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Triage March 17, 2013

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, fantasy, ideas, money, sci-fi, science fiction, VIPub, writing.
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Ideas are easy, developing them isn’t. Worse, choosing which to work on is even more daunting. I have a row of notebooks filled with ideas accumulated over the years and, as good as some are, I will never try to use them because others are better.

This segment of a Dilbert cartoon seems appropriate.

Did you ever have to decide?

Did you ever have to decide?

So how do you choose? Excitement has to be a factor for any writer. All you have in way of capital is time that must be spent properly. An idea that won’t let go of your imagination is a good candidate, but writing and rewriting it in your head isn’t good enough if you want to sell it to a publisher. Think of a Venn diagram of all the ideas you want to write and ideas that are salable. The intersection of the two sets is where you write. That’s not to say any other point in your “what you want to write about” set isn’t worthy. But to sell to an editor, that overlap has to be there.

Otherwise, VIPub (Vertically Integrated Publishing) is the way to go. Do it yourself. Damn the commercial sales, full steam ahead! This opens vistas galore, but the money isn’t likely to be as good (face it, not every book is going to be 50 Shades of Gray, which, depending on your outlook, is a good thing. But I am talking sales, not content.)

So, traditional dead tree publishing requires that overlap in idea/commercial. That eliminates a lot of what is always kicking around in my head. For a year or two I’ve wanted to do a Gormenghast type fantasy but it doesn’t have the feel of something that would sell. But it would be great to write (from my personal standpoint). Likely, it’ll stay on the backburner until a mystery and an sf book, both dancing on tippytoe through my head for years, are done since both strike me as great fun to write and commercial. One way of deciding if an idea is “good enough” is the test of time. Does it endure in your head and even grow? Or do newer ideas supplant?

You’ve got to decide, then stick with it to finish the writing before moving on. Don’t be seduced by the Siren’s lure of a “better” idea or you’ll never see a completed story.


The Top of the Iceberg January 7, 2013

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, ideas, VIPub, web & computers, writing.
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A lot of electrons zip around about how Amazon might really screw VIPub authors by taking a bigger cut of the pie on ebook and CreateSpace sales. A few percent would go a long way toward boosting AMZN revenue, but I don’t think it is going to happen. Why not? Amazon’s business model is unlike anything we’ve ever seen.

Giving away razors to get users to buy razor blades is a tried and true method that has migrated to the e-realm, but this isn’t exactly what AMZN does, though it appears to with the Kindle. Frankly, it doesn’t care what VIPub authors do with their books as long as it drives traffic to the site.. Most of AMZN revenue comes from the obvious. Most profit comes from the part of the iceberg we don’t see.

Low-margined items draw in the people, and their rental of this digital platform is where the immensely high margin delivers the $$$. The more who flock to buy, the greater the value of their digital services.

That’s the beginning. AMZN’s Web Services rent capacity to other business (ie Netflix–and over 300 of the S&P 500 companies). Monetizing this excess web service gives a profit margin pretty close to 100%. Breaking even on the sales of physical products is good enough since new sellers flock to use AMZN computers more and more (financing the expansion of the server farms) and cloud services to major corporations costs almost zero extra.

AMZN wants to drive lots and lots of commercial traffic to Amazon.com so it can expand its servers and lease out the excess capacity for big bucks at little or no added cost to AMZN. Hey don’t survive selling widgets (or e-books). They survive in the cloud.

It’s a different business model and is working. Sales drop at AMZN? Doesn’t matter since this revenue doesn’t contribute that much to the profits. What is AWS doing? That is what we should all look at.

So, want to drive more traffic to Amazon? Support VIPub authors? Click here.

Twinkies Document #1890 December 10, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, charity, e-books, ideas, VIPub, web & computers, writing.
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…and what it means to publishing.

Hostess Inc’s bankruptcy sent shock waves through the snack food world. Who would have ever thought Zombieland was going to be a documentary? Parts of the bankruptcy filing, though, point up something that can be of immense value to those of us in VIPub (Vertically Integrated Publishing) and in so many other fields.

Banks have pretty much stopped lending money, even to the most qualified. There are a lot of reasons for this but Dodd-Franks is part of it, requiring banks to have immense reserves against failure. With the Fed only giving, well, zero, interest, banks won’t give much in the way of interest on their deposits. Come the first of the year Tier I reserve requirements change significantly, too. This will soak up even more money that might go for loans. (The banks will buy gold).

