Amazon Scouts for new talent

Or actually they get you to do it.

Amazon seems to be rolling out new programs for its readers and writers every couple of months. This latest, Kindle Scout, offers readers the chance to vote for the next big thing in books, or more specifically, who gets a 5 year contract and $1500 advance from Amazon.

For readers it doesn’t seem like a particularly bad deal. You get to sample the first few pages of a lot of authors, pick your favorites, and if a lot of people agree with you, you get a free copy of the full book. Even if you don’t get free books, odds are you’ll have found something new you might not otherwise have discovered.

And for writers it’s not so bad either, particularly if you’re just starting out. The full terms are a 5-year renewable contract for exclusive worldwide eBook and audio-book rights in return for the $1500 advance and a 50% royalty. True, you have less control over how your book is published than you do with Amazon’s 70% self-publishing option, but you also have Amazon’s Featured Marketing which seems to include participation in Kindle Unlimited and the Lending Library (both things you get with the exclusive 70% option) but also e-mail and targeted promotions (whatever that means).

If you read the Publisher’s Lunch newsletter, then you know that $1500 advance is not a big deal, but it is a nice one. Here’s how the calculation works for someone who was going to sell their book exclusively on Amazon for the 70% option at $2.99.

To earn $1500 in royalties you would need to sell 717 copies of your book (assuming no appreciable transmission fees that cut into your royalty) at $2.99 (70% royalty). If you think you’re going to sell less copies of your book, then a $1500 advance is pretty good. Just to compare apples to apples you’d need to sell about $2143 in merchandise to earn $1500 if you go it alone.

To earn your advance if published by Kindle Press you’d need $3000 in sales before you’d start earning additional royalties (regardless of the individual price of each book which is a little difficult to parse and probably will vary on Kindle Scout). That might sound like a lot more, but hopefully Amazon’s marketing would help with that as they obviously have some interest in you earning the money they paid for you.

Problems I see are these: If a book is really popular in its Scout campaign, it stands a risk of most of its copies going to the people who voted for it, and not for people who spent money. And exactly how much social media or random reader clout is necessary to break the threshold is a little nebulous as well, and probably varies from cycle to cycle. Amazon might take a risk on you initially, but if you don’t earn your advance or maybe even the $25,000 they hope you’ll earn in your 5-year contract, they may not give you another one. That’s true for just about anywhere in the publishing industry though so maybe its worth the risk.

And some people in the literature community might be uncomfortable with the idea of books being selected by popular vote, and not by the standards of literary agents and publishers. Scout’s genres at the moment are sci-fi, mystery and romance, which have always been more populist genres, but this is a real experiment in whether the crowd can actually pick quality.

But that’s really what our publishing landscape looks like these days. Readers and writers alike need to be willing to experiment to find what works for them. I’m not sure if I’d submit a book to this program or not, but I am considering it. If I do, I hope I can count on all of you to vote for me and in return I’ll vote for you to :)

Have you guys checked out Kindle Scout? Thoughts?


Filed under Books + Publishing, Internal Debate 42, Writing


This is the time of year when I’m tempted to do NaNo.

For those unaware, November is National Novel Writer’s Month or NaNoWriMo. The goal for all participants is to write a 50,000 word novel (or at least the first 50K of a novel) within 30 days.

I have done this before. It requires a writing rate of about 1667 words a day. At the moment I’m up to 2500 words a day for my work (and that includes formatting pictures and code), so if anything NaNo would be a step down.

There are some in the writing community who kinda look down on NaNo, seeing it as the kind of thing you do when you’re starting out, but not something that serious writers take on. To me, however, it’s kind of the embodiment of what a professional writer should be able to do, keep a consistent discipline going on creating a rough draft. Write every day. These are good things to be reminded of, and to encourage you to continue in your projects.

