Monthly Archives: March 2009

MagCloud Counts on Homebrewed Magazines

Several POD services offer magazine trim sizes (in addition to standard book sizes), but Hewlett-Packard hopes to create its own niche with their latest foray into the DIY world: MagCloud. I only know this because The New Podler posted a piece of commentary on a related The New York Times article. The part that stuck in my head:

We live in a moment in time when anyone can write whatever they want and get it out there. Yet so very few of these efforts are actually worth spending the time with. Most self-published efforts not only have nothing to say, they say whatever they want to convey badly.

Good point. POD volume has the potential to grossly outweigh traditional print volume, if it hasn’t already. Most of that will probably suck (as it does now). The simple truth: the self-publishing movement has transferred the slush pile from the editor’s office to the Internet. The reader (and not the editor) is now saddled with the task of sifting through the slush to find the gems. That’s not a flame or a subtle insult. It’s the difference between intriguing cover art, proper punctuation / margins / text justification—and a $20 perfect-bound rough draft set in Comic Sans. You can find the former, but only after wading through dozens of the latter. And at a premium. DIY books are more expensive than traditional print books, and way too many DIY authors are hesitant to offer quality previews of their work. In other words, you don’t know what you get until it arrives in the mail. As an author, I’m totally biased in favor of my own work, and the stigma surrounding the self-publishing world just kills me. However, as an ex-editor, I know that most stories and books are “meh,” and only a precious few are “wow!” As an editor, I’m shaking my head and going, “MagCloud. Great. One more outlet for the masses to spew out their thoughts almost as soon as they think them.”

Still, I want it to work. I want MagCloud to succeed so that I can jump onboard with my own little magazine down the line and get me some of that POD pie. We all want that, don’t we?

The End of the World (For Just a Few Days)

Yay! My Internet’s back up. I never knew a few days’ time offline could feel like forever. Ugh, the follies of addiction. ;)

MegaTokyo #1196 showed up in my feed reader, and has reminded me why I got hooked on the comic in the first place: Largo’s little pseudo-world. Somehow he manages to interact with the “real” MT world enough to survive, to feed and clothe himself—and yet not be a part of it at all. It’s something I’m striving towards.

I had to use my Windows Vista install for a couple of days. It’s been ages since I did anything on that side of my laptop. Internet Explorer 8 doesn’t seem to suck that much. In fact, I’ve been able to remove the “you are using IE, please be aware that this site may not work correctly, blah blah” notice from the top of each Jessture.com page. Not that my loyalty to Firefox has wavered, but this means I can now code pages with less worry that they’ll show up looking like puke in IE. Yay (again).

I was cleaning up my bookmarks when I came across my old Scribd page, which, apparently, is still up and running. There’s a Heroes’ Day preview there which looks and reads just like the pocket paperback version of the novel (provided you have Flash installed).

Okay, enough randomness. :)

Beating the Odds

Despite brutal economic conditions, several independent publishers managed to find ways to grow both their sales and profits in 2008. How did they do it? They are not afraid to be frugal—forgoing advances in favor of offering higher royalties, for example; and they practice innovation—“mining data” for new audio prospects, in the case of Tantor, or teaching authors how to self-promote, as Morgan James does. These 11 presses have adopted a combination of strategies that have helped them not only survive in the recession, but prosper.

That’s from a recent Publishers Weekly article outlining the dubious effects of the ailing economy on the small press industry. In the current context, efficiency and innovation is certainly useful in staving off the money crunch, as tighter budgets mean more discerning consumers. This would seem to be a microcosm for the current overall economy. The large conglomerates were hit hardest by the recession, laying off tens of thousands and demanding bailout money while the small businesses carried on, heads down, legs braced. It’s just good business to keep yourself lean, small, and compact (reminds me of the “gymnasts are stronger than football players” analogy…even if it’s a little skewed). Business owners I know who’ve dodged the bullet repeatedly comment that low costs / overhead (and not leasing, say, a towering skyscraper for day to day operations) have made the difference, even if it’s not all peaches and cream. My mail guy runs his store all by himself, with help from his wife and son; the family has a separate home-based business to supplement their income. No one got a bonus this year, but no one lost their job, either. Granted, if you’re after mass market penetration, then yeah, you’re going to have to spend a shitload of cash for the possibility of making a shitload of cash—but how many business owners want or need to be Wal-Mart?

Ijo is Green, Syfy is Sci Fi

Faris Wijaya had this posted as a Daily Deviation over at deviantART, and it just made my day:

Mondays masquerading as Tuesdays can make me feel like this

Click the image to go to Faris’ dA page. The full image is worth pondering. :)

Looks like the Sci Fi Channel is taking a Hooked on Phonics approach and is changing its name to Syfy. Yeah, I don’t know what it means either. It just looks like “Siffy”. Supposedly the idea is to distance the network from its hapless, bespectacled, pocket-protector-wielding image:

“The name Sci Fi has been associated with geeks and dysfunctional, antisocial boys in their basements with video games and stuff like that, as opposed to the general public and the female audience in particular,” said TV historian Tim Brooks, who helped launch Sci Fi Channel when he worked at USA Network.

