Robot Generator Fun

Robot Generator FunI love generators. There are a lot of free ones all over the internet. Robohash is one that creates a new robot for each IP address or from text you provide.

The first image is a robot generated from my IP address. Don’t I look pretty in purple? 😛

Of course I had to try the text input box. The word? Well, I chose a phrase.

“Space Cadet”

Robot Generator FunYes, I know how much that says about me. A pink and purple robot. Strange how the generator picked two of my favorite colors!

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Robot Generator FunI have a new release! Introducing the SF romance: Coffee Cup Dreams

She wasn’t supposed to wake up when dead…

During what should have been a simple operation, Tish Douglas died. And yet, she also awoke… in what the doctors called a ‘psi event.’

Despite having no memory of the incident, it means she’s required to go on a life-time course of debilitating drugs designed to reign in her supposedly new psi gifts. She’s left with the option of existing on Earth in a drug-haze, or leave the planet.

When an opportunity for a good paying job on a space station known as Redpoint One is offered, she jumps at the chance. Even though she doesn’t have any experience as a ‘maintenance engineer.’ Even though the station sits in the middle of nowhere, a still-operating construct of a long-gone alien species.

Between pirate attacks, intelligent repair robots, and maintenance emergencies, Tish must find a place for herself.

All complicated by a growing attraction to the one person on the station she can’t have: boss Arthur Getty.

A stand-alone 48400 word, 193 page (approximate), science fiction romance novel by J.A.Marlow.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords

Ebook Formats: One Down and Out!

There are a lot of ebook formats out there. Epub, Mobi, Lrf, and so on. Epub and Mobi are the big ones, backed by Barnes & Noble and Amazon respectively. Not all of them can stand forever.

And now one has fallen. Yes, this reminds me of the VHS/Betamax, Blue-Ray/HD DVD wars.

The .Lit format was backed by Microsoft with its free Microsoft Reader program (also used for Pocket PC). This file format supported a DRM scheme (control the hissing out there!).

What has happened with the format? This:

Microsoft is discontinuing Microsoft Reader effective August 30, 2012, which includes download access of the Microsoft Reader application from the Microsoft Reader website. However, customers may continue to use and access the Microsoft Reader application and any .lit materials on their PCs or devices after the discontinuation on August 30, 2012. New content for purchase from retailers in the .lit format will be discontinued on November 8, 2011.

All Romance Books has already sent out an email to their publishers and readers that the .Lit format will no longer be supported through the ARe/Omnilit online stores.

Microsoft has announced that it will be discontinuing support of the Microsoft (MS) Reader format on August 30, 2012. The software hasn’t been updated in a number of years and has experienced a steady decline in market share, so this hasn’t come as a surprise. Since the announcement, many publishers have notified us of their decision to discontinue production of the format, including ALL publishers who have historically produced the Secure MS Reader Format. We appreciate that continuing to produce a non-supported format is unviable for many. We also appreciate that there are a number of readers who have remained loyal to the MS Reader format and will continue to remain loyal to it for some time.

We want to make every effort to provide readers with sufficient time to download any LIT files that are in their library, create personal back-ups, and transition to a new file format. We recommend the Open eBook or EPub format, which has been adopted as the industry standard.

As of November 1, 2011 Secure MS Reader (LIT) formats will no longer be available for purchase on the All Romance/OmniLit websites.

What does this mean for the E-book Experiment?

As an Indie one of the important aspects has been making sure I can cover as much of the available market as possible. That means not only using as many online ebook stores as I can, but also making sure my ebooks are available in as many formats as possible. With this announcement there is one less format to worry about when it comes time to convert and publish a new ebook. Yay for one less headache and worry!

For the readers of the .Lit format, especially with those encumbered by DRM, the headaches have just started.

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Ebook Formats: One Down and Out!J.A. Marlow

A planet-wide conspiracy is waiting at Grandmother’s house…

“Always wear the red hood and cape while you are in the forest,” Grandma admonished.

