Multiple Enthusiasms

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Tag: amazon (page 1 of 2)

Amazon’s Awesome Customer Service

Several weeks ago, I purchased a Sony RX100 to bring on my honeymoon—where I was disappointed to notice a dark spot on the sensor. After getting back, I filed a return claim with Amazon. I printed out the new shipping label to put it in the mail—

But Amazon’s already sent me a new camera. It’ll get here tomorrow. Even before I’ve mailed the old one back.

That’s customer service. Well done, Amazon.

At the time of this writing, The Prodigal Hour is free on Kindle and has, in a day and a half, been downloaded more than 2000 times, and it currently ranks alongside George R.R. Martin’s latest novel atop Kindle’s list of top science fiction.

And me? I’m stunned.

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Hey, right now, my pre-/post-9/11 time-travel novel, The Prodigal Hour is free for Kindle.

I have to be honest with you: I have absolutely no idea how to feel about that.

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Self explanatory, isn’t it?

Over Christmas, I tried the free thing and saw stories and essays get downloaded more than 1200 times.

I’m interested to see what will happen with a novel.

For anyone new (as I’m hoping such a promotion will attract), The Prodigal Hour might well be the world’s only pre-/post-9/11 novel. It’s about time travel and alternate histories and trying to change the world one moment at a time.

For anyone not new who hasn’t yet picked it up, now’s the time. Hope you enjoy it.

Over the weekend, The New York Times ran a long article on the current state and possible future of Barnes & Noble.

It’s an interesting article with a strange, near-defeated tone. It goes out of its way not to lament the current state of affairs that is the bookselling business and the late-twentieth century distribution model of the corporate publishing industry, but it holds an undercurrent of resignation from paragraph to paragraph, as if its author isn’t quite certain whom she is trying to convince but knows she can convince herself least of all. It portrays Barnes & Noble as a compelling candidate for its own adjective: an honorable enterprise begun by one man selling used books in a great city that grew humbly until the late-1970s, when a young entrepreneur bought it and fueled growth and revenue.

It doesn’t mention the scores of independent bookstores that collapsed based on Barnes & Noble’s discount practices and corporate publishers support of them. It doesn’t mention the once-quaint shops who shuttered their windows because selling a book for list price could no longer attract foot traffic from anyone but the most dedicated of shop patrons; most readers were happy to spend the money the saved buying inexpensive hardcovers on coffee or cheap tchotchkes like bookmarks or novelty pens or sparkling journals. It doesn’t mention predators and their prey, and the collateral damage experienced by those caught between the two.

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The other day, Inside the Outside author Martin Lastrapes asked me about Kindle Select (or Kindle Direct Publishing Select, or KDP Select, depending on the day and who’s typing, it seems). I’m now several weeks committed to being a Kindle-exclusive author, and I thought I’d share some of my experiences.

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Last week, in an event specified as education-related, Apple announced new software that enables authors to more easily create and publish media-rich digital content. They’re calling the sales app iBooks 2 and the creation app iBooks Author, but they seem to be making a very marked distinction that what has generally become known as an e-book is not what Apple has in mind when it talks about iBooks.

A lot of authors—especially independent authors—and other people in the publishing industry have been writing about the agreement that comes with the software, and complaining about how restrictive and evil it is. I’ve read the agreement in question, and I think that all the discussion around it is based on simple misunderstanding.

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Lately, there’s been a price trick among independent authors using Smashwords and Amazon: if one made one’s ebook available to Smashwords’ distributors (like B&N and Kobo and Apple) free, Amazon might match that free price. It was the only way to offer a book for free at all, at least for independent authors.

This is no longer the case, and one of the reasons I went Amazon exclusive. In exchange for making my books exclusive to the Kindle platform, I also gained access to the ability to initiate promotions and could make my books free for five days out of every 90.

I did so this past weekend, over Christmas. Hoping to attract a few of all the new readers unwrapping and firing up their shiny new Kindles.

