Read An eBook Week 2013

Read An eBook Week 2013Smashwords has a special promotion every year during the Read An eBook Week (March 3-9, 2013) for authors to offer their ebooks for FREE or at a discounted price. My entire ebook catalog is available for FREE (no coupon code), FREE (coupon code RW100) or 50% off (coupon code REW50).

If you download and read one of my ebooks, please leave a review at the Smashwords website. Or send an email to chris at cdreimer dot com.

FREE eBooks

FREE eBooks (Coupon Code RW100)

Discounted eBooks (Coupon Code REW50)

Checking Out The New eBookPlus Self-Publishing Platform

I found a curious email sent to my business email account, which is different from my author email account, about a new self-publishing ebook platform called eBookPlus. Their business model: Free ebooks with advertising at the start of every chapter.

My initial reaction was: FREE eBooks + Advertisements = SPAM!

The email, however, didn’t land in my spam filter, being sent out by a professional marketing company with a clear reputation to skate by any spam filter.

I started looking into eBookPlus and liked what I saw. This tag line in particular drew my attention:

Did you know that free ebooks are accessed a hundred times more often than ebooks priced at 99 cents?

My business model is SHORT ebooks (i.e., short stories and essays) aimed at the impulsive buyer looking for a short-term reading fix under a buck. From my sales numbers over the last six months, my FREE ebooks are flying off the virtual bookshelves. Not in the hundreds, but in the thousands.

Being a new ebook retailer, eBookPlus is looking for users and content to beta test their platform. The classic chicken-and-egg problem for startups: you can’t attract new users without content, or attract new content without users. You need both to avoid having an empty platform.

There are four account types when you sign up, each with a different focus.

  • The reader account doesn’t have much to read at the moment except for a one-page sample ebook that demonstrates the web interface, which looks like a lite version of the Amazon cloud reader.
  • The author account allows you to upload your ebook in various formats (i.e., EPUB, DocX, PDF and HTML).
  • The advertiser account is for those who want to advertise their stuff while readers are reading your ebooks.
  • The artist/book professional account are for illustrators, photographers, translators, audiobook narrator, editors and designers who want to offer their services to ebooks made available by authors.

When eBookPlus is ready to open the floodgates, readers will get a notification email that the FREE ebooks are available and where to download the mobile apps.

Being able to find a translator to translate my short stories into a foreign language might be the most useful part of eBookPlus. You hire a translator to translate the ebook and another translator to check the translation, splitting future ad revenues or paying a flat fee. I hope this service will allow the translated ebook for publication elsewhere besides eBookPlus.

I’m going to upload all my FREE ebooks to see how this works. I might upload my PAID ebooks later, which are available at an advertiser-supported discount or full price at a 70% royalty rate. When the ebooks are available on eBookPlus, I’ll be adding another sales link to the ebook pages on my author website.

This is becoming a new trend where I make my work available to help establish a new market for everyone else, like Plan B Magazine from a few weeks ago. The more choices readers and indie authors have, the more everyone benefits.

Cross-Editing With Microsoft Word & WordPress Jetpack

The biggest complaints I’ve gotten from readers of my ebooks over the last few years was that my grammar sucks. That always confused me since I wasn’t sure how to fix it. The grammar checker in Microsoft Word flags any issues that I need to fix. With a few exceptions between fiction and non-fiction, my manuscripts were clean as a whistle when it came to grammar. If I had a problem with grammar, I wasn’t seeing it.

Six months ago I updated my writing blog with the WordPress Jetpack plugin to replicates the functionality that most users get from hosting their blogs at the WordPress website and replaces a half-dozen or more plugins that do the same thing. One neat feature updated the Proofread Writing button with a passive voice checker from After The Deadline. I’m revising my blog postings to use the active voice and learning the differences to avoid writing in the passive voice.

I didn’t make the connection to use Word with Jetpack until I started putting together my blog postings into ebooks. With the older blog posts requiring more revision, I was going back and forth between Word and Jetpack. Both have their own set of idiosyncrasies when it comes to checking grammar. If the two were in a conflict, I always lean towards Word. If I know Word is being idiotic (i.e., flagging both the error and the correction), I go with my judgment on what is correct.

The complaints from my readers weren’t about grammar but usage. When I started copying and pasting the texts from my oldest ebooks into a blog post to check against Jetpack, passive voice and awkward construction was the rule and not the exception. Recent ebooks have fewer issues. I’m in the process of cross-editing my older ebooks and everything else I write with both Word and Jetpack.

Plan B For The Plan B Magazine

While sending out some older short stories as reprints to face a cruel world of rejections in the slush piles, I sent “The Uninvited Spook” to the Plan B Magazine that Duotrope listed as a fledging market (i.e., less than six months). The premise for this new online magazine is to publish a mystery short story each week, pay semi-pro rates of one-cent per word and publish an anthology ebook every quarter. My spook-spying-on-spooks short story got accepted for publication—with a catch.

