Monday, December 29, 2008

2008 Year in Review


This year had a very light travel schedule compared to previous years, being home in Hutto more than I'm used to, partly because of the economics of the times and partly because the uncertainty of my mother's health made planning too much unwise. In fact, of the "Days Elsewhere" a sizable chunk was spent up in Amarillo on visits with her, and then during her funeral. In spite of that, a quick look at the map shows that we covered quite a bit of ground on our limited schedule. As usual, the map only shows locations where I spent the night in 2008, and only if the town was large enough to make the list of the top 10,000 cities of the world that's included in the OSXPlanet application. Small towns like Meadows of Dan and Cherokee aren't listed even though they deserved it.

I can hardly complain. My days were filled this year with important events for me.

In February we went to a NANPA event at San Destin in Florida and took the opportunity to drive the coastline, seeing the Katrina damage and recovery efforts, ending that trip near Galveston where Mary Ann took photos of birds and alligators. It was a lucky thing we did that, considering what happened later.

My attempt to have a dealer table at Aggiecon was changed at the last moment when I found that I had a chance to win the Darrell Award in Memphis on the identical weekend. I chose to attend there, and had the most memorable experience accepting the award for Best Novel for Emperor Dad. It was a great feeling and a great help in selling the books afterwards. I changed the book cover to reflect the award.

After Roswell or Bust came out, I hit the road for a tour of New Mexico, visiting book stores and hand-selling the book to various places. I need to do more of that! Even when a store doesn't buy, I meet so many nice people that way.

A second NANPA event gave us a few weeks in Colorado.

Extreme Makeover was published, but with family events and a low budget, my hopes of making a trip to northern California to sell the book was delayed for this year. Maybe soon.

And then Hurricane Ike arrived, and we were there. It was a crazy few days, but with memories for a lifetime. I learned just how great twitter was for reporting news events. As we go places and do things, I'm constantly considering how to put the color and events into 140 character tweets.

I published Lighter Than Air, and the Archon trip to St. Louis became just the first stop on an extended fall trip to Michigan and the East in search of Fall Colors. I visited Upper Peninsula bookstores telling them about this novel based in their area and made a few sales. The trip continued south to the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains, returning back to Texas via the Natchez Trace Parkway.

Publishing took most of my time this year, and I'm learning so much about what has to be done and how to let people know about my books. Highlights are:



I can already tell 2009 is going to be crazy.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Hiding Your Prize

Mary Ann is selling a calendar this year featuring the orphans she bonded with at Namwianga in Zambia, with the money going to help them. The problem is one I have as well--getting the product put there so people can buy it. With great timidity, she finally approached the church elders with the request to advertise her calendar in the bulletin. Of course, they were happy to do it.

So this morning she was at church with a bundle of calendars in a tote bag. And she almost left without even pulling them out. I took her aside and demanded that she hold a calendar IN HER HAND as she walked through the crowd.

There were many people in that milling crowd who had heard about the calendar and would be happy to buy one, but their minds were on a dozen other things. Just catching a glimpse of the images might make a difference.

A few seconds later, a friend asked, "Oh, is that your calendar?"

Go to http://maryannmelton.com to see the pictures.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Email Sigs and Deuteronomy


My mind wanders sometimes during the Sunday morning church, but I think that's how it's supposed to work.  I started thinking about my email signature.

There was a scripture quote this morning: Deuteronomy 6:4-9  and it occurred to me that what it was talking about – the wearing of scriptures as jewelry or marking your house with quotes – was very much like what everyone does with their email signatures.  We put little quotes and sayings in our email programs so that our beliefs and such are automatically added to everything we send out.  

In fact, I've had Phil 4:8 tacked onto my email sig for years now.  It's hardly the more famous John 3:16, but it's a saying I have taken to heart for years.  It's one of my core beliefs and it affects everything I write.  

But as the service moved on, it occurred to me that probably no one ever bothers to look up my little favorite scripture.  I have other things in my sig, like URL's for my website and blog, but every email program automatically converts those things into clickable links.  They are easy.  Looking up a Bible scripture these days is harder.  Hardly anyone has a Bible handy at their keyboard.

But, Google to the rescue.  Google a scripture and it'll give you a long list of sites that will give you the full text in any number of versions.  All I had to do was make that Phil 4:8 into a clickable link.  Once I got home. I fired up Mail.app and went to my Preferences to change the signature.  I highlighted the verse and Edit-Link-Add... to paste in the Google search link for it:  http://www.google.com/search?g=Phil+4:8

While I was at it, I cleaned up the looks of my sig and made sure it would be attached to all outgoing emails correctly.  It was easier than I'd thought and something I would have done ages ago if I'd thought of it.  Like I say, my mind wanders during church, but maybe that's how it's supposed to work.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

InDesign vs Word for Book Layout

For the past few days, I've been learning InDesign by diving in and laying out my next book, due out probably March 2009.  This post is a first impression, considering I'm just learning with less than a week's exposure to it.

Five previous full size books were laid out using Mac Microsoft Word 10, so I had developed some experience on how to make the job less painful.  In fact, I'd written up a step by step procedure for converting a manuscript format novel into the format needed for a published book.  I did so partly to share the learning curve with other self-publishing writers, but I needed it myself, since there were a number of steps that I had to re-learn each time I converted a manuscript.  

This past year, as I've learned more and more of the publishing business, I realized that InDesign was the tool that the other guys were using.  It's not cheap, but since I needed to upgrade Photoshop and Adobe Acrobat Pro, I could bite the bullet and buy the upgrade to Adobe Creative Suite 4 Design Premium and get InDesign, as well as a few other tools I'd likely need before too long as well.

So, new software loaded, I grabbed one of the next books in the queue and bought Book Design and Production by Pete Masterson, a recommended guide and started work.

My first look at InDesign was daunting.  If you've ever used Photoshop, you know what I mean, a zillion menu's and pulldowns and a dozen flavors of toolbars.  I didn't know where to start, and that's where Book Design came in handy.  There's a chapter about setting up a book's margins and master pages and how to drop in the text of the manuscript.  I puzzled through it, made my own decisions about fonts and understood enough of his example to correct a math error.  After a couple of false starts, I suddenly had a crude layout.  The learning curve was steep, but I started to get comfortable after two days.

And by then, I knew I'd never do layout with Word again unless I had to.  The conversion from my manuscript styles to my chosen book layout styles was so painless it was scary.  EVERY time I did a book layout with Word, I spend ages getting the headers and footers correct, with the chapter names showing up correctly.  With InDesign, using master pages with text variables made that effortless.

Reading Book Design and Production also showed me aspects of book layout that just couldn't be handled with Word, and although I had to learn some new jargon, these were things I had to learn to produce good quality books.

Then, yesterday, I made my near-final layout and after a proofing cycle, I realized I was ready to print advanced reader copies.  With Word, I would print to the Acrobat Pro printer driver and produce a PDF to send to the printer.  InDesign had that built in, with a much cleaner interface.  I made the PDF, uploaded it to the printer and ordered the ARC's.  I'm a little shocked that starting from scratch and learning InDesign from a dead start, I have a final layout PDF in less time than I'd have taken using Word for the same task, with less chance of the big oops problems that had plagued me with Word.

