All posts in ebooks

Now available: SOME OF THE BEST FROM TOR.COM

Today sees the release of Some of the Best from Tor.com, an anthology of 26 original stories – with original artwork! – from Tor.com’s class of 2014 fiction. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m pretty delighted to have my novelette Brisk Money included, in what really is an astounding collection. I mean, just look at the contents:

You can read more about it at Tor.com. The collection is available now at Amazon, with other online retailers loading it up shortly. It is also entirely, 100% free.

Out today: TWO TALES OF SAN VENTURA

Out today from the Robot Trading Company is a new digital short, Two Tales of San Ventura!

In A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Comic Con, The Cowl makes a surprise appearance at San Ventura’s famous annual multimedia event. And in Jeannie’s Guide to San Ventura, California, local resident Jeannie Ravencroft gives you the guided tour, offering her views on some of the city’s more… colourful inhabitants.

Both of these shorts are included in Two Tales from San Ventura, which is available as an epub ebook for 59p (about 90 cents US) from the Robot Trading Company. A Kindle ebook will be available from Amazon later this week.

The cover art is by the one and only Will Staehle. You can find out more about Will’s work at wilco.co.

 

An ebook for Christmas: THE COPPER PROMISE (part 1) by Jennifer Williams

You might have heard me mention my friend Jen Williams before. She’s a terrific writer who produces short stories that make me weep with envy, and is currently working on a number of novel projects. She’s really good, and has big things in her future, I have no doubt.

Jen has just started an ongoing series of sword and sorcery novellas called The Copper Promise, the first of which – Ghosts of the Citadel – came out on the Kindle yesterday. It’s worth a look, I think. And it has an outstanding cover (make sure you click to enlarge).

Jen’s clever like that.

Grab The Copper Promise: Ghosts of the Citadel here (Amazon UK) or here (Amazon US), and make sure you visit Jen over at sennydreadful.com and tell her what you think. You can also find her on Twitter as @sennydreadful.

You still here? I said go get it!

20th March, 2011: Sunday afternoon on Amazon

And so the weather returned to its default state – a bit wet, a lot grey, slightly cold. Well, at least we made it out of the house yesterday.

Yesterday was, as I also indicated, a good writing day.

Project: Hang Wire (serial killers and superheroes in San Francisco)
Words today: 3,053
Words total: 47,381/100,000 (44%)
Total words for 2011: 79,334

Yesterday’s epic allotment of words was entirely one scene, featuring Bossanova Bill and an old lady. This sequence has a couple of natural breakpoints and in the edit will be intercut with other chapters, but it made sense to just keep writing and get that bit of the story down.

The other day I organised my iPad, stripping out crappy old apps I never use and then sorting the ones I kept into different folders. As I organised my various ebook apps (iBooks, Kindle, etc), it occurred to me that while I’m a big fan and advocate of ebooks, I’ve actually been buying more paper books now. In fact, I’ve gone back to the old habits of shopping for paper first.

I think this is simply because in most cases, the paper copy of a book is cheaper than an ebook. I’ve talked about this before, and I know there are a number of legitimate reasons for why this happens, so I’m not going to go over it all again.

What I will say, however, is that as a consumer this is none of my concern. None at all. As someone who buys quite a few books, there are three ‘levels’ to me, ranging from top price to bottom dollar. It goes:

hardback > paperback > ebook

It’s that simple. There is no fancy formula required, no lengthy analysis of the whys and wherefores of it all. As a consumer, I just don’t care.

So, what prompted today’s microrant? David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, actually. I was contemplating checking it out, only the Kindle version is nearly twice the price of the paperback. Yes, Amazon have the paperback at a very large discount. Yes, I know, that means the prices are not comparative.

Except… this is none of my concern. The ebook should be cheaper than the paperback. Period.

27th January, 2011

Yesterday fantasy author Joe Abercrombie‘s new book Heroes came out in the UK, and being the popular author he is there was much chatter about it. His books are published currently by Gollancz, which means a nice hardcover release followed by a paperback in a few months (not sure what format as I think Gollancz shift their paperbacks around a little – possibly a trade, or at least a B-format). A Kindle edition was also made available on the day of release.

