Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Three bags of hurry up and wait

Well, that took a bit longer than I thought it would.
The prize aspect of a writer is discipline. You got to keep your butt in the chair and keep plugging away. Even when you’re staring at a screen that says “Uploading your ebook now.” That’s not so great for my ADHD.
My plan to e-publish was two-fold. The first was to provide several short stories so that potential readers could have more content to choose from. The second was to spread my distribution among the big three -- Amazon, Nook and Smashwords.
But if you have 7 shorts that essentially means you’re uploading 21 stories. I should have thought out that math earlier. So my plan to do a massive upload in one day turned into more like a week. Technically, I could have done it in a day, but I would have gnawed off my arm by the end of it, and learning to type with one hand is a bitch.
At this point, the experience of it all is a bit blurry (having a cold that week didn’t help). But from what I can remember …
For any of the three e-publishers:
·         They will want your tax information: It’s the price (or payment) of doing business. If you haven’t incorporated yet, they will take your social security number in lieu of your tax ID number.
·         If you have the  .doc file and a short story, you’re all set: it’s savvy to learn how to set up your formatting and TOC for your novel in Calibre or Scribe. If you have a .doc (not .docx) file, though, all three publishers have online conversion tools that should work for short stories.
·         Each company has different cover sizes and they change without notice: Do your homework on the covers.
·         For all the talk of how traditional publishers want to straightjacket you into a marketable niche, the genre labels for these companies are mostly either generic or what’s trending. If you happen to have a post-apocalyptical Science Fantasy short in the vein of Vance’s Dying Earth, good luck with that getting lumped into Science Fiction, Apocalyptical, and Adventure. And the Fantasy genres will only touch on Epic, General or Contemporary/Paranormal.  If you’re lucky, you could find Steampunk. Unfortunately, the pull-down menus for these are clunky. I’ll get to tags/labels with each publisher.
·         And no matter the publisher, if you have more than one book online, then you probably aren’t going to be happy on how you have to drill down in the reports to see what’s really going on with the sales numbers. That’s for just 7 stories. I can’t imagine what hoops the writers who have dozens of stories have to jump through to understand their data.
·         A “Same entry as last time” for things like author, publisher and price would make the process much less of a time suck.
·         Have a “cheat sheet” of your blurbs, tags and author bio handy to do a lot of cut and paste
Now for the individual guys:

You sly, sly dogs. I’ve already said that Amazon tries to make themselves a convenient one-stop shop for an author. They allow you to use Styles from Word to set up the formatting for TOC and offer a gallery of customizable book covers. However, then they’ll try to tempt you to go exclusive with them. (But do you really want only one company holding all the cards at the end of the day?)
Amazon only allows 7 tags for your product and offer limited genre choices. The biggest positive is that I saw one or two instant sales -- but then afterwards, nothing.  My cynical side wants to think that Amazon has a slush fund for buying the first copy of a writer’s work. If they can keep you hoping, then you’ll keep putting out content.
Not that I have any proof of such a silly idea. Maybe I should just pat myself on the back that I got lucky day one.
Uploading takes forever and you can’t really go on to the next project as you wait. The whole process happens over several different screens.
The actual publishing of your ebook takes 24 hours.
Nook doesn’t offer you a free cover, but they do try to make themselves your browser-based word processor/Scrivener project manager. If you have any bold or italics in your document, you’ll have to go back and add them in via the Nook system.
I seem to remember this one was the most clunky to work with, though they seemed to have the most flexible system for cutting and pasting your tags in.
Again, uploads take forever and it seems that you take chances if you try to skip to the next project. You have to go through several screens related to different silos (price, audience, actual upload).
The upside is, they publish your ebook in a few hours.
How I hate and love you.
Smashwords had the only single upload screen process, which was great, and the process actually invites you to upload something else as your ebook is translated in any format you need. Neat.
But SW has the most proprietary system for formatting your work (which at the very least means including a copyright that names your submission a “Smashwords Edition.”) For example, Their Word TOC system works off Bookmarks, not Styles and other odd bits.

->TL:DR Read their handbook. It will save you from a lot of grief later.
Even though the actual upload is painless, it take days -- yep days – for a story to go live. It makes me imagine that they have a light-starved gnome locked in a server box, reading every upload by the light of a candle and a Sega Genesis.
I still believe enough in my strategy that I’d do it again. But in the future, I’ll be adding individual stories and remember that I have to multiply my efforts by three.  
’Cause as an ebook author, there’s no such thing as bulk shipping.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Help a Franchise Fiction Brother out.

