Long-overdue ebook availability update

It has been a while since I’ve looked at the total number of ebooks and audiobooks available in our library’s OverDrive system. Over a year, in fact! The figures are encouraging, though:

Audio fiction Audio non-fiction Ebook fiction Ebook non-fiction Total
December 2010 4,202 1,060 1,185 139 6,586
February 2011 4,534 1,089 3,297 505 9,425
August 2011 5,197 1,139 5,773 880 12,989
January 2012 6,271 1,208 11,560 1,543 20,582
April 2013 6,999 1,516 20,281 3,410 32,206

The growth is clearly in the ebooks, rather than audio books, which is unsurprising, as audiobooks are generally a lot more expensive.

I’m still very much a hybrid reader but do prefer to read books as ebooks if I have the option. When I read physical books I miss the option of tapping on a word to find out its meaning or of increasing the size of the text when I’m reading in low light levels or when my eyes are tired.

I recently re-read my own two books and found a few editing errors in both. Those have now been fixed. I’m working on a third Hawley Lodge book (with more of an historical angle to it) – but progress is slow due to a lot of other commitments at the moment. Watch this space!

Finding my next read…

…is so much harder than it needs to be. I like the book recommendations from sites   like Goodreads and often use them to go hunting for a library book. Because the two libraries of which I’m a member also have access to ebooks, the first place I look is the online catalogue of the Ontario Library Service. But the book I’d like to read is only available to borrow as an ebook about one time out of ten, so then I have to go to the online library catalogue of Library 2 (the more convenient to visit of the two libraries) to see if they’ve got it, leaving Library 1’s online catalogue as the final resort if I can’t find it anywhere else.

It’s a time-consuming process and often a frustrating one. I don’t know what it is about the library catalogue software used in these small local libraries, but it is fairly clunky and hard to navigate. What I would really love would be to be able to register my membership of these libraries with my Goodreads account somehow and then have information about the holdings of the libraries (digital and physical) appear in the Goodreads website instead of having to schlep off and do all my searching on the three different, difficult, other sites.

Finding a book could be a lot simpler, I’m sure…

Library ebook availability update

This was originally just a short post to update the numbers of books available through our library ebook service here in Ontario. Then it grew a bit.

The last (approximately) six months have shown another big increase in the ebook fiction and non-fiction categories, with both nearly doubling.

Audio fiction Audio non-fiction Ebook fiction Ebook non-fiction Total
December 2010 4,202 1,060 1,185 139 6,586
February 2011 4,534 1,089 3,297 505 9,425
August 2011 5,197 1,139 5,773 880 12,989
January 2012 6,271 1,208 11,560 1,543 20,582

I’d be really interested to see some usage statistics on how many patrons are actually downloading books from these electronic library services. I imagine they’d show a similar steady increase.

UPDATE: Sometimes it’s useful to be friendly with a librarian. I chatted with the CEO of one of my local libraries about ebooks and Overdrive yesterday. This is a library in a small town, serving a population of only 1,800 people. The librarian was happy to share some of the statistics for use of OverDrive materials with me.

The results are interesting. I was expecting to see a steady growth in take-up by patrons of the OverDrive option for checking out books over the course of 2011. The figures don’t really support that expectation.

New users of library ebook system, 2011

There’s the expected post-Christmas spike in January and December, but the graph doesn’t reflect a rapid take-up of ebook borrowing in this particular library. 28 new readers in total.

The usage of OverDrive shows the sort of growth I would have expected:

Items borrowed through OverDrive

But the numbers involved are still very low: a total of only 249 items for the whole of 2011.

It’s very hard to measure the value of access to OverDrive for a small library. It costs around 10% of the library’s acquisition budget to provide patrons with access to the service. But with only around 30 active borrowers, it seems only to be being used by less than 2% of the library’s potential user population. For people like me who don’t live close to a library and who have the tools and skills to use it, the ability to download books from service is greatly appreciated. But with budgets getting increasingly tight for libraries, the cost is not all that easy to justify. It doesn’t help that there is no alternative to the OverDrive system: there isn’t any competing service which might help to drive down the price.

