Category Archives: Kindle

Something is Happening

Okay, it’s finally time to say something because it’s all getting close.

I’m in for a writing career reboot here, and it’ll likely all start happening by the end of the month. The retooling of this web site some months ago was the first step, but now there are others. I’ve slowly been putting things into motion, but it looks like they’re all going to converge at once.

So I have not one, but two major announcements — and a minor one.

First, my new novel, …and that’s the end of the news, is almost done. I mean it for sure this time. After 10 years, a long hiatus to take care of my mother (during which time I tried to re-imagine myself as a songwriter and learned that I hated performing live) and four drafts, I’ve gotten the book where I want it, where it should be. So it’s soon to be going out in search of an agent and/or publisher.

This book has been with me for so long that it’s hard for me to look at it as “the new book”, but it’ll be new to the 99.99% of you who haven’t had some kind of preview or were pressed into service as an early reader. Anyway, once and/news goes out into the marketplace, it will be time to start what really will feel like a new novel. This will likely be the project that I have discreetly code-named “The UFO Novel.”

Which brings me to the minor announcement. Just for grins, I thought I would post very short excerpts from The UFO Novel as status updates on my Facebook Fan Page. There’ll be one excerpt from each chapter as I finish writing it, and there will be lots of chapters. It should be fun. Or not. Tantalizing, perhaps? That’s the idea. So become a fan now and get miniscule glimpses of a book in progress (or be tormented by them – your choice).

So now it’s time for Major Announcement number two. If you’re one of the lot who has been to my Facebook Fan Page, you may have seen the fanciful logo for an outfit called Thief Media (you can see it now in the upper right hand section of this page). That’s the imprint that I have started to release my old, out-of-print novels for the Amazon Kindle and in epub format for all the others. This will begin with my first published novel, A Death of Honor – which I hope to have out by early March – to include all 7 novels over the course of the next year or so.

(Actually, they will appear as only 6 novels – Ferman’s Devils and Boddekker’s Demons will be issued as one novel, which was my original intent.)

A Death of Honor's new look for the e-book market.

All of the novels will have new cover art, and all except for the Angel’s Luck trilogy will have some kind of bonus material included. A Death of Honor will feature the original epilog that I cut from the book before publication. The Company Man and Ferman’s Devils will feature short stories that overlap into the respective book’s universe.

In addition to my out-of-print titles, Thief Media will also be releasing two previously unpublished JCF novels. The Mushroom Shift is a profane and darkly funny novel about police work that was written between Honor and Company and will be released between them. Trust is a political thriller written in hopes of being published in time for the 1996 election. It will be released before Ferman’s Devils.

To celebrate this in a small way, I have changed the graphic in the banner above to a section of corrected page from the third draft of …and that’s the end of the news. There may or may not be other surprises and releases, but I’m going to leave things at this for the time being. After all, I have a lot of work to do right now.

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Harry Potter to Enter 21st Century?

I don’t know how long she’s been saying “No”, but J.K. Rowling has gotten a reputation for being something of a luddite when it comes to her novels about a certain boy with a scar on his forehead. Words like “never” were batted about when it came to asking when her Harry Potter series would be released in an eBook format. I’m not sure of her reasoning, unless it was that “the book as a tactile experience you can’t get on an eReader” thing.

Well, that was her decision.

But now, according to this article on thebookseller.com, all of that may be changing.

I’m not sure of the reason for this. The cynic in me tends to think that perhaps the publishers pointed out how much money Ms. Rowling was missing out on (read: how much money they were missing out on – since Rowling is poised to or has already become the first billionaire author, I’m sure money has lost some of its lure).

But another part of me thinks that she looked at the fact that, in light of the Harry Potter theme park to be opening in Florida next month, holding out on eBooks suddenly looked rather silly.

Anyway, if this is true, congrats to J.K. on her change of heart.

The Kindle Blues

I thought that people who did a lot of reading were supposed to be smart.

See, at the end of 2008 I ordered an Amazon Kindle, and it arrived at the end of February in 2009. I love it. It’s a brilliant device that does one thing – let you read – really, really, really well. But for such a brilliant device, it’s inspired an awful lot of unbrilliant thinking on all sides of its release.

