Books, Books, Books

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All the RTF files are ready at last, for a big new release of my backlist through E-reads! If all goes well, nine of my titles should be available for purchase by mid-May through Fictionwise, Amazon Kindle Store, Sony Ebook Store, and other places where fine ebooks are sold. Many of them will also be available in paper as print-on-demand titles, under the E-reads imprint. (Not all, because the rights to some are still held by Tor.)

Some are reissues, with covers and formatting corrected from versions presently on sale, and some are all new. Included in the new are The Infinity Link, The Rapture Effect, Dragon Rigger, and Seas of Ernathe. (That last holds the record as my longest-out-of-print title.)

Speaking of print on demand, my friend Victoria sent me a link to a story in the UK’s Daily Mail, concerning a standalone print-on-demand book maker, called the Espresso Book Machine, installed in a Blackwell bookstore on Charing Cross Road for market testing. Victoria wondered when we would see these in the U.S. Well, it’s already been demoed to the U.S. bookseller trade! Here’s the scoop on the E-reads blog. And here’s what the machine looks like:

Finally—good news or bad news?—Amazon has just bought Lexcycle, the creators of the Stanza book reading software for the iPhone and iTouch. Ooh. Makes me uneasy. With Fictionwise now part of Barnes & Noble, who knows what’s going to happen?

Oh, my head.

Still Here

posted in: ebooks, personal news 0

Sort of. Not that you can tell. Turned out I wasn’t really done with tax-purgatory, after all. Not when I tried to finalize my daughter’s return. You would not believe the ways the IRS has of extracting money from you when you are (or have) a college-age kid whom a generous relative has helped out by putting some money in trust for your education. Turbotax and I nearly came to blows over this one.

Anyway. You didn’t come here to listen to me whine about taxes, did you? My family has to listen to that; you don’t. (Family is where, when you go there, they have to take you in…and listen to you whine about taxes.)

Right now, we have a house full of college kids. Daughter is home on break, and brought some friends with her. Great kids; it’s fun having them here. But I do have to be careful tiptoeing through the house late at night, so as not to trip over sleeping bodies.

The ebook project has been consuming way more time than I had dreamed possible. I probably mentioned, ereads is releasing some new (to their list) titles of mine, to go on sale at Fictionwise and elsewhere—and at the same time, reissuing the ones that have been on sale. A reissue of an ebook sounds wrong, somehow, doesn’t it? But it all started because some of the books went on sale with the wrong covers, and it turns out the only way to fix that is to reissue them. And then it turns out there are a lot of irritating formatting errors in at least some of my books currently on sale. So we’re just re-releasing the whole lot, along with the new ones. This means a lot of proofing, and a lot of correcting. Fortunately, I have a capable and enthusiastic reader-volunteer helping me with a lot of the grunt work. Thank you, Ann!

Okay, now, back to the proofing, Igor.

Free Sunborn Download (Multiformat)

The weather has turned promising, I’ve emerged from tax-return and financial-aid purgatory, and it’s time for a Spring Special! Things are moving more slowly than I had hoped on the Tor ebook front, so I’m taking matters into my own hands. For a limited time, I am making Sunborn available for free download in all major ebook formats! DRM-free, now and always. So come and get it. Tell your friends! Bring your girlfriend/boyfriend and your grandmother. Bring your dog.

How long is a “limited time”? I’m not sure, but when Tor gets its ebooks out the door and into the stores, I expect these will come down.

“You must write for children the same way you write for adults, only better.” —Maxim Gorky

A Chat with the Authors Guild

I wrote here earlier about my reaction to Authors Guild statements that Amazon’s new Kindle 2 may be infringing on rights with its real-aloud capability. (You can hear a demo of the Kindle 2 reading here. It’s way better than Microsoft Reader or Adobe Reader.) I said that having an electronic gizmo read text aloud is no threat to the performance quality of an audiobook. I still feel that way. But…

I emailed the Authors Guild to say I was worried they were picking the wrong fight, that they were only getting in the way of a technological development that could help make our ebooks more useful—and attractive—to consumers. I got a call back from Paul Aiken of the Guild, and we had a nice, long conversation.