It may not be worth it for small publishers only worried about one book, but for what I'm doing, I couldn't be happier that I made the switch.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Ghost Street over the Hill


I was playing with Google Earth, wondering if there was a way to get from one neighborhood to a newer one, without going out to the main highway. I was looking for a hike and bike route to Hutto. I was startled to see a set of new houses that appeared to have no entrance road. Looking closer, there was a whole block of Ghost Houses next to them.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Twitter Reply Contest

I just finished running the program to determine the winner of November's Twitter contest. You didn't know there was a contest? Yes, indeed there was, although I hadn't told anyone. And there'll be another one for December, and for a few more months as well. It's really easy.

At the end of each month, I'll pull all the twitter replies I've received over the course of the month and use a custom Perl program to choose one twitter id as winner. Multiple replies count as one, so don't deluge me. Each winner and family members are excluded from subsequent contests.

Each month's winner gets a free Wire Rim Book. Just go to my webstore and email or direct message me your selection and mailing address.

And the winner is:
christinerose

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Things that Work: BBedit 9



This past week, I've been making my published novels available as ebooks. My experience with Emperor Dad and then Roswell or Bust being out as iPhone App ebooks was encouraging. I don't make much on each sale, but it does put the stories out there where more people can find them. When I was asked if they were available in other formats, I began the process of converting them to Kindle and Mobi formats.

Both processes are very similar. You feed in your novel in one of several formats and it is converted into a dumbed down HTML version. Then comes the process of editing the HTML so that it displays correctly.

I have to wonder if Kindle was a reengineered mobi format. But in any case, the readers only handle a subset of HTML, not like the WebKit based version in the iPhone. Graham Perks did the conversions for the iPhone Apps, and for that I'm grateful. It wasn't a simple conversion.

When I ran into the problem that the Mobi Creator software wouldn't convert my Mac Word document, I experimented and discovered that PDF to HTML conversion of both Mobi Creator and the Kindle web tools was a adequate first pass. But only a first pass. I had to convert that code created by dumb automation and fix it. For that I needed a good HTML editor.

For years, I've been using BBEdit. Maybe back to the original version, I don't know. My memory isn't that good. However, I stopped upgrading back at BBEdit 8 because I was using iWeb for my main website and was no longer hand coding the HTML. But now I needed to do that again. The upgrade was cheap, and I discovered that version 9 is a nice improvement of an already classic tool.

BBEdit has more options than I'd ever use, but let me tell you what I did.

I went to the Kindle page and fed the PDF of my trade paperback novel in. After a moment's crunching, I could preview the resulting code in their on-line Kindle emulator. It was pretty ugly. I downloaded the HTML that had been created and unzipped it. On some of the novels, the auto-conversion had even created a table of contents, but on others it hadn't. I did some minor content editing, like changing the ISBN number for the new ebook version, but it was mostly formatting.

My paper version (and the iPhone App version) had nice dropcaps at each scene change, but Kindle doesn't do that, so I had to do a simpler version with just the font size command. Interestingly, the automatic conversion changed some of them into a h3 block, some into a h2 block and still others into a lettrine tag, which I'd never heard of, not that they actually worked in the ebook version.

The conversion also was rather erratic in its placements of paragraph blocks, sometimes using p's and other times using br's. I had to fix that. Thousands of changes through the novel. Conversion of styles sometimes came up with strange colors, I don't know why. In all, there were hours of manual changes. The bulk was done with BBEdit's nice grep-capable find and replace, but even then, it had to be eyeballed. A keystroke gave me a side by side rendered version where I could spot layout problems. Once that was done, I was able to use the built-in Tidy functions to convert everything to XHTML and scan for errors. There were thousands of them, and I had to knock them out manually. This is not a job for a script. Mangle formatting of a dialog and the reader will never understand the book.

Once I finished the Kindle formats and published the books that way, I fired up my tame Windows version and fed the Kindle HTML into MobiPocket Creator, and relatively easily created the mobi versions and put them up on the MobiPocket store.

So, now I'm done. I fed dumbed-down, clean HTML into the ebook publishing programs and I now have my books out there for people who prefer to read on their Palms, cell-phones, etc. Now to see if there are any sales.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ebook Formatting

Some time back, it became clear to me that I needed a strong presence in the ebook market. My good working relationship with TouchTomes meant that my novels were being converted into the iPhone App Store marketplace, but I had also stuck my toe into the Kindle arena. But these two high-profile markets were hardly the whole of ebooks. I asked around and listened to some feedback. My problem was how to put my novels in as many markets as possible, with a minimum of reformatting.

Kindle has its own format, and just handing over a PDF or Word copy of the novel wasn't going to produce a good quality ebook. By the time I looked at Kindle for the second book, I saw what appeared to be a solution. They "fully supported" the mobi format. Ah, ha! I'll convert the books into mobi, and then feed both Kindle and other ebook markets with that one copy.

Thus begins the effort to make mobi books.

There is a free Mobi Pocket Creator program that advertised conversion from Microsoft Word. That seemed perfect. I visited the site, and hit my first barrier. These people don't seem to be aware that Mac's exist. The software is Windows only and the marketplace they offered required Internet Explorer 5.5 to work. Yeah, right.

Still, if I had an Intel Mac, I could find a way to run their conversion software. That was just the last push I needed to upgrade my laptop from a G4 to Intel. I twiddled my thumbs until the promised new models arrived and put my order in for a MacBook Pro the day they came out. This was in the middle of our Fall trip so I had to wait until I got home to try it out.

Method One. I would rather not have to buy a copy of Windows, so with high hopes, I bought Crossover. This is a program based on WINE that runs Windows applications without needing Windows. Now, they suggest trying it out before buying, but it was only $39 and I was in a rush, so I bought first. Oops. Yes, it installed the Mobi Pocket Creator in a "bottle" and it ran, but it didn't run well. Not well enough to actually work. I felt stupid, but not defeated.

Method Two. Intel Mac's can run Windows, and with appropriate software, it can run both Windows and OSX at the same time. I went to an online store and purchased Parallels and Windows XP. Twiddle thumbs for a week until they arrive.

A couple of days before FedEx dropped the package at my back door, Parallels released version 4, so I sighed and went through the extra paperwork to order an upgrade almost before I installed it. (The upgrade they gave me had the wrong link, so it's still in progress.)

But finally, I installed and ran Windows. Mobi Pocket Creator installed cleanly. I clicked the link to convert from Microsoft Word, and ... nothing. I guess Microsoft Word means "Windows Microsoft Word". Or maybe they expect Word to be running on Windows? I don't know. But I wasn't about to go buy a whole new copy of Office for this.

So, I attempted their Convert from PDF link. That actually worked. After churning a bit, It converted the PDF I had sent to the printers into an HTML file and images. I looked at the quality of the conversion and it was just so so. There would be a lot of hand fix-up needed before I could use it.

Disgusted with the idea that I had spent a couple of hundred dollars and enriched Microsoft all for nothing, I re-visited the Kindle site and tried their Convert from PDF. Suspiciously, the results were almost identical to that produced by Mobi Pocket Creator. Readable, but ugly.

So for the past day or so I've been looking at ways to fix up the generated HTML. If I could make a good copy with minimal labor, I could feed that back into both Kindle and Mobi and make it work that way.

Cross your fingers for me.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Roswell or Bust now on iTunes

My second book, Roswell or Bust, is now up on the iPhones App Store in the books section.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Waiting in the Car

For the past month, Mary Ann and I have been on the road chasing fall colors for her photography. Be sure to check out her blog to see some of her work. The links are in the sidebar.

However, with my knee problems, I'm not out on the trail as much myself. Like right now, I'm parked where I can see her work out on the frost covered boardwalk over the cypress swamp. As much as I'd enjoy being down there myself, I'll have to stay here in the warm car and try to tap out a blog entry on my defective iPhone.