The other aspect which I found interesting from our library’s statistics was the demand for items in OverDrive. The graph below shows the number of unique individuals who borrowed items from that one library in each month of 2011. It ranges from two to nine people.

Patrons with items checked out

Compare that graph with the one below, which shows how many unique individuals were waiting for items in each month. This never dropped below four and got as high as 13 in January 2011. The access the library pays for is not unique access to materials for our library: we are sharing that access with other libraries all over Southern Ontario. Consequently, users of each of the libraries in this system are competing with each other for library materials in a way which would be much less likely to happen in real libraries. More than once, I’ve discovered that a popular item in OverDrive has 68 people waiting for it, while the physical copy is there in my local library, on the shelf.

People waiting for items

So now I’m torn. As a tech-savvy user of libraries, I adore being able to get hold of ebooks (relatively) easily. But I know that many other library users find the process of downloading books through OverDrive to be too complicated to attempt. Librarians are rightly worried about the effect of providing this access on their book budgets and on their services in general.

I think what I’d like to see is the ability for small libraries to build their own ebook collections, rather than having to use a centralised service like OverDrive. I’d also like to see those collections contain items of local interest and by local authors: materials that are never going to be picked up by the big publishers but which are significant to the library’s immediate community. It bothers me that the librarians’ skills of selecting, curating and sharing materials are being bypassed by centralised, standardised services which don’t allow for any variation and which don’t necessarily provide the best service for the public (those waiting times for ematerials are only going to grow as more people use the service).

Mapping the writing process

I had a vague overall idea about what I wanted to happen in The Viking and the Vendetta, but that was it: I let the book evolve as I was writing, relying on ideas to crop up when I needed them to. This is the brass-rubbing technique of writing I’ve described before. I did feel a little frightened when I’d finished the penultimate chapter but still had no clear idea about what was going to happen in the final one. I knew that certain things needed to happen, I just wasn’t sure how they would unfold. This has happened before, though, so I was hopeful that I’d be able to come up with the answers eventually.

After a good night’s sleep I woke up and started having ideas. I’m sure that my unconscious mind was working away on the problem as I slept. The final 3,500 words of the book poured out of me and onto the keyboard in one glorious day, quite often surprising me in the direction they took.

I don’t do a lot of on-paper planning of what is going to happen in my stories, but I do keep a digital mind-map of the writing process. This is divided into sections, one for each group of three chapters. I make a note of the main scenes of each chapter: sometimes after I’ve written, but other times beforehand, when I know what needs to happen but haven’t got round to writing it yet. It starts off as a fairly simple mind map, but ends up looking like a dog’s dinner:

Viking and Vendetta mind map

There are a few notes at the top left about important aspects of the story, but the rest is just a chapter-by-chapter summary of the work-in-progress, marked off with a green tick when the chapter is completed. I also make a note of how many words are in each chapter, so that they’re approximately the same length, give or take 500 words. For these books, the chapter length seems to have settled at around 3,250 words. It just happened that way; I’m not sure that there’s an optimum word length for chapters.

I did something similar with The Roman and the Runaway, but that one was a lot simpler and I didn’t use it as consistently as I did with the second book. It stops at Chapter 11 and the name of the main female character was still Connie when I last updated it, not Pagan as she became a bit later.

Roman and Runaway mind map

The software I use for these maps is Freemind. Which, as the name suggests, is free. I’m sure there are more sophisticated tools out there, but this one works very well for my novel-mapping purposes.

Exciting news

It’s been very quiet around this blog recently, mostly because I’ve been busy on the sequel to The Roman and the Runaway. I hoped to finish it in 2011 and I’ve actually managed to do that, thanks to some free time over the Christmas break and a last-minute flood of ideas for the final chapter.

You can find the ebook at Smashwords – where you can get 20% as a sample, or buy the whole thing for $2.99. It’s also available at Amazon’s UK Kindle store and in the US. Thanks to Brenda, a Flickr user, for making the image of the knife available under a Creative Commons licence. I think it makes a great cover.

Happy New Year!

Pink Snowbunnies in Hell (and Amazon…and Smashwords)

Back in May, author Debora Geary put out a challenge on a Kindleboards forum, asking whether people would be interested in contributing a story of under 1,000 words to an anthology. The story had to contain the line ‘pink snowbunnies will ski in Hell’ in it, but other than that, anything went.

