Monday, December 26, 2011

On My First eReader

So about two, almost three months ago I ordered an ereader. I’d been wanting one, but I’m too cheap to blow a hundred bucks on the most boring of all models, and definitly not more on the more high falutin' models or devices. I like toys with all kinds of features to play with. So when my boyfriend found the Pandigital Novel on sale for half off at Newegg, I sprang for it.

The PDN is a gimped down android tablet--limited to serve as an ereader with a few perks and not a full tablet. I got the 7-inch white model, and I’ve been nothing but happy with it even though it doesn’t connect to the android market. But you can still install any apps you can get an APK for--I find the easiest way is to email them to myself. It runs Android OS 2.0, has 1Gig onboard memory with an SD card slot, a headphone jack and a USB port. It’s network is wireless, with no 3G. Email, facebook and a file navigator come preloaded, and oh yeah, as does the kindle software (B&N software is available on other models.)

So the technicals out of the way, I want to talk more about how, I the resolute book lover feels about reading books on a “device.”

I actually haven’t been able to use the thing much since I’ve gotten it, sadly. I have this here stack of to-read paper books that I actually want to read. However, I made an excuse to do some reading on it--I had to see what it was like. So, I read through the first four episodes of the Grit City emotobook serial novel; issues 1-5 are out now, and I cannot wait to read the fifth!

A lifetime of reading books has ingrained into me certain reading habits, and apparently, they haven’t changed with picking up an ereader. The only difference in reading on a device, as far as I noticed was the page turning. The screen did not bother my eyes, it wasn’t huge and ungainly to hold (like hardcovers tend to be).

I sat on the couch reading, completely glued to the story, waiting, waiting to see what would happen next...the page turning was quick and letting my eyes flick to the top of the next page with ease. And when I knew I had to put the “book” down to go run an errand, I started patting the cushion beside me, then my lap, then the arm of the chair... and when I reached the end of the paragraph I grinned because I did not need the bookmark I was searching for.

It looks like reading is reading, words through the eyes into the brain. Books are nice, but all you need is text. My disclaimer is that the text needs to be a legible easy-to-read font with proper formatting.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Amazon KDP Select

I just got an interesting email. I'll quote some of it below:

Hello from KDP!

We're excited to introduce KDP Select - a new option dedicated to KDP authors and publishers worldwide, featuring a fund of $500,000 in December 2011 and at least $6 million in total for 2012! KDP Select gives you a new way to earn royalties, reach a broader audience, and use a new set of promotional tools.

Here's how KDP Select works:

When you make any of your titles exclusive to the Kindle Store for at least 90 days, those with US rights will automatically be included in the Kindle Owners' Lending Library and can earn a share of a monthly fund. The monthly fund for December 2011 is $500,000 and will total at least $6 million in 2012. If you haven't checked it out already, the Kindle Owners' Lending Library is a collection of books that eligible US Amazon Prime members can borrow for free once a month with no due dates.

You'll also now have access to a new set of promotional tools, starting with the option to promote your KDP Select-enrolled titles for FREE for up to 5 days every 90 days.

How your share of the monthly fund is calculated:

Your share of the monthly fund is based on your enrolled titles' share of the total number of borrows across all participating KDP titles in the Kindle Owners' Lending Library. For example, if total borrows of all participating KDP titles are 100,000 in December and your book was borrowed 1,500 times, you will earn $7,500 in additional royalties from KDP Select in December. Enrolled titles will remain available for sale to any customer in the Kindle Store and you will continue to earn your regular royalties on those sales.

What this means to you:

KDP Select gives you access to a whole new source of royalties and readers- you not only benefit from a new way of making money, but you also get the chance to reach even more readers by getting your book in front of a growing number of US Amazon Prime customers: readers and future fans of your books that you may have not had a chance to reach before! Additionally, the ability to offer your book for free will help expand your worldwide reader base.

So, basically, Amazon is now offering a pool of money for authors who are willing to participate in the Kindle Owners' Lending Library. This means your book will be available for free to anyone who subscribes to Amazon Prime. In return for adding your book to this library, you will get a portion of the money pool depending on how many times your book is downloaded. The caveat is that your book has to be an Amazon Kindle exclusive for at least 90 days.

This is a very interesting move on Amazon's part. They are basically trying to buy exclusive titles. I'm usually a skeptic when it comes to things like this, but I am still thinking of putting my next book into this program. Honestly, while I do like Smashwords, I get more sales from the Kindle Store. And it's not a permanent agreement, so I can always publish it with Smashwords later.

My question is just how much money could be earned in exchange for doing this? My expectation is that a few authors will do very well, and then the lending library will be flooded with titles, and the available money will be spread so thin that it will no longer be worth enrolling books in the program. Or someone will file an antitrust suit, because, in all seriousness, this move is a potential threat to every other ebook retailer out there. And yet, in the short term, I think it's worth trying if you have a book that is ready to be published.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Scribings Now on Sony Reader

Scribings is now availible at the Sony Bookstore!

'bout time! We released at all venues from Smashwords at the same time, on June 17th, it showed up on B&N a only a few weeks ago as well.

I don't know what's with this wait time. Anyone know?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Joe Abercrombie's The Blade Itself

I’m one of those people who likes to make lists to keep track of things I want to do, things I want to get, books I should read etc... (and sometimes I even just add things to lists so I can cross them off). So, I had this list of books that have really great action scenes, because my action scenes need a lot of work, and completely forgot about it, like I usually do. But I recently I found and reviewed it and a funny thing happened. Coincidence? Fate’s sarcastic ways? Who knows? The book I just finished reading, Joe Abercrombie’s THE BLADE ITSELF, was on there.

Here I was just about ready to write a mostly unsavory review for it, but then all of a sudden, I realized that yeah, I had some issues with the book, but the action scenes were not on that list. That’s what I can learn from Joe Abercrombie.

The book starts with an action scene, which are usually good hooks. I can see why Abercrombie would do this as it is one of his strengths and is known as an effective kick off. In the first lines of the book we have:

Logen plunged through the trees, bare feet slipping and sliding on the wet earth, the slush, the wet pine needles, breath rasping in his chest, blood thumping in his head. He stumbled and sprawled onto his side, nearly cut his chest open with his own axe, lay there panting, peering through the shadowy forest.

The Dogman had been with him until a moment before, he was sure, but there wasn’t any sign of him now. As for the others, there was no telling. Some leader, getting split up from his boys like that. He should’ve been trying to get back, but the Shanka were all around. He could feel them moving between the trees, his nose was full of the smell of them. Sounded as if there was some shouting somewhere on his left, fighting maybe. Logen crept slowly to his feet, trying to stay quiet. A twig snapped and he whipped round.

There was a spear coming at him. A cruel-looking spear, coming at him fast with a Shanka on the other end of it.

What a way to kick off a story. I got sucked right into this. What is going to happen to this dude?

Good action verbs: Plunged, slipped, stumbled
Imagery: wet pine needles
What’s going on in the body: blood thumping, air rasping
Risk/loss: stumbling almost kills himself,
Uncertainty: doesn’t know where his friends are, doesn’t know where his enemies are

Every step of the way is in very close POV. Things happen as a person would see them unfold.

I wonder if Abercrombie spent hours coming up with that one, had to revise it twenty times, or if it just fell out of his fingers into the keyboard.

Especially with Logen, all the action scenes painted him kind of a clumsy old washout who really wouldn’t survive without a lot of help or the similar ineptitude of his fellow men. This makes him feel more human by our standards, and helps us relate to him. But we also wonder how the hell he got his badass reputation. All the characters, too, when put in tight situations were very worried and not sure of what to do next. This is very human and relatable. No one knows the future or can be 100% sure of the result of their actions. Surprise is a frequent result of the action=reaction equation, at least for this girl.

So that was the beginning. Let’s quickly look at a fencing match in the middle.


They closed quickly this time, and exchanged a cut or two.

Jezal could hardly believe how slowly his opponent was moving, it was as if his swords weighed a ton each. Broya fished around in the air with his long steel, trying to use his reach to pin Jezal down. He had barely used his short steel yet, let alone coordinated the two. Worse still, he was starting to look out of breath, and they’d barely been fencing two minutes.

