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What Will Amazon’s New Kindle Format Mean for Writers (and Readers)?

eBooks and Publishing

A few days ago, Amazon announced their new Kindle 8 format, the format the Kindle Fire will use to show newer Amazon books. I’ve heard some questions arise about this–whether Kindle authors will have to re-convert books, whether the older Kindle devices will support the new format and what will happen if they don’t, etc. Fortunately, digging into Amazon’s information the new format answers these questions clearly. Here are the implications for Kindle authors and some answers for readers who use the Kindle.

You won’t have to convert your existing Kindle books
The Kindle Fire and other devices and apps that support the Kindle 8 format will continue to support older Kindle formats. If you have existing books available for Kindle, the only disadvantage they’ll have if you don’t do a Kindle 8 version is not taking advantage of the new Kindle 8 features, which most non-graphic-intensive books won’t have a use for. If you have complex layouts, lots of graphics, etc., you probably will want to come out with a new, improved version.

Apps and new Kindle devices will support Kindle 8; old Kindle devices won’t
The newest generation of Kindles–the Kindle Fire, the touchscreen Kindles, and the latest keyboard Kindle–will soon support the new format. So will Kindle reader apps for iPhone, Windows, the Web, etc. Older Kindles won’t.

Older Kindles downloading newer books will just get a Kindle 7 version
Amazon is rolling out new software for formatting and previewing Kindle books, KindleGen 2 and Kindle Previewer 2. This software will automatically generate both an older Kindle 7 version of the book and a newer Kindle 8 version. If you’re reading on a device or app that supports the Kindle 8 format, you’ll get that, including any enhanced content that may be included. If you’re reading on an older Kindle–that is, any Kindle device bought previous to the launch of the Kindle Fire generation–you’ll get the older format. Kindle Previewer 2 allows viewing how the book will look on various devices, so you’ll have ample opportunity to test and tweak the appearance of your book. The only real drawback to using an older Kindle device is that there will be some content in graphics-intensive eBooks that won’t translate well to the older, more limited format.

Newer Kindle devices and apps will support the old format
Just to be clear, nothing has to change about existing Kindle books for the newer devices to read them: Kindle 7 is just another format they support.

The new format will no longer be straight Mobi
Prior to Kindle 8, the only difference between Amazon’s Kindle format and the industry standard Mobi format was Amazon’s DRM, “digital rights management” encoding that helped prevent unauthorized copying of Amazon books. For books that don’t have DRM, the current Kindle 7 format is identical to Mobi, and in fact you can take a non-DRM-protected Kindle book off a Kindle, change the extension (the last part of the file name) from .azw to .mobi, and read it on any Mobi-compatible device. With Kindle 8, it appears this will end. Amazon appears to have decided that with the direction eBooks are going, Mobi alone is too restrictive. They do seem to be using other industry standard specifications, though, including HTML 5 (the newest, most dynamic, and most design-friendly format for Web pages, which is now supported by current browsers) and CSS (a way to specify text formatting and page layout that is also supported by current browsers).

Kindle 8 format books can have a lot more design to them
In Kindle 8 format, Kindle books can have colors, fonts, and complex layouts. Frankly, I’m not very enthusiastic about this for most books. For books where text and images need to be intermingled in a particular way or that require tables or vector graphics, it will be great. For the vast majority of books, it will be completely unnecessary, and unfortunately some of these books will be designed in a way that will make them harder to read. Oh well. Just please don’t be one of the people who takes a book that is just text and tries to pretty it up with special fonts and color. From my point of view, when I read, I want to be barely aware of the text so that I can focus on what’s being said. I’m willing to bet most readers have the same basic response to overfancified text.

Kindle 8 won’t support audio and video
Amazon’s information isn’t clear about this, but at least according to this gentleman, audio and video will not be included in this version of the Kindle format.  This surprises me, actually. It seems almost a no-brainer that the Kindle Fire should be able to read books with embedded audio and video–for instance, language courses that will pronounce words when you tap on them, or a book about the history of film with pertinent clips–not that any of that would work on my 3rd generation Kindle anyway. Oh well. Maybe in Kindle 9.

