explorer of worlds real and imagined

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I’ve moved…

In an effort to finally consolidate my online presence (or some other 21st century buzzwd j’argot) I’ve moved my blog.

Check it out at http://darusha.ca/blog. If you’re a subscriber by rss, the new feed is http://darusha.ca/category/blog/feed.

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So, with the incredible end of my IndieGoGo campaign, I’ve got a shot in the arm financially and motivationally. Which means I’m keeping plenty busy.

BOOW cover

Final editing and audio recording of The Beauty of Our Weapons is coming along - it feels slooooowwww, but it’s actually moving ahead at a good pace. If the weather holds (I can’t record when it’s raining or windy), I should be done in a couple of weeks. 

Then I can get final formatting done for the hard copies and start that process.

I’m also working on the short story commissioned by my patron, theoretically more than practically working on another novel and I have another short story percolating away in my brain. Busy, but happy - that’s how I like it!

(Check out the cover art by JT Lindroos. How awesome is that?!)

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Self-publishing tips: ebooks

Sony eBook Reader

I recently wrote a long email to a friend who is looking to publish his first novel as as an ebook and asked me for some tips. Over 1600 words later, it dawned on me that other people might find this information helpful, so here’s a slightly edited version.

This deals exclusively with publishing ebooks only. I may write up a similar resource for self-publishing paper copies. 

Copyright, ISBNs, imprints

You don’t need to do anything to copyright written work; in fact, there’s nothing you can do. However, when you make a digital or paper copy, ensure you have a copyright statement at the beginning (usually right after the title page/title matter). It looks like this:

Awesome Novel Title

by Author Name

Copyright 2012 Author Name

Published by imprint

ISBN 978-0-9999999-9-9

You’ll notice two things: the “published by” and ISBN. The first is optional, the second mandatory.

When you self-publish, you are the publisher (obvious, I know). Some marketplaces (Amazon is one) include this information on the sales page. There’s nothing wrong with using your name as the publisher.  

This becomes particularly relevant because it is the publisher that is responsible for obtaining the ISBN. All books need one, and a different one per edition (separate ISBNs for ebooks, paperbacks, hardcovers etc.) Most distribution methods (Amazon’s Kindle Direct PublishingSmashwordsCreateSpace, lulu.com - more about these later) will provide an ISBN for you, some with a fee, some without. In many cases you can find a way to get ISBNs for free. 

However, if you are a Canadian publisher, you are entitled to free ISBNs. This is what I do - assign my own ISBNs, which ensures that I am always listed as the publisher. While I understand that Amazon et al haven’t enforced their rights to be listed as the publisher of work for people who used their ISBNs, they possibly could, therefore reducing your options if you wanted to publish elsewhere or remove your work from their marketplace.  Given Amazon’s recent play to corner the ebook market further, I’m a little paranoid and prefer to control my own ISBNs. And, did I mention it’s free?

Canadians can set up an account and get a block of ISBNs at Canadian ISBN Service System (CISS) - Library and Archives Canada If you are resident of the US, you can purchase blocks of ISBNs at Bowker. Residents of other countries should check with their own governments’ websites, as Canada is not unique in offering this service to its residents. 

Formatting Ebook Files

Turning your manuscript into an ebook can be simple or complicated. There are pay-for services (Jim and Zetta are well respected, but I’ve never used them) who will take a manuscript and make ebooks for you. There are also programs, like Scrivener (which I use anyway for writing) which will export in kindle (.mobi) and .epub formats. 

You could also download Calibre, which is open source ebook library/conversion software. You could then use it to make ebook files from a .rtf version of your manuscript, though you’d need to carefully check the output. 

However, for most people there is probably a better method, which is part of the next section.

Another issue is the cover. If you’re an artist, you can do a fine job on your own, with some research about what makes a good ebook cover. I’m not an artist and I did my own covers for my first three books. I’ve hired an artist the current one and the difference is astonishing (I’m working with JT Lindroos and am very, very happy). There are several good resources on what makes for a good ebook cover - I like this list at Unruly Guides. Also, browse through the various ebook stores and the covers there. You can see what works and what doesn’t. 

Where/how to sell ebooks

I understand the thinking that Amazon is the 900 lb gorilla of ebook sales, so one should just stick with them. I do sell kindle versions of my books directly through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, though if you aren’t a US resident, I’m not sure I recommend it. If you don’t have a US (not US dollar, US bank) bank account, Amazon doesn’t send you any of your earnings until you reach $100. However, if you do have a US bank account, the threshold is $10, and they’ll directly deposit the amount into your bank account.

