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.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Popular Vs. Juried Awards

The whole micro-storm about Harlequin's expansion into self-publishing has brought up a side point that has been an issue for me. The technical side of publishing has been brought under control. Any person with a bit of computer familiarity and a finished story can create and offer for sale a paper book or an ebook with manageable expense. That doesn't mean it will sell.

Traditional big publishers have offered readers the implicit bargain; "We've put our experience and money behind this book, so you can confidently buy it." We can all offer counter-examples, but we can't deny that this unspoken support will make most of us more likely to buy a book labeled, Tor, Ace, Signet, Ballentine, etc. over some logo that we've never seen before. For bookstore buyers, it is even more of an issue. Many small imprints never get stocked on the shelves.

When the SFWA, the MWA and the RWA all spoke against the Harlequin project they explicitly validated the idea that books from big publishers were better than those that are self-published. Unread and unjudged, books were banned from consideration for association awards. Chuckle at that. Author organizations banning books.

So what is a self-publisher to do against this entrenched (and understandable) bias. If you've got a good book, you have to do without the advantage of familiar logos on the spines of books. You have to have sold the book before the reader discovers it as one of many on the shelf. Your book has to have been recommended by a friend, a good book review, or by having won an award.

There are different kinds of awards. In the science fiction world, the big names are the Hugos and the Nebulas. Both of these are popular awards. Books are nominated throughout the year and then a group votes on the finalists. The Hugos are voted on by people with a membership to the World Science Fiction Convention of that year. The Nebulas are voted on by members of the Science Fiction Writers of America. In each case there are thousands of potential voters, with a smaller number actually voting. I class these as popular awards because to have a chance at winning, your book has to have been read by a large fraction of the voting population. A small press has little chance to make a big splash here, because the award only happens after the book has already sold well.

There are also juried awards. In these cases, a small group, sometimes as large as a dozen and frequently smaller, reads nominated books from a pool and votes among themselves. While the books may be nominated by a large group, the small number of judges allow a small press or an individual author to make sure that the judges have at least had the opportunity to read the book. This is a wonderful opportunity for a well written, but otherwise invisible book to be recognized.

Juried awards are much more common than popular awards, and their prestige varies by the sponsoring organization and how long they've been at it. I won't even attempt to list them, because there are so many. A couple of lists to get started are here and here. Search the lists and find all that your book is technically eligible for and make sure the judges have copies. I've been lucky to have won a couple of awards for my books and it makes it much easier to confidently introduce yourself and your work when you know that total strangers have linked the reputation of their awards to your books.

There is still a third class of awards that you should know about. Certain organizations essentially sell awards. Read their website and notice these common features: There is an up-front charge to enter your book (in addition to copies of the book itself). There are so many categories and classifications that hundreds of people can win. The judges are not listed, or in one case I know, there is just one judge to make the decision for hundreds of awards over the course of a few days. And if you win or are a finalist, the organization will sell you stickers to mark the covers of your books. I'm sorry to say that I entered one of those contests before I realized what was going on. Never again.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Since When Do Publishers Win Writing Awards?

I've been watching the reactions of the SFWA, the MWA and the RWA about Harlequin's venture into assisted self-publishing. Basically, the fury is that Harlequin would lend it's reputation to novels that are essentially unedited, and charge the novelist for the service. While I deplore the idea and think that it would do more damage to the publisher than they had imagined, I am also appalled at the reaction to these three writers' organizations.

From the mystery writers: "If MWA and Harlequin are unable to reach an agreement, MWA will take appropriate action which may include removing Harlequin from the list of MWA approved publishers, declining future membership applications from authors published by Harlequin and declaring that books published by Harlequin will not be eligible for the Edgar Awards."

From the SFWA: "Further, Harlequin should be on notice that while the rules of our annual Nebula Award do not expressly prohibit self-published titles from winning, it is highly unlikely that our membership would ever nominate or vote for a work that was published in this manner."

From the RWA according to Publishers Weekly: "RWA has deemed Harlequin no longer eligible for RWA-provided conference resources—meaning the publisher is not entitled to enter any award competitions."

Now, I'm scratching my head at this. A publisher does something stupid and writers are penalized by being ineligible for writing awards? Are the awards for the publisher? I thought writing awards were supposed to be for excellent writing? All those years I was voting on the Nebulas, was I supposed to check which publisher was on the spine, or the author?

As a long time member of the SFWA, I apologize for that organization's action.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thumbing Through the Pages

One of the disadvantages of selling my novels via my webpage, or by allowing people to buy them via Amazon or B&N online or any of the other on-line webstores is that people have a long history of picking up a book, and reading a few pages to get the feel for the book. That's one of the reasons I've been sending my books to the Google Books site as they are published. I was also pleased that the Kindle store is set up to send a few pages as a sample for free. But one of the gaps in this process was my own home grown website.

So, this morning, I made partials from the PDFs that I had sent to Lightning Source as the masters for the printing process. I skipped over to page 50 in the text and then advanced a few pages until I reached a chapter end and then chopped off the PDF at that point, just adding a button that would get a reader back to my webstore using the advanced editing functions of Adobe Acrobat.

I added a download link on each of the novel's 'official' pages and may do the same on the webstore itself. I have no idea if this will help, but just as people buying the Kindle versions of my books have the opportunity to browse sample pages, this rounds out the process for the trade paperbacks.

If you're interested, just go to my website home page and click on the covers half way down the page.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Null Experiment: Taking Leonid Pictures

First off; I tried to take meteor pictures and got no results, i.e. a null experiment. But it was an interesting exercise that I thought I'd share.

I have a long history of spending time out at night watching for meteor streaks in the sky, and have many good memories of those times. When I heard that this year's Leonid meteor shower was going to be a dark sky with no moon and with the sky washed clean by the passing of a cold front the day before, I knew I would have a chance even if the projected rates weren't very high.

I also knew what that 20 per hour rate quoted on the internet for North America viewers actually meant. If you had eyes on the back of your head and never blinked while watching from the top of Pikes's Peak, you might see 20 per hour. I also knew I hadn't prepared my sleep cycle for this and knew I couldn't stay up and watch the whole night.

