Barack, Tor, and Me

I mention Barack because I’m watching his acceptance speech as I write this. I can’t tell you how much I hope this guy will be our next president. I really do. I haven’t caught that much of the Democratic convention, but I did hear Bill Clinton and John Kerry, and all I could say was, right on, dudes! Time for a change, indeed. Obama is giving a great speech, as I write.

But this isn’t primarily a political entry, because I’ve actually been thinking about and working on other things. I just came from reading a touching post on—my editor Jim Frenkel reminiscing in an entry called Still Waters Run Deep about the many years we’ve worked together, from Dell to Bluejay Books to Tor. It was a treat to see those years through his eyes.

I continue to be amazed by the support and generosity of the ereading community on By the time I was done with Neptune Crossing, four different people (none of whom I knew a week ago) were working on format conversions for me, or helpfully tweaking my own files. At the same time, people have been saying thanks with Paypal donations, and/or letting me know they’ve gone to buy my other ebooks. The dollar amount maybe won’t buy us a new washing machine (the damn Calypso died again today) but the feeling of support, encouragement, and community doesn’t have a dollar sign on it. It’s just been great.

Meanwhile, I’m happy to report that Strange Attractors draws ever closer to being an ebook available for download. Expect word soon.

“People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power.” —William Jefferson Clinton

More, More!

My Neptune Crossing free downloads are up over two thousand now, and over on, there’s been lively discussion and lots of encouragement and support from the people who truly love ebooks. In fact, on the first day, someone came forward and offered to do a conversion to the Sony reader format. In the process, he caught some errors for me, and he just sent me the file. As soon as I can find the software to view it and vet it, I’ll be putting that up, too.

Meanwhile, I’ve just uploaded a PDF(2) file, which will work on a handheld screen—meaning that the text will reflow to fit the smaller screen. That was a project of many hours, using an old version of Framemaker I have on my computer. (Framemaker has to be about the least intuitive program I have ever used in my life.) So if you really want a PDF on your PDA, go for it! (I still recommend Mobipocket or eReader, though.)

I added a Paypal tip jar to my download page, and yesterday my first donation came in, from Bob of Bloomington. That was interesting also because he learned of my downloads on the Amazon Kindle forum, which I didn’t even know existed. And my work was completely new to him. That was followed by my first international donation, from Joerg of Germany. Many thanks! (Another came in, as I was typing this.) I am extremely gratified that people are responding so generously. Go readers! You rock!

So does my family, who as a special birthday present sat as a tag team and typed in boring copy edits for Strange Attractors. Family, you rock!

So do you blog readers, as a matter of fact.

“Love the writing, love the writing, love the writing … the rest will follow.” —my wise friend Jane Yolen

The Virus Turns, and I Get a Surprise

I couldn’t resist checking the web logs for the last two days to see if people were downloading Neptune Crossing. Sure’n, they are. Seems word’s spreading faster than I’d hoped: I got an email from a reader telling me he’d seen a notice about it at Teleread—a very nice write-up by Chris Meadows. And he’d learned about it on Baen’s Bar, where someone had posted a note. I tried to post a note about it on, but couldn’t get past some stupid Fatal Error every time I tried to submit. Despite that, the viral distribution seems to be off to a good start! Keep it up, please!

Oh—and this summary of a kerfuffle on is pretty interesting, mainly because of what it says about human nature. Seems some people are pretty peeved with Tor for giving them free ebooks when they didn’t have the sequels ready yet for ebook distribution. (I’d better watch it.)

Meanwhile, I was pretty surprised to see the breakdown of downloads by format. I have fallen in deep like with the MobiPocket format, and the eReader format seems very good, too. On the other hand, I’ve never much liked PDF, which is slower and less clear on a handheld device, and I’m still working on the problem of getting a clean file that also allows the text to reflow to a smaller screen. (Making progress. I have a file that looks good, but is huge.)

So as of midnight tonight, here’s what the comparative stats looked like for the last couple of days, the inaugural days of the download page:

Palm/eReader – 19 downloads
RTF – 26
Mobi – 40
HTML – 62
PDF – 381

What?! Hey, I’m happy for people to take it in any form they want. But if you haven’t tried downloading a free Mobi Reader or eReader, give it a try. They’re good.

“Dude! Writing’s hard, dude!” —Anonymous

Neptune Crossing PDF Added

After much sweat today, I beat the Mobipocket Creator software into making some final tweaks to the MobiPocket version of Neptune Crossing. Then I lit into the PDF version, which seems to be a popular format, although in my opinion it has little to recommend it for viewing on a PDA or other handheld. That’s especially true here. I have a nice, pretty PDF display for viewing on a computer or for printing. And I hope that’s how most people who choose PDF would do it.

