Amazon update update

Well, how quickly things change in this new epublishing world. Last week I was delighted because I’d had two sales in May through Amazon – bringing my total Amazon tally to a not-terribly-awe-inspiring FIVE WHOLE BOOKS. Well, five whole files, anyway.

Yesterday morning Amazon marked the price down from 99 cents/70 pence to… FREE! The effect on downloads via the Kindle Store was instantaneous By this morning my four Amazon.com downloads had burgeoned to a more impressive 1,072, while the UK sales had grown to a sedate but respectable 122. Of course there won’t be any royalties as no-one is making any money out of this arrangement, but it does mean that The Roman and the Runaway will be lurking on people’s Kindles and may even get read by some of them. 😉

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Amazon update

For the first time, I put a few posts on the Amazon Kindle forums to promote The Roman and the Runaway in the last week. Maybe four, in different, appropriate-seeming places (‘Kindle books for 99 cents’, that kind of thing). I’ve got a (probably very British) horror of self-promotion and certainly don’t want to put people’s backs up with anything that smacks of desperation or (even worse) spam.

I also joined a few of the ‘you tag me and I’ll tag you’ forums – one on Amazon itself and the others on the Kindleboards site. With these, you add Amazon tags to other authors’ books in return for them tagging yours with your preferred categories. So for my book, for the US site, those are:

young adult, contemporary fiction, fathers and sons, boarding school, runaways, family relationships, kindle, 99 cents

Some people put a huge amount of time into tagging other books with these tags and getting more on their own in return. I’m not sure how much of a difference the tags make, but I have sold one book on Amazon.com and my first ever* on Amazon.co.uk since doing this small quantity of self-promotion last weekend, so perhaps it does have an effect!

I still don’t think I’m going to dedicate my life to it, though…


*Woohoo!

Diana Wynne Jones (1934-2011)

One of the biggest influences on my dream of becoming a writer was the author Diana Wynne Jones. The first book of hers that I read was Charmed Life, which was published in 1977. Up to that point, I would only read Enid Blyton’s stories (my mother was beginning to despair of me ever reading anything else). Charmed Life was the magical book that broke that particular spell. From that point on, my tastes became pretty catholic, but Diana Wynne Jones’s books have maintained a hold over me. Favourites include Fire and Hemlock, The Ogre Downstairs, The Power of Three, The Lives of Christopher Chant and Hexwood. I’ve read these again and again: nearly always picking up something new each time.

This blog post is my small tribute to the writer who has influenced me and my writing more than any other. I’m sure there will be many other, much better analyses of her work in the days to come.

Audio books: pros and cons

I mentioned in my last post on statistics that I had been listening to a few audio books from the library, despite having thought previously that I wouldn’t be making much use of that particular variety of ebook. My thinking had been that audio books are fine for long car journeys, but that they didn’t really fit into my current lifestyle very well, since long car journeys don’t feature in it much.

Well I have to eat my words on that, as we have listened to four audio books since my original scepticism. One was so-so, the other three very good. As I mentioned before, the experience of listening rather than reading a book is different in important respects. For one thing, it takes a lot longer to listen to a book than it does to read one (part of my original prejudice against them, I admit). There’s also the problem of the narrator actually intruding on the book. The second book I heard was The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde. It was very well done and I enjoyed the narration. The two books after that were the next in the series, Lost in a Good Book and The Well of Lost Plots. In these, the narration was generally good, but there were some things that jarred with me. For one thing, the books are written from a first-person viewpoint, and Thursday Next, the protagonist, comes from the town of Swindon, Wiltshire. So the Lancashire accent of the narrator seemed…odd.