But NaNo can be disruptive. Almost always it falls for me when I’m in the middle of projects, and this year is no exception. I’m trying to finish revisions on Surreality while at the same time creating a structure for working on my new non-fiction project. The easy answer might be to use my non-fiction project as the basis for my NaNo, bang out a lot of the text I need, but that would require at least two hours of research prior to each session. I have a very understanding wife when it comes to the writing, but having me writing or working on writing for 3 hours a day for the next month is a bit unreasonable on top of everything else.

I could work on another of the many fiction projects in my head, or do revisions or rewrites on another. But that kind of work tends to shift focus away from other fiction I’m trying to finish. And my last NaNo is still sitting in a drawer. I was very happy I did it, and it kickstarted a rewrite of a novel I’ve been meaning to rewrite for years, but it kinda fizzled in favor of the immediate.

I do like the sense of community, of the “we’re all in this together” of NaNo, since I don’t have a regular writing group, or many writing peers to talk to. Though truthfully, at least in my community, many of the people participating in NaNo have a lot more free time during the day than I do, and can meet for writing sessions in the middle of the day. I work a job five days a week which has me out of the house from about 6am – 5pm, so evening meetings are kind of all I have time for (and not on evenings before I have to walk the dog which means I wake up at 4:30am).

As with many years, this is a nagging temptation that I’ll probably let slip to another year. It was a great feeling of accomplishment to do it once, but the writing life can allow for diverse accomplishments and feelings of success. Right now I’d feel successful if I could manage getting a first article written for my non-fiction book, and getting past the chapter I’m stuck in in Surreality. If I get both those things done by the end of the week… I can write another article and revise another chapter the following week.

And not to put too fine a point on it, but all that writing for work is making me a little tired for writing for myself. That probably explains the little more infrequent blogging, which I will try to get back up to speed this week.

Is NaNoWriMo something that tempts you or is too much going on with your writing life already?

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Filed under Writing, Writing Goals

Out of Commission

Today is really my first day back after a cold that just wouldn’t quit. The worst of it was two weeks ago and lasted from Monday night until the following Sunday, with a follow-up week of reduced energy and a continued cough.

This often seems to happen to me when I start with a new project, or when I’m getting into a groove. This happened to my external projects, and even a bit with my work writing. Ironically, I can program under almost any conditions, but writing seems to require a baseline level of health.

Still, I’m pretty stubborn. I’ll call one day off work maybe, but after that I’m back it, both for the job I’m paid for, and for other work. The only trouble is that I don’t really feel like doing anything but watching TV and/or reading comics books (and maybe some casual gaming if my energy level goes up by a micron).

How do you write when all you want to do is die?

Okay, maybe there are some authors who feel like they’re going to die all the time and that actually serves their work, but as a non-fiction/mystery/sci-fi writer, feeding off lows isn’t really my bag.

As always I fall a little back on the mantra of non-fiction, which is to do something else. If you’re not feeling writing, do something else productive, even if its just organizing files, selecting research materials, or re-reading source material. Production may not be possible, but that doesn’t mean brain storming isn’t. After all, it was mostly my head that was affected, maybe some neurons were knocked around in patterns that would be helpful for the work.

But admittedly it might be just as helpful to surrender for a little while, only to come back swinging when you’re really feeling up to it. Even though I feel like a fairly disciplined author, capable of long swings of constant production, I still have to be attuned to the up and down motions of moods and phases of life. It may be that in the times I’m not writing, I’m doing the most creating.

Okay, that felt pretty hippy-dippy, even for me.

Seriously, being a writer is a constant battle between being honest with how you’re feeling, and what you want to do. And always thinking up ways to make the best of how you’re feeling at the moment, while also constantly evaluating and beating yourself up for the times you haven’t been productive.

Well beating yourself up isn’t exactly helpful per-say, but it’s just part of the DNA.

