Comet ISON: John Bandicut?

It took a loyal reader to point it out to me: The coming close encounter of Comet ISON with the sun is kind of reminiscent of a fateful ride taken by John Bandicut in my novel Neptune Crossing. (Tip of the space helmet to Kyle Michael Jeynes for noting it on my Facebook page.) Of course, in Bandicut’s case, he and the quarx Charlie were chasing the comet.

If you haven’t read Neptune Crossing, you should. I need the sales! No, actually it’s free, pretty much everywhere fine ebooks are to be found. Or, you could take the plunge and buy it in a high quality omnibus with the next two books in the series. Only $6.99 for three complete novels! A steal, even if you can get the first one by itself for free!

Seriously, though, ebook sales have been down something fierce the last few months. It’s been true for me, and I’m hearing it from a lot of other writers, too. Maybe it’s the economy, combined with organized governmental dysfunction. Even our local beer and wine store reports a recent sales slump. If people aren’t buying likker, you know there’s a problem!

So, support your favorite author and buy a book today. Or, maybe even better, recommend your favorite author to someone who hasn’t had the pleasure yet. Your favorite author will thank you.

Damned Typos! (And Other Myths of Easy Ebook Corrections)

posted in: ebooks, my books, publishing 0

I was barely home from my trip when I got an email from Amazon Kindle support, telling me that a reader had contacted them about two typos they had found in the (free) ebook edition of Neptune Crossing. Would I please correct them? Hell’s bells, I thought. There goes my day. And I was right.

There’s this widespread misconception that because ebooks are digital, mistakes can be corrected in a jiffy and the revised edition put up before your coffee has time to cool. Sounds good. And oh, how I wish it were true. Let’s see how it plays out in real life.

First, I checked the ebook, which exists in multiple formats, to see if there really were typos. Sometimes people mistake colloquialisms, or sounds, or alien words, or made-up words, or unusual usage for typos. Alas, the typos were real. They were mistakes, and they had to be fixed.

The first challenge was that I maintain multiple “master source” documents—Word docs that have all the latest corrections and styles and so forth. Docs from which new ebooks, or print-on-demand paper books, can be created. The reason there are several is that there’s different front and end material, depending on the store. For example, “Buy the next book in the series from the Kindle store,” with a link. Or from the Nook store. Each store allows links only back to itself, or to the author website. So when something needs to be corrected, it has to be corrected in all the master documents.

After the source docs are corrected, it’s time to correct the ebooks. In the case of epub books (Nook, iBooks, everything but Kindle), the easiest way to fix something simple like a misspelled word is to open the ebook in a program called Sigil, which lets you edit the underlying text and code. Do a search, fix it, rerun validation checks, and close it up again. Then test it in a few viewers to make sure you didn’t screw something else up while fixing the little thing. (You might be surprised how often this happens.) For a Kindle file, you can’t use Sigil, so it’s easiest to recreate the ebook from the source file in Calibre, another essential program. Then test, retest, etc.

Done? Time to upload the new versions. Easy, right? Maybe. About half the stores have changed the requirements for cover illustration size since the last upload, so you have to go back to your master cover images and hope you have a big enough one to meet the upgraded requirements. Oops, now you need to run the book through Calibre again to incorporate the larger cover image in the book. Then test again.

Time to upload (again). Kindle first, because more books sell there than anywhere else. Also, they also have the most sophisticated checking system. It now presents you with a list of possible typos. See the above list of things that are often mistaken for typos. Most the flagged words are just that. But you need to look at them anyway, to see. Okay, good, upload done. One store out of the way, now on to the next. Oops, Smashwords accepts epub uploads now, but gives a bizarre error from Firefox. Better try again, using Chrome. That works—but with about six other annoying little glitches that cause the upload to take an hour instead of a minute. The Nook store should go faster, right? Maybe, except they’ve changed catalog description requirements, so you have to fix those bits. Finally, Book View Café, which is a simple FTP upload. Yay!

Oops—wait. If the typos were in Neptune Crossing, then they’re probably also in The Chaos Chronicles Omnibus volume, which contains the first three books. Better check. Yes, blast it, they are. Repeat steps 1-60 above, with the omnibus. Go to upload.

