Sony Reader Pocket now $140

 Posted by at 5:30 PM  Tagged with: ,
May 032010

Sony Reader Pocket Edition

The Sony Reader Pocket Edition PRS-300 is now selling from Amazon and for just $139.95. The Sony readers are normally considered the third of the “Big 3” e-readers (behind Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook) … perhaps “Big 4” if enough people actually start reading on Apple’s iPad.

This follows an interesting trend as e-reader prices seem to be coming down. The original Kindle sold for $399, which was reduced to $359, then $299, and is currently $259. There are now several competitors in the $150 range as well. Will this bring more people into the e-reader and e-book fold? Or do people prefer to pay a little more for e-readers with more features? Personally, I like to see options available at different price points.

The Sony reader has an easy-on-the-eyes 5″ e-Ink screen (note that the K2 and Nook’s screens are 6″ diagonal). It comes with 512 MB of memory (enough for several hundred e-books), and boasts the 2-week battery life that e-Ink displays are known for. It reads ePub, PDF, and text files. It is quite small and light: at only 4.2 x 6.2 x 0.4 inches and 7.8 ounces, it is smaller and lighter than most paperback novels and should slip into a sport coat pocket.

It does without some of the features of its more expensive siblings, as it does not include a touch screen, keyboard, wireless downloads (you attach a USB cable to your computer), expandable memory card slot, a built-in dictionary, or the ability to play music or show pictures.

You also should consider that the main avenue to purchase e-books for the device will be Sony’s E-Reader Store, which has a lower selection and higher prices than Amazon or B&N. On the other hand, many bestsellers are being sold for the same price everywhere now, and it can read ePub files from other sources (including libraries).

I don’t think I would prefer it over my Kindle 2, even for the lower price, but for someone looking for a very small, light, and inexpensive e-reader, it’s certainly a serious contender.

The Twiller Is Nearing Completion

 Posted by at 3:22 AM  Tagged with: , ,
Apr 272010

Just a quick note because I’m excited to say that I finished the first draft of my third novel late last night. The Twiller is a departure from the Right Ascension series (my first two novels); it is a much lighter read, a comedic romp through the galaxy with a hapless hero and his strange marshmallow-shaped twiller friend. It is funny, or at least meant to be, without the serious ethical undertones of my first two novels. I do manage to include some social commentary beneath all the jokes, as our hero visits faraway planets with names like El Leigh, Bez Erkeley, York, WMD, Fleur Ida, and Huh, Why E? And I just might make fun of things like traffic, airport security, law firms, and some other things I’ve had experience with in real life. And, fine, truth be told, you may even notice some friends from my personal life making guest appearances.

Anyway, I’m very excited about this book, as I think it will appeal easily to non-science-fiction fans. It’s a little shorter than my first two books, and it’s a more light, fun, casual read. And, hey, who doesn’t like to laugh?

The only thing tempering my excitement for being “done” is that I still have a few other things to do before the book is ready:

  • Go back through and flesh out a couple of scenes and fix a few things.
  • Start from the beginning and make several passes through with a fine-toothed comb, editing the heck out of it and trying to eradicate all typos.
  • Bug my three noble editors for their help in editing the thing.
  • Design a cover. This part scares me, since I have no artistic ability whatsoever and need to find a way to draw/design the twiller. Any artists out there?
  • Write the back cover blurb.
  • Do the interior design and formatting — things like page size, headers, chapter titles, paragraph spacing, indents, ellipse dots, em dashes, etc.
  • Write the “front matter,” including the flyleaf page, some quotes for the front, copyright page, dedication, etc.
  • Create the “back matter,” including the about the author page and pic.
  • Figure out what to do with the footnotes, since e-books don’t handle them very well.
  • Format it for print and the various types of e-books out there (which involves converting it to HTML, adding tables of contents, etc.).
  • Upload it to various channels like Amazon and CreateSpace and create the description and categories.
  • Put it up on my own website and create new purchasing buttons through PayPal.
  • Promote it like heck, try to get reviews, and hope someone wants to buy the thing.

So, there’s quite a ways still to go. But I hope to have it all done within a couple of months. Until then, check out the Twiller page here for excerpts and updates and to leave a comment if you’d like to be notified when it’s completely finished and ready to go!

Apr 252010

Facebook greed: do not like.