Do you like Star Trek, Farscape, and World of Warcraft? What do these three things have in common? A great writer who's in a bit of a pinch.

A Master of Franchise Fiction,  Keith DeCandido, selling and signing a lot of out of print stuff to make ends meet until the next set of projects pay off.

I've personally met the guy and he's a great person. Give his Facebook post a check and see if there's something you'd love to have on your shelf.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Ohhh. Amazon you sly dog ...

There has been a seismic shift in e-publishing in just the last few years.

A. The paperback market has been shrinking, not just on the consumer end, but the distribution end as well. thanks to big box stores who have been very busy in trying to drastically narrow the selection of paperbacks a consumer sees on the shelf at all.  There used to be a top 10 national bestseller list in every genre, mostly because each region had its bestseller's list and that was aggregated into a national list. Now, realistically, there are only three top sellers in each genre because these stores don't want to mess with regional sales. They want one easy list to buy from.

B. The technology has finally caught up to make self-publishing very easy.. I spent a bit of time learning how to work programs like Calibre, only to find out that now I don't really need them. Amazon, Smashwords and the Nook now do the Word Doc converting for you.

C. Who hasn't heard of the woman who has made $30k in one month off of Bigfoot erotica. ... That's not a typo.

That's offered up some good things. With anecdotes like that, several professional writer's organizations are getting ready to approve bylaws that allow ebook authors to join. To see these organizations go from naked skepticism to embracing epublishing in a few short years is amazing. It's like watching a behemoth turn a pirouette on a dime. 

As for probably the worst part, now that's easier to upload your book and there's little shame in doing so, you might as well do it.


Along with about several other million other writers, aspiring writers and Baby Boomers who decided that they want to be writers during their retirement years. 

Despite all that, Amazon's stayed on top of it all with their bag of tricks. Going beyond the mobi. conversion tool, they've kept switching things up and delivering on promises that  make it worth your while to be exclusive with them, including being their part of their Amazon Prime library. 

There's also Kindle Worlds to entice established authors with the promise of "free money" for letting fan fic writers publish-- and profit share -- their efforts in the world of their favorite author. (Oddly enough, now some fan-fic writers are grumbling that they their hard work -- in someone else IP, shouldn't be "taxed."*)

Update: The Vampire Diaries franchise author, L.J. Smith, who was kicked offer the series is now using Kindle Worlds to get back into the series that she put on the map. 

It makes Amazon really tempting as your one-stop publishing shop, which has been their savvy goal from the beginning. The minor miracle here has been how they've stayed on target for so long. 

Makes me wonder what their next step is.

*So we gone from fan-fic writers being grateful they don't get cease-and-desist letters to some how thinking they should be the sole beneficiary of work they based on someone else's world. A world that took an author, an agent and a publisher, years to develop and grow. Just saying.

The infamous triangle

They say there are three choices you get in every project, Fast, Cheap, or Good. Pick two.They also say that the last 10 percent of a project takes up about 80 percent of the time working on that project.

I'm discovering that writing pretty much holds to these rules. In the past couple of months, my goal of getting 7 short stories and one mini anthology out has slowed to a crawl since I've picked Cheap and Good. My great friends and family that are helping me do some final editing are all great volunteers who are doing this on their off time. So things are moving, but slowly. 

In my experience, I'd have to say that people like playing book critic. When these were just Word Docs on my computer, I had to reach out to find some volunteer editors. Once I slapped a nice ebook cover on it, people have been asking me to take a peek and "offer some advice." Maybe next time I'll get the cover done first and then write a story. Hey, it worked for the old pulps.

But hopefully soon, we'll be done and then these little stories will have to fly on their own out on the great winds of the Internet.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Say it agian?

So I'm trying something really new this time.

I was in the store, and I noticed that the Dragon speaking software for only like $30, which also came with a microphone set. 

In the past, dictation software, while out of my price range, has been appealing to me for a few reasons:

  • I have a few learning disabilities that drastically slow down my output and technology has been a big help in the past.
  •  I've always noticed for my personal writing has two phases.
  • A crazy creative phrase where I'm pacing back and forth on on the floor thinking about my story and what's happening next. Sometimes I ramble to myself or repeat lines of dialogue to get an ear for how it sounds. It's when I seem to be my most imaginative. Call it my right brain jazz.
  •  But then I'd sit down in my brain seems to stop when I have to meet with my fingers to type. Call it my left brain OCD.

