Tag Archives: e-books

It’s not your ancestor’s Vellum

Brad asked me to fill in for him this morning, so I thought I’d continue the formatting and publishing series I started last month. In this post, I mentioned a Mac-only program a friend used that I’d downloaded and would review later. That program, Vellum, isn’t cheap. But, having played with it enough to be comfortable with it and having used it to convert the extended version of Vengeance from Ashes, I have to say, it is well worth the money.

For those of you with a Mac, you can download the entire program as a “trial” and use it. The only limitation on functionality is that you can’t actually export an e-book or print-ready PDF file. However, as I noted in the earlier post, the preview function of the program lets you see what you have without actually doing the export.

So, what is Vellum?

Vellum is a program designed to convert your word processing file into e-books and, in the last version or two, into a print-ready PDF file. There are two pricing levels for the program. As I said, it’s expensive. To get the e-book only version, you’ll pay $199 and for the e-book and print version, you’ll pay $249. Unlike earlier versions of the program where you could buy a license that would allow you to convert a single title or in increments of 10 (if I remember correctly), there is no limit on the number of titles now. And, to be honest, that is the only way I managed to convince myself it was worth the money.

Like many other conversion programs, you can write in Vellum but I wouldn’t recommend it. That’s not where its strength lies. However, that ability to write in it means you can edit in it which is a huge plus. That’s especially true because you don’t have to open a text editor and edit the underlying HTML of an e-book like you do with other conversion programs. It even has a spell-checker which can be nice or annoying, especially if you are writing science fiction and fantasy.

Once you install and open Vellum, you’ll see something like this. You’re given the option of viewing the tutorial or opening the Help Overview. Below that, you have the option of importing a Word file. I recommend you view the tutorial first. The program is really pretty simple but the tutorial will help. Also, there are some pretty good — and short — Youtube videos about the program as well. The one I watched was only about 10 minutes and it gave all the important information I needed to put together a project using the program.

Once you import your Word file, you’ll see something similar to this. As you fill in the blanks in the dialog box in the center of the screen, you will see the changes happening on the right side of the screen. That is your previewer pane and you can set it to show what your book will look like on the Kindle Fire, the Oasis, the iPad, etc. You can also set it to show what your print file will look like. Note the far left panel. That’s your table of contents that’s been generated by your use of Headings in Word (or similar program). You can change those, including their attributes.

While we’re on the TOC, at the bottom of that pane is an *. If you click it, a dialog box will open. One of the options is to add an element. This is a handy tool because it means you no longer have to type out your copyright page, etc. It has one on file and all you do is fill in the blanks. Choose where on your ToC you want it to appear, add the element and it is there, not only in the ToC but in your preview as well.

Once you’ve finished filling in the book details, click on the Ebook Cover tab and upload your cover. That will embed your cover with the book file. If you’re like me, this is great because it means you don’t have to worry about it later.

Now it’s time to move to what I see as the real strength of the program. One of the banes of the indie author has been making the text of our ebooks look like that of traditional publishers. Unless you had access to programs like InDesign, doing things like true drop caps and even something as simple as true small caps was beyond many of us. So we found workarounds that didn’t quite do the trick. With Vellum, you don’t have to do that. It has different options built in and all you have to do is choose which ones you want.

Here is a screenshot of what I did with Vengeance last night. This was one of, if I remember, six or eight options available. There are different elements you can add — if you want — after the chapter heading. Since this is a science fiction novel, I didn’t want anything too fancy. It also has the first letter looking like what we are used to with traditionally published books. I could have opted for a different font or small caps or no fancy effects. But this is what I thought looked best for the book and genre.

It also handles scene breaks if you want it to. By using the standard  asterisk to break your scenes, you indicate to Vellum that there is a scene break and you can then choose what you want to happen. As you can see here, I chose to use the same basic first line layout that I do for the beginning of a chapter. I chose a simple line between scenes, again because of the genre. I didn’t have to do anything except go to the styles tab on the far left contents section and tell Vellum what I wanted it to do. The nice thing is you can preview everything before you make your decision. Better yet, you don’t have to go through and insert these changes at ever scene break or new chapter. You set it once and it is done automatically.

Once you’ve checked your work and are happy with how it looks, you can then generate your ebooks. Before you do this, if you have a section at the back of the book (or at the front) where you want to link to your other titles and you sell them in the different stores, you can actually input those store links into a separate dialog box for each title. What happens is when you tell Vellum to generate your e-books, it will automatically assign the right links to the appropriate store. That’s because you can choose to generate a book per major outlet and Vellum then optimizes the books according to those store’s requirements.

As you can see from the image above, I chose to generate versions for all the major stores but did not generate the generic EPUB file. That took maybe a minute to do. Once the process is complete, you get a new dialog box up that not only recommends you check your files but it will link you to a page that tells you how to check your new files. I sent the Kindle file to my Oasis and, damn, it looks good. None of the issues I’ve had in the past trying to use any of the “fancier” effects showed up. So far, so good. But we still had the print version to look into.

I’ll admit, this is where I held my breath. I’ve gotten to where I can take my basic manuscript and turn it into a decent print ready PDF in an hour or so. But it meant doing things like changing the the page size, figuring out the margins, etc. And then there were the headers and footers — oh, those headers and footers. They can be the bane of any author’s existence. But the headers and footers, as well as all the other special effects, can be set for print just as they can be for e-books. I’m still playing with the final product for the print version but the image below gives you an idea of what can be done.