For a teen with purple and red hair, and an attitude to match, the small claustrophobic city of Oburos grows ever smaller with Uncle Travis’s attempts to take over her and her mother’s life.

An invitation to visit Grandmother’s house, nestled among the giant trees filling the planet, gives Kate a welcome respite. But, there is no time for rest. A conspiracy among the forest inhabitants, moving trees, and other mysteries await her at Grandmother’s house.

Kate learns just how little she knew of the forests, much less its animals. To survive she must learn fast, and that includes trust and teamwork.

And just where was Grandma, anyway?

A Science Fiction 83600 word stand-alone novel retelling of the fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood” by J.A. Marlow.

AmazonEbook Formats: One Down and Out! | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords

Distribution Channel: Smashwords Pt 2

And now we continue analyzing the objections to Smashwords. The main complaints?

  • I sell way more at Amazon with Kindle!
  • Quarterly payments are too slow.
  • Slow sales (for most)
  • Meatgrinder woes!
  • Premium Distribution is too hard to get into!
  • Premium Distribution sales numbers come in too slow.

The first three we went over last week. Now on to the last three!

Meatgrinder woes!

This is the biggest complaint about Smashwords.

Smashwords has a difficult task. Not only do they sell many formats of ebooks themselves, but they also need properly formatted ebooks to send to the other online etailers they distribute to. Add on top of that is that many authors don’t know how to make all the conversions by themselves.

So, Smashwrods came up with a converter program called the Meatgrinder that takes a DOC file and converts it into many formats. In order to do this they need a very specific formatted original file. The converter already has a lot to do so I can understand them wanting to standardize the original file (still would like the option of uploading an epub, though). Each ebook format has special features and problems. The Meatgrinder has to compensate for all of them.

What is the best way to deal with the Meatgrinder so it can do what it needs to do?

People are going to hate this…

FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS!

Yes, indeed. One of the first things you learn in school. Follow the instructions.

This means downloading the Smashwords Style Guide and following it. Create a checklist for yourself if need be. Whatever you need to do. Just follow it.

The only time I’ve had problems with the Meatgrinder is when the Meatgrinder itself had a problem (such as the one in May and June when it was corrupting the NCX file, and then of course the person manually checking for inclusion in the Premium Channels flagged as wrong). Smashwords admitted that it was a problem and worked to fix it.

Okay, I have had other problems. Such as when I messed up the formatting myself. I take responsibility for that. I found the problems, fixed them, and uploaded again.

Will the files resulting from the Meatgrinder be as polished and beautiful as they would if you did them all yourself? No, not typically. Is it enough to turn off readers? No, not typically.

I think that because the actual upload itself is such a big mental step that this has taken on a life of its own. But really, it doesn’t need to be. Follow the instructions of the Smashwords Style Guide (which has good advice for controlling the formatting in Word even for normal-day use) and let the Meatgrinder do its work.

If you have a problem, contact customer service. Smashwords has one of the best customer service response times I’ve had so far among all the vendors, and that includes Amazon.

Premium Distribution is too hard to get into!

This complaint has two parts. We’ll deal with the first one: the time needed for approval into the Premium sales channels.

Smashwords has been a victim of its own success. Sales are exploding. With it the uploads by authors and publishers is exploding. For a while the wait time for an ebook to be checked and either accepted or denied was going on towards a month.

However, Smashwords very quickly realized the problem. It benefits them to get books out into the distribution channels as fast as possible just as it benefits the author. So, they hired new people.

I can personally testify that the new hires have greatly speeded the process.  This is a short-lived complaint as Smashwards has always responded rather quickly.

The second part of this complaint centers around the Meatgrinder. If the source file isn’t just right, or the conversion process hiccups, then the submission will be denied. The author/publisher then has to go and find the problem and upload again. Not much an author can do other than to pay attention to the formatting (see the bigger section above about the Meatgrinder).

“Premium Distribution sales numbers come in too slow.”

