What to do?

I’ll admit it. I’ve sort of at a loss for what to write about today. It’s not that I’m having trouble finding topics. It’s that my must has been anything but kind of late. After spending months trying to finish Nocturnal Challenge, I’ve discovered two things. First, the basic outline I had for the novel was really an outline for two novels. That’s bad but not unworkable. The second, and more problematic issue, is one that has had me beating my head against the wall the last few days. It seems my muse, aided and abetted by the lead in Challenge, has decided that I’ve written not only that book but the entire series in the wrong POV. Worse, it now wants to be only first person POV. So, I’ve been fighting and negotiating and, well, pleading with said muse to get her to behave and let me work. No, I’m not changing the POV — at least I don’t think I am. But it has left me with little brain space for anything else.

However, there are a couple of posts I found this morning that I thought might be of interest. The first comes from HuffPo and lists 10 reasons why print books are better than e-books. This isn’t a new topic. After ignoring e-books in the early years, traditional publishers have been arguing that print books are better pretty much from the sale of the first Kindle. Here’s what HuffPo has to say about it.

1. Print books have pages that are nice and soft to the touch. Huffpo goes on to compare reading an e-book with looking at an ATM screen and who wants to curl up in bed with yet another screen? I could be a bit facetious and note that printed pages also can be seen as deadly weapons. Who hasn’t had a paper but before and don’t they hurt? But the truth is, I do miss turning a page. However, the page turns with most tablets now at least simulate a “real” page turn.

2. Print books are better at conveying information. And they have a study, one cited by the Guardian. The source of the cite is enough to make me doubt the veracity of the statement. However, I can say that I know some folks who retain more from e-books while others are the exact opposite. I think it depends on the person and their reading habits.

3. Print books are yours for life. The books you bought in college will still be readable in 50 years. Do you really think that in 10 years your e-reader – or book-reading watch, or virtual reality goggles – will work with today’s e-books? For life or until they fall apart, something they seem to do much sooner than they used to. I have books that are more than 100 years old and have been read by generations of my family. Those books may be a bit battered but they still have their original bindings. Then there are the books printed in the last 10 years or so that seem to fall apart after a short drop to the floor or a simple reading. Yeah, right, a print book will be around for years. As for my e-books. You bet they will work with future tech, at least as long as the books aren’t filled with idiotic DRM. Why? Because I can use programs like Calibre and whatever will follow to convert the original files into something else. I have multiple backups to protect my digital library.

4. Print books are physical reminders of your intellectual journeys. Physical reminders that can’t be carried with you in bulk. My e-books can be loaded onto my phone or tablet or e-book reader — or into the Cloud, onto my PC or whatever — and I can have all of them available no matter where I am.

5. Print books are great to share. I have to give it to HuffPo here. This is the one way printed books are better than e-books. You can simply hand the book over to your friend or family member and they can read it. Of course, whether they return it or not is another matter. Sharing an w-book isn’t as simple, especially if that e-book comes from a traditional publisher. Many of those e-books aren’t shareable, at least not unless you break the DRM in the book and that is illegal to do in many jurisdictions.

HuffPo goes on to note that it is easier to write in the margins of a printed book, a printed book has a cover so others can see what you are reading and that reading a print book is better for your health. Most of us don’t write in the margins of a printed book, unless it is a research or text book. Not everyone wants everyone and their dog to know what they are reading. As for the health claim, that is a two-edged sword. Yes, doctors tell you to turn off electronic devices at least half an hour before going to bed. But ophthalmologists and retinologists tell their patients that reading from e-ink devices like the Kindle is better for their eyes. Then there is the claim that print books are theft-resistant. After all, how many times do you read a report of a car break-in and see that a book was taken? Can you say “tongue-in-cheek”?

But it is this claim by HuffPo that had me shaking my head. According to the article, “Print books are fairer to writers.” You see, publishers pay a lower royalty percentage, according to The Authors Guild, than they do for print books. The problem with that sort of twisted logic is that e-books aren’t responsible for the lower percentage, the publishers are. It also completely ignores the indie movement and the royalties we get for our e-book sales. Not that it surprises me. HuffPo has often showed its bias for the traditional publishing end of the business.

