jump to navigation

What They Read (Kids) May 11, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, education, ideas, iPad, sense of wonder, VIPub, web & computers, writing.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

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.

Playing In Someone Else’s Sandbox (Part 6)(collaborations) March 23, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in e-books, fantasy, VIPub, web & computers, writing.
Tags: , , , , , ,
add a comment

This isn’t strictly about playing in someone else’s sandbox as much as learning to share your toys. For someone who doesn’t like doing collaborations it seems I have done quite a few. 16? About that. Mostly I go with the dictum: coauthoring is where you do twice the work for half the money.

An early collab was with Victor Milan in the 6-title series War of Powers. This one had a strange journey going from Playboy books to Ace/Berkley, but the best of the covers were in the twin omnibus New English Library volumes–the covers were by Chris Achilleos and rank with the best on any heroic fantasy book, any time, ever. The migration came about as Playboy dropped out of genre publishing but sales were so good Berkley nee Ace continued them.

I was doing the Cenotaph Road series for Ace when the first 3 Swords of Raemllyn books with Geo. Proctor were sold there. Geo and I talked over where we wanted to go, I did the synopsis, we rewrote it, I did the first draft since I wrote faster, Geo did a rewrite and then I did a final rewrite with him doing the page proofs. The process went quite well and we were able to talk endlessly about it. Geo lived in Texas, I was in NM. We both had Apple ][e computers and bought super hi-speed modems (4800 baud!) We swapped work via the modem, though a book took as long as 20 minutes to transfer, whereupon we would talk for another 2 hours about how techno savvy we were and how we saved so much money on postage. No matter that the phone bills were higher!

The first 3 Raemllyn books did so well, we sold 3 more. Ace balked at a final 3, but those sold to New English Library and never saw American dead tree publication. Unlike the lovely NEL covers for the War of Powers omnibus volumes, I thought these were all subpar. But they did ok in sales and the third omnibus with book #9 in it completed the series we had started ten years earlier.

Working with Geo was trying, especially when our ideas diverged, but the books came out a great fusion of his characters and my plots. And somehow we remained best friends throughout and after.

My other collaboration came with Matt Stover under not so ideal conditions (see the earlier blog about God of War 1), through no fault on either of our parts. His medical problems aside, it went well enough but the merging wasn’t as seamless as with Geo and the Raemllyn books.

Alas, Geo died before the Raemllyn ebooks were put up. It would have been fun doing more titles, with some of the old characters but new situations. We had an sf collaboration in the works, Forge of the Stars, but this isn’t a project that will go anywhere now. Time and science have left it behind. And without Geo, it wouldn’t be the same.

Do I recommend a newer writer collaborate? No. Do your own stuff. Do I recommend 2 authors at similar places in their careers to collaborate? Maybe. For fun. Then get to your own stuff. Always focus on doing your own work. (Remember, a collaboration is doing twice the work for half the money.)

To Demons Bound

The Times They Are A’Changin’ January 26, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in history, ideas, sci-fi, science fiction, web & computers, writing.
Tags: ,
2 comments

As they always do. We have lived through a unique span in history where we can watch (and know) major upheavals in the world. The Internet is as big as the Gutenberg printing press. The new Industrial Revolution is happening with 3D printing. A house in 2 days. No problem. An iPhone? I’ll print it for you today. Replacement organs? Feed in the DNA template and that kidney will be yours next week. What a chance to see and understand major influences driving our world.

To a lesser extent, there has been a change in writing, or rather in writing technique. In sf the late ’60s and early ’70s saw the New Wave. Story became less important than the characters, much as literary fiction was almost 100% angst and no idea. SF didn’t go that far but ideas took a backseat to the more literary emphasis on drilling down into the character. Somewhere in the early ’90s another change came about. This one hasn’t been touted or given a name, but it is there.

Thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Thesis=pure idea sf of the ’40s. Anthesis=New Wave. Synthesis=now. SF has always been interested in the “what if?” playing with ideas–and still is. Social commentary or hard science extrapolation, doesn’t matter. SF is an idea fiction. But in the early ’90s what the readers expected changed. The “now” is a equal merging of the idea with the character.

I’ve had some sf stories from the 1980s reprinted and I cringed when I saw how little characterization there was in favor of the sweeping idea, the grand space opera adventure. But that was ok then. Readers expect more now with background on who is engaging in that grand adventure–and what drives them. Flaws? Better have them since this is more realistic, even in a superhero story (or maybe especially in a superhero story). Villains have to be more than bad because they’re bad or they turn into parodies as in Despicable Me.

