ideatrash

Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

Music to Write (or Game) by

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random.pngIt's one of those things that tends to be intensely personal, but I always wonder about.

What music do you listen to when you write or play roleplaying games?

For example, when writing the story I handed in today (fingers crossed), it's theme song would be Silent Descent's "In The Skies". Daft Punk's soundtrack for Tron:Legacy works very well for cyberpunky kinds of music. Let's not forget game soundtracks - Planescape:Torment, Diablo (and Diablo II) are great. When writing a space combat story, the Halo Theme (Mjolnir Mix) got played a lot.

But to mess with your head and illustrate my point, a lot of the same video got used with this for Metallica's Fade to Black and gives it a different feel.

So when you're writing a story (or running a roleplaying game) what do you listen to?

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Agendas, Google, and Zenity

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technology.pngI really, really like Zenity. This guide - while a definite go-to resource - only hints at the power therein.

For example, there's the GoogleCL interface. Once set up, you have a way to automatically get your agenda for the day. But I don't want that to show up every time I open a terminal window... but I need it in my face. Enter two quick scripts. (WATCH FOR LINE WRAP)

This one gives you the agenda for any day you select on a graphically displayed calendar (defaults to the current day):

alias agenda2='bob=$(zenity --calendar --text "Pick a day" --title "Google Agenda" --date-format=%Y-%m-%d); agenda=$(google calendar list --date "$bob");zenity --info --title "Agenda" --text "Events for that day:\n$agenda"'


It gets the date from the zenity calendar dialog and returns an info box with that day's events. If you're slick, you could put in a quick test for nothing being returned, but hey.

Here's one that's appropriate for being called upon login:

alias agenda='bob=`date +%Y-%m-%d`;daytwo=`date --date="-2 days ago" +%Y-%m-%d`; agenda=$(google calendar list --date "$bob","$daytwo");zenity --info --title "Your Life" --text "$agenda"'


This gives you two day's worth of agenda items from your default calendar (that's what the "daytwo" bit is). Play with them and see what you can come up with!

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Genre for Japan

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random.pngWhen I heard about Genre for Japan, I wanted to do something. So I have.

There's two items up for auction from me:

eBook conversion: Up to 100,000 words free - either a novel or multiple short stories. (also includes a free copy of the Crimson Pact). Starting bid: £100. The page for this item is here.

Short story critique: I will critique your short story or first chapter. You can read more about my critiques here. The starting bid is £30. The auction page can be found here.

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TunnelVision - A 100 Word Story

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storytime.pngYup, it's flash fiction time again!

As always, this is based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. It's a great exercise for writers - writing a good drabble is a lot harder than it appears, but is still a "small" task so you can get around that idea of it being too much work. And then you get a random (and often bizarre) writing prompt to shoehorn you out of writer's block! Go read the rules for the Weekly Challenge and participate! Heck, Chris the Nuclear Kid does when he remembers to (and I can drag him away from video games)!

The player below should have the audio for this week; if it doesn't, you can find the audio here to download. You can also read and hear the rest of the entries (and vote for your favorites) at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!

Musical credits are: "Window like" by echoed and "Angry Ophelia's Song" by donniedrost (feat. Musetta) licensed under a Creative Commons license.

DonaKiLLeR (Six Fast Sons)Consciousness returns. Slowly. Stickily.

I don't want to open my eyes.

Trickles of memory seep back. Finding the old box, the curved horn inside.

Something pushes against my mind. My eyelids open.

My daughter is on the couch. On the floor. In the hall.

My head wobbles, unbalanced by the single horn. Runes crawl underneath my skin. No time to think -- it's coming back.

Stumble over my wife's shattered corpse to the closet. Pentagrams flare on my flesh. I get the .45.

Finger on the trigger. Barrel to my eyes.

This demon's gonna have one bad case of tunnel vision.

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SilverMoon - A Guest 100 Word Story

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storytime.pngYup, it's flash fiction time again! This is Chris the Nuclear Kid's story for the week! The player below should have the audio; if it doesn't, you can find the audio here to download. You can also read and hear the rest of the entries (and vote for your favorites) at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!


Halloween Costumes
SILVERMOON
My name is Silvermoon and I have what is called tunnel sight.

“I was in my cave sleeping when I awoke to a little human boy! And it was running around me! I hate humans. They only care about themselves.”

“What did you do Silvermoon, I bet you shredded the little vermin?” Asked a werewolf named Black Stripe.

“Hold on I'm getting to that part. Well it kept running until it tripped and fell. I got up and picked the thing up and then-' I paused for effect.

“What?” Asked Black Stripe.

“I shredded it.”

