Monday, July 25, 2011

Blog And Website Consolidated

As the launch of King of Paine approaches, I concluded that my website needed a facelift. I converted from a clumsy Microsoft FrontPage98 site to a sleeker Wordpress version, which will now do double duty as the host for my blog. I was able to transfer posts and comments over to the new site, and I hope you will bookmark my website and continue to check in from time to time. The address is I've added a couple of promotions and some fun "Reader Extras": "Getting Inside The Mind Of A Madman," an interview with me and Frank Paine, the star of King of Paine; an interview from 2000 in connection with the launch of The Jinx; a historical summary of the 20-Year Jinx; and the full text of one of my favorite reviews of The Jinx, by a guy who "got" everything I was trying to say.

Thanks for following!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Deficits, Taxes & Shared Pain

I'm not an economist, but I played one in college--well enough to know that if you put 100 economists in a room, you'll get at least a dozen inconsistent theories (and the makings for a really exciting cocktail party!). I believe there is no economic basis for choosing between spending cuts and tax increases. As Matt Dowd pointed out on This Week today, there is no empirical evidence for favoring either. Any hit to economic growth will occur as a result of eliminating debt financing itself, regardless of the source of deficit reduction. The real issue is purely political: who will bear the inevitable pain and when? If we don't deal with the deficit now, the pain will be deeper and more widespread when America's financiers ratchet up rates and the federal low-interest debt bubble bursts.

I could rail forever about these issues, but I will keep my main points brief:

1. Tying deficit reduction to the debt ceiling is stupid. I don't even know why the debt ceiling exists. The need to borrow inevitably flows from a failure to collect enough revenue to pay approved expenses. There should not be a second vote required to pay the bills after the government has already approved the expense in the annual budget. The Republicans' use of the solvency of the United States of America to extort fiscal policy initiatives they could not pass during budget negotiations should be a criminal offense.

2. The federal government must find a more mature way to compromise now to achieve the deficit reduction everybody agrees must occur. We are borrowing money at zero interest to finance current expenses, but unless we magically return to a budget surplus, that debt will have to be refinanced in the future, inevitably at higher interest rates. We are building a federal debt bubble that is exactly like the home mortgage bubble. The Fed is creating a gigantic adjustable-rate mortgage on America's future, and when China and Japan insist on higher rates, the bubble will explode. The United States will not default; it will use powers no homeowner has in his arsenal: the government will either raise taxes dramatically or print money, triggering massive inflation. Inflation is the equivalent of a tax on wealth, and Americans' real net worth will plummet. So take the pain now and cut the deficit, or take the pain later through massive inflation. There will be pain.

3. The only real deficit reduction question is who will bear the pain, and the obvious answer is everybody. Whether senior citizens have to pay more out of pocket to cover their medical care or basic needs or higher income Americans pay more taxes, that money will be removed from the economy and is likely to have similar impact on economic growth. Intuitively, it seems to me that there would be a greater impact from taking money away from poor and middle class people because they would surely have spent the money, whereas the wealthy are more likely to stash it in a savings account where it won't stimulate any growth (especially when banks are afraid to lend). (I never understood the argument that taxing a doctor, lawyer, major league athlete or pop star at 39% instead of 35% would somehow impair job creation.)

But even if we assume every dollar has the same impact on economic growth, there is no difference between a domestic spending cut and a tax increase. The decision is pure political jockeying among representatives of different interest groups, the rich, the middle class, the poor, and the elderly. My thoughts on wealth distribution have been documented in a prior post: Wealth Distribution, The Law of the Jungle, & Seeds of Revolution. But in the spirit of compromise, surely any reasonable solution will include some combination of spending cuts and tax increases.

4. Republicans are saying President Obama has not presented a specific plan. Well, presenting the specifics would be kind of pointless when the Republican position has been that they will not compromise no matter what details are presented. That said, the President supports the report of the bipartisan deficit reduction panel (Erskine-Bowles) which presents numerous options to choose from to reach different levels of deficit reduction. When the Republicans show up ready to compromise on taxes, both sides can pick their pain right off the Erskine-Bowles menu. If they don't compromise, the massive inflation triggered by the bursting of the debt bubble in a few years will destroy all that wealth they're protecting so vehemently, anyway.

What's your opinion?

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Self-publisher Sells 1 Million Kindle Books--Now What?

Follow the link below to Mike Shatzkin's blog about John  Locke's options after being the first self-publisher to sell one million Kindle books. The debate in the commentary between Shatzkin and Joe Konrath, another astonishingly successful self-publisher of fiction, is worth a read by anyone interested in the future of the publishing industry.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Tax Hike!!!!

My wife, Ellie, and I watch the Sunday morning news shows religiously each week. We usually remain fairly civil, even in the privacy of our own living room, but nobody brings out the wrath of the Kahns like Mitch McConnell, who was interviewed on This Week today. No matter how many times or how aggressively that man is asked to state what the Republicans are willing to give up to compromise on a deficit reduction solution, he refuses to budge on raising revenues, decrying any "tax hike" as inconsistent with economic growth.
Let's get real here, people. If we cut the deficit, some class of citizens will bear the burden of the cuts, whether through increased taxes or increased payments for vital services formerly subsidized by the government. There will be a hit to economic growth either way. The debate is not over how much pain there will be--politicians seem to agree on the general parameters of the deficit cuts--it is over who will bear it.