In Facebook’s latest quest to make even more money from its users’ personal information, their newest ploy: the perversion of the “Like” button, which previously was an innocent way to give a virtual “thumbs up” to a friend’s comment or photo, without “subscribing” to anything or making a permanent connection. Now, however, that same “Like” button — that Facebook has trained its users to click on so much it expects 1 billion new “Likes” within the first 24 hours — “creates a connection” when used for interests, Fan pages, or other company websites. According to FB, “we believe this change offers you a more light-weight and standard way to connect with people, things and topics in which you are interested.” In other words, they hope to confuse things and trick more people into clicking “Like” because people are used to it, and it sounds better than “Become a Fan” or “Subscribe” or “Let us Track Your Interests.”

The new “Like” button not only extends its reach to Fan pages (which you used to “become a fan” of), but will now pop up all over the web on various company websites. An example FB gives is; so, you visit and see the ubiquitous FB “Like” button and click it. Assuming you are logged in to your FB account, you have now provided a piece of personal data that FB can sell to Levi’s, Macy’s, or some other jeans competitor. Also, the fact that you “Like” Levi’s now shows up in the “News Feed,” which means that you just spammed all 200 of your friends with an advertisement for Levi’s. Great! Because advertising wasn’t invasive enough, now FB is trying to trick your friends into doing the advertising for them.

In a similar vein, your “Interests” on the “Info” tab of your Facebook profile page are being converted automatically into things that you “Like.” So, if, under activities or interests you put “Unbuttoning my Levi’s and eating at KFC,” you will now be assumed to “Like” Levi’s and KFC. And your name will show up as a “Liker” or “Fan” or “Friend” or “Follower” (or whatever they’ll call it) on the new Levi’s Facebook “Communities” page. So, anyone (friend or not) can visit the Levi’s communities page and see you’re a “Liker.” Yes, even if you have your “Interests” set to “private.” OK, that’s not so bad, but what if you included “sex” under interests, or “marijuana,” or “speeding.” Now, all that information is instantly accessible in a neat database … and how much would your car insurance company like that information?

Want to stop that from happening? FB says your only option is to “delete” all your interests. However, in a clever twist, that just prevents your interests from showing up on your profile (where you want them so your friends can see), yet FB keeps that info and continues selling it to advertisers. It’s the worst of both worlds. Nothing you can do; if you’ve entered something, it’s too late, FB owns it. I’ve said it before: I don’t care what your privacy settings are, don’t put anything on Facebook that you wouldn’t want to appear on the front page of the New York Times. That is more true today then ever.

Think your status updates and comments are safe? Nope, those can show up on “Communities” pages too. So if you say, “I hate the FBI,” that post will show up on the “FBI” Communities page. Nice.

Facebook has explained recently that they are trying to “monetize” their user base … that translates to “get you to spend more money” and “advertise to you more” and “sell more of your information and purchasing history.” They’re trying to take a personal site where people share info with friends, and needle into that info and those exchanges and make money from them. I understand they are a business and are seeking to profit, but this method is so at odds with what their users want, I don’t think they can pull it off. At least I hope not.

I’m sure there are less invasive ways for them to harvest all that user info and make money from it without violating the trust and privacy of their users. For example, they could aggregate “trends,” things people are talking about or searching for, and sell that compiled info to companies. “Mentions of Twilight are up 12% this week,” “instances of the phrase ‘going to buy an iPad’ are down 27%,” “72% of users who discuss it claim they refuse to pay over $9.99 for e-books.” Isn’t that info valuable? And, providing that sort of aggregate (not personally-identifiable) info wouldn’t alienate FB users.

Facebook needs to seriously re-think their disregard for users’ privacy. I’m sure, when you have hundreds of millions of users, the temptation is great to see them all as nice plump dollar signs. These sorts of moves have backfired on Facebook before, spawning protests over privacy concerns, but they keep trying. Facebook is a company, and wants to make (more) money. Hey, look, I get it. I wish I could give my novels away for free and not worry if they sell or not. But I’m trying to make a living here, and the grocery store doesn’t give me food for free, and my landlord keeps bitching about rent. But I’m not taking anyone’s personal data and selling it — let alone tricking them into giving it to me. But hey, what do I know? I’m not 25 years old and the owner of a company worth over $35 billion. But my free advice is: stop pushing, Facebook, before your users turn on you and leave Facebook for good.