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Brainware: So You Want To Make An eBook

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This post is part of So You Want to Make an eBook?. (I know, it's been a while since an official section, right?) I'm releasing this book in sections on my blog, but when it's all finished I will offer the whole thing as a single eBook. Everyone who donates toward its production (use the coffee cups to the right, note that it's because of this effort) will get a free copy of this eBook. You can find all the posts here.


Before You Begin

There are two sections to this portion. First is "Brainware", covering basic knowledge about file formats and operating systems. Second is "Software", which covers both needed (and optional) software.

Brainware

For most of this document, I was using a Windows system. I had to migrate to Linux three quarters of the way through (Ubuntu 10.04 with Openbox as the WM, for those who are curious), so keeping things operable on multiple platforms is important to me. Because I use largely open-source or cross-platform tools, your process should not be significantly different on a Mac.

You will need to know a little bit about what a command prompt is, and how it works. Here is a starter guide for the three most common operating systems:

Windows guide: http://www.codejacked.com/a-beginners-guide-to-the-command-prompt/

Mac guide: http://db.tidbits.com/article/7003

Ubuntu guide: http://help.ubuntu.com/community/UsingTheTerminal

You will need to know that a file extension is a short series of letters at the end of a filename showing what kind of file it is. For example, Bob.ZIP is a ZIP file, and Bob.JPG is a picture of Bob, and Bob.DOC is that letter Bob wrote to Joss Whedon after watching Dollhouse. For our purposes, this will hold true throughout this process, but I have to mention...

This convention is most strongly followed on Windows computers. On Mac and Linux systems, this isn't always the case. For example, Bob.JPG is not executable (able to be run by itself) on a Windows system, but both Mac and Linux have an "executable bit" that could let a program named Bob.JPG actually be some other kind of program. (See https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Executable for more on executable bits.)

Right. Moving on.

You will need to know that a ZIP file format (extension ZIP) is a data compression and archive format containing one or more files. (Think of folding your clothes into a suitcase and then squishing all the air out.) You will need to know how to create a ZIP file (more on this in the Software section). There are other types of data compression and archiving; they don't matter to us for this purpose.

You need to know a little bit about document file formats. (Just a little, this won't hurt much.)

RTF, or "Rich Text" (extension of RTF) is perhaps the most portable word processing format out there today. Pretty much anything that calls itself a word processor can read and write RTF format, though you usually have to use the "Save as…" command when saving for the first time. There are also some word processors that try to do more than the RTF format actually allows, so other programs may not known how to understand that. Regardless, it's probably the easiest to move back and forth between systems. We will be starting with RTF formatted documents.

Plain Text documents (extension of TXT or TEXT) have no built-in italics, underlining, and so on. They work... but get boring. (There is such a thing as "plain-text markup", but we don't need it for this process.) That and a lot of people are addicted to their smart quotes, em-dashes, and so on. We'll see how that complicates things (a little bit) later on. Still, you mostly need to know this format to distinguish it from a word processing document.

HTML (HyperText Markup Language) and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) are the document types that rule the Web. They're also the types that eBooks use. In general, HTML files (extension of HTM or HTML) contain the content and the CSS file (extension of CSS) contains the instructions on making it look nice. You can put CSS instructions inside a HTML file. Some programs do this by default. Don't do that. Keeping the content separate from the style makes it easy to fix problems across a large document.

You do not need to know anything about HTML or CSS at this point, just what the acronyms stand for. I will not cover anything other than what you absolutely have to know for this task, though. Learning more about HTML and CSS will help you be able to fix it when it breaks.

Other Word Processing Documents - This includes ODT, DOC, DOCX, WP, and any other document format besides the ones addressed above. They may look prettier, but are essentially useless to us. If you save in one of these formats when writing your book, you'll be best served by converting it to RTF before beginning the eBook creation process.

A caveat: If you are making a PDF file to sell, you can use the "Save as PDF" or a third-party "Print to PDF" tool from one of these formats with no problem whatsoever. Converting from ePub to PDF almost never works right.

There are three major eBook formats - and one of them isn't really an eBook format.

PDF stands for Portable Document Format (extension PDF). This creates a digital representation of a page, not an eBook. (I mentioned this earlier when talking about reflowing.) For some books, where layout on the page is crucial, PDF will be the only format you will be able to use.

The other two types are ePub and the Kindle/Mobi format. The Kindle (extension AZW or MOBI) format is pretty much only supported by the Kindle and its desktop applications. ePub (extension EPUB) is supported by everyone else - the nook, iOS, Kobo, Sony, and so on. Even newer Kindlers can handle ePub just fine.

Do not confuse format with DRM. DRM - or Digital Rights Management - is the supposedly anti-piracy encryption that some retailers put on their eBooks. An ePub file wrapped in DRM is still an ePub, just like a fish in a paper wrapper is still a fish. DRM is - in my experience - a waste of your time and energy.

