Not At All Innocent or Hypothetical Question of the Day

Not At All Innocent or Hypothetical Question of the Day

This is for the writers out there. If you were to get the urge to write on a mobile phone (not a whole novel, say, but whenever you needed to bust out some words and it wasn’t practical to do so on a netbook), what qualities would have phone have to have to make you comfortable doing so?

I would imagine a physical keyboard is a must, but that’s because I can’t type very fast with on-screen keyboards. Others are better at it. Regardless of whether it’s physical or not, I definitely feel like a qwerty-style keyboard is a must.

Do you agree? Also, what other aspects of a phone are important? Screen size, operating system, apps?

My Readercon 21 Schedule

My Readercon 21 Schedule

Looks like I will be on four panels/discussions at Readercon this weekend. In addition to that we’re having the eBooks and SF Magazines discussion on Saturday night. Here’s my schedule for those who are interested:

Talk / Discussion: How Electrons have Changed Writing and Reading — Friday 4:00 PM, ME/CT
Cecilia Tan with discussion by Inanna Arthen, Leah Bobet, K. Tempest Bradford, Barbara Krasnoff, K. A. Laity

eBooks, the Internet, social media networks, PayPal — have these really changed the writer/reader relationship forever? Not surprisingly, SF readers are early adopters of new tech and sf publishers are leading the way in new content delivery. Is it really possible with new tech for a writer to cut out the publisher and still make a living? Is the writer who wants to “just write” doomed to obscurity now? Writers, what forays into the new frontier of electronic publishing have you made and what did you find out there in the wild lands? Readers, what have you enjoyed and sought out, what would you welcome?

Panel: The New and Improved Future of Magazines — Friday 8:00 PM, Salon G
K. Tempest Bradford, Neil Clarke, Liz Gorinsky (L), Gavin J. Grant, Matthew Kressel.

After last year’s “The Future of Magazines” panels, participant K. Tempest Bradford wrote: “The magazines and anthologies that I love tend to have editors who have taken the time to examine themselves or their culture, to expend their knowledge of other people and ways of being, to open their minds. These magazines and anthologies contain far more stories I want to read by authors of many varied backgrounds. As I said, it’s not fully about print vs. online, it’s about better magazines and books.” This time, creators and proponents of both print and online magazines collaborate on determining ways that any genre magazine can create a brighter and better-read future for itself, using Bradford’s comment as a launching point[1].

eBooks and Magazines Planning Discussion — Saturday 6:00 PM, Meet in the lobby

Those of you interested in discussing the Magazine/eBook open source project, we’re going to meet at Readercon during the dinner break since this is the time that’s none of us are likely to have something else scheduled.

If you can’t make this time, that’s fine. We will also have an online space to discuss things after the con is over.

And yes, we will eat dinner while we discuss if we all decide the dinner time is fine. :) Meet in the lobby of the hotel, then we’ll decide where to get dinner. (Facebook event is here if you want to RSVP.)

Talk / Discussion: Interstitial Arts Foundation Town Meeting — Sunday 10:00 AM, RI
Sarah Smith with discussion by K. Tempest Bradford, Theodora Goss, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Shira Lipkin

The IAF is a group of “Artists Without Borders” who celebrate art that is made in the interstices between genres and categories. It is art that flourishes in the borderlands between different disciplines, mediums, and cultures. The IAF provides border-crossing artists and art scholars a forum and a focus for their efforts. Rather than creating a new genre with new borders, they support the free movement of artists across the borders of their choice. They support the development of a new vocabulary with which to view and critique border-crossing works, and they celebrate the large community of interstitial artists working in North America and around the world. The annual Interstitial Arts Foundation Town Meeting at Readercon is an exciting opportunity to catch up with the IAF and its many supporters to hear about they’re doing to support the interstitial art community in 2010, solicit your ideas for future projects, and to give you a voice in the development of interstitial art.

Talk / Discussion: How to Write for a Living When You Can’t Live Off Your Fiction — Sunday 11:00 AM, RI
Barbara Krasnoff with discussion by Inanna Arthen, K. Tempest Bradford, Jeffrey A. Carver, Rose Fox, Jeff Hecht, Alison Sinclair, Gayle Surrette

You’ve just been laid off from your staff job, you can’t live on the royalties from your fiction writing, and your Significant Other has taken a cut in pay. How do you pay the rent? Well, you can find freelance work writing articles, white papers, reviews, blogs, and other non-sfnal stuff. Despite today’s lean journalistic market, it’s still possible to make a living writing, editing, and/or publishing. Let’s talk about where and how you can sell yourself as a professional writer, whether blogging can be done for a living, and how else you can use your talent to keep the wolf from the door. Bring whatever ideas, sources, and contacts you have.