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News Fasting: Is There Too Much News in Your Life?

States of mind

Years ago I read a book that advised going on a “news fast”–that is, not watching, listening to, or reading the news for at least a week.  The idea seemed strange to me: I was listening to the news in my car every day on the way into work and back. If I didn’t keep up with the news, wouldn’t I be uninformed? Wouldn’t I miss important things?

Well, maybe. I mean, if I were an investment counselor, I’d need to keep up with financial news. Almost everyone can use weather reports–though we can get that online without going near any other kinds of news. I certainly need to know something about what’s been going on in politics sooner or later if I’m going to vote responsibly. On a day-to-day basis, though, is news actually doing me any good?

News and stress
I could phrase this question another way: is what I get from keeping up with the news worth the stress it causes me?

Because it’s definitely stressful. I listened to NPR while in the car this morning and ended up turning it off after 20 minutes, because it had already managed to offer me stress-producing material about 1) biased journalism, 2) world overpopulation, 3) declining birth rates (notice how this is in direct conflict with #2 and yet each offers things to worry about), 4) drug shortages, and 5) invasive plant species.

I’m not advocating not knowing about these things. The dangers of overpopulation should (if you ask me) figure into any family planning discussion. There are practices I can avoid, like bringing unchecked fill onto my property, that can help limit the spread of invasive species. Having a sense of how responsible my sources of information are helps me take their statements in a more well-considered light.

What’s the news for, anyway?
Yet on the whole, the news tends to be filled with things to worry about, very few of which we can do much about directly unless we choose to make it a key personal mission. There are some positive stories, but they’re rare. You’ve probably heard the saying “If it bleeds, it leads”: people pay more attention to the news–watch more, listen more, and read more–if something bad is happening. Imagine a newspaper with a huge front page headline: “Everything is fine; not much to worry about!” It might have novelty value, but if it began to happen regularly, people might well stop buying newspapers.

When we listen to something negative on the news, we have three choices: we can do something about it right away, we can ignore it completely, or we can keep it in mind. Since we can rarely do anything about corruption in Afghanistan or declining salmon populations right away, and since ignoring is difficult and seems counter-intuitive when we’ve gone out of our way to get the news in the first place, we do a lot of just keeping things in mind. Does this make us better people? Does it help us make better decisions?

For that matter, are we even necessarily better informed? The news often emphasizes the unusual, the shocking, or the disturbing, making the world seem more extreme and upsetting than it actually is. “Two people fall in love, have minimal relationship problems, and live happily together into old age” isn’t usually news, but knowing that things like that happen is crucial in terms of how we experience our lives. News tends to skew the way we view the world. It’s depressing. It’s stressful.

Less news is good news
So what am I advocating here? Just that if you’re in the habit of listening to, watching, or reading the news every day, you might want to try taking a vacation for a while. Also, when you come back from that vacation, you might consider the possibility of limiting your news consumption on a regular basis.

I’d suggest two weeks. One week probably isn’t long enough to completely feel the effects, and anything longer runs the risk of making a person feel so out of touch the whole thing might backfire.

But old habits are hard to shake off, so I also recommend substitute behaviors.

If you read your news, whether on paper or online, consider introducing more enjoyable fiction and blogs, magazines, or books on topics you care about into your literary diet.

If you tend to listen on the radio, substitute music (which can be a highly effective mood changer), audiobooks, or just thinking about your life, the things that are important to you, and what makes you happy (see Getting Past Our Own Uncomfortable Silences). If you own a Kindle, you can have it read some books aloud to you (depending on the publisher’s settings) by pressing Shift+Sym and using space bar to pause/play. I plug my Kindle into my car’s stereo system and “read” articles, blog posts, and books this way. If you enjoy singing, doing more of that–with or without the radio–is another way to boost mood.

If your news mainly comes from the television, consider watching less television and spending the time instead with family or friends, reading or listening to music, or engaging in projects that leave you with a sense of satisfaction and meaning.

I’m not sure there is a perfect balance of taking in the news and staying clear of it. Even though news is often stressful, it’s occasionally enlightening or uplifting, and even when it’s stressful, sometimes that stress has a purpose (see The Benefits of Feeling Bad). Still, getting large amounts of news on a regular basis seems as though it would enough to increase anyone’s stress levels. If you’re a daily news consumer, what’s it doing to yours?

