Saturday, April 24, 2010

Why a Kindle and ebook lover is going back to paper books?

My company, Salish Ponds Press, sells its two books in paperback and for the Kindle. That is because I read books on the Kindle and on paper. Recently there has been a lot of press about ebooks and ebook readers. The attention is probably a byproduct of the release of the Ipad by Apple. In addition to the Ipad other companies are releasing ebook readers. Sony has one. Barnes and Noble has the Nook. There seem to be new ebook readers hitting the market every few weeks. As the market fills with ebook readers, I find myself migrating back to the paper book.

I have the first version of the Kindle. For the run-of-the-mill novel, I prefer reading on the Kindle to reading a paper book. For the most part, the Kindle is easier to hold and carry than a paper book. Turning pages and adjusting fonts is easier on the Kindle. Kindle books do not collect in corners and baskets around my house so that they get in the way and eventually have to be carted off to relatives, the library, or the used book store.

There are some aspects of the paper book that I miss when I read on the Kindle. I like cover art, back page blurbs, and all the one line excerpts from reviews designed to get me to buy the book. Hitting the button on the Kindle isn't the same to me as perusing the cover and tasting the other preliminary treats you find in a paper book. I like page numbers and knowing exactly how close I am to the beginning or end of a book. The Kindle doesn't have that. Kindle books are hard to browse. Paging forward or backward to look for something is a pain.

In the final analysis, reading books on the Kindle beats out paper books by a nose. It isn't a lot better; it is a little better. What has me returning to paper is economics.

Ebook readers are expensive. The new Kindle is $259. A new Ipad is at least $500. Other ebook readers tend to be priced somewhere in between the two. That is a good chunk of change for a book reading device that has a limited lifespan and requires you to pay again for the books.

I got my Kindle in the spring of 2008. A year and a month later--a month after the warranty expired--the screen when kaput. Amazon allowed me to buy a refurbished Kindle to replace it for one hundred dollars. The first replacement had a broken modem and would not connect to Whispernet. Amazon sent another one, and it is still working. I am keenly aware, however that my ebook reader is reaching the end of its life expectancy and will need to be replaced soon. The money I will spend on these reading devices could buy a lot of paper books.

The beauty of the Kindle when I first got it was that the books were cheap. It was difficult to find a book being sold for more than $9.99. For me that made best sellers which were being sold for $25 down at the chain bookstore into impulse buys. I hit the "buy now" button on my Amazon page with wild abandon and was suddenly reading new releases that I never would have purchased had the full price hardcover been the only option.

These days, however, things have changed. Like a lot of people, I am a fan of the Stieg Larsson mystery novels. I want to read The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest as soon as it comes out. Amazon is selling the Kindle edition at $9.95 as usual, but is also selling the hardcover for $11.50. I buy enough from Amazon that I always get free shipping. That means the deeply discounted hardcover is only $1.50 more than the ebook. With the hardcover, I can read it, pass it on to friends, or even sell it for a few bucks at the used book store. If I factor in the resale value of the hardcover, the ebook is now more expensive than the hardcover.

The above example is due to deep discounting of popular hardcover books by Amazon. On other titles the change in prices is due to the publishers demanding what is called the "agency model" from Amazon. Under that model the publisher sets the ebook price. Thus, The Shadow of Your Smile, has a notation on Amazon that the ebook price is set by the publisher. That price is not $9.99; it is $12.99. The hardcover is discounted to $15.20. Just as with the Stieg Larsson book, the hardcover is so close to the ebook price that the value of being able to resell the hardcover makes it the better deal.

The economic advantage that used to fall on the side of ebooks is disappearing. As it does, my motivation to pay out a few hundred dollars for an ebook reading device begins to wane as well. I may lament not having new releases to read on my Kindle, but I will give up the small advantage of the ebook in readability for the dollars and cents advantage of the hardcovers.

I recognize the ebook readers still have a huge advantage over paper when it comes to books in the public domain. I am reading Trollope's Barsetshire Series for (almost) free because I own a Kindle. I don't have to pay Penguin for each book in the series. That is a huge advantage and it may be that an ebook reader is worth the price for that reason alone. However, if reading newer authors on paper becomes a habit again, it will be very hard for me, when my Kindle gives up the ghost, to put out a few hundred bucks for an ebook reader just so I can read public domain classics.