The second narrator also pronounced some things differently from the earlier one, so that ‘Spec Ops’, the abbreviated name for ‘Special Operations’ was pronounced ‘Spesh Ops’ by the first one and ‘Speck Ops’ by the second. Now I know this marks me out as a complete pedant, but the lack of consistency bothered me (couldn’t they just have asked Jasper Fforde which one he preferred?). The occasional mispronunciation of words can also be annoying. Of course it’s perfectly possible that I’ve been pronouncing those words wrongly all these years – but in a text-based book, it’s not something that I have to worry about. The prosody (the stress on words) was sometimes off, too. On a few occasions I found myself thinking that the author probably didn’t mean the sentence to be read with the emphasis on that word. Distracting…

There’s a social aspect to an audio book that’s very different from a text book. I really enjoyed the way that my husband and I were laughing at the jokes in the Thursday Next books as we heard them. It was a shared experience in a way that ‘regular’ reading can’t be (unless you’re a member of a book club, I suppose, but even then, you’re not experiencing the words at the same time as each other). The two later books in the Thursday Next series were only available as printed books from the library. We’ve both read and enjoyed them, but not at the same time. And there’s that element of book-jealousy, too, as one of us had to read them before the other. This only happens occasionally, but the problem reached a peak with one of the Harry Potter books, Order of the Phoenix, I think, where we were reading it in shifts. Audio books avoid that problem neatly.

The other problem with audio books is that it is easier to lose concentration than it is with a printed book. Some interruption can easily distract the listener and, before you know it, you’ve missed a key part of the plot. Price is also something that concerns me about audio books. Since mine have all come from the library service, this isn’t something I can honestly complain about, but the audio book version of The Eyre Affair is $31.93 at audible.com, whereas the ebook is $10.99. That seems like an enormous disparity: quite hard to justify, I’d say. Is this a tax on laziness?

What goes around…

A few months ago, a fellow indie writer gave me some great feedback on The Roman and the Runaway, coming up with three errors in the text (which I’d been so sure was perfect by then!). I hadn’t asked her to do this, and was grateful for the time and effort that she’d put into reading and correcting the book.

As a result, I determined to do the same for other authors if I found similar problems with their works. Sometimes with self-published books there are just too many errors to make it a sensible option, but if there are only a few, in an otherwise good book, then I’m willing to do some free editorial work to make the book even better. I feel quite strongly that indie authors should help each other out where they can: we don’t have the resources of publishers behind us and experience has shown me the truth of the view that it is impossible to be sure that you have caught all the errors in your own work.

Last week I sent another indie author a list of around 20 errors that I’d found in one of her books. I’d noted them on my ereader as I do when I’m editing my own work. She was glad to hear about them and has given me another one of her books in return. In my experience, indie authors are always pleased to be told about mistakes: don’t be afraid to let them know!

A small milestone

I reported back in October that The Roman and the Runaway was available at Amazon’s US and UK stores. The level of interest in the book has been, well, disappointing. I gave up regularly checking to see if I’ve had any sales on Amazon months ago. It was still getting downloaded fairly frequently from Smashwords and the sites it distributes to, as well as from Feedbooks. I figured that it was probably my own fault for not really spending much time promoting it. I just don’t take the whole thing seriously enough, I suppose. I’m happy that the book is out there and that people seem to be enjoying it, but I’m not hugely motivated by the financial aspect, or even the kudos-of-being-an-author one.

But today, when I checked, the report page had changed.

First sale

The way the numbers are lined up, it took a moment to work out that this was a sale and not a refund. It’s taken nearly five months, but at least I now know that the book is actually visible on Amazon. And that one person at least has taken a chance on it.

More stats

I’ve been diligently adding the books I’ve read since I’ve been living in Canada to LibraryThing and (more recently) Goodreads. I should probably just plump for one or the other, but each has features that the other lacks. I find LibraryThing more intuitive to navigate and Goodreads has some cool elements such as the ability to display statistics on your reading habits.

My Goodreads stats for 2010 and 2011 tell an interesting story. I’ve read the same number of books in two months of this year as I read in the whole of 2010. A large percentage of them have been ebooks, read on the ereader I got for Christmas, although there are a fair few library books in there, too. With the exception of the two Percy Jackson books, which I bought as a gift for my daughter, I haven’t paid for any of them: I’ve either downloaded them from free ebook sites, used coupons from Smashwords authors or borrowed the books in audio or ebook form from the public library’s OverDrive site. I was dismissive of audio books in an earlier post, but I’ve listened to three since then, mainly because they weren’t available in any other format through OverDrive. Listening to an audio book has turned out to be a pleasant way of making a usually private activity into a more social one: my husband and I are enjoying listening to a book together in the evenings.

