Tag Archives: Smashwords

Schedules and Progress

First things first: TWDY 4 – Blood Money is out an in eStores now! Check it out in the Kindle store or on Smashwords. I’ve been pressed for time due to an abundance of projects lately, and I didn’t get a chance to post a big announcement blog when Blood Money went live last week. I did get the cover art graphic for the front page slider on my home page ready the day of publication, though, which is a first for me.

(Side note for people using Kindle Direct Publishing: it turns out you have to manually add books to your AuthorCentral page, which I had forgotten until I was checking the link to write this post).

As I mentioned last post, I’m sticking to a schedule of four main projects: TWDY, City of Magi (querying), Joyriders, and Blackout. I’m fighting the urge to spend too much time on Blackout, which is natural because that’s a brand new book and filled with all the shiny expectations and simple joy of putting a new story together. There’s really nothing else like it—that’s the reason I started writing in the first place.

To keep myself honest, I came up with a Google calendar schedule that emails me the assignment every morning. I spend at least three days on new material, be that Blackout or TWDY, and two days on query stuff and editing. Needless to say, I look forward to Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings more than Tuesday and Thursday. I’m also going to be keeping more regular tabs on my progress and posting them here.

Joyriders Issue 1 is theoretically ready to be published, though I’ll be seeking at least one more editorial opinion before I pull the trigger. Part of my recalcitrance is that I don’t to commit to two regular series. Keeping TWDY going while querying my book and a short story (which I’ve been neglecting) is already a lot. Joyriders is a great story and deserves to be told. For that matter, it needs more of my mindshare than it is currently getting.

TWDY 5 is a work in progress, with two full chapters complete and probably six more coming. The first season of TWDY is going to wrap up with issue 6, and I’ll be creating a compendium from those to sell as Volume 1. I had originally planned to go just five issues, but there are some threads that need to be addressed that I just don’t see myself getting to in 5 issues. We’ll see. I also have the option of making Issue 5 a monster “season finale.” I don’t intend to lay off of TWDY afterwards—I’m having too much fun writing it and loving all the reader feedback that I’ve been getting. That being said, I do need to slow down a bit. I’m targeting April for the release of Issue 5, and if there is an issue 6 it will likely be June or July, depending on how much writing I do on vacation.

My City of Magi work is pretty close to finished, though of course things could always be tweaked. I have a synopsis that I’m trying to cut down. It started at 2100 words, and I’ve got it down to 1512. I’m aiming for 1000, so there’s still work to do. My query letter is more or less in final form. I’ll just have to cross my fingers and hope soon.

Blackout is an interesting creature. It stands at just over 19000 words now, and it’s the first book of which I’ve done a complete plot outline before getting too far into it. I can tell you now how the book ends. But I won’t. It’s also the first book that I’ve ever written in the first person. I’m not going to go out and do present tense because I kind of hate that, but it is a fun experiment. It’s also the first writing exercise I’ve pushed out into a full book.

The only other project I’m jugging is the short story Magi Rebellion – Part One, a short story written in the world of City of Magi providing the backstory for the city of Dein Astos. I’ve shopped it once and need to keep putting it out there. If nothing happens after a while I’ll publish my planned trio of short stories using the magic of KDP. It’s a story worth being told.

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No, I have not retired from blogging (and other news)

So… yeah, it’s been a while. Over a month, actually, which is impressive and disappointing, given that I started this blog with the intent of posting at least twice a month. If you look at the archive, I was pretty good about that. What happened? Well, November happened. November was the heart of my marathon season, during which I ran two half marathons and one full, so that took up a good bit of time. Also, November was holiday-tastic, with an extra family-related unexpected vacation to spare. It was also “Holy crap I wanted to get Trial and Error out on December first and there is so much editing to do” month. TNE took its time getting ready, but I’m really happy with the way it turned out. Issue 4, Bloody Mess, will hopefully be out in January, with Issue 5 in March. This comprises the last of what I’m calling “Volume 1” of Those Who Die Young, and while it by no means is the end of the story, it will mark the conclusion of a major story arc. I think of it as my season finale.

Curious things happened with my pricing in the month of November as well. In a run-up to the December release of Trial and Error, Shelter From the Storm and Bearers of Bad News were both dropped to $0.99, from their $2.99 height. I have previously addressed my decision to move to the $2.99 price point. It wasn’t one I made lightly, as I felt forced into making that particular choice by the bizarre cutoff value for a 70% revenue split as opposed to 35%. The latter is all you can select if you price your book outside of Amazon (and other booksellers’) predefined sweet zone of $2.99 – $9.99. I always thought the “natural” price of an issue was $1.99. Two bucks felt right for one episode of TWDY, much as it feels like a good price to pay for an hour-long serial television show to me. The problem was that, at $1.99, I get approximately $0.70 per sale, even on Smashwords. At $2.99, I get $2.00. The craziness is self-evident: by raising the price a dollar, I make more than a dollar more. I really hate that. I want to price it based on what I feel it ought to be worth, not a gimmicky formula agreed upon by the great brain-trust of all eBook sellers.

