Monday, July 25, 2011

Oh God! Not Another Learning Experience!

One thing about this month, it's been educational. I'm learning about scanning internet domains, WordPress and several other things and I'm learning it the hard way.

The latest volley of folly concerns registering domains and setting up web pages and blogs. It's been a long, hard slog.

Right now I'm trying to deal with three domains I originally registered with JumpDomain. If you've never heard of JumpDomain consider yourself lucky. It was a shoestring operation in the midwest that outgrew its one-man operating style about 10 years ago. They kept adding customers but they didn't grow their staff. As a result their support and management operations were abysmal. You could never get emails returned -- and I mean never! -- and they never answered their phone. As long as you didn't need to contact them they were okay service-wise, but Jeez Louise! If you needed to talk to someone you were out of luck.

Due to a peculiarity in their billing system, I couldn't use their regular procedure to transfer these domains. I needed to talk to someone but of course I never could.
Since the domains were merely parked I didn't worry about it too much. The only domain I really cared about was because it was intended as my web site for my fiction.

Then JumpDomain went out of business in early 2010. Now there was a whole new complication in trying to get those domains back to host on GoDaddy, my current preferred ISP.

It turns out that JumpDomain was reselling domains from a company call Enom, which still existed. The domains had reverted to them and so I got to start the process over again. So I emailed Enom to try to get something going. At least I got a prompt response from them. So we'll see.

This is on top of stuff with scanning, WordPress, and getting various domains set up to my satisfaction. Very educational, but not soothing.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

What a week!

The next time I publish a book (later this summer, I hope)I'm going to schedule it better. "Shift Happens" came out at the end of the month. That's the time I'm under the most deadline pressure and releasing the book just added to the craziness.

As a result, some my articles were late and I've done a sloppy job on the release marketing. I'll have to do better next week.


Had lunch today with Joseph McDaniel, long time friend and blogger extraordinaire. Boy did I learn a lot!

Joe is one of Arizona's leading bankruptcy attorneys and he blogs like a crazed animal to support his practice and for private projects like the Shotokan karate dojo where he holds a black belt. He has a keen analytical mind and he's applied it to carefully studying blogging and working out techniques and have boosted him to the top of the search engine lists.

Two of Joe's main techniques are targeting and consistency. Joe has several blogs with each one targeted at a different audience. This precise targeting helps him hold readers' interest and keeps them coming back. He assures they'll come back by giving them fresh,meaningful, content at least twice a week.

A lot of work? Yep, but it's paid off for him. He figures he gets about twice the daily visits by potential customers as most bankruptcy attorneys similarly situated. He also finds that people who come in often already know him from his blogs and he already has the beginnings of a positive relationship before they walk in the door.

We spent two hours talking -- mostly Joe talking and me listening. We covered a lot of ground and agreed to do it again soon. Next time I'll take better notes.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The URL for Shift Happens

Several people have asked me for the URL for "Shift Happens", so here it is.

I think you don't need any of the stuff after the word "ebook" but I don't have time to experiment now.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Still the scanning saga continues. . .

Now I'm looking into scanning service for Obsidian Harvest. And boy, what a long strange trip that is.

So far I haven't found anyone who will scan my document (pages cut from a magazine) and give me a .txt or .doc file of the results. My last hope is Office Max. They won't give me a text file but they will provide a .pdf of the pages. I'm pretty sure I can use Omnipage to OCR the file.

The first problem I ran into is that scanning services either weren't interested or couldn't do it. My lousy 28 pages is just too small for them to mess with. As one of them put it: "Now if you had 2800 pages. . ." The mind boggles. It's not just that my job is small, the pages are physically small -- digest size, which is about half a regular sheet of typing paper. Scanning services are mostly set up to scan letter or legal size pages and running a small page through the scanner runs the risk of jamming the document feeder.

Finally, after several turn downs, I thought of OfficeMax. They could do it for 25 cents a page, which is quite reasonable, and would give me a .pdf of the scanned file for further work.

So in theory this new approach should work. But in theory scanning the story in with the OCR software on my HP printer should have worked as well.

