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Author’s Nightmare


12,000 pounds of books; six tons; eight pallets with three layers each containing 14 boxes; each box weighs 37 pounds and has 14 books in it. If you're doing the math you know that one pallet wasn't full.

Bad enough that the hardcover edition of hackoff.com: an historic murder mystery set in the Internet bubble and rubble isn't selling enough to justify keeping inventory at the printer/distributor. When the truck delivered them to our rented storage shed it couldn't back up to the door (you can't see the other row of sheds just off camera to the left). It had a manual trolley for rolling pallets off the elevator gate of the truck but the trolley couldn't roll through the snow even with the driver and me pushing it. So the pallets ended up where you see them just outside the shed.

It took Mary and me a couple of hours to carry all the books in and restack them. Mary chided me for being so wordy but kindly didn't mention my real sin of printing so many copies without any real marketing plan for selling them all.

The lesson is NOT don't self-publish. Readership on the web (free) – although hard to determine precisely – was apparently in the tens of thousands. The Kindle edition now outsells the hard cover edition and someday we'll figure out how to promote a Kindle title.

The real lessons are:

  • Books, like anything else, have to be marketed.
  • If you're self-publishing and you're not famous, use a print on demand publisher and don't get stuck with inventory.

We are giving free copies to libraries and are glad for other suggestions on how to move the inventory out of the shed. Ways to give away some copies to promote possible sales of others would be good if you have any ideas.

Kindle – Book Reader’s Review

Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader came and got buried among the holiday packages. But it emerged from post-holiday pile of cardboard, wrapping paper, and ribbons. Since we were planning a three day trip, it was a good time for a road test.

Not surprisingly, there is no access to the Sprint network – the network which underlies Amazon’ WhisperNet - in ruralVermont so couldn’t download any books before leaving home. Contented myself with reading the introduction already loaded onto Kindle and with practice page-turning.

The electronic ink IS amazing. As you “turn” each page by pressing a next page bar on the side of the unit, there’s a flicker as the ink drops rush from their old positions to their new ones. Reminds me of the Harvard University Marching Band which, in my day, eschewed marching; a pistol was fired and each player ran from his current location to wherever he was supposed to be in the next formation.

Once the ink drops reassemble, the look is much more like good ink on good paper than dots on a screen. You read by reflected light; no light comes from the screen – just like a “real” book.  Better in some ways because you can change the font size on Kindle to suit your eyes. Black ink on a white screen is the only option – just like the first Macintosh.

This architecture not only makes Kindle pages very readable, it also prolongs battery life since there is no backlight and energy is only required to move the dots, not to keep them in position.

Kindle travels in a felt covered case about the size of a paperback and clearly designed to say “book”. Only quibble is that there’s nowhere for the Kindle charger in the case so it goes with the rest of the tangle of wires in your computer bag.

At Burlington airport Sprint was four bars and, immediately, my novel hackoff.com:an historic murder mystery set in the Internet bubble and rubble and Fractals of Changeboth of which I’d ordered when I ordered Kindle – downloaded. Whole download took no more than a minute or so. Note excellent Amazon customer experience: didn’t have to register because Amazon knew I’d bought the unit; didn’t have to register for the Sprint service because it comes with the unit; didn’t have to ask for what I’d already ordered to be downloaded. Got a nice thank you letter from Jeff Bezos, too. Device can hold 200 books BEFORE you add expansion memory AND everything you buy is archived forever at Amazon for redownload in case you lose or have to delete some.

I looked for books for the trip in the Kindle Store, which is never more than a click away. Naturally Amazon’s suggestions based on my past orders and promotional fees paid my publishers were there just as if I’d been on my computer. I downloaded Weak Links: Stabilizers of Complex Systems from Proteins to Social Networks and, once I noticed that I had the option to do this free, the first chapter of No Country for Old Men.

