Wednesday, January 12, 2022

When the plot requires a good person to do a bad thing

A really old movie that I had not seen in decades was on TV over the weekend, so I watched it. Overboard , starring Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, came out in 1987, and in one way it's fascinating. The premise is that a blue-collar guy-- a carpenter, who happens to be a widower with four sons-- tricks a beautiful, wealthy woman suffering from amnesia into thinking she is his wife. 

He doesn't do this for sex, but to get free labor. As his wife, the amnesia victim believes she has no choice but to clean his house, cook his meals, and take care of his kids.  He refrains from physical intimacy, however, telling her she always sleeps on the couch because the bed hurts her back. 

The thing is, taking advantage of her in this way would be a  truly despicable act except for the way the situation was set up: she is the despicable person. In addition to being an incredible snob, she hired the carpenter to do a job and then not only refused to pay him, she destroyed his tools, his means of support. In a way, she could be said to have earned his revenge, especially because he doesn't trick her into having sex. Over time, we realize she's such a terrible person because she was raised to think of herself as being better than ordinary people who have to work for a living. The more she's away from her native environment, the more she changes into a normal caring person. Spoilers: Of course, as the movie is a romcom, in the end they fall in love. 

My science fiction romance Worlds Apart uses a similar plot device but with the genders reversed. As the title suggests, the story is about a couple who are from different planets. The plot needs the two people to end up on the same world for a good amount of time.  Rishi, the female main character, is very wealthy and lives on Subidar, a world with an advanced level of technology, while Prax, the male main character was born and raised on Celadon, a recently discovered colony world where technology is not as advanced, especially among Prax's people, who are Greek-speaking nomadic herders. 

 Rishi had grown up as the youngest member of a large and loving family, but  her entire family was wiped out in a planet-wide disaster, leaving her the heir to both great wealth and great sorrow.   When she sees Prax's clan under attack by a band of outlaws who are much better armed, she saves them by ordering her ship to attack the outlaw leader; this is a violation on a non-interference directive so she does this at some risk to herself.

The clan is understandably grateful.  They hold a celebratory feast  during which Rishi consumers several glasses of the local wine, which is more potent for some people than for others. When the clan leader asks Rishi to name her reward, she asks for Prax.  Feeling bound by duty to pay the debt his people owe, Prax agrees to leave his world and his family and everything that is familiar and go with her. 

The next morning, Rishi wakes up cold sober and is appalled at her own behavior in asking for a person as a reward. She feels remorse for taking him away from his family. But when Rishi asks Prax if he wants to go home, he says no, feeling that his clan owes her a debt and he has been chosen to pay it. His sense of duty is stronger than his loneliness and fear of the unknown.

Like the hero in Overboard, Rishi cannot bring herself to cross the line of extorting sex from someone, so she declines Prax's tentative overtures. Thus, they arrive back at Subidar, two people who are strongly attracted to each other, but with a big complication: Prax doesn't realize that Rishi feels morally bound not to take advantage of his offer so he thinks she's simply not interested. And Rishi cannot bring herself to urge Prax to go home. 

Spoilers: they work things out! 

Friday, December 17, 2021

My books in the Smashwords sale

 My books that are not in Kindle Unlimited are for sale (and at the moment are either free or half price)  at Smashwords. Unlike the Kindle store or many ebookstores, Smashwords is in no way linked to a specific ereader or app. You can buy books in epub (used for Nook, Apple iOS, Kobo and most other ereaders), mobi (used by Kindles), or PDF (to read in a web browser)

You should check out Smashwords! A lot of other authors' books are for sale, too!  

Tuesday, December 7, 2021


The Sixth Discipline is free in most eBook stores. The story. a far future, slow burn romance is set on the isolated colony world of Haven, where the human colonists inhabit three different environments: cities surrounded by small towns and farms, a vast forest inhabited by mystics, and mountain valleys from whence fierce hunters and warriors raid the other two groups. 