Sorry, not the fault of Smashwords. Blame the other etailers for reporting so slow. Again, we are spoiled by having minute-by-minute updates on sales through Amazon, Barnes & Noble,  and even Smashword’s own dashboard. It’s a great thing, but also a recent perk.

In other words, be patient. Get into those other channels and start gathering sales. Remember, this is about the sales over the long-term, not short-term!

With this complaint we also go back to reader demographics and international sales.

Smashwords can get you into other etailer online stores in an easy fashion, and into some stores that will not work with individual authors. Those online etailers each have their own customer base, not only in basic demographics, but also in other countries.

Leave out Premium Distribution, and you are leaving out potential audience.

Also, think of this: Some of these etailers have horrible customer service on the publisher end. Getting answers or help with problems is like pulling teeth. Having Smashwords on your side can be a great benefit. Smashwords is providing so much content, content which is helping with the bottom lines of these etailers, that they are much more likely to listen to Smashwords when a problem comes up. Much more than if you complained yourself.

***

Smashwords has benefits not discussed in the previous sections. I think it’s a good idea to go over them, as well.

Sales Coupons:

Smashwords has the easiest coupon system I have used across all the big sites. They are very handy to use with reviewers, family, and for limited time sales.

The last item is important. You see, Amazon has these little webcrawlers roaming the internet looking for lower prices. If they find one then your ebook will be marked down whether you want it to or not. At times this can be a good thing, but most times it isn’t. If it isn’t wanted, then this can have a horrifying affect on your royalties.

With a coupon the sales price of the ebook displays as normal, satisfying the Amazon webcrawlers that all is well in pricing-land. But, at checkout time, your customers can apply a coupon for any percentage you set including 100% off.

There are so many ways to use these coupons such as book-cards suggested by Dean Wesley Smith. Don’t underestimate the possibilities.

International Authors:

Did you know international authors are having a hard time with Indie publishing? Barnes & Noble’s Pubit program won’t even talk to them. Then there is the problem of the tax treaties with the US (where the big ebook etailer companies are located). 30% is deducted from any payment unless the proper papers are filed and the IRS gives the author permission to be paid without any witholding.

Amazon will work with international authors, but they will not help at all with giving the authors what they need to go to the IRS, specifically a letterhead letter saying, “Yes, they are selling through us.”

Smashwords WILL work with authors. They will help provide the special letter and have a dedicated FAQ section on the subject on their website.

By using Smashwords, not only do international authors have the help they need with the IRS, but they can also use Smashword’s premium distribution to get into online etailers that won’t allow them to sell through directly such as Barnes & Noble.

For international authors, Smashwords is a great thing.

Conclusion

Successful business is about putting together the tools needed to make it a success. Smashwords is a valuable part of the Indi publisher’s toolbox. Smashwords does have its issues, but then so does every other etailer and distributor. It fills a big niche and to ignore it will be to the detriment of your books and sales. There is a reason it’s called one of the “Big 3” when it comes to ebooks.

Think long and hard before turning your back on it.

Summary:

  • Marketing: Offer your wares at as many outlets as possible so that you can reach as many readers as possible. This is the most basic piece of marketing you can do other than write new product.
  • Do not keep all your ‘eggs in one basket.’ The markets are changing. By diversifying you can be ready for it.
  • Do not ignore the international markets. The potential there is massive, and Smashwords can help you reach them.
  • Don’t ignore the small sales in favor of the big sales. A sale is a sale is a sale is a sale (you get the point).
  • Follow the instructions. Smashwords provides a lot of information between their FAQ and Smashwords Style Guide. Use them.
  • Be patient. This is a marathon, not a race. Whether it be payment cycles, sales reporting from distribution channels, or premium approval, remember how not too long ago things were much much worse. Unlike Big Publishing, I haven’t heard of Smashwords delaying its author’s payments.
  • Whether you like it or not, you are now in business for yourself. Treat it as such. Don’t look down on sales and new readers. Keep yourself flexible, and that means not closing your mind to new possibilities.
I hope this these two posts have been helpful. I love the Indie movement, and I want to see as many successful as possible.