The resulting publication (which had a cover before any content) is now available for sale at Amazon and Smashwords. It’s interesting to see how the different authors interpreted this brief (for me it was a chance to dip my toe into ‘light romance’ territory…). All proceeds are going to animal shelter charities and there are chances to win free copies over at Jimi Ripley, Coral Moore, Rex JamesonNicole Chase and Barbara Annino’s sites.

Ebook availability (and classification)

Time for one of my periodic spins around the virtual bookshelves of the Ontario public library system to report on the state of our ebook collection. Here’s a table showing the growth in availability of ebooks since December last year.

Audio fiction Audio non-fiction Ebook fiction Ebook non-fiction Total
December 2010 4,202 1,060 1,185 139 6,586
February 2011 4,534 1,089 3,297 505 9,425
August 2011 5,197 1,139 5,773 880 12,989

It’s pretty impressive, with the number of books almost doubling in that time period. Also interesting is that the number of fiction ebooks has now surpassed the number of fiction audio books. One thing I’ve noticed about my own use of ebooks is that I’m more likely to pick up non-fiction titles as ebooks than I would in the physical library. I don’t think I’ve ever browsed the non-fiction shelves in the smaller library that I use on a regular basis, and in the larger one I’ve only ever looked at one or two sections. In the virtual library I fall across books that sound interesting more often, even if sometimes the classification seems a bit odd (Zombies: A Hunter’s Guide seems an unlikely candidate for the section on ‘History’, for example, while Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters is classified as ‘Non-Fiction’. Or perhaps I’ve become a bit out of touch with the world and it’s my perception that’s the problem. Maybe zombies and sea monsters really are roaming the earth and oceans…).

Book review: Concrete Underground by Moxie Mezcal

Concrete Underground

Concrete Underground by Moxie Mezcal

It’s been a while since I’ve done a book review on here. Not because I haven’t been reading (or reviewing, for that matter), but simply because most of my reading of late has been of traditionally-published books. In this blog, I highlight independently-published works which I’ve enjoyed.

Looking at the last 20 books I’ve read, about one in five are independently published. The quality has varied, but generally they’ve been good. Concrete Underground stands out from them in a number of ways. For one thing, it is uncompromisingly violent and raunchy compared to the rest – not something I usually seek out in a book or movie. Yet the physical abuse and sex scenes are written in a very matter-of-fact way, which doesn’t negate their impact, but carries the reader along without making him or her cringe in horror or embarrassment.

The book is also interesting in that it raises more questions than it answers. My response to reaching the end of it was to start reading from the beginning all over again, as I wanted to try to work out what the answers to those questions are. The writing was of such a high quality that this was not any sort of hardship.

Concrete Underground is also different from my other recent reads in relation to its genre. It’s been described elsewhere as ‘postmodern pulp fiction’, which is as good a description as any. The book is a mystery, with a morals-free, Mexican investigative journalist main character who is looking into the activities of a search-engine company’s CEO. The story takes a sideways look at the overly-monitored lives we lead today. One passage that sums this up stood out:

…the age of surveillance is only a symptom of the new hyper-narcissism that has infected our collective reality tunnels. We invite the surveillance cameras into our homes because they are proof that someone is paying attention to us.

If you’re willing to try something new and aren’t put off by adult content, I highly recommend this novel. It’s not always a comfortable read, and may leave you feeling more confused at the end than you were at the beginning, but it is definitely worth the ride.

The difference between free and nearly free…

…turns out to be quite considerable. A glacier-slow drip of sales at Amazon became a torrent of downloads when the book was made free instead of 99 cents/70 pence.

Downloads at the UK Amazon site passed the 1,000 mark this morning, while over at the US site, the figure is close to 3,000.

It really brings home the scale of Amazon’s market share. The book has been freely available online since late 2009, via Scribd, Smashwords (and the various sites to which Smashwords ships books), Feedbooks and Manybooks. It took eight months to reach 4,000 downloads on Smashwords, while on Amazon that number has been reached in less than two weeks. It’s exciting, but a little bit frightening, too.