Maybe they’ll even sit down and read a good book instead. 😉

UPDATE: Nice article from Wired, first line: “Facebook has gone rogue, drunk on founder Mark Zuckerberg’s dreams of world domination.” Another nice tidbit, FB now adds apps without your permission when you visit certain websites (I just checked, and had 4 installed on my profile).

25 Things About Me

 Posted by at 6:22 PM  Tagged with: ,
Apr 232010

Not mine yet. One day.

OK, I don’t normally do these sorts of lists, but I’ll give it a go.

1. I am a passionate (some say “crazy”) Gator fan. I’ve been to all of our football (3, plus 1 we lost) and basketball (2) national championship games.

2. I met my wonderful and very supportive wife my second night after moving to L.A. For a while after that, I called L.A. “The City of Angels.” I don’t anymore because I hate the city and the traffic and the smog, but still love my wife.

3. I’ve also lived in South Florida; Gainesville, FL; Berkeley, CA; Oakland, CA; Los Angeles, CA; and South Florida again.

4. I also visit Hawaii a lot because my wife is from there and her family lives there. It’s a long flight.

5. My favorite city of all time is Rome, Italy. The combination of history, art, culture, food, and modern society is unparalleled. I was overwhelmed by the experience of sipping wine at a cafe overlooking the Pantheon and thinking “Julius Caesar hung out here a couple of thousand years ago.” Oh, and the gelato is FANTASTIC.

6. I love animals. I have a bird (a conure, which is a small parrot) and my wife’s cat, which is a North American Shedder breed. I’m more of a dog person, but don’t have one yet. My parents have 4, though.

7. One of our favorite places is Parrot Jungle (now called Jungle Island) in Miami, where we’ve held and played with lemurs, baby tigers, chimps, gibbons, parrots, and we volunteered for a while with their baby orangutans and baboons. Their male baboon, Pharoah, still goes nuts when I visit and likes for us to groom each other.

8. I grew up reading C.S. Lewis and Piers Anthony.

9. I got to drive a Ferrari F430 and have yearned to drive it again ever since. It is truly perfection on wheels. I finally understand when the car magazines call it “telepathic” steering and handling.

10. I once jumped out of a perfectly good airplane. OK, “perfectly good” may be a stretch, since the thing was held together by duct tape and love. But I did a solo skydive from 2 miles up in the air (about 11,000 feet). I could see both coasts of Florida.

11. I was a philosophy major in college, with a focus on ethics. I wrote my honors thesis on contemporary moral issues.

12. After college, my ethics courses inspired me to write a science fiction story that explored ethical themes and tried to entertain with action & adventure while also encouraging the reader to think about interesting and complex moral issues. So, Right Ascension was born.

13. I went to law school at UC-Berkeley and was editor-in-chief of the law school newspaper, the Cross-Examiner. It probably sounds more impressive than it was because we basically just made fun of everything, it’s not like we examined cases or discussed any of that legal crap.

14. During law school, I learned a lot. I started drinking (yup, no alcohol before law school), learned to play golf, and wrote my second novel, Declination (which is the sequel to Right Ascension).

15. I once saw a lady walking a pair of llamas down the streets of Berkeley. I am not making this up. It was NOT the strangest thing I have seen in Berkeley.

16. Since I had gone to law school and taken the Bar Exam and all that rot, and since I had made approximately enough on my novels to buy a week’s worth of ramen noodles (if you didn’t count my expenses), I moved to L.A. to work for a big law firm as a lawyer.

17. Being a lawyer is … not as much fun as it looks on TV.

18. Oh, except I did get to work on a case for “Girls Gone Wild” where I got paid to “review evidence” regarding whether certain girls did certain things on videotape or not. That part did not suck.

19. I recently “retired,” moved back to South Florida, and started writing (and editing, and designing covers, and formatting, and promoting) full-time. I took a humorous short story I had worked on in bits and pieces and it kept growing until it turned into a novel called The Twiller. I am very nearly finished with it now, and I’m very excited to release it soon.

20. My favorite TV show of all time was Firefly, and I still cry a little bit inside every time I think about how soon it was cancelled. I cry a LOT inside every time I see some of the crap on TV that has replaced it. (Amazing Housewives So You Think You Can Apprentice Idol in the O.C., I’m looking at you.)

21. My favorite movies are Forrest Gump, The Shawshank Redemption, and Gattaca.

22. I really enjoy reading Timothy Zahn. His Thrawn Series Star Wars novels and his Conqueror’s Trilogy books were excellent.

