Paginations

Thoughts

New Kindles announced…my thoughts on them and authordom going forward

If you’ve been living under an Internet-proof, lead-lined rock the last 24 hours, you may have missed the big story of the day, perhaps season. Amazon announced a whopping SIX new Kindles, including FOUR named Kindle Fire. Yep, a veritable conflagration of tablets they rolled out, and I can think of only two words to describe the announcement:

BRAVO and BOFFO

Admittedly, I’ve never actually used that second word, but it somewhat rhymes, plays on a little alliteration (and allowed me to say “little alliteration”), and I think it sums it up quite nicely.

Yes, four Fires can be confusing (the original and now updated at $159, the new and improved Fire HD at $199, the HD 8.9″ at $299, and the HD 8.9″ 4G at $499…and call me jealous of the last one’s $50 per YEAR 4G/LTE data plan), but what it all boils down to for me, a self-published author, is this

This will be one hell of a Christmas.

As if Amazon’s market share of ebooks wasn’t already great enough (I run around 65-70% Kindle sales versus others, though many authors I know exceed 90% regularly), they’ve shaken up the e-reader world once again with six very nice pieces of technology that will (a) cause some Kindle users to upgrade, get all happy at their new device, and buy some new books to put on it; but maybe more importantly (b) cause some market shift* from Nook/Kobo/Sony/squint-at-Blackberry-screen/stone-tablet-with-chisel users.

*Of course this is where Kindle’s proprietary mobi files cause some issues, but rest assured all of my books are DRM free, so with a little tinkering in Calibre they can easily be moved over to a new Kindle. Just sayin’…

My personal feeling is that the two biggest Kindles to come out of yesterday’s announcement are the $69 base model and the updated and price-reduced $159 Fire. Yes, the Fire HDs stole the show, and the Paperwhite (really Amazon, a name that close to paperweight??) looks like an even better version of the excellent Nook Glow. But in our still struggling economy, with plenty of eager readers still yet to move to an e-reader, I get the feeling that a whole heap o’ low end Kindles will be boxed, wrapped, and stuck under the tree in a few months.

Personally, it doesn’t matter to me which model, or even which brand, readers choose. But with this announcement, Amazon has once again vaulted to the forefront of both e-reader technology and readers’ minds. I would anticipate Kindle sales percentages for all authors will rise.

Disclaimer: Once the iPad mini is announced in October, ALL BETS ARE OFF.

More »

Great article on what really happens when flushed out at airlock. Good scifi research here…

As a scifi writer, I love the idea of throwing the bad guy out of an airlock. It’s like the ultimate in poetic justice. Better than taking a lame blaster to the heart, or being eaten by a space slug, or falling into a star. But what really happens to the human body when suddenly exposed to total vacuum? How do I describe it to the reader?

I ran across a great article on Gizmodo last week that sums it up quite nicely. Keep the science tight and accurate, and you can still have a really entertaining death scene. Here’s the article:

http://gizmodo.com/5924522/what-really-happens-when-you-get-sucked-out-of-an-airlock

Love the closing paragraph:

So, while the end of your life in space may not be nearly as dramatic as Hollywood would have you believe, exposure to its vacuous expanse is still going to suck. And, more than likely, you’re going to die. Sorry. Just remember to breathe out first. 

And here’s a great GIF of a classic vacuum-exposure scene. Any other movies come to mind for you?

 

More »

Naming characters: The Upside of Creativity, and a Trap

A writer-centric post today on one of the most enjoyable parts of being a writer – the creativity it allows me. Specifically, in making up names. I’ve talked before about naming settings (cities, planets) and items (vehicles, weapons, ships), but this post is strictly about naming characters…and a trap one can fall into.

A few months back, I did a beta read for a friend, and one of my critiques was alliterative names. It was a fantasy novella, out of my usual comfort zone of reading, so I didn’t know if that was a theme or style fantasy used. However, after the fourth character was introduced whose name started with a V, I was completely lost. I felt it made it difficult for the reader to follow, especially when a story has several characters that impact the overall story arc using that letter.

Let’s do a little quiz. Here is a photo still from one of my all-time favorite movies (and guilty shoot-em-up pleasures), Aliens. It’s a picture of two of the most visible and popular characters (not to mention two that survived quite long, so they had plenty of screen time). It’s Hicks and Hudson; everyone knows those names. What’s the quiz? BEFORE you scroll down to the answer, answer this – which one is Hicks, and which one is Hudson?