While I was waiting for my Kindle to arrive, I subscribed to Amazon’s discussion board for the Kindle in the hopes of having a leg up before when it actually came. Well, I got that. But I got something else.

It seemed to me that a lot of other Kindle owners have the biggest entitlement mentality I’ve ever seen. I know not all of them are like that, but the ones with their hands out are the biggest complainers.

While I was waiting to get my Kindle, Amazon made the decision to quit making the original model, and introduced the Kindle 2. Everyone in line for the old model would now get the new model instead. That was pretty cool of them, right?

Except among some of the owners of what is now called the Kindle 1 – especially the more recent owners. There was outrage in some corners. Some who had bought the K1 and enjoyed it up until Amazon’s February announcement decided this switcheroo was unfair. Amazon had knowingly sold them an old product when they knew a newer version was coming out.

Using this same logic, they were probably shocked when the car in their driveway was suddenly made obsolete by the newest model. The same with their TV sets, their blenders, their sofas, and especially their computers – but do you suppose they demanded a free replacement of any of those? Amazon’s woes continued in this vein as they introduced a bigger model (the DX) and an international model of the K2 (the K2i).

The wave of unbrilliance continued as Amazon tried to hold the prices of bestsellers to $9.99. Rabid customers tried to organize boycotts when prices on some books went higher than that. This has been compounded by the fact that Steve Jobs capitulated to publisher demands in order to try and make the eReader software on the iPad more competitive against the Kindle.1

What Jobs’ turn as Neville Chamberlain did was empower publishers to put the screws to Amazon’s pricing policies for the Kindle. If Apple gave them terms, then Amazon should cough up the same agreements in spite of previous precedence. The result is “The Agency Model” – a fancy term for publishers setting their own prices for eBooks.2 And by the publishers’ way of thinking, that price should be about the same as a trade paperback.3

Of course, there’s a lot of whining going on about this, too. The entitlement readers probably attended the school that in the 2000’s claimed that “music should be free.”

Now there is a little bit of logic behind their desire for low eBook prices. After all, since there’s no paper, ink, labor, shipping, storage, etc., needed for an eBook, they should be practically free, right?

Wrong.

I agree that eBooks should have a lower cost than DTB’s (Dead Tree Books), but as something of an industry insider, I also understand that there are some book-related costs that publishers still can’t shake, namely, the cost of their infrastructure – buildings, desks, and all those editors, proofreaders, sales persons… and then they have to pay the authors something, right?

Plus, the publishing industry has another dirty little secret they’re not sure they want you to know. That is, in an eight-figure deal (that’s millions with an extra digit in front of it – tens, twenties, thirties, etc.) with a Stephen King or a J.K. Rowling, they do not get their money back in associated book sales. What they have basically done is paid an exorbitant amount of money to have a prestige author in their house’s lineup. And no, they don’t make money from movie sales, etc., because the agents for these writers have already negotiated to keep those. Where they make their money is from mid-list authors, the ones who meet their sell-through and go on to make profits for themselves and their publishers. These are the names you’ve probably seen on the Bestseller Lists and wondered who in the world they were. Now you know. They’re the publishers’ bread and gravy.

The other dirty little secret of the publishing world is that right now, they’re in the same mess that the music industry was in a decade ago when mp3’s were coming into their own. And judging from their behavior, they have learned nothing from the mistakes the music industry made back then.

As example, early on in the Kindle’s history, many publishers put the smackdown on the Text-To-Voice feature, which reads any text document on the Kindle in a well-rendered synthetic voice. They claimed it was a threat to their revenue from audio books.

Well, let me tell you about Text-to-Speech. As I have already chronicled in these pages, when I was doing the most recent edit to …and that’s the end of the news, I loaded into my Kindle so I could read it without being tempted to edit it. While commuting, I tried using the T2S on the document and… what a rush it was hearing it read my own novel to me. I was so thrilled, you’d have thought I was listening to an audio recording of it by James Earl Jones.

But while the synthetic voice (you have a choice of male or female) is nice, it still has oddities of pacing and pronunciation (it never did pronounce my female protagonist’s name correctly). And if I was going to listen to, say, Moby Dick and had the choice, I’d take a James Earl Jones recording of it over either Kindle voice every time. It’s a no-brainer that the publishers have made, in their avarice, a brainer.

