Kindle Pre-Orders for Self-Published Authors

Just as we call out Amazon when they do something stupid, so must we praise them when they do something smart. Just after their “Let’s all send nastygrams to the CEO of multinational corporation” email, Amazon followed up with this:

amazon-kindle-preorder

I think the email there pretty much says it all. I know this is something that self-published authors have been asking for since Amazon first started letting them publish via KDP. I’m guessing when KDP started, Amazon assumed that people would just throw up pre-order pages and then never deliver a book. They’ve taken care of that by requiring that you upload at least a draft version of your manuscript in order to have the pre-order page created.

I know I’ll be using this when I finally get Valkyrie Project 2 edited! 90 days seems like a good goal date… Maybe I should go upload the first draft right now. :)

Audible Control Center Options (Life Changer)

Okay, this may not change your life, but for me it has quite literally brought about a new found sense of ease and happiness while listening to audiobooks.

If you use the Audible app for iOS (or Android I would assume as well) and you use it on your smartphone while walking around or doing chores or whatever, then you’ve probably had someone say something to you or a train or a loud truck go by that causes you to miss part of the book you’re listening to.

Arg! and Be quiet! Can’t you see I’m listening to an audiobook! Do not disturb!

Anyway, until a week ago, I was not aware that you could actually change the behavior of the “Control Center” for Audible. What does that mean? The Control Center is evidently the name for the lock screen that you get when you’re listening to music or an audiobook or some other app that uses what I can only assume is the Audio API. This is what it would look like if you’d just started listening to No Return by Zachary Jernigan (on sale for a ridiculous $4.49 on Amazon/Audible at the time of this writing):

audible-control-center

What is the behavior you could (and probably should) change? Well, there’s those arrows to each side of the Play/Pause button. If you’re listening to music, it’s pretty obvious that they’ll go back and forth in your playlist. But for an audiobook? You’d probably assume they’d go back and forth between chapters (and you’d be right). But chapters in audiobooks tend to be long. I’ve never actually wanted to skip ahead or back a whole chapter. (Maybe someone else has) But if you go to the Settings in Audible and scroll down a little, you’ll see a setting for the Control Center. In the screenshot below it’s already set to Jump Seconds, but as mentioned, the default is Chapter Skip.

audible-settings

Hit that Chapter Skip and you’ll get the next screen where you can change it to Jump Seconds. Then you can go back and customize how many seconds you want the app to jump forward or back. (I like 20 seconds, obviously. I listen at 1.25x usually and 30 seconds is a bit too far for most interruptions or external noises. 20 seconds at 1.25 speed is really only 16 seconds and if I were listening to a book where I had to 1x it, I’d probably change that setting to 10 seconds instead – 15 seconds would probably be ideal in that case, but it’s not an option).

jump-seconds

That’s all. Now you can back up quickly and efficiently without having to unlock your phone. Life: changed. You’re welcome. :)

Stop Using Your Authors As Leverage

In which Amazon asks its KDP authors to use themselves as leverage to tell Hachette to stop using its authors as leverage. (The content of that page was also emailed to all of Amazon’s self-published authors this morning)

indeed

I mean, I know there’s a lot of confusion and argument over how to use the word “irony” properly (I’m pretty sure I don’t know), but if literally can mean figuratively, then I’m pretty sure this is the precisest example of irony that I’ve ever seen.

Chuck Wendig theorizes that maybe one of the microservices over at Amazon has gained sentience and posted this of its own volition (among other things – his post is well worth reading, though NSFW). I think it’s also just as likely that this was an April Fool’s prank posted on the wrong date (and emailed to all KDP authors just to really get the LOLZ).

Seriously. Come on, Amazon. You are literally asking people to email the CEO of a huge multi-national corporation and then copy you on it so you can then report on the number of people who decide to support you. I haven’t seen that kind of strategy since middle school (though I think it happens in high school and even higher education, but I made a point to purposely distance myself from people who pulled that kind of BS). I guess with adults it’s a little bit more like…

love-the-way-you-lie-rihanna-31725831-1920-1200

and some of this…

love-the-way-you-lie-megan-fox

Don’t get me wrong. I love Amazon. I buy books there because the Kindle Paperwhite is really nice and it also syncs with my iPad and iPhone (better than any other booksellers apps). I buy all kinds of other things there too, because SHIPPING. I’ve ordered something on a Saturday night and had it delivered on Sunday. Delivered on SUNDAY.