23. I had a dream last night that starred Mila Kunis. No, it was NOT as dirty as you’re probably thinking.

24. My father inspired the intelligence, leadership, and morality of Admiral Daniel Atgard from my novels.

25. This is the first “25 Things About Me” list I’ve ever done. I’m not sure what inspired me to do it. Probably the Mila Kunis dream.

Kindle Coming to Target Stores

 Posted by at 4:01 PM  Tagged with: , ,
Apr 222010

Target announced yesterday that Amazon’s Kindle 2 will arrive in select Target retail stores on April 25. This is big news for e-readers in general, and the Kindle in particular, since it was only previously available online through E-readers are a new and still unfamiliar technology, and there are many people who would be wary of spending $259 on a device that they couldn’t see and touch before purchasing (even though Amazon offers a no-questions-asked 30-day return policy on Kindles). Everyone I’ve shown my Kindle to has been impressed, some even amazed by the technology, readability, and light weight. So I think getting the actual product in front of millions of customers will only be a good thing for Kindle sales.

Unfortunately, the “select stores” that will initially get the Kindle 2 are Target’s flagship store in Minneapolis, as well as 102 stores in South Florida … which is where I happen to live. 🙂 Hopefully they will expand the availability nationwide soon.

Another note: it is currently rumored that the Kindle may also be coming to Best Buy. That would be interesting, since Apple’s iPad, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, and Sony’s e-Readers are already available there. That would make Best Buy a great one-stop-shop to try out and compare the various e-readers available.

Of course, the Nook is already available at most Barnes & Noble stores, and is similar enough to the Kindle to give customers an idea — especially the 6″ e-Ink screen, which is identical on both devices.

Apr 182010

20/20 vision only beyond this point

I’d like to highlight an issue that has steadily become a bigger and bigger deal for me, and something that I think really exemplifies how several large print publishers are just taking the complete wrong tack when dealing with their readers. Instead of embracing readers (i.e., their customers) and thinking of ways to make their reading or purchasing experiences better, publishers have been raising e-book prices, delaying e-book releases, slapping on restrictive copy protection (DRM) that confuses and limits readers, blocking features like lending, and, perhaps most egregiously, blocking text-to-speech.

Text-to-speech (TTS) is a technology that allows printed words to be read aloud by a synthesized computer voice. While the quality of this artificial voice is acceptable to some but irritating to others, it as an option that Amazon spent time and money building into the Kindle 2. Amazon partnered with Nuance (makers of Dragon Naturally Speaking) to build TTS into the K2. That means that, in addition to all the other advantages of e-books–like adjustable font sizes that make it easier for those with poor vision to read–now your Kindle can read any e-book to you, which opens up the joy of books to the vision impaired, the elderly, or anyone else who can’t read printed words. While I’m fortunate enough to still have (relatively) good eyesight, I’m glad to see such technologies emerge to help those who aren’t as fortunate. And I’m in favor of anything that enables more people to read or enjoy the written word.

And what do I, as an author or publisher, have to do to enable this wonderful technology? Nothing. It’s already built into the K2 and turned on by default. Talk about a win-win-win. More people get to enjoy books, I can reach a whole new market, and Amazon can sell more e-books and Kindles.

Right up until the part where publishers demand that Amazon block text-to-speech on their titles.

This move just strikes me as so backwards-thinking, so antagonistic, and so wrong–considering which segment of the population will be harmed the most by the move: the disabled.

The publishers’ argument is essentially that TTS-enabled e-books will cut into their (expensive) audiobook sales. To me, it’s just another example of publishers alienating readers, and fighting instead of embracing technology. They’re so worried about e-books hurting their hardcover sales and audiobook sales, they’re forgetting that e-books are reaching new readers who are buying more e-books than they used to buy in print. They’re forgetting all the cost savings inherent in e-books, since they don’t have to print or ship or store books or accept returns or produce audio files. They’re forgetting that technology marches on, and they can march along or be trampled underfoot along with the typewriter manufacturers and buggy-whip makers. Most importantly, they’re forgetting the reason they exist: to provide literature to readers. Readers are not your enemies; please stop fighting them. How did it work out for the RIAA and the music industry?