We'll be back in Texas in just a few days and maybe I'll be a bit more active in this blog. What with driving all day, every day, and being a bit burnt out by the time we wrangle a motel room, I've been short of inspiration. At least short of the blogging kind.

Scouting through 15 states in a month, racing the season change south, and watching the nature of the forests change on us as rapidly as their leaves turn and fall--this has been a an inspiring trip for me.

To be honest, 2008 has been a poor writing year. I've become a publisher, with all the marketing load that implies, and the writing, my true love, has suffered.

But this month, I can feel some rusty gears turning. Hmm. If I illustrated that theme with this example... Yes, that just might work!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Strange iPhone Photo Error

This afternoon, we stopped beside the Thurmond-McDenoree Road outside of the Beckley West Virginia area to see a waterfall. I hopped out and took a snapshot with my iPhone. For just a second I wondered if the moving water would look different because of the curtain-like shutter characteristics of the iPhone's camera. But what came out was very different. Yes, that's a waterfall, but the memory map is all fragmented.

Now, to be honest, this is the very first glitch I've seen on my iPhone camera, and this is the phone that went into the swimming pool with me and occasionally ignores finger taps. I think the phone went catatonic at just the right instant and produced this. Still, it's interesting.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Chasing Color

The past few years I’ve been attending Archon in the St. Louis area, and as events have transpired, that has become an anchor point for a yearly fall trip. This year is no different, and if my blogs have been a little erratic in the last few days, blame it on poor internet.

Mary Ann’s nature photography demands a constant inflow of new images, and this is the perfect time to seek out colorful fall foliage. We headed straight north from St. Louis and set our sights on Upper Peninsula Michigan. I have just released “Lighter Than Air”, a novel set here, so between photo shoots, I was able to visit Munising High School and various book stores in the area and let them know that a YA adventure novel set in their own back yard was available.

We stopped off in Horicon Marsh, a wildlife refuge in Wisconson. between Madison and Lake Winnebago, and then headed on into Michigan to spend a couple of days at one of our favorite sites, Northland Outfitters in Germfask. The lakeside cabin had no plumbing, but had a lovely view.

Then, on to Munising, where I put on my author’s hat and drummed up a little excitement for my book, and Mary Ann took waterfall photos.

The past couple of days, we’ve been in the Porcupine Mountains, up on the coast of Lake Superior, and in a perfect explosion of color. I’ve posted a couple of photos as they happen via Twitter, but up here, cell signal is frequently gone, so I have to wait for a motel with internet. Here are the ones I would have posted during the day: Chasing Color Gallery The usual disclaimer applies. These are cell phone snapshots. Mary Ann takes the good pictures.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

It's Saturday Night at Archon and the Creatures are Out

One of the things that makes Archon so fun is the Masquerade. Now, I have to admit that I'm not really into costumes. It would take something major to put me into fuzzy ears and a codpiece, but I love the hall costumes of others. Part of it is matching visions. Yes, indeed, that is young Luke Skywalker in his X-wing pilot gear, and that has to be the Doctor, but I don't recognize the Companion.

Right now the line waiting for the main festivities is stretched several hundred feet down the hallway. And these are just the ones who haven't signed up for the contest and presentation. There are the TV inspired, the movie inspired, the anime inspired, the RPGamers, and those who just like big hair and leather lacing.

I'm just leaning up against the wall next to a rack of lightsabers made of pipe and lucite. I'm worn out from the pannels I was part of this afternoon. I might be attended to join the line, but this will go on for hours and I'd be a zombie ( no not that kind ) before then.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Packing for St. Louis

Well, it's actually Collinsville, on the other side of the river, but more people know where St. Louis is. Archon is often the start of a longer fall trip, but I don't know how long we can extend this one. I've already decided not to take the RV because of gas price and availability issues.

Still the clock is ticking. I'm packed and waiting. We've got to be there Friday morning, a thousand miles away, and I'm not looking forward to doing it all in one day. But, there were good reasons we haven't left yet. Still gotta file that pesky IRS paperwork. This is the first returns with Wire Rim Books on it, so I had to grok inventory and assorted other accounting things that a writer that just gets royalties doesn't have to worry about. I made it through the maze, but I'll have to adjust my record-keeping a bit to make it easier for next year.

Another reason for delay -- checks in the mail. They showed, and were deposited this morning. I wasn't too unhappy with that delay.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Galveston Trip Story

I knew the story of the Galveston trip would be much longer than a regular blog post, so I put it together as a 16 page web narrative. Taken together with my gallery of images and Mary Ann's gallery, it's as good an info dump as I can put together while the information is still fresh in my mind.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Hurricane Ambient Sounds


I recorded a couple of snips of wind noise and I realize now I should have done a lot more, but I was thinking of other things at the time. Each of these was recorded in the San Luis lobby near the door connecting to the Condo area. Since the Condo area external doors were letting in some winds (not all) there was quite a lot of wind pressure on that connecting door. We're lucky it didn't take anyone's hand off when it slammed shut several times.


Back from Galveston




I've updated the picture gallery in the pre-dawn hours this morning. Cell phone pictures aren't the greatest, but with no electricity and no network, the iPhone was a great portable studio for reporting from the island. There's the gallery for pictures, check my twitter feed for the play by play reporting of those days. I'll have to sit down and write a more traditional narrative, once I catch up with email and everybody's questions.

Short version: Being crazy people, Mary Ann and I went down to Galveston to ride out Hurricane Ike in the fortress-like San Luis Resort. We were elbow to elbow with all the major news media, the police and the firefighters. I was out in the eye, checking the sea level as it spashed over the seawall. When it cleared, we toured the island as Mary Ann got photos of the damage and the restoration efforts.

The long version will be much more interesting.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Photos of Hurricane Ike

I'm posting a few images via Twitter but I've uploaded more to a separate gallery. I can't count on Internet, but if I can, I'll keep updating there.

Mary Ann is posting pictures on her blog.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hurricane Dithers

Oh, believe me, it's out there. Those waves, although they're the only obvious sign that there is anything out of the ordinary, are much larger than normal. The world of modern media and the natural world are quite divided today. I can certainly understand how hurricanes could come up out of nowhere back in the 1900's and wipe this place out with thousands of deaths. It'll be here in soon enough and yet it's invisible.

On the other hand, we're glued to the weather reports, getting virtual updates almost minute by minute, making us dither between making our escape and staying put to wait it out. I almost prefer the ignorance.

Of course, we're in a rare position, five floors up in a hurricane designed building with a strong confidence that we can ride though it with no harm. That's not the case for most of the town of 85,000 behind us. Worst case could put Galveston on the disaster map right with New Orleans and the Mississippi coast. That's why they ordered the evacuation.

But ... this is a hurricane. When we headed down here, landfall was aimed at Galveston. When we got here, it was nearly down to Corpus Christi. As we watched it came back north. By the time it hits, it may target High Island just like the last one did. Cross your fingers. For the sake of the city, landfall to the north would be great. Dither some more, Ike.


Monday, September 08, 2008

The Temptation of Drama


I have a very good, solid place to stay in Galveston. I have never seen a hurricane in person. Boy, is this tempting!

