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The Wall Street Journal Gets It

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article about how self-pubbed e-books are totally upending the e-book market.  My favourite quote is from author John Locke, who sold 369,000 downloads of his seven novels on Amazon just in March.  Locke says, “When I saw that highly successful authors were charging $9.99 for an e-book, I thought that if I can make a profit at 99 cents, I no longer have to prove I’m as good as them.  Rather, they have to prove they are ten times better than me.”

With the economy faltering and readers still hungry for books for all those e-readers they got for Christmas, the market for cheap novels is going way up.  Who wants to spend $14 for a quick read when you can get 14 novels for the same price?  If ten of them are unreadable crap, you’re still ahead if you’ve discovered four good novels.  Hey, you’re still ahead with two good novels.

But their are others out there who see this too.  F + W Media has just launched a crime imprint that will sell just e-books, no print versions.  Mystery authors who don’t want to self-pub should be getting their book pitches ready.

Those people at F + W are savvy.  I’m guessing they’ll be pricing the mysteries higher than 99 cents, but way less than $14.  I also bet they’ll offer authors better than 25% for e-book royalties.  This is the future.

Shamelessly Canadian

I had to decide whether it would bug Americans that my Sioux Rock Falls short stories are shamelessly Canadian.

Storyteller Magazine (now defunct) specifically wanted stories that could “only happen in Canada,” and like any good writer, I sent them what they wanted to publish.

But as I put these stories up for sale as e-books on Amazon, I have to wonder if American readers will think I can’t spell.  I look at those extra u’s and I wonder if I should just let Microsoft do what it wants and eliminate them.

The truth, of course, is these stories drip Canadian, and the Canadian spellings actually add to the flavour.  Yup, there’s another extra “u.”  I don’t think Americans will hold it against me.  They like Giles Blunt’s Algonguin Bay novels and they like Harry Potter, which sure as heck wasn’t set in New Jersey either.

So as I formatted the stories for Kindle I decided to leave them as they first appeared in Storyteller Magazine: shamelessly Canadian.

E-books Get More Like Paper Books

The crowd that clings to paper books has a standard set of excuses as to why they prefer dead, pulped trees over electrons as their delivery system for words.

Excuse # 1: I can’t lend an e-book to a friend like I can with a paperback.

That argument fell apart when Amazon introduced their share function, which allows readers to share e-books the same way you would with paper: you electronically lend it to a friend for three weeks, during which you can’t access the book (just like with paper books) and at the end it reverts to you, and your friend no longer has access to the book.  Hey!  That’s even better than a paper book because I don’t have to go chasing down my friends to get my books back.

Excuse # 2: I can’t borrow e-books from the library.

Actually libraries have been loaning e-pub format books (think Sony E-reader) for ages, although the lending systems have been plagued with the challenges you’d expect from a new technology.  But this morning everything changed again: Amazon is going to partner with Overdrive to bring Kindle format e-books to 11,000 US libraries.  This is going to dramatically improve the current delivery system, and it’s  going to put more pressure on publisher’s like Macmillan and Simon and Schuster, who have yet to allow lending of e-versions of their books, and HarperCollins and the others who have placed many restrictions on e-book lending, much to the consternation of librarians.

Excuse #3: I can’t take an e-reader into the bathtub.

Put an e-reader into a large ziplock bag and it’s actually better in the bathtub than a paper book.  Turning pages is a simple press of a button rather than fumbling with wet fingers on dry pages.  Better yet, if you drop your ziplock-bagged e-reader in the tub it’ll stay dry and unharmed, unlike a paper book, which will require a long drying period that may still fail to prevent mold.  This assumes, of course, that you don’t fall asleep, roll over onto your e-book, shove it to the bottom of the tub and sit on it for an hour.  I can’t help you there.

Excuse # 4: But I like the smell and feel of paper books.

That smell is printing chemicals, binding glue, and if it’s an old book, mold and mildew.  Most people like the look and feel of candlelight too, but how many people stuck with candles as their primary light source after  electric light bulbs were invented?  I’m sure there were hold outs who didn’t trust the new-fangled electricity, and I’ll bet they had a long list of excuses as to why they didn’t want anything to do with that new technology.

The reason e-books will become the standard is that rather than being as good as paper books, they’re actually better.  The publishers who accept this first will be the most successful during the next ten years.

