Benj hard at work

I’m in the process of rereleasing most of my children’s books on Kindle. These are the old Mentor Press books. Since some of them go back more than ten years, I no longer have the files for them on computer. The back-ups are on an obsolete device of some sort, so I’d started retyping them out. Now, I’m a pretty fast typist but this didn’t seem to be the best use of my time, not with new fiction to write, a farm and fishing business to run and some freelance editing to do. So Chris set Benj up with the scanner and he’s taken over getting the print books into electronic format for me. He’s going great guns. The only drawback is that he has to disassemble the books in order to get a good quality scan. But I’ve got plenty of copies of them going spare.

Illustrator Roger Fereday will be doing some new covers for me, mainly for the Oh! series and the younger children’s books I wrote. Caitlin is designing covers too, for my older children’s books. So I should have another batch of books up on Kindle before very long. It’s really exciting!

Back in March I wrote this:

This August is going to be a big month for us. On the 9th, Chris and I celebrate our silver wedding anniversary, and on the 13th, it will be five years since we arrived here. We’re having a big party on the 7th to jointly mark these occasions. And I’ve set myself the challenge of having self-published a book on the Kindle by then too. And why not? It’s something I want to do and it’s achievable with a bit of hard work between now and then.

I had envisaged having Heads Above Water, the first of my living in France books out, but in fact it’s my children’s book Oh Auntie! that pipped it to the post. I’ve finished the second draft of Heads Above Water and am currently reading through. I’ll be talking to Roger Fereday about the cover very soon, so I foresee epublishing it in September, all being well.

 

My next book on Kindle will be Beat the Hackers which I’ve just finished typing up and updating. Caitlin has designed an excellent cover for it. Like Oh Auntie!, this is a book that was previously published in traditional format by Mentor Press, but since that publisher closed its children’s publishing arm several years ago, the rights have reverted to me. So the plan is to re-release all my twenty-odd Mentor books and this time round give them the publicity they deserve. I’m writing new books too.

So – I met my challenge. In that case I’ll set another. I’m coming round to the view that writing challenges can be very productive. I want to have my work of adult fiction, Something Fishy: A Marcus Summers Mystery up on Kindle by December. This is a racy fishing-related mystery. There aren’t many in that genre yet but I think it’s a winning combination.

I’d been wondering what the recent explosion in self-publishing was going to mean for traditional publishers and, in particular, for literary agents. It’s been all too obvious lately with what it’s doing to bookshops. Several big chains have unfortunately gone under due to the rise in ebooks – Borders in the US and Angus and Robertson in Australia are two examples.

To a large extent, literary agents have always been the hangers-on in the publishing world. They’re not contributing original material, like the authors are. They’re not producing the finished goods, like the publishers are. They’re somewhere in the middle taking a cut of the author’s earnings.

So it looks like some agents are becoming ‘self-publishing enablers’, offering ‘assisted self-publishing’. They will undertake to do tasks such as reformatting the author’s manuscript into ebook friendly formats, organising cover design, uploading files to Amazon, Smashwords etc  and drawing up marketing plans. These are all things the author could do on his or her own, with a very little bit of effort. First time is always the hardest preparing a manuscript for the digital market, as I know from experience, but once you’ve got the hang of what to do, it’s quick and straightforward. Most indie authors are up for doing as much as they can for themselves generally, so it remains to be seen how well this new agency role will catch on.

I was about to launch into  a longer discussion of this, but then came across David Gaughran’s excellent discussion of the topic here. He has far more clout and involvement in the world of digital publishing and can discuss the area much more knowledgeably than I can. It’s interesting to see I’m not the only one who’s questioning the new route agents will take.

 

 

 

I signed up with Xinxii today. OK , so what’s Xinxii? Xinxii is a digital self-publishing platform which launched in Germany in 2008, and began operating in English last year. It allows you to sell your documents in up to 15 different formats.