I think it worked.

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After careful consideration, I’ve removed my collection from Smashwords and enrolled all my books in Amazon’s new KDP Select program. I did it for both professional and moral reasons that disagree with most everything else people say about Amazon, so I thought I’d tell you about why, but first I wanted to mention that one benefit of doing so means that, for a very limited time (until December 27th, in fact, so just five days including today), all my short stories, essays, and collections will be available free.

Totally free. No catch. No caveat. You don’t have to be a Prime member.

You can find them all right here.

Now. Why am I going Amazon exclusive (if only for 90 days at a shot), when most people in the publishing industry are decrying the evil of the Seattle corporation–even though that’s kind of ironic, given that pretty much everyone who’s called them an evil corporation is either a corporation or deeply associated with one (or many)?

Because I don’t see them as evil. I’m a reader, first–I write because some of the books I want to read haven’t been written yet–and Amazon has done more for me as a reader than anyone else ever. It’s also done more for me as a writer than anyone save my editrix.

But let’s talk about Amazon. And evil. And corporations.

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I’ve been sitting on some news for a while, but now that some books are up and things are moving forward, I feel more comfortable making a formal announcement: I’ve officially founded Exciting Press, a new independent digital publisher, and as director have signed bestselling author Nick Earls to a major digital distribution deal.

For a lot of years, I was pursuing what’s now called a “traditional book deal.” I wanted an advance and book tours. It was always my dream.

And I mention that because this feels like my dream come true even though it sort of isn’t. I can’t tell you how proud I am of this venture, and how deeply honored and humbled I am to be working with Nick, who is both a truly accomplished author and a truly cool guy. His agent, Pippa Masson of Curtis Brown Australia, has also been terrific to work with.

So what does it mean to found a press?

A new website for one. There will be more to come on the site.

For now, being a small start-up, I’m working to focus on Nick’s work–which at this point includes more than a dozen books. Our plan is to release them over the spring and summer of 2012, but we’ve also managed to publish a few in time for the holiday.

We’re going to work to make it all easily accessible; for now, the best way to find the work is to search for “Nick Earls” in the Kindle store. But a couple of stories might get you started:

“Problems With a Girl & a Unicorn”

“The Secret Life of Veal”

Just received an email that Amazon has made a special KDP Select option available on its Kindle Direct Publishing platform, which what many authors–including me–use to publish our work for Kindle. Which is awesome. I know a lot of corporate publishers, literary agents, retailers, and authors are wary of Amazon, its continued growth, and its possible dominance, but for many of us–again, myself included–it’s been uniquely empowering.

The new Select option is interesting; authors who agree to digital exclusivity with Amazon can both make their books available as part of Kindle’s new Lending Library and take advantage of free promotions.

I decided to try it out to see what I could see. I went ahead and enrolled “Jamais Plus: Explorations in the Curious Case of the Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe”, while at the same time increasing its “normal” price to non-promotional level (and taking advantage of that free promotion). “Jamais Plus” is a choose-your-own-adventure noir, a twisting-winding throwback to the adventure novels so many of us grew up on, in which C. Auguste Dupin investigates the death of the man who made him an infamous detective. It required substantial and specialized coding to make it work on Kindle, and it’s sort of even more a reading experience than a story.

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Interesting: as I discussed words and their meanings and how the ways they influence ideas (good and bad), a development:

Giant corporate publisher Penguin announced “self-publishing services” through their Book Country site.

And yes, those words are in quotation marks because that is not what is meant. At all.

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As Amazon takes on more roles and responsibilities in the book world, many wonder if that’s a great thing. I remember back when Amazon sold only books, before it was the retail powerhouse it has become, the online equivalent of big-box stores. Now, it’s refocused on books, first with Kindle and then with publishing-related endeavors, setting up imprints as it has become both retailer and publisher in some cases.

