Category Archives: Publish

My Latest Book – Writing Prompts 2014

In the last episode, I talked about how I was writing a months’ worth of blog posts AND an ebook at the same time (using WordPress and Scrivener).

Today I’m coming with an update: the book is ready!

writingprompts2014coverlarge

 

Scrivener Report

I did enjoy putting the book together with Scrivener and I discovered that it has a really powerful ‘compile’ feature that outputs all kinds of ebook formats (including the .mobi format I wanted for Kindle).

However, in the end I was (gasp!) up against a time crunch and wanted to Get It Done! I didn’t have time to play around (more than four or five times) with the Compile function to try to get it all right, and then to figure out how to attach the cover image and…

Since I’ve made Kindle ebooks before by creating a Word document, converting it to “.htm” and uploading that, that’s what I did this time. I used Scrivener’s compile feature to give me a Word file that I then formatted the way I wanted it (minimal formatting, just using styles and page breaks) and then converted to HTML.

I will, I swear, learn to use the very cool Scrivener functionality for that at some point.

The Cover

Kindle covers should be 1563 pixels on the shortest side and 2500 pixels on the longest side. I’ve made a few before and have a kind of template set up, so I opened up Photoshop Elements and made my adjustments, then saved it as a .jpg. Boom!

Kindle eBooks

Did you know it’s free to upload a Kindle eBook to Amazon?

I always assume people know that, but really, why would you? So now you do. It’s free. I set the price and Amazon takes between 30-65% of the list price, depending on the royalty structure I choose and the territory it’s being sold in. Compared to traditional publishing deals this is pretty sweet (except I don’t have a team of professionals to help me out, nor an advance. I also don’t have to wait for anyone’s permission to ‘get published’ though and I have access to a massive, well-oiled selling machine that will handle most of the technical stuff for me, so I call it a deal).

It’s perfect for someone like me, who is using ebooks as an educational resource for my blog readers.


There’s more to tell on this ebook project — including pricing, promotions and results, but I’ll save that for another day.

How I’m Creating A Book As I Blog

I’m gearing up for the StoryADay May challenge for 2014 and writing a new ebook as I go along. How? I’ll show you (cue: John Hammond whisper)

For the past few years, at the urging of challenge participants, I’ve provided writing prompts every day during StoryADay May. Every year I vow to be ahead of the game and write them all out before May starts. Usually I get a couple of weeks in and then spend the latter part of May scrambling to catch up.

Last year I did a thing where — again, prompted by participants — I put out a week’s worth of prompts ahead of time, so people could plan their writing week. That was a bit better than my usual scramble, but I still did a lot of the work during May.

This year I have resolved to not only have the full months’ worth of prompts available before May begins but to release them as an ebook that I can charge money for. (Money is a lovely carrot that I dangle in front of myself to make LazyMe follow through on some of my good intentions. I’m not hugely motivated by money, but since I’m planning on putting in all this work, it’d be nice if I could get a little summin-summin to help pay the for web-hosting costs, the domain registration or my upcoming photo session with Nathan Fillion at Comicon – swoon…)

The Process

Here’s what I’m doing.

Step 1: Mindmap

I have a mind map of all the topics for each week (OK, most of them). Doing this first helps me set themes for each week, see what I’m doing, what I’m missing and what I shouldn’t spend time writing about on Day 1 (because I know I’m going to cover it on Day 4).

zuXCSNU5

Step 2: Write The Post

I have a template in place for prompts, which I’m using as a framework for each post.

Writing Prompt screenshot

 

It goes: preamble (sometimes), The Prompt, Tips, “Go!” along with possibly a reminder to comment or post in the community.

Once I’ve written the meat of the post I’ll take some time to schedule the post for the appropriate day (posting just after midnight) and I’ll add it to the /inspiration/daily-prompt/may-2014 category so that my Mailchimp’s RSS-to-Campaign feature will pick it up and send it out to all the people who have signed up to receive prompts by email. Nifty!

If I’m really smart I’ll remember to add tags (‘writing prompt’ and something context driven) so I can find and link to them again in future when I am writing similar prompts but want to give my audience more options.

I might even find an appropriate Creative-Commons photo on Flickr to illustrate the post AND write an SEO-keyword-laden excerpt. In the interests of getting an ebook out, however, I’m not doing that on this pass. (None of that stuff will go in the ebook and it’s all stuff I can do in the last few days before the challenge when my brain is fried and we’re taking the inevitable roadtrip/having visitors/enjoying Easter/whatever-the-hell-else April/May can throw at me this year.)

