Shoshone Station #5: Adam Out Now!

I was starting to worry I wouldn’t get it done this month, but here is the next installment in the Shoshone Station Serial adventure.

It’s Lannister’s first Christmas on the station. For once he has the room and time to play host to for the family Christmas celebration. His plans are complicated by the arrival of his run away niece, now an out trans man.
The arrival of a human woman with a squid child places Zeta is an awkward place. Her job demands she investigates, but how can she put another person through the same hell she grew up with? And what if she refuses?

Buy it now!





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Why the Ebook Bubble isn’t going to Burst

I hear a consistent rattle throughout the blogosphere about how we are in an ebook bubble. And of course we all know that bubbles are bad. They lead to financial collapse and ruin. And that is exactly what’s going to happen to ebooks, any day now.

I don’t personally believe we are in an ebook bubble, but even if we are, I don’t think it’s likely to collapse any time soon.

Let’s start by looking at what a bubble economy actually is, how it applies to ebooks and what an ebook bubble collapse would look like.

An Economic Bubble

First lets start with a bubble economy. An economic bubble occurs when the perceived or market value of an item or industry is too different from its real or intrinsic value. This can easily be explained with a couple of examples.

The dot com boom and bust of the nineties was a classic economic bubble at work. What happened is this: In the early nineties everyone was convinced that ecommerce was going to be the next big thing. (They were right, of course.) The stock market began investing heavily in any and all internet businesses.

The problem was the industry was still relatively small and the companies were new and untried. Internet businesses are lean by nature and in the mid-nineties there were hundreds of them. Most had a modest office space somewhere in California, a half dozen employees and a handful of web servers. That didn’t stop investors from sinking millions into them.

The result was a classic bubble. Some of these companies could measure their real assets in thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. On the stock exchange they were worth millions.

bubble economy

What happens when a company has fifty thousand in real assets and an estimated worth of fifty million? When it’s an economic boon, like the early and mid nineties were, all is good. But as soon a recession hits, look out. Many of the companies didn’t have assets on hand to weather the storm and went bankrupt, leaving investors out millions.

Another classic bubble is housing bust of 2008. For years real estate values rose consistently. Many people discovered real estate as a good investment tool.

But what about the real value of your house? Every year your market value goes up, but does your house grow bigger? Does it get better? If anything it is slowly aging, being subject to depreciation.

Again, as long as the economy is fairly stable, it works. But eventually the economy takes a downturn. Then nobody wants, or can afford, to pay the current market price. The last housing bubble left many people owing more on their current mortgage than they could get from selling the house. They were underwater, as the saying goes.

The Ebook Bubble

Are we in an ebook bubble? That’s a pretty murky question. With the dot com bust of the nineties it was pretty obvious. Companies have a tangential amount of fixed assets. The DOW lists stock prices. Just do the math and you’ll know. The housing bubble was a little tougher to see. Market value on a house is really just a guestimate of what the house would sell for. You don’t know exactly what the house’s market value is until you actually sell it. As many found out in the housing bust, sometimes houses won’t sell at their appraised value.

To figure out if we are in an ebook bubble or not we have to answer two questions. What is the real, intrinsic value of an ebook? What is the market value of an ebook? Neither of these questions have a good objective answer.

Market value of books

Those sounding the alarm about the ebook bubble are often the same people concerned about the huge rise in cheap or free ebooks flooding the market. These books are rapidly driving out better written but more expensive books, or so they claim.

This whole notion is based on a couple of simplistic half truths. The first is that books are an interchangeable commodity, that consumers simply looking for a book (any book will do) to read will naturally buy the cheapest they can find and be done with it. The second is that book sales are a zero sum game, that more sales of book A invariably means less sales of book B.

It is sometimes true that a book consumer is simply looking for a book to read to pass the time. It’s also true that people can only read so many books in any given period and eventually their book buying becomes saturated.

But neither of these paint the true story of a book’s market value. Books are not interchangeable commodities. Readers might be price sensitive on some titles but willing to pay more for other titles. A few books might compete for the same readership, but most do not. Some of the best marketers out there simply shrug their shoulders and say, “you just can’t predict the market.”

Here is the secret: each book is unique. You are trying to define a market value for “books” but each book has it’s own market value. Some books will sell well even at a premium price. Some books won’t sell, even at ninety nine cents. Some are free and still don’t get many downloads.

You can make some guesses how much the market will pay for a given book by looking at the track record of the authors. Best selling authors bring in more sales than unknown authors, generally speaking. You can make an even broader guess based on the genre the book is in. But putting an exact market value on a book is almost impossible, because each book will have it’s own unique value.

Industry analyst have looked at sales for a huge number of titles and identified “sweet spots.” (Currently Mark Coker says 3.99 is the sweet spot.) Books often sell fewer copies if priced too high or too low. Some indies have identified their own personal sweet spot by bumping their price around until they find it.

The ebook bubble concept is based on the idea that since so many indie authors are willing to sell books for 99 cents, that’s the market value for books. But many titles sell well for higher prices, and many 99 cent books don’t sell despite the price. But for the sake of argument lets take the basement discount price as market value and go on.

The intrinsic value of an ebook

If you think measuring the market value of a book is hard, measuring its intrinsic value is even harder, in part because there are a number of different perspectives.

The consumer perspective: It’s often hard to get the average consumer to see any intrinsic value in an ebook. It’s a digital rather than real product. To them it’s a few bytes of information on their kindle, computer or device. It costs nothing to store there. It can be copied at the click of a mouse. This explains, no doubt, why so many people are so cavalier about epiracy.