Oh well, at least I'm accumulating a lot of information for my next book.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Experimenting with press releases

I'm trying the tack of promoting my ebook "Shift Happens" by using press releases. So far I've sent out three and we'll have to see what kind of response I get.

Press releases to promote book is tricky. Generally it doesn't work for fiction, but in theory a well prepared press release should help sales of non-fiction books. We'll see.

Besides, it gives me an opportunity to use a skill from my time in PR.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


"Shift Happens: The New E-Publishing Paradigm And What It Means For Writers" has been published and is now available as a Kindle ebook on Amazon.

In the book I outline the earthquake changes to publishing in the wake of the growing popularity of ebooks and ebook readers. Perhaps most significantly for authors, ebooks turn the dynamics of publishing upside down by putting the author in the drivers seat rather than the publishers. Now authors can choose what and when to publish without having to get a publisher's approval.

The result is a new freedom for writers as well as the opportunity to make significant amounts of money from epublishing.

To see how this can work for you, order "Shift Happens"

Friday, July 15, 2011

Scanners Live Not So Vainly

Well, I finally got Omnipage installed.

Nuance customer support still sucks, but after messing around the web site for a half hour I called the main number at Nuance and finally got transferred to tech support.

The tech support call was a story in itself. The line was bad and the guy on the other end was in India. Cultural differences reared their head in that I had trouble figuring out the question he was really asking. But we got it to work.

Why do these companies think that just because someone is fluent in English they're equipped to handle tech support? The guy was fluent, fortunately, but we kept missing each other's cues and the result was a "Who's On First" scenario.

Oh well, at least I get to check out how well Omnipage works.


Scanners Live In Vain

For the latest chapter in my scanning saga, I purchased Nuance Omnipage 18, a highly recommended OCR product.

So far this has worked about as well as everything else I've done to try to scan in documents. That is to say, not at all.

Here my problems are simpler, and seemingly insoluble.

First problem: I can't install the software. It goes through the involved installation procedure, tells me it has installed successfully, then nothing. No icon on the desktop, no entry on the list of installed programs, zero.

There's more to the story, of course, including a blown install, a messed up email address (mine, mea culpa) and much fooling with the stuff. All to no avail.

Okay, time to call tech support == and that leads me to the next problem. After playing ring-around-the-rosy on the web site several times, I still can't find the tech support number. Everything seems to indicate there is one, but I can find no trace of it on Nuance's pretty but seemingly useless web site.

As I say Nuance comes highly recommended, but if you can't install the program it's useless.

Now all I've got to do is figure out how to send the damn thing back for a refund. And I'm still without OCR software.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

First Web Page Up

The first in my new series of web pages is submitted and should be up by Friday (July 15) It's for (which also happens to be the URL) and just now it is a single, extremely basic page for displaying my work.

This will be expanded over the next couple of weeks as I get around to adding more content.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Help In Publishing For The Kindle

The final stage in publishing an ebook is formatting it. This used to be a pretty simple deal. Essentially you converted your file to HTML added a couple of tweaks and the cover art, all zipped into a single file.

Amazon's Kindle is no longer that simple. Amazon now insists that book submitters use the .ncx file format to submit the table of contents. Ncx is an XHTML format for tables of contents, so it's sorta HTML, but not quite.

This has the advantage that it allows things like a hyperlinked table of contents for the talking book version. It has the disadvantage of being so arcane there's little information on how to do it available.

Fortunately someone stepped up to the challenge. April K. Hamilton, author of "The Indie Author Guide to Publishing" (good book) has come out with "The Indie Author Guide For Publishing For The Kindle With Amazon's Digital Text Platform, Mobipocket Creator And MS Word 2003 Or Higher." In it she walks you through the steps involved in taking your book from a text file to a ready-to-submit zip file.

Hamilton is owed a vote of thanks by everyone in the e-authoring community for untangling this tangled tale. Be warned: The process still isn't easy, but at least you can more-or-less understand it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"Shift Happens" is almost out

"Shift Happens" my new ebook on the revolution in publishing is at the formatter and should be published in two or three days.

Another long slog done.

