Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Fantastic review of Tribes!

The SFBook Reviews site gave Tribes a very flattering 4-star review! Reviewer Ant (short for Anthony) likes the setting and the plot, and he says:
"It's the characters that really make this novel shine though and each one has a wonderful personality that works perfectly within the confines of the story."

Thank you, Ant! Glad you enjoyed it.

Be sure to check out SFBook Reviews if you read spec fic. Ant has a pretty broad coverage and his site is well organized. He reads indie authors as well as traditionally published books.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Smashwords has updated their retailer sales figures

I complain when they don't do it, so I suppose I need to report that Smashwords is showing new sales data for Sony and Apple ebookstores.  Both Tribes and No Safe Haven continue to do better in Australia than Canada or the UK.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Censorship strikes again

The web has changed the way we communicate and the way we do business. A lot of sales happen online, and a lot of small businesses rely on the web. One of the tools they rely on is PayPal, an organization that exists only because of the web. After all, anyone can create a website, and register a URL. No one wants to enter their credit card info on a unknown site that could look like it's trying to sell you vitamins or handcrafted jewelry or used books, when really all they want is your credit card numbers so the can scam you. Hence, the creation of PayPal, a company that limits your risk. It's a godsend for small businesses, and in many ways, Smashwords is a small business.

It turns out that Smashwords is using PayPal as their billing and payment system. They even use it to pay their authors. I had noticed that it has been a long time since Smashwords updated their other retailer info (February 2 for Barnes and Noble is still the most recent reported other retailer sales; Sony is still stuck at January 28 and Apple at December 31). I was wondering whether the holdup was on the retailer end or at Smashwords. I think it must be Smashwords because the news has broken that PayPal is forcing Smashwords to remove any books that violate their standards. Specifically, they're targeting erotica books that contain instances of sex with underage kids, rape "for titillation," bestiality, incest, and similar sorts of plot lines.  Here's the email Smashwords sent to authors affected by this, and here's their revised  terms of service as posted on  Smashwords

Since I don't write erotica, it's tempting to think I'm not affected, but of course, I am, because anything that affects Smashwords affects authors who publish on Smashwords. Besides, there is also the question of is this the censorship camel's nose in the self-publishing world's tent? It's interesting that this has gotten a lot of attention on author, reader, and reviewer blogs but there is not a word about it on the Washington Post site. Besides, who's to say PayPal won't decide they don't like science fiction or fantasy? All in all, it's a really scary development, and not just because it's making Smashwords too preoccupied to post more current sales information.

Addendum: some additional background info was posted here on the Dear Author blog.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Another excellent post about ebook production!

Book production expert Emma Wright has done it again! The FutureBook blog has a post by her that gives some specific tips for designing an ebook. This is nice to have because Wright knows a lot about print book design, and she has noted those things that need to be different in an ebook.

For example, in a print book, with a (potentially) larger page, the design can rely on white space more than in an ebook where the screen is often very limited in size. The scene break style in a print book might include several lines of white space, but only one or two lines in en ebook. That means you need something—a rule or a different font size—to distinguish the new scene from the old.

It isn't enough to produce an ebook with no typos. If you want your book to be readable, you have make sure it's easy to navigate as well as an engrossing read.

p.s.  Smashwords seems to be stable for now, but they haven't had an update of other retailer info in quite a while. Apple, Diesel, and Kobo are still showing sales data only through December 31, and Sony though January 28.  Barnes & Noble is still in the lead with data from February 2.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Reader alert! Smashwords is down! — looks OK now, if they can stay up

This is a good example of why you never want to put all your ebook eggs in one online basket. Smashwords is down and has been down since yesterday afternoon. The tweet from Mark Coker (above) says the site is down because their hosting service Slicehost is down. Some research on Google tells me that Slicehost is now owned by Rackspace and they planned to shut it down by May.  Looks like it might have happened sooner.

Fortunately, the books Smashwords pushed to iBooks, Sony, Kobo, etc. are still available because those ebookstores are up. Many baskets rule!

Monday, February 13, 2012

How do you find (e)books?

One thing that's differnt about ebooks (when compared to print) is how you find the books. I follow a couple of blogs that list free and cheap ebooks. A Kindle World Blog is only for Kindle books, as you might expect from the name, but Books on the Knob (don't ask me what the name means!) covers all the major ebook retailers. She has a wonderful post on managing your Kindle library on there, too.

But even if a book is really cheap, if I don't know the author I usually get the free sample. I love that feature for ebooks! I wish authors and/or publishers paid more attention to it. The other day I got a free sample of a book I had heard good things about, and discovered the author had added a sort of lesson on writing at the front of the book. When I tried to jump to Chapter 1, it wasn't included in the sample! If I want a book about how to write, I will buy one! Needless to say, that was one book I didn't get.

I love bookstores, but I certainly don't plan to visit one to browse if I know I'll buy the ebook version. That's hardly fair to the bookseller, and besides, I think it's better to learn to browse digitally. I see mentions of books on Twitter sometimes, and on other folks' blogs. But if anyone out there has some good suggestions for digital browsing, I'd be happy to hear them.  I'm always on the lookout for a good read.

Shades of Empire is ready for the copy editor!

Most of my fiction is far-future science fiction that takes place in imagined worlds. Sometime in May I hope to publish a true space opera. The universe is the same one found in Tribes, but none of those characters appear in Shades of Empire, in which much of the plot takes place on an interstellar cargo ship. As the title suggests, the novel also includes an emperor (and an empress, too). It's a multi-threaded story with many characters and subplots, and I'm hoping folks find it an interesting read.

