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What They Read (Kids) May 11, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, education, ideas, iPad, sense of wonder, VIPub, web & computers, writing.
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Discoverability is an important part of any author’s excursion through the profession. How do you get eyes on your work? A study on what kids in K-12 read makes for fascinating reading, especially when you dig down into it and find the youngest grades are more amenable to ebooks than other groups. I’d always said ereaders would never become commonplace until the earliest grades read using them. It has happened.

The report What Kids Are Reading is downloadable as a pdf and takes a while to go through.

Here are some of my takeaways.

Many of these books are assigned by teachers and, to my way of thinking, aren’t of much use to us as writers of VIPub original fiction. A student reading To Kill A Mockingbird as a class assignment is less important than finding that Hunger Games has found itself a high ranking over the past few years or that the younger students read Dav Pilkey. Those are hardly revelations but give direction to our hunt to garner new readers. One trend that seems obvious to me in the younger readers (pre 6th grade) is the number of “outcast” stories. The kids want stories in the little tailor vein, Heinlein’s ordinary person who overcomes great peril to triumph as an individual. Superheroes are ok (are we being force fed them?) but the kids read stories about solitary heroes and heroines, probably because they see themselves that way (a fight between Katniss Everdeen and Percy Jackson?). No super powers, just outcast and subpar and wanting to do great things. Stories of accomplishment seem to rate higher than those of ordering the kids to have self-esteem. SF looks important in this extracurricular reading.

As long as I have been in science fiction fandom, there has been the semi-joke about the golden age of sf being 12. This report bears that out when you look at the number of words read by each grade group (page 55). The sixth graders read the most. You might make the argument later grades are reading more challenging books and are therefore reading less due to the time it takes to wade through. Maybe so, but if you want to capture an audience and keep it, find what appeals to a 6th grader. By that age they have access to an ereader, are becoming autonomous and developing their tastes in reading, and probably have more money to spend on their epurchases than the authors writing the stories.

Mostly, I need to sift through this report and find what is being read for pleasure, then figure out how to capture some of the market.

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Playing In Someone Else’s Sandbox (Part 2)(God of War) February 23, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in fantasy, iPad, movies & TV, writing.
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Last time I told some of my experience with a movie novelization. Doing novelizations of video games might seem the same but I found distinct differences.

Matthew Stover was originally signed to do the novelization of the Sony video game God of War. Matt had medical problems and wasn’t able to work full-time on it. Deadlines loomed. The book was slated to get out near the release of the second video game. I was asked to ghost write the book but ended up doing a large enough portion that I got front cover credit.

I had Matt’s outline and a couple dozen pages of the “cut scenes” from the game. This was new territory for me and I built a story around those scenes. Oops, not right. It had to follow the actual video game more closely. The problem with this is a video game is almost entirely action. Fight, solve a mystery, use a clue and fight some more until the conclusion. This makes for a dull book although it makes for a great video game.

I had just gotten an iPad and found that any number of people had put their entire solved games onto YouTube. Running a few seconds gave me the look of the scene, not to mention solutions to the hidden clues and deciphered codes. I am a terrible gamer and would still be on the first screen if I had to play the game before writing the book. The video solutions were exactly what I needed.

But simply describing action is boring. I had to throw in some connecting material and did this through the interaction of the gods and goddesses that wasn’t in the game itself–but was implied. But adhering too much to the action and not enough to this background story gave GoW1 a stilted feel.

I was asked to do God of War 2 and more successfully balanced a backstory of godly (and goddessly) conniving and backstabbing politics with swordplay. Again I used the YouTube videos (thank you, “Raven van Helsing”) and saw how to give less action and more story. This melding of the two made for a book that kept interest for diehard fans of the game as well as showing them a bigger fantasy world to explain what’s going on.

Raven Van Helsong

Raven Van Helsing!

One of the unforseen benefits to doing the books was that I got to meet “Kratos” (or the actor who modeled for Kratos). I thought the cover/video artists had come up with a character out of whole cloth. Nope. Joseph Gatt *is* Kratos. (And don’t miss him in the upcoming Games of Thrones as Thenn Warg.)

A picture taken at the 2013 Albuquerque Comic Expo – Joe Gatt is the one on the left, if you needed such info.

Joseph Gatt as Kratos

Joseph Gatt as Kratos

Slap Leather, Pilgrim October 7, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in autographing, business, conventions, e-books, history, iPad, New Mexico, outlaws, Texas, VIPub, westerns, Wild West, writing, zeppelin.
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The past few days have been spent getting a talk ready for the Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium coming up at the end of the week. I’ll be on a panel Friday morning, give my talk on New Mexico railroads both Friday and Saturday afternoons. For me talking that much is a marathon event and I’ll likely end up hoarse (horse? Sorry!)

