Extending Smashwords’ Functionality

Note: It has been brought to my attention that I failed to note that I ultimately chose not to implement the process outlined below. This omission happened while revising the original post and was unintentional. See comments for more.

This winter past I spent a fair bit of time thinking about how best to finish the editing process of my short story collection, The Year of the Elm. In particular I considered a number of possible proofreading solutions in order to track down as many typos and errors as possible. Along with hiring an editor, doing the work myself, or using a service like Bite-Sized Edits, I came up with what I thought might be a way to merge the inherent functionality of Smashwords with the goal of open-source proofreading.

In an exchange of emails, Smashwords CEO Mark Coker graciously helped me refine the idea in a manner consistent with the Smashwords TOS, which states that only finished works can be published through the site:

9d. You further warrant the book represents a complete work:
• this is not a work-in-progress
• the uploaded file is not a partial sample or sample chapter, or is not a collection of sample chapters
• the uploaded book represents a complete story with a beginning, middle and end

Because any work (fiction or nonfiction) that is ready for proofreading should be finished in every other respect, the proofreading process falls into a gray area relative to this requirement. For that reason, I need to stress that the proofing I am talking about is just that: a final attempt to track down typos and other miscellaneous errors after the entire work has been written, revised, edited and checked by as many eyes as possible. A work that has errors on every page, or obvious mistakes in abundance, is in need of copy editing, and is not what I would deem a finished work.  Read more ]

Reader-Sets-the-Price Pricing

I am publishing a collection of short stories as an e-book. In this week’s blog posts I’m trying to work through the relevant pricing issues and set a price for that content.

One way to get around the problem of choosing between giving your stuff away (which theoretically induces the greatest demand) and the unseemly desire to make money by selling your work, is to hand that problem to your customers. Instead of setting your price at zero and accepting the fact that you’re going to make no money no matter how much demand you have, the set-your-own-price option (or Radiohead model, as it’s often called) leaves the door open for various levels of economic gain.

If you’re really lucky Bill Gates will drop by, sample a few paragraphs of your latest flash, and be so moved as to drop $500,000 on you via PayPal. Or, maybe a class of third-graders will save up their quarters and buy a copy of your book, even though they could have had it for free, giving you one of those life-affirming moments to cling to when events turn life-denying. Or maybe you’ll connect with a number of readers who genuinely love your content, who truly get you and your business philosophy, and who honestly want to put their e-wallets where their e-reader are.

Believe me: I love a feel-good story as much as the next person (okay, maybe a little less). At the end of the day, however, Radiohead pricing still means setting your price at zero, then brandishing an emotional crowbar at anyone attracted by your sweet deal. In effect, the set-your-own-price option says, “Yes, it’s yours free…but if you really wanted to…if you believed in what I’m doing…you could send me a few dollars…although any guilt you feel about being put in this position is obviously your own problem.”

Believe me, I support the co-op model of business. But even your average co-op doesn’t leave it to individual members to show up and get to work every once in a while. Normally there’s a minimum number of hours to be worked (a price) in order to gain the benefits of the co-op, because if there was no minimum all those socially-conscious consumers would take the benefits and run.  Read more ]

The Writer and the Reviewer

A couple of weeks ago, in a post touching on the question of reviews, I said this:

Turning a static review into a debate strikes me as a good thing, particularly as regards putting the reviewer on notice that they will also have to defend the merits of their words.

Today, Self-Publishing Review provides us a perfect illustration of the benefits and pitfalls of this kind of conversation in the review of Nathan Charlton’s Terra Nova: The Search, by Levi Montgomery.

I will not directly address the story, which I haven’t read, or the review, which I cannot judge because I haven’t read the story. In this case, the reviewer looked unfavorably on the author’s work. But in responding to the review, the author uncovered the fact that the reviewer had failed to read the entire story:

I’m actually curious if you read the whole thing, because everything you mentioned happens in the first 50 pages (and most of it in the first 30).

The reviewer’s defense of this novel approach to reviewing was weak:

I actually read the Prologue and Part One, which would be something over seventy pages, and I neither stated not implied otherwise.

Which prompted the site’s editor, Henry Baum, to weigh in:

I didn’t know Levi Montgomery hadn’t read the whole book. And didn’t assume I had to include the criteria – “in order to review the book you have to read it.”

