Wednesday, August 8, 2018

eBooks can be corrected and Kindle books often are!

Any book can have errors, but one book that's almost bound to have errors is an old, out-of-print (or even out-of-copyright) title that is published as an ebook by scanning the printed pages and then converting the resulting file into epub or Kindle format without carefully proofing every word. It might be because the pages weren't in great shape or it might be because the scanner wasn't the latest and greatest, but those kinds of books almost always have some errors. Sometimes they have many errors.

A lot of readers probably pay no attention, but in fact Kindle books are often updated after publication. This could be for reasons other than errors; the publisher might have added content, or enabled a new feature like X-Ray. But since the  Kindle interface provides a way for the user to report content errors, I'm guessing the most common reason is fixing a typo or several typos.  [Note: This only works on an actual Kindle. The Kindle app on my Android phone, my PC, and my tablet do not have this function. I don't know about the iPhone and/or iPad versions. If you know, please leave me a comment.]

If you feel like it, you can send Amazon info about errors using the menu that pops up when you highlight text.  The example below is highly typical of the kind of errors you'll see in scanned books. "For two pins" was a common expression, but the scanner made it into "Pot two pins."

Once you tap the three dots to get the menu, you see an option to report a content error. 

Amazon now asks you to identify the error.

In this case, I tapped Typo.

This gave me a screen where I could input the correction. In a way, Amazon is making readers into proofreaders. 

Once you click submit, you get a screen telling you the error will be submitted. But assuming that the publisher acts on these notices, how do you get a corrected file? Well, corrections and changes happen all the time, but Amazon doesn't automatically reload the book because doing so with no warning could wipe out a reader's notes and highlights and lose his place in the book. If a publisher has uploaded a corrected ebook that you bought from Amazon, that shows in your list of  Kindle books, accessible in your browser when you're on The list appears under the heading  "Content and Devices"  and updates are obvious. 

If you click the update button, Amazon first sends a warning. 

And there you have it. Good luck trying that with a printed book on your shelves! 

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Taking Inventory

I'm doing final corrections on Alien Vows, getting it ready for launch, but I stopped to take stock of my "stack" of manuscripts.  I put the word in quotes because the stack is digital; the books exist only as files on my hard drive.

I have been writing seriously since 1992, but I didn't start self-publishing until 2011. Since then I have published nine (soon to be ten) novels and one novella.

The unpublished novels list looks like this:

Bag of Tricks
The Return of Magic

Science Fiction
This Nameless World
Child of the Sand (very rough draft)

Science Fiction Romance
Alien Skies (Book 3 of the Wakanreo series)
Worlds Apart
Ice and Fire

YA Science Fiction
Nomads (or possibly Nomads of Menkar 7)
Playing with Fire -- partial m.s.  

The next one in line to publish will undoubtedly be Alien Skies because I want to finish the Wakanreo series. After that I need to decide which direction I want to go. I might alternate, and do a fantasy next and then a science fiction romance, and then repeat. This Nameless World will probably go to the bottom of the list because it's currently at 240,000 words, the longest book I ever wrote.  That's about twice as long as most of my novels, but I don't think I can split it into two books because there's no resolution point in the middle of the book.

In contrast, I have also written six short stories. It's not that I was trying to write mostly novels;it's that the stories that started in my head were mostly novels. Go figure!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

ALIEN VOWS is now available for pre-order!

The Kindle version of Alien Vows is now available for pre-order! The paperback version will be along soon, but I have to make some corrections to it. I've ordered a proof copy to be sure I want the matte cover. Delivery is set for September 5.

I've finally figured out how to handle the X-Ray feature. It's not available in the KDP author dashboard until the book is loaded and ready, so you have to make it available for sale or pre-order if you want to be able to run the X-Ray tool. At the same time, you are locked out of making changes several days before the delivery date, so you need to set that far enough ahead that you can do all your corrections and reload the file well before that date. With all the alien words in this series, X-Ray is crucial!

I always give my proofreader a copy of the formatted print pages as she finds that much easier to proof from than a Kindle copy.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Another guest blog post

Today my blog post on when and why I write a book in a series instead of a standalone book is up on  the SFR Brigade blog. The members of the SFRB write science fiction romance (or sometimes science fiction with a strong element of romance). I fit right in!

Here's a list of my books, arranged by series/genre. The titles in red are science fiction romance. Also, keep in mind that the ThreeCon books share a universe but no overlapping characters so they can be read in any order.

Friday, June 29, 2018

ALIEN BONDS got another excellent review!

So far, my reviewers love this book! Yesterday a reader whose Amazon handle is FangFan posted this lovely 5-star review:

So far no reviewer as given Alien Bonds fewer than 4 stars and more than half of them gave it 5 stars! 