While I was thinking about that, it occurred to me that I’m not trying to do this to make money.  I really like writing, and I really want people to buy my stories. Why should price be a barrier? Hence, damn the formulae, I set Trial and Error to be $1.99. And I left the first two issues at $0.99. If you bought a copy at the higher price, feel free to email me—I absolutely will give you a code to get a free copy of the next or any future issue of your choice. I’m not trying to play the market or put higher numbers on early sales. As I said from the very beginning, writing TWDY is a tremendous joy, but it is also a tremendous experiment. Serial fiction is a strange thing to be toying with.

I did make one other change to my listings on Smashwords. I changed my settings for Shelter From the Storm and Bearers of Bad News to no longer say they have “adult” content. I’m not a big fan of the way that Smashwords filters it’s adult content, largely because they don’t have a sliding scale. It’s adult or it’s not. And although a hardened killer in Shelter does use the F-word when enraged, I don’t have graphic sex in the stories (I don’t actually have any sex in them yet, but I reserve the right for my characters to get laid). The criteria you’re supposed to use is whether or not it has material inappropriate for those under 18. Well… some parents wouldn’t want their kids to read a story that had even one curse word in it, and there is certainly violence in all three issues. TWDY isn’t appropriate for the Harry Potter target audience. However, if you go to Smashwords and turn off your adult filter, well, here are a few of the first things that pop up for me right now if I do so (without typing in any search words) : “Ms. Chanton’s Castle: Threesome in the Study,” “Locker Room Gangbang Quickie Series,” and “On The Floor: A Tish Adams Erotic Short Story – Episode #2.”

Actually, going there today had considerably less porn than usual. In any case, TWDY does not need to be cordoned off into the same section of the store as straight up sex stories (with all due respect to the authors of LRGQS, Tish Adams, and Ms. Chanton’s Castle"). No more “adult” setting for me. I wish they had a movie-style rating scale, so I could say that my books are somewhere near the PG-13/R border, depending on your sensitivities. Alas, it’s a binary scale, and I’m no longer rating myself as a 1.

In other news, I finally sent out the prequel short story to City of Magi to a short fiction magazine, so I’m quite excited about that. The book itself is still in revision, but I’m keeping a counter on how many chapters I have left to retouch. Right now I have 30 ready-to-query chapters and 33 left to go. Yes, it’s a really long book (250k words). I’m doing less slash-and-burn than I expected in the editing process. Of course I’m cutting out the unneeded parts, but I’m not axing entire chapters or characters like I feared I would have to do. I was careful on the characters I added and the scenes I wrote, and it’s something I can really stand behind.

There is one other minor commitment that has been keeping me from my blog, though that’s going to slough off as the days go on. Sadly, I was taken by the great geek apocalypse that is Skyrim. It is, hands down, the most addictive and enjoyable game that has ever been made, and it is a technical masterpiece to behold. I’m even more impressed that they created such an expansive game in this day and age and made it run well on low-powered machines like mine. My gaming/coding laptop didn’t used to be low-powered, but that was two years ago when I bought it. I’m hoping it has enough life left in it to comfortably play Mass Effect 3, and then it might be time for me to retire the old girl.

It’s a happy holiday season, and things are exciting in the writing world. I’ll keep you posted more often as things move along. During my holiday break, lots of stuff usually gets finished (City of Magi was completed in it last year).

Pick up Trial and Error on Kindle or Smashwords if you get a chance! It’s my favorite issue of TWDY so far, and it will only get better in February with Bloody Mess.

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Time to Breathe and Reflect – the Frantic Art of EPublishing

Wow. Just wow. This week has been a blitzkrieg of editing, formatting, reformatting, pouring over documentation, and last-second editing again. Publishing takes a lot out of me. It’s finally done, though, and Shelter From the Storm is live on Smashwords now. It’s eligible for the premium catalog, and will ship to iBooks, Nook, Aldiko, Sony, and Stanza after that. It’s not quite live on Kindle yet, but it’s in the “publishing” phase where it is reviewed for about 24-48 hours, after which it will be available there.