Xinxii evolved from CEO Dr Andrea Shober’s publishing company, which focussed on guides for expats and business people working abroad. She decided to launch a platform where authors could upload and sell their works in this area, and it took off from there. Authors keep full control of editing and copyright, and sell their works through their own Xinxii e-store. Constantly developing, Xinxii will be able to support ereaders and mobile platforms in the very near future.

Xinxii runs in four language versions – English, French, German and Spanish. But customers can come from anywhere – they can pay in dollars, euros or sterling. It’s free to upload your books to the site. You, the author, sets the price (minimum 99 US cents) and get paid for every purchase. You keep 40% of the net sales for documents priced between between 99 cents and 2.48 dollars, and 70% for books priced 2.40 and above.

I’ve got Oh Auntie! up on Xinxii and will be very interested to see how it goes. The site offers lots of advice on publicity using social media and so on, which I shall take plenty of time to study.

Check Xinxii out at www.xinxii.com. You’ll find Oh Auntie here.

I’m busy mugging up about book marketing and came across the term ‘freemiums’. To my shame I had no idea what they were, so I looked them up. A freemium is promotional or business model that offers something basic for free, while charging for more advanced or premium related products. (That’s where the ‘free’ and ‘mium’ of freemium come from.) So I’ve been coming across freemiums all the time without realising when I’ve signed up for free ebooks or newsletters on sites that are hoping to sell me something eventually. This website explains the model in detail.

Will they work for authors? Undoubtedly. The Internet is all about getting things for free, so surfers these day expect to get some sort of freebie from every website. And if they don’t find it on yours, they’ll go elsewhere. Joanna Penn explains in a fascinating guest post here on The Savvy Book Marketer that authors have an advantage when it comes to freemiums as they can write, and the vast majority of the free products offered are written articles. It’s fairly painless, therefore, for us to rattle them off. Her suggestions for some good freemiums for writers to offer include:

  • Blog posts and articles for free, but your books are premium.
  • Short stories or first couple of chapters are free, but the whole book is premium.
  • You make your first novel free, but subsequent ones must be paid for.

So, freemiums look like being an interesting book marketing avenue to explore.

 

 

Oh Auntie on Kindle Previewer

So – I’m a Kindle author. I said I’d do it by August, and I did. I’m very pleased with myself.

Oh Auntie is up there now! Take a look, and if you feel like hitting the like button, well, that would be great.Or better still, treat yourself to a copy. I priced it at 99 US cents, so it’s a bargain!

Amazon.com customers go here.

Amazon.co.uk customers go here.

Amazon.de customers go here.

It was a steep learning curve to prepare the book for Kindle. I did a good bit of research but the book that was the most helpul was Jason Matthew’s How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks, All for Free. (Check out his website here.) So step by step I worked my way through the conversion process.

I had a Word copy of the book originally, which I put into a .doc document (not .docx). I then saved that as html (webpage) and was going to work with that, but then discovered that I could use Mobipocket Creator. I’m not that hi-tech so that looked like a good option for me. I have my two resident computer experts at home – Chris and Caiti – but I didn’t want to impose. I downloaded Mobipocket for free, followed the instructions given on the Kindle direct publishing site, and soon I had a version on Oh Auntie in .prc. To check how things looked, I then downloaded Kindle Previewer and uploaded my file to that. Everything was good, so I went back to Kindle Direct Publishing and uploaded the file, my cover and filled in all the essential info that you have to put up. It took me the afternoon but I know what I’m doing now.

And Oh Auntie was up there this morning. Impressively quick.

So, now I must start some serious marketing, although this book is just my Kindle guinea pig. I have some heavier weight books coming soon which I really want to push. But, this is a super little book, and worth trying to sell.

As I pick up tips and advice, I’ll pass them on.

There’s hope for me yet!

You’ve probably heard of Anna Sams, a check out girl who became a bestselling author by writing about her irritating customers. The book has been translated into English and published by Gallic Books (who promised me a copy of an Armand Cagasson book to review – hope it comes soon). It’s called Checkout: A life on the tills.