From a writing standpoint, I’m trying some new marketing ideas. I’m turning my notes into an epub for easier use on my iPad, then will post the ebook on my store next week (for free, of course) for anyone wanting to see more details since I don’t anticipate going too deep into any one part of the talk.) Along with the talks, I’ll be selling copies of Karl Lassiter and Jackson Lowry westerns, hyping Karl’s upcoming China Jack
because it is about railroads and specifically railroads in that region of the country, and seeing how a special project goes.

Just for the getogether, I’ve done a mini-anthology of three stories about Texas Rangers, past, present and future. A memento for the event. Something easily carried (as opposed to a copy of The Traditional West)

If this experiment works, I’ll do something similar, Tales from New Mexico, for the SW Festival of Books next May. Targeted to the regional interests, relatively inexpensive, a keepsake for remembering the event. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Who knows? I might even take pictures at the symposium and lost a couple here, but it will have to be next week. Still working on finding tidbits about railroads in NM (including the 1880 tale of a fish-shaped hot air balloon dropping blue origami flowers and a teacup on the Galisteo railhead. Most inexplicable.)

More soon. Until then you might want to check out

Thern and Texas June 6, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in fantasy, history, iPad, movies, movies & TV, outlaws, sci-fi, science fiction, Texas, westerns, Wild West, writing.
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Or maybe Thurn and Taxis, if you are a Crying of Lot 49 fan.

But therns. I saw the supposedly awful John Carter movie again on Monday. 2D this time, a better look for the movie (the colors die in 3D, it appears). I say “supposedly awful” because that is a critics’ opinion, not mine. I liked it even more the second time. I might even try for a 3rd view before it leaves the big screen, or as big a screen as the $1 movie theater has. This is a movie that deserves to be seen in IMAX.

The look of the movie is good, the pacing is off, taking too long to get moving, but the plot is heroic fantasy and the sfx are lovely. (That adjective can be applied to Dejah Thoris, too). Taylor Kitsch (what a name!) might not have been my pick for the John Carter role, but he does fine. I even liked Woola a lot more this time around. The reworking of the original book plot makes it into a stronger movie–face it, a 100+ years makes astral projection kinda clunky. Go for that Stargate!

An entertaining movie which comes out in Blu-ray today (or soon–I don’t have a Blu-ray so don’t pay close attention). I’ve heard that there will be an iPhone/iPad app that will add to the experience. No idea what it is but this pushes the connection of home theaters and iPads a bit closer together.

Also of note are the new westerns. History Channel did Hatfields and McCoys starring Kevin Costner and Bill Pullman. I enjoyed the first 4 hrs or so but began to tire of the repitition in the final 2 hours. All this killing over a pig. Sort of like the War of Jenkins Ear. Lots of background to what sounded like a trivial reason to go to war.

Better is A&E’s Longmire. A modern day western with cowboys and sheep herders and Indians and six-gun totin’ marshals set in Wyoming, or maybe Montana. The pilot was a bit contrived, making me think the bad guy would never have been caught if he hadn’t used an antique rifle and instead relied on a .30-06 but the show has promise. I’ll tune in again.

You Only Live Twice…Things Done 2x May 24, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in autographing, business, charity, conventions, fantasy, iPad, steampunk, writing.
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Thanks to Mike Stackpole for letting me sit in for him again (even though he was there) at his office hours last night. But the title of this blog is things done twice. I will be reading in Second Life (second time in 2 days) tonight for Relay For Life. Which is the second time I have participated. Come by at 6PM SLT for my reading of a short story, “Memory of Wind.” Maybe even contribute a few pennies for cancer research.

In response to my “Strategy and Tactics” blogpost of a few days ago, I received this from Copyblogger. Sonia Simon has written an article on “the difference between ‘work’ and work that moves you toward your goals.'” Good stuff in the article and in general on Copyblogger.

For some reason the term “sprocket watch” keeps rattling around in my head. Sounds rather steampunkish. Might just be in anticipation of Steve Sullivan posting his entry into Empires of Steam and Rust–this will be passage two.

Also my second gig at Albuquerque Comic Expo is coming up fast. Get your tickets now!