I'm adding a photo of  the Eta Carinae nebula to this post, in celebration of my story. NASA has some great photos of space if you're looking for one.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A fantastic post about ebook publishing!

I just read an excellent post by Emma Wright called “Nine truths about e-book publishing” on the FutureBook blog. Not all of this list applies to self-publishers, but it wouldn't hurt to read every item to understand why these things matter.

Some points that really struck me were:

  • An ebook isn't limited by the things that limit print, like page count and the cost per page for color pictures. This is so true and yet it's easy to forget it.
  • You absolutely have to proof your ebooks! Yes, yes, yes! Converting from Word or scanning print pages can introduce errors that were not there before. This kind of workflow can result in hyphens in words that don't need it, or two or three words run together with no spaces or any number of things. And yes, it is worth it to check every major device or app.
  • Metadata matters! If you don't identify the book correctly as to author, publisher, ISBN, etc., in the metadata tagging, then it won't show up on searches for those fields.
  • Expect change! This is a great point.  Don't get enamored of doing things only one way because something better could come along any minute.

According to her bio, Emma Wright is a publishing production pro as well as a blogger. I can believe it!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Sales figures from other retailers: slow is better than not at all

Like the KDP and PubIt platforms, Smashwords reports sales on their own platform very quickly. For all three of them, you see any and all sales within hours or even minutes.

For sales via Smashwords other retailers though, reporting time varies tremendously. I've copied the chart (below) that I see in the Smashwords Sales and Payment Report to show you what I mean. Note the second column in the table, which shows the date for which sales are reported for that retailer. Barnes & Noble is the quickest, followed by Sony and Kobo, but Apple and Diesel are way behind, with Amazon bringing up the rear (except of course I'll never see Amazon numbers in this table because I'm selling direct via KDP). The fourth column shows actual dollar amounts for any sales not already reflected in my Smashwords balance (i.e., money that will be due to me from Smashwords after they get it from the retailers).  All data is as of today, but I've zeroed out all the last column numbers.

When I looked at the sales and payment report in my Smashwords Dashboard, below this chart is a much longer and more detailed one showing sales by date and by vendor. It's actually pretty informative in terms of what titles are selling well, and in some cases, where.  Apple and Kobo show the country where the sale was made.and all of them give you the price paid and the date.

Smashwords pays quarterly, assuming you have enough royalty coming to you. If you're at all interested, you should check out their Payment and Royalties FAQ.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Selling ebooks outside the Kindle store

This is the dawn of a new era in book-selling not because people are self-publishing—authors have done that for a long time—but because it's finally cheap and easy to self-publish. What that means is, all those people who always wanted to write a book are coming out of the woodwork, writing their books and then putting them up for sale, either as ebooks or POD (print on demand) books or both. The Kindle store is glutted with ebooks, hundreds of thousands of them.

Of course, quality varies considerably. Some self-published authors don't understand the importance of editing or even, sad to say, of proofing. Fortunately, technology provides a taste-before-you-buy option, either through the"Look inside" function or the downloadable free sample. There are plenty of good self-published books, but you do have to find them.

To quote the Bard, there's the rub! It's difficult for a new author who doesn't have the benefit of an established fan base to get noticed in the rapidly swelling crowd. One thing I have noticed in the months my books have been for sale is that is that there is not, in spite of what you might hear, only one marketplace. Yes, the Kindle store is the single most popular ebookstore. It is very well designed and Amazon's software is great at recommending new things to buyers (although they need a button that says "I only bought that CD or movie or video game as a gift for my nephew. Please stop suggesting these things to me!"). But it's also harder to stand out in the Kindle store. I think that's one reason why I have seen more sales lately in the Sony and Apple iBooks stores than on Kindle: less competition. After all, the books have the same covers and blurbs in all three stores; they are the same product but in different-sized marketplaces.

A second reason is the fact that both Sony and iBooks offer a way to make a self-published book free. All you have to do is 1) publish your book on Smashwords, 2) opt in to sending the book to other retailers, 3) make the book free on Smashwords, and 4) wait. In less than a week, your book will be free in the Apple iBooks and Sony ebookstores. Of course, being able to give away a book works better as a sales strategy if you have more than one book. But even when you only have one book out there, giving it away can get you a lot more reviews and get your book noticed on book bloggers' sites. And you don't have to make it free forever.

Also, as I mentioned in an earlier post, Apple is selling internationally, so my books are available in iBooks for readers in the UK, Canada, and Australia as well as the US. Amazon sells to other countries, too, but I haven't seen more than a few random sales, and again, I attribute this to more competition.

Of course, there is also the question of whether vendor sites treat self-published books differently, which is why I moved my three books from the PubIt platform to using Smashwords to publish in the Barnes & Noble Nook store. It's too early to say how that's working, but the outcome will determine what I do with the next two books, which should be coming out in about two or three months.

If you're reading this because you've self-published, I would be interested in hearing what markets are working best for you. If you're still in the planning stages, please feel free to post a question in a comment.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Where Magic Rules is on the copyeditor's desk

My fantasy novelette (it's 25,000 words as of now) is being copyedited! Where Magic Rules is a departure for me, a pure fantasy set in another version of earth. The hero is from our world, but he finds himself trapped in an alternate reality where there are mages and dragons and magic rules science.

The hero is named Joe and the heroine is named Phillip. It's an interesting situation. Joe is certainly surprised by it.But while Joe is an outsider, Phillip is very much a product of her own world. Equal parts of buddy movie, road movie, and romantic comedy combine as the two of them go on a quest in the service of the Great Mage, a quest that leads them to a dragon's lair.