Monday, November 21, 2011

Self publishing

    You know, our world just keeps getting better. Today I discovered something that, while not exactly new, seems relatively unknown. Perhaps its because it is a niche market thing. I don't know. Let me explain.
   
    You see, for a while now I have been an avid fan of a piece of software called Scrivener. It was originally a Mac only product, but has recently been moved to Windows and Linux as well. If you do any kind of writing, this thing is awesome. I am not sure what I can compare it too, but take my word for it. This thing is great. And, it just got better. Well for me anyway.

    Amazon sells books. Well they sell a lot of things, but books are a major part of that. In fact, any Amazon customer can (and probably already has) sign up for Kindle Direct Publishing. This is a free service that allows (would-be and other-wise) authors to self publish their work for free and Amazon will sell their work in the Amazon book store.

    The catch? Well, none really. Amazon will give you 70% of total sales of whatever you publish. They list it on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and a couple of other countries. You can receive your payments via old fashioned cheque, or by Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT). You can even specify the currency to be paid in. It really seems like a fairly sweet deal. After asking a few questions in some writing forums online I found more than one author who uses this services exclusively and they make a fair amount of scratch for their work.

    So how does Amazon selling your stuff for you involve software? Scrivener now has a feature to "Publish" your latest creation directly to Kindle format. (Free software plugin download from Amazon required) You can choose your cover art, build a table of contents (or let Scrivener do it for you), and more. Basically, with a few tweaks you can have your novel or whatever ready for primetime in no time.

    Once you're happy with the way it looks, you just upload, set your price and wait. No more agents, no more publishing houses. Now, you go strait to your target audience with your creation. A few simple clicks and you are a published author. Of course, you still need to write something first. In any case, it is option for new aspiring writers that can't seem to find a home with an established publishing house.

   So, if you have tried to pitch your novel and have more rejection letters than you shake a stick at, give it a try. What do you have to lose?

Friday, November 11, 2011

A new look

    I decided to change the layout / template of this blog for various reasons. The main being I really was never happy with the old one. If you look to the top left you can choose how you want to view this blog, my way of giving something back ... enjoy.

Amazon's, Apples and Google's ... oh my!

    Tablet, eReader or just move some stuff around for a while? That is the question.

    A while back I was trying to decide to whether to develop for Android or iOS/osX. I have since decided on the latter. Not for any altruistic reason, mainly because I just like the way Apple products work. Then, when I wasn't looking, Amazon introduces the Kindle Fire. A "sub" tablet like device intended for media consumption. The competition on the field seems to be getting better.

    Since my initial decision to learn Xcode I have started to setup my "development environment". Not just the software I use, but my workspace as well. A few surprises have struck me in the way I work. First, I have decided that whenever possible I will get the electronic version of any book I buy. I already have more books than my house can store in any reasonable manner so this was an easy choice.

    What I haven't counted on is the way I access such material. I have the Kindle app on my Android phone and my MacBook pro. I have purchased a couple of books (in Kindle format) to help me learn Xcode and Objective-C. What I didn't count on was how inconvenient it was to have to switch from my Xcode screen and my Kindle application. I really like running the Amazon Kindle application full screen as it get a full page view that is easy to read at a glance. What I need is a way to move my eBooks off of my desktop that I am also trying to do work on. The screen on my Android phone is just too small to get the job done. What to do?

    I have a few of options to play with, but neither the time nor money to explore every possibility in practice. So, as I usually do, I research the problem to death until I can find a solution that will work for me.


    Solution #1:
    Use a USB to VGA adapter to setup a second external screen, rotate it into portrait mode and just leave it for things like the Amazon Kindle application or viewing PDF's. Since the frame rate of USB video is usually unusable for gaming (with I rarely do anyway) it would be just for simple documents or web pages. This would free up my desktop and still allow me to easily have my eBooks open at the same time.


    Solution #2:
    Get an eReader.

    The Amazon Kindle Fire looks to be a great choice, at least at first glance. The problem is that I know it can do so much more than Amazon will allow. So, I will probably end up rooting the darn thing to make it do more. I will spend so much time on that I won't get any real work done. Also I am not sure how well the display will look in direct sunlight.