But, maybe I could take a picture. I already had all the pieces. My original iPhone (the one that went into the pool) was in reasonably good shape and I had the TimeLapse app for automatically taking a series of photos. I dug out the old iPhone and charged it up.

From previous experiments of night time photography I knew the chances were slim, but I'm always willing to try something like this. I propped the iPhone up on the table out on the rear deck and set the TimeLapse to take 9999 photos back to back. I started it about midnight and warned Mary Ann not to be disturbed if she saw an iPhone glowing softly in the dark. I set it for Dark Display but even then it glowed.

Best case, I hoped that a large fireball would streak across the field of view during a photo, bright enough to be visible. I knew I was likely to see only the brightest of stars, and those just barely.

After doing some old-school staring at the sky, plus some lounging in the hot tub trying to peer through tree branches, I gave up and went to bed, only seeing one faint streak and one bright one that I couldn't turn my head fast enough to see full on.

For some reason, I woke back up at five and went to check the iPhone. The old battery had lasted for two and a half hours, taking 1031 pictures of the black sky. I copied them off using Image Capture and then peered at the results. Tweaking the brightness and contrast of one photo left me sure that I'd get nothing. The sensor noise was indeed almost as 'bright' as the stars. Using Quicktime Player 7 (it's an optional Snow Leopard install) allowed me to open the whole set of 1031 jpegs and play them like a movie. Playing with the A/V controls to get better brightness and contrast left me with a slow creep of stars across the sky. There were more stars than I'd seen just staring at one image, but this was hardly YouTube material.

And there were no visible streaks on any of the 1031 frames. It was a bust. There might have been something, but it would take a lot more image processing than I was willing to spend trying to get anything useful out of all the sensor noise. (You are welcome to try. Click the black image to get to the full size photo and have fun with Photoshop. There are two or three stars you should be able to see.)

But I learned that this process was a handy way to get a time lapse movie, hopefully in the daylight. And at about 5:30 in the morning I saw a rather nice Leonid streak by, using the old school method of staring at the sky in the cold.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Just a Reminder: Protect Your Friends with BCC

I just got a cute mailing from my sister that showed some really wonderful pictures of what farm kids could do with hay bales. I'm glad I got it, just like I appreciate the mass mailings from my other sister and my grand niece and a few buddies here and there. I do worry a little, however, about all those other people who got the same mailing.

Now, if you have 6 people in your mailing list and they all show up together at your Christmas party, then you probably can just ignore this blog. Send your pictures however you want. But if you have dozens, or like me, hundreds of people in your address book, then sending an email addressed To: everyone can be a bad idea.

The problem that worries me is that everybody's email address is right there for everyone else to see. And if just one of those people happens to forward you cute email on to more people, people you don't know, then the chances are that you've just given your friends' and relatives' email addresses to a spammer.

The solution is pretty easy. Most email programs allow you to address your email three ways, with To: and with CC: and with BCC:

CC stands for Carbon Copy, named in the dark ages when people made duplicate documents by typing on two sheets of paper at once with a piece of carbon paper between them to make the ink images on the second sheet. Usually, you address the email with To to the main person and with CC to someone else who should also see it.

BCC stands for Blind Carbon Copy, and it sends the email to everyone on that list, but hides the actual email addresses from everyone else. The person will get the email as usual, but it will appear to be addressed to Undisclosed Recipients.

Using BCC will still get your email out to everyone, but the person who receives it won't see all the other people, and their email addresses. When they forward it on (and if it's cute, they will), then your friends' and relatives' email addresses will be protected from the spammers.

It's simple, and I know most of you know this already, but some don't. Personally, it's too late for me anyway. I've been trying to be famous and my email has been out there for the spammers to find for many, many years, and they have. So it's okay to forward my address, but many people would appreciate your care to protect their privacy. Okay?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

I Always Need More Storage

The following was a reply to another photographer about hard disk storage for his raw photo files on the MacNN forums. I got carried away, so I thought I might as well post it here as well. So if you've been thinking about saving your photo files:

To the original poster, my wife is a nature photographer and we've been fighting the HD capacity problems for several years. Back in 2006'ish, I convinced her to run mirrored disks, but it wasn't real Raid 1, just manually duplicating everything (with a pair of DVD's burned for backup as well), but since the mirroring wasn't automatic, she'd get in the habit of going back to one of the mirrored drives and working her photoshop magic there, but not keeping the updates duplicated. My one attempt to run a real RAID 1 on firewire drives using the Mac's built-in software was less than successful due to wife's curse of the semi-alive cables that were constantly tangled and unreliable.

Next step, I purchased a Buffalo TeraStation with 4 500 drives that provided a RAID 5 solution over the home network. From the start, it was unsuccessful for her workflow because even with gigabit ethernet, she wasn't getting the speed she needed to browse her photo library via Bridge. It became a side repository for photos that were less used.

Next, as the numbers of drives became unmanageable, we went with a Drobo. With a FW800 connection, she was immediately happy and began the process of moving her substantial library of photos over to it. I began buying 1.5T drives to increase the capacity in her 4 drive Drobo until it was clear that we would need more. There are 2T drives out there, but the cost per GB is still too high to use them. Drobo uses RAID-like technology, but with their own easy to use software. To add more capacity, just remove a drive and put a bigger drive in its place. The Drobo Desktop software gives you hints and warnings. If it's green, everything is fine. If yellow, it needs more capacity but still works and still protects files against a HD failure. If red, you're in danger if a HD failure occurs. When we unplugged a drive (hot swap) it went from yellow to red but still allowed her to use her files normally and then spent some hours integrating the new drive into the set, at which time it went back to green.

This month, I purchased the 8-drive DroboPro and moved the four drives as a set to the new box (and after a moment's panic when I had inserted the drives upside down and it couldn't recognize them) it came up with the library running fine in its new home. I plugged in a couple of 1T's and a couple of 500G's to fill out the slots and it made more capacity. Mary Ann promptly began moving still more of her library from individual drives to the new redundant storage. I can see that we'll need more 1.5T drives soon and I can use the smaller ones in the old Drobo chassis for an on-the-road Drobo for our frequent road trips.