The bipartisan deficit reduction panel came up with recommendations that provided a fairly reasonable balance between spending cuts and revenue increases. The Democrats have embraced this compromise and are negotiating how cuts in Medicare and Social Security can most fairly be delivered. They will probably agree to some form of means testing and/or deferral of eligibility. As a result, elderly middle class and wealthy citizens will be required to reach into their pockets and spend their own wealth on what used to be subsidized by the government, whether to pay health insurance premiums or retirement expenses. How is that any different than an increase in taxes on the elderly?

Yet Senator McConnell continues to repeat the idiotic mantra "what we have is a spending problem, not a revenue problem." Actually, Mitch, what we have is a mismatch between spending and revenues. That mismatch can be erased by cutting spending, increasing revenues, or--here's an idea--some reasonable combination of both.

Let's take the political slogans out of this deficit crisis and approach the problem honestly and reasonably. The compromises are not hard to find if we agree that we need to come up with $4 trillion and that we all need to bear some pain.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Designing Your Print Book Interior

My e-book version of KING OF PAINE is now proofread and substantially complete. The extra proofreading run on my Nook was well worth the time, as I discovered over a dozen minor errors (one proof resistant typo, added an extra 't' in 'Scarlet,' failed to capitalize 'Social Security' (twice!) and miscellaneous formatting issues because of the small screens on e-readers). When I'm ready to put the book online, all I need to do is create separate versions for Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords (minor differences in front matter). As promised, here are links to the pages on those sites that provide instructions for preparing and submitting your files:

While I hope readers will join the e-book revolution and buy my low-priced e-book online, I understand there will always be a market for print books. Accordingly, I plan to publish a trade paperback edition of KING OF PAINE using print on demand technology. There are three ways to take advantage of POD to avoid inventory management problems:

1. Design your own book and purchase inventory from a printer like Lightning Press and arrange your own distribution. You can buy books in modest volumes as needed, but you'll have to establish relationships with the major wholesalers (Ingram and Baker & Taylor at a minimum) if you want bookstores and libraries to be able to order your books. The online booksellers will be able to order from the wholesalers, too, or you can set up a direct relationship. You'll have to pay for shipping and deal with returns (the book biz operates on a consignment model). The good news is that you can create your own imprint and operate as an independent small press, potentially opening up opportunities for mainstream reviews, book clubs, etc., if your the type who dares to dream.

2. Publish your book through a full-service company that designs your book for a fee and offers sales, distribution and marketing assistance at extra cost (like iUniverse). I think these services are too pricy, and the publishing industry views them as vanity presses. They operate on a business model that maximizes profits by churning out a high volume of titles and is not so concerned about selling a high volume of each title. But people use them, so they must have redeeming qualities. Research them at your own peril.

3. Design your own book and publish/distribute at lower cost through a company that offers a no-frills option for experienced hands as well as an array of services for novices (like Amazon's CreateSpace and Lulu). These services allow you to publish under your own imprint or theirs, the main differences being (1) the higher cost of obtaining your own ISBN's from Bowker, and (2) the better optics to the book industry of appearing independent. At least at CreateSpace, for some reason you need to use their ISBN's to take advantage of their expanded distribution service to libraries. You have the option of using their distribution channels and receiving residual royalties after subtracing production costs plus distributor discount or buying books and selling them yourself. The production cost of my book at CreateSpace would be $5.21 per copy. Distribution discounts run up to 60% of the retail price, so I'd have to price above $13 to earn any royalties. Online retailers would probably discount.  

I'm a hands-on type of guy, so I decided to teach myself how to design a book. Yesterday, I put in a solid 15-hour day and completed the interior design for KING OF PAINE. Next up will be tweaking my cover to fit it to a 6x9 trade paperback (my work with my graphic artist colleague so far has focused on creating the e-book cover). I'll report on my cover design efforts in a later post. Today I'll walk you through the interior design.

My starting point was my clean, proofread Word DOC file that I created for the e-book version. It was formatted using Styles and Formatting, primarily the "Normal" style, which was single-spaced, Times New Roman 12 pt, with .2" first line indents (I changed it from .25" while modifying my file for e-readers). Chapter headings were spelled out (e.g., "Chapter One") and formatted using a Header style: Times New Roman 24 pt., bold, italic, centered, no indent. A few pages of front matter were uniquely formatted.

The first thing I did was set my margins and page size for trade paperback settings. Then, by using Styles and Formats, I was able to experiment with several different looks for the finished book simply by modifying the Normal style. Changes automatically carry through the entire document and can easily be reversed. I tried a few different fonts (Garamond, Bookman, Palatino), but settled on Georgia (it was on my mind). I ran a draft at 11 pt. with a 13.5 leading (instead of single space), but liked the look better at 10 pt (and saved about 30 cents per unit of printing cost by dropping my page count). More on this in a minute because I did a few other tasks before settling on the smaller font (big mistake).

I converted my chapter headings next, deleting the word "Chapter" and adding section breaks at the end of each chapter. I also changed the font to Georgia and removed the bold from the style. It's good to use "chapter" in your ebook formatting because many e-readers look for it in creating a table of contents for navigation, but I like the cleaner look without it for print. The section breaks are necessary to supress headers and footers on the first page of each chapter. It was the first time I used sections in Word, and there was a learning curve.