Friday, September 05, 2008

OSXPlanet and EarthDesk

When Mac OSX 10.5 was released, I snapped it up as I always do. Unfortunately, with all the new improvements, a few things broke. One was the free software OSXPlanet which put a live image of the earth as my desktop, complete with updates for weather, earthquakes, etc. I'd been using it since 2006, especially the city markers. Since I travel a lot, it was fun to mark the cities on the desktop image. It was especially helpful when I went to Africa. Those of you who've been following this blog have seen clips using the OSXPlanet images showing where I've been.

But when 10.5 was released, it broke and there wasn't an upgrade in sight. It was free. Donationware. The author was a student with other things to deal with. After a few months, I gave up and just set my desktop to a plain gray.

But a few days ago, I saw the advertisement for something that sounded almost just like it, Earthdesk. I downloaded it and tried it out. It wasn't as good as OSXPlanet, but it did show active weather, and there were all those hurricanes to watch. In a moment of weakness, I paid the $25.

Hmm, I said to myself. I need to blog. How about comparing the free OSXPlanet with it extra features and erratic availability vs the commercial Earthdesk that supposedly was available, but had fewer features and cost more? Okay.

Then I searched for the OSXPlanet website so I could have a good URL for the blog. Yes. You guessed it. Three days ago a new version came out that I could use. Sigh.

Now I've got two of them. I guess I'll trade off and see which one sticks.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Under Fire on Labor Day

The gunfire out the window is the perfect environment for today. Crazy me, I set the release date for my latest novel, Lighter Than Air, for September first. What with all the other events in my life, that rolled around far too fast. When I awoke this morning to the sound of the first day of Dove season, it occurred to me that my deadline had already arrived and I had a LOT of work to do today.

High on the priority list was this blog entry, letting you know that the book is out and you can order it. But I couldn't do that first. No, first I had to update Books in Print, then I had to make an individual page for it on my website, then update the Library Page. Then there was the business of updating my personal webstore page, and the Amazon webstore page. Wirerimbooks.com had to be changed to highlight the new book.

Then, once all that was done, I could finally blog about it with links that actually worked. Even when I'm done here, there is more -- a lot more -- that has to be done. I'll have to upload the text for Amazon's look inside feature and give Google Book Search a copy. Once my initial shipment of books arrives (hopefully with no problems from Hurricane Gustav) then I'll have dozens of books to ship out to reviewers.

I just wish I could get some of that hurricane cloud cover. Working in privacy for efficiency, I'm out in the RV. Unfortunately, I can't get enough juice out here (circuit breaker issues) to run both air conditioner units, so it gets rather warm in the middle of the day. At least the gunfire keeps my mind from getting in a rut.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Kindle vs the iTunes App Store (From an Author's View)

I'm a small publisher with a PR budget in the low three digits, so I'm always on the lookout for ways to get my books discovered by people who will enjoy them. My first book, Emperor Dad, was in fact, released as an ebook first, with a few family and friends sales, but it never achieved any great sales. When I finally broke down and decided that self-publishing was better than un-published, I produced trade paper editions. Awards came and I have refined my production skills so I now have three, (in a few weeks four) titles out that are getting very nice reviews. Still, sales are not large, and I'm on the lookout for ways to get my books in front of people's eyes.

In December, I discovered that it wasn't terribly hard to put out a book on Amazon's Kindle. I buckled down and converted Emperor Dad to Kindle format. I uploaded it to their system and waited. Nine months later, zero sales.

I wish I had a Kindle just so I could see if the book was really in their system or not. But I've never even seen one. Nobody I know has one of the bookreaders. Supposedly there are hundreds of thousands of them in existence, but I can't afford one. I suspect, with no evidence, that Amazon makes it a whole lot easier to discover a big name bestseller than it is to find something by a small publisher.

July. Graham Perks of Touch Tomes, who dove head-first into the iPhone App business, had talked to me earlier and now suggested publishing one of my titles as an iTunes App book. With my history of experimenting with ebook sales, it was a no-brainer to hand him the Emperor Dad files and let him run with it. In just a few days he had the book encapsulated into an iPhone App and formatted quite nicely. Today is the third day it's been out for sale. Early figures show twelve sales over two days.

Kindle: Nine Months, zero sales. App Store: two days, twelve sales.

It's the same book. It's the same non-existent PR campaign.

From an author's perspective, the iTunes App store is a great place to be. Think about it. Kindle has (in July) 140,000 titles to a customer base of supposedly 300,000 readers. Not all of those are fiction either. The iPhone user base growing rapidly, with supposedly 10 million units out there by the end of the year, and the App Store is very popular. And the books? 158. I just checked. Hey, as a reader, I might like the Kindle catalog, but as an author, this is the kind of front-facing, front of the store, prime exposure I'd never get on my budget. With millions of people coming to visit.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Emperor Dad is on the iPhone App Store

As I mentioned in my Twitter back in July, I was looking forward to this, being in the company of Burroughs and Swift. Emperor Dad has been published in a number of formats, including two paper editions, PDF, Kindle and now this, an iPhone App. It's a great experiment to see what works and what doesn't.

The big advantage I see here is that Emperor Dad has a chance to show up. A corner bookstore will have thousands of books on its shelves. PDF ebooks are spread out all over cyberspace and only the experienced know where to look. The Kindle system has 125000 titles for it's 250000 Kindle owners. The iPhone App store has about 200 titles for a million iPhone users, with that expecting to grow to ten million iPhone users this year. And one thing I have learned from experience this month -- when two or more iPhone users get together, the first thing they do is talk about the Apps they have downloaded.

So when I was approached by an App developer with the idea of publishing one of my books, I was ready. I had previously gone through the process of converting the text to the cut-down HTML that Kindle format uses, so all I had to do was send him the file.

The App store is mostly $0.99 cent editions of public domain books, and a handful of current titles at higher prices. Go. Tap. Download. It's easy to find. This ought to be an interesting experiment. If it works, I'd have no problem putting other titles out this way as well.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Memorable Chore

A Memorable Chore

Last Sunday, after church, everyone had left, someone had to get the canoe back to the friendly neighbor who had loaned it to us. It was a short paddle across the little inlet shared by four or five houses, so I volunteered. Sissy the Dog followed me to the back door but I kept her inside.

I hadn't been down to the dock this whole trip due to my knee problems, and the stair way was long and steep. However, I told myself, if I just took it slow I'd have no problems.

The second step was a doozy. Built of two-by-six boards, thirty years of weathering had decayed either the board or the support and I fell through to my waist in splintered lumber.

A minor scrape on my left leg, a twisted ankle on my right, and an elevated heart rate left me wondering for a moment how I would extricate myself.

Unknown to me at the time, Sissy the Dog had been watching all this time and hurried off to pull a Lassie. She went to the den where Mary Ann was working on the family photos she took at the funeral. Sissy frantically tried to get her attention. Mary Ann was aware of how she had been following me around and tried to reassure Sissy that I was okay. I had just gone down to the dock and I'd be right back.

I was in pain, but as I climbed out of the hole and checked to see if I could walk on the injured ankle, I decided it was minor and ... cautiously ... went on down the steps.

The dock had been the location of many a good time in the past three decades and it was sad to see what age and weather had done to it in these past few years as age had confined my father to the house.

In the middle was a nice fiberglass and aluminum canoe. I untied the rope and eased down as well as my knee let me. It wasn't good enough. I overbalanced and over we went.

The first thought that came to mind was the canoe. It was filled to within an inch. Would it sink? It wasn't mine and this water dropped off to 90 feet deep within just a few yards. I did not want to lose it. I grabbed the thick yellow poly rope and managed to lash it to the dock. Then I could think about how to get myself out of my fix.

