Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ebook Pricing and DRM

I'm digressing for another week. Nope, it doesn't mean I'm not working on the book,. I've written more than 11K words this month, and it's going well.

But I've been thinking and reading a lot about ebook pricing, and I wanted to gather some of my thoughts in one place, especially since my thinking has changed somewhat with my shiny new NookColor.

I've never been an ebook pricing snob, with a fixed price point I won't exceed. Okay, I probably shouldn't use the word "snob," but some people come across that way with loud pronouncements that "I won't buy a book that's more than $9.99" or "I refuse to buy an ebook that's more expensive than a paperback."

I am more likely to impulse buy something that is $2.99 or less, and .99 is certainly a no-brainer if I'm at all interested in the subject, but I've certainly spent more.

I guess for me, price is less important than DRM. If you don't know what that is, it stands for Digital Rights Management. In simple terms, it's copy protection on a book. If you buy a book on Amazon for Kindle, you can't (legally) read it on another brand of reader. There are ways out there to strip DRM so you can convert from one format to another, but those are illegal.

I understand that I don't really purchase an ebook. I'm purchasing a license to use it, but that bothers me. I've bought electronic versions of books I own in paper because I prefer reading electronically, but I'm only willing to do that once. If I buy a book in Nook format today, I don't want to have to buy it again three years from now because I've traded in my Nook for a Kindle.

It seems that media providers want us to pay each times we read/view/listen to something, and that's just not good for consumers. Look at all the flack about Harper Collins deciding to have library ebooks "expire" after 26 checkouts. This kind of stuff is just nuts and makes books less accessible, which, I think, is contrary to what publishers really want.

I've read conspiracy theories that publishers want ebooks to fail to preserve paper books. I'm not sure I buy it. Never confuse ignorance for conspiracy. I know the big publishers don't understand ebook readers.

They use piracy as the excuse. "If we release a book without DRM, millions of copies will be instantly available as torrent downloads." Hello, they already are!

Basically, DRM treats us all as criminals, even when we're not. I've bought plenty of DRM-free ebooks. I've NEVER shared or uploaded one. Do I know how and where? Yes, but I don't. Because it's wrong.

I guess where I'm going with this rambling is that price is less a concern than lack of DRM. I'll pay $12.99 for an ebook if I know I can convert it to read on today's device. And tomorrow's. And the one for the day after.

All of my books will be available electronically and free of DRM. That's my promise to you. And I won't be charging $12.99 either. I'm thinking more like $2.99. And if you want to share with a friend, I'm okay with that. I'd appreciate you not uploading to a Torrent, but if it gives me exposure, well, I can't argue too much with that either.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

But I Digress...

I've been feeling funny as a (future) e-book author with no dedicated e-book reader. Sure, I've been reading on my iPhone, and it works well, but part of me was feeling guilty.

Okay, let's be honest. I had gadget envy, and being an author was merely an excuse. So, I decided to buy a Nook Color.

I had a Sony PRS-505 many years ago, so this isn't my first reader. But I am in love. I like it more than my old 505.

Yes, I love the color. The screen is beautiful. Books look better than they did on my iPhone, and it's nice to have more words per page. I tend to go for the smallest font, which is still plenty big enough for me. Book covers are vibrant and so very pretty.

The wireless is fantastic. With my old 505, I had to plug it into my computer to load books. I can do that with the Nook Color too, but I have all my e-books archived in Dropbox, and it's easy to use the Nook browser to go to Dropbox and download my books.

I use a program called Calibre to manage my e-book library, and one of the cool features of Calibre is the ability to download newspapers and magazines. It seems like magic to me, but what I think it does is goes to the publication's website and grabs articles. It organizes them into sections, and everything is linked so navigation is a breeze. I'd tried using Calibre to download the Washington Post to my old 505 and the iPhone, but I'd never been happy with the results.

With the Nook, it's no problem. Calibre automatically downloads the Post at 7:00 AM, right when my alarm goes off. I turn on my Nook, snag the current paper from Dropbox and read away during breakfast.

Cool, eh?

What about buying Nook books? Easy and a snap. I can buy from my computer or my Nook, and the new book automatically downloads. Actually, it's almost too easy. I'll have to be careful how much I spend there.

I haven't tried a newspaper or magazine from Barnes and Noble yet, but I plan too. Still trying to figure out which one I really want. Calibre makes it so easy that I almost hate to pay money for something I can easily get for free.

What's the battery life like? About what you'd expect from a back-lit device. I get about 2 1/2 days on a charge, with fairly steady reading during my downtimes in a day. I also use Calibre to convert documents to .epub for easy reading on the Nook. I just downloaded a bunch of blog posts that I'll be using to plan tomorrow's class. So, yes, I can legitimately use my toy for work!

What about books I've bought from Amazon? No, I can't get them on the Nook, but I still have Kindle for iPhone, so it's no big deal.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

When Characters Help Drive the Plot

I'm kind of a free-form writer. When I start a story, I know how it begins and ends, at least in a general sense. But I make up the middle as I go along. This approach does have its down sides. I rarely know how long a story is going to be until it's done. Which is why The Case of the Lost Werewolf Puppy is ending up much longer  than I'd originally planned.

It works for me, although the approach does lead to the occasional writer's block. Like I ran into earlier this week.

