Monday, November 28, 2016

Is POD about to change publishing?

The Digital Reader blog has a post about a new Amazon feature called Amazon Print on Demand (available only on Amazon UK, as far as can be determined. Correction: a later commenter identified four such sites, in the UK, Germany, Japan, and the US). It's very much like CreateSpace, Amazon's service for self-publishing in print, but it's intended for publishers. According to the post, there are some small and one large publishers signed on to use it in the UK.

Here's why I find this potentially exciting. Right now a publisher takes a risk in publishing a book. They have to guess how many copies they should print. Print too many, and the books take up space in a warehouse; don't print enough, and bookstores run out, and (potentially) sales are lost if the reader can't get the book when they want it. Having the book available for sale online via POD means the customer can always get the book but there are not unsold copies lying around. This could mean publishers would be more willing to risk publishing books by new and unknown authors.

Of course, the downside is, it pushes more sales to online, which publishers don't like because they don't want Amazon to control even more of the market. This may considerably slow down the adoption of POD for big publishers. Publishers could always sell direct, of course, but they don't have much of a built-in online customer base compared to Amazon.

Barnes & Noble has their own POD online service for self-publishing called Nook Press Print. I wonder if this could push Barnes & Noble to either create a publisher version or add more Espresso Book Machines to their brick & mortar stores?  Or both?

We live in interesting times.

Monday, October 31, 2016

World Fantasy Convention Report

This year's WFC was held in Columbus, Ohio, USA.  Guests of Honor were Mercedes Lackey, Larry Dixon, L.E. Modesitt, Jr,  and Randal Spangler with Jane Yolen as toastmistress. 

Turnout was on the low side, partly due to a kerfuffle over the programming and partly over the fact that Columbus isn't a huge draw as a tourist destination. But those who made the pilgrimage to Columbus enjoyed a fun convention with a nice memorial to the late David Hartwell, who passed away suddenly last year. 

The con suite was very conveniently placed on the ground floor, and the con suite staff provided much more substantial food than at man cons, although it was usually gone very quickly, it was still a nice change from just a bowl of M&Ms and a bag of potato chips.

This year I attended WFC as a member of Broad Universe, spending some time staffing the BU table in the dealer's room and also organizing the Rapid Fire Reading.  I had everything set up, from cough drops to water glasses, but I forgot to get someone to take a photo of the reading!

Oh, well!  Here are my other WFC photos. 

The bag o' books! 

View from the 18th floor

Con suite lunch

Reading by Carol Berg

Andy Duncan reading

World fantasy Award judges's panel

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Barnes & Noble Nook Press Print vs Amazon CreateSpace

I have used CreateSpace, Amazon's print-on-demand (POD) service to publish three of my books in paperback. The way CreateSpace works is, you upload files for the interior of the book and for the cover, and Amazon then sells the books online. Unlike traditional publishing, they don't print multiple copies and wait for them to sell; they print single copies using an Espresso Book Machine only once someone has ordered a copy. However, the author/publisher can order bulk copies at a lower price directly from CreateSpace (not from and sell those copies themselves. This also makes it cheaper to get print copies for contest giveaways and to give reviewers.


Recently, Barnes & Noble decided to get into the act and announced that Nook Press would also let you create a POD book that would then be for sale on the Barnes & Noble online store.  I decided to try it. I uploaded virtually the same files for King of Trees that I had used on CreateSpace (I did have change to make the cover file a teensy bit smaller) and was able to publish using Barnes & Noble's Nook Press Print.

CreateSpace copy on left. B&N on right.
I ordered a copy from each vendor, and as you can see, the difference in appearance between the two is minimal. In real life as opposed to this not-that-great photo, the gold lettering on the B&N cover was a little brighter than it was in the CreateSpace cover. The only other concrete difference was in the back cover, which I thought was cleaner-looking on the Amazon copy. Note the bar code area on the back of the book.  CreateSpace does not print the price and Nook Press does.

Amazon left; B & N right

Some differences I observed:

