Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Choosing a Fiction Category

Depending on a few last minute details, like the cover art and final formatting, my next novel Follow That Mouse will be released in September.  It will be another Small Towns, Big Ideas novel, with high school aged protagonists in the current time.

Unfortunately, I'm still not certain what kind of a novel it is.  Young Adult Fiction for certain, but is it science fiction or fantasy?

Consider this trial blurb: "Ranch kids in rural Utah discover a scientist stranded in an abandoned military base and struggle to save their community from a billionaire intent on discovering the mind control secrets invented by the scientist."  That one sounds science fiction, once you buy the concept of a science of mind control.

But how about this one: "The animals of Ranch Exit were all acting strangely, and when Dot and Ned followed a mouse to a hidden tunnel buried under the mesa, they found themselves caught up in a wizard's duel between the ancient wizard underground and the eccentric billionaire intent on making himself a god-king of the valley." This sounds more fantasy, and once you throw in the nature of the mind-control artifacts, it's even more so.

Unfortunately, due to the nature of publishing, I have to make that call soon. Everything from the ISBN form to the various marketplaces all require one or more of the standard subject codes.  You can see the BISAC standard subject codes here.  Some places let you choose multiple codes, but others just one.  Even the ones that accept multiple subjects still tend to highlight the first one in the list.

So, am I trying to push a YA fantasy or a YA science fiction?  At the moment, I'm leaning towards fantasy and that feels so strange because I've always considered myself a science fiction author.

Monday, June 28, 2010

We Made it off the Mountain

One thing Mary Ann and I like to do when we come to Breckenridge is to drive the Jeep trails.  There are so many of them that even after quite a few years, we haven't discovered all of them.  This afternoon, on a whim, Mary Ann headed across the Boreas Pass road, looking for animals and possible lightning photos.  I took the iPad along and made use of its Map program.  The trick of using the map on a mountain road far from cell service is to load up the cache with several zoom levels before leaving the network area.  I have a 3G model, so the GPS works great, even when there is no cell service.
After getting close to the highway, we looked at the map and discovered a second route, one that led from Como on County Road 801 and became Coronet Drive to Blue River. On the map it looked fine.  We were in the Trailblazer with 4WD and had taken many a Jeep trail before.  We were experienced.
Unfortunately, the map lied.  It was hardly in the same class as the Boreas Pass road.  Although we were encouraged by the recent tread marks on the road, about midway where County Road 801 became Coronet Drive, the tread marks stopped and with a chunk, the driver's side wheel dropped into a deep pit and we were stuck.  For about an hour, at better than 12,000 feet, we struggled with the jack and collected rocks and boards and bits of trees.  We jacked up the car and filled the right rear tire's pit.  Our first attempt failed and we were planning our second attempt when a couple of motorcyclists happened by.  
Young and energetic, they bounced the car and after a few attempts, we pulled free of that trap.  They had come from the Blue River side, so I asked about the road up ahead and they thought that if we could get through the bog, we'd be okay.  
Not too far down the road, I got stuck again, among some tree roots.  Shortly the motorcyclists arrived and again helped us free.  Another mile, and the road was blocked by a snow drift.  There was plenty of room for the cycles, but not for a car.  There was an alternate route, but it required me to drive over a tree stump.  My first attempt to get around it left a dent in the fender and a scar on a tree.  I backed up and began building a ramp of logs to get up and over the tree stump.  Our rescuers showed up once again and helped, but the Trailblazer high centered on the stump.  With their help, I finally got free, and even made it through the black muddy swamp with only a few loud bangs where the frame hit submerged rocks.
By then, it was dark and with some helpful directions from our rescuers, we finally made it to Blue River and from then on to our place in Breckenridge.  I don't think we suffered any major damage to the Trailblazer other then the dented fender, but we were just happy to get off the mountain.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My Novels on iBook on My iPhone

Pardon my giggles, but having my books suddenly available to a few more million potential readers is interesting to me.  Yes, of course, those iPhone users could read them on the Kindle app, or the Kobo app, etc. but many won't look farther than Apple's own book reader, and so I as soon as I was able today, I downloaded the iBook update on my upgraded 3G phone and bought one of my own books.  I had to be sure that they didn't have any DRM on them.

I had earlier purchased another book, The Lightning Thief, and when I pulled it out of the iTunes library, all the files were there, but were encrypted.  Having submitted my books to Kobo and flagged them to be DRM free, I then discovered that Kobo doesn't do DRM free yet. I was a little fearful of what would really happen in iTunes.

Luckily, my novel is DRM free, with only a little quirk.  In the list view, in the Books section on the desktop iTunes, you can easily see in the Kind field, that just like the music, there are "Purchased" books and "Protected" books.  The just plain "Books" are the ones I dropped into iTunes myself.

Just to make sure, I selected the book, command-clicked and duplicated it and pulled  the duplicate to my desktop.  Using the unzip -d work Pixie Dust.epub  command I created an expanded copy.  Inside, once I changed the permissions with chmod, I could read the text right out of the xhtml files with no problem.