The Kindle spell-checker flags something like 200 words, most of them as noted above. But wouldn’t you know it? It finds a real typo in Strange Attractors (Book 2), and two in The Infinite Sea (Book 3). Augghh! These books have been checked over so many times, how can that be? Nevertheless, there they are.

Go through it all again, fixing the typos in the omnibus, and then again in each edition of the individual novels. Check the results. What’s this? Why is the first line of Chapter 19 of Strange Attractors indented, while all the others are flush left? Wrong style applied to that paragraph. Frakkin’, frakkin’, frak. Go fix it. In all the versions. Be sure and get them all. Oh wait—I need a bigger cover image for this book now, too.

Repeat as needed. Try not to go mad.

Those two typos took an entire day, and I still haven’t finished with The Infinite Sea. When that’s done, there’s a typo a friend pointed out in Dragon Space. Aaaeeiii. 

Tell you what. The next time you find a typo or two in a book, please consider cutting the author (or publisher) a little slack. It’s harder than it looks to get rid of those things! (If you find more than a few, that’s just carelessness. Go ahead and give the publisher hell.)

The Next Big Thing — Work in Progress

Today I’m diving into an author meme that’s circulating around the net this month. It’s called a Blog Hop. The idea is to post some tantalizing information about your work in progress, to get folks (that’s you) psyched about what’s coming down the pike—and then to link to some of your writer friends and colleagues, and encourage the same folk (you, again) to go check out what they’re doing.

Here goes. First question, please:

1) What is the title of your next work?

The Reefs of Time.

It’s Volume Five of The Chaos Chronicles. Or, to put it another way, it’s the long-awaited sequel to Sunborn. It’s also still very much a work in progress, and I don’t have a publication date for you, unfortunately. Some of you have been waiting a long time for this book, and I very much appreciate your patience.

2) Where did the idea come from?

It continues a story inspired by chaos theory, which began years ago with Neptune Crossing, the opening volume of The Chaos Chronicles. The series chronicles the adventures of one John Bandicut from Earth, a survey pilot out on Triton (moon of Neptune), whose journey starts with a search for relics of life from outside the solar system. He finds it, in the form of a quarx—a noncorporeal alien who takes up residence in his head—and the translator, a powerful machine or being of equally alien origin. A lot happens after that—four books’ worth, in fact. Worlds in danger, starting with Earth. Reluctant heroes. New friendships and loves where least expected.

In The Reefs of Time, we are hundreds of years further into the future, out at the edge of our galaxy. There’s a calamity in the making, of truly galactic proportions. Li-Jared’s homeworld is involved. The starstream is involved (see From a Changeling Star and Down the Stream of Stars). The Mindaru are involved (see Sunborn). The inspiration for this volume came not just from chaos theory, but time theory, as well. The human element was inspired by… well, I’m not really sure, to be honest. My own feelings of awe in the face of a seemingly chaotic universe, perhaps.

Each of the books is a story complete, while building a much larger story arc.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Sounds sort of like science fiction, doesn’t it?

4) What actors should play your characters in the movie?

I’d never thought about that until now. Well, okay, this sounds nutty, but actually Tom Cruise, toned down, might not be bad as John Bandicut. Chris Pike could be good, too. Or Jeremy Renner, or Mark Ruffalo. He has to be smart and capable, but also a little crazy. He’s got actual, alien voices in his head, and he’s loyal to those he loves, and when pushed, he’s willing to take some enormous risks.

Most of the characters in this book are aliens, and that’s a tough casting challenge. Willem Dafoe was great as Tar Tarkas, and he might be a pretty good Ik (an alien). Lynn Collins (Deja Thoris in John Carter) could be the beautiful, four-breasted humanoid, Antares. Or Lena Heady. For Julie Stone, human… not sure. Someone smart, competent, cute, reminiscent of Allison Mack (Chloe in Smallville); but I’m not sure she’s quite right. Someone similar, though. Summer Glau? Too exotic. Piper Perabo? Too adorable. I think this part is still open. Li-Jared and the robots, I really have no idea.

5) Give us a one-sentence synopsis. (Go ahead, try!)