Footnotes

  1. Yes, it is a little weird for me that they chose a quote from something I wrote to base this discussion on…[]

Magazine / eBook Coding Project Meetup At ReaderCon

Magazine / eBook Coding Project Meetup At ReaderCon

Since a good number of the people who are interested in helping with and hammering out details on the eBook Magazine project I posed about will be at Readercon in a few weeks, I think it would be a good idea to have a meetup there. I know there are several of you interested who won’t be there, so hopefully I can get together with you online to make sure we know about the skill sets, availability, and ideas of everyone who wants to be involved.

For the peeps who’ll be at Readercon, how does meeting during the dinner break (yes, over actual dinner) on Saturday sound?

For the online component of this project, people seem to use Google Sites to good effect for organizing such things. Would anyone be interested in setting up one of those with both public and private areas?

If You Build This, Magazines Will Come

If You Build This, Magazines Will Come

During WisCon I had a brief conversation with Jed Hartman about my continued sadness that more online magazines don’t have an eBook version of their stories so I can easily load them on my eReader and thus read more fiction. He agreed that Things Must Be Done, but there are questions of logistics and reader/audience desires plus the technology to make it all happen. We came to the conclusion that making this work is about more than just creating an eBook version of the magazine, but also delivery and access. There’s a niche here that needs filling, but in order to do that, we’re going to need coders.

I want to propose an open source coding project and gather coders around me to make it happen, but I have no flippin’ idea how to do that. I also want to get some more feedback on this idea and work out the kinks. Luckily, I have a blog, so I totally know how to do that. So here are the questions, issues, problems, and goals I see surrounding all of this.

  1. Relatively easy eBook creation. Though programs like Calibre can create EPUB (and other eBook format) files, Tobias Buckell recently pointed out to me that this is not the optimal solution. He equated it to people using Microsoft Word to create web pages. Yes, the program can do it, but the code it generates is from hell. Not fit for anyone except really clueless newbies. We wouldn’t want that for these eBooks. So a primary aspect is to figure out who or what will generate clean code for EPUB.
  2. How many eBooks? Many online magazines do the monthly or semi-monthly thing, but for those that publish every week, do readers want an eBook for every story, or is one per month good?
  3. Free or Not Free? Many online magazines are free, which is a yay. Should their eBooks be free as well? I am personally in favor of charging a small amount for the files for the convenience of having the eBook format. The fiction will still be free on the website, of course. What are other people’s thoughts on this?
  4. Delivery System. Outfits like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Sony will deliver magazines to subscribers automatically, but only if you have a device that stays within their ecosystem. Like, if I subscribe to a magazine through B&N but use my Sony Reader to read it, it won’t show up each month on its own, I’d have to download then transfer it. Plus, I imagine that many online magazines would want to sell or make their eBook versions available through independent eBookstores or just from their site. I had an idea that I’d like to be able to embed and deliver eBooks with an RSS feed like you do with podcasts. That way, if you subscribe to the feed, you automatically get the file. It would be nice if this worked with paid eBook files as well. This is where the major coding work comes in. How do you set this kind of thing up? And would you need an accompanying program to then transfer the eBook to your eReader?
  5. Subscriptions or Individual Payments? Going along with the system I described above, will readers want to subscribe up front to many months worth of a magazine or would they be happier just paying per month?

This is what I’ve come up with so far, but please feel free to add anything else you think should be under consideration and please give your thoughts, solutions, etc. to the above. I feel that if this is done right, we may end up with a really cool program or online service that can handle all of these things. But, as I said, I’d want this to be open source and made available to magazines for little or no cost, if possible.

I’d love any suggestions on how to proceed from here.

Hey, Henry Blodget, Blogger at Silicon Alley Insider, Screw You!

Hey, Henry Blodget, Blogger at Silicon Alley Insider, Screw You!

I’m a little surprised that a respectable news outlet like Business Insider puts up with screeds the likes of which Henry Blodget spewed all over Silicon Alley the other day. It’s shocking to me that not only is the post chock full of whiny, entitled, angry foot stomping, but also wrong information. I know blog posts aren’t fact checked or anything, but hasn’t someone come along from higher up in the editorial chain to even question the bullshit he just dumped all over a supposed business site?

First, the cost to make an eBook — whether you’re just publishing an eBook or one alongside print books — is not “pretty much zero”. It’s just not. Second, if Macmillan, or any other major publisher collapses, someone else is not just going to pick up and publish the books they can’t and someone else isn’t going to just hire all the people that would put out of work. And that someone else is definitely not going to be Amazon. Because, despite the Digital Publishing Platform and Amazon Shorts, Amazon is not a publisher in the way Macmillan is a publisher.

