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Articles tagged with: e-book


Enhancing Your eBook

Enhancing Your eBook

A year ago I had no idea what enhanced eBooks were or how transmedia documentation could supplement my work. Today Last Bus Out sells on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iBooks with over 75 photos and 25 links to newscasts, videos, and animated satellite images. My journey began the moment this summer that I saw my daughter's new iPad and realized its potential for the non-fiction narrative I'd just written. I immediately began researching various media for photos, websites, videos, and articles that would help me tell the story of Courtney Miles, the boy from the projects who stole a bus in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and drove over 300 people to safety.

There were several issues I had to resolve in order to produce this book. The first was copyright. No one really knows exactly how copyright laws will translate in this new publishing model, but I got lucky. I discovered that government photos are public domain, so I was able to use NASA, FEMA, and NOAA photos and videos without fear of getting sued. Also, I decided that if the other videos and websites I used were linked instead of embedded, I'd be okay. I'd have preferred to embed them to facilitate a more seamless use by readers, especially since silly Apple refuses to acknowledge Flash so some of them don't open on Apple devices, but that seemed risky – whereas hyperlinking simply directs more people to a site already posted on the web. How could anyone object to that?

The other important issues were quantity and placement. There were so many devastatingly beautiful scenes from Katrina (God bless the FEMA photogs!) that it was tough to choose from among them, but I knew I had to be very selective. Which ones best told the story I wanted to tell? I'd written about people who lost everything, but that photo of a few meager coffee mugs and picture frames rescued from the devastated home in the background really brings home the efficiency of Katrina's greed. Readers will read about Courtney's dawning understanding of the ineffectiveness of local government officials; then they'll click on the link to Mayor Nagin's famous radio interview begging desperately for help. Transmedia documentation in Last Bus Out allows the reader to follow the actual weather bulletins as the storm moves into the city, then view the animated satellite image of its monstrous proportions as it made landfall and visit the interactive graphic showing its impact in each area of the city. These enhancements bring the story to life.

I discovered also with this project that placement was critical. It was impossible to insert photos and links into the manuscript without, to some degree, breaking up the flow of the narrative. For this reason, I sometimes used three or four photos in quick succession and left many pages of uninterrupted text so the reader wouldn't become derailed by too many distractions. It was really gratifying to realize how well the documentation fit the story; it made me feel I'd done my job as a writer when all the text was already there. I think I added maybe two sentences to the entire book to accommodate particular photos I wanted to use.

As soon as I finished the enhancements, I sent the new file to my agent, Alex Glass at Trident Media, who really liked what I'd done. Unfortunately, by that time, publishers had circled the wagons, hiding behind their already published authors and lobbing big chunks of money from the safety of the campfire at rock stars and teen idols (Hillary Duffstoevsky, God help us) Okay, I can't say I totally blame them for not eagerly embracing debut writers right now; these are scary economic times we're livin' in, and for publishing types, there's even more uncertainty with the digital shift looming and so many questions unanswered.

I can't wait to see what YA non-fiction writers like Marc Aronson will do with this technology, but I have to admit I'm not convinced of its relevance for fiction. Maybe someone will do something soon to change my mind. I've seen author interviews and book trailers added, but that just seems like marketing to me - not something the customer should have to pay for. Chat rooms for readers? Links to the author's Facebook and Twitter will appeal to some hardcore fans, I guess.

Meanwhile I'm still deciding between the Kindle and iPad (while happily reading on my iPhone), but I'm pleased with the way my first transmedia project looks on both. Check out the free samples available through Amazon or Barnes & Noble (downloadable to your computer or phone if you don't have a device,) and maybe you'll decide to research the feasibility of the new technology for your next book.

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Posted in October, 2010


A Wild Ride in Publishing

Hang on, everybody! We're in for a wild ride. The publishing industry is changing so rapidly, the information you find online today may be obsolete tomorrow. It's exhilarating, terrifying, mind-boggling, intimidating, confusing, and very, very exciting!

The good news is:

-Most experts think books will continue to thrive in both print and digital formats. More options for readers and greater accessibility (ordering from your bed at midnight) is increasing the number of books people read. Sales are strong.

