Saturday, June 26, 2010

How readers benefit from independent authors

Readers are no longer restricted to what business people with a payroll to meet deem marketable. The explosion of independent writing and publishing has broken the dam that publishing businesses erected to prevent most writers from seeking an audience.

The burgeoning quantity of titles in print or ebook formats is the result of authors producing their work independently. Some readers might rightly feel overwhelmed by the vast selection, but many are also delighted by the consumer-oriented benefits that independent writers are bringing to the marketplace.

Reader friendly pricing

In the ebook market especially, independent authors have been a major force in driving down prices. I can't think of one instance in which I've read or heard an independent writer complain about Amazon's favored maximum price point of $9.99 for ebooks. It is always the large companies determined to defend their cash flow that rail against affordable ebook prices for their customers. Across the board, independent authors predominantly price their ebooks low, usually between free and $5. Attractive pricing entices readers to try new authors. Generous free samples are also the norm, so readers can decide if a work is up to their standards before making a purchase.

Customer support

In the growing ebook market, readers have often been vociferous about their complaints and wishes. A new medium based on many formats and gadgets is destined to inflict technical difficulties. Large companies for a long time seemed befuddled or indifferent to consumer requests while independent writers were speedily meeting needs. Science fiction author Steve Jordan of noted, "It took booksellers like Sony and Barnes & Noble months to roll out ebooks in ePub formats, once it was clear that ePub was becoming the default format to sell; whereas independent authors could manage the switchover in days, or even hours, of making the same decision. By the time Sony and B&N made it to the ePub party, independent authors had already established, and, for a time, were the leaders of that market."

Jordan summed up the nimble attention to customer issues nicely when he said, "Big publishers may be the elephants of the book business, but the indie authors are gazelles in comparison, able to move quickly and change direction on a dime to keep up with (or ahead of) market demands."

Jordan added that independent authors enjoy a more immediate connection with customers. In my experience, I can attest to how appreciative, even amazed, a reader can be by getting personal and timely customer service directly from the author. Occasionally, I will receive an email from someone who had trouble downloading ebooks or who bought the wrong format by accident. When I respond promptly and fix the situation without any runaround, I am always effusively thanked. I am just as relieved to have made the reader happy.

Worldwide access for readers

Another touchy subject with readers is geographic restrictions. These are especially puzzling to ebook consumers. Geographic restrictions are an old holdover from pre-digital publishing. A work would be licensed within a geographic market like the United States. It would then be licensed to another company with the rights to sell it in the United Kingdom for example. But when ebook readers on the internet try to buy a product and receive the message that they can't because it is not licensed in their country, then it is infuriating. Large publishers are catching up with this issue albeit slowly. Independent writers, however, have always been able to sell to anybody in the world as long as PayPal would convert the currency. I was selling internationally before I even realized it. I'm so glad that I do not have some publishing contract limiting my market.

Artistic freedom

Fresh perspectives and experimental storylines that would have received zero attention from publishers hobbled by inescapable business demands can now reach the market. Readers benefit from an increased supply that is not just copycat versions of bestsellers.

Series fiction can be especially vulnerable to non-artistic business decisions. Paranormal romance author Zoe Winters of made a very good point about how series readers benefit from independents. She said, "Readers don't have to invest in us only to have the rug ripped out from under them. There are plenty of publishers who pull a series mid-series and the readers are just left hanging. And many New York authors still are not willing to continue a series independently. They'll shop their books for years trying to get them picked up again by another publisher. People who read indies know up front that there is never going to be a publisher taking away the stories. As long as the fan base exists and the author has the passion for the series, it will continue."

When Zoe Winters told me this, I was struck by the ringing truth of her statement. About 20 years ago I read a book by Anne Rice called The Mummy. It was about the immortal Ramses the Great. I very much enjoyed this novel, which at the end said more adventures were coming, but I never saw another mummy title from Anne Rice. Apparently vampires were the bigger market.

As the author of a fantasy series, I was basically left with no choice but to go into independent publishing. I spent four years trying to get the attention of fantasy publishers, but my series was already four novels. No publisher in the world is going to sign an unknown writer for four books. This reality prompted me to create Brave Luck Books ™ for producing my fiction. I've been selling my four part fantasy series The Rys Chronicles ever since. I have not had to compromise with a publishing company that thinks a fantasy hero has to be an orphaned teenager with powers he or she does not understand and a mysterious destiny to save the world. Does that make a good fantasy story? Sometimes. Is it the only marketable fantasy story? No!