As for those concerns about converting to print, Vellum surprised me and in a good way. It took my basic manuscript, considered what I had typed into the original dialog box when I got started and then all I had to do was choose which form of header and footer I wanted to use. That’s it. You choose the page size when you get ready to export the file. My only complaint (am I’m sure it is something I can fix but haven’t figured out how yet) is that it has page numbers on the bottom of the first page of the chapter. I want to lose the header and footer on those pages. But, if that is all I dislike about the program, that’s pretty darned good. As with the e-book versions, it took less than a minute to generate the PDF file.

I need to play with the program some more but, to get multiple e-book versions and the print version done in less than an hour with a program I am still learning is pretty darned good. To get one that looks closer to a traditionally published book at minimal effort is a very good thing. The final judgment, for me at least, is that Vellum is well worth the money. While I hesitate to recommend anyone spend that much for a program, I will do this. If you have a Mac (sorry, iPad Pro and iPad users, they don’t have a version for iOS), try the program out. As I noted above, you won’t be able to export the files but you can see what the program is capable of doing.

For me, until I see something better out there that is also easier to use, Vellum is going to be my go-to when it comes to converting and exporting files for both e-book and print publication.

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The Blinders are Still in Place

Ten years.

That is approximately how long it’s been since Amazon first allowed the infidels to dip their toes into the sacred waters of publishing.  From the beginning, traditional publishing has taken a two-pronged attack against not only indies but readers. They have told us that e-books were a passing fad, something that wouldn’t last. They also warned that allowing just anyone to publish without having to prove themselves by finding a way past the gatekeepers would allow nothing but dreck into the holy waters of publishing.

Well, almost 10 years into this so-called experiment in mediocrity, e-books are still here and more and more indie authors are earning more than pocket change for their work — and the blinders are still, at least as far as most of those in traditional publishing are concerned, firmly in place.

We’ve seen the Big 5 (which used to be the Big 6) and Apple run afoul of the Justice Department for price fixing in an attempt to undermine Amazon. All that accomplished was costing everyone involved in the conspiracy money in the form of fines and payouts to customers who got caught up in their antics. Oh, and let’s not forget about how it started readers asking why traditionally published e-books cost so much.

We’ve seen a few traditionally published authors condemning their counterparts, not only those who have never been traditionally published but also those who have chosen to go the hybrid route of both indie and trad publishing. Friendships have been strained and, in some cases, lost and over what? The fact someone didn’t take the same route as another? (yes, I’m rolling my eyes.)

In this time, we’ve seen not a gradual acceptance of e-books by traditional publishing and its proponents but a continued attack on them. All you have to do is look at the prices charged for the digital release of new titles to see what I mean. Here’s a perfect example. Echoes in Death by J. D. Robb is available for pre-order right now. The price? $14.99.

Yes, you read that right. By the time you add tax, you will pay more than $15 for an e-book.

Nor is this an anomaly. Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs sells for $13.99. Fast & Loose by Stuart Woods sells for $14.99. There’s more, much more. All you have to do is look. When you do, you’ll discover a couple of more things. Amazon, not being a fool when it comes to marketing, makes it clear that these high prices aren’t set by anyone except the publisher. Also, if you, as a reader, check the terms of service when you buy your e-books, you’ll discover a couple of things. First, I bet you dollars to doughnuts that almost every e-book you’ve purchased from a trad publisher is filled with DRM (there are a few exceptions, like Baen). Second, you will discover that you haven’t actually bought the book. You purchased a license to read the book. Now, in some ways, that’s nothing new. It’s what you do when you “buy” software from most software publishers. Still, it rankles but the DRM rankles more because that smacks of the publishers telling us they don’t trust their readers not to do something evil like — gasp — loan the book to a friend, exactly what we do with our hard copy books.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I have a line in the proverbial sand when it comes to how much I will pay for an e-book. It’s a line that I will very rarely cross. I’ll admit I will rarely even get close to the line. That price, for me, is $9.99. It used to be lower but I had to change that when Baen finally got into Amazon. I groused, like a lot of others, because that move meant Baen now charged more. However, there are several Baen authors I will pay that much for instead of waiting for the price to come down. But paying $15 for an e-book when the publisher won’t even admit I own the book? Nope, not gonna happen. I will wait for the price to come down or, if it doesn’t, I will borrow it from the library.

The problem is that doesn’t really hurt the publisher but it does hurt the author. I hate that part but there isn’t much more I can do to voice my displeasure — not that the Big 5 listen.

A perfect example of how they don’t listen and don’t pay attention to market trends is this article from Publishers Weekly. Sure, the article is about how e-tailers are continuing to survive but the premise is what had me shaking my head. According to this post, e-book sales are down. Yes, it did say e-books by traditional publishers but then it basically acted as if those are the only e-books out there. That is the same sort of premise the Big 5 works under. They seem to think that the fact their sales are down for e-books, they are for everyone. No, what they need to do is look at their pricing, something indies and readers have been telling them for years.

Unfortunately, the idea that “the more I charge, the more I make” isn’t limited to trad publishers. Indies suffer from it as well. Pricing is a bitch to figure out and to make sure you are hitting the sweet spot. Part of the equation is also figuring out that the higher the price the fewer buyers you will have. So, while you may be getting more money per sale, you are actually losing money in the long run because you are losing readers. But that’s a post for another day.

But, to me, even more of a slap in the face when it comes to the Big 5 and their ilk is the insistence on trying to lock their e-books with DRM. That is especially egregious when you look at how much they charge. Sorry, but if you want me to pay more than $10 — heck, who am I kidding? If you want me to pay more than, well, anything — for an e-book, I’d better own it just as much as if I bought the hard copy version.

