Author Archives: Cedar Sanderson

About Cedar Sanderson

Writer, mother, reader, gardener, cook… artist.

The Fourth Annual Indie Author Labor Day Sale!

Welcome to another long holiday weekend, and have we got reading material for you! Kick back, relax, let the smoker do the work on that brisket, and check out these books and stories by independent authors.

 

Coming Home

By Tom Rogneby

On sale from Sept 1 through the weekend

 

Elsked, son of DaddyBear the Minivandian and Ruarin, the Lady of Eyre, ventures out into the night to learn the saga of his mother and father.

An ancient storyteller exchanges tales of Elsked’s life for the story of how DaddyBear and Ruarin became the lord and lady of their manor.

Coming Home brings together the stories of Quest to the North, Lost Children, and Lady of Eyre, along with four new short tales of the Minivandian and his family.

Join Elsked as he creeps into the storyteller’s lair and comes to know the next Tales of the Minivandians

 

Rimworld- Into the Green

By JL Curtis

On sale  for $1.99 1-3 September.

 

After a chance encounter with Dragoons and Traders turns a routine planet exploration into a rout that kills his team and his career, Lieutenant Ethan Fargo, medically retired, wants nothing more than to hole up in the backwater Rimworld he’d explored and enjoy a quiet retirement far from people or problems.

Unfortunately, he’s about to find out that he’s not as retired as he wants to be, and that his new home system comes with dangers, politics, and Dragoon sightings of its own. What promised to be a boring retirement will turn out to be anything but.

 

Take the Star Road

by Peter Grant

$0.99 Sep 1- Sep 4

 

Nineteen-year-old Steve Maxwell just wants to get his feet on the star road to find a better homeworld. By facing down Lotus Tong thugs, he earns an opportunity to become a spacer apprentice on a merchant spaceship, leaving the corruption and crime of Earth behind. Sure, he needs to prove himself to an older, tight-knit crew, but how bad can it be if he keeps his head down and the decks clean?

He never counted on the interstellar trade routes having their own problems, from local wars to plagues of pirates – and the jade in his luggage is hotter than a neutron star. Steve’s left a world of troubles behind, only to find a galaxy of them ahead…

 

Scaling the Rim

By Dorothy Grant

On sale for $0.99

Sept 1 – 4

 

Never underestimate the power of a competent tech.

When Annika Danilova arrived at the edge of the colony’s crater to install a weather station, she knew the mission had been sabotaged from the start. The powers that be sent the wrong people, underequipped, and antagonized their supporting sometimes-allies. The mission was already slated for unmarked graves and an excuse for war…

But they hadn’t counted on Annika allying with the support staff, or the sheer determination of their leader, Captain Restin, to accomplish the mission. Together, they will overcome killing weather above and traitors within to fight for the control of the planet itself!

 

Carpathian Campaign

By Alma Boykin

It is on sale today through Wednesday, September 6 for $1.99. The sequel, Grasping for the Crowns will be out in November.

War rumors stalk Europe, but István Eszterházy has other concerns. Or so he thinks. The Powers—ancient creatures living on the very energy of the land. Allied with the Houses, together the Powers and Houses have guided parts of Europe for a thousand years and more, humans, HalfDragons, and True-dragons working as one. But other forces shift, movements of peoples and of pride. István ignores them, intent on his military duties and his forthcoming wedding. War waits for no man, and the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand turns rumor into red war, setting Power against Power and House against House. And war is not what István imagined. How can he survive this new world and protect his new family and his House? He must find a way, even as he begins a delicate dance with the Powers, that of his House and some far older and much more dangerous. István’s world is changing. He will survive this new campaign, or die trying.

 

Jade Star

By Cedar Sanderson

Free from Sept 2-4

Jade is determined to die. She is old, and useless, when she points her tiny subspace craft at the cold stars. She wakes up in the care of others who refuse to grant her death, and instead give her a new mission in life.

Jade isn’t happy, and she only gets angrier when she learns that her mysterious new home hides a horrible secret. It’s time for this old lady to kick butt and take names. Aliens, death, destruction… nothing trumps the fierce old woman who is protecting her family.