Lots of smaller, independent bookstores–by which one means bookstores that are privately held, and not part of a chain, which means anyone besides Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million, basically–don’t like this. They see Amazon as they saw Barnes & Noble when it was first beginning. The big boy on the block who set up shop next door and ultimately drove them out of business.

As a reader, it saddens me. As guy with a business degree, it makes me wonder.

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My first was: shiny!

My second was: wow. I was so right.

I’m really pleased I nailed the pricing ($79 and $199, specifically). I had the feeling we’d see sub-$100 by year’s end, and I’d hoped it’d be sub-$80, because this paves the way for the continuing digital revolution. I think we’re going to look back and notice that the thing that finally made e-reading totally mainstream was the $70 Kindle. At that price, it’s nearly impossible to pass on it (and consider that by next summer, we’re probably looking at a sub-$50 Kindle).

Between a $79 Kindle and Apple’s iPad, this could well be the conquering moment for digital publishing. The death blow.

Can the big six maintain business-as-usual anymore? Heck, what is business as usual?

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Tech Crunch reports that Amazon will announce its new Kindle “Fire” tablet at the press conference it is holding tomorrow.

Everything we’ve previously reported on the hardware remains the same. It will be a 7-inch backlit display tablet that looks similar to the BlackBerry PlayBook. Gdgt’s Ryan Block was able to dig up a bit more about the connection. Apparently, the Kindle Fire looks like a PlayBook because it was designed and built by the same original design manufacturer (ODM), Quanta. Even though Amazon has their own team dedicated to Kindle design and development, Lab 126, they wanted to get the Fire out there in time for this holiday season so they outsourced most of it as a shortcut.

I get the feeling there’s more going on here.

Because at that gdgt link, Ryan Block notes:

Amazon’s own Kindle group (called Lab 126) apparently opted not to take on the project, in favor of continuing to work solely on next-gen E-Ink-based devices.

Me, I’m wondering if this new “Fire” isn’t a separate product. If I were Amazon, I think that’s what I might do; develop a media tablet separate from my e-reader, because the e-reader and tablet markets overlap but are, ultimately, disparate.

Then again, if I were Amazon, there are a lot of things I’d be doing.

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After debuting at $2.99 and having a 99-cent pre-/post-9/11 sale, The Prodigal Hour is now on sale for $4.99 at Amazon.

Now that Kindle’s Direct Publishing platform has allowed so many authors to bypass both literary agents and corporations’ acquisitions editors in favor of connecting directly with readers, many conventions long simply rotely accepted are being questioned.

One is pricing.

In a corporate-type situation, it’s not difficult to determine pricing. Probably due to a confluence of complicated factors too boring to really contemplate, we all know about how much a trade paperback costs: usually between $12.99 and $14.99, right? I think that’s about the upper limit. Hardcovers are, what, $27-ish? Maybe $30?

(Which prompts a question: who pays full price for a hardcover? Don’t all hardcovers [and most trade paperbacks, nowadays] come with some discount or other? Back when I was a proud carrier of a Barnes & Noble card Members Receive An Extra 10% Off books already discounted by 30% or more.)

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So, Borders is closing. Gone. Kaputsky. 399 stores. 10,000 employees.

I feel bad for those employees.

I don’t, in general, feel bad about Borders.

I wish I did.

I grew up with books. My parents read Stephen King. I don’t remember a time when I haven’t been reading. I read enough books that I’m technically never actually between books; there’s always something I’ve started and probably mean to go back to at some point. The library has been my happy place.

But things change.

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Mark Coker’s Smashwords seems, ostensibly, a rather brilliant idea. It’s sort of the ebook equivalent of Amazon’s Author page; whereas Amazon’s page lists all the work an author has available on Amazon in one spot, Smashwords makes available a single title in myriad different digital formats, including the usual ePub and mobi formats (for pretty much all readers and for Kindle, respectively), as well as PDFs (people still read those?), html (for web viewing, I figure, whether by desktop, laptop, or tablet), Microsoft’s Word (er. For people who want to word process it?), and even text (for people who . . . I give up. You can tell me why people want text files).

