Thursday, November 26, 2009

Guest Blogger: Simon Wood

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Here's a post about ebooks from writer Simon Wood.


For me, print will always be king. You can say what you like about other forms of media, but print will always be important. A book is tangible. It proves I wrote it, that I jumped through all hoops required of me and someone had the faith to publish it. There it is. A book. It’s real. It’s solid. Damn it, I wrote it and you can't take that away from me. Hopefully, you get the gist of how important this is to me.

Forgetting the bible and the Da Vinci Code, the life of a book or magazine is fleeting. There's a point where the publisher pulls the plug and the lights go dim on a story. That has meant a lot of great works disappear, lost to generations who had the misfortune not to be around when that story was on a bookshelf. Reduce this down to my own case, where my early books were with the small press with print runs numbering a couple of thousand and sometimes a lot less. The same is true with my short stories. Some of the periodicals I appeared in were no longer available before the calendar year was out. All those words lost like tears in rain (that was the for the Blade Runner fans).

But that isn’t necessarily true with the rise of electronic media. Now I know there's a lot of wringing of hands and renting of clothes when it comes to the state of publishing. Electrons are out to destroy traditional publishing. Something is coming in the way of print publishing and it’s scary. I’m not sure what it is, but I’m sure it’s going to mean change for everyone involved from writers and publishers to booksellers and libraries. But I don’t want to talk about how eBooks, Kindle, and deep discounts will be the end of publishing. I want to focus on the positives of what technology is doing for me as a writer.

There are stories I’m very proud of that never got widespread release but thanks to e-publishing, these stories are being kept alive. Long before Amazon’s Kindle threw a wrench in the printing works, provided a home for previously published fiction—especially short fiction. It has operated on a similar platform as iTunes where users download stories like songs. This proved to be a marvelous home for many of my short stories that deserved to be read. The lifespan of short stories is brief. As soon as the exclusivity rights run out or the magazine or anthology is done, I send the story along to Fictionwise. My stories live and can be downloaded for around fifty cents. For someone who has never anything I’ve written, it’s a nice try before you buy scenario.

Obviously, the expansion of the eBooks model has moved on leaps and bounds since the introduction of the Kindle. People, for better or worse, are latching onto eBooks. While this may be a platform for self-publishing, it’s also a lifeline for all those books going out of print—and I’ve done this with a couple of my titles that are going out of print. Dragged into Darkness went out of print in 2004 and only a handful of copies of Working Stiffs are still available. The chances of either these books getting picked up by a new publisher are slim. The demand at this point doesn’t support a new print run, but is plenty to an eBook retailer. I have to admit that I was slow at making Dragged into Darkness available, but I’ve been more on the ball with Working Stiffs. I’ve made both these books available through the Kindle store and over at Recently, I’ve been expanding my e-résumé with some of the nonfiction pieces that I wrote for Writer’s Digest. E-publishing also provides an outlet for stories that don’t fit into traditional buckets such as novelettes and novellas.

I have to admit, I’ve found it quite satisfying resurrecting work that I continue to be proud of.

So does this mean I’ve abandoned my print-is-king principles? Hell, no. My primary printing goal is to get published in print, but also in audio, graphically and electronically. What can I say? I’m greedy. I want it all. But what is of primary importance to me is that my work be available for people to read for the long term and the electronic revolution provides that. The thing to remember here is paper is finite, but electrons are eternal.

Yours keeping the stories alive,

Simon Wood

Simon Wood is an ex-racecar driver, a licensed pilot and an occasional private investigator. He's had over 150 stories and articles published. His short fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines anthologies, such as Seattle Noir, Thriller 2 and Woman’s World. He's a frequent contributor to Writer's Digest. He's the Anthony Award winning author of seven books. As Simon Janus, he's the author of The Scrubs and Road Rash. His next thriller, Terminated, will be out next June.

Learn more about Simon at and his work at:

Kindle Store

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

You, Artist

I've been buried in deadlines, but several people pointed me to the current Harlequin controversy. Jackie Kessler sums it up nicely. So does John Scalzi. And Stacey Cochran has a different take on things.

In a nutshell, Harlequin is starting a vanity imprint, where authors can pay to have their books printed.

My feelings are mixed.

On one hand, Harlequin is a smart company, good at making money, and this seems to be a smart way to capitalize on a growing trend.

On the other hand, it could hurt their brand, and their many authors who get paid for (rather than pay for) their books.

The debate doesn't interest me much, though I do give Harlequin props for their forward-thinking, even if their implementation leaves something to be desired. After all, they're the first major publisher to recognize how much the average person yearns to create.

As a species, we're a productive bunch. I take daily walks, and force myself not to take my surroundings for granted. When you look around your world and realize how much is man-made, it's rather humbling. We build. We manufacture. We plant. We bend the landscape to suit our needs. And we create. A lot.

It's probably genetic. Our self-worth is very much wrapped up in things we're able to produce. Art is one of those things. And while it's less practical than a Chevy, or a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, it is more accessible.

YouTube is one of the most significant, and interesting, products of the modern world. Since the beginning of film and video, those with deep pockets decided what the masses would see.