 

Dragon Blood: A Collection of Short Stories

By Sarah Hoyt

From the trenches of WWI where the Red Baron just can’t help turning into a dragon, to the desert sands of a future world where humans have become something else, from a coffee shop between worlds where magicians gather, to a place where your worst nightmare can love you, let Dragon Blood take you on a series of fantastic adventures.

 

 

Lucky Number 7: A Rats, Bats, and Vats Story

By Dave Freer

John Norway is an alcoholic, a double amputee combat veteran, a street beggar with nothing much to live for. But once — before conscription – he’d been a rally driver. One of the best, at the wheel of Lucky Number 7. Now… Ariel the rat wants to have him drive in a desperate race against death, and the ‘magh.

 

 

The only question: does Norway want to win that race?

And will it solve Fat Fal’s inflatable rattess problem?

Directorate School

by Pam Uphoff

Free through Wednesday

First Book of The Directorate Series

Ebsa “Kitchen” Clostuone invades the sacred precincts of the High Oners! The School of Directorate Studies has a wide variety of students, including the president’s daughter Paer, this strange Ra’d fellow, and Nighthawk, the first foreign student from Comet Fall. Ebsa wants to explore across the dimensions. And all he has to do is keep his grades up, learn how to shoot every kind of gun imaginable, and not get pounded by the Action Team trainees.

 

And not to leave out our commentariat, if you are reading this and have a work you’d like to promote, feel free to share the link below. We don’t often open up comments for a promo, but why not? Let’s all have fun discovering Independent Authors who can write and amuse. Also, if you own all these books already (or even if you don’t) please share the love, and spread this post across social media everywhere. This is what keeps Mad Geniuses going, selling a book here and there when we aren’t trying to help out other aspiring writers. 

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Filed under BY THE MAD GENII, PROMOTION

It’s not zero sums

This is a blast from the past, but it’s still applicable even if the central tantrum has been long forgotten. I’m afraid I’ve been sick, and am thus a girl of very little brain this morning in search of hunny… And perhaps tea to put it in.

Hear, O fellow authors, and consider this. Writing is not a competition. There is not a scarcity of readers, and although there has been for lo, these many years an artificial scarcity of of reading material, that drought is coming to an end with the Age of Indie. So why do we hear fearsome cries from certain throats, proclaiming that those who are elders in the field should step aside and let them in?

The young person who has been most noticed for this recently (although it is not a new lament), has apologized. “Shepherd apologised for upsetting writers and readers alike, explaining that she had “only ever meant to raise the issue of how hard it is for new writers to get noticed and how publishing is much more of a zero sum game than people often think” However, it remains that she thinks publishing is a zero sum game.

I had to look that up. I’d heard it before, of course, and from context knew more or less what it meant, but for the writing of this article, I needed to research, to make certain that what I was saying was accurate. So, here: “The theory of von Neumann and Morgenstern is most complete for the class of games called two-person zero-sum games, i.e. games with only two players in which one player wins what the other player loses.” However, this is palpably inaccurate when it comes to writing. There are far more than two players involved, and the success of one writer does not predicate the loss of another.

By the success of JK Rowling, there are more readers, rather, for us the authorial sort to lure into reading of our books. What we must do to win is not to shove aside those who have succeeded, demanding our turn in the game, but to write engaging books readers will not only read themselves, but recommend enthusiastically to others. You will note I have removed the publisher from this equation. At one time, there was a bottleneck, for the publisher can only afford to publish so many titles, and to promote so many (a fraction of those they do publish) authors. That bottleneck is breaking open, and as independent authors our reach is spreading. My books, published by the very small imprint that they are, can be ordered from any bookstore, and when I look online, they are available at least in webstores of the largest book retailers.

In order to win this game we play, it’s not the other writers we need to defeat, it is ourselves. For fear of rejection, for laziness in not wanting to promote and market one’s own book, for lack of confidence in getting the best cover and editing we can, we shoot ourselves in the foot, and do not succeed. I venture to say that the Shepherd person has not succeeded because of Rowling’s success, but her own shortcomings. Like a child in a game, she has pitched aside the board, and now pouts petulantly, blaming her loss not on her own lack of skill, but her opponent.

The readers are out there, I say again. Writers, if you can offer them a good product in the form of a story with meat on its bones, with engaging characters, well-constructed plot, and emotional appeal, you will win. If your story is not selling, or selling too slowly for your tastes, inspect the product you are offering, and ask yourself questions.