I was inside the U formed by the dock and probably no one could see me. But, with my accumulated body fat, I was hardly in danger of sinking. I looked in my shirt pocket. I had left my iPhone up at the
house, joking about it as I walked past Mary Ann on the way out. But
my earphones were still there, sloshing in my pocket. My wallet and business card case were soaked as well. Oh, well. I needed to print up a fresh batch of cards anyway.

But I did need to get out of the water. I remembered a ladder on the other side of the dock, but as soon as I swam around, I realized that the rungs had rotted away long ago. I looked around at the neighbors' docks, but I didn't see any obvious ladders.

I'd have to climb ashore. Not easy. This wasn't a beach. It was nearly a vertical drop off and I was within reach of the yucca and sawgrass before I felt mud below my feet. It was like climbing a cliff. The grass was my hand grip, and there were rocks to climb. Other than a pear of grass in my right eye, I got out with no problem.

But standing on shore with the lake water draining out of my pockets, I still had that canoe to deal with. I toyed with bailing it out, then decided to just pull it up onto the dock. That was surprisingly easy. My canoe at home is much heavier than this one.

"Are you through with that?" It was the owner, calling from across the water.
"Yes."

He made his way around the shore and we chatted about my parents, the fishing, other neighbors and things. Nice guy. Lots of stories. Finally, he paddled his way home and I sloshed my way back up the stairs. At least I had a story to tell.

--
Henry Melton Science Fiction
http://henrymelton.com http://henrymelton.blogspot.com
Phil 4:8

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Solomon Gallery

My sister Mary Solomon, the primary caregiver during my parents last years, is an artist that has made a name for herself here in Amarillo. Yesterday, we went by her gallery and I took a snapshot or two.

It's a lovely place, and over the years, I've marveled at how her price tags keep on going up. She has birds and wildlife, flowers, landscapes and quite a few portraits. In recent years she painted a number of the horse statues that grace public buildings all over Amarillo. If you're in the area, you owe it to yourself to visit her at the The Galleries at Sunset Center.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Mary Evelyn Melton 1920-2008

Mary Evelyn Melton of Lake Tanglewood died Sunday, August 3, 2008.

Born Mary Evelyn Wheeler, in Cooper, Texas on March 4, 1920. Evelyn graduated salutatorian in Waynoka, Oklahoma and eloped with Gene Melton August 21, 1938. Starting out in the Depression, and in Gene's early years with Santa Fe, she lived in many towns in Texas and Oklahoma and then during WWII when he was in the Navy, she followed his postings to Chicago, Brooklyn and Richmond, California when she could, holding jobs with a Chicago insurance company and back in Amarillo, the Potter County Clerk. Times were hard. After the war, they even lived in a railroad bunk car and tried to make a living on a farm outside of Siloam Springs, Arkansas which she had scouted out and purchased by herself in the years before the war. Eventually settling in Amarillo, she concentrated on raising her four children. In uncertain times, she took on a job with the Amarillo Bi-City County Health Department, rising to Administrative Secretary until she retired in 1980. They moved to Lake Tanglewood in 1979 when Gene retired from Santa Fe.
Able to do many things, she raised her family with strong values in the Church, and with an appreciation of music. Forever impressed by the many people who had gone out of their way to befriend her in the early years when times were hard, she in turn made friends with everyone she met, all her life long, learning about their families and honestly caring about their lives. There were no little people in her world, and in turn, she was beloved by them all.
She was preceeded in death by her husband of 69 years, Eugene James "Gene" Melton, Jr., her parents and younger sister Louise Hurd.
Evelyn is survived by her sister Ellen Joy Rook of Amarillo, her four children: Roger Melton and wife Linda of Rescue California, Mary Solomon and husband Walter of Lake Tanglewood, Henry Melton and wife Mary Ann of Hutto Texas, and Martha Barnett and husband Hugh of Dallas Texas. She had 10 grandchildren, and 9 great-grandchildren.

As Deaths go, it was good

As Deaths go, it was good
The primary focus for my mother's life had always been her family. That was why we all knew that it was important for my brother to make it all the way from California, and when it looked like her health was going down hill rapidly, he looked for an earlier flight and had to run for it, but he made it in last night.

The word had gone out, and last night the little hospice room was packed with relatives. Three of the four kids, the local grandkids and great-grandkids were all there and everybody had a chance to greet her, and in spite of the pain medicines she was able to talk with us all. It was quite a party, one that she'd been looking forward to for some months, although maybe not in this setting. At one point, she asked, "Who's taking pictures?" Cell phones came out and clicked away.

Then, shortly before midnight, my brother arrived and they had time to talk. Not long after that, surrounded by her loving family, exhaustion and medication took their toll and she went to sleep after a very good, long, day.

She never really woke up the next morning, and her decline ended in the afternoon, peacefully.


--
Henry Melton Science Fiction
http://henrymelton.com http://henrymelton.blogspot.com
Phil 4:8

Saturday, August 02, 2008

House plus Ghosts

House plus Ghosts
I don't really mean classic "ghosts". Even though my father died in the next room, I haven't any belief that he's haunting the place. I was there when he died and I'm quite confident he left early. He had other things to do and moved on. Plus, my mother is still alive, at least for awhile, over at the hospice. And certainly Sissy the Dog is alive and well back in Hutto. No, the "ghosts" that I'm talking about are really parts of the house itself. I can't open the front gate without glancing around the yard to see where Sissy is, although I know she's 500 miles away. There's Daddy's wooden cane leaning up against the window sill, and Momma's painting still hung over the couch. The whole den area is Daddy's. I remember his carefully crafted drawings of it, when he was still planning its construction. Certainly things have changed. Some of the most important furniture went to make Momma's assisted living apartment into a special home-y place for her.

But the house is static. It doesn't change a whisper between visits. The signs of life I see are just leftovers--ghosts from times loved, but now ... gone.


--
Henry Melton Science Fiction
http://henrymelton.com http://henrymelton.blogspot.com
Phil 4:8

Sitting up with Mother

Sitting up with Mother
I think I feel rather numb, here at one thirty in the morning, sitting beside her bed in room 115 at the hospice. She has to be doped with morphene to be able to breathe without excessive pain. As it is, she is still moaning from some discomfort every minute or so. It was just thirty-some hours ago, five hundred miles away back home that I talked to her on the phone and heard the labored breathing and felt the fear under her usual desire for all us kids to come visit. She made light of it, as she often does, but she said it was important that we come talk to her. "Not that I'd have anything to say."

But twelve hours after that, word came. She had taken a turn for the worse. Maybe we should come. In the time it took to pack the car for a possibly indefinite stay and to drive from Hutto to Amarillo, we were no longer thinking in terms of years and months. Calculations about travel times for my brother in California have gotten much more critical. Will a day and a half from
now be too late?

--
Henry Melton Science Fiction
http://henrymelton.com http://henrymelton.blogspot.com
Phil 4:8

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Filing with the Electronic Copyright Office

I've been filing copyright registrations on my stuff for decades now. At first there was the problem of tracking down a form (TX?) from the post office. And then things got better when you could download the forms as PDF's from a web site. Still later, you could fill the PDF's in electronically and print them out.

Now they've advanced to the status of filing via a web form. It works. More or less.

When my copyright registration form arrived for Emperor Dad, I realized that I now had two more books to register. I went to copyright.gov to track down a fresh PDF and stumbled across the link to eco.copyright.gov. The advantage is a cheaper filing fee and less chance for transcription errors, so I gave it a try.