What I didn’t master was getting a file that’ll reflow the text onto a small screen. First my wife was doing the conversions for me on her Mac, and they looked good but were pretty fat files. Then I tried Adobe’s free online conversion, and that gave a much smaller file, same appearance. But neither did the tagging needed for text reflow on a PDA, and I don’t know how to do it. (And if this is all so much gibberish to you, more power to you!)

I think that’s it for Neptune Crossing! On to Strange Attractors!

“I have not yet spoken of the esthetic appeal of strange attractors. These systems of curves, these clouds of points, suggest sometimes fireworks or galaxies… A realm lies here to be explored and harmonies to be discovered.” —David Ruel

Neptune Crossing — Free Download!

I finished it today! You can now go to my web site and download a free ebook of Neptune Crossing, in any of several digital formats! I’ve got html, MobiPocket (Kindle and Pocket PC and others), and eReader (Palm and Pocket PC) formats up now, and expect to add PDF in a day or so. I may add Microsoft Reader and Sony ebook formats, but I don’t know how much demand there is for them. Maybe I’ll come back to that after I get the next books up.

It’s been a real bear. First getting all the copy-edits typed in (my daughter helped with that). Then fixing the formatting; the original files were in WordStar for DOS, and the conversion to Word left some problems. Oy—the formatting. A nightmare. But I finally managed it. I have the Mobi and eReader versions on my own PDA right now, and they look good.

I’m finding that I enjoy reading on my PDA, more and more. I have about 50 books on there right now, and I can read it in bed in the dark without waking my wife. (With the font set at largest, I can just read without my glasses!) I’m rereading some old favorites from when I was a kid—some Tom Corbett and Andre Norton. But I’ve also got a bunch of classics, ranging from The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire to The Call of the Wild to the Bible, for when I want something different. I’m a convert to ebooks!

Anyway, come and download Neptune Crossing, and tell your friends! Free books!! Help me out and pass the word!

“You’ll never make much money writing books like that. But the very best people will come to your funeral.” —said to Edgar Pangborn, as told by D.G. Compton

Tor Free e-Books—Last Chance

If you were sort of thinking of snagging the e-books has been offering on a weekly basis, but never got around to it, or missed some, it’s not too late. With the launch of Tor’s new web site, they’re making the whole lot available one more time for procrastinators. Check it out this week only on this page at Tor Books. There’s a bunch of cover art available for download, too. Through July 27. Don’t wait!

I just today installed the free Mobipocket Reader software on my Pocket PC, and loaded a whole slew of books in Mobipocket format onto the storage card. Though I’ve only played around with it a bit, I have to say it’s a pretty nice way to view the books, especially considering that the PDA itself (a Cassiopeia) is now something of a vintage device. Tor is offering the books in a variety of formats, but the Mobipocket seems the most compact, and works best as long as you have the software.

Also, thanks to a tip from Rob Sawyer, I purchased on ebay, from a nice lady in England, a DVD containing 10,000 e-books from the Gutenberg project. All kinds of classics, ranging from the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire to H.P. Lovecraft, all in the public domain. It’s only $24 including airmail from England. To find it, do a search on ebay for ON DVD 10.000 MOBIPOCKET ebooks for the KINDLE READER — and you’ll find it.

“A room [or PDA] without books is like a body without a soul.” —Cicero

Readercon and E-Books (Part 2)

Okay, on to the Readercon panel on e-distribution of our books and stories, which was titled, “If Free Electronic Texts Are Good Promotion, What’s Piracy?” I was on the panel along with James Patrick Kelly (moderating), Cat Rambo, Graham Sleight, and Gordon Van Gelder (editor and publisher of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction). The basic questions, which are seriously intertwined:

1. Is it good for a writer (or publisher) to give away your goods for free on the net?
2. If the answer to (1) is yes, is it so bad if someone else decides to give your stuff away for free on your behalf (e-piracy)?

I’m not going to be able to repeat the exact points made on the panel, so let me try giving the gist, in the form of Q&A.

Q. Does it really help writers to put their stuff up for free? Does it help book sales, or hurt?
A. No one knows. Anecdotal evidence (ala Doctorow, Scalzi, and others) suggests that it helps. But that’s very anecdotal, and to the best of my knowledge, no one has released any actual sales figures as evidence. But no one seems to feel that it hurts—and the fact that Baen gives away free e-books, and Tor too (and the fact that Tor is fine with my giving away my books if I want to) lends some authority to that position. But…this could well just be the early adopter effect. And while it’s seemingly helped some people, is it also reinforcing a perception in the public that stuff online simply ought to be free, dammit? What will happen when e-books are a bigger part of the whole publishing picture? Will readers be willing to pay for the cow when they’re used to getting the milk for free?