Amazon as publishing entity is about on the same level as iUniverse, Lulu, and anyone with a blog and a decent shopping cart system. I could start selling eBooks tomorrow and those eBooks may even be written by someone who is not me. That doesn’t make me a publisher[1].

But then that is part of the problem with Henry’s post — he doesn’t understand, at all, what it is publishers do, what Amazon does, and how all of these issues affect writers and consumers. Yes, an consumers. Henry says “we” don’t want to pay $15 for an eBook. Fine. Then “we” won’t. Consumers will spend what they spend any way they choose to spend it. If Macmillan or anyone else wants to price their books high then find out down the line that it means fewer sales, how does that hurt Henry or the rest of us?

Oh right, because then Henry can’t get what he wants when he wants it at the price he wants it. And for some reason he can’t just not buy an eBook, he wants to insist that eBooks sell at the price he’s willing to pay for it. Fine, I insist that the Kindle cost only $9.99 so that I don’t have to spend so much on it. What’s that you say? Amazon has to cover the cost of manufacturing and designing and maintaining and updating the Kindle? I don’t fucking care, do you understand? I want what I want when I want it at the price I demand.

Also, I want a pony.

Look, the idea that books, even electronic versions of books, are easy and free and don’t cost anything and amount to just a bunch of bits is, #1: stupid and: #2 dangerous. The idea that you can toss aside the fact that someone worked very hard to write that book (in most cases) and some other people took the time to edit, proofread, copyedit, design, market and promote that book is in essence saying that none of those people matter. If you really think that, you probably: #1: don’t read very many books, #2: have never met a writer or anyone involved in book publishing, #3: place a poor value on art and entertainment, #4: should be shoved off the nearest cliff.

Just try reading only self-published books for a year or two and then come tell me how all those people aren’t necessary. You will likely find a well-written, awesome book, maybe even two. Only if you read more than 100, though. Have fun reading 100 really shitty books, I’ll be over here laughing at you.

Finally, Henry, don’t even try to pretend like what Amazon is doing is good for writers. Just don’t. Because you’re wrong. You act like by giving publishers less money Amazon is somehow giving authors more. How exactly do you think this whole money flow works, son? If Amazon sells a book for $5 and they take 50%, that means $2.50 goes to the publisher. The publisher THEN pays the writer out of that $2.50. The publisher is going to get a larger chunk of that money than they give the writer, but in the end everyone but Amazon gets less.

You can’t paint the publisher as an evil entity who should get less money without saying that the writer will get less money, too, because that is what will happen. So stop trying to pretend like you’re on our side.

The side you’re on is the entitled asshole side, and that’s not a side most people would want to publicly associate with. You’re not even on the consumer’s side, because consumers have a wide array of choices, and one of those choices is not to buy things. People who bought Kindles already narrowed their choices to just Amazon, which is fine, but don’t then whine and cry when you can’t get cheap books for your expensive eReader. If you somehow feel it’s not fair that you paid so much money for the thing and yet still have to pay money for the books, I have two words for you: Google Books. And I have two more: Project Gutenberg.

Those aren’t good enough for you? Tough. Can’t get that new Stephen King release for just $10? Neither can those who buy it in hardback. Ever think that maybe your major problem is not that someone wants to sell an eBook for the outrageous price of $15 but rather that you are completely unaware of how minor a thing the price of a luxury item is when compared to the damage entitled people like you do to those who actually worked hard to create that item? Never given that any thought, huh?

Why am I not surprised?

(P. S. Will someone please stop folks who are supposedly “insiders” in Silicon Valley from acting as if the eBook reading landscape is Kindle and iPad only? I mean, really, how ignorant can one be?)

Footnotes

  1. And can I also point out that writers who sell their books to major publishing houses do not hire freelance editors unless they hired said editor before they sold the book in order to make it good enough for the publishing house, which is really not the same thing at all as saying that writers can just go it alone on this whole publishing thing. What moron farm did you wander off of, Henry?[]

Addendum to eBook Post: Other eBook Stores

Addendum to eBook Post: Other eBook Stores

John Sclazi has an excellent post about supporting the authors affected by this whole Macmillan/Amazon war by buying their books, then he goes on to list many fine places one can purchase said books both online and in real life.

I realized upon reading this that, in my last post, I hadn’t mentioned some good places to buy eBooks that aren’t attached to specific readers and are also worth looking in to if you’re an author or other publishing entity. I don’t know about all of them, so if you know of some I missed, please let me know in the comments.