The oft-discussed post demanding “I want an end to the default of binary gender in science fiction stories.” is an excellent example of another writer who feels that it is failing in a field do to discrimination against itself. In this case, not by another writer, although certainly it seems to feel it is hard-done by those who view its views as odd. No, it wants more stories with its viewpoint in them. Lovely, dear. Go write them. If they sell, wonderful! If not, do not go around moaning that you are being discriminated against because you are an it/she/alienbeing. Again, that is not how the game is played. Appeal to the readers, and you have won. Make them yawn, or repel them, and you lose.

When I started mulling this post over in my head, waiting for it to gel and be ready, someone mentioned the calls for Stephen King to retire. I went to look as part of my research, and found that rather than calling for him to step aside and let other writers in, the cry seemed to be that his writing had gone downhill, and he should stop. Interestingly, this doesn’t seem to have made a dent in Mr. King’s presence, as this took place over a decade ago, and I believe (I don’t personally read him, but as a librarian was very aware of how much shelf space he occupied, and how many requests we had for his books) that he has another book coming out this year. You see, no matter what the critics think, it is the readers who matter. They are the ones who buy the books, and that is what wins the game.

Readers win, with good books they want to read, and authors win, with sales. Publishers who care about giving the readers what they want (coffBaencoff) win, and publishers who care only about pushing their agenda (see blog address for ‘it’ above) lose. Zero sum? No, more like exponential growth, and I don’t see a limiting factor, yet… Want to feel like you are winning? write more!

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Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON

The Erogenous Zone

Most romance writers these days – or their editors, trolling (that was a typo from telling, but I’m leaving it!) them to write what sells – are under the impression that they know where all the erogenous zones are, and they march through the checklist with their characters to steam their work up. While I don’t have a problem with smut, it does sell, I do have a problem with many literary (and probably film, although I’ve seen less of that due to censorship laws, thank goodness) depictions of sex. They miss the point entirely.

You see, the erogenous zone where you want to hit the reader is not located between the legs or on the chest or face or wherever… It’s wrapped up inside the bony case of the skull and can’t be touched directly. Especially for a reader, if you want to make a book reek of sex, you must get inside their head. Once in there, you’ll realize that their imaginations are all different, unique, and you couldn’t possibly write sex scenes that would turn every reader on…

I joke that I am a sapiosexual, but it’s not entirely a joke. What attracted me first to the person I later married wasn’t anything physical. I’m not sure I’d even seen a picture of him before we were good friends and slowly moving toward flirting. I fell for his mind, not his body. Readers are, more often than not, similarly inclined. Which means that to seduce them with a book, you are appealing directly to the erogenous zone of their brain.

It’s not that I would never write out a sex scene blow-by-blow. It’s that I think I would be failing my readers to do so. My idea of what is good sexytimes is almost certainly not theirs. Sure, there are sex acts that are the same the world over, but sex is -and ought to be – far more intricate a dance than simply ‘insert tab A into slot B’ which gets frankly boring to write more than once, not to mention the tediousness of finding euphemisms for the equipment involved.

I’d rather write up to a certain part and leave the rest to the reader to interpret according to what heats up their own personal erogenous zone. There are several ways to accomplish this: closing the bedroom door on your lovers completely, wandering in their with them and only describing high points, describing action up til their subconscious takes over, or the romance genre stroke-by-stroke method. I’ve written the first, the last, and then dumped those scenes. My preference as a writer and a reader is some combination of the first two options. But I’m not writing erotica… That would be a whole ‘nother post, not for this blog.

The other big objection I have to many romance novels (or in my recent cranky rant about mystery novels that are really romance novels) is the whole ‘we’ve just met, we instantly fell in love let’s f*ck’ which isn’t fun to read. I want more literary foreplay, I don’t know about you. I also object to love in all the wrong places, by which I mean sex in the midst of a running gunfight, or while the pair are being held captive by a psychopath (and he’s on the other side of the door), or… I recognize that adrenaline rush does weird things. I prefer my characters to not be a raging ball of uncontrollable libido.

I’m willing to bet if I asked folks to list what their favorite sexy but not explicit book was in the comments, I’d get as varied a list as we have readers. Because everyone’s erogenous zone is unique.