Footers were easy--I don't use them. The headers turned out to be tricky for the uninitiated. My basic scheme wasn't complicated--no headers on the first page of each chapter, page numbers on the outside corner of each page (left corner on even pages, right corner on odd), author name centered on even pages, title centered on odd. The problem arose when I tried to suppress the headers in my front matter. The solution turned out to be relatively simple, but it took me over an hour to figure it out. I'll spare you the details of failed workarounds and just note the right way to do it. Sections flow from back to front. The default setting is for the headers in each section to be the "same as previous" headers, i.e., those that come from later chapters. There's a button on the header/footer toolbar that pops up when you're viewing headers and footers called "same as previous." I clicked that button for all headers in section 1 (front matter) and 2 (chapter 1), which de-linked them from other sections, allowing me to customize headers in the front matter (i.e., use none).

Headers weren't the only hurdle on my learning curve. I made a few mistakes that cost me quite a bit of time, which I won't do again, and now you won't have to, either. After I got comfortable with my 11 pt. draft, I made two sets of time-consuming changes which I later had to undo and repeat when I switched to 10 pt.

Most printed books are justified. Justification creates some occasional ugliness (gaps mid-line) which can usually be corrected manually by breaking up long words in neighboring lines with hyphens. You should hold off on doing this until all other formatting is complete. I didn't get all the way through the draft before I got wise, but when I switched to the smaller font I had to search for all my new hyphens and delete them, which was quite tedious because I had to slog through all the normal hyphens, too. Argh!

The second gaffe was adding a nice drop cap to the first letter of each chapter (76 of them). It looked pretty. But then when I switched from 11pt to 10pt font, the drop cap didn't adjust and was just a hair off (I needed 31pt vs. 32pt). Maybe I could have left it, but I obsess over these things. It took me over an hour to undo the original drop caps and replace them anew. Don't do that.

Here's a link to my style sheet for KING OF PAINE, which provides complete settings for my 6x9 trade paperback. Experiment with different style settings for fun, but this will give you something to start with to make the task less daunting. You can save a few hundred bucks, and it's fun creating your own book once you get the hang of it.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Converting a Word File to E-book Format

In yesterday's post, I chronicled how I cleaned up the manuscript for KING OF PAINE in preparation for e-book publication. In this one I'll show you how I converted the document to e-book format for free.

I should note that you can take your Word document file and have it converted for you at, using their Meatgrinder technology. Besides offering ebooks in all formats directly on their own site, Smashwords also offers distribution to many other online booksellers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, and SONY, among others. You can opt out of distribution to any particular bookseller if you prefer to upload your title for sale directly. Each bookseller has their own procedure for file conversion and uploading. Each one also has slightly different preferences for front matter and links, etc.

I prefer to convert my file to various ebook formats myself for a couple of reasons. First, I don't want to upload my file for sale unless I'm sure it's going to look great. I like to convert to EPUB and MOBI format first and review the output on my Nook and in Amazon's free Kindle for PC software. That way I can make tweaks without going through a lengthy online reconversion process and without worrying that someone may download an error-ridden version while I'm proofing and reconverting. Second, I want to coordinate my online and print publication dates, and converting to e-book format allows me to confirm my formatting is clean before creating a print version. Doing repetitive error corrections on multiple versions of a document is a waste of time. Finally, I can share my e-book with my final beta readers or, if lucky, prepublication reviewers, before going live online.

The first step is to convert the Word file into html format. Click on "File," then "Save As..." and then change the "Save As Type" in the pop-up window to "Web Page, Filtered." (When I converted THE JINX a couple of months ago I didn't know to use the "Filtered" format, and the result was a mess that I wasted a day fiddling with.) I like to do a quick scroll through the html document to look for obvious formatting errors. I found three yesterday and corrected them in the original DOC file, then reconverted. For a compulsive legal type, that was an hour well spent.

The next step is to obtain conversion software. I use the Calibre ebook management software, which is open source and can be downloaded free at

After opening the Calibre program, I clicked "Add Books" at the top left. A "Select books" window appeared, and I navigated to the HTML file I had created for KING OF PAINE and stored on my hard drive. The software took a couple of minutes to load the file.

I then clicked on the next button at the top, "Edit Metadata." This is where you can add author and title information, a cover image, and a description. Click "OK" at the bottom left when finished.

Then I selected "Convert Books" from the top row of buttons. There are many options that can be varied using the tools on the left panel, but I just used the defaults. The only setting I use is at the top right, "Output Format."  You can choose EPUB (B&N, Apple, most e-readers), MOBI (Kindle), PDF, among other formats. I selected EPUB and then hit "OK" on the bottom right. The file converted in less than a minute. I ran "Convert Books" again to create a version in MOBI format.

After the conversions were completed, I made sure KING OF PAINE was selected in the main window and then clicked "Save To Disk" at the top. A pop-up window allowed me to choose a destination for the files, which were saved in multiple formats in a folder with the author name.

I did a quick formatting check in my e-reading software (see my earlier post on free e-readers for the PC if you don't have a standalone e-reader), which quickly disclosed a few glitches in the way I had formatted the front matter. I also didn't like the way some one-off indenting looked in the e-reader and realized I had selected too many words to include in ALL CAPS at the beginnings of several chapters. I quickly made changes in my original, re-saved my HTML version, and re-ran Calibre.