We will be concentrating on creating a perfect eBook in the ePub format. The Amazon/Kindle format is much harder to directly work with than ePub. The good news is that once you have a perfectly correct ePub, conversion to Mobi is a trivial issue.

Next time: Software.


This post was part of So You Want to Make an eBook?. I'm releasing this book in sections on my blog, but when it's all finished I will offer the whole thing as a single eBook. Everyone who donates toward its production (use the coffee cups to the right, note that it's because of this effort) will get a free copy of this eBook. You can find all the posts here.

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Why you don't look at web stats

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omgwtf.png
I took a look at my blog stats recently (according to Blogger, which FWIW doesn't catch feed readers and that kind of stuff), and was simply stunned. Click the picture to embiggen:

Screenshot.png

My third most popular post on this blog is the one with some random cell phone pictures?

This is why you don't pay attention to those stats. You end up obsessing over them, or worse, writing to them.

And who wants to see me put out a stream of grainy pictures of my cat while talking about eBook piracy?

Don't answer that.

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Meaningless numbers in Digital Publishing

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publishing.pngReally, it's articles like this one that both infuriate me and give me a great reputation in digital publishing circles. And it's not the Huffington Post's fault - the actual report from the Association of American Publishers isn't much better.

Here's the headline if you don't want to click through:
eBook Sales Increase Nearly 116% In January, Paperback Sales Plunge Nearly 31%
I hate percentages in this context. Hate them. They're worse than meaningless. Going up 100% means doubling - but if you've sold one, doubling your sales doesn't mean crap. And the eBook market is still small enough of a segment of the total book sales that it's not useful to compare change in percentages other than to get a trend and the vague shape of that trend.

Unfortunately, the real numbers posted aren't any better. They're aggregated sales figures. Aggregate and averaged numbes are only useful if all products are priced approximately the same.

For example - just taking eBooks I've bought in the last few months - Mike Stackpole's In Hero Years I'm Dead... costs $4.99, while Anton Strout's Dead Waters is priced at $7.99 (strangely, the same as the new paperback), and Pat Rothfuss' The Wise Man's Fear is priced at $12.99 (far cheaper than the hardcover list price, but just under the discounted h/c price). So if Pat Rothfuss were to hit the bestseller totally dominate the bestseller list through sheer awesomeness, that might just skew some averages, huh? 1

So we can't really prove much from these numbers at all - except whether the total market is growing. It might be from wider adoption of eBooks, or those who have digital devices just reading more.

But we can learn something from these numbers. You can price your products in the middle of the pack - which is why The Crimson Pact is available for $5. You can make sure that you price your eBook less than a paperback (because Amazon sure as hell makes sure you know that Penguin priced Dead Waters and The Wise Man's Fear, but barely mentions it with The Crimson Pact and doesn't mention it at all for In Hero Years I'm Dead....

And most importantly, you can learn to take sensational reports with a metric butt-ton of salt and pay attention to your own sales instead.


1 Simple math: You sell $10 worth of items. The items you have for sale cost $1, $2, $3, $5, $7, $8, and $10. How many items did you sell? There is no way to tell.

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Publishing, Contracts, and Google

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publishing.png

I finally understand what the problem was with the Google Books Settlement - just as it's getting tossed out.

Really, I didn't understand what the problem was before. I knew others said it was, but I just shrugged and went about my day. But now I know - and it's important that all authors understand the problems. This is still important for authors to understand - because of the fundamental rights grab at the core of the proposed (and now toasty) settlement.

It was a line in Locus' announcement that brought the "bad" home.  Let me take a second to explain:

One of the most controversial aspects of the program was that any authors who didn’t opt-out in time automatically agreed to let Google scan their works, and to sell any out-of-print works as e-books.

So there's three terms (emphasis mine) that are key.  First is that the program required people to opt-out of it... which means they had to know about it.  Opt-in is the only legitimate alternative for anything that takes rights away from you.

Second:  Selling someone else's work.  Even the simplest publishing agreement is at least a page.  Mine are multi-page documents, because I want everyone to know exactly what's going on.  (I also include a "plain language" version with my intent - and an invitation for authors to challenge where the legalese doesn't meet the plain language.

Third:  Out-of-print doesn't mean it's yours to do with as you want.  It's still under copyright, especially in the US.  (Go complain to Disney if you dislike that;  it's their fault.) 

Mike Resnick, among others, has had the rights to his prior works revert to him, and he's chosen to digitally publish them himself.  The proposed Google settlement would have taken that choice away from him, without his knowledge, unless he objected to them. Maybe you want to have Google publish your stuff, maybe not. Taking away that choice without getting positive consent just ain't right.

I don't know why I didn't get that before now - I just knew that there were problems with the settlement.  After cluing in, I'm glad that organizations like SFWA were there watching out for rights grabs even when I didn't understand them.

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Warped - A 100 Word Story

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Yup, it's flash fiction time again!