But Amazon has already won the eBook pricing collusion case. What they’re talking about now is straight up legitimate capitalism. If Hachette wants to charge a certain price for their eBooks, then you either charge that price or you don’t sell that product. And if their eBooks are so over-priced, then aren’t they just going to go out of business because of that unsustainable practice? And once Hachette publishing has been swallowed up by the black hole of its own hubris, won’t the authors who provide the content of their books simply take their new content to a different publisher? Maybe even to Amazon? So… it just doesn’t make sense to me when I look at it from Amazon’s Economic Powerhouse perspective.

galactus

(And don’t try to tell me it’s because Amazon cares about authors making more money – that’s the most transparent attempt at favor currying that I’ve ever seen. If there are authors out there who buy in to that, I’ve got this awesome book-based start-up that I’m taking investments in. It’s gonna be HUGE!)

It also doesn’t make sense if I look at it from the perspective of a self-published author. If I have decided not to publish with Hachette or any of the other Big Guys (almost said Big Five Guys, but that would be a tremendous insult to Five Guys… so good…), then why would I want Hachette to be more competitive? Why would I say “Hey Hachette, because of your decision to sell eBooks for $14.99, you’ve opened up an entire market for self-published authors to sell their books at, well, anything less than that. Can you stop selling your books so expensive now so that people will want to buy more of your stuff and less of my stuff? Thanks.” Why? Why would I do that?

I had an analogy in here, but it was kind of weak, so let’s just leave it at that. I have a competitive advantage. Why do I want someone who keeps shooting their self in the foot to stop and instead aim their gun at my head?

I’m seriously tempted to write to Hachette and ask them to please continue selling their eBooks at high prices so that I will continue to have the opportunity to self-publish and sell my books to people who are looking for something that doesn’t seem so outrageously priced. I wonder what readers-united@amazon.com would think of that…

Meanwhile, now all I can think of is Five Guys and curry. Wouldn’t that be delicious?

five_guys_burger_flipped

Digital Book Day!

Shameless-ful self-promotion follows…

Digital Book Day

I’m putting The Valkyrie Project up for free as part of the Digital Book Day organized by CJ Lyons.

I know that I’m going to download at least a few of the books that are already being advertised on there, and since I have a book that I can give away for limited periods of time (at least until I put out the second one and get them both into other eBook markets), I figured I could submit and promote (for what little it’s worth).

So, from July 13th until the 15th (2014), The Valkyrie Project will be free on Amazon. Tell your friends! And tell them about Digital Book Day too… an easy way to jump start an eBook collection or find some new indie/underground authors.

Some call the ability to publish digital without any sort of corporate representation (of any size) the “eBook revolution”, so it is very fitting that this first Digital Book Day coincides with France’s Bastille Day. Even more so since I will be celebrating this Bastille Day in France! #terriblehumblebrag

No go forth and download!

Covert Art (US vs UK)

I know there’s a difference… I just don’t understand it. Perhaps someone will stumble across this and explain to me why UK readers want such vastly different covers from their US counterparts… Are we really that different? I’ve only been to Great Britain twice for very short periods, so I will admit to not knowing anything beyond the surface level there, but I would be very interested in understanding what it is that drives the stark difference in the way the book covers are presented between the markets.

As an example, here are the covers for The Causal Angel which releases in July. I’ve seen a similar thing (surprisingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, similar in terms of colors and composition) with The Darwin Elevator released last year. I’m sure there are more… But why?

causal-uk

causal-us

Interval Training for Writers (and other Professional Development)

tl;dr Applying the principle of interval training to my writing will allow for a nearly 50% increase in output while still giving me time to keep current on technology relevant to my daily (non-writing) work.

I’m doing a little (or large, I guess) experiment this year. Initially it started as a way to balance my writing output with what I repeatedly hear is an important part of a mid-list writer’s life: The Day Job.

So in order to allow myself periods where I focus intensely on writing, editing, learning about writing, reading fiction for inspiration, and not feeling guilty about dedicating more time to writing than to professional development, I adapted a technique I learned in high school cross country training.

Fartlek:

Fartlek, which means “speed play” in Swedish, is a training method that blends continuous training with interval training.