Maybe that’s enough rambling from now, and I should just get back to work. That said, I am thankful for the little joys even of being sick, the ways in which my wife takes such good care of me (making food and tea and covering me with warm blankets). I enjoy my animals (even the dog who is making some pretty disgusting chewing noises against rubber at the moment). The cat even slept on me when my wife was away (which is a mixed blessing but a very nice gesture). I finished a couple of games I never make any time for, read a crap ton of comic books, some of which I’ll be reviewing later in the week and slept more than I have in months.

What do you do when you’re sick? Do you still try to work, or do you just rest?

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Stop Watching Gracepoint


Image Source: Variety

Not that you were anyway.

As a Doctor Who fan not blessed with BBC America, I had heard of Broadchurch (the show upon which Gracepoint is based), but I had not seen it. Still I was excited to see David Tennant was in the American series, and I thought it couldn’t be that bad.

As I was to discover later, in many ways the American version is almost a shot-for-shot remake of the British original, but something about it falls flat. After the first episode my wife and I decided to hop on Amazon Instant video and pick up the first episode of Broadchurch for $1.99.

The episode is 7 minutes longer than the American version, begins and ends in the same place, and yet feels paced better. Some scenes do move quicker, the scene where the mother is running toward the beach in particular. The American version seems to take this as a way to show an attractive grieving woman moving slowly. The British version, shows the woman’s clothes blowing around and ballooning so that at times she looks kind of ridiculous (and human and realistic). The scene with the father first seeing his dead son in the morgue is much longer in the British version, and played with a great deal more emotion.

And Anna Gunn lacks the chemistry with Tennant that he had with Olivia Colman. Many critics have made the comment that the people in the American version are “too pretty”, especially Gunn, who comes off as not really being of the place where all this is happening. My feeling is more that Gunn has tapped into the cranky parts of this character more than the caring parts. Colman’s performance could involve tantrums and swearing (and a particularly colorful threat which made me laugh out loud in a later episode), but she equally was a considerate and caring person, and her humanity is key given the direction this case leads.

Another funny thing is that the American version seems more crass, even though it doesn’t have the swearing of the British original. In the second episode we’re treated to a lesbian describing the moment she “stopped liking penises”, which while intended as a strong comeback, damages her credibility as the head of a newspaper, and seems out of context in the argument. There’s other little things like the use of a needle for treating Tennant’s condition rather than just pills and the slight ramp up in the violence of the crime (though strangulation is pretty bad too).

And since we’re heading into nit-picky territory anyway, when drugs are discovered in the teenage sister’s room, Gunn’s character takes her out onto the sidewalk to discuss it privately, with people clearly in the background! In Broadchurch this scene happens far from the house in this huge back yard shared by multiple homes, but unable to be heard by anyone but the people talking.

I really don’t know why Fox made this, particularly since the filming and dialogue are so close to the original. If you’re not going to make your own unique take on this, then why not air the far superior original, with the swears beeped and the one scene with male butt cut out?

Tom Shaw from Bubble Watch says it best:

Gracepoint always seemed like a tough sell; you have all 12 or so people that had heard of Broadchurch but were scared away by British accents, and whatever tiny sliver of demo is interested in long-form mysteries. Unsurprisingly, this arrived DOA. Fox doesn’t have much to replace this with (as it is, they have an hour of repeats scheduled for Fridays), so they will likely just ride this out.”

But you don’t have to “ride it out”. You can stop, and if you haven’t seen it, buy Broadchurch. I promise you it is worth every penny.

*And as an added bonus you get Arthur Darvill in Broadchurch for all you Whovians.

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Fermenting Ideas

Writing, especially regular writing like blogging, requires a pretty steady flow of ideas. There are lots of ways to get new ideas every day, but the easiest way is to consume a lot of information and media, and then to do something with your week. Create something for yourself, or do something physically exerting outside. Anything to keep the ideas flowing.

But some ideas sit with you for a while. You may have jotted them down in a little notebook, or it may have been percolating in the back of your brain for weeks or months on end. Some ideas need a little aging before they’re ready to see the light of day.