What I really want to do is get to the next step.

Step 3 – Scrivener

After having finally watched some videos on how to use Scrivener properly, it seems to me the perfect vehicle for putting together a non-fiction book, even if I can’t make it work for fiction. So I’m using it for that, with the expectation that, at the end of the writing phase I’ll be able to quickly go through each file and make sure I’ve been consistent in format. Then I can add introductions to each week and maybe some introductory/conclusion material, and then use the built-in ‘compile’ feature to turn out a nicely-formatted ebook for quick upload to Amazon, Smashwords and my site.

Method: it’s pretty clunky, but I’m writing each prompt in the WordPress window, adding scheduling and tags and then  cutting and pasting each day’s text from the blog into Scrivener. It’s working for me, for now.

scrivener screenshot

I’m really only posting this here so that, if I try to do this again,  I’ll have some record of how I did it, but if you’re reading this and you’re not Future-Me, then I hope it helps you with your own “Blog To Book” project!

 

Flash Fiction Frenzy

As well as finishing up my Christmas Ornaments Flash Fiction collection and releasing it as an ebook collection, I’ve been writing other flash fiction, mostly inspired by the weekly Duotrope emails. These emails contain lists of active short story markets and upcoming deadlines for contests and anthologies.

Duotrope logoIn September, as I was sitting down to write one happy, happy school morning, I found a contest with a deadline of December 16, looking for Flash Fiction Suites. They defined this as a collection of pieces, no more than 1000 words each, which were related and contributed to a whole greater than the sum of the parts.

This really appealed to me.

So I took one of my earlier short pieces as the inspiration and started writing other pieces, each from the perspective of one of the characters mentioned in the first.

I liked it. So I then hemmed and hawed about whether to submit it to the contest or do something with it myself. I tried to be disciplined and keep it for the contest. I distracted myself with other stories (ultimately the Christmas series) and almost forgot to submit the Flash Fiction Suite to the contest (deadline today).

This weekend I remembered, and submitted, with a heavy heart (it’s so hard to put your work out there for something as specific as a contest or publication, knowing that it is 80% about luck or personal taste as to whether your piece will be picked).

While I was looking up the details of that contest, I noticed another contest for flash fiction — this time it was for a 250 word sci-fi/fantasy/horror/dark/weird Christmas story, again with a deadline of today. “I can do that”, says my brain, and settles down to ponder.

Yesterday I sketched out some ideas for where this story might happen and who might appear in it. This morning I researched the history of the Santa Claus story, as well as his appearance in popular culture throughout the years. Then I wrote, and wrote and wrote and wrote. Then I typed and cut and cut and tweaked and cut and tweaked and cut until I had something that I think has enough elements of my original idea to make it clear what’s going on, but doesn’t scrimp on the word count when it comes to style or the opportunity to make a joke.

I’m not sure it’s 100% clear to someone who doesn’t live in my head, but I hope that it’s a fun enough little time-travel romp that someone with one foot in the sci-fi world and another in pop culture, would enjoy it. Four hours’ work for 250 words. (Fascinating stat.)

After much tweaking, I fired up the old email box to send it off, and lo! There was an email from the judges of the FIRST contest, saying they like my Flash Fiction Suite and it’s a finalist, to be published at their site!

Gawp.

The response started “Julie Duffy, Strong work…” so I assumed that was going to be followed by a ‘but…”. It wasn’t. Woo-hoo!

It’s an online market that claims to pay pro-semipro rates. Not that it’s going to make me rich but I think it says something about the publication. A publication that pays its writers is one I’d be happy to put on my writing resume.

Stay tuned for the big announcement when my story goes live.

Wheeeee!

Amazon and the agency model

I got an email today telling me that several publishers are going to be sending me money to make up for screwing over me (their end customer), to try to stop Amazon’s Kindle editions from eating into their hardback prices. They did this by refusing to allow Amazon to sell the ebooks unless they did so at the publishers’ preferred price.

