Experience, not credentials

When I’m not living the life of a superstar blogger and novelist (/slurps iced tea from Chipotle), I work in IT. I got into computers in middle school, which for me means shortly after the end of the stone age. My first PC was a Commodore VIC20, with a whopping 20 _kilobytes_ of memory. (Its successor, the C64, is much better known.) When I got out of high school in 1989 with a slacker C average and no hope of college, I went into the Air Farce as a computer programmer and that, as they say, was that.

I’ve been in IT 20 years now, been tinkering with computers for 25, been taking things apart to see how they work for damn near 40. I only managed an Associates Degree in college, mostly testing out of courses for the credit hours on Uncle Sam’s dime, but I don’t regret it. Through independent study, innate curiosity and a love of reading, I’m probably better educated than most people with Bachelors Degrees.

Why am I telling you all this? So you know where I’m coming from when I explain why I hired the editor I did. As she [mentioned](http://www.kathleendale.com/?p=117) on her blog, Kathleen Dale was surprised when I asked her to edit the [_Unification Chronicles_](http://www.jeffkirvin.net/unificationchronicles) series. She doesn’t have an English degree or formal training in editing a novel.

But I know from my own life that credentials don’t matter as much as people think they do. Credentials are shorthand for people who don’t want to find out for themselves what you’re capable of. I’ve known Kathleen for a year now, have read one of her novels in our [critique group](http://denverfictionwriters.com) and have seen the critique suggestions she’s already given me for _Revelation_. I know we work well together and I trust her judgment. Kathleen has great attention to detail, a keen literary mind and I know her suggestions–which she delivers with tact I’ll never have–will make the book better.

And this, in turn, reinforces my feeling that I am On To Something here. I think we’re going to see a lot more partnerships like this in publishing, not unlike a musician and producer, only without the omnipresent weight of the studio (publisher) overhead. Between the two of us, Kathleen and I have most of the bases covered. We’re both graphic artists, I know the internet marketing and promotion parts of the process. Together, we can produce a great SF series that spans genres and centuries, the way I’ve only seen Card’s Ender series and Asimov’s Robots/Empire/Foundation series do. It’s a tall order, and we’re only two people, but I’m confident we can pull it off. Without a big New York publisher. Without a publisher at all.

Welcome to the future.

Rewards and punishments

Ideally, we should all be motivated to write by the _art_ of it all, the creative expression of our…

Or not. One thing I’ve noticed not only about myself but also every other writer I’ve ever known is that we are fundamentally a lazy bunch. More succinctly, the only thing a writer enjoys more than writing is avoiding writing. Sometimes we need an extra little kick. Especially during [NaNoWriMo](http://www.nanowrimo.org), where the clock is very literally ticking.

This year I’m using a carrot and a stick. The stick is easy. I’m doing this in public. My daily wordcounts will be posted for all to see at [http://bit.ly/CrusadeWC](http://bit.ly/CrusadeWC). Am I leaving myself open to public jeering, ridicule, possibly thrown virtual vegetables? Sure. My friends know I am nearly immune to embarrassment, but I do have an ego to protect.

The carrot is a little more fun. If I “win” NaNoWriMo, by which I mean if I get to 50,000 words within the month of November, I’m buying myself a [Kindle](http://www.amazon.com/dp/B003FSUDM4). I’ve been wanting one, and even though I’m saving up to get an apartment, I’ll make an exception for this… if I win. If I don’t have 50,000 words by 11:59:59 PM November 30th, no Kindle until after I move, if then.

So what are your extra little incentives to write this November?

Department of Redundancy Department

This is one of my “brass tacks” articles. Yes, it’s wonder to pontificate about plot and theme and whatnot, but you also have to pay the rent. And you can’t do that if you hard drive crashes and takes all your work with it. So let’s talk about where you keep your stuff, and why it had better be more than one place.

It’s trendy to talk about “the cloud” these days. Keep your stuff in “the cloud” and you can always get to it, forever and ever. Well, maybe, maybe not. It seems unthinkable now, but Google could go out of business and shut down Google Docs. Remember when AOL _was_ the internet for most people? I rest my case.

But keeping it just on your laptop’s hard drive is just as bad, if not worse. Hard drives crash. Yes, even that nifty all-flash-chip-no-enclosure-soldered-right-onto-the-motherboard drive in the new MacBook Airs can get corrupted. If you only have your data in one place, you have it nowhere.

A wise and popular theory making the rounds on the internets is called 3-2-1 Backup. In short:

* You should have at least 3 copies of your stuff
* In at least 2 physical locations
* And at least 1 of them should be off-site/cloud-based

And note that all of those include the words “at least.” More is better, assuming you can keep them all in sync. If you can’t, don’t try. Multiple inconsistent backups can be more confusing than helpful. But it’s really not that hard to have total piece of mind that your data is safe. Here’s how I do it.