Anyway, you can read the post. I’d love to see what you think about it.

Then there is the second post I wanted to bring to your attention this morning. One of the questions I’m often asked is what is the best method to get your work into the public’s hands. Not everyone is comfortable putting all their eggs into the Amazon basket. I even recommend against it, at least until you see if it is worth the time and effort of publishing your work in other markets. But that begs the question of what is the best way to get your titles out there. Smashwords is the granddaddy when it comes to that. It has been around for years and offers a wider array of sales outlets than just about everyone else out there. But it comes with its own pitfalls, not the least of which is the Meatgrinder, its proprietary conversion tool.

But this post by Alice Sabo echoes issues I have run into with Smashwords. Sabo had used Smashwords and had been part of its “premium catalog”. Basically, if you choose this outlet, your work can be published across various outlets, including Kobo, BN, iBooks and more. That’s great for authors looking for wide exposure. The problem, as Sabo found out, is that some of these markets then distribute your books to other markets. Compounding the problem, Smashwords takes no responsibility beyond sending notice to the original markets if you decide to take down your book. It is left up to you to keep on top of whether or not your book is removed from sale at the original markets you approved of and it is up to you to discover if those same markets have distributed your book in other markets.

The problem with this is that it can, as Sabo discovered — and as I have as well, come back to bite you in the butt. If you decide you want to publish your book as part of the KDP Select program, To be part of the KDP Select program, you have to agree that the title will be exclusive to Amazon. Part of the Terms of Service for the program include a warning that you face having a title pulled and your account suspended if that title is discovered to be on sale elsewhere. Sabo received such a notice and, on a couple of occasions, so have I.

In my case, one such notice came when Amazon’s bots discovered one of my titles on a pirate site. All it took to clear that problem up with Amazon was to send a take down notice to the site and then send Amazon an email saying I had done just that and noting that the site was a pirate site and I had never given it permission to list my book.

However, on the two occasions when pirate sites weren’t involved, it was problem getting take down notices generated through the Smashwords system. When you take a title off sale at Smashwords, it looks automatic. Sure, the small print says it can take time to promulgate through the expanded market. Like Sabo, I waited a month or more between removing my books for sale from Smashwords and then enrolling in KDP Select. Both times, a month or two later, I received an email from Amazon saying that it had found my book for sale elsewhere and I had to either remove my book from the Select program or remove it from sale at the other sites.

Once, the offending site was BN. A simple e-mail to them, sent after receiving an email from Smashwords that they had done all they could and they were not responsible for how long it took one of the external markets to remove a title, took care of the issue. Within 48 hours, my title was no longer for sale on BN.com. Kobo, on the other hand, was another matter. It took several weeks before I managed to get my book taken down there. If I remember correctly, there were several emails back and forth where Kobo basically said it would only remove the book after receiving word to do so from Smashwords. Smashwords said they had sent notice. Kobo said they had no record of such a notice. Finally, I sent them a copy of what Smashwords had sent them, suggested they remove my title ASAP and then waited. All in all, it took almost three months to get the title off of Kobo. Amazon, however, was more than reasonable, in my opinion. While the book couldn’t be part of the Select program during that time, Amazon did not take any other action. It was enough that I kept them in the loop about what was going on.

I’m not saying this will automatically happen if you use Smashwords — or any other aggregater — but it is something I suggest you keep in mind.

Now I’m going to go find another cup of coffee and start the daily wrestling match with my muse.



20 thoughts on “What to do?

  1. I knew I’d read too many books on the computer when one day I was reading a dead-tree book, came to the end of the page, and ….. reached for the mouse.

  2. “3. Print books are yours for life. The books you bought in college will still be readable in 50 years. Do you really think that in 10 years your e-reader – or book-reading watch, or virtual reality goggles – will work with today’s e-books?”

    This doesn’t concern me for two reasons. First, I’ve always side-loaded my ebooks since day one and save them onto my PC. No matter what type of reader I’m using, I have my files which can be converted into the necessary format. Second, how many iterations of various computer programs have come out where consumers need to convert old files? Tons and tons and tons …

    My best example is converting from Quicken 2001 to Quicken 2010. First, I had to go to Intuit’s website to download the newest “old” version that was compatible with the 2001 program, then convert my files via that program. After that was completed, I was able to open my files into the 2010 program and save them as the updated version. Overall, this took 1.5 hrs, which I thought was a small price to pay (much faster than ripping my cd collection, but thousands of us have done that as well).