Of course, you have to register an account and their list of password rules is quite long. I just opted to use my PasswordWallet application to generate a random one.

The program is also a little kludgy. I liked the way they said it was written for Internet Explorer but most other browsers ought to work. I use Safari, so I advanced cautiously. At least they warned me that I had to turn pop-ups back on before starting. It seems they use pop-ups for some kind of computation. They flash on the screen and then vanish when they're done.

The company that did the web-application for them did a B-minus job. Everything worked, but I had do use some work-arounds.

You step through quite a number of pages to fill out what is effectively a one-page form. Be warned -- the form mutates under you as you fill it out. Once it knows it's not a work for hire, for example, it re-writes the page to adapt. I got in the habit of looking at the status bar after filling in each field. If I didn't, the page might flash under me and erase what I'd just filled in. If you like good design practices, this site will drive you crazy. It's often not obvious which button to press.

If you are familiar with the old copyright form, it's basically the same information, although it seems like more because you have to visit a lot of pages that you could just skip over on the paper form.

Then, the web-application bumps you over to a whole 'nother site, pay.gov, to take your credit card information. Perhaps it's just Safari, but the return back to eco.copyright.gov then fails after you pay. It even gives you a little warning explaining that you have to close your web-browser all the way down and restart it before returning. Okay. At least, after that you can click on your case number and get back to the place where you print out the shipping form that has to go with the books you mail in to the Library of Congress.

So. It's a kludge, but I've seen worse. It's cheaper than filling out the paper form, and there's no show-stoppers. I have little hope it'll get fixed any time soon, but it's not like I have to fight the forms every day.

So, in a few months, I'll get another pretty little copyright form for my filing cabinet. I like those.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Mailing to the List

Today, I sent out a bulk mailing to my, rather small, mailing list. It's mainly friends and family, with a few local librarians, etc. I let them know that Extreme Makeover is for sale and gave them some URL's.

Now, I know that I should aggressively grow that mailing list, but I find that each time I send out an emailing, it shrinks a little. This time, a librarian retired and a couple of other email addresses vanished for one reason or another. I'm tempted to take the 9000 spam messages I get per month and send them one of my own, but that would just be an exercise in frustration. Most of those addresses would be either bogus or owned by innocent relayers.

So, if you didn't get my emailing today, and you would like to be notified when I publish a new book, just let me know. Go to the Contact page at HenryMelton.com and send me an email.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Playing with iPhone Apps

As a few million other people are doing, I've been buying and downloading programs from the new App Store for my iPhone. Considering my budget, I've been fairly cautious, but I ended up with a dozen or more before I noticed a glitch.

Now, it could just be my damaged iPhone, (It went for a dip in the swimming pool about six weeks ago, documented here.) but this afternoon I noticed that all of a sudden, several of the apps died. Each of the affected programs would load their initial screen, and then within about one second, vanish. The phone went back to the home screen. Programs affected were Sketch (which I hadn't tried before) and Tile Sudoko, (which I had) and a few other programs. I was disturbed.

First I feared that I'd run out of memory. I deleted a video. No change. Then I wondered if it might be some specialized memory pool that was used by all apps. I un-checked a few apps in the iTunes list and re-synced. No change.

Next up on the remedial list was a powerdown and then a reboot. No change. I then did a backup and restore.

Somewhere in that process, I realized my house internet had gone down, so I brought it back up, but the total wipe and restore was already underway so I had to finish that. After that, everything worked again.

So...was it a memory corruption that caused the problem, or was it the network outage? I suspect the network, since the wifi was up but there was an outage several boxes down the line. The phone knew it had network, but stalled and then the programs crashed.

Do Sketch and the sudoku program check in to the home website on the first usage (or every usage)? I'd like to know, because that would explain the problem, and highlight an error mode that ought to be flagged.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

Lessons from the App Store

The iPhone App store has opened up and a lot of hopeful software developers are facing the reality of the marketplace. It is fascinating to look at all the options out there ... and see what all the comments are about the software.

I think a lot of software developers have shot themselves in the foot (feet?) by making free versions available for the jailbroken phones. No matter how good the application is, if they charge real money for it now, and it was free earlier, it's getting bad reviews, and from the grammar of the comments, from the same semi-illiterate crowd who can't understand paying for music or video either.

It's definitely a cautionary tale for me as someone who is trying to sell my books. I've tried e-books and kindle versions, and it looks to me that if I ever try to offer something for free, I'll pay for it later. It's sad, really. I can see a number of situations where for promotional reasons or whatever, I would like to make copies of the novels available for free. I guess I'll have to limit that to real paper copies for the reviewers.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Up on the Mountain

We went up on Boureas Pass road today so Mary Ann could track down some birds that she wanted to photograph. We saw considerably more.

The first time up the road was mid-afternoon and the birds were ... elsewhere, so we went back towards town to return some phone calls. We parked at the gateway to the pass–it's closed during the winter–and as soon as Mary Ann started her call, a large black bear crossed the road, heading up hill. It was gone too fast to grab a camera, but while she talked, I walked over to see if I could find any good bear tracks. There were none to speak of, although I could see where he'd come through.

Shortly after that, I saw a fox and after her phone calls, we drove around looking for the bear and we saw a fox, resting on someone's deck.

Now, Mary Ann is the photographer, but once in a blue moon, when the animal is on my side of the car, and getting out would scare it away, I get to aim and click. I just hope that the camera's settings are okay, because her cameras have so many buttons, knobs, dials and twinkers, that I've never taken the time to learn which is which.

And then, when we went back up to the pass, the original target of the expedition, the birds, were there and she got her shots. Nice pictures, but personally, I like the fox.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Why Can't I Be An Ordinary Consumer: Bento Review

For many years I was the database expert in our department at Motorola. I fell in love with SQL (Structured Query Language), and although I never had the home budget for my own copy of Oracle, I made do, first with shql which made a valiant effort at making an SQL compatible database out of shell scripts and text files. Of course I later moved everything over to the free Mysql. I still have my writing and submission database running there, with a home-brew perl cgi interface. But as I began actively becoming a publisher, there was new data I had to track, like inventory and bookstore visits and such. When Apple came out with their new consumer-level database, Bento, I wanted to give it a whirl. The advertising seemed to hint at relational abilities, maybe I could move to a turn-key consumer product and not have to spend my vanishing time coding up a new web front-end to yet another mysql database.

Still, I put it off until Mary Ann complained that she really needed a database to keep track of her photo submissions. She's a whiz at spreadsheets and has an absolute phobia about databases after so many of my failed attempts to get her to use them. So last March, I bought her a copy and turned her loose. After all, all the advertisements and reviews said it was easy to use and learn.

Here in late June, she asked for help. Everything she'd tried had failed and will all the photos she was sending out to the magazines and other markets, she had to have a tracking database.

So, a couple of days ago, I downloaded myself the 30-day trial copy and set out to make myself a database to track books I'd left at bookstores on consignment. It took me about four hours, and most of that was because I just couldn't believe Bento's database. It ain't SQL. It's sorta relational, I guess. But it takes a completely different mental model to get good results.

Okay, starting simple. It's dead easy to put together a plain table with a handful of nice data types like text and currency and date and even media. You can easily make spreadsheet-like tables and nice forms with any subset of the data you want. This was particularly nice for Mary Ann's table of photos since it let her put thumbnails of the photo right there on the page so she didn't have to remember just which owl picture was which. (Believe me, she has many owl pictures!) However, there is something I should warn you about. I was thinking the images were converted to thumbnails when you drag the photo file onto the form. No. It stores the whole image file. That's great for some usages, but some of Mary Ann's tiff files are 100+ megabytes. Her Bento database was quickly 3 GB and I had to go back and convert them all to thumbnails manually (with a little help from Automator).