And then they wonder why people figure out ways to break DRM or why they go to pirate sites to find the book they want. It’s a lesson publishing should have learned from the music industry and didn’t.

Finally, for one more piece of “Huh? How is that going to work?” we get this announcement. Bill Clinton and James Patterson are teaming up to write a book. The premise is that the President goes missing. Okay, that alone isn’t all that strange. Where I did a double-take was seeing that the book is being published by both Knopf Doubleday and Hachette. Oh, and it is supposedly going to be edited by the chairman of Knopf Doubleday and the CEO of Hachette. Am I the only one going “riiiiight?”

Let’s look at this for a moment. By doing it this way, the publishers split the costs of production and distribution (one would assume). They both get the benefits from the promotion of the book and I guarantee you this book will be promoted. Hell, the publishers won’t even have to pay for it because the media will be all over it. They also get to split the advances. Of course, that might not be such a big saving for them because I have a feeling both “authors” are getting close to their usual advances.

However, it also means they will split the monies coming in from the sales of the books.

It is going to be interesting to see how this impacts their bottom lines over the next few years. Not that I expect them to admit if the book fails to perform as expected. Remember those blinders I mentioned earlier?

10 years and publishing has changed and yet, in all too many ways, the same mindset continues to permeate the ivory halls of NYC publishers. Sigh.

Next Tuesday, Battle Wounds, the third short story set in the Honor and Duty series universe, will be published. So, a little promo for two of the titles in the series.

Vengeance from Ashes

(Book 1 in the series)

First, they took away her command. Then they took away her freedom. But they couldn’t take away her duty and honor. Now they want her back.

Captain Ashlyn Shaw has survived two years in a brutal military prison. Now those who betrayed her are offering the chance for freedom. All she has to do is trust them not to betray her and her people again. If she can do that, and if she can survive the war that looms on the horizon, she can reclaim her life and get the vengeance she’s dreamed of for so long.

But only if she can forget the betrayal and do her duty.

Taking Flight

(1st short story)

Duty, honor, sacrifice. That motto meant everything to newly commissioned Second Lieutenant Ashlyn Shaw. She thought she understood the meaning of those simple words. Little did she know.

Challenged by those who believed she made it through the Academy on her family’s coattails, a roommate who just wants to see “some action” and a gunnery sergeant determined to make a real Marine out of her, Ash soon realizes what it means to be a Marine. As the signs point to war on the horizon, she is determined to do everything she can to serve Fuercon and do the Corps proud.

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Watch where you step

Yesterday, I went browsing through sites like Publishers Weekly and The Passive Voice, looking for inspiration for today’s post. I’m not too proud to admit my brain is still in that post-publication funk, a funk aided by the fact my work computer (a really nice Asus ROG less than 7 months old) had to be sent back to ASUS for warranty work. That’s meant making sure all files were backed up,the laptop reset to factory settings and then setting up the secondary laptop as the current work machine. So, with all that going on, I felt sure I’d read the article wrong when I saw something about Cory Doctorow setting up a “store” to sell e-books traditionally published.

Okay, that sentence was a bit awkward, so let me try again.

Cory Doctorow, long a supporter of Creative Commons, is setting up an online bookstore to see e-books that were traditionally published.

I’ll give you a moment to consider that statement.

From the start, it is clear Doctorow has fallen victim to the Amazon Derangement Syndrome.

Buying an e-book from a website and sideloading it onto your Kindle will never be as easy as buying it from the Kindle store (though if the world’s governments would take the eminently sensible step of legalizing jailbreaking, someone could develop a product that let Kindles easily access third-party stores on the obvious grounds that if you buy a Kindle, you still have the right to decide whose books you’ll read on it, otherwise you don’t really own that Kindle).

Hmm, so he has an issue with Kindles because you can’t buy directly from other stores. Guess he hasn’t tried using e-readers from other stores or had to deal with some of the problems i-Pad owners have had in the past when Apple decided you couldn’t buy from in-app or you had to sideload. Or let’s not forget about the issues Nook owners have faced either. But Amazon is the big evil. And what do you mean “you don’t really own that Kindle”? Just because a tablet might not do what you want it to, it doesn’t follow that you don’t own it. His logic fails him.

As an author, being my own e-book retailer gets me a lot. It gets me money: once I take the normal 30 percent retail share off the top, and the customary 25 percent royalty from my publisher on the back-end, my royalty is effectively doubled. It gives me a simple, fair way to cut all the other parts of the value-chain in on my success: because this is a regular retail sale, my publishers get their regular share, likewise my agents. And, it gets me up-to-the-second data about who’s buying my books and where.

He’s right here but this is also where his reasoning hits me as being “off”. Yes, if he owns his own bookstore, he gets all this. But he also gets the headaches of operating it, the costs of operating it, etc. Now, I hear you saying he’s been doing this for years already. Yes, but that’s been for his indie books. Now he is talking about selling for trad publishers. That means he is giving them money and doing for them what they should be doing for him.

Remember, writers, the money is supposed to flow to you and not the other way around.

Ah, then you read on a bit further and remember the political diatribe he went on at the beginning of the article and realize that’s what is behind it. Politics. He hates Trump. He wants to reach out to markets ignored by Amazon and others.

Whatever.