Here's a snippet from Chapter Six, when things start to get really interesting.

Francesca stopped turning and pointed to a distant, snow-capped peak in the middle of the range. “That looks like Mount Fujiyama. We must be on Hayden land, which means we’re a good ways south of the city.”

South of the city might mean closer to the Sansoussy Forest. Ran-Del cleared a space in the dirt with his foot and handed her a twig. “Show me.”

Francesca squatted down and drew a small circle. “That’s Shangri-La.” Below the city, she sketched a large four-sided shape, narrow at the top and wide at the bottom, and drew a zigzag line across the middle of it. “This is the Hayden estate, and the wiggly line is the mountains behind us.” She added a dot near one end of the line of mountains. “This mark is where Fujiama is.”

“Where on your map is the forest of the Sansoussy?” Ran-Del asked, crouching down beside her.

She drew a large, amorphous, cloud-like shape just slightly south and a good ways west of the city.

“There,” she said. “I’m not really sure where your people live, but that’s the Sansoussy Forest. It’s prairie and rolling hills up until then.”

Ran-Del studied the marks and then looked up at the sun. “We’re north of your mountain, so we must be about here.” He laid a small pebble in the top half of the squarish shape.

“I think so,” Francesca said. “But Hayden land extends quite a ways. I can’t say for sure.”

“That answers where,” Ran-Del said, sitting back on his heels. “But why would your father have put us here?”

“I’m not positive.” She ducked her head, and Ran-Del sensed embarrassment. “But I have an idea. It’s related to the reason Pop snatched you from the forest in the first place.”

He focused his psy sense for any hint that she was lying. “What is the reason?”

Francesca seemed reluctant to answer directly. “Did Pop tell you about what’s happening to Great Houses like Hayden?”

Ran-Del recalled Baron Hayden’s monologues and nodded. “He said his house was in danger of being swallowed up by a bigger house. He said that I could help him to stop it in some way, but he would never say how.”

Francesca stared straight ahead as if she found the distant mountains fascinating. “Well, the reason we’re vulnerable is because right now the House of Hayden is just me and Pop; there’s no one else. Pop was an only child, and so was I. I have no Hayden cousins, no siblings, and no husband.” She paused and then blurted out, “Pop wants you to change that.”

Ran-Del frowned, still not understanding. “What do you mean? How could I change that?”

Francesca frowned, plainly annoyed at having to explain everything in explicit language. “Pop wants me to get married—to you.”

Ran-Del suspected her first of lying, and then of mocking him. His psy sense told him neither was the case. “Your father is insane. You had never seen me until three days ago, and I had never seen you.”

“He may have a crazy idea in his head, but he’s quite sane.”

Ran-Del got to his feet and looked down at her. “He has day bats nesting in his upper branches. He came into our forest and shot me with a dart, as if he had been hunting his dinner. Are you telling me that he was looking for a husband for you?”

“Yes.” Francesca shaded her eyes from the morning sun as she looked up at him.

Ran-Del snorted with rampant disbelief and looked away to scan the countryside. “No one would do that,” he said, looking back at her. “He cares about you. Why would he find a stranger—a wild man your people called me—to marry his only daughter?”

Francesca still crouched on the ground. She sighed and hugged her knees. “This wasn’t a sudden aberration, this respect for your people. Pop has always thought you lived a cleaner life.” She frowned as if she thought her meaning wasn’t clear. “Not cleaner in the sense of hygiene, but more honest—more honorable. When he realized that he’d need to arrange a marriage for me, he got this idea that the thing to do was to find a Sansoussy to marry me.”

A Sansoussy?” Ran-Del said. “Just any Sansoussy?”

“Not exactly.” Francesca stood up but turned her eyes away as if she were reluctant to meet his gaze directly. “Pop didn’t want anyone too old or too young—or already married. And he wanted a warrior who had some psy sense, because that combination gave me the most protection.”