I like the idea in theory. My job, as I see it, is to both write the story and make it accessible, and accessibility works on several levels. I want to make the story appeal to readers, but I also want it to be available in any way a reader wants. Even if I can’t imagine why a reader wants a certain story available in a certain way.

Nowadays, there are myriad ways for people to read stories. There are no fewer than four different Android tablets available right now, and that’s only Android. There’s also the iPad and now the new HP tablet running WebOS. In terms of ereaders, we’ve got Kindles and nooks, of course, but also Kobo and Sony’s efforts and several other somewhat generic readers all of which have e-ink displays and most of which display ePub files and etc.

So far as I can tell, Smashwords seeks to solve the actually legitimate problem of making one story available for every platform. Maybe that’s the reason for the txt file?

And it’s not a bad solution, by any means.

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“Blues’n How to Play’em” is the second (other) of my stories from the Sparks collection I published with Simon Smithson that I’m now making available individually for anyone who missed that limited-edition collection.

It was one of the most challenging stories I’ve ever written for a couple of reasons, not least of which was that it’s written in a Blues-y patois.

I realized when writing about “Struck by the Light of the Son” that both it and “Blues’n How to Play’em” began their lives as two-page stories based on Janet Fitch’s writing prompts. I know that I wrote an early draft of “Struck by the Light of the Son” as a story for the “fret” prompt; I can no longer recall the word for which I handed in what later became “Blues’n How to Play’em.” I do remember that the prompt was just an excuse; I’d already started the story a couple of times.

Honestly, I no longer remember the inspiration for the story. I know I workshopped it a few times, both at USC and in one of the myriad writers’ groups I once-upon-a-time found and joined on MySpace.

Wow that seems like eons ago.

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I first started using Kindle on my phone, a Samsung Vibrant on T-Mobile’s network, last summer while commuting into Manhattan every morning. I’d had the app on my iPhone but never used it; cellular displays just aren’t really meant for long-form reading, and I don’t really read much besides books. Usually novels, but lately more non-fiction, too. But it was much better to read my phone than to lug around a paperback everywhere I went, and I quickly discovered the convenience of using a device that built-in bookmarks every time you close a book.

Which is awesome. I love that. I never used to use bookmarks, anyway, but I always used to end up thinking I was on a page ten before the last one I’d actually read.

When Amazon announced the third generation Kindle, I knew I was going to buy it, because I knew I wanted to put Meets Girl on it. I also knew I was lusting after it.

I went sort of nuts downloading samples via Amazon (on the web. Because the device purchasing side of Kindle sucks), and was enjoying a lot of what I was reading. Neil Gaiman’s were among the first books I bought, and Amazon, knowing my predilection for Gaiman, suggested Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. So I downloaded the sample and began to read.

And the thing about the samples are: it takes about as long to read one as to commute. Long-form reading of books on a device blows. But reading samples is about the same as reading short stories, and reading samples is awesome.

I had picked up the book to browse (I think at the Strand, maybe?), but never gotten past the first couple of pages. Now, with the sample and a train ride, I had the better part of two.

And the better part of two was good. The better part of two were so convincing that I decided to make The Magicians the first novel I actually read on my Kindle.

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After several years in a will-they/wont-they purgatory, the digital revolution in publishing has finally become more a matter of when than if, where “when” seems to be 2010. Apple’s launch of the iPad–which featured five of the big six corporate publishers as partners and only ignored the sixth because someone within the company had outed the device the day before official launch–got the ball rolling and demonstrated that ebooks were not just a novel trend but rather new media for novels and all sorts of other forms of storytelling. In late August, Amazon’s third-generation Kindle, with its improved screen and form factor and its lower price, effectively killed the counterargument. The only thing left to really argue about is price.