Weak Links appears not to have been formatted correctly for an electronic edition (more on this when I post on implications for authors). Some of the letters are incomplete; there are spaces in the middle of words and hyphenation in the middle of lines. I wrote Amazon and asked for a refund (book content seems interesting though). Update: Amazon responded to my email to customer service within 24 hours, verified what I saw, apologized, and gave me a credit

No Country formatted well and was a pleasant reading experience except that the pages are a little smaller than those of a paperback, the lines a little short for the way I read, and the flicker at page turn a little distracting. My guess is these are all things readers’ll get over quickly and we’ll retrain ourselves. Decided not to order the book based on its style but that’s a plus for the first chapter free policy.

Noticed that all three books on my Kindle opened in strange places when first accessed although it’s easy enough to get back to the cover or table of contents. I suspect this is a problem in book prep seeing how much trouble I had with this when preparing the e-book edition of hackoff.com. Still annoying.

Reading Fractals of Change as a paid subscription ($.99/month) was a good experience on Kindle. Formatting was right; color pictures rendered well into black, white, and grey; links were live. However, reading Fractals and other things in the browser (which provides FREE Internet access), is problematic. See this post for a review of Kindle’s browser for more on that and even more in an upcoming author’s post.

The flight attendants say “the cabin door is closed. Please turn off all devices with an on-off switch. We will tell you when it’s safe to turn on approved electronics.” Of course this means that you have to carry at least a magazine to read during taxi, takeoffs, and landings. Else you might find yourself talking to the person next to you.

Kindle does have a simple switch to turn off its radio for use aloft where radios are forbidden.

I give it a B+ as a book reader based on initial experience.

Nice Review

Steve Rucinski, executive producer of Small Business Trends Radio posted a very nice review of the podcast edition of my novel hackoff.com: an historic murder mystery set in the Internet bubble and rubble.

“This novel turned podcast takes you through the fun, games and hysteria of the turn of the century Internet bubble and blowup.

“With all the best features of a true mystery novel, sexually charged players and of course technology, this novel set to podcast will pull you in and not let go.

“The sound is great, the narration and character play terrific. Before you know it hours will have passed while you listen to the story…”

[music to an author’s ears]

He also writes:

Pluses: I love this whole idea of a relevant fictional story set in recent times, revolving around technology in both print and podcasted format (complete with stock charts). The site is great, the graphics are effective and the visitor choice is maximized. You can even bookmark your place if you stop part of the way through the story. I even learned a new term ‘Blooks’ blogs as books or books as blogs, whichever you prefer.

“Minuses: Occasionally the sound is a little echoey but I can find no other fault with this great and creative podcast.

Recommendation: If you like great stories you need to try out the Hackoff.com Podcast.”

The hackoff.com podcast is free and you can subscribe to it by email or RSS or get it from iTunes. You can also read the online edition free. However, if you prefer to pay for books [nb. not a bad thing], you can buy the handsome hardcover from Amazon [great holiday gift] or download to the new Kindle you just got.

Kindle – Free Internet Browsing for Just $400

Both this blog, Fractals of Change, and my novel hackoff.com: an historic murder mystery set in the Internet bubble and rubble are available for Kindle, Amazon’s new e-book reader. These two reasons are enough for me to buy one even at the $400 (in 2010, $139) pre-Christmas price; but there’s a third reason that might convince even non-authors: free Internet browsing.

Update: I should’ve been clear. You have to pay to subscribe to FOC ($.99/month) or to buy hackoff.com ($4.76) on Kindle in Kindle format although both are free on the web and even through the Kindle browser (see below). Fred Wilson hates this but it doesn’t bother me because the connectivity is free (once you buy the device). Usually you pay connect to the Internet and get the content free. This is another choice for readers.

In a New York Times article this morning, Saul Hansell quotes Amazon founder Jeff Bezos: “If you go back in time, the landscape is littered with the bodies of dead e-book readers.” Presumably Jeff means the devices and not the people who used them.

Obviously, Amazon means to succeed with this device despite the fact that other e-book devices have hardly taken the world by storm. It is different in at least one important way from its predecessors: it comes with a free wireless Internet connection via Sprint EVDO service (which Amazon calls Whispernet). Clearly, this connectivity is meant to make the device easy to use and written material easy to purchase. For comparison, an unlimited EVDO plan from Sprint costs $60/month but you don’t have to have an account with Sprint to use EVDO.