Follow-up

I promised I’d report back on the promotion I did for Pixie Noir. I realize there wasn’t a lot of interest in that post, but I did say I would, so you can skip this part in good conscience.

The highest sales peak of other books in the series came ten days after the start of the free days. To my surprise, sales of Pixie Noir itself were up slightly after the promotion as well. I suspect the momentum bumped it up on people’s radar and on Amazon as well. As of now, I have four new reviews on PN, all favorable, all obviously from new readers. The also-bot profile for the book has changed significantly, being Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy but not Correia and Butcher, more romance-style, for better or for worse.

Finally, my KU reads for the whole series tripled with the advent of the promo – and have stayed almost steady at that level for two weeks now. The First Reader asked me when I would break even from the expenditure, shortly after the end of the giveaway, and I gotten up sales only… And was already in the black. So it’s been well worth the investment already.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, characterization, WRITING: ART

Breaking into New Markets

This last week I did something I have meant to do for a while, but haven’t had the time to contemplate doing: I paid for advertising, and coordinated a big promotional push for one of my books.

Most of my marketing is near-passive. I have my blog, and my social media presence, but I don’t use them to push my books in people’s faces. I’m a big fan of content marketing, and I prefer to have people want my books without me jumping up and down shouting “I write books! You must buy!” because that will turn them off and I’ll lose readers rather than gain them in the long term. It’s the project of years, not days or months. Peter Grant and I sat down shortly after we first met, along with our respective spouses (and I’m going to interject a big veering-off-track here and say that both of us are blessed in our spouses. You all know Dorothy as a marketing guru and a writer in her own right, but those years ago she wasn’t yet writing, she always has been brilliant about marketing, though. My own husband is the Evil Muse. I don’t think I need to say more!). During the course of that conversation he told me his own strategy for marketing, and it was a long-term one – spend five years, give or take – blogging regularly, then release his first book. It worked beautifully, and I have been following in his footsteps to some extent (I had already been blogging, but on his advice took it up to a daily blog and much more regular than it had been. Which was a huge challenge during college).

Above and beyond the slow audience growth a blog affords, I had decided a few months ago that I wanted to do some aggressive market growth and actually shell out money for marketing. Before I started, I had to figure out some things: What form of promotion I wanted to do, what audiences I wanted to reach, and what my budget was going to be.

The first thing I want to make clear is: I was not spending money for an immediate ROI. This is, like my blog, a long game. I could – and still may at some point – buy ads. Targeting an ad is a tricky business. You can buy ads on Facebook, on Amazon, on Project Wonderful… heck, you could buy ads in your local newspaper or TV channel, if you’re willing to really shell out the dough. I opted not to buy ads, not having the time nor the inclination to sit down and design one, research where would be best to buy eyeball time… and most important, because I don’t think they work. Advertising slots are the opposite of permission marketing. There is a reason I use adblockers and FBPurity, and I do not doubt that my readers use those, too. Which means buying an ad is nearly akin to making confetti out of my money and throwing it off a bridge. So….

Where to find readers who want to read a book?

Book promotion sites and emails, of course. BookBub is the big one, but when I looked at the cost for the genre I wanted to promote in, I decided that although it might be interesting to experiment with another time, it was out of my budget for this particular push. So I started looking at the smaller ones, the ones I’d used before, like Fussy Librarian and EbookHounds. There are a lot of them. Dorothy Grant was good enough to send me a link to a list of them, and between ones I’ve used before and that list, I picked out a total of six I wanted to try, and they fit into my budget.

Which brings me to that. I set a very modest budget for this promotion. I wanted to spend no more than $100. I spent $89, placing my book in eight different places. One was a freebie. One was a freebie, but didn’t run my book, which is what happens when you’re doing promo sometimes, so I didn’t sweat it.

Choose what book you want to promote wisely. If you only have one or two books published, do not do this. I did this knowing that I had a complete trilogy to sell, by giving away the first book in the series. In addition, I had a new release in the same genre (although not the same sub-genre) which I thought might attract the readers who liked my promo book well enough to read the whole trilogy and start looking for my other books. So I picked Pixie Noir to giveaway through Amazon, offering it for free for a total of five days. I chose to schedule the promo over a weekend, although interestingly the highest day was Friday.

