Bidness Model, Shmidness Model

The arrival of Neptune Crossing in the Kindle store is part of a grand experiment, begun with my free downloads and continuing into the indefinite future. The business model of how to make a living as a writer has been shifting on a daily basis, it seems. Just selling to a publisher and waiting (and waiting) for the check doesn’t work anymore for most of us. (It never worked that well to begin with. Most of us have always had to do other work to pay the rent, whether by teaching, speaking, doing another kind of writing, or serving venti lattes.) But self-promotion, networking, blogging, ebooks, self-publishing—and on and on—have become increasingly important jags and peaks on the tectonic upheaval that we call “the writing life.”

Back in the good old days, when men were real men, and little furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were—no, wait, that’s Douglas Adams’s line. Back in the day, though, we used to be able to tell aspiring writers that self-publishing was for niche-marketers and losers, with the occasional “exception that proved the rule.” (Did that expression ever make sense?) That’s no longer so obviously true. Publishers Weekly has begun paying attention to self-published books, and if that isn’t a sign of the times, I don’t know what is. One thing that has become obviously true is that more than a few established writers are going to their backlists and getting their out-of-print books back into circulation on their own through places like Amazon and Smashwords, or through newer companies that exist for this very purpose. 

Here are some examples:

  • Thriller writer J.A. Konrath, whose high-profile blog has described his success in self-publishing his early and o.p. novels, and now new work as well
  • Bookview Café, a consortium of SF and fantasy writers, including Vonda McIntyre and Ursula K. LeGuin, marketing their own previously published books and stories
  • Closed Circle, a collaborative run by CJ Cherryh, Lynn Abbey, and Jane Fancher to sell their o.p. SF and fantasy novels
  • Diane Duane, self-publishing some of her own o.p. fantasy novels and marketing directly from her website

Count me in. Trying, in my own way to pick a path through this chaos, I’ve now managed to get all my novels, past and present, into ebook format—and some into print-on-demand trade paperback. But which path to take? I’ve taken the broadband approach. As of now, I have ebooks available through the following channels:

  • Three ebooks from traditional publishers, with traditional royalties — priced at $6.99 – $9.99
  • Nine ebooks from E-reads, at a higher royalty (50% of net) — priced at $9.99, but discounted in some stores
  • Three ebooks released already or soon directly to Kindle (and eventually to other stores), at a 70% royalty — priced at $2.99
  • One ebook free for the download on my website — not available for sale, but with Paypal donations encouraged
  • Five of the books on sale are also available for free download in limited (2) or full (3) selection of ebook formats, Paypal donations encouraged

I haven’t made up my mind what to do about the free downloads. There’s no question they’ve increased my readership. There’s some question about whether they’re helping or hurting sales of the books that are for sale. The next six to twelve months, I hope, will be telling. What they tell, I’ll post here. (Not exact sales figures, probably, but trends.)

Wish me luck. And tell your friends!


Neptune Crossing Goes Kindle

Now—for the first time in human history!—you can download my novel Neptune Crossing direct to your Kindle, and start reading in seconds, from anywhere in the solar system that you can get Whispernet!  All for a mere $2.99, DRM-free.

This won’t seem earthshaking to those who have downloaded the book for free from my website. But for the Kindle shoppers who, until now, could browse their way wirelessly to my Kindle page and find Sunborn, but not the first three books of The Chaos Chronicles, I hope it’ll make a difference. Strange Attractors and The Infinite Sea will follow. As will uploads to other stores.

Here’s the new cover, designed by yours truly, with the help of Chaoscope. Hope you like it. [Edit: I’ve changed the type color. I liked the red, but it just didn’t show up clearly enough online. Here’s the old and the new.]

Roger Zelazny’s Alien Speedway: Clypsis in Kindle Store!

Back in the 1980s, I took on a lively and challenging project, which was to write a young adult novel based on a series outlined by one of my writing idols, Roger Zelazny. I’d never done anything like that before: sharecropping, they called it. Byron Preiss Visual Productions did a lot of that for a while. Big-name writer creates a world for newer writers to play in. Who could resist a world created by Roger Zelazny—especially when that world is a solar system dedicated to faster-than-light spaceship racing, and the protagonist is a young man whose desire to fly, and fly fast, I could feel burning in my own veins?

This turned out to be one of the best times I’ve ever had writing a book. I enjoyed the story, begun by Roger and sculpted by me, and I enjoyed the characters. It even gave me the chance to have someone believably say, “Eat dust, Earthman!” Clypsis was published by Byron Preiss through Bantam Spectra, and it got great response from readers. I got rave letters from strangers (this was before email). In the end, it was published just as an SF novel, not a YA novel. But the kid in me lived in the book.

