you the a PDF to publish from, how do you correct that if you find an error later? Generally, unless you can edit PDFs, you have to ask them to make the correction for you.

Obviously, everything should be proofed carefully before you hand over the m.s., but it's difficult to be sure you got every single tiny typo.  Correction workflow should be factored into your decision on how to produce the PDF.  And keep in mind you will need a full-color PDF of the entire cover (front, back, and spine), not just a front cover image, like you do for an ebook.

Pricing

The per copy costs involved in producing a print book mean that you can't price it as competitively as you can an ebook. Amazon will let you set the price on a Kindle book as low as 99¢, but because they have to pay for paper and ink, they will not let you price a CreateSpace POD book at a loss; generally, a POD book will cost about the same as a commercially-published trade paperback. This is a significant drawback if you're starting out. One reason self-published ebooks sell as well as they do is that they are so much cheaper than ebooks from traditional publishers, who price them high to protect hardcover sales.

Selling

Another limitation is that POD books are not generally found in bookstores,. Even the B&N POD books are only at  few B&N stores that have Espresso machines. This means online sales are your only retail outlet, unless you want to go around to bookstores and persuade the owners to carry your books on a consignment basis. Some people do this successfully, others not. Some authors carry extra copies of their books to conventions and sell them to people they meet. You need to decide what you're willing to do to sell your books.

The Payoff

Quite frankly, most self-published titles don't sell well in print unless they are by an author who was already well established before the self-published titles came out. However, even if you don't sell that many copies, having a print version of your book is an advantage. You can give away free copies as promotions and (hopefully) get reviews, and if you make contacts at conventions or readings, you have something available for those folks who just don't want ebooks. And you can hold book signings!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Is Google serious about its ebook platform?

Almost a year ago, I blogged about starting to load my books onto Google Play/Google Books.  I just got Saronna's Gift loaded yesterday. I've had very few sales on Google Books, but I figured it couldn't hurt to expand. For a while there was a major hold-up in loading new books because Google Books had no filter to stop people from pirating other people's work. I'm not sure when that was resolved, because they're not good at communicating. When the new book would not load all the way, I didn't get any message as to why; it turned out there was an epub problem, but I had never gotten a notice about it.

I have to say, Google has not made a lot of (or maybe even any!) improvements in the "Books Partner Center" in the last year. The interface is still clunky, and seems to be designed by geeks, for geeks. I guess you could call it the UNIX of book platforms; but unlike UNIX, there's no graphical interface available to make it easier.  One of the things that takes up a lot of room on the report screen is the pie chart it draws to show you the percentage of books that are live and for sale.





That's a lot of screen real estate for something that will usually be 100%. 

Features that are still clunky or problematic:

  • You have to download a new CSV file every time you want to see your sales figures. There is no way to generate a report on screen.  This is my single biggest complaint. What a pain! Even Barnes & Noble is better than this.
  • Reporting is erratic. I checked every day after I ran my last promotion, and it took a full week for the books I had given away to show up in the sales transaction report. On the other hand, I often see sales and giveaways the next day.
  • If you want to run a Google Books promotion, you have create a CSV file and upload it. For every book, you need to provide the following info:  Identifier, Title, Currency, Amount, and Countries. Except that their program doesn't actually use the title column, so you can leave it blank. And you can say WORLD for country if you want it everywhere. 
The message you see on loading a book is the reason it's still worth it.

This book is live in the Google Play store in the following regions: AR, AS, AT, AU, BE, BG, BO, BR, BY, CA, CH, CL, CO, CR, CZ, DE, DK, DO, EC, EE, ES, FI, FR, GB, GR, GT, GU, HK, HN, HR, HU, ID, IE, IL, IN, IT, JP, KG, KR, KZ, LT, LU, LV, MH, MP, MX, MY, NI, NL, NO, NZ, PA, PE, PH, PL, PR, PT, PW, PY, RO, RU, SE, SG, SI, SK, SV, TH, TR, TT, TW, UA, US, UY, UZ, VE, VI, VN, ZA. It is also listed on Google Books.