First, I keep all of my files in [Dropbox](http://www.dropbox.com). If you haven’t heard of it, Dropbox is a service that keeps anything you put in your “dropbox” folder on your hard drive in sync with a copy on their servers. It’s encrypted, so you don’t have to worry about security. The really amazing thing about Dropbox is how flawlessly it works to keep multiple PCs in sync with each other. If I make a change to a file on my PC at work, that file will change on my PC at home almost instantly. Add that to how many of my iOS apps also work with Dropbox, and not only do I have access to the same files no matter which PC I’m on, but they’re also all redundant backups of each other. And in a pinch, you can always download a copy from Dropbox.com. So by itself, Dropbox satisfies 3-2-1 as soon as you sync it to two PCs in different locations (like home and work, assuming you don’t work at home).

But I’m more paranoid than that. So I also backup my home PC with [Carbonite](http://www.carbonite.com). This is straight up cloud based backup, not syncing like Dropbox. But it gives me unlimited storage to backup what ever I need from my home PC. I use it not only for my Dropbox content, but also my whole iTunes library of music, movies and TV shows.

Okay, so I’ve got my data on two PCs, various iOS apps, Dropbox.com, Carbonite.com and will have a third local copy when I buy the MacBook Air I’m drooling over. But wait! Still not done!

Microsoft makes a program they give away for free called [SyncToy](http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/en/details.aspx?familyid=c26efa36-98e0-4ee9-a7c5-98d0592d8c52&displaylang=en). The name is a little misleading. It was part of Microsoft’s Powertoys collection of unsupported utilities, but it’s been through many revisions and works like a champ. What it does is sync or backup any folder to any other folder. So I have it set to “echo” my Dropbox folder to a 4GB USB drive. Any changes I make to the Dropbox folder will be mirrored on the USB drive the next time I run SyncToy. So as long as run this regularly–I’m thinking weekly, but no more in case I need to restore something that has already been changed across the network–I have a third (or fourth) local copy of my data as well as the two copies in the cloud. And those copies exist on two (three) hard drives, a USB drive, two server farms from different companies and my iPhone. Short of a full-on apocalypse, my data is secure, and every file can be recovered no matter what bone head thing I do.

This is why I’m self-publishing

15 classic science fiction and fantasy novels that publishers rejected

_War of the Worlds, Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451, The Once and Future King, Dune, The Left Hand of Darkness, The Forever War, Carrie…_ Oh, something about a kid named Harry Potter. Most of them rejected because the publishers were _sure_ no one would be interested in reading them.

I’ll let my _readers_ make that decision, kthxbai.

Perceived value is made of FAIL

I’m seeing the same suggestion start to pop up over and over–which means there’s probably something to it–along with the same ridiculous counterargument. The suggestion is, “Hey! If we priced digital goods low enough to be an impulse buy, they’d not only sell like crazy, but it also wouldn’t be worth the effort to pirate them!”

Last week the former head of UK Warner Music, Rob Dickens, [made just such a suggestion](http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2010/10/former-music-label-boss-beat-piracy-by-selling-albums-for-1.ars). He floated the idea that if they sold albums for just one pound, people would buy _way_ more albums. It’s just bits, right? The overhead is negligable.

And of course, pretentious old media immediately harumphed and coughed into their hands and explained why this would be a _horrible_ idea.

> “Right now if you buy a bottle of water it’s £1. A piece of music is a valuable form of art. If you want the person to respect it and value it, it’s got to cost them not a huge sum of money but a significant sum of money.” — [Jonathan Shalit](http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-11547279)

This is bone dead stupid.

But I see the same thing in publishing. Joe Konrath has gotten all kinds of hell from other writers who whine that his [pricing his books at $2.99 somehow devalues their art](http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2010/03/value-of-ebooks.html). Konrath, if you haven’t read him, writes horror and thriller novels. Entertainment. And given how many entertainment options I have in the 21st century, I’m a lot more willing to spend $2.99 to be entertained by a book for a few hours than I am to spend $9.99 or $14.99 for the same experience.

Moreover, Konrath has broken down the numbers and _proven_ that he sells considerably more than three times the books at one third the price. Meaning that by “devaluing” his work he is _simultaneously_ selling more books–and gaining more fans apt to buy his books in the future–_and_ making more money.

Think about that. Whether you’re selling a book, a movie or an album, you have the option to _both_ gain more fans/repeat customers _and_ make more dollars in total. And all you have to do is give up the outdated economics of scarcity that make you think a novel/movie/album is actually _worth_ $10. Quit worrying about whether or not people “value” your “art” and your art can actually reach more people (and make you more money).

This seems like a no-brainer to me, and I think it’s inevitable that it will become the “going rate” in the near future. The real question is how many artists are going to have to be dragged kicking and screaming to bigger audiences and more money, and how many will refuse to make the trip at all.