The idea of interval training is probably more familiar than that of continuous training since it’s used in a lot of popular workout programs. It involves doing periods of high-intensity reps with a short rest in between. Fartleking (sp?) is like interval training but instead of resting, you just don’t run as hard you had been. That’s an important analog for my plan because I don’t want to try to write a whole bunch over a short period and then not write for a while. I think just about any writer will tell you that’s basically asking for failure.

For the last 6 months of 2013, I worked on a schedule that I broke down by days and then morphed to a weekly set of goals that allowed a little more freedom in terms of what I did on a given day.

But then in November, I did NaNoWriMo. (And even though I didn’t win, aren’t we all winners?) I realized that I could definitely push myself to write more than I had been in the months leading up to November. But instead of trying for 50,000 words per month (or even 27,000 like I did in November), I compromised on a schedule that would allow me to balance professional development in the workplace with development of my writing skills. By fartlekking my writing, I get to push my writing muscles past where they would normally go, but then I pull back give myself some time to recover from the exertion and mental fatigue that comes with the focus it takes to push those muscles. During that recovery, I continue to “run” but I also engage a different set of muscles (though muscle confusion is a whole different training philosophy).

Starting with a slow warm-up in December, I had my first push in January and am now backing off again for February. January yielded just over 18,000 words, which is double what I averaged per month in 2013. So, if I can do that much in my sprint months and then fall back to my average of 9,000 in off months, I’ll have about a 47% increase over last year. And assuming all goes to plan, I’ll still have a day job (with the all-important health insurance).

keep-calm-and-fartlek

Two Months to Inspiration?

The only writing instruction you’ll ever really need from Hugh Howey. This blockquote probably violates fair use or something… but this is the core of the post with the preface stripped away.

No excuse is good enough to NOT WRITE. Being on book tour? Not a good enough excuse. Having a day job, a family and house to take care of, meals to cook, a dog to walk and exercise? Not good enough excuses. The people who make this work find the time. I told myself, even knowing that my days were blocked up with interviews and bookstore events, that I would find the time.

SAND was written on trains and in airports. It was written in Finland at five in the morning before I went to the Helsinki Book Fair. It was written on the stoop of my hotel while I waited in the freezing cold for my publicist to pick me up. It was written in the back of the cab on the way to the fair. It was written at the fair while I waited on interviewers and while between interviews. When I wasn’t writing, I was thinking about the plot, my characters, having conversations, making notes in my cell phone.

I flew to Amsterdam where I wrote more. Every day, I wrote at least 2,000 words. I had a few 3,000 and even 5,000 word days. These were crucial, because my mother was meeting me in Italy to spend 10 days of my book tour on vacation with me. When she arrived, it meant getting up a little earlier every day and writing before we set out to see the sights. It meant writing at night before I went to bed. I wrote in a laundromat in Venice while I refreshed my single carry-on of clothes. When I got to 50,000, my mom and I toasted with glasses of wine and had a nice meal. And then I powered on, knowing this wasn’t enough.

I’m very tempted to take this as a soul-crushing defeat because I’ve struggled just to get to an average of 755 so far in 2014 (and yet am proud of that average). But, I am not a full-time writer like Hugh, so instead, I should probably take it as inspiration. Or maybe a challenge. A New Year’s Resolution, perhaps?

I do: Write on trains, think about the plot, characters, conversations, and make notes in my cell phone. I do: Get up a little early to write. I do: Write in airports and on airplanes the one or two times a year when I’m in an airport or on an airplane.

I don’t: Go to the Helsinki Book Fair, or wait on the stoop of my hotel for my publicist. I don’t: Get interviewed. Though I do interview someone else about once a month, but when I’m waiting for those interviews, I’m usually doing work for my day job. I don’t: Fly to Amsterdam. I don’t: Ever write 3,000 or even 5, 000 words in a single day. I don’t: Write in a laundromat in Venice, or any other laundromat. I think the last time I was even at a laundromat was nine and a half years ago. I don’t: Write at night before I go to bed. I usually follow Tim Ferriss’s advice to have Fat and Fiction before bed. A bit of fat to keep the blood sugar up and the fiction to disconnect the thinking part of the brain. (It’ll be even better when I get my Kindle Paperwhite)

If I can somehow manage to maintain that average of 755, I’ll be at 275,000+ words for the year. That would be almost 100,000 more than what I tallied in 2012 (my previous best year*). My actual goal is 210,000 which is only 575 per day, so I’ve got a something of a buffer right now (yes, that’s a bit sarcastic; we’re barely 2 weeks in to the year!).