The indie perspective: the ebook itself might not be more than a few bytes on a computer, but there were real tangible costs to creating it. There was editing that had to paid for, cover design, formatting, etc. These fixed costs are a easily tabulated and often seen as the real cost of a digital book. Because these are one time costs, they diminish with sales. Let’s say for example that it costs you a thousand dollars to produce an ebook. If you sell two copies, it cost you five hundred dollars per copy. But if sell a thousand copies, it’s only a dollar per copy. This is the mentality that makes it logical to sell books at 99 cents or 1.99, hoping to sell thousands of copies and recoup the cost of production and then some.

The publisher’s perspective has to add in further costs, the cost of doing business. They not only have to pay back the one time costs of producing a book, they have ongoing overhead they have to cover as well.

Indie writers have accused publishers of conspiring to keep ebook prices high to protect print sales. Indies often shake their head at the seemingly boneheaded things that publishers do, at least when seen from an indie perspective. In my opinion it’s about more than protecting print sales, it’s about paying overhead.

In almost every industry the single biggest overhead expense is payroll. And suddenly keeping profit margins high makes perfect sense. If you assume that the majority of people working in the publishing industry would like to keep their jobs, and their jobs are dependent on the company making enough profit to pay its overhead, the whole issue takes on a different tone. A lot of choices that seem dumb to indies makes a certain sense.

(I hate to be a doomsayer, but this is one of the main reasons I’ve stayed indie so far. I am not sure the big publishers will ever be able to compete effectively against an indie writer who has little or no overhead.)

But what about the writer’s time?

The ebook-bubble-is-about-to-burst crowd seems to overlap extensively with the what-about- the-writer’s-time crowd and the two are integral to each other. None of these costs have taken into account the enormous amount of time an author puts into writing a book.

This criticism is often laid at the consumer’s feet. Consumers who are supposedly willing to read any old crap they can get for 99 cents while bypassing on real literature.

Criticizing readers for reading what they like, be it for 99 cents or 9.99 is never a good way to sell them on your books. And since every author would like more sales than they get, it’s easy to read sour grapes into this.

The second place this criticism often gets laid is at the feet of Indies. If there weren’t so many hobby writers willing to sell their poorly edited manuscripts for a song, serious writers would have an easier time making a living.

This crowd rarely seems to lay this same criticism at publisher’s feet, though they used to. This was a common complaint heard in writers groups before the ebook revolution came along. If you figured out what the average advance meant in hourly wages, it was a pittance at best.

The truth is nobody has ever paid writers for their time. Most indies today look at this from an entrepreneur’s perspective. You can’t expect the consumer to pay you for bringing a product to the market. You simply have to sell that product at a profit so you can eventually recoup those costs. Others argue they enjoy writing and don’t need compensation for that time.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s factor in the time spent writing the book. If we allot even minimum wage to the writer during these long hours, the real cost of a book becomes tremendous. Suddenly we have a huge ebook bubble.

The ebook bubble

If we assume that the lowest price point is the “market value” of an ebook and we assume that writers must be paid at least minimum wage for every hour they spent laboring, the cost of an ebook and the market value are far apart. But do you notice something strange about this bubble?

bubble economy 2

The ebook bubble is inverted. The market value is lower than the real value. What happens when it costs more to bring a product to the market then a company can sell that product for? They stop making the product. Then one of two things happen, the market price rises until it again becomes profitable to produce the product. Or the product itself disappears from the marketplace.

Since the primary cost that makes this a bubble is the writers’ wanting compensated for his/her time, the only way for this bubble to burst is for writers, en masse, to stop writing. If that happens (and assuming that all the already in print books get read, out of print, or something…) there will become a shortage of books, the market value will rise and it again be profitable for some writers to write books.

There are so many problems with this that I am almost don’t know where to begin. But let’s begin with what I call the stand off. Every time I read something about the ebook bubble, the deluge of ebooks on the market or the race to the bottom, it’s from a writer. They are engaged in a disingenuous stand off with their fellow writers. If only all those other writers stopped writing and publishing books, my book would stand a better chance.

  1. A) I don’t believe that’s how it works. If prolific romance writers like Barbara Freethy or H. M. Ward were to retire their keyboards today, those readers wouldn’t flock to your literary novel instead. B) I’ll stop writing when you do. The hypocrisy of writers telling other writers to stop writing is too much for me to bear.

Then there’s the fact that writers have many complex reasons for writing. Many write because they love it. If they make money from their writing, great. If they don’t, they’ll still write. Some writers write because they have a message they want to share with the world. All reasons for writing are valid, not just the profit motive.

Besides, despite all of these things, many writers do end up making money. Many writers have supported themselves for years on novel sales. Some have even gotten rich off them. Amidst all the dire news about publishing today, there are good indications that the number of authors making a living from their books is actually at an all time high. I’ve said before that the real indie revolution isn’t the occasional break away best seller. It isn’t the meager amount the average writer makes. Its the growing number of midlist authors that are quietly making a living from their writing, and making far more than they did with a publisher.

How can authors get compensated for their time?

Are authors just supposed to slave away for years, for free, in the hopes of eventual rewards? Sort of. Here are some hints to help with time compensation issue.

  1. Approach writing as though it were research and development for your business. Companies don’t expect consumers to pay them for research. They underwrite those costs themselves and then hope to make that money back when they bring the product to market. Writers should look at their writing time the same way.
  2. You don’t have to race to the bottom. Book sales are about a lot of things, price is only one. If 99 cents or 2.99 price points offend you, price your book higher. Expect that you will have to convince people your book is worth more.
  3. Ask yourself, what else would I be doing? If there is a good answer, consider doing that and not writing. Nobody is forcing you to be a writer. If it’s that frustrating, instead of railing against other writers, just stop. Start a youtube channel. Paint a picture. There are hundreds of ways to be creative.

Most writers will realize, if they stop to think about it, that they want to write. That they would keep right on writing, even if they never got paid. So keep writing. Be glad you get paid what you do.