More books have become available through OverDrive since I first posted about it at the end of December. The figures are now:

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

An increase in availability of all content of 143%, then, and a particularly big rise for the ebooks, with a 278% rise in available fiction titles. No wonder I’m reading so much…

E-editing

E-editing

I’m enjoying my ereader very much – it’s such a comfortable and easy way to read. One way I’m using it which I hadn’t anticipated is as an editing device. I’m slowly working on The Viking and the Vendetta, when I have time. I’ve written about half the book, so far. The other week, I converted the Word file into epub format and started to read the work-in-progress on my ereader. I soon found that it was much more pleasurable than trying to read the book on a computer screen (as is the case with every other ebook, so of course it was!).

The ability to make notes on the ereader makes it even more useful. When I notice something that needs changing, I can insert a note and then, when I’m back at the computer, I can go through the file, note by note, and make the alterations to the master Word document. The limitations of the stylus and on-screen keyboard mean that I won’t be making major additions to the book using this method, but it is great as a line-editing device.

It’s interesting that having an ereader is changing the way I write as well as the way I read!

Ebook quality

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

She was watching them and biting her Up.

…from the sideboard as! I held their attention…

Ill work on Terence and make another stab at the diary.

“J think he lost the battle because of his hemorrhoids.”

Kõiõing-neeaies as sne spoêe.

Authors of self-published books are often criticised for poor editing. It is, of course, notoriously difficult to edit one’s own writing – this is one area where a book that goes through the traditional publication process is almost always going to have an advantage. Almost always…

The examples above are not from a self-published book. They’re from the first ebook I borrowed from my public library (via the OverDrive service I discussed the other week). In theory, from a book which has undergone a rigorous quality-control procedure. Oh yeah?

They’re clearly errors which have crept in through an OCR (optical character recognition) process. Which has been poorly checked. Now I haven’t paid anything for this book, having read it through the library service, but if this is the same file that is made available for purchase, then I would have paid between $6.07 and $7.99 for it. And would have been even more annoyed by the mistakes. It’s not just self-published books which need careful proof-reading.

The book is an excellent read, by the way, despite the distracting errors.

Cover again

Revised cover, January 2011

One day I might stop tinkering with the cover of The Roman and the Runaway. Probably when I finish The Viking and the Vendetta and have a new toy to play with. No time soon, then…

The book is in so many different places now, that it becomes a major task to update the cover in all of them, which means it isn’t something to be taken on lightly. Top marks to Feedbooks, who make the change instantaneously. Smashwords comes a creditable second, with a very quick approval process. Amazon is slower and won’t let you make more than one change at a time, so I still have to go back to them and submit the final version, as my first wasn’t quite up to the job. For sites which are more heavily mediated (ManyBooks, for example), I have to send an email to make changes. As you might imagine, the version of the book on those sites doesn’t get updated very often!

I’ve uploaded a copy of the book to Goodreads now too. This involved using Calibre to convert my Word document into an epub file. Sounds easy, but turned out to be a bit of a nightmare. Not Calibre’s fault for the most part, but Word’s. For some reason, the navigation had gone screwy, even though I’d diligently labelled all the chapters as ‘Heading 3’ and all the parts as ‘Heading 2’. When I saved the file as HTML before importing it into Calibre, this meant that the table of contents was messed up, too. I must have done that conversion six or seven times before I was finally happy with the epub. I could just have downloaded the Feedbooks version, I suppose and used that (Goodreads does suggest doing this), but I wanted to see what the conversion process entailed (and wanted to use my chapter numbers, instead of the ones Feedbooks insists upon). In this respect, Smashwords is less obliging – they won’t let you use the files that they create from your Word document, in other places. I recommend Calibre generally, as a management tool for ebooks.

It’s all very complicated, I must say. Makes you quite nostalgic for the days of print…