Regardless of the US bank account thing, I still strongly recommend you take a serious look at using smashwords.com to convert and distribute your book. Thier business model is pretty much the same as Amazon’s: you give them a cut of each copy sold, and there are no upfront fees at all. Smashwords has the following advantages:

  • They take a .doc copy of your manuscript and do the conversion to all ebook formats for you for free
  • They distribute via all the major ebook markets, including Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, the Apple iBookstore, Kobo and others
  • Your book appears on these partner marketplaces exactly the same as it would if you published there yourself
  • If you need ISBNs, they will supply them for free
  • Smashwords takes a slightly larger cut of these distributed copies (60/40 split), but pays via paypal quarterly for earnings over $10 USD, regardless of where you live
  • You can also sell directly on smashwords’ site for a greater cut of earnings (85%)
  • They create file formats which work for anyone with a computer - no need to restrict your audience to people with Amazon Kindles (or any other particular hardware) 

There a good rundown of how the process works here: http://www.smashwords.com/about/how_to_publish_on_smashwords

I publish with smashwords and am very happy with them. If your manuscript is simply structured (eg. all the chapters start with the word “Chapter”) or you have MS Word and follow their detailed by simple instructions for formatting, I think their conversion process is as good as any other.

If you are not a US resident, you’ll need a US International Taxpayer Identification Number to sell on Amazon or smashwords. It took me a few months to get mine, so apply early. You can get the application form here[pdf] and more information at the IRS.


Oy. Among self-publishing circles, this is the topic with the most discussion and the least agreement. Here’s what I can tell you: most of my books are prices at $2.99 USD. A new release I start out at $4.99 and reduce when the next one is coming soon. My first novel is priced at 99¢, but is also available for free download at various sites. I plan to reduce the price on the first book in my series to 99¢ when the third book is released in 2012.

Some people argue that pricing your book “too low” means that readers expect it to be schlock. Others argue that a low barrier to purchase means more sales/readers, and there’s a whole school of thought about the 99¢ ebook -  there are forums and websites solely devoted to free and 99¢ Kindle books.

Ebooks of novels published by the big 6 traditional houses are priced all over the place, many over $15-20. The consensus among ebook readers seems to be that it’s too high and I agree. I don’t buy an ebook priced over $8 and $5 or less is my sweet spot. I’m quite cheap, though, so not a good bellwether.

This is a hard question and I don’t have the answer. If you figure it out, please tell me. How you price your book depends a lot on the answers to the next question:

What is your goal?

If you’re trying to make a living as a writer, the above probably isn’t the best way to go. The traditional route of agent -> traditional publisher will probably net you more money if you’re successful and build a career. However, few people are, in fact, successful at building a career that way. 

If you just want people to read your work, you might do better releasing the novel for free on sites like Feedbooks.com and manybooks.net. I released my first novel on those sites and have had over 30,000 downloads on one site alone, plus dozens of excellent reviews. I probably got a few paying fans that way. I definitely got paying fans by releasing the books as a free audiobook download, but that’s a lot of work. If it sounds fun, look at the guidelines for authors at podiobooks.com.

If you’re looking to make a non-living career out of writing (my own goal - it’s never going to pay the bills, but it pays for itself with a bit left over), then going the pay-for ebook release is a good choice. You do need to be aware that just making the book available will not bring you readers. You need to find ways to let people know about it - get interviewed on podcasts about the kind of thing you write, get recommended by similar writers etc. 

Podcasting the audiobooks through podiobooks.com got me most of my fans, with word of mouth next on the list. The marketing part is the aspect of the process I find most difficult, and there are several better resources than me to look at for that information. I recommend ePublish Unum and The Self Publishing Review as places to get started. 

The executive summary is this:

  • Think seriously about what you want out of this endeavour
  • Honestly determine what you can and cannot do yourself
  • Determine how you can get paid
  • Consider using smashwords.com
  • Try to find a way a way to get your ISBNs for free

Filed under self-publishing ebooks

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KDP Select - Nothing Good for Indie Authors

Recently, Amazon.com announced its KDP Select program. This allows authors who publish ebooks directly in Amazon’s Kindle Store to enrol their books in Amazon’s Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. According to Amazon “[t]he Kindle Owners’ Lending Library is a collection of books that Amazon Prime members who own a kindle can borrow once a month, with no due dates.”

