Paginations

Touching the future of reading – ebooks on Kindle, Nook, iPad

This past weekend, I promised myself I’d sit down, shut out all distractions, and put together a rough outline for Book 2 of the Evan Gabriel trilogy (yes, it’s nearly official – Gabriel’s Redemption will be the first book in a science fiction/space opera trilogy…no better way to get noticed and have validity as a new author than to have more than one novel for sale, or at least in the pipeline). I packed up the trusty MacBook Air, iPhone, notepad, and gift cards, and headed to my local Barnes & Noble.

Ran into a problem…after ordering my latte (non-fat milk, no whipped cream, of course…I’m still feeling my hibernation weight) and sitting down, I found myself sitting in front of this sign for the new Color Nook…and I got distracted. I looked around the cafe area, and saw a few people holding e-readers. I decided to take a quick walk around the store, just out of curiosity’s sake. Know what I found? Something you never would have seen a couple of years, or even one year, ago. I counted…approximately one-third of the people reading in the cafe or wandering around the store shopping were carrying an e-reader. Some were reading, some were scoping out books to buy, instantly on their ereader. You know what? The ebook revolution is here…and if you’re a self-published author, or struggling-to-get-published one, you need to jump on this bandwagon right now.

Here are some amazing, and possibly sobering (although I find them exciting) statistics:

  • Barnes & Noble’s online store (bn.com) sold more ebooks in 2010 than paper.
  • Amazon.com ebook sales passed paper earlier in the year.
  • The Kindle 3 (latest) is the best-selling item in Amazon’s history, surpassing the 7th Harry Potter book.
  • Barnes & Noble sold 1 million ebooks on Christmas Day alone.
  • Sales of ereaders (Kindle, Nook, Sony, Kobo, et al) are expected to grow from 15 million in 2010 to 60 million in 2015
  • Ebook sales in the US are expected to grow from $1 billion in 2010 to $2.8 billion in 2015

None of these statistics are truly factoring in the explosive growth of the tablet computer segment (iPad, Galaxy, Xoom, PlayBook), which are not dedicated ereaders, but more of a hybrid between smartphone and laptop. However as that market continues to rapidly expand, more and more consumers will use them as ereaders, even further increasing the statistics above. Oh, and of course, how many millions use their iPhone/Android phones as books? I know I do.

Speaking of tablets, in two days Apple will announce the iPad 2, which is expected to be thinner and lighter, making it even more practical as an ereader. Apple isn’t stopping there – even though there is some controversy with their iBooks store, never count them out of attempting to dominate a market segment.

I always thought when I was young that to be successful, I needed to see my novel in print, on a bookshelf, in a real bookstore. Otherwise, no one would take me seriously, and no one would end up buying my book, and no one would read the stories I had to tell. I don’t feel that way any longer. It’s never been a better time to be a writer! I can’t emphasize that statement enough.

Oh, and that thing about seeing my book in the bookstore? Done.

P.S. That is NOT Photoshopped – the Nook demo person suggested I download an ebook to try out the reader and its features, on the store’s dime, so what did I decide to download? You guessed it…and I left it there for other shoppers to see…

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Journey to self-published, Part 6 – The End?

No, not the end…just the beginning apparently. It’s official, I’m published, and anyone, anywhere can purchase the novel I worked so hard on. But now…how do I let everyone know it’s there?

I’m afraid I don’t have any easy answers for this one, nor is this a complete story. The journey is ongoing, and will be for years to come. I know what I’ve accomplished is small, but it’s significant to me, and I know I’m in this for the long-haul. I’ve developed some incredible online friends with Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and so on, and they’ve all given me so much help. It’s now time for me to jump into self-promotion with both feet.

It’s busier than I ever imagined, trying to get my name, and the book’s name, out there. I’ve already gotten a couple dozen sales, which looking back on where I was a month ago seems amazing. The bottom line is, I love what I’m doing, and I want to be able to do it for the rest of my life!

If you are, or were in, or will be in, in the same boat as I am, won’t you join me? Follow along as my journey continues – subscribe to my blog, follow me online. I hope I won’t bore you to tears.

-Steve Umstead…Author.

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My self-publishing journey, Part 5 – I’m published!

Still there? My diatribe hasn’t bored you to tears? The journey’s almost to an end. Well, not really – but I’ll get to that in a bit.

So I clicked upload, and my baby was sent to Amazon for review. Wow, I thought. That was quite painless. What happened to writing dozens of query letters, being rejected, trying again, waiting for months? It’s an electronic world, even print-on-demand isn’t fast enough for millions of people.