The transition to eBooks is going to be a rough one.4 Amazon has stumbled in the process too, like with their release of 1984 and Animal Farm in unauthorized editions, and the, um, Orwellian way that they took them back. But they apologized and made good on it, something a lot of publishers have yet to catch on to.

All we can do is sit tight and see how it all spins out. Meantime, anybody got a suggestion for a good book to read?

  1. Although I can’t understand why he did this. He was the one who, when he found out about the Amazon Kindle, said he wasn’t worried because “People don’t read anymore.”
  2. But Amazon is rubbing publishers’ noses in their own dirt – check out the Kindle pricing of an eBook, and some will say “Price Set By Publisher”. But I suspect this is not so much to fight back as silence the entitlement-minded whiners who say the price is too high.
  3. Or, they have the right to delay release of the eBook, anywhere from three months after the hardcover to coinciding with the release of the paperback.
  4. No, I’m not one of those doom and gloomers who thinks that eReaders spell the end of the book – just like CD’s and mp3’s put an end to vinyl, right?

The Excruciating Process of Not Editing

No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft.
– H.G. Wells

And that goes double when it’s your copy and you can’t change it.

As some of you may have kenned, I am in the process of converting my old novels, beginning with A Death of Honor, into ebook format for the Kindle and other similar devices. To that end, I have cut apart an old copy of the book purchased for that specific purpose and run the pages through a scanner, converting them into HTML, which is the basis of code for some of the major e-readers.

What has happened is that the OCR software made its best guess as to what to do, and I’m going through and cleaning up the results. I’m doing a lot with search and replace, but the end result has been that I’m going through the book at such a rate that I’m almost reading it again.

Not to mention that, when I do get everything in order, I’ve got to proof it on my Kindle.

It’s an excruciating process. Here’s why:

Benjamin Disreli said, “When I want to read a good book, I write one.” Well, that’s not me. I don’t have Disraeli’s ego, and I certainly don’t have a tolerance for my own writing. Once upon a time, my editor sent me two of the first hot-off-the-press copies of Honor. I gave one to my wife and I took one, and we both sat down to read it. And it was fine.

Then, a novel and a half later, I decided to read it again. And to borrow a line from Roger Ebert, I hated, hated, hated, hated, hated it. I wrote this off to the fact that I was now 1 1/2 novels more experienced as a writer and could see the many mistakes I made in the first. So when The Company Man came out, I picked up my so-fresh-you-could-still-smell-the-sweetness-of-the-ink copy — and being another two novels down the road, I couldn’t even get through the first section.

That has happened now with every one of my novels. It’s like there’s an internal switch in my brain. I can deal with the book an infinite number of times in the production process, but once the published copy comes out, I am filled with the urge to do something to it that involves a ziplock bag, a .45 semiauto, and a shovel.1

But that’s a good thing, I guess, because it doesn’t let me dwell on the past for one, and it tells me I’m getting better as a writer. When I open those old books up, I see mistakes on every page I wish I could go back and fix. But I can’t. But I can strive to not do them in the next one.

Which is what makes the task of getting Honor and my other novels Kindleized so excruciatingly painful. As I scroll down the screen looking for stray bits of code, my brain is desperately crying out to grab the red pen:2 “Oops, there’s another show not tell. Move on, you’re not allowed to fix that. Good heavens that’s clunky. Suppose anyone will notice if I fix one thing, just this once? Whoa, there’s another one just like it. Two fixes? Three? Oh, and there’s another show not tell…”

I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like trying to read this beast on my Kindle. And then doing it five more times (no, you didn’t miscount – Ferman’s Devils and Boddekker’s Demons will be released in a “restored” single volume edition).

At one time, many foolish years ago, I thought it would be interesting to do a scratch rewrite of A Death of Honor, to be published on the 25th anniversary of the original’s release. My plan was to read the book to regain a sense of the plot, then toss it aside and write the book completely over again, replotting and rewiring as I went, with no further reference back to the original material.

Guess what? The 25th anniversary of Honor is in 2012. Before I start wishing that that whole Mayan calendar thing were true just so I could avoid reading it yet again, I can tell you unhesitatingly that I’m not going to do it. The whole conceit centered on my being a Famous Bestselling Author by then, and even if I was, my wife probably wouldn’t stand for it, claiming that it was one of those self-indulgent things that writers do when they start feeling too pleased with themselves. Besides, I’m behind schedule on other great stories I want to tell you.