 Clypsis cover art by Bob Eggleton

Then it went out of print. And so it remained, year after year. Byron Preiss (who owned the copyright) intended to reprint it in some fashion. Then Byron died tragically in an auto accident. His company went into bankruptcy. Eventually the literary assets were purchased by John Colby of Brick Tower Press. By this point, I had lost the trail; it took me years even to establish who owned the rights. Finally, we established contact, and I prepared the text of the book for ebook publication (with the assistance of Anne King, who had helped with several of my ebooks). And now…

It’s out! It’s in the Kindle store! The Sony store will be next. I’m not sure where else. I’m delighted to see this book return to life. And with this publication, every book I’ve written is now available in one form or another as an ebook!

Here’s a link. (If you buy it through this link, I’ll see a bit more return in the form of a referral fee. Thanks.)

My Library of the Future

I sometimes ponder what I would like my personal library to look like, in my future dream house. Lots of books, of course, and a few easy chairs. Nice woodwork. But a growing part of my library is ebooks, and how do you put ebooks where you can browse the spines, or pull books out at random to look at their covers? One of the things I like to do in my SF collection is to once in a while just look at the covers, and build a kind of gestalt feeling of all those wonderful stories gathered in one place.

So here’s my plan. Along with all those paper books, I’ll have a digital frame displaying a slideshow of the covers for all my ebooks. Understand, that’s a stopgap measure, until the technology catches up with what I really want—a holographic display of the book images, arrayed sort of the way iTunes displays album covers when you’re running a playlist. You’d be able to flip through the display with your fingertips, and if you find one you want to read right then, just pull it out of the holo. Sort of like this display at, only in full-sized full-holo. That action will cause the book to download, if necessary, into whatever magnificent reading device is current then, and open for reading. Sans dust mites.

The best of both worlds.

Mozilla Easter Egg: Zort!

If you have Firefox on a Windows PC, type this into the URL window:


Just that. (It didn’t work on my daughter’s Linux netbook. But it seems to work in Windows and Mac.)

I’ll send a free Chaos Chronicles ebook collection to the first person to identify all six references, plus mine in the title of this post!

Do you know of other Mozilla Easter eggs?

Slight Change to the Blog

“Engineers! Always changing things!”  So said Dr. McCoy, in the first Star Trek movie.  Generally speaking, you can’t accuse me of doing too much of that with my website or my blog. But if you look to the right (if you’re reading this on the actual blog, and not on Facebook or through a feed), you’ll see one overdue change. That’s right—an ad for my books! I’ve got books in the Kindle store now, and lots of other stores, and it’s high time people knew about it. What a concept. Click through! Give it a try! 

My website has been due for a makeover for, oh, maybe ten years or so. Its appearance is pretty last century. I have lots of ideas (including switching to WordPress, maybe, and merging this blog into it), but little time. Several people have offered to help. But the problem is that it’s a big project that I need to oversee myself, and can’t just hand off to someone. So that’s going to wait a little longer.

I raised the question earlier of whether blogging was a good use of my time. I guess my answer is, I’ll continue to do it as the impulse seizes me, as I always have. So, yeah, you’ll still have this blog to kick around for a while. Think of it as a beat-up old glow-in-the-dark soccer ball. (I sort of like that image.)

Paperback Tailspin

I haven’t quite known how to say this, so I guess I’ll just say it: the paperback sales on Sunborn have been terrible. The worst I’ve ever seen. Distribution is awful—the book isn’t even being stocked by many bookstores I would have expected to carry it, like Borders or my local Barnes and Noble superstore. Or if they carried it, they stocked one copy. Not six or eight, like in old days, but one. How can you launch a book like that?  And why is this happening?

The reasons are legion. And these are just the ones I know about.

For starters, there was a long interruption in my output, and the first three books of the Chaos Chronicles were long out of print. I tried to address this by offering free downloads—and that certainly helped stimulate interest, but clearly not enough. At the time the paperback was published, I was in a family crisis and slow off the mark in doing the usual promotion I would have done. Worse, promotion from the publisher was indifferent, and their declining to bring the first three books back into print spelled trouble.

These are the obvious reasons, but not the only ones.

According to my editor, slumping sales are bedeviling a lot of authors and a lot of mass-market paperback books. The biggest factor is that the distribution of paperbacks has gone to hell—not just in bookstores, but in places like newsstands and drugstores. There used to be hundreds of wholesalers, each knowing their own territories—the guys who drove the trucks and put books on the racks, and who knew from experience what kinds of books tended to sell where. Now it’s all consolidated, with a few huge outfits covering most of the business. And they’re doing it by computer from central locations, making decisions that literally make or break national distribution of a book. Books that once might have found a modest but respectable audience are now cut out of the loop; they simply are not carried by the wholesalers that would get them into points of sale outside the traditional bookstore. As a result, what was once a major avenue of sales—to the casual browser who came into a convenience store looking for soap or a candy bar and stopped to thumb books on a rack—is now limited to the guaranteed bestsellers. So, you can find a book like Sunborn easily enough online, but only if you’re looking for it. Your bookstore can order it, but only if you know to ask for it. But many potential new readers will never see it

Did my posting of free downloads help or hurt? It definitely helped make a lot more people aware of the books. Did it sell books or prevent sales? Will ebook sales make up some of the difference in paperback sales? Without a parallel universe to use as a control, there’s just no way to know. 