Photo by matsimpsk

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Amazon Announces $200 Tablet, $80 Kindle, and Touchscreen Kindles

eBooks and Publishing

In just the past hour or so, Amazon announced the new Kindle Fire, a $200 Android-based tablet that prioritizes reading, music, and media; they also introduced new touchscreen Kindles and a new standard Kindle (with ads and with no keyboard; the version without ads goes for $109) for $79. Prices of existing Kindle models have also dropped substantially.

The tablet and touchscreen eReaders will be available November 21st, in time for the holidays, while the new standard Kindle is available immediately.

I would be very surprised if this didn’t mean a host of new eReader users and a rise in sales of Kindle eBooks that starts immediately and builds through Christmas and (if last year is any guide) beyond.

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Seeing a Sudden Drop in Sales of Your eBook?

eBooks and Publishing

This is based only on anecdotal information from half a dozen writers or so, but some of us are seeing a sudden, sharp drop-off in sales of eBooks on Amazon over the past couple of weeks. However, I have a hard time imagining that this is a reader trend. In the absence of some major, disruptive event, it seems to me that if the general public were to change its opinion on eBooks, it would do so gradually and noisily rather than suddenly and silently.

I’ve heard speculation that Amazon may have changed some of their algorithms governing which Kindle books are shown in “also bought” categories and the like. I have no evidence that anything like this has happened, but it would fit the pattern if author-publishers suddenly saw a drop-off in sales because Amazon had changed something that (intentionally or not) favored books that sold a lot of copies and/or that came from major traditional publishers. I worry that some kind of deal may have been cut, especially as I know major publishers are desperate for eBook profits these days, what with other formats all dropping in popularity while eBooks continue to rise, and as Amazon is clearly dependent on major publishers for most of their popular book content.

All of that is nothing but speculation, of course. If it’s true, it still doesn’t signal the end of the eBook selfpub revolution–but it sure would make an already taxing process much more difficult. If major traditional publishers do ultimately come out on top and completely squeeze out author-publishers, then the new make-a-living-as-a-writer model may be pretty much the same as the old make-a-living-as-a-writer model: sell to an agent who works with a major publisher who publishes the book and gives you some or all of the royalties that are due to you. One improvement, however, would be that if many of the copies sold as eBooks, the writer would receive a much larger portion of the sales price–not nearly as much as they would realize as an author-publisher on a copy of the same book, but if major publishing houses can sell many more copies, the likelihood that a good writer can support her- or himself might go up rather than down.

It’s hard to know what to hope for: I’ve been envisioning tiny author-publisher empires in which we writers are happily giving our readers new books at good prices as we finish them, rather than being stuck in the slow and sometimes painful traditional publishing process. However, large eBook retailers are empowered to squeeze author-publishers out because we need them and they don’t especially need us, apart from a minority of especially successful eBooks for which they might make exceptions.

How are your sales? Am I Marsh-wiggling this whole topic? If your sales have dropped off, do you have any speculations to advance?

Photo by m.prinke

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An Introduction to eBook Publishing

eBooks and Publishing

A friend recently e-mailed me and asked me for some general background on eBook publishing. My answer went on for quite some time (maybe too long), but it covered a lot of basics. If you’re interested in learning about what possibilities eBooks offer to writers, you can read the cleaned-up version of that answer below.

Selfpub vs. tradpub
First, there’s the question of traditional publishing versus self-publishing, what I’ve been calling tradpub vs. selfpub, which is a very different comparison than it was even a few years ago: there are now authors (many of them already published through a traditional publisher, but others only self-published) who are getting substantial readership for their books through selfpubbing eBooks, sometimes along with a paper version (often through CreateSpace), but often not. eBook readership has grown so much and people who own eReaders are so hungry for content these days that it’s entirely possible to build a substantial career without even dealing with paper books any more.

However, the surest path to substantial eBook sales seems to be having already become popular (or at least modestly successful) through a traditional publisher.