Searching for data in Bento is very simple, using the search box method, or dropping you into an advanced search mode where you can search by multiple fields if you wish. The table view also has Sum and Count modes so you can get summary data of the records selected. It's simple and easily understandable, and nothing at all like composing a SQL query.

It's when you want to connect two or more tables that things get wonky. There are no table joins, or the like. As far as I can see, the only thing you can do is put a little baby table image of the related table into a form for the other. Click on the image to see it full size. In this example, I have a bookstore list, which is actually from my address book, as a "Related Records List" field type. It's like the form does the linking. I'm sure there is actual database table somewhere invisible in the background that handles all the grunt work, but the consumer isn't supposed to see them. Also, you can easily do "many-to-many" linkages through these forms, and the little related record views are fully editable. That makes it easy to Mary Ann to add all the data for a photo submission from just one form view, rather than switching back and forth between forms for different tables.

However, the spreadsheet view is prohibited from viewing the linkage. Take a look at the "Table" view of the same library as the form above. Notice that the "Bookstores" field is grayed out. You can't view it in table form, no matter what you want.
I can actually understand the design choice there. In SQL join, if I had two bookstores connected to two book titles, it would return four records in the table. That might just freak out the consumer-level database user. The problem is my mind has been grown into one database model, and I have trouble accepting this alternate way of doing things.

As a database designer back in the day, you sketched out the tables and joins and keys on paper and built one or more applications around it. With Bento, the database is nothing without the application. It's a valid way of solving the problem, and yes, I'll spend the $50 to buy it before the 30-day trial runs out.

But it still ain't SQL.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Corporate Bookscanners

If you've been following my blogs, you know that I've been sending my novels to Google Books and Amazon's Search Inside system. Yesterday I finished adding the latest one, Extreme Makeover, to the system. Anything for more exposure. Google Books takes some time before they put it on line, so I keep checking. Certainly Emperor Dad and Roswell or Bust are both active.

I debated with myself about adding Microsoft's Live system to the mix, but I didn't like the taste of their contract. Luckily I declined, because Microsoft bailed out and dropped their effort to be a big corporate book scanner.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Release Date?

When you set up a book for publication, one of the mandatory fields you enter is the release date of the book. This is an important date, for all your PR efforts and for the pre-release reviewers like Publisher's Weekly. You have to get a copy of the book to them months before that magic date.

However, from printing side, it's not magic at all. It goes into their database. It shows up on the indexes. But as soon as the book as ready and you approve that final proof, it's out. I just noticed that Amazon already has Extreme Makeover listed in their system. You can order it now, even though the release date is July 1. And, indeed, I've ordered a few boxes already for my PR efforts. I suppose I could have held off approving that last proof until midnight June 30th, but that would mean I wouldn't have any books on hand once it was released, which doesn't make any sense for me.

So, today, I'm hurriedly making changes to my websites and adding links and pretending I had all this planned out in advance.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Double Impact

I am now in Breckenridge, the fourth stop on the current trip, and a have a little time to stop and think. Travel this year has been hit by a double-whammy; a lower travel budget, and much higher gas prices. In previous years, we might have done this trip in the RV, but my first calculations showed I'd have to spend at least an extra thousand dollars just for the gas if we took the RV, so instead we're in the Trailblazer.

I've thought about getting a high gas mileage vehicle to make things easier, but it's just not that simple. Yes, they make plug-in hybrids and such with really wonderful numbers, but those are commuter cars. For Mary Ann and I, a commuter car would just be a toy. She's a nature photographer with multiple cameras, huge lenses, several tripods, not to mention her computer and crate of external hard drives and DVD burner to collect, process and archive her images. We're just lucky we didn't bring her large-format printer that had accompanied us on other trips. I have to take my computer gear, plus an ever growing collection of books for making my visits to all the local book stores. Add in luggage for a trip this long and the Trailblazer is none too large for the job.

One more thing. We require four wheel drive and decent ground clearance. We do take the mountain jeep roads and the wild animals aren't likely to line up next to the smoothly paved roads for our convenience.

So whenever I read about someone proclaiming the "Death of the SUV", I have to chuckle. Utility vehicles have been here as along as there's been roads and just because some New York Editor doesn't like his neighbors driving them around town, doesn't mean there won't be a market for them for a long time to come.

Sadly, the commuter cars are the ones getting first crack at the new technologies, so I'll have to live with 20 miles per gallon for many years. The only thing I can do is make those miles count. I have to double up the activities. This trip is a case in point. I can't help the thousands of miles I'll travel, but within in this route, I'll visit my aging mother a couple of times, Mary Ann has attended her NANPA event and taken a zillion photos of wild animals on Mt. Evans. I am visiting bookstores to make contacts and show my books. We're in Breckenridge to take care of property maintenance and give Mary Ann the chance to take pictures of the bark beetle infestation. And we haven't yet decided what additional areas we'll visit in this part of the world.

There will even be trips where the RV, with it's 6 mpg will be the logical vehicle to take. If there's a vehicle I'd love to retrofit with a baby nuclear power plant, that would be the one. Ah, someday.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Mt. Evans

Just to keep you up to date, Mary Ann and I are in Colorado and for the past few days we've been visiting Mt. Evans daily so she can take pictures of the animals and trees. It's worth your while to pop over to her blog at http://maryannmelton.blogspot.com/ and see some of the pictures she's taking.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Extreme Makeover Coming Soon

The final proof copy has arrived and been approved and a few boxes have been ordered, primarily destined for book reviewers and contests. I'm currently on the road, but the instant I get back, I'll be packing up bundles to send out. Extreme Makeover's official publication date is July 1, so probably a couple of weeks after that the most aggressive of the online bookstores will have it, and I'll begin the long laborious process of getting them onto book and mortar bookstores. Until then, I'll be updating the website and adding the necessary pages.

If you write book reviews–blogs, websites, newspapers, etc. I have a limited number of copies I can send out. Let me know.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Struck by a Scene

While driving in to visit my mother, I saw a tornado siren...common things up here in the panhandle of Texas. I chuckled and Mary Ann asked what was up. I explained; I had just been struck by a scene. Churning away in the back of my mind, a new story is slowly, slowly coming into shape. It is still too vague to explain. I don't have the characters. I don't have a plot. Just a location, here in Amarillo, the small town where I grew up. Maybe it's not such a small town any more. Somehow a story is coming together. It's like a jigsaw puzzle with just a few pieces of the picture on the table. That flash of 'scene' connected a few random pieces into a vivid moment. A few more flashes like this and a plot will begin to form. I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Book Price Change

It took me long enough to make the decision, but I've finally changed the price and discount rate on my books to $14.95. The change will hit the distrubitor database at the end of the month, and it will gradually work its way through the systems, so if you have been putting off buying one or more of them, you might want to go ahead with it. I will be changing my Webstore page on the. HenryMelton.com site when Extreme Makeover is released at the first of July.

For everyone who requests the "Old Price" via email for the next twelve months, I'll honor it. In addition, my revamped Webstore will sell the books without shipping charges after the July revamp. The difference in price and the shipping charges are just a few cents different so I feel comfortable about the change.

I just hope that this will make it easier to get my books on all those shelves.