Hmm ok, not too much action in this one at first glance…but it creates a sense of suspense, and we know that it is fencing, so that’s action right? I think that’s another of his tricks. He gets so down to the detail, using them to make readers see the concerns and holding off on the actual action, which is what makes the story move forward (ya know, people actually doing things). I also really like the description “fished around in the air with his long steel.” It’s a good action verb and imagery all in one.

And bear with me. One more action scene from the end. And this one really kicks ass! (spoiler haters be warned)

The talk was done. Stone-Splitter came at him with axe in one hand and mace in the other, great heavy weapons, though he used them quick enough. The mace swung across, smashed a great hole through the glass in one of the windows. The axe came down, split one timber of the table in half, made the plates jump in the air, the candlesticks topple. The Bloody-Nine twitched away, frog hopping, waiting for his time.

The mace missed his shoulder by an inch as he rolled across the table, cracked one of the big flat stones on the floor, split it down the middle, chips flying through the air. Stone-Splitter roared, swinging his weapons, smashing a chair in half, knocking a chunk of stone out of the fireplace, chopping a great gash in the wall. His axe stuck fast in the wood for a moment and the Bloody-Nine’s sword flashed over, broke the haft into splintered halves, leaving the Stone-Splitter with a broken stick in his paw. He flung it away and hefted the mace, came on even harder, swinging it round with furious bellows.

The biggest thing here? SHOWING. The strength of the enemy-risk. The effects of weapons on things other than people-risk and tension. Weapons breaking, building destruction-this is intense! “a broken stick in his paw,” the imagery again. Step by step unfolding of the mortal dance.

However, here, as it is the end of the book, it is less holding back and examining the details and more the full tilt ahead desperation of the time to win or die. It is just as rough and intense if not more so than at the beginning. Abercrombie’s energy does not flag. I think he wrote this entire book just so he could write this fight scene (I did not include all of it, and it does get better).

Aside from the action, I did learn a couple more things from this book. The way he handled his six main POVs (heh, you think this is an epic fantasy?) is rather interesting. All but one of them were usually in the same place at the same time. They were all overlapping witnesses to the same events, sometimes simultaneously, or from different times with different insights. It allows build up of tension and suspense as well as a sense of intrigue and gives the story a feel of space in a small setting. I like this, but haven’t seen it a lot in my reading and wish I could see it more than the usual display of all the different POV characters in a different part of the world as the story goes.

And then, there was always that POV thread out in the world letting us know what was on the horizon for the main clutch of characters.

This book is representative of a new voice who doesn’t follow all the rules, but at the same time you can tell this was his first work, or an early work, as it has an “unpolished” feel along with, or maybe because of, the newness. (But who am I to say anything about this?) It also works for the book’s noir, gritty feel.

I noticed a problem with hissing speakers. This word showed up numerous times as a speech tag, and not when any words ended in “s.”

There were a lot of exclamation points, but for some reason they didn’t bother me. Point for Abercrombie there.

The enemy-out-of-sight, the Shanka, are never really described very well, other than having the nickname “flatheads.” And as Abercrombie obviously has good imagery skills, I don’t know why he didn’t do this.

There was also a major reveal about a main character in the last twenty-or-so pages (totally done on purpose and I’m not sure I like it-maybe it just needed to be done more artfully) and the whole book was a set up for...the next one. Usually in epic fantasy, the first book in a trilogy resolves at least one semi-major plot arc. Nope, not here...“sorry, go buy the next book...” Good thing Borders is in its last weeks. Organization like this may be what makes me feel that this book is unpolished, or written by an inexperienced writer.

But in the end, the story is there and I cared about the characters, and of course, the action is full tilt all the way through.

Now how about you go and see if what I discovered above helps you improve your action scenes. I know it’s going to help mine.

Scribings is now available!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Remember that Survey we did back when?

Back in May we ran a survey about ereaders and shared the results in three installments.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

I am now working to put them all together on one page (up there at the top) for your viewing convenience. We hope it helps you find your ebook reader!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Big News: GPS has Kindled!

Scribings, Vol. 1
is now available on Amazon in the Kindle Store!

Click the book cover to check out our page!

There are four ways you can help us:

(1) Click on the "Like" button just below the title.
(2) Scroll to the bottom and click on the tags.
(3) vote "helpful" on a good review.
(4) If you read the book, post a review!

Much appreciation for anything you do!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

How to host a guest blog series--Lessons Learned

Over the last month, I ran a guest blog series called Letting Someone Else do the Talking. This is the first time GPS has involved guest bloggers here so we learned a few key things about hosting. Read on to see the three most important things I learned.

Network Network Network
Ask people if they want to do this, seriously, anyone relevant you can think of... you’ll be surprised by the results you get. People will be flattered you asked THEM to be a part of your series. I was shocked about that.

If you want to do a series as opposed to an ongoing random assortment, get all entries in your hands before you start posting. This lets you do two things. You can present the series in the best order and also gives you plenty of time to get them all nice and formatted track down pictures etc... It also lets you plan how long you can run the series and coordinate the timing with all associated parties for the most effective publicity.

For instance, if someone has a book release coming up you want to know about it so you can have your post go live around the release date.

Nag Nag Nag
Remember how flattered those people were? How willing and excited they were to participate, add their content to your series? Well, maybe they didn’t quite plan on the actual work. So give them plenty of lead time, and a solid deadline and nag them. It can be fun!

NOTE: It might also help to not ask for submissions just before or during a major Con. I started soliciting for my series without a serious plan. This was the week before Renovation, the 2011 World Science Fiction Convention. So a lot of people I asked were busy making preperations or traveling or participating at the con. Not good timing to get content from busy writers. Sorry about that guys...

Other than those three things it’s all about getting off Facebook and taking the time to do it.

Friday, September 9, 2011

And that's a Wrap!

Yesterday's post concluded our month-long guest blog series "Letting Someone Else do the Talking."

First off, GPS gives a Tremendous Thanks to everyone who participated!

You can view all the entries posted in this series, just click here. Drop a comment below if you learned something new about epublishing. And next week, I'll post what I learned about running a guest blog series.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Letting Heather Albano do the Talking

Taking The Crazy Option
In September, I will be releasing my first novel in e-book form--a time-travel adventure about a girl, a pocket watch, Frankenstein’s monster, the Battle of Waterloo, and giant clockwork robots taking over London. (If this sounds intriguing to you, you should come on over to my website and put your name down, and I’ll e-mail you as soon as TIMEPIECE is on e-shelves.)

Why have I chosen to electronically self-publish rather than follow the traditional model of seeking an agent and publisher? There are a few interconnected reasons.

1. I have an MBA, and I know a disruptive technology when I see one. The e-book reader has opened up opportunities that may remain open for the long term or may shortly close; either way, the time to take advantage of said opportunities is now.

2. I have some professional contacts in the publishing industry, so I have an idea of the timeframe inherent in following the traditional model… and it’s not a quick timeframe, and the time to try electronic self-publishing is now.

3. I used to be in marketing, so I know something about brand management and loss leaders and how to manage an advertising campaign. Before that, I was in software, so I also know how to handle HTML editing.

4. I have historically been about as risk-adverse as it is possible to be, which means I tend to let opportunities amble past me while I calculate and recalculate the cost-benefit analysis. I never did start a podcast, for instance, despite researching every possible angle on the things. I need to make a different mistake this time--plunge in, take the crazy option, course-correct in real time, and learn something from it.

I don’t necessarily agree with the “e-books are going to replace traditional books in five years’ time” view--I think that’s one of the things that could happen, sure, but I think the horizon is farther out than that, and even if the five-year prediction is true, it does not follow that electronic self-publishing is going to likewise replace traditional publishing. That a) confuses the technology and the industry surrounding it, and b) implies the editorial and marketing functions provided by a publishing house are without value, which is manifestly untrue. Editors make books better. Professional marketing gets books in front of larger audiences. Of course these functions have value.

So while electronic self-publishing might replace traditional publishing in a new-world-order, no-barriers-between-writers-and-readers, publishing-houses-will-join-telegraph-operators sort of way, I’m not sure that’s where I’d put my money. That publishing houses will someday (soon) produce more electronic than paper products? Yes. That the publishing industry as such will disappear? Less likely. After all, blogs and podcasts and indie films and indie bands have been around for a while, and they haven’t replaced editorial columns, the traditional publishing model, Hollywood, or major labels.