-Print-on-demand will allow mid-list and out-of-print books to continue to sell, and will help eliminate huge print runs of books that don't sell and must be stored, remaindered, and destroyed – a practice that was terrible for the environment and a royal pain for booksellers and publishers.

-With 50 pages or so available in downloadable free samples, we'll all waste less money on books we thought we'd love after reading the first few pages in the bookstore, but lost interest in after a chapter or two.

-Niche books that never saw print because of a limited market will be available to those with an specific interest.

-Lower prices will result from savings in shipping and storing costs, and e-books currently offer authors a greater share in the profits.

-New vetting processes will emerge for self-publishers – reputable reviewers offering readers a "clearing house" for navigating the huge numbers of digital uploads they'll be wading through. Customer reviews online and book bloggers will remain a driving force in word-of-mouth sales of books.

In a city where many start-up companies have been birthed, I'm all in. I'm convinced that the emergence of new technology will benefit the reader in the long run. In the meantime, it's much more productive to welcome the new baby than to bitch about the birthing pains. And as for e-books, don't say "never" if you've never tried one. You can always download the Kindle or Nook app to your computer or phone. Then if you download a few free sample chapters from Amazon or Nook, you can give it a try without spending a penny.

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Posted in October, 2010


Publishing: Change is Here

Publishing: Change is Here

I went to the SCBWI conference in Los Angeles a few weeks ago looking for answers because I had a dilemma. The new iPad seemed perfect for the type of book I'd written - the true story of a boy from the projects who'd stolen a bus after Hurricane Katrina and driven his neighbors to safety. I had photos of the route he and I had retraced together, links to newscasts of the event, video footage of the devastation the storm brought to the Gulf coast, beautiful satellite images of the hurricane's path - all pieces of the story that could only be told in an e-book. The problem was that I'd found an agent - a really good one at Trident Media - who was shopping the book for a print version with publishers. Would I lose my agent if I self-published? Was I impatiently selling my talents short by "jumping the gun" and uploading my book to Amazon on my own? 

At the conference several pieces of information came together that convinced me my instincts to upload my book were good. First, I talked with agents and writers who agreed with me that although publishers claim to want multicultural non-fiction, my book would be a tough sell. The latest controversy over publishers printing white characters on the covers of books with black protagonists certainly seems telling. And we've become so narrow in our definition of "non-fiction" that we have trouble including narratives written in an engaging style in the category. (Even the term "non-fiction" seems negative - like it's somehow inferior to fiction - a fiction "wannabe". Why not "true stories" instead?) Secondly, I listened to leaders in the publishing industry suggest that SCBWI establish an arm that would become a "clearing house" for self-publishing authors - a vetting agency to help readers find good books that had not made it through traditional gatekeepers in the ferociously competitive climate brought about by a stagnant economy and an uncertain future for publishers worried about the effect of digital books on their business. I realized that the stigma against self-publishing would soon be gone as more authors took their careers into their own hands in a digital world. And I realized there were two more aspects of the new model that really appealed to me:

1.I could launch my Katrina story in time for the five year anniversary of the storm in just a few short weeks - a process that would take a year and a half or more with traditional publishing.
2.I really liked the idea of readers as gatekeepers. In spite of some folks' worries that the new model of authors publishing online will bring thousands of poorly written books for us to wade through to find a good one, I knew that the same word-of-mouth process (personal recommendations, online reviews, etc.) will help us find good books - just as we find them in giant book stores full of books that don't interest us.

So here it is - my announcement that tomorrow I'll launch my book online - in time for the Five Year Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina on August 29. It's called Last Bus Out, and I hope you'll download the free sample that will be available on Amazon. It's really easy to load the free Kindle app onto your computer, phone, or Blackberry. (PC's or Macs are actually preferable because Apple's refusal to acknowledge Flash will hinder your iPhone's ability to play the videos; and your Kindle will only show the photos in black-and-white - a real shame.) If you like the sample, I hope you'll read the book. Courtney's story is compelling; he's a great kid who's managed to make something of his life in the face of poverty and neglect. His took bold action that he knew could land him in jail - while government officials posed for cameras. It's time. It's time for Courtney's story to find readers. I hope you'll be one.

