tagged Ebooks

Books: It's not the content that counts, it's the image?

I've come across some interesting articles on the topic of what an ebook is worth, mostly in context with pricing, but came across one that is particularly baffling today - because of the implications about the worth of books in general.

According to this article, Joan Brady, an award-winning writer (info on Wikipedia) argues that paper books will stick around because they are statud symbols, like Rolex watches and four wheel drives. (Apparently in her world, people who have to drive along dirt tracks don't exist.) Books people would not like to admit to reading will be sold as ebooks, but books people want other people to think they have read will be bought in paper, so they can be put on a shelf to show off to visitors.

Now, some of that makes sense, as does pointing out that being unable to pass on ebooks legally is a disadvantage, but it seems far too polarised to me.

She said that once an e-book has been bought, it is “more worthless than used toilet paper, which can at least end up as compost”.

This line makes me wonder if Joan Brady has been quoted badly out of context. Buying an ebook means having access to the text, to read it whenever you want. Declaring that worthless sounds to me like declaring the actual content of the book worthless. What kind of author would have the attitude that what matters is the block of pages with a recognisable cover, and the "status" that owning it conferred, but not the writing?

I don't think print will perish any time soon. Some people just prefer paper, print books are handy for many kinds of reference works, coffee table books or well-crafted hardcovers are things of beauty. However, I buy those because I need or enjoy them, not to sway other people's opinion of me. (Mind, I do like sharing books I'm fond of, which may shade into showing off on occasion.)

What do you think? How important is the "status" or "shame" factor to you when it comes to letting people know?

Blog tags: Ebooks
tagged Ebooks

Guest Post on KDP and Kindle exclusivity by Becka Sutton

Becka Sutton is the writer of two online serials, and has recently self-published Land of Myth, the first volume of her YA serial Dragon Wars.

Why am I not putting Land of Myth into KDP Select?

The first and simplest reason is that I don't like platform exclusive things let alone vendor exclusive. I have both Kindle and ePub readers on my laptop and phone but given a choice I will always buy ePub and feel a bit exasperated when things are Kindle only. That being so it would be hypocritical of me to make my book Kindle exclusive.

Also while I do understand the lure of Select - in the US the vast majority of ereaders are Kindles and the possibility of reaching those readers with a free introduction to your work must be tempting - it's tempting for a reason. Amazon wants to be an ebook monopoly and I have a rampant distrust of monopolies. Once you've got one there's no one to control them. Amazon aren't so bad to authors at the moment but would they stay that way if they held all the cards. Healthy competition lies at the heart of capitalism – no one should hold all the cards.

Finally I don't like excluding people. I have friends with Nook, Kobo, Cybook and Sony readers and I know that there are many people I don't know who have non-Kindle readers. Choosing KDP Select would mean excluding them. Not only is this not good business because it's losing potential sales but it's also bad customer service. Sure if your work is DRM free they can use Calibre to convert it but you're making work for them and making the customer work for a product does not encourage sales. If Select doesn't pan out – as I suspect it won't in the long term – you'll have alienated all those potential customers and they may not buy your books even once they are once again available in non-kindle formats.

So there you have it - a brief summation of my reasons for not going with KDP Select.

You can find Becka's serials Dragon Wars and Haventon Chronicles at firebird-fiction.com. The first collected and edited volume of Dragon Wars, Land of Myth is available as ebook through various channels as well as as paperback.
Blog tags: Ebooks
tagged Ebooks

Paypal Clampdown - More about money than morals?

Paypal has drawn the ire of a lot of self-published erotica authors by requiring Smashwords to remove books with certain subjects from their platform. Those subjects include rape for titilation, incest, pseudo-incest (that's sex between someone and their step-parent), and bestiality.

There is a lot of ranting about censorship and danger to free speech. "Moral guardians run amok" seems to be not the only possible explanation, however.

Selena Kitt includes some findings in her blog post Slippery Slope: Erotica Censorship. (That's the website of an erotica author. It didn't look terribly racy to me, but I'm not 100% certain it'd pass as "safe for work".)

What I discovered was that most merchant-services (i.e. companies that allow you to use Visa and MasterCard on their site) which allow adult products charge a $5000 up-front fee to use their service. Then, they take exorbitant percentages from each transaction. Some 5%, some 14%, some as high as 25%.