What blogging and podcasting have done is provide additional platforms that people early in their creative careers can use to differentiate themselves. Some people are hitting the jackpot doing this, making millions on their own and/or being approached by representatives of the traditional model. Others are never approached by said representatives, but they never need to be; they quietly make respectable amounts of money doing everything themselves in what we might call the “small business” model. Still another model is that of the loss leader—those people whose podcast, blog, downloadable app, or self-published e-book did not make them rich, but whose download rates and/or follower numbers gave them additional street cred when they shopped their subsequent project to the representatives of the traditional industry.

Any of these three models would work fine for me. My goal is to spend my time writing things and selling them to people who want to read them, ideally making a living wage in the process. I’m agnostic as to distribution mechanism.

And a new distribution mechanism has presented itself, and the time to try it out is right now. If it turns out to be a true disruptive technology, changing the structure of the industry from the foundation up and relegating the output of traditional publishers to the same dustbin as Western Union’s highest quality telegram, those who get in on the game early stand to reap the greatest profits. If electronic self-publishing turns out instead to be the fad some people predict, that’s an even greater argument for trying it now. I’ve got this steampunky book, you see. Right now. If I try the traditional route and the traditional route doesn’t accept it for publication—by the time I can definitively say that the attempt has failed, i.e. by the time it’s garnered half a dozen or a dozen rejections, three years or more could have passed, and it would be foolish to wait that long. Electronic self-publishing has a greater likelihood of being a good decision now than three years from now. If I wait until then, I risk a decrease in demand for steampunk-flavored products, and perhaps also a decrease in demand for self-published e-books, and I get to wonder about the e-path not taken.

Whereas if I go the e-pub route in September, the possible outcomes are 1) jackpot model, 2) small business model, 3) loss leader model, 4) it doesn’t do well enough to even be a loss leader, in which case, oh well, I tried--and I’ll know what happened when I took the crazy option, and I will have learned something from taking it.

Heather Albano is a writer of speculative fiction, historical fiction, and roleplaying games. She is a graduate of Wesleyan University and the 2009 Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop.

Her short fiction has appeared or will soon appear in Electric Velocipede, Aoife’s Kiss, Spectra Magazine, Midnight Times, and the More Scary Kisses anthology from Ticonderoga Publications. Her first novel, TIMEPIECE, will be available in electronic format in September 2011. Additionally, she works as a game designer for Choice of Games, producer of award-winning text-based multiple choice games for the iPhone/iPad, Android, Kindle, Palm, and web.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Letting Deirdre Saoirse Moen do the Talking

Thoughts on Self-Publishing by Deirdre Saoirse Moen

The brave, new world of self-publishing your work electronically has given a lot of writers hope they'd lost after hearing tales of editors, agents, slush piles, and long publishing lags. But is it false hope?

There's no question that it's a rush to click send on your book and have it appear in the store within a few days. It's also a rush to be in some trendy coffee shop and have a friend of you show you that she did, indeed, buy your book. I remember the first time I did that with an author, back in 2005, as a relatively early e-book adopter. As the author, this first happened to me in August.

Question is: how many people who don't know you from Adam (or Eve) will be buying your e-books?

Let's look at some of the common scenarios leading to becoming self-published:

Re-Publishing Your Backlist

You have works for which you've either still got the rights to re-publish or you've gotten the rights reverted, and you're going to re-publish works that are out of print or were in print in overseas markets. A number of established authors are doing this; one of the best I've seen is the co-op Book View Caf'e. Obviously, this is relatively easy money if you're in a position to take advantage of it, but the process of getting to this point is long and arduous.

I recently re-published my short story, "A Sword Called Rhonda," in an e-book of the same name. To give you an idea of how long the process can be: I wrote the first draft of the story in summer, 1997 when I attended the Odyssey writers' workshop. It was overwhelmingly disliked, with 17 of 20 people in a row giving it negative feedback. Ouch!

When I got to Clarion in 2002, I re-wrote the piece from scratch, keeping only the main character Karma, the sword, a few concepts, and the first three paragraphs. I axed a major character, the entire plot (which was, as you might guess from the title, based on the odd plot of the film A Fish Called Wanda), I changed the setting from Southern California to Northern, and I struck the ending, which was the primary thing people hadn't liked before.

While it was more favorably received, it still had issues. Leslie What worked with me on developing the piece, and I learned a lot from her. Still, I trunked the story when I got back home because I was in the middle of writing a novel and needed some time to unpack what I'd learned at Clarion.

In 2003, I heard that Esther Friesner was looking for stories for Turn the Other Chick, so I pulled out all the Clarion critiques, really worked on the piece, and sent the story through the local critique group. I made some more changes, then sent it out. A few months later, a check arrived along with a contract. Baen published it in hardcover in 2004, then in mass market paper in 2006. I re-sold the short to This Is My Funniest 2, edited by Mike Resnick, published by BenBella in 2007. Submitted twice, bought twice.

A few months ago, I noticed that Chick wasn't listed in stock anywhere, so that's when I thought I'd look into e-publishing Rhonda. I found a cover artist, did the markup myself, and submitted it to iBooks, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

In this era, it's likely that any new work will be available in some e-book format, so it's not something you need to do yourself until your work goes out of print.

Publishing New Work as an Established Author

Authors who've published some titles via traditional means forge out and release one or more new titles via self-publishing. An example would be Shelley Adina's book Lady of Devices. Shelley's a well-published novelist, but this book is in a different genre, so she self-published the book.

Publishing New Work as a Never-Traditionally-Published Author

Of the recent boom of authors publishing through Kindle Direct Publishing, Smashwords, PubIt (Barnes and Noble's Nook self-publishing venture), iBooks, etc., most of the authors have never been traditionally published. Unfortunately, many of the works that have been published this way would never have been published traditionally for quality reasons. Let's assume that that isn't one of your issues, and that your prose is crisp and clean.

Let's also assume you're able to find a cover that works for you rather than against you, and that you're able to get an ISBN for the sales outlets that require it.

Given that, what are some of the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing your work?


  • Quicker route to publication. This has both a plus and a minus to it: though your work will be available more quickly, you will also develop as a writer during the traditional long submission process, so it's entirely possible that, by the time the novel reaches the right desk, you may be able to edit it into a stronger book.

  • A bigger share of the pie. No question about it, royalty rates on self-publishing are higher.

  • More control.

  • Ability to address niche markets (e.g., anthropomorphic fiction, paranormal erotic comedy, steampunk murder mystery, regional sf/f) that may not be large enough for a publisher to be interested. Back when I started, the Catfantastic series was very popular, but other markets would say, "no cat stories." Although Catfantastic stopped after several volumes, there was still a market for new cat-related sf/f fiction -- just not big enough for publishers to be interested, apparently.

  • You can write (and publish) what you want.


  • Left out of major recognition venues of most kinds. You'll find it more difficult to get speaking engagements, major awards, and other perks you may care about.

  • The pie is smaller for nearly all self-published writers. Sure, there are the exceptions who sold a million books, but they are exceptions.

  • More decisions rest on your shoulders. If you are not a decisive person, this may be paralyzing to you.

  • Need for a wider range of skills. Even if you don't do your own copy editing, artwork, cover design or book style, you'll need to make decisions about how these are done and what your budget is for getting them done.

  • You don't have as much information about the market as an established publisher does. In some cases, this may work to your advantage, though.

  • While sales of e-books are increasing, they are still a minority of the market. In 2010, e-book sales from major publishers accounted for 6.4% of the market. I've been told that number has doubled in the first six months of 2011, but I don't have a reference I can link to for that. That's still 1/8 of the overall book market, though.

  • Publishers bring distribution; in the e-book world, they also bring recognition and trust. Because I know anyone can upload to Smashwords, I don't trust manuscripts from Smashwords as much as I trust books from Tor. I'm more likely to pay $11.99 for a major publisher's e-book (in fact, I just did, for Charles Stross's Halting State) than I am for a Smashwords book that costs $2.99. Without an excerpt, there's a 0% chance I'll buy the Smashwords book.

What Skills Do You Need?