I will spend some time over the next few days reading my revised version more carefully on my Nook for sentence level formatting errors (for example, lost italics or bold). It will also serve as one last proofread before I set out to format the book for the print version. In my next post, I'll jump ahead and briefly show you how to upload an e-book to a few key online distributors/booksellers.

Friday, June 3, 2011

How To Publish Your Own Book At Zero Cost

 In an earlier post, I wrote about the wealth of free and cheap material available for readers. Starting today, I'm going to show you how you can publish your own material--a novel, memoir, short stories, poems, cookbook, how-to book, family history, or whatever--at little or no cost. I'll do that by describing exactly what I do to take KING OF PAINE from finished manuscript to e-book and trade paperback.

Over the past ten years the barriers to becoming a published author have been breaking down. When Redfield Publishers, an imprint formed by my wife and I, published THE JINX in 2000, on-demand publishing was in its infancy, and the poor quality of the output made it an unattractive option. We worked with a top quality graphics designer, Rivanne Advertising, and book printer, Maple-Vail, to produce a hardcover book with jacket. We did an initial print run of 3,000 books at a cost of about $5 per book. When that sold out within a couple of months, we ordered a second run of 3,000 books at a cost of about $4 per book (lower cost  because we used most of the same plates). Unfortunately, though, the publishing model works on a consignment basis, and returns from the big box bookstores began to come in at about the same pace as new orders, so we were left sitting with a large inventory of books when THE JINX ran through its six-month shelf life.

Today, if you're a hands on computer user--not necessarily a desktop publishing whiz--you can create an e-book at low cost (you might want to shell out a little cash for a professionally designed book cover). With a little more perseverance and work you can even have your book printed on-demand for free (the print service takes its fees out of gross proceeds from sales), with no minimum purchase requirement--so no inventory! Marketing a self-published work is a topic I'll cover in a later post (and no small problem, although marketing a commercially published book is not much easier).

Your first step is to produce a first-rate manuscript, thoroughly edited and proofread. It should be in Microsoft Word file format. The 106,000-word manuscript for KING OF PAINE came in at about 425 double-spaced pages. It contained only a title page and the story, with traditional headers and footers.

It took me less than eight hours yesterday to reformat the manuscript for e-book conversion. Here are the steps I took, most of which were gleaned from The Smashwords  Style Guide, a free publication:

1. I deleted the title page and added traditional front and back matter--(a) praise for my first novel, THE JINX, (b) title page with the book name and byline, (c) copyright page, (d) dedication, (e) author bio, and (f) acknowledgments. I did not worry about formatting yet.

2. I searched for formatting glitches that would not be visible in a typical proofreading session. Some of these modifications are good practice for preparing a manuscript for any form of publication, others are more important for e-book conversion because e-readers can create unexpected (and ugly) results if the format isn't perfect.

            a. The first "find and replace" I did was for extra spaces. I do this by entering two spaces in the "find" field and one space in the "replace" field. This will still leave you with multiple spaces if you have more than two to begin with, so after the first "replace all" you might want to just do a "find" for extra spaces to see why they're still there. You might have used the spacebar for formatting, a definite no-no.

            b. I did a similar drill for extra paragraph marks. You generally should not use extra paragraph marks (the "enter" key) to format text. Don't separate paragraphs with an extra line. We'll use the space before and after functions in Format/Paragraph to align text when we get to formatting.

            c. I went to Format/Autoformat/Options and turned off everything except replace straight quotes with smart quotes. Then I ran Autoformat. Smart quotes look better.

            d. I searched for three periods and replaced each one with ellipses. E-readers can produce irregular formatting if they find multiple periods. There may be an automated way to do this in more modern versions of Word, but in my version I replaced each one by hand with Insert/Symbols/Special Characters. (If you use autoformat when typing, most of the time you enter three periods, Word will automatically convert to ellipses.)

            e. I searched for two hyphens and auto-replaced with an em dash.

            f. I removed all tabs. E-readers hate tabs. We'll use Paragraph/Indent to format normal paragraphs. I had to figure out a work-around for a special format I had used to emulate instant messaging conversations. The work-around actually looked better, even in print. More on this below.

            g. I removed all headers and footers.

3. After I was comfortable that my electronic text was pristine, I reformatted the entire manuscript using Format/Styles and Formatting. I knew I would have to go back and alter the format of front and back matter and chapter headers (and possibly unique to me, the special IM format), but to me it was easier than going through the text page by page and choosing how to format each paragraph.

            a. I opened Format/Styles and Formatting and modified the "Normal" style. I chose Times New Roman font, 12 point, Left Alignment (don't Justify), Indent, First Line .25" (instead of using tabs to paragraph), Line Spacing: single. I removed widow/orphan protection and all other functions that were already defined in Normal.

            b. I tested how "Normal" would work on a paragraph that had special font effects, like bold and italics. Make sure your version of Word is configured to preserve these effects when you apply a style.

            c. I did an Edit/Select All and applied the Normal style to the entire document.