I'm working on a new series as well. When all four novels of the new series are complete, I will make them available to readers all at the same time. Anyone who likes the first part will know that the complete series is waiting for them. No years between novels will have to be endured. When has a big company ever put out a complete brand new series? A big publisher simply cannot take that kind of business risk. But the independent writer can. My costs are low and my passion is high. Until my new series is ready, fantasy readers can indulge in The Rys Chronicles. Download for free the whole first book Union of Renegades.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Dark Fantasy inspired by Russian Folklore

The novelist and short story writer Anna Kashina contacted me about featuring her newest novel Ivan and Marya at the Fantasy Tavern, which I gladly did.

Kashina officially released her novel on the Summer Solstice, a day very symbolic to the story of Ivan and Marya. Inspired by the Russian tale of the same name, Kashina's novel is a dark fantasy about Marya, the sorceress daughter of a king. Marya is a shapeshifter, whose trickster ways helps her lure victims to their doom. Every summer solstice she must sacrifice a virgin. The energy released from the sacrifices feeds her father's soul.

Ivan is sent to end these ghastly deeds but falls in love with Marya. His love begins to transform Marya who must confront her true nature and question what she has been doing in the service of her father.

These characters are taken from a Russian folk tale. A flower that blooms in Russian forests around the time of the Summer Solstice bears the name of Ivan and Marya.

From the excerpt of this novel included at the Drollerie Press, publisher of Kashina's novel, I found that her writing was a pleasure to read. Uncluttered yet vivid with detail, Kashina's writing promises to beautifully update Russian folklore for a worldwide audience.

"I stood beside my father and watched the girl drown. She was a strong one. Her hands continued to reach out long after her face had disappeared from view. The splashing she made could have soaked a flock of wild geese to the bone. She wanted to live, but there was no escape from the waters of the Sacrifice Pool."

Read the excerpt from Ivan and Marya

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Alas, I am being thrust into the market for a new ebook reader

My beloved Sony PRS 505 ebook reader that I purchased in July 2008 appears to have had a stroke. I think its issues are battery related. This ebook reader has always had very good battery life, allowing me to read for 1 or 2 weeks between charges, but now I can't even turn it on.

The trouble with my Sony PRS 505 started last week when I wanted to add a new ebook. I connected it to my computer with the USB cord, but the ebook management software gave me an error instead of displaying a successful connection with the device. Then, my ebook reader was totally out of power and would not turn on. So, I charged it and tried again, and it was back to normal.

Yesterday when I connected it to my computer the same problem emerged. So, I tried charging the ebook reader again, but now it will not turn on at all. I suspect that it is unable to take any charge through either the USB cord or the DC power cord.

I have always loved my Sony 505 ebook reader, so its apparent coma (I'm still in denial about its actual death) leaves me befuddled. I looked into the Sony repair service, and my 2-year-old 505 does qualify for an exchange. For $99, I can turn in the broken one and receive a factory refurbished model. This is fairly tempting because $99 is at least half or a third of what a new ebook reader would cost from a variety of manufacturers. I'm curious about other models, like the Nook or Kindle. The newer models of Kindle are not nearly as ugly as the first model which looked like medical equipment. I have always adored my Sony ebook reader though. Its sleek styling and blissfully simple controls and navigation were instantly appealing. I also appreciate the range of electronic formats that I can load into it. I remain hesitant to buy a different type of ebook reader with wireless capability. I worry that the ease of shopping would cause unrestrained impulse buying.

I will spend a couple more days fiddling with the lifeless body of my Sony 505 before deciding what to do. Spend the $99 and get a refurbished one? This option is affordable and has the added appeal of slowing the flow of electronic waste because it is recycling parts. Or, Spend about $300 and open myself up to many other new models on the market? This option is also tempting because I must admit that shopping for a new ebook reading gadget tickles my fancy. (Yes, the ladies love the gadgets too!) I'll do some poking around in the forums to find out what other people may have done when confronted with a perishing Sony 505.

Until then, my husband said I can use his 505, which I will gladly do. I'm really not fond of the idea of going completely back to paper books, especially for fiction reading, so I'm definitely sticking with ebook reading. It is so nice not to have paperbacks piling up around the house anymore.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Attention anybody who eats: See my guest post at Hillbilly Housewife

One of my hobbies is home canning, and I sometimes contribute to the blog of Hillbilly Housewife. Even if you're not a hillbilly or a housewife, my article about how to find affordable locally grown produce will help you connect with wholesome food...and maybe even inspire you to tackle a home canning project.