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The semi-pro rates are dependent on the crowdfunding campaign at Indiegogo to raise $3,500 USD, which has less than 10% of the minimum amount raised and 11 days before the campaign ends. Unless contributors start pouring out of the woodwork in a hurry, there will be no funding for the semi-pro rates and all the accepted short stories will revert back to the writers.

Why anyone would need $3,500 USD to start an online magazine? A domain name and web hosting for a year doesn’t cost much these days. The amount was too small for the editor to live on. That number didn’t make sense until I re-read the writer guidelines on the payment structure, where the maximum payout is $50 USD for a 5,000-word short story each week. The funding goal represents a year or more of payments for short stories, depending on the word count of each short story.

Indiegogo is similar to Kickstarter that you can set up a project with a minimum-funding goal and offer various incentive levels for contributors. Indiegogo offers two interesting choices if the minimum-funding goal isn’t met: return the money or keep the money. Depending on your project, this offers some flexibility. Plan B Magazine will return the money if the minimum-funding goal isn’t met.

I’m thinking about putting together a full-length collection of my speculative short stories as a print book. if I put together a print-on-demand (POD) book, I could take pre-orders on Indiegogo and keep the money to order the books without worrying if I set the minimum-funding goal too high. The difference between a successful and unsuccessful campaign is on whether or not you have an audience.

The alternative for Plan B Magazine—let’s call it Plan B—is to provide writers the option to have their short stories published online for FREE to help build up the new magazine so that it could semi-pro rates someday.

Although I would rather see the money (one-cent per word is better than my usual 1/4-cent per word), I’m more interested in seeing this new market establishing itself. Since “The Uninvited Spook” was first published in a print-only magazine in 2008, and published as a short story ebook in 2010, I don’t mind it being reprinted for FREE to help expand my reading audience and grow a new market at the same time.

UPDATED 02/23/2013: The editor announced that the funding campaign at Indiegogo has failed and she is switching to Plan B to pay out of her own pocket. Twelve short stories—including my own reprint, “The Uninvited Spook”—will be published bi-weekly for six months, collected into an anthology ebook for sale, and all the writers will get paid their one-cent per word rate. We will see if this online mystery magazine can fund itself after six months.

Add Multiple Sales Links to Drive Your eBook Sales

Although my ebooks are available at multiple ebook retailers, I listed only two direct sales links—Amazon and Smashwords—for each ebook page on my author website. I never considered adding sales links for the other ebook retailers until I read “How to Sell eBooks at The Apple iBookstore” by Mark Coker on the Smashwords blog.

I’m always surprised how often I see authors complaining that all their sales are coming from Amazon, and then I look at their website or blog and see they’re only linking to a single retailer, Amazon. Support all your retailers. Not just Apple, but Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, Diesel, every one. Your blog, website and social media promotions should provide direct hyperlinks to your book pages at every retailer, so your fans can purchase your book at their favorite retailer.

The easiest way to add multiple sales links is to create an HTML template with all the links for Amazon, Bibliocracy, Diesel, iBookstore (Apple), Kobo, Nook (Barnes & Noble), Scribd, Smashwords and Sony commented out (see the code snippet below). Copy and paste the template into each web page. Remove the comment code and paste the corresponding URL into the anchor code to “activate” each link as needed.

Multiple Sales Links Code

Multiple Sales Links

For a brand new ebook, the Amazon, Scribd and Smashwords sales links are immediately available as I publish on those ebook retailers first. Except for Bibliocracy (a new ebook retailer I’m experimenting with), I activate the remaining sales links when the ebook becomes available through the Smashwords third-party catalog in two months.

As for the graphical icons of each ebook retailer, I download the logo off the corresponding website and use Photoshop to create a uniform set of graphic files. (Be sure to read the affiliate guidelines before using the Apple iBookstore logo.) The CSS (cascading style sheet) code controls the spacing of the icons on the webpage.

With the multiple sales links set up, you can add affiliate codes to earn extra cash and track the clicks from your author website to the ebook retailer.

The downside of being involved with so many affiliate programs is that reaching the minimum threshold for payment can take a long time. Writing a page per day will eventually turn into a novel, affiliate earnings will some day amount to real money in the bank.

After putting the multiple sales links on my author website two months ago, readers are clicking from my author website to their favorite ebook retailer and the affiliate-related sales are higher than usual.

The First Line Challenge

One of my favorite sources for short story prompts is The First Line Literary Journal that provides a new first line every quarter. The first line cannot be altered in any way unless otherwise indicated (i.e., fill in the blank). Everything written after the first line is fair game. I have written and submitted many short stories inspired by these prompts, but none were ever accepted for publication. Some of them did get accepted elsewhere for publication.