Paul pointed out something that I hadn’t really thought of: No matter what we think about the audio experience, and whether it’s live or recorded, and whether or not it’s good for the customer and bad for the audiobook business, there’s something we need to consider—that text-to-speech function may violate existing contract terms. Which contracts? The ones writers and publishers sign with audiobook companies, which specify exactly what is meant by “audio.” Kindle might be infringing on rights, for example, that an audiobook company has paid for—such a contract, for example, defining “audio” by terms such as the use of technological means to produce a sound version of the book. These contracts already exist, by the thousands.

(None of this, by the way, has anything thing to do with the rights of the blind—which are secured by law, as they should be—or the rights of a person to read a book aloud. Those are entirely unrelated issues.)

So what does the Guild want? As I understood Paul, the Guild wants to ensure, before this whole thing goes too far, that contractual rights are honored, that parties who have reserved or purchased the right to use technology to produce audible versions of a work be paid for such a use. It doesn’t really matter whether we feel that a machine’s reading is equivalent to a professional recording. What matters is the definitions in the book contracts.

If the Guild isn’t trying to stop the technology, but simply to ensure proper compensation, how might this work? It could take the form of a small surcharge added to an ebook purchase, to enable read-aloud capability—with a royalty for having read-aloud enabled going directly to the audio rights-holder. Many ebooks already have enable/disable switches on their Microsoft Reader and Adobe editions. (My own ereads books, for reasons that escape me, have read-aloud enabled for Microsoft Reader and disabled for Adobe Reader.) If things go this way, I’d personally prefer to see the cost built right into the price of the ebook, and not make it something a buyer would have to think about at the point of purchase. But that’s a detail.

While my own gut feeling about synthetic text-to-speech hasn’t changed as a result of this conversation, my understanding of what the Guild wants to do has. There are a zillion book contracts out there that define what constitutes an audible presentation of a book. Those contracts can’t be wished away by Amazon or by the book buyer, or, for that matter, by me. Although I’ve previously compared this question to the entertainment industry’s attempts to stop the VCR, maybe a more apt comparison is the Hollywood writers trying to get fair royalties for the use of their work on DVDs and the net—not trying to stop the new technologies, but to make sure that structures are in place to guarantee them their fair share of the profit.

This, I’m sure, promises to be an ongoing story. As they say in the TV biz: To be continued…

More on the Kindle 2 and Read-Aloud

In my last post I wrote about the controversy raised by the new Kindle’s ability to “read aloud” ebook text files, and the assertion by Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, that this constituted copyright infringement.

There’s a provocative (and occasionally surrealistic) discussion of the question at the forum thread: New Kindle Audio Feature Causes a Stir.

And from someone who apparently is an ex-copyright attorney, this interesting page on Know Your Rights: Does the Kindle 2’s text-to-speech infringe authors’ copyrights?

I’m guessing that this is a question that’s going to drag on for a while. Wonder if it’ll make it to court. Although I find myself on Amazon’s side on this one (odd feeling), I think it’s probably a legal gray area.

Someone on Mobileread asked how I’d feel if C3PO read Sunborn aloud to a stadium full of paying guests. I said I thought that would constitute a performance, and wasn’t relevant to this discussion. (I didn’t raise the question of whether C3PO is sentient and shouldn’t be considered a machine, but maybe I should have.)

Now, if someone gathered a stadium full of people all with Kindles with Sunborn loaded, and in unison they started a mass read-aloud, with or without my permission, I would think that was…pretty damn cool!

Someone want to organize that for me? 🙂

Kindle 2

This week’s big news in books, of course, was the official unveiling of the Kindle 2, Amazon’s second-generation ebook reader. Michael Gaudet of E-reads offers his appraisal, noting some of the new Kindle’s enhancements:

  • slimmer, with more memory and longer battery life
  • faster screen refresh
  • redesigned buttons for navigation
  • faster book downloads, and “Whispersync” to keep multiple Kindles synchronized wirelessly
  • a text-to-speech voice synthesizer, to read your books aloud to you

These all sound like pretty nice enhancements. But as I look at the device, I’m not regretting my choice of the Sony PRS-700. The built-in light and the touchscreen on the Sony still put it way out in front, in my book (so to speak).

But the Kindle announcement hasn’t come without blowback. “They don’t have the right to read a book out loud,” said Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild. “That’s an audio right, which is derivative under copyright law.” (From the Wall Street Journal online.)