Amazon’s BS Machine

I absolutely adore Ursula K. Lequin. I want you to know that right up front. She’s one of my favorite writers of all time. I love how passionate and outspoken she is about many issues, ranging from books to feminism. However her latest post on Bookview Cafe missed the mark on a number of levels. The post, title Up the Amazon with the BS Machine, takes Amazon to task for creating a system where the latest best seller drives out better books.


Her argument in a nutshell is that Amazon has an obscure algorithm for determining best sellers. It focus on selling books fast and cheap, favoring the quick pop success of fad titles and then burying books that have ran their course into obscurity.

I see three big issues with what’s she’s saying. The BS machine (best seller machine) predates Amazon’s rise and dominance by many years. Amazon’s admittedly murky algorithm actually works against the BS machine and Amazon doesn’t condemn any book to obscurity, quite the opposite.

The BS Machine

Let’s start with the rise of the BS machine. It didn’t happen overnight. It rose in large part due to the same market forces that slowly turned hundreds of medium sized presses into the big five corporate publishers we have today. You can glimpse the same complaints in books on publishing that were themselves published as far back as the 1980’s.

It goes like this, as publishing becomes more and more driven by corporate bottom line, publishers natural focus on “marketable” or “commercial” fiction. i.e. books that sell well enough to make the company a big profit. The hunt for the next big thing soon trumps keeping a stable of moderately successful writers happy.

The rise of big box stores and discount sellers in the nineties drove this to new heights. Suddenly books didn’t just have to sell enough copies at regular price to be profitable, they had to sell at a sharp discount and still be profitable.

Amazon came along in the mid-nineties and has slowly gained a greater and greater market share, eclipsing Barnes and Nobles and driving Borders out of business. Lequin is right to say that they have continued to force the trend towards highly discounted books, but wrong to say they are responsible for the best seller mentality, which came from publishers and big box stores.

Amazon’s Sales Rank

The way Amazon determines sales rank for books, and therefore best sellers, is indeed a murky business. They are notoriously secretive about their algorithm. But what we do know about the process actually works against the BS machine, not for it.

First off, the reason Amazon is so secretive is that they fear publishers or indie writers will game the system if the system is too well understood. After all, it happens all the time. Every time the algorithm becomes too clear, someone figures a way to make it work for them.

The best example is free. It’s also the best example of how the current system works against the BS machine.

Back in the early days of KIndle Direct Publishing, Amazon counted any download equally. Authors figured out that they could make their book free for a short time and shoot to the top of the bestsellers list. Once they put the book back to regular price it would slowly drop off the list. In the meantime, they would be on Amazon’s front page, getting a huge boost in publicity. This would result in a huge number of sales for the author, enough to justify the free promotions.

Problems abound for Amazon and for author’s in general. The value of being a best seller was watered down. Bad books often did come to the top. Clever marketers succeeded while good writers failed.

So, Amazon started changing their system. They no longer count free downloads towards sales rank. Free giveaways still have value for some writers but they aren’t a quick way to game the system anymore.

The murkiest part of Amazon’s algorithm is “stickiness.” What exactly counts as stickiness is uncertain, nor how they measure it or how much weight they give it. In general terms what it means is this, Amazon weighs consistent long term sales more than short term ups and downs.

For example another way to game the system was to get all of your fans to buy a book on a certain day. Authors did this through email lists, twitter or other social media. By micromanaging their sales they hoped to get enough downloads within a given period to push their sales rank up into the bestseller list. Like other ways of gaming the system, it worked for a time.

Then Amazon changed the system. They started updating the sales rank more often. That had the result that sales all in one day would boost your rank, but it would drop the next day, back to what it was. The benefits of gaming the system became short lived.

Now many indie authors have noticed they’ve taken it a step further. If your book has been selling at a certain rate and had a certain sales rank for several weeks, small bumps in sales have little effect on that rank. So do small dips in sales. Sales ranks have become “sticky.”

Amazon has done this to prevent gaming the system, but it also works against the BS machine. Stickiness means that books that sell reasonably well will be kept around and will keep selling reasonably well, while fad books rise and fall in the background.

“But you can’t buy and read a book that hasn’t been kept in print.”

Of all the arguments Lequin makes, this one is just plain wrong. Amazon had no mechanism to force publishers to take a book out of print and two important mechanisms in place to prevent it.

Amazon doesn’t want books to go out of print to make way for the next big thing. Publishers do. They can make more money off one title if they get the competition off the shelf. The generous return policies they offer retailers is in part aimed at that. Can’t sell title A? No worries, we will credit you for it and send you title B.

Digital shelf space is unlimited and Amazon makes far more money by selling a few copies of title A and a few copies of title B then they do by concentrating their efforts on a best seller. In fact they’ve driven Borders out of business, not by having more copies of one book but by having an enormous selection of books on sale, a selection no physical retailer could match.

How does Amazon preserve books? The most direct way is their own Kindle Direct Publishing. Digital books never go out of the print. Many authors have created large side incomes by taking older titles that went out of print and republishing themselves on KDP. Newer indie books are never in danger of being taken out of print by the vagaries of a traditional publisher.

The second way that Amazon keeps books in circulation, if not print, is through a vast collection of associate sellers. Anyone can start an online store through Amazon’s associate program. Used bookstores and book collectors run lucrative businesses reselling older titles.

I resisted online book buying for many years, preferring to shop at a local bookstore. But time and again, I couldn’t find the title I was looking for. Meanwhile, I’ve found hundreds of great out of print books on Amazon. I’ve been able to access some great books that publishers would have let die long ago, if not for Amazon.


I am no Amazon fangirl. You can criticize many of their business practices and I will be on board with you. They are a huge corporation. If you believe you can trust any corporation to serve anything other than it’s own best interests, you are dangerously naive. Publishers and authors should always keep one eye open to what Amazon is up to.