The Digital Reader has an excellent post about Doctorow’s announcement. “I want to point out Doctorow’s blind spot: the unwarranted assumption that authors need or even should be doing business with publishers. . . But like many pioneers, Doctorow advanced only so far. He never managed to shed his original assumptions and keep up with the times.”

That last statement hit home with me. One of the things I, as well as the rest of us here at MGC, strive to do on an almost daily basis is see what is going on with the industry, both trad and indie. We are constantly looking for new ways to promote our work, newer and easier ways to put our books together and make them more appealing in look and content. Some of us have been doing this long enough to remember hand-coding the html for e-books. At least one of us has had to show traditional publishers how to make text in an e-book look more like what you get in a printed book (effects, etc.). In other words, we haven’t sat back and rested on what we first learned while the indie industry passed us by.

So, what is it Doctorow wants us to do? He wants us to act as shills for traditional publishers. You know, those folks who, before they sign an author to a contract want us to do our own marketing, have a blog, be active on social media and already have a platform and built-on audience. And, before you say anything, unless you are King or Patterson or the “new big thing”, any marketing the publisher is going to do for you is basically nil beyond getting your book into the catalog sent to booksellers. So, you have to do the job of marketing your book, something they used to do.

Now Doctorow wants us to add to that by selling e-books for traditional publishers, accept and handle all payments (and that will include returns and making sure all tax laws are followed and tax reporting done) and then remit money to the publisher.

My only comment is “WTF?!?”

The Passive Voice says it best, “PG delayed posting about Doctorow’s plan because he was waiting for someone to propose a theory about why an intelligent trad-pubbed author would try to sell books directly from some strange organization for side-loading onto a Kindle. What kind of service is that for an author’s readers? Who do those readers call for tech support when the ebook file won’t load?”

Above and beyond the fact that selling e-books on your site for publishers (when they should be the ones selling your books) makes my head hurt, there’s something else Doctorow didn’t take into account. As I write this, my 85-year-old mother sits across the room from me reading on her Kindle Fire. She gets her Kindle. She gets the books downloaded directly there after I buy them either from the Amazon site or through the app on my tablet. If she had to sideload a book, she wouldn’t do it. For one, it is a hassle. For another, she isn’t anywhere near geeky enough to understand the process.

Then there are those who don’t have computers. Yes, yes, there really are folks like that. Some are older, like my mom. Others spent their working lives dealing with computers and never want to see another ever again. They might compromise with a smart phone but that’s about it. So, Mr. Docotorow, how are they supposed to sideload?

Doctorow has clearly fallen victim to Amazon Derangement Syndrome and forgot to look where he stepped.

***

Now for my bit of marketing.

Dagger of Elanna (Sword of the Gods Book 2)

Plots form, betrayals are planned and war nears.

Cait Hawkener has come to accept she might never remember her life before that terrible morning almost two years ago when she woke in the slavers’ camp. That life is now behind her, thanks to Fallon Mevarel and the Order of Arelion. Now a member of the Order, Cait has pledged her life to making sure no one else falls victim as she did.

But danger once more grows, not only for Cait but to those she calls friends. Evil no longer hides in the shadows and conspirators grow bold as they move against the Order and those who look to it for protection. When Cait accepts the call to go to the aid of one of the Order’s allies, she does not know she is walking into the middle of conspiracy and betrayal, the roots of which might help answer some of the questions about her own past.

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Delusion or Reality?

The other day, I sat down and tried to figure out how long I had actively been watching the publishing industry and how it responded to the digital revolution. I was surprised when I did. It’s been ten years, give or take a couple of months. That was long before my first foray into indie/small press publishing. It was when I first started buying e-books from Baen and wondering why I couldn’t buy similar offerings from other publishers, especially at a realistic price point and without DRM added.

Back then, and for some years prior to that, traditional publishing had looked down on Jim Baen for rocking the boat. Traditional publishing didn’t understand that their customer base was changing. It was getting younger, more technologically sophisticated and more on the go. Back then, traditional publishing was the only road open to writers who wanted to be considered “legitimate” authors. Oh, there were vanity presses out there but not much more for those writers who wanted another route besides the traditional — and slow — route available.

Then along came the Kindle, an e-book reader that was affordable, connected to a bookstore for easy purchase and download and traditional publishers started to grudgingly admit there might be a market for e-books. But they wanted to control that market, control prices and got their hands judicially slapped for colluding with one another on pricing. All the while, Amazon — and later other outlets — opened up digital publishing to indie writers. I’m not sure anyone expected e-books to take off the way they did. Certainly, traditional publishing did not. Nor did the lamented Borders, a bookseller chain that is no longer with us, and certainly not Barnes & Noble that is still having issues finding the right online platform to make it easy for its customers to find and order e-books.

So, when I read over at The Passive Voice how Randy Penguin (sorry, Penguin Random House) claims it “read too much into the e-book hype”, I have to laugh. This from a company that didn’t want e-books to begin with. This from a company that consistently overprices, in my opinion, e-books. But I wanted to be sure. So I went to Randy Penguin’s website to see what books they have coming out and what prices they are offering them at.

The first I checked is Janet Evanovich’s Turbo Twenty-Three. It will hit the stores November 15th. The price for hard cover is $16.78 on Amazon. The price for the hard cover on the flap is $28.00) The e-book price, which is set by Penguin Random House, is $14.99.

Debbie Macomber’s Sweet Tomorrows is listed at $26.00 for the hard cover (flap), $14.99 hard cover (Amazon price) and the e-book price (set by the publisher) is $12.99.

It goes on like this. You can check.