In the meantime, all I can do (aside from posting about it here) is continue to try to embrace technology and provide value for my readers. To me, that means fair pricing, multiple formats, no restrictive DRM, and enabling text-to-speech on my novels.

Apr 132010

Now that we’ve had the iPad for 10 days, I can give a more thorough review than my first one. Probably the best thing I can say about it is that it has kept us up even later than usual on more than one night … and that we’ve started calling it the “CrackPad.” Downloading apps, playing games, watching videos, and surfing the ‘Net becomes more addictive on the touchscreen, hand-held device. Aside from games, some of the apps are really useful, like the excellent WeatherBug app (that auto-detects your location and gives hour-by-hour forecasts, moving radar images, and pictures from nearby cameras), talking to someone on Skype is more fun than on a computer (too bad there’s no webcam), Shazam listens to songs playing on the radio and identifies them, and NetNewsWire lets me read my blogs and RSS feeds on-the-go. And my wife will no doubt be well entertained on her next flight.

On the down side, the iPad’s 24-ounce (1.5-pound) weight becomes quickly apparent when holding it–it really needs to be rested on a knee or lap, which can necessitate a hunching posture. It gets even heavier when you add a sturdy case, a necessity for something so expensive, slick, and fragile.

Of special interest to me is the question: How good is the iPad as an e-reader? And the answer is a pretty good one, but with some important caveats. First of all, I find it better for shorter reading (under an hour), as the backlit LCD screen is simply not as easy on the eyes as e-Ink displays or actual paper. And the weight is quite noticeable when reading, especially compared to my Kindle 2. However, color covers look gorgeous, and the iBook reading app is very well done. The iBook app mimics the look and feel of a book, especially when turned sideways to display 2 pages at once. It is simple to purchase books, arrange them on your bookshelf, open them, change font sizes, look words up in the dictionary, and turn pages. One note: while the cool-looking page turns (you swipe your finger and the slightly see-through page will follow the movement of your finger) are fun to play with at first, I very quickly desired the Kindle’s one-handed button press for page turns, which I’m glad to say you can do by tapping your thumb in the iBook app. It’s funny: people talk about e-readers mimicking books, but I already find turning pages too “cumbersome” now that I’m used to one-handed operation!

As for where to buy books: while the iBook Store is not as well-organized as Amazon’s, and doesn’t have as many titles (30,000 to almost 500,000), this ironically becomes an iPad advantage because you can use the iBook store and/or read Amazon books through Amazon’s Kindle for iPad app, which is also excellent.

As for the inevitable comparison to the Kindle 2, I’ll go point-by-point, roughly in order of importance to me (iPad advantages in bold, K2 advantages in italics):

  1. The iPad’s backlit LCD is like a computer monitor, not as easy on the eyes for long reading as the K2’s e-Ink or paper.
  2. Reading is very simple and intuitive–I’d rate this one as a tie with the K2, both are excellent.
  3. Weight (24 ounces) makes the Kindle (only 10 ounces) feel like a feather.
  4. The iPad’s $499 starting price is almost double the K2 ($259).
  5. The K2’s 2-week battery life is in another league than the iPad’s 10-12 hours.
  6. The iPad’s color screen makes covers and your “bookshelf” look great.
  7. Although I’ve become used to the Kindle’s “locations,” the iPad’s page count (and # of pages left in a chapter) is more intuitive.
  8. The current Wi-Fi iPads lack the K2’s free 3G wireless coverage. The forthcoming 3G iPad will cost at least $629 + $30 per month.
  9. The iPad starts with 16 GB of storage, while the K2 only has 2 GB. But both are plenty for thousands of books (the iPad will undoubtedly get filled with other stuff).
  10. You can attach the K2 to your computer via USB and drag-and-drop e-books into it. The iPad requires fussing with iTunes, which is a huge hassle when trying to connect to computers other than your own.
  11. Being able to purchase books from Amazon or the iBook Store may give you more options; however, most books should be the same price in either place.

In summary, it all comes down to what you’re looking for, and how serious a “reader” you are. It’s clear to me that the Kindle 2 is a superior e-reader. It’s much lighter, the e-Ink display is better for long reading sessions, it costs a fraction of the price, and the battery lasts forever. But the iPad makes a fine device to do a little light reading with from time to time. And, of course, the iPad plays games and movies and all sorts of legitimately cool stuff. But those cool things actually become a distraction as your “book” starts beeping and pinging at you when you get an email or Facebook update–the Kindle doesn’t do that. And, if you’re settled on the couch trying to escape into a good book, the lack of distraction can actually be a good thing.