I try to keep a few things in my back pocket so I have something to talk about on days I otherwise have little to write about, but that’s a different. The ideas don’t really get any better, they just happen to be on deck.

But other things are really getting richer, like 10 year Scotch. I see something on the news, or out in the world, and it tweaks a little detail of a story I’m composing. Or I make a new connection between two disparate pieces of information that were filed in two different boxes in my head.

As writers we need to be able to do both. To think about something for 5-10 minutes, and then be able to write 500-100 words about it. And we have to be able to think for months or years about the same subject, and be able to feel like the material is as fresh as the day we first thought of it, but with all the rich full body, smooth finish and hints of oak we expect from a really well brewed idea.

The risk, especially if you’re not writing anything down, is that you can forget ideas. Sometimes that’s a good thing, just because you’ve been thinking about something for a long time doesn’t mean it should see the light of day. My feeling is if an idea is really something I should write about, I’ll remember it, or I’ll write it that day.

Usually I check in with my longer term ideas in the morning and evening commutes. This can involve visualizing a scene, or incorporating a new piece of information, or debating when I should actually start writing something down. The rest of the day I’m focused on the particular day’s work, but the longer term idea is never far from the surface.

Admittedly I don’t stop and think about this process much. This is just something that’s kinda in my writer DNA. Ideas fall into the two hoppers of long term and short term naturally. But occasionally it can be a good idea to examine your writing process, just to be aware of how you work, and maybe make adjustments as necessary.

In that spirit, how long do you think about ideas before you write them down?

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We don’t notice how dependent we are on technology until it fails us.

Now I’m pretty flexible when it comes to tech. I can get productive work done on just about any device, no matter the operating system, software or hardware involved. But the one thing I really can’t compromise on is a good keyboard.

Often when I’m out writing in a coffee shop I play a little game with myself where I try to bring the least amount of tech possible to get the night’s work done. I’ve recently adopted a “one bag” (I used to carry three) policy with my work tech, and that’s been going great. I used to (and frankly still do) lug around a lot of things I don’t really need, because I wasn’t making decisions about what I was actually going to do.

So for a writing night “one-bag” becomes “tablet bag”. Now I’m still traveling with two tablets, a notebook, chargers and a crap ton of pens, but at least it doesn’t weigh very much. I even have a plug-in keyboard for one of the tablets, so I can turn one of them into a micro-computer even smaller than my old netbook.

At first I tried to convince myself that writing slower is good for me. Having to type and retype each word was good for organizing my thoughts, much in the same way people use writing by hand. Punching the keys as hard as I can is just a way of more physically engaging with the piece beyond just the simple mental exercise.

Or maybe the keyboard, particularly the space bar, was unresponsive, designed for short e-mail compositions of maybe 50 words, not 500 words synopsis. The evening was saved by having the notebook, so I could at least take some good research notes for fleshing out when I get back to a proper computer. But I doubt I’ll be taking out that portable keyboard any time soon.

I’m not used to attacking my keys. Most keyboards I’ve worked with allow me to apply light pressure to accurately type each word. And I’m not even particular about “correct typing”. Like a lot of people of my generation I tried to “learn to type” long after I’d already developed bad habits of using computers, and I still type in a way that never uses my pinky finger, often having it just pointing up in the air. Probably this will be responsible for hand cramps later in life, especially considering the volume of typing I do, but maybe at that point text to speech will be to a point where keyboards will no longer be necessary.

Writing by hand isn’t frustrating because at least my fingers do not rebel and write the wrong letters (though from my handwriting it might be hard to tell). I don’t miss spaces, and I can write at a speed a lot closer to the one my brain moves at. There’s definitely an optimal speed to writing, fast enough to keep up with your brain, but slow enough not to skip words or whole thoughts which you’ll just have to come back to later.

How do you do most of your writing? Are you as particular about writing implements as I am?

