Monday, June 25, 2012

Steampunk defined. Or not. Check out the pics!

Not everyone who reads The Tinkerer's Daughter series will label it as Steampunk. In fact, a few may argue that it's not really Steampunk at all. The truth, which I stated in an interview a few months back, is that Tinkerer is influenced at least as much by Japanese Anime as it is by traditional Steampunk. It's also heavily influenced by high-fantasy. After all, the main character is a half-elf and the setting is NOT Victorian/Edwardian England, but rather an alternative historical setting that is similar in many ways to frontier America.(And not in some ways... but there's so much more to come on that later!)

Fortunately, the vast majority of people who've read this book do in fact seem to get it. Sometimes it takes a while, like with my big green P.I., Hank Mossberg. How do you describe the premise of mystery series based on fairy tales and a detective who's an ogre? Well, I guess I just did. And it brings a smile to my face every time I say it. Fortunately, in both cases, when people read the first book they often go on to the second. That means I've done my job, and it makes me very happy. 

But I digress. The point of this post is not my unusual genre-bending novels, but rather the simple elegance that is Steampunk. You can follow the link in the first paragraph for a general definition/ summary of what Steampunk is supposed to be. I'm going to presume you already know all of that. This is what I like about it: 

Steampunk isn't just a genre of film or literature, it's a movement. It's a lifestyle. People that embrace Steampunk don't just observe it, they partake. Many immerse themselves. In the process, they display an extraordinary amount of ingenuity and imagination They create, rather than simply observing. If everyone lived their lives like Steampunk fanatics, I believe the world would be a far more interesting place. Take a look: 

A Steampunk Desk...
And Cell Phone

Is there a Steampunk Car to go along with this?

Even Steam-punks need to store info
Especially if they have one of these beauties!
Costumes are plentiful, but some accessories are works of art in themselves.

A Steampunk Bike of some sort, made of wood and possibly mechanized? The lack of suspension promises a bone-shaking experience.

The always necessary Beer Tap!

And of course the Chronambulator Dial... whatever that is. (Currently for sale on Ebay!)

And the ever trusty steed - A Steampunk Horse! No hay necessary, but maybe a quart of oil and a gallon of diesel fuel. And they say my writing is too much fantasy?

I make no claim to ownership of these images. They are just a random sampling of the thousands of very cool gadgets, inventions, and artworks available in the Steampunk theme. If you find these interesting by all means keep looking. Should you be so inclined, there are quite a few offerings commercially available now, some reaching into the tens of thousands of dollars. And if you're lucky, you may be artistically inspired as well. I know I am.

I will be absent for the next two weeks, but I'll return in July with exciting news about the upcoming sequel to The Tinkerer's Daughter, Tinker's War!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Are espresso books machines finally coming? Should they?

Ok, so what's an espresso book machine? Well, it's a print on demand book-maker that can give you a nice glossy-cover paperback in about the same amount of time it takes to order an espresso. This is the Xerox version:

Passive Guy linked to a great blog post this weekend regarding the financial feasibility of installing print on demand machines inside bookstores. I have always thought these machines were a fantastic idea. It's been nearly ten years since I first heard about them and I remember drooling over the concept. Walk into a Barnes & Noble, Borders, or Waldenbooks (remember any of these names?), browse through the book covers and descriptions, and pick out a couple to have them printed. Order a coffee while you wait. They'll both be done about the same time. 

I loved that idea. Now? Not so much.In his post, Alan Beatts makes these observations: 

"There does seem to be a financially viable way for large and mid-sized stores to have an Espresso Book Machine on site.  However, it is not based on the business model that I expected. Before going into that however, I want to run down some of the basic costs associated with the Espresso Book Machine (henceforth "EBM") based on current pricing and actual installed usage...

Initial Purchase
Machine Cost:  $101,000
Software License Fee:  $15,000 for 5 years (note 1)
Set Up and Training Cost:  $3,500 (note 2)
Total:  $119,500

Operating Costs (per book - note 3)
Content Fee:  $0.70
Transaction Fee:  $1.00
Materials:  $1.74
Maintenance & Utilities:  $1.83
Total:  $5.27

Average retail price per book is $14.55 (note 3) ...At $14.55 retail minus $5.27 in materials fees leaves $9.28 profit per book.  Borderlands is open 8 hours per day, 362 days per year.  At the rate of one book per hour, the profit in a year is $26,847.88.  Based on the cost of the machine, I would pay off the machine and start making a profit in 4 years and 5 months.  At the rate of 3 books per hour, the machine pays off in a year and a half."

Okay, that does sound feasible. But is it, really? Imagine how something like this would change the face of Barnes & Noble:

  1. The paper industry is gone. The printing presses, the boxers and shippers, the truck drivers. They're all out of a job. Publishing is now about licensing, and bookselling is about printing. 
  2. The bookshelves no longer have books on them, they have covers (something similar to what we once saw in video rental stores. So what's the difference between a giant two-story Barnes & Noble and a video store? About thirty employees. So they're all gone, save for a skeleton crew who can answer questions about the printing machines, recommend books, and make a decent cup of coffee.)
  3. That big, beautiful two-story bookstore? It's gone, too. There's no need for a space like that anymore. Not with ever-tightening profit margins and the minimal space required by book covers. The big store is boarded up now and Barnes & Noble have moved their three employees into a tiny corner space in the local strip mall. You remember it. It used to be a Blockbuster. 
  4. Now that good old B&N has managed to keep profits up by firing employees, disbanding their shipping and receiving, and moving into a tiny corner bookstore, what kind of market have they maintained? The wrong kind. Their client base is now a dwindling market of aging clingers who refuse to ever read a book that they can't get wet. Meanwhile, generations of new readers are embracing simpler, cheaper, and more practical e-books by the millions.
Ultimately, I believe that this technology would have changed the world, had it been embraced ten years ago. Now, it's too late. At least for big corporations like Barnes & Noble. But I do believe this tech still has a chance, and that lies with the Independent bookstores that are once again cropping up all over the country. Indie bookstores are good at specializing and attracting niche markets. But the Indie bookstore that figures out how to get one of these machines may be with us for a long, long time. And they may do a good job of keeping paper books a reality for the rest of our lifetimes. I'm not sure about Barnes & Noble, though.