            d. Next, I went to work on formatting my chapter headings. I decided to spell out the chapter numbers, so I typed those in by hand on a first pass (using Edit/Find to quickly get me to each "Chapter"). Then I created a new style called "Heading, Chapter." It was based on Normal, but changed the font size to 14 pt., Center Alignment, Bold and Italics, Indent, first line 0", Space Before: 18pt, Space After 18 pt. On the next pass through the document, I inserted a manual page break (Control/Enter) at the end of each chapter and then applied the new Heading, Chapter style to the next chapter heading.

            e. As a matter of personal taste, I changed the case of the first few words in each chapter to uppercase. A bold drop cap looks good in a print version, but some e-distributors won't accept them in an e-book.

            f. I created a new style for my IM format and applied it where necessary. This took a lot of time for me, but you will not have to deal with it if you keep away from unusual formatting.

            g. On my next pass, I created a new style "Asterisk Break" which I used to separate paragraphs in the text where I had a sharp break in the setting or point of view. I typed in three asterisks separated by a single space and then applied the style (no first line indent, centered, 6pt space before and after).

            h. Finally, I reformatted the front and back matter to my taste.

4. I skimmed through the reformatted document and looked for obvious errors, then ran Spellchecker.

I'm starting work today with a clean, well-formatted document that's probably ready for conversion to e-book format. I'll review The Smashwords Style Guide one more time to see if I forgot anything (I haven't reread it since I converted THE JINX a couple of months ago). Then I'll convert my file and tell you how I did it in tomorrow's post.

I also already have a book cover image, which I will include in my e-book. I worked with one of the members of my writers group, Michael Mollick, to produce the image you see in the right column here. I worked out a barter arrangement with Michael, a professional designer, but you can make your own for free or hire someone for a modest investment. If you want to market your book, a well-designed cover is an important tool.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

King of Paine Publication Date

As chronicled here and on my website, I've been struggling with the decision to self-publish KING OF PAINE, my second novel, or slog through the process of finding an agent and then a commercial publisher. I half-heartedly sent out a few query letters earlier this year, and one agent requested the full manuscript to review in February. I'm still on her reading pile, or not, and the fact that I don't really care tells me I've already decided to self-publish (although a breathless call with a six-figure advance would probably change that--how's that for "daring to dream"?). I'm making it official here and setting a target publication date of July 15th.

I'm not going to whine here any more about dire publishing economics. The bottom line is that winning the commercial publishing lottery is not the bonanza many people think. Advances for debut authors are small, publishers expect the author to do all the marketing, time to publication is about two years, and shelf life is only two months. If I publish the book myself primarily as an e-book, I keep most of the sales proceeds (allowing me to price the book attractively for my readers), I still do all my own marketing, time to publication is almost instant, and shelf life is forever. (I will also have a trade paperback version of KING OF PAINE available for readers who prefer a hard copy, but printing and distribution costs will force me to price it higher.)

The biggest reason to go through the commercial process is prestige, which I do not discount lightly. I don't want you to think less of me or my book because it's self-published. I want you to buy my book and love it and recommend it to your friends proudly. Here's a few reasons why you should take a chance on me and select KING OF PAINE as one of the limited number of books you'll choose this year:

1. I self-published THE JINX in 2000 and received excellent reviews from many highly-respected sources, including Publishers Weekly and The Legal Times. See my website for review clips. As you might expect, I've learned much about the writing craft over the past eleven years, and I hope this shows in my second effort.

2. Despite the admittedly uneven quality of self-published works, KING OF PAINE is an intricately-plotted, well-edited book. I've work-shopped it ad nauseum with my writers group (ask them!) and have produced over a dozen drafts, even changing my main character midstream after winning an honorable mention in a prestigious novel contest. I take my writing seriously and, to quote Randy Jackson from American Idol, I'm in it to win it--honorable mention doesn't cut it.

3. You'll love the characters and plot. Poor Ben Kravner's bumbling passion played well as a neophyte legal eagle in THE JINX, but he came off a bit bland as a rookie FBI agent in the second book. So I went to the opposite extreme. Frank Paine is an ex-Hollywood stud with a kinky past, not your traditional Special Agent. He's flawed--a recovering sex addict who hurt the woman he loved--but his quest for redemption is littered with roadblocks--Bureau colleagues who shun him because of his celebrity, a vengeful ex-girlfriend, and a ruthless stalker who uses Frank's past transgressions to ensnare him in an erotic cat-and-mouse death match. Frank's history and flaws make the sexy story work, and I think you'll enjoy the intricate web of twists and turns that lead to a shocking climax. The clues are there, but I dare you to solve the mystery before Frank does...if he even lives to do it.

4. I'm going to make it easy for you to buy the book. My plan is to price the e-book at $2.99, well below the price of commercially-published e-books. I'll get about 80% of the proceeds as royalties compared to the 10% or so I'd get from a commercial publisher on hardcovers, so I can afford to share the wealth with you.

5. To run with the revolutionary theme of this blog, this is your chance to stick it to The Man. The commercial publishers and their lackeys guard the gates to publication with a privileged attitude. They are the self-selected few who decide what you read. With the advent of e-books and low-cost self-publishing, you can decide what to read and force publishers to compete in the wild and ultimately reduce prices to more reasonable levels. Damn The Man!