    There’s a presumption here that consumers are victims (things are done to us), and not actors; a presumption that consumers will simply accept technological changes without question (snort). Many of us remember when CDs became popular, but you could still find cassette tapes for quite a while (and many of us remember when the choices were cassette, LP, and 8-track!). Should the ebook market shift from epub and mobi to something else, I’m 99% certain that there will be a long transition period *and* that someone will create conversion programs.

    1. Format conversion is a necessary part of being technologically literate. I have stories that started out as WordStar files on 8″ CP/M floppies over 35 years ago. I still have them. They’ve been on 5″ floppies, 3.5″ floppies, Bernoulli cartridges, several removable hard disk formats that I couldn’t even name today, Zip drives, and now thumb drives. I’ve gone from Wordstar to WordPerfect to Word. I’ve gone from CP/M to DOS to umpty versions of Windows. If I’ve lost data, it was never because the formats changed. It was to trickier things like power surges and defective media.

      Ebook formats can easily be changed using a free utility like Calibre. I expect to be reading ebooks I purchase today for the rest of my life. If they won’t live on with my heirs, it’s because publishers don’t want them to, which is an important but separate problem.

      My MM paperbacks from the 60s are crumbling into shreds. My ebooks may last for thousands of years.

      A good many print books are reminders of intellectual journeys that I’d just as soon forget–like pretty much my entire (mostly) worthless college experience.

      It’s worth reminding yourself: Not all of your past should be part of your future.

      1. My MM paperbacks from the 60s are crumbling into shreds.

        And not just MM paper. Anybody know a source for Doc Smith’s Vortex Blaster as an ebook? The whole book, not just the short that is on Project Gutenberg? My Gnome Press hardcover is so fragile that I am afraid to read it again.

        1. I’ve got the 1970 MMPB reissue from Avon, retitled Masters of the Vortex. 191 pages of small type: Is that the whole thing? (I’m pretty sure it is.) Will look in certain mysterious places to see if an electronic form is out there. If so, I’ll contact you via backchannel.

  3. It took ten days for the Nook store to take down *Cold Hands and Other Stories.* No explanation as to why. My short story “Whale Meat” was down in three days…but how long does it take a server to mark what amounts to a database entry as “unavailable”? I’m sure the Nook store doesn’t want people leaving en masse, as they clearly are these days. Too bad. If they’d been able to sell more than a handful of my books across several years’ time, I might have thought twice. As it was, I barely thought once.

    1. How long does it take? I ask myself that question every single day at work. Apparently two years isn’t enough time to get things fixed.

  4. Print books endure, eh? Tell that to the Library of Alexandria. What *really* helps books (and by this I mean the contents, the writing) endure is multiple copies scattered all over creation. And THAT is much easier to do with electronic files.

    On the Smashwords front–there is no reason not to have individual accounts on the major services. It doesn’t take that long, and why pay Smashwords a percentage? Maybe for the little micro presses, but consider how much you are likely to make (and how much trouble it can be to remove, as illustrated above). I don’t use Smashwords at all. Draft2Digital also provides distribution services, and doesn’t have Meatgrinder problems.

  5. I have to admit, I prefer print books for the tactile sensation and for the ease of flipping to multiple pages at once.

    OTOH, I don’t feel bad about deleting book files from my e-reader, whereas I find it very difficult to get rid of a physical book – especially when the book is so execrable as to require trashing (as opposed to requiring donation).

    “It’s terrible and you shouldn’t inflict it on other people!”
    “But, but, but… it’s a ~book~. You don’t just ~throw away~ a book!”

    Do you know it was a terrible shock to me the first time I saw my mother throw a novel in the fireplace?

  6. I’ve been using Smashwords for years, and to be honest, I’m thinking of trying Draft2Digital. From what I hear, they actually -do- things for you, rather than just ship out an electronic copy of your book.
    Also, I really dislike Smashwords’ storefront, their search engine is really a piece of crap, and it’s algorithm is easy (and often) gamed. It also makes searching for books on their own site next to impossible. I really wish that they would fix it.

