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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Writing Wibbles

Some medium-sized news this week — but first, let’s greet the new followers!
  • LynnCee Faulk — a fellow #FridayFlash’er and fellow Planet Georgia resident
  • Quinn Smythwood — “author by night” (careful, it’s the ones who don’t claim to be “mighty” you have to watch out for)
Your visitor badges, padded vests, and shock sticks are right here. The inmates may bite if you show fear, but will back off from a show of force.

Click to go to the
Amazon page
Okay, medium-sized news. After getting John Xero to look over the fixes I made one last time, on Sunday evening I decided to load Xenocide into the Launch Cannon and fire. I did do one last typo scan beforehand, which proved fruitful — reading a story backwards definitely breaks up the flow and can expose ugglies that your subconscious has managed to sweep under the rug, but does cause some eyestrain. As much as I hate typos, it was worth it.

I had several goals in mind with this launch: 1) See what it takes to get a book (even a short story) into the Kindle Store; 2) Ditto with Smashwords; 3) Find out how much effort it takes to get into Kindle Singles and Smashwords Premium; 4) Get into the Goodreads Author Program.

Note that the word “sales” didn’t appear above. This is really a practice run for when I load White Pickups into the Launch Cannon, like launching a chimp into space before launching people. Still, I do cherish the two people who actually laid down their dollar to buy it in the Kindle Store (and appreciate the three people who have previewed it at Smashwords even if they passed on buying it) as I write this on Tuesday evening. In that regard, the Xenocide launch has been a roaring success so far!

Using Scrivener for writing makes it almost trivially easy to hit the Kindle Store with the Launch Cannon, since it can “compile” a MOBI file (using Amazon’s KindleGen utility). If you’re not afraid of the command line, you could use Sigil to write your book, format to ePUB, then use KindleGen to convert that to MOBI — nearly as easy as Scrivener. The amusing part of launching into the Kindle Store was that Amazon UK had Xenocide up before the US store did! That may have had as much to do with timezones as anything else.

Putting on my publisher hat for a moment: frankly, the Smashwords setup leaves some things to be desired. The “Meatgrinder” is an impressive piece of software, taking an MS Weird file and turning it into pretty much every kind of eBook format in use, but XHTML would have (IMHO) been a better choice for an input file format. (Yes, I’m going to get technical here. Feel free to glaze over, or skip the rest of this paragraph.) Their FAQ says they used to accept HTML, but gave up on it because of the horrid non-compliant HTML they would get. But they can reject bad Weird documents, why not bad HTML? Or better yet, pass it through HTML Tidy for an automated cleanup? Or, they could take a clean ePUB (which is a collection of HTML files plus some sequencing info inside a Zip archive) and break that apart to create the other formats. XHTML (which is HTML that conforms to “well-formed” XML definitions) is very easy to parse and transform, and would eliminate the perceived need for a program I’ve learned to not trust with anything important. I ended up exporting RTF from Scrivener, reading that into OpenOffice, then (after cleaning up formats to conform to the Smashwords style guide) saved that to DOC and sent it on. [end tech stuff]

Now if all this translated to twice as many sales as the Kindle Store, it would be well worth the effort. However, early returns suggest it’s the opposite: you can expect more Kindle Store sales for less effort than getting into Smashwords. Still, Smashwords is probably worth the effort in the long run since (if you go for Premium status) it gets you into the B&N, Apple, Kobo, and Sony stores. They also issue your eBook a free ISBN number for inclusion in the Apple and Sony stores. You never know, Amazon might stumble and let one of the competitors become King of the eBook Hill.

I got the first draft of my #FridayFlash done today. It wasn’t difficult, as the story idea has been kicking around in my head since September 29 or so. I’ll explain Friday. Until then…


  1. This was one of the reasons I put out my anthology - as a learning exercise and to get my feet wet. I've found that the technical part of self-publishing pales in comparison to the promotion & sales part.

  2. I hope that White Pickups finds many sales, Far. I can brag that I got to enjoy reading it in its original serial format!

  3. Tony: and the promotion part is what we suck at, right? Seriously, if publishers would handle that part I wouldn't even consider going indie.

    Thanks, Boran — here's hoping!

  4. Best of luck, sounds like an interesting education, if nothing else.


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