Monday, January 30, 2012

Fun With Kindle

The good news is, I managed to upload both books to Kindle US, Kindle UK and Smashwords without too much difficulty.  The bad news is, there was difficulty.
There is no room for complaint, really; I did the formatting and cover tweaking for both books in the space of an afternoon and still managed to fit in a cigar break, so this should tell you how easy it is to upload an eBook (and why I get so incensed when I see people or companies charging hundreds or thousands of dollars for the "service").  But easy as it is, it is not without pitfalls.
Take the cover for my original PC book.
After my publisher returned the rights and told me I was free to do as I wished with it (i.e. self-publish it), I wrote back and asked permission to use the cover.  He never answered.  So, assuming no response is as good as a "Yes" I nicked the cover.
The copyright gods must have been angry, however, because this is what I uploaded to Kindle:

And this is what appeared on Kindle:

Repeated uploads—using different graphics—yielded the same result.  Eventually, I managed to get one to "take" and it now looks as it should.  But it was a perplexing week, and a bit frustrating when you take into account that, after each upload, there was a delay of up to 24-hours before the book appeared and I could see if the cover was all right.
And then there was the matter of the font.
I used the same template I used for More Postcards and even copied all the text from the manuscript, pasted it into Notepad and then copied it into the template, effectively removing all of MS Word's formatting.  But after setting the book up for Kindle and Smashwords and uploading them, both versions came out in Arial font.
Now, Arial is a fine font, and each version looks fine and reads okay in that font, but it is not the font I formatted the book in, and it is not the font I uploaded.  The fact that they both turned to Arial tells me there is something wrong in the template, but I cannot imagine what.  But seeing as how they look all right, I can't be arsed to track that particular formatting anomaly down; I would be at it all week and it simply would not be worth it.
The best thing, however, is finding out how Amazon Kindle deals with having two books on the site with exactly the same name and exactly the same cover.
My publisher told me they had "unpublished" the book, but you can still find a Lulu version of the book I removed from publication back in 2007, so I don't expect their version to go away anytime soon.  I am merely hoping my readers are smart enough to purchase the $0.99 version (which retails for $1.59) instead of the $9.89 version.  Otherwise, they are identical, except the new one has more reviews.

Two books, same name, different price--pick the better value
For some reason, Amazon has put all but one of the reviews gathered on the old version of the book onto the new one.  I am truly grateful for that, but I can't think of how that might have happened, or why, if they did move them, they didn't move them all.
Like the rogue font, however, it doesn't merit looking into; it's better just to accept it and move on.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Feel Like a Writer

Six PDF files, Four graphics, four days, three formats and two books.  It's been a hectic weekend (yes, my weekends are four days long; jealous?) but I have both my books – Postcards and Son of Postcards – revamped, re-priced and republished on Amazon, Kindle and Smashwords.  (But don't tell anyone, it's a secret; I'm not announcing the re-release until 1 March.)
Materially, it's been the most productive few days I can remember in a long time.  So why don't I feel like a writer?
Probably because I haven't actually written anything.  In fact, I haven't written anything substantial since Christmas Day when I finished up the final draft of my Ireland book.  That's a long time for someone like me to be doing nothing but the occasional post and researching Spiritualism and Home Schooling in the UK.
Somehow, no matter how much time I put in doing writer-type things, unless I end the day with some new words created on virtual paper, I feel like a guy who used to write, not like a writer.
When I get to the end of a major work, I feel really good for about two days, then I start looking at my writing log and noticing there are no Words Per Day adding up and I start thinking that maybe I should write something, anything, just to keep the momentum going.
But I can't simpy jump into a novel; I'm one of those people who research a novel to death and then make a detailed outline that falls apart after the third chapter.  So I research and try to convince myself that, yes, it actually is writing, of a sort, even if it doesn't involve tapping keys and watching words accumulate.
All this formatting work may be behind me, but very soon I will begin production work on the Ireland book, so I know it will be some time before I can even get back to the non-writing work of researching the next novel.
I'll get over it; especially when the proof copies of the books arrive and I can hold them in my hands and oh and ah over them.  Then I'll feel like a writer again, for a couple of days, at least.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Why I Self Publishing