So there you have it. The Ipad is the new star. New eInk readers proliferate and I, a reader who loves both ebooks and his first generation Kindle, am going back to paper. Go figure.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Google Books, niche writers and living on royalties

I have been fussing about on Google Books. I am not sure I understand the site, but I figured out how to download old books in epub format and convert them for Kindle. I am reading Trollope at the moment--the Barchester novels--so I picked up a copy of The Way We Live Now. After running it through Calibre, it was formatted nicely for the Kindle. 

Being a fan of the gothic as well as the noir, I recently read Uncle Silas and enjoyed it thoroughly. The joy I got from Le Fanu's melodramatic horror sent me poking around for  gothics that I may have missed. At Google Books I picked up the delightfully named, The Suicide's Grave: Being the Private Memoirs & Confessions of a Justified Sinnerby James Hogg, and The Sister of St. Gothard by Elizabeth Cullen Brown. The good free stuff at the site is public domain, so browsing there is like wandering through a used book shop in which all the books are very old. The selection is hit and miss which gives me a bit of a thrill when I  find a gem. A dusty English book shop without the dust.

I found it interesting to type in the name of a gothic writer who would be lucky to have anything still in print--and if so, only by a publisher like Valencourt--to find out that the author was widely known and read in his or her day. The Google collection means average people like me can, without a trip to a major university, wander among those writers of bygone times whose books never made it onto the lists that currently constitute literature.  

With the advent of ebooks, Kindles, Ipads, blogs, ezines, print on demand and economic trouble in the old line publishing business, I tend to agree with the folks who argue that the old structure in which there are a small group of good writers--those who sell just enough but not too many books and get noticed by a lot of English professors--and a mass of hacks who cater to the unwashed masses, no longer works. Literary fiction has become just another genre with a small but dedicated audience. Today, every market is a niche market. If that is the case, who is to say there isn't a gold mine of niche writers in the public domain who got nudged out of print by being excluded from undergraduate reading lists, but nevertheless have a lot to offer a person like me who takes a lot of pleasure exploring unfashionable literary neighborhoods.

At the home front, The Duke of Morrison Street, is selling, but painfully slowly. I can tell I better be in the office tomorrow morning because I won't be living on my royalties. A lot of recovery folks read Malady Manor after reading The Duke, and liked it a little better. A friend and his wife read it. He told me that it made his wife cry and made him laugh. The Duke is fun. Malady Manor has a lot of humor, but is at its heart a serious novel.

I am keeping up on Oregon Elder Law, and tomorrow and putting on a training for a bunch of social service types on conflict resolution. 

Friday, January 22, 2010

Settling in

Both The Duke of Morrison Street and Malady Manor seem to have made it to Amazon. Both book have the "look inside" feature active. The Kindle version of The Duke of Morrison Street is connected to the paperback version, but the connection between the two version of Malady Manor is not yet functional.

My angst associated with hitting the publish button, self-publishing, the egoism of making my work available to others has subsided. It seems I do a lot of things. Writing and publishing these books is one of them. The people I know who have read the book generally liked them and that is flattering. No one is confusing me with the next Hemingway, and that is comforting. By keeping expectations low, I end up flattered and comforted.

For a while I was interested in my own response to this project. I have moved. I now like seeing other people's responses. I am learned that many members of my social group are either non-readers or Puritan readers.

The non-readers read --as a survival technique and as a tool to making a living--but don't do it for pleasure. These people give me a blank stare when they see one of my books. They congratulate me and seemed genuinely pleased that I have written a book, but I can tell they are never going to read it. It is not a rejection of my efforts or my writing skill. They simply do not read books. Seeing this reaction in several people has made me think back in our relationship and realize that we have never discussed a books. There is a reason for that.

I also hang around with some Puritan readers: people who don't read books unless the book will make him or her a better person. I have several of these in my social circle. They read with purpose. Some eschew fiction altogether. Others admit the utility of fiction in making you a better person, but limit their fiction choices to books written by Dostoevsky, Melville or Joyce Carol Oates. Detective novels with drunken protagonists need not apply.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Malady Manor released

I hit the publish button on Malady Manor today. It is for sale on CreateSpace and will appear on Amazon soon. I am calmer about this release. I used up all my angst over publishing, self-publishing, and why do people do this kind of thing on The Duke of Morrison Street.