I stand by what I did in, say, Alien Death Fleet because that was right for the times. But I much prefer putting in characters to go with the derring-do, as in Fate of the Kinunir

Not only do I enjoy writing the more complete package of idea married with characterization, I prefer reading it now.

You can still enjoy the galaxy smashing style of earlier space opera but today’s work has to be more complete, a synthesis of space opera and New Wave to stand out. And that’s not a bad thing.

The Top of the Iceberg January 7, 2013

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, ideas, VIPub, web & computers, writing.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

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.
Tags: , , ,
7 comments

…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.

Follow me on Twitter
Check out a super sale on my store

-twinkies

Time Enough For…Time August 12, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, End of the World, fantasy, Free, movies, movies & TV, sci-fi, science fiction, VIPub, web & computers, westerns, writing.
2 comments

Woefully absent from these pages during the past 10 days or so, I have experimented with time management and trying to see where It All Goes. A good 3 hrs a day can be sucked up by kitty videos, Facebook and other nonproductive pursuits. The question is: do I garner enough enjoyment from these online time wasters compared with dealing in real world stuff.

While I’d rather watch the cat videos or guys getting smashed in the balls in new and extraordinary ways more than cleaning the garage or doing bookkeeping, they ought to be treated as candy. A little bit is good, a lot will ruin the waistline. I am getting more work done (and amazingly enough, looking forward to doing it) and not missing the blog quite so much.

A momentary diversion. About FB. I have been nailed finally with the Timeline format. Don’t like it, don’t see how it is an improvement, but Zuckerberg can flip us all off and there’s nothing we can do other than stop using FB. I find it useful to let everyone know what’s going on in a timely, concise way that stays around (unlike Twitter, which I have also cut waaay back on) such as the release of Sandcats of Rhyl and how it was free last week. And only $3.03 now. But I don’t want to play games and I will delete anyone posting to my page (I hate that feature letting anyone else post to my page) anything I deem unsocial. This can include but is not limited to calling anyone a Nazi (and I don’t even agree with Godwin’s Law), politics, and how “fill in the blank” is a baby killer who wants granny to eat dog food before shoving her over a cliff to steal her wheelchair. But that’s just me.

All that eats away at my time, hitting that delete button. I would rather be writing. I suppose in the old days watching TV was the time killer. Now it’s the Internet. Another fun tool to be managed. I do have the odd picture of time wasted on the Internet swirling down a drain that clogs up and then the temporal pressure gets so immense that it explodes in a Big Bang and creates a new universe. Maybe the Internet does have a purpose

How have I used my freed up time? Four titles in the Jade Demons Quartet are prepped and getting ready to be posted. A western short story is about half done. The synopsis for a new sf book is shaping up and another western synopsis is about ready to launch into writing phase. Western Fictioneers has a fabulous new project in the works, of which I intend to be a part with my novel contribution. And Empires of Steam and Rust is showing signs of life once more with new stories promised because of my time shiftings so I can pursue this.

I never thought of my time as being wasted reading, but I do watching TV, playing video games and surfing the Internet. Why is that? More to think about until next time.

Eleven Dead Armadillos, A Wood Pussy and 703 Lbs of Dead Rubber May 2, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, geocaching, hobby, New Mexico, Texas, weather, web & computers.
add a comment

I am back from the far eastern lands of Oklahoma (east of Muskogee, all the way to the capital of the Cherokee Nation). It was a tiring drive, although mostly in clear weather, and emotionally draining getting my mother squared away in assisted living.

Coming back was the spot where I got a bit antsy. I left in the rain, which cleared by the time I got out of Muskogee. This has happened a couple other times, fog or rain vanishing as if Muskogee has some evil Mordor-esque vibe to it. By the time I drove past the Firelake Casino outside OK City, the sun was shining and the clouds were breaking up.

A word about OK City. I have never liked the place but they have upped the ante on bad roads. It used to be the concrete freeways that would chip your teeth as you drove. This time it was the 6 lane freeways bottlenecked down to one lane. I hit Yukon, looked down at the stopped traffic that must have stretched 20 miles into OKC and decided it was time for breakfast at a McD’s. Ate breakfast, hunted for a geocache (had found one nearby earlier) and failed to locate it. A comment from a successful cacher said the coordinates were off 20m. Hunting around busy parking lots doesn’t thrill me. I didn’t find the cache. A handy traffic warning sign said the 45 min I’d spent already was down to 2 min. Got in the queue and inched through OK City. This is new freeway and open, for no good reason I could see since it lacked proper surfacing.

It was hardly better returning, but I hit it at 11am so the noon traffic hadn’t begun backing up yet.