In evaluating which route to go, you might be interested in reading “Two Roads Diverged in the Interwebs: Finding Your Place in Tradpub versus Selfpub” and/or “Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing (‘Indie Publishing’) Breakdown.”

eBook stores and venues
Amazon.com leads the way with eBooks, and in virtually all cases authors I know are selling far more books through Amazon than through Barnes and Noble or Smashwords, the other two most substantial options. Many publish on Amazon for the Kindle only. Of those I know who have published for other formats, only a very few seem to be getting compensated enough for it to be worth the trouble. However, it’s hard to predict whether or not these other formats will begin to grow a lot in the foreseeable future. My general perception is that Amazon is making all the right moves and other companies are struggling without much success to catch up.

Amazon and other ePublishers generally pay the author a much higher royalty than traditional publishers. If a traditional publisher is publishing your eBook, you’ll probably get something on the order of a 25% royalty, while Amazon offers 70% for books in the $2.99 to $9.99 price range. However, traditional publishers can get reviews of your book in venues that don’t review self-published books and have other promotional advantages, so it’s certainly possible to earn more through having an eBook tradpubbed, though in other cases the higher selfpub royalty makes that the more profitable choice.

Tradpub limitations
Tradpubbed eBooks tend to be more expensive than selfpubbed ones, $9.99 vs. $.99 to $4.99 being fairly typical prices, though there is a lot of variation.

Some traditional publishers are being very greedy and/or underhanded in attempting to grab electronic rights, so it’s important to be cautious with publishing contracts these days. Even some agents are attempting similar shenanigans. With that said, of course there are a number of good and ethical people in publishing, too.

Formatting eBooks
When formatting an eBook for publication, the process is not especially difficult, but there are a few hoops to get through. While other possibilities are available, the best way to deliver your book to Amazon or another eBook selling venue is often either HTML (with certain limitations) or EPUB (the most popular standardized eBook format, which Kindles don’t read but which Amazon does allow you to use for your upload). There are a variety of tools out there that can help in this process, for instance Atlantis (a word processing program with special import and export capabilities), Sigil (a WYSIWYG eBook editor), and Calibre (an eBook reader, library manager, and converter), all free programs. Alternatively, you can pay someone to prepare your book for you. Traditional publishers, of course, do this part for you.

Smashwords has its own, very specific format for uploading books, which is somewhat burdensome, but which allows them to publish in a wide array of formats and to offer books for the Sony eReader, Apple iPhone/iPad, and other players in the eBook world whom you won’t reach through Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Some eBook formats have DRM (digital rights management); for example, Amazon offers this as an option for all eBooks they publish. If you opt to have DRM, then readers may have trouble reading your book or transferring it legitimately under certain circumstances. If you opt not to have DRM, then it’s all easy as pie, but it also means that any computer literate reader can copy your book and do anything they like with it.

Cover design
Another important concern if you’re selfpubbing is the cover, which while it may not be very important on the eReader itself is a key part of the marketing of the book. The quality or lack of quality in the cover design may make a big difference with potential readers and purchasers in terms of judging how well the book is likely to be written, how interesting it might be, etc. There can be a lot to consider in creating covers, but if this gets overwhelming and/or if you have zero graphic design skills, this too can be hired out.

Promotion
The last essential thing to take into account in selfpubbing an eBook is promotion. If you simply post the book, few people will know of it or hear about it unless you’re already famous. Traditional advertising methods (like taking out display ads, for instance) don’t seem to work well for most books; the more successful approaches tend to involve things like getting people to review the book, talking the book up in visible places on the Web, participating in social media, giveaways, etc. In the best cases, word of mouth takes off and readers begin encouraging other readers to get it, in time.

The great majority of people who selfpub eBooks sell virtually no copies. Some of us sell regularly but not in great quantity. A small but not impossibly small number make a substantial income from them. For an extreme example, see “Some Reasons for Amanda Hocking’s Success.”

Photo by ntr23

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Jud Roberts: Nook vs. Kindle

eBooks and Publishing

Here’s a guest post from Judson Roberts, author of the Strongbow Saga trilogy of Viking novels. Jud had given his assessments of these two eReaders in an e-mail discussion, and on my request kindly agreed to put his observations into a blog post.