To paraphrase Jaym Gates, in a talk about marketing and promotion, "You learned to write. You can do this."

These days, getting a book into good e-publishing shape is easier than ever. I've never made a Kindle file from scratch, but here's the elements of an EPUB file: it's a set of XHTML files (one per chapter is common), a cover image, any CSS and Javascript, as well as some XML manifest documents, all in a specific order in a ZIP file. It's technical but not especially difficult if you've managed to wrap your head around HTML already. That said, I would recommend using existing tools if you don't already feel comfortable in XHTML and XML, especially as distinct from HTML.

Threepress Consulting has two excellent articles: the first discusses using Apple's Pages for generating an EPUB file and the second is about using Scrivener. I tried Pages layouts, but I'm not particularly familiar with creating new layouts within Pages and I felt a bit constrained with the templates I had, so I used Scrivener to generate my EPUB file and my Kindle file. I was able to use the same EPUB file for both Apple's iBooks and Barnes & Nobles's PubIt.

Beyond that, you need the ability to upload those files using your web browser of choice. You also need the ability to fill out all the numerous little boxes for each of your potential markets. Compared to the EPUB file, this part is easy-peasy.

After that, it'll take a few days (or, in the case of Smashwords Premium, possibly a few weeks) to go live, then you get to check back obsessively for sales numbers like the rest of us.

How Many Sales to Expect?

This is the big question, isn't it? Unless you've got a substantial following already, the biggest issue is going to be getting sales. I have had a web presence since 1998, and began blogging in 2002 (though my blog archives only go back to 2004). I have been active in some corner of the net since early 1994. I volunteer at conventions, everything from regional to Worldcon, and have been doing so for ten years. In other words, my presence is as known as it can be for a writer who's published so little fiction under her own name.

So far, I've been self-published for six weeks. My total sales? 16 copies of my story: 4 on iBooks, 9 on Amazon, and 3 on Barnes & Noble. As I haven't signed up with Smashwords, I haven't yet penetrated other markets. So far, my royalties total $7.15, which is enough for a Peet's mug and a cup of coffee to go in it. An interesting point, though: as iBooks pays the highest of the three royalty rates, 39% of my royalties are from iBooks even though only 25% of my sales are; 44% of my royalties are from Amazon, but 56% of my sales are from there. Some people think these sales numbers are good; I disagree, but I also realize Rhonda is a niche story that has sold through to much of its potential audience through hardcover, book club, and paperback sales.

Absolute Write's forums have a number of people self-reporting sales, some less successful than I, many more successful than I. That's the point, really: there's no predicting sales, except that people who have multiple titles get more repeat sales.

Obviously, there's the promotional basics: mentioning it on your web site and facebook page, adding an e-mail signature that includes your book's information, and linking to your web site in your online profiles.


Only you know what your career goals are, and therefore only you know how self-publishing fits in that overall scheme. For me, I'm still seeking traditional publication for new work, though I may make the occasional related piece available solely through self-publishing.

Deirdre Saoirse Moen helps make the web safe for mere mortals. Her most recent short story publication, "A Sword Called Rhonda," appears in the Turn the Other Chick anthology from Baen and the This Is My Funniest 2 anthology from BenBella. Her other hobby is photography, where she's thus far managed to resist the lure of SLRs in favor of rangefinders (some vintage) and mirrorless cameras. She lives in Menlo Park with her husband, their cat-who-is-not-a-kitty, and a large plush crab.

Saturday, September 3, 2011


Forbes is paying attention to ebooks!! Well, as far as some of the top sellers are concerned... and that's like saying "Hey ebooks are selling now."

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Letting Rob Hunter do the Talking

On Self-publishing

Typically the afterlife of a published tale—we are talking literary ephemera here, the books, the magazines, the websites and e-zines over which you, the author, have no control—consists of gathering dust until the writer’s heirs and assigns shred it for packing nick-knacks and other writerly impedimenta. Not quite the half-life of linoleum. And what of the loves, lives, hopes and aspirations of its citizens? Must they float forever in a shimmering noƶsphere playing whist and watching the flights of eidolons? Boring.

Self-publishing takes either a lot of money or a lot of work. You’re a writer, right? You are in this for love. If it was the money you’d be an investment banker or a plumber. You daydream of that big Hollywood agent calling you up and asking if you’d like to option off your book for a film. How does he know there is a book? Oops. Barring the cash to hire someone else to format your book, record your readings, convert your words into acceptable audio files, this means it’s time to roll up the sleeves.

Formatting a book. This is one of those things that you thought happened Someplace Out There where the Keebler elves cluster about a polished tree stump as they gaze awestruck at your manuscript. Your book. Book, ahh, the sound of it. You've taken your book through many drafts, re-edited, reworked, recast, shortened, lengthened, and found that by the time you were halfway through your book—in my case a 480 page opus—that you had forgotten where you were at. At which time you hit Enter and leave the friendly elves to enter the Forest of Frustration. Here we ask ourselves, “Why am I doing this?” Hopefully to get your work into as many hands as possible. Writers want readers. offers free templates. There will be a learning curve, but you can format it yourself.

There is so much (free) help on the Internet, and free applications as well, that what you will get from virtual self-publishing can become an excuse for putting off your writing. Remember—anything you do is writing, particularly re-writing and editing. That said, let’s get under the hood.

1.) Self-publishing, the first step-The Website.
You can, with a semester at your local Community College and a stack of books, build your own website—a piece of virtual real estate where folks can find you—with only a text editor (Notepad, Notepad++) as I was taught at the University of Maine at Machias. I eventually chickened out and sprung for Expressions Web, a Windows application. If you are a Mac person, there is a plethora of excellent WYSIWYG media out there for both PCs and Macs.

2.) Self-publishing the second step—Podcasting.
Why record? You don’t like the sound of your voice anyway, and studio time is prohibitively expensive. You can do it at home with a mid-line desktop (dual Pentium 4 plus and a USB sound card with a couple of gigs memory and Audacity, a free program). I regularly record stories (at the local radio station, later at home as I saved up the $800.00 for a condenser microphone and an external USB sound card.) as they became available and copyright reverted back to me. The stories and MP3 downloads are distributed for free here, under a Creative Commons license. I started my uploading career with a trip to Feedburner, now owned by Google. Feedburner is free and will do your conversions into the conflicting technologies that clog the Internet.

3.) Self-publishing the third step—e-Books.
One of the most time-honored practices of the author promoting his or her work is the public reading. This is fine if you have a publisher with an ever-eager crew of public-relations folk out there beating the trees and coercing a few church groups, literary reading circles, and independent booksellers to free up a Wednesday evening for you. This is necessarily local; there is no drawing account, but you may want to save your expense vouchers. (And going local is a warm, wonderful human experience—see Big Hollywood Agent above) Going national? Go virtual (see Big Hollywood Agent again).

Here are some free or cheap names to remember—Calibre, Mobipocket Creator, Reader Works Publisher (for Microsoft Reader, of the 3500 eBook downloads from my website only 0.9%, but it sure makes a pretty file), and if you don’t have Adobe, Open Office makes a dandy .pdf for free. For wrangling those finished audio files, check Chapter and Verse.

Here's something to look up—just write it down and Google it sometime: M4b. That’s M4b. Don’t worry, be happy. This is the same audio format albeit with some DRM exclusionary bells and whistles that Amazon uses at Just don't worry about it; it's something you will want to look into later. iTunes can convert your files for you too—and right on your desktop computer.

4.) Self-publishing the fourth step—Unscrewing the unscrewtable.
How will people know how to find me? I don't even know how to find them. Good question and, once again, if you were to Google “Podcast Directory” you should get hundreds if not thousands of listings. Many “podcast directories” act as link farms and they all point to you. How do they get your address? Well, use your imagination. Yep, cannibalism from other directories, and with it inordinate exposure for you and your offerings.

To test the proof of my next statement you will have to look at the statistics for your own website. My website is unimaginatively hosted by and cost me about $42 a year the last time I looked in 2010. And I get a lot of extras with it—that is “extras” for a smalltime operator, not recommended for the United States Government, General Motors or—like a stats engine that lists MP3 files.

