Friday, May 22, 2020

Writing the future in uncertain times

In some ways, humans have always lived in perilous times. In the past, life spans were shorter because poor nutrition and disease killed many people well before old age got the chance to. Now, however, science, which enabled more crops, a better understanding of nutrition, and the development of antibiotics and other life-saving drugs, has also created the technology of rapid world-wide travel. The corona virus designated as COVID-19 has spread at an unprecedented speed to create what feels like an overnight global pandemic.

The resulting lock-down of society in an effort to slow the spread of the virus has threatened the world's economy and put countless people out of work. This is scary as hell for a lot of people, and it has highlighted the difference between jobs in the digital world, which can be done anywhere, and jobs in the physical world, which require a person to be present. It also illustrated the length of our supply chain. If people stop going to restaurants, it's not just restaurant owners and cooks and kitchen and wait staff who suffer, t's the suppliers who sell them food, and the truckers who transport it,and the farmers who grow it, and the people who sell the farmers seed and tractors and fertilizer. We are all more economically connected than we ever realized.

If you think about it, though, this kind of epic event also affects people who write stories set in the future. There is no way this pandemic won't have an impact on our history. Once reason I always set my science fiction stories a thousand years into the future (except for Turnabout) is I didn't feel comfortable predicting the shorter term future.

Look at George Orwell's 1984, or Arthur C. Clarke and his series that began with 2001:A Space Odyssey. Orwell only went forward 30-some years. Clarke used about the same time leap (but then the setting jumped forward with the next book, finally ending a thousand years into the future with 3001.). But both books have, of course, been proven wrong. Orwell's story has had an impact on our language and political discourse, but it didn't actually happen (although it is looking more likely every day that Donald Trump is in office). Arthur C. Clarke's story became a visually stunning movie as well as a novel but we went to the moon and did not find any alien artifacts.

In a thousand years there might not even be people anymore. Who knows how many pandemics are going to happen and what their impact will be? I will keep writing, but the future now seems more uncertain than ever.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Universal book links and ISBNs

I have discovered a new tool. Well, new to me. And also I have discovered a limitation to the tool. A site called Books2Read offers a way to create a "universal book link" for ebooks. That is, the site  will generate a link and when it is clicked, the link page looks like this:

Next to the Drifters cover image are icons with links to every site where the ebook is available,  In this instance, the link was generated for my newest book, Drifters, which is available at Amazon's Kindle store, and at Apple Books, B&N Nook, Kobo, Google Play, Indigo, and at Angus & Robertson, an Australian ebookstore.

I was excited to think I could slim down my website by using this tool, as it allows me to make the book title itself into a single link without my having to create a series of links for each vendor. Now, the interesting thing is, the tool works by the user giving it a link to a vendor site that sells the ebook. The tool then generates a list of the other vendors of the ebook. When I put in the Amazon Kindle link for Drifters, published this year, it generated a  link that displayed the page shown above. When I put in the Amazon Kindle link for Turnabout, which I published in 2017 under my own imprint, Cracked Mirror Press, I got this error message:

However, if I put in the Barnes & Nobles link for the same book, it worked fine and generated a link to this page, which you will notice does NOT list Amazon's Kindle store:

The same "Not an ebook" error message is generated for every other book I have published except for Drifters IF I use the Amazon Kindle link. So, what's the deal? The answer is ISBNs.

In the US, R. R. Bowker is the company that is authorized to sell (and thus to issue) ISBNs to publishers (including self-publishers).  ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. In a way, an ISBN is like a social security number for a book. Remember that titles cannot be copyrighted. If you want to write a nonfiction book about the dust bowl in Oklahoma and call it Gone with the Wind, you go right ahead. An ISBN provides a way to track a specific book without recourse to specifying things like titles and authors that could easily be duplicated. A single book can have multiple ISBNs however, because the rules have always specified you needed one for each format. When a book came out in hardback, it had a unique ISBN (previously 10 digits but now 13). When the same book came out in trade paperback, it got another unique ISBN. Ditto for the mass market paperback. And, ISBNs are always linked to publishers. I created my own imprint, called Cracked Mirror Press, and all my books except Drifters have been published with ISBNs bought from Bowker that identiufy Cracked Mirror Press as the publisher. If you self-publish and let the platform you are using (Kindle store, Apple Books, etc) provide an ISBN, then that ISBN will identify that platform as the publisher.