You can see a larger version of any image by clicking on it.


Two years ago, digital books, or e-books, were something that relatively few people had any personal experience with. Although e-books had actually been around for a number of years, they’d never really caught on. But in mid-2010, that changed. In the months leading up to Christmas, Amazon significantly reduced the price of its Kindle e-book reader. Sales of the device took off, and in January, when millions of new Kindles became activated, the rate of e-book sales exploded. It has been growing ever since.

E-books can be read on a wide variety of devices, including personal computers, tablet computers, smartphones, and dedicated e-book readers. But the tremendous growth in e-book sales that has occurred in the United States (the rate of e-book sales in overseas markets has not yet seen the same level of dramatic growth) has been, to a large extent, driven by repeated price reductions over the past year of the two most popular and widely used dedicated e-book readers: the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook, particularly the top of the line Color Nook. In this column, I will offer my personal opinion and experiences with both devices (Why, you might wonder, would I own both devices? I’m an author and have published some of my books as e-books, so I use both devices in part to review my e-book editions prior to releasing them.).

First, their similarities. Neither device is intended by its parent company to be an open source e-reader. By that, I mean that each device is tied to its parent company’s store, and designed to most easily access e-books sold through that store. Unless the user is willing to undertake some work-around steps (which admittedly are not that difficult to do, and which I’ll address in more detail below), a Kindle can easily load and read only Kindle e-books purchased from Amazon; a Nook only Nook books purchased from Barnes & Noble. The actual process of purchasing an e-book is fairly similar for both devices: either on a computer, or directly from the device, you access the parent company’s website, select a book, purchase it (for the devices to be activated when purchased, both require an active account with the parent company), and the book will be sent to your device.

In addition to the parent company’s e-books, it is possible to load documents in various formats, including Microsoft Word and Adobe PDF, onto both devices. The Nook also accepts EPUB files, the mostly widely used e-book format (which Nook e-books are in), and the newer Kindles accept Mobi format files, another e-book format. Thus, if a user acquires or already possesses e-books in the PDF format, they can be manually loaded on either the Kindle or the Nook. Additionally, non-B&N EPUB e-books can be manually loaded onto the Nook, and non-Amazon Mobi format e-books can be manually loaded onto the Kindle. For the present, at least, Kindle readers do not accept EPUB files or books, and Nook Color readers do not accept Mobi files or e-books, or Amazon’s proprietary Kindle format (which is derived from the Mobi format).

Documents and non-Nook e-books are loaded onto the Nook by connecting it via a USB cable (supplied with the device) to a personal computer, and transferring or copying them from the computer to the Nook. Documents and non-Kindle e-books may be loaded onto a Kindle using the same procedure, but Amazon also offers a far easier procedure: each Kindle is assigned an email address, and some formats of documents can simply be attached to an email sent to that address, after which they will appear on the device within minutes. [Luc adds: there’s a free way to do this if you’re willing to receive your documents or eBooks through WiFi only and not through Amazon’s cellular Whispernet by sending it to a @free.kindle.com address: see your Kindle documentation for details. Also note that purchases from Amazon for the Kindle are automatically downloaded to the device.]

The Nook is WiFi only, which means that it cannot connect to the B&N website and acquire and load new books unless it is connected to a WiFi network. The Kindle is available in two different connectivity options: WiFi only, or an always-available connection via 3G cell phone networks. The latter does not require any additional charge or plan for network access and use, but the 3G versions of the Kindle device are more expensive than the WiFi only versions. Both devices, when connected, offer some degree of web browsing capability.

The two devices differ most markedly in how they operate. The Color Nook is a touchscreen device that looks much like a tablet-style computer, and runs on a version of Google’s popular Android operating system, which is widely used in non-Apple smartphones and tablet computers. Indeed, Barnes & Noble has even advertised the Color Nook as the least expensive Android tablet available. That is a dangerous claim to make, although not because of the price. Compared to other Android devices, the Color Nook is either extremely underpowered or its capabilities have been grossly limited by Barnes & Noble’s restrictive control over the device.