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Filed under Trube On Tech, Writing

Trube on Tech: WordPress eBooks and Star Trek Games

This week I got a couple of questions on some older posts asking for a little tech assistance. Rather than reply in the comments, I thought a special post would best serve to answer their questions, or those of anyone else in the future:

ennoundinga asks on Converting Your WordPress Blog to an eBook (Part 2)  : In my Blog export I would like to grab the comments also. Do you think there is a chance to extend the XSL transformation to evaluate the comments?

For my solution I wanted to do two things:

  • Add a “Comments” header if comments existed, and hide it if there are none
  • Format comments with the comment author and comment content

Testing for the existence of comment elements can be accomplished with an xsl:if test:

<xsl:if test="./wp:comment[1]">

The xpath statement “./wp:comment[1]” looks for the first comment element that is a child of the current post. If one is found the “Comments” header is printed. If not the parser moves on to the next post.

If comments are present the following code will format them into our working HTML:

<xsl:for-each select="wp:comment">
  <xsl:for-each select="wp:comment_author">
    <xsl:call-template name="print-paras"/>
  <xsl:for-each select="wp:comment_content">
    <xsl:call-template name="print-paras"/>

Both the comment content and author name are stored in CDATA statements and need to be processed by our print-paras template. This code will format the comment like this:

Name of Commenter

What the commenter said in all its glorious detail.

I’ve uploaded an update to the XSL template here (again note since WordPress has filename restrictions the extension has been renamed .xls).

Next question, I’m on a rampage!

WZ writes on AGFV: 20 years of Star Trek 25th AnniversaryBen: Followed your instructions carefully for Star Trek 25th using DBGL, but I only have the CD not floppies version. DBGL is fine. This game appears to not run because (per dos window) the game is looking for a CD to be in the CD drive. But need this to run from the hard disk instead because of physical disability makes it hard to always be putting cd’s in and out of the drive bay. Is the CD game version hardcoded to only run from CD bay? Please reply to my email… Thanks for your gaming blog, it’s great, I enjoyed all your gaming entries.

As it happens, I was reorganizing some of my DBGL files this week (no joke) and managed to create a solution to this very problem.

The 25th Anniversary Enhanced Edition CD-ROM is a little unusual. It’s an Enhanced CD, meaning it has both CD Audio content and CD data content. This means it can’t be fully ripped to an ISO image, since ISO’s only deal with CD data. But there are programs available that allow you to rip an enhanced CD, one such being CloneCD.

To rip an enhanced CD using CloneCD:

1) Open CloneCD and click Read to Image File:


2) CloneCD will analyze the disc in the drive, and ask you to select the type of CD. Many selections will work for our purposes, but for now select Game CD:


3) Browse to a folder and choose a name for your file (the program will actually create four different files so maybe store in a blank folder). Check the box next to Create “Cue-Sheet”:


4) Click OK to begin ripping the CD:


5) When you’re finished your folder will contain four files that will look something like this:


6) Create a folder in dbgl\dosroot called TREKCD (full path dbgl\dosroot\TREKCD). Copy the folder containing your ripped CD to this folder.

7) You’ll need to install the game from the CD first, then set DBGL to run it. Add a mount for the C drive to the TREKCD sub-folder. Add another mount for the D drive and select the Mount Image(s) radio button. Click Browse, browse to your CUE file and select it as the mount point.


8) With the imgmount selected, click the Grab button next to the main then Browse to add files from the CD image to run at startup. Select INSTALL.EXE. Your run window should look like this:


9) Click OK, and run the file to run the install program. When the installation is finished copy the files it installed into your TREKCD folder. Your final directory should look something like this (you may not have the CFG or savegame files):


10) Edit the Profile again and change the Main to STARTREK.EXE in the TREKCD folder, and Setup to SETUP.EXE (in the same folder). Your final setup should look like this:


Note: You probably want to set your machine to 7500 cycles for optimum performance.


And you should be good to go. Let me know if you have any further questions.



Filed under AGFV, Trube On Tech, Writing