I'd written myself into a bit of a corner and decided to leave it until another writing session. I needed a bridge between the scene I'd been working on and a later scene I'd written about a week earlier. Dafydd had pointed out that everyone had research to do for tracking down the bad guy in the book. Except for him.

When I started my next writing session, I read back over a couple of pages and stopped at Dafydd's observation. I had no idea where to go.

And then Paul asked Dafydd to go with him to the vampire bar to help him interview some vampires. I hadn't seen that coming, and, typical of characters, he didn't give me anything else to work with. It was like he threw out that offer and then he and Dafydd sat back to watch where I'd go with it.

I wrote a few lines of dialogue, to kill time and give myself a minute to think. And then it came to me. Paul wanted Dafydd to read the auras of some of the vampires. The aura reading probably won't have much to do with the rest of this story, but it's setting up some of the plot lines for the next story.

Just goes to show that a writer has to trust her characters. Sometimes they really do know more than the writer.

By the way, the aura reading thing is a good lead in for next week's post where I'm going to talk about how I've set up the magic in my world. Tune in for that!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Interview with Author Blake Crouch

I was fortunate enough to score an advanced copy of Run by Blake Crouch. It's a fantastic book, and I highly suggest you read it.

Basically, it's a post-disaster thriller about a family and how they deal with the crazy situation they (and the country) find themselves in. It has action, thrills, chills and some really good moments with the main character and his family. At $2.99, it's a steal.

So go out and buy it. Now. You won't be sorry. And just to further entice you, continue reading for a Q&A with Blake Crouch, the author. He's got some good information about writing the book and self-publishing.

Take it away, Blake.

1. I really loved Run. Post-disaster thrillers are among my favorite books, and this one was great. Can you share what sparked the idea?

It was just a coincidence...I was between books, and watching a documentary on the Rwandan genocide, and a little thought popped into my head...what would that look like if it happened in America?

2. I’m trying not to give away too many spoilers, but I have to ask. You left the nature of the lights in the sky unresolved. I think it was a good choice, but I’m wondering what your thinking was?

To be honest, it didn’t matter to me. Without giving too much away, I wanted some impetus behind the genocide that wasn’t rooted in political, religious, or other familiar ideological motivations. I also liked the idea that the killers were seeking out and trying to destroy those who hadn’t “seen the lights.”

3. I loved the family interaction in the book. One of my favorite scenes was Cole wanting comfort after a bad dream and being afraid his dad would turn him away because he looked when he wasn’t supposed to. When Jack hugged him anyway, I was so glad. I’m guessing you drew from your own kids to create Cole, Naomi and their interactions with their mom and dad?

Very much so. I have a five year old son and a two year old daughter, and being a parent was crucial to being able to write this book. I don’t think I would’ve had the right perspective prior to having my kids.

4. Why did you choose the self-publish this book? (I read your answer on Joe’s blog, but if you don’t mind answering it again here, I’d appreciate it.)

I’m going to reprint the applicable portion of that blog entry, since it sums it up best...

1. RUN is my best book. A lot of my work has a horror bent, and this certainly does, but it’s far and away the most commercial thing I’ve written. It has the most potential to earn me new fans, and now I have a substantial backlist for them to dive into if they dig it.
2. As I’ve blogged about before, I need more novels. My novels far outsell my short story collections, single stories, and novellas. This was an opportunity to add a fourth novel to my catalog.
3. For the first time in my writing career, I can support myself solely through writing. Releasing RUN has the potential to launch me to the next level, and the window for doing that is open and here.
4. Numerous ebooks, already released, have been picked up after the fact by publishers. See
Michael J. Sullivan, H.P. Mallory, the Encore crowd, etc. If numbers are strong, it can help an agent make an argument for the sale and negotiate a better advance.
5. Ebook royalty rate: 25%. This royalty rate is so completely biased in favor of publishers, it’s not even funny. The ebook rights to my catalog are far and away the most valuable thing I own.  To give a publisher the exclusive license to my e-rights when I have no control over pricing, and in light of that 25% royalty rate, is a terrifying proposition. This all adds up to my suspicion that, even if an offer were to come, I would have a very difficult time parting with those rights if the offer wasn’t stellar and life-changing money.
6. No one knows yet what the selling trajectory of an ebook is, although we do know that it doesn’t follow the traditional arc of sliding into coop and needing to sell huge in those first 6 weeks to stay alive. Konrath is a prime example. All of his titles have been his greatest sellers at different points in time, and at different price points. But if a book is never available, you can never find that sweet spot where it works for you. Your old books sell your new books, and vice-versa, and the more books you have available, the more you will sell, and the more you sell, the more you sell.

7. I don’t know what the future of RUN will be. Will I always control the e-rights? Will I ultimately sell them? Hard to say. But I know that having it available right now is a great weight lifted off my shoulders, because there is no longer any benefit to sitting on good work, and waiting for a “Yes.”

5. Any thoughts on a movie? You’ve definitely written it cinematically. I think it would translate well to the big screen. Or as an Internet release.

No thoughts yet. I’m just happy that people can finally read this.

6. Anything else you’d like to say about the book or self-publishing?

The limits on creativity and reaching readers are coming down all around us. This is an exciting time to be alive as a writer.

So there you have it, from a writer who's been both traditionally published and now self-published. He thinks it's a good time. What are you waiting for?