Amazon is also an online platform. That’s a big part of why I am not afraid of them.  Like Facebook and Google, they have a good side and a bad side. They have value to both consumers and publishers alike. In the future that might change, and we will all have to roll with it.

It’s important to be objective, to not blame them for every ill of modern publishing, or for market forces beyond their control. They have their good and bad side, but this one is not on them, in my opinion.

What is your opinion? I would glad to hear it in the comments below.

Scrivener: Becoming a Compile Power User.

In part one of this blog I discussed why I love Scrivener for version control. This time we are going to discuss compiling and formatting both ebooks and print books straight from Scrivener. It seems like a long process when you read this, but once your book’s details are set it’s really fast and easy.

Compiling in Scrivener

There’s an old saying, the devil is in the details. That saying pretty much sums up compiling in scrivener. It’s straightforward but there are details that have to be minded in order to have the finished product turn out the way you want. Setting aside a little time to go over your book’s details will save you a lot of time later. Don’t fret the time, once the details are right the rest of the formatting will be taken care of by Scrivener itself.

Some Basics

There are some basic issues that need to be addressed before you get ready to compile. These issues cover both ebook and print so they will be done together.

Cover art

You can insert your own cover into the finished ebook easily with Scrivener, but it first must be in the scrivener project in the right place. You need to drag your cover art into the sample output folder in the research area. Don’t try to insert it in the title page under front matter and don’t ask me to explain the logic of placing it in research. If it’s in the sample output folder it will be available in the compile menu and scrivener will do the rest.


Front and Back Matter

One of the great things about compiling from scrivener is front and back matter. These have to be done differently between print and ebook and often between different ebook retailers.

For example, you will have different ISBN’s for print and ebook versions. You might want to craft a different copyright page and dedication for each edition. It’s common to abbreviate the front matter on ebooks, ereaders want to open an ebook and go right to the story.

Scrivener recognizes this and has separate folders for print and ebooks. The bad news is that you have to fill out each folder separately. The good news is that Scrivener will keep the information separate from there on, so you don’t accidentally insert the wrong ISBN or front matter.

The back matter “About the Author” page is a great tool for selling the next book. If a reader just finished your book and enjoyed it, make it easy for them to grab the next book in the series by including a link to it. However, most retailers have picky rules about links in ebooks. They won’t let your book link to a competitor for example. So you want the link in the Kindle version to direct to the Amazon page for book two, but you want the Apple iBook to direct to Apple’s store. With Scrivener it’s easy to create three different About the Author pages with the same basic information, but one with Amazon links for the kindle version, one with Apple links for the epub and another with no links for the print version. I create these in their own folder in the front matter tab of the binder. You can click and drag the correct version into the back of the document before compiling.


The dollar sign inside of brackets is code. Anywhere you see these, Scrivener will automatically import some piece of information into that document when it compiles. Most of the time that’s exactly what you want, but there are occasions when you need to take control, and you can.

Screen Shot 2015-05-13 at 3.11.27 AM

One is the author name. It will import the name of the person who registered the software, just as Word does. However you might use a pen name or the Scrivener program you use might “belong” to a spouse or parent. No problem. You can simply highlight $authorname and replace it with whatever you want.

The same might be true of the copyright year if you are republishing something from a previous year. $year on the copyright page can be changed to whatever year you need.


Making these changes ahead of time will shorten formatting later on and help troubleshoot some of the most common problems.

Kindle books

For ebooks we are going to concentrate on Kindle files. Scrivener will handle epub as well and the same basic rules apply. The very first step to using Scrivener to make kindle books is to download Kindlegen from Amazon.

Kindlegen is Amazon’s own ebook creation tool. I don’t know many writers who use it, because on it’s own it’s not much to look at. It works but it requires some technical skill to fine tune. With Scrivener you can do that fine tuning with Scrivener and get really good results.

When you choose the kindle (mobi) option under the compile menu it will add a tab for kindlegen. The first time you use it you will have browse for kindlegen and tell Scrivener where the program is located in your computer. (Usually under applications, unless you put it somewhere else.) Once you’ve done this it will remember for the future.


Each tab on the left side of the compile menu brings up a different dialog box and each has it’s uses and foibles.


Allows you to select what goes into your book. Typically you want to include everything in the manuscript folder and that’s Scrivener default setting. However you can use this dialog box to change that.

One foible to watch for is the front matter check box at the bottom. Different options (print, manuscript, ebook) will have it automatically selected to its own default. If you have special front matter, this is where you can tell Scrivener to use that instead.



The separators menu allows you to customize how you create scene breaks, chapter breaks, etc. The average user doesn’t need this on most projects, but some writers might use this. The drop down menu allows you to select an empty line, single return or section break. Or you can choose custom and enter what you want in the right hand box.


Allows you to select any image in the sample output folder.


Scrivener uses a hierarchical formatting system. That means there are different levels and each level is treated differently. There’s a neat little trick to working with this system. When you select a level on the compile menu, everything on that level will be highlighted in the binder. This can be very useful when troubleshooting problems.

formatting levels

The average writer will only have/need two levels, chapters and text. Notice at the top there are a number of check boxes. For final formatting only title and text are important but if you were creating a proof for an editor you might want to play around with including meta data or synopses.

For today, we will only use title and text. Notice that in the screenshot level one, which if the folder level, is selected. Down below we see an editor screen with Chapter one: Title in it. This is a preview of what you will see when you compile. If you’ve named each folder with a pithy chapter title, all is well. If you’ve simply numbered your chapter, your final book will come out with Chapter One:Chapter One, etc. Or worse still you might end up with Chapter One: New Folder. If this is your case, uncheck the title checkbox for that level. The result will be that Scrivener will simply provide the chapter numbers with no chapter titles. “Section layout” will give you more options to change how the title will be displayed. The internal help dialog does a good job of explaining the options.

formatting menu

Title Adjustments

For those really wanting to fine control the chapter titles, you can read up in the manual about the title adjustment dialogue, but it’s not necessary for creating a good ebook, in my opinion.