However, looking at the Amazon listings, the hardcover was discounted to £6.74 (down from £14.99; 55% off), the pre-order for the paperback was £5.99 (down from £7.99; 25% off), and the Kindle edition was… £7.99? According to the page for the Kindle edition, “this price was set by the publisher”.

Now, the ebook pricing debate is complex, and I’m not qualified or knowledgeable enough to dive into it. But as a consumer who buys both paper and electronic books, the above example shows there is something wrong.

As was pointed out here the other day, book pricing is not so much about actual costs as perception of costs by consumers. A hardback is expensive, a paperback is cheap, and in third place comes ebooks. The actual cost of an ebook is not much different from a printed book, because the majority of costs are editorial and the printing, shipping, distribution and warehousing are actually a relatively small percentage. The problem is that everybody assumes it is the other way around, that if you don’t have to print physical books, there is hardly any cost at all.

So while you can stick to your guns and try and explain this, people won’t listen. Of the three general formats – hardcover, paperback, ebook – electronic formats are perceived to be the cheapest, and if that’s what people expect, that’s what they need to get. If a customer sees an ebook for more than a printed copy, they just automatically assume the publisher had no clue what they are doing.

Actually, that example of Heroes is nothing like as bad as another one I saw recently – an old Stephen King novel, widely available in paperback for £4.99, had a Kindle edition listed for £19.99. That £19.99 was the RRP of the hardback edition, but of course the hardback edition has been out of print for thirty years.

When I mentioned the issue of Heroes pricing on Twitter, someone pointed out to me that the publisher can’t be blamed for Amazon putting such a huge discount on the hardcover, and that is quite true. However the Kindle edition had fixed price of £7.99 (using the agency model, where the publisher sets the price and there is no retailer discounting), which is the same as the RRP of the forthcoming paperback (which Amazon then discounted anyway to £5.99). The fixed cost of the Kindle version, using the hardcover > paperback > ebook sequence, should have been less than £7.99.

Quite where you position the price of ebooks is the big question. Publishers are businesses and they need to make money, and importantly some of that money then pays the author. I’m certainly not arguing about that. But my personal view is that the ebook edition should be about half the price of the paperback, which itself tends to be half the price of the hardback. Additionally, I’d like to suggest that publishers start following the model introduced by the Blu-ray market, whereby if you buy the “top” edition of something, you get the Blu-ray, the DVD, and a code to download a digital version for free. If we say these “top” edition releases are the equivalent of a hardback, then a hardback book should come with a code inside to download the ebook for free. Why? Because as a buyer of both paper books and ebooks, I generally would like to have both in my collection. Paper books look great on the shelf and, as Tracy Hickman once said, are souveniers of past journeys, like postcards. The ebook version is handy for travelling, especially if it means I don’t need to cart a big hardback around when I can have everything on my iPad. Plus ebooks don’t have quite the same souvenier quality – while I can happily pin postcards to a wall and looks at photos in an album, I have thousands of images on my computer that I have never looked at again.

For publishers who do not release hardback editions, it’s probably a bit easier – paperback > ebook. Keep the ebook cheaper than the paperback.

And allow discounting – if Amazon could knock 55% off the hardback of Heroes and 25% off the paperback pre-order, why keep the Kindle edition fixed at £7.99? People will not pay more for something they cannot hold, they will pay less. It’s a pretty easy rule to follow.

Speaking of ebooks, ebook piracy is another complex issue, but yesterday SF writer Tobias Buckell put together his thoughts on the matter. It’s well worth checking out.

Writing
Not a single world written yesterday. Actually, that’s not true, because I am currently working on the second draft of The Wasp in the Lotus. But that counts as editing, not writing. The problem here is that I should have been able to hit 2k words on something and work on the editing. Need to pick my game up.

Project: <none selected>
Words today: 0
Total words for 2011: 45,701

Editing
I’m going to need to rethink the schedule for Seven Wonders again, but the top priority is to get The Wasp in the Lotus in good shape. The deadline is approaching and I have to allow for beta-reading and more redrafting later.