Now that I finally have something in the market I can look back and think about what was hard, what was easy, and things I could do better. The first thing that stood out for me is that I was still editing – but I don’t think that was from procrastination. I got lots of reviews and crits on Shelter. It was a constantly morphing, breathing work that it immensely better now than it was a month ago, and light years better than it was a month before that. I’m proud of it. Despite all that prep work, I was editing right up until the final check-in. I was well beyond the point of spelling errors and such, but nontrivial changes were made in the story on publication day. I like all of the changes that went in, and I’d make them all again. Why did those particular changes wait so long? I really can’t say. They came to me as I was doing final formatting edits, and they were worth the hassle of making the changes. Shelter is 2000 words shorter because of the last change I made, and any time you can cut from your book, you should. My philosophy of self-editing has long been that if you catch yourself explaining the point of the scene as “it really shows the characters’ feelings/development/interests” then you need to cut it. Every scene should advance the plot somehow. Show those feelings as you’re moving along; don’t make the reader stop so you can beat him over the head with them.

Somewhere in that paragraph I went out on a tangent… but the point I was getting to was that I edited up until the last minute because (I think) you can always edit. There’s no such thing as a perfect work. I probably should have come to a “ship” date earlier and had a code freeze where I was only doing formatting and bugfixes (spelling, plot holes, anachronisms), but I’m not upset with myself for making the story better even at the last minute.

Formatting was another thing entirely. I had two very different experiences in the two places I published – Kindle and Smashwords. Both places had very powerful strengths and very powerful weaknesses. I’ll start with Smashwords.

Mark Coker & Co. over at Smashwords have the best-documented, most delightfully user-friendly site I’ve ever seen for publishing. You have a convenient Dashboard that you can always look at to manage all your books on Smashwords, edit which channels you want to be distributed through, and handle book updates, coupons, price changes, and basically anything else you want. Their tools to manage your works are powerful, easy to figure out, and wonderful to have at your fingertips. The ability to upload once and have your book be distributed to so many different locations is simply amazing – and the even better part is that at many of them you can get paid more if you distribute through Smashwords. This is particularly true on Nook; Nook has a 40% commission rate on books priced below or above the magic $2.99-$9.99 range that gets you the higher rate. I’ll be taking home nearly 60% via Smashwords even though Shelter is $0.99. That is a very important point, so I’ll say it again: you can get paid more (sometimes) if you distribute through Smashwords. This is the #1 reason I’ll be switching to distribute my Amazon books via Smashwords as well as soon as they can distribute through the Kindle store (which is already in the works). The #2 reason I loved publishing via Smashwords is that you get a FREE ISBN. That one was so important I had to put italics and make it all-caps, and I hate all-caps. ISBNs are required for distribution in iBooks and the Sony store. Neither of those markets are as large as Kindle, but I’d hate to miss out on them. ISBNs are really expensive, upwards of $100 for a single book, unless you want to buy them in book (get 1000 for $1000 at that site… egad). If you’re spending $100 on your eBook and you’re an indie author, you’d better be spending that on a world-beating cover artist (and you can get great stuff for much cheaper – I did).

Other things I loved about the Smashwords experience so far: thorough, detailed instructions on how to get things formatted and set up for publication in the premium catalog, clearly explained legal rules, and a generally friendly and beautiful site. I say this as someone who designs software user interfaces for a living – Smashwords has a fantastic and useable interface. Better than Kindle by a long shot.

Where Smashwords fell short was in the lead-up to one of their strengths; formatting for the Meatgrinder, their signature file.doc – to – file.*  converter. To be clear, the instructions for formatting your document are first-rate and easy to follow. The process itself, though, still takes a long time. I’m thankful I was doing this with a 39K-word serial issue instead of a 150K-word novel. The safest way to get things started is to use “the nuclear option,” which is to copy your entire book and paste it into Notepad, then take the raw text and put it back into MS Word. The worst part about this is that you lose all in-paragraph microformatting, like italics for emphasis. You lose macroformatting as well, but it’s easy to fix your chapter headings again. Hunting down every place you used to have italics is a painful time sink. The most disappointing part about the Meatgrinder experience is that you can’t force page breaks. I used the triple paragraph return followed by “****” and another triple paragraph return (recommended in the style guide), but all that had the effect of doing in the ePub file was to put awkward spaces between my chapters. My ePub I created using Scrivener looked much better. To be fair, Coker mentions on Smashwords that they are going to have a Meatgrinder-bypass soon, so those of us who have invested in useful writing tools like Scrivener can just use the pretty formatting that they come up with instead. At the end of the day, I’m not angry at how it turned out format-wise, but it could have been better. I would prefer to have the ability to format on my own using tools that don’t rely on starting with a manually formatted Word document.

