Questions, questions

  • If rising carbon dioxide levels doom the planet to destruction, and fighting “climate change” is the moral equivalent of war, why isn’t anybody talking about nuking China?
  • When did Marseilles become Marseille, and what did they do with the s?
  • Can anybody tell me how to fiddle a browser so that a blog that normally appears as white-on-black reverses its orientation and shows me black letters on a white backgrouns? I like to read Francis Porretto’s blog but it’s not easy to follow his reasoning while trying to ignore the incipient headache.
  • Is there really a good reason to continue publishing paperback editions of my ebooks?

Okay; the first question is rhetorical, the second is trivia, I’d welcome an answer to the third, but the last one, of course, is where I’d be truly grateful for insights from the community of indie authors. I’ve just released the ebook of the 7th Applied Topology book, A Child of Magic, and I’m doing the usual waltz-with-an-elephant routine to get the paperback version accepted. It may go a little faster this time because, thanks to Amanda’s extremely helpful posts on formatting for publication, I did the formatting myself in one day rather than waiting a week and politely nudging the commercial formatting service I used for previous books. (Then again… I may have totally screwed it up. We shall see.)

But it hasn’t been a pleasant day’s work, and the process of reconciling the paperback cover with KDP’s requirements is still to come; no matter how carefully we go over the calculations, it usually takes several rounds of emails bouncing from KDP to me to Cedar before they accept the image. And I’m beginning to wonder: Is this trip really necessary?

My first 12 indie books were released in both e-book and paperback format. Paperbacks accounted for less than 2% of sales; given that my KULL income is close to equaling my sales income, the contribution of the paperbacks to the whole is negligible.

Why am I bothering? Everybody I know reads the e-book (if they read anything at all.) I have no particular emotional need for a dead-tree version of each book; the bookshelf dedicated to my published books is already overflowing. I don’t think the existence of a paperback version is really a deciding factor among my readers (“Oh, look, there’s a hard copy version; I guess she’s a Real Writer! I’ll buy the ebook right now!”) So… what exactly is the point of the exercise? What am I missing?

Enlightenment? Comments? Opinions?





  1. Well, I was going to say the deep psychological need to have a paper copy on your own shelf, but you addressed that so…

    Probably no reason?

    Do you try to sell any at conventions?

    1. Nope. A long time ago I quit going to conventions; I hate spending my own money to go to some strange city in the off-season, and I’m not nearly good enough at selling books to recoup the expenses that way.

  2. I have been told that having a paperback edition lends some sense of legitimacy. I have no idea if that is true or not. I have also read that a good chunk of the population still will read only dead tree editions. Again, that may or may not actually translate to real sales. It may be that most people still reading print editions prefer to get their books from libraries.

    The only personal experience information I can provide you is that since I started advertising (using Amazon ads), about 20% of my sales come from print books. That includes all three markets I advertise in – U.S., UK & DE. Also, if you ever have the inclination to do a convention (or something similar) with product to sell, it’s nice to have physical books for people to grab.

      1. I’m the opposite. Was laid up for 3 months and did a lot of reading. Only one was dead-tree (and I gather the Kindle version of that book was a challenge due to appendices–not something normal in a novel).

  3. “So… what exactly is the point of the exercise? What am I missing?”

    1) Paper books still work when the electricity goes off. (California just re-discovered that.)

    2) Some crusty old people (like myself) still like paper books just because we like them, and also because of the electricity thing.

    3) Your paper book can’t be deleted just by pushing a button. They have to go to all the trouble of collecting all the copies and burning them. Make the bastards -work- for it.

  4. My browser has colour settings in “Preferences” under “Appearance”, but since my browser is Seamonkey I can’t be certain how to change them in anything commonly used (I still use Seamonkey ‘cos it’s the closest I can get to what I remember of the Netscape experience, in which I had done the “Black background, Light (silver) text” change you request in Q3, but for every webpage that didn’t define it’s own colours, which I think is how you’d have to do it in your current browser, though it might be possible to get an extension/addon to re-colour only specified sites).

    1. View>Page Style>No Style

      This gives you black text on a white ground. It also gets rid of any fancy page formatting, so the images and text all appear at the left side of the screen with a ragged right margin. While I enjoy beautifully formatted web pages, I simply cannot read white text on a black ground. So I use No Style when I encounter a site I want to read that has it.