Pixie Noir Giveaway
August 3 August 4 August 5 August 6 August 7 Promo cost
Fussy Librarian x $6.00
Ebook hounds x $45.00
MHI Promo post x $0.00
Awesomegang newsletter x $10.00
FreeDiscountedBooks.com x $8.00
The Kindle Book Review x X X x x $10.00
AccordingtoHoyt promo post
      x   $0.00
Daily Bookworm x $10.00
total cost $89.00

This ranking would climb, but there is the first stage…

 

It would peak at #2 in Paranormal and Urban, but I couldn’t get a screenshot at the time. Still!

Over the five days, I gave away a total of 4394 books. For me, this is four times the total of any previous free book drive I’ve done. On Friday there was a huge spike of 2637 books given away, which I attribute to the book having been pushed up the charts at Amazon the day before, and the momentum continuing into Friday and pushing it up the charts even more, which meant more eyeballs on it at Amazon… and so on. It was sort of exciting to watch! Saturday I left on a four-day trip, so I wasn’t able to watch as closely, but books given away did taper off and finally come to a stop. So… over four thousand new readers, right? Wrong.

The peril of giving a book away, rather than offering it at a steep discount, is that people will scoop up free books, not read them initially, and then forget they own them. Personally I have about 780 ebooks on my Kindle, and that’s not my full ebook library. I know there are books in there I got free, forgot, and will likely never read. Amazon has really fallen off the ball on offering readers a way to curate and organize their own libraries, but I digress. Even if I could create a collection of ‘books I got free’ it would be a lower to-read priority than the books of Siberian and Alaskan folktales and mythology I’ve been reading for research. So my point is that giving away free books is not a direct one-to-one correlation of a book and a set of eyeballs on that book. Still, some will read PN, and like it, and I know this because…

That’s the graph of Kindle Unlimited reads across all my titles. You’ll note that it was doing ok, not great, up until the giveaway was a couple of days old. Now, this is not what I’d call a peak. Sales are up, for the other titles in the series, but not dramatically so. I was surprised by the KU increase, I was not at all surprised that the sales weren’t – yet – up. This is probably going to take another week to see it play out (and I’ll do a small follow-up next week as well, along with another topic).

If – when – I do this again, I won’t buy the highest level promotion from Ebookhounds. It wasn’t worth that much more money than the others. I’d also start working on this further out – I wanted to do this over the first weekend in August after releasing Snow in Her Eyes during the first week of August, but I didn’t plan ahead very far. It can be done, but it would be better to start researching and planning a month out. The Fussy Librarian and Kindle Book Review between them accounted for 730 freebies on that first day, so they were well worth the fees and planning in tandem, as I think that pushed the ranks up enough to create momentum at Amazon itself.

Overall I’m pleased, and will do this again – but not soon. If I do another promo, it will be a discounted book. But I don’t have a series to do that with, so I’ll wait until I have either the rest of the Tanager series complete, or perhaps the next of the Children of Myth series. Both of those will take me a while! In the meantime, I’ll be watching my sales and reviews to see what the long-term payout on this modest investment is. For one thing, in this last week I have seen three new reviews pop up for Pixie Noir, all of them from new readers. On a book that has been out for four years, that’s pretty good.

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Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, MARKETING, PROMOTION

A Thread Run Through It

There is always more than one twist.

 

In order to make a strong thread, you have to make many, many twists. In order to sew pieces together, you need a thread run through them.

 

When I was a much younger woman, I spent a couple of years serving as an apprentice shepherdess. In practice, this meant I helped move sheep, feed sheep, clean fleeces, pitch hay and in general do scutwork. But I didn’t mind, because sheep are amiable companions when they aren’t being rockheaded dolts, and best of all, it was mostly outdoor work. One of the things I learned while I was doing this was how to spin a fleece into thread, and then the many ways a thread can be made into something else entirely, be that a garment, a blanket, or macramé. I never did learn how to knit, and I’m a clumsy spinner (not enough practice) but I can clean a fleece pretty darn quick and I know the basics of natural dyes and mordants. I do know how to crochet, and weave, but mostly I lack the patience to do that as anything but a whimsical amigurumi from time to time.