You can do more than just buy e-books or order from Amazon over this connection. Kindle includes a web browser. Unlimited use of this browser over Whispernet is free. Note: This isn’t absolutely clear from the Kindle documentation so I called Kindle support. “Yes,” the CSR said, “free,” and “yes, unlimited.”

From an author’s point of view, the inclusion of a browser is a breakthrough. My blog as well as the online editions of hackoff.com and The Interpreter’s Tale all include links which I think added to the stories but get lost in the paper editions. People already read blogs online, both because of timeliness and links. I’ll start reading books online when they are richer than paper books – that means links that work!

This isn’t full Internet access. There is limited e-mail available through which you can receive attachments which Amazon converts to Kindle format at $.10 for each conversion (or free if you email them to your non-Kindle email account). Other people you authorize (remember, you’re paying for the conversion) can also send you attachments. But this isn’t a Blackberry; you can’t do your regular email through it you can only do email in the browser.

Other than downloading Kindle-compatible content and products from Audible.com, it doesn’t appear that you can do any other kinds of file transfer over the Internet connection. You can use the included USB cable, however, to transfer photos and music from your PC directly.

Even the browser isn’t fully featured. According to the User’s Guide: “Your Kindle comes with an Experimental application called Basic Web which is a Web browser that is optimized to read text-centric Web sites. It supports JavaScript, SSL and cookies but does not support media plug-ins (Flash, Shockwave, etc.) or Java applets.” That means no YouTube on your Kindle. Note: TechCrunch says that Kindle DOESN’T support JavaScript. I’m assuming they mean Java since web access these days is almost useless without JavaScript but don’t have a device so can’t be sure.

Depending on Sprint EVDO has its plusses and minuses: there is no searching for a hotspot as there would have been with WiFi and no worry about signing on to a WiFi service. On the other hand, Sprint EVDO isn’t everywhere in the US and is hardly anywhere outside the US. Amazon marketing says: “With Whispernet, you can be anywhere, think of a book, and get it in one minute. Similarly, your content automatically comes to you, wherever you are. Newspaper subscriptions are delivered wirelessly each morning. Most magazines arrive before they hit newsstands.” I buy the one minute; but “anywhere” is quite a stretch.

My bet, WiFi will be added soon. If people are going to use the live links, it won’t be satisfying to download where you have EVDO connectivity and then read offline. But WiFi is becoming pervasive in homes and hotels and’ll soon be in planes (I hope).

Maybe Kindle is the wave of the future for free web access. See this post.


update 2010: Kindle – Does It Provide Free International Internet Access?


hackoff.com – e-book Edition

Hackoffcover_2 My novel hackoff.com: an historic murder mystery set in the Internet bubble and rubble is now available as an e-book from a number of online retailers affiliated with MobiPocket which is owned by Amazon.  This edition is suitable for downloading to book-reader devices, PDAs, and of course, computers.

hackoff.com was first released as a blook: a book serialized in the form of a blog. It’s still available for free viewing, subscribing to the serialization, downloading (as PDFs), or even podcast listening at www.hackoff.com. For those who like physical books which go to the beach (it is a mystery, after all), the hardcover edition is available from Amazon or by order from bookstores.

So why would you want to pay $5.95 to download what you could otherwise get for free?  If you’re happy with the blook edition or want the hardcover (also not free), you probably don’t want to buy the download. However, if you read on a PDA or a bookreader, this may be the edition for you. The technology supplied by MobiPocket means that the book formats itself for whatever device you read it on. Seems to work as far as I’ve been able to tell from the device emulators supplied to authors by MobiPocket.

For those who do download, please tell me what the experience is like from buying through reading.