I will say the process of publishing an e-book is a lot easier, and a lot faster, than a conventional paper book. Now that royalties on ebooks are hitting 70 percent from Amazon I have to wonder how much longer paper books will remain the preferred way to publish popular fiction. The advantages for both author and reader just keep piling up.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Scanning -- again

Still the scanning saga continues.

I finally got the document scanned and OCRed and started on the corrections. I quickly discovered I'd been two optimistic when I said that one error in 200 was acceptable. It's not really.

In an 18,000 word story that amounts to several thousand errors and some of them are things like substituting an "l" for an "I" which are hard to spot.

What's worse, several sections of the story didn't scan so I've got holes I've got to refill by retyping several pages at a stretch.

Now I am not a proofreader, I'm a writer. I don't have the kind of detail-oriented mind it takes to ferret errors like this and fix them.

And then there's the other problem.

This one I can't blame on the OCR software. It seems that the magazine ended each line with a hard line break. Ducky, except that the story was set two columns to a page so to get the copy prepared I've got to go through and take out all those hard line breaks.

I won't bore you with a long, technical explanation of why that's a problem, except to say that very few word processors allow you to find and replace hard line breaks the way you can other characters. To do it you need to delve into regular expressions -- which are their own brand of magic -- and the regular expressions in LibreOffice are unusually arcane.

What it comes down to is I've got to go through the story and reinsert the paragraph breaks that were left after I got rid of the hard line breaks. By hand.

As a result I've got a headache and I'm still not done with this.

I've come to several conclusions here. The first is that I need better OCR software. FreeOCR just isn't accurate enough for long documents. So I'm getting Omnipage from Nuance, which is $150 but comes highly recommended. The second conclusion is I may need more than that if I'm going to scan in all my stories for my collection "Cooks Book".

I'll try OCRing with Omnipage, but if that doesn't work I'll either have to get a better scanner or farm the job out to a service bureau.

Which reminds me of something John W. Campbell told me once: "Always use the right tool for the job. The right tool to fix a television set is a television repairman."

More on the world changing

Ran across a fascinating post by Robin Sullivan at

dealing with the changes in epublishing. Sullivan (whose husband is Michael J. Sullivan, a fantasy author) keeps records of her husband's sales and also tracks the Writers Cafe forum on the Kindle Boards. And she documented the change.

Basically it happened a lot faster and more sharply than I thought. According to Sullivan, the change started with an increase in sales in November-December in 2010 and accelerated from there. Michael Sullivan, for example, went from sales of about $1,500 a month for the self-published and ebook versions of his novels to making just over $100,000 in the first five months in 2011. Almost all the increase came in ebooks.

In her blog post Sullivan then analyzes the reports from Writer's Cafe. Of the authors reporting, the number of writers selling more than 800 copies a month of their books went from about 30 a month to around 80 a month in the same period. By the end of the period, the top ten writers were making between $3900 a month and $16,000 a month from their ebooks.

To which I can only say: "Write on dudes and dudettes!"

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Roots of Revolution, Part 2: The Day The World Changed

Americans love fixed dates for any important event. Thus, we celebrate the 4th of July to mark American independence and we mourn Sept. 11 as the beginning of the war on terror.

Of course most such dates don't mark when the real event happened. Both the American Revolution and the War on Terror started considerably before those dates, but we like the comfort of having a nice solid date we can quote like a mantra.

The change that's taking place in publishing has a special date as well. January 20, 2010. Like the others, the tidal wave didn't start then, but it is significant. In future years I wouldn't be surprised if authors get together to raise their glasses and party on that day.

(Not so much because most authors will remember the date, but because authors love an excuse to slack off and party.)

What's so special about January 20, 2010? That's the day that Amazon kickstarted the epublishing revolution by announcing they would be raising the royalties on their ebooks to 70 percent of list prices. (Amazon actually raised rates on Jun 30, so you can celebrate that date too.) That makes it a convenient date to mark as the day the Revolution began.

The higher royalties were actually the second step in the events starting the revolution. The first one was the ebook readers took off. Today something like 12-15 percent of all American readers own an ebook reader and Amazon sells more ebooks than it does conventional books. Between them, those facts set off the explosion in publishing.