Of course, if you need all those country codes explained, you'll need to look it up elsewhere. Google is a huge company. I expected better from them, so this makes me wonder if they really care about Google Books or not. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Promotion Smackdown: The Fussy Librarian vs eReader News Today


I ran two more promotions recently, to advertise The Sixth Discipline being free. That book is always free, but the Amazon numbers for it were dropping; I wanted to get more copies out there, because it drives sales of No Safe Haven (the direct sequel, which is not free, but is reasonably priced at $2.99). I blogged about my earlier promotion efforts back in October.


The first service I used this time is called The Fussy Librarian. A friend had recommended them, and the fee for my options (science fiction for the genre, and free for the price) was only $25, so I went with it. The Fussy Librarian (TFL) sends email to their subscribers (free to readers, of course), and also maintains a searchable database of free books, which contains all the books that have been included in emails for the last 30 days. I'll be interested to see if The Sixth Discipline gets any lift from this. It's an added benefit for the same price.

Of course, it might be hard to separate, because I did do back-to-back promotions again. I had a second promo on eReader News Today (ERNT) the day after the one on TFL. Interestingly, promoting a free science fiction book was also $25 with ERNT.

Well, it as been a few days now, and ERNT won hands down. TFL did okay; I gave away 189 Kindle copies, 20 Nook (B&N), and 11 iBooks. The ERNT promo was the very next day, and that one was huge! Not BookBub huge, but almost as good as my earlier FreeBooksy promot, which cost more than twice as much. I gave away 755 Kindle copies, 23 Nook copies, and 11 on iBooks! Now, a dozen or two could well be hold overs from the TFL site/email, but I can't believe it would be more than that when the intial number topped out at 189. The virtue of those kinds of number is they jump your book up in the Amazon sales rankings.

Amazon has links for the 100 most popular free Kindle books, and also the most popular 100 by genre, e.g., 100 top free science fiction and fantasy. These appear at the bottom of the product page, where the book's ranking is, but you only see the genre links if the book ranks in the top 1,000 of a genre or subgenre. Before these promotions, The Sixth Discipline was hovering around the 25,000 mark for overall free Kindle books.

This was the ranking for T6thD on the day of the Fussy Librarian promo:


4:00 pm

10:00 pm
This was during the ERNT promo:

7:00 pm

11:00 pm
So, what that means is the giveaway numbers stay higher for several days after the promo. In the three days after my book ran on ERNT, its Kindle "sales" per day were 116, 36, and 39.

I think I will try another promotion for a book that's not free, to compare. My Freebooksey promo did much better than when I used Bargain Booksy. That might be purely because there are more people looking for free books than bargain books, which would mean no promo for a sale book is going to do anywhere near as well, not even BookBub.


Thursday, March 3, 2016

Act now to win a Kindle copy of Saronna's Gift

Amazon lets anyone host a giveaway of any print book sold by Amazon. If you look on the product page of a book, you'll see the icon right below the "Create a review" button.


Interestingly, you don't have to be the author or publisher to set up a giveaway. The link appears for everyone. Once you click it, you have to commit to paying for the books you're going to give away, select the number of copies, the odds of winning (e.g. one in 100), and provide the wording for win and lose messages. You can also specify a single requirement, such as making people follow you on Twitter or watch a short video or follow the author on Amazon. You can even control whether the link can be shared or not, which controls who can see it.


If you wanted to find a way to gain more Twitter followers, for example, you could pick a popular book and host a giveaway of it.  This is more feasible now, because Amazon now allows folks to host a giveaway of a Kindle book. This is much less expensive (cheaper price and no shipping costs), so it's easier to give away more copies.

I did some print giveaways a while ago, and now I've started one for the Kindle version of Saronna's Gift. Click here to enter!

nb:  The link above will only work until the giveaway runs it course and all five copies are claimed, or March 16, 2016, whichever comes first.