What’s next? Did two more compiles in Scrivener, one for ePub, and one for Word doc, and uploaded to Barnes & Noble’s Nook program, and Smashwords program. And then came the coolest thing. Smashwords gave me a countdown-type of page, showing where my novel was in the queue. Started at #312, left the laptop open while watching television that night with my wife. By the time the DVR was halfway into our second show, it was down to #3, and “Completed” started showing up one by one next to the version types (I didn’t mention before, but Smashwords, if you’re not familiar, publishes multiple formats – ePub, .mobi, .doc, .pdf, even Sony reader; not to mention pays the best royalty).

There it was, available for sale to anyone with an ereader, anywhere in the world. Out came a couple of glasses of wine, and we toasted to the fact that my novel, the one I had been wanting to write for over twenty years, just got published. I have to say, that was a very significant feeling.

The next day, after hitting refresh several dozen times on Amazon’s Kindle Publishing page, there it was – my novel, available for sale with the world’s largest e-bookseller. The day after that, available on barnesandnoble.com. Very surreal experience.

But now what? Now comes the hardest part of all, the part that will never end. Promoting the book. I don’t have an agent, or a publisher, or a PR firm. It was time for another hat.

To be continued…

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Review of Asylum Lake by R. A. Evans

Just wrapped up Asylum Lake by R.A. Evans last night, and I have to say I really quite enjoyed it, even though I’m definitely not a typical horror reader by any stretch.

It was very well written, the descriptions were vivid enough to show the scene in one’s imagination, yet not overly wordy. The characters, I thought, were well-developed, and the POV didn’t jump around so much as to lose sight of who was speaking/thinking/feeling.

A few chapters in the story and pace really took off, and the chapter where Ellis ‘takes over’ during the car ride (I won’t throw in any spoilers) was excellent. I can always tell when I’m enjoying a scene when I tear through it so quickly I have to make a mental note to slow down.

I also felt that the flashbacks, the scene changing from past to present, worked very well for describing the characters and their backgrounds, and it was easy to keep track of where/when the scene was. I’ve read others that simply mix them all up, and the reader gets lost. Evans did a masterful job of keeping the scenes straight and easy to follow.

I was a little surprised how…calm might be the word?…the ending was. It was really building up to a crescendo, then the final scene wrapped it all up quietly. That being said it all made perfect sense and tied everything together neatly; Evans made it flow well into a sequel or follow up.

Overall an excellent story, well told – recommended for a good read, just not too late at night!

For more about R.A. Evans and his writing, visit his blog at http://raevanswrites.wordpress.com/

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My journey to self-published, Part 4 – Cover Art

So what is the next step in publishing my own ebook? Oh, right, one of the most important facets of a new author’s ebook. The cover. Cover you say? Who cares about the cover – since when do people judge a book by its cover? Get rid of that thinking right away. In the online world, in a potentially-crowded field of authors, you need to catch a buyer’s attention. Go to Amazon.com, under Kindle books, and pick your favorite genre. What are the results? “Showing 15 of 57,212” maybe? What’s the first thing you see on that page? Is it the quality writing? The famous author name? A unique plot twist? Some big “Buy Me” image? No, it’s the cover art. If you don’t put together a quality cover, unique design with bold fonts and an eye catching color scheme, no one will click the link to see if it’s worthwhile to buy. It’s that simple.

I designed a piece of cover art for fun during NaNoWriMo; I ‘borrowed’ a cool image I found from an X-Box 360 game, blurred out some background, whited out the game name text, and used a graphics program to put my title and name on it, in some awesome bright yellow Impact font. Man, this rocks! I thought. Can’t wait to post this on my NaNoWriMo author page, my buddies will be so jealous! But after completion, and realizing that I may just be putting this sucker out for sale, I knew I couldn’t stick with ripped-off game artwork.

I did some research, ran across some designers that charge $200-$400 per book, and the work looked great. However for my debut, starting with a $22.50 budget (which was already used up) and spending more and more on red wine, I thought I’d do it myself, the right way, for less.

I found many public domain photos and artwork online, along with royalty-free work (where you pay a one-time price and the art is yours to do with as you please). I ended up using a free desktop wallpaper background that specifically said it was free to use for personal or commercial purposes. I already own some nice graphics editing software (highly recommend Adobe Fireworks), but there are several free options out there – get one. I cropped out an attractive and relevant portion of it, put in the title and author name (in a much more refined font, after looking through my local Borders – which will soon be gone, by the way), and voila. A cover.

