Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Website Changes

As a writer and a publisher, I have three websites to maintain. One is this blog, and I'm relatively content with the template-based tools to keep this in shape. There are a few things in the sidebar that I keep playing with, hoping to get right. Most of you who read the blog via RSS won't even see those changes.

My author's site, www.HenryMelton.com has gone through so many versions I can't keep them all straight. Originally hand coded, I've settled on an iWeb maintained site hosted on the Apple servers. I'm relatively content with the ability to quickly make changes. I miss the ability to host back end form processing, so when I need forms, I have to use still another local hosting company for that purpose.

My publisher's site, www.WireRimBooks.com has been hosted on Google since I formed the company. I was pleased with the cheap and simple tools for what I imagined would be a cheap and simple site. Unfortunately, I had it wrong. The templates of Google Page Creator were far too simple to make a good looking site, and the web template tools were too hard to use. But I kept putting off changes. Gradually, I started splitting off pages, hosting them over on the author site, but pretending they were all part of the publishing site, but it was a hybrid.

Then came Google's migration over to Google Sites, yet another web template site management system, with most of the old system's faults. Further, the site was migrated over automatically, and it was a horrible conversion. I had to change it, either by reworking each page using the new Sites tools, or moving the site wholesale over to the Apple site. It was an easy choice.

I had to create a second .Mac account (or MobileMe as they call it now) because I needed each site to have it's own domain name. I created a Wire Rim Books account on my laptop with it's own site, it's own name, and then copied the iWeb Domain file over to the new account. I dropped into Terminal to change the owner of the duplicated Domain file to match the account.

After that it was just a matter of moving the DNS CNAME over to the apple server and fixing the links in the copied pages.

For the next week or so, www.WireRimBooks.com will be undergoing changes to take advantage of the better design capabilities of iWeb. If you see any bad links, please take a moment to let me know. Mary Ann already spotted one. They're easy to fix, if I can notice them. Drop by for a visit.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Highlights

Once again, we were lucky to have the kids home for Christmas. I definitely hadn't been in the shopping mood, but the spirit was still there. At the last minute I did some quick hunting, with mixed results, but I did have a few items. When Debra and her Jonathan came over and Thomas woke up, I pulled out my santa's sack,a big red bag I'd acquired a few years earlier and handed out my gifts. "Because reducing my carbon footprint is so important to me," I claimed with a straight face, "I've elected to do without wrapping paper." That got a chuckle, and no one seemed too upset with having the store boxes unadorned with instantly shredded paper.

I got a few items; more than I'd hoped for, which was nothing in particular. Jonathan, who had given me a toy robot spider last year, gave me a Star Wars toy, "The Force Trainer". It's a simple brain-wave detector that you use to raise and lower a ball in a wind column. It's cute and several of us had fun sitting silently in the chair and making the ball move as desired by just thinking the right way. Since there's no real instruction other than to "concentrate", it has a little learning curve.

Debra got another popular gift, a "Spinmarshmallow". It's a motorized fork to spin a marshmallow as you hold it over the glowing coals in the fireplace. It did a nice job producing evenly browned, toasted treats. It was also a great excuse to sit up close to the warm fire on a cold day.

We had a nice ham for dinner, with enough people to fill the chairs, and three dogs begging under the table. The talk was recipes and memories of previous years. Not a harsh word all day.

And I still have a whole pumpkin pie left. I wish you all have as wonderful a Christmas.

Friday, December 18, 2009

My Brother Roger

For the past couple of days, my older brother Roger has been visiting. It's the best time we've had since he left for college all those decades ago. He's been living in California and I've been in Texas and that's the way it was. He's about seven years older than me and the impact he's had on my life is considerable.

One day, for no particular reason, he took his little brother to a movie. It was "Forbidden Planet". Definitely a formative experience for a science fiction writer. And in some ways, he has been the model for some of my YA book heroes. He built his own transistor radio from parts, housed in an old battery case. He ground his own telescope mirror and crafted a 6-inch Newtonian, complete with a tripod made of pipe fittings. I tried to swipe it from him until he reclaimed it after he left the Air Force. I was just the little brother who got in trouble for playing with his model airplanes.

By high school, when I looked into the school's trophy cabinets, I knew I was trying to follow in his footsteps. He was in the ROTC, so I signed up as well. He was a photographer for the school paper. I tried to join the paper as well, but they didn't appreciate my quirky writing style. He got his HAM radio license, I tried but I could never handle the Morse code requirements.

All this came to mind during his visit as we chatted about about the nuts and bolts of my writing work flow. He just has a mind that digs into any process until he understands it. He retired a couple of months ago. California has lost a valuable asset.