As always, this is based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. It's a great exercise for writers - writing a good drabble is a lot harder than it appears, but is still a "small" task so you can get around that idea of it being too much work. And then you get a random (and often bizarre) writing prompt to shoehorn you out of writer's block! Go read the rules for the Weekly Challenge and participate! Heck, Chris the Nuclear Kid does when he remembers to (and I can drag him away from video games)!

The player below should have the audio for this week; if it doesn't, you can find the audio here to download. You can also read and hear the rest of the entries (and vote for your favorites) at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!

Musical credits are: "Sawmill" by Gurdonark and "Window like" by echoed

As I note in the audio, this is another drabble that takes place in the universe (multiverse?) of the Crimson Pact anthology. You can find out more about the Crimson Pact and pick up the novel-length anthology at http://theCrimsonPact.com It was also recorded LIVE at Millennicon just before Elaine Blose and Sarah Hans read parts of their stories in the first volume of The Crimson Pact.

Don't Close Your EyesI take a handful of night and pull.

The darkness stretches, warps, deforms around me. The empty dark shifts to the dark of sweaters, coats, and stinking gym shoes.

Outside the closet door, Marcus and Josephine are putting their son to bed. They are older than I remember. Happier, after retiring years ago. After they stopped hunting my kind. My offspring.

Their son cries – he knows I'm here in the closet again. They laugh, tell him that I don't exist, and go downstairs.

The demon hunters' son cries alone in his bed.

I hush him with one long claw.

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Digital Publishing - Unexpected Delays

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publishing.pngThere are some strange things around digital publishing. For example, how long it takes something to go "live".

As Alliteration Ink, I'm the publisher of The Crimson Pact1. It's a new anthology edited Paul Genesse, and I'm really happy to bring it to you.

Well, as much as I can.

I had problems with the hotel wi-fi when I tried to upload it to Amazon, B&N, and Google the day before the official release. I woke up early on Sunday, reconnected, uploaded it... and then watched them all start "processing" the book. I then installed new shopping cart software on the Crimson Pact site (I'm using E-junkie2)... and after installing an entirely new store, discovered that they were all still "processing".

By the time Millennicon was over, only Barnes & Noble had the book "live". I uploaded it to GoodReads as well - that only took a few moments - almost as fast as e-Junkie. Amazon is still (as of right now) processing, as is Google Books.

What annoys me about this is that the files are good. I should know - I converted and tested them. This is simply a matter of adding the thing to a database.

Smashwords? Overnight to "process", and I'm still dealing with its "conversion" incompatibilities... I mean, "quirks".

So it's funny that a smaller company can let me sell this eBook - and make more money for the authors - so easily, but the big players make everyone wait around for their convenience. You'd think the big companies had things, I dunno, efficient.

You can currently buy The Crimson Pact: Volume One at our website or clicking this link: (PDF/Kindle/ePub format in a ZIP file), or in ePub formats at GoodReads and Barnes & Noble.

[Edit: You can now buy The Crimson Pact at Amazon as well. Though I couldn't list all of the authors, and it sorted them strangely.]


1 The Crimson Pact vowed to destroy the demons of the Rusted Vale - but something went wrong. The demons had their own secret plan and escaped, invading dozens of worlds across the multiverse. Read 26 stories set in those many different worlds about the men and women who refused to let the demons win.
2 I'm recommending E-Junkie, by the way. ZenCart had a bazillion features - most of which I didn't need and slowed down the server. SimpleIPN worked well, but wouldn't let me do coupons. E-Junkie isn't free, but the lack of worries around it make it worthwhile for me.

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Peace - A 100 Word Story

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The more astute may have noticed that I missed a weekly drabble a while back. While I got it written, I wasn't able to get it recorded and up. So, a little bit behind schedule (but very appropriate, if you know what's going on in my life) I present: "Peace".

Beautiful Trees"Excuse me sir, I'm going to have to ask you to step into the Tranquility Garden."

I looked at the guard, bench slats pressing into my back. "I'm fine, thanks."

The guard's hand slipped to the baton. "I don't want to argue, sir. Other workers reported you being disgruntled."

My face flushed, my heart thrumped faster. "I'm not arguing." I rolled off the bench and sprinted for safety.

Too late. The truncheon landed on my shoulders, back, head. The guard's voice rang in my ears as I passed out.

"Go to your happy place, asshole! Go to your happy place!"

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PDF versus eBooks: So You Want to Make an eBook?

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This post is part of So You Want to Make an eBook?. It's a bonus bit that came up during my conversion of the text of The Crimson Pact, and really demonstrates the differences in mindset between eBooks and print. I'm releasing this book in sections on my blog, but when it's all finished I will offer the whole thing as a single eBook. Everyone who donates toward its production (use the coffee cups to the right, note that it's because of this effort) will get a free copy of this eBook. You can find all the posts here.