Now it was starting to make more sense. The credit card companies charge higher fees for these “high-risk” accounts because there is a higher rate of what they call “chargebacks.” You know that protection on your credit card, where if you dispute the charge, you don’t have to pay for it? Well they’ve determined that happens more with porn and gambling and other “high-risk” sites than others, so they’re justified in charging more money to process payment for those sites.

So worst case, and friendliest interpretation for Paypal: If Paypal allowed porn, the credit card companies would classify all of Paypal as a high risk account, with higher fees that would have to be passed down to the customers.

The scenario that suggests to me is lots of people buying porn, their spouses seeing it on their credit card bill, the buyers going, "No, I never bought that!" and getting chargebacks, until credit card companies took notice. It brings us back to morals, but as a more spread-out factor than a random crackdown from a small group of moral guardians: Porn being a "guilty pleasure" a lot of people won't admit to.

Reality is always more complicated (why are incest, rape and bestiality singled out if the issue is "adult" content?), but the business angle should not be ignored.

[P.S.: If you care about my opinion on the topic of "is it OK to make certain books hard to impossible to sell?"... well, I dislike the topics listed, but considering it logically, murder is pretty disturbing, too, and some of my favourite books feature a hired killer as a viewpoint character, so it would be right hypocritical to support banning other fiction.]

Blog tags: Ebooks

Dear Self-published Authors: Amazon is not the World

A lot of this applies to people reviewing books on their blogs, too, but I'll not mention them down in the post.

I'll jump right in and start with one underlying fact people need to be aware of. Simplifying things a bit, you could say there are two major ebook formats: epub and Amazon's format. Amazon's format cannot be read on epub readers (that is, all current ones that aren't a Kindle), epub cannot be read on the Kindle.

Therefore, if you announce an ebook "available at Amazon" only, you are telling anybody who owns a Nook, or a Kobo reader, or a reader produced by Sony, Pocketbook, Hanvon, and so on, that they can't get your book, or at least can't get your book without having to jump through hoops.

Do you really want to tell someone who's interested in your books, "Your money is not good enough for me if you don't have a Kindle"?

Speaking as owner of an epub-reader, that's what you are doing when you link to Amazon only. And I've seen that a lot recently. I'd see an author or contributor blog about a book, or I see someone recommend a book on Twitter, including only an Amazon link - I'll even grant you using an Amazon link on Twitter, considering the character limit. If the book sounds interesting, I'll go and look it up on the author's (or in one case small publisher's) website, and there'll be also only a link to Amazon, or possibly Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The latter does not do most people any good, because B&N only sells to you if you are in the USA.

I don't know what's more frustrating: Cases where the books are really only available there, or cases where if I decide to search for it myself I can find the book in a channel I can buy from. Not including a link in the latter case seems just so very short-sighted from the author or publisher - of 10 people who want their ebooks in epub format, how many do you think will not go to that trouble?

Ebook shops with relatively few barriers are Smashwords and Kobobooks, so if your books are available there, please do link to them from a book's site. If they aren't, please consider how non-Kindle owners outside the USA can buy them.

Smashwords has no geographic restrictions at all, accept Paypal and are thus usable by people who have an account there, but not credit card, which for example described me until recently. In addition they offer books in various formats - unless the author/publisher disabled it, you can download epub now, a Kindle-compatible format down the line if you decide to switch. Plus, they don't use DRM on which a format conversion tool would choke on.

Kobobooks sells epub format, and applies georestrictions only on a per-book basis, rather than going the route most ebook shops take and only sell within the country they're based in.

Yes, technically I guess it's not all that difficult to buy books for Kindle, remove the DRM, and convert them to epub, but I don't want to support Amazon's attempts at building a monopoly. For reasons why a monopoly would be a bad idea, see for example KDP Select and a Not-So-Speculative Jaunt into Ebook Hell by Frida Fantastic.

Can you recommend other sellers open to people who don't have a Kindle and don't live in the USA? Do you have trouble with Smashwords or Kobobooks in your part of the world?

Blog tags: Ebooks
tagged Contemporary Fantasy Music

Sonant by A. Sparrow

Sonant is a modern fantasy novel self-published by A. Sparrow, available for free at Smashwords. I needed a bit to get into it, but after a while it became a pageturner I couldn't put down (despite editing flaws). The general atmosphere reminded me a bit of Stephen King books, but a bit less dark.