I guarantee the Big Six take the wrong lesson from this.

From Mike Cane’s blog:

How many times will the Big Six have to see this happen before it wakes up?

1) Your eBooks are too damned expensive. People don’t give a damn about your “fixed costs” (which includes your too-fat salaries at the very top). Google dominated the entire world starting from nothing. We should pity your overfed overpaid fat asses?

2) There are no more regional rights. The new regions are the boundaries of language. You get to sell English-language worldwide. All other languages are now the sub-rights for “regions.”

3) Start making bundled sets. Or you’re going to screw every writer with a series whose backlist is too damned expensive as single buys.

4) What is your mission? To sell books or to keep your jobs? You can do the latter by lowering the prices to make the former larger than you ever dreamed.

Inspired by a post from a Canadian who wasn’t allowed to buy a legit copy of a le Carré novel, Mike strolled among the torrents to see what kind of ebooks you can find for free these days if the publishers refuse to sell to you or price the books unreasonably. The quality of the Stieg Larsson “Millennium Trilogy” ebooks he found looks professional enough to me.

And Cane is right. More than $10 for an ebook is ripping off the customer, and the customers have figured that out. You’re not driving them to buy the hardcover instead, you’re driving them to torrents and getting nothing rather than something. But this an old argument and the Big Six show now signs of wising up.

Cane’s comments about regional restrictions and bundles really got me thinking, though. Now that I’m reluctantly committing to the Kindle, I would love to give Hachette $50 for Kindle versions of the dozen or so Agent Pendergast novels by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. But I can’t. So I’m faced with buying them individually, or breaking out Stanza to read the eReader copies I already bought. Hachette is leaving money on the table and they probably don’t even realize it.

Instead, I bet the lessons the Big Six take away from this sort of thing is that they need stronger DRM to keep people from pirating their books. Given that most pirate ebooks are lovingly proofread scans of paper copies, I really don’t think that’s going to work. But they’ll try it. Because the alternative is to change “the way things have always been done,” and that’s unthinkable. Right up until they go out of business.

Close, but no Kindle

I want to buy a Kindle. I really do.

There’s just one problem. A minor concern. I have something on the order of _three thousand_ ebooks already in my Calibre library. I can convert these to .mobi format and drag them into Kindle for PC. I can drag them over USB to a physical Kindle device.

But I do most of my reading on my iPhone. And while the Kindle iOS app is wonderful for reading books purchased via Amazon.com _there is no official way_ to add personal content to Kindle for iOS.

Until the jailbreaks of last weekend, there was no way at all, official or otherwise, to load personal content onto Kindle for iOS if you were using the latest revision of the operating system. Now that I can—and have—jailbreak 4.1, I can verify that if you know the specific folder on the iPhone where the Kindle app stores its books:

> /private/var/mobile/Applications/A9EB2B1F-4AA1-4FE3-9E41-3C6ECE723776/Documents/eBooks

you can copy .mobi files to the device and they’ll show up in your book list the next time you start the Kindle app. Now, this is just for Kindle iOS version 2.3.1.3. The next time I download an update to the Kindle app, that A9EB2B1F-4AA1-4FE3-9E41-3C6ECE723776 changes to something else.

But at least I can get my personal content on to the device. For now. As long as I keep playing the game of cat and mouse with Apple and Amazon to keep my phone jailbroken and keep track of where the books are.

But one of the key advantages to the Kindle platform is Whispersync, the ability to pick up where you left off on any Kindle reader no matter what device you were using last time. This doesn’t work with personal content. I even verified that if I name the files using Amazon’s product ID the way Amazon does it internally—Stephen King’s _On Writing_, which I’ve already purchased from eReader/Fictionwise _and_ Audible, would be B000FC0SIM_EBOK.azw—and carefully insert a copy in the ebooks folder for Kindle iOS and Kindle PC, even though it says it’s uploading and saving my furthest read location on the iOS device, opening the same book in Kindle for PC doesn’t jump to the same location.

In short, I’ve done just about everything I can do to make this work without access to the code.

So for right now, I can’t read _all_ of the books I own seamlessly on whatever reading platform I happen to have at hand, which is the whole point of the Kindle experience. Only the books I actually bought from Amazon sync with my iPhone. So either I deal with finding my place myself—which I already do if I’m reading the same book as an ebook and an audiobook, the only way I get through some things—or I rebuy books I’ve already paid for if I want them to sync—which also includes the ability to archive (delete) books from the device and then easily redownload them over the air later if I need to.

And yet, if Kindle 3 prices drop again for the holiday season to $99 for WiFi-only and $149 for 3G, I might have to bite the bullet and buy one anyway. I’m already hooked.

Just not completely.