When Bowker started issuing ISBNs for ebooks, the pick list for book format included the option "Electronic Book Text." There is a secondary list that allows you to specify epub or mobipocket (on which the Kindle format is based) as well a PDF and a few others. Both mobi and epub formats are created using HTML, but they have slightly different coding rules. Almost every vendor out there uses epub rules for formatting ebooks, but Amazon wanted to control the format of Kindle books, so they started with mobi and then morphed it into azw. I had always assumed that picking from the secondary menu was required; if it was in the past, it is not now. You can simply specify Electronic Book Text and let it go at that, and then apply that ISBN to all ebook versions of that book. Because Snowy Wings Publishing doesn't use the secondary list, all the ebook versions of their books can use the same ISBN, and thus the link took works for all the vendor sites.

Of course, the one thing that the universal link relies on is Books2Read always being in existence. If that site goes down, the universal link will be toast.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

ALIEN BONDS is on sale! Travel to Wakanreo for only $1.99! #MFRWhooks

To celebrate the lunch of my new YA science fiction novel Drifters, I have put my science fiction romance Alien Bonds (book 1 of the Wakanreo trilogy) on sale for half off— only $1.99 for the Kindle version! Of course the entire trilogy is also free if you're a Kindle Unlimited subscriber,

Alien Bonds takes place on the planet Wakanreo, where the dominant species is humanoid, but a little taller than actual humans, and with fur and claws. Wakanreans are also unique in the galaxy because they mate for life through a process controlled entirely by pheromones. I had a lot of fun writing this book because I got to decide how this trait would have affected Wakanrean cultures. I concluded that Wakanreans would be less class-conscious than humans, because there would be no such thing as an arranged marriage, no upper class that could look down on "inferior" people based on their jobs or lack of wealth. If fate and pheromones are always in charge of mating, then parents could not control who their offspring brought into the family. Ergo, everyone is valued more equally.

Likewise, if two people with compatible pheromones happened to be the same gender, no big deal. If mating isn't a choice, then you can't judge people on their mates. Also, sex has nothing to do with morality so they don't worry about nudity. But there is no such thing as dating because you cannot induce the mating process. So is that a bad thing or a good thing? That's kind of the point of the book. Well, that and the love story that unfolds between a human woman and a Wakanrean man.

Another thing that was fun to do with this book was I was able to make excellent use of use the Kindle X-Ray function. X-Ray is most often used to explain who characters are (it's very handy when someone from disappears in chapter 2 and then reappears in chapter 20.. However in the Wakanreo books, I also use X-Ray to link the made-up alien words to their meanings. All you do is long press the character or place name, or in this case, Wakanrean word, and a box with an explanation pops up. And unlike looking up terms in Wikipedia, X-Ray works fine in airplane mode. [N.B. While an actual Kindle supports X-Ray, not every version of the app does. Also, it won't work in books where the publisher has not done the setup work.] There is a glossary at the back of the book if you can't use X-Ray.

So, hop aboard the StarShip Kindle and you will visit an interesting planet! One Amazon reviewer called the story "a unique and very well thought out romance, unlike any other I’ve read before."

Excerpt from Alien Bonds:

    The silver-haired Wakanrean came closer still. Under his cape he wore a long, blue robe instead of the trousers and loose, tunic-style shirt favored by Wakanreans of both sexes. He was very close now. His golden facial and body fur combined with the creamy white of his crest reminded her of some Terran animal, but she couldn’t remember which one. Other than the dark blue trim on his robe and the diamond-shaped pattern that decorated his sandals, his only adornment was a piece of silver jewelry fastened at the base of his throat; she couldn’t tell if it was pinned to his robe or his chest fur.
Dina could feel herself breathing faster, her heart pounding hard. She should walk away. Why couldn’t she move her feet? She stood waiting by the mezzanine railing, as still as if she had taken root in the floor.
    The Wakanrean stood in front of her. He glared down at her, his face contorted into a scowl, his amber eyes glowing with contempt.
    “I beg your pardon.” Dina tried to keep the quaver out of her voice. “Do I know you?”
    He was so close, she could feel the heat from his body. Either that, or the room had gotten suddenly warmer. Dina felt herself flush from head to foot.
    He didn’t answer, but all at once it was as if his anger was a physical thing, an invisible mass, pushing against her. She stepped backward, stumbled, and almost fell.
She reached for the mezzanine railing behind her, and in the same instant, the Wakanrean grabbed her arm.
    Dina froze, utterly baffled. The orientation had said clearly that Wakanreans would always avoid touching a Terran, and yet here was one not only touching her, but holding her firmly by the arm and helping her to stand.
    The orientation had also failed to warn her that a Wakanrean’s touch was so warm it almost burned. Dina could feel a flush of heat on her arm where his hand still gripped it. She stood straighter and looked into his face. He had typical Wakanrean features—an arched nose, large round eyes, a wide mouth.

