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10Jan/150

Kindle Paperwhite first impressions

kindle-paperwhite

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite, outside in full daylight.

I am a reader. In a normal month, I read three or four books, a mix of fiction and non-fiction. About half the books I read are bought at airport newsstands or borrowed from my local library. The other half I buy digitally (on iBooks when I owned an iPad and more recently through Google Play to read on an Android tablet and/or phone).

I like the portability of reading books digitally and buying online has always made sense to me. And as I start to look more closely at the publishing options for my own fiction, I keep hearing that the Amazon Kindle environment is the best platform for authors; easiest marketplace to enter, pays the best royalty, is the most successful selling environment for those Indie authors who publish on multiple digital platforms. In fact, barring the bestseller list, Amazon rankings have become the standard by which author popularity is measured. Is this because the Kindle is the best platform for readers?

I've never owned or used a Kindle. I'd always stuck to the marketplaces of convenience (the ones that supported the tablets I owned). But indie author praise and repeated good vibes from working writers has made me accept that I need to understand the Kindle environment before I make my decisions on how to publish my novels.

Alert: If you own a Kindle already, skip the rest of this blog to save yourself having to write a comment to me about how late to the party I am and how 'we all knew this stuff so long ago so where have you been, hiding under a rock?'

I bought the $119 WiFi-only Amazon Kindle Paperwhite yesterday. It was pretty simple to setup - connect my home WiFi, enter my Amazon account details, let it update its software then I was ready to read. I first wanted to understand the reading experience and try to work out how locked in I now was to only being able to buy books and only through Amazon. So I tried three things:

I Bought a book on Amazon - I downloaded the sample to Stephen King's Revival. I love Stephen King. And even if every book he has written hasn't been to my liking, and even if he is an investment in patience through the first hundred pages to wait for him to start really building his story, he is a master at telling stories and if you stick with his novels, they're always satisfying to finish. I read the sample last night before I went to sleep. The device was easy to hold, much lighter than my Samsung Android tablet, and I didn't get nearly the eye strain I sometimes get with the tablet (if I read too long on the tablet then go to the bathroom, for example, my vision will have a 'burned' square in the center).  I read to the end of the sample and bought the book - a simple transaction to close - and continued reading.

I borrowed a book from my library - We have a great digital library system in the Phoenix area. Two actually (I belong to both the county and my local city library systems). They are both run through a service called Overdrive. I can borrow eBooks, audio books, and other materials directly on my PC, Android phone and tablet using the Overdrive app and have been checking out digital books for months. I'm especially into the late Stuart Kaminsky's Toby Peters mysteries. The main character is a hard-boiled 1940's private detective and most cases involve Peters working with the Hollywood stars of the day. I logged into my library system, 'borrowed' the next Toby Peters mystery in the series and when I clicked the read button, the option to send the borrowed book to my Kindle appeared. I clicked. Amazon popped up. One more click to initiate the borrow and sixty seconds later, the book was sitting on my Kindle.

I downloaded a .mobi book directly into my Kindle - I wrote a couple of days ago about an author using some kind of Twitter follower building application to offer me a free download of her first book. I originally downloaded it for Google Play. I went back to the download site and saw that it was offered in a Kindle version so I downloaded it using my browser and proceeded to try and figure out how you put stuff into the Kindle via a USB cable. There was some mess about installing a plugin on your browser call 'Send to Kindle' but that seems to only allow you to clip websites and have the content sent as a document to your kindle. This would be great for downloading long blog posts or news stories to read later but I couldn't use it to upload this .mobi file. I checked in the My Computer app on my PC (the place where you can see what drives are connected to your computer and how much space you have in each one. The Kindle was listed as a USB drive so I just took a chance and dragged and dropped the file onto the Kindle. And it worked. The book is now on my Kindle.

I'll have more feedback as I get more practical experience but I immediately see the benefits to the Kindle over reading digital material on a PC, tablet or phone; the reading experience is less harsh on the eyes, the ability to buy, borrow and upload books is simple, the thing is tiny and therefore supremely portable, and the battery lasts forever. I immediately took the hardcover novel I borrowed a couple of days ago from the library and can't believe I was carrying around that giant, heavy thing when I could have the same book in this slender little cat. I am excited to have several books ready to read any time without having a pile up on my nightstand and will give more feedback as I gain more experience with it (I am especially interested to understand how you find and discover authors and books this way versus browsing a library or book shelf).

Do you use a Kindle? A different device? What do you think?

9Jan/150

Inside the sausage factory and the Surface Pro 3

sausage-factory2

The kitchen table makes a good sausage factory

I think most writers are curious about the working habits and tools of other writers. Judging from the blogs and books and YouTube videos I've consumed on the subject, the most common question asked of working fiction writers is where and how do they write (second maybe to 'where do you get your ideas?' but you get the idea).