Reading
Books: some pages of Death’s Disciples by J. Robert King.
Comics: On hold until February.

New fiction, old fiction, podcasting

Some new fiction for you this week – my horror flash-fiction short story, The Nightmare of You and Death in the Room is out today in Hub magazine #126. Please take a look and I welcome feedback – I’ve already had some interesting interpretations of it on Twitter!

It’s old news now, but Amazon opened the UK Kindle store on 5th August. Prior to this, you could buy Kindle ebooks from Amazon.com, but due to the addition of VAT and other mysterious charges, prices were often a little high. My voodoo steampunk novella, The Devil in Chains, for example was set at a price of 99 cents (the minimum, as you can’t give away free Kindle books), but UK customers had to pay something rather more (I think it was between $4 and $5, although I don’t remember).

The UK Kindle store is good news, then, and you can grab The Devil in Chains for just 72p. I’ve tried it out on the iPad’s Kindle app, and I have to say it looks pretty gosh-darned cool. I’d be interested to see it on an actual Kindle – hopefully I’ll be able to hijack one down at FantasyCon in September and take a look. I must admit the new Kindle, in smexy graphite grey, looks pretty cool and the price is terrific (£109 for the WiFi model, £149 for the WiFi + free 3G model)… but it’s a mono-functional eink device. Hmm. I carry too much stuff as it is.

As well as being “in print” this week, you can marvel at my mumbling half-New Zealand, half-British accent over at WordPunk. A couple of weeks ago I was a guest host on their Genre, Movies and TV, and Tech and Gadgets episodes, all of which are now online and available at their website or via iTunes. I had a great time on the show and my thanks to Del, Simon and James for having me on!

Right, back to the editing!

Laissez les bon temps rouler

I try to keep this blog writing-related, but here’s a brief interlude.

Last Thursday I went to see one of my favourite bands, Quasi, play Manchester’s Deaf Institute. It was nothing short of amazing – tiny venue with perfect sound, small crowd, good support band (I know, I’m still in shock). One of the benefits of being a fan of small indie bands who play small venues is the opportunity to actually meet them. All three members of Quasi were either chatting in the audience beforehand, or manning their t-shirt stand, and when they came off stage I grabbed a moment to chat to Janet, the drummer, who also plays with Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, and was one third of Sleater-Kinney.

Anyway, there were a lot of photographers there, and by chance someone captured a pic of me and guitarist/singer Sam Coomes, which I’m pretty chuffed with. Hint, I’m not playing guitar:

The entire set by kezontour can be seen on Flickr.

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find any video of the show, although there are some good recordings on You Tube from earlier in the same tour. Here’s one from Chicago:

In other news, slightly more writing-related, I’ve got my iPad. It’s absolutely beautiful. I may only have had it since Thursday (it was delivered a day before the official UK launch too), but every day it still surprises me. It is slightly smaller than I thought it would be, but is very comfortable to use. I’ve already been reading comics and eBooks on it, and I have to say, I’m now a total convert to digital reading. iBooks is a terrific e-reader.

It’s not all about passive consumption of content though. I’ve done some beta-reading and critiquing (with notes) in Pages, and I’ve started Corkulous planning boards for Ludmila, My Love and The Gospel of the Godless Stars. When I can figure out how to take screenshots, I’ll post some up.

Electric book boogaloo

You might have guessed I’m something of a gadget freak. Well, that’s not quite right. I don’t collect gear or spend hours reading Engadget. However, I am a fan of tech that makes my life easier. I’ve talked about the iPad before – and I’m literally counting the hours until my very own 64GB WiFi model arrives this Friday – and I’m a proponent of all things digital, be it music, or films and TV, or books.

This week I was a guest of Angry Robot books, and I took the opportunity to make a case for switching from print books to ebooks. I’ve had numerous interesting comments about this via Twitter, and my writing pal Jennifer Williams has posted a response on her own blog. I hope you’ll take the time to read both my take and hers, and join the debate!