But really, that’s fodder enough.

Since Apple got all those publishers on board and got its iBookstore rolling (or did it? Has anyone heard anything about the iBookstore? All I hear about are the devices–Kindles, nooks, iPads. Not so much about the stores), there’s been a debate about what’s a “good” price for ebooks. One common idea discussed when the iPad launched was the so-called “agency model,” which basically meant that publishers got to set their own price. Tech Eye mentions that this is in opposition to allowing, say, the vendor to decide the price. In other words, it’s the difference between, say, Harper setting the price of its books and Amazon doing so.

Publishers, of course, want high prices. This was why $10 ebooks were so common during the beginning of last year. Right after the iPad? Seems like publishers–corporate and otherwise–got a little high off the power of the partnership and suddenly decided that the right price for ebooks was between ten and fifteen bucks. The New York Times discussed the phenomenon.

To really get into the discussion, though, we have to consider factors regarding price. There are myriad.

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When Simon Smithson and I published Sparks, the deal as we had discussed it always included a 6-week clause. When Sparks did so well at the outset–flying up the Amazon rankings in multiple categories and hanging in as a “Hot New Release” over Christmas–we briefly discussed keeping it live longer, but ultimately decided against it.

I think it was the right decision for Sparks. The 6-week window introduced an element of scarcity it didn’t otherwise have.

Digital publishing, however, seems to favor what many businessfolk call the long tail and I like to call the long game, mainly because even though I (mostly) have an MBA, I still like to play.

Now, just a week or so ago, Amazon announced a new Kindle Singles program, which Wired hailed as a beacon to “save long-form journalism.” Basically, it’s Kindle-original content that’s longer than a magazine piece but “much shorter than a novel,” clocking between 5,000 and 40,000 words, it seems. According to Wired. According to that press release, the lengths hew to approximately that midpoint.

I liked the idea. When I first published Entrekin, I used Lulu to implement what I called the iTunes publishing model; the collection was available, but each individual story was available as a 99-cent PDF.

It was a rousing success. It sold way more copies than I’d ever expected. When I made the digital content free, the downloads skyrocketed.

And now that Sparks‘ time has passed, and now that Amazon has announced this Kindle Singles–which is pretty much exactly the model I implemented nearly four years ago–well, it felt rather natural to published both of my Sparks stories the same way.

So I’m going to, and I’m going to start with “Struck by the Light of the Son,” and I thought, hey, what a great opportunity to talk about it a bit.

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Let’s say you’re a business. You have a product that you dedicated a lot of time to. You’re not sure you can properly distribute that product on your own. Sure, you might be able to handsell your product door-to-door, but you realize that, maybe with some help, you can get your product distributed on a wider basis, and maybe even generate some great attention for the product. There are a few companies who specialize in distributing your product, companies who have a stranglehold on distribution, in fact–if you don’t partner with them, chances are you’ll never get that wide distribution.

Already it’s a problem.

Here’s the big question, though; say one of those specialty companies came to you and said they’d help you distribute your product. Would you enter into any business arrangement with them without reading a contract? Would you sign said contract without reading it?

That’s exactly what all the writers entering the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award are doing.

Now, I’d mentioned I considered submitting Meets Girl to the contest. I think it would have a solid shot at winning on merit alone, and that’s not even to mention that I think it would probably be right up the alley of Lev Grossman, who wrote The Magicians and who is one of the major judges of the contest. The Magicians was the first full-length novel I read on my Kindle, and it was solid–if not great–in a genre-bending sort of way that crossed literary with fantasy, which is what I think Meets Girl does.

I mentioned, in passing, there are other, better contests writers could enter. And commenter Sid (the only Sid I know is my graduate writing advisor, Sid Stebel, but I can’t tell by the email address if the commenter and my advisor are the same person) asked after those contests.