    The Apple iPad or iPad2 is a great choice and I would get one today if they weren't so expensive. After using an iPad2 that a co-worker has purchased, I really like it. I just can't justify spending that kind of money on something I won't be doing my primary work on. Call me cheap, but I don't think I would take it to work either. I would be in too much fear of scratching and/or breaking the thing.

    Getting a "real" Android tablet is also out of the question. The ones that are worth anything cost as much as an iPad2 but Android just isn't refined enough yet to compete for a quality user experience. Besides their cost, the sheer size and weight are a major deterrent. Some of these feel like a laptop with the lid flipped over.

    Of course, there is also the basic $79 Kindle eReader from Amazon that would do the job. In fact it's currently the forerunner of the eReaders I am looking at. It's cheap, reliable, small and light weight yet large enough to "look" like a real book. However it is in black and white, so color pages may or may not display correctly. My wife currently has a Kindle 3G (the one with the keyboard) and has many medical books on it. While images look just fine most of the time, there are those rare occasions when you get an error like "image size to large" or some such. While not a perfect solution, I could just as easily toss it in the car and read it when I am my lunch break and not worry to much about damaging it. That alone makes it a very attractive option.

    Solution #3:
    This one will require a complete re-arangment of my work area. You see, I currently use a "Henge Dock"( http://www.hengedocks.com/ ) which stands up my MacBook pro on end when docked. That means the lid is closed and I use an external display, hence Solution #1. Basically I would drop the dock, and go back to plugging in and unplugging some four or five connections every time I leave my desk with my laptop. The dock is great for just grab and go. When I return I just drop the laptop back in and I am ready to go. Easy peasy.

    Of course, this is also the cheapest option as I do not have to purchase anything else, but would do away with my dock that I have already spent $60 on. This is actually the most complicated option really. Mainly because I have a smallish work space as both me and my wife share a room that we both use as an office. It's not cramped, but doesn't really leave room for expansion either.

    However, since it is in fact the cheapest solution, and the holidays are coming up fast, I think it will be the one I at least try first. Who knows, maybe Santa will be nice this year.

Google+ and Blogger

    No one who uses Google+ and Blogger.com can argue that better integration would be a good thing. Currently Google owns both of the services and they are both great at what they do and serve their respective target audiences well. Many users of both Google+ and Blogger.com have been Google fans for years. Even if you don't consider yourself a fan, per-say, you have to admit that most people use Google products in someway on a regular basis. 

    Since its launch, Google+ has faced an uphill battle for acceptance. Early adopters tended to be more "tech" minded and not afraid to try something new. It is the users who make up the culture of any service, not the service itself. Those early adopters (myself included) have gone a long way towards developing that culture. For better or worse, Google+ is what it is today because of those who are not afraid of change. 
    
    Blogger.com users are also a niche group. Not everyone will start a blog, or even read one. For those of us who do decide to start a blog, only around ten percent will stay with it or try to make anything out of it. The ones that remain however, tend to be snappy and witty while trying to appeal to their particular target audience. 

    While the types and topics of Blogs are as varied as their users, most try to stick with a single focus in the hope of regular visitors for each new post. Sadly I am still trying to figure out what exactly this particular blog is suppose to be about. It seems that the randomness of the topics is the only constant. I digress, I am losing focus. Something I seem to be good at. 

    So here are my top five ideas for better integration of Google+ and Blogger: 
  1. Have a setting that can be turned on or off by the user that will auto post the title and first paragraph of the newly published blog post on your Google+ page. (Link to the blog of course)
  2. Allow people to "theme" their Google+ page to match their blog for a more seamless user experience. 
  3. Have a page or tab on blogger that also shows your Google+ posts. 
  4. Include a circle for your blog (see item#3) on Google+
  5. View other blogs on Google+ (like item #1) by adding it to a circle.  
    This of course is assuming that we don't get "total" integration. That is, all of the Blogger.com functionality right inside of Google+. That would be good, except for those (again such as myself) that try to monazite their blogs by including advertisements. If you could park a domain on your Google+ page while keeping your source of revenue that would be just about perfect. It would give you all of the benefits of Google+ while keeping the personalization of Blogger.com 
    
    Of course, I don't see this happening anytime soon, but it would be nice. A user could have one portal that would allow them to follow all of the social feeds they want, allow others to follow you, and still monazite your site. Almost sounds to good to be true, which is why it probably won't happen. 
    
    Still, the way we use the internet is always changing and will continue to change for a long time to come.