    As for Stories, I got halfway through a spin off book for my main series last month, and hit a wall on exactly how to move the story forward for the next act. I know where I want to go, I just can’t figure out how to get there. So I put it aside and started the next book in the main series hoping that I’ll figure it out in the mean time. Ugh, what a pain. And I do have a book that I rewrote several times with a different POV each time, because I couldn’t decide. That was pretty painful as well.

  7. This Huffington Post sounds like a great newspaper! Can anyone tell me where I can pick up a copy?
    Also, where is the mailing address for my comments? Nobody likes to use email when they can get a real paper letter courtesy of the US Postal Service and a $0.49 stamp./sarc

  8. You mean the print books from college that were in one of a half a dozen boxes that spent a decade in the attic in my parents’ house before they moved and I finally hauled them to the used book store to get enough store credit to trade them in for one cool sci-fi novel I hadn’t read before?

    Or do you mean the ones I actually thought I might read again — the ones that tripled the weight of all the things I moved from apartment to apartment, coast to coast and back over the years before I finally stopped even opening the boxes again since I didn’t have nearly enough bookshelf space for two decade of pleasure reading?

    Either way… the books would have been much less of a pain to move, and much easier to find, in an electronic folder on a thumb drive — like the place I’ve kept my music collection backed up, ever since the summer I spent turning my CD collection into MP3 files.

    1. Those. The ones currently at the bottom of the stacks in my storage unit, where they have been for mumble mumble years because of a lack of room.

  9. I see Smashwords as a POD option only at this stage. D2D sounds better for those who prefer not to go all Amazon. Or contacting individual smaller outlets (B&N, Kobo, that English service for those looking at European and Commonwealth distribution) if you don’t want D2D’s blanket distribution.

    I like print books for some things. For others I prefer e-books. And the way pocket paperbacks are vanishing and being replaced with the larger size, I may stop buying paperback fiction all together. (I want it because it is SMALL and fits in SMALL places in flightbags/work satchels, oh thou purblind publisher from Purgatory.)

  10. Thank you for this post, Amanda. You provided the necessary kick in the pants to go unpublish and delist from Smashwords and D2D my book Sleeping Duty. It had a couple handfuls of sales at all of these in its first three months after publication, but nothing now. Somehow readers find it at Amazon, but not at these other sites. I used D2D for the other channels, so I’ll see how long it takes to come down from those places. And then into KU and Select it goes.

  11. Regarding Smashwords, D2D, etc: I’ve been reading about Pronoun (formerly Vook), which seems to be offering a wide range of services (incl. distribution) for indie authors, and it would be interesting to see how they stack up in comparison to similar companies.

  12. I’ll read in whatever format I have handy. But eBooks have become my format of choice for most things. Textbooks and anything with photos/graphs I prefer Dead Tree Books. For textbooks the reason is that even if I can’t remember exactly what piece of information is, I remember ‘where’ it is. Though with an eBook I suppose I could just do a word search. For pics/graphs it’s usually something where the placement or size is as important as the image.

    As for endurance and sharing: well I only purchase DRM-free or something I can strip DRM from, so can share it if I want. But more importantly I have back up copies. If my NST or computer goes down I still have my backup on a flash drive. I seriously doubt all will end up going down unless there is an EMP nearby, in which case I’ve got bigger problems to worry about. And I agree that the quality of DTBs have been declining, and rapidly. The bookclub books my mother got in the 70’s hold up better than some of the hardcovers I’ve seen in recent years. That’s pathetic. I shouldn’t have to order something in a library binding just so it doesn’t fall apart in a couple of decades.

  13. Things I like better about a print book are mostly almost intangible. 1. I like the way a print book smells. This probably dates back to being 6 years old and learning to read from slightly musty books in the bookmobile. 2. I like the “heft” of a good book, a thick well built hardcover. I first realized this about 10 years old when one of Louis L’Amour’s characters said it in a book and I realized he was describing how I felt. Thank God my father loved Louis L’Amour so I didn’t have to spend SF money on westerns!

  14. And they missed entirely: you can hand a print book to your kid and leave them unsupervised with it. Can’t do that with any of the computer types.

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