 

I’m talking about fleeces, but really I’m talking about writing, because what I learned about spinning forms a metaphor for creating a plot that runs through the disparate pieces of a book and ties them all together into a unified whole. Just like sewing up a garment, you take bits and scraps of cloth, and make them into something beautiful and richly colored. It’s not easy, by any means. For one thing, while I have done quilting, I ran around the Grange Hall as a tiny girl while the women sat and stitched, and I know how incredible the work can be when done by a master. My patchwork attempts are passable, but could be better. I’ll keep practicing.

 

A fleece from a sheep is, in essence, a lot of soft, fluffy hair. It’s hair, not fur: it will keep growing and growing until it’s cut. If you don’t shear a sheep every so often, it’ll die. Now, obviously this isn’t biologically premium, but a modern sheep is bred to hold onto it’s hair and not shed it, which is what wild-type sheep (and some goats) do. Once upon a time, gathering fleece to spin was a laborious process of gathering clumps of shed hair off bushes and thorny weeds, then cleaning it and carding it. Carding is the process of combing the hairs until they are all running in one direction. They still, if you take a clump and pull in opposite directions with both hands, will come apart. You’ll wind up with a tuft in each hand. But if you take that bit of fleece, and give it a twist, it’s harder to pull apart. Give it more twists, and suddenly you have yarn. Twist it tighter, with less fleece strands going into the spin, and you have thread.

 

Linen is a similar process, but the prep to yield strands is a lot more labor intensive. I’m not getting into that – I’ve never done it, although I’m familiar with the theory. And I’ve gotten sidetracked already from my thought.

 

A good plot has some twists in it. Readers who find the path smooth and easy to follow from opening to conclusion might bother to walk all the way to the end, or they may get bored and wander off, to leave the book unfinished forever. Throw in a few left turns, and suddenly they are wondering what will come next, and they will keep reading, compelled to find out what happens. In thread, the idea is to be as smooth and even as possible. In writing, you want slubs. Slubs are the funny little bumps and clumps that give raw silk, for instance, it’s characteristic ‘nubbly’ look. In a book, you want that sort of unpredictable thing in the plot. It’s still got the strong thread, but there are unique elements readers will only find in this story – it’s the slubs that will make your work memorable.

 

The more twists, the stronger the plot thread. But watch out! If you overspin thread, it starts to coild back up on itself – in DNA, that’s called supercoiling, and it’s part of how 6 meters of DNA can be packed into every single nucleated cell in your body (not every single cell – red blood cells have enucleated, and don’t have DNA) but it is considered less than ideal in spinning thread. It’s less than ideal in a book, too. Once that path has become so convoluted the reader loses track of what is happening, why, and to who, they start getting a headache and vowing to never read another of your books. I have a few authors I avoid for just this reason, personally. I’m sure some of you do, too.

Upcoming

Next week, if I can get enough data crunched (Since as you read this I am flying from Ohio to Oregon to move kids back and forth between Mom’s house and mine) I will be presenting a summary of a guided promo push I’m doing with a free book, and 6 paid outlets for book promotion (Fussy Librarian, Ebookhounds, and more). It should generate some interesting results. On the first day alone, featured in Fussy Librarian, I gave away about 350 730 copies, and on the second day, a whopping 2600. The idea is to break into some new market areas by giving away the first book of a series. If you want to get in on the action, Pixie Noir is free from Aug. 3-7!

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Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, WRITING: CRAFT

Erdu

I’ve been reading science journals a lot, while I’m waiting for reactions at work. I need something to do, and mostly they are work-related. But I came across an article which delighted me, and I had to share it with you all. There aren’t many places where I can really let my inner book geek hang all out, but this is one of them! 