The burdens of work hardly qualifies as 2x since it is pretty much constant. I need to get the story I’ll read tonight all gussied up and into epub format so I can read it off the iPad and not drop pages like I did last time I read. On this note I leave you with a Calvin and Hobbes that seems especially appropriate

Calvin the writer, waiting for his Muse

Give It A (e)Read as The Giants Jockey For Position May 10, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, iPad, iPhone, VIPub, writing.
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“Target to quit selling Kindles” read the headline.

So, does this mean Amazon is yesterday’s “next best thing” or something else? The article says more about Target aligning itself with Apple than anything else. I see this as Apple expanding stores where its products are physically viewable/salable. Such strategic alliances flow like the tide. Target fancies itself an upscale Walmart and Apple certainly offers products that fit that image. And a large part of this, I suspect, goes toward ditching a product that can be showroomed, then bought directly from Amazon.

For those of you still on the fence about ereaders, here is a comparison of what to look for and various devices along with some news such as Amazon’s numbers looked better because the loss it takes on Kindle sales improved (due to slowing Kindle sales–sell fewer units that lose money and your bottom line improves).

From a business standpoint, Amazon is about breaking even on their Kindles (or, from the article, losing a bit with every sale), wanting the big $ bang to come from continuing content sales (hey, that’s us!) Amazon seems to be taking a longer view of sales rather than concentrating on quarterly p&l, which means its growth might stretch out for a lot of years. But this is a fast-moving business. The ereaders might change but Amazon knows the content feeding them is the “constant.” The medium is not the message–the message is the message. The signal goes on, no matter how it is received.

Here’s one way to make a smartphone use a screen as large as an iPad. Technology marches on, but what you read rather than how you read is the important goal to keep in your sights (and on your sites).

Speaking of sites, I am in the process of migrating my online store so it will be out of service for a few days longer.

And looking forward to tomorrow, a guest blog from Scott Gamboe on his career, his Kindle Fire contest (and more stuff to come) will be featured. It’s all about content, folks, all about how we do it, how we sell it.

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Chasing Away the Dust Bunnies…For Now April 20, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, contest, e-books, End of the World, iPad, New Mexico, outlaws, sci-fi, science fiction, Second Life, VIPub, weather, westerns, Wild West, writing.
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No specific theme today but a lot of tidbits that have accumulated during the past few days. It’s been a busy time for me. The last science fair judging of the year is past and, as before, the Manzano Day School kids had some great projects. This was the year when high tech really kicked in. One budding scientist had a video (taken underwater!) showing the effect of drag on swimmers. Another surveyed cooking pans to find which baked the best chocolate chip cookies (I told her bribing the judges with the cookies would have worked well–didn’t really matter. She did a good job. I didn’t know the high-end cooking pans were dual layer with air between. And yes, they seemed to cook the most evenly.) Analysis on the cookies included using a cellphone gizmo to evaluate color which correlated with even cooking. Amazing.

These were 4th and 5th graders.

A couple days ago I got a surprising call from my agent. Last year Berkley decided the Slocum Giant books weren’t selling and eliminated the annual book. My last royalty statement was extraordinary. And I have a new Slocum Giant to do ASAP for likely publication in November. Working title: Slocum and the Silver City Harlot. Others in Western Fictioneers have commented on improved royalties for their westerns. If you live long enough, the wheel always spins back to you. Do love those westerns.

I also love my sf. Check out this review of Moonlight in the Meg from Virgil Kelberwitz of Second Life fame. His reaction to the protagonist not being named until late in the book is interesting. Final Blackout used this technique to even better purpose, I think. Best use of the techniquye–ever–was in The Prisoner.

As you know by now, I didn’t win the $650m Megamillions lottery (I did win $2, though. BFD) However, someone who did win something of both worth and usefulness is Terri D, the winner of a Kindle Fire in Scott Gamboe’s contest. A great prize and I’ll try to get Scott to do a guest blog here on how the contest helped his numbers on Amazon.

Check out another Scott’s new blog. Scott Phillips is now doing a daily blog. Very funny stuff. And touches on a lot of nostalgia. If you remember 8-tracks and hate spiders and…well, read it for yourself. Rattle and Blast.

After 30 years I have stopped receiving a daily newspaper. The $200/yr was a factor but realizing I can get all the news and features on my iPad convinced me to save a tree and cancel the Abq Journal. Their national news is always 2 or 3 days late and local news tends more toward pet adoptions now. I will miss the Trever cartoon on Sundays, but he used to do more and is mostly retired. Having lunch with John on occasion will have to suffice.

I am not sure how many new blogs will be done in the next couple weeks since I am heading over into Tornado Alley. Trust me, I want nothing more than to get back to this keyboard in sunny, dry, twister-free Abq as soon as possible.