  5. I use Prefbar to one-click-toggle site colors to my system colors. So right now I’m viewing MGC in a nice restful black on warm grey.

    Otherwise, you can install Stylus (or an older version of Stylish, from before it got frisky with your browsing history) and create a CSS to make site colors be whatever you like, either globally or for individual sites (someone may have already created one for larger sites). Thus I view Wikipedia in a peculiar solarized green.

  6. Margaret, I honestly didn’t know the Liberty’s Torch color scheme poses anyone any difficulties. Is it the white lettering / black background combination alone, or is it that plus some other factors?

    1. It’s just the white on black, Francis. Most of the time I solve my problem by not reading blogs with that style, but yours is so interesting that I frequently fight through the headache to find out what you’ve got to say. Still, it would be even more interesting without a headache!

      1. (chuckle) Well, Margaret, as a fan of yours (and a non-fan of headaches), I’ll have to see what I can do to improve the situation. I can’t bear the idea of losing your patronage.

      2. Margaret: I’ve changed the Liberty’s Torch post color scheme and the post font size (with advice from my wife, who can actually see colors, which I mostly can’t), and I’d appreciate it greatly if you’d have a look and let me know if it’s any less stressful. Anyone else who has an interest, please feel free to contribute your opinions. Thanks to all.

        1. Francis, I’m overwhelmed that you’d fiddle with your blog settings just because I whined! And yes, the new look is MUCH easier to read, and I look forward to being able to follow the blog daily again.

    2. The nicest one I have ever seen is the one that PG uses for The Passive Voice.

      Now, I don’t know whether that particular one is still available, or easy to use. Especially since PV has apparently had another one of its fits for him today (wants an admin login before posting a comment – and even the contact form is belly up…).

    3. That and other factors. For example, you set a 15px body font size, when a browser’s base font size is 16px, or 1rem/1em, which is on the small side. Try for a base of 20 instead.

      When I used my browser’s code inspector to enlarge the paragraph font to 1.5rem (which comes to 24px), your text appeared jagged until I found and removed the 15px font size setting from the body. I notice you also set a font size on the post-content, which would normally override whatever you set on the body of the page itself, but in this case it doesn’t because you set the page’s body in px, so the 110% is based on the 15px. In fact, you set the font-size and line height in several places, in a manner that’s contradictory and results in the computed size of the content text being 13px: too small.

      Really, just don’t use fixed units to set text sizes to begin with, especially if your site isn’t set up to be responsive, because then you interfere with a reader’s ability to enlarge the text to a size that’s comfortable for them. That’s the reason that Amazon’s KDP will flag your book for errors if you set the text sizes in fixed units such as px or pts (points). You should use scalable units such as em/rem (and percents, vw/vh), which can be enlarged (or made smaller) in a way that’s easy and comfortable for a reader.

      I can use the zoom switch on my Microsoft Natural ergonomic keyboard to enlarge website text on most sites, but your setting the body font in px means that enlarging the text becomes an annoying experience rather than a pleasant one. For one thing, zooming with your current setting increases the line length to a non-optimal width, whereas your current length is fine.

      Also, your leading/line height can be improved. For me it’s too tight, which is a strain on the eyes as well. On the body (eliminating the settings elsewhere in your code) I set a line height of 1.7 and the line spacing became much more comfortable to read.

      As for a dark background with light text, the vast majority of people prefer the exact opposite. Dark background with light text is usually only preferred when the reader is in a dark room with the lights off, or if the reader is prone to migraines. See this post at Stack Exchange for more.

      If you like to code, explore using “CSS variables” to create a toggle switch so that readers can choose between light mode and night mode. Alternatively, you may just upgrade your theme to one that has the toggle option included; they’ve become popular again on the basis of accessibility. Leave no reader behind!

      I hope this helps!

  7. While I like having hardcopy versions of my own books, I find I do reasonably well selling at conventions and Farmer’s markets and such. Hard to hand-sell an ebook. 🙂

    The point about electricity is also a good one.

    1. Yes, I like having other people’s books in hard copy for just that reason. But after I’ve read my own text a zillion times to correct typos and infelicitous wording, I don’t really care about rereading the finished version!