I’m a member of the Authors Guild, and I was a little horrified to hear Mr. Aiken make this claim—because to my way of thinking, having a Kindle (or any device) read a file aloud should be no different in copyright terms from my reading a book aloud to my family. I mean, really.

And yet, I understand why he made the statement. Authors often license audio rights separately from other rights. There’s a natural concern about anything that could cut into audiobook sales. But to me, there’s a big difference between a machine reading of a stream of text and a professionally produced audio reading by a professional reader who gives the reading inflection and expression, perhaps with the help of music and sound effects. Now, it may well be that some people who like audio books will forego buying audiobooks if their Kindle will read text aloud in a computer voice. (Given that Amazon owns Audible, I imagine there were some in-house discussions about this.) So clearly this is an arguable point. But I still don’t agree with Mr. Aiken, even though he speaks for my organization.

I’ve been frustrated for years that read-aloud is disabled on my own ebooks sold through outlets such as (a retailer I am otherwise very happy with, I hasten to add). The only format, until now, in which this was relevant was Microsoft Reader format, because only MS Reader had that capability. I’ve always felt that if people bought my ebooks and they preferred (or needed) to listen to it through a computer-synthesized voice, they should have that choice. Why not? They bought the book. It turns out that the disabling of this feature is the policy of Fictionwise. But I wonder now, in light of the statement from the Authors Guild, if maybe it’s based on fear of backlash from publishers who might see text-to-speech as an infringement of audio rights.

What a crazy business. I suppose one day computer synthesized voices, combined with AI-comprehension of a book’s content, could produce a sufficiently expressive reading that it might compete with a true audiobook. But that seems unlikely in the foreseeable future.

For now, my basic position is, whatever gets people buying and reading books (both e- and p-) is probably good. Whatever gets in the way of it is almost certainly bad.

Do Free Downloads Sell Books?

This, of course, is the question that many authors want the answer to (and also blog-reader Tim, in a comment to my last post). If you believe the Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi school, the answer is clearly yes; others remain skeptical. Publishers range from scared to enthusiastic.

For me, this is an ongoing experiment. The first part was a no-brainer: the first three Chaos Chronicles books were out of print, so it was unquestionably better to get them in front of readers and get them interested in the series. For that part of the experiment, the results are an unqualified—but also unquantified—success. There have been about 15,000 downloads of those books from my own site, with more from feedbooks, manybooks, mobileread, and now the Baen Free Library. Many people have written me, saying they tried my work for the first time with those freebies and liked what they found. Some of them said it prompted them to go out and buy a copy of Sunborn in hardcover. Hurray!

But wait just a minute. How many extra copies of Sunborn did it sell? Three? Three hundred? How many sales did I lose because I put it up for free in PDF? Truth: I don’t know. In the first place, it’s not like I actually get detailed information about sales; this remains one of the dark sides of publishing, the dearth of actual data coming back to the writer. (Sure, eventually I’ll see totals on a royalty sheet. But that can take years.) Just as important, though, is a question that no one can answer: how many would I have sold without the free downloads. The series was out of the public eye for years. I was out of the public eye for years. I have no doubt the sales picture could have been grim. As it is, from what I’m told, Sunborn is selling at least as well as its predecessor in the stores, Eternity’s End. (BSG is a side trip, and doesn’t really count.)

So what do the publishers make of all this? Well, Tor and Baen both seem to embrace the notion of giving books away as a means to selling more. Tor has had free download promotions from time to time, and Baen has their ongoing free library. On the other hand, I recently had an email exchange with a fellow writer whose new book is on the Nebula preliminary ballot. His publisher was reluctant to let him send out an electronic reading copy or to put a PDF up even on the members only SFWA site, for fear I guess of piracy. This, to me, makes no sense. If a book is published, chances are it’ll be up on the darknet regardless. Better to get people reading it and talking about it.

Tim mentioned the music and film industries as examples of reluctance. The thing is, they’re coming around. Amazon offers free MP3 music downloads. Itunes has a free song of the week. The networks put their TV shows up on the web for free. (That’s how I’m catching up on Chuck, which I missed in favor of Sarah Connor Chronicles, back when they were on at the same time. And that’s even how I’m seeing Battlestar Galactica—on Free On Demand!) And web comics—free. What that may imply for a business model for earning an income from writing is a much bigger question—a topic for another post, maybe.