My hope is that many of you will take a chance on me, buy KING OF PAINE, love it and tell all your friends to read it, too. Successes in the book industry only comes about by word-of-mouth, and I'd truly appreciate the chance to earn your support when my novel goes live next month. Stay tuned, and thank you.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Kindle Library Lending Program

Demonstrating my incredible influence in the publishing industry, less than a week after I endorsed the Nook Color over the Kindle in part because of the Nook's access to free library ebooks, Amazon has announced a library lending program for the Kindle. Here's a link to the announcement: USA Today.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Free Ebook Reader!

No, this is not spam--although it's not a free iPad, either. But it is an invitation to join the ebook revolution at zero cost, using your existing electronic equipment. Free software programs by reputable providers are available to turn your home computer, laptop, netbook or smartphone into an ebook reader, and they work beautifully. In today's post I'll provide links to web pages where you can download the software and also offer some tips on finding free or low-cost ebooks.

Microsoft Reader was the first free ebook reader I noticed, but you'll find Adobe Digital Editions, Amazon's Kindle software, and Barnes and Noble's Nook software offer a more modern and user-friendly look and feel. Any ebooks you purchase for viewing in these programs should be transferable to a stand-alone ebook reader if you later buy or receive one as a gift, although you'll have to make a decision between the incompatible file formats used by the most popular readers. Amazon uses a proprietary .mobi file format for the Kindle, the most popular e-reader, but most others use the .epub format (including Nook, Ipad, Sony, and Kobo, among others).

To avoid investing time or money in ebooks you won't ultimately be able to transfer to an e-reader, consider taking a few minutes to evaluate whether you're likely to prefer the Kindle or Nook experience before downloading a library of ebooks. Consumer Reports recommends both the Kindle and the Nook, but there are advantages and disadvantages to each. So much of this choice is personal, and I suggest you read some reviews and test the readers at the store before deciding, but for me the deciding factors were (a) the Nook's compatibility with free library rentals, (b) the sheer beauty of the Nook Color, and (c) some residual loyalty to Barnes & Noble, which was very supportive of my book tour in 2000. At $249, the Nook Color is about $100 more expensive than each brand's low-cost readers, but it's got an Android touch screen that I found extremely easy to use, and with an impending firmware update it will have access to an app store. I was not nearly as impressed with the regular Nook and have not test-driven a Kindle.

Whichever file format choice you make, free software is available for your PC, Mac, Ipad, or smartphone. Adobe's offering, Digital Editions, is limited to PC and Mac computers, but may be needed if you're interested in borrowing ebooks from your local library (even if you own an ebook reader). Amazon's Kindle and Barnes & Noble's Nook software are available across all platforms. If these links change, just search the Amazon store for "Kindle for PC" or the Barnes & Noble site for "free Nook apps."

New ebook releases by popular authors are generally available in the $8 to $12 range, significantly less expensive than hardcover editions. But ebooks offer mch more. Shopping from your own home, you can sample several chapters of a book for free before making a purchase decision. You can also find many books and short stories offered by authors and independent publishers for free or in the $1 to $3 range at major ebookstores and at Smashwords, which sells ebooks in multiple formats (you can download as many formats as you want for the same price). As I've noted in a prior post, the quality of these independent works varies widely, but the ability to sample for free and sort by customer rankings and download frequency offers some hope of exposing you to great reading material at a reasonable cost. Many previously published midlist authors are exploring independent publishing in these Wild, Wild West days of the revolution, and there's even something to be said for surfing your favorite genre for an undiscovered talent.

Also, check if your local library has started to offer ebooks yet. In the Atlanta area, the Atlanta-Fulton County Public Library has an ebook collection, but the Dekalb County Public Library does not. You can get a nonresident library card at the Atlanta library for $40 per year.

Another fantastic source for free ebook classics is Project Gutenberg, which has digitized works for which the U.S. copyright has expired. You can spend hours browsing or focus on top 100 lists to quickly find popular titles. While most 20th century works are not yet available, you can download historical treatises (Aristotle, Machiavelli, Locke, Rousseau, Voltaire, Nietzsche, Marx) and classic fiction (Austen, Dickens, Melville, Swift, Twain, Wells). I've got enough reading material to last me beyond 2015!

To welcome you personally into the ebook revolution, I'm offering readers of this blog a free digital copy of my first novel, THE JINX (regulary $2.99). Use coupon code NG74R by April 30th to download your copy in epub and/or mobi format at It will look great in your new ebook software!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Wealth Redistribution, The Law of the Jungle & Seeds of Revolution

We look on with hope and concern as revolution breaks out across the Middle East, but as the world's great bastion of democracy we seem to consider ourselves immune from civil unrest. I think that's a mistake. The conservative agenda is planting the seeds of revolution in America, and in a democracy revolution does not require violent rebellion. It simply requires the votes of an oppressed and organized majority.

Unbelievably, conservatives' solution to the looming deficit crisis continues to focus on cutting back social programs for the poor and middle class and leaving marginal tax rates in the highest brackets at historically low levels. Progressive taxation and wealth redistribution have become hot buttons conservatives press to denounce the liberal agenda, equating any interference with free market forces with socialism, an evil so obvious it requires no further argument. But attacks on wealth "redistribution" imply that the starting point is a "correct" distribution brought about by free markets, and my question for laissez faire capitalists is this: "Why do you only object to restraints on liberty that diminish your wealth?"