Gasoline prices were less than in Abq, though one place topped $4. The week I was gone saw on road prices edge up about 10cents. (I tend to refuel at the same places since I know how far I can get on a tank of gas–31mpg this time around served me well).

While in Tahlequah, I found a couple geocaches in the Cherokee Cemetery. Tried for another one in an industrial park under the watchful eye of security cams, but I gave up when guys on riding mowers decided to cut the grass where I was wandering aimlessly. Logged another cache at the end of a road but failed to find one near a mural. OK, I’m a wimp. It was raining and the cache wasn’t immediately apparent. But I did find one hidden in (yes, *in*) a fire hydrant in Tucumcari behind the state cop shop.

Somehow I have never logged a cache in Texas. I forgot to look at a rest stop going. I stopped at one of the best rest stops I have ever seen (not too far from North America’s largest cross in Groom, complete with Golgotha nearby). Fabulous view to the north of not-quite Palo Duro Canyon scope. Great facilities, a tornado shelter. Supposedly wifi, but it was off. And my phone couldn’t connect so I was unable to hunt. Decided to boogey on through Amarillo because very black clouds were forming to the SW.

I don’t know from shield walls but I did see what wasn’t a verga. This was a solid column of black cloud coming from the pitch black layer above. I kept on trucking and the storm sorta slipped behind, only dropping a few splashes of water on me. That night I saw that a tornado had been sighted and flash flooding had occurred about an hr after I hightailed it. Hailstones the size of billiard balls were scoffed at by the weather clown–they hardly report until they reach grapefruit size now. But I was in NM. Crossing the border the sky turned blue, the clouds all vanished (all!) And the wind, hot and dry, kicked up. Home!

One Fantasy Football article showed up but getting reliable wifi/internet to return the edited version proved impossible until I got to the work computer at home. I more or less completed the Slocum Giant synopsis, started writing a short story and got a request for another.

On the way thru Deaf Smith County I saw what has to be a scary sight. A car marked “Federal Police.” We are truly going the way of post Weimar Germany. I did remember to grope myself before leaving so the TSA was robbed of that illicit pleasure. (I understand there is an app for that now)

Ah, yes, the title of this. I saw eleven dead armadillos, mostly on their backs and all 4 clawed feet pointing skyward. The 703 lbs of retread tires peeled away and littering the road is an estimate. It might even be a low estimate since there was a lot this time. And wood pussy? A skunk. (When I was in hs, the English teacher ordered the wrong movie version of The Scarlet Letter. Instead of a talkie, she got the silent Lillian Gish edition which has the memorable scene where Hester sees the skunk and the caption comes up, “Oh, a wood pussy!” This, of course, produced great mirth among 16 yr olds who didn’t want to see the movie, talkie or not).

Time to pay bills and get caught up on mundane things before settling in to work. It’s good to be back.

Move Over, Dick Tracy April 16, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, iPad, iPhone, science, web & computers.
add a comment

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!

We’re From the Gummint, and We Want To Protect You March 17, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in gummint, inventions, web & computers.
add a comment

So many new items, but the use of drones keeps cropping up. Yet, according to this article, there’s no real need for gummint drones to spy on you. All the CIA needs is for you to connect to the internet through some of the nifty TV gadgets that stream video or otherwise connect that big screen with the virtual world. So, be warned. Don’t sit and watch TV in your underwear. You might be violating public indecency statutes. (Don’t think the gummint snoops would put this on YouTube? )

But there is yet more proof the HSA folks are on top of that terrorism thing. I am very lucky all I got was x-rayed and groped by the TSA during my recent trip (and all this for the price of an airplane ticket! On the free market, it might have cost far more–easily that much, considering what a full body x-ray costs these days. I don’t even know what the grope would cost down on East Central). Proof positive you might possibly be a terrorist? Behavior! If you yawn, stare fixedly or, worst of all, stand rigidly or have goose bumps, then you gotta be a terrorist. That’s what it said in the DHS official guide “Terror Awareness and Prevention.”

This after the FBI deciding that paying cash for a cup of coffee was suspect. Definitely suspect, and CAT (Communities Against Terrorism) says so, so it must be true. So if that cute barista asks for you name, phone number and address, fingerprints and DNA sample, she might not be hitting on you–she might be ratting you out to the feds.

And if you think using a credit card gets you away from surveillance, nope. The NSA is going to collect everything: “pocket litter” as they say. Everything from that evil pink slime burger you bought to where you park and how much gasoline you buy. Everything. And I thought Carnivore was pushing the envelope.

There is an upside to all this. You won’t need to use any of those cloud storage companies–all data from your computer will be kept for you by the gummint.

Where your tax dollars (and private information) are going.

NSA Data Center

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.
add a comment

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