Last night, about midnight, Mary Ann had connected the last one of her old 2006 drives and started a copy session that would have completed her move of photo libraries to the new Drobo Pro overnight. Just then, one of those sneaky, vile, cables wrapped itself around her leg and as she got up from her desk, the 2006 HD went sailing across the room, still blindly copying files, until it slammed hard on the ground and began making *horrible* sounds.

I was called in and spent an hour removing the Seagate drive from its chassis and confirming that it wasn't a fan making that noise, but it was indeed the spindle inside the drive. She wasn't going to be getting any of those photo file back. Luckily, this was one of those 'manual' mirrors we had started back then, so it appears that almost everything was available from other sources, so the trauma is reduced. But still, we're looking to see what kind of off-site storage we can come up with to protect nearly 10T of photo files.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Writer's Nightmare

The notices started coming in today via twitter, email, and Facebook comments. They all said roughly, "Hey, I saw this on the news and I thought about your novel."

I've been distracted and pretty much useless all day, tracking the story of the boy who supposedly climbed aboard a lighter than air flying saucer and was being tracked by rescue and news crews trying to figure out how to save him before he was hurt by the altitude, freezing, or a rough landing.

It was all so eerily familiar. I had written a very similar event in my novel "Lighter Than Air" published in 2008. In my science fiction version, the saucer was made of a lifting foam, but the events, where the teenaged hero's little sister climbed inside and launched herself, were too close. I had written about the difficulty, the near impossibility of rescuing someone from a balloon. I had also dealt with the freezing temperatures at altitude and the dangers of getting a helicopter too close.

As I searched for news reports and video streams, I could imagine all the horrible things that could go wrong. I didn't need other people to mention them. I'd done my research.

And I felt guilty about it all. It's hard to explain, but I'd created events, fictional ones, that had somehow come alive, with horrible real consequences. I only hoped that the Heene family had never read my novel.

As we know, the boy was safe. As I write, it appears he never was aboard the flight after all. It was an outcome I had hoped for, but hesitated to let myself believe. When I saw the first videos, I thought, "that's too small for that much lift", but it was too close to be convincing.

I have heard of other authors who have had their murder/theft/terrorist storylines become the events of news reportings. I have a lot more sympathy now than I did before today. Even when there's no direct cause and effect, the mind makes the connection.

Thanks for a happy ending.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The FTC Issue

Having just waded through the 81 page PDF of the Federal Trade Commission's ruling commentary, I clipped just the following sentence:

"When there exists a connection between the endorser and the seller of the advertised product that might materially affect the weight or credibility of the endorsement (the connection is not reasonably expected by the audience), such connection must be fully disclosed."

In my opinion, we were doing just fine before the FTC added its two-cents, but if the rules have changed, then I've got to make sure I'm compliant.

The issue is this. As a blogger, I sometimes review a book or a product. If I got the item free, I need to tell my readers so. Looking backward in time, this book review is the only one that I did from a free copy (an emailed advance reader copy). In the future, I'll find a way to mention that I got the book free somehow. Everything else I've reviewed were things I bought. I'm annoyed that I have to even do that much. If I let it slide, it would probably still be okay because of that parenthetical exception in the quote; (the connection is not reasonably expected by the audience). Does anyone really expect that book reviews are done exclusively by reading paid-for books? Especially book reviews in advance of publication?

But I'm also on the other side of the fence. I write and sell books. Getting book reviews is absolutely crucial to letting people know that they exist. To get book reviews, I send out quite a few free books to reviewers. Now, all of a sudden, I'm on the hook with the federal government to make sure that those reviewers, if they should decide to write about my novels, disclose that they got a free copy.

I can't do anything about that for books I've already sent, but I suppose I'll have to come up with a boilerplate comment that says something like, "Don't forget to mention that you got the book free or the Feds'll come after you." Grump. Grump. I hate all the extra work the my government is handing me.

And now the point I'm still unsure about; the quotes. When I get a new review, I typically read through it, looking for a quotable sentence or two, some magic words that will instantly cause potential readers to plop down their nickels and buy my book instantly. I take those quotes and use them on the back of the book, in advertising flyers, and in my catalogs. Does the FTC rules now demand that I go back through all past and future quotes, and find out which ones came from free reviewer copies and which didn't and stamp some ugly disclosure text on them? Does it mean that every book publisher in America has to do the same?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Feels like Christmas Eve

Anyone who knows me, or has read many of these blog posts know that small children frequently recognize me as Santa Claus. Well, there are more gift giving days than Christmas Eve, especially for an author searching for a little recognition.

This week, I'm shipping out large quantities of my latest novel, Golden Girl, to various people for free. Some of the people receiving my gifts are people I want to reward for helping me make it a better book. Some are bloggers and people who write reviews for magazines, but there are a number of people who I know only by their addresses and the fact that they are judges for contests like the Newbery.

Just ten minutes ago, I was in the groove, stuffing the cover letter and making sure that the inside address was the same one that went on the outside of the bubble pack envelope. They're all librarians, more or less. It really feels like the night before Christmas, knowing I'm sending out a book that's going to bring a smile, somewhere. Yes, I know that there's a chance that the books will get lost in the shuffle along with hundreds, maybe thousands of other books. Still, I have a feeling that the adventures of Debra Barr and her hops through time in her nightgown will please the librarian/judge, or the assistant who is intrigued by the cover, or by the end user reader thumbing through the shelves a year from now.

It feels wonderful, sending out books to Wyoming, or Chicago, or even Austin, knowing there's a smile a-coming.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Golden Girl Kindle Conversion

I seem to be running behind on my whole to-do list. Golden Girl is out in trade paperback but I only got around to converting the time travel novel to Kindle format today. I took this opportunity to make notes of my conversion process which will form the bulk of this post.

I have laid out the book using Adobe InDesign as my layout program, and since I bought the CS4 Suite package, I also have Dreamweaver as a web page editor. This makes a relatively streamlined workflow, but not everything is as smooth as it could be.