Now, I don’t know about the folks at Penguin Random House, but there are very few hard covers I buy any longer. It just isn’t economically feasible for me to buy hard covers like I used to. They have simply become too expensive. Those hard covers I do buy, I buy from Amazon or when the books are on sale in brick and mortar stores. I can’t tell you the last time I paid what the publishers have printed on the inside flap for a hard cover. Every reader I know does the same thing. They shop for the best price for their books just as they do for almost anything else in their lives.

So, when readers see e-books that cost almost as much as a hard cover book, they shake their heads and walk away. Oh, there are exceptions. Each of us have a few authors we will pay more for their books than we will for everyone else. But that seems to be something the traditional publishers have a hard time accepting, just as they have had a hard time accepting the fact that e-books are here to stay.

From the Telegraph:

Speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, Ms Prior [Joanna Prior, the managing director of Penguin’s general books] said: “There was a definite moment when we all went shooting out after the shiny app thing and spent money on that and invested probably unwisely in products that we thought could in some way enhance the book.”

“Enhance the book” instead of simply converting the book into digital format and getting it out into the reading public’s hands. That was the second mistake. The first was dragging their feet when it came to getting behind e-books to start with. Now, I have a couple of those “enhanced” e-books and I found myself getting aggravated at the enhancements. Sure, it’s great to have links to external sources and the link IN NON-FICTION books but not in fiction. It interrupts the flow of the narrative and throws the reader out. But the editors and bean counters didn’t see that. All they saw was the shiny and a way to increase the price of the book.

And what is bringing this change of mind to the bosses at Randy Penguin? The fact e-book sales dropped 2.9% last year. Yes, read that again. A decline in sales of less than 3% has they crowing that they were initially right to doubt the viability of e-books. Funny, they didn’t have that sort of a reaction when print sales declined much more than that. Instead, they doubled-down on doing all they could to keep the print portions of their business alive.

So what does this mean for readers? It means we will continue to see traditional publishers over-pricing e-books. They will continue to load them with DRM and will press for more onerous (for the reader) laws about the licensing of e-books. Remember, traditional publishers don’t believe you “buy” an e-book, only license it.

As readers, it means we will have to continue to choose between buying one traditionally published e-book from publishers like Randy Penguin (at $12.99 or more) or buying two or three — or more — indie or small press published e-books. It means choosing to buy e-books from indies or publishers like Baen, sources that don’t add DRM, or buying fro publishers who aren’t afraid to say they think their customers are thieves and that is why they add the DRM. After all, they don’t trust us not to pirate their books or — gasp — resell them after we’re done with them. As readers, it also means we need to be smart and start backing up our e-books to places not connected with our e-readers, etc. Because, as sure as I’m sitting here typing this this morning, I guaran-damn-tee you there is some bean counter sitting in an ivory tower in the publishing industry who is trying to figure out a way to limit the number of times we can read an e-book before we have to buy a new license or something equally as silly. Don’t believe me? Remember, these are the same publishers that put a limit on how many times an e-book can be checked out at a library before the library has to buy — at an inflated rate — the e-book again.

What really caught my eye and had me shaking my head was this:

Penguin is now focusing on providing app developments for picture books aimed at pre-school children, which Ms Prior believes can make money.

“There is beginning to emerge a financial model for that, I think it is an exciting way of getting very young children into reading,” she said.

So, they want an app aimed at pre-school kids for picture books to help them learn to read. This at a time when studies are saying we need to get kids, especially young kids, away from the screen. This at a time when we are told we need to get our kids outside to play. This at a time when parents should be sitting down and reading with their kids instead of shoving a tablet at the kids as an electronic babysitter. Oh, wait, there are already apps like this out there. But Penguin wants to re-invent the wheel. Color me surprised. Once again, Penguin is behind the times and targeting a single audience instead of looking at what needs to be done system-wide to increase the productivity and profitability of their business.

Frankly, it is time for us, as readers, to understand that the traditional publishers who follow the path of Penguin-Random House and the other Big 5 publishers aren’t our friends. They don’t respect us as readers or as their customers. They sure as hell don’t respect most of their writers. To them, writers are simply interchangeable widgets. It is time for us to hold them responsible for their actions. If we don’t like the price of a book, don’t grit your teeth and buy it. Wait until it goes on sale. Let the author of the book know — yes, I know. The author has no control but they need to see that their publisher is killing them — and let the publisher know. More than that, use social media and let other readers know. Check your favorite authors on Amazon or your favorite online site and see if they have their backlist available. If they have it available through the indie route, buy it. Sure, you may have already read the book but a lot of authors are updating their backlist, returning the book to what they wanted it to be before the editors got to it. Even if you have already read it, you will be supporting that author, showing them that you still enjoy their work. Leave reviews for the books you read. That is some of the best help you can give an author.

Just don’t buy into the hype from publishers when they talk about how expensive e-books are to produce. Don’t let them con you into paying hard cover prices for a mass of electrons. Unless and until the publishers realize that their business plan no longer works, they will continue down this path and, believe me, it is not the Yellow Brick Road.

I guess it’s now time for me to do a bit of promo.

Witchfire Burning (Eerie Side of the Tracks Book 1) is now available for purchase.

Long before the Others made their existence known to the world, Mossy Creek was their haven. Being from the wrong side of the tracks meant you weren’t what the rest of the world considered “normal”.