  • On both platforms, the vendor sets a minimum price you can charge for the book, based on size, but interestingly, it was almost $1.50 lower on Barnes & Noble than on Amazon.  Of course, the royalty per book is lower, too, by almost the same amount. And, because of shipping costs, a customer might well pay more on B&N, as Amazon make CreateSpace books eligible for free shipping for Prime members. 
  • Both vendors let you do bulk orders at a lower price, but B&N sets a 125 copy minimum. Possibly, they use a different press for those orders, and not the Espresso. CreateSpace lets you "bulk" order as few copies as you like, but the shipping costs make it cheaper than retail only if you get at least 8 or 10. 
  • CreateSpace will distribute to Amazon in some other countries, and to other vendors, including B&N. Note that you make a teeny-tiny royalty for non-Amazon sales.  Nook Press only goes to B&N online. 
  • CreateSpace lets you order an actual print proof copy before you put the book up for sale on Amazon. If Nook Press does that, I could not find out how to do it. The only preview I could see was online. 
  • Amazon is better at tweaking the PDF files for you if there is a minor problem. Nook Press just states the problem and tells you to fix it.
  • I would give the Create-Space interface the edge over Nook Press, partly because I could not figure out a way to bulk order; there is a tab for Orders in the Nook dashboard, but all that happens when you click it is you get an empty screen that says "No orders yet." Because of that, I cannot compare the bulk order prices. Not that I would actually order 125 copies, but I would have liked to initiate the process to at least find out the per copy price. Update: I found the Order link! It was right near the Edit link. In spite of what the FAQ said (as I understood it), you can in fact oder just one copy; 125 is the maximum number, not the minimum. The bulk order price for KoT on B&N Nook is $6.92, versus $5.00 on Kindle. 
  • On the other hand, Nook Press does let you link the print book to an existing ebook during the publishing process, which CreateSpace doesn't do. Amazon does link the two copies up after a few days, but it's annoying that you have to wait and hope it happens. 
  • Nook Press was very slow to actually put my book on sale; it spent about a week in pending status. On the other hand, replacing the front cover of the Nook ebook (I got a new cover when I decided to do print) was really quick, but Amazon took several days to disseminate the new cover for the Kindle version after I had changed it in KDP.  That's not really a print book issue, but it's only fair to mention it.
  • I did not see any indication that B&N offers anything like Kindle Matchbook, which lets you give away (or sell really cheaply) the Kindle version of the book to anyone who buys the paperback.

From the help screens, it looks like if a Nook Press Print book sells enough copies, you can ask B&N to carry it in stores, but it doesn't say how many copies that is.

If you want to check King of Trees out online, here's the link for B&N, and for Amazon.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Capclave 2016

This past weekend I attended Capclave, the DC-area science fiction convention, held this year in Gaithersburg, MD.  The photo above was taken from the window of the con hotel. The cat seemed to be watching me as much as I was watching him, and I liked the composition the photo had, with diagonal lines and the gray cat on gray concrete; only the orange fire lane line provides strong color. 

The con went off pretty well, with no observable hitches. The con organizers even dealt well with the unexpected passing of Doug Fratz, a local fan and critic/reviewer of long standing. They covered his scheduled events and held a memorial for him.  

I was on three panels and also held a reading. I also arranged with the proprietor of Novel Books, an independent bookstore in Clarksburg, MD, to stock my print books. And of course, I had fun going to readings and catching up with old friends, including Scott Edelman, who was on the Well Worn Classics panel with me, our first panel together. 

And in about 10 days, I'll be heading out to my last convention of the year, the World Fantasy Convention, in Columbus, OH. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Win a free paperback copy of King of Trees!

All free copies have been claimed! 

To celebrate the launch of King of Trees in print. I'm hosting an Amazon giveaway of 3 copies of the paperback. Go here to try your chances!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

East met West a long time ago, and in King of Trees, too

lengthy article by blogger and historical novelist Ben Thomas about some ancient Chinese skeletons (or do I means skeletons of ancient Chinese people?) found at a site dating back to Roman Britain is interesting, because no one knew the Chinese had gotten that far west. It's especially interesting to me, as my newest book to launch in print, King of Trees, is set in an alternate universe and includes an alternate Britain, where Boudicca won and drove the Romans out of Britain. The story includes the arrival of an invasion fleet from an alternate Chinese empire.

The point of the article is that Asia in general and China in particular were, in many ways, more advanced than Rome. Thomas lists some of the empires that covered parts of the Middle East, India, and China, and articulates something I have observed myself. The ancient Chinese concept that heaven ordains who will be emperor was actually very pragmatic. When the divine emperor was overthrown, it didn't mean there were no gods. It simply meant heaven had willed the change. Life could go on and everyone could shift their allegiance to the new emperor with no problems.

My Chinese empire not only invented gunpowder, they made guns; this article doesn't mention weapons much, but the ancient Chinese in our world also invented gunpowder but didn't use it for much except fireworks and primitive rockets and grenades.

But meanwhile, King of Trees is now available as a paperback on Amazon and on Barnes and Noble with its brand new cover!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

King of Trees is coming to print!

I have been working with book cover designer Alexander von Ness to get a new cover made for King of Trees, which will also launch as a print book.  This is what the print version will look like, with just one minor tweak.

I'm very excited about this cover! I think it does a much better job of conveying the themes of the story than the first one, which was thrown together in a hurry.  I can't wait for this change to happen! 

Stranded in an alternate time line, a small group of time travelers alter the course of history in a version of Britain that never had an Industrial Revolution. The settlers help dethrone the Druid-backed monarchy, but generations later, Bardolph Patrickson, loyal son, hardworking blacksmith, and King of Albion, must work with their descendants to keep the island nation free of new invaders.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Where Magic Rules has launched in print!

My fantasy novella Where Magic Rules is now available as a paperback as well as an ebook. The paperback is $5.99 but if you buy it, the Kindle version is free. If you buy the Kindle version alone, it's 99¢.

Note that the paperback is also available on Barnes & Noble for the same price, but that does store not offer the ebook version for free.

Here's a quote from my celebrity review of WMR by singer/songwriter Janis Ian:

"The story hooked me pretty quickly, which is no great feat in an experienced writer. However, it kept me hooked, which IS difficult when you have an omnivorous reader looking at your work with a jaundiced eye. 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."

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.

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. :)