__________________________

J.A. Marlow

Distribution Channel: Smashwords Pt 2Welcome to Salmon Run, Alaska! A place of wild animals, wild land, and wild inhabitants…oh, and native legends come alive and an inter-planetary alien conflict at their backdoor.

Zach Callahan and his father, Hawk, arrive in Alaska to begin a new life. Anxious to arrive at the lodge crazy Uncle George left them, they find the first challenge is just getting to Salmon Run.

While still in Cordova, an old prospector declares the two greenhorns unprepared for the realities of an Alaskan winter. Sasha, a young native girl, attaches herself to Zach, much to his disgust. A failed sled-dog won’t leave Hawk alone, giving rise to an old phobia. They think they have it made once they get to the Solar Express, the unique train that will take them through a dark road-less wilderness to their new home.

The same night a massive display of the Aurora Borealis lights up the sky.

The Solar Express shuts down, stranding its passengers in the middle of nowhere. Hidden beneath the snow and ice, and under the path of the rescuers, an alien spaceship also feels the effects of the light show.

Cut off from the rescuers and trapped inside the spaceship, Zach and Sasha must ally themselves with a pair of aliens before either the malfunctioning security systems or the native Alaskan wildlife kills them.

A 37800 word stand-alone Novella in the Salmon Run series.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords

Distribution Channel: Smashwords Pt 1

I promised a post about Smashwords and here it is! A word of warning: this turned out to be a little long, but there’s a lot of information to cover. So much so that I had to split it up into two posts.

Smashwords. The ebook etailer and distributor that either has authors/publishers smiling or frothing at the mouth.

First, before I go on, realize that I treat publishing my books as a business and I’m in it for the long-haul. It colors everything I do and decide. With that in mind, let’s start.

What are the main complaints about Smashwords?

  • I sell way more at Amazon with Kindle!
  • Quarterly payments are too slow.
  • Slow sales (for most)
  • Meatgrinder woes!
  • Premium Distribution is too hard to get into!
  • Premium Distribution sales numbers come in too slow.

Some view one or several of the above as deal-breakers and refuse to upload with Smashwords. I believe that is short-sighted, and I would like to explain why by taking each of the objections and analyzing them.

“I sell way more at Amazon with Kindle!”

For many this is true. Amazon has a big market and some believe if they hit Amazon big they have it made. But, there is a problem with this kind of thinking. Amazon does not have ALL the market. Other retailers are nipping at their heels and shaving off market-share every day. Why ignore the other markets that are attracting readers? What if one of them someday starts gaining a bigger market-share than anyone expected?

Even now, isn’t finding readers what is important?

If it is, then you need to know something. Amazon is a friendly place to shop for ebooks for only part of the world. The rest of the world? Amazon is the last place to go. Why do I say that?

Because Amazon tacks on a $2 surcharge on any ebook bought if you are not in one of their preferred geographical locations. That can get expensive really fast. For a $.99 ebook it’s ridiculous.

So, all those international customers who might like to buy your ebooks… are you going to ignore them? They aren’t going to buy from Amazon unless they REALLY want the ebook.

Most don’t. Several have thanked me for thinking of them. They go to places like Smashwords where they can buy the ebooks they want without a surcharge. In fact, they love Smashwords. One payment, no surcharge, and they have the ebook available in multiple formats that they can download or re-download depending on what piece of hardware they want to read on.

Oh, and the royalties? Smashwords does not play games with the royalty rate being different in different geographical locations. The royalty rate is the royalty rate is the royalty rate (unless it’s a sale initiated by an affiliate).

This is a win-win for both the author/publisher and the reader. It means gaining access to a worldwide audience. To purposely ignore it seems rather foolish.

This point is also why I upload to All Romance eBooks (Omnilit). This is another site that has a different demographic than many other sites as well as a very good international audience. By using ARe I can reach readers that may not frequent other ebook retailers. Every person finding my work is a win!