Normal was all Quinn O’Donnell wanted from life. Growing up on the “wrong side of the tracks”, she had been the only normal in the family. The moment she was old enough, she left and began life as far from her Texas hometown as possible. Now she has a job she enjoys and a daughter she loves more than life itself. Their life is normal, REALLY normal, until her daughter starts calling forth fire and wind.

Quinn knows they must go back so her mother can help five-year-old Ali learn how to control her new talents. But in Mossy Creek nothing is ever simple. Quinn’s mother has gone missing. Secrets from Quinn’s past start coming back to haunt her.

And the family home is more than a little sentient.

Can Quinn keep everyone — particularly Ali — safe? And will she ever get back her illusion of normalcy?

Witchfire Burning is the start of a new series. However, it takes place in the same town as Slay Bells Ring and some of the same characters are present in both. Both have a little bit of mystery and a little bit of romance. Witchfire adds in an urban fantasy note as well. While it wasn’t a book I had planned when I sat down at the beginning of they year to figure out my publication schedule, it’s one that decided it needed to be written and I had a blast doing it. I hope you guys all enjoy reading about Quinn and company as much as I enjoyed writing about them. Also, for those who prefer print versions, it should be available in approximately two weeks. I’ll make an announcement when that version is ready.

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I can only shake my head

With coffee in hand, I sat down to write today’s post. The laptop booted up, the cats settled into their morning routine of annoying one another instead of me and I realized I didn’t have clue one for the blog. I stared at the laptop screen, fingers poised above the keyboard and nothing came. Then I realized what the problem was. My muse, evil muse that she is, woke me in the middle of the night. The only good thing about that was it was one of those “OMG! That’s why the story wasn’t gelling” moments. The downside was, I spent the rest of the night thinking about how to fix the problem. So the brain did not rest overnight even though the body did.

Of course, it didn’t help when I stood at the kitchen sink and looked outside and saw water running across the backyard. Water that shouldn’t be there. Not wanting to really know why there was water flowing and pooling enough for my still sleep-addled brain to register, I stepped outside and discovered it wasn’t the neighbors backwashing their pool but the result of my mother not completely turning off the water yesterday morning when she filled the birdbath.

And I still hadn’t had any coffee.

So, finally I was able to sit down to try to find a topic for today’s post. Yesterday, I blogged about an article in Publisher’s Weekly that put the blame for the decline in e-book sales for traditional publishers on the need for better dedicated e-book readers and something they call “digital fatigue”. There was no discussion about the high price of e-books from traditional publishers like the Big 5. There was no discussion about the application of DRM. Instead, they tried saying we needed better dedicated e-book readers like there are better dedicated MP3 players. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t carried an MP3 player for years. I have a smartphone, one that allows me to use a micro-SD card that I can put all the music I want on it. That means I don’t have to carry two or more devices with me when I leave the house. It is the same with e-books. I can read e-books on my smartphone or one the tablet I usually carry with me. I don’t need or want another device to haul around.

Anyway, I asked some questions in the blog post that I wondered if the survey the PW piece mentioned had bothered to ask:

1) Do you own a dedicated e-book reader?

2) Do you own a smartphone?

3) Do you own a tablet?

4) If you own a dedicated e-book reader as well as another device capable of allowing you to read e-books, what percentage of your e-books do you read on each device?

5) What percentage of your e-books do you purchase from each device?

There should probably have been another couple of questions asked as well:

6) Do you buy print books and, if so, what percertage of your book purchases are digital and what percentage is print?

7) What is the maximum price you are willing to pay for a print book (mmpb, trp or hc) and what is the maximum price you are willing to pay for an e-book? (and why the difference?)

Those are basic business questions that the publishers should be asking of their customers and aren’t.

A couple of other things to think about. If you haven’t changed your password for your Amazon account recently, do so. I’ve been hearing some rumblings that there might have been a security breach. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the rumblings but there has been at least one author claiming her account was hacked. Also, Amazon is cracking down on some of the third party promotion sites that authors have been using. So you might want to hold back on paying for that sort of promotion for a little bit until the dust clears.

One mug of coffee drunk — all hail, Deathwish Coffee! — and still the brain is refusing to work. No, that isn’t quite right. It wants to work but only on fixing the story. So, I shall sign off here and let the Muse have her way. If she releases her talon-hold on me in time, I will come back with a more coherent post later today. Until then, have a great day!

 

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To pirate or not to pirate, that is NOT the question

Over the last few days, social media has been alive — again — with author outrage over e-book piracy. Apparently someone on Facebook started a thread on her wall asking for recommendations for pirate sites where she could download e-books for free. It’s no surprise that the authors were up in arms. After all, no one likes seeing work they have up for sale in one place being offered for free — without permission — somewhere else. But, when the woman who started the thread started blocking those who didn’t agree with her, and when others started attacking those who pointed out what they were advocating was stealing, the internet exploded.

I’m on the record as being against piracy. I’m also realistic enough to know there is little we can do about most pirate sites. Those who are often the worst offenders aren’t located in the U.S. They have little concern for the law or for takedown notices. The time and money that it often takes to get that site in the Ukraine or elsewhere can be better spent writing my next book.

What does get me, however, is the attitude of people like the OP and her supporters who have this sense of entitlement to our work. Like so many in society today, they feel they have the right to take our work without compensation, because they want it. In this case, the OP claimed, from what I’ve read, that she was “poor”. Yet she either had internet or the means to get somewhere there was internet. She had access to a computer, tablet or smartphone to post her request. That request also meant she had access to something that allowed her to read e-books. Oh, and from what those who have purportedly seen her post and Facebook page have said, she is a photographer. Hmmm, I wonder if she gives her work away for free.