For ebooks, there isn’t a lot of fine tuning needed for layout. However I would check this page over. Scrivener should default to checking the “generate HTML table of contents” which is what you want. That will create a navigation file that will let readers easily find the table of contents and the chapter they want.


There are a handful of features under transformations that allow you automatically change portions of the text. I rarely use these myself and there is one huge foible to watch out for. For reasons that are beyond me, Scrivener by default checks the box “Convert Italics to Underlines.” I have no idea why anyone would want to convert every instance of italics into underlines, but it’s there and it’s checked. I always uncheck that box.

HTML settings, replacements, statistics and tables

None of these tabs should have anything you need for book formatting. For proofing you might want to include some statistics and non fiction writers might have tables to work with, but for our purposes these tabs can be safely ignored.


Metadata is information about your book that isn’t included in the actual book. It includes titles, a description and keywords. Scrivener always you to customize the metadata you include with your books files.

One important foible to note here is author name. If you are writing under a pen name, be sure you check this tab and correct the information.


That’s it, folks. It’s time to compile. When you hit the compile button you will be prompted to choose a destination file and Scrivener will do the rest. When you are done you can open the file with a Kindle app or share it to your favorite reading device.


Print Compiling

The basics of compiling for print are almost identical to ebooks. In fact if you’ve followed along with the above description of ebook compiling there are only three foibles we really have to deal with for print.

Compile for PDF, not Print

When you select compile for a print format, Scrivener will want to default to compile for print at the bottom. This will lead to no end to troubles. You want to compile for PDF. Why? Its the same issue I have ran into time and again with Word as well. When you compile for print it always wants to default to a standard 8 by 11 1/2 inch sheet of paper, which is what a standard printer uses. Createspace or other print on demand publishers will reject your pages, because each page will be a 5×8 printed page centered on an 8X11 sheet.

Instead you want to compile for PDF, which will create a correctly sized PDF, once we’ve handle the second foible.

Page Settings

Under the page settings tab you want to select the page setup button in the right corner. It will be set by default to 8×11 and you will need to change it to whatever trim size you plan on using for your book.

page setup page setup 2


A final foible to consider, if you are publishing under a pseudonym, is in the layout section. Scrivener will automatically create headers with the novel name on one side and your last name on the other. You can tweak that if you need to for a specific project.
That should be it. Run through the tabs, checking that you have the right About the Author at the back of the book, that the chapter headings are the way you want them and then compile.

A Digital Expat — and an Answer to Hugh Howey

In Hugh Howey’s Confessions of a Digital Immigrant he asks for other people’s story about their adoption of digital reading. So Hugh, here you go.

If Hugh is a digital immigrant, I am an expatriate. I swore years ago that I would never abandon print books for ereading. And yet, I have. My reading is about ninety five percent digital.

My ereading story begins in 2010. I am transgender and I was preparing to take a trip to Thailand for my final surgery for my transition. I would be there for a month. I read at least two or three books a week normally, but I would be spending a lot of the month recovering from surgery, so I figured I would read more. How could I possibly bring enough books? Could I find English language books in Bangkok, Thailand?

The answer was to purchase my first kindle. I got it about a month before my trip and as soon as I started using it, it was magic. The device fit easily in my purse, dramatically reducing the amount of weight I carried.

My first kindle. Broken now but still loved.

My first kindle. Broken now but still loved.

Before my kindle, I carried a physical book everywhere. I used to joke, “happiness is a small book.” Small books are great for when you are waiting in line, stuck at the doctor’s office, or have a few minutes downtime at work.

There were two problems with this. Big, thick books are happiness, too, but they don’t fit so well in a purse. The second problem was that I often carried more than one book. If I was more than three quarters of a way through a book, I’d become afraid of finishing while I was out somewhere, and not having the next book to read. So I’d figure out what I was going to read next, and then carry that one as well.

With the kindle, those problems went away. It didn’t matter whether the book is long or short, the kindle still weighs the same. The next book is already there, on the same device. I downloaded what I thought would be a month’s worth of reading and headed to Thailand.

Two things occurred while I was in Thailand. I didn’t have all the books I needed. I was stuck there longer than expected and I needed more books. That was okay, I could easily shop and download more. That, too, was magic. To be sitting in a cafe in Bangkok, Thailand and buying books from the United States on Amazon, and then downloading them instantly, was magic.

The other problem was with my computer. To make a long story short, I needed a couple of reference manuals to fix what was wrong. In print they would have been big, expensive and I would have had to mail order them. On the kindle I was able to download them instantly for a fraction of the price.

In Hugh’s blog he claims that its older readers that have adopted ereading the most. That seems counter intuitive, but the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. When I came back from Thailand, now in love with my kindle, I started looking around the house. Could I replace some of my print books with ebooks?

Just one of the five bookshelves that used to fill my house.

Just one of the five bookshelves that used to fill my house.

I understand what he says about young people loving their print books. I was like that once upon a time. Now I watch book bloggers on youtube, flashing their copies of their five favorite novels and think, “five? That’s cute.” A life-long reader at age forty five, I could be smothered by a fraction of my favorite books.

Looking around my house at the end of 2010, I had one book shelf in the entryway to the kitchen just for cookbooks. I had another in the main room for books I kept for reference, or because I frequently picked them up and read portions of them. I had a library with three more bookshelves. That’s five full book shelves.