“Quarterly payments are too slow.”

The first time I heard this complaint I almost collapsed laughing. Wow, have Indies become spoiled.

Amazon and Barnes & Noble pay 60 days after the close of a fiscal period (fiscal period = one month) if the sales are above a certain threshold (depending on payment option selected). Typically the threshold is $10.

Once an author is earning more than $10 a month for several months in a row, they get a nice little deposit every month.

Oh yes, this is nice. Very nice indeed. But it’s also a recent development.

In Big Publishing? If you are lucky enough to get a royalty payment above the advance, you will likely get paid every six months (and expect them to be delayed until you yell loud enough and threaten to invoke certain contract clauses). So, from this, to a payment every month.

It’s easy to see why Indies have become spoiled, but come on, a payment every quarter is a reason to balk? You’re still going to get paid! This is money you might not have received any other way by reaching an audience who might not be shopping at the other big etailers.

You’re going to spit at more money? Really?

Slow sales (for most)

As with anything, there is a bell-curve. Most putter along at a definable level, while others go much higher or lower. This is the same across all etailer sites.

First, consider the international customer, those with multiple ebook reading devices who don’t like to convert themselves, or those who dislike DRM (which Smashwords doesn’t use at all). Smashwords is valuable to all of these demographics.

Only a few sales? They are likely sales you wouldn’t have made elsewhere. Again, I ask, isn’t this all about finding readers?

A slow sale is still a sale you might not have made anywhere else.

***

And this is where we break for this post. Part 2 will show up soon, taking on the rest of the objections!

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Distribution Channel: Smashwords Pt 1J.A. Marlow

A planet-wide conspiracy is waiting at Grandmother’s house…

“Always wear the red hood and cape while you are in the forest,” Grandma admonished.

For a teen with purple and red hair, and an attitude to match, the small claustrophobic city of Oburos grows ever smaller with Uncle Travis’s attempts to take over her and her mother’s life.

An invitation to visit Grandmother’s house, nestled among the giant trees filling the planet, gives Kate a welcome respite. But, there is no time for rest. A conspiracy among the forest inhabitants, moving trees, and other mysteries await her at Grandmother’s house.

Kate learns just how little she knew of the forests, much less its animals. To survive she must learn fast, and that includes trust and teamwork.

And just where was Grandma, anyway?

A Science Fiction 83600 word stand-alone novel retelling of the fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood” by J.A. Marlow.

AmazonDistribution Channel: Smashwords Pt 1 | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords

July Sales and Observations

July was an interesting month. Many authors and publishers reported a drop of sales, from 1/3 to 1/2 of normal. As we’re now in the summer slump I figured it would happen to me and wasn’t really worried about it.

At the beginning of July Smashwords announced a month-long ebook Summer/Winter sale that authors and publishers could participate in if they wished. I marked down all my $.99 book to free and all others were marked 1/2 off. I figured it couldn’t hurt, especially during the summer slump.

July Sales and ObservationsAmazon: 18
Smashwords: 24
Barnes $ Noble: 12
Omnilit: 2

Grand Total: 56

To put the above numbers in perspective, here are the last three month sale totals:

April: 18 Sales – Added 1 novella and 1 novelette
May: 24 Sales – Added 1 short story
June: 25 Sales – Added 1 short story

The July total of 56 is double of June sales. Wow, do I hope that trend continues! The sales were boosted by several new July releases (yes, I was a busy little beaver):

The String Weavers (The String Weavers – Book 1) – Novel
The Singing Lakes (Salmon Run – Book 3) – Novella
Glint of a Ring (Children of Jad #2)– Novelette

July Sales and ObservationsWith the above titles I now have 11 titles up for sale. Was the boost in sales because of the increase in offerings or the Smashwords sales? Or perhaps because of a natural month-to-month rise?