That it did not occur to the reviewer that he was both required by ethics to read the entire work, or at the very least disclose that he had not read the entire work, seriously undermines his credibility in every other regard. Charlton’s book may be just as Montgomery describes. But having deceived the reader with a lie of omission, and having defended that lie of omission by blaming the victims (readers) for assuming that Montgomery was required to read the entire work before shooting it full of indignant holes, is probably not the right way to go about establishing your credentials as a reviewer.

If the internet is about trust, and in particular about building trust with individual readers, then that cuts both ways. It’s not only the case that authors have a test to meet, but reviewers as well, and in both instances I think readers profit by this kind of interaction. Even if the conversation devolves, as it did in this case, more information is better. Precisely because this existed we now know more about Nathan Charlton and Levi Montgomery and Henry Baum, and we can use that information to make more informed decisions about our content choices.

– Mark Barrett

Site Seeing: Mobile Read

While I’m on the subject of e-readers, you might want to take a look at MobileRead.com, including discussions in the forum. (It’s a site I stumbled across while reading in the WebFictionGuide.com forums, and if you follow that link you’ll see that several people almost immediately turn to the question of whether online fiction and e-readers are different animals. Such is life at the dawn of a new era.)

As you might expect, there are currently posts on the home page about Sony’s newly announced reader, but they also have a note up about nominations for the next Mobile Read Book Club selection, slated for September. Right now Agatha Christie and Charlie Chan are battling it out, but this is the kind of community-based activity that could also work for online fiction writers, unknown writers, etc. (At least until an astroturfing PR firm or publishing company starts gaming the system, which probably won’t take too long.)

The titanic two-front war currently being waged to control (read: own) electronic text and the devices that convey electronic text to users means that dedicated communities like Mobile Read will probably grow in importance as time goes on — at least until the battles are resolved. For individuals looking to write online or electronic fiction as a means of finding an audience, keeping abreast of the current (and coming) technology is an obligation made a little easier by sites and communities like Mobile Read.

– Mark Barrett

The Second Front

Sony unveiled a new e-reader this morning. Here’s the lede from the L.A. Times:

Sony this morning unveiled its answer to the Kindle 2 — a wireless electronic book reader with a 7-inch touch screen that’s 17% larger than Amazon’s device.

The fact that basic specs of the new reader are defined not in terms of utility but rather competitive advantage tells you everything you need to know about what’s going on in the e-reader arms race. A serious fight is on to see who produce the dominant reader, just as the fight is on to see who will become the dominant content provider for those devices.

Note also, however, that the two fronts in this global war to control the portable text industry are already deeply enmeshed:

Sony’s Readers have another feature that’s not present in the Kindle: All of the devices are capable of displaying digital books that have been borrowed from thousands of public libraries that lend electronic books. The Daily Edition goes one step further by finding local libraries with a digital-books collection and letting users wirelessly download the book for 21 days (provided they have a library card for that particular branch).

The machines enable delivery of more content: demand for more content drives sales of the machines. At some point in the not-to-distant future, this simmering symbiosis — backed by hundreds of millions of dollars in marketing campaigns — is going to explode onto popular culture.

Which explains why Google is not simply trying to become the dominant content provider, but why they’ve also allied themselves with Sony, against the Amazon/Microsoft cabal. From Bloomberg:

In March, Sony gained access to more than 500,000 e-book titles for its readers through an agreement with Google Inc. The deal expanded Sony’s e-book store to about 1 million titles at the end of last month, compared with the more than 320,000 Amazon.com offers.

Sony gets content for its e-reader: Google gets a friendly device manufacturer for its content delivery system.

It’s going to be very hard to bet against a Google/Sony alliance, even against the combined might of Microsoft, Amazon, Yahoo and others. More on this here and here.

(That last link is to a Macworld.com article, because “the new Daily Edition comes bundled with Sony’s eBook Library software 3.0, which is newly Mac-compatible” [emphasis mine]. Whether Apple is thinking about getting into the device business as well — iBook II anyone? — or whether they’re simply throwing their lot in against Microsoft is anyone’s guess. But that Apple seems to be on the sidelines should not be taken to mean that Apple is on the sidelines.)

– Mark Barrett