But whether you take it as an admonition, a guilt shaming, or a guantlet in the dirt, Hugh provides one last piece of advice to go with his tale of extraordinary, overwhelming production:

The only wrong system of writing is to not write.

* Since I started keeping track

In Which The Physical World Manifests Itself As Annoyance

or: Where I Come Up With A Really Pretentious Sounding Title That Actually Somewhat Contradicts The Content Of The Post

So there’s a book I wanted to read. I’m not sure why, because it’s not that great a book. I think I wanted to study the magic system a bit, but now that I’m reading it, the whole magic system is just kind of… magic… The rest of the book contains many things I feel like I can learn from though, so probably still worth it… except that…

I am a cheap ass bastard and didn’t want to shell out $5.99 for (the Kindle version of) a book that I wasn’t really sure I was going to like in the first place (turns out to be a great decision in this case). But the problem with being a cheap ass bastard is that I get books from the library. Now, the library, for it’s part, has done a wonderful, remarkable job of making books available in electronic forms (both eBooks and audio downloads). This particular book, however, was not available in any electronic forms. Just paper.

Arg.

Paper.

In order to read this book while waiting for something or someone, I have to carry it around with me. I can’t just take out my phone and load up my Kindle (or other eReading) app and have it sync my location with my iPad and my actual Kindle (soon to be a Kindle Paperwhite). I can’t read it in bed at night (or in the morning since it’s still dark when I wake up in the winter). Soon I’ll have three different ways to read eBooks without any lights.

Plus, it’s just one book. The whole “read anywhere” thing is probably the most common reason that people say they love eBooks. But when you’re like me and pretty much constantly reading: 1) fiction book, 2) tech/programming book, and 3) non-fiction book, only having a single book in a form that takes up as much (or more) space and weight than a reading device that has all three options (and more) feels very encumbered.

It’s only 274 pages, so that’s a relief… But I’m not gonna lie, after this, I’m tempted to download the eBook version of any paperback books I own just to be able to read them more quickly and easily and pleasurably*. I know that’s technically illegal and I haven’t actually done it yet, so don’t come after me right now… but in those cases, I have already bought (or was given) a hard copy, so the author (and publisher) is getting their money. I’m sure if you asked the authors, they’d be happy to let me read whichever version was best for me (in fact, I’ve seen and heard a couple others say basically that when asked what the best way to buy their book is. “Buy whatever version is best for you. Then buy whatever version is best for your friends. *wink*wink* *laugh*”)

Finally, the promised contradictory message contained in the title of the post: Obviously, since I’m still using a device that exists in the physical world, then there isn’t really a way to get away from reading books in the physical world, even if the content is contained on sheets of transistors instead of sheets of paper. So really, the physical world is manifesting itself no matter how I choose to read. It’s just the paper part that’s the annoyance.

burning-book

And, scene.

* Did anyone else immediately think of a 50 Shades joke there?

NaNoWriMo Retrospective (Lessons Learned)

nanowrimo-press-start-2013

Some of these will certainly be a bit glib, but beneath that veneer of humor slash sarcasm lies nuggets of truth that helped me to get to 27,113 words this year during November’s NaNoWriMo. It’s not 50,000 I know. Not even really that close (not even a passing grade unless there’s a curve). But it is the highest total for any given 30 day period for me this year. So, there you go.