And then there were the flats. I had discovered years ago that paperback books fit well in those plastic underbed storage boxes. That became the most convenient way to store and move most of my books, which were trade paperback science fiction and fantasy. By 2010 I had stacks of them in my basement. Somewhere in my late twenties and early thirties a love of books had crossed the line into hoarding. I had to do something.

My love of books crossed into hoarding. I had stacks of these in my basement for years.

My love of books crossed into hoarding. I had stacks of these in my basement for years.

The kindle became the solution and the excuse to declutter my life. Many of the reference books that I had to have were classics, books of poetry, mythology, etc. I would never know when I needed one for a quote, or to settle some debate.

(What? You’ve never suddenly needed to know what it says in the Bhagavad Gita? Or needed a quote from the finnish epic Kalevala? You haven’t been to my house, then. It happens.) The kindle and the Gutenberg project cut deep into that shelf.

I have a problem letting go of novels. The reason is that I’ve bought many books two or three times. I’ll buy a book, read it and think, “that was good but I’ll probably never read it again.” I give it away or sell to a used bookstore. Five years later I want to read it again and buy another copy. Then I get paranoid about giving up that copy, because who knows? In five years I might want to read it a third time. But the book collection keeps growing and there’s only so much room.

With my kindle I don’t have that problem. If I choose to keep a book, it doesn’t add any weight or take up any space. If I let it go, it’s still in my cloud somewhere if I change my mind later.

What else?

A lot of the same things that others have said about ereaders played a role in my adoption as well. I will admit that being able resize text is a lot easier than admitting that I’m getting older. Cheaply priced ebooks are a godsend to active readers who plow through many books in a month.

The ability to shop at home was another huge factor. I love going to the bookstore, I do. Going to the library is another treat for me. But let’s face it, life gets busy and sometimes it’s a pain. Just getting there isn’t the only problem. Buying books once or twice a month at the bookstore means knowing what I am going to want to read after I finish my current book. Sometimes I finish a book and find myself in the mood for something similar, sometimes I want something different. Pulling the next book out I would discover that I got it right, some of the time, and I would get it wrong some of the time. Now I choose what I want to read next when I am ready for it.

A note on Indie authors and pricing

As an ereader I’ve become far more price sensitive. There are three reasons. The most obvious is that I read a lot. The choice between one book at 9.99 and three books at 2.99 is an easy one for me, especially if I am just looking for something to read.

The second reason I am more price sensitive now is because there is one real downside to digital reading. Its not nearly as easy to share a digital book. With print it’s easy to hand the book off to a friend and say, “here, read this. You’ll love it.” When you are trying to tell someone they should lay down money to read something because you think they’ll like it, it’s a different ball game. With a cheap book, 2-3 dollars, I have no problem expecting friends to fork over for their own copy. But when publishers price their ebooks over ten dollars it creates a lot of frustration for me. Knowing I can’t share the book and feeling like I can’t recommend it, takes a lot of pleasure out of reading for me.

The third reason I am so price sensitive has to do with being an indie author myself. I have, or feel like I have, a good notion of how much work and cost goes into an ebook. I understand how the market works.

I track my expenses on each book and I know how much I have to make for each to break even. I hire a professional editor and professional cover artist. Once those set costs are paid, the cost of keeping an ebook on the market is marginal. I sell most of my books for less than five dollars. At the 70% I make from Amazon, it will take a few hundred sales on average for a book to break even and start making money.

So when big publishers tell us that they need to price the latest Patterson book at twelve dollars to make money, I don’t believe them. He has hundreds of thousands of fans. His books will start turning a profit almost as soon as they are out.

My point is that when major publishers push higher ebook prices, I assume they are just fleecing consumers, using ebook sales to prop up less profitable portions of their corporate structure. Maybe that’s just me, but it’s an important reason why I read so few big names these days, and so many indie authors.

My writing shelf went digital as well, for many of the same reasons. Here are the hard copies from before I started relying on cloud backups.

My writing shelf went digital as well, for many of the same reasons. Here are the hard copies from before I started relying on cloud backups.

Do I buy any print books?

Yes, I do still buy print books. There are three reasons I still buy print.

When I meet a fellow author at an event or signing, I buy copies. I have a growing collection of signed copies from authors I know personally. I am very proud of that collection and I look forward to adding to it. That said I often come home, put the book on the shelf and then download the ebook to my kindle to actually read the book.

I recently decided to read a couple of books that are pretty popular. Unfortunately, the ebooks were more expensive than I usually care to pay. So I went to the local half price book store and found one of them for less than the ebook. That might be seen as a win for the “high ebook price to help conserve print sales” theory, except it was a second hand book and didn’t help the publisher.

There are a few books that aren’t available for the kindle. It’s getting rare in these days, but it happens. Current authors are almost all available in digital forms. Books old enough to be public domain have probably been uploaded by someone. In between, books old enough to have been published before the digital revolution but not so old as to be public domain, may only exist in print.

So there you have it, the confessions of digital expat.


Looking for my tribe

The beauty of being an indie author is this day in age is that writing is less and less about writing what publishers or mass markets want. It’s more about finding your tribe, those readers that are hungry for the kinds of books you write.

I write two different kinds of books. I write contemporary YA with an LGBT bent and I write science fiction/fantasy books. Most publishers will tell you those two genres do not go together. I have been to enough science fiction conventions to know better. LGBT youths often find science fiction a safe place to explore themselves. Many science fiction fans are drawn to characters that stand outside the social norms, whether its sexuality, gender or some other issue.

So I am doing an experiment/promotion/exercise in finding my reading tribe. It works like this. I am going to give you an excerpt of a work in progress. One character, Devon, places two books into the streets Itty Bitty Library. If you can name both books referenced in the excerpt, do so in the comments.

The first person to correctly identify both books wins a chance to be a character in that book. Just give me a name, description and short personality bio. (p.s. It doesn’t have to be yours. You can give me a fictional name you go by in some context or a friend you want to honor.)