Answer: It’s Hudson on the left, Hicks on the right. Even I to this day sometimes mix them up thinking back to the movie, as they are in so many scenes together, they are integral to the plot arc, and their names start with the same letter.

Maybe you got it correct, maybe not, but the point I’m illustrating is that characters need distinct names from each other, and ones that aren’t overly clichéd (and by clichéd, I mean Cliff Stone for the tough guy, Melvin Poindexter for the nerd, Vlad Bloodworth for a vampire, and so on – they can take away from the story).

I fell into this trap with my first novel, Gabriel’s Redemption, and it wasn’t until the second story in the trilogy was released that someone called me on it. I never caught it. And it was pretty bad, I must say. Two very different characters, one the ultimate bad guy in the book, and one a heroic captain. One was MacFarland, one McTiernan. Holy crap, what a boo-boo.

The reason? I’ve used random name generators online for many character names, and I just keep hitting Refresh until one catches my eye. One that sounds right for the character and is easy to say (a popular character named Varsonofy Panteleimonovich Krestovozdvizhensky is going to stop the reader in his or her tracks). I had MacFarland from a previous idea and put it into the story, but when I got to needing a name for a ship captain later on, I resorted to the random name generator, and it looked good. Never made the connection.

So…did you get Hicks and Hudson correct? Any name issues you’ve run across in books, or traps you’ve fallen into?

More »

Why an iPad Mini would shake up more than just the tablet world. Look out e-readers…

It almost seems like a foregone conclusion. According to most reports, Apple is gearing up to launch a smaller form factor iPad in the fall, likely October, and likely at the same time they announce the iPhone 5.* And while Steve Jobs adamantly decried the smaller size, because of what’s occurred over the past year-plus in the e-reader and tablet market, Apple is doing the right thing.

* As a techie geek and Apple fan at heart, that keynote will be a must-watch-blogcast for me…seriously, these two products? Drool…

Google just announced what looks to be the 7″ tablet to beat, the Nexus 7, with Android ICS, strong processor, and perhaps most importantly, a Kindle Fire-like price point. So now, the same $199 can buy a full-fledged tablet that can easily have the Kindle app loaded for the full Kindle reading experience, plus a Nook app, a Kobo app, and so on. And while Google usually puts out the Nexus hardware as almost a test bed for manufacturers to see/copy, this one might stick.

So along comes Apple, the heavyweight in the room. No one has come close to matching the iPad success. Yes, some hardware compares well, and you can go on and on about mini USB ports, SD card slots, “open systems”, and all that, but it doesn’t change the fact that the iPad combined with iOS just works. And it sells. Even at a higher price point. An iPad Mini, and I’m going to guess it hits at $299 (because (a) Apple doesn’t want to play in the bargain bin pricing neighborhood, and (b) they know they can get it), would shake up the tablet world once again. But I believe it will do more than that, and that this is the first shot across the bow to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and even Kobo (who is becoming more aggressive ,and I feel is a very viable 4th distributor).

An iPad Mini will be a very comparable, and better alternative to the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet (again, like an Android tablet, the various e-reader apps can be loaded), and I think Apple is gearing up to throw some weight, effort, and money behind improving the iBookstore experience. By having their own 7″ (looks like 7.85″, but let’s not quibble…) form factor tablet, with the absurdly easy to use and reliable iOS, they have the perfect platform to distribute ebooks. And I have a feeling that will be part of the keynote in the fall. The iBookstore lags behind the Kindle store (and even behind the Nook store, which is saying something) in terms of ease of search, marketing, exposure, and the like. It’s just not easy to use, which goes against everything Steve Jobs, et al., pushed for.

With the technology, marketing savvy, and maybe most importantly over 100 million existing iTunes customers with credit cards on file, I feel Apple, if they wanted to, could come in and change the ebook game. And this might be the time. And I for one am looking forward to Apple getting off their butts and making iBooks more successful.

Questions: would you buy an iPad Mini? If you have an iPad, would this be a second purchase for the household?

P.S. Apple haters, you’ll never convince me…

More »

My podcast interview with fellow author Robert Swartwood. It’s cool, I promise.