The Smashwords sale obviously had an impact, as it was the best-selling site for me in July. However, Amazon isn’t that far behind, and in fact doubled the sales reported from last month. “The String Weavers” sold 9 copies right out of the box, contributing greatly to the overall total (along with 2 good reviews at Smashwords). “The Singing Lakes (Salmon Run – Book 3)” is a part of the Salmon Run series, and sold 7.

The new releases definitely helped. Even more interesting? “The String Weavers” sold that well despite having a retail price of $4.99. I raised the price of “Into the Forest Shadows” to the same and changed the cover as I was never quite happy with it, as it didn’t say ‘science fiction’ to me. Sales weren’t good for this stand-alone book, but I’m willing to wait a few months to see if the new cover makes a difference.
Preliminary thoughts? Novels sell very nicely, and series sell even better. The three novellas of the Salmon Run series together are doing better than anything else in my catalogue. “The String Weavers” is the first in a series and is already outselling “Into the Forest Shadows” which is a stand-alone novel.

The above sales I mentioned did not include any free ebooks as part of the Smashwords promotion. I keep those numbers separate. What did I see there?

July Sales and ObservationsFree Downloads: 364 ebooks in 31 days.

The downloads resulted in a few interesting statistics. I’ve put notes after each one on a few observations:

Night of the Aurora (Salmon Run – Book 1) – 132: The first book in the Salmon Run series. People downloaded this one the most and I believe led to the sales of the next two books in the series. This confirms to me how well series sell in ebooks in contrast to traditional publishing where series are typically a death knell to author careers thanks to the 3-book death spiral.

Spires – 66: My very first ebook ever. A silly little short story that I didn’t expect much of. However, it’s been my best-selling short across all sites. There’s something about this story and voice that captures attention.

The Art of Negotiation – 58: This is another story that seems to have caught attention rather fast. I’m thinking the idea of someone losing their jobs getting even with a corporation is a lovely theme. 😀

Mop Jockeys and Fighter Pilots – 56: A brand new short story published at the end of June. This is my first science fiction romance, and it took off the moment I published it. At the beginning of July it even outsold Spires. This was something good for me to know. I think I need to release more SF romance. There appears to be a market for it.

Glint of a Suncatcher (Children of Jad #1) – 52: This is one of my worst sellers, but it still sells a few every month. At the beginning of July after watching the download patterns, I tweaked the description. Downloads surged so that in the end it ended up with a total not that far behind the others. This is simply confirmation of what I knew before, but I’ll say it loudly again: EBOOK DESCRIPTION BLURBS MATTER! A second novelette in this series has been released with another one soon to come. I’ll be curious to see how they sell in the coming months.

Conclusions?

  • Keep writing series. They do well.
  • Ebooks I loved writing or even thought were a little silly, strike chords in other people. So, let the readers decide what they like. I’ll never be able to second-guess what will be successful and what will not.
  • Write more in the science fiction romance subgenre.
  • Don’t be afraid to tweak descriptions and covers. If they don’t work, they can always be changed back. However, it may be just the thing to help a title pick up speed.
  • Having more titles on the ‘virtual bookshelf’ is the best advertising and promotion a writer can do.

I have a post about Smashwords and paying attention to distribution channels upcoming. Stay tuned.

____________________

July Sales and ObservationsJ.A. Marlow

A planet-wide conspiracy is waiting at Grandmother’s house…

“Always wear the red hood and cape while you are in the forest,” Grandma admonished.

For a teen with purple and red hair, and an attitude to match, the small claustrophobic city of Oburos grows ever smaller with Uncle Travis’s attempts to take over her and her mother’s life.

An invitation to visit Grandmother’s house, nestled among the giant trees filling the planet, gives Kate a welcome respite. But, there is no time for rest. A conspiracy among the forest inhabitants, moving trees, and other mysteries await her at Grandmother’s house.

Kate learns just how little she knew of the forests, much less its animals. To survive she must learn fast, and that includes trust and teamwork.

And just where was Grandma, anyway?

A Science Fiction 83600 word stand-alone novel retelling of the fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood” by J.A. Marlow.

AmazonJuly Sales and Observations | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords