Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Proof copies are here!

I got my proof copies of Saronna's Gift today! I don't care what publishers say, publishing in print is much, much more work than publishing ebooks. And since you can't tell a reader to re-download a print book, proofing for errors is much more wearing.

Here's how it looks so far.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Weddings versus marriages





I make stuff up a lot. My stories are generally set in a possible future or in a nonexistent time and place. And one of the things I consider in making up a culture is, how people pair off. I am off the opinion that marriage might change over time but will probably not go away completely. The urge to formalize a union is ingrained in our culture. That's one reason why gay people fought so hard for the right to marry. My daughter likes to watch wedding shows on so-called reality TV, and it amazes me to see the money and time people spend on getting married.

Weddings are big business right now. Some people make a enormous production out of getting married. They spend thousands of dollars on the clothes, the food and drink, and sometimes the venue. Destination weddings, which take place at faraway location not lived in by either the bride or groom's family, are an actual thing.

For our family, this was the year of the three weddings. My husband and I between us have a total of 12 nieces and nephews. Four of them were already married, but three more got married just this year. We went to all three weddings, and I noticed something.

All this year's weddings have some things in common:

  • All three were outdoors. One was on the beach, one was on a rooftop terrace, and one was in a backyard.
  • All three brides wore white dresses.
  • All three ceremonies were performed by a friend or relative, rather than a minister or government official.
  • None of the ceremonies were at all religious. 
  • All three couples took a chance on the weather, and all three were in luck.

On the other hand, the three weddings were all a bit different in that they varied as to size, expense, and overall tone. The backyard wedding, catered by Chipotle, was the smallest. The beach wedding was the largest, and it was catered by an excellent restaurant.

I don't know how much longer people will go on spending the equivalent of a down payment on a house on a one-day event, but even if weddings get less expensive, I think they'll continue. Your family doesn't fly in from the coast when you move in with someone, but they do for your wedding because a wedding is a statement of intent, and a time to celebrate. The format, venues, and budget might change, but I think weddings will be around for a long time.

The photo above is of a wedding from a few years ago, when my nephew married a lovely young woman from Cuernavaca (it's not a destination wedding if your family lives there). That wedding was a blast! I will say that in Mexico, they know how to celebrate a marriage.

Friday, October 10, 2014

It's Capclave weekend!

DC-area folks, Capclave 2014 starts today at the Gaithersburg Hilton! The program is online, if you want to check it out.  This year they even have a special version for phones and other mobile devices.






Wednesday, October 8, 2014

How I spent my summer vaction

It wasn't actually summer, since we went in mid-September, but my husband and I just came back from a fabulous two-week trip the England, Wales, and Scotland. We spent about half the time in London and the rest on a coach tour (that sounds so much classier than a bus tour, doesn't it?). The tour took us to Hampton Court, Stonehenge, Bath, Stow-on-the-Wold, Stratford-On-Avon, Chester, the Lake District, Wales (just barely), Scotland (Gretna, Edinburgh, and Sir Walter Scott's home Abbotsford), York, and Cambridge.

We had a blast! I just hope we didn't do too much damage.




Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Another free ebook!

Updated to show this is now free on Amazon, too! 

It's actually not that easy to give away an ebook, at least not via a vendor site.  Amazon's KDP platform will only let an author make a book free a very limited number of days, and the ebook has to be exclusive to the Kindle store.  None of my books are exclusive to Amazon at the moment. I only do that for the first 90 days when I launch a new book.

However, Smashwords is another story. Smashwords sets no limits on making books free, and when it's free on Smashwords, most of the retailers they distribute to follow suit, eventually. Sometimes it takes them a while, though. But in the meantime, you can get the free ebook from Smashwords in any format, including Kindle and ePub, and always DRM-free. See this post if you want info on putting Smashwords books on a Kindle.

So, I wanted to make another book free. I happen to have one novella for sale, Where Magic Rules, my only fantasy. It has magic and a dragon! I decided to make it free wherever possible as a sort of "summer sale." I changed the price to be free on Smashwords, and the next day it was also free in iBooks!  It took a little longer, but eventually Nook (B&N) and then the Kindle stores followed suit. No luck in the Kobo store yet, but I am watching for the change.  The info on this ebook, my only fantasy, as of now, is listed below. I plan to keep it free for a while, a few weeks or even months.




Where Magic Rules
Joseph Andrews wandered away from an Army Reserve training exercise and into an alternate world where magic rules science and mages rule the land. He has learned the language and taken service with the kindest mage he can find, but he still dreams of the real world.    