I've also been trying to go for a new method where my first draft is all rough output to be corrected later as I go through Draft 2, Draft 3, Draft 4, etc. But I getting too distracted by all the wiggly red lines under the poor spellings, the bad grammar, etc. Distraction Free Writing Software used to help with this but then I discovered that most of the free versions of this sort of app let you get back to the Internet with Alt-Tab.
Oh Internet, you cruel, cruel mistress. Why must you tempt me so. But apparently, it's harder to be tempted by Io9,com  when you're pacing the floor and talking to yourself like you're used to having padded walls.  (Man, I need to get a longer cord for this microphone.) 

So I decided to grab the Dragon software and see what would happen. Now I admit I'm keeping my expectations are very very low. As long as the software can dictate my long run-on sentences with some accuracy so I can get back to tweaking them later with silly things like punctuation or the correct homophones, then we'll be walking in the right direction. 

It's going to be long road before I get this thing to do a better draft than that. Thanks to my hours of voice to text over my phone, it doesn't sound so weird to say "period" at the end of sentence, but anything more than that kills my focus right now.

At first blush, seeing as how using this setup on Day 1 got me almost 1000 words for my novel in an hour, I'd have to say that it was worth $30.

Side note: The first draft of this article was written totally in Dragon speaking software. There were changes, trust me.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

World building: Painting on a big blue marble

There's a lively debate going on when extraneous world building crosses the line. For a lot of writers, the process of creating the world is trial and error. So it's not clear in the first draft what's an additional details that you'll eventually have to cut. And when do those snippets go from from being a safety net to mentally chasing your tail.

The wildly imaginative and wildly talented China MiĆ©ville has said that you should only come up with details that enhance your story (though his earlier breakout, Perdido Street Station, went past that bar a couple of times) and that if you find yourself creating a whole separate novel as a gazetteer, then perhaps that’s more your thing.

Zelazny  and his Chronicles of Amber were a big influence during my college days. Even though he wrote in a tight, noir style, he created universes made from scratch. Sometimes those details became relevant to the plot and other times it was just create a sense of how varied the multiverse can be.

Zelazny’s worlds felt lived in yet, I get a vibe that Zelazny did a lot of world building by the seat of his pants. I’m sure that a lot more world building got left on the cutting room floor, but there are still plenty of back story hinted that made one feel as if Amber had existed before you opened the book and that it would still be there even after you finished the story. He had no fear in putting things that turned out to be red herrings and  intriguing back stories.

Of course, he wrote his books in a different time. With every thing living forever on the Internets, where fans can comb and cross reference every bit, I think that stifles authors a bit these days and some might fear that every bit and bobble has to be accounted for.

A pitch perfect example of this has been Star Trek. Twice the creative teams felt that they needed an out (Temporal Cold Wars and Alternate Realities) to "reset" over 40 years of canon to get the elbow room to tell new stories to both old -- and new -- fans. 

I'm pretty sure that a lot of fans disagree with that, but when it happens twice, what does that say? Sure there are fan-creators out there who mine the old material to make some great amateur films that have set a new bar, but those aren't coming out at real pace to match a TV show. And in the end, they only have to please themselves.

And that's usually the fan I identify with more, not the type to nitpick on the details, but to use their own imagination to fill in the gaps with their own stories. That's the place where fan fiction and fan art began in that time when it took months to wait for the next book or movie. A time where if we wanted more and couldn't wait, we made it up as we went along. 

I don't mind admitting it, that's where I started too.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

And now this cute little owl

I enjoyed South Florida's Ren Faire and this little fellow was part of a falconry exhibit.

This fair was not as fun as they had been in the past, though, because of two reasons.

My long-time friend who volunteered for Ren Faire every year moved away. I missed her and getting to hang out with the "Players." Didn't feel the same this time.

They changed the layout so you must walk past a good chunk of the vendor booths and the food court before getting to most of the shows and ... more vendor booths. I'm going to browse through it all anyway, I'd like to take in a show or two first, thank you.

Still fun, just tiny bit of bittersweet (about the size of this owl) sprinkled in for flavor.