I converted The Crimson Pact into a PDF to send out as review copies. While eReaders have gained a lot of market penetration, there's no guarantee that a reviewer will have one, or what kind they'll have.

One astute person involved with the project noticed that the PDF wasn't fully justified - an error which I fixed - but also noticed that the ePub wasn't fully-justified either. As I wrote the explanation for that design, I realized that it was one of the better examples why I don't really consider a PDF an "eBook", even though it's not a bit of paper.

The PDF can be accurately full-justified because we control the page width and font size. PDF is a digital representation of a print book. That's why you'll see a lot of "big" publishers attempt to force full justification. It's like when Mike Stackpole told some of us that he'd gotten frustrated with an editor who fretted about widow and orphan control with eBooks — while that's a relevant concept for print, it is unneeded with digital formats. Those fully-justified eBooks are just another relic (and problem) created by trying to just take a print book and thwomp it into a digital format.

When I make an ePub they are actually *not* specified as left-justification; I only specify justification for center and right justify. Otherwise it's whatever the hardware/software specifies as a default.

Not all readers support full justification 1 - or if they do, some do so badly; a well-illustrated example is here.

This can not only lead to an ugly presentation, but can also create "rivers" of white space that makes things more difficult for those with dyslexia.

So in my ePubs - and the ones I'm teaching you how to make - I don't try to force full justification onto the reader. I let them go with whatever they're comfortable with. Because the decision to left- or full- justify is left up to the reader (and their hardware), this gives both maximal user control and compatibility.

1 For what it's worth - my primary eReader does not support full-justification; it's simply ignored. And to tell you the truth, I only notice the difference when full-justification looks ugly. That is not ringing support for full-justification, y'know?


This post was part of So You Want to Make an eBook?. I'm releasing this book in sections on my blog, but when it's all finished I will offer the whole thing as a single eBook. Everyone who donates toward its production (use the coffee cups to the right, note that it's because of this effort) will get a free copy of this eBook. You can find all the posts here.

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Millennicon 25: 18 - 20 March

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random.pngMillennicon, aside from being the con that I misspell most often, has a special place in my heart for a bunch of reasons. It's a nice, small one in Cincinnati - just big enough to have a goodly number of cool people, but small enough that you're not lost in the horde.

They've been really good to me, and I'm glad to be attending again this year. I'll also have copies of The Crimson Pact Volume One (yes ON CD WOOT) - and two of the Ohio authors (Sarah Hans and Elaine Blose) will be there as well. I hear tell there will be readings from the anthology, which just makes me pleased as punch, let me tell ya.

As with all cons, I will gladly read for any audience - scheduled or no - so feel free to ask if you miss my scheduled one!

You can see my events below (it's also in the sidebar); there may be some last-second schedule changes, so stay tuned.

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Find or write HOWTOs, possibly win prizes

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publishing.pngI've met a huge number of people who are simply unaware that they can load eBooks 1 from other stores onto their device. While (for hopefully obvious reasons) I would love to be able to fix this ignorance, I simply don't have access to every device out there or the time to create a detailed HOWTO.

Or even the time to find one.

Which is where you come in.

In my role as Alliteration Ink, I'm running a very time sensitive contest to find or create HOWTOs on loading eBooks onto devices... with cash prizes. It does not matter to me if you make the guide or just find a good one - I just need ones to point to.

You can read the full entry and how to enter here.

Winners will be posted 21 March!


1 DRM issues aside, of course.

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Dear Ohio: You get what you pay for

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rant.pngOh, the irony.

Take a look at this asshat. I mean really. (Link to articles mentioned here and here.)
asshat.jpg

"Transforming Ohio for Growth"? Really?

So you're going to cut funds for education (primary, secondary, and higher), local government, and infrastructure... and this is supposed to help Ohio get better how?

Who the hell wants to live or work in a state where they don't value education or infrastructure?

And really, cutting money to education? Look, this isn't rocket science. Sure, dumping money onto schools doesn't necessarily mean things will get better. But cutting funding always means that things will get worse. The administrators (who, you might remember, control the budgets) will make sure they keep their jobs. Meanwhile, the teachers are so busy doing extra work to make ends meet that they are physically unable to focus on your child. You want to reform education costs, then mandate an administrator / instructor ratio.

This is almost as stupid as West Virginia deciding to blow up their only source of year-after-year income (tourism) for a one-time gain (mining). Which, of course, they're doing, and it's a major reason why I am not really considering going back to West Virginia.

It's stupid crap like this that makes me wonder why I consider staying in Ohio. There's no jobs for my primary profession here (thanks, Findlay!), the governor is busy cutting funding for what I'm training into...