But with the advent of cheap technology, and the inborn desire to create, regular people without deep pockets have been able to share their art (movies, rants, music, commentary, critiques, how-tos, etc) with the world.

At first glance, this could have been a self-indulgent disaster. And there certainly is a lot of crap on YouTube.

But there's also some really cool stuff. Stuff even cooler than the stuff being produced by the people with deep pockets.

The most amazing thing about YouTube isn't the ability to share your videos. The most amazing thing is that people are TUNING IN to watch these videos.

A whole lot of people.

If you go to and look at the top websites on the Internet, you'll notice many of them share a common denominator called user aggregated content.

In other words, regular people contribute to these websites, which makes them big.

If you look at Google, it is actually 100% user aggregated content. Wikipedia, Yahoo, Amazon, file-sharing lockers and sites, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook---the list goes on and on.

People dictate what people want to visit, and want to see.

Which brings us to reading.

The same genetic need that drives human being to write Amazon reviews, join Yahoo groups, share photos, upload videos, Tweet, and otherwise contribute to the overall output of humanity, also drives people to write books.

Amazon, and Smashwords, are catering to these writers by allowing them to upload their ebooks, for free. They understand the importance of user aggregated content.

My advice to Harlequin, and to all publishers, is to follow in the footsteps of Smashwords. But in a way that strengthens, rather than diminishes, their brand.

Here's what I'd do if I was in charge of Harlequin.

1. Create a community forum, where newbie authors can upload ebooks for free. These ebooks can also be downloaded for free.

2. Allow these free ebooks to be printed on demand for those who want to by them. Make a small profit on the printing, but keep the price reasonable, and the authors own the rights. This is a printing service, not a publishing service.

3. Let the community vet itself. Allow for discussions, reviews, ratings, author chats, and comments. Crap will be avoided. Cream will rise.

4. Hire editors to mine the ebooks, looking for gems. Then cherry pick those and traditionally publish the best of them.

To draw extra attention to the website, the publisher should also release their backlist as ebooks. But rather than give these away for free, they should be sold in a variety of ebook formats, for a low cost (say $1.99.)

So picture this:

You go to Harlequin's ebook website, which has thousands of inexpensive ebooks. It also has free ebooks, uploaded by newbie authors.

You can join the forums and discussions and rate and review ebooks. You can also order print-on-demand copies of any ebook there, newbie or backlist.

Editors can monitor the downloads and the comments, to discover new authors they can traditionally publish.

Harlequin exploits their extensive backlist, makes a lot of money (that they don't have to share with Amazon), and discovers talent by letting the users aggregate the content and vote on the best. They don't get into trouble by becoming a vanity press, and they also secure their spot in the upcoming digital revolution. At the same time, they become an ebook version of YouTube, drawing both writers and readers.

It all comes down to this: People want to write. In the past, unscrupulous folks have preyed on this desire, making big promises and charging big fees.

Publishers can capitalize on this basic human desire, make some money, and still be the good guys. You don't have to be a vanity press to nurture dreams.

Writers will eventually get their YouTube. It's just a question of who will create it first.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Enter the Nook

Unless you've been living under a rock for the last few months, you've probably heard about the Nook, Barnes & Noble's contender in the biggering ereader wars.
My ebooks are now live on Nook. I was able to do this through Upload your books to Smashwords, and they'll upload them to the Nook (and also Sony.) I'll be tracking my numbers and posting them as the holiday season gets into gear.

For those who have already bought a Nook, or are planning to buy one, you'll be able to find my Nook links on my website, and also right here:

THE LIST by J.A. Konrath - Nook version $1.99

ORIGIN by J.A. Konrath - Nook version $1.99

SUCKERS by J.A. Konrath & Jeff Strand - Nook version $1.59

FLOATERS by J.A. Konrath & Henry Perez - Nook version $1.59

SHOT OF TEQUILA by J.A. Konrath - Nook version $1.99

DISTURB by J.A. Konrath - Nook version $1.99

TRUCK STOP by J.A. Konrath - Nook version $1.59

If you've been following my blog, you know I've made these books available on my website, on, on Kindle, on iTunes, and they'll soon be for sale on Sony.

I have no idea what to expect in the way of Nook sales. I had zero expectations of Kindle, and was surprised how well they've sold. I had moderate expectations for iTunes, but have sold less than 100 books total in the two weeks they've been available.

In the case of iTunes, I've since tweaked the product descriptions to make them easier to find, and so browsers have a better idea of what they were buying. I'm watching to see if those numbers grow.

In the case of Nook, B&N hasn't even put up the product descriptions yet, so I did that myself as user reviews--which is something I'd also done with Kindle when I first uploaded the titles.

While tweaking the descriptions this morning, I had a few interesting thoughts.

1. The process of uploading ebooks, no matter where they are uploaded to, is time-consuming, laborious, and inefficient. But it still can be done in a matter of hours or days, whereas in the print world it takes months to publish a book.

2. Prices of ereaders are going down, while features are getting better.

3. I still don't have any clear answers why agents aren't getting their clients' blacklists and unsold books on these various ereaders. Shouldn't they be innovating?