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Posted in August, 2010


A Greatly Exaggerated Demise

You've read the doom and gloom predictions that books as we know them will soon cease to exist. I'm gonna ask the obvious question here:

I like movies at the theater AND on my TV.

I listen to music on my iPod, car radio, AND my computer.

I read newspapers and magazines online AND in print.

And I think there's PLENTY of room for E-BOOKS AND TREE BOOKS!

(Yes, I'm yelling. This whole "demise of books" thing gets me riled up.)

If you haven't embraced e-books, you WILL because it's awesome to :
-read in bed without disturbing your roommate
-read in a dark car (when you're not driving, please!)
-download at book at midnight when you finish reading another one
-travel for weeks without lugging heavy books
-save trees; books are destroyed when no one buys them
-save money by downloading e-books at a cheaper price
-obtain full texts of obscure, hard-to-find books - in seconds
-find thousands of classics for free through Project Gutenberg
-search for a word or passage easily
-find your place in an instant without keeping up with bookmarks
-change the text size or font or background color
-read in line at the grocery or in traffic - on your handy cell phone
-save your back by not lugging six heavy textbooks through the school halls (hopefully, one day)

But we will NEVER give up PAPER BOOKS because we LOVE:
-the satisfying heft of the solid binding in our hands
-the ambiance of libraries and the smell of books
-the emotional connection to memories of being read to as a child
-the pleasure of browsing favorite books stores and discovering new ones
-the beauty of a well designed cover and the tease of the back cover text
-the company of shelves of our favorites surrounding us in our homes
-turning pages and the sense of closure in nearing the end
-reorganizing them by genres and author's names (embrace nerdiness!)
-finding a "bargain" at a used book store or an extra to share with friends
-the joy of handing a favorite to a friend, the anticipation of his response
-the security of knowing you can read when the battery's dead and the power's out
-the knowledge that we'll still have our books even if B&N, Amazon, and all the others go out of business.

The synergy I've discovered is that I like Kindle for "come and go" books - books I'm reading for information or for examination of literary craft. But if it's an fun read with a fast-moving plot, I need to turn pages. And when an e-book turns out to be a favorite, I always buy want a hard copy for my bookshelf. Each has its value and its rewards and for me, it's always gonna be a 50-50 split. How will your reading habits change . . . or will they?

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Posted in March, 2010


E-books v. Tree-books

Much has been written about e-book pricing. Proponents of the $9.99 pricing Kindle offered until recently argue that publishers should be able to still make money at that rate because they're saving the cost of paper, printing, and shipping. It seems logical, I know, but the New York Times today discusses why five of the six largest publishers justify their $12.99 to $14.99 ebook prices. (Thanks, Drew, for the link.) According to these publishers, printing, storing, and shipping only accounts for about $3.25 for each book. I confess that math is not my forte, so I'll leave you to read the breakdown the Times gives for the cost of books.

Honestly, one of the most compelling arguments for the increase, in my mind, is that print booksellers won't be able to compete with e-books priced at $9.99. That price difference is certainly what lead me to buy about a dozen books to read on my iPhone, (which is surprisingly satisfying, despite the small size. Scrolling is so easy you get used to changing pages quickly and being able to adjust text size and highlight are plusses too.) It was a little hard for me to justify spending $15 for a paperback when I could get the e-book for $10 - and often at the same time the $26 hardback came out. Add to that the beauty of deciding you want a new book at midnight and downloading it in bed within ten seconds. Yeah, I LOVE browsing in bookstores, but I'm gonna need some financial incentive to continue to do so. Maybe leveling the playing field with the $14.99 pricing is a good idea if we want book stores to survive and thrive.

Just wondering how many of you read e-books and what your thoughts are about pricing. Before we all get too worked up about it, we do need to remember that digital books currently make up only 3% of book sales at the moment. I do look for that to increase, but hopefully, bookstores aren't going anywhere any time soon. At least in Huntsville this weekend, the bookstore culture was alive and well, I'm glad to say.

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Posted in March, 2010