Luckily, I have been following the process of doing all my markup as styles. This simplifies the process downstream. So here is what I did today:
  • Duplicate final version of Indesign master into the Kindle Work directory
  • Export to Dreamweaver (HTML) with options:
    • Export Document
    • Bullets and numbers to lists
    • Copy images optimized
    • JPEG Medium Baseline
    • Empty CSS Declarations
  • Open HTML file in a new non-server site under Dreamweaver
  • Begin HTML cleanup
    • Using Dreamweaver site window, move all images from folder created by InDesign to the same level as the HTML file, allowing Dreamweaver to fix all the image links as it moves them. Delete empty image folder.
    • Format only by adding content to the CSS declarations at the first of the file
    • Trim down all excess in the title page/copyright page/etc, so to get to the text as soon as possible. Reduce font size on boilerplate stuff. Do without front flyleaf page etc.
    • Change ISBN number if you're using separate number for ebooks.
    • If an image doesn't work in the smaller ebook reduced resolution, delete it or fix it. Delete surrounding image tags as well. I removed the two maps that were in the paper edition because they were useless at the screen resolutions.
    • The original Table of Contents doesn't survive the export to HTML, so you have to rebuild it manually by putting an anchor id at each chapter title and building a list of links at the TOC position in the file.
      • find each chapter title
      • insert named anchor before the text
      • name them Chapter01, Chapter02, etc.
      • at TOC location, build list of links with #Chapter01 etc as link and Chapter name as text.
    • Step through PDF of printed version and find any specialized layout. Check the corresponding CSS block and try to make an acceptable ebook alternative. I had some Courier text and some special bold items, in addition to blockquoted sections.
    • Note: the InDesign to Dreamweaver conversion will occasionally lose some markup and mis-place photos. Recheck it all manually.
    • Immediately after the body tag, insert cover image art sized to the Kindle screen.
    • Check-Links-Sitewide and remove images that you've de-linked in your HTML cleanup so you don't accidentally upload them.
    • Insert a mbp:pagebreak tag in the document wherever a pagebreak is needed.
  • Make a ZIP archive of the Kindle folder containing the HTML and image files all at the same level.
  • Go to dtp.amazon.com and fill in the forms, upload the zip file and a larger cover image file for the product page on the web.
  • Once converted, check it in their preview window, but don't freak if there are bugs. The previewer isn't too hot. Try reloading and see if the same error occurs again at the same place. Eventually, either fix errors in the HTML, or guess that the previewer is in error and publish it.
  • Once published, download a sample or buy your own book and proof it in a real Kindle or iPhone kindle app. If there are errors, you can fix and re-upload and republish.
  • Once you're happy, announce it to the world.

As of this blog entry date, the Kindle submission process isn't completed, so it won't be there for sale for some time yet. I'll blog and tweet when it is and I've completed my error checking.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Driving Labrador: Goose Bay to Blanc Sablon

(August 16-18)
I wanted to start this section of the road trip with a map showing where Goose Bay was, and the route of the ferry that went around the peninsula to get to Cartwright down on the Atlantic, but I have discovered to my dismay that while Google Maps are just wonderful for parts of the world, places like Labrador can be left out in the cold. I'll just have to wave my hands and gesture.

Now, by the time you read this, it might have changed, but when we blundered into our Labrador part of the trip with essentially no maps and just the word of friends met on the road, it was the case that the main highway across Labrador, 500, was not connected to the rest of the roads down along the southern coastline on the St. Lawrence Seaway. A road was being built, but it wasn't open yet. The only way to get there, was to take a ferry from Goose Bay out across Lake Melville, through the straits at Rigolet and into the Atlantic to reach Cartwright. From there, more gravel highways cut down across the peninsula to reach the towns on the St. Lawrence.
It was a wonderful ferry ride on the Sir Robert Bond for me, starting on Sunday afternoon. Lake Melville was smooth and protected and the photographers were out in force taking sunset and rainbow pictures. I noticed a number of summer cabins? down at the water line on islands that we passed. Most were pre-fab buildings that could have been hauled out on a barge or sledded over once the lake froze. Passing through left me many puzzles I'd love to take the time to solve.
After dark, almost everyone went inside to escape the chill. I found a place relatively protected from the wind and watched the stars. It was fascinating to me, watching the constellations and predicting the ship's course by how the radar tower crossed the stars. The only other person out there was a Labradorian who was waiting until we passed Rigolet at the passage into the Atlantic. It was his opinion that the opening of the road directly from Goose Bay to Cartwright would put the ferry out of business, and incidentally cause the abandonment of many of the small harbor towns like Rigolet which were served by the ferries.
Morning came, after I gave up on the upper bunk and slept on one of the airline-like seats inside. We unloaded at Cartwright along with many other travelers, some of which were in a hurry to make the day long drive down to Blanc-Sablon to catch the next ferry over to Nova Scotia. We took our time, stopping to let Mary Ann take a few pictures of the fishing villages and lighthouses along this lesser-traveled part of the St. Lawrence.
We spent the night in striking distance of the ferry and took some time the next day to sneak down the coast on the Quebec side past Blanc-Sablon. The terrain was fascinating, with solid rock landscapes and the waterfalls, err... chutes d'eau, that pass over them.

I pestered Mary Ann to get back in line for the ferry early, and we did, luckily, because we'd misread the schedule and it left an hour earlier than we'd expected. Labrador and Newfoundland are actually one province, but I can't help but think of them as seperate places. Labrador even has a flag of it's own. It was a fascinating place, a frontier. I hope I get back soon.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Driving Labrador: Road to Happy Valley

One goal of this trip had been to research the St. Lawrence Seaway for a future novel (a sequel to Breaking Anchor). From Mary Ann's perspective it was an opportunity to go whale watching.

But after seeing Minke and Humpbacks and the others, we headed north inland from Baie-Comeau up the Labrador highway. From our limited Québec map, it looked like very few towns along this route, so resolved to fill the gas tank at every opportunity, we chugged along, seeing evidences of a massive hydro electric project all the way up the Manicouagan river. A series of five dams named Manic 1 through 5 are the sources for the paths of giant transmission towers we'd been seeing all along the highway.

Looking at the map, in addition to the lure of unknown Labrador was the bulls-eye emblem of the Manicouagan reservoir. This had to be one of the largest meteor craters on the planet, and the highway drove right through it. I'm a sucker for meteors. I have two iron fragments in my desk at home.