I checked with Amazon and Barnes & Noble about dimensions and file size for ebook covers, made it fit. and added it to Scrivener (did I mention Scrivener is freakin’ awesome?) I recompiled the file with cover art (which, by the way, takes less than ten seconds in Scrivener – product plug again), and bam. There are my files, ready to go. And I sat there. And stared at the laptop. Bit my nails. Had another glass of red wine. And chickened out, put it aside, and went to bed. Didn’t sleep a wink.

February 2nd rolled around that next morning, coffee calling to me. Oh, did you catch the timeline? Finished final book editing on January 31st, and was ready to publish two days later. I went back to the laptop, looked at the Scrivener files, and said, What the hell?

I went into my Amazon account (I buy there frequently), went to the Kindle Desktop Publishing section, agreed to the terms, uploaded the file and description, named my price, and clicked OK. What happened next might have been the coolest thing of all…

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My journey from dreamer to author, Part 3

You’ve read my motivation, my journey to finishing a novel. The next step was a huge decision point. Do I (a) sit down and start writing query letters, or (b) look into self-publishing and print-on-demand, or (c) investigate this ebook rage/fad/phenomenon, or (d) go back to my regular life and call it a day?

After poring through Konrath’s blog, and looking at the statistics, and realizing that this market, this entire industry, is about to undergo a massive sea change unlike anything it’s seen since the moveable type printing press, I took the obvious road of (c). And you know what? I loved it.

The Big Six publishers had had a stranglehold on the industry for decades, and I’ll guarantee they’re quaking in their boots, watching newspapers closing up, magazines consolidating, the iPad creating an entire read-what-you-want/when-you-want-it mindset, and ebooks passing paper in sales. Seriously, why take a piece of work, one created with your own blood, sweat, and tears, send it to an agent and editor who may change your core concepts, then to a publisher who demands you change the cover to be more marketable, takes a significant portion of your royalties (perhaps in exchange for an advance, which is nice…one time), and then says the book should hit the market in 8-10 months? Oh, and after that, by the way, in two months after that, it’ll be pulled from the shelfs and be sent to wholesalers and discounters. And did we mention we own your ebook rights?

Forget it. As a business owner, my greatest freedom is to be able to do what I think is in the best interest of my company, when I want it, how I want it. If I’ve created this personal work of art (probably too strong of a term for my debut novel, I’ll admit), do I really want someone else taking it over, just for the promise of an advance, and the possibility of seeing my book on a shelf somewhere? Where, in a Borders store? Maybe you haven’t heard…bookstores are soon to be as rare as local pharmacies, or toys made in the USA. I wanted to be in control. So I did it.

I had downloaded the Scrivener software at the end of October. The company, literatureandlatte.com, offered a demo specifically made to use during the NaNoWriMo, with built-in templates, word counts based on the 50k goal, and a 50% discount on buying it if you hit the 50k mark. Best $45 (or in my case, $22.50) a writer can ever spend. Not only can this incredible tool facilitate writing and nothing but writing (full screen mode to block out distractions, note taking capability, corkboard for outlining, character sketches, and my favorite, the ability to write in scenes and move them around), but Scrivener also compiles and outputs to all the major ebook formats. Publish to Kindle? Output to .mobi. Sending to Barnes & Noble? Compile for ePub. Starting with Smashwords? Output a perfect Word document. Print on demand with CreateSpace? Puts together a print-ready PDF. Independent companies charge hundreds of dollars for these services. A 320 page book at $0.25 per page to convert is $80 - and some charge some per format! Listen, if you’ve read this far, you’re a serious writer looking to self-publish. Skip one venti latte a month and buy this program.

So now I have this ePub, or .mobi, or .doc file. Now what?

To be continued…


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Scrivener’s hidden magic

For those of you who have been following my journey, or those of you who have met me online over the past couple of months, you’ve probably heard my constant, possibly annoying praise, of a little piece of software called Scrivener. It’s what I used to write my NaNoWriMo novel this past November. Microsoft Word? Pshaw…

Tremendous features, such as full-screen to avoid distractions, the ability to paste in web links for research, character cards with photos to refer to, spelling and grammar checks, and so much more I can’t even list. The one feature I’ve been trying to preach more and more to fellow self-publishers is Scrivener’s incredible ability to compile and export your work into multiple e-book formats. Publishing on Kindle? Click a button. Barnes & Noble? Click a button. PDF for print? Click a button. It took me more time, far more time as a matter of fact, to write the ‘back cover blurb’ for my novel than it took to compile it and export it into four different formats.