One of the commenters said that he had no problem pirating e-books because writers make enough money as it is. Yes, I laughed. He suffers from the Castle Syndrome — thank you very much, ABC. For every Stephen King or Nora Roberts, there are thousands of authors working one or two jobs to make ends meet.

From personal history, one of the sites that did — and possibly once again does — have my books listed, they also listed the number of times a title had been downloaded. I lost several thousand dollars from just that site alone. I was lucky, however, because they did take down my books when I contacted them. But I have to spend time every few months going back and seeing if my work has once again found its way onto their menu. That money could have been put to good use doing things like, oh, paying bills.

Much as I hate pirate sites, I know they also serve a purpose, limited yes, but a purpose. The problem is that they also cause issues with retail sites like Amazon and B&N, etc. If those sites learn that our work is being “sold” for less somewhere else, they will send notice, telling us we need to either price match or risk having our work removed from the legitimate site. Fortunately, the few times that has happened with me, either the pirate sites have taken my work down when I’ve sent them a DMCA notice or Amazon, etc., have accepted my explanation that the offending site is a pirate site and has failed to respond to the DMCA notice.

But, when someone tells me they have the right to pirate my work because they like to read and can’t afford my work, well, that does get my dander up. First is the sheer audacity of it all. What is it about our society, both here in the U.S. and elsewhere, that has bred this mentality in some people? I have been known to ask people like that if they are willing to give away their own hard work to someone just because that person wants it.

The argument spotted in the Facebook thread from one person saying they like to read, so they should be able to pirate any book they want, almost had me beating my head against the desk. There are libraries, and most libraries now allow you to borrow e-books, if you want to read something for free. There’s Project Guttenberg. Amazon and other e-tailers offer hundreds to thousands of free titles. That’s more than enough for someone who wants free books to read.

Jim Baen proved the validity of the “give the first taste for free” with the Baen Free Library. Unfortunately for writers, there are some out there who believe every taste should be free. Fortunately, they are in the vast minority.

Here’s the thing. Writing is a business. It is our profession. The reason the vast majority of writers hold down a “real” job — or two — is because writing doesn’t pay a lot. Not when you consider the number of hours an author spends writing and preparing a book for publication. If that author then publishes that book traditionally, his income is cut even further per unit sold. Most of us don’t live in fancy apartments in New York, play poker with famous Hollyweird folks and go out solving crimes with NYC detectives. Most of us are lucky if we can replace our laptops before they wear out.

Here is something else to consider. Most of us are also very thankful to our fans and are more than willing to send a free e-book to a fan in need. I would much rather do that — and have done that.

Now, I know there are going to be some of you out there who will note the high prices of e-books coming from certain publishers. Those books, if I have to read them, I borrow from the library. Sure, it means I won’t get to read it as soon as I might like but I am still sending money to the author that way. The only time I will even consider pirating a book is when it is something so obscure that it hasn’t been published here and isn’t available through any legitimate means — and I have to have a pressing need for it. Funny, I haven’t found anything like that, yet. I have always managed to find an alternative. However, I know there are some reference materials that aren’t available through anything here in the U. S. except pirate sites. Fortunately for my conscience, I haven’t had to use those materials yet.

So here’s the thing, folks. Just because there are pirate sites out there, that doesn’t mean you need to use them. If the download links go anywhere but to Amazon or another legitimate e-tailer, you are taking money out of the hands of the author. If you legitimately can’t afford an e-book, contact the author. I have a feeling if you do, and if you explain your circumstances, they won’t hesitate to send you a copy. That’s especially true if you offer to leave a review for the book when you finish reading it.

Most of all, don’t be a butthead about it. If you are going to pirate, that’s between you and your conscience. Don’t go to Facebook or Twitter, etc., and ask in a post authors can see that you want recommendations for pirate sites. It tends to get our backs up, especially if you then start blocking those who point out that what you are doing is wrong. And, authors, take a page out of Jim Baen’s book. Offer your work for free from time to time to hook new readers. Your bottom dollar will come to appreciate it.

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Here a format, there a format

A week or so ago, I mentioned that I was busy formatting and, in some cases, reformatting, my books for print release. If there is anything I’m slow to do as an author, it is to sit my butt down in the chair and prep my books for print. There’s no excuse for it. I have generic templates built that I can use. It is just a mater then of dropping my book into the template, tweaking it as needed and then shoving it out the door. But I’m getting ahead of myself. In this day and age, before we worry about the print version, we need to worry about formatting our e-books. That’s where I’m going to start. I’ll do the print version next week.

So, how do you format your book for digital release?

The first thing I’m going to suggest may raise some eyebrows, but bear with me. Instead of writing your draft in standard manuscript format (1-inch margins, double spaced, Times New Roman or Courier font), write your draft in the same basic format that you are going to upload later. It isn’t much different and it will take a step out of your conversion process on down the road.

The down and dirty version is simple. Leave your margins at 1-inch. You can have your headers and footers for page numbers, title, etc. They will disappear when your book is converted into an e-book. Leave your paper size at the standard 8 1/2 X 11. From there, the decisions begin.

Font:

Keep it simple. In my experience, both as a reader and as a writer, the best fonts to use are Times New Roman, Georgia, Garamond and similar fonts. I like the way Georgia looks, so that’s the one I use.

Line spacing:

I generally use 1.5 for e-books. Double-spaced can look odd (too much white space) in an e-book and single space can be too little. I would recommend no less than 1.15 for your line spacing. Play with it, not in your working file but in a converted file, to see what you like best and go with it.