Now that he is thinking of traveling and has more free time, I hope I'll get to spend more time with him.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Yes, Send Me the Typos

A little thread on the @maureenjohnson twitter stream about typo's in books, from an author's perspective prompted me to give you this little look into how I deal with typos in my books.

First, typos exist. It is a very rare book with no glitches. Some misspellings, incorrect word choices, etc. have been in the text since the original manuscript and have defied detection by the author in numerous revision passes, and by other editors, and beta-readers in their readings. The human mind is wonderfully adaptable in making sense of incorrect and fragmented raw material. Computerized spelling and grammar checkers have their own defects, so much so that they have become a source of jokes on their own. The conversion from manuscript to final layout also has the potential to increase errors. And now, the conversion to ebook versions just adds another layer of glitch.

So when the text goes out into the wide world of readers, typos will be found. As Maureen said, "No one is bulletproof". And as an author at the mercy of a traditional publisher, she said, "The thing is, I can't actually fix them. All books have mistakes, sadly. All authors are sad for this. Really. We are."

Here's a difference for me. I'm one of these crazy self-publishing guys. I control the whole chain from manuscript to pages on the bookstore shelf. If there's a mistake, it's my fault. It also means I have the power to fix it.

Here's one example: I was in a bookstore in Michigan while traveling, attempting to get Lighter Than Air accepted on consignment. The lady in charge picked up the book, glanced at the back cover text and instantly said, "'Peninsula' is misspelled." She took the books anyway, but devastated, I didn't even leave the parking lot until I had googled and searched and determined that in spite of my firm conviction to the contrary, it wasn't spelled with 'nn'. Since this is a POD book, I was able to revisit my cover artwork, correct the spelling, upload the correction to Lightning Source and pay the $40 fee for the correction. Luckily, it was spelled correctly in the body text, or that would have been another $40 to correct it there.

That's the basics. I can correct even the simplest of errors. The question then becomes whether it's worth doing. Not only do I have to correct the master files used to print the trade paperback versions, but I then have to correct and upload the master versions of all the various ebook versions. It's time consuming. If I had an assistant, I'd make it a priority.

In reality, I have collected all the emails I get with typo information in a special mailbox. If it's just a simple, commonly misused word, I'll defer the correction until later. Then, I'll collect all that information and correct everything in one pass. If it's a more serious issue, like a big blatant misspelling on the back cover, I'll clench my teeth and do it as soon as I discover it, plus anything that's been waiting. If I had waited just a little longer to fix the 'peninsula' problem, I could have combined that fix with the addition of the "Winner of the Golden Duck Award" addition that cost me another $40 fee to process.

So, I welcome any discovered typos, and indeed any other kinds of errors. I may not fix them instantly, but they won't be ignored.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Second Thoughts About My Twitter Contest

Since November of 2007, I've been running a low-key contest on Twitter. It was very simple, I ran a couple of Perl scripts to archive any tweets containing @HenryMelton, which for the most part were replies to me about something. Once a month, I ran a second script that randomly pulled one of the userid's from the completed month's archive. I excluded family members, obvious robot-tweeters and previous winners.

With the winner id in hand, I tweeted a @reply to them notifying them, telling them where to see the list of my books and asking for a mailing address. If that notification was ignored, as it was half the time, I repeated with a direct message with the same info. On rare occasions, and if there was an email address to be found via their profile, I would send an email notification as well.

This worked well for several months, winners were happy. Books found new homes. I put up a courtesy link to their twitter stream on my website. Then the phishing attacks started on twitter. Suddenly, some URL's were suspicious, especially from people you didn't know well. Someone offering you something for free out of the blue was doubly suspicious. I fear I may actually lose followers by choosing them as winners.

So, what should I do now? I will obviously continue December's contest as normal, but beginning in 2010, I think I should do something different. My goal is to increase the quality and quantity of conversations with people I meet via the internet. I would also like to expand the possible winner pool to those who read my tweets via the cross-posting to Facebook. I've had questions from people who only see my tweets there.

One possibility is to increase the visibility of the contest, so that everyone knows about it. Being a natural hermit, this isn't comfortable. I see people who announce every contest, every post, every cute quote multiple times, sometimes daily. I don't think I could do that.

Another possibility is to increase the rate at which I choose winners. However, mailing out books costs me money and I couldn't afford to do this weekly. I could change it to an ebook or PDF giveaway and increase the rate.

To get around the "Where did this come from?" syndrome, I could make it an opt-in contest, rather than based on unrelated conversations.

In any case, I will be changing my contest before too long and I could really use some feedback. Leave me a comment or two.