So here are the top-five writing contests I’d submit Meets Girl to over the ABNA.

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Pretty much every year for the past several, I’ve tended to get a note from a friend or loved one, right around Christmas, wishing me a happy one and asking if I’d seen all this information about the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. They’ve known how intent I’ve been to be a writer, you see, and they figure it sounds like a promising contest for a novelist who hasn’t yet gotten a huge break.

And they’re right. It does.

The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award tends to attract a big-name judge from one of the major corporate publishers–usually an editor or author (or both); a big-name judge from a prestigious literary agency; and a lot of aspiring writers. No, no: a lot. Of various degrees of ability, too: some are young, just starting out at the writing thing, just penning their first drafts of their first novels; others have been writing for years, and have completed multiple drafts of multiple novels that perhaps haven’t gotten them offers of representation (which are, as every rejection letter that ever was reminds, completely subjective, and based solely on the tastes of the agents reading them. Agents, for their part, are also generally quick to remind that they base their decisions neither on quality of writing nor perceived saleability but rather on whether they “fell in love with” the manuscript).

The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (hereafter the ABNA) seems like a great idea, almost like an American Idol for books. Entrants submit their manuscripts, excerpts, pitches, synopses, and even a photo (if desired), and progress through multiple rounds of judging, some of which are merit based and others of which are popularity based.

This year, I thought about submitting Meets Girl. It’s gotten solid reviews across several venues, and the response has been positive. People seem to like it, for the most part, and even, like any good book, seem split on their reactions; some people think the opening drags before it gets to the story, while others have noted they loved the opening but sensed a shift of tone and execution later. The manuscript is obviously finished, and I’ve written a good enough pitch–though for a different project–it’s been a Galleycat finalist. And hey, new headshot!

The contest entry period for 2011 begins this coming Monday, January 24th.

But I’m not submitting my book. And I’ll tell you why.

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I’ve had my Kindle since September, and it’s one of the few electronics devices that, even several months later, I’m completely satisfied by. (That’s rare for me. Usually I fall in love with a new gadget for about a month before I start wanting something later and greater. See also: Vibrant, Nexus S, etc.) I’ve been positively hyperbolic in my praise, really, but I can’t stop using it, which means I can’t stop talking about it.

Right now, I’m reading Frank: The Voice, a biography of Sinatra. I like reading about Frank when he was my age, and it’s a good book, written by James Kaplan, who’s usually a novelist, apparently. Which I suppose helps the dramatic build of the story.


Last week was the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, which is a major event in which myriad companies display what will hopefully become next-gen technologies. New 3D LED televisions. Better wireless speeds for networks like T-Mobile and Verizon. New phones from just about everyone, including Motorola, Samsung, and even a new iPhone to work on Verizon’s wireless network.

Electronic readers–ereaders–are becoming trendy in gadgets. The category used to be niche, with little selection, but basically Amazon’s Kindle changed that. Not right away, of course, but now that Kindle’s on its third generation and selling strongly, pretty much everyone is getting in on the action. Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. Sony’s been updating their line to match Amazon, and the devices are becoming more common. Apple’s iPad isn’t really in this category, though it can fulfill the functions of said category; as more companies release more tablet computers, we may see some decline in ereaders.

Which would be a shame. The nook color is in the same category as a Kindle–a dedicated digital reading device–and it’s got some impressive features, but it’s least good at the one thing it’s supposed to be for; it uses an LCD screen, and that sucks. One of the great features of the Kindle is its gorgeous screen, which uses e-ink for display.

Now, the Kindle doesn’t do any color whatsoever. And it’s merely adequate at pictures. And if you want to read a magazine, you’re probably better off, you know, buying a magazine.

But for reading books? It’s almost perfect.


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Seems like this week is always rather retrospective. Years in review, all that. Lots of sites running “Top Stories of 2010” posts, as though what wouldn’t have been news again last week suddenly is solely by virtue of when it was news. It’s like the East Coast blizzard froze the whole world, which is stuck hoping for thaw to begin tomorrow.