UPDATE: No wonder we had been staying up later — according to researchers, using the iPad late at night disrupts your ability to fall asleep. (Luckily, e-Ink displays like the Kindle’s are safe.)

Apr 122010

We are seeing more and more digital content, including:

  • E-Books
  • Downloadable & streaming movies and TV shows
  • Apps and games
  • Magazines
  • Newspapers

This digital content costs less to produce and distribute than the non-digital version. It eliminates printing costs, fabrication of DVDs and DVD cases, and shipping costs, just to name a few. So why isn’t this stuff getting less expensive?

The problem is that the content providers are generally overcharging. Why can I rent a DVD from RedBox for $1, or unlimited movies for a month from Netflix for $9, but on the iTunes Store I’d have to pay $5 just to stream a movie one time, or $15 to download it? Why are you charging $3 for a single TV episode I could watch for free? Why are many e-books $9.99 and up, even when they have a paperback version out for several dollars less? Do they really expect me to pay $5 for a single issue of Time magazine, or $20 a month for the Wall Street Journal? Don’t they give it away for free on their website?

And, one thing I quickly noticed on my wife’s new iPad: all those $0.99 and $1.99 and $2.99 iPhone apps have iPad versions that tack “HD” onto the title and sell for $4.99, $9.99, and $14.99. A tad greedy, methinks.

What these content providers don’t seem to realize is that the great benefit of digital content is that there is no marginal cost. Once the content itself is created, you can sell an unlimited number of digital copies for essentially no cost. Yet, many of these providers are still stuck in the tangible retail model, where they need to make a certain profit margin on each book, or CD, or magazine that they print or produce. What they fail to realize is that they could cut prices in half and probably sell 3, 5, maybe even 10 times as much content, doubling or tripling their revenue and profits. (Also, to the extent that magazines and newspapers make a lot of money on advertising, even selling only twice the content at half the cost is a huge win for them.)

I grappled with pricing issues with my e-books. I first priced them at $4.77 each. I figured that was a “fair” price for an e-book, about half the cost of a paperback, so the readers were getting a good deal. But then a funny thing happened. I tried selling them for just 99 cents each. A little voice in my head cried out that I was “devaluing” all my hard work (those books took over a year each to produce) and that they were “worth” more than that. But when I sold 7, then 20, then 35 times more copies at $0.99 than I did at $4.77, it didn’t take long for me to silence that tiny voice. But what I don’t understand is that, if I can figure that out, why can’t the movie studios, large publishers, and newspapers?

Think about it. I’m not gonna pay $5 to digitally rent a movie I can get for $1 elsewhere. But if that movie was $1 or $2, I’d probably digitally rent at least a few a month for the added convenience. So, the movie studio can make $0 off of me, or $6 a month. Remember, it costs them almost nothing to actually stream the video to me. So who’s winning with these high prices?

That doesn’t even consider the fact that higher prices increase piracy. I don’t think overcharging makes piracy okay (you’re still illegally downloading something you didn’t pay for), but it helps people justify it in their own minds when they can say, “Screw these greedy movie studios. I’d never pay $15 for that movie anyway, so they’re not really losing anything by me pirating it.” When an e-book is just 99 cents, for example, the vast majority of people would rather just pay what they consider a fair price than resort to piracy. Apple figured that out with 99 cent music downloads … and the greedy music studios forced them to raise prices to $1.29 … and (prepare to be shocked) digital music sales declined for the first time ever.

On the other end of the spectrum is the “everything should be free on the Internet” model, which people are slowly realizing doesn’t work (even newspapers are finally figuring it out as they lay off reporters and editors). The problem with everything being free is that the people who create quality content need to get paid, so you can get insightful commentary, professional journalists who can travel to report on stories, quality television and movies, and well-written novels. If even the people who are very good at creating content can’t make a living at it, they will take their talents somewhere else that pays the bills, and we’ll all be poorer for it.

So, my belief is that people are willing to pay reasonable prices for digital content (read: less than the old cost of physical content), and that lower prices (that are still above free) will result in more sales and more revenue, and will allow more people to enjoy more content. That’s a win-win in my book.

Reviewing Reviews

 Posted by at 4:24 PM  Tagged with: ,
Apr 112010
"Can I leave zero stars?"