As a Kindle fanatic since the first day (and possibly sooner) I was astounded by this self-defeating business decision. Or I would have been had I not had past dealings with the publishing industry. (People in the publishing industry are lovely. The industry itself is a fairy tale princess resisting all attempts at rescue, because that might mean, you know, change). I wanted to buy more books than I ever had before and I DID until the prices went up by 50% overnight. I never bought hardbacks, and I was much more willing to buy any book after reading a kindle sample, but apparently that wasn’t good enough for certain publishing houses. They must have only wanted a wealthy elite to buy their titles, if you judge them by their actions. And now they have to apologize to the rest of us plebs for daring to want to read their books. With cash.

So while I’m sure my Twitter feed will be full of predictions of doom and scathing criticisms of Amazon, as a reader and a writer I say: ha! (Sorry).

Kindle Short Fiction Experiment Begins

Inspired by Angela Booth and Sean Platt (among others), and by the fact that I can’t only submit my work to journals and have it rejected (that way quitting lies) I’ve started to experiment with writing and releasing short fiction on the Kindle platform.

I put out my first story last week because it was a historical anniversary. My plan is to have five stories ready (or nearly ready) to go in a given genre before launching the ‘series’. Then I’ll compile them into an ebook collection and offer them that way too. Then I’ll move on to another series (perhaps in a different genre/voice).

I have a mailing list set up and a plan of action and a bunch of writing done. I have a bunch more writing to do, and a whole lot of editing, but I’m enjoying having a concrete goal and multiple steps and an interesting hypothesis to test.

I love the elasticity of the publishing process these days. If I decide I don’t like some of these early efforts, I can just withdraw them. If some become popular, they can stay up there forever.

Only problem with this project: not enough hours in the day :)

All-Edition Books One Step Closer?

Ever since I’ve had my Kindle—or perhaps more precisely, since they introduced the kind-of-crappy and disproportionately controversial text to speech feature— I’ve been longing for a day when I could be reading my book in the house and then get in the car and listen to the audio version, which would, like my Kindle, pick up from where I left off.

And now, Jeff Bezos has apparently been peeking inside my head again, because lo! What did I find on the Kindle edition page for “Happier at Home” by Gretchen Rubin, but this little tidbit?

VersaText from Amazon and Audible

OMG!

My Reading Nirvana

When Audible came along and offered audio books at an accessible price in digital format I jumped, LEAPED, on that bandwagon. (Seriously, the Audible booth at the New York Book Fair in 1999 was down the same neglected side alley as that of my then-company Xlibris. Two guys huddled in the Audible booth looking lonely, and I dashed up to them to tell them I was a fan and a subscriber and to thank them for the service. They looked a little non-plussed, but I was happy!). The only flaw I ever saw with audio books (beyond the cost, which had made them a library-only possibility for me until this point) was that sometimes I didn’t want to listen, I wanted to read. But at least picking up a $6 paperback duplicate was a realistic options, so hey.

Long before ebooks were a reality I was frustrated with paper books’ inability to remind me where I left off or help me find the first instance of when “Piotr” turned up in a book I hadn’t picked up for a while and how he fitted into the story. Then along came the PDF and the Palm Pilot and the Jornada with their proto-ebooks, complete with search function.

Then came my long-term love, the Kindle, to make ebooks (and the process of buying them) work properly.  Much as I fell deeply, passionately in love with my precious Kindle, I almost immediately hated it for making me want to read ALL THE TIME. I started to fantasize about the day when I’d be able to put down my Kindle and hop into the car, or stand at the sink washing dishes, or fold laundry, and have my story read to me while I couldn’t be staring at the page. The crude Text-To-Speech function hinted at a better world, but scared the pants off the people who look after authors’ rights (since selling the audio book rights to your work is such a lucrative side deal for authors and publishers, and deservedly so. There’s a lot of work in a good audio edition).

I always suspected Amazon would come up with a better (and fairer) solution. I even said the fateful words, “I’d be willing to pay a bit more for access to all the different editions. Seems reasonable.”

The Price Of Wishful Thinking

In this case, the price is, well, double the price of the Kindle edition of the ebook. But that’s bound to change as the idea catches on. I think a ‘bundled edition’ price, closer to the traditional trade-paperback price might be where titles from big publishers settle. But even now, the Kindle and Audible editions together (which, by the way, sync up with each other, so you can keep going from where you left off in either device, just like I wanted!!!!!) is slightly less than the list price for the hardback.

I’m bouncing in my chair a little.