The official blurb:

Something strange lurks in a bell jar in the music room of wealthy eccentric, Aaron Levine, feeding on the sounds his mercenaries create. Bassist Aerie Walker, lured back into performance after a failed odyssey in professional jazz, finds herself involved with this band of musical alchemists as a Deliverance Ministry attempts to exorcize the demons perceived to dwell in Aaron's abode.

The viewpoint characters are Aerie, above-mentioned bassist, who is struggling with depression and finding a paying job; John, stay-at-home stepdad and neighbour of that bands usual "stage", who has some trouble understanding why his wife considers bad music "devil's work"; and Donnie, the priest that ends up, at John's wife's insistence, trying to get rid of the demons that must be behind that unholy noise from the house across the street.

The book keeps the question which side is right - has Aerie been drawn into Bad Things, or is the religious faction hysteric? - open for a long time, and in my opinion even at the resolution doesn't reduce either to cardboard-cutouts. Things that I found really fun to read were the pragmatic attitudes of most of the "exorcists" to their holy-magical job, and the interaction between Aerie and her bandmates; generally there's a neat cast of secondary characters with personality in this book.

I had the feeling it let up a bit towards the end; mostly a romantic subplot I'm not sure was supposed to be absurd and funny, or taken seriously. Anyway, romance doesn't take up much of the book.

Suspense and mystery, mundane problems, and the occasional scene of comic relief made for a very nice mix.

On the not-so-good front: The book should have had someone else proofreading. I noticed missing quotation marks, comma mistakes, dropped words, or the kind of mistakes you get when you have two possible versions of a sentence in your mind and write down a combination of both. However, this wasn't so common and bad that the "I want to know what happens next!" factor didn't pull me through.
Formatting was neat for the most part; one page or so towards the end had a slightly bigger fontsize, and there was an empty page before each chapter heading.

Being not a music buff myself I have no idea if the parts of the book talking about music and instruments sound well done to someone who is familiar with the subject. Apart from the very start, I did not find them distracting or in the way of the story despite my unfamiliarity.

I'm pretty sure I'm going to re-read this, and would pick up a sequel if it happened.

Available for free at Smashwords

Blog tags: Ebooks Reviews Novels

About 6 months of reading ebooks

Early this year I bought a dedicated ebook reader, and I thought I'd write down some of my impressions and experience.

My main reason for wanting an ereader was that I had almost stopped buying new books. I tend to keep ones I like to re-read, and even the ones I don't like so terribly much are not that easy to pass on when you're mostly reading English novels while living in Germany, so my bookshelves are close to full.

A bit of research showed that the first thing to decide was "Kindle or anything else", because Amazon uses their own file format for books, but not epub. All other brands supported epub, but not the format Amazon used, so if I bought a Kindle, I would never we able to switch to a different brand of reader. (I think if you buy books from B&N, there's a similar problem due to a variant in DRM, but I'm not sure. They don't sell to people outside the US at all.)
Between that, the $2 surcharge for buying ebooks from outside the US or UK that was still in effect for Germany at the time, and preferring a device with touchscreen to one with a built-in keyboard, I went for a Sony PRS-650.

Cue some frustration trying to find a shop that would actually sell English novels to me. While epub was (and is) the standard format in German ebook shops, their selection of English novels was tiny to nonexistent. B&N, Borders, Diesel, Waterstones, etc pp would not sell to me, because I was not in the US or UK - in some cases only telling me that when I tried to check out.

But eventually I found Kobobooks, where, since I am one of the weird people who actually has a credit card, I could actually buy books.

Only some publishers either have really weird contracts, or mess up when giving information to ebook vendors: I was interested in three fantasy series, and in two cases I was only allowed to buy the first and third, but not the second installment. (I double-checked, and the same was true on Amazon, so the problem wasn't with Kobo.)

But, well, I bought one book, and read it on the eink reader... and loved it.

A paper book I have to hold open, or it will flap shut. The pages will be bent, and I'll have to look at pages at an angle, which distorts the letters. On the reader, by contrast, I can always look straight-on at the "page". I really had not anticipated how much more comfortable that is. It probably helped that the reader I got is pretty quick; flipping a page doesn't take longer than in a paper book.

The eink display is not a backlighted screen like on a computer, tablet, or smartphone, and while the background is slightly darker than actual paper, I found it quite pleasant to read on.