“So he went into the forest to acquire a Sansoussy?” The more Ran-Del thought about it, the more it fit Stefan Hayden’s words and actions. His anger rose when he realized how thoroughly the Baron had planned to hijack his life. “And I was the first one whose caste bracelet had the right beads, is that it?”

“Pretty much.”

Ran-Del crossed his arms over his chest. “What made him think I’d marry you? He could have kept me locked in his house forever, but he couldn’t have made me marry you.”

Francesca’s face turned a deep red, and she radiated mortification. “I was supposed to seduce you. Pop said you’d feel obligated to marry me if I did.”

Ran-Del had to clench his jaw for a second, to control his anger. If it got any worse, he would need the First Discipline. “You knew what your father wanted, and you agreed to it?”

Her face contorted in agitation. “No! I mean, yes, I knew, but I never agreed to it. The day before yesterday I told him flat out that I wouldn’t do anything to try to make you marry me. Then last night Pop offered me a glass of wine, and after that it’s all a blank.”

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Killing off characters is a balancing act

Something that came up in my writer's group once  was the question all fiction writers face: when and if should you kill off a character.  Death is a part of life.  And really, if there is no risk in a situation, there is not much tension either.  Unless you're writing a romance where the two (or more than two, in some subgenres) main characters need a happy-ever-after (or at least a happy for now) ending, any character should be fair game to get killed off, right?
Maybe not.  When you write a story, you're asking the reader to invest their time and a certain level of emotional involvement in that story, and that means making them care what happens to the characters.  Killing a character for a good reason is one thing, but killing them off just to show that you're willing to do it can leave your reader feeling betrayed, almost like they've invested time in a relationship and then found out it could never have worked out. I had a friend who is also a fan tell me that when she came to the part of THE SIXTH DISCIPLINE where a major character dies, she closed her Kindle and put it down like it was on fire.
So what constitutes a good reason to axe a character?  I heard a writer at the Pikes Peak Writer's Conference (and I wish I could remember her name!) articulate the best rule I have ever heard:  you kill off a character to change the motivation of another character.  That works for me.  But I would also say that, if possible, it should not be as simple as their death making the protagonist mad for revenge or anything like that.  Certainly you don't want a female character to get horribly slaughtered just to motivate the male hero to a blood rage (a.k.a., "Women in refrigerators syndrome"). I always thought killing off the First Lady in the movie Independence Day was really just a milder variant of shoving her body into a refrigerator. She wasn't seen as necessary to the story (she didn't fly a jet or otherwise act heroically) and her death, conveniently staged in her husband's presence, motivated him even further to kill those nasty aliens. When I killed off the character that my friend complained about, I answered that he or she was in the way of the plot.
The revenge angle is not totally bad, but I think it works better when one character's sudden, abrupt absence actually changes the other character's circumstances.  Maybe now they have to support themselves, or rule their country, or face their fears, or go on a quest, or even just finally grow up.
Of course, in spec fic, an added complication is that magic/advanced technology may make it possible to bring the dead back to life, and I don't mean as zombies or anything like that.  I mean that spec fic writers have to be careful they don't make death meaningless.  That happened on STAR TREK TOS a little bit and TNG even more so.  The damn transporter got too powerful!  If a machine can basically copy a person's molecules and later spew out a copy on demand, no character ever needed to stay dead. 
So, have you ever read a book and gotten really angry at the author for killing a character?  Or have you seen an instances of too-powerful-transporter syndrome?  Alternatively, have you ever ready a story and thought (as was said at my writer's group once), "Really, the author should have just killed off x?"

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Travel to Wakanreo for only 99¢!

NOTE: the sale is over! 

 From today through November 10th, ALIEN BONDS, the first book in my Wakanreo trilogy (usually priced at $3.99) is on sale for 99¢. Grab it now!