      As for conventions – too old, travel’s too hard, I’m too asocial, and terrible at selling stuff. So that’s not really a factor for me.

  8. Promotion wise – it is very difficult to autograph an ebook. Otherwise, unless you feel a need to prove to friends, family, and the random critic that you are a real writer, see? I don’t see an absolute need for committing arborcide.

    Hmm. Didn’t know until I had doubts about the spelling that WoW has an axe quest item with that name.

    1. At conventions I’ve attended, people have had authors sign the covers they put on their Kindles. Seems to me they’d get worn off over time, but apparently it’s an option.

      1. Hmm. That gives me a notion. Way back when I got my first ATM card, the bank gave me a protective sleeve for it (plastic reinforced paper). That thing lasted through three cards, so fifteen years?

        I wonder if the same paper is available, and can be laser (or inkjet) printed. Print my cover on them, fold and do some adhesive work, and an autograph area on the back. Slip covers, sized for your Kindle…

        Of course, I’m nowhere near where anyone wants my autograph (other than those pesky machines that refuse to do debit and demand a scribble for credit).

    2. Some people make “Author Cards.” They are cover-sized card-stock with the art on them, and authors sign those for people who prefer e-book. No idea how popular that is.

  9. The low tech fix is to just copy the text and paste it temporarily into notepad. It’s what I do on the relatively rare occasion when I need to read something and the color scheme of the site causes me problems.

    1. Sometimes you can even skip the paste part of that copy/paste. When you select the text (CTRL-A is quick) sometimes the page’s settings give you a better color background. I get bright white on dark blue and with a bit of Zoom that makes it readable.

    1. Considerable – per unit. IIRC, the last multiplier I saw was a POD book was 3x more than a book run off on a press. All of it depends, of course, on the length, who is doing the POD versus what printer you find, etc.

      But… for all intents and purposes, you never have an unsold POD book. You might have returns, but those are usually for either printing foulups or shipping damage – and a reputable POD company eats those costs (well, not really, they are pre-figured into the cut they take off of the cover price). Any unsold inventory does major damage to your actual rate of return on a print run.

      POD is pretty much the default for indies – so I think, completely without proof. What Margaret is asking, though, is whether it is worth the time cost to do the large amount of extra work required to put out a decent printed book (whatever the production process is).

      1. That’s exactly it. I would never dream of having a print run for a novel – the upfront cost is serious and marketing fiction is a nightmare. I did print a crafts book once and not only recouped the cost but made a nice profit, but that’s a different world – easy to find the target audience, and there are specialized distributors so you don’t have to deal with Ingram.

        PoD costs me nothing up front; it’s just the fiddle factor of formatting the book and getting the cover approved. Which is really a minor problem, but I’m getting over a cold and disinclined to engage in even minor chores if there’s no clear benefit.

  10. Oh… and WOW! Another Applied Topology book! I’m SO far behind. I haven’t even gotten to book 4 yet! (is it wrong to be considering taking a vacation without telling anyone just so I can pretend to go to work, then hide somewhere comfy and read instead?)

  11. If you’re using Safari there’s a “Show Reader” item in the “View” menu that strips out most CSS and shows the page in black on white. If you’re using Firefox (at least on Mac) the “View” menu has a “Page Style” submenu and one of the options is “No style” which strips out all CSS.

  12. Re. #1. Because depending on where the nuke hit, no one would notice any change in air quality or ambient pollutant levels?

    1. Oh, you can solve that with enough enhanced radiation weapons (neutron bombs). Eliminate the cause without too much collateral pollution.

      Problem is, these days, you’d have to give the same treatment to India, and I know quite a few good people on the subcontinent. Not to mention that one daughter would be very ticked off at having no new Bollywood features…

      1. I know, I know. I like India. But they don’t have/aren’t building quite as many coal-powered plants as China – yet – so one could make a case that destroying China would encourage the Indians to see the error of their ways and switch to putting up windmills and solar panels. You know, ‘pour encourager les autres.’

        Anyway, I get quite enough shock and horror from my Correctly Thinking acquaintances by asking them when they plan to nuke China.