The American Bookseller’s Association has made it easy for independent booksellers to create an eBook store through their IndieCommerce initiative. Hundreds of stores have taken advantage of it, and I believe Powell’s books is one of them. They definitely have an eBook store. You can find eBooks on IndieBound as well. If you have a favorite bookstore and they have a website, it’s worth checking it to see if they offer eBooks. WebScription.net is Baen’s eBookstore, though they sell non-Baen’s books there.

Like I said, if you know of any others, please let us know in the comments.

eBooks, eReaders, and why you need to keep up with the tech

eBooks, eReaders, and why you need to keep up with the tech

I would normally post something like this on my tech blog, but I feel like this is more of a writer issue than a tech issue, though tech is a big part of why I’m writing this post. I’ve been pondering this for a long time — and a few inklings have come out in past posts — but the recent resurgence of AmazonFail and the reactions to it made me think it was a good time to share my thoughts on this.

As many of you know, I work for a technology magazine and part of my job is to keep up on news about gadgets and another part is actually reviewing them. Because I have interest in books and am a fiction writer besides, I ended up as the go-to person for eReaders. Last month I covered eReaders at the Consumer Electronics Show and got to see several devices that will be on the market in the next few weeks and months. I must say, there are a LOT of eReaders out there, folks.

To go along with these eReaders, many companies are also setting up online bookstores, kind of like Sony did back in the day. However, there are some differences in the way things are now. First, almost every device coming to market will have the ability to read EPUB books. EPUB is becoming the standard eBook format (spearheaded by Sony), thus the books you want should be readable on the Nook or the iRiver Story or the Alex eReader regardless of where you buy them. In theory.

The logistics of this are a bit gray right now — for instance, it’s not clear if you can buy a book from Sony then load it on the Nook, or buy a book from Barnes & Noble then load it on the Alex. I chalk this up to the general messiness in the eBook area at the moment. Eventually these issues are going to have to be sorted out. In the meantime, a lot of the smaller eReader vendors/eBook sellers are touting that the titles you buy from them can be read on any device, though they’d be happy to sell you their own.

Contrast this with Amazon, whose eBook format is proprietary and therefore can only be read by Kindles and Kindle apps for smartphones and computers. If a Kindle owner decides they like the Nook better, they can say goodbye to their eBook collection. To be fair to Amazon (I know, I know, but bear with me) this was status quo for a long time in the eBook world. Sony only recently started selling EPUB books — before they had their own format for their own readers. And the EPUB as universal format is a fairly new movement. So naturally newer eReaders are poised to take advantage of it.

Regardless of what Amazon is doing, the rest of the industry, including Apple, is going with EPUB and building their own online eBookstores to sell them. Will all of these individual stores survive? Most likely not, especially if the devices they’re attached to don’t do well. It also depends on what the DRM situation is with books bought from bigger players like B&N. But I’m sure eventually some eBook selling entity will arise from all of this and become the default store multiple devices attach themselves to. iBook might be that store, or something scrappier will come along.

So, why is all of this important to you, the folks reading this who are likely to be writers and/or book industry professionals? It’s important because a big part of the future of eBooks isn’t being shaped by publishers and booksellers wrangling with each other over percentages, it’s going to be driven by the devices consumers choose to consume the books.

While I do not agree that the iPad will CHANGE EVERYTHING ZOMG and that it will destroy all stupid eReaders[1], there are plenty of devices and technologies on the horizon that could change the landscape drastically within the next year or two. I’m talking way cooler than the iPad (and much more useful). Here’s a really brief overview:

Footnotes

  1. The reasons for this are many, but it boils down to this: eInk screens were invented for a reason. And no matter how much some people think it won’t be a big deal to read a book on an LCD screen because they spend all day in front of one, I bet they change their tune the first time they attempt reading full screen black text on a white background and nothing else.[]

More Proof That I Am Actually A White Person

More Proof That I Am Actually A White Person

That headline will be massively funny to those who were up ’til all hours Sunday night at World Fantasy. For the rest of you:

Have you seen the video where the store employees show that the Face Tracking software on HP’s computers don’t track black faces? If you haven’t, go look now, it is really funny. When I saw that I wanted to test if it was true for other HP webcams, so I pulled a system from our testing lab and tried it out. The Face Tracker easily tracked me, but it also tracked a darker-skinned co-worker. I then turned the backlight correction off (which made the picture darker and more like the video linked above). The Face Tracker could no longer track my co-worker, but could still track me.

So forget the pencil test, the brown bag test, and the one-drop rule. Technology has given us a far better way to determine who is black in these times, and it is the Face Tracking algorithm in HP MediaCenters!

Aren’t you glad we live in the future? I am.

*facepalm*

Click here to see the video evidence of my shame.