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


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.


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.


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.


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.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Story-telling versus writing

I consider myself primarily a storyteller. I've chosen the written word as a way to tell my stories. Or perhaps I mean the written word chose me, as I never envisioned another method.

But there are plenty of other ways of telling a story.

Some people use songs. I have a tin ear myself, so that was never an option. Some people use dance. Hawaiian hula dances always tells a story, as do classic ballets like Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty. Musical theater combines songs, dances, and spoken words, as in the traditional The Music Man and more recently in the edgy new Broadway hit Hamilton.

Interestingly, the modern era has produced some excellent story telling in television commercials. One of my all time favorites is this Tullamore Dew whiskey commercial; it packs a huge amount of story telling into a small amount of time, and pulls off a surprise ending, too.  In spite of my tin ear, I love the song in it.

A Toronto artist found a unique, visual way to tell a story. He makes dioramas out of vintage ring boxes, in an effort to make the viewer feel transported to another world. Each of his creations is a complete scene, and each viewer can interpret it in his or her own way.

Dance, music, songs, movies, TV. commercials, visual art, books, they're all good. What works for you?

Friday, February 12, 2016

Technology is changing at an incredibly rapid pace!

I was browsing the web the other day, when I saw a set of photos of events in history. Image #17 is of John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States.  He helped negotiate the treaty that ended the War of 1812. His father John Adams was the second US president. JQA was nine years old when the Declaration of Independence was signed.

I had no idea a photograph of this man existed! It just shows you how new our country is, and also how the pace of change is accelerating. JQA's image was captured in his mid-70's by a technology that didn't exist when he was born, or even when he was president, although daguerreotypes were being made a decade or so after he left office. Photographic technology improved over the decades, but it took a long time until it looked radically different.

On the other hand, look at two famous entertainers, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. In addition to being in many “Road” movies together, they also shared a birthday month and year. They were both born in May of 1903. In December of that year, the Wright brothers made the first manned heavier-than-air flight at Kitty Hawk, NC. Both Hope and Crosby were 66 years old when humans first landed on the moon. The jump in technology from the Wright Flyer to Apollo 11 was enormous, and yet it took only 66 years.

Who knows what a baby born in 2016 will see! I'n guessing that when he or she grows up and has a child, they may well come home from the hospital in a self-driving car to a house where all the appliances can be given verbal orders. The really interesting question is what will he or she do for a living when robots cans do so much?