There is a third factor leading to the revolution as well. Ebook publishers do an absolute minimum of gatekeeping. If you write an ebook, Amazon or Smashwords or whoever is just about sure to publish it, no matter what the subject. (I will admit I've had a little trouble selling the concepts for The Serial Killers' Handbook and The Official Hannibal Lechter Fan Club Guide And Recipe Book, but those are about the only limits.)

So, anyone gets to publish anything they want, charge between $2.99 and $9.99 for it and collect a royalty of 70 percent of the price. That's a minimum of $2.10 per book.

Both buyers and sellers were energized by the changes. Buyers responded by buying more ebooks readers than even the most sanguine marketers imagined -- and they're still buying them. Sellers started cranking out books so the buyers would have a large choice of reading material at very low prices. The cycle rapidly became self-perpetuating and it shows no sign of slowing down.

We'll leave the quality of the new books for another post. Here we'll simply observe that there is a huge amount of dreck being published. Illiterate dreck, mostly. However there are also some gems that rival the best printed books being published (never mind the stuff that makes the best seller lists)

So the next time January 20 rolls around, buy a writer a drink and raise your glasses to the Revolution.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Scanning: The saga continues

When last we left our hero he was trying to scan in one of his stories from a science fiction magazine so he'd have a text file to edit to reprint the story. You know, the job that people always tell you is "easy".

In a pig's eye, said the little bird.

The scanning itself went fine. I've been scanning contracts and such for long enough I pretty much know the drill. The fun began when I tried to put the .pdf file from the scan through the OCR software to get a text file.

The first problem was I couldn't get the program to start. Every time I gave it a file name to upload the text copy to the program rejected it a message saying there was an error in the path name. Finally I called HP tech support. It cost me $20 because the printer was out of warranty, and a lot of time on the phone, but the tech was able to locate the problem. It turned out I couldn't enter a path name without hitting the "browse" button. Talk about counter-intuitive and no hint in the documentation.

Okay, problem solved. Now to let the OCR software create the text file. Tell it to go and it starts scanning -- and then stops halfway into the first page. The system hangs, eventually crashes and does something bad to the system that requires a power-off re-start to fix.

Rinse and repeat a couple of times.

The obvious diagnosis is that the software stubbed its toe on something, wandered off into the weeds and did something funky somewhere where it shouldn't. But what do I know? So another call to HP tech support. This time t hey don't charge me $20, but it takes an inordinate amount of time messing with settings and such. Finally in the course of this I repeat (for the second or third time) casually to the tech that this is a really big file.

How big? he asks not so casually. 40 pages or so, I tell him. Aha! A quick check of task manager reveals that the file is about 20 MB. Way too big for the program to handle. After a little messing the tech determines that there's no way the software will read a file that size. So its either re-scan the file in smaller chunks (ugh!) or find other software that can handle it (less ugh, but expensive).

I decide to see what I can find in the way of new software. After looking, I come across a recommendation for an Open Source program called "FreeOCR", which is, guess what?, free.
What the heck. I'm on deadline and I need something NOW. So I download FreeOCR and try it.

And it works. Not perfectly. There are a couple of annoying little details, like having to select each column on the page separately to input, but it's fast and it will read a file that size without even breathing hard. (The trick is that FreeOCR operates on a page at a time, no matter how large the file is. So instead of choking on 20 MB of stuff, it takes it in smaller bites.) True, it doesn't do as good a job at character recognition, missing maybe one character in 200, but even at 40 pages that's good enough for me.

So a 'simple' job of scanning ended up taking two days of clock time because scanning isn't so simple at all. A few years ago I was talking to Eric Flint, who is head of the Baen Free Library. The Library is a program to provide free Baen e-books online. (Usually the first book in a series, which hooks you nicely and then they sell you the other books.) He was talking about how difficult it was to get books up for the library, especially the ones that were printed before delivering books as word processor files became popular.

Someone suggested that Eric use volunteers to scan in the books. Eric reacted negatively -- overly so, I thought.

However after this week's experiences, I think I owe Eric an apology.


Writers: Image versus reality

First, the image. A PR photo taken several years ago.