    His expression changed as she watched. His anger faded to confusion. He looked almost stunned. His nostrils still flared, but from the way his eyes had opened wide, Dina knew he was surprised rather than angry.


DRIFTERS is live!

My latest novel Drifters is now for sale as an ebook and a paperback!

Amazon paperback
Kindle book
Books a Million paperback
Barnes & Noble paperback
Book Depository  paperback
Abe Books paperback
Also listed by IndieBound

Drifters is a YA science fiction adventure set on a far-future world.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Cover Reveal for DRIFTERS

As I mentioned in my earlier post, on April 14, 2020, I will release a new book, a YA science fiction novel called Drifters (the Kindle version can be pre-ordered for $3.99)  This will be my first book published from Snowy Wings Publishing, a cooperative publishing venture from a great group of authors.

Here's the cover! 

I also plan to publish a fantasy romance called Bag of Tricks from the SWP sister imprint, Crimson Fox Publishing,but that will be much later in the year,

The paperback of Drifters is available on pre-order from Barnes & Noble, discounted to $8.57 from $11.99.   The Books A Million version is full price.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

TRIBES is on sale!

To celebrate the launch of my new young adult novel Drifters, I am running a sale another of my one-word title books, Tribes. While Drifters is YA (no sex scenes), Tribes is more of science fiction romance. Here's the blurb:
Hob is a slave. Jahnsi is a mercenary, a damsel who never needs rescuing. They both live on Mariposa, a world founded as a prison colony, where all-male or all-female tribes are the only government there is. A person’s tribe demands loyalty and service but provides protection. A girl baby always has a tribe but when a woman can’t find a man to claim her son, she has to abandon him, and the infant can then become someone’s slave.
Hob has nothing to lose when he meets Jahnsi. For the first time in a long time, Hob finds first compassion and then something much more. Jahnsi is horrified by the injustice on Hob's life. But as she and her family struggle to keep him hidden and safe, someone from off-world begins a manhunt through Mariposa's slave quarters, looking for a very specific slave.
The Kindle version of Tribes will be 99¢ starting at 9:00 am EDT on April 1. Starting April 4 at the same time it will jump up to $1.99 and stay there through April  8.  Note that is is also free in Kindle Unlimited.

Monday, March 23, 2020

DRIFTERS is coming out April 14!

I'm happy to announce the upcoming release of a new book, a YA science fiction adventure called Drifters.  The story is set in my ThreeCon universe but there are no characters or events from other books. Here is the blurb:
In the far future, sixteen-year-old Jehan Amato lives on Menkar VII, a colony world only recently rediscovered by the rest of the galaxy. After a run-in with a dangerous gang that wants to exploit his secret psy talent for opening locks without tools, Jehan is sent to live in a Drifter caravan with his estranged father. But though Jehan, who has lived in New Hope City all his life, is initially wary of the nomadic people and their unfamiliar customs, in the caravan he comes to learn things about his family and himself that will change his life forever.
There will be a paperback version, and the ebook version is available for preorder on Kindle. Other ebook vendors will follow soon after I finish the epub work.

Note that Drifters is my first book with Snowy WIngs Publishing, a cooperative venture of many YA authors. I also hope to have a book out later this year with their sister imprint Crimson Fox Publishing. That book will be a fantasy romance; the working title is Bag of Tricks.

Cover reveal for Drifters will be April 1.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Smashwords sale for "Read an ebook week!"

Smashwords is having a sale and all my books in their store are either half price or free!

Of course the books that are enrolled in Kindle Unlimited are not for sale on Smashwords, but I still have seven titles there. The Return of Magic (a novella) and The Sixth Discipline are free; the others are $1.50.

Smashwords is not tied to a device. They sell ebooks in pretty much every format, but the file you download will then need to be uploaded to your ereader. If you have a Kindle, you can either email it, or you can copy it to the Kindle by using a USB cable to attach the Kindle to the PC or Mac.

It's Read an Ebook Week! Check the whole sale out out here.