When a time distortion opens a channel from the center of the galaxy in the deep past, to the outer galaxy of now, it also opens a path for a malevolent group of cyber-entities to come forward in time, threatening thousands of civilized worlds. It falls to John Bandicut and his alien companions to find a way to close the timestream. And if Bandicut survives, he might just learn that Julie Stone has made it to Shipworld, out at the edge of the galaxy, and that she has played a part in the mission.

Okay, I made it in three sentences. But it’s a whole lot more complicated than that, really.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It is slated to be published by Tor Books, who have been waiting patiently for the long-overdue manuscript.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft?

Ouch. Five years or more in, I’m nearly finished with the massive first draft. I expect the rewrite to go a lot faster, though it will be a huge job, involving a lot of weaving and a lot of cutting and tightening. 

8) What other books would you compare this story to?

That’s a hard one. It has some of the epic proportions of Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep, and A Deepness in the Sky. Maybe some kinship with Gregory Benford’s galactic core books. Or Jack McDevitt’s The Engines of God. Or Samuel R. Delany’s Nova. Or Niven’s Ringworld. A bit of Heinlein, a bit of Clarke. It’s character driven, but probably comes in somewhere between hard science fiction and galactic space opera.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

James Gleick’s book, Chaos. An article in The Planetary Report about chaos in the solar system. An image of a man, a pilot, driven a little mad by the loss of his cybernetic implants, as the first human to encounter an alien.

10) What else might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s a great, sprawling adventure with characters I find very interesting (humans, aliens, robots), a complex plot spanning half the galaxy, and—oh yes—time travel! I can’t wait to read it. And I really can’t wait to finish writing it. The Reefs of Time. When it’s done, the readers of this blog will be the first to know.

All six books that connect to it, by the way, are readily available as ebooks. (That includes four books of The Chaos Chronicles, plus the two Starstream novels mentioned above. Paper books are also available, though you might have to go to the used market for some of them.)

If there are no more questions, why don’t you check out what some of my fellow authors have to say about their works in progress? (Some might be posting over the course of the day, so if you don’t see anything, check back.)

Richard Bowker http://richardbowker.com/
Ann Tonsor Zeddies http://pointoforigin.livejournal.com/
Lois Gresh http://loisgresh.blogspot.com

The next bunch of writers are all colleagues of mine at Book View Café:

Patricia Burroughs http://planetpooks.com/the-blog/
Katharine Eliska “Cat” Kimbriel http://alfreda89.livejournal.com/
Pati Nagle http://patinagle.livejournal.com/
Steven Harper Piziks http://spiziks.livejournal.com
Deborah J. Ross http://www.deborahjross.blogspot.com/

Others will be posting on December 19. I’ll try to get some more links for you then.

If you’re a writer and have posted your own “Next Big Thing” (or want to do so right now), please go ahead and post your link under Comments!

Holiday Specials!

Before this gets away from me and I forget to promote it (What good are specials if you keep them to yourself?), I have a few book specials lined up for the holiday season.

Ebooks first. At Book View Café, you can pick up my two short story collections, Going Alien and Reality and Other Fictions, for just $1.99 each through December 31. (That’s a dollar off the regular low, low price of $2.99!) Epub or mobi (Kindle) format, your choice, DRM-free.

In the Kindle store, the price of my spaceship-racing thriller, Clypsis (Book One of the Roger Zelazny’s Alien Speedway trilogy) has been marked down by the publisher, at my request, from $9.99 to $5.97. That’s a 40% markdown! Gentlebeings, start your engines! A rousing collaboration with the late, great Roger Zelazny, for young adults of all ages! (Plus, when you compare the ebook price to $89.56 for a new, vintage paperback, it’s a no-brainer. Never mind the $.01 used paperbacks. I’m sure they’re not as good.)



Finally, for lovers of tree-books, I remind you all that personalized, autographed paper books make fine gifts for the discerning gift giver.  Why not visit my virtual bookstore at http://www.starrigger.net/order.htm? Take 10% off the book total (not off the postage, please) for any order you send me in the month of December. This sale is not listed on the website. Just take the discount and mention you read it on my blog or Facebook page.

The book is dead? I don’t think so. Long live the book!

   

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