5.) Self-publishing the fifth step—Running the numbers.
What will you see in those statistics and why look? Glad you asked. Here are mine as of August 2011:
MP3 downloads 326,547
HTML (the actual web pages) 221,077
XML (extensible markup language) 170,712
PDF (or Adobe/Mobipocket-friendly portable document format) 2,168
PRC files (the Kindle-friendly versions of my three books) 1,547
And LIT (Microsoft Reader) 328

The first list item is MP3 downloads and let’s note, over 100,000 more than the next lowest which is HTML, the actual webpages. Conclusion: people are not reading as much as they're listening.

How did this happen since the links of the audio files are embedded in the HTML pages? Referrals from podcast directories.

At this point I should remind you to put a wee advertisement at the end and beginning of each story or each chapter that you upload to tell people how to find the print version on your website. Without this the link may put you at number one with a bullet in the Billboard top 100 but will not send many people to your books. My first uploads were to Podcast Alley, Podcast Directory, iTunes and DMOZ and an audio file collection to the Internet Archive. And, of course FeedBurner as recommended by Jim Kelly. If this Sci-Fi writer is using any promotional tool, it’s worth investigating.

Next XML. XML is extensible markup language and the table of contents pages for your upload and/or content sites more about this? Google for this one—it’s tricky. In my case the XML file tells iTunes how (and what) to display of my stuff.

Here we’ll skip a line and go to the PRC files. Not to be afraid. These will be the Kindle/Mobi friendly eBooks.

The PDFs are the most popular of my downloads. I’ve got three books formatted for PDFs. I recently sent up the Kindle-friendly PRC links and am watching these play catch-up. There is one additional format—ePub, the dream of an (almost) universally readable eBook that I haven’t mentioned. I’m still learning; check back.

NOTE: If you Kindle-friendly format at home as I do, the Amazon Store will not display your book and the end user has some finagling to do on their desktop computer, i.e. drag-and-drop. Not to difficult.

You—we—want readers (see paragraph 3). Barring money by the wheelbarrow load (see Big Hollywood Agent again), this will have to suffice. Or is this all just an ego trip, maybe a few copies to send out to friends at Christmas? Answer—yes, it is an ego trip; what’s wrong with that? Get real. And don’t forget to call Mom, she’ll want one, too.

Find Rob's books here. (The covers are fun to click on!)

With the onset of late middle age Rob Hunter is the sole support of a 1999 Ford Escort and the despair of his young wife. He does dishes, mows the lawn and keeps their Downeast Maine cottage spotless by moving as little as possible. In a former life, he was a newspaper copy boy, railroad telegraph operator, recording engineer and film editor. He spent the 70s and 80s as a Top-40 disc jockey.

Rob's wife, Bonnie, is the secretary at a nearby rural elementary school. She is a gifted quilter who beguiled her new husband with the kaleidoscope of patchwork geometry.

The nearest town to the Hunters that anybody is likely to have ever heard of--because of Stephen King’s The Langoliers--is Bangor, Maine where there are real parking meters and a traffic light. They drive down every six months or so to watch the light change and see the trains come in.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Letting Lori Pollard-Johnson do the Talking

Publishing has changed.

Twenty years ago, when I first began writing professionally (i.e. making money from my words), publishing was a long, tortuous, but straight route. You honed your craft, networked at conferences, critiqued your manuscripts (and others), and then set about finding a publisher. It was not necessary to find an agent first; most editors looked at manuscripts (or rather their assistant read with an eye toward what the editor wanted). And when I say “looked,” I mean they wanted hard copies. Submitting was expensive, but so long as you provided an SASE, you usually got a response, sometimes with feedback. The feedback let you know you were getting closer to having a publishable manuscript. Self-publishing was usually done under a pseudonym, had little to no editing, artwork or copyediting done, and lacked any real way to earn sales; the print houses who published these folks were anointed “vanity presses,” to indicate that anyone doing this must be a closet narcissist. I steered clear from the title and the costs involved.

That evolved into an industry that required agents for all but children’s books about ten years ago. Agents, and the few editors who still looked at manuscripts (and the field for children’s was narrowing), still required hard copies with SASEs, and often complained about the enormous slush piles accumulating in their offices and mailrooms. Many could be heard at conferences saying, “I’ll never take email submissions.” (Wow, has that ever changed.) Those of us who were solicited were given codes to write on the envelopes and told that would get our manuscripts past the mail clerk. I sold my first book during this era. Self-publishing had picked up speed, and several presses were advertising in The Writer and Writer’s Digest; it was up to savvy writers to decide which one was worthwhile. I advised all of my creative writing students to avoid self-publishing. I told them they wouldn’t make any money, it doesn’t count as a publishing “credit,” and if by chance they ever got an interested agent or editor, they’d ruined their opportunity to sale by pre-publishing it.

In the past five years, ereaders have been on the rise, and writers with lots of experience (and sales), writers with midlist credits, and writers with no publishing history have begun to self-publish. We call this Indie Publishing, a nod to movie-making lingo. Some indie authors have had remarkable success: Amanda Hocking and John Locke were previously unpublished authors; JA Konrath and Barry Eisler were wildly successful previously. Other writers, as well as their publishing houses, began to take note. Now, a well-known author with a $9.99 paperback would be earning in the range of $ .60 per book sold (unless they had negotiated a truly amazing contract) and waiting for it to be passed through the hands of the retailer, publisher, agent; those of us with Kindle titles were earning $2.05 for a book we priced at $2.99, and getting the money within two months. I sold my second book at this time and made (and make, as both of my traditionally published books are available) $ .36 each.

See the problem?

It’s called the free market economy, and it applies to book sales, too. Ereaders like Kindle and Nook have accomplished the age-old axiom: Give the customer a better product in a faster method and for fewer dollars. Define “better” any way you want, but one look at a Wal-mart will tell you that too many people, an array of items priced cheaper and received quicker, is better.

As a result of these ebook successes, more and more people are self-publishing, and well-known authors are demanding higher percentages for their electronic works; some have even declined publishing contracts for the greener pastures of easy, fast sales via the internet. There is the good, the bad and the downright fugly; but there have always been those books out there. The difference is, we, the readers, can download a sample, delete it if we don’t like it, and purchase it for the price of a latte (I know, tired reference point, but valid). Most importantly, we can do it from anywhere in the world--the beaches of Bimini or under a bevy of blankets in bed. These factors, along with the economy have, sadly, closed down Borders, et al, changed the publishing industry forever, and for some of us who chose to indie publish, boosted our income substantially.

See the future?

Regardless of how any one reader feels about the feel of a paperback in their hands or their favorite bookstore, ereaders are most likely here to stay. It makes good economic sense, especially when electronic bestsellers are also discounted. And it makes “green” sense, too. Libraries have begun to loan books electronically and even remove them three weeks later so their patrons never have to start their car. It’s a confusing and exciting time for publishing. There will be good that comes of all this, as well as some disappointment. But that exists with all societal twists and turns.

And that’s why I chose to upload my third, and soon my fourth, books. Call it what you will, but indie publishing for many (not all) of us has expanded our readership, spurred our creativity with new methods of actually selling what we write, and made some money to finance our kids’ educations, our lack of work, or our dream vacations.

I'm a writer and teacher from South Prairie, Washington. I have three published novels, The Truth Test (kids), Recipe for a Rebel (kids), and Toxic Torte (adults)availible on Amazon and on Smashwords,and a slew of fiction and nonfiction publishing credits in national, regional and local publications. Check me out on facebook!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Letting Dana Marton do the Talking

From Traditional Publishing to ePub. (a.k.a. The Road the Rivendell and Back)

I think one of the misconceptions of digital self-publishing is that it’s something first time authors do who can’t get published with the major traditional publishing houses. But what I see more and more is that first time authors often completely forgo submissions and pick digital self-publishing as their first choice. There are many advantages, as well as disadvantages to this choice, which I won’t detail since there are literally hundreds of discussions going on online about this topic. There is a whole other segment of digital self-publishing adventurers, as well: multi-published authors who have achieved a degree of success with a major publisher. They are tempted to digital self-publishing by all the freedom it offers. I’m one of them.