The creator, Literature and Latte (great company name), just posted a YouTube video showing how easy it is to export. Highly recommend viewing this, then I highly recommend skipping a venti latte or two over the next few months and buying this program. You won’t regret it…

And if you want to support a struggling writer like me, use the Scrivener link in the right hand column on my blog, a little farther down the page. That way I can buy a latte for myself.

Here’s the video:

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My journey from dreamer to author, Part 2

I came home from my business trip on December 4th, didn’t touch the manuscript. I knew I had to set it aside for a while so that I could go back over it with fresh eyes; find mistakes, errors, inconsistencies I had glossed over during my 26 day sprint. But man that was tough to get back into!

I have a background in marketing because of the company I own (and as the owner and founder, I wear many hats), and had just recently launched a social media program for the business. I had done my research on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn, and others, and knew my way around a status update. I had grabbed my name as a Twitter account during that launch, but never used it (I still saw social media as a massive time-waster – although for business, the fact that 500 million potential customers were wasting time there, I couldn’t ignore it). My personal Twitter handle had lain dormant for six months, so I decided to poke around in the Twitterverse to find others like me; new, aspiring authors struggling to figure out how to hit the NYTimes bestseller list. And I found them…in droves.

Most of early January was spent following, being followed, tweeting, reading blogs, and generally being inspired by others. I would read “#amwriting today with lots of coffee” at 8AM, or “editing my #WIP for the final time!” at noon, or “received another rejection letter, so I’m one step closer to publication!” at 7PM, or “pounded out 2k words today” at midnight. And I wanted to do the same. So I did.

Jumped in feet-first, crushing my original manuscript. Paring it, adding to it, changing it, laughing at it, crying over it, drowning it in red wine, all the while tweeting and retweeting, blogging and reading blogs, until January 31st hit, and I put a big fat DONE stamp on it.

During my month-long Twitter odyssey I ran across several blogs telling success stories of those who had self-published, and were making money hand over fist selling their stories as ebooks online. My god! I thought. I’m the biggest gadget guy I know, and I had never even realized the massive reach of ebooks! I read books on my iPhone, have for the past year or so, and I still think it’s the coolest thing going. Carrying dozens of books, movies, songs, emails, etc. all in the palm of my hand. I scoffed at the Kindle. Ebooks only? I thought. I have the Jesus phone! Then I remembered an article I had read that stated that both Amazon and Barnes & Noble (bn.com) sold more ebooks than paper in 2010. I read Joe Konraths blog (jakonrath.blogspot.com), and every guest comment, for a week straight. I knew what was next.

To be continued…


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My journey from dreamer to author, part 1

Just over a year ago, I was approaching a milestone age…not one that most are proud of reaching, one that made me start to reflect on what my goals were as a youngster. Among other things, one of those goals was to be a published writer by the time I hit that milestone. The problem was it was approaching quickly. I had run across a contest, friendly competition actually, called National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. How cool is that? I thought. I could sit down for 30 days and pound out 50,000 words, and before New Years hit, and my birthday ten days later, I’d be a writer. Well, things didn’t work out quite so conveniently; two business trips came up, the month slipped away, and I didn’t even bother entering. Birthday and momentous number-ending-in-zero came and went, and still I had never completed a novel. How lame is that? I thought.

Fast-forward to late-2010. NaNoWriMo, which was going to happen whether I got off my ass and wrote or not, began approaching. This time! I declared, thrusting my fist into the air, being greeted with puzzled, dad-must-be-drinking-again stares from my boys. So I threw Hot Pockets in for their dinner, sent them off to the television, and sat down to start brainstorming the next great novel.

I went to a local NaNoWriMo meeting (discovering I was pretty much the only person in a room of 26 people who was not writing a book about sexy vampires who fall into forbidden love – quite encouraging, really…less competition for my science fiction genre), set aside the dining room table with my laptop, iPhone, coaster, wine glass, and copious amounts of cabernet sauvignon (which I later named Writer’s Fuel), and went to work outlining. By the time November 1st rolled around, I was champing at the bit to get writing. And I did.

Put the kids to bed at 9, told the wife have fun watching our DVR shows without me…catch you in December, and put in a solid 2+ hours every evening, just writing. Hemorrhaging text, really. Watching my NaNoWriMo buddies’ online word count, making sure I was ahead of the pace. NOT stopping to go back and edit Chapter 1 (for decades, I’ve written perfect first chapters, and never gotten to Chapter 2). Just flat-out writing. And it felt good. Oh sure, I wrote some awful scenes (I called them Crapters), but I knew I’d go back and fix them later. I just wanted to blow away that 50k goal and make a start-to-finish, complete story, one that I had never been able to do. And I did.