But the Hostess bankruptcy brings out a new way of financing. Or not so new, merely gqthering steam. The buzzword for it is “private equity.” This can come from hedge funds or individual investors (think Warren Buffett) but they operate at levels swapping billions of dollars not hundreds or thousands. One of my favorite charities, if you want to call it that (and I don’t, really–I see this as what capitalism is all about) is http://www.kiva.org Muhammed Yunas won a Nobel Prize in 2006 for the idea of micro loans.

We’ve seen crowdsourcing bring in $200meg to save PBR at BuyABeerCompany.com Document #1890 is a proposal to use crowdsourcing to buy Hostess.

If you have a few bucks you can finance a painting or Twinkies or … a novel. Steve Sullivan’s recent kickstarter project financed his Death Tournament project. Matt Forbeck financed his “12 in ’12” project, writing 12 novels in 12 months, one trilogy at a time. With the Big 6, er 5, publishers pulling stunts like backing Author’s House rather than authors, we don’t have to be left out in the cold. Small amounts of money (relative to keeping Twinkies afloat or at least something more than put into time capsules) is within our grasp using the same technique. Find a project. Back it. Or get ambitious and start one of your own.

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Been There, Done That…But… December 9, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, conventions, fantasy, ideas, science fiction, VIPub, writing.
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A couple years ago I came up with a dynamite idea. Super stuff. Still think it’s great but there’s only time to do so much, and this one has been sitting on the cerebral back burner. Imagine my horror when I came across other authors’ use of that very idea. How dare they!

Ideas can’t be copyrighted, of course, and I looked this “usurpation” over. It’s, let’s be polite, terrible. Nothing like the idea still churning away like a green chile burrito in the gut, only in my head. I may still give this a try, but it has dropped a notch or two on my to-do list because of possible perception I was just copying what has already been done (and not too successfully if the Amazon sales # is accurate, which I doubt, but that’s another story).

Harken back to 1973. I had gone to Torcon World SF Convention and had a chance to meet one of the greats in sf fandom, Bob Tucker. We’d written a few letters back and forth and he had done a couple articles for my fanzine (think dead tree blog with staples, if you will). I had the horrible, awful, sinking feeling I would be introduced and have nothing whatsoever to say to him–and vice versa. Turned out to be a misplaced fear. Tucker greeted me like a friend of a thousand years and the first words out of his mouth were, “I stole an idea from you!” What? How can that be? And we spent the next hour talking…like friends of a thousand years.

But he had only taken something I’d written and run with it in a direction I never considered. Therein lies the truth about ideas.

They are never unique. It’s how you use them in a story that’s most important. Last night a friend said that Steinbeck stole Of Mice and Men from a social worker. I couldn’t pin him down if he meant flat out plagiarism or simply using information about the Dust Bowl. One is completely different from the other. It’s hard to believe anyone could see such social upheaval and physical destruction without thinking what a novel it would make. Ideas are out there everywhere.

The old story about John Campbell assigning the same idea to 3 writers might be apocryphal but the punch line is worth mentioning. Two turned in stories so far apart in treatment it was almost impossible to figure out what the kernel had been. What you do with the idea matters. And what writer hasn’t read something and thought, “I can do better than that!” And with elements completely missed and adding a character, and getting rid of that annoying part, but I can…

You get the idea. Which is the idea.


Durability September 30, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in death, e-books, End of the World, fantasy, gummint, history, ideas, movies, sci-fi, writing.
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Everything gets creakier as time passes. Maybe even time does. Is there an entropy affecting time as well as entropic time? Questions best left for the theorists. What is in the balliwick of writers, though, is the longevity of our work.

Fantasy is perhaps easiest since the world is entirely made up, with rules and laws and elements unique to that world. Passage of time in “our” world, developments of science and technology and geography and nations means nothing. Middle Earth has a permanence simply because it has no foot in the door of our world.

Science fiction is different. A hard science book is likely to be obsolete, outpaced by actual scientific discovery, before it is published. And the question arises whether a sf story (or a story that was sf) in earlier times but which has been outstripped by the surge of reality, is still sf. Is a story about the first man into space still sf since that event has happened in reality and it wasn’t done as in the story?