We are a society of laws that create the environment for wealth creation. Property rights do not exist in nature--there are no laws in the jungle, and without laws there are no property rights, and without property there can be no wealth. The right to own property to the exclusion of others is bestowed by governments--the people, in a democracy--as a way to maintain order and encourage productivity. It is the most fundamental right in a capitalist society.

Yet this fundamental right is itself an enormous restraint on liberty. In the jungle, "ownership" of property exists only for so long as it can be defended against others. The grant of property rights by law is thus the greatest redistribution of wealth in the history of mankind, shifting the natural right to possess land or things from the most powerful (whether by physical strength, weaponry or the ability to amass forces) to those who stake valid legal claims (the intelligent and crafty?). While this is a sound way to organize a productive society, let's not pretend there are not winners and losers; let's not pretend the baseline chosen by conservatives as the "correct" distribution is one produced by natural forces.

Laws are contracts among men, and no man would willingly enter a contract against self interest. In fact, even the law generally renders contracts entered into under duress unenforceable. It follows, then, that when men subject themselves to laws created at the societal level, there must be something of value exchanged in return. In the social contract that forms the basis of any government, I'd argue that the value received by the masses is equal opportunity and a safety net (defined by the relative wealth of the society) for those whose abilities do not permit them to compete effectively for a fair share of resources. Is a minimum quality of life for the masses--who have given up their freedom to take whatever nature offers--too great a price for the wealthy to pay for (relatively) free markets, which do not exist in nature?

The American conservative movement is trying to renegotiate this social contract at a time when resources have become increasingly concentrated in the hands of the few. The top 1% of households own about 35% of the national wealth; the top 20% control about 85% of wealth. (If you have net worth above $500,000, you're in the 20%.) This is the backdrop against which conservatives claim that our tax system is too progressive, that the wealthy bear too great a burden and the social safety net must be cut back to reduce the national debt. All these damn laws that effectively redistribute weath (hah!) are a restraint on free markets and the rights of the most productive members of society.

Apparently, there is little objection to the laws that allowed for this concentration of wealth, whether or not they interfere with free markets. Corporations, which provide the mechanism for amassing capital, exist only as legal fictions. Patents and copyrights place restraints on free market forces in favor of the creators of intellectual property. Expensive regulations maintain the fair and proper functioning of markets. Police forces and armed forces protect valuable property rights from criminals and foreign powers. Many men have died to protect our system of economic freedom, few who've had country club memberships. The wealthy benefit from these expenditures (in human life and national treasure) disproportionately, yet somehow this argument never comes up when conservatives urge a flat tax in lieu of progressive income taxation. (The flat tax is a particular peeve of mine, more on that in a later post, I'm sure.)

Don't get me wrong, I believe people should generally be allowed to operate under the belief that they will keep what they earn, but free markets are not gods to be blindly worshipped. They are a means of achieving the goals of society--maximization of total wealth (productivity) and fair distribution. When free markets fail to achieve the goals of society, interference is warranted. The principle that the great capitalists will raise the standard of living of the working class simply by pursuing their self interest is proving a flawed assumption. Besides just getting too greedy (grossly disproportionate exec pay, criminally reckless tax cuts for the wealthy), capitalists are not appropriately taking into account societal risks in calculating self-interest (climate change, systemic financial system risk), warranting government regulation.

But the one societal risk to which conservatives seem most blind is violent or nonviolent rebellion by a disenchanted working class. In a law-based society, when the rules start to favor an increasingly small minority, the majority will eventually abandon the rules. Ask George III or Louis XVI. Or if you prefer to speak with the living, ask Hosni Mubarak or Moammar Gadhafi. Even if conservatives don't buy into the moral imperative for a wealthy society to maintain a decent standard of living for its working class, it's in their economic self- interest to maintain that minimum standard. If the 20% doesn't start taking better care of the 80%, eventually the 80% will get organized enough to vote in politicians who recognize that the Constitution makes no promises about free markets or a "correct" distribution of wealth. Conservatives' greed will lead to the destruction of the economic system that allows them to create and maintain a very unnatural distribution of society's wealth.

My third novel, tentatively entitled HOSTILE TAKEOVER, will take a deeper look at how foreign powers might sew these seeds of revolution to their advantage. Could Asian forces use their rapidly accumulating wealth to influence U.S. elections and/or lay claims to America's resources? Stay tuned.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Warm Welcome, a Mission Statement, and the Ebook Revolution

Welcome to my new blog, which I'm told is a must for all serious authors. Many writers use this venue to plug their books, and I'll do some of that from time to time, but my intention is to use this space to address current issues in our rapidly changing world. My primary objective in writing fiction is to entertain, but I believe fiction is also an excellent medium for conveying ideas. A blog may be even more efficient if it can attract the attention of like-minded readers and has the advantage of being a two-way street. I'd love to hear what you think, too. Feel free to comment at length, whether you agree or disagree.

The world is indeed rapidly changing. In my first novel, THE JINX, published before the 2000 election, my characters dreamed about "revolutionary change, not evolutionary change." The main themes addressed revolved around racism, and one of my "revolutionary" twists was the nomination of an African-American woman as a vice-presidential candidate. Today, we have an African-American president. While perhaps not as revolutionary in its message, THE JINX is still a great page-turner and delves much deeper into the way racism is perpetuated, from father to son, in much the same way my featured conspiracy led to the deaths of seven presidents. The book sold nicely and got great reviews, and it's now available as an e-book for only $2.99 at Smashwords and (soon) at other fine online book retailers.