The Fall 2010 prompt became the basis for “The Kitterun Five Tourist Trap,” first published in Short Sips: Coffee House Flash Fiction Volume 2 (Wicked East Press, March 2012), and will be available as a short story ebook in March 2013.

Three thousand planets in the known universe, and I’m stuck on the only one without [a decent toilet].

The words in the brackets were the part that I had to change in the original prompt. A human visiting a feline-humanoid world in pursuit of seeing the mysterious tail of a sexually aroused female Kitterun finds the accommodations for his hotel room quite different from what he expected.

The Summer 2012 prompt became the basis for “The Wizards of Flushington,” slated for publication in Fresh Ground: Coffee House Flash Fiction Volume 3 anthology (Wicked East Press, Spring 2013).

Rachel’s first trip to England didn’t go as planned.

A young witch magically flushes herself down the toilet to arrive at a public toilet in England for a renaissance fair, but ends up being thrown out of an outhouse in the Australian outback to meet two strange old wizards.

The forthcoming Winter 2013 prompt was somewhat more challenging than usual to come up with ideas for a speculative short story.

On a perfect spring morning with flat seas and clear blue skies, Captain Eli P. Cooke made a terrible mistake.

I’m thinking that this story could take place on a fishing boat. Eli is the Biblical name of a high priest whom knew that his sons were mishandling the temple services but did nothing about it, his family line through his sons fell in battle and he died from hearing the news as God’s punishment, which suggests a knife, a sacrificial offering and a struggle with nature. This would be enough to start a short story under most circumstances. Not this time. I was missing something to tie the whole story together.

Last year I read a story about a giant blue eyeball washing up on a Florida beach. No one knew where it came from, perhaps it belong to a sea creature from the dark depths of the Atlantic Ocean. Wildlife experts confirmed that the softball-sized eyeball came from a swordfish, probably cut out and tossed overboard by fishermen.

Putting the first line prompt and the giant blue eyeball together, I have enough to get started. As I thought about how to write the short story, Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and The Sea,” where an aging fisherman goes after a giant marlin, became an inspiration. Except my short story is a speculative tale.

A fisherman spends all night to pull in a giant squid on to his small fishing boat. The first thing he does is to cut out an eyeball. The giant squid, not yet dead from being out of the sea, starts thrashing on the deck and falls back into the ocean. The fisherman curses at his misfortune of losing his catch, keeping the worthless eyeball that watches him.

Will I get this short story done by the deadline at the end of the month? Probably not. I just started a new non-writing tech job. My writing priorities will probably change over the next few months. Not all First Line prompts will turn into finished short stories. Most end up with two pages being written before going on the back burner. Those unfinished stories that do get published are so heavily revised that the first line prompt disappears in subsequent drafts.

Shredding The History Of Old Manuscripts

Shredding Documents For RecyclingAs a teenager destined to write the next Great American Novel, I wrote for history and saved every single page (including pages I should have crumpled up and tossed into the waste basket). Generations of English majors would toil to trace my inspirations through the voluminous pages of my old manuscripts. And then the REAL WORLD™ intruded. Becoming a writer became a childish fantasy. All those old manuscripts from my teenage years were lost when I became an adult. The story ideas from that time continued to bang around in my head for years, which drove me crazy at times.

When I became serious about writing in my mid-thirties in 2006, I still wrote for history and saved every single page (except for those that I crumpled up and tossed into the wastebasket). I eventually wrote 80+ short stories, a 25,000-word novella, a 120,000-word unpublished first novel and several aborted novels. This filled out a four-drawer filing cabinet in my office and four storage boxes in the closet. I also have stacks of file folders with unfinished manuscripts on a back table in my office area.

Keeping paper manuscripts made sense back in the snail mail submission days when I had 50+ manuscripts circulating in the slush piles, spending $100 USD a month on office supplies and postage, and visiting the post office every six weeks. Drowning in paper came with the job. A successful writer would have numerous filing cabinets lining a long wall in his office.

When I stopped writing literary short stories and started writing speculative short stories in 2009, snail mail submissions gave way to email submissions. Soon I had 30+ short stories published in anthologies. Those published short stories later became ebooks. I slowly embraced the mythical paperless office as I used paper less often for editing my manuscripts.

After my father passed away from lung cancer this past May, I went through and tossed out 98.8% of his stuff. A sad reality when you consider that we go through life to accumulate stuff that our heirs will toss into the dumpster after we die. I brought a heavy-duty paper shredder to destroy his financial and medical paperwork.