Writing fiction is mostly a solitary task. When it comes down to getting words on pages, there's no committee to convene, no meetings or conference calls to attend, no sales presentation to give (unless you're one of those authors using teams of collaborators to perpetuate their personal writing brand into multiple products a season). The work of a writer consists of sitting in front of a writing tool and either adding words to a project or improving the words in a project. Having a good place to write is an important consideration in getting the work done.

Different people write in different ways. I do best in a sharply focused session of a couple of hours and plan ahead of time what I want to accomplish. I am a part-time writer. My writing time is precious. I schedule it into my day like an appointment and my goal for 2015 is to exercise discipline over time so that when I plan my writing time, I commit to using it efficiently. Place is part of the formula that can make or break my writing time.

I have an office for my regular working life. It has the perfect amount of desk space, a printer, good lighting, two computer monitors, speakers for music, a comfy chair, and a refrigerator near by. But I can't write there. Every time I try, my daily work-life habits take over. I check email. I see a project or a potential sale on my desk that needs a nudge. My to do list (for work) is on the board in front of me. The people I work with are at hand for questions or to bring me issues. Plus, I simply feel guilty if I'm in that space and not working on company business. So I write elsewhere.

I can (and do) some writing at home. I have a home office. I have a kitchen table. I have a cozy chair in our bedroom. All are good places to write. But sometimes I find that the television is close, the family an easy distraction, the dogs need to be fed, and the garbage has to go out, and on it goes. It's not always easy to focus at home.

I am most productive in a public place, surrounded by strangers. We have three good libraries close by. The best (White Tanks Public Library) is the best; it's a little out of the way so there's some mental transition time on the drive there, it's somewhat quiet, it has these awesome desk-sized tables with padded chairs, and it has spectacular views through floor-t0-ceiling windows of a desert preserve. I've written thousands of words in airport terminals and on flights. I also have dozens of coffee shops and restaurants nearby that I can write in. In places like these, I can pop in, grab a corner, stay offline (until I am done, then I pop online to save my files), and get super-productive hours of writing done.

Knowing your most productive way to work is freeing. I wrote the first draft of the novel I'm working on between September and December by writing in short bursts, either at home on scheduled sessions in off-site locations. In order to make writing-on-the-go work though, one of the challenges I had to solve is portability of my writing tools.

I have a hard time writing long-hand (my handwriting is terrible and I can barely understand it, I can't keep pace with my thoughts, and my hand cramps after fifteen minutes). I haven't owned a typewriter since 1987. Word processing is the way to go for me. And as a former IT staffer, I have always been a dedicated PC user. So for my writing tool, I need a PC; something portable, light, with good battery life, that can use the word-processing tool I have come to rely...

...which is Google Docs (free, robust word processor, can work with or without an internet connection, and automatically saves your files in cloud storage for safe keeping). I created and am constantly editing my 350-page novel in Google Docs. I use their spreadsheet program for my outline/timeline work.

I've always used a laptop, the latest, reasonably-priced version of whatever Intel-based Windows PC was light enough to carry around while powerful enough to double as my main work computer. During a recent upgrade, I bought a Surface Pro 3 (the tablet-style PC with the snap-on keyboard that people dance around with on Microsoft commercials). I don't dance with it but it has an over five-hour working battery life, powers up and down in a few seconds, is as fast as my last proper laptop, and fits into a small bag I can carry anywhere. Unless you're a MAC die-hard, the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is the perfect computer for writers.

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6Jan/150

@ltvargus. Are you a Twitter robot?

twitter-robotMy phone pinged. I checked my email. I have a new Twitter follower. My 55th. An author named L.T. Vargus no less. I was excited. But how did this author find me? And why follow me? I haven't published my fiction yet and it's only been a week since I scraped my personal blog clean of all entries and started writing in my author persona? How could this fellow author discover me so fast?

It was so nice of Vargus to follow me. And her brief bio was super helpful; let me know she was published and had a book on Amazon, that she had more than a hundred five-star reviews on Amazon, that her book was a mix between Catcher in the Rye and Fight Club.

I followed her right back. And downloaded the free book. Then I spent fifteen minutes thumbing through her blog. I learned a lot. Turns out, L.T. Vargus is a writing duo, a man and woman who create fiction together. They have three books available. They are working on a five-book series. They started writing screenplays then realized that the novel was the most creatively free way to express story (uncorrupted by the formulaic and committee-based approach of television and film writing).

I felt immediately connected to this new friend of mine. Even more so when, three hours later, I received a direct message from her (them). "I'd drink bleach to get you to check out the free sample of my book. Don't make me do it! Click it:" a link to an Amazon page for the book followed. Vargus is sure paying a lot of attention to me. Why?