Despite revolution breaking out across The Middle East, the current revolution most on my mind is occurring in the publishing world. The ebook revolution is changing the way readers, writers and publishers think about buying and selling books. Borders is in bankruptcy, and I understand from sources inside the industry that publishers fear for their business model and their lives.

Readers and writers think about the publishing business in extraordinarily different ways. Readers have almost endless choices. Thousands of fiction and nonfiction books are published every year, and even the most prolific readers among us can only enjoy a few dozen of them. For the reader, narrowing those choices is the most difficult issue, and the market has evolved to make choices easier by creating gatekeepers, a network of publishing professionals and reviewers who select the best material generated by writers and guide the public towards the books that best suit individual tastes. Many of us devote our limited reading time to the latest and greatest from our favorite authors, so it's hard for a newly published author to develop an audience. Most published authors, those who have made it past the gatekeepers, cannot earn a living from their writing.

From a new writer's perspective, the publishing business is all about getting past the gatekeepers. There is a vast oversupply of unpublished work out there, and new authors face long odds to get published by a large, commercial house. The odds have become so great that an air of desperation pervades among the unpublished, or maybe it's an air of oppression, the feeling of unjust exclusion that is a precursor to revolution.

The civility that once marked the industry is vanishing. Publishers rarely look at direct submissions from authors these days. An unpublished writer first has to intrigue a literary agent with a one-page "query" letter and maybe a few sample pages. Every agent I've spoken to or have read about says they are swamped with hundreds of these letters every week. Authors spend an incredible amount of time and energy worrying about and perfecting these query letters. Agents are so overwhelmed many have taken to simply ignoring queries that don't interest them, which by most accounts is about 99% of them. Almost every published author has horror stories to tell about dozens of rejections before finally landing the coveted relationship; many have completed manuscripts that never cleared that bar. After spending months or years perfecting a 400-page novel, unpublished authors quickly become weary of being judged based on a two-paragraph summary, with no meaningful feedback and, most often, without even a response.

Agents are not completely to blame for this loss of civility. They are admittedly overwhelmed by material, and much of it is crap. Publishers don't do much editing, anymore, and it's the author's responsibility to present a completed, well-crafted manuscript. I've been on the receiving end of unsolicited manuscripts, and a lot of them were poorly constructed early drafts. Many query letters telegraph the writer's inexperience and poor storytelling craft. The deluge of this material has to be frustrating for agents, who are facing diminished demand from commercial publishers cutting their lists.

Unfortunately, the loss of civility impacts good writers and bad writers alike, and I'm guessing the bad writers, failing to recognize themselves, share in the frustration, the feeling that they are being unfairly excluded from the marketplace. Enter, the ebook revolution.

Self-publishing has always been an option for the most persistent of us, but print publishing can get expensive. My wife and I formed Redfield Publishers in 1999 to publish THE JINX (more on this in a future post, I'm sure), and produced the book (exclusive of marketing costs) for about $4 per copy with two print runs of 3,000 books each. Over the past two weeks I read up on ebooks and republished THE JINX on Smashwords for a total cost of, get this, zero. I don't know if I'll generate many new sales, maybe a few more when THE KING OF PAINE, goes online, but the book is back on the market for anyone interested and will remain there...forever.

Admittedly, a new author will need to invest something in a book cover design, which I already had, and may need to hire somebody to clean up the manuscript to make it ebook-ready, but the barriers to entry into the publishing market have been virtually eliminated. The gatekeepers have lost control of the gates. Thousands of unpublished authors are flooding the market with their shiny, new ebooks. The ebook revolution is here!

But before we all break out in song (I'd go with the Beatles' "Revolution" to stick with the theme, although Kumbaya is rattling around in my skull right now), let's take a lesson from The Middle East. Revolutions are messy. Sometimes the winners and losers are unclear. Sometimes the world might be better off with the tyrant even though the formerly oppressed are a lot better off. Now that writers have a cheap outlet for their books, readers have to wade through more crap to find material they like. On the other hand, authors have always had most of the responsibility for marketing their material to readers, and that won't change (except in the greater amount of marketing to be generated by online sources, like (ahem) new author blogs).

The publishing industry is not dead yet. They still act as gatekeepers for people with limited time, although readers must pay for that service. Even ebooks from commercial publishers still cost over ten bucks, and a reader with time to spare can find quality ebooks from newbies and midlist authors who have flown the coop for $1 to $3. Some are even offering their work for free to build an audience. Authors are banding together to create a form of branding, a system of gatekeeping by endorsement that might replace the agent/publisher model. Ebook reviewers will create another subsystem for identifying quality books.

What does the future of the ebook revolution hold? I'm not sure yet. A few well-marketed ebook authors are making a killing. Amanda Hocking has cleared a couple of million dollars hawking her YA series. Joe Konrath, a modestly successful published author in print, has become the voice of the revolution. I recommend his blog, A Newbies Guide to Publishing, for a compelling economic argument in favor of self-publishing for authors. Readers should enjoy the wealth of low cost material, but I fear that the oversupply of material may ultimately overwhelm readers. I haven't decided whether to self-publish my second novel, THE KING OF PAINE, as an ebook yet, but I'm getting close. Very, very close.

What are your thoughts on the ebook revolution?