Bottom line for me: I can’t guarantee that my books will sell better because I’m offering them for free download. The truth is, I may never know. But I don’t think I’m hurting sales, and right now, the enemy with the name Obscurity written on its back is a far bigger threat to me than the chance that some people are reading my books for free.

And wasn’t the hope that people would read my books the reason I wrote them in the first place?

“You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you’re working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success—but only if you persist.” —Isaac Asimov

Free BSG Download and Other News

With Battlestar Galactica now in the final stretch of its glorious and slightly insane odyssey, I asked for and received permission to put my novelization of the miniseries, titled—wouldn’t you know it—Battlestar Galactica, up for free download on my web site. And so I have, and there you can get it for your reading pleasure. I’ve got it in PDF and EPUB formats. The Mobipocket version is on sale in the Kindle store. Naturally, I hope a few of you might be inspired to buy the paper book, still available here and there. But mostly I just wanted to share the fun.

In other download news, the first three books of The Chaos Chronicles have just gone up for download in the Baen Free Library. (If you already have the Chaos books from my web site, there’s no reason to redownload; they’re the same book files, copied over with my permission.) If you don’t know the Baen Free Library, it’s a wonderful resource to help people get a taste of work by authors they might not know, in ebook form—and it’s got a lot of great classic SF by people like Andre Norton and James Schmitz. Check it out.

Meanwhile, I’m now proofing the text for the ebook version of Seas of Ernathe, my very first novel. There’s a trip down (fading) memory lane! That writer kid, he has promise, I think.

Brief Catch-up

Last weekend, I spent a day at Vericon, a small but cheerful convention at Harvard University, which had as its guest of honor Kim Stanley Robinson. Stan and I had met once or twice before, but many years ago, and it was good to become reacquainted. Dinner with Stan, Jim Kelly, and Paul Di Filippo was a high point of the day, though it was also good to offer some students from the teen writing workshop I ran with Craig Gardner a chance to see a con on a small scale.

Last night I completed the proofreading and minor edits on the text of The Infinity Link, and sent the RTF file off to the folks at E-reads, who will prepare it for commercial ebook release. Artist David Mattingly graciously assented to my using the original cover art from the Tor and Bluejay print editions on the ebook, so it’s going to look great. Here’s the full wraparound, shrunk way down:

The Infinity Link cover art by David B. Mattingly

I made very small changes in the text, mostly to get rid of anachronisms such as the references to the Soviet Union, and some outdated computer terminology. After all the story takes place in the year 2034, and the future simply isn’t what it once was.

Now I’ve begun similar work on my very first novel, Seas of Ernathe, originally published in 1976. It’s interesting to see how my writing evolved and grew between my first and fourth novels—and how it compares to my work now. I’ve definitely grown more skilled as a writer, but I miss the quick bursts of creativity I had when I was in my twenties.

For a good tongue-in-cheek glimpse of how books get from typewriter to bookstore, check out this video from MacMillan publishing. (With thanks to Richard Curtis in his E-reads blog for bringing it to my attention.)

Guide to My Ebooks

I got an email from a reader asking me why it had to be so hard to buy all the ebooks from a favorite author. I knew at once what he meant: editions are scattered across different publishers, different retailers, different ebook formats (some with restrictive DRM, some without). Even trying to follow a particular series within an author’s oeuvre can be trying. Why, for instance, can’t all the books of a series be bought as a nice bundle, with one purchase and one download?

I thought that was a great idea. And while it’s not currently in my power to create bundles, I thought, why can’t I at least make it easier for someone who wants to browse for all my ebooks do it from a single page? So I set out to do that.

My new Ebooks page, at, lists all my novels, grouped by series—with links to major online sources, highlighting those that offer multi-format, DRM-free downloads. The latter effectively means eReads and their partner Fictionwise, though I hope soon to add Baen Webscriptions to that list. I’ve also listed which books are coming soon, and which are farther off.

I hope it’s helpful. Check it out and let me know what you think!

“My job is to help you fall in love.” —Ray Bradbury

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