Then a picture of me as I really am

The Image and The Reality

Over in a tech journalists group we got into a discussion of how we are perceived versus what we (writers) are actually like. In doing some work with scans today, I found a couple that illustrate the point nicely

First a PR photo of me

The Sea Change In Publishing -- Pt 2

Of course book prices reflect a lot more than the cost of physically producing a book. We'll look as some of the sheer craziness in the business later.

In the meantime you have to ask why, if book prices are so inflated, someone doesn't come along and publish books for something closer to the actual production costs? That is what is supposed to happen in a free market, right? The cost of goods should shrink toward the cost of production.

In a word: Distribution. Conventional publishers have a lock on distribution through conventional channels. You either play by their rules or you face a long, hard road with little chance of success.

A modern publisher of the conventional sort today really owns only one thing and that is a distribution network. Almost all of them sold off their presses years ago because of the cost of running them, they may or may not own their own warehouses, most of their low level editorial work is probably farmed out. What's left is essentially a few key editors and such and a network which is specialized in getting books into conventional book stores or the paperback rack at your local supermarket.

The key part of that distribution operation are the sales reps who constantly visit bookstores, buyers, wholesalers, etc. to convince them to stock their publisher's books. (I say "stock" because typically publishers offer book sellers a return policy. If the book doesn't sell it goes back to the publisher for credit.

The big publishers have very large distribution networks and the little publishers usually work a deal with one of the biggies to have them distribute their books. For example Baen books has such an arrangement with Simon and Schuster (or did -- since Jim Baen died I don't have an inside source on the industry.)

Of course the little guy who's trying to do it without a big publisher is basically screwed. No matter how hard he or she (girls can be guys these days) the self-published author simply can't get the reach to get a book into bookstores. In fact most booksellers hate to see self-published authors at all, deeming them a nuisance.

It is this lock on the distribution channel that keeps conventional publishers in business. No distribution, no sales, at least under the conventional model.

Which is where e-publishing breaks the cycle.

E-publishing allows authors to avoid the big publishers and their distribution networks altogether. There's still often a big company, like Amazon, involved, but they're acting as a bookseller more than a publisher. In e-publishing the jobs like editing, which are done by conventional publishers, are the responsibility of the author.

The thing that makes this work is that the distribution potential of e-publishers is literally world wide. Anyone with a computer can sign on to their web sites and order a book. In fact the distribution network of an e-publisher is bigger than the network of any conventional publisher. It also bypasses the conventional bookseller entirely and goes direct to the customer.

In effect it's disintermediation at work because the supply chain reduces to three: The author, the e-publisher and the bookseller. What's even better is that because the cost of producing an e-book is so low for the e-publisher the e-publisher doesn't have to act as a gatekeeper. There is little or no barrier between the author and the customer.

The result is, if you want to write a book, you can easily and cheaply e-publish it. Of course you can also e-publish it no matter how bad, illiterate or just plain wacko the book is. This leads to the conventional publisher's claim that e-books are all crap.

There's enough truth in that to make it sting badly. That's why it's going to be the topic of the next post in this series.


Here's the Japanese cover

Just a quickie scan

And here's the cover of the Japanese edition

Not cleaned up, but what the heck.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Roots Of Revolution Pt 1

It's fine to talk about a sea change and paradigm shift in publishing because of e-books. It's better to talk about how a lot of people are going to make huge amounts of money. But exactly what changed and how does it open opportunities for authors?

Actually there are several changes coming together. Let's start with the most basic.

The Marginal Cost To Produce
The Next Copy Of An E book Is About Zero

In other words, once you've got your book written, copy edited and set up on the web site, the cost to provide a customer with a copy is very nearly zero. Oh, there's the cost of storing the book on the system and servicing the order, but it's so small as to be negligible.

This is very different from the situation with printed books. At the least, such books have to be printed, paper and ink purchased, and the product packed and trucked to bookstores. Just printing and binding a typical book costs $2. So the absolute cost of a book can't go below $2 (plus shipping, etc.) or the publisher loses money on every copy.