Q. Is it better to emulate the drug dealers, and give the first one for free—and try to hook them, so that they’ll pay for the ones that follow?
A. No one knows. But that’s kind of what Baen Books does, and it seems to work for them. So should I put up my new (forthcoming) book Sunborn for free, along with the first three books in the story arc—or is three enough, and if you like those, c’mon, just buy the next book, please? No one knows. Or at least I don’t. (But that’s how I’m leaning at the moment.)

Q. How do audiobooks and podcasts fit into this?
A. It’s sort of the same deal. Some authors, Jim Kelly in particular, have been energetically giving away podcasts of their own readings, as a way to promote the printed stuff. According to Jim, when he won the Nebula Award for his novella “Burn,” it had probably been heard by more people as a free podcast than read by people on the page. His audio promotion probably has increased his readership, and now it’s resulted in a paid arrangement with

Q. Is it okay that strangers are scanning in our books, or hacking the protected e-books, and putting them up online on BitTorrent sites, in complete violation of copyright and common courtesy?
A. No, it’s not okay. It sucks. It’s piracy, and it’s illegal and immoral. Only one person should decide whether a book or story goes up for free—and that’s the author.

Q. What if I ask the question again. Will you give the same answer?
A. Maybe not. Unquestionably it’s free publicity, and it may well draw new readers into the author’s fold. After all, what’s the bottom-line difference between someone finding a pirated version of your book on BitTorrent and grabbing it for free, and someone paying a penny for a used copy on Amazon? Neither one makes the writer a cent in royalties. But there’s that new reader thing; we like it when new people discover our stories. Sometimes they go on to buy other books, or even the same ones, in royalty-paying copies. (Sometimes they don’t.) But at least they’re reading our stuff.

Q. Are there any other parallels with the music biz, beyond the audiocasts?
A. The emusic/itunes/etc music model of selling songs for a reasonable price has clearly established that many people are willing to pay a fair price for a legit copy of something they want—even if they could get it for free in pirated form. Clearly this is working for the mp3 retail industry. But is it actually working for the artists? (By which I mean the midlist artists.) I don’t know. One thing I do know is that the e-book industry has yet to fully grasp the concept of fair price; most legit e-books still cost way too much. And I include my own in that. (However, I have no control.)

Q. Would it make sense for a magazine like Fantasy and Science Fiction to go to a free, online, giveaway model?
A. Sure, if the purpose was to put it out of business. That’s the opinion of publisher Gordon Van Gelder, and the experience of online magazines seems to bear it out.

Q. How much time and effort should a writer put into all this, if he/she desires to put stuff up for free.
A. That’s a good question, because every hour spent making corrected book files or audio files (or writing blogs) is an hour not spent writing new stories. And it can be stressful. Sometimes very stressful. And creatively draining.

Q. There are a lot of unknowns here. When are we going to start seeing some answers?
A. Nobody knows. But if you’re just joining the conversation on this blog, scroll down a few posts for more on the subject.

I hope I’ve been able to clarify the picture for you. (Hah.) No doubt I’ve forgotten some things that were said on the panel. If so, perhaps someone out there can add it in a comment.

“When we read, we start at the beginning and continue until we reach the end. When we write, we start in the middle and fight our way out.” —Vickie Karp

Readercon and E-Books (Part 1)

First of all, let me say that Readercon was great this year—which I measure primarily by the enjoyable and interesting people I talked to. A partial list would include Jim Kelly, Rob Sawyer, Ann Tonsor Zeddies, Geary Gravel, Rosemary Kirstein, Tom Easton and his wife Kate Savage (who let me hold an Amazon Kindle in my hands for the first time, and even put some of my books on it!), Michaela Roessner, Terry McGarry, Paolo Bacigalupi, Jim Freund, Judith Berman, Victoria McManus, Dan Kimmel, and—neither last nor least—a bunch of members of the writing workshops I’ve led with Craig Gardner. In that latter group, Chris Howard was positively glowing. His first novel, Seaborn, is just out. It looks terrific. (Two short sections of it went through critique in our workshop.) And Chris figured he’d made it—because his book was already pirated and up on someone’s BitTorrent site. And probably was before the print version was even available.

Whatever you think about that last, good or bad—congratulations, Chris!

On the subject of e-books and piracy, I participated in a lively panel on the subject of e-piracy versus the rising trend of folks making their work available for free online. Our panel moderator was James Patrick Kelly, who has been in the forefront of putting his work up in audio format, initially as free podcasts, which eventually led to a paid appearance on We batted around a lot of ideas on the subject—which I promise I will talk about tomorrow. It’s late now. Time to get some sleep.