How to find affordable produce for home canning projects

The Hillbilly Housewife is a huge and regularly updated resource for saving money and running a household efficiently and creatively.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Thriving web fiction scene promotes interaction among readers and authors

By Tracy Falbe

Anyone worried that text messages and tweets are destroying literacy will be heartened to learn that people are reading whole novels online. Web fiction in the form of web novels and online serials has been quietly connecting with an audience for years. Readers can easily leave a comment, ask a question, and sometimes even influence the story.

Fiona Gregory, now an editor at the Web Fiction Guide, started reading online fiction in 2001 when a search for free science fiction stories revealed the medium of online novels to her. "I love the opportunity to interact with the author and other readers. To me, this adds so much to the reading experience," Fiona Gregory said.

Although printed books remain her favorite format, online fiction also fits into her cravings for something to read. She said, "I like the web serial format. With a printed book, I can rarely stop myself from racing through it. With serials, I'm forced to take it in a little every day. If I feel I don't have time to read for pleasure, it still never takes much time just to read a little web serial update, so I can always get a fiction fix, in bite sized portions."

Fiona Gregory's reading appetite has allowed her to contribute to the rating and reviewing efforts at the Web Fiction Guide. This site was established in the summer of 2008 by Toronto resident and software developer Chris Poirier. He is the author of the online serialized novel Winter Rain, and he decided to found the Web Fiction Guide as a way to promote his fiction. The online fiction reading audience is attracted to the organized listings, ratings, and reviews at his website. This portal for web fiction has grown to contain over 500 listings as of June 2010.

Also started in 2008 was Digital Novelists. This publishing platform run with the Drupal content management system was specially designed for the needs of online novelists. MeiLin Miranda, author of An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom and Scryer's Gulch, started the Digital Novelists service after receiving many inquiries from other authors about how she was publishing her stories. Her fee-based service provides multiple publishing tools useful to web fiction writers. They can publish one or more web novels along with art, blogs, and forums where readers can discuss specific stories. Additionally the members benefit from ad campaigns run by Digital Novelists. The number of authors using this site varies. As of June 2010, MeiLin Miranda said that 18 writers were participating.

No matter where an author chooses to publish, web fiction or weblit as it is also called takes the form of its own dedicated website or is posted chapter-by-chapter on a blog publishing platform. Barriers to entry are low. A writer needs a computer, internet access, and some web hosting unless using a free blog service. Some writers use the web or blog novel format to experiment with ideas and get feedback from readers who leave comments. Other writers carefully craft their final versions and publish them on their websites. All hope to cultivate a following of loyal readers.

When considering the appeal of web fiction for readers, MeiLin Miranda said, "My readership seems to like the immediacy of it. You can have much more direct conversations with the writers, up to and including influencing the stories. Many of us take story suggestions from readers, either for the main story or for bonus stories."

An amusing anecdote from MeiLin Miranda's own experience illustrates how deeply engaging some readers find web fiction. MeiLin Miranda said, "One of my readers asked me about what kind of cheeses were made in my fantasy world! Strangely I had an answer."

Before such detailed interaction can begin between a reader and author, a reader needs the chance to get into a good story. This is greatly aided by the fact that web fiction is usually free. The authors do not have to convince someone to purchase a book or download an ebook. The story is just there to read, freely unfolding online. Although readers can enjoy free entertainment, many web fiction authors seek to earn money from their creative efforts. Fiona Gregory remarked on the variety of approaches writers are taking online to earn money. "Some explicitly request readers to donate to fund the writing effort, some use their free web offerings to help promote their printed books, some just a have a tips jar, some don't even have a donation button and seem to just be happy to have readers."

Regardless of financial rewards, authors are always pleased to reach an audience. Clare K.R. Miller author of Chatoyant College, enthusiastically declares that writing her web fiction has been fun. She chose writing web fiction as a creative outlet after seeing what other authors were doing. As a reader of online fiction herself, Clare K.R. Miller summed up the appealing strengths of the medium. "I like it because it's free, it's convenient, and I don't need my hands to hold my computer, so I can read and knit at the same time."

Author's note: My exploration of web fiction began as I experimented with the medium. I have recently completed the fantasy web novel version of Union of Renegades: The Rys Chronicles Book I. My hope is to further promote the whole 4-part series that has been selling as books and ebooks for four years. Interested fantasy fans can find 40 chapters of good reading in this completed fantasy web novel.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Book review: The Rise of the Creative Class by Richard Florida

The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life by Richard Florida

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Carnegie Mellon University professor, Richard Florida provides an astute and extensively researched explanation of the massive cultural shifts in U.S. society over the last 30 years that have caused an entirely new social class to develop: the Creative Class. Numbering close to 40 million people, the creative class consists of workers whose intellectual energy is primarily applied to innovation, problem solving, and development of new products or services. A creative class member is distinguished from a working class or service class person by the fact that he or she has to figure out how to do something as opposed to just doing something that has already been figured out. The primary premise of Florida's book is that creative work brings the greatest economic benefit to society and distinct geographical regions with superior economic climates are forming around the creative workforce while leaving other areas stuck in the past and struggling to sustain their economies.