When Joe rescues a wounded soldier in service to a dark lord, he finds he has saved not a young boy but a woman who calls herself Phillip and insists she's really a man. Joe is shocked when the Great Mage orders him to go on a quest with Phillip, but his surprise is mild compared to Phillip's outrage. 

Part road movie, part romantic comedy, this novella follows Joe and Phillip as they try to fulfill the Great Mage's demand without killing each other along the way.  

From the Amazon reviews:

“Whatever you have been expecting of a dragon, except for being large, winged, and reptilian, it probably isn't like this dragon. He's one of the most charming characters in the story. I won't reveal any more of the plot, except to say that I enjoyed the book and its twists. While its not a humorous tale, there is quite a bit of humor in it, which was one of the main charms of the story.”

“I've downloaded so many books lately that start off well, but disintegrate a little ways in - it's a real joy to discover a new author who holds her ground throughout.” (review by Janis Ian)

Currently this novella is free in the US Kindle storeand on SmashwordsiBooks, and the Nook store (Barnes & Noble).Hopefully it will be free in the Kobo store soon.  If you want it for your Kindle and you're not in the US, you can get it free from Smashwords and side-load it to the Kindle, or you can try clicking the "tell us about a cheaper price" link on the books Kindle page in your store, and then paste in the link to the Nook store.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Good news (I hope!) for Jane Austen fans and P.D. James fans

Some time ago I wrote a review of Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James. The novel is both a sequel to Pride and Prejudice and a murder mystery. PBS plans to air a dramatization of the book as a Masterpiece Theater miniseries that starts this coming October.

I really, really hope they didn't muck it up! It looks okay from the preview, but you never know.



Friday, June 20, 2014

Yay for Kindle Paperwhite's new Page Flip feature!

I own (and love) a Kindle first gen Paperwhite.  One of the things I lost switching from the Kindle Touch to the Paperwhite was the text-to-speech feature. I didn't like giving up TTS, but I knew about that ahead of time, so I was okay with it.

One thing I was not okay with was the original Paperwhite software did not support the next chapter/previous chapter function. The Touch had it; even the Kindle Keyboard (aka the Kindle 3) had it. The K3 used left and right arrow keys to move to the next or previous chapter, and the Touch used an up and down page swipe. When I got the Paperwhite, I was dismayed to find that up and down page swipes had no effect at all.



The Go To menu on the Paperwhite has a list of chapters, but it was annoying to have to invoke that menu when I used to just flip chapters with page swipes.  I had heard the new (2nd gen) Paperwhite had a feature called Page Flip, but I had never seen it.

The other day I started re-reading an old Agatha Christie, Death on the Nile, featuring Hercule Poirot. It was the first Hercule Poirot I read on the Kindle, and one thing that used to annoy me is Christie would have Poirot sling out not only exclamations but whole sentences in French. The Paperwhite will translate highlighted text, but you have to have the wireless on, or (to put it in new Kindle-speak) you have to turn airplane mode off. Usually, I turn the wireless connection on only when I am downloading a book, but because of  Hercule Poirot, I left it on for a couple of days, most of which was spent within range of my home wifi (my Kindles always have 3G, too).

Consequently, my Kindle got the new Paperwhite update! It now has several new features, most importantly, Page Flip. The (slightly fuzz) screenshot above shows what it looks like. It's even more like browsing a print book than the old function was. You invoke it with an upward swipe and it opens a secondary window on the screen.  Within that window you can jump forward and backward chapters or pages and then either go to the new location or return to where you where. It is totally cool!

Merci, Monsieur Poirot!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Self-publishing in print: Biting the technology bullet

From Wikimedia Commons: by Daniel Maclise_-Caxton Showing the First Specimen of His Printing to King Edward IV at the Almonry, Westminster


I recently (as in yesterday!) retired from a legal and regulatory publishing company where I worked in systems support. I also recently attended Balticon, where I attended panels on self-publishing.

The thing about self-publishing is, the author is the "publisher" but not generally the distributor. He or she decides on the content of the book, but rarely does he sell it directly to readers. For self-publishing in ebook form, there are many places on the web that an author can go to to upload their book for sale to the public. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, and iBooks all have platforms that allow an author (or someone with rights to publish) to create an account, upload a file, and start selling ebooks. I have used Amazon KDP, B&N Nook Press, and Smashwords, and they were all pretty easy. Smashwords also pushes the book out to the other other retailers, as most of their authors sell more books on those platforms than on Smashwords itself. I have heard good things about Kobo Writing Life but I have never used it because my Kobo sales are so small it hardly seems worth it. My understanding is that Apple is the most difficult to deal with because for one thing, it requires you to download their ebook producer app, which runs only on a Mac. I am also ignorant of Google Books, which seems to be a thing unto itself. Even Smashwords cannot publish to Google Books.