In other news, my copy editor is almost done with the edits to Alien Vows. I will have to get cracking!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Writing in a series

Recently I sent my finished draft of Alien Vows off to my copy editor. Having finished a stage in the process of creating a book, I realized that wrestling with that story had made me reflect on how writing in a series is intrinsically different from writing a standalone story.

I have several book in my Three Con series, but that's a series only in the sense that the universe is shared. All the ThreeCon books assume a universe with the same history and level of technology, and there are some shared events but no shared characters. It doesn't matter what order you read them in.

The thing is, with a standalone story, clearly every reader is a new reader, With a true series where the same characters age throughout the books, you have to allow, at least to some extent, for three categories of readers:
  1. Those who recently read the previous book
  2. Those who never read the previous book
  3. Those who read the previous book, but it has been a good while
My two Haven books, The Sixth Discipline and No Safe Haven, are a true series with the same characters, and one is a sequel to the other. But with those books, trying to accommodate the second category of readers was less of an issue because there were no aliens with different biology. There was nothing about the cultures on Haven that needed elaborate description to make things clear to the reader. In Alien Bonds, Wakanrean biology has some fundamental differences from human biology, and those differences are crucial to the story. I have to balance how much I need to repeat a) how things work and b) what, specifically, happened in the first book when I narrate the second one. I don't want to annoy Category 1 readers or even Category 3 readers by trying to not lose Category 2.

And of course, this is Book 2 of a trilogy. I already have a very rough draft for Book 3, Alien Skies, and this is one thing that I'll have to consider all over again after I get Book 2 published and go back to working on Book 3. I'll have even more places where I need to evaluate how much info can and should be repeated.

I've never put the two covers side by side before; I rather like how different they are because the second book covers a new generation. There are, in fact, two new protagonists, even though the original two make an appearance in the second story.

It's always exciting giving birth to a book.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Is Amazon killing the product giveaway for Kindle books?

UPDATE:  The links are back! It must have been a glitch.

A useful marketing  took for authors is Amazon's product giveaway. Anyone with an Amazon account in good standing can give away one or more print books (or non-digital other products). Some time ago they added that functionality for Kindle books, too, but now it looks like they plan to take it away because the buttons have gone from the product pages for Kindle books.

This is what I see immediately below the "Write a review" button (which always appears  after the last visible review) for the paperback version of Alien Bonds:

This is what I see below the "Write a Review" button for the Kindle version of the same title:

It just goes right into "what else did customers look at" list!  No button for hosting a giveaway!

On the other hand, I just successfully hosted a giveaway of a Kindle book by using the "Copy This Giveaway" button that appears on my Completed Giveaways page. Ergo, the functionally still works for Kindle books, but the buttons are gone. There's no mention of this that I can see on Amazon's Giveaway FAQ. In fact it still lists Kindle books as being eligible, so who knows if Amazon is really killing it or somehow the buttons just got deleted.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Can you judge a book by its cover? (Cover reveal for ALIEN VOWS)

Well, of course you can! There's no guarantee that your judgement will be accurate, but we judge  books by their covers all the time. The overall look of the cover can tell you a lot about the book. Where (and when) is it set,? What it is about? Does it fall into a specific genre?

In some romance sub-genres (historical, paranormal, and science fiction) there's a real trend to put a man's naked torso on the cover. The man's head might not even be visible but his abs certainty are. This is a signal to the reader, It says "This book contains hot sex scenes." It works well as a signal, but of course, it doesn't distinguish one such book from another.

Recently, a post on Lit Hub had fun with the concept by taking classic novels and creating pulp-style covers for them.  Some of them aren't all that different (although I doubt there was a shirtless guy on the original Great Gatsby cover), but some are amusingly pulpy. I loved the Madam Bovary one.  Moll Flanders, on the other hand, looked like a cover the author might have selected.

So, with that in mind, how does the cover for my upcoming book Alien Vows (sequel to Alien Bonds) strike you?  This is an animated version, obviously, but except or the stars turning, it's what the ebook will look like. You will notice the guy is hot but he has his his clothes on. I don't want anyone to be disappointed and I don't write steamy; it's all happening in the book, but it's not in detail on the page.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Ta-Da! I finished the first draft of ALIEN VOWS!

I feel like a need a cigarette and I have never smoked in my life. I just finished the first draft of the sequel to Alien Bonds. In honor of that, here's the beginning of Chapter One:

“Yulayan!” Her father’s voice coming from the wall speaker make Yulayan jump. “Will you join your mother and me in the zagathuan?”