All being well I’ll get a book out of our last set of anglers. (We run a gite and carp fishery here in France, with a little light llama trekking on the side!) This post in my other blog shows you what we had to deal with. Sometimes working in the hospitality trade is more like working in the hostility trade. But, there’s worse ways to make a living.

So watch this space!

 

I blogged about a 1909 copy of the French journal Bonnes Lectures on my living in France blog the other day. In this same issue was a short article about why young girls should never, but NEVER, read novels.

Here’s what it says:

Novels

It’s a shame that people read these so often these days. Those that do read them should remember that novels do nobody any good at all and they are above all dangerous for young girls. False ideas, irresponsible attitude, impossible ideals, a loss of innocence – this is what you find in novels.

Even Jean-Jacques Rousseau, famed for his profanity, has said: No chaste young girl ever read a novel.

Bear this in mind!

 

I think times have changed, thank goodness!

 

 

My samplesunday contribution this week is the opening chapter from Beat the Hackers, the next of my books to hit Kindle in the very near future.

Currently revising this cover

Monday 13 May 2013

Heather Mayhew strode briskly up the steep hill towards home. She’d just got off the school bus. It was running late today, so that was why she wasn’t hanging about. Her father would be watching the clock, and if she was more than a few minutes later than normal, he’d be out looking for her. He was a worrier.

Ray Mayhew ran a computer programming business from home. And what a home it was. He and Heather lived in a large, rambling house surrounded by several acres of garden and orchards. Ray was extremely successful these days. He’d had a big breakthrough a few years ago when he’d developed an app that made it really quick and easy for people to monitor their emails, Tweets and Facebook messages. It quickly emerged as the best by far on the market, and he’d made an awful lot of money from it. So Heather had everything she could possibly need – and a few more things besides. She didn’t think of herself as particularly lucky, though. She simply took it for granted.

“Hi Dad!” Heather called as she opened the front door. “It’s me!”

“Hello!” Ray replied, shouting from his office at the top of the stairs. “I’ll be down in a mo. Pop the kettle on, please.”

Heather and her father always had a cup of tea together when she got back from school. It was one of their little rituals. Then she would get on with her homework, and Ray would go back upstairs to work, apart from Tuesdays when he drove Heather to town for swimming club and Fridays when it was Scouts. But today was Monday so Heather had the evening to herself. She decided she’d get her inline skates out later since it was warm and bright. And then maybe she’d read and catch up with her friends on Facebook. She hummed happily as she filled the kettle. She was very content with her ordered, steady life.

A clumping on the stairs signalled that her father was coming down. She pulled the biscuit tin out of the cupboard. It contained a mixture of digestives for Ray and ginger nuts for her.

“So what did you learn today, princess?” smield Ray, as he came into the kitchen. He was small and wiry, with unfashionable thick, black-framed glasses, a bushy beard and a lot of ginger hair. He was usually scruffy, except for when he met clients. Today hadn’t been a day of meeting so he was dressed in baggy jogging pants, a shabby checked shirt and odd slippers. But Heather wasn’t surprised at his appearance. Ray always looked something like that.

“Oh, we did loads of stuff,” she replied vaguely. “Mainly pretty boring. How’s your new program coming along?”

“Fine, fine,” smiled Ray. “Not too much more to do on it now.”

“It’s an anti-hacking program, right?” Heather asked conversationally, dunking two ginger nuts at once into her sweet, milky tea.

“It certainly is,” her father nodded, adding a fourth spoonful of sugar to his mug of black tea. Neither passed a comment on the other’s greediness. They were too used to each other to even notice.

“So you’ll stop all those wretched hackers messing up other people’s computers just for fun then? Cool.” She munched her biscuits thoughtfully. “But why do hackers, you know, hack? It’s so nasty.”

Ray shrugged. “Because they can mainly. And because they’re mean. Well, most are. Some hackers are harmless enough.”

“They don’t sound harmless,” protested Heather.