I’m such a fangirl of Amazon. I know the Author’s Guild is deeply wary of them, publishers barely tolerate them and other booksellers see them as evil incarnate, and I understand all these things. But as a reader and a lover of books and someone who is interested in the progress of literature over tradition, and yes even as a writer, I am THRILLED that Amazon keeps coming up with ideas that are designed to delight the reader. It’s not a common concern within the book industry as a whole. I’m sad to say that, but I’ve been inside and I’ve never seen anything that has lead me to believe I’m wrong in saying it. Apart from Amazon.

So thank you, Mr Bezos. We are obviously book-brain-twins and I’m glad you’re in business.

Kindle Fire and Kindle Touch Released

Amazon has announced the first Kindle tablet PC and the first touch-screen Kindle e-Readers.

Highlights

  • Three new e-Ink Kindle models, two of which have a touch-screen
  • Larger screens, smaller bodies (no keyboards)
  • Lower prices – with optional on-screen ads. $79-$189
  • Kindle Fire – a color, touchscreen tablet device for $199
See more details and my comparison table to find out if its time to take the Kindle plunge, or upgrade to one of the new options.
AmazonKindleComparisonTable

Other Kindle Articles

StoryADay Blog in Amazon's Kindle Store screenshot

How To Publish Your Blog For Kindle

Kindles aren’t just for books. People also subscribe to blogs on their Kindles. It usually costs around $1.99 a month (the price is set by Amazon) and is a great way to offer your content to all those people who woke up to find Kindles under the Christmas Tree/Menorah/Festivus Pole. When they subscribe, every new post you make is delivered to their Kindle (no need for them to remember to check your blog!). You are paid 30% of the fee Amazon charges.

Register With Amazon’s Kindle Publishing Program

It is cost-free and simple to register with Amazon’s Kindle Publishing program. If you do not already have one, you will need to create a vendor account, which is different from your regular Amazon account.  Read through the terms, because you are agreeing to obligations on pricing, content, timing and termination details. You will agree to terms for both the US and European markets.

At the end of the registration process you will be given a Vendor ID and Amazon will have all your payment details. You’re in business!

Add A Blog

Amazon Kindle Publishing Dashboard Screenshot

When you have finished registering you will be taken to you dashboard. Click the “Add A Blog” link on the top right hand corner. This is where you fill in all the information that will let both Amazon find the posts from your blog and send them to your readers’ Kindles.

Filling In The “Add Blog” Page

Find Your Feed

If you aren’t familiar with RSS and feeds, don’t worry. Most blogging platforms (not to mention Twitter and Facebook) use feeds to distribute your content. It’s usually easy to findGo to your blog and look for the RSS symbol (possibly in the address bar of your browser) and click on it. It will take you to a page that has an address something like “http://yourdoman.com/feed”. Copy that, and paste it into the first box on the Add A Blog page. Click ‘validate feed’ to make sure Amazon is looking in the right place for your blog.

Enter Blog Information

If your blog didn’t have a snappy title before, now’s the time to give it one. Your blog is going to be competing with thousands of others for Kindle readers’ attention. Just calling it “Julie’s musings on writing” isn’t going to cut it. In fact, you might want to add a tag line too. (for example, the blog I listed is my Story A Day blog, aimed at creative writers. I use a tagline there that addresses a  ‘pain point’ for my potential readers — aspiring writers who wish the could write more: “Write Every Day, Not “Some Day”.

Blog Description

Make your description snappy and to the point. Tell the readers what they are going to get out of paying for your blog every month. What concerns are you addressing?

Screenshots & Logo

Upload a couple of pictures, one a screenshot of your blog and the other your ‘masthead’ or logo. People are extremely visual, but remember that most people reading on an actual Kindle device are only going to see these things in black and white. Try to keep the contrast high and the images clean.

Website Info

Very important: enter your website address! You want  your new fans to be able to find your website, don’t you? You’re not going to get rich selling Kindle blog subscriptions (unless you get insanely popular) so the whole point of publishing here is to expand your reach. Let people know where to find you!

Category & Keyword Information

Category and keywords are going to be very important in helping people find your blog.

If you don’t know what keywords to use: steal.

Go to a successful blog online that covers the same topics as you. From your browser’s toolbar select View / Page Source of View Source. A whole bunch of HTML will open up in a text window. Don’t worry too much about it. Just look for the line that says “meta name=”keywords” and then you’ll be able to see what that site is using. Take your inspiration from that (don’t actually steal. That was a joke.)