    2. Lib Er Als.

      23% of the fun of this line of argument is the case that it has to be the United States that kills all the foreigners, because the US is the smallest group that might be able to kill everyone else. 16% is being able to trot out the Spanish-speakers-will-make-the-Earth-explode-the-Sun argument, and watch people be unable to make the obvious counterargument. A whopping 37% is the explanation that nukes won’t be enough, we will need infantry to sweep the rubble for survivors, this means a long, logistically difficult series of conflicts, the US armed services are not ready to provide this force, and the State department may be unnecessary for managing the timing and sequence of the conflicts.

      Other approaches are more situational, such as “if you care so much about STEM, why can’t you apply the super valid math of the climate modeling to providing CAD support to aerospace engineers”, or “if Earth is so fragile, it is worth less, and maybe we should be constructing substitutes instead of trying to fix it”.

      I gotta wonder at the philosophical foundations of your foreign policy, not defaulting to being ready to go at the drop of a hat, against any and all comers. That instinct is the best answer to the problem of information warfare by our adversaries to undermine our will to battle. If Shen are opposed to our national interest, exterminate the Shen, if Buddha are opposed to our national interest, exterminate the Buddhas. If a German ticks you off, Harris was too soft to do the job properly, the American way; if a Canadian academic is an arrogant loon, Benedict Arnold’s spirit is crying out for us to burn the cities he was not able to.

      India is telling itself that prosperity is around the corner, at the same time it is taxing currency, and forcing companies to spend 2% of their profits on social spending. When that falls apart, there may well be an Indian regime with blood in its eyes, looking to hurt outsiders to maintain internal stability. It is a possible future adversary.

      “Oh, I have friends in that country” is a wrong formulation. Yes, there are reasons we might want not want to start the wars to pacify the world just yet, if we don’t have to. We should discuss those reasons. But we should not discuss them with formulations that might mislead our foreign adversaries into thinking we are too weak hearted to follow through, or permit their information operations to disturb our preparations. That might result in us having to kill a number of people we might have otherwise been able to avoid; which is bad because in absence of socialism every human is a profit center, even if at times a small one. Killing millions of people is economically costly, and wasteful if unnecessary.

      Americans have had friends in every nation we’ve ever fought, and every population we’ve ever hurt had people that didn’t deserve it, and weren’t practical for us to spare. I know you all would do the needful, if it came down to it. The foreign devils do not share our customs, do not really understand our manner of speaking, contracting, or allying, and we might consider being more careful what we say in public where it might mislead them. The Europeans in particular have made some wrong assumptions, and are behaving inappropriately.

    3. Nuclear Winter! Just what we need!

      According to them at any rate.

      Will slow down the reabsorption of carbon, but life is full of trade-offs

  13. I think it beefs up the book’s Amazon page and therefore has marketing value. Also, every now and then I really want to be able to carry my books with me to cons or even to talks, depending on the nature of the talk. And, for me, the paperbacks are probably only 1% of my sales.

    1. Well, I suppose I could not bother with a paperback for the new book and see whether that has any noticeable effect on sales… trouble is, there are so many other variables.

  14. 3 reasons, from this reader’s perspective.
    1) I don’t trust Amazon to not take the books away.
    2) I cannot give ebooks as gifts with a little note like “Merry Christmas, son, 12/25/19” on the title page and they cannot be autographed.
    3) My two public libraries will only order patron requests in hard copy with an ISBN. If you have fans that will get you library shelf space, and you think that’s worthwhile advertising, it might be very well worth it.

    1. As for 1): If non-DRM, download, use Calibre to convert to EPUB (or other non-‘zon format, archive and read on device of your choice.

  15. If you use Chrome, install the Dark Reader app which basically inverts the color scheme.

    It’s funny, I get a headache when I read too many glaring white pages that threaten to burn my retinas out. Too each their own, I suppose.

    1. This! I love dark mode for just this reason. That’s why, when I got complaints about light text on a dark background, I moved my site to shades of sepia.

  16. There are three reasons we put in hardcopy – though, they’re not pressing enough to be a high priority when life blows up on us.

    1.) First, print is an income stream. A minor, small income stream, but one that, after the initial headache of print setup, we don’t have to muck with again. And what’s nicer than people continuing to pay you for work you’ve already done and don’t have to do again?