Friday, June 06, 2008

iPhone, Post Swimming Pool

Yesterday morning, I was following my normal routine, checking my email and syncing my iPhone before going out and monkeying with the swimming pool's chemistry. As you can see from previous posts, I had let the pool get very green and I had to drain it and shovel out the muck and leaves that covered the bottom before I had a hope of using it again. Refilling the water means lots of chemical treatments. There is the obvious chlorine, but I had to get the water's alkalinity under control. That means that I have to add gallons of hydrochloric acid to the pool, in small quantities over time. Yesterday, I poured in a half-gallon, and then noticed that some must have splashed on my leg, because it began to burn. I was wearing my cut-off jeans that I frequently use when working on the pool, so I waded into the shallow end and took a couple of minutes to empty the skimmer basket of collected leaves. I changed clothes and went back to the computer.

The iPhone wasn't in the cradle where I'd thought it was. Like a flash, I got up and raced to the bathroom where my wet cut-offs were dripping onto the tile. In the pocket was my iPhone, a very dead and unresponsive iPhone. I dried it off, and removed the little memory card. It had water on it, not a good sign. Until that instant, I'd hoped the tight fitting design of the iPhone had protected it. But even with the outside dry, and shaking it in hopes there was any water that could be removed that way, there appeared no hope. I set the iPhone between two routers where the heat would gently bake it and went to confess what I'd done to Mary Ann.

The day before had been a lovely day, a road trip to celebrate our anniversary, but Thursday was a bit depressing. I worked on getting my third book ready for submission to the printer, but I would intermittently check on the iPhone. All day long, there was no sign of life. I began planning how to survive the days until the next generation iPhone would arrive. Even if I couldn't afford it, it's arrival would lower the price of replacement originals.

But after sunset, I tried again, and there was a flash of life. The boot up apple appeared, several times in a row, and there was a few minutes where, when I put it in the dock, the charging battery sign would show up, showing a drained battery. There were also diagonal lines, across the screen, almost like scan lines. Overnight I put it back between the ISDN router and the ethernet hub to bake some more.

Morning came, and there was only a few seconds of white apple, and then no sign of life. I lost hope. Surely it would have gotten better overnight. Maybe water had finally corroded something critical. I put it aside and thought about ordering a cheap throwaway phone to use for a few weeks.

But this evening, as the kids came over to use the pool, I pushed the buttons, and it booted up! I couldn't believe it. I tried to flip the unlock slide, but no response. The phone showed it was December 31st, and it turned on or off using the hardware buttons, but that was it. Still, signs of life. Then the screen changed. "Sync in Progress". Yes, it was sitting in the dock and iTunes began backing up the phone. I was tempted to abort it, rather than risk a corrupted back up, but I had already taken the precaution of backing up the iPhone's backups, so I let it run. As far as the laptop was concerned, the phone was fine. I brought up iPhoto and extracted the ten photos of the snakes in the pool that I hadn't gotten around to saving before and everything went smoothly.

Step by step, functionality returned. I saw the wi-fi status show bars. Then the cell signal showed phone activity and a couple of SMS messages from earlier in the day appeared. The date changed to June 6th and superficially, all seemed well.

But the touchscreen was unresponsive and the diagonal lines (upper left to lower right) still showed. After playing with it for several more minutes, the unlock slide jumped as I touched it. A minute later I actually got it to unlock. With maybe 5% touch screen responsiveness, I tested out feature by feature. I made a couple of telephone calls, and was afraid I'd never be able to hang up without pushing the power button. I took a photo.

I started a video, and was afraid something was wrong when the video frame showed tearing at the top, but I checked it on the laptop and saw the same defect. I'd captured the movie with EyeTV and must have recorded it wrong.

So, that's where I sit. It's barely usable, if I have lots of patience. I'm sure the keyboard would be useless. But as I run it, the visible diagonal lines are slowly disappearing (it will take hours at this rate). I just hope that the touchscreen will return to usability as well. At least I won't have to buy a throw-away phone.

Fingers crossed.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Making All the Mistakes

One of the great things about getting your book published by an established publisher is that they've already made all the mistakes and corrected them by the time they get to work on your title. At least I hope that's the case. Either way, by publishing books myself, I get to make all the mistakes myself. I'm dealing with a couple of them today.

The little one is the ISBN barcode on the back of the cover. When I pushed a cover change through on Emperor Dad to put the Darrell Award starburst on the front, the Lightning Source quality control people didn't like my barcode and re-did it. That's fine, but to avoid making the same mistake again, I am learning how to make cover images that match LSI's template. It's a minor thing, but it does take time, adjusting little positions all over the cover.

The other mistake is bigger, more painful. I misunderstood how LSI's discounts work. When you set up a title, you fill in the list price and the discount at which LSI sells the books to distributors (Amazon, Ingram, B&N-online, etc.) My mistake was thinking that this was the same as a bookstore's discount. I was originally pleased that I could set a 40% discount just like the bookstores wanted, and yet set my list price at $12.95 which was a couple of dollars cheaper than the other books I found on the shelves at Barnes & Noble. I should have realized I was mistaken.

But blind to the reality that I should have set the discount to 55% so Ingram could take their cut and pass 40% on the the bookstores, I started churning out books and distributing my advertising materials with the $12.95 list price. It was disturbing and embarrassing when talking to bookstore people in New Mexico when they told me that Ingram was only going to give them 20%.

So after several emails to LSI and finally getting the real information, I am faced with the distasteful reality that I need to raise the price...after advertising the books at the cheaper rate.

It is tempting to stick with my existing rate, and give up on bookstore shelves – maybe just give the 40% to stores that deal with me directly rather than going through Ingram. But that would give mean fewer people (a lot fewer people) who would ever discover the books in the first place. Nothing online matches browsing a bookstore shelf.

But if I raise the price and offer the industry standard discount, then I have to find ways to make things right for everyone who saw the cheaper price. And I need to make my changes soon. Extreme Makeover is due out in one month. Better to have the price right from the beginning if I can.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Snake Pit

As long time readers know, I have a swimming pool in the back yard, and when the weather turns hot and humid, there's nothing better than a dip in the cool, clear, blue waters.

The problem is that the waters are dark green and opaque. When I lost control of the chlorine and the pool went greenish, it was the same time that my knee put me on the hobble-with-a-cane list. I just let it slide until I could get back some mobility. I knew I'd have to get in there to scrub the pool free of accumulated muck.

Well, my knee is better, thanks to some injections into the joint and I really need the pool for cooling and exercise, so I began the cleaning process.

I knew this one would be different. For one thing, the pool had developed an ecosystem of its own. I had been watching the tadpoles grow, and in some cases, actually sprout legs. But in addition, I had seen a snake swimming in the pool. It was a very timid snake, and quite small. From the stripes on its back, I think it's a Gulf Coast Ribbon Snake, which is non-venomous and harmless. Still, it's not one I wanted to dive in a wrestle with.

Based on Shelly's recommendations, I finally decided to drain the pool for the first time in quite a number of years. The disruption of the ecosystem has triggered a number of changes, the most dramatic of which is the snakes.

Yes, multiple snakes. I have seen four, thus far. One of the larger ones has managed to escape on its own, but the others are trapped in the shrinking body of water. I think it has solved my little puzzle of why I have been seeing smaller numbers of tadpoles than I'd seen before. They keep swimming, looking for a way out, but they are much more frightened of my helpful net than they are of the shrinking pool. Just so long as they don't try to swim down the main drain and into the pump, I'll manage to get them free one way or another. Cute little things.