I think I've tried out more new-to-me authors this year than in the five years before. Quite a few of those had self-published at Smashwords. That site is rather awkward to surf, and some of the books really should not have been published without at least another proofreading pass, but I like giving indie authors a try, the usually low prices are nice, and I have found some nice reads there. I've also drawn a few books from the Baen Free Library, though have not found an author there (apart from Lois McMaster Bujold, whose work I'd known before) that I like - military seems to be not my cup of tea. Kobobooks is my usual source for books that came through big publishers.

So, in summary:

  • Geographic restrictions are a pain in the butt.
  • Ebooks are more fun for me than paper books, because it's easier to get a lot of them that interest me.

All things considered, I'd be very happy... If only the last firmware upgrade had not caused the Sony reader to act up. I should really contact Sony about how to fix that.

Blog tags: Ebooks Thoughts
tagged Science fiction

Midnight Fireflies by Scott Niven

Under the (in hindsight apparently mistaken) impression that Scott Niven was a big name in Science Fiction who had started self-publishing older stories, I picked up this collection of "3 Tales of Speculative Fiction" from Smashwords.

Official Blurb:

Inside an intergalactic watering hole, a bizarre bet is made with high - yet unknown - stakes. In a nursing home, an elderly woman creates her own virtual reality. And in a medieval land, a boy in search of adventure stumbles upon a mysterious relic that will change his life forever. Midnight Fireflies collects these three tales of speculative fiction into one short story collection that will have you wondering "What If?" all night long.

A Mare Imbrium Wink

The backdrop of this story is a universe with various alien species, which may be watching humanity, which is still stuck on earth - so apparently "present day", more or less. The protagonist and viewpoint character belongs to an alien species that at one time in their life can merge with a (dead) member of another species, taking on their shape and parts of their personality. This specimen merged with a human scientist. Some characteristics he has taken on in that process - a longing for companionship and a certain cockiness - lead him into trouble.

This story mostly consists of aliens thinking or talking about characteristics of humanity at large. The ending breaks my suspension of disbelief and seems ridiculously harsh.

Fondest Desire

A nursing home provides immersive VR to its inhabitants. The protagonist of this story uses it to sit in a near-perfect copy of the actual nursing home, minus other occupants, to think about the past in peace - apart from a boy who sometimes shows up uninvited.

Nothing interesting happens. I get the impression this is meant as an essay about comparing VR and memories, encoded in fiction.

The Carrion Sphere

A young man kitted out with armour and sword goes into the woods for a rite of passage taking the shape of a solitary hunt. He finds a strange artifact that starts to talk... Sorry, I'm going to spoil the story here: He learns that the world has gone through cycles of humanity destroying itself through too much and/or the wrong technical advancement, and the artifact is supposed to tell people when to stop this time around.

The story ends with him deciding to take the artifact home.

In Summary each of the three stories gives me vibes of being constructed to convey a moral or message about humanity. Since I don't like that much, it all feels rather heavy-handed and lifeless to me. The fact that at least the first two stories have what I'd consider downer endings doesn't help. Not my cup of tea.

The formatting is tidy, including both a linked table of contents in the text, and one available through the reader, and copyediting seemed fine to me, too.

Total wordcount cracks 10,000; available for 99 cents on Smashwords

tagged Cats Science fiction

Three Kintaran Stories by Elizabeth McCoy

"Leaping Lizards", "The Best Revenge", and "What Really Matters" are three science fiction short stories published as separate ebooks. They take place in the same universe, and mostly follow Kinahran, a young cat-centaur growing up on a clan-ship of her people.

I've read and listed them in publishing order, starting with the freebie introductory story. (Covers below link to Smashwords sites.)

Leaping Lizards cover, showing two white cat-centaurs in front of storage boxes and a circuit-like design The Best Revenge cover, showing a white cat-centaur child with a hindleg in a cast sitting on the back of a grown black and white, in the background a brown tabby climbing on storage boxes What Really Matters cover, showing a group of cat-centaurs of different fur colours running from a spliced-in snapshop of a spaceship interior to an area with grass and trees
Decent tale, worth a try.
Jump to review
Not my cup of tea
Jump to review
Nice mix, recommended
Jump to review

As a general note I'd like to say: Elizabeth McCoy Obviously is obviously big on worldbuilding, including conlanging. The second in my eyes is a bit problematic. It's mostly that something like leaving "khih" and "nih" ("yes" and "no") and other words in the original Kintaran when translating a line of dialogue seems illogical to me, and makes reading less smooth than it could be. (The vocabulary is given in a glossary up front in each story.)