I did my Kindle publishing second, and it felt (at first) like it was a much better experience for one and only one reason – you can upload your own damn .mobi file if you want. Scrivener compiles to .mobi. Click, boom,  upload, DONE. I almost couldn’t believe it. Seriously, Smashwords – If I could get your attention for a moment – You absolutely positively need this feature. It is absolutely worth the $50 for a fantastic tool like Scrivener that, besides being awesome as a writing IDE (Integrated development environment – give me a break, I’m a software guy), has the ability to very carefully format everything you need, and can do so from a place that Meatgrinder never can, a carefully formatted set of classes that it creates. Don’t get me wrong – Meatgrinder has a massively more difficult job than Scrivener – but Scrivener takes advantage of its resources to format better. I think it would be well-worth Smashwords’s time to implement even a weak version of the bypass as soon as possible, perhaps one that only works for low-to-no-images all-text no-tables works, a sizeable chunk of their portfolio.

Anyhow, that single luxury alone made Kindle feel much easier. It’s a gold star and a half that nearly gives Kindle the edge all by itself. That being said, Kindle has some drawbacks. There is no free, universal equivalent of the Smashwords Style Guide for Kindle that tells you absolutely everything you need to know. Now, Kindle has huge forums support and I doubt if it would be difficult to find all that information, but the fact was that for a first time author like myself, it was massively easier to find the directions on how to do everything just right on Smashwords than it was on Kindle. In particular – Kindle’s directions never say what to put on your copyright page. Do you need a licensing statement? Smashwords provides one for you. Is it important to say Kindle edition? What are the rules to linking out of the book to your other Kindle books? To your own blog? How do you edit your Kindle profile page that the public sees? All of these questions have answers that can be found with patient googling and searching through the forums, but searching forums and googling is harder than reading a single, clear, authoritative guide that tells you everything you need to know.

The other big place that Kindle looses out on is their royalties. If you’re outside the magic price range of $2.99-$9.99, you can only get 35% of the purchase price. Period. If you are in that sacred range, you can get up to 70% (though they then may take off some for “delivery” which may actually be a valid bandwidth charge, but who knows). Kindle can do that, though, because they are the biggest game in town, and that isn’t changing anytime soon. If you are an indie publisher, you would have to be insane not to be on Kindle. You don’t need an ISBN to publish on Amazon, nor do they give you one for free.

At the end of the day, both systems had their strengths at weaknesses. Kindle felt like a breath of fresh air when they didn’t make me go through formatting hell again, but their help sections were harder to find and their royalty rules weren’t as generous. I haven’t looked hard, but I didn’t see any way to give Kindle coupons for your works (it’s probably there, but the point is that it isn’t as blatantly obvious as it is in Smashwords). Kindle is also a little less clear about the rules of publishing – what is allowed and what is not? Again, all of the information is there, but they really need one style guide that is the authoritative guide to publishing on Kindle: do this and your book will be fine, do that and your book will get bounced.

Take it for what it is. I like the Smashwords interface, but I’d give my left pinky to be able to utilize Scrivener to make my Smashwords experience better. Still, I’ll probably move all my publishing over to the Smashwords system when they get integrated with Amazon; the convenience is too much to pass up. I just hope they let me do my own formatting when that time comes.

Update – One killer feature that Amazon makes easy and Smashwords lacks: the ability to group books into a series. Amazon has a nice little check box asking whether or not the book is in a series. If so, what is the title of the series? What is this book’s place in the series? It’s simple and incredibly useful. Shelter From the Storm is Book 1in the series Those Who Die Young on Kindle. Smashwords… completely lacks this feature. I was actually a little confused as to what I would consider Shelter’s title. Is it Shelter From the Storm? Those Who Die Young Issue 1 – Shelter From the Storm? I ended up going with Shelter From the Storm, which makes me ever so slightly nervous about the “rule” they have where your title page must match the title on your cover, as mine technically doesn’t (the series title is bigger on the cover and sits on top of the issue title). Hopefully the human reviewers will understand what I was trying to do.


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Victory is mine!

August 3, 2011 12:33 am by MRM in Uncategorized

Shelter From the Storm is officially available for download in friendly DRM-free format on Smashwords. I’m getting the Kindle formatting up and ready to go; there aren’t too many kinks left to work out.

I only barely met my goal; it was first available just before midnight on the 2nd. Smashwords does a lot of wonderful things for you, but you have to pay attention to all the little formatting details, and you absolutely have to do it in MS Word format, which renders Scrivener (my preferred writing software) considerably less useful. Fortunately, Amazon appears to take .mobi files, so I should be able to have things up and running there without too much fuss.

Been a hectic week getting this thing ready for the final push, but I can now happily say I’m out there. I’ll have it in the Kindle store soon, and I should be distributed (via Smashwords) just about everywhere ebooks are sold, including on Nook, iBooks, Kobo, Stanza, and all the usual suspects. You can even read it in your browser (just go to the book’s Smashwords page and buy it in that format) if you are particularly cruel to your eyes.

I’m sticking with $0.99 per issue for now; we’ll see how things go at that price point. Everything’s up in the air (including any sense of writing style I have in my blog – it’s after midnight and I haven’t seen this early in the AM since grad school).

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