 Alien Bonds is undeniably a love story. It concerns two people, a human woman and a Wakanrean man, who meet at the beginning of the story on his world, called Wakanreo, and instantly mate from a  biological reaction that occurs only in Wakanreans. But even though Dina goes home with Kuaron that night, she does not love him.. You cannot love someone you don't know. It is over the next several months that her love for him grows, as does his for her. But at the same time, the story explores the culture and history of Wakanreo. It's an attempt to show what a world would be like if looks didn't matter—if people had no choice in who they paired off with. and thus sex had nothing to do with morality.  How would this uncontrollable mating affect the societies that formed on this unique world? In human history, much of the stratification of society was achieved by people only marrying within their own social order. What if it wasn't possible to enforce that kind of discrimination? 

Read the book to find out! Alien Bonds  is available in paperback and on the Kindle, and it's free in Kindle Unlimited. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

For self-published authors: What is Kindle Unlimited and should I put my books into it?

Amazon, or the Zon, as some call it, has by far the lion's share of the ebook market. They also have an audiobook platform called Chirp, but I'm not going to talk about that. Today's post is about only about ebooks.

eBooks & eReaders

Amazon calls its ebooks Kindle books, because its ereader is called a Kindle. However, you can read Kindle books using the free Kindle app on almost any PC, Mac, tablet or phone. Basically, Amazon's market consists of anyone who has an Amazon account and some kind of reading device, including iPads and iPhones. 

Apple Books, however, can only be bought via an iOS device, an iPhone, Mac, iPad, etc. There are ways to move them over to Windows but it is not the effortless transaction that most Mac users are looking for.  Kobo and Barnes and Noble both offer a dedicated ereader but also have an app that runs on tablets and other devices. 

So, why does this matter to self-published authors? As an author or publisher, you can upload your books into the self-publishing platforms of Amazon (Kindle Direct Publishing), Barnes & Noble (Nook Press) Google (Google Play Books Partners Center), Apple Books and others, either directly or by using Smashwords or Draft2DIgital. But if you load them only into KDP and opt for the KDP Select designation, your books will be available to borrowers via an Amazon subscription service called Kindle Unlimited. The author is paid based n the pages read, not on the borrow, an important distinction.

Basically, by putting his or her books in Kindle Unlimited (an ironic name in a way, since all KU books are limited only to Kindle), an author promises not to put them in any other ebook store (print versions have no affect in KU status). How can this possibly benefit an author? 

A lot of times, it doesn't. In my experience, whether or not KU is profitable for a book depends on three factors: genre, book length, and ebook price. 


The only genre I personally have had any success with in Kindle Unlimited is romance, which in my case is actually science fiction romance, Romance readers are voracious. They read so much, it is worth it to them to pay the KU subscription fee. There may be other popular KU genres, but I have not found them. Certainly my YA books never went anywhere in KU. If you have books doing well in a KU, please let me know what genre they are! 

Book Length

Because the author is paid based on pages read, a longer book automatically earns more money than a short one, assuming the reader finishes the book. Of course, if the book is truly short--a novella or a novelette--it probably sells for less, too. But length is something to keep in mind when deciding on KU, yes or no,


If you price your ebook modestly (none of mine are more than $3.99), and the book is long enough, you may well make more money from a KU borrow and full read than from a sale. Of course, price will also have some impact on sale rates, too, so it's all balancing act.

Things to Remember

An important thing to remember is, the Kindle Unlimited signup is for 90-day blocks of time. You can take the book out of KDP Select after 90 days, or you can sign up for another 90 days. I usually launch with the book signed up or KDP Select but pull it out after 90 days if it's not getting enough KU reads to make it worthwhile. 

Also, one benefit to keeping the book in KDP Select status is, you can run a sale or even make the book free for a select number of days per 90-day cycle. The advantage to just changing the price yourself is, the book looks like it's on sale. The regular price appears, but is struck through and the sale price shows as discounted.