On the plus side, I think that she does a very good job of working in information about her universe in small, natural-feeling bits—in these stories I never had the feeling of being stuck in an unneccessary infodump. Aspects of Kintaran culture are shown organically through actions or thoughts of the characters in the stories.

On to the individual tales:

tagged Science fiction

Finished by C. A. Young

Finished is a science fiction adventure short story (~4800 words) published as ebook at Smashwords

Official blurb:

A life of larceny in a half-wrong body isn't what Aldin hoped for, but right now it's all he's got and he's making the best of it. When an unwelcome surprise sends him running, his prospects hinge entirely on his wits and an unlikely ally.

Aldin (our viewpoint character) is an art thief one job away from retiring and getting his sex reassignment surgery finished. When needing to evade authorities, borrowing transportation including driver at gunpoint seemed like a good idea...

Suspense, action, and a little commentary on gender change.

Content "warning": Starts off with a short section of pillow talk shading into foreplay, before that's interrupted.

There were no spelling, grammar or similar issues that jumped out at me.

My verdict: Worth a read.

Available at Smashwords for 99 cents.

tagged Fantasy Science fiction

Jokka Short stories

A while ago I posted short reviews of stories M.C.A. Hogarth collected under the headline "The Pelted SF". Today's the turn for another setting and culture she invented.

The Jokka are an alien species with three sexes, going through two puberties during each of which an individual's sex may change, at random. The stories take place in a pre-industrial age and do not feature humans or other aliens, so I guess if you file these as "fantasy" or "science fiction" is a matter of your personal definition of the genres.

Freedom, Spiced and Drunk, a story about a female who turns neuter at first puberty, is a good introduction to the biology that shapes the Jokkas' culture, and a poignant tale. (available for free at Smashwords and B&N)

New Stories involves an attempt to change traditions to changing traditions and getting over preconceptions.
It feels mostly like a puzzle piece to me; I think it works way better if you get the stories before and after than on its own.
(Smashwords | Amazon | B&N)

A Trifold Spiral Knot involves a Jokkad who h had been considered the chosen of a god, and whose sex-changes had been interpreted as signs. This story contains the most in-depth description of the sex changes themselves, and one of the Jokka's religions, as well as a jJokkad's musings on colour.
I find this story hard to pin down, but find the descriptions transporting.
(Smashwords | Amazon | B&N)

Money for Sorrow, Made Joy shows us a trading caravan of neuters planning to go exploring uncharted areas, but circumstances make it more difficult than expected.
As usual the descriptions are charming, but this one does not speak to me as much as most of the others.
(Available for free at Smashwords | B&N)

Unspeakable follows a male getting involved with a story teller who spreads taboo works. The short summaries of the stories cast interesting little spotlights on facets of the culture. (One of those taboos is loving someone not your own sex.)
This is one of my favourite stories by the author.
(available for free at Smashwords | B&N)

His Neuter Face is told by a female turned neuter. Not as physically capable as someone born neuter, and not salable like a female, it is thrown out by its clan, and must find a new place, and new confidence. Luckily there is a newcomer in town taking a liking to it.
While the previous stories about neuter characters focussed on their physical resilience, and often their role as hunters or workers, this story casts a greater focus of how the social lives of Jokka work. I really like the narrator's character development in this story. (At a bit over 12,000 words, this might pass as a novella rather than short story, depending on your definition.)
(Smashwords | Amazon | B&N)

The narator/viewpoint-character of Fire in the Void has made posing as an oracle to sell vague or common sense answers to people a lucrative business - but with his latest customer asking for help in matters of love, things turn more serious.
Usually I have trouble with present tense fiction, but M.C.A. Hogarth's attention to detail and all senses makes up for it. A slightly eerie story.
(Smashwords | Amazon | B&N)

I really recommend anyone who's interested in fiction about alien species to give at least the free ones a try. For me, the ones with a pricetag were worth it, too.

M.C.A. Hogarth is also working on a collected volume in print, to be titled Clays Beneath the Skies. She is looking for sponsors for the project, and the goodies on offer go up to the original illustrations she created for the collection.

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