4. Etailers still haven't courted any major writers for exclusive deals. Considering Amazon, Sony, and now B&N lose money for each ebook sold, it would make sense for them to directly approach some authors and perhaps actually turn a profit selling ebooks. Are they afraid of publishers? Why would they be, when the publishers are screwing them by charging hardcover prices for a bunch of ones and zeroes which cost nothing to copy or distribute?

5. Ebooks are being talked about more and more, and many sources predict they're going to be a hot holiday item.

6. There are still haters.

Let's talk about #6 for a moment. While I grew up reading print books, and have thousands of them, and love them dearly, and have many fond memories associated with print, I'm getting bored with the knee-jerk "print is the only way a story can be read" reactions I always seem to see whenever ebooks are discussed.

People love the feel and smell of books. They love owning the physical object. That's fine. I do too.

But it's the stories that I really love. The paper, or the ereader, is only the delivery system for the story.

And the ereader is simply better than print in every way, except when it comes to nostalgia.

This reminds me a lot of the early 90s, when many folks were hesitant to buy computers because they simply didn't see the advantages of owning one.

Yes, tech is scary. Yes, the old ways are comfortable. Yes, owning a physical object like a book satisfies some primeval hunter/gatherer gene.

But the story isn't on the paper, or on the ereader screen. The story is in your head. It will be in your head no matter what you read it on.

Why are some folks so resistant to a technology that will make books cheaper, easier to read, easier to buy, more accessible, and at the same time save 40 million trees per year and save a great deal of space around the house?

What exactly are the haters objecting so strongly to, other than disliking change?

That said, who here is interested in buying a Nook? Why or why not?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


So it's 2014, and I'm in a reading mood.

I take out my ereader. At the push of a button, I bring up several different ebook stores, and begin to browse for something to read. Several stores are having sales. One of them gives all the books away for free--the only catch is each contains ads, much like a magazine.

I peruse the free site, download the latest thriller from my favorite author, and jump into the pool, floating on a raft while I read. There's no worry; the reader is waterproof.

There's construction going on in my neighborhood, so I put in my wireless ear buds and press the SFX button. As my eyes pass over the words, I'm treated to some background music, much like a movie soundtrack. There are also ambient sounds--crashing waves during a beach scene, crickets at night, the blowing wind when the main character goes to the desert for a showdown.

An ad comes up. It's a coupon for my local pizza joint. Pizza actually sounds pretty good. I touch the screen and order a pizza, using the coupon, paying for it immediately.

Then I hit the AUDIO button and close my eyes, letting the book read to me for a while as I float around. The narrator is good--using dialects and different voices for different characters. I pause the book, and access a search engine to see what other books he's narrated. I find two that sound interesting and download them on the spot.

I go back to the book, then get an announcement that my pizza has arrived. I climb out of the pool, thank the delivery guy (I already tipped him electronically) and then go into the family room with a slice.

I sync my ereader to my TV and adjust the words to scroll down the screen as I'm eating. During a particularly exciting helicopter chase, I see an author footnote. I click on it, and the author appears in a video clip, explaining the research he did for the scene, and showing the actual helicopter in flight. Normally I wait until after I finish the ebook before I delve into the extras like commentary, footnotes, vid clips, previous drafts, etc.

I get to another ad, which I skip, and then my wife comes home and says that her favorite author is appearing at a nearby bookstore. She grabs her ereader and we head out.

We get there early. The store contains over 300,000 paper books, but they're all shelf copies, not for sale. I hang out in the thriller section, and thumb through a few paper books. I find one I want, and scan the bar code on the back with my ereader, instantly buying it.

The author arrives. We sit and watch while he does a little talk. He has some printed books for sale, and if they run out, the bookstore says it will print more while we wait.

After the presentation, he signs some ereader covers. My wife has a clear plastic cover for her ereader, and the author has a cardboard covers he signs, which slips into the plastic.* Then he gives away some exclusive content to anyone who buys the book--a deleted chapter not available online. My wife buys an ebook. She promises to lend it to me when she's done, transferring it from her reader to mine--which is how e-lending at the library works.

On the way home, I sync my ereader to the car stereo, and let it read the next chapter. Another ad comes on, for a new book by this author. I bookmark the ad. I'll either buy the book, or download the ad version, later tonight.

I go back to the pool, alternating between reading and being read to. When the book is finished, I delve into the bonus features. The author included a tie-in short story, which I love. I contact the author's website and tell him so, then spend a few minutes posting my book review on his forum. This leads to me text chatting with another one of his fans, who suggests a new author I'd never heard of.

Two clicks later, I buy this new author's latest, for $1.99.

My wife asks if I want to watch a movie. I decline. I've got more than enough here to keep me entertained.

My ereader text box opens up. It's the author, thanking me for posting a kind review. He asks me if I'd like to be a beta reader for his new thriller, which won't be released for another two months.

Hell yeah, I do. He sends it to me instantly.

Boy, do I love this thing. It's easily the best $99 I've ever spent.

* The plastic slip cover is Boyd Morrison's idea, which is smarter than my original idea: publishers making ereader covers that look like book covers.