...maybe I just have to take Tobias Buckell's point of view (which I can't find the link to now, dammit) and concentrate on the publishing stuff and enjoy the benefits of living somewhere that likes to act like a third world country while still being inside the United States.

Dammit.

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Vestaphobia - A 100 Word Story

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Yes, it's Wednesday. Why is this week's 100-word story so late?

Because this coming weekend, the demons are coming.

The Crimson Pact vowed to destroy the demons of the Rusted Vale . . . but the demons had their own secret plan and escaped, invading dozens of worlds . . . . Read 26 stories set in those many different worlds about the men and women who have refused to let the demons win.

You can see the trailer, read the frame story, and submit your own flash fiction for the second volume at the Crimson Pact website.

This is the first book I'm publishing as Alliteration Ink - the umbrella under which my eBook conversion, Second Life rentals, digital publishing, and (soon!) critique services all fall under. That said, I'm not actually in the anthology. I thought it'd be a bit crass... but the concept really resonates with me. So this week (and next, and maybe more) my drabbles are unofficial extras for your enjoyment.

Also, the music in this audio file features "Window like" by echoed and "Angry Ophelia's Song" by donniedrost (feat. Musetta) under a Creative Commons License . If you can't use the player below, you can download the file here.

The Senator glared at me. "Why is the – enemy combatant – naked? Those hippies already hate this place."

I stared back. "He refuses clothes, Senator." My squad mixed with the Senator's blue-suited toadies. "We don't know why," I lied. Simmons handed the jumpsuit to the Senator.

Too late, the prisoner yelled behind soundproof glass. Hidden threads, woven into holy symbols, touched the Senator's hands. He screamed in pain.

Moments later, my squad stood over the demonic corpses of the Senator and his aides. The "enemy combatant" shifted between human and demonic form.

"This'll be fun to explain," Simmons said.

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Deadly Marshmallows - Two 100-word Stories

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As an aside, the flash players are being a little strange in the preview. Let me know if they are (or are not) working for you!

And we have TWO yes TWO stories once again, with Chris the Nuclear Kid's story first, then mine.

storytime.pngYou know the drill!
read & listen & vote at the weekly challenge website, enter this week's challenge, listen to the stories below or download Chris' or mine via the direct links!


roasting marshmallows (4)
It started when my friend and I were at camp (in the woods), hanging out.

“Kalobe, I'm going down to the river, want to come?”

“No thanks Joe.” I said.

“Okay.” Walking down with some marshmallows, he turned the corner and was out of sight. A moment later there was a ear splitting scream. I ran to the creek. The ground was
covered in marshmallows! As I watched, they moved together growing bigger and combining. They followed me as I ran. And, just in time, got inside the car.

Right now I wish I'd taken driving lessons.

Clue Board
"Consternation!" Grandpa yelled. "Colonel Mustard in the library with the marshmallows!"

I smiled, cold in my army uniform. Grandpa's fireplace couldn't even heat the room. He rose shakily, and I frowned. Richer than Midas, but has no heater, won't get his hip replaced, wouldn't even pay for Sue's hospital bills...

I clamped that thought down.

His liver-spotted hand landed on my shoulder, then tapped where my nametag read Ketchup. "It's funny, you making colonel. Too bad Sue didn't get to see it."

I just pushed him onto the freshly waxed floor. The sound of his hip shattering sounded like vengeance.

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Less-Than-Positive Attitude

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soc_econ.pngI was recently touring a business that had signs warning against "Emotional Contagion".

I took a closer look when I had a spare moment, only to find that it was the newest iteration of a "Positive Attitude" campaign.

These things puzzle me - because they explicitly treat the symptom rather than the problem. Oh, I know why they only treat the symptom - it's easier to just insist that everyone put on a "happy face" than actually fix a problem. That, while frustrating, is at least understandable. What I don't understand is how these businesses manage to stay afloat.

My experience - and from speaking to others, I'm not alone here - is that when the "positive attitude" tropes get rolled out by management, it's a clear signal that the company will never fix any problem from that point forward. Pointing out a difficulty or problem is seen as "negativity" and pushed back to the employee. The employee, of course, who was powerless to fix it in the first place (otherwise they would have just done it. Eventually these employees either adapt to the system (and stop trying to fix anything) or leave. The workplace becomes a less-funny clone of Dilbert or The Office.

And that's where I get confused.

How do these companies manage to keep existing after that point?

Most of what I've been setting up at Alliteration Ink is a direct challenge to scammers, profiteers, and other ne'er-do-wells. It's explicitly there to both make me money and show that the scammers don't have to be asshats in order to make money. In the meantime, I want to outcompete the bullshit artists and inefficient idiots wanting to skim money off of the hard work of authors.

Why aren't there organizations like Alliteration Ink in the healthcare, finance, education - wherever, really - outcompeting the hell out of Dilbert-esque workplaces? Serious question here - why haven't more of us who are fed up with the daily dose of TPS reports, water-cooler cliques, and clock-riders just being our own bosses and doing our old jobs better than we were before?