True, the text messaging generation is going to love this. Unlike “Sci Fi”, “Siffy” doesn’t have that extra space in the middle. It types faster. And, much like substituting “kool” for “cool”, “bai” for “bye”, it’s more social network friendly. But Tim Brooks’ dysfunction comments are a bit “meh” if you ask me. Geeks and nerds are equated with dysfunction and antisocial behavior because we’re more obvious, it’s presumably easier to point us out in a crowd, we don’t have the broad shoulders, perfect postures, or blatant sex appeal of your typical jocks / jockettes, etc. Realistically, it’s more about appearances than it is actual social quirks. “Cool people” are just as dysfunctional as “not-cool people”. How many rock stars, movie stars, or Olympic athletes have used drugs, alcohol, self-imposed starvation, over-training, or acute promiscuity to prove this point? Could it be that we’re all fucked in the head (to a certain degree), and that we’re all in denial?

I’m not worried. Sci-fi is cool with or without Siffy. I’m cool. My mother told me so. ;)

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer Goes Post-Print

Another print outfit, this one the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, has decided it’s time to go 100% online. Oddly enough, this makes me feel just the slightest bit more comfortable with my status as an online-mostly author. Why? Because the “legitimate” publishing world is slowly but surely shifting from book stores and newsstands to the Internet. Many retail stores are converting to walk-in catalogs. An example: Last month my sister was looking for a new laptop, so we headed down to the local Staples (we would have gone to Circuit City, but you know what’s happened there). They had a half dozen home office PCs and a few laptops on display—the majority of which were only available online, at the Staples Web site. It’s a familiar scene at Best Buy and Fry’s: all the good deals are available exclusively at each store’s respective site. And at Barnes & Noble, it’s bestsellers-only. No mid-list books, which is a shame because there are many awesome mid-list books that never make it to the shelves due to lack of space or lack of promotional muscle.

Anyway, I’m seeing a trend here that may pay off in the long run. Respected authors, self-mades, hobbyists, and hacks are all selling via the same platform. This by no means makes things easier for each individual small / online press vying for readers’ dollars, but it is one less reason to shun an author who’s never had his books on a store shelf if store shelves cease to be the primary distribution method.

We’ll see…

The New iPod Stifle

Neowin.net is just one of many tech sites posting news on Apple’s new iPod Shuffle and how it’s going to tell your current earphones to fuck off:

Most of you will know that Apple recently unveiled their new iPod Shuffle, much to everyone’s surprise. Well, it appears that there have been some dirty secrets uncovered about the new device: according to iLounge, Apple has put DRM in the hardware to prevent you from using any earphones that you want.

I’ve never been an Apple fan. Almost was, as my first computer was actually a donated Macintosh—before it was reclaimed by the original owner’s daughter a week later. My next was a PC with Windows 95 and Microsoft Word on it. I learned on the Windows platform, so that’s what I’ve stuck with these last twelve years, only recently moving to Linux on a permanent basis. But for the price, I don’t see what’s so spectacular about a Mac. If it’s all about interface, that’s fine. Anything’s better than Vista (why oh why must it automatically shuffle my folder views every few days?). However, I’m not vain enough to pay big bucks for something that the Ubuntu 8.x series has given me for a far more attractive price. I’m also not willing to sacrifice comfort for brand name approval. What if I don’t like Apple’s array of earbuds? Is it blasphemy to want to plug in a pair of Sony V150s into my iPod? Not that those are the most comfortable headphones in the world, mind you. They’ve merely grown on me.

As for MP3 players, it’s all about the iAUDIO. Now that’s a baby I’d pay big bucks for…if I hadn’t already settled for a Sansa e260 (a high-end mediocre player with above-average sound quality) in 2008. The iAUDIO plays MP3, Ogg, FLAC, among others. It’s dead sexy. And it doesn’t need the latest version of iTunes in order to sync tracks with your PC. Copy and paste, as God intended. :D

Dog Ear Publishing

Dog Ear Publishing

This morning I spotted an article in my feed reader from the POD People blog. This one’s on Dog Ear Publishing, yet another option for DIY publishers:

I took a look at their site and the Compare the Competition Page is quite nice and refreshing. The specs are pretty typical of the books produced in the trade category at any of the self publishing companies. Self publishing costs are derived from the web sites and companies listed. They admit to higher costs than say a Lulu but tout that their costs are on average $300 less than most subsidiary/self-publishing firms.