In a way, sweeping space opera stands a better chance of avoiding this issue. Smash galaxies together rather than be the first man to reach the moon. Even items that might have seemed laughable in early space opera, if the idea is audacious enough, can prove enduring. Doc Smith’s intertialess drive wasn’t about the Higgs boson. Maybe it was the Higgs anti-boson. But avoiding being too specific keeps the notion in play. Sorta.

Near future sf is hardest of all to write. I did a novel a few years back about RFID chips in clothing monitoring what everyone did (because lawsuits prevented the gummint from implanting the chips in the humans themselves). Now there are 69 companies manufacturing spy drones–for use by civilian police forces. RFIDs are already obsolete for this purpose. Cameras most places become cameras everywhere in the sky 24/7. The FBI is putting together a facial recognition database and the reason you aren’t allowed to smile on passport photos or drivers’ licenses is that smiling makes for harder recognition. Thank about that and try not to show fear.

The 1984 scenario is not being forced on us–half the US population wants it. To stay safe. I highly recommend the movie, The Lives of Others. And I want to see Barbara The days of the Stasi in East Germany are becoming the present in America. So we can stay safe.

But put fancy spy stuff into an sf book and it is likely to be laughably obsolete in a very short time. Concentrate on the characters, and durability might come your way.

I leave you with this from the ’60s.

If Insanity is Doing the Same Thing Over and Expecting A Different Result, Would You Buy That for a Quarter? July 29, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, ideas, sense of wonder, VIPub, westerns, writing.

The original part of the title is attributed to Einstein, but he never heard of chaos theory or how boundary conditions alter outcomes. Where you start is important to how you end up. The latter part is from “The Marching Morons,” which I heartily recommend since this is yet another sf cautionary tale that has come true.

It’s been a week or two since my last blog. I had to finish a western (entire book done in 10 days–just like the “good old days” of writing). The accomplishment is certainly there and more than this, I found I wanted to write. It excited me again. What had changed prior to this stint?

Doing a blog every day, checking FB and Twitter, following other blogs, responding, taking the time to sift through my email, all that takes close to 3 hrs a day. By the time I finish, it’s around noon and I don’t want to write any more. I’ve written. That made whatever I did the rest of the day a chore rather than an excitement. Since I’ve finished the book, I’ve fallen back into tending the web stuff and . . . the thrill is fading again.

Dean Wesley Smith said the best way to promote your work is to write more of it. I agree and more so now than a month ago. I see little or no bounce on sales from blogging or FB or any of that other stuff people claim is “necessary.” Preaching to the same choir is fine, but if the choir isn’t increasing… I enjoy the blogs and the other the same way I did writing fanzines and fanac, but I need to survive in a world increasingly entropic. I think I will cut back on the blogs and FB in favor of the kick I get out of actually writing.

Where the writing will appear is something of a question. Westerns are going well but they are mostly to legacy publishers (the exception will be detailed later), which means they are theirs, not mine. Increasingly, the legacy publishers are closing rank and demanding all rights in perpetuity for anything they buy. That makes every novel a work for hire. Been over the trade-off between this and VIPub. Both have their place.

I had been doing an almost daily blog. Now it’ll be whenever something moves me enough to write, and it doesn’t intrude on the fiction.

I must get onto a nifty short story I’m doing for the Sherlock Holmes Crossover Casebook, “The Adventure of the Greenwich First Light.” The crossover in this case is Holmes teaming up with Nayland Smith (more accurately Watson with Petrie). And from there…more to be revealed!

One of the commercial space companies will send a pinch of your cremains to the Moon. I love the idea. I might put this into my will, if Mars is not an option. On that note, here is a Dilbert I mightily enjoyed.

Ash-stounding idea!

Networking That Promo July 8, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, education, Free, ideas, inventions, money, VIPub, writing.
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Finding the “right” way to promote and market your VIPub e-book might not exist. There are always new ways cropping up, ways too numerous for one person to ever keep up with. Therein lies the wonder of both the Internet with its writers’ newsgroups and old-fashioned face-to-face networking. Here are a few ideas that have cropped up in the past month or so I want to pass along (one idea from each of 3 contact methods).