But the road was long and I hadn't started until after the whale boat tour, so near sunset we arrived at Manic Cinq and it's pleasant oasis of gas station, restaurant and motel rooms. It was the last Internet connection we had for a few days. Rogers cellular had dropped off as we left the St. Lawrence. I started building up tweets on my iPhone to send later.

The Manicouagan reservoir was more than just a round lake with a round island in the middle. The impact, some 214 million years ago, had left a 62 mile wide splash crater in the form of mountans that ringed the area we were diving through. Just like the Charlevoix crater down on the St. Lawrence, this meant sifting down to take the 12-19% grades. And by this time the pavement was behind us. A gravel highway is quite drivable, but it's something like driving on ice. You have much less control than it seems, especially on curves and when stopping. I can understand why moose on the road at night can be lethal.

The map showed a town named Gagnon north of the crater, but pavement returned, complete with sidewalks and curbs, but there were no buildings. The entire place had been ... removed. Pavement continued up for several miles until we reached what appeared to be an abandoned mine at Fire Lake. The rail spur onto the mine was rust covered and unused.

Shortly we reached Labrador and the active iron mines that powered the economies of Fermont and Labrador City were massive, disassembling this mountain and building another, giant truckload by giant truckload.

Past Labrador City, highway 500 stretched ahead, with only two cities on it's 500+ km way across the full width of Labrador; Churchill Falls, and Happy Valley-Goose Bay. A gravel highway, raised five to eight feet above the terrain the whole way. This is relatively new construction because in several places I saw the old route 500, a single lane dirt road twisting its way around the bogs and across the creeks. And if you think hundreds of kilometers of raised roadbed would take a lot of crushed rock, you're right. Every so often, there would be an acre's worth of quarry, carved from the granite.

We stopped for the night at Churchill Falls, a company town dedicated to the hydro power plant capable of producing more than 5000 megawatts by channeling water from the Smallwood Reservour? into the deep canyon holding the Churchill river. It was a fascinating little town and don't be surprised if it shows up in one of my novels.

Sunday, we completed the last leg of highway 500 and came down off the plateau of shallow lakes and bogs into the glacier carved wide valley that was home to Happy Valley and Goose Bay.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Excuses, Excuses

I've got a zillion excuses why I'm not blogging every day. No cell network, I'm driving all day, Mary Ann's laptop has crashed, so I have to share motel time with her so she can catch up on her Facebook activities.

But I've got a download running, so while I still have my keyboard: We have finished Worldcon in Montreal where I got a lovely Golden Duck award for Lighter Than Air. I met lots of people who commented on my WINNER ribbon or my yellow duck necklace and if half of them who promised to buy the book remember to do so when they get home, I'll be very pleased.

Now, we're traveling eastward through French speaking territories and visiting Canadian National Parks.

BTW, this is bear country again.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Staying Connected: iPhone Traveling in Canada

As we crossed through North Dakota, I realized I hadn't yet activated the Canada voice plan nor the International Data Roaming, so both of us were in danger of the legendary roaming phone bills.

McDonalds in Bismark, just across the street from the cemetary, had free WiFi, so we pulled out our laptops and had lunch. Under the Features heading in my account, I found the radio buttons to click, adding voice and international data for the both of us. I chose the 50 Megabyte plan, hoping that by turning off Data Roaming in the iPhone network preferences except when I was actually using it, maybe I could get by on two or three MB a day. I also turned off email push and polling, no auto image downloads, and similar tweaks for my Twitter app.

We both reset our Usage numbers, and Mary Ann has been much better at avoiding using data roaming by tweeting via text message. I don't know if that is actually cheaper because international roaming texts are $0.50 each if I understand the ATT FAQ's correctly.

But the end result is that we are fairly isolated. I can't afford to check twitter twenty times a day as before. I am making certain I see all the @replies and DM's but ordinary tweets have a good chance of going unseen. I check email by loading just the subject lines and the first few lines, but unless a mail is time sensitive, I'll put off reading the whole thing and answering until I can get a motel Wi-fi signal, which may take a couple of days. Likewise, I write blogs on my iPhone Notes and copy them over when I have the chance. You may see delayed postings, and odd font styles for the duration of the trip. Sorry.

But thus far, as crippled as it is, I am still able to process important issues, like the email from my credit card company that was confused by the charges arriving from Canada the same time the air conditioner repairman posted his bill a few days late. And getting last minute updates to my convention schedule in place. We'll see how this works out.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bringing Books Into Canada

When I signed up for Anticipation, the World Science Fiction Convention in Montreal, I avoided trying to get a table in the dealer room to sell my books. I suspected the taxes, customs, and assorted paperwork was more than I wanted to deal with.

However, I certainly wanted to have several copies of my books on hand to show when I was talking and presenting. Leaving town I had about fifty, heavy on my two award-winning titles and about five each of the others. I wanted enough to handle visiting a few random bookstores in the States as well as enough for any agents, editors, and reviewers who might be interested. And I might sell a few as well.

I was glad I was stocked, because my first stop in Amarillo, my Aunt Joy, with no Internet interest at all, had been left out of my book announcements and I was happy to be able to give her a set, autographed.

Then stopping at Chamberlain, SD, I was able to donate a couple of FB's to libraries. Now on to Canada.

Although I had researched Canadian customs online, it was puzzling. Since I had the time, I approached Portal ND with an eye to discovering what I needed to do. I made no attempt to hide anything and when she asked the question about commercial items, I tried to explain about the books. She sent me into the office where Mary Ann and I explained it again. This lady was new, and her boss was on vacation, so she took more notes and made a phone call.

At first, she was prepared to deny entry of my books into Canada, the theory that I had no work permit, and thus couldn't legally sell them. I hurriedly explained that no selling would be happening. A few of the books would go to reviewers with no cash changing hands. We made a second phone call, and that theory passed. We got our yellow slip stamped and we were handed back to the first lady who had to inspect the car.

I noticed that she took a particularly long time flipping through a copy of "Roswell or Bust", but in the end, she said normally I'd have to pay import duties on the books, but today was our lucky day and she waved us on.