  • Use “///” instead of “###” for “Do or change this later”. One of the keys to NaNoWriMo is to just keep putting words down. That was one of the reasons I wanted to actually try to Win this year instead of just saying “Yeah, sure, I’ll give it a try.” One of the things that allows me to keep putting words down is to be able to stop my Inner Editor* by simply telling him: “We’ll come back to this, okay? I know it sucks, but right now, we’re just trying to get the words down and then we can revise and make the prose sing like Tom Bombadil.” I used to use “###” because once upon a time I saw somewhere that some other writer used that. In doing NaNoWriMo, though, I realized that “///” only requires one finger to type (as opposed to Shift + 3 for a #) and is just as recognizable as something that would never actually appear in a manuscript. Jason Hough uses Scrivener’s Comments to achieve a To Do List like functionality, which is a great idea, but takes even more time than “###”. I will be using that in the future for larger actual To Do-like items, but for quick notes while you’re trying to stay in the flow, I think some key sequence that can be easily seen when looking at a paragraph or easily found using Ctrl + F is the best way to go. The final nail in the coffin for “###” is that when writing on an iPad virtual keyboard (which was a key component of my NaNoWriMo strategy), the “#” takes three taps (switch to non-letters, then switch to alternate non-letters) while “/” takes only two. I was writing 200-800 words per weekday on my iPad, and using probably 10-20 “///”s per 200-800 words, so that half second saved me 5-10 seconds per writing session. Now that I actually calculate the time saved, it doesn’t sound like much, but over 20 or so writing sessions, that’s close to three minutes (hmmmmm… still not impressive). I will also argue that since it takes less thinking to only make one keyboard switch, my brain was able to continue writing faster on the iPad after a “///” than with a “###”. And since now I’m feeling the need to justify it, I think that re-reading something with a “///” is much less jarring to the eye than the “###” so it makes it faster when I look over what I just wrote to see if I need to add anything more to clarify or expand.
  • When you’re at 1,400 words for the day and each word feels like tearing out a fingernail, start a new scene. Yeah, it’s kind of cheating, but NaNoWriMo is about getting words down. It doesn’t matter if they all come in order. You could write sixteen chapters 100 words at a time for 30 days…
    Anyway: I found that getting 267 words when starting a new scene was easy compared to trying to fight through a scene that started with 0 words at the beginning of the day. I then found myself coming back to the existing scene the next day (or a few days later) and having new, fresh ideas to put into it to throw additional words in there. I realize this shows some lack of “writing endurance” on my part, which I will wholeheartedly cop to. I think it also leads into my next point, though…
  • Outline. I thought I’d be cute and just dive into an idea I’ve had for a while and see where it led. I’ll tell you where it led: to a lot of unanswered questions that I had to spend time thinking about. It led to a lot of “where is this scene going?” questions.
    I was about a week in when I decided to entirely shift the focus of the story from “kicking off at one point in time, slamming through to set up something bigger, and then continuing that storyline” to “the slam is now the late-middle part of the store with different plot lines at the beginning to wrap up at the end after that middle section.” It actually allowed me to write a lot more since I was fairly stuck at where to go when using that middle part as the beginning, but it would have been nice to have a better idea of where I was going.
    The more I listen to author interviews, the more I realize that there is less of a difference between the so-called Outlines and Pantsers than the number of queries about it out there would lead you to believe. I’m perfectly happy with the “bit of an outline and fill in the rest” middle ground. The fact that this styled is used/approved by authors like Brandon Sanderson, Chuck Wendig, and Jason Hough doesn’t mean it’s the one true way, but it does make me feel good about myself since I’m comfortable using this approach.
  • Get a good playlist before November 1st. I create (and then morph) a playlist as I go through the process of writing a book. It doesn’t have to be a specific theme or anything, but just songs I like that go in a general vibe with what I feel like I want to write. I don’t spend too long on the initial creation… but a half hour here and there starts to add up when you’re trying to get 1,667 words per day. Since I was just trying to power through words, I generally just put on a “radio” station either in Spotify, Pandora, or iTunes with a seed that fit what was I going for. The next time I do NaNoWriMo, I’m going to work on my playlist while I’m working on my outline in October.

* Note: Not the Inner Critic. That guy has to be completely absent for NaNoWriMo if you hope to even come close to getting 50,000 words.

Kobo working to support indie bookstores

This is a novel idea (pun intended): IndieBound: Independent Bookstores selling Kobo ereaders and ebooks

The idea is that if you create a Kobo account using a referral link from an independent bookstore then the selected bookstore will get a cut of the price of the eBooks you buy for your Kobo eReader (or Kobo eReading apps). I really like the idea of being able to buy eBooks “from” a local bookstore, and I would be all about buying all my eBooks from Kobo if I could support one of my local Chicago bookstores. But (there’s always a but, right?) since I’m such an early adopter*, I already have a Kobo account and it looks like there’s no way to link an existing account to a bookstore…

I’ll just have to hope that some people without Kobo accounts find this post and create an account with a referral from their local store (or any store for that matter).

On a technical note – and I hate when other people say how they think that something should be easy – it really does seem like it should be easy to link my account with a book store’s referral code. I can’t help but wonder what design decision was made that prevents them from adding a page somewhere on the Kobo site or a text field on the profile page that would allow existing users to add a referral code to their profile.

* How’s that for a humblebrag?

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