Friday, February 14, 2020

The Ins and Outs of My Recent Fussy Librarian Promotion

First, Happy Valentine's Day! I hope someone gave you a valentine.

Second, if you're not familiar with ebook promotional newsletters, basically, a company creates an email list of ebook buyers (subscribers have to opt in, but it's free to them) and then charges authors and publishers to include their books in a daily email to subscribers. There are many of these services now. BookBub is the biggest name (and the hardest to get into), but there are others, including Book Gorilla, Bargain Booksy/Free Booksy (they separate free books and cheap books into their two emails and if you want both, you have to subscribe to both.), The Fussy Librarian, and Ereader News Today (ENT). When books are on sale but not free, the email entry has an affiliate link and the company gets a small cut from the sale.

On February 8, I ran a Fussy Librarian promotion for The Sixth Discipline (a free ebook!) . The results were pretty good. I had not used FL in a while, so I didn't know what to expect.

I gave away hundreds of copies, mostly on Kindle. And of course, even though the email itself usually generates "sales" for the one day it runs, Amazon's online algorithms push popular books to readers so increased "sales" continues for a few days. As you can see in the screen snap below, the promo offered links to the the book on Kindle, Nook (B&N), Apple, Kobo and Google Play. The results in the list below the screen snap are "sales" for the day of the promo plus three days after.

Vendor:           No. of Copies given away February 8, 9, 10, and 11

Amazon Kindle: 277 (plus 5 paid*), 88 (plus 2 paid*), 28 (plus  1 paid*), 21 (none paid*)
Google Books: 20, 3, 2, 0
iBooks/Apple Books: 19, 0, 0, 0
Barnes & Noble 0, 0, 0, 0
Smashwords: 0, 1, 2, 0 (note: their link was not listed in the ad; these are normal numbers for comparison)
Kobo 0, 0, 0, 0

* The Kindle version wasn't free in all Amazon bookstores so the paid numbers represent foreign sales.

Note that The Sixth Discipline was my first published title, and it came out in 2011. It is free on Amazon only because Smashwords lets an author make a book free, and because Smashwords is a distributor as well as an e-tailer, the book is thus free on other platforms as well. Amazon practices price matching (which is why you see "Tell us about a cheaper price" links on a book's Amazon page);  if you make the book free elsewhere, Amazon will make the Kindle version free also. These days, I usually give away from zero to three Kindle copies every day, so promotions are helpful to boost "sales."

I think in a way, these numbers do a good job of representing how well each vendor is doing at ebook sales. Amazon is way ahead of the pack; its second day number beat all the others' first day totals combined. But Google and Apple both have a significant ebook presence, On the other hand, Barnes & Noble is pretty much dead in the water, and Kobo is going nowhere (at least in the US; it is more popular overseas where Amazon is less dominant). This explains one of the main reasons Amazon can tempt authors and publishers into enrolling their books in Kindle Unlimited: they give up small sales numbers on other platforms in return for money from KU borrows.

Right now both The Sixth Discipline and its sequel No Safe Haven are available only in ebook form but I am having new covers made, and formatting the books for print. I hope to have paperback versions available in a month or so. I might run another promotion after that, as a test of the new covers.

A word to other authors: Giving away this book makes some sense because there is a direct sequel that is not free, and I always see increased sales of it after a promotion of the first book. Giving away a standalone book is not usually as good an idea.  For one thing, a huge number of free ebooks are never read. Making a book free eliminates the cost barrier, so a lot of readers download a free book first, and then look to see if they want to read it. If you have books that are very similar, it can still be a good idea to make a book free for a day or two, in that it can drive up your sales numbers on Amazon temporarily and thus get the book in front of a lot of readers through the "customers also bought" function. That's another benefit of Kindle Unlimited; authors can make their books free or discounted for short periods of time.

Monday, February 10, 2020

I'm in a rave! Mark February 17, 5:00 pm EST on your calendar!

The winter Games (see post below) is still on in full swing. There is a rave today at 5:00 pm Eastern time. Raves are held in the Winter Games Readers' Challenge group on Facebook. You can post questions and authors will post their answers.

Raves are every Monday and Wednesday (always 5 pm EST) all through February. There are about 6-8 authors per rave, My rave is scheduled for Monday, February 17.

Remember, the deal is you get the book free but need to post a review online. Note that some authors (like me) have no way to make the book free online so you need to request it if you don't want to pay the $0.99 it costs.