Note to authors: You set the suggested selling price for your e-book.  Commissions are 50% of that suggested price (retailers can discount but can’t discount your royalty).  You get an additional 10% if the referral for the sale is by link from your website (there’s  a link in the right sidebar of Fractals of Change).  Another way to use the service is to sell your e-book directly from your own site, which I’m not doing..  If you do that, you pay them a 10% fee for the formatting an digital rights management (DRM).  BTW, DRM is mandatory or they won’t distribute.

MobiPocket sells through a large number of online retailers.  Unlike Amazon Shorts, they have a strong international presence and can sell where VAT collection is required.  No exclusivity is required; they are just another outlet.

If your book is a single Word file, PDF, or HTML document, conversion to ebook format with the free tools supplied by MobiPocket should be fairly easy. If you have fifteen big Word files too big for Word to combine without crashing, life is much more difficult. As usual Word, is somewhat problematic for conversion anyway.  I had to go through every converted chapter page by page and look for anomalies; some I needed to correct by hacking the html.  Yuk.  But probably could have corrected in Word IF I’d had only one document.

Check your illustrations as well.  JPEGs and GIFs should be scaled reasonably small because they’ll get scaled more to fit the various devices.

Support through the MobiPocket support forum is quite good. You can see the thread of help I got here.

New arrivals get highlighted.  There are email promotions to readers; haven’t figured out how to get into them yet, though. Guess I’ll ask in the forum.

Amazon Shorts

Update! “The Interpreter’s Tale is now available for download from Amazon Shorts.  A short preview is here.

Today an email came saying that my long story (or short novel) “The Interpreter’s Tale” has been accepted into the Amazon Shorts program. The Shorts are “are never-before-seen short works from a wide variety of well-known authors, available only on Amazon.com.”  They are only distributed electronically although you are welcome to print them.  And they all sell for $.49.

Since I self-published my first novel, hackoff.com: an historic murder mystery set in the Internet bubble and rubble, it drew neither acceptance (nor rejection) letters. An acceptance letter turns out to be more gratifying than I would have thought, quite possibly because I’m the son of two oft-published writers and the spirits of our house ebbed and flowed with acceptance and rejection letters not to mention that we ate (or didn’t) based on royalties.

Authors get a whopping 40% royalty for Shorts; much more than the standard 6% my parents got.  But, of course, their books sold for a lot more than $.49. This is most likely not a road to riches but it is two different experiments for me.

The author experiment is the open-ended question: what can fiction look like if we don’t worry about the printed media called books and magazines?  Can we find new, interesting ways to tell a story?  This is a continuation of  the experiment that started with publishing hackoff.com as a blook.

In the old days of non-electronic distribution, there was usually a clear line between short stories, which had to fit in magazines, and novels, which had to fill the form factor of a book.  A very well-know author could stretch this some with a novella or a long short story serialized but generally the story had to fit the medium it was distributed in.

I have a story to tell in bits and pieces, a mosaic of little mysteries that may knit into the tapestry of an adventure.  Some pieces are long like hackoff.com; some are much shorter like “The Interpreter’s Tale”.  All are likely to contain links to online pictures, maps, and who knows what else.  I am writing for the electronic editions, not paper, although I know from experience with hackoff.com that many of you will choose to print and read.  One of the things I like about the Amazon Shorts program is that you retain the right to view or download the electronic edition forever.   Even if you read primarily paper, you can go back and click through any links that you want to follow.

As a web guy, I’m interested in distribution and how content creators connect with content consumers.  How do content creators make a living meeting the need of content consumers?  Part of the answer is that prices go down because a lot of middlemen disappear and much of the physical cost of distribution goes down.  But another part of the answer has to be some sort of marketplace or substitute for a marketplace where sellers find their buyers and vice versa.

My experience with hackoff.com was that about ten to twenty thousand readers read all or a substantial part of the blook online or listed to the podcasts (all free).  These readers found the blook mainly by word of blog and a small amount of planned promotion.  However, this online interest did NOT make the eventual hardcover edition a hit by any means.  It still sells; people still read the online version.  But there is no efficient way to promote either of them in isolation and I don’t have a list of other books to sell along with them.  Thanks to traditional Amazon, however, the book isn’t doomed to disappear and become inaccessible.