Books that are borrowed would earn a share of a fixed pool of funds. In December 2011, the fund is $500,000. Amazon explains it thusly:

Your share of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library Fund is calculated based on a share of the total number of qualified borrows of all participating KDP titles. For example, if the monthly fund amount is $500,000 and the total qualified borrows of all participating KDP titles is 100,000 in December and if your book was borrowed 1,500 times, you will earn 1.5% (1,500/100,000 = 1.5%), or $7,500 in December. (from the FAQ)

Sounds pretty great, right? I thought so, too, and was all ready to enrol my three Kindle titles in the program. Until I read the fine print: “When you choose KDP Select for a book, you’re committing to make the digital format of that book available exclusively through KDP. During the period of exclusivity, you cannot distribute your book digitally anywhere else, including on your website, blogs, etc.”

From the Terms and Conditions:

Exclusivity. When you include a Digital Book in KDP Select, you give us the exclusive right to sell and distribute your Digital Book in digital format while your book is in KDP Select. During this period of exclusivity, you cannot sell or distribute, or give anyone else the right to sell or distribute, your Digital Book (or content that is reasonably likely to compete commercially with your Digital Book, diminish its value, or be confused with it), in digital format in any territory where you have rights.

So you are stuck with Amazon’s Kindle Store as the only place the digital copy of your book may appear. All those readers who don’t use Kindles or Kindle software have no way to access your book. Worse, still, all those readers who live somewhere not services by the Kindle Store, have no way to read your ebook. So, even if you want to sell (or give away) your book in Switzerland, where Amazon’s Kindle Store does not operate, you can’t.

"But," you ask, "everyone uses Amazon, right? And there’s Kindle software for everything, PCs, Macs, smartphones, tablets. Who cares if I only sell on Amazon?"

Maybe you don’t care that you are forcing your readers to use only Kindle products. Maybe you don’t care that all those potential fans who already use other technologies will never see your book.

"What potential fans?" you say.

Well, according to Publishers Weekly, a recently study indicated that Amazon had 38% of the ebook market and its market share was dropping. Indeed, a reduction in market share is a fine reason for them to introduce this kind of program.

Let’s say that study is out or date, or just plain wrong. Let’s say Amazon actually has 50% market share. By making your books exclusively available on Amazon, participants in the KDP Select program are losing half their potential sales in exchange for the mere inclusion of their books in a list of books which include bestsellers by well known authors. The real potential for income generation by inclusion in the Select program has yet to be seen, but the cost is clear: the readers from all those other sales channels. 

There’s no doubt in my mind that Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program is overall a great boon to independent authors, but it seems evident to me that the KDP Select program is a net loss to independent authors who publish ebooks. 

Think before you click Enrol.

Filed under amazon kindle kdp

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IndieGoGo Campaign Update

Almost halfway there!

The fundraising campaign for the release of The Beauty of Our Weapons is almost halfway funded. I’m busy working on layout, editing and getting everything ready for the print versions and I’m hoping to have a preliminary cover design to show you all soon.

One of the limited rewards just got snapped up, so if you had your eye on one, you’d better get on it.

Thanks everyone for contributing and sharing this campaign. I appreciate all the support thrown my way.

If you haven’t taken a look at the fundraising campaign yet, check it out at IndieGoGo for pre-orders, limited edition hardcovers and other goodies.

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Help Me Release My Next Book

I’m going to be releasing my newest book, The Beauty of Our Weapons, in early 2012. To help fund the release, I’m raising money through IndieGoGo.

Please go take a look at the campaign and fund it if you can. There are great goodies for all contributions, including pre-release copies of the book in all the formats I usually publish.

And please pass it on. Even if you can’t contribute, please post on all the social media sites you use. The more exposure I get, the more successful this will be. 


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Nothing Exists in a Vacuum

Recently, we celebrated the third anniversary of leaving Canada. It’s not that we’re particularly happy to not be living in Canada - rather, we miss the places and people all the time. But instead we were celebrating the three years of traveling the world, testing our limits and living the Big Adventure of living on a small (relative to the grand expanse of the ocean) sailboat.

It’s been a fabulous experience, but we both feel like it’s time to slow down. We aren’t necessarily giving up cruising, but we want a bit of a normal life for a while. So when we get to New Zealand this spring (fall, for you northern hemisphere folks), we plan to stick around for a while.