You should be aware that Amazon makes no future promises on the per-page rate for KU borrows. It sets aside a chunk of money to pay KU authors/publishers, and then pays out at a rate determined by the number of reads. Right now the rate is approximately $0.004 per Kindle Edition Normalized Page.  My book Alien Bonds is a tad under 130,00 words and that translates to 649 KENP pages. I made about $2.60 on the last full read. At $3.99 retail I make $2.72 in royalties on a sale, which is 12 cents more than the KU borrow. On book 2 of the Wakanreo trilogy, which is shorter, I make less on KU but on book 3, the longest book, I make more from a KU full-read than I do from a sale. 

A non-financial benefit of KU is you can tell when people are actually reading your book because the page count shows on a daily basis. 

And once your pull your book from KDP Select, it is no longer in KU, and then you can load onto every platform available. There is no reason not to! But always, do what's best for your particular book! 

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

A few words on pricing ebooks

If you are planning to self-publish, unless you plan to concentrate on print publishing, you will need to look into your options on pricing ebooks.

In my opinion, ebooks are the reason self-publishing took off as it did. First off, ebooks are relatively easy to create, and second the per copy cost to replicate them, once you have the files in place, is zero. This means that if you are not a well known author, you can price your book very competitively (as low as 99) and thus compete with better known but more expensive writers. The big publishers seem to want ebooks not to sell especially well, at least when they are new, because they price them so high.  Quite often the ebook version is more expensive than the paperback version, defying industry past practice that a higher price meant a more expensive to produce product.

The image above is a the Amazon page for the best seller, Golden Girl, by Erin Hilderbrand,  As you can see the hardcover price is very slightly more expensive than the trade paperback at $17.40 and the Kindle version is priced at  $14.99, less than $2.40 in difference. Well of course, this is a brand new book, But what happens when it has been out for a decade or more? 

Here's the Amazon page for Twilight, a best seller first published in 2006. The hardcover is way more expensive at $22.49 but the Kindle book is more expensive, at $10.99 than the paperback is at $9.43! And by the way, the ebook price is the same on Barnes & Noble and Google Books

Publishers fought with Amazon to be able to control the price of their ebooks. Publishers wanted to be able to protect hardcover sales, which are very profitable. Amazon lost that battle, but you will notice Kindle books usually say "price set by publisher." 

The good news is, if you're self-publishing, you (mostly) control the price! On Amazon, you get the best deal on royalties by pricing your book between $0.99 and $9.99, which is frankly, the range it's best to be in unless you're already a best-selling  author. 

You also control when the price changes, which means you can experiment with different prices.  Be aware that Amazon price matches, so if your book is cheaper in other ebook stores than it is on Kindle, Amazon will drop the price of your Kindle version to match the others' lower price. That is, by the way, the method used to make a Kindle book free on a long-term basis. A book that is in Kindle Unlimited can be free for up to five days every three months, but except by using price matching, you cannot make a Kindle book always free,  It is only because other bookstores allow free ebooks that price-matching can work to make a Kindle book free.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Re-launch of ALIEN BONDS!

 Based on reviewer feedback, and to achieve a more uniform series look, I have relaunched Alien Bonds with a new cover! Only the Kindle version has the new cover, so far. I have to do some tweaks to republish the paperback.  But here it it is! 

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Snippet from Saronna's Gift

From Chapter One: Duncan Trushenko and his father own and operate a large intergalactic grading company, headquartered on a tax-free but very backward planet called Kruegger's World.


Duncan smiled to himself but was careful not to let his amusement show. His father had been curious about his breakup with Emily Pulaski since it happened, but Duncan had no intention of satisfying that curiosity, especially as his father had been right in his assessment of Emily’s intentions. “If you disliked her so much,” he said instead, “why did you hire her?”

“I didn’t dislike her,” Vladimir said. “When it came to navigating the seas of interstellar trade regulations, she had excellent skills. I’m happy you seem to have learned a lot of them from her. I just didn’t want you to marry her.”

“You can’t have it both ways, Dad. Either you want me to get married or you don’t.”

“Don’t be silly,” Vladimir said irritably. “Marrying the wrong person is worse than not getting married at all.”