On all platforms, what the author has to provide to publish an ebook successfully is usually a file with the text of the book (the formats accepted vary) and a file for the cover, plus assorted bits of information collectively known as metadata (data about the book), such as author, title, ISBN (in some cases), and genre/tags.

If you're willing to accept the platform's standard conversion, some platforms allow you to upload your book in MS Word, but the problem with that is, the conversion is not great at maintaining the style and features you want. The standard format for ebooks is ePub, which, like Mobi (the format on which Kindle books are based) is simply a set of HTML tags that are used in an agreed-upon standard way. Even KDP will accept ePub, although Amazon does not like advertising that fact. I have been relying on a conversion house to produce the files I needed; the ebooks look great-- nice style for scene breaks, consistent chapter title pages, and working table of contents-- but they are not that cheap and they can only be edited by going into the HTML, which is tedious.

To self publish in print and sell on the web easily, (Lighting Source and Amazon CreateSpace are the two most popular venues), what an author/publisher needs is a PDF of a file laid out in pages, with headers (and possibly footers) and all the standard info a book needs about copyright and such. Strictly speaking, you can do this layout in MS Word, but that is not only incredibly painful, it's also very time-consuming, as Word tends to decide what it wants to do in some circumstances, and wresting control from it takes knowledge and the kind of patience of a Dalai Lama.

Having decided to take the publishing plunge and move into print (now that I have more time), I just ordered a copy of Adobe InDesign, the premier desktop publishing application, which will produce well formed pages, and also ePub files. The advantage to doing this is that I pay for it once, and then I can also use it will all my books. Adobe also offers a cloud-based monthly subscription service, but they had something of a security scandal with that, so I don't want to go that route.

Assuming I can learn to use the software, I am hoping it will provide a solution to the problem of corrections. Once I put a book into InDesign, I will proof from paper copy, make corrections, and then make the software spit out the ePub file. I realize I might have to do a few tweaks in ePub, but it should still be better than my current workflow. And this way, I get two birds with one stone; you can never have too many dead birds!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Publishers: Be bold or go bust

Amazon and Hachette, a Big-5 publisher, are having a very public spat over terms.  Amazon has always operated with very tight (for years nonexistent) profit margins, keeping prices low in order to gain customers. This kind of trade-off of short-term profit for long-term growth can work in a big corporation, but sooner or later, investors want dividends, and that money has so come from somewhere, so Amazon has decided to try squeezing the middle man, which in this case is a publisher.

As this Publishers' Weekly post makes clear, lots of people have a dog in this fight. Authors feel threatened, agents are wary, and publishers and booksellers are all claiming Amazon is the bad guy who is out to destroy them. As a self-published writer, I'm less affected by this; my dog is more of Tamagotchi.

The PW article says publishers are worried about bookstores, but I doubt that comes from their goodness of their hearts. Basically, everyone is worried about their own best interests. The real problem publishers have is that they need their enemy. They can't refuse to do business with Amazon because that's a huge percentage of the market. At the same time, what's clear to me is that in the very long term (as in 20 years into the future), things may be very different.

Until the web came along, print books have always been sold almost entirely in retail stores. This was true of other goods, too--furniture, clothes, pet supplies--but now consumers can order books and other things while sitting at home or travelling on a bus or anywhere else they can pull up a browser or an app and click a button.

Some goods are less vulnerable to online erosion. I have not had much luck buying shoes on the web because I have a high instep. On the other hand, brand name pet supplies are the same thing whether I drive all the way to the store or order them online. Some products, like books, are ripe for online selling; there are so many, many titles a bookstore has to stock, that it's hard to compete on price and selection when the competition is a series of giant warehouses. eBooks have upped the ante considerably, but even before the Kindle, bookstores had a handicap.

The digital transition made things worse for bookstores, and to some extent publishers, but for publishers, there is some light at the end of the tunnel if only they could be more agile and less resistant to change.  Jeff Bezos, love him or hate him, is a true visionary. He recognized very early on that the internet was going to radically change the way business is conducted, and he jumped in with both feet. Publishers have (so far) mostly refused to leave their comfort zones. What they should realize is that change also brings opportunity.