Fourteen year old Ethan Hillcrest spied around the corner. He sighted down the block with his toy gun. “All clear,” he called back to his sisters, Rosie and Esther.

They came around the corner clutching their dolls and shooting him looks that said they didn’t see the need for a military escort at all. He ignored the look.

They went to the shade under the tree in their front yard and set down to play with their dolls. Ethan went and hid behind the trunk of the tree and continued his look out.

He scanned the far side of the street. He scanned the back of the Mondamin U. Inspecting the houses from right to left. Jack was on the corner. He was an ex cop. Occasionally he would sit on his porch and a couple times he told Ethan stories about the old days when he worked the beat.

Next to him was Justin and Danielle Smith. Justin was a cop, and one of the coolest adults Ethan had met, next to his dad. Danielle ran a daycare and Rosie and Esther loved it when they got to go play with the babies. Ethan didn’t care about no babies, but went along anyway.

To the left of the Smith’s was an older couple. Ethan couldn’t remember their names. Mom called out and greeted them whenever she saw them out on the street, which was rarely. She admonished the kids to respect their elders and Ethan did, he always spoke politely to them and laughed at the man’s joke, even though they weren’t funny.

This was the good side of the street. That was friendly territory.

Next door to them was the lesbian couple. Neither Mom or Dad liked them much. They muttered about sin and worried that their influence might lead Ethan or his sisters into sin. Ethan knew there were a couple girls at school who identified as lesbians. He wasn’t sure what the big deal was.

Kitty corner across from the lesbian’s was Lydia Scott, public enemy number one. She ran a yoga studio down on University. Yoga, his mom said, was an evil foreign cult. Ethan had been told that it was a form of exercise, in fact they had done it in P.E. At school. He didn’t tell his mom that. She had already threatened to pull him out of public school and homeschool him more than once. He didn’t want to leave his friends, so he kept his mouth shut.

He spied a redhead coming out of Lydia’s house. There was Mondamin’s newest public enemy.

Ethan remembered Devon vaguely. The adult’s had always said stuff, usually in a whisper, about the boy. But Ethan had kind of liked him. Not that they had much in common, being more than six years apart. What Ethan recalled was that Devon was nice to kids and took the time to include them in his games if possible. Few high school kids did that with elementary or junior high kids.

But this was too much. Devon was wearing a yellow tights, a red skirt and a yellow, women’s top.

“I don’t know how she can put up with this,” Mom had muttered at his father after she came home from the meeting last night. “The shame of it.”

“If I had ever worn women’s clothes,” his father had said, “my dad would have beat me within an inch of my life. Same goes for Ethan.”

Ethan had started, as he eavesdropped from his bedroom, but of course they didn’t know he was listening. Besides, he’d never had any inclination to try on women’s clothes either.

Ethan continued to spy on Devon, slowly pulling back to keep the tree between him and his subject. Devon had two books in his hands and he stopped in front of an oversized mailbox.

It was the itty bitty library they had built three years ago. It had been a school project for Devon. It was a miniature doll house with plexiglass walls on one side. Inside was one shelf with a dozen books or so. Neighbors were encouraged to borrow books for free, and to place new books in if they felt like it.

Mom hadn’t approved. There was no telling what sort of books someone might put in there. Nobody was monitoring the quality or morality of the selection. That might be okay for adults, but there were kids on the block.

It was one of the few times she found herself in the minority. The smith’s valued education, or so they said, and requested the library be built on their property even. Jack, Mr. Rick from the down the street, they all supported the project.

It was the other thing that Ethan liked about Devon. Mom wanted to check and monitor every piece of reading material that came in their house, make sure it taught proper Christian values. That was okay for Rosie and Esther, but he was fourteen, almost an adult. Surely he could decide what to read for himself.

Justin and Danielle read thrillers and when they were done, they went in the box. Jack had once left a survivalist manual in the box, that book was now hidden in the playhouse out back, one of Ethan’s prize possession.

Devon was all about science fiction and fantasy. Ethan had to credit Devon and the itty bitty library for most of the cultural knowledge he had. He would swipe books out of the itty bitty library and stash them in the playhouse. While all the other kids got to watch the latest movies or play the latest video games, Ethan would read the book.

Devon stopped at the itty bitty library and opened the door. He put the two books he was carrying inside and then stared at the shelves thoughtfully for a few minutes. He closed the door without taking anything and headed back towards his house.

Ethan pressed his back against the tree trunk. “Drop has been made, repeat, drop has been made,” he muttered into his shoulder, as though talking into a radio. He glanced at their front window. Mom was nowhere to be seen. He glanced down the street again. Devon was already on the porch, heading back inside.

Ethan stuck the toy gun down the front of his jeans and crossed the street. He opened the door of the itty bitty library and inspected the new books. He knew the contents well enough to not waste time on the others.

The first had a woman with a butterfly on the shoulder on the cover. He read enough of the back cover to realize it had to do with a boy who wanted to be a girl and he shoved it back in. He wiped his hands on his jeans quickly, fearing he might catch whatever it was that made Devon act the way he did.

The second book was a goldmine, Ethan could tell it at a glance. It had a woman on the cover too, but she was wearing goggles, a sure sign of something steampunk. No one at school even knew what steampunk was but Devon and, by osmosis, Ethan, were obsessed with it. Reading the back cover, this novel was not only steampunk, it had zombies.

A cop car pulled up and Ethan started. It’s a free library, that’s the point, he reminded himself. Besides it was only Justin coming home from work.

He turned the cover towards his chest and wrapped his arms around the book. He didn’t know if Justin talked to his parent’s about what they saw, but he didn’t want this title even getting back home.

“Guarding the neighborhood are we?” Justin joked with a nod towards Ethan’s waist.