Two dollars versus zero is a pretty big difference, but wait (the announcer says) there's more. In fact there's a lot more. In the next blog post I'll look at some of the built-in costs of printed books that aren't necessary to produce the book but are built into the system.

And on a more fun subject

My review copies of the Japanese reprint of my first novel arrived today. Yippee, now I can annoy people with bad puns in two languages. I wonder how computer humor translates into Japanese?

New Japanese Edition of Wizards Bane

Just got my review copies today from the Japanese edition of Wizard's Bane, the first novel I ever sold.

Interesting to see the differences in the cover. The American edition, from Baen, featured dragons. The Japanese edition features a redhead.

I also like the way my name transliterates. In Japanese I'm "Riku Kuku".

Monday, July 4, 2011


Well, I expected trouble and I got it.

I think the document scanned in correctly. At least the first of the .pdf looks good. However I've got a hangup in running OCR on the document to give me a text file. After screwing with it for an hour and getting nowhere, I've put that aside and I'll call HP tech support tomorrow.

Fortunately I don't have a tight deadline on this.


Yet another project: Fiction This Time!

I just started the process of scanning in a story that appeared in Analog in 2000.

My co-author, Earnest Hogan, and I have decided to take the story, titled Obsidian Harvest, and turn it into a separate item for the Kindle store. Unfortunately, I don't have an electronic copy of the story since that was about two computers back. (Note to self: Rewritable DVDs are your friends). So while Ernie does some illustrations in his unique pseudo-glyphic, pseudo-tagger style, I've got to get a copy of the story in machine readable form so we can work with it in preparation for uploading to Kindle.

Fortunately I have worked on this some, although not on this story. Scanning in a magazine story isn't as easy as it should be. One unexpected problem was that the scanner left hard carriage returns at the end of each line. After three or four days of futzing with it, I finally found the secret: A multi-step process that involves the (simple) use of regular expressions. To say it is counter-intuitive as hell is putting it nicely -- a lot nicer than my comments while I was fighting the process.

To add to the fun, the OpenOffice documentation is completely silent on how to do this. LibreOffice, the recent fork of the OpenOffice project, does it exactly the same unobvious way. However LibreOffice's documentation includes an appendix on how to do the trick. Have I mentioned I really like LibreOffice?

Then, of course, I'm expecting the usual hassles in scanning, from paper jams to pages out of order, misread and all kinds of little weirdnesses. But that's okay. It beats retyping the whole thing.

Which reminds me of all the people who will airily tell you that it's no problem to get something in to machine format. All you've got to do is scan it in. Riiiggghhhtt! says I in my best Bill Cosby voice. All I can say is the people who talk like this have either never tried it or they had the devil's own luck.

In my experience scanning is like voice recognition. Which is to say it's a nifty technology and it's getting better and better, but it really isn't here yet for home office use.

Ah, well, I'll keep you up to date on how it works out.


Sunday, July 3, 2011

Moving Off Dead Center

Since they changed my drugs again, I'm feeling better and I'm able to be more active.
This is a Good Thing.

The most interesting news I've got to share is that I'm getting ready to publish an e book on Kindle. Titled "Shift Happens", it's about the changes in the publishing industry and how they benefit the writers who are willing to take advantage of them. Short form: self-publishing by e book is no longer necessarily a marginal enterprise.

The other thing is a sequel to "Obsidian Harvest", my "dinosaur Aztec detective story noir". Earnest Hogan and I have been working on this off and on (mostly off) over the last couple of years and I think the thing is near enough done to warrant a death march to finish it this week.

The good news about my health is that I'm not in any pain. The bad news is that the clogged arteries severely reduce what I can do. The other problem is that my balance is shot and unless I'm very careful I tend to fall over when doing anything even moderately strenuous. But I can cope with that by being careful and limiting what I try to do.

Meanwhile the weather in Phoenix has turned full-bore ugly. Which is to say that it's been over 110 for most of the last week and Fourth of July looks like it will be nosing 118. I can pretty well stand anything up to 110, but over that, I don't care how dry the heat is, it's HOT!

However as a friend of mine who moved here from Boston liked to observe: No matter how hot it gets, you never have to shovel heat.

Nor do we have a season called "mud".

More as I know more.