First off from Merlyn via e-mail is unglue.it, a combination of Kickstarter and Project Gutenberg. From the way I read it, you put up a project as in Kickstarter and if you get the money (let’s call it an “advance” as in “work for hire that’s all you’re going to get” advance), then the book goes out into a free worldwide lending library. You keep the advance but anyone anywhere can d/l your book. Setting the price for the advance would be tricky but with first novel advances running around $3k now, I suspect you might be able to do that well. But a different approach to using this appeals to me. I haven’t tried it but I might. I have a lot of reprint book series I want to get out there. Put the first up for a nominal amount with links to all the rest on Kindle, Nook, my bookstore. This would give a small advance on book #1 and potentially big marketing clout on the remainder. (I am not sold on Kindle’s Select program–I see damned little return after putting out titles for free–this drives huge numbers to Amazon but not with followup to actually buy *my* books, even in the same series).

Next is leanpub.com via f-2-f at First Friday. Jerry said he put a book up and was pulling in $100/day over the first 3 weeks it had been up. He does technical books of huge girth and weighty content and the book might actually have gone out for $100, so he’s selling 20 copies to a limited techie niche. But the nice thing about leanpub.com is the ability to publish serialized fiction and get paid along the way. Also, their 90% royalty (minus 50 cents) and ability to price up to $500 beats Kindle. Assuming $13 Kindle max for 70%, this is Kindle=$9.10 vs Leanpub=$11.20. At the $5 price I put my titles, Kindle=$3.50 vs Leanpub=$4.00 Even looking at short stories at $1, Kindle=$0.35 vs Leanpub=$0.40 (which is the same as on Nook). Definitely a site worth checking out to see if it matches any project ideas you might have.

Last is via a writers’ newsgroup. At First Friday one member touted a startup business for doing book trailers. She got in on the ground floor to promote and paid $150 for a 1 minute trailer. Haven’t seen it but undoubtedly it would be professional quality. Future book trailers would cost more. However on the IAMTW newsgroup was mention of a free book trailer site, animoto. You supply the text and pictures (likely book covers and illustrations) and the program generates a 30 second trailer, complete with graphics and music. Unlimited and free. For a mere $25/yr you can do full-length videos or the next step up is $250 with about anything you could want. Professional stuff costs even more with reselling, etc tossed in. But even at the “pro” level this would cost only about what a single book trailer would if done by someone else. You get an idea what can be done on this sample page.

I am certainly going to give it a go on a 30 sec trailer for something. The next month is going to be full of finishing a new western ASAP but there will be time in there to play with animoto. I’ll post the results (of course I will!)

If you give any of these a try, let me know how it works out for you.

CephaloBob at work!

Crazy Wish Fulfillment (At Least in My Dreams) May 12, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, ideas, music, sense of wonder, writing.
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All a writer has is time. How it is used (or wasted on endless hours of spider solitaire) is what counts. You can hammer at the keys endlessly or sit and stare out the window–both are perfectly useful writing components. If you can’t daydream, how can you write? (I saw an article about a treadmill hooked to a desk for the real Type A personality–one comment was how useful this was since, unlike a chair where you can lean back, it kept the worker from daydreaming. I don’t even want to know what company has HR people with such views.)

I have a score of ideas I want to do, novels mostly but also short stories. But one idea that has haunted me for a lot of years is a novel (actually it would have to be a trilogy) based on King Crimson’s Court of the Crimson King. Fabulous imagery, visions that crop up when I least expect it (whathell is a pattern juggler, anyway?) And a true challenge to weld all those images into a coherent story.

When I saw Kevin Anderson’s blog about doing Clockwork Angels
based on a new Rush concept album, I felt an emotion I don’t often experience: envy. Good on you, Kevin! What a great opportunity to showcase both music and word.

That made me wonder. I am taken with Court of the Crimson King and will never have the chance to turn it into written words. But what other songs press your button? If you had the time and permission, what songs would you turn into a novel? Rocket Man? Wooden Ships? Hijack (the Starship)? Doesn’t have to be f or sf. I Fought the Law (and the Law Won)? Folsom Prison Blues? Cherry Hill Park? Timothy? What?

I hope y’all checked out yesterday’s guest blog from Scott Gamboe (and if not, do so now).

I leave you with, what else? (Illos by Wayne Barlowe.)

So How Hard Should VIPub Authors Worry? May 7, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, Free, ideas, money, VIPub, writing.
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The buzz about Amazon charging VIPub (Vertically Integrated Publishing) authors to sell their books rises again. Being the 800 lb gorilla with its nose under the publishing tent, Amazon can pretty well do whatever it wants.