If there's something that's been holding you back, let's talk about it. Maybe we can all put our heads together and figure out a way to make this happen for all of us who know better and are tired of the same old alternatives.

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Real-Life Conversion Problems: So You Want to Make an eBook?

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Just to get this out of the way in case DAW's lawyers decide to get persnickety:

The following falls under Fair Use principles (critiquing).

This post is part of So You Want to Make an eBook?. I'm releasing this book in sections on my blog, but when it's all finished I will offer the whole thing as a single eBook. Everyone who donates toward its production (use the coffee cups to the right, note that it's because of this effort) will get a free copy of this eBook. You can find all the posts here.

I often get asked why I make a big deal about doing this stuff by hand. Why don't I let a program do it? They're getting better, and are usually "close enough".

Let me show you why.

I've been reading Patrick Rothfuss' book The Wise Man's Fear and, predictably, loving it. But this isn't a review of the text so much as a review of the eBook. (Note: I am reading the ePub version; I don't know if the same issues exist in the Kindle version.)

I actually hesitate to post this, simply because I know that Pat's a perfectionist, and it shows in the quality of his writing. Let me stress this: Patrick Rothfuss is such a master of his craft that he makes it all look easy. But authors don't paint the covers or do the eBook conversion. So let me stress this: Don't bother Pat with this small issue. I've already sent him an e-mail, but he didn't do it and can't force the issue. Okay? Okay.

These aren't big issues - but they're noticeable and break you out of the story. Especially with something as good at Rothfuss' work, anything that breaks you out of the story is noticeable. Talking to one person who'd read the thousand-page (yes, you read that right) book already, one of the first things they mentioned (besides "I can't wait for book three!") was:

"Yeah, they messed up the eBook conversion in a few places."

In a thousand-page book, the few errors (so far I've only run into three (and a formatting issue), two of which we see here) were noticeable enough to be mentionable. Wow.

First, though, a bit of silliness. Wanna guess what 257 kilobytes of the ePub file is made up of?
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That's right. Section break graphics. Rather than just having one line and calling it 210 times (we'll learn how to do that right later in the series), there are 210 scanned images of lines from the book. Basic, simple straight lines. Wow, right?

They used (I think) an Adobe product to create this eBook - probably InDesign - and that's actually what caused these errors to occur.

Take a look at this section of code. (You can click any of the images to embiggen.)

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You can see right away why I hate smart quotes - they aren't standard characters like regular quotes. But there's some even stranger characters that will be at the root of our real problem.

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This is in a different (and a bit smarter) text editor. It renders the smart quotes appropriately, but we've still got those weird boxes up there. So let's look in a real eReader...

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These are from Calibre's built-in eReader, which happens to render this exactly the same way that my Sony eReader does. Weird question mark looking things. I mean, I can tell that they're supposed to be quotes of some kind, so it's not really a big deal, but why is it rendering strangely?

It's the way InDesign obfuscates embedded fonts. It's probably a mistake - someone missed where a few quotes weren't in a standard font and those few characters got embedded... and won't render properly on all eReaders.

So that's a pretty straightforward actual error... but sometimes the problem can simply be thinking about the digital text as being the same thing as the print version. Look closely at these three images:




Sure, that first bold character (or perhaps a substituted drop cap) along with the first row of small caps looks good in print. Where you can control the font size. That is not the case with eBooks. Only one of the three above looks "right" - the other two kind of look silly.

At this point, I'd be done with the converting program.

Computers are just smart enough to do what we tell them to do, not what we want them to do.

You have to make sure your eBook always looks good. The way to do this is to let the text be what impresses your readers, and lose all the fancy tweaks, fonts, and other bullcrap. All those things are simply "wrappers" for our story.

When you realize that the text is the key and the book/eBook/stone tablet is just the "wrapper", then you can start to see the limitations (or lack thereof) that the wrapper puts on you.


This post was part of So You Want to Make an eBook?. I'm releasing this book in sections on my blog, but when it's all finished I will offer the whole thing as a single eBook. Everyone who donates toward its production (use the coffee cups to the right, note that it's because of this effort) will get a free copy of this eBook. You can find all the posts here.

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Philosophy of eBooks: So You Want to Make an eBook?

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This post is part of So You Want to Make an eBook?. I'm releasing this book in sections on my blog, but when it's all finished I will offer the whole thing as a single eBook. Everyone who donates toward its production (use the coffee cups to the right, note that it's because of this effort) will get a free copy of this eBook. You can find all the posts here.

The Philosophy of eBooks


There is something key to understanding eBooks: Content is king.

Much to the chagrin of font geeks and layout artists everywhere, real eBooks reflow. That means the line breaks change when you zoom the page. On the other hand, when you zoom a PDF file, part of the page goes off the screen.