Barnes & Noble’s Color Nook

As a touchscreen-controlled device, the Color Nook has almost no manual controls: just an on/off power button on one side, manual plus/minus volume control buttons on the opposite side—all of which are very discreetly built into the side edges of the Nook–and a “home” button at the bottom of the front screen. Other than these functions, all other navigation and use of the device is controlled via the touchscreen.

Touchscreen devices can be extremely easy and intuitive to use. Unfortunately, the Color Nook is not. In fact, I’ll be blunt: it is the worst touchscreen device I have ever seen. When reading e-books on the device, for example, you can, in theory, advance to the next page by either tapping the right side of the screen or by making a swiping motion across the screen from left to right. Similarly, to go back to a previous page you either tap the left side of the screen or swipe from right to left. In my experience, however, only the swiping motions are consistently reliable. A significant percentage of the time the Nook’s screen is so unresponsive that the tapping technique produces no result.

Many functions on the Nook must be performed through one of two onscreen menus. Neither of the menus are always visible. One menu appears at the bottom of the screen when a U-shaped on-screen symbol at the screen’s base is tapped. The other, which controls functions within a book or document, such as word look-up or highlighting, appears only if you touch and hold the exact center of the screen. Why, one wonders, could the menus not be consolidated, and who thought it was a good idea to require completely different methods and locations for accessing them? And even the few mechanical controls leave much to be desired. For example, to completely power off the Nook, one must press and hold the on/off switch for several seconds, then tap an onscreen confirmation button that appears, asking if you really, truly mean to turn the device off. More than once, I’ve thought I had powered the device off, when it actually was still running (to save power, the screen goes black after a very brief span of inactivity). That’s a problem, because the Nook has a relatively short period of battery life between chargings to begin with. Having it go dead when you erroneously think it is turned off is exasperating.

My personal dissatisfaction with the Nook stems in no small part from the fact that I have seen how delightfully easy to use an Android e-book reader, when well designed and executed, can be. I own an Android smartphone (a Galaxy S phone made by Samsung). In addition to the actual Kindle ebook reading device, Amazon offers free Kindle reader apps for a wide variety of devices, including smartphones, tablet computers, and personal computers. The Kindle app came preloaded on my phone, and I love it. Now, when I’m out and find myself in a situation where I have time to fill on my hands (waiting at the doctor or vet’s office, etc.), I can just pull out my phone, fire up the Kindle app, and read a bit on a book—it even automatically synchronizes to the last page I read on my actual Kindle. But most importantly, it is—unlike the Nook—SO effortless to use. The screen may be smaller than the Nook’s, but the font size, background color, and brightness are all easily adjustable, so I find the reading experience to be at least as comfortable as on the Nook’s larger screen. Both the smartphone and the Nook are backlit screens, though, so reading on them for an extended time can be more tiring to the eyes than reading a printed page.

The B&N Color Nook versus the free Amazon Kindle app on a smartphone

The Nook versus smartphone comparison raises another flaw with the Nook. One of the great things about smartphones is the numerous apps you can load and use on them. Their variety and functions are almost endless, and there are countless Android based apps available. As an Android device, the Nook should be able to use them, too. But no—Barnes & Noble does allow a few apps, sold through their store, to be installed and used on the Nook, but the selection is limited and is strictly controlled by B&N, in their own inimitable style. For example, Epicurious is an excellent cooking website with numerous recipes that are well organized, easy to search, and are even rated by users. There is a free Epicurious app available for Android smartphones—my wife loves it, and uses it all the time. Barnes & Noble now offers the Epicurious app through their store for the Color Nook, too—but they charge $5.99 for an app that is available free for other Android devices.

The actual Kindle e-book reader is a completely different kind of device than a touchscreen Nook or smartphone. It is controlled entirely by a manual keyboard below the screen and by various manual buttons, all of which are clearly labeled as to what function they perform. While the result may not present as sleek and elegant an appearance as the Color Nook, it works well and is easy to use. If I want to access the menu, I simply press the button labeled “Menu,” then navigate the options than appear onscreen using the multi-directional navigation and select button. If I want to go to the home page, where all books currently loaded on the device are listed and accessible (and from where I can access other Kindle books I’ve purchased, but which are not currently loaded on the device), I press the “Home” button.  If I wish to advance to the next page, or go back to the previous one, I press the forward or back buttons located on both sides of the device. The Kindle is like a good tool whose design is based on considerations of function first, and appearance second. I liken it to a hammer that so perfectly fits your hand and is so well balanced that you strike true with it every time. It’s a personal preference, but give me function over flash.