Duncan didn’t know what to say. His parents had lived apart ever since he was a baby; the few occasions they had been together for any length of time had resulted in epic quarrels. Another awkward silence ensued.

“I’m sorry, Duncan,” his father said. “I wasn’t trying to cast any aspersions on your mother.”

Duncan put his glass down. “I know, Dad. Why all this eagerness to fix me up with someone? I thought that was Mom’s job.”

“Well,” Vladimir said, sounding oddly hesitant, “Your mother and I both want you to find someone—get married, have a family of your own. If nothing else, I’d like to think that someday there’ll be someone for you to pass Cameron Trushenko on to. It’ll all be yours someday. I won’t live forever, you know.”

Duncan grinned openly. “You’re not giving me the ‘I’m getting old’ speech, are you? You look pretty hale for that. Naomi must be taking good care of you.”

“She is, she is.” Vladimir’s face lit with affection. “I can’t tell you what a change it makes in your outlook to have someone who cares about you in that way. It’s meant a world of difference to me to have her with me.”

Almost the only good thing about his parents’ intense dislike for each other was it took away any guilt he might have felt for being pleased when one of them found consolation elsewhere. “Good. I’m glad you’re happy.”

“The thing is,” Vladimir went on, “poor Naomi had no one to keep her company. I mean, she looks after the house for me, but really, she had no close friends, nothing to occupy her leisure time. And sometimes I get tied up for days on end.”

Duncan frowned. What was the old man leading up to? “I know you’re busy. Cameron Trushenko is a major concern. Why don’t you just hire more help?”

“Well,” Vladimir said, a nervous edge creeping into his voice, “the thing is, Naomi wanted more than just to have me free up some time. She needed a friend—a woman friend.”

Duncan sat up straighter. “What’s going on, Dad? Are you trying to tell me something?”

Vladimir glanced at the window to the courtyard. He seemed almost reluctant to meet Duncan’s eyes. “Well, yes, I am, son.”

“Son?” Duncan moved to the edge of his chair in alarm. “Son? You never call me ‘son’ unless something’s wrong. The last time you called me ‘son,’ we had just lost three million credits.”

Vladimir looked almost relieved at the accusation. “Oh, it’s nothing like that. It’s just that, as I said, Naomi needed someone, and the people on this world are so stuffy. There are off-worlders, and there are natives and the two just don’t mix. There was no one Naomi was comfortable making friends with, no one who didn’t look down her nose at her. And native women almost never leave their homes. They don’t need friends, because they all have hordes of relations. And then I found out you were coming home, and I knew you’d broken up with Emily a while ago. It seemed like a perfect solution to both problems.”

“What did?” Duncan said, more mystified than ever.

“Well,” Vladimir said, still apparently finding it difficult to come to the point, “the thing is, son—Duncan, I sort of—well, I bought a woman for you.”

Duncan’s mouth dropped open. He must have heard his father wrong. “You did what?”

“I bought a woman for you.”

No, he had heard right. But the idea was incredible. “You bought a woman for me? You bought a sentient being?”

“Now, Duncan—”

The more he thought about it, the angrier it made him. “You thought I’d want some down-trodden, complacent, hapless little female to make use of in my free time? You thought I’d take advantage of a woman like that?”

“Well,” Vladimir said, “no, not really. Actually, I just needed someone to keep Naomi company, but there’s no way I could get someone on those terms. And besides,” he added as an afterthought, “she’s not little.”

“What?” Duncan jumped to his feet. The old man had gone crazy. There was no other explanation. “I don’t give a damn how tall she is! You just send her back where she came from, Dad. I won’t have any part of this.”

“But, Duncan,” Vladimir said, his voice filled with righteous indignation, “when I brought Naomi home, you didn’t act like this. You were proud of me for stepping in.”

Duncan brushed aside this argument with a wave of his hand. “That was different. Her husband had put her up as his stake in a poker game. You kept her from ending up with some gun-running scum.”