“What I mean,” Ray went on, “is that some hackers break into systems just to prove a point. They leave a message describing what they’ve done so the person at the other end can tighten up on security before a malicious hacker, or cracker, gets in the same way.”

“Still sneaky,” observed Heather. “But why is there so much hacking these days? A few years ago there didn’t seem to be so much going on. It’s all the time these days.”

Heather was right. In the last two days alone a thirteen-year-old girl in America had crippled three huge corporations by hacking into their websites. And in Strasbourg the computer systems of the European Parliament had been sabotaged by some as yet unknown hacker.

“It’s easier these days, Heth,” her father sighed, “because of WiFi. Most people connect to the Internet wirelessly now. The days of cables and modems are over. But it does mean that unless you physically disconnect from the WiFi network, or turn your livebox off, your computer has a static address that’s there all day, every day.”

“Twenty-four seven, you mean,” Heather corrected her father. “That’s the cool way to say it.”

“OK. Twenty-four seven it is,” agreed Ray, helping himself to a third digestive. “So it’s easier for a hacker browsing around to find an address to attack.”

“When you say address,” frowned Heather, “do you mean the website name?”

“No, the IP – Internet Protocol – address. Each computer on the Internet has a unique IP address, which is a series of numbers in groups of three. These numbers are the way information finds its way from the source to where it’s going. The website or domain names aren’t what the computers are using. They’re just there for the humans. People are better at remembering names than numbers, although that might change in a few thousand years’ time.” Ray smiled. “I read an article the other day saying that our brains are evolving to be better with numbers since they are becoming such an important part of our lives. You know, telephone numbers, car registrations, PIN numbers – that sort of thing.”

“Well, I wish mine would evolve extra fast,” sighed Heather. “I’d do better at maths then. You know how much I it! But about hackers, Dad. How will your new program keep them out?”

“That’s top secret,” her father winked.

“You mean I wouldn’t understand,” laughed Heather.

“We-ell, it is a bit technical,” admitted Ray. “Basically my program makes personal firewalls stronger.”

“I’ve heard of them, but I don’t really know what they are,” confessed Heather.

“A firewall is just a pair of mechanisms,” Ray told her. “One blocks unwanted traffic while the other permits authorised traffic through. In a nutshell, it keeps the idiots out of your computer and lets you get on with what you’re doing. And what’s more, the firewall can act as a tracing tool. My program sends an alert any time someone comes sniffing round, trying to crack the system. I may even install an automatic shutdown at that point as extra defence. But that might annoy the user too much. I’m including a virus detector too, to pick up viruses coming from the Internet and email. People are still so sloppy about computer security. They seem to think they’ll never get a virus.”

He trailed off and looked thoughtful.

“But your progam will beat the hackers, right?”

“I certainly hope so, Heth,” shrugged Ray. “I’m pinning a log on this program of mine. Talking of which, I’d better get back to work. And you’d better get your homework done, young lady.”

Heather pulled a face, but Dad was right. Time to tackle maths.

I have a cover for Oh Auntie, the first book I’ll be self-publishing on Kindle. Here it is.

It’s important to check how this will look in black and white, since this is how it will appear on the Kindle itself. Obviously it’s in colour on Amazon’s sales page. The text on this particular version didn’t work very well monochrome. So daughter Caiti had a rethink and came up with this one which is much better in black and white.

There’s a lot of advice on making covers for ebooks out there on the Net. For every person who says one thing, someone says the exact opposite! You have to use your own judgement and common sense to a large degree. The way I see it, you need the following:

1. An attractive, eye-catching design that gives an idea of what the book is about.

2. It needs to work in both colour and black and white.

3. The author’s name and the title in large, clear type.

4. Children’s books need artwork of some sort, an illustration for younger children certainly, and maybe a photo for older kids.

5. Simple and not too fussy. Possibly my picture is a little too detailed, but I love it, so I’ll see how it goes as it is. My artist, Roger Fereday, hasn’t worked on ebooks before either, so we’re both learning as we go along.