So iBookstore will gladly sell DRM-free ebooks, if that's what the publisher requested.

UPDATE:  I realized later I was getting too tech-y with my unzipping and stuff.  This also works: Drag a "Purchased Book" out of iTunes into Calibre, click the view tab and read the book.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Finding My Books

One of the common complaints I've seen in the reviews is the difficulty of finding books in on-line stores.  The iBookstore, in its current version is no different.  I have seven novels in the listings, but that's just 7 out of 78,264 at the current moment in time.  Even using the categories, "Children and Teens" or "Sci-Fi and Fantasy" won't ever get you to a list where you can see my books.  

You have to know what you want before you can find it.  Search for "Henry Melton" and you'll get the listing in the image.  Certainly I recommend that for everyone who has an iPad, but I still won't be able to catch the book browsers.  Apple needs to improve their bookstore capabilities.  The big publishers manage to get into the "Featured" lists, but I don't expect independents like me to make the grade unless we're already selling large numbers.

So do me a favor, and buy my books.  

Thursday, June 10, 2010

First Steps in the iBookstore

After following many dead ends, and struggling between aggregators that would either take a too large percentage of the sales, or take too large a recurring flat fee to get my books into the Apple iBookstore, the gates swung open for independent authors, and I signed up for iTunes Connect as quickly as I was able.  I find that, because of the wording of the contract, I can't really blog about the process of getting my books into the store.  Perhaps it would be okay, but I'm not one to wade into legally ambiguous waters.  Let me just mention the basics.

iTunes Connect is pretty much a support-free environment.  You supply your own verified ePub files and fill out the forms with the ISBN numbers, blurb copy, etc.  This is all done through a Mac application, which handles some error checking and then uploads the bundle to the big Apple shaped cloud in the network somewhere.  After a processing time, it appears in the iBookstore, as shown in the image.

One thing I would love to have is a URL, so that I could direct people to my books, but I haven't seen one documented yet.  Additionally, as of the current date, you can't even get to the iBookstore without an iPad.  That is all likely to change soon, as the iBook App and the iBookstore will soon be available on iPhones and iPad Touches as well.  Currently, to find my books, just search for Henry Melton and all of them that are available will show up.

I had been working with ePubs that I had previously verified to be 1.0.5 compliant, so I was tripped up when I slapped my first three books into the process.  Two of them were rejected by the uploader app, not because of 1.0.5 issues, but because additional files that had been added to the ePub bundles after the fact.

One of the problems was iTunes itself.  Once you drop an ePub file into iTunes, a plist file, iTunesMetadata.plist, is added to handle the per-book preferences.  When I did that to check out a book, and then attempted to pass that same book on to iTunes Connect, it detected that plist file and objected.

Much the same happened when I proofread a different title in calibre.  That resulted in a calibre_bookmarks.txt file inside the ePub with calibre specific data in it.  Both problems were fixed by unzipping the ePub and removing the offending additions, but it highlights the problem.  iTunes Connect want's no un-manifested files, nothing that's not mentioned in the content.opf file that's the master index of the ePub internals.

So, for the next few days, I'll be adding all of my novels and as they get approved, they will be added to the iBookstore.  If you have an iPad, check them out.  I've marked them to be DRM free and there should also be a sample available.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Real Peloquin, Following His Dream

Back when I was new in Austin, working at KVET radio, at church I met up with a quirky little fellow with a quirky name Real Peloquin, he walked funny, probably polio or something, but I don't recall us talking about that.  Real had a focus in his life.  He wanted to be a radio DJ.  At the time, he worked at Goodwill, but in his little apartment, he composed reel to reel taped shows which he handed out to his friends.  I was a Radio Shack addict back at that time and I mentioned the little micropower radio modules they had.  It wasn't very long at all before the Real Peloquin show was being broadcast in his neighborhood.  It was some time later that I mentioned that he should get an FCC license.  That's what my father had suggested when I went off to college and having it had gotten me my job in the Austin area.

And so he did.  The next thing I heard he had snagged a job at a public radio station in California.  On occasion, a tape would arrive in the mail and I would get to hear what he was up to.  One fascinating thing he did was track down celebrities and get them to record promos for him.  The first one I heard was from one of the grown up child actors in the Partridge Family, I believe.

For a while, I lost track of him, but he still had my address, and I cracked a big smile when a postcard arrived, with his information.  He has since moved to Tennessee, but he has worked in stations across the country Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and Alaska. I think he works as a studio technician right now, but nothing will keep him from making his shows. He has his home studio and broadcasts his shows via the internet. He concentrates on 'super oldies' and it's really worth your while going to NightflightOldies and playing some of his hour-long shows. On the Radio Shows page, he has several day's worth in his library if they're to your taste. Some of the songs I remember, but some are even before my time. These are complete radio shows, with public service announcements, music, and features. And they are done by a guy who has been doing this all his life, because he loves doing it.