Amazon Shorts and other forms of electronic distribution like Mobipocket.com, which I’m also experimenting with, may be part of the answer.  They are places where people who like to read go (don’t know how many).  The fact that content costs money through these channels means that the channel has a reason to promote.  I suspect that channel promotion will remain important to authors – even those authors who don’t need to make a direct living from their books.

Speaking of promotion: I’m only going to tell you a tiny bit about “The Interpreter’s Tale” now.  It takes place in Barcelona; Dom Montain, super-hacker from the last novel, is back;  Larry Lazard, who died in the last novel, is not; there are no stock brokers or IPOs in the story.  Mary says I’m not allowed to say more until there is an Amazon Shorts URL for the story to link to; you know, that call to action thing.


It’s been one of those days.  Have been working on and off for a month trying to figure out how to get Mobipocket creator to assemble seventeen Word files and cover art into the kind of e-book which can be uploaded to Amazon subsidiary Mobipocket.com so it can be downloaded for reading on PDAs, smartphones and the like. Yesterday I thought I’d be able to post an announcement about the availability of the e-book (as opposed to blook) edition of hackoff.com..  You probably didn’t notice but I didn’t post yesterday.

Just as I was getting ready to upload, the wet snow which had been falling all day finally brought down an electric wire somewhere nearby.  You could easily imagine the sparks as the lights flickered on and off several times and hard drives lurched in an unhealthy way.  Everything settled in the dark and still position, although, after a few minutes, the UPS in the basement started beeping dolefully that it had, after all, been interrupted.

We went to bed and set the alarm for three in case I had to build a fire to keep the water liquid in the pipes.  Power was back by then, however, so we just rolled over.

Mary’s computer, despite its semi-isolation through a power supply, announced that it had no boot drive when ordered to awake.  After a couple of failed retries, I took it out of the docking station, shook it a little, and it got far enough to say that it had shut down abnormally and ask how it should restart.  “Normally”, I instructed it and it whirred and clicked and showed its startup screen before announcing that it had shut down to prevent damage to the computer and suggested starting “from the last known good settings” or something like that.  Whir, click, same message.  “Safe Start” I instructed.  The always anemic battery gave out during this restart so had to put it back in the docking station.

Actually, this is the good news story of the day: the ugly, oversized icons were very welcome when Safe Start managed to display them.  Did a normal shut down and restart.  Startup took forever but I knew not to touch any keys.  Then Outlook needed twenty-two minutes to check its database for crash damage but slowly struggled to the desktop.  An alarming alert appeared saying there were duplicate IP addresses on our home network (possibly a result of the router, three computers, and two Vonage boxes, all sleeping for a while and not all remembering how to talk nicely when they woke up).  Ignored that and no harm seemed to be done.

There is a good lesson here: it does often happen that a startup problem in Windows XP can be solved by Safe Start and then a restart.  Don’t know why because safe start exists to let you fix things and I never fix anything, just start again.

OK.  Mary’s back in business.  Now to post my novel as an e-book.  It uploads smoothly!  I activate it! Voila!  But too many years of computing experience told me that I ought to be the first to download it (cost me $5.95 but we’ll talk about that later).  It looked terrible.  Fonts were mangled.  Some pictures unreadable.  In other cases the background mysteriously covered the foreground of illustrations.  Yuk.  I disabled the book for distribution and put that project down for the day since a lot of work is obviously still required.

Now I have no blog topic for the day so read techmeme for inspiration.  Nice story about Google Earth supporting trail maps.  Plan to go hiking tomorrow so tried it out. Of course, had to download and install a new version of Google Earth.  A little disappointing that the trail we plan to take up Hunger Mountain isn’t in the database but, hey, I’m a Web 2.0 type of guy: I’ve got some hikes stored on my GPS so I decided to upload them and share them with the world.

Have to download a trial copy of the Adventure Planner client from Trimble Outdoors who have partnered with Google to do this trail map mashup.  Download works; Adventure Planner recognizes my Garmin Forerunner 305 as a GPS and downloads some trails from it.  Unfortunately, according to Adventure Planner, all my hiking has been in the middle of the Atlantic and I can’t convince it that it’ll take a lot of global warming to cover the spine of the Green Mountains.