As Cheryl mentions, do your homework before waving your credit card in front of any POD / DIY publishing service—or before hastily deciding that self-publishing is the way to go in the first place. Regardless of your final choice, it’s good to know your way around some formatting / layout software, and to have the time and inclination to promote your book(s) afterward. Above all else, remember: Your spell-checker is your closest friend, but he’s prone to making silly little mistakes. You’re not looking over his shoulder because you think he’s a blundering dumb-ass, you’re looking over his shoulder because two heads are always better than one. This is the do-it-yourself arena, after all; any bonus skills you can tout will most definitely result in a better book. Put it to him that way and he’s sure to understand. ;)

Crispy, Crunchy, Sizzling MP3

Much like my forty-something friends have an affinity for vinyl albums and analog tape, a classroom experiment by Jonathan Berger suggests (not surprisingly) that today’s young people prefer the compressed sound of MP3 files to technically superior alternative formats:

[Berger] has [his students] listen to a variety of recordings which use different formats from MP3 to ones of much higher quality. He described the results with some disappointment and frustration, as a music lover might, that each year the preference for music in MP3 format rises. In other words, students prefer the quality of that kind of sound over the sound of music of much higher quality. He said that they seemed to prefer “sizzle sounds” that MP3s bring to music. It is a sound they are familiar with.

My first MP3 was a Glass Hammer sample track downloaded from the band’s Web site. It was encoded at something like 96 or 112 kbps, and I was amazed at the quality considering the small file size. In retrospect, the file was poorly encoded (it’s recommended that your standard stereo MP3s be encoded at nothing less than 128 kbps; ~200 kbps variable bit rate is recommended), but this was 1999 or thereabouts. The prevalent audio download options at the time were severely down-sampled WAVs or crummy Real Audio files. So, the “sizzle” was a minor quirk that eventually grew on me as I discovered more band Web sites, (the original) MP3.com, etc. My last CD player, a Sony Walkman, broke in 2006. I haven’t yet replaced it, and probably never will. What’s the point? I have a computer and a portable MP3 player now. Whenever I buy a CD, I can rip it to MP3 or Ogg Vorbis and slap the files on my music player. Compact discs have become the archive media from which I extract my day-to-day tunes.

A couple of years ago, I read an article about how the MP3 format covers its ass while compressing audio. Oftentimes, the result is subtle artifacting (wobbles, pops, squeaks, etc.), as well as something called “pre-echo,” which is how MP3 handles quick, hard sound attacks. Say, that of a drum hit. At the time, most MP3 encoders produced files with certain undesirable artifacts, but one (BladeEnc, I think) created a sort of ambient background noise, almost like a very, very subtle reverb, if I’m not mistaken. Tying into Berger’s statements, there may be something to the way in which MP3 garbles the sound it encodes.

Technical claptrap aside, I’ve tried several times to differentiate between properly encoded MP3s and their uncompressed WAV sources, and I’ve never been able to tell the difference. Someone with better ears than I will have to make the case against the unstoppable proliferation of compressed music.

Indie Writers vs. Indie Bands

Here’s an interesting article from The Hartford Courant:

In music, DIY is a source of credibility for acts that take pride in circumventing the music machine and the compromises often required to release an album through a record company, especially one of the major labels. With books, by contrast, do-it-yourselfers are usually regarded with skepticism, if not outright derision, when they pay to publish their own work through what is disdainfully referred to as a “vanity press.”

The Internet has helped to (slowly) change this. With many retail book stores vanishing from the streets, readers are turning online to find their books, and that makes it more likely they’ll stumble upon an indie author’s work. But there’s still risk. As was mentioned in the Courant article, there’s no track record with DIY authors, no guarantee that their books have been proofread or polished to any degree. Oftentimes it’s not obvious until you’ve received the thing in the mail.

Bands have an easier death. A new piece of music dies the night it is performed shittily. Audience members make a mental note: “This band sucks, don’t even buy a T-shirt from these schmucks—and certainly don’t buy their CD.” For writers it’s harder to clearly kick ass or outright suck. Writers don’t typically “perform” a work before it is published, and they certainly don’t go on tour unless they’ve got the financial clout and stage presence to do so. Again, the Internet is changing this. Blogs are to writers as nightclubs are to bands. Sort of. Well, with blogging the drinks aren’t usually as varied or well-mixed. ;)

Heroes’ Day at Smashwords.com

Smashwords.com—your ebook, your way

In keeping with my continued efforts to bring my work into every household I can ruin, onto every e-book reader I can corrupt, I’ve slapped up Heroes’ Day over at Smashwords.com in a variety of e-book formats (HTML, JavaScript, Amazon Kindle, epub, Palm Doc, etc.). The icing on the cake: You set your own price. No catches, no funny little salesmen chattering on with the likes of, “And if you order now we’ll throw in this Monica Sardinia bobbler absolutely free!” Now, go click that pretty banner above before all the bobblers are sold out…