A few days ago I had the pleasure of being ‘interviewed’ by Robert Swartwood, author of several novels, including The Calling, The Serial Killer’s Wife, Man of Wax, and No Shelter (one of my favorite reads of 2011, with a funny story behind the pseudonym – one which you’ll only know if you listen.) We chat about:

  • How he and I first met (nothing of a romantic nature, I assure you)
  • My thoughts on Smashwords (why I use them as little as possible, and why you won’t see me send SW book links)
  • Our discussion on ebook pricing, the $.99/$2.99 price points, the value of higher pricing, and Amazon as the big bad guy in the room
  • The crap and/or offensive material being published, and what a potential barrier to entry might do to clean it up
  • A little about my Gabriel series, along with a brief sneak preview of my current (non-Gabriel) work in progress
  • And finally, a chance to win my complete trilogy, Gabriel’s Journey, by leaving a comment on Robert’s blog by midnight Monday the 2nd

It’s around 40 minutes long, so if you’ve always wanted to hear my voice (for whatever strange, potentially creepy reason) hit the Play button and continue writing. Here’s the link to Robert’s site:

http://www.robertswartwood.com/insights/in-which-steve-umstead-and-i-talk-about-important-things/

Leave a comment on Robert’s blog, I know he’d love to hear from you guys.

More »

I’m now syncing *sideloaded* books across multiple devices. Here’s how…

Just a little quickie tech-talk post today. Last week I picked up my first iPad* a few days after buying my son an iPad 1 and falling in love with it.

* Why is this significant? Because I’ve been a Mac-head since 1986 (lugged a Mac SE-HD to college in 1988 as my portable computer – ah the memories of trying to find an open AppleTalk port in the computer lab). I’ve been an iDevice-head almost since the iPhone hit stores, and swear by them. But I never pulled the trigger on an iPad – to me, it was a tweener. I have an iPhone 4S and a MacBook Pro – why get something that’s between them? Boy, was I mistaken…love at first swipe.

Over the past few days I’ve been customizing it, installing apps and music, some videos, and generally just hugging it to death. I might even name it. But last night, something magical happened (Steve Jobs’ words, not mine). I found out it syncs books.

What I mean by syncs books is that I can read an ebook on my iPhone, and pick up where I left off on my iPad, and vice versa. I’m not tied to one device, or having to remember what page I was on.

I can hear you now:

Steve, you’re an idiot. Syncing last page has been available for Kindle since day one, and Nook, and Kobo. Where have you been, moron? 

Ho ho, I say! Those devices and apps do a fine job of syncing books purchased through their stores, of course. All of them do. (Well, my Nook app experience has had some issues, swearing I’ve been on page 115 of Randolph LaLonde’s Spinward Fringe now for two weeks.) It’s part of the allure of “read anywhere” and technology in the cloud. I’m not talking about that. What I mean is:

iBooks will sync SIDELOADED books across devices.

Try that with your Kindle or Nook. Sideloading is taking an ePub file and ‘manually’ loading it into your device. I can do that with my Nook Color, an Android tablet and read with Aldiko, my mother can do it with her Kindle, and I can even click on a mail  attachment with an ePub file on my iPhone and have it ‘sideloaded’ to my Stanza app. But sideloading means the store behind the software won’t sync across devices – it won’t even know you have the file.*

* There is a way with Kindle by emailing the .mobi file to your @kindle.com address, but if you’ve acquired an ePub file, conversion is another step, and if you have ‘questionable’ material or perhaps ill-gotten files, giving Amazon access to those files may not be desired.

So what do I do when a fellow author sends me a copy of his/her book to read? Or I pick up a file off Smashwords? Or a public domain book? iBooks to the rescue. It WILL sync last page/collections/bookmarks across devices for any file, store bought or sideloaded.

On all iDevices, go to Settings > iBooks > turn ON Sync Bookmarks and Sync Collections. Now here’s the real key – you need to upload via iTunes in order for the sync to work. Drag the ePub file into iTunes, connect the various iDevices, and sync that book file to all of them. Poof, done. Now ANY ebook you load onto your iPhone will sync with the iPad, other iPhones, iPod Touch, whatever through iCloud.

So now I’ve begun collecting all of my ePub files (I’ve sideloaded plenty into various apps) into iBooks, and I’m ready to read anywhere, anytime.