So, should I try to sell books at a Canadian convention in the future, I'll need to file for a workers permit three months in advance (she told me, to allow processing time), and expect to pay import duties on them. Good to know, and a good excuse to avoid the temptation. I should stick to selling through wholesalers who are used to that paperwork.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

South Dakota

Monday was a cruise through the gentle hills of South Dakota, over to one of the most beautiful little cities in the world, Chamberlain. This part of the world had all the rough edges buffed off by glacial ice sheets long ago, leaving curved hills covered with contouring green felt of life. Unplowed miles, at this time of the season are dotted with round bales of hay as far as the horizon. Up close too, for the highway shoulders and medians are harvested as well.

Without the need for the robotic scaffolding of irrigation systems planted fields are tall with dark green corn or white with wheat being mowed by large harvestors.
Animals, particularly ring-neck pheasants, are thick in the grass or perched on tall bales of hay, with family clutches including gray-feathered chicks learning to duck their heads down so they can't be seen.

Dropping down into the canyon that contains the wide blue Missouri River, Chamberlain's small city streets and well tended parks make it a jewel in the praries. After a quick visit to the library and high school and Twitter friend Nick, we left, heading north west, roughly following the Missouri and towards North Dakota.

Sunset found us on the hills overlooking the River, listening to coyotes calling in the distance. It was a very good day.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Maps and More Maps

One of the joys of traveling is heading off with enough time to get lost. Okay, so I have to be in Montreal in two weeks, but all I have to do today is head sort of north. I didn't even turn on my GPS as we left Amarillo.

We stopped on a whim a couple of times so Mary Ann could take pictures, and the only time we really wanted a map was trying to decide what towns were likely stopping places for the night, and to find the Walmart to buy groceries and an ice chest.

Two things made me realize what a wealth of mapping tools I have these days. My iPhone has a wonderful GPS enabled map system at hand. Unfortunately, the only built-in maps are a continent-scale map at the big end of the zoom and whatever is left in the cache at the close up ranges. So when cruising along in the panhandle of Oklahoma with no cell coverage, the iPhone map was not useful. Mary Ann picked up my GPS V, shown above, and turned it on. She'd never used it extensively, so I told her which button to push to turn it on and warned her of the delays it took acquiring satellites. She was a little frustrated using the buttons. No touch screen.

But the GPSV has wonderful built-in maps at the highway and major city roads level, and doesn't need any kind of internet. It's the one GPS I would take in an emergency, like when we were in Hurricane Ike and all the networks were down for days.

But even with iPhone to get the street address of the Walmart and the Garmin GPS V when we're out of signal range, we still need one more thing.

An old-fashioned road atlas printed on huge pages. You see, we don't know where we're going, and if the past is any guide, we're likely to pass five miles away from some scenic adventure and never realize it's there for us. The iPhone is wonderful, but the palm-sized screen has to skimp on details. There's a reason those atlases were printed large. You can see the big picture and the details in the same glance. Pocket gadgets just aren't there yet.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Preparing for a Road Trip

I was just updating my calendar and was disturbed to see that I hadn't been on the road in nearly three months. That's just not right! I learned several years ago that each day on the road was worth three at home. I may not be able to live any more calendar days longer by traveling, but memories are packed when each glance out the window is new.

Unfortunately, tight budgets come to us all, and I need an excuse to get out of town. A timely wedding for a wonderful, grand-niece, (Christian did the cover for Roswell or Bust), and the wonderful news that I had to go to Montreal for Worldcon to attend the Golden Duck Awards event make for a good excuse to put some serious miles on the odometer.

Packing, unfortunately, is not going well. With a wedding marking the deadline to get off, we can't let it slide too much. They won't wait for us. Pool troubles, horse health issues, finding a friendly place for Sissy the Dog to stay; these have all caused delays in getting everything ready. Still, just think, this time tomorrow I'll be out of town, and the pool will be cared for by Sean, and the horse is at Bettye's, and friends are coming to visit the house while we're gone. And I'll be on the road.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sweating It

It's times like these that wreck a budget. One would think that income could be routed to planned things like bills and savings. Unfortunately, even though we scheduled preventive maintenance for our home air conditioner unit, that minor, predictable charge grew an extra $300+ when it was discovered that the 'oil pre-heater' needed replacing. So, we scheduled that. But shortly before the repairman came to handle that, I started hearing a bad bearing noise coming from the outside unit. He checked, and yes, the blower that keeps the heat exchanger coils cool was going out. Add another $500+, and schedule that visit. We set it up for tomorrow, the earliest he could get to it.

This morning, the noise changed, and the fan froze up. So, in the middle of a remarkable heat spell, we're doing without the AC, at least for one day. Cross fingers that the repair will come off as planned.

For the first time in weeks, the temperature was in the 90's instead of the 100's, but the rain that visited Central Texas has visited everywhere but here. I suppose once the AC is fixed, our chances for moisture will be improved.

But probably that will happen after nearly $1000 has vanished without increasing our savings, lowering our bills, or even being blown on a few smiles. I'm inclined to believe that money is an elaborate fantasy that we've all bought into. But you can all thank me for doing my part to improve the economy by putting more cash into circulation.

You're welcome.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Humble Request

At one time, I imagined that reviewers would become much more important in the economy of the book industry. My train of thought went like this: In the old days, when I was younger, any published book had the presumption of a certain level of quality. A book had to be handled by agents and editors and many levels of middlemen, the publisher's sellers and the bookstore's buyers, all before a reader ever had a chance to see it on the shelf. Bad books still slipped through, but finding one left a particularly bad taste in your mouth.

As computers put keyboards in front of everyone with the slightest itch for authorship, manuscripts came in floods, and the barriers came up among editors and agents alike. When POD printing brought the cost of entry down, and Amazon and the other on-line stores opened their gates to stock virtual shelves at minimal cost, many books of sub-standard quality became available to all those readers.

But how can a reader know what is good and what isn't? With the third-party validation of the traditional publishing industry bypassed, all that was left was reviews. I imagined high-profile reviewers would provide that role, and Oprah and her peers can easily make any book a best seller.

But that really only affects a handful of books. What about the bulk of the industry? People will only buy if the book is recommended. If the agents and editors are no longer serving that function, then what? Ban all self-published books? That's what many independent and magazine-based review organizations do. It's self-defense against the flood of books.