“How can I help?” I hear you saying. (Maybe I’m imagining. But let’s assume I’m hearing it.) One thing you can do, of course, is to head to your local bookshop if you haven’t already and pick up a copy—if not for yourself, then for a friend or relative. Another is simply to encourage your local bookstore to carry the book. If you special-order it, that’s one sale. If you can get them to stock a few copies, that could be several sales and a ping on their radar. And tell people. Word of mouth is the most effective single way to promote a book. And only you can do that.

I don’t intend to sit around doing nothing but complain. I’m in the process of rethinking and retooling promotion for the future. More and more these days, that job is left solely to the author (unless you’re already a bestseller and don’t actually need the help.) I have a bunch of ideas, and I’ll be writing about them from time to time and will definitely be interested in your feedback.

“The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the “curiosity” level.” —from the rejection slip for Diary of Anne Frank

Sunborn: a Tor ebook. Finally!

At last, Sunborn has appeared in most of the major ebook stores as an official Tor ebook. It’s in the Kindle store, the Sony store, Barnes and Noble, and BooksonBoard. Probably others stores, as well.  I don’t mean to snub anyone; I just haven’t done a complete survey.  It’s not available at Fictionwise, at least not yet. Nor at Webscription.

[EDIT: As of today, it is on Fictionwise, with a rebate.  That seems to be the  best price at the moment.] [EDIT OF EDIT: It disappeared from Fictionwise, along with a few thousand other books, on the day of the pricing switch to the so-called Agency Model.  No word on when, or if, these books will return to FW.] 

Prices range from $7.99 at Kindle to $9.99 at Barnes & Noble, $11.90 at BooksonBoard, and $12.60 at Sony. I hope to see those prices come down to no higher than the paperback price–and they should, according to pricing statements from Macmillan USA’s CEO (Tor is owned by Macmillan).  But I have no direct control over that.  

[EDIT OF PRICE INFO: Macmillan did indeed lower the price to equal the paperback price.  It is now $7.99 everywhere.  Everywhere that it’s sold, anyway–Fictionwise is still out of the game.] 

Sorry about the DRM, by the way. I was assured before that efforts were being made to get DRM-free Tor books up–but now I’m told that it was too hard, with all of the distributors geared for DRM. I don’t have the complete story on that yet. If you buy it and strip the DRM for your own personal use, such as to put it on your favored reading device, you’ll get no argument from me.  (It might be slightly illegal, though, under the DMCA.  I would never encourage anyone to violate even such a stupid law. Let that be on the record.) 

BTW, for some reason B&N is currently selling my other ebooks for $3.21 each, which is the best deal I’ve seen. I don’t know for how long, so if that’s a format you use, it’s a good time to grab the books.

Read an Ebook Week / Nebula Reading

Guess what! This is Read an E-book Week! Visit the Ebookweek website and check out all the stores, publishers, and authors who are offering deals and freebies of ebooks in celebration of the growing popularity of ebooks. (Yes, you’ll see me in the list, along with Cory Doctorow and Steve Jordan and an array of writers from a variety of genres.) If you haven’t given ebooks a try yet, this is the perfect time to download some books for free and give it a try. And here’s a shoutout to Rita Toews, who put the whole thing together.

This is also the month in which members of SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) are reading the works on the final ballot for the Nebula Awards, the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult SF, and the Bradbury Award for outstanding screen-writing. Congratulations to all the finalists! I’m hoping to attend the awards ceremony this year, as it’s going to be held near the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, and the attendees will have a grand time visiting the space complex and—very long shot—maybe even seeing a shuttle launch.

Here’s the connection to ebooks: Many of the authors have made their works available to SFWA members for download, so that there’ll be a fighting chance for people to actually read the nominated pieces before the voting deadline. I’ve grabbed all that are available and put them on my Sony Reader, so that I will have a fighting chance of reading them. The free software Calibre even made it easy for me—tagging each piece with the appropriate designation (Nebula 2009 Novella, for example) so that I can see them neatly organized on my reader. This is compared to years past, when I compiled a huge stack of magazines and printouts and books borrowed from the library, and struggled mostly without success to get through them. I still may not get through them, but the odds are a lot better! Read on!

Battling Up the Mountain…

My ebooks (most of them) have finally appeared in the Kindle store.  They were released to all of the other outlets last May, but some weird fubar snafu kept them from getting into the store until now.  It took lots of extra effort on the part of the folks at ereads to get it all straightened out.  And we’re still not quite there.  Dragons in the Stars is still the old version, and From a Changeling Star and Down the Stream of Stars have had the old ones taken down but not the new ones put up.  But the others are there.  At last!  Here’s the link. 

Most of them are missing the cover art, I hope just temporarily.  Here are some cover images to replace those that are missing.  And speaking of fubar snafus, I can’t seem to make the images come down here to the bottom, so that’s why they’re up on top.  Ah well.

I decided I’d been mad at Amazon long enough about the Seven Day War, so I’ve put my Amazon links back on my web site.

For other formats (and DRM-free versions), check my ebooks page.

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