"Can I leave a zero-star review?"

For several years after I wrote my novels, I received mostly positive feedback about them. Even discounting encouragement from family and friends, the few reviews or emails I got were uniformly positive.

Now that I’ve sold a few thousand copies to complete strangers, I’ve been forcefully reminded that not everyone will like my novels. It makes me feel only marginally better to remind myself that not everyone will like any novel–just take a look at some classics and bestsellers on Amazon and all their 1-star reviews. But getting bad reviews still stings.

Now, when I say bad reviews, I don’t mean balanced or somewhat critical 3- or even 2-star reviews. I’m talking about 1-star reviews filled with pure vitriol, slamming every aspect of the book and not mentioning a single redeeming quality. Reviews that question my regard for literature, hate the main character like he killed their dog, call it cliche, boring, predictable, terribly written, the whole thing. Reviews that say “DO NOT BUY” in all caps. Or a review, from a reviewer who only leaves 1- and 2-star reviews, saying he liked the first novel (but couldn’t be bothered to write a positive review), but then found the time to come and slam the sequel with a 1-star review.

First of all, I wonder what kind of a person has that much hatred, who wakes up in the morning and says, “Let’s try to hurt the sales and smash the dreams of an aspiring indie author.” Do they realize there’s an actual person on the other end of the computer screen? One who takes his writing very seriously? Or is that the point? Is it simply “trolling” at its worst, designed just to elicit a response for the poster’s own amusement?

The problem is that, to maintain a respectable 4-star average (on a scale of 1 to 5), a single 1-star review counteracts three 5-star reviews. Even worse, a single 1-star review would require twelve honest, solid, 4-star reviews just to inch back above 3.75 (which gets rounded up to display 4 stars).

Now, I can understand that some people may not like my book. Some people don’t enjoy sci-fi, or romance, or thrillers, or certain writing styles or types of characters. I thought Harry Potter kinda sucked (although I didn’t go leave a nasty review), but lots of people apparently loved it. And I realize my novels are not perfect or the greatest books ever written; truly, I do. But I’ve read enough books to know that they’re not 1-star novels. That the writing isn’t “terrible.” And that they can’t be all bad. So it makes me wonder about the motivation behind these 100% negative, strongly-worded, personally-attacking, 1-star reviews.

So, what can be done? Well, I can’t do much about it. I’m not going to review my own novel, or give a troll just what he wants with an angry response. So, that leaves it up to my readers.

Reviews are important. Average star ranking is important. I do notice a bump in sales when I get a positive review, and I thank all of you who have taken the time to leave one. Especially since it seems that most people who dislike the books feel strongly enough to go post a bad review, and most people who like it (and kindly email me to let me know that) don’t really think about posting reviews–until I go beg them to do it. 🙂

So, anyway, if you did enjoy the novel, it would mean a lot to me if you could help out by posting reviews for one or both of them–and it doesn’t cost you a cent. The main place to post is Amazon, but please consider also posting it (you can even copy & paste) at Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, and the Apple iBook store.

I do very much appreciate it, and it helps me ignore the trolls and the haters, and get back to concentrating on writing.

Concentration And Intelligence

 Posted by at 7:13 PM  Tagged with:
Apr 102010

Could multi-tasking be making us dumber?

That’s one possible conclusion based on interesting neurological research performed on mice. The article discusses how intelligence could be more than just “how many facts someone can cram into their head,” but also “how much someone can focus on a specific task.”

It certainly rings true to me: I don’t think that flipping between TV stations, or playing video games with lots of colors and sounds, or skimming pictures in a magazine makes me smarter. You know what does make me feel smarter? Reading. The article points out specifically that reading long, difficult books (War and Peace, anyone?) is a great mental exercise, as it trains our brains to not only process information and contemplate its meaning on multiple levels, but also to focus on one thing for a long period of time. While it may be more difficult to focus on simple words printed on a page (as opposed to moving TV images or a cool iPad game), that’s precisely what makes it a better mental exercise. (Do you see bodybuilders lounging in chairs, doing bicep curls with 3-ounce cell phones?)

The fact that reading makes you smarter is hardly a revelation; I’ve known that for some time. But it’s interesting to see research that highlights the importance of the ability to focus.

So, if you feel like some enjoyable mental exercise, something that will entertain you and make you smarter at the same time, why not read a good book? I’m just saying ….  😉