The Amazon Kindle, shown here mounted in the optional leather cover which includes a pull-out reading light for nighttime reading.

The Kindle uses e-ink technology, which offers several advantages and one disadvantage. The advantages are that the technology uses very little power, so the Kindle can be used for very long periods without needing to recharge the battery. And because the screen is not backlit, it is as easy on the eyes as a printed page—or in some ways, even easier, because you can increase the font size if you wish. Plus it can be read outside, in bright sunlight, something most backlit touchscreen devices manage poorly or not at all. And the Kindle is mch lighter in weight to the Color Nook, too.

The Color Nook does have one area of clear advantage: color. At the current time, e-ink readers such as the Kindle (Barnes & Noble also offer less expensive e-ink Nooks) are only black and white—or more accurately, multiple shades of grayscale. This means that a book’s cover, and color illustrations inside if the book has any, appear in black and white tones. If I intended to purchase an e-book with color illustrations, I would probably choose to buy it in Nook format from Barnes & Noble, since I do have a Color Nook. But for any other kind of e-book, the Kindle is my hands-down favorite and go-to e-book reader choice.

And it’s not just the devices themselves, although I do prefer the Kindle device over the Nook. I also think Amazon is a better store, and I much prefer dealing with it than with Barnes & Noble. Their search engines do a much better job of recommending new books to you, based on your past purchases and search efforts in their store, and Amazon has a well-established policy of trying to encourage, attract, and satisfy its customers. Barnes & Noble, in my opinion, does not. For example, they flood my e-mail inbox every week with new book recommendations and coupons (remember that you have to set up an account with the parent store to activate the device? This is what B&N does with your e-mail address that you must provide them). But the recommendations aren’t personalized to my reading history, they’re just whatever book(s) B&N is pushing that week (and pushing probably due to “placement” payments from the publishers, just as they do for prominent shelf placement of print books within their actual bricks and mortar stores). And what’s worse, the small print on all of the special “sale” coupons included with these emails specifies that Nook e-books are specifically excluded –they’re always full price. Talk about a turn-off!

In conclusion, if you want a good, easy to use e-book reader, backed by the best e-book supplier in the business, m advice is to get an Amazon Kindle. If you really have to have a flashier, state of the art color touchscreen device, I‘d suggest paying extra and getting a fully functional tablet device such as an iPad, and installing the free Kindle app on it. Or better yet, just wait a bit. Rumor has it that Amazon may be coming out with its own color e-reader by the end of this year. Based on their past record, they’re likely to get it right.

Judson Roberts is the author of the historical fiction series The Strongbow Saga (which is available in both Kindle and Nook e-book versions, as well as in print editions).

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Short Collections of Very Short Stories

eBooks and Publishing

I’ve been having an interesting time with my book Bam! 172 Hellaciously Quick Stories selling on Amazon for the Kindle. A while after I released it, I released a 99 cent sampler of stories from it (plus one new one) called 17 Stories About the End of the World. To my surprise, the sampler has been outselling the book even while they were temporarily at the same price, telling me that readers are interested in what kinds of stories they’re getting and aren’t likely to read otherwise.

So I’ve now broken out the remainder of the 172 stories into 8 new, short, 99 cent flash fiction collections. (I’ve also put a free first chapter of my novel Family Skulls–which itself is available for 99 cents as of this writing–at the end of each book.)

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My Young Adult Novel Family Skulls Released for Kindle

eBooks and Publishing

My young adult novel Family Skulls is now available for the Kindle, temporarily priced at 99 cents. Here’s the brief description. If you’d like a free review copy (electronic only), drop me a line!