Did I get anything wrong? Was I behind the times and everyone knew this? How do you guys read sideloaded books?

More »

A breakthrough, epiphany, lightning bolt, whatever… My plot will now continue.

About a month ago, I started a general outline for a new story, completely outside of the Gabriel arc. Got my main character, sketched him out, put together some secondaries, wrote a half dozen sentences outlining where I wanted it to go, and set up a Scrivener project with blank chapters and character cards. I even whipped up a working title and threw together a cover using some not-free images (no, I won’t be using it — that would be wrong — but I will use someone else’s artwork as my internal motivation).

On my Med cruise, I took a few hours over a few lazy days at sea and wrote three chapters that started the story. Some good intrigue, action, things blowing up, the usual. But looking at my outline, I didn’t have that hook…that twist…that “wow” factor laid out ahead of time that I was working towards. I had the story idea, but needed something  unique and “holy &%^$& I didn’t see that coming” inspiring.

Last night, driving home from a friend’s house with my wife asleep in the front seat and my two boys mesmerized by iDevices in the back, it hit me. Figuratively, of course – something hitting me while driving would raise my insurance premiums.

No, the idea hit me, that “wow” I was looking for. A little snippet, innocent and all, from chapter two of what I had written jumped up and said, “use me, use me!”

And so I will. Stay tuned.

More »

Gabriel’s Journey, the complete trilogy with bonus Zero Point prequel, on sale 33% off while I’m away! Spread the word?

While I’m away, the price gremlins will play! Last week I ran some two-day sales on the individual books in the Gabriel series; starting today, the complete collection of Gabriel’s Journey (including the Gabriel: Zero Point prequel) will be on sale for 33% off. Hey, that’s almost one third!

The regular price is $8.99 (which is a steal, IMO, if you consider the combined costs of the three: $3.99 + $4.99 + $4.99 = $13.97). Through June 10th (when I get back from my woeful, terrible, difficult business trip to the Mediterranean), this sucker’s on sale for $5.99, or slightly more than a Taco Bell Five Buck Box (which might be gastronomy’s worst nightmare).

Gabriel’s Journey is now available for $5.99 for Kindle, Nook, and iBooks. Sorry, I won’t be running this one through Smashwords for Sony/Kobo users (long story short – they take forever to push a price through to Sony/Kobo, meaning they’ll take forever to change it back).

If you could be so kind as to pass along the word, I’d greatly appreciate it (and I’ll reward!). Nothing would be more exciting than to return from the slog of two weeks of work on a cruise ship to a huge sales report. Well, perhaps there are a few more exciting things, but at the moment they escape me.

I’ve got some ready-made tweets if you want to use them. When I get back, I’ll randomly select TWO peeps that tweeted and give out a $10 Amazon gift card to each. If I do well in the on-board casino, I’ll make it THREE.

GABRIEL’S JOURNEY, complete scifi-adventure trilogy for #Kindle from @SteveUmstead, on sale for $5.99! http://ow.ly/bbchy #RT

GABRIEL’S JOURNEY, complete scifi-adventure trilogy for #Nook from @SteveUmstead, on sale for $5.99! http://ow.ly/bbbRd #RT

GABRIEL’S JOURNEY, complete scifi-adventure trilogy for #iBooks from @SteveUmstead, on sale for $5.99! http://ow.ly/bbbNT #RT

You can tweet ’em or Google+ ’em; as long as they’re tagged with my info I’ll see ’em. And feel free to Facebook ’em, but I won’t see ’em. I threw in the towel on FB long ago…

THANKS!

More »

The Taleist survey is out: “Half of self-pub authors earn less than $500”. I ask, so what?

I read a very interesting article this morning (OK, most of an interesting article) in regards to the recent Taleist survey of self-published authors. I was one of the 1,007 respondents and received my comp copy of the survey results yesterday, but haven’t had a chance to read through it yet. However, the Guardian has, and posted this article, with the somewhat-negative headline of:

Stop the press: half of self-published authors earn less than $500

The article starts off as a bit of a wet blanket, though not the sky-is-falling doomsaying one might expect from that headline, so I’m here in defense of the poor, downtrodden self-published heathen.