“I write for the same reason I breathe—because if I didn’t, I would die.” —Isaac Asimov

Readercon: July 17 – 20

Readercon happens this coming weekend, just outside Boston. It’s one of my convention-going highlights of the year, being full of people who truly love reading and love science fiction! I’ll be on a few panels, and doing a reading. The full text of the Program Guide is online as a PDF. But here’s my schedule:

Friday 4:00 PM, Salon F:
If Free Electronic Texts Are Good Promotion, What’s Piracy?Jeffrey A. Carver, James Patrick Kelly (L), Cat Rambo, Graham Sleight, Gordon Van Gelder

“Webscabs, who post their creations on the net for free . . . [are helping convert] the noble calling of Writer into the life of Pixel-stained Technopeasant Wretch.”–Howard V. Hendrix, former Vice-President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). In a recent issue of _Locus_, Cory Doctorow summarized the evidence that giving away free electronic versions of books actually helps rather than hinders sales of the printed versions… What are the differences between giving away a text electronically yourself, and letting others disseminate it without your knowledge and/or permission? …If “piracy” is actually good for all except the best-selling authors, how do writers reconcile this reality with long-standing and deep-rooted feelings about intellectual property rights and getting paid for work?

Friday 7:00 PM, Salon F:
Waking Up Sober Next to a Story Idea — Paolo Bacigalupi, Jeffrey A. Carver (L), David Anthony Durham, Kay Kenyon, Barry B. Longyear, Jennifer Pelland

Really, it seemed absolutely beautiful once upon a time. Now that you’ve had intimate knowledge of it (say, midway through the novel), you can see all the less-than-flattering sides. You may even wonder, What the hell was I thinking? How do you recover enthusiasm for the work? Now that you see the flaws, how do you begin the process of fixing them?

Saturday 12:00 Noon, Vinyard: Kaffeeklatsch (meet the author)
Jeffrey A. Carver; David Anthony Durham

Saturday 2:00 PM, RI: Workshop
Writing Jujitsu: Turning Writer’s Block into Stories. — Barry B. Longyear with participation by Jeffrey A. Carver, Barbara Krasnoff, Sandra McDonald, et al.

You can’t sell it until it’s on paper and you can’t get it on paper if things keep eating up your time, nag at you, bully you, or you’re filled to the brim with illnesses, insecurities, or crushing doubts. Longyear presents a how-to workshop for beginning writers and those who have been there on how to turn what’s blocking your muse into stories.

Sunday 1:30 PM, VT: Reading (30 min.) — Jeffrey A. Carver reads from his forthcoming novel Sunborn.

If you’re going to be at Readercon, I hope you’ll come say hello. (I won’t have a designated autographing time. They had too many authors, and since I don’t currently have anything new out, they triaged me. But I’ll be around. Grab me after a panel, or come to the Kaffeeklatch.)

“First you’re an unknown, then you write a book and you move up to obscurity.” —Martin Myers

More On Free E-Books

There’s been a lot of interesting stuff written in just the last few days, fortuitously (some of which was brought to my attention by Charlza in his comment to my last post). Simon Owens has a long article about the Tor free e-book program on his blog, bloggasm. He notes several authors’ impressions that book giveaways have helped sales, and quotes extensively from Tobias Buckell, a newer writer who seems to be doing very nicely. There are some provocative comments from readers, on both sides of the question.

Rob Sawyer responds on his own blog with a much more analytical approach to the question. Pointing out that there’s really no hard data for us to base judgments on, he does a nice job of extrapolating some likely ranges for increased sales (and earnings) for writers. In his view, the benefits are probably far more modest than suggested by anecdotal reports. A key point in his argument is that Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi, who have reported such apparent good results, are not necessarily typical cases. Both of these writers have huge online presences, and probably got way more downloads than the average writer would. (Certainly they have far more active blogs and web sites than I do.)

So where does this leave me? I learned from reader Pascal that a fair number of my earlier novels are already up on Bit Torrent networks in pirated PDF editions. He got copies to me so that I could look at them, and I see that they range from barely readable hack jobs to thoroughly professional-looking work. I must say it was a shock to see how many novels by how many SF writers are floating around in pirated editions. I’m of two minds about it: On the one hand, it’s clear copyright infringement, and to a significant degree badly done infringement. On the other hand, it’s free publicity.

One of my workshop students suggested, why not find the pirate scanners who did the good job and see if I can get them to scan in the first three Chaos books for me. Then I could put at the top of the PDFs:

“This electronic edition, and no other, has been distributed with my consent and co-operation. Those who approve of courtesy (at least) to living authors will download it, and no other.”

(If you don’t recognize the source, it’s from Tolkien’s note in the Ballantine Books edition of The Lord of the Rings, following the Ace pirated edition, many decades ago.)

So am I any closer to a decision on whether to post Sunborn for free when it’s published? Not really. But leaning now towards putting the first three up to introduce new readers to the series, then letting the book carry it from there.

But we’ll see.

“Advice from this elderly practitioner is to forget publishers and just roll a sheet of copy paper into your machine and get lost in your subject.” —E. B. White

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