Meantime, I have to redouble my efforts to go to heaven because right now I’m getting a close-up glimpse of what my own personal hell would be.3 I also need to be a good boy when it comes to writing, so I can bring you more stories without the ghastly mistakes I made in those earlier books. And I can guarantee you that …and that’s the end of the news is going to be a real corker. At least, until I get the first printing of it in my hands.

  1. The funny thing is, I am still perfectly capable of talking to people about the books for the purposes of getting them to make a purchase.
  2. I know, I know, editing is traditionally done with a blue pencil. I use a red pen. Sue me.
  3. It also involves Yanni CD’s, but that’s a story for another day.

It’s All Right To Feel A Little Fear

So I have hooked and crooked my way into ownership of a new computer, one that isn’t a collection of interconnected old parts cobbled together into a semblance of semi-functionality. Because of that, I now have a number of projects going.

First, I am starting to scan my novels into HTML format (thanks to some Iris soft/hardware) to format for the Kindle. I bought old copies of all of them from Amazon’s shops, and am in the process of cutting the pages apart with an X-acto knife and feeding them through my nifty little scanner.

Second, I am in the process of formatting my three VBS plays for publication through Lulu.com and for the Kindle. The big hangup here seems to be the name of the imprint I will use for my self-publishing efforts. I’m trying to some up with something with a slight Biblical reference, but nothing to give the impression that it’s strictly a religious imprint since the Kindle versions of my SF novels will be under the same imprint, along with cd’s or mp3’s of my music, if I ever get around to recording them. But nobody likes what I’ve come up with so far. Oh,well.

Third, I’m in the process of working out a new design of the website to coincide with the launch of all this previously mentioned stuff.

Finally, I’m editing the book code-named …and that’s the end of the news because, well, with a little work it’ll be ready to hit the markets. It deserves better than to sit in the metaphorical closet under the metaphorical bowling shoes.

Funny thing about and/news. After I got my Kindle in February, I decided to read the manuscript again in preparation for editing it. Thing is, I wanted to read it in such a way that I wouldn’t start marking it up, as is my instinct. Then I got a brilliant idea. I emailed it to my Kindle and read it there.

That experience was remarkable. It had the psychological impact – for me, anyway – of reading the book in a final form. I was able to actually step back and read it as a story, like it was coming out of a published book. At one point in my reading, I decided to try having the Kindle’s Text to Speech feature read parts of the book to me during my commute. And heavens to Betsy, what a rush that was. You’d have thought that I was listening to an official audio book narrated by James Earl Jones himself.

Then something else happened. I started to feel a little scared and a lot sad. Because for the first time, as I was reading one of my own pieces of writing, I could tell it was good. Really good. And then it hit me: what if I never write anything else this good again?.

That’s something I’m having to work through.

Currently, I’m about two-thirds of the way through taking a red pen to the manuscript. Then I will be going to the computer to put in the changes and rewrite from scratch some of the scenes that need work. Looking again at what I did, even with red pen in hand, that wistfulness and fear is coming back.

But I’ve decided to try and channel it.

I think and/news is good. And instead of being scared of it, I should let it make me feel confident that I can go on to another similarly epic project – not necessarily epic in pages, but epic in scope, perhaps. I’m thinking that perhaps soon will be a good time to start my UFO novel. Oddly enough, that book is going to be a study of human nature, and there’s going to be a lot of emotional depth to it. There’s emotional depth to and/news, so I’m thinking that perhaps it was a kind of dress rehearsal for writing the UFO book.

Instead of letting that fear and wistfulness intimidate me, I’m going to try and channel it into something good. So I’m looking at it as a kind of stagefright, the kind that always grips me on opening night. The feeling that, if I didn’t get it, I would worry about how lame my performance would be. Call it that jumpiness that a race horse gets before the gate opens, although my own personal thoroughbredness is questionable.

That’s where things stand today. I’m coming back onto the main road after the detour, the map is a little out of date, but I still pretty much know the way. Let’s see how far I can get before stopping to ask for directions.