“Certainly, Ayzanai,” Yulayan said, closing her terminal.
Her parents were waiting for her in the zagathuan? This far into autumn, her mother wasn’t comfortable out of doors for any length of time unless she wore heated clothing. On the other hand, it was her father’s favorite space in all but the coldest winter months. Yulayan stood up and took a deep breath to compose herself. This might well be the moment for which she had been waiting and planning with growing impatience. She glanced at herself in the mirror, to be sure her clothes looked tidy, and none of her agitation showed on her face.

The person staring back at her looked obviously Wakanrean at first glance. Her face, covered in dense golden fur, was triangular in shape, with a curving arc of a nose and a wide mouth. Above her face, the longer crop of silver-white hair that made up her headcrest was distinct from Terran hair in that it never grew longer.

Yulayan closed her eyes as a childhood memory overwhelmed her without warning. When she was small, her mother had tucked her into bed every night. Yulayan could recall the sensory experience with aching clarity—the silky feel of her mother’s long black hair brushing her own small furred face; the sweetish scent of the perfume her mother sometimes wore; a smooth, naked Terran face looming over her, brown eyes smiling fondly.

Yulayan opened her eyes and frowned at her own image. Her eyes betrayed her Terran mother’s contribution to her genetic makeup more than any other feature. Her irises were not only an odd mix of amber and brown flecks in a murky greenish matrix, but they were too small. The whites of Wakanrean eyes showed only at the extreme corners, and Yulayan could clearly see white on either side of and even beneath her irises.

Her parents were waiting. Yulayan turned towards the door but paused as she noticed her profile in the mirror. Above her tightly fitted red trousers, not even the lose lines of her black tunic-style shirt could completely hide the round swell of her breasts. Modest they might be, but in a world where only nursing mothers had noticeable mammary characteristics, the recent flowering of her breasts had left a bitter taste in Yulayan’s mouth. This was too much to bear.

Yulayan felt a twinge of envy that Kifarao would never have to suffer this indignity, and then chastised herself for her own callousness. Her twin brother might have Wakanrean eyes, but his other features revealed his heritage to even the most casual observer.

Conscious that she owed her parents the courtesy of promptness, Yulayan walked rapidly through the short corridor that connected her room to the main room, then exited the house through the sun room.

Yulayan found the chill autumn air bracing as she crossed the lawn to the zagathuan. Located near the house and at some distance from the high boundary wall that enclosed the entire property, the outdoor room was defined by a stone foundation covered by a carpet of deep purple streaked with green and blue. The furniture was similar to that of the main room—two large sofas, a handful of chairs, each with a hassock, and assorted tables and appliances. Yulayan noted that the sound system was off and counted this as another indication of her father’s state of mind. Her father was a qatraharai, and almost always had music playing when he relaxed in the zagathuan.

“Thank you for coming, Yulayan,” her father said, rising to his feet. He stood next to the sofa where her mother still sat, and Yulayan looked at him with pride.

Kuaron Du was a true Wakanrean. He was average height for his species, but if the Terran woman beside him had stood up, the top of her head would only have come up to his chin. His silver-white headcrest gleamed in the bright sunshine, and the pupils of his amber eyes had narrowed to tiny dots. He was barefoot, too, even in the autumn chill; the claws of his toes left tiny scuff marks in the carpet. If his blue tunic and gray trousers were less uniquely Wakanrean than his features, at least they weren’t blatantly Terran, either.

“Certainly, Ayzanai,” Yulayan said, casting an appraising glance at her mother. It seemed to her that her mother looked a trifle subdued. She wore her black hair much shorter than she had in the past, barely long enough to touch her collar, which made her look older to Yulayan. Today her brown eyes were almost solemn. Even the dull red color of the fitted shirt and trousers she wore emphasized her gloom—not quite mourning clothes, but close enough to convey a somber mood.

“Kifarao will be here in a moment,” Kuaron said.

The kitchen servoid approached, but Yulayan waved it away. She was too excited to eat or drink anything.

“Here’s Farao,” her mother said, as the sun room door opened again. “Sit down, Yulayan.”

Yulayan sank into a chair and watched her brother walk across the lawn to join them. She knew from his movements that he was as anxious as she was about this family meeting. The way he ran one hand over the black hair of his headcrest was a sure sign that he was nervous. Yulayan had an epiphany as she studied her brother’s face.

It wasn’t any one feature that damned him as half Terran; it was the combination of subtle differences in the shape of his face, his mouth, his nose, his ears. There was just too much variation from the Wakanrean norm for him to pass as truly native to the planet. Not even the pure Wakanreaness of his amber eyes could save him.

Ayzanai,” Kifarao said, with a nod to their father, “Elazanai,” another nod to their mother. “I’m here as you asked.”

“Sit down, please,” their father said.

He waited until Kifarao was comfortable to speak again, and when he did, he looked first to Dina.

She nodded, and Yulayan saw that she held something in her hands. She was twisting whatever is was back and forth as if she wanted to break it apart, but it was too strong for her.