I thought about doing some best-of posts. The decade-best lists are some of the most popular posts on this site. Yesterday, however, I glanced through a list of movies that came out in 2011 and found precisely two I thought were remarkable: How to Train Your Dragon and The Social Network. The former was a surprise; it had a lot of heart and was a lot of fun, and it managed that rare thing of being a movie aimed at a younger audience that appealed across a wider age range without using irreverent humor and other such innuendo-based means. With Shrek, one of the things that increased its appeal was jokes that kids wouldn’t have gotten; it worked on multiple levels; Dragon, on the other hand, stuck mainly consistent in just trying to tell its story, and I think it was a better movie for it.

The Social Network demonstrates that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Panic Room were flukes from a guy who’s been getting better since the beginning, by which I mean that David Fincher had shown signs of improvement over his career and development as a director in years previous by making movies that were consistently better than the ones before. Se7en was fantastic after Alien3. The Game is underrated, and then there’s Fight Club, and then, just when you think that he’s got a style, signature shots, all that, Zodiac, which was the first time he just turned the camera on and followed the story (which isn’t to say his obvious style didn’t serve his other movies). And now The Social Network the rise and continued rise of Zuckerberg and Facebook, which was, on all levels, fantastic.

I read other movies people were raving about, but didn’t much like them when I sat down to check them out. Inception, in particular . . . just didn’t do it for me. Funny: I remember when The Matrix came out, and all the people who claimed not to “get it,” that it just never made sense to them, all that, and then watching Inception . . . my initial thought was “So it’s The Matrix but with dreams and less action?”

That thought never went away. It eventually became more negative, in fact, but one of my resolutions this year is to be more positive. Exciting is not about negativity, after all.

Other things that were exciting:

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Please, allow me to introduce myself. I hope you guess my name.

If you don’t, it’s Simon Smithson. I’m a co-writer of Mr. Entrekin’s from The Nervous, the online literary magazine that features authors from around the world. It’s a cool thing.

Will and I met on Myspace, originally, years back. We were part of a writing and editing group called Writers Who Don’t Suck, which, suffice to say, was a fairly ironic name. It was a busy hive of emo kids who wrote bad poetry about being tormented, misunderstood, and just waiting for the vampire who would see the real them, middle-aged sales reps who wrote bad fiction about assassins and snipers (so many assassins and snipers. You have no idea. If the assassin was a woman, it was a given that at some point she would survey her own breasts critically in the mirror), and twenty-somethings with a badly-disguised grudge against an ex or current (and soon-to-be-ex) boyfriend, girlfriend, or lover (and, on one memorable occasion, all three).

There was also, as a saving grace, a core group of writers who cared about literary merit, good editorial practice, and getting better at their craft. They were easy to pick, and Will was one of them. We tended to stick together, and one of the discussions we usually had was about the changing face of the business, and how the very existence of WWDS was something that would have been impossible in earlier times. This whole electronic world was undiscovered country, and the opportunities it yielded for networking, co-authorship, and writing groups were new and exciting.

Fast forward to 2010, and we’ve moved far beyond that. The Kindle and the iPad are grappling for a killer chokehold in the field of e-publishing, people are (once again, as they do every time anything happens in the world ever) predicting the death of the book, and the publishing industry, if reports are to be believed, is staffed entirely by a Keystone Kops-esque cabal of panicky idiots who are running shrieking through the halls of their golden palaces, terrified that Amazon is hiding in the closet and scrambling to steal all the computers before they go out of business forever.

In an era like this… two guys like Will and I can really clean up.

Which is why it’s my pleasure to introduce Sparks, the debut collection of stories by Messrs. Entrekin and Smithson from Exciting Books. Four pieces of short fiction, two apiece, available only on the Amazon Kindle platform, for six weeks only, from December 15, 2010, until January 26, 2011. It’s got a sale price of .99 cents. I think the stories are good, and if I were you and I had a Kindle, I’d pick up a copy.