No one will help 16-year-old Seth Quitman–ever, with anything. Seth’s family live in a small Vermont town under a curse that has hounded them for generations, one that makes anything they may need–from a bus ride to a recommendation letter to an ambulance–forever out of their reach.

Until now, Seth’s family has done the best they could under the curse, knowing that the hill sorcerer family that cursed them could do much, much worse. But now things have gone farther than Seth can stand, and he plans to face down the curse-keeper and free his family–or die trying.

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172 Stories for 99 Cents

eBooks and Publishing

Through the end of July (and possibly longer), I’m dropping the price on my full-length eBook collection of very short fiction, Bam! 172 Hellaciously Quick Stories, to 99 cents on Amazon for Kindle and Smashwords for all eReaders.

Bam! 172 Hellaciously Quick Stories throws normal people into strange circumstances in stories that can each be read in a few minutes. Cinderella tries to get a grip after her divorce; inventions go horribly wrong; robots rebel; a thinking teddy bear is trapped for decades in a toy box; love blossoms in a hotel corridor unmoored from time and space; dinosaurs invent the steam engine; girlfriends blink in and out of existence; and Very Bad Things happen that might be worth it in the end. Writers of the Future winner Luc Reid’s stories bridge science fiction, fantasy, humor, and the unclassifiable.

“It’s not easy to inject an entire world into one scene, but Reid does that time and time again. The characters, whether they live in one sentence or 20, are real people.”
– David Kopaska-Merkel in his review of Bam! on Dreams & Nightmares

“172 fantasy and science fiction, flash stories … each of them short enough to read in a few minutes, each of them rich, well crafted, meaningful.”
– Deborah Walker in her review of Bam! on Skull Salad Reviews

“thanks to this author’s unfettered imagination, quirky sense of humor, and great touch with twist endings, these short stories provide entertaining and often intriguing micro reading experiences. Highly recommended!”
– Amazon.com review

“Reid’s smart humor and eye for irony are sure to attract plenty of readers, and keep them perusing the collection at their leisure.  The wit he employs in the stories is perfect for setting up the most poignant of stories … because just as you begin to anticipate more humor, the weight of what is being said sort of sneaks up on you.  It makes for a great read.”
– Shelly Bryant, reviewing Bam! at SlothJockey.com

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Favorite Hidden Kindle Features: Automatic Audiobook

eBooks and Publishing

It’s come to my attention that some folks who own Kindles don’t know about one of my favorite Kindle features, text-to-speech (which I sometimes think of as “automatic audiobook,” even though actual audiobooks are usually superior). The voice, which has variable speeds and comes in male or female flavors (I recommend the default, male voice) is one of the best computer-simulated voices I’ve heard, despite a few pronunciation oddities. I use this feature all the time to listen to books I’m reading on my Kindle–stories for critique, articles I’ve pulled down from the Web, etc.–in my car by plugging into my car’s stereo system.

Text-to-speech was introduced with the Kindle 2, and these instructions are written using a Kindle 3. There might be differences in implementation on other models.

To start text-to-speech:

1. Open the document you want to read.
2. Hold down shift (up arrow) and press the sym key. After a second or two, the reader will start reading at the top of the current page. Sometimes it will miss the first syllable or two.
3. To pause/unpause, press the space bar.
4. To stop reading, hold down shift and press sym again.
5. Alternatively, you can stop reading by pressing Home.

Note that your Kindle will stay paused rather than stopped if you turn off the Kindle while it’s reading or paused. In this mode, you won’t be able to turn pages or search. You can always get out of it after you turn your Kindle back on by pressing Home or holding down shift and sym.

Reading aloud is disabled on some Kindle books: it’s up to the publisher (the author if self-published) to determine whether or not it’s enabled. There was a whole brouhaha about whether or not Amazon had the right to globally enable text-to-speech; see this article, for instance.

To change speech rate or voice selection, or to turn off text-to-speech by menu, press the font key (Aa) while reading or paused.

You can hook up headphones or external amplification using the 1/8″ audio port (standard headphone jack) on the bottom of the Kindle. There’s a volume control just to the left of it. I find I have to turn the volume up much more if I’m not plugged into external headphones or amplification.

Photo by albertizeme

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