“I’m sure you both have some idea of why we’ve called you here,” Kuaron said. It hadn’t been phrased as a question, but he waited, as if he expected a reply.

Yulayan gave Kifarao a moment, but when he said nothing, she spoke up. “One of us—Farao or I—must become yarunai—so that we don’t risk becoming shahgunrahai with each other.” She added the explanation in a tone that mimicked politeness, but the tiny frown on her father’s face told her that he had interpreted her condescension correctly.

Her mother wasn’t so forbearing as to remain silent at borderline insolence. “We know how shahgunrah works, thank you, Yulayan,” she said.

Yulayan felt her face grow hot. She knew it was a Terran trait, and she was thankful blushes weren’t visible on a Wakanrean face. It always made her blush to be reminded that, Terran as she was, her mother had experienced shahgunrah within minutes of meeting her father.

“As you said,” her father said, “one of you must become yarunai. We waited as long as we could because your mother wanted you both to finish basic school here in Wisuta, but your doctors have confirmed that you’re both on the cusp of maturity. To wait any longer is to court disaster. One of you must leave immediately—within a day or two.”

Her father added the qualification when her mother started in alarm. Her mother was obviously unhappy about complying with this universal custom of her adopted world.

“We’ve called you here together for two reasons,” her father went on. “The first is because of yarun, and the second is because tradition dictates that today is the day that you finally assume the responsibility that destiny has allotted you.”

He nodded to his shahgunrahai, and Dina held out what she had twisted in her hands.

Yulayan caught the glint of silver and felt a surge of excitement. She glanced at the base of her father’s throat where a silver heicha was clipped onto his chest fur. Engraved on the oval surface was a lopsided polygon, the mark of Paruian, and a smaller glyph, in ancient Wisutan script, that represented ancestry.

Her father looked grave. “I know you both have always understood that this day would come, but I know from my own experience how different your life will be after today. It is no insignificant thing to wear this heicha. Everyone will look at you differently once they see Paruian’s mark. You may even find that you look at yourself differently.”

If they’re looking at the heicha, Yulayan thought to herself, they won’t notice my eyes.

“I know you’ve heard many times how much consternation and dissension your birth caused here on Wakanreo,” her father was saying. Yulayan had heard it all before, but she made herself listen respectfully. “Aside from the unprecedented phenomenon of a natural hybrid birth, there were those who expressed shock at the idea that the blood of Paruian had mingled with the blood of a Terran. You were almost to your second birthday before the Disciples of Paruian decided that you were indeed true descendants of Paruian. Your mother and I have kept these for you since that day.”

He held out his hand, and Yulayan saw two silver heichas, exactly like his own.

She drew in a breath as her father stepped nearer.

“And now I give them to you,” he said, bending down to clip one of the heichas to the fur at the base of Yulayan’s throat.

Friday, April 20, 2018

My books are like my babies

I was the third of four children, and when my mom got stressed and wanted to yell at one of us, she would often yell all our names instead of just the one who was about to do something bad or dangerous. Sometimes she even threw in the dog's name.

I thought of this the other day when I recalled writing a specific situation, and then I couldn't remember which of my books had that scene in it. All my titles repeated in my head, one after the other, and it came to me that in some ways, they are my children.

If you think about it, a story idea formed in my head and was made fertile by something in my life, either personal experience, or something I had read, or even just my imagination. The idea developed and took form, much like a fetus, until it had a life of its own. I could send it out into the world without me. But unlike people, books don't always have the same gestation period. Some might take nine months, but some might take nine years. 

About 25 years ago, I started writing seriously. Before that, I had dabbled in writing. I had started a book, which I later called Child of the Sand (still not published) but I hadn't finished it. Then somehow the beginning scene for The Sixth Discipline popped into my head. A man with a bow and arrow was walking through a forest. He had a premonition of danger and then he was shot (not fatally) and kidnapped. That was it, to start with. I sat down and started writing (I have never been an outliner; I am a classic pantser) and six week later I had a first draft. In actual fact, that first draft became two books, since it was too long for one. The working title had been Haven but that became the series name for the two-book series, The Sixth Discipline and No Safe Haven. It was the fastest I ever wrote a first draft.

But in the way of things, both books sat there and germinated a while. I always wrote whatever floated to the top of my brain, to take advantage of the energy that a story has when it's newly formed. I had a day job, a helpful husband and two wonderful kids, but I always made time to write in the evenings. I eventually joined a writers' critique group, and I took a writing class, both of which I found helpful. But in writing, I have found nothing more helpful than the actual doing of it. Getting feedback is 100% essential, but it's not how you start. You start by doing it.

And if you're lucky, you give birth to one or more stories.