Language & Frequency

Select your language and tell Amazon how often you’re going to post. Be conservative (you can update it later). If you are new to blogging and/or the sole author on your site, don’t promise daily posts. Unless, of course, you have an airtight plan for how you are going to churn out seven awesome posts a week.

Almost Done

At this point you can save your work and generate a preview of how your blog will look in the Kindle store. (This takes a few minutes, and is optional)

If you’re happy with how everything looks, press “Publish” and wait the 48-72 hrs they say it’ll take to get you set up in the store (in reality it took less than 24 for mine to appear).

Tell People About Your Blog

Kindle blogs are listed by category. Within each category the default view is “most popular” blogs at the top.

Your blog, on its first day, is not going to be there. You’re going to have to tell people it’s there, so they can subscribe and help you move up the charts.

To find your blog: Go to the Amazon store and search for “Your Blog Name” and the word “Blog”. This should bring you to your blog’s sales page.

StoryADay Blog in Amazon's Kindle Store screenshot

Copy the address (use an affiliate link if you like) and then go forth and promote.

Good luck!

Loan Kindle Books? Yes You Can!

So, One of the frustrations about the Kindle has been that you can’t share books with your friends and family.

Now, Amazon has at last announced that you can lend Kindle editions of ebooks

Usual caveat: Publishers have to allow this feature and most of the big ones won’t. Yet. 1

Loan Your Kindle Books : Details

  • The recipient does not have to own a Kindle or even have any Kindle apps installed. They will be prompted to download one of the free apps.
  • The recipient has a week to collect the book after you lend it to them, or the offer is cancelled
  • Your loaned book will be unavailable for 14 days
  • After 14 days, your book comes back to you automatically

So, you could be without access to your book for 3 weeks at most.

How To Lend Books From Your Kindle

Currently you have to do this from the Amazon website (though I wouldn’t be surprised if we see an in-Kindle option later)

From the Book’s Product Detail Page

Go to the product page and you’ll see a yellow bar above the title saying that yes, you did buy this and yes, you can loan it. Click the link.

Product Detail Page for Lending Kindle Ebooks

From The Manage Your Kindle Page

  • Log in to your account at Amazon.
  • To to Manage Your Kindle
  • Scroll down to “Your Orders”
  • Click the + next to the title you want to lend. If the publisher has enabled the ‘lend’ feature, you will see a “Loan this book” button.Loan a Kindle eBook from Manage Your Kindle Page at Amazon

The book will disappear from your available Kindle titles for a while.

What Happens After I Lend The Book?

You are taken to a page where you can fill in any email address.

Lending a Kindle eBook- Email Page image

Then you’ll see this confirmation page:

At this point, the book will still be in your library but you won’t be able to access it from your Kindle or Kindle apps.

Can I Lend To Someone Who Doesn’t Have A Kindle?

Yes. Anyone with a computer or other electronic device can receive the book and read it. There are Kindle apps for desktop, mac, iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, Windows Phone 7 and Mac.

(But no, they won’t be able to read it on their Nook or their Kobo or Sony eReader or other competing eReader device, as far as I can tell).

What About My Note and Highlights?

This is an extremely cool feature, I think:

  • The person who borrows the book won’t be able to see your notes (protecting your privacy).
  • They can make notes in the book and when it comes back to you, you won’t see their notes either.
  • BUT (and this is the cool part) if they then buy their own copy of the book, their notes magically appear in their edition.

(I know, I’m a geek, but this makes me smile)

What About International Loans?

This one is subject to international rights rules. You might try to lend a book to someone in another country and find it’s not going through because of licensing and rights rules. Sigh. There’s not much Amazon can do about this one.

More Cool Kindle Features You Might Have Missed

You can also give Kindle books as gifts and earn commissions on Kindle titles if you’re an Amazon Associate (see my Kindle store for examples).


So, what do you think of this feature? Will you use it? What books will you lend? And how long do you think it will take publishers to sort out this global rights thing (hint: it’s taken them this long to allow their titles to be in ebook format. It’s only in the past five years or so that editors have started using email. Seriously!)


  1. Currently NOTHING that I have bought from a major publisher has ‘loan this book’ available. A short story, some self-published stuff and, interestingly, some Christian titles are all I can lend. Smart move, proselytizers! ;)