Cynical as I am, I started to wonder if it was real. I took a closer look at her twitter account. 110,000 followers. 115,000 following. That's a lot of reaching out and giving personal attention to people. And all since 2011. Is it possible that a computer program is operating under L.T. Vargus' name (and, presumably, direction)? Are there Twitter robots out there doing the work of building a following for people? Is there some kind of program that you can build, purchase, or subscribe to that watches certain people's Twitter accounts for new followers and immediately 'follows' them with an offer.

And if there is, I want to find it and possibly use it.

Note to self; email my new friend L.T. Vargus and ask her how she (they) did it.

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5Jan/150

Fun with revision. And puppies.

baxter-eyesI got in a ninety-minute revision session at the library after work today and I'm happy with the progress I'm making.

When I started revising my novel (yes, only three days ago), I had about 30 story notes, things I needed to clean up and fix before I started my read through. The notes involve both small details and loose ends to clean up (what are the consequence with the rental car company of the lead character's rental being stolen) to notes reminding me to focus on the larger elements (review the romantic relationship start to finish and be sure it progresses along an arc).

After today, I have less than a dozen of these notes left to work through before I start reading through the story section by section and get it ready for beta readers (I may hit that January 31st goal after all). When I was done with my revisions for the day, the work made me think about the way we feed out dogs.

Our three dogs are spoiled when it comes to food. We're mostly disciplined about feeding them proper dog food but they love the odd bit of people food. The get it whenever they can. Occasionally, their beloved treat comes in the form of a smorgasbord earned when the drippy, silly, messy, short-and-easy-to-steal-food-from youngest members of our family come around.

For their main meals, they receive a bowl of dog food. And as well as it being grain and gluten free and a formula with Salmon and vegetables, we've fallen into the habit of adding a little people food; a leftover or part of our dinner, just enough for taste. We think we're 'spicing up' their dish, adding variety. We think we are making their meal more interesting. Truth is, we're probably burdening their poor digestive systems but I'm guilty of messing up my kids in ways I didn't predict when I was trying to do the best by them so what can you do.

The dogs, of course, have come to expect this extra ingredient. If it's not there, they hold off eating the food in the hopes that the lack of added flavor is an oversight we'll correct before the day is over. When we do include some people food, we can tell how much they like it; they gobble their food quickly then run around the house checking each other's bowls to see if any food was left-over.

In today's revision, I added a set of very short scenes, sprinkled throughout the book, in which my lead character is hassled by his slumlord apartment manager over some damage done to the apartment he rents. The scenes have a purpose - add a little urgency and a deadline he has to meet,  give us an opportunity to see how our hero handles jerks, give us the satisfaction of a comeuppance at the end. It's fun to plant this thread of breadcrumbs throughout the story and I hope my eventual reader gets as much enjoyment from them as my dogs do their special little add-ins at dinner.

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4Jan/150

Words from the wise

I love hearing other writer's stories about how they work; their process, their thoughts on the work of writing, on their success. There's so much material available; blogs, books, articles, etc.

I've been reading Rachel Aaron's blog and she writes freely about her process which includes priceless (well, not priceless since you can buy it in book form for $0.99) advice on increasing your productivity as a writer (super helpful to a part-timer like me).

I also just read Janet Evanovich's How I Write. Evanovich has been answering reader's questions on her official website for years and rounded up a bunch of material into an overview of her writing life. I loved the book. She is intimate and human about her craft and shows us a blue-collar work-ethic and approach to storytelling. I always try to take one thing away every time I hear an accomplished writer's story. In Evanovich's book, she has this amazing checklist she refers to when polishing drafts of her novels that I plan to adopt as I revise my current novel. She also explains how she uses a timeline to organize her scene-by-scene outline that helped me tremendously to keep the novel I just drafted moving without losing track of where I was in the story.

YouTube is a also great resource for listening in on other writers as they talk about their process. I recently watched a video of Stephen King addressing college-level writing students at the University of Massachusetts. He spoke for over an hour about his work and life. King is famous for not drafting his novels. He says he starts with characters, a setting, and a scenario and lets the story develop each day as he writes. That's a hard process to adopt for most writers. I'll reflect more on my own process as it develops but I get quickly lost if I don't have some kind of outlined roadmap for my stories. So rather than try to write like King, I was listening for something small I could take away. What I took was that King says uses the few minutes before going to sleep at night to write the next day's scene in his head. He's outlining in a way, right? Just trusting his subconscious mind and his voice and the flow of his writing to pull the words together when it's time to sit in front of the laptop.

Do you have a favorite author process book, blog, or video to share?

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