I’m a fairly prolific author. In the average year, I publish 4 romantic suspense novels with Harlequin Intrigue. I’ve published over two dozen books with them now, and those books are sold in over a dozen languages all over the world. One of those books earned me a RITA Award nomination. Another won me the Daphne du Maurier Award of Excellence. I love my publisher, love the support and marketing they provide, love the editorial input. But as a creative person, I have all sorts of book ideas flying around in my head all the time. They don’t all fit my publisher’s requirements.

Writers know this: the stories we don’t write don’t simply go away. The characters and scenes circle around in our heads, bugging us, wanting to be born. However, once you’ve become successful writing certain types of books, everybody expects more of the same from you.

There are many gatekeepers between your story and the reader: the agent, the editor, the senior editor, the marketing department at the publisher, the booksellers, etc. You come up with a perfectly good story, and any one of those people can decide that it’s not marketable, or timely, or trendy enough, doesn’t have enough hooks, or is too different from what your readers expect from you. And there your book stops, without ever reaching the reader.

One of the beauties of self-publishing is the direct line of communication between author and reader. The current economy does not make publishers want to experiment, throw money at books that might or might not sell. Publishers like to go for the sure bet. But as authors, we want to push the limits, want to try new things. Self-publishing makes that possible. I can write something and within a month see whether there’s a market for a story like that, whether readers will accept a story like that from me.

So I recently dipped a very eager and hopeful toe in. I’m writing a romantic suspense novella trilogy (GUARDIAN AGENT, AVENGING AGENT, WARRIOR AGENT) that’s a little darker and edgier than my usual books. So far, the response has been tremendous. The first two novellas that are out so far are climbing the Kindle charts and are #20 and #27 on the Kindle bestselling Romantic Suspense list.

Once I have all three up, I might ask my agent to shop around the print rights. So here we are, having come full circle. I’m also thinking about bringing out my little darlings: an epic fantasy, a dark historical fantasy, and other stories that are different than traditional publishing expects from me. I might just give readers a chance to decide for themselves.

There are many uncertainties in the marketplace right now, but I still think that this is possibly the best time to be a writer. New doors are opening. Ebook sales are growing each month. Readers are open to new things. I think if we write with them in mind, we’ll be okay.

The truth is that my path to publication was nothing but unglamorous. I wrote for 13 years and completed 4 books (as well as having others in various stages of completion) before I finally received a call from a Harlequin editor. I was beginning to wonder if I was being tenacious or just too dense to know when to quit. But it all worked out at the end! I love, love, love writing and would spend all day in front of the computer if I could just break my family of the habit of wanting to eat and wear clean clothes. What’s up with that? But I must get up from the desk now and then, if only because my Internet connection goes down or my ancient PC overheats. Then I do enjoy cooking, knitting, hunting for treasures at the flea market, our Beagle--Peanut the Destroyer--and gardening.

I’d love it if you picked up one of my books and emailed me to tell me what you thought of it. I’ve been known to name characters after readers.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Letting Marc Vun Kannon do the Talking

Ebooks and Authors

When I first started as an author, I was very reluctant to have anything to do with ebooks. The reason was simple: I was equally reluctant to do what is known in the trade as ‘marketing’, sending out press releases, advertising, doing all sorts of things to get your name and the name of your product in front of people who might buy it, without any real connection between what you do and whatever results might come.

At least that’s what it was then. It may sound strange to hear, from a philosophy major, computer programmer, and fantasy novelist, but I don’t do well with abstractions. Activity without a direct connection to outcome was just too abstract for me to even know how to begin to do it. So ebook versions of my stories were allowed by me to languish, in favor of physical books, which I could sell to people who were standing right in front of me. I created a bookstore business to do it, and I’m pretty good at it.

Along came blogging and tweeting, and my publisher (Echelon Press) began nudging me to become more active in those arenas. Still I was reluctant. To whom am I talking? Would I just be writing down random sentences to throw into the air? I had the accounts but rarely used them.

Then something strange happened. I have studied foreign languages (German and Chinese, if you must know) and the phenomenon of thinking in another language was familiar to me. I found myself suddenly thinking in Blog, so to speak. I just wrote a post one day, rather quickly. Then the next day I wrote another. And then another. I posted every day for weeks. That was actually rather silly, since it pushed those early posts out of the way before they had a fair chance to be read by anyone, but what did I know then? Drafts were abstractions. I wrote and I published. Then I tweeted about my posts and found people tweeting back.

As a result I’m becoming more comfortable with ebooks. It helps that I have a number of short stories that are only available in ebook form, so I have to learn how to promote them. One has done especially well, which I credit to the title, STEAMPUNK SANTA. I have another Christmas story, BITE DEEP, which is about vampires at Christmas and hasn’t sold nearly as well. Take away from this: titles matter, if only to draw attention to covers. Like titles, taglines and loglines--single sentences that capture aspects of the story--are very important, also with links prominently positioned. Links are very important, they are the closest I can come to putting my book into your hands.

There’s the rub. In a bookstore, the reader can just stand there and see all sorts of covers, which draw attention to titles he hasn’t seen before. The bookstore guy (that’s me) can point him in the right direction if he’s looking for a particular type of book. Ebooks need to be much more actively searched out by readers, although the use of coupons and coupon codes gives us booksellers something tangible to present. The place that makes it easiest for readers to find ebooks is the place that will sell the most. The title that is easiest to find, or which the reader has the greatest desire to find, is the title that will sell.

Like many writers, I started when a story came along and decided that I should write it. Don't ask me why. Others followed, until now I'm afraid to go out of the house without a recorder or notebook in my hand. But I show them, I refuse to write the same story twice!

He blogs as authorguy.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Can you find me in Grit City today?

Today, I'm blogging at The Gritty Blog, Grit City Serial's blog, about why I decided to publish an ebook.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Letting Ron Gavalik do the Talking

Grit City Emotobooks Revolutionize Fictional Storytelling

As a writer it’s always been a goal of mine to bridge the gap between the cerebral gratifications of well-plotted writing and the visual stimulation of illustrative art or film. Like a mad scientist with crazy hair and a battered lab coat, I experimented with various styles, structures, and word painting exercises. Nothing seemed to achieve my goal.

Then it came to me. I had a mini-epiphany. Insert abstract, emotionally representative illustrations during peak moments of tension. By delivering a visual of what the character feels and experiences, the reader becomes more intensely immersed in the story.

The term emotobook is simply a portmanteau word I conjured, as a fun and memorable label for this new medium of fiction.

Unlike comic books that use direct illustrations as the primary storytelling device, Grit City emotobooks are written mystery noirs, with an urban fantasy twist. The four of five illustrations in each thirty-page installment merely lend a visual experience to the internal emotional processes of the characters.

It’s lots of fun.

Grit City is continuing story, published each month to Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other eBook retailers. In each installment the reader is exposed to a dark and calamitous world, where the nefarious rule.

Our main character is Dillon Galway, an idealistic freelance journalist in his mid-twenties, who barely scrapes out a living reporting on corruption for the metro newspaper and his own blog.

Dillon embodies a double meaning of the term grit. He is a gritty individual, who drinks and lives meagerly. But he also possesses grit. Courage and strength of character are his dominant personality traits.

I’ve constructed a world where Dillon shares a symbiotic relationship with the city. Its failures have lowered him, yet he remains hopeful for the restoration of peace and opportunity. Occasionally, he relies on the sexy and sultry Alyssa Stephano (gun for hire) to help when situations require her nickel-plated Colt .45 revolvers.

Grit City was an ideal place to live at one time. We all know of towns that have fallen over the years. The murder of Dillon’s Father and the rise of the Syndicate started Dillon’s downward spiral. All meaningful power in business, politics, and law enforcement were funneled into the hands of this wealthy organization.

But in the shadows of the back alleys, whispers stir in the underground of an unnamed force. Something or someone that’s determined to upset the status quo. When Dillon is tipped about horrifying activities he’s propelled into a perilous investigation that may lead to dire consequences.

As the series progresses he’s faced with unfathomed challenges, but also gains abilities most consider impossible.

The creation of Grit City is a collaborative process. Leah Keilman is our partnered illustrator. It’s her keen insight into expressionism and years of experience that breathes life into the emotobook illustrations. Nikki Hopeman is our proofing editor. Her eye for detail ensures the story installments I write are held to the highest possible level of storytelling. Kunta is our web and electronic media guru, who likes to eat…a lot. We just feed him pizza and let him work his magic. Without this team my vision of emotobooks never would have existed.