Writing wise, I’m finally – FINALLY – back on track with Ludmila, My Love. At 2,000 words a day, I should be done in about three weeks, which means I can let that one ferment in the draw and get straight into The Gospel of the Godless Stars, the horror Western I’m co-writing with Kate Sherrod.

This is my first collaboration, but so far I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the process. We’re currently working out the plot and synopsis, and have been swapping and expanding scene chronologies back and forth. I must admit, I was nervous at the start of all this – having spent a few days nutting out some plot points, what if Kate hated them? What if Kate’s sections completely turned my precious ideas upside down and inside out?

But of course, it’s not my story. Nor is it her story. It’s our story. We both realise and understand this, and actually it results in a much freer creative experience. Kate even wrote a short prologue at the same time as I was working on mine – and having seen hers, it’s not only a terrific piece of writing, it actually leads almost directly into my own. I suspect this project will go well.

With all this writing work on, one thing that will hopefully keep the pressure up is the brand new Manchester SpecFic Writing Group, which met for the first time a couple of weeks ago at the MadLab in central Manchester. All are welcome, and our next meeting is June 2nd, where we will hopefully have some critiques to give out. I just need to give the first chapter of Empire State another going over before I drop it into our shared folder.

Nervous? You bet. We’re using Turkey City rules. But I’m hoping it’s going to be a valuable experience. I’ll keep you posted.

That end of book fidget, and iPad roundup

The end of book ‘fidget’

Turns out that I’m not alone when I say I’ve got the “end of book fidget”. It’s that feeling you get when you’re within sight of the end, with a big climax to write, but your brain is on the next book.

The next book is new, fresh, and exciting. It has a killer title. The plot is out of this world. This is the book you’ll be known for. You want to start writing it now.

The old book is old, dull, stale. You know the story and the character inside out, you can’t wait for the hero to save the day so everyone can go home. You know the book needs a gosh-darned thrashing at the second draft to solve a couple of plot problems and iron out some character kinks. You’ve been living with this book for a couple of months, or more. You’re tired.

One of the fascinating things I’ve discovered about writing is that a writer will think that their experience is unique, that the thoughts they have and the emotion changes they go through during the course of writing are brand new, and (usually) completely wrong. The universe is trying to tell you that you aren’t a writer and you shouldn’t be trying. Your story is lame, the characters weak and two-dimensional. The plot is terrible, the prose itself is the most god-awful tripe ever put to paper. If you could just stop right now and try the next book, everything would turn out fine and writing would be less like sweating bullets.

Except Neil Gaiman gets this feeling. He said so. Michael Stackpole gets this feeling. He said so too. Most writers do, from late night amateurs honing their craft to seasoned pros with lengthy bestseller back catalogues. And then when one writer talks to another writer to tell them about the terrible time they’re having, they’re shocked to discover that the other guy feels exactly the same way.

Okay, I exaggerate. Writing is fun, and it can be easy, and it’s something I have to do. It’s not continual torture, and more often than not, the plot and characterisation work just fine. If they didn’t, I’d be in trouble.

But there are moments like the above, scattered all throughout the writing process. And at this point, as Empire State hits 95,000 out of a projected 100,000, I get the end of book fidget. And despite me knowing all the above about how every writer goes through the same thing at key points, I was still surprised to discover writer friends who knew exactly what I was talking about, or who were stuck in the exact same situation as me.

Fortunately, the solution is pretty easy. Ignore the fidget, sit down and finish the book. I suspect there are an awful lot of almost-finished novels in the world because the writer hasn’t realised that the end of book fidget is just a normal part of the process. And there are an awful lot of half-finished and quarter-finished novels in the world because the writer has succumbed to one of those other feelings of inadequacy at some point.

You gotta keep on truckin’! Empire State will be done in a few days. Then Ludmila, My Love, can take centre stage.