“Saronna’s father was desperate to sell her.” The indignation in his father’s voice gave way to a virtuous note. “She’s twenty-two in Standard years, and she’s never been married. A year ago her mother died, and her father stopped looking for a husband for her and tried to sell her. None of the hill men were interested, so he came into the city. You know very well where she could have ended up if I hadn’t made him an offer.”

Duncan cringed. Just when he thought Krueger’s World couldn’t get any worse, he found out he was wrong. “Her own father?”

Vladimir nodded.

“All right,” Duncan said, “if he needed the money so badly, let him keep it. Just send her home with no strings attached.”

His father shook his head. “I can’t do that. If I did, they’d assume she’d been unsatisfactory in some way. If they let her live, it would be as a nameless drudge without any rights.”

“God!” Duncan clutched his hair. “Why the hell did you have to move to this miserable, primitive hunk of rock? What kind of place is this, where men sell their daughters to strangers?”

“It’s Krueger’s World.” Vladimir almost snapped the words out, as if he were losing patience. “And you know as well as I do why I moved Cameron Trushenko here. Krueger’s World is an ideal location for interstellar trading, and when you add in the tax break from operating outside of ThreeCon, we’re in much better shape than we were five years ago. Even your mother approved the move. The combination of New Hong Kong’s taxes and ThreeCon taxes was crippling us.”

Duncan turned away, unwilling to concede the argument. “We’re doing really well now. My two percent of the corporate profits certainly reflects that. Can’t we move back into the civilized universe?”

“Not yet,” Vladimir said firmly. “I don’t know how long it’ll be, either.”

Duncan shot him a skeptical look. “Are you sure taxes and location are the only reason, Dad? It wouldn’t have anything to do with Naomi, would it?”

Again Vladimir wouldn’t meet his gaze. “I won’t deny that the thought that Naomi might not want to leave this planet worries me. However, it’s a moot point for now. We can’t afford to move, and that’s the truth.”

Duncan sighed. “All right, so Cameron Trushenko stays here for a while longer. Is that any reason to go around buying people?”

“Maybe it is,” Vladimir said. “So long as we’re here, we might as well try to make things better for at least one person when we get the chance. If I hadn’t bought Saronna, her father might be walking the streets right now, looking for someone to buy her. As it is, she’s safe and comfortable. I presume you don’t plan to rape her?”

Repulsed, Duncan put a good deal of heat in his voice. “If that’s supposed to be a joke, it’s not very funny.”

“I wasn’t joking at all. I brought her here, and I feel responsible for her.”

“Then why didn’t you just buy her for yourself?” Duncan demanded. “Why did you have to bring me into it at all?”

For the first time, guilt suffused Vladimir’s expression. “Well, I thought about that, but Naomi got very jealous when I mentioned it. She was much happier when I agreed we could find someone for you.”

Duncan snorted with disgust, but Vladimir continued.

“Anyway, fortunately, I could tell Naomi that this woman stirred no twinges of passion in me. She’s not homely or anything, but she’s not in Naomi’s league.”

Somehow his father’s reasoning made Duncan even angrier. “And what the hell am I supposed to do with her?”

“You don’t have to do anything,” Vladimir said, his voice as soothing as it had been sixteen years before, when Duncan had broken his arm and cried all the way to the doctor’s. “But it would be nice if you made friends with her. I’m sure she’s a little scared. She may have been brought up to think this was all perfectly natural, but still it can’t be easy to leave your home so suddenly and move somewhere where you don’t know anyone.”

Duncan groaned and resumed his chair. “Good god, Dad. When did you buy her?”

“This afternoon.”

Less than a day. Just his luck to arrive right as the old man suddenly went crazy. “Damn! Do you mean if I’d gotten here last week, I could have talked you out of this nonsense?”

“No, no. I waited until you were coming home, that’s all. Like I said, Naomi was jealous until I told her Saronna was for you.”