Life is not a static thing.   The only people who do not change their minds are incompetents in asylums, and those in cemeteries.   - Everett McKinley Dirksen
As you may know, I am no fan of self-publishing.  A lot of that has to do with the prejudices and the aspirations I have been holding on to since childhood.  Self-publishing, to me, means you have given up.  You can’t cut the mustard so you are going to foist a steaming pile of prose on the public; real writers find real publishers, at least in my world they do (that would be the world where the family all gathers ‘round the dining room table for dinner and then retires to the sitting room for a rousing game of Parcheesi and hot cocoa with marshmallows).
And yet I fell for it.  The businessman in me knew it was a mistake, my publisher urged me not to, but the geek in me was keen to try out all those whizzy new gadgets available on Createspace and Kindle Direct Publishing.  And you know what?  It was a hoot!  I put in the hours to create a good cover, had the good fortune to have the manuscript read and corrected by some very talented people and I enjoyed the technical jobs of formatting and uploading immensely.  I was (and remain) proud of the final product.
But it was a self-published book.  And despite the respectability self-publication is supposedly earning, all I got was a rolling of the eyes and a “Oh, so it’s SELF-published…I see” from the people I admitted it to, and a literal “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” from the proprietor of my local bookstore, the same woman who had been very receptive of my first, properly published book.
And then, of course, there was the marketing.  Big FAIL.
So when it came time to publish the final Postcards book, I decided I wanted to go with my publisher.  The big reason for that is, they had my original one and I wanted all the books under one banner.  I figured if got book number 3 published there, they might take book number 2, as well.  I would lose control of the manuscripts, have no say about the covers or the lay out or the pricing and have to settle for a percentage of whatever the publisher’s take was, but I was willing to go with that in exchange for the marketing assistance they could provide.
Long story short, my publisher and I could not reach an equitable agreement, and at least a portion of the blame lay in the fact that I had self-published my previous book and I knew I didn’t have to settle for a bad deal.  The downside to self-publishing might have been the eye-rolling, the “So it’s a piece of shit” looks from people who would never know and being treated like a red-headed step-child by the proprietor of the local bookstore, but the downside of being “published” would be the loss of control over the manuscript and a paltry return.
So I’m back in the Indie business.  You’ll be hearing more about this adventure in self-publishing in the weeks to come, and hopefully I’ll get to grips with marketing a little better this time around.
I wrote the above on the bus coming home.  When I got home I had a message from my original publisher* waiting: they were discontinuing the expat book line and had returned all rights to the manuscript to me.  So now all three books can be put under my own banner.  If I had accepted the publisher’s offer, I would be banging my head on the table right now.
The self-publishing gods must be smiling.
*My publisher and the original publisher are essentially the same outfit, but with mergers and acquisitions it all got a bit confusing.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Time For a Change

I was going to use the excuse of my upcoming Tin Jubilee Celebration as a reason for changing the blog yet again, but the truth is I always hated the original design and have been looking for an acceptable replacement since I first put the blog up.  Wordpress, however, has not made it easy.
The reason I hated the old blog theme—which was Bueno—was first and foremost because I couldn’t fit the title of my blog in it:

Add to that the fact that each graphic was surrounded with a clunky, gaudy boarder and that the entire look of the blog was rather stodgy, and you’ll understand why I started looking for a substitute almost immediately.
I decided to give Wordpress another try after my first disastrous attempt some years back because every blog I ever saw that I liked the look of was, without exception, a Wordpress blog.  So in June 2011 I made the switch only to find the world of Wordpress was not as benign as Blogger.  The first thing I came to realize was that a free Wordpress blog is not, in fact, free.
Any decent looking theme is a premium theme, meaning you need to buy it.  But even the free blogs come with a price tag attached.  If you find a free theme and check out the options it comes with, then switch to it, you often find that the advertized options only become available if you pay a fee.  Now, I don’t mind paying for something, but in Wordpress, you don’t actually buy anything, you merely rent it, so a $60 tag for the ability to change the colors on your blog is not something you pay for now and enjoy for the life of your blog, it is a fee that eats into your disposable income year after year.
But that’s not all; want to embed video from YouTube (something I can do in Blogger for free), then cough up another $60 a year.  Want a redirect (something I can do in Blogger for free), that will be $12 a year.  Want a blog with no ads (something you get in Blogger for free) that’s another $30 a year.  Pretty soon, especially if you have a variety of blog like I do, you’re talking real money.  Every year.
And so I finally found Coraline, a clean, simple design that is 100% free.  It should be, all it offers is black text on a white background and the ability to change the header photo.  I suspect the photo option will soon be moved into the fee area, and I’ll be hit with a $45 a year fee if I want to alter the header, but for now I’m happy.
At the very least, I am finally able to put the entire title of my blog on my blog, which I shouldn’t think is too much to ask.