Move Over, Dick Tracy April 16, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, iPad, iPhone, science, web & computers.
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The Dick Tracy comic strip was never a favorite of mine but I was always amused by the weird villains and my stfnal soul yearned for that wristwatch of his. A video telephone. Wow. Heady stuff (and this was before I ever found a copy of Tom Swift and his Phototelephone–that book alone is worth a lot of verbiage, but I’ll save that for a later time).

The smartphone is about everything that wrist video/radio was–almost. Now Sony has gone that extra diminished inch and created a true wrist smartwatch.

Android, of course, and sorta clunky looking like the first digital watches. The difference lies in the touch screen, I suspect. And the Bluetooth connection. It doesn’t appear to have an annoying ringtone but rather vibrates. Or pings in your earpiece. It’s creepy now seeing people wandering around, glassy eyed and talking to themselves. This might carry the creepiness to a new level since they don’t have to have a cell phone in their hand or hooked to their belt.

Apps seem limited but how hard can it be to port these over from Android smartphones? The chips are small enough and how much storage do you really need if you can use your wristwatch to float into the iCloud?

Wristwatches have become something of an ornamentation device rather than useful. Ask someone now what time it is and they look at their cell phone. A kid asked me what time it was yesterday while I was elegantly dining at McD’s and I checked the display at the top of my iPad, in spite of wearing my nifty atomic watch. Even I succumb to the zeitgeist.

The Sony Smartwatch is hardly a fashion statement but let Rolex get hold of this and…Katie, bar the door!

Arizona Renaissance Faire Ahoy! March 8, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, contest, conventions, fantasy, Free, iPad.
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I sit at my computer listening to 50mph wind with 65+ gusts and see snow blowing parallel with the ground. And I worry I won’t be able to convince Southwest Airlines to take off and get me to Phoenix this afternoon. In addition, there is the solar storm hitting us now.

But the solar storm had nothing to do with downing powerlines just a half mile from me. Luckily, my power is on so I can recharge my cell phone and iPad for the trip.

Saturday Mike Stackpole and I will be autographing at the Ren Faire. Come on out if you’re in the Phoenix area and talk a while. Even if you’re not in the region, get there, come out and etc. I’m not sure what titles of mine will be available (got to keep a bit of suspense in such things, right?). The store is near the entrance/exit for the jousting arena.

Dinner with Don Juan and Miguel tomorrow night is on the schedule.

Clearing the decks of other stuff. Scott Phillips says the second part of his Pete, Drinker of Blood is ready to go real soon now. Let me mention again Stephen D Sullivan’s Elf Princess of Mars and that Scott Gamboe has extended his “win a Kindle Fire” contest until All Thieves Day (ok, tax day).

See y’all in Phoenix!

Blatant Poppycock! And Balderdash, Too! March 5, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, ideas, iPad, iPhone, movies, movies & TV, music, web & computers, weird news.
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The NYT business section has one of those articles intended to inflame, further driving home the point of newspapers is to…sell newspapers. Good on them for that, but the ereaders that were supposed to be their salvation haven’t stanched their not-so-slow decline. So, this article is mostly self-serving on their part and not a little “dog in the manger” kind of opinion.

More people get their news (or what passes for it–there is something seriously wrong with journalism when The Onion delivers more pertinent news than the MSM.) from the Internet now. The NYT, especially their dead tree editions, are struggling and such articles as this on how ereaders will promote illiteracy are their reaction. Get their declining readers to nod knowingly, feel superior to those poor illiterate e-ignoramuses and then turn the page feeling good about their intellect.

The basic idea is that having such power as an iPad in your hand will force you to stop reading an ebook and go right to Angry Birds instead. You won’t look at that textbook; you will instead choose online porn (at UNM, there’s not much difference in some departments–the former head of the creative writing dept just lost a lawsuit protesting another professor’s B&D website).

I still read dead tree books while watching TV. How is this different since the god-box (the remote) is at hand, too? Must be I’m illiterate already? Reading at the beach? Yeah, you dig right into those pages to the exclusion of everything else happening around you. The mode of reading has nothing to do with how you respond to distractions around you, but this might be too arcane for the typical dead tree NYT reader to understand as they stare fixedly at their smeary print pages.

If anything, I am reading more since I fired up my iPad 18 months ago. And I’m still loving it. I got my mother a Kindle. Her eyesight’s not as good as it once was. She can still read cranking up the font size, something she cannot do with a print book. She’s still reading as a result.

Consider the NYT opinion piece as Cheyne-Stokes breathing on the part of a dying medium: paper news.

Cracked analysis of paintings