Duncan groaned again and covered his eyes. It just got worse and worse. “Will you listen to yourself, Dad? You sound as if you were talking about a house pet. You’ve been here too long, and that’s all there is to it.”

Saronna's Gift 

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Self-Publishing 101: W is for Workflow

The thing about self-publishing is, it's up to the author to establish a viable workflow, either by paying competent people, doing the work himself, or some combination of the two. To be clear, by workflow, I don't mean writing the book, I mean turning a manuscript into a printed book and/or or an ebook. I won't talk about audiobooks because I haven't created any.

I worked in publishing for almost 30 years, and those years saw a lot of change. As I was working for a publisher of legal and regulatory information rather than fiction, it was a very different workflow from producing novels. Over that span of time, my company's focus changed from print to digital because our customers were better served by information that could be delivered faster, updated more easily. and accessed from multiple places, as opposed to having to open a book or a binder on a shelf. 

Espresso Book Machine

In fiction publishing, that transition hasn't happened as thoroughly. Print is still very viable, but there is also a digital market—both ebook and audio. But the biggest change in fiction publishing has been the advent of self-publishing. Print-on-demand technology allows booksellers to print a book only when it has been ordered. The availability of ereaders (such as the Kindle), tablets, and even cell phones have created a market for ebooks, which are delivered via the web. Because of these two developments, self publishing has taken off. And now, individual authors are learning things abut producing books that traditional publishers have known for a long time . 

Workflow is a huge part of publishing. If your book is published by a major publisher, your part of its workflow will consist mostly of  turning in your manuscript, and reviewing and approving edits and the cover.  There may be a lot of back and forth between you and the editor and publisher but that won't involve you creating the print or digital pages. With self-publishing, unless you hire someone to do workflow for you, you are on your own. The one part of workflow I always hire out is doing the cover, because in additon to artistic talent, it takes a lot of specialized skills I don't have. Page layout and ebook production are, for me, much easier tasks than creating a good-looking, marketable cover. 

The thing to remember about publishing a book is, it's never going to be perfect the first time! You need to be able to make edits, right up to and even  after publication. And since you are publishing in multiple formats, you need to consider how those edits will be made. If you format the print edition yourself, you need to be able to create headers and possibly footers and paginate the main part of the book separately from the front and back matter. After some frustrating efforts to do page layout for my books with MS Word, I have been switched to Adobe InDesign for formatting my paperbacks (and two hardbacks!) partly because it can also output an epub file as well as PDF.  InDesign is not easy to learn and you can no longer buy a copy outright, but it is available on a subscription basis per month.  I find it useful because in addition to formatting books, it can create web page banners and similar files. It cannot edit individual images in the way that Adobe Photoshop does, but it lets you place one or more images on a page (print or digital) and add text and color. Also, once you know how, formatting a book in InDesign is very fast.

Again, I cannot emphasize enough that whatever workflow you use must allow for making edits. If you hand off your m.s. to someone who will do the page layout and/or convert your m.s. to ebook format, then you need to be sure either you can edit the files they send to you, or that they have a way to do it for you (either may well be an extra expense, so get that straight up front!). 

The publisher I worked for created an in-house system that had the authors and editors working in files that were stored in SGML (standard generalized markup language), which uses tags to identify what something is, not what you want it to look like. The tag names were things like "story", "headline""annotated,case" and "subhead. SGML also imposes rules to be sure the document you are creating has a specified structure. Then, when the document was printed or sent to the web or put onto a CD it could be reliably transformed into whatever format was required. This was called single-source publishing, and it it is very efficient, but it is harder to do on your own. The problem is that the epub file that you output from the print files might not come out exactly as you want it; you might in fact, need to edit the epub version. 

A good discussion and outline of how to create ebooks, including software recommendations,  is included in this post from Jane Friednman's blog

Good luck!

Addendum:  this post on using Kindle Create, a free app from Amazon, has a lot of good information.  Amazon says Kindle Create can also format a paperback version, but I can't speak to how good a job it does at that, as I have never used it for a print book.