Being a retailer of digital books takes money and expertise, but it does not take the same amount of capital as huge chains of bookstores. eBooks provide publishers with a chance to finally, at long last, make the reader their customer. Right now Amazon and Barnes & Noble and smaller bookstores are their customers. They have no way of knowing who the readers of their books are.

But they could. If they dare.



Monday, April 28, 2014

Blog Hop: Why (and how) I write

This is my entry in the writer's "blog hop," also known as a blog tour. I was invited in by my friend and fellow writer Rosemary Claire Smith, whose own blog hop post is here. Rosemary writes science fiction and fantasy stories, drawing on her highly diverse background which ranges from the study of archaeology to the practice of law. Her subjects cover dinosaurs, time travel, folklore, mythology, aliens, and genetic engineering.

Here goes!

What am I working on?

My current work-in-progress is a science fiction romance called Worlds Apart. It's something of a duck-billed platypus of a story. It's set in the far future, and has tropes from romance, space opera, and duck-out-of-water stories. Because it's set in the far future, the title is quite literal; the two protagonists are from different planets. His people have a unique language, different manners, different values, and a way of life that seems primitive to her. To him, her world seems crowded, noisy, and full of rude people.

The tension in the story comes from a secret he keeps from her, and a mistake she makes that puts him in an impossible position.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Considering I love to read and write science fiction, I really don't focus that much on technology, in the sense of worrying about how things work. Except at a very basic level, I don't know how my car works, But what I know is, if you own a car and can afford to maintain it, you can go pretty much anywhere you want in this continent.  Likewise, in my stories, it's the effect of the technology that interests me. Even more than that, I focus on the culture and societies that my characters inhabit.  As for the romance in my current story, I created a character who is very much a product of his culture, but once he finds himself in a different setting, he has to learn to adapt without changing the core of who he is.

One of the writers I most enjoy reading is Georgette Heyer, because I always felt transported to another time and place when I read one of her books. In a way, I feel that I'm writing historical fiction/romance that hasn't happened yet.

Why do I write what I do?

Well, the stories come into my head, so it would seem wasteful not to write them down. I guess at a basic level, I write what I like to read. In addition, speculative fiction offers unlimited scope in terms of creating an interesting setting. A spec fic writer isn't limited to what's happened already or what's possible.  If I want to create a world where men and women have separated into different tribes, I can (I have!).  If I want to create a matriarchy, I can! And frankly, I love the thrill of reading a finished story. There's just nothing quite like it--except maybe getting fan email from someone who was as immersed into my story as I was.

How does my writing process work?

See above, where stories come into my head. That's how it starts. I get a scene in my mind of a person in a specific situation. The more vivid the scene is, the more I have to think about that person, and what he or she is doing and why. Once I get the gist of that straight, I think through some ideas of what the story might be about.

I might make a few notes, and I try to keep background files as I write-- lists of characters names with their relationships and physical descriptions, places (sometimes even maps and floor plans), and (very importantly) a time line.  Once I start writing, the story could easily change direction. Sometimes when I read what I have written, I get a whole new idea.

After I have a first draft, I submit it to my writers' group for critique.  They provide invaluable feedback on the characters, the setting, my writing, and the story overall. I always make some changes after I get this level of feedback, but sometimes it's more drastic change than others.

Who's up next?

Passing the baton, the next leap in this hop goes to these folks who will be posting on or about May 5, 2014. I will add a link to their posts once they do, but meanwhile you can check them out.

Ian Thomas Healy is a prolific spec fic writer whose work can range from sentient alien farts, competitive forklift racing, a religion-powered rabbit-themed superhero, cyberpunk mercenaries, cowboy elves, and an unlikely combination of vampires with minor league hockey. (in the same story!). He is also the creator of the Writing Better Action Through Cinematic Techniques workshop, which helps writers to improve their action scenes.

Aimee Condayan is a mainstream writer who is at the "looking for an agent" phase. Her knowledge and skills are wide ranging, from the DC punk rock scene to technical writing. In addition to working on a novel, she writes comedy scripts, essays, open letters, hate lists and whatever else inspires her.  Her entry is here.

A. R. Williams developed a love for reading at a very young age and in the fourth grade, when an assignment for students to write their own works of fiction was given, it occurred to him that he could craft his own SF and Fantasy tales. His work has appeared in Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Three Crow Press, and Every Day Fiction. A.R. received an honorable mention in the fourth quarter of the Writers of the Future Contest in 2010.