 

It used to be that in order to test a book for science, you’d have to destroy a little bit of it. Somewhat obviously, museums and collectors reacted to the thought of this with horror. However, with the advances of technology and ability to get down to the molecular level with testing, it’s now possible to use erdu for determining what skins vellum was made of…

 

Well, maybe not vellum. It depends on how you define vellum, versus parchment. In general, vellum was higher quality, formed from calfskin, and was believed to have been most sought after from stillborn or newly born calves (3), which modern science has shown isn’t necessarily true. Instead, through studying the proteins, scientists learned that technology of the Middle Ages was better than we assumed it was. They were able to form onion-skin thin vellum from animal skins, leading to a proliferation of ‘pocket bibles’ in the 13th century. We talk about print runs, in this era of automation and mass production, so to put this in perspective: they postulate that 20,000 of these pocket bibles were produced. That’s an amazing amount of work, and animal hide. Scholars have wondered for years how they managed to sustain that level of production, until they were able to apply science to the books. This disproved both the theories about vast herds of cows being depleted through abortion of calves for making books, and other theories about the use of rabbit or squirrel skins (2).

 

I love that word: erdu. It’s so cool and weird and it means the little bits you have left when you use an eraser on paper. Mostly, the bits are made up of whatever the eraser is made of (they are not India Rubber any longer as they were in the days of Kipling’s schoolboys, which is sad, but manmade polymers like PVC), and whatever was on the sheet of paper the eraser was rubbed across, gently lifting up and encasing in the erdu. That ‘other’ material is what scientists are testing from old books.

 

It’s not that they are erasing anything from the page, simply using what is called a ‘dry cleaning’ method to remove the built-up crud of centuries, by creating an electrostatic attraction with the PVC eraser that lifts away the molecules. The book the article highlights dates back to the 1300’s and that’s a lot of time for stuff to accumulate. From the erdu, they were able to learn that this one book was made up of the skins of two species of deer (the cover), 8.5 calves, 10.5 sheep, and a half of a goat (1). Which is pretty amazing, but also weird.

 

It gets weirder. I was vaguely aware that in some religious ceremonies, you kiss the book. Which action, as you can imagine, leaves a residue of bacteria behind. Can you imagine having the kiss it right after some guy with a snotty nose? Ewww… From these pages, scientists are able to isolate species of bacteria they associate with human hosts, and also DNA (1). However, the pages are ones with oaths on them – you swore, and then you kissed the oath to prove how much you meant it. We don’t do things with that sort of gravitas any longer, do we? Of course, we also know those bacteria are teeming around on the page waiting for the next pair of lips to call home.

 

While they can’t extricate individual DNA from those pages used by many to prove their devotion, they hope to be able to from a book that was owned by only one person. This could help them build a profile of the person, right down to hair and eye color. Other scientists are more interested in sampling worm poop – they want to know what species of beetles bored through the priceless books and left only their droppings behind in neat tunnels (1).

 

We have come so far, in these last centuries. From parchment, papyrus, vellum… to rag paper, and pulp paper, and now to electrons leaving a fleeting impression on screens. Even if you all are kissing your computer screens (I don’t want to know!) or slightly less gross, sneezing on them, chances are some as-yet-unborn scientist is not going to be swabbing it for your DNA. Much less being able to tell what you were reading.

 

For fans of my writing, I’m doing a cover reveal with snippet and blurb for my upcoming novella, Snow in Her Eyes. Let me know on my blog if you like the cover! 

 

Citations:

1. Biology of the Book
By Ann Gibbons
Science 28 Jul 2017 : 346-349
Scientists develop new ways to read the biological history of ancient manuscripts.
2. Animal origin of 13th-century uterine vellum revealed using noninvasive peptide fingerprinting
By Sarah Fiddyment, et. al
PNAS vol 112 no. 49 08 Dec 2015 : 15066-15071
This study reports the first use, to our knowledge, of triboelectric extraction of protein from parchment.
3. The History and Biology of Parchment
By Robert Fuchs
Karger Gazette no. 67 2004
Skin

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On Demand

As a Purveyor of Fine Publications, I have to be constantly aware of how the public is consuming media. It’s not a surprise, I think, to those who visit the Mad Genius Club to hear that consumption of entertainment is in the throes of another sea-change, and has been for a while. You will still, however, run across those who wonder who moved their cheese, or who think that consuming media in one way is the best way and no other way is valid. Friends, we cannot think like that. We have to remain nimble, and ahead of the curve, or at the very least just behind it. We cannot afford to remain at the flat bottom shaking our fists at the wave telling it to stay off our lawn. Not only is the general public not interested in our lawn, they have moved past lawns into xeriscaping and polyculture and are wondering why we’re still insisting on that boring old monoculture of grass. Grass doesn’t do anything, except dry up and get brown when it stops raining every August.