For people like me, who don't have a major publishing business to bless our books, we're down to less authoritative reviewers, people who've read the book and like it.

Luckily, there are a number of places humble readers like you and me can make a difference. If you have a blog, you can write a review, but even if you don't, places like Amazon and Barnes & Noble Online are happy to take reviews and attach them to the books they're trying to sell.

I have been grateful for the wonderful reviews that have shown up on Amazon. It's little things like simple reader reviews that build up over time. My only chance of ever catching a great wave of popularity is if people who like my books tell other people about it. So, I ask, if you've read one of those books up above and liked it, help other people discover it by going to Amazon or any of the other online bookstores and leaving your honest opinion. I'd greatly appreciate it.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Golden Girl Book in Hand

It's less than a week before I hit the road and I had been sweating the deadline on Golden Girl. I desperately wanted a couple of books in hand when I attended the World Science Fiction Convention so that I could show it off.

The printers proofs arrived today, and while I still make some final tweaks before the publication date, I have my tangible books for readings and show and tell. It's a great load off my mind.

I was also able to hand a copy to my wife, Mary Ann, and show her the dedication page. A long time ago, my very first book, a non-fiction computer book, was dedicated to her, but as the novels came out, I had been waiting for the perfect one to dedicate to her.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Things that Work: Brenthaven ProLite Computer Cases

When my wife and I packed for Africa in 2007, a prime consideration was how closely we could get to packing everything in airline carry-on cases. Friends with prior experience warned us that lost luggage is a given in trips to Africa.

I had picked up a nice case at the local Apple Store that was just right for my 13" Mac laptop, and included lots of additional pockets and storage areas. It worked wonderfully, so well that this particular case was a constant companion on that and many other trips. Being a diabetic, I have lots of pill bottles, and being a tech geek, I have lots of cables and portable hard drives, and other gadgets. This one case, the Brenthaven ProLite, has proved the perfect case for me for years now, up until I upgraded to a 15" MacBook Pro.

Cautiously, I attempted to put the new computer in the case, but with all the padding, it just wouldn't work, not without surgery on the case which I wasn't about to do. My wife bought me a nice slipcase, but I was addicted to the extremely useful pouches. For half I year, I've made do, using the slip case for protection, but carrying the computer bag without the computer to bring along everything else.

With another extended trip on the schedule, I decided I had to upgrade, and what I wanted was the exact same case, only bigger. The only problem was that the Apple Store didn't seem to stock that size. I looked on the web and found the Brenthaven site. With a little care I found it. There were three cases, the ProLite I, II, and III depending upon which computer you had. I ordered the II and the free shipping and waited as my new case wound its way down from Washington. $99.

It arrived today, and I'm pleased that I guessed correctly. It is the exact same case, only bigger. Now all I have to do is start moving my pills, my cables, my passport, my wi-fi booster, my hard drive ....

Oh, and I'll have to decide what to do with the Africa tested and still worthy old case.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Rare Mowing

On the east side of my property is a pond that in good years stretches three acres and is bounded by the three other neighbors. It's good for fishing, canoeing and birdwatching since it's a common stopover for migratory ducks of all types. Periodically, the cattails attempt to take it over.

Due to the exceptional drought in this area, ("Exceptional" is the true technical rating) I've been watching the pond get lower and lower. There's a slight chance the shallow water left in the mud flats will go away entirely before the rains come again. On the photo above, the 'full' mark is about two thirds the way up the grassy slope. Click the images for a larger view.

The last time the pond got this low was back in '88 or '89 when we had two drought years back to back and I had the opportunity to get the mower down to the mud flats and shred the cattails that, at that time had threatened my whole side of the pond. I had fought them by wading into the muck with a machette for months, but they rapidly grew back. There were thick root systems that extended out into the pond, beyond my ability to dig them out. But the drought and the mowing had knocked out the cattails for many years.

For the past five years or so, they had been coming back, off in the northeast corner where this morning there is just a pile of shredded stalks. The water has retreated just enough to let me get the tractor down there without getting mired in the mud. We're still in a long run of triple digit temperatures, but long range weather forecasts say the Pacific will be shifting to El Nino conditions by September or October, and if past experience is any guide, a run of heavy thunderstorms could refill the pond a lot faster than you might imagine. Since I'm likely to be out of town attending conventions for a while and I hesitate to ask our neighbors and house caretakers to handle the heavy mowing, I knew this was my only opportunity.

I will be really glad when the pond refills and the new problem is how to restock the fish.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Book Review: The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras

I've been exchanging emails with J. Michael Orenduff, comparing book tours visiting stores in New Mexico, promoting our respective books. When he threatened to buy my Roswell or Bust as a courtesy, I snatched a Kindle copy of his mystery book, The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras.

It was a good move. While I don't intend to turn this blog into a book review column, the mystery was engaging, the characters were ones I'd like to see again and Orenduff writes with enough authority about the making and selling of pots to tempt me into finding a batch of clay and getting my fingers dirty.

The story takes place in and about Albuquerque, a place I have enough familiarity with to visualize quite well. When I was pre-school, I lived in Belen, just to the south. As a mystery, Hubert Schuze, is a likable pot digger who turned shop owner when his free-lance archeology got him kicked out of the academic world. Labeled 'pot thief' by a changing legal system, he's hardly a crook, but when museum pots go missing, he becomes a prime suspect by collectors and cops alike. His only self defense may be to find the true thief. Perhaps predictably, dead bodies get added to the mix and Hubert and his wide collection of true friends have to work hard to dig out the truth.

I look forward to the next title in Orenduff's pipeline, The Pot Thief Who Studied Ptolemy.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Book Review: Blow Us Away! Publishers' Secrets for Successful Manuscripts

I had the opportunity to read Blow Us Away! Publishers' Secrets for Successful Manuscripts by E. Keith Howick, Jr. of WindRiver Publishing and it was a wonderful reference I sucked up at one sitting. This is an essential read for any author before putting together that submission to a publisher. Since I've been doing book submissions for years, it was a handy refresher for many things I've learned the hard way, and an eye-opener about many things I've missed.