Paragraph indents:

This is where a lot of authors really muck it up.

  • The first rule of paragraph indents is do NOT use the tab. It won’t translate over to your converted e-book.
  • Instead of hitting “Tab” at the beginning of each paragraph, use the “first line indent” function in your paragraph formatting dialog box.
  • Set your first line indent to 0.3 to 0.33. (This is my preference. The old standard of half an inch is simply too much of an indent for an e-book. Again, this is one of those personal preference things that you have to play with. And, as with your line spacing, I recommend looking at it in a converted format to see if the indents are deep enough or too deep for your liking.)
  • Do not have a 0 first line indent. That gets distracting and can wind up with one great big wall of text for the entire page, scene or chapter.

Other paragraph formatting tips for the body of your text:

  • Alignment should be set to left. Do not justify your text.
  • Spacing before and after a paragraph should be set to 0
  • Widow and orphan control should be unclicked.

When you look at print books, you will see fancy drop caps for the first letter of the first line of a next chapter. That line, or a portion of it, may be all small caps and possibly intalicized or bolded or both. It looks great in print but that doesn’t mean it will in digital format. The problem is that not all e-book reader apps are created equal and neither are all tablets or e-readers. So this is where the KISS rule comes into play. Don’t do fancy drop caps or the like for that first letter. For one, it probably won’t survive conversion. Even if it does, it might not appear the way you want it to and then you run the risk of your readers getting a sub-par reading experience.

So what about other ways to fancy up that first line? Small caps don’t translate well during the conversion process. They tend to turn into standard capital letters. So, if you want to set that first line or first phrase off — and I recommend only a few words or short phrase — bold or italicize it. If your chapter heading is in bold, offset that with italics on your first line. One word of warning here. Because e-books give readers the ability to change font size, etc., I would not recommend doing the entire first line in special formatting. Choose a set number of words – 3 or 4 –for special treatment.

Chapter Headings

These are easily done and can be used to build your active table of contents. Type your chapter title, whether is it Chapter One or “And so it starts”, highlight it and click on Heading 1 (or 2 if you are nesting your headers. More on that in a minute.). The default in Word, at least, when you do that is Calibre Light, blue font color in font size 16. It is also left justified. So, if you want to change that — again, I am working in Word, so the process to modify may be slightly different in other programs — is to right click on the Heading 1 button and then click on modify. That will open a dialog box that will allow you to change the font, color, size and alignment. If you want to tweak it a bit more, look at the bottom left hand corner of the dialog box and you will see a format button. Click that and various options will open.

For me, I use the same font as my body text but increase the size to 16, center the text, change the color to automatic and both bold and italicize it all. (Yes, this does vary from genre to genre.) Again, it is a matter of preference and also a matter of what is common in the genre you are writing in. So look at e-books from not only indies but traditional publishers and see what you like and then do your best to replicate it. Just be consistent throughout your work or do modify your Heading settings and use them.

I know I don’t need to say this but I will. The way you set your heading is to type the text you want as the heading, highlight it and then click Heading 1, etc.

Nesting Headings:

If you have a book that is split into sections and each section has chapters, then I recommend you nest your headings. The way you do that is you use Heading 1 for your section title, which will be on a separate page from the next chapter. When I do that, I follow the same process I laid out above but change the font to 18. I bold the text and use all caps for the section title.

I then use Heading 2 for chapter headings and modify the default for Heading 2 in the same manner as I did above.

What this does is it will show the section headings in your table of contents with the chapter headings under them.

Right now, there is a lot of talk about tables of contents and where to put them, etc. Until Amazon gives more information on it, don’t sweat creating a table of contents and placing it as a separate page in your e-book. If you use the section headings as I’ve described, you will create what is called an active table of contents. It will save you some time and headaches by not having to put in the hyperlinks and bookmarks to create the ToC. Doing so prevents two potential problems. The first is that the ToC, if placed in the front of your book, becomes part of the preview and could mean the reader would get little, if any, of your actual prose to preview. That can cost potential sales. The second is that it avoids the problem of putting it in the back of your book and possibly having the wrath of Amazon come down on you by circumventing the “pages read” algorithm of the Kindle Unlimited program. Use of headings creates those nifty ToCs that appear from the menu of your e-reader or app. Besides, how many print novels have a table of contents anymore?

Page breaks:

This is the one headache that can come back to bite you in the butt when you are converting to print. But we will deal with that in the next post.

When you reach the end of a chapter, you are going to want to put a page break in. You can do this by holding CTRL and hitting ENTER or by clicking on the layout tab. There will be an “breaks” command that will open up to show different sorts of breaks you can insert. Choose page.

Nitty gritty here. You can insert your page break immediately after that last period of the chapter or you can hit enter, drop down one line and then insert your page break. I don’t recommend dropping down more than one line. If you do, you risk having a blank screen showing up for your reader. Then there is the reality that not all e-book distributors follow the same formatting rules. The last time I worked with Smashwords, they had a rule against more than 5 (?) returns. If you had that many returns, they read it as a break in your manuscript. So type that last line, hit return and then insert your page break.

That’s the basic nitty gritty of formatting for e-books. I’ll continue this tomorrow on my blog with what you need in your e-book besides just the novel and then how to convert it. If there is anything else you want me to talk about then, put your suggestions in the comments here. If you have any questions about what I did today, let me know.

In the meantime, you can check out my books here.

 

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