Ethan looked down and the toy gun and blushed. He didn’t want to be caught playing. He was too old for that. But what else could he do? His mom ordered him to stay outside and watch his sisters. “Sir, yes, sir,” he said.

Why the “We’re Drowning in Ebooks” Diatribe needs to stop

According to Forbes we’re drowning in Indie books. The blogosphere has taken up this catch phrase, we’re drowning in ebooks and we’re drowning in ebooks. And those are just in the first page of results on my google search. I could easily find a dozen or more references to the idea that we are drowning in ebooks.

Closely related to the drowning in ebooks meme is the catch phrase “discoverability.” Its all the rage right now as well. How are authors going to get discovered in an era where we are drowning in ebooks?

This has to stop. I don’t care if the article is mostly positive about indie publishing or negative, the term itself makes me cringe. Here are five reasons why I cringe whenever I read the term “drowning in ebooks.”

  1. Readers aren’t drowning. If we are experiencing a “sea” of Indie books then our readers are the fish.

Is anyone complaining about cable TV? Remember the good ole days when you had three networks and public television? Anyone pine for those days? Me, neither. Consumers love choice. Readers are no different. In fact, sales figure show that the choices available on ereaders mean consumers are buying more, rather than fewer, ebooks. This is good news for everyone.

Cable TV and, more recently, streaming video, have changed the way we watch TV. But it hasn’t spelled the end of the networks and no one seriously complains about having too much choice. By the same token I never hear this “too many ebooks” line for avid readers.

  1. Sales aren’t a zero sum game

Inherent in this argument is the assumption that book sales are a zero sum game. There are x number of readers who will by x number of books this year. A sale in someone else’s pocket is a lost sales for you.

This is not true. For one thing, readers are not a specific demographic. Women who read trashy romance novels are not the same demographic as men who read historical fiction. The blistering success of the Fifty Shades series is not hurting your five hundred page opus about the Crimean War, because those readerships don’t overlap.

Even within a genre or a demographic its hard to draw any specific conclusions about sales, so arguing that an established romance series is being hurt by a dozen of similar Indie series is a fruitless exercise. The same can be said of free promotions and piracy. People download free ebooks by the hundreds from both legitimate promotions and from pirate sites. But how many would pay for a similar book if it weren’t available for free? No one knows. So stop worrying about it and start worry about things that are under your control, like your own writing.

  1. Crappy products don’t replace good products for long

There are twin illogical assumptions at work in this diatribe. A) most Indie books are poorly written, poorly edited crap and B) most Indie books don’t sell. How exactly do poorly written books that don’t sell hurt the chances of better authors that are selling? Most of the examples of poorly written books you can give, quickly sink to far back pages of Amazon or Smashwords where they have little effect on anyone else’s sales.

The fact that people in the traditional publishing industry are complaining about indie books is telling. If they were really all as bad as critics claim, there would be nothing to fear from the indie revolution.

  1. It’s always been hard to get discovered.

Back in the olden days, and the olden days means anytime before 2010, most writers were struggling to get published through a big publishing company. It was hard and odds were not in your favor. The big publishing houses saw hundreds of submissions every day. Most were put in the “slush pile” and read by poorly paid interns. One bad mark from one intern and the book was in the trash.

Still writers persevered. They went to writer’s workshops and networked with fellow writers. They showed their manuscript to everyone and anyone who was willing to read it. They queried agents and publishers by the hundreds. It was often a vicious cycle, writers desperate to get published, sent out mass queries to anyone and everyone. Publishers, responding to a huge influx of inappropriate submissions, dumped books into the slush pile, outsourced the reading of said pile and sent form rejection letters. Every writer hoped and dreamed of the day when one of those agents, editors or poorly paid interns would read their manuscript, be totally overwhelmed by its greatness and publish them.

Indie ebooks are now the slush pile, or so we are told. Most writers I know have bypassed the years or heartache and toil trying to get the attention of one of the big publishing houses. They self publish and take their books straight to the readers.

And they face the same challenges they did before. Instead of poorly paid interns, its unpaid reviewers/book bloggers. The rejection letter has been replaced with the bad review.  Instead of a publishing contract, it’s slowly rising sales figures until that glorious day when your book goes viral and really takes off.

For many years, getting published meant you had “made it” as an author. Indie publishing and the ebook revolution has made it easier than ever to reach that goal, but it’s also made the goal meaningless. Hitting the publish button is only the first step towards making it. The cold hard truth of Indie publishing is that you are still a nobody. A nobody with a book maybe, but a nobody. It takes months, or even years, to build up a reliable readership. Getting “discovered” is largely a myth perpetuated by readers who don’t see the years of struggle that “overnight successes” have already put in.

  1. It sounds self serving.

The drowning in ebooks diatribe can be found, in one form or another, from all corners of the web. I don’t care if you are a traditionally published novelist, an Indie novelist or a supposedly “unbiased” journalist. Anytime a writer starts in on this subject I hear the same thing. “All those other writers should stop writing so much crap so readers can discover my work.”

So if we are really drowning in ebooks, why not stop writing? Go find something else to do with your life. It’s really the only fair solution. Asking other writers to stop writing so many books so that you can succeed certainly isn’t fair. It isn’t fair to the other writers and it isn’t fair to readers, who would rather have a choice.

And there’s the problem right there. It’s like the scene in virtually every B movie where the good guy and bad guy have guns pointed at each other. Who should put down their gun first? Everyone put down their word processor on the count of three, okay?

As for me, I am going to go right on writing as many books as I can, because it’s what I want to do. Hopefully I can become one of the lucky few that makes a living at it, but even if I can’t, I will still write. It’s part of who I am. And I am going to go right on encouraging my writer friends to do the same because anything else would be hypocritical of me.