The iPad

It’s been three weeks now since Apple introduced the iPad. The interweb is full of speculation and opinion, so I’ll leave you to Google for it if you haven’t been keeping track of the commentary. My last post, which was far, far too long ago, talked about the things I wanted from the device. Did it deliver? Yes, on every count – function, portability, and importantly, price. UK pricing has not been announced yet, but Macworld have done a pretty good estimate. Even the most expensive model, the 64GB 3G version, only comes in at a hair under £700. For me, that’s worth every penny for a good-sized, capable internet device and e-reader.

What I want from the Apple tablet

Tommorow, Steve Jobs will walk on stage at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, and unveil Apple’s latest creation, as their media invite calls it. Unless you’ve been on retreat on Phobos, you’ll know what I’m talking about. The Apple tablet. I’m hoping it won’t be called the iSlate (= ‘is late’), or the iPad (= some digital female sanitary product), but whatever the label, this device will change the publishing world.

Don’t believe me? Hmm. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that they don’t see how a tablet is anything special, or how it could revolutionise publishing. It’s not like we don’t have all the requisite technology anyway, and the Apple ‘is late’ tag is apt given that there are a lot of tablet computers out there, and a lot of ebook readers out there. Some are successful, some are not. More are coming.

So big deal. Who needs an oversized iPod touch, right?

I think there’s a misunderstanding here. It’s not that this is going to be a whole new form of computing, with new innovations in technology and hardware. It’s the way that Apple will take pre-existing ideas and technology and combine them, creating a characteristic Apple user interface and wrapping it in their award-winning industrial design to create something new.

Before the iPod was released, there were loads of mp3 players available. But the iPod had a new interface and a new design, and it caught on. Likewise the iPhone. There are hundreds, thousands of smartphones available. But the iPhone, for a lot of people, has the best UI and design.

With less than a day to go, here’s my list of things I want the Apple tablet to be and to do. This isn’t a pro-Apple rant. It’s not an anti-not-Apple rant either. These are just things I want to be able to do with an Apple tablet. Some of this should be announced tomorrow. Some of it will take a while – years, maybe – to come to fruition. But the tablet is the first step.

I want to wake up to new content

With an always-on wifi or 3G connection, I want all of my magazine subscriptions auto-synched while I sleep. On Wednesday morning, I wake up, check my emails, and have this week’s pull-list of comics from DC and Dynamite. On Thursday morning, I wake up, check my emails, and have this week’s Radio Times. Every four weeks the new issue of Fortean Times arrives. Same for newspapers, if I read them. They’d arrive every morning.

But there’s more than just replacing magazine print subscriptions with electronic ones. If the tablet can deliver an exemplary reading experience, I want to subscribe to publishing houses. For an annual fee, I’ll take everything from Angry Robot Books, thanks very much, delivered to my tablet on release. If you’re a Warhammer fan, how about a sub to the Black Library? Any publisher – a major house, a small press, a nice imprint – can start delivering content directly and, importantly, in bulk. There’s not a single title from Angry Robot that hasn’t been an excellent read, and I’ll happily take the rest of their output on spec. For larger houses like Pyr – likewise an excellent genre imprint – a full subscription would probably result in a phone call from my bank manager, but what about a random sub? Three books each month? Or how about all new titles released by your three favourite authors? I imagine it would be the same for fans of a particular romance publisher, or crime publisher, or whatever publisher.

There’s no manual control needed, if I choose. My subs are delivered, on time, regularly, without the vagaries of the postal service. With the full-colour, almost full-size screen, I can read all of my magazines at my leisure. I don’t need to receive paper copies of anything ever again. With good eReader software, I can become a patron of a publisher or author at the tap of a button.

I want to use it everywhere

I travel a lot, and the dilemma of book selection for a plane journey is one that should be familiar to a lot of people. If you leave tomorrow and there are still 50 pages to go, do you take that, knowing that you’ll have it finished quickly and will have to lug a redundant brick of paper around for the rest of your trip? Or do you pick a new book? Or if you’re a fast reader, do you take two, or three? Pretty soon you’ve filled your hand luggage and most likely your overstuffed suitcase for the return.