I recently realized I was no longer writing for history but for business. As a small business owner, I have numerous problems with writing new content, publishing ebooks and maintaining websites that needed solutions now. Writing the next Great American Novel was no longer a practical business goal. History can sort itself out and generations of English majors can suffer without my help.

Besides, if my heirs will be tossing out 98.8% of what I owned at the end of my life, I might as well get a head start by shredding my old manuscripts. Before I shred a set of manuscripts, I made sure that I consolidated all the electronic files into my DropBox folder. I’m planning to move the file folders off the back table into the filing cabinet and destroy any working papers after a year. The mythical paperless office might become a reality in 2013.


A Fraudulent eBook Purchase At Smashwords

Fraudulent Credit Card Purchase At Smashwords

I get email notifications whenever someone purchases one of my ebook titles at the Smashwords website, which is less common than the sales I get from Amazon. About 99.98% of my sales on Smashwords come through the third-party premium catalog (i.e., Apple, Barnes & Noble, Sony, and many others). I was happy to have a sale. And then I read the notification email. Five copies of my newest flash stories ebook in a single transaction. This was a fraudulent ebook purchase.

How did I know that this particular transaction was fraudulent?

All my direct sales through the Smashwords website are single-copy orders for an ebook. Although it’s possible to purchase multiple copies of a single ebook to gift to other Smashwords readers, five copies in a single transaction was irregular. Even more so when I don’t have a large enough fan base to send copies flying off the virtual shelves. If I did, such a transaction would be buried—and perhaps undetectable—in a lengthy sales report.

If you’re a Smashwords author, you have to read the site updates on a regular basis. Reports of credit card fraud appears from time to time when such activity impacts numerous writers, usually after the sales reports gets updated and prior to the quarterly payments being paid out.

Why would someone use a stolen credit card to buy ebooks? The two most common reasons are:

  • Buying single copies of numerous ebooks to post on an illegal download website for others to read for free.
  • Testing the buying limits of the stolen credit card by purchasing multiple copies of a single ebook.

After I logged into the Smashwords website and clicked on the comments link at the top of the page, I reported the transaction as being suspicious. My sales report got updated forty-eight hours later to reflect that the original transaction voided due to a fraudulent credit card payment and the $4.05 USD I earned from the sale reversed.

Traditional authors were often advised to go through their quarterly royalty statements with a fine-tooth comb and report any irregularities to their agent or publisher. Indie authors must do the same with the sales reports from the ebook retailers. Credit card fraud hurts everyone in this business.

How I Slept My Way Through Kevin Pollak’s Book Signing

Kevin Pollak At Barnes & Noble San Jose

Kevin Pollak was at Barnes & Noble for his new book, “How I Slept My Way To The Middle.” I never heard of him. According to my roommate, Pollak’s has the best impersonation of William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk. Ho-hum. Stand up comedians put me asleep. When Pollak mentioned Bruce Willis, Tom Cruise and Arnold Schwarzenegger in one breath, I woke up to realize that he wasn’t only a stand up comedian.

The staff at Barnes & Noble, for whatever reason, set Pollak up on the storytelling stage inside the children department. Not the most appropriate place for an adult to read an adult book full of adult words about working in Hollywood. He did his best to hem-and-haw his way through the various cuss words as parents and children drifted in and out of hearing range. I’m sure some parents didn’t want to explain to their young ones what the letters D, F and S really meant when not brought to you by a Sesame Street character.

Pollak told several stories about working in Hollywood, including a few he read out of the book.

My favorite story was Pollak working on the set of “A Few Good Men” with Tom Cruise, who had a $500 pen from a New York City specialty store to write notes in the script. After he tried out the pen and commented how nice it was, Tom Cruise gave him a $500 pen as a present. He couldn’t use the pen since it was really nice and he might lose it. Tom Cruise sent him another $500 pen with a note to use that pen. The same pen he took out to sign the books.

A ghost writer helped Pollak write the book in a rather unorthodox way: they had 15 two-hour Skype (online video) sessions recorded that the ghost writer transcribed and printed out for him to edit into finished form. This worked will for him since he didn’t have to write anything and the transcriptions caught his storytelling voice that he uses for his stand up comedy.

The biggest surprise was to discover that Pollak was born in San Francisco, lived in San Jose as a kid, and moved down to Los Angeles. Not often do you hear about a local boy making it big down in Southern California. Despite being a local boy, only 15 people came out to the book signing. A book signing at a Barnes & Noble store in Kansas City brought out 75 people, probably because the book signing was in the front of the store and not inside the children department.

Pollak claimed he hasn’t had a REAL JOB in 20 years since he starred in “A Few Good Men” in 1992. It’s the ambition for every actor to get hired without having to audition for the part on the basis of their past work. An ambition I think every writer wants to have in regards to their work.