The night of November 26th hit, the night before I needed to get on a plane for a business trip, and I typed the last line of my actual, honest-to-goodness novel. I wiped a small tear from my eye (yes, I admit…big tough guy cry sometimes, ug…), gave a little shout so my wife, watching Gray’s Anatomy, heard me, and polished off the last of the Writer’s Fuel. Done. I did it. In 26 days, I had written just over 64,000 words, and “won” NaNoWriMo. And I finally had a complete story.

But now what?

To be continued…

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Gabriel’s Redemption Excerpt for #samplesunday

One large wallscreen dominated the wall opposite the ultra-modern food dispenser, the image showing a view from the Marcinko’s forward video feed. Jupiter was visible just on the edge of the screen, with its moon Callisto closer to the center, the entire scene sprinkled with stars. In the very center of the image sat two vertical structures, parallel to each other, with several blinking lights. The Takahashi Gate.

The T-gates, as they were more commonly referred to, were first built in 2091 by the Japanese Space Administration to more easily control the unpredictable nature of the wormholes. The first wormhole was discovered four years earlier by Masahiro Takahashi of the research vessel Hakudo Maru.

The Hakudo Maru had stumbled on the first wormhole, located just inside Jupiter’s orbital path around the sun, completely by chance. The ship was en route to study the atmosphere of the gas giant for possible use as fusion fuel when a probe sent in advance of its route suddenly disappeared. Captain Takahashi ordered the ship in closer to the point where they lost the probe, and detected highly unusual gravitometric readings. Not wanting to endanger his ship or her crew, he ordered another probe sent. When it too disappeared, this time right in front of their eyes, he took it upon himself, a hunch he later explained to have come from his boyhood science fiction reading, to have another probe reconfigured to automatically return on a direct reverse course thirty seconds after it passed the point in space where the previous two had vanished.

The probe was launched, and again disappeared at the same gravity fluctuation. However, after sixty seconds, this probe returned, appearing at the same location, on an opposite return course, completely intact. Takahashi and his crew brought it back on board, and over the next three days all gas research on the ship ceased while the crew excitedly pored over the data. It was conclusive – based on star data, the probe had instantly jumped over 150 light years into a completely different star system, determined to be Nu Ophiuchi, a binary system with no planets, only a millions of miles wide asteroid belt drifting around two early-phase stars.

Within a month, dozens of JSA ships arrived at the ‘wormhole’, as the Hakudo Maru crew was calling the gravity fluctuation; again a nod to Takahashi’s reading habits. Exuberant scientists sent more and more probes through, military leaders fretted over possible wartime scenarios, and young crewmembers unhappy with their current positions in life dreamed about limitless futures in another star system.

Over the next year, thousands of probes were sent to scan every corner of the solar system, by every Earthbound government and private corporation, but no other wormholes were found. Hundreds of probes sent through the Jupiter wormhole did the same, and reported back with one additional wormhole point. The scientists posited, correctly as it turned out later, that the number of wormholes in a particular system were based on gravity fluctuations caused by the star itself, with single star systems like Sol having one, binary systems having two, and so on. The home solar system had one wormhole, and Nu Ophiuchi, named Ryokou by Captain Takahashi, the Japanese word for journey, had two, matching the number of stars.

The decision was made to send a manned ship through, and although the JSA vociferously objected, it was Masahiro Takahashi who rode the first shuttle through. The crew of the Hakudo Maru, now considered heroes back home, wouldn’t allow anyone but their revered captain to have the honor. He returned safely from the four minute ride, though horribly nauseous as he explained later, and went down in history with other pioneers like Gagarin, Armstrong, and Chiang Le.

The gates were created to not only mark the location of the wormholes, but also to stabilize the fluctuations. With a combination of electromagnetic fields and particle beam generators, they created a safe corridor down the gullet of the wormhole, allowing ships in size up to a mile and a half wide to pass. Smaller ships, such as the Marcinko, were outfitted with special EM field generators which meshed with the T-gate fields, and provided a smoother transit through.

Gabriel watched the T-gate get closer on the wallscreen and turned to Takahashi, who had dragged one of the chairs closer to the screen, away from the others at the table. “Not a bad namesake you have, Ensign.”

“No sir, not bad at all,” he replied, taking a sip from a water bulb in one hand, his other clutching a spacesickness bag.

 

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