So, more than taking 30% off the top already, what would Amazon gain? The upside doesn’t seem too great to me for Amazon to begin charging a posting fee in addition to the sales fee they already receive. The cost of keeping an ebook on a server is pretty small. Even multiplied by millions, books don’t take up much space. (All my books over the years–and it is in the hundreds–wouldn’t fill a single CD. In fact, most of that CD would be empty. Don’t even go there talking about a DVD.) The storage intensive products are videos for Amazon, and they seem intent on bumping heads with Netflix for streaming and even offering a challenge to the cable companies, looking for their own original content.

Songs, videos, those suck up the bandwidth. And how. I’ve seen guesstimates that 80% of bandwidth is vacuumed up by Netflix in the evenings.

Moving ebooks is small potatoes, so why charge? Bookkeeping is automated for Amazon. Humans don’t even need to enter the virtual domain once it is put into action.

But what if Amazon did charge? It would hit me worse than most since I’ve got over 50 titles up. Even a fee of a $1/mo/title would cut into my revenues big time. This would force me to do two things. The first would be removing all the short fiction since that is only there as a gateway to my novels where the $$ is. The second?

Really pushing hard on my own online store. I had to move it today to a new host. $50/yr to sell unlimited stuff. Plus whatever I pay to register the domain name every year (a few dollars more). No 30% cut to Amazon. And not as much traffic, either. So a fusion of short story/novel sales on my store coupled with select titles posted with Amazon would be ideal. What would go onto Amazon likely would be the first novel in a trilogy with links to my store for the complete set. In this way, any fee Amazon charged to post the title would become advertising expense.

Another possibility is that Amazon would charge the fee only for those titles not enrolled in their Select program. This would give them exclusivity on a title without them paying a dime for the privilege. I have had limited success with the Kindle Select, but others rave about it. If Amazon did this, posting the first book in a trilogy exclusively might work for VIPub authors with their own stores, too. Put Book#1 up on Amazon Select–cannot sell this on my store–but also sell an omnibus of all 3 books at a price below what the remaining 2 titles would go for individually. In essence, give #1 for free with the purchase of #2 and #3. The bulk of the money still goes to you, the author, using Amazon as a billboard.

Would other online booksellers pop up? You bet. This would drain revenue in the long run from Amazon. Not as much as video or music, maybe, but some. They are in the biz to add to their revenue without spending any money, if they can. Why encourage competition when you can crush it?

There must be other ways to thread this needle, but whatever happens the ball is in Amazon’s court. Will they take it and stop the game or return it so we figure how to put some spin on it?

The Unseen World Around Us April 12, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in dinosaurs, geocaching, history, ideas, New Mexico, outlaws, science, science fiction, sense of wonder, space, UFOs, writing.
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As you probably know by now, I am fascinated with the idea we go through life and see only a tiny fraction of it. This drew me to geocaching where most people go right by a cache and never know. This is a simple thing. The world–nature–is vastly more intriguing with its diversity and how new things pop up all the time, things we simply have not been attentive enough to see before.

In NM there are cemeteries all over the place, but who is buried int hem? Some terrible outlaw who never achieved the status of Billy the Kid or Blackjack Ketchum? Or just plain folks, putting in their time, working sunrise to sunset and then…dying. Unnoticed, or perhaps noticed only for a very short while by a very few people?

New discoveries in NM caverns possibly give us more powerful antibiotics. Who woulda thunk it? Back in 1986 the Lechuguilla Cave was discovered. It’s the 7th longest cave in the world and the deepest in the continental US. And antibiotic resistant bacteria have been found in it.

Which brings up the point, what antibiotics? Turns out these may be brand new ones. What else may be found here? It is near Roswell. Could those crafty UFOnauts be hiding down there, knowing it is the deepest point they could reach without digging? Are those antibiotics potentially from Out There, brought to Earth by the 1947 saucer crash? Or perhaps your ideas run more to thriller. If there is a bacterium, can it be used as a terror weapon? Only the antibiotic from the cave can save us?

More than 1200 new species of plants and animals have been found in the Amazon since 2000. What might James Cameron find diving into the Marianas Trench? That’s a long way down and hitherto unexplored.

Panspermia might be a way of repopulating lost species on earth. Comets and asteroid impacts can blast away huge chunks of earth (imagine finding those dinosaurs from ’40s and ’50s pulp stories on other planets!) And then return it.

So much of nature out there, unseen.