For travel I now take my iPod touch. Using Stanza, or any one of a number of stand-alone eBook providers, I can take hundreds of books with me everywhere. Reading off the screen is no issue, as most readers have a variety of options to improve the experience, such as white text on a black background, and variable text size. Sure, it takes a bit of getting used to, but it’s not a problem.

If the screen was bigger, it would be better. If I could approximate the real size of a trade paperback page, I’d probably read a lot more eBooks. This is what the Kindle, the Sony Reader, the Nook, et al, aim to achieve – more or less real-life dimensions of a print book, and with their eInk screens, an easy reading experience.

But more important than the odd plane trip, I want to use it everywhere, every day. I don’t want to lug my laptop to bed. I don’t want to flip open a netbook on the couch, no matter how petite it is. I don’t want to sit at my desktop computer for hours reading comics or books. And, perhaps most importantly for me, I don’t want to battle with the internet on my tiny iPod touch. If I’m watching TV and I want to look something up on the internet, I want to pick up the tablet from the coffee table and do it. No laptop, no keyboard, no tiny iPod touch screen that requires constant pinching and scrolling. The iPod touch and iPhone are fine for tools like Twitter or Facebook, because the interface of apps for these are designed for the small screen. But the full-blown internet experience in Safari isn’t.

eInk doesn’t matter

And this is why I don’t want a Kindle or other eInk-based device. They’re fine for straight text. They’d also be fine for newspaper content. But full-colour, glossy magazines? Nope. Browsing the web? Nope. Playing games? Nope. Checking emails maybe, but integrating with Twitter, Facebook? Nope. The Kindle and its ilk are single-use devices, and the eInk screen is no good for anything by reading text anyway.

Except here’s the thing: it’s not even needed for that. As I said, I read a lot of text off my iPod touch, with its glass-fronted, full-colour LCD panel. Glare has never been a problem. Reflection has never been a problem. Eyestrain has never been a problem. Okay, it has a small screen, and these issues would be increased with a 10″ display, but really, I’m happy to accept these potential issues for full-colour, full-motion electronic content. I don’t need eInk.

I want to be able to afford it

The tablet might be expensive. The 64GB iPod touch is $399 + tax. Apple’s base Macbook is $999. The tablet must fall somewhere into this gap – it can’t be cheaper, or the same price, as the touch for a significant larger device unless they cut the price of the touch. It can’t be more expensive than the Macbook or they’ll be in for criticism, and the Macbook is a more powerful computer anyway. The tablet isn’t a computer replacement, it’s a whole different device.

The problem is that people are too used to paying $200 for a hunk o’ junk netbook, or $500 for an under-specced, under-powered laptop. Good tech costs, although the “Apple premium” is actually a myth if you compare like-for-like. Apple simply don’t do low-end devices, they do mid- to high-end.

It’s also no use comparing it to the Kindle, or the Nook, or the Sony Reader. The Kindle is $259 (or $489 for the Kindle DX), but these are single-use devices. I know that Amazon have opened the Kindle to app developers now, but there really isn’t much you can do with that eInk screen.

The current rumour is that the tablet will be $1000 stand-alone, or $399-$499 with a 3G contract. Some sources claim the $1000 is way off. Perhaps that’ll be another surprise for tomorrow!

Can Apple deliver?

Will the tablet deliver on any of this? Technology-wise, certainly. There’s nothing new here, we have the know-how and hardware. Apple’s design – which includes software and hardware combined – will be second-to-none. All of this is possible. It might be expensive, at least to start with.

What will be harder to changing the mindset of content providers and gatekeepers, to get them to embrace this digital vision. The technology is there, we just need the will. Unfortunately, some will fight this vision tooth and claw, whether it is out of self-preservation, stubbornness, or lack of understanding.

So that’s what I want (the tablet, not the fighting!). What we’ll get tomorrow might match my requirements very well; then again, they might not. Come back on Thursday and we’ll see how my checklist squares up with the real deal.

But what do you want from a tablet? Will the tablet change the world, or will it flop like the G4 Cube or the Newton? If you don’t want an Apple tablet, what do you want?

Comments are open!