With that said, we’ve all dedicated our lives to this pursuit. We’re thankful such a broad audience is heralding the story. It seems our tagline on the website is true.

Read one installment and you’ll be hooked until the gritty end.

Ron Gavalik has dedicated his life to the written word. He’s practiced a long and successful career in fiction writing, journalism, and technical documentation. His short fiction has appeared in several magazines and online venues. His news articles have informed thousands of readers throughout the United States.

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, he spends much of his free time in the outdoors of Southwestern Pennsylvania fishing, hiking, and riding his trail bike.

Ron conceived the new medium of emotobooks in 2010 while earning his M.A. in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. Grit City is the maiden serialized emotobook, and is receiving accolades among a diverse base of readers throughout the US, UK, and Germany.

Ron can be reached through his website at

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Letting Jason Jack Miller do the Talking

5 Rules for Indie Publishing (Updated)

In a month I'll reach the one year anniversary of making my decision to ePublish. This is a momentous milestone for many reasons, the largest is that it commemorates a resolution to step away from publishing as I knew it. Twelve years writing, three novels, a Masters degree, a hundred writing conventions, conferences and workshops, five hundred queries.

I was not an amateur. A hack. A wannabe.

I'm an Authors Guild member who received a four figure advance from a major travel publisher. I'd written for newspapers, magazines, travel journals, literary journals. I'd won writing contests and had received awards for my writing.

I'd spent a thousand hours writing and rewriting queries, synopses and drafts on my three novels, one of which was scrutinized extensively by mentors and peers in Seton Hill University's Writing Popular Fiction Program. I'd travelled hundreds of miles and paid hundreds of dollars to pitch to a single agent at a writing conference.

The decision to ePublish did not come easy. My wife and I thought long and hard about why we wanted to go this route, and even took the OCD course of creating five rules we had to agree to before we'd even consider it.

Here's the list, the reason we felt the rule was important and what has changed since last September:

1. Know why you're publishing independently

Why the rule?

We knew that ePublishing couldn't be pursued as a last resort. We believed that before we could take the plunge, ePublishing had to be our FIRST choice. We knew if we weren't going to treat our book the way a publisher--who'd spend thousands of dollars to print, market and distribute--was going to treat it, then independent publishing probably wasn't going to work for us. We had to believe we knew what was best for our book.

What has changed?

Nothing. The process has been amazing. Since releasing my book in March I have worked with the amazing folks at Hatch Show Print in Nashville, Tennessee to create a fantastic cover, and I loved every second of it. I have interacted with readers, people I did not know until they mentioned they'd read my book. I loved every second of it. Is ePublishing still my first choice? 100% yes.

2. Know risk to gain ratio

Why the rule?

Before taking the plunge we had the fortunate experience of knowing exactly what a publisher was going to do for us, and what we'd be doing ourselves. The publisher-supplied publicist did little more than send .jpegs to a few newspapers.We knew that even small presses made promises they couldn't keep about marketing and distribution.

You also have to know how finances are going to break down for you. Many writers are tight-lipped about sales, and for good reason. So finding reliable information about what a new small press or mid-list writer earns will be difficult, if not impossible. Most are lucky to sell-out their advances, and fewer still ever see a royalty check.

What has changed?

Nothing. The reward has outweighed the risk a thousand times already. That may sound trite, but in a few short months I've had experiences that are beyond description or monetization.

3. Know what you're compromising

Why the rule?

When we devised these rules legitimacy was a huge deal for us. We worried about what other writers--specifically our peers from Seton Hill--would say about our choice to jump ship. I had a huge list of Big Six-published books in my arsenal, books from people like Snooki, Nicole Richie, Lauren Conrad, that I could whip out whenever Big Six publication as a path to true legitimacy was mentioned.

But we knew all this before we ePublished.

What has changed?

Everything. Readers legitimize you, not editors, agents, publishers or your peers.

4. Know that you are the company

Why the rule?

This rule let us make a list of all of the things we'd be doing ourselves, almost a checklist to let us know if we had the stomach for it. Editing, publicity, formatting, art, author photos and on and on.

What has changed?

I think we're going to need a bigger boat.

I've never worked so hard for anything, and I have never in thirty-seven years been so proud of an accomplishment.

5. Know if you have the time and energy

Why the rule?

We have jobs, lives, and friends. Stuff we didn't want writing to interfere with.

What has changed?

Writing is my life. Which was always what I wanted, why else would I drop $40,000 on a degree? For a hobby? This pursuit has moved writing from the backburner to the hotplate.

And I learned to love coffee.

These rules were written pre-Borders collapse, and I think they've stood up pretty well. Something else that's stood the test of eleven months' time--the conclusion to my original post, presented here unaltered:

I don't know if independent publishing is for the faint of heart. But seeing that I'd have the freedom to write what I want, instead of writing what I hope an agent would want, is a very liberating experience. And if it bombs it bombs. I change my name and write something else. Or not. I can do whatever I want.

As the writer I should've always had that power--not marketing department or CFOs. Sometime I get the impression that a lot of editors and agents and publishers put writers at the bottom of a very tall ladder. I think independent publishing puts writers at the top.

And look, I wrote this whole post barely mentioning the way the publishing industry has eaten itself into a very awkward and ugly corner. Let the agents have Snooki. I think the readers are smart enough to follow the writing.

Jason Jack Miller is a writer, photographer and musician who has been hassled by cops in Canada, Mexico and the Czech Republic. An outdoor travel guide he co-authored with his wife in 2006 jumpstarted his freelancing career; his work has since appeared in newspapers, magazines, literary journals, online, and as part of a travel guide app for mobile phones. He received a Master’s in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill where he is adjunct creative writing faculty and he is an Authors Guild member. He's been a whitewater raft guide, played guitar in a garage band and served as a concierge at a five star resort hotel in Florida. When he isn't writing he's on his mountain bike or looking for his next favorite guitar. He is currently writing and recording the soundtrack to his novel, The Devil and Preston Black. Find him posting regularly on his own blog.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Letting Someone Else do the Talking

I’ve been doing some thinking (run and hide!) about our blog content. WE’VE been doing a lot of blogging about ebooks over the last year. This past year has seen many changes in the realm of epublishing. Many people have jumped on board and met with success, or faced big challenges to achieve their dreams. I thought it might be about time we let some of them do the talking, or typing as the case may be. So, I reached out to the writing community and got a great responses.

Starting next week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, some new writers will be making an appearance on the GPS blog. They'll be sharing their unique experiences and perspectives on publishing their ebooks.

See you tomorrow!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

RIP Borders

Borders to begin liquidation as soon as this Friday, July 22.

Sad that it's finally happened. Ebooks have made their mark.

Interview with William H. Horner of Fantasist Enterprises

We have a special guest today!

In our first Anthology Editor Interview, William H. Horner, Publisher and Editor in Chief, will share some of his experiences in publishing anthologies at Fantasist Enterprises. What is a Fantasist you ask?

Fan • ta • sist [fan-tuh-sist] noun: 1. A person who writes or composes fantasies or fantasias in music, poetry, or the like 2. One that creates a fantasy.

We are dedicated to reawakening the sense of wonder that our modern society can so easily suppress and disregard. We want our readers to recapture the wide-eyed glee they had as children, thinking that old trees contained spirits and clouds hid floating castles. We want them to study the shadows, trying to catch that strange movement they thought they saw, and experience visions that linger on the edges of their waking minds.

We are dedicated to high-quality books that are impeccably edited. If you are a writer, we want to work with you to create the best possible version of your story that you can write. Our passion is storytelling, and we believe in exploring that passion with our authors. We will strive to help young authors to hone their craft, and we will push grizzled veterans of the publishing industry to go just a little farther.

We are dedicated to fantastic art, and will do our best to fill our books with works of breathtaking beauty.

So let the words and images take you. Sweet dreams, and fantastical visions!

Let’s see what Will has to say:

GPS: Why did you start Fantasist Enterprises?