There is so much that an author needs to know before writing that query letter, and this is the place to get it. For example, essential knowledge of the economics of publishing is a black art to most authors, but right at the beginning, Howick spells out the simple dollars and cents of how much money is made per book and how that drives the calculations of advances. The royalty section later on gives the same detailed breakdown that shines light on parts of the business that has been obscure to outsiders.

The book backs up his advice with copious links, both of the URL kind and the ISBN kind to expand on what he has just said, plus the it is nicely indexed, which will make it invaluable as a handy reference.

The components of a good book submission are broken down and each is given its due. For example, "find your target audience" is something every author has heard, but with this book's list of categories, and their buying habits, it will bring clarity to a task that often seems fuzzy and impossible.

As a small publisher myself, I'm tempted to make this book required reading for friends who have written a book and want me to help them get it into print. Even if a book is good, the background information about the process of publication is critical to success.

And for me, written from the perspective of a traditional publisher, it's an eye-opening list of concerns for a self-publisher looking to expand beyond just publishing my own titles. I know I'll be referring to this book for a long time to come.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Cover Art for Golden Girl

I was delighted to get an advanced view of the cover for Golden Girl, due out September. I think it's a wonderful cover for an adventure tale of a girl bouncing through time in her nightgown.

When the CD arrives with the final art, I can get busy laying out the final cover and, hopefully, get a couple of proof copies in hand before I have to leave on the trip that will take me to Montreal. I really want the real book to show off at Worldcon.

Having a real cover by real artists is so much better than the dumb graphic I put together for the Time Quadrants anthology.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

See You at Anticipation-Montreal World Science Fiction Convention

My schedule for the Anticipation World Science Fiction Convention has arrived. Changes may occur, but for now it looks like an interesting set of panels, reading, etc.

Session ID: 243
Title: Author Reading
Description: Ben Jeapes;Henry Melton; Cecil Castellucci.
Language: English
When: Mon 9:00 AM
Duration: 1:00 hrs:min
All Participants: Ben Jeapes, Cecil Castellucci, Henry Melton

Session ID: 319
Title: Bedtime Stories
Description: High-school-aged heroes of the here & now are confronted
with classic SF themes.
Language: English
Track: Kids Programming
Moderator: Yourself
Location: P-510B
When: Sun 8:00 PM
Duration: 12:30 hrs:min
All Participants: Henry Melton

Session ID: 320
Title: Award Winning Books
Description: Does winning a children's literature award guarantee a
good book for kids? What awards should you respect?
Language: English
Track: Kids Programming
Moderator: Jacqueline Lichtenberg
Location: P-510C
When: Sun 12:00 PM
Duration: 1:00 hrs:min
All Participants: Helen Gbala, Henry Melton, Jacqueline Lichtenberg,
Jenny Blackford

Session ID: 474
Title: X, Why? Minorities in a Large Field or the Majority in our
Description: Joanna Russ said in 1983: “But remember, one can't get
minority work into the canon by pretending it's about the same things
or uses the same techniques as majority work.” Does this mean we
should think of feminist SF (or that written by gay or black people)
as a separate field? How much should minority-advocacy SF speak to
people who aren't part of the minority?
Language: English
Track: Literature in English
Moderator: Yourself
Location: P-516AB
When: Sun 10:00 AM
Duration: 1:00 hrs:min
All Participants: Alexander Jablokov, Ellen Kushner, Henry Melton,
Kate Nepveu, Kathryn Cramer

Session ID: 565
Title: The Golden Duck Awards for Children's and YA Science Fiction
Description: For picture books, the Eleanor Cameron Award for middle
grade books and the Hal Clement Award books for young adults, this
award is designed to encourage the people to write those books that
capture future SF fans. Lindalee Stuckey introduces the award, and is
joined by a number of current authors for children and young adults
for discussion.
Language: English
Track: Literature in English
Moderator: Lindalee Stuckley
Location: P-511D
When: Fri 11:00 AM
Duration: 1:30 hrs:min
All Participants: Ben Jeapes, Cathy Petrini, Cecil Castellucci, Henry
Melton, Janet McNaughton, S.C. Butler, Michèle Laframboise,
Jean-Pierre Guillet, Lindalee Stuckley

Session ID: 729
Title: The Analog Story
Description: Known as the Analog Mafia, a selection of writers whose
work has appeared in Analog talk about what sort of story is an Analog
Language: English
Track: Creative Writing
Moderator: Stanley Schmidt
Location: P-513B
When: Sat 5:00 PM
Duration: 1:00 hrs:min
All Participants: Henry Melton, Mike Shepherd Moscoe, Paddy Forde,
Susan Forest, Stanley Schmidt

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Too Many Kindle Books, Yet Again

Back in April, I blogged about the duplication of one of my ebook titles on the Kindle Store. I had uploaded a novel Falling Bakward, via Amazon's DTP website, creating a Kindle version of that title. Amazon had used it's tie-in with Mobipocket to also make a version from the mobi format that is distributed to dozens of resellers via their Ebookbase system. For several reasons, this isn't good. For one, the versions I upload, do not have the DRM that prevents the Kindle from speaking the text, and the converted mobi versions do. I had the solution, I thought. I had used the web interface on the Mobipocket site to explicitly remove the authorization that allowed Amazon to make their version.

Unfortunately, that wasn't enough. When I created the Kindle version of this new anthology I've been talking about, Time Quadrants, I did a search on all Henry Melton titles in the Kindle Store. Up popped 11 entires. Two versions of each of the five novels, and the just released anthology.

Some time after I had revoked Amazon's permission to make their own copies of the novels, they had done so with my remaining novels. Tsk. Tsk.

So, following a pointer I dug up in the Amazon forums, I found the company's digitalrights email address and sent them a firm but polite email requesting that they remove the duplicates (and specifically listing their codes just to make sure). According to their auto-responder reply, they should get around to reading my email in 72 business hours (whatever that means) and maybe I'll get a response.

Until then, potential buyers have an additional problem. Amazon's converted versions are a few cents cheaper than mine (Amazon does like to play price games) but those versions have the DRM. It's also likely that any royalties due me from the converted versions will be caught in minimum-payment limbo and I'll never see them. All I can do is wait.