Another reason for being calmer is that I wrote the book ten years ago. The current version cleans up the text and puts it in the same production scheme as The Duke of Morrison

I came home and submitted the Kindle version. After The Duke of Morrison Street, getting the Kindle version was a piece of cake. I cut the text from Word to Notepad to remove formatting. I uploaded the .txt file from Notepad to Google Docs, then cut (not downloaded) the .html from Google docs and pasted it back into Notepad. I added the page breaks and the text-start to the html and it was ready. I then zipped the html with the jpg of the front cover and sent it to Amazon. Two minutes later I had a preview and it looked good. There are lots of guides out there on how to format for Kindle, but using this method of letting Notepad cut out the Word formatting and then letting Google create the html makes it easy. Of course, I have only text--no charts or pictues--so the difficulties are minimal.

While I was there I noticed that The Duke of Morrison Street has started to sell in the Kindle Edition.

Friends are reading The Duke of Morrison Street and coming back to me with comments. It is sort of fun for me because in the final analysis The Duke of Morrison Street is not a serious book. It is a whodunnit. Malady Manor, although having more outright humor than  The Duke of Morrison Street, is the more serious of the two. People feel the biographical element and want to know how much of the book is true. I have a hard time answering that. The emotions are true; the events are fictional. But that answer is unsatisfying because it applies to most fiction.

I have a friend who is dismissive of fiction--both my reading it and my writing it. He reads to improve himself. I read fiction for the same reason I go to movies and concerts: for the fun of it. When I write I write to make the experience fun for my reader. But I also want some truth in what I write--the kind of truth that can only be expressed in fiction.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Malady Manor

I sent off Malady Manor for final corrections yesterday. I will have the proof when I return from vacation. I like the book, but what can you expect--I wrote it. I have always felt that it had little to offer people outside the recovery community, but my sister, who has no connection or sympathy for the twelve-step world, liked it for both the humor and the pathos. She wanted me to send it to Oprah. I don't watch Oprah, but I understand that she is the greatest bookseller on the planet.

My blog about Oregon Elder Law (guardianships, Medicaid, estate planning--that sort of thing) seems to be working itself up the search engines. I thought it would be straight work, but it is turning out to be a lot of fun to write.

I am back to worrying about typos. I am certain to have some left in Malady Manor, like I did in The Duke of Morrison Street. I have had a number of friends, relatives and legal assistants assure me that they are dynamite proof readers, but they have all turned out to be as bad at it as I am. I am going to have to bite the bullet and hire professionals. I am not generally a fan of professionalism, but sometimes you have to go there. I have an eager Indian woman who will do it for a reasonable price, but turning it over to someone for whom English is a second language scares me. I don't imagine there is a warranty.

The internet has a lot of domestic proof readers, copy editors, and people of that ilk offering their skills for sale. I may hire one of them if I can find one who is not too much of a pain in the ass to hire. Most of the ads they write make them sound like pissed off artists, or pissed off something else, who are doing proof reading until their true vocations start to pay.

However I approach it, Malady Manor should be for sale some time in January.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Amazon Novel Contest

I still struggle with the "why am I doing this" question. Do I want the ego strokes from being famous (or maybe admired in a small circle)? Do I want to make money? Do I want success--whatever that is? Do I want to make a living sitting at a computer writing stories? I don't know the answer to any of these questions.

I looked at the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. I qualify, being self-published. If I won, I would get publicity for my books. The process for entering involves making a pitch, submitting a sample, writing a short but interesting bio--all the same things a writer does to convince an agent or a publisher to consider a work.  Amazon will accept 10,000 entries and pass them through the hands of some published writers to come up with a winner. It looks like a lot of work to enter with a very small chance of getting anything out of it.

And what does winning mean in this context? It means a publishing contract with Penguin in which the writer will receive a $15,000 advance against future royalties. I have worked some hard-ass ten-dollar-an-hour jobs in my life, so I know the value of $15,000. On the other hand, it is not that hard at my current job to make $15,000. No matter how you cut it, writing is a crappy way to make money. Not only does lawyering make good money, it is usually more fun.

The thing I dislike about the contest--or the send your query letter to an agent plan--is that I turn over control to someone else and then sit on my hands waiting for someone to give me a prize. The loss of control doesn't seem worth the potential reward.

Which leads back to why am I doing this anyway. I still don't know, but I am heading to my cabin for a winter vacation eagerly awaiting some quiet time to sit at the keyboard and put another 15,000 words into my newest Leopold Larson story. It is becoming clear that I am not a rational being.