WHH: For a lot of reasons.
I love good stories that transport the reader, that awaken the sense of wonder inside, and I love great artwork, so I decided that I wanted to work with both while I developed my own writing. However, the idea of working for big publishing in NYC wasn’t appealing. I wanted to have more freedom to pick and choose projects, and I just didn’t want to deal with the city! I’ve always had that entrepreneurial spirit so I figured “why not?”

Since then, I’ve discovered a knack for editing, something that I really enjoy. Helping authors hone their craft is a passion of mine. On the other hand, publishing, editing, and teaching have nearly consumed my writing life (and originally I had hoped those things could support my writing), but I’m trying to get back to it.

GPS: You’ve edited many anthologies since starting Fantasist Enterprises. Which is your favorite?

WHH: That’s like asking a parent to name his or her favorite child! I’m fond of different ones for different reasons. BASH DOWN THE DOOR AND SLICE OPEN THE BADGUY was simply a ton of fun to work on. MODERN MAGIC will always be close to my heart—there’s just something, well, magical about it.

GPS: How do you arrange an anthology?

WHH: They take shape as I’m finalizing the lineup. I can’t say that I have a specific technique. Based on the stories they contain, anthologies take on particular personalities. It’s all about figuring out the rhythm and flow of the thematic and stylistic threads that pull them together. Honestly, once you figure out the opening and closing stories, the rest sort of fall into place.

GPS: Which was your most difficult Anthology to put together?

WHH: They each come with their own sets of challenges. The first couple were difficult simply because I was just starting out. How little I knew then—but I always try to learn from each project so that the next one is even better.

One of the anthologies that is currently in our pipeline, PAPER BLOSSOMS, SHARPENED STEEL, presented me with the difficult issue of rejecting several really wonderful stories simply because there wasn’t enough room for them all. The ones I had to say “no” to just didn’t quite fit the personality the book was taking on.

GPS: How long does it take to produce an anthology from concept to complete?

WHH: It varies depending on issues of available time and money. In Business 101 you learn that you can pick two of the following three attributes: fast, cheap, and high quality. I’m a stickler for quality and always strive to make the current book I am working on the best that I’ve put out. Since money has always been tight, you can figure out which two qualities I lean towards.

In my vision of a perfect world, it would take around 17 or 18 months from the initial call for submissions to publication. I can break that down:

I like 6-month open calls since it allows people time to work up new material or to tweak something they had previously completed. As submissions come in I attempt to read them as quickly as possible and send out rejections right away, or at least in staged batches. Ones that have potential go into ranked piles until the end of the submission period at which point I make final acceptance decisions.

After the acceptances are handled (keeping in mind a two-month window for dealing with contracts), I prefer to have six to eight months to do editing work and art direction before sending out advanced review galleys. At that point the book should be three months away from publication.

Pretty much everything is done in house, though I have no employees—just a handful of dedicated volunteers. No in-house artists, though. They are all freelancers.

GPS: Why anthologies?

WHH: I’ve always loved short stories, and I believe that it is a powerful medium that deserves a renewed readership.

From a business standpoint, in the early years I thought that having several excited authors would be better for promotion than one—but in practice there are very few authors who will get behind an anthology for the long haul and continue to promote it or carry copies with them to sell at conventions. That’s totally understandable, though: they simply don’t have as much invested in an anthology as they would in their own novels.

GPS: What is the worst project-gone-wrong situation you’ve had?

WHH: I’m still attempting to dig out from that one. A few years back I was paying advances at pro rates, which for anthologies means large advances for a small press. And I attempted to launch a comic book line.

At the time, it looked as if things were really picking up, so it seemed to be good timing to start up some new ventures. Then the economy tanked and my personal finances took a hit. So basically, I ran out of money before we could get enough issues of the comics in the can to move forward, and my debt piled up.

That has had a serious chain reaction on our publication schedule, so we’ve been facing painful delays. At this point, we’re working our way back up. We have our eyes set on completing the backlog of material that we need to publish, as well as on moving in some new directions—but we’re going forward at a more sustainable pace. I learned my lesson about overreaching.

GPS: Are your books available in electronic format?

WHH: Not yet: I’ve been in a wait-and-see mode. I’ve wanted to see what other people do with the technology so that I could learn from their successes and failures. Plus, the visual presentation is an important part of our books and I wanted to make sure that the technology was ready. It seems that a lot of publishers just slap text into an e-pub without really thinking through the plusses and minuses of the format. We want to be better than that.

Lawrence C. Connolly’s VOICES will be our first electronic book (released along with the trade paperback). I’d like to get our backlist available, but that’s going to take time to secure the rights—there’s no way I’m going to just assume that it’s OK and utilize rights that I was not granted.

GPS: What are your up and coming projects?

WHH: I mentioned Lawrence C. Connolly’s VOICES, which is a collection of his horror stories from the past 30 years. It will contain essays that discuss the writing of the stories as well as Connolly’s inspirations—and some phenomenal artwork by World-Fantasy-award-nominated artist Jason Zerrillo.

We’re also in the middle of a major re-branding initiative, the first phase of which involves a ground-up reconstruction of our website. Be sure to check the FE site in a couple of weeks for that. We have three anthologies for which stories have been accepted: FANTASTICAL VISIONS V (a non-themed fantasy anthology), BLOOD & DEVOTION II: MORE TALES OF EPIC FANTASY, and PAPER BLOSSOMS, SHARPENED STEEL: TALES OF FAR-EASTERN FANTASY.

Finally, we’re also in the planning stages for our online magazine,

GPS: Anything else you’d like to share?

WHH: It’s something you do because you love it. I wouldn’t recommend it as something to do since it seems like an easy business—because it’s not! I’ve heard it said that you’ve got to be a little crazy to be a publisher, and I think that’s true.

Thanks for your time!

William holds a BA in English and an MA in Writing Popular Fiction. A student of both mythology and story, he believes that powerful and engaging tales can be told in any medium that is available to the teller, but that the decision of medium intrinsically alters the telling of the story. As he delved into publishing, William discovered a passion for design, and has studied it ever since.

William enjoys working with authors, artists, and designers in all genres and media. A desire for discourse with creative individuals fuels his desire to be a freelance editor and designer.

A student of Tai Chi Chuan and Haidong Gumdo, a Korean sword art that is relatively new in the United States, William strives to maintain a balance between physical, spiritual, and mental disciplines in order to excel at all of them. His other interests include history and archeology. Eras and cultures of particular interest include World War II, Roman and Medieval Europe and Britain, as well as Egyptian and Mayan / Aztec cultures.

William has been known to enjoy singing karaoke on occasion. He is also the founder and director of The First Writes, a writing group based in Wilmington, DE.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Hour of the Dragon by Robert E. Howard

The Hour of the Dragon by Robert E. Howard

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book this old. And this book has been on my to-read list for a long time. A mentor in my MA program suggested I read some Robert E. Howard and so I got this book but I never quite got to it.

The Hour of the Dragon is Howard’s only novel-length story--the mass market paperback wasn’t even 300 pages. It was featured in installments in Weird Tales starting in 1935. Magic and betrayal, wizards, death and quests what’s not to love about this original sword and sorcery story?

While Howard had great stories to tell, I found myself cringing at the usage and style. Exclamation points everywhere, ill-placed Middle English, impossible names (yet not as impossible as his contemporary and friend H. P. Lovecraft). Every time I cringed, I had to remind myself how long ago this was written. Have tastes in prose changed so much? Or was that just the result of the cheaply produced pulps of the era?

Despite all that, delicious vocabulary crept among the purple prose on which 90’s Sword and Sorcery was built. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to look up a word while reading, and I think it’s a shame that I don’t have to do so more often. Maybe I’m just not reading the right stuff?

What about Conan himself? The character that people could not get enough of in his heyday? I can certainly see the draw to him. He was the strapping giant that no one could beat, he fought on the side of good and didn’t back down from confrontation. Despite being a little sexist by my own 21st century standards, he had respectable morals and philosophies. He also was intelligent. He had a mind for politics, even though he obviously hated them, and could strategize a battle--and Howard could write it well enough to draw out the suspense (this is probably the key to his success).

As I mentioned before, Howard created the original Conan character during the Great Depression. And now, the new movie for Conan the Barbarian is coming out, during this new depression we’re living through. Coincidence? What do you think?

Review cross posted at Wandering Around the Words