Oh, and also, we’re going to be doing our damndest to sell 1,111,111 copies.

Why? Because we can.

The game has, officially, changed. Johannes Gutenburg never saw days like this coming; if he did, I would have asked him to write a foreword. These days, the role of the publisher is more dispensable than ever before. Authors can – and do – distribute their work directly to the reading public, because the delivery system has been put in place by Amazon, by iTunes, by this wonderful thing called the Internet. No one’s really sure which way is up at this point, but I believe there will always be a market for good fiction.

I’m also really curious to see if we can.

Our gameplan is this: the first day, we’re hoping to sell one copy. That’s it, that’s all, just one. The first week, ten. The second week, a hundred, and the third week, a thousand.

You can see where we’re going with this.

The stories are diverse in scope; music and travel and love and family are all themes, as is fate and choice and humanity. I’m proud of mine, as I hope Will is of his. What’s next is to see if we’ re right about the market – in this day and age where electronic dissemination has changed how we absorb music, news, TV, and gaming, what’s the next move for literature? Sparks is designed for the Kindle; the pieces are short fiction. Sparks is available only on the Kindle, and nowhere else. It’s the product of two guys who want to see what they can do in a world of exciting new opportunities, and we hope you’ll join us for the ride.

I think I forgot to mention, here, I posted a new essay over at The Nervous Breakdown. In which I fawn hyperbolically over the new Kindle. In an era of totally undeserved hype (I’m looking at you, Jonathan Franzen), the Kindle is a magical device. I’ve been using it for about two weeks now.

First book: Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, which was a little like Harry Potter Goes to College, and started crazily strong, but then flopped in the final act, sadly. Disappointing, ultimately.

I like reading on it, and after a couple of weeks, I’m very glad I chose it over the iPad. It wasn’t merely a financial consideration. I just already have a laptop and a phone, and I wasn’t sure what I’d be using the iPad for. I need a keyboard to write (and I know I can get a bluetooth attachment, but that’s beside the point). Still, I understand why the iPad is overtaking the netbook category, mostly.

In terms of a dedicated digital reader, however, so far, the Kindle has been excellent. I like that it’s dedicated, too, like a book or a novel; when I’m reading a book, I’m reading the story. Not clicking around, not opening apps, not tweeting and Facebooking.

In the spirit of making Meets Girl available on it, I’ve been doing the necessary formatting and lay-out. It’s not difficult; Kindle mainly uses html. I’ll explain more about it at some point, when I’m done experimenting and learning it.

I think you’ll agree it looks fairly good already, though:

I should note that first image is not actually the Kindle file; it’s a PDF. Which the Kindle can display, natively. In terms of lay-out, though, the pagination and formatting both leave much to be desired.

Today, I woke up to an email from Barnes & Noble. Pubit, a program they had announced several months ago with the intention of going live over the summer, was finally implemented today. I’ve already signed up for an account and can start uploading files.

I’d originally planned to make Meets Girl a Kindle exclusive (given that Kindle is cross-platform and available, as an app, on pretty much anything), but then I started wondering why I wanted to limit choices. The whole point is to make the story available to anyone and everyone who wants it, including all the people who are getting a nook anytime soon.

So it will be. It may be a little while longer getting to the nook, but I’ll have it there, too.

First, a big thanks to anyone who filled out a survey. It helped me out a great deal, both in terms of my class and in terms of my plans.

Second, if you haven’t by now watched the teaser video for Meets Girl in the previous post, go ahead and do so now.

I tweeted a picture of the cover, and then posted this video. A lot of questions came up, most of which boiled down to “All right, it’s pretty, and I’m excited, now how do I get the damned thing, Will? You’re killin’ me, Smalls!”

The answer is simple:

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