Creative workers occupy many fields like engineering, architecture, medicine, law, art, entertainment, design, media, education, and the sciences. Because the demands of creative work do not necessarily fit into a traditional regimented work day with precise start and stop times, employees have been needing and often getting flexible schedules, homier work environments, and lax dress codes. The growth of the creative workforce is also changing society. The recreational needs of creative workers are much different than shift workers of previous generations. Creative workers like individual sports like bicycling far more than team sports because they want to do something on their schedules, which are often erratic.

Creative workers deliver so much economic benefit to society because of the innovation that they are capable of producing. Whole new massive industries like personal computing emerged from passionate creative entrepreneurs. Creative workers can enable any business or industry to rise above its competitors by creating superior manufacturing systems, better management systems, better customer service, and of course brand new products that energize marketplaces.

Florida makes the point that the creative professionals of today are vastly different than the professionals of a few decades ago when the organizational model prevailed. During the organizational age, massive companies controlled their workforces with strict command and control models that eventually stifled innovation. However, the workers, if they towed the company line, could realistically expect lifetime employment and promotions as they climbed the corporate ladder. The ethos of the organizational age dissolved during the 1990s when companies across the board decided to downsize and outsource. Gone was the expectation of lifetime employment, and many workers, especially creative workers, quickly learned that loyalty to a company was a waste of time because they could get the sack at any moment regardless of doing good work. As a result, creative workers of all types have shown a great tendency, as documented by Florida's research, to congregate in regions that offer many job opportunities related to their chosen fields so they can find new jobs as necessary. Creative workers are also very finicky about where they live because they want to live in culturally stimulating environments with robust music scenes, theater, street festivals, and so forth. They also crave nice outdoor recreation areas like bike paths and green spaces as opposed to organized entertainments like theme parks. In fact, tasteless things like box stores and chain restaurants, which Florida labels generica, are anathema to creative workers.

Creative workers in general also crave tolerant societies in which to live. They need environments that easily welcome their quirky and often downright nerdy selves. This is why they tend to be attracted to enclaves of Bohemian style people like artists, writers, and musicians. Such tolerant areas, like the obvious example of San Francisco, almost always have strong gay communities too. Florida found a significant correlation between flourishing gay regions and the presence of creative economies. This was not because all gay people are creative, but gay people face a lot of discrimination and hatred and therefore congregate in tolerant regions. Therefore social tolerance was a leading indicator of a strong economic climate when compared to socially intolerant regions.

In addition to tolerance, creative economies also need access to technology, which is usually promoted by the presence of research universities. Talent was the final requirement for creating a strong creative economic region. Studies strongly showed that talented creative workers were likely to move to regions that had both tolerance and technologically innovative universities and companies. If one element was missing, then a break away creative economy could not come fully into bloom.

As a result, whole industries are starting to relocate to the robust centers of creative workforces so they can have talent pools from which to draw. Major examples of such regions cited by Florida were Austin, Boston, San Francisco, and Seattle.

The author also seeks with this book to make creative workers conscious of their emerging and distinctive class. They have in general been very self absorbed, but Florida entreats them to play a more active role in the shaping of the country because the old school forces of the organizational age persist and tend to pursue ill-conceived and outdated projects that do not help the economy and sometimes even make it worse. The author basically harps on the wasted billions of dollars that governments and economic development corporations slather onto sports stadiums and shopping malls, which are proven to do nothing to enliven local economies. A successful economic future for the country is dependent on creative workers hauling the rest of the country into the twenty first century. Florida wants creative class members to push society toward a more creative model so that the vast untapped creative resources of people in other classes can be nourished instead of wasted. This would make people happier and improve the economy.

This book is tremendously well written. The author has an engaging style that is supported by abundant facts, statistics, and anecdotes. All creative workers should find that it rings very true with their personal experiences, beliefs, and tastes. I know it did for me. After reading this book, I consider myself enlightened to a reality that I felt but was not aware of intellectually or consciously. For anyone interested in understanding systemic problems with the U.S. economy and social trends, The Rise of the Creative Class is highly recommended and truly fascinating.

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