My Editor has My Other Baby

Fogel and I have been debating how e-books will affect freelance editors.  I’m guessing that people who want to indie e-publish will be swamping freelancers’ in-boxes with edit requests.  Fogel argues that freelance cover artists will get a lot of business, but freelance editors won’t.  She says:

“Most self-published e-books will fall into the same categories paper books do. There’ll be the professional writers who rerelease books that are out of print, and haven’t the rights to the original cover, or hated it. Then there’ll be the rank amateurs who have no business calling themselves writers and self-publish because no legitimate publisher will take them on. The former don’t need editors because the book’s finished; the latter won’t use them because they think they can write, but know they can’t draw.”

I’m sure some indie authors will fall into the Howett category, writers who simply can’t believe they need a substantive editor let alone a copy editor.  But Joe Konrath keeps pointing out that indie writers need two things: a good editor and a good cover artist.  I’m not the only indie author reading his blog.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve gone through the editing process so many times with my short stories, but I can’t imagine publishing without an editor.  So I’ve sent Fogel my other baby, the vampire novel, and I’ve got my fingers crossed that she won’t totally gut my heart out.

The good news is that she’s already read the first two chapters and written back that there are “no show-stoppers.”  From Fogel that’s high praise.

Fogel’s launched a website, but don’t hire her if you’re looking for the sort of praise you’d expect from a mother, cause you won’t be getting it.  You’ll be getting the unvarnished truth.  She doesn’t care about your feelings.  It’s why I chose her for my editor.

Priest Forces My Hand

The first hint of trouble came from a friend who had read and liked my vampire novels.  He sent an e-mail with a link to the website of the movie, Priest, and asked me if it sounded familiar.   The tone of the e-mail indicated he already knew the answer.

Three of the main components of that movie trailer are in my novel: walled cities, vampire armies and warrior priests.  Aside from that my novel is very different, but I know people will draw parallels between the two.

I admit vampire armies is not that original an idea.  I mean, if you make two vampires and they make two vampires and so on it’s pretty obvious that eventually humans will have to wall off their cities and fight swarms of vampires.

As for my protagonist belonging to a quasi-religious order–well priests have been fighting demons for centuries, and Hollywood has exploited that idea many times.

So I had to decide: slink away with my Priest-like vampire novel or go for it.  Then it occurred to me that this is a marketing dream.  When people ask what my novel is about, I can say that it’s Priest meets the Battle for Helms Deep from Lord of the Rings.

Okay, some of you won’t have a clue what I’m talking about, but the fans who would buy this type of novel will know exactly what I mean.

I can’t wait to see Priest, because I’m pretty sure that the movie’s high-tech take on vampire fighting is very different from my post-apocalyptic novel, where gunpowder is so scarce that people carry swords and cross bows as supplementary weapons, and gasoline engines are a thing of the distant past.

I’m also betting that I have the better story, but I’m judging the trailer so that may not be fair.

So here’s the plan: run my novel to my editor (God help me) and hire a cover artist.  This novel has already been through several readers, so hopefully Fogel won’t totally gut me.  By the release date of Priest, May 13th, I intend to launch my novel on Amazon.

It’s going to be a tight deadline, especially since the Toronto Marathon is on May 15th and I’m training five evenings a week, but it’s exciting.

White Metal

My short story, White Metal, took the cover of the Storyteller Magazine’s fall 2006 edition, but this is not that cover.  Because I can’t get the rights to the cover from Storyteller, even though it’s gone out of business, I had to do up my own cover.  It’s actually better.

I now have all six of the Sioux Rock Falls stories up on Amazon.  I’m working on two more shorts and I’ll launch the whole series as anthology in a couple of weeks.  What do you think of the title: Reckless in Sioux Rock?

Are Science Fiction Writers and Fans Technophobic?

I love the Ad-astra SF convention because it’s mostly about writers and readers.  While Darth Vader does wander around and the costumes are fantastic, the emphasis and debates center around SF novels and their evolution.

So one would expect that science fiction authors and readers would be the first ones to embrace new technology.  I assumed that SF people would be on the cutting edge of exploiting new gadgets, especially related to reading and writing.

Instead, I was surprised this weekend when I found that there was hardly a mention of e-books.  When they did come up, heads shook and people spoke of upheaval.  Readers and writers expressed concern about who would be the gatekeepers in this new universe if the publishers couldn’t keep the riff-raff out of print.  Others talked about the smell and feel of paper books, even when I pointed out that they were probably talking about the scent of printing chemicals and binding glue, and in the case of their old paperback collections, mildew and mold.

I went to the only panel dedicated to e-books and found a nearly empty room.  Of the five panelists scheduled to speak, only two had turned up.  The audience consisted of four of us, with a fifth coming late.