Disclaimer: I have been very fortunate over the past year and am on the other side of that half, so take what I say with a grain of salt.

Three things I take out of this article – one is an assumption, one is my thought on the self-pub/traditional income subject, and closing with a stat Taleist came up with.

Those who want to do best at self-publishing, they found, would be well advised to focus on romantic fiction. Romance authors earned 170% more than their peers, while authors in other genres fared much worse: science-fiction writers earned 38% of the $10,000 average, fantasy writers 32%, and literary fiction authors just 20% of the $10,000 average.

I don’t like this one bit. Whether it’s The Guardian or the Taleist survey conclusions, this paragraph screams at me in a shrill tone. Apparently this is saying if you want to be successful, write into a successful genre.

Phooey. Write what YOU want, write what YOU enjoy reading, and above all, DON’T write for what is successful NOW. Ten years ago it was boy wizards. Two years ago, it was sparkly vampires. Ten years from now? It may be literary fiction featuring trolls and light sabers. Who cares. Write because you want to, don’t try to fit into a preconceived box that will make you ‘more successful’. That may work when choosing between jobs, but not when it comes to pouring one’s heart out onto paper.

Half the respondents failed to reach $500 in royalties in 2011, and a quarter of the books are unlikely to cover the direct costs of production. “Sobering” news, wrote Cornford and Lewis. “Who’d come back for more?”

So 503.5 respondents earned less than $500 last year. If every one of those had submitted their work to an agent, then on to the publisher, then on to… (you get the point), how much would they have earned? About as much as I earned for writing this post. Squadoosh. Those authors took a leap of faith and sent their work out into the world, and a handful (or several handfuls) bought it and read it. In that same time, going traditional, their book most likely wouldn’t even have been in pre-production by the end of 2011. And that’s assuming they would be accepted through the slushpile. What’s the percentage who get published traditional? Very low – let’s call it 5%. So of those 503.5 authors, 25.175 (okay, I’ll round off – 25) get the “deal.” The other 478 continue to lick stamps, send emails, and so on, without a dime to show for it. And those 25? If the stars align correctly, they may see a portion of their small debut-author advance before the year is over. This is always a frustration of mine when I see traditionally published bring up the ‘low income by self-publishing’ subject.

Which brings me to a much better 5% subject:

But money isn’t always the primary goal for self-published writers, they discovered, with only 5% considering themselves “unsuccessful”. The respondents were also still keen to continue self-publishing: nearly half plan to release more titles this year than they did last, and 24% have a whopping five or more works due for publication this year.

Of 1,007 respondents, over 950 consider themselves successful – by extrapolation, 478 of the authors who didn’t “cover the direct costs of production” finished 2011 with a smile on their face, toasted loved ones with champagne on January 1st, and considered themselves successful. And they’re still writing and publishing.

I consider anyone who takes that leap of faith incredibly successful, covering costs or not. Let’s keep this amazing ball rolling, friends.

More »

And the writing begins again, in earnest – so my reading will suffer.

The title of the post says it all. After a couple months off from actively writing stories (with the exception of a short), I’m jumping back in, feet first, to a full length novel in an all new universe. I’ve got the full idea (have for a few months now, itching to get out) and have started outlining a few chapters, but last night I realized some of my best work was less outlined/more pantsed, so I decided to start writing without a complete outline. Again I have the overall storyline, I know where it’s supposed to end and a general idea of how it will get there, and I’ve got the first 3-4 chapters all visually done in my Mindseye (wish I had that system…), ready to go. I’ll let the characters and the situation dictate how I get to the end.

But this means my pleasure reading is done. Yes yes, I know a good writer must continue to read, to hone his or her craft, but I’ve found when I’m reading a book at the same time I’m writing one, the other book leaks into my work. Same with watching television and trying to write. I find the dialogue, settings, even plot ideas jump into what I’m doing…and that’s bad. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but if I write a book with the same plot line as an episode of CSI:Miami (I chose that because that’s one I DON’T watch), or the same space travel tech as Old Man’s War, I’m in trouble.

I just completed a beta read for a good friend, a little mix of urban fantasy and high fantasy, and instead of jumping into Michael Hicks’ In Her Name: First Contact, which is next on the TBR, my reading will consist of viewing my own words. At least until the first draft is finished.

Anyone have that same focus issue when writing?

More »