OK.  Not going to give up.  What about exporting the hikes from the Garmin database I have in on my PC and importing them into Adventure Planner.  Nope, Garmin Training Center only exports a proprietary format (.crs) and Trimble only reads GPS exchange format (.gpx).

But my copy of Training Center is out-of-date.  Maybe the new one isn’t so proprietary.  Let’s download the update.  Download OK, now install.  The install program launches something from Epson that wants to copy from my scanner to my printer. Have to debug why the scanner is MIA (the power failure, natch); but even helping the scanner recover doesn’t get me a new version of Training Center installed.

After several puzzled tries, a popup tells me to reboot in order for my setting changes to take effect.  Oh-oh.  What setting changes?  Remember, I installed a lot of stuff.

Sure enough my machine hangs in the reboot.  Half an hour later the Safe Start procedure has me online again so I can whine to you about all of this.

Have a good weekend.  We have a Nor’easter scheduled for Sunday.

Book Tour – South Burlington, VT and Hanover, NH

Two weeks from tomorrow on Saturday, February 10, I’ll be at the Borders Express (formerly Waldenbooks) in University Mall, 55 Dorset Street, South Burlington, VT from noon to two.

On Saturday, March 24, I’ll be at the Dartmouth Bookstore, 33 South Main Street, Hanover, NH at 7PM.

At both places I’ll be reading from hackoff.com: an historic murder mystery set in the Internet bubble and rubble, signing copies, and glad to talk about the book, my blog Fractals of Change, or anything else you like.  Hope to see you at one of these places if you live here or are visiting for the now great skiing.

Please Join Me in Stowe

I'll be doing a reading from hackoff.com: an historic murder mystery set in the Internet bubble and rubble, signing books, and answering questions at the Stowe Free Library starting at 7:30 tomorrow night.

Would be very happy to have you there if you're in the neighborhood to talk about either the book or this blog.

“Blook” is a Runner-up For Word of The Year

“Blook” is a Runner-up For Word of The Year

According to the newsblog of Guardian Unlimited, “blook” is on a short-list of new words being considered by experts for addition to the venerable Oxford English Dictionary and is thus a runner-up for Word of the Year.  A blook, of course, is a book which appears in blog form (primary meaning) like my novel hackoff.com: an historic murder mystery set in the Internet bubble and rubble. Blook has been an entry in wiktionary and wikipedia for quite awhile.

Naturally, I updated the reference in wikipedia to include this news.  It doesn’t take deliberations by a panel of experts for wikipedia or wiktionary to stay up-to-date.  On the other hand, having a word I helped publicize considered for OED is sort of exciting – even if it takes a long time in Web terms.

I noticed the Guardian Unlimited article because, when it appeared two hours ago, visits to the hackoff.com site suddenly spiked.  The Guardian Unlimited article, for some reason, links to hackoff.com’s definition of blook instead of the wiktionary definition.  I’m not complaining, of course.


Oh yeah, the actual Word of the Year.  “Bovvered”, of course.  In case, like me, you don’t know what it means, it is a word from The Catherine Tate Show that kids use to be cool.  In case you don’t get BBC but really want to know more, the article has a YouTube link to an episode with the Word of the Year in context.

Ah, convergence.

Now on Kindle!

hackoff.com: An historic murder mystery set in the Internet bubble and rubble

CEO Tom Evslin's insider account of the Internet bubble and its aftermath. "This novel is a surveillance video of the seeds of the current economic collapse."

The Interpreter's Tale

Hacker Dom Montain is in Barcelona in Evslin's Kindle-edition long short story. Why? and why are the pickpockets stealing mobile phones?

Need A Kindle?

Kindle: Amazon's Wireless Reading Device

Not quite as good as a real book IMHO but a lot lighter than a trip worth of books. Also better than a cell phone for mobile web access - and that's free!

Recent Reads - Click title to order from Amazon


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