Now the 10:00 am Sunday morning time slot probably didn’t help; there’s quite a bit more partying on Saturday night at an SF convention than most people ever imagined.  The Chizine party rocked, and not just because they provided lots of free beer and wine.   I’m guessing that some people weren’t up and running Sunday morning with their usual vigor.

But still, when you think that Amanda Hocking has sold a couple of million SF e-books in the last year, you would think everyone at the convention would at least know her name, but I was stunned to find that many of those avid readers had never heard of her because they don’t buy e-books and they don’t follow that market.

We had a great panel in spite of the low turn out, and it was clear by the end of the hour that we were all die-hard converts to e-books, including author Dave Duncan, whose wily agent, Richard Curtis, jumped early and fast into the e-book market and has all of Duncan’s back list out there and selling.  Ryan McFadden, who converts Chizine’s published novels into e-book format, did a great job as the unexpected moderator.

Now my generalization about the technophobia must be taken with a grain of salt since it’s based totally on anecdotal evidence.  Science fiction master Robert J. Sawyer was doing readings from an e-reader ten years ago, and he’s one of the earliest adopters I know of that technology.

But I’m a bit concerned now.  I’m on a panel about e-books this coming June at the Bloody Words mystery convention in Victoria.  I’m looking forward to the conference, but I have to wonder if I’ll show up for the panel and find an empty room.  Will I be abandoned by my fellow panelists and speaking with a tiny audience?  I’d love to speak to a full room, but it would be rather disappointing if I discovered that mystery writers and readers are more interested in e-books than science fiction fans.

At Ad Astra with the Stop Watch Gang

The Stop Watch Gang is a writers group that has already generated a lot of great published short stories.  I had a few beers with them last night at the Ad Astra SF convention and went to their reading , and I gotta say there’s a lot of talent in that group.

I’m betting there will be published novels from these writers in the near future.

But speaking of published: the second story I ever had published, Beer Truck, is now available for Kindle.  Take it for a spin, but keep in mind that the story is about people doing very dumb things, taking chances so huge that a Darwin Award is but one slippery grip away.  Don’t try this at home.

Railroaded with a New Cover

Railroaded tied for second in the 2005 Great Canadian story contest.  How three judges tied for their second place vote I’m not really sure, but hey, I’ll take it.

Why yellow for the titles?  Well red doesn’t reduce well to an Amazon thumbnail, so reading even the big title was a challenge.

I’m going out on a limb here, but I bet you’ll find that titles and author names in future books are going to get bigger and fatter as designers are ordered to create titles that look good both as full size and as thumbnails.

The title in red will be available for the Sony soon as e-pub, thanks to the open source software called Calibre.  On my Sony the red looks just fine, but hey, it’s being displayed full screen and gray scale.  I wonder what it looks like on a color Nook?

I promise to get that how-to menu item up there next week.  But for now: enjoy Railroaded.

Will Authors Start Using the F-word to Generate Buzz?

For Marketing.  It seems the Charlie Sheen school of publicity has hit the indie publishing scene in a big way.  Author Jacqueline Howett took great exception to book blogger Big Al’s review of her indie novel.  Big Al’s crime?  He complained that the typos and grammar errors made the novel unreadable, although he apparently read all the way through and said that the story was actually good.

Keep in mind that this critique came from a man who reviews indie-published e-books as a preference, so he’s probably seen some typos and grammar errors in the past.  Even Amanda Hocking admits that she needs better editors, which is one of the reasons she signed that seven-figure deal with St. Martins.

But Howett’s response was scripted out of a road rage incident with a drunk driver.  She says Big Al didn’t download the re-formatted novel AS SHE ORDERED!  Wow! Who orders around a reviewer who does this job for free?

But the crazy part is that big Al wasn’t complaining about the formatting, but the grammar and the sentence structure.  He gave examples that she didn’t refute; in fact, she claimed there was nothing wrong with her writing.

Now here’s the scary part: after this exchange began her sales spiked.  I guess people were curious to see the train wreck.  I wonder if it was intentional that she dropped the f-bomb in the comments of Big Al’s blog after that.  Twice she stated, “F–k You!” in response to comments.

I checked her Amazon ranking and it’s actually at 41,000.  Way down from the top 1000, yes, but higher than it apparently deserves.  Given the multiple bad reviews, I’m guessing it should be down around the 100,000 level.

So I have to decide: would I go rude and ballistic to make a name for myself?  No.  I just can’t do it.  I was raised to be polite and respectful–especially to people who are doing me a favor.  I’d rather be known as courteous by a few than as an asshole by many.  Oops.  That just slipped out.