    2.) Marketing. When trying to woo readers, I want to look like a “real, good product” – and while the super-readers, and the highly ebook savvy don’t care if there’s a print edition or not, there are 248 million adults in the USA, and I want to get every single one of them possible to buy my (or Peter’s) books. So for the people who don’t like ebooks, and the people who are carefully browsing and checking out something they heard of or saw, I want to give all the friendly visual cues that we’re good to check out, and you should trust us to deliver a solid bit of entertainment.

    Which is why we have a press name. And a print book… yes, you can argue that my entire raison d’etre for the hassle of print copies is for a few pixels in the right place on the ebook screen. And you won’t be far off.

    3.) Getting into libraries. Yes, this is fueled mostly by the lingering love of libraries I had as a book-starved teen, working my way through every book I could. But word of mouth is a powerful force, completely uncontrollable, and for the fans who love print in libraries, it’s there.

    That said, this is honoured in the breach more than the act for us right now, as Peter still hasn’t gotten some books that have been out for several years into print. So… here’s a handful of salt to go with that advice; you’ll need it.

    1. Good points all, and I am impressed by your marketing skills. I gather you think it’s worth the hassle at some point, but it’s not desperately important to get the print and ebook versions out at the same time? Because that’s one of my problems with KDP – I can have the ebook ready to go long before they accept a print version.

  17. Paper copies are what you can give to people, and they notice the tonnage. I do my own formatting for Amazon, .doc files converting nicely to PDF. They even have a reasonably good template. Alas, I don’t do this very often, so I have to remember exactly what to do, which takes a little while. The paperback gives you some legitimacy.

    I hesitate to discuss sales, because my sales other than the game design books are less than outstanding. The game design books actually need color to be understood, so paperback was unfavorable. I even more than doubled my Amazon reviews this year, though the total review count also could have been better.

    1. Well, I used to give paperbacks to the few people I thought would actually like to read the books, but all of them have now switched to reading the e-version.

      1. When Amazon KDP subsumed CreateSpace and offered the low-effort / no-cost option of issuing a paperback alongside the eBook, I figured “why not?” and went for it. But as of this date, only two people have ever ordered paperbacks of any of my drivel. One of the two died last year. The other is myself.

        I still order hardcopy books, but not of fiction titles, only of reference works. My most recent “arboricides” have been for titles in physics and mathematics, and the annual Statistical Abstract of the United States (I’m a big fan). All my fiction reading is via Kindle. (I have to recharge the BLEEP!ing thing about once every 2.5 days.) My wife is the same, except that her hardcopy books are all on either accounting or cookbooks. She probably keeps America’s Test Kitchen in business.

        1. I left them up. One day, I sold ten paperback versions of The Lion and the Library which had never sold particularly well as an ebook even (though part of that is that it’s in the collection Magic And Secrets — collections sell better).

  18. I think you already have the information – printed copies are 2% or less of your sales. Is that enough money so that it’s worth the extra effort? If so, do it. If not, then don’t. Keep an eye on sales for the books with no hardcopy, and see if they drop (compared to books with hardcopy). If sales seem to drop, then maybe something more subtle is going on than can be seen just by looking at costs vs. income and the printed edition is worth it after all. But, I think you’ll have to run the experiment to know for sure.

  19. Can anybody tell me how to fiddle a browser so that a blog that normally appears as white-on-black reverses its orientation and shows me black letters on a white backgrounds? I like to read Francis Porretto’s blog but it’s not easy to follow his reasoning while trying to ignore the incipient headache.

    Vivaldi has an option (next to the image toggle control) with a bunch of display controls, including “filter – invert’. There are options for B&W, grayscale, sepia, and some stranger stuff. Some of the filtering can be ‘stacked’ to get multiple effects, but not all.

    1. Yes, there is also “Reader View” which does stack with inversion, etc. — and strips away comments, headers, and pretty much another that is not pure textual content. Nice, but sometimes I want the color scheme… AND the comments. Not everything is You”Never read the comments”Tube.

  20. I really like hardcopy, but Amazon’s KU deals have me reading on Kindle beyond airport travel. Normally really good ebooks I’ll buy in hard copy, so libraries and KU are great as testers. Both is generally too much. I also just discovered that KU rereads don’t pay the authors a second time, and am more inclined to purchase.

    Looking forward to reading the new book tonight!

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