I published a blog post yesterday – and how long have blogs been around? I mean gosh, I remember publishing the school newspaper on the stinky printer in the principal’s office and if a paper jam happened we were flat out of luck. And it wasn’t that long ago fanzines were mimeographed, and now they’re on efanzine and delivered  conveniently to your email (I highly recommend Uncle Timmy’s The Revenge of Hump Day, by the way). But I digress. I published a thing, about books and how cranky I was about certain trends (speaking as a reader) and a lively discussion was sparked in the comments and on social media. Time was, you’d have to go to a con to have that many geeky voices chatting on one subject in that time frame.

One of the facets of the conversation was about Kindle Unlimited. I know we’re all familiar with it here, and have discussed the pros and cons as both authors and readers, but I still find that I have to explain it when I bring it up on social media, and there are a lot of misconceptions out there surrounding it. One seems to be that if a person reads in KU, the author isn’t compensated – we are. We might not get as much as we would were the reader to buy the books, but frankly I understand limits to book spending money, and I’m happy to get a little money than none at all. I suppose if the reader really wanted to support an author for their work (or for, say, their nonfiction outside of paid-work) they can look at the author’s website for a tip button like I have on mine in the upper right corner. Ahem. Or they can read and return the book on KU and then buy it outright. We get paid twice!

Kindle Unlimited, I explained yesterday, is like Netflix, for books. It is, in short, part of the new trend in media consumption. On Demand.

Consumers demand what they want to watch, read, or play right now. They don’t want to wait, they don’t want to sort through what’s on the shelf of the bookstore or video shoppe, and settle for second choices (or third, or fourth, or…). They don’t want to check and see if it’s in the budget. And they aren’t too concerned about re-consumption, if you think about it. Netflix offers the ability to binge-watch a TV show (check out Father Brown if you love crime and humor), a series of movies(Captain America is the best superhero), or discover stuff you didn’t know was out there (Australian crime shows are a lot of fun). As Netflix became more and more popular Hulu came on the scene. You can now purchase passes to most TV channels on-demand. The days of having to subscribe to a $200 a month cable package are gone, folks. And it’s the same way for books. You could buy all the titles you wanted individually, or you can get a reading pass subscription to something like KU (I haven’t tried the others out there, like Scribd) and binge-read to your heart’s content.

I think that’s the way of the future. I watch my kids, and I see them reading. A lot. Not always what I’m coaxing them to read, but they read massive amounts of fanfiction. My Junior Mad Scientist showed me her open tabs on her laptop the other day, and um, yeah. She’s my kid. I didn’t know you could have that many open tabs without crashing the browser. I strongly suspect that as she gets older and her tastes more sophisticated, she will move (as I did, around her age) to a different reading format that isn’t so… unreliable. However, I don’t think that she’ll move on to bookstores and libraries, at least not as I knew them as a teen and young woman. I suspect her world will look a lot more like on-demand access to books, movies, and games. She already has a Steam account, for videogames, as does her brother. I have the admin rights to both, so I can give them games (and see how much they are playing). She has access to my Kindle Library and I can buy her books… like Howl’s Moving Castle by Dianna Wynne Jones (I got a dual SQUEE! over this one. My girls had seen the movie and didn’t know there was a book).

I appreciate and understand the love for paper books. Heck, last week I was posting glamour shots of some of my dead tree collection here on this very blog, and I’m likely to do so again. (Pulps, anyone? LOL) The reality is that paper is dead, and in more ways than just one. E-ink readers, which I remember reading about a mere 15 years ago as being novelties presented at some Japanese tech convention, are not only common, but relatively cheap. Tablets that can do more than my first computer are so ubiquitous I’ve given one to my 11 yo son, repeatedly. I read on the computer, on my tablet, on my phone… and rarely, in paper. I know I’m not an outlier in this.

So I put all my novels and most of my short works in KU. For the moment, that restricts me to Amazon, but frankly my sales outside Amazon were not sufficient to offset the ‘reads’ I’m paid for through KU. It appears that my monthly royalties are about a 50/50 split between purchases and KU reads. It’s been well worth the move to having my work in KU. And as a reader, it’s great to have access to on-demand books.

 

 

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