(This is something that's easier to show with websites. If you go to my website (opens in a new window or tab) and shrink your window, the text will (to an extent) reflow. Words wrap around so you can still read all of them. This blog template, however, doesn't, so shrinking the window means that you're missing stuff pretty quickly.)

An eBook has a limited number of fonts to choose from - especially if you want it to display correctly in all readers. Fancy fonts won't save you: this means that your words are what makes the book valuable.

That said, the layout can get in the way of your content. Here are a few examples illustrating these problems:



The text can be squished together. Lines can break halfway through a sentence. Quotation marks can be different sizes from your text. Large file sizes make pages load more slowly. Footnotes and endnotes do not include return links to the main text. Images are scaled too large or too small. These are all small irritations - but they add up. These problems make your words look unprofessional.

This is a common problem with converting software. I have yet to discover any software that creates valid, professional looking eBooks every time. While software has come a long way - Sigil in particular - it's not there yet. Earlier this week I proofed some work done with Sigil that still had a good half-dozen (admittedly minor) problems. While it's tempting to think this is just a problem with free software, even InDesign, a professional retail package, sometimes embeds fonts in a non-standard way.

This book concentrates on creating high-quality eBooks for you to sell (or give away) on your own site. You can also upload the resulting documents to Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and any other store that will accept an ePub or Mobi/Kindle formatted document. I will walk you through the process for Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but again, I encourage you to sell your own creations. You will retain more control and make more per sale.

I do not cover Smashwords. My first two jobs creating valid eBooks consisted of fixing Smashword-converted documents. While I am told that their program has gotten better, that does not suffice for me. Smashwords (as of the last time I checked) still requires you to use their converting software even if you have a completely valid ePub file. Because our focus here is on making quality work, I am skipping Smashwords entirely.

Likewise, I do not cover Scribd. In the summer of 2010, they changed their policy about the availability of work on the site. In short, if your work did not sell enough, they would put it behind a paywall. This seems to be missing the point; so why participate in that kind of deal?

Next week, we'll talk about the things you need to know and the software (ensuring it's free or free variants exist) that you'll need before we begin. Thanks to everyone who has commented and supported so far!


This post was part of So You Want to Make an eBook?. I'm releasing this book in sections on my blog, but when it's all finished I will offer the whole thing as a single eBook. Everyone who donates toward its production (use the coffee cups to the right, note that it's because of this effort) will get a free copy of this eBook. You can find all the posts here.

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Supply, Demand, and eBooks

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soc_econ.pngIn a free market, you're not supposed to have increasing profits. No, seriously. Stop laughing. We've gotten away from this concept, but it's a really vital, key element to understanding what's so screwed up in our system these days. And it's easiest to explain using an example (which is why this is also under "publishing"). Digital books. Converting a text to a digital book takes some skill. When you're one of the first few people to know that skill, you are very much in demand. Because there's so much demand for your skill, you can charge quite a bit. It's a time of huge profits for you, and that's as it should be. You were one of the innovators who started the thing. That's illustrated by the chart below. It's a (simplified) supply/demand curve. (There's an animated one here that might make more sense.) Supply and Demand Curves Take a look. The reason it's a two-sided curve is pretty simple. Some people are willing to pay more. Some suppliers are willing to sell for less. Where the two meet is "equilibrium" - or where the markets are supposed to naturally hover around. As more people learn how to make digital books, there is more competition. Prices go down, because there's someone willing to do the same work for less. As consumers learn that there are cheaper alternatives, they become less willing to buy expensive versions. The curve shifts, but is still at equilibrium. If there gets to be too many people supplying the service, then the price drops so low that nobody's willing to do the work (for hire) at the prices people are willing to offer. Either people learn to do it themselves, or fewer people offer the service until the price goes up again. Most businesses are supposed to break even. They're supposed to be at this "equilibrium" stage, but we forget that. There's ways around it. Perhaps one person figures out how to automate the process and do it faster. Then it's cheaper to do the work, so he can offer it for less and still make money... at least for a little while, until other people figure out how to automate the process as well. Or another person supplies excellent customer service, so they can charge a premium. Or another pays so much attention to the user interface that it's a revolutionary thing to just hold the product. That's differentiation. Brands try to do this somewhat shamelessly. Small differences are touted as reasons why you should buy a Kindle instead of a nook, or a Whopper instead of a Big Mac. And then there's artificial scarcity. When, for example, you think the only way to get into the iBookstore is through a few "limited partners", so you'll gladly pay them a totally unnecessary "yearly fee". And that's such a bloody scam that it's not funny. Remember Yog's Law: Money flows toward the author. There's nothing inherently wrong with middlemen, but there is something wrong when authors are having to pay for someone else to make money from them.

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