One of the reasons that this is a compelling choice for me, is that I really miss having an in-person writing community. I am well connected with other writers via the internet, and feel like I have a very supportive online community. But I often miss the meetings I had with the critique group I was involved with back in Canada, and am really looking forward to participating in the vibrant artistic community alive in New Zealand.

I’m already a member of SpecFicNZ, though I never managed to make a meetup when we were there last year. I’m hoping to remedy that situation in 2012, and also hope to possibly attend one of the Spec Fic conferences.

While writing is fundamentally a solitary activity, it doesn’t have to be a lonely one. I’m looking forward to connecting with new colleagues in an active scene in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Filed under specficnz writing travel

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I’m an Alien

[This was originally published as a guest post on John Mierau’s blog]

Alien 2

(photo by rarebeasts)

As I write this, I have been an alien for over three years. I’m a Canadian, but I’ve been in Canada for fewer than two of the past 36 months. I live on a sailboat and since 2008 I’ve been traveling the world about as fast as a dog can run. Sometimes it seems hard to believe.

But all authors spend much of their lives as foreigners. In our stories we, like our readers, are visitors to the fictional lands we’ve created. But unlike our readers, we authors are the tour guides and as such we have to pay attention to the little things that the locals take for granted.

We need to spend some time in our stories, finding the best grocery stores, figuring out the local transit system and poking our noses into that hole in the wall eatery in the sketchy part of town. Each story is an opportunity for cultural exchange between the world we live in and the world of our characters.

Editor extraordinaire Ben Bova wrote, in the must-read The Craft Of Writing Science Fiction That Sells:

"Your job as a writer is to make the reader live in your story. You must make the reader forget that he is sitting in a rather uncomfortable chair, squinting at the page in poor light, while all sorts of distractions poke at him. You want your reader to believe that he is actually in the world of your imagination, the world you have created, climbing up that mountain you’ve written about, struggling against the cold and ice to find the treasure that you planted up at the peak."

Writers all know that the key to writing success is best distilled as “butt in chair.” But there’s more to writing great stories than just pounding away at the keyboard. If you want to create a world in your story that is more real to the reader than her own comfy reading chair, you need to get away from the keyboard every once in a while and interact with the real world, especially the parts of the world that are strange. At least, strange to you.

Whether you write mainstream young adult fiction, warm-hearted Christian romance or hard SF space opera, you can get ideas for settings, plots and characters from engaging with people and places that are unfamiliar to you. Visiting a foreign country (or even a foreign part of your own town) can open your eyes to new ways of living, to new styles of dress or culture and to new people.

My attraction to travel is, perhaps oddly for a writer, based more on seeing new places than meeting new people. The humbling solitude of sailing the wide open sea of the Pacific, craning my neck to follow a tropic bird soaring past the peaks of Polynesia, listening to the endless animal song in the jungles of Central America — these are the rewards I seek from a life on the move. But, even so, I know that those places that were the most wonderful of all I’ve visited were made that way as much by the people I met there as by the grandeur of the landscape.

Fiction writing is all about character. Settings, especially in science fiction and fantasy, are incredibly important, but without the characters we love to live through, all that worldbuilding is meaningless. If we want to write compelling stories, we need compelling characters in compelling situations. And travel, at its best and its worst, puts us in a position of meeting all kinds of characters.

Many of the people I’ve met along the way have found their ways into my stories — a turn of phrase here, a hair-raising anecdote there. I’ve learned that the more people I meet, from as diverse backgrounds as possible, the better and more real my characters have become. Plus, people tell wonderful stories about their lives and their homes. Just as a writer must be a reader, a storyteller must be a storylistener as well.

The places I’ve visited and the people I’ve met there don’t show up unadulterated in my stories. I don’t have a story about spending 30 hours on a dilapidated bus in South America and I don’t have a novel set in the ancient Mayan capital of Tikal. But those adventures have given me ideas which do appear in my stories, disguised by the veil of fiction but made more real because of my experience.

This is what fiction writers ultimately do — distill the kernels of their own experiences into stories that, even though they never factually occurred, expose a core human truth. 

I have the great fortune of having spent over three years as a full-time traveler, but you don’t need to sail a boat half way around the world to see new places and meet new people. Go for lunch with a co-worker you hardly know. Take a bus to the nearest city or small town. Visit a different church or take in a public lecture at the local college. Expose yourself to something different; don’t be afraid to be the stranger in the room.

Travel doesn’t have to mean expensive vacations. Travel means encountering that which is different with an open mind and a true willingness to learn about something new. And after all, isn’t exposing us to different lives and different worlds what great stories do?