Tuesday, March 6, 2012

For Certain Values of Censorship

The recent move by financial institutions to restrict how people use their money has garnered a lot of attention lately. PayPay seems to be taking most of the damage when it comes to public relations , but if the PR department is to be believed, it's just following the guidelines established by the credit card companies with whom it does business. Specifically, the banks don't want to do business with people who sell certain types of erotic fictions, i.e. anything with incest, bestiality, rape, or underage sex as the central theme. That's their choice, and probably their right under the law.

I'm not even going to pretend that I have some kind of deeper understanding, or access to knowledge that may not be available to others, but I think the claims of censorship are verging on the hysterical. These companies don't want to censor, they just don't want to be associated. That being said, these actions are, effectively and for certain values of censorship, censorship.

That's why I was so interested to see an article on TorrentFreak this morning about copyright and patent law, and how it stifles innovation. It reminded me that one of the corollaries  to the 'censorship' arguments I've heard lately relates to how companies like Amazon and Apple use copyright and patent law to keep competing products out of the market place. They use tools like DRM and contracts to retain (restrict) consumers--to force those consumers to keep coming back, instead of seeking other markets. They do this with music; they do it with video; and they do it with ebooks. They use piracy as the excuse to censor, and so are encouraging piracy with their short-sighted actions.

The activist John Gilmore claims that the internet sees censorship as damage, and routes around it.  So far that seems to be true, and that means that these censored markets won't go away, they will simply change. If the financial systems continue to use their economic power to censor markets they don't like, maybe these markets will find another economic system, and something like bitcoins will take off and take over.

Maybe PayPal and it's masters will have to change or die.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Lessons in Self Publishing

One of things that self publishing can give you is control, but there are limits to that control, and those limit aren't always obvious. For me, the most obvious example is Amazon's price matching policy. They don't do this for the author or the publisher, they do it for Amazon. They want to sell ebooks that only work on the Kindle, and if someone tries to sell an ebook cheaper somewhere else, Amazon will lower the price without asking--even if it has a different ISBN. No matter what they say, this isn't about being fair to the consumer, it's about staying competitive. It's almost predatory, in my opinion. The only control you have is to not publish with Amazon.

Another example of limits, one which is not so obvious until it happens, is how much control you have over the sites which are distributing your books. I chose Smashwords.com because they provide an amazing service for  independent authors. They make it about as easy as it can get to publish a book. They have free formatting guides, and will use that formatted document to automatically convert your book and distribute it to several other ebook stores. They will provide a list of editors and cover artists if you need help, and they will even give you a free ISBN.

The problem is that when the site goes down, you lose control over your entire distribution channel. Smashwords.com has been down for two days now, and I haven't had any control over the ebook stores to which they distribute. I can't even tell them to stop selling my books. This made me realize that, because of all of the drama about piracy these days, the government gets to seize any domain they want, and shut down the site. If, for some reason, they decide to do that with Smashwords, I suspect it would take months to straighten out the mess, and I might not see any of the profit from the sales which occurred while I wasn't in control.

You also don't have any control over your readers. I don't give out one star reviews because if I don't like a book, I don't finish reading it. And if I don't finish reading a book, I don't rate it. Now that I've experienced a bad rating, it seems obvious that not everyone thinks that way. There are people out there who won't like your book, and they won't tell you why. They will read the first page, or the first chapter, and then give it a one star rating. (That makes more sense than reading an entire book which you don't like.) They have that right, and anything you do to try and control them will only make you look like an idiot. I was surprised by a bad rating, but I really shouldn't have been.

You do have a lot of control over advertising. All of it, in fact. What I've discovered though, is that advertising online probably won't be a good return on your investment. I was given a small advertising budget by my web hosting company, so I gave it a try. If I had spent real money, I would have been very very disappointed in the results. Maybe I'll have more to say about that adventure at another time.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Painting Out the Door

I had this dream last night. I was sitting with an older man, and we were at work, having a general conversation about work and ourselves in relation to it. He was a new employee, while I had been working there for a while.

I made this observation that I often had an impulse to throw something, and that several times a week I had to restrain myself. He said something along the lines of, "I often wonder if I'm painting out the door just so I can pay for my internet connection."

I got out of bed just so I could Google that phrase. I feel like 'painting out the door' has something to do with art, but I found nothing. Where did I get that? What could it mean? I'll have to make something up.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Adventures in Advertising

I've been experimenting with Facebook ads. It's really amazing how much they know about people, and what they can tell advertisers. The problem is that it's going to expensive if I decide to go all out. They charge by the click, and I set a low limit. Even that is bringing in likes, but I could easily double the amount I'm spending and probably not sell enough books to cover the cost, so I'm torn between dumping in some real money to see what happens, or going for a slower but less expensive approach.

Adwords next...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On Sol

We flicker like flames
Life and death and love and hate
On the skin of Sol

Friday, December 16, 2011

Bred is Available . . .

My new book, Bred, is now available at Barnes & Noble, and on iTunes.

Demel was bred for power, born into slavery, and lives in the city of sorcery. His talent for remaining unnoticed allows him to grow into, and master, his power. But when he frees himself from a powerful control curse, he releases a storm of events which threatens all of Lyn. Demel, and his sometimes reluctant allies, are the only ones who can stop a thousand years of violence and oppression.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Write for Yourself

In June of 2005 I started writing a science fiction blog as a simple exercise. It was, in part, inspired by the Cassini mission and the Huygens lander, but it grew into a years long project that surprised me in many wonderful ways. The story eventually out-grew the format, and so I stopped working on it. Until now, I've only told a handful of people about it because it was, all along, something I did to make myself happy.

Is it a complete novel? I'm not sure. It's just a series of blog posts by a fictional character, writing about his life aboard a space station which orbits Saturn. It is, possibly, a space opera. Each post is self-contained, or at least as self-contained as any random blog post, but there is a overarching exposure of the world, and the troubles faced by the people who live in it. There is no ending, as such. The main character simply signs off one day, making vague promises of future postings.

I hope to expand on the story of Fort Falling some day, but even so, I'm currently editing the story so I can publish it as a free ebook some time within the next couple of months. I intend to use it as a promotional tool. It's already free on the web, but a free ebook might gain me some name recognition.

Name recognition can be good, but it can also be bad. Self-promotion seems to be a fine line between obscurity and infamy.  If I constantly spam social media sites with ads trying to get people to buy my new fantasy novel, Bred, I'm more likely to turn them away than to make any sales. I know those constant spam posts irritate the crap out of me.

I'm even hesitant to publish this post, but I do want to sell books. I want to sell books so I can write more books faster--so I can do more of something which makes me happy.