That's my two cents, long-winded and probably wrong, as it is. We'll find out in the next few years.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Death in the Hallows now available, and price drop on paperbacks!

Hank Mossberg, Private Ogre: Death in the Hallows is now available! You can find the e-book here, or the paperback here.

I have also reduced the price on all of my paperbacks to $9.99 or less (US). I've gone back and forth over this decision for some time and finally decided to pull the trigger. The problem is that Amazon's Createspace service requires minimum pricing based on the number of outlets where the books are available. In order to make my books available to independent sellers, bookstores, and libraries I have been forced to price most of my titles at $12 or higher. I guess that's not too bad compared to some paperbacks out there, but then again I'm not Grisham and people aren't exactly stampeding the bookstores to order my paperbacks.

In order to lower my prices I've decided to pull my books from expanded distribution, meaning the paperbacks will only be available through Amazon for now. I hate to do this for obvious reasons, but I also hate having to price my books at $12.99 (on most of them, this price probably earns me about 50 cents).

This change will make the paper more affordable to fans of my books, but less visible to people who haven't heard of me yet. That means I'm going to have to count solely on fans to spread the word. Hopefully, people who have read my books and enjoyed them will let others know about me. That's where you come in. I know I'm asking a lot. Many of you have already paid for my books and left reviews and now I'm asking one more thing. But it's a small thing. Please, if you've enjoyed any of my books, let others know about them. Direct them to my Amazon Page, my Website, or this Blog. And if you frequent Indie bookstores, by all means feel free to tell them about me, too. If they are interested in ordering some of my titles, I will find a way to make them available.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Passing of a Legend

Science Fiction author and literary pioneer Ray Bradbury has passed away at the age of 91. The man was a genius and an icon, and though his words will live forever, he will be missed.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

It's those uppity Indie authors again...

It seems the internet lately is a flurry of sage advice for Indie writers. I can't fire up my browser without tripping over posts by agents, bloggers, and hundreds of other people I've never met telling me exactly how I should behave. This phenomenon has grown so pervasive that instead of reading and commenting, I've mostly had to ignore them completely rather than speaking my mind and exposing myself as another "snarky, arrogant Indie with a chip on his shoulder." 

Honestly, I've never seen so many self-entitled critics with delusions of grandeur. They're crawling out of the woodwork. I'm having flashbacks to the blogs and websites I used to read that constantly chastised me about proper etiquette in dealing with agents and publishers. "Never say this, Never do that. Never submit to a publisher, Never speak to an agent in public, blah blah blah..." I'm taken back to the days when agents would insist that writers not only READ their blogs but remember to PRAISE them when submitting a novel for consideration. After all, how else could the agent know that we lowly authors had done our homework? Not by writing a great novel mind you, but by studying and researching the AGENT. Because it's the perfection of ass-kissing skills that makes a truly great writer.

"But what's wrong with all of this advice?" you say. "Isn't it good to know how one should behave in polite society?"

Sure. Maybe. In fact, I'm open to the idea that many or even most of these people honestly mean all of this from the goodness of their hearts. (Thought it's worth mentioning that before you ever take advice from a stranger you should investigate that person and his/her motives). Anyway, I think most of us know enough about acceptable behavior that we already know if we're being rude, snarky, or unethical. Just because one Indie gets on the Amazon forum and makes a jerk out of  himself and ends up banned, that act does not reflect on me in any way, nor does it reflect on the thousands of other Indie writers out there. And those who are saying that the action of one or two writers has turned them off to the whole movement are either being hypocrites or they've already quit reading traditionally published authors as well because I'm sure we can all name a few traditionally published authors who didn't behave that well in their public lives, either.

I've yet to find the letter from Hemingway's publisher or his agent telling him to stop drinking all the time, stop being a loudmouth, and wise up. That certainly would make an interesting story, though I imagine the career of said "expert" would have ended immediately. As far as I can tell, highly successful artists do not get publicly chastised in this way. Apparently, these lectures are reserved for the rest of us who are too timid and unsuccessful to stand up for ourselves.*

So now it's my turn. This is my advice to Indie writers out there everywhere (not that my opinion should mean that much to you, unless you already know me and have found good reason to respect it): 

Be yourself. Speak your opinions. If you turn out to be a jerk or a con artist everyone will know soon enough. If you want to ruin your career like that it doesn't affect me in any way whatsoever, so go ahead and do it. The sooner you're banned, the better. It'll leave a vacuum for the rest of us. And  for those of you who are not jerks and con artists, it's still better to voice your opinion and be thought of as a jerk than it is to sit back and take abuse from a tiny but vocal minority who just want to keep you in your place. You went Indie for a reason. Remember that and respect it.

*Hemingway is used as an example only and should not be interpreted as this author's opinion.In fact, it has recently been shown that Hemingway suffered not only from alcoholism but a chemical disorder known as hemochromatosis which may have greatly affected his behavior.