Category Archives: Technology

Random: Google And Cracked

Right now I am experiencing the joy of new love with Google Drive. I’ve been using Documents to Go for my file synchronization for a few years now, and for most of that time it worked perfectly. Recently, though, we’ve been having some problems. Then I heard about Google Drive.

Google Drive gives you 5 GB of free storage that will automatically sync to any PC, Mac, or Android based mobile device (iOS coming soon) with the Drive app installed. So far, it works like a dream and has simplified my file sharing system immensely. Speaking of file sharing, Drive also gives you the option to share files, folders, or your entire drive with individual users or the entire interwebs. While I don’t plan on making my first drafts public domain at any date in the foreseeable future, this is an amazing tool when collaborating on a novel with another writer who lives on the other side of the country! (I’m staring at you, Lani!!) I’ll let you know if I run into any problems that dim my fondness for this program, but right now the desktop applications are nearly perfect and with a couple of upgrades, the mobile apps will be too.

Now, because I’m still low on time, here are some articles I think you might find amusing, all found on Cracked.com. Just a warning, though, these contain foul language to some degree.

7 Commonly Corrected Grammar Errors (That Aren’t Mistakes)

18 Images You Won’t Believe Aren’t Photoshopped

5 Gender Stereotypes That Used To Be The Exact Opposite

The 5 Depressing Lessons We Learned From Highlights Magazine

Technology: The Publishing World After The DOJ Lawsuit

I have already posted on this subject a couple of times (specifically here and here), but Nathan Bransford (who I’ve quoted on this blog) posted an update on the lawsuit against several major publishing companies over ebook pricing. Nathan’s experience in the industry gives him a good knowledge of the subject and a thorough understanding of the many variables to this equation. So, for anyone who doesn’t follow his blog (and if you’re a writer or in any way interested in publishing, you really should), here is what Nathan has to say about the digital landscape:

I guess there was some teeny tiny publishing news this week.

Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way first: I work for CNET, which is owned by CBS, which is the parent company of Simon & Schuster, one of the companies named in the lawsuit. All opinion here is entirely my own, does not necessarily reflect the opinion of CBS and/or Simon & Schuster and/or CNET, and is based mainly on my time in publishing as a literary agent where I was not privy to the inside discussions at publishers, and it doesn’t necessarily reflect the opinion of my old agency Curtis Brown Ltd. either. Cool?

So here’s what: The Department of Justice sued five book publishers and Apple for allegedly colluding on e-book prices. Yeah, wow.

How we got here

Here’s the elevator pitch summary of what happened:

In the beginning of the e-book era, publishers sold e-books according to the “wholesale” model. Every e-book had a retail price, publisher got roughly half the retail price, bookseller got half, bookseller could sell the e-book for whatever they want. Amazon discounted deeply, taking a loss on some titles, built early market share, made publishers nervous as they were running away with the e-book market.

Along came Apple and the “agency” model: They gave publishers the ability to set their own prices and receive 70%. Publishers jumped at this and raised prices, but actually received less money per copy sold than in the wholesale model. (The difference between agency and wholesale also is the reason behind why some e-books cost more than their print counterparts)

What the DOJ alleges is that some of the publishing executives met around this time and explicitly discussed moving to the agency model and raising prices. This, the DOJ says, amounted to illegal collusion.

Three of the publishers, HarperCollins, S&S, and Hachette, have already settled without admitting wrongdoing, and will allow variable pricing. Macmillan, Penguin Group, and Apple have not settled and apparently will fight the charges in court. The case against Apple in particular, my colleagues Declan McCullaugh and Greg Sandoval write, is unlikely to stick.

For a completely comprehensive look at everything, Shelf Awareness has a great summary (via Curtis Brown). I also summarized the issues in more detail a few weeks back in the post Why the DOJ’s Potential Lawsuit Over the Agency Model is a Really Big Deal.

And if you’re curious about why e-book prices are so high and why publishers would like to keep them that way, I wrote an article for CNET that goes a bit more in depth.

Were publishers right or wrong?

I blogged about the switch from wholesale to agency in real time in early 2010 and called it The Kindle Missile Crisis, and frankly I’m pretty darn proud of that post because I guessed at the issues that are still at stake now in 2012.

And to be totally honest now that I’m out of the business: I didn’t agree with the publishers at the time. I didn’t think the agency model was a good move.

But I don’t (and didn’t) think publishers were crazy either. As the iPad was just about to come out, publishers were fearing that Amazon would build a de facto monopoly in the e-book market. They were hearing from other companies that they couldn’t get into the e-book game because they couldn’t compete with Amazon on price, and Amazon was busy locking consumers into their proprietary e-book format. Publishers were likely worried Amazon would use their position to tighten the screws on terms and use the low e-book prices to hasten the demise of brick and mortar bookstores, which are hugely important to publishers.

And credit where due, the competition that publishers were seeking did end up taking place. B&N’s Nook, Apple’s iBooks, Sony, Kobo… there are viable alternatives to the Kindle. E-booksellers have up until now mainly been competing on consumer experience rather than price. High e-book prices have likely slowed the adoption of e-books and preserved the print world a bit longer.

But would that e-book competition have happened anyway without the agency model? Did publishers really have to switch to agency to open up the marketplace?

That is literally the billion dollar question because publishers left a huge amount of money on the table when they switched to the agency model. They actually gave up money to raise prices.

And that’s what I always thought was misguided. I believe Apple and B&N would have found ways to viably compete with Amazon even with variable pricing. It’s not as if Apple in particular doesn’t have the resources to go toe-to-toe with Amazon.

It seemed to me that this had much more to do with trying to keep e-book prices high to hold onto a print world as long as possible. Publishers were compromising their future revenue stream and were risking alienating their most valuable customers and lending a huge opportunity to 99-cent e-book upstarts in order to preserve their diminishing stream as long as possible. Does that ever work?

I love bookstores. I want bookstores to survive and really think they will. But they need to adapt to compete in this world as well rather than relying on publishers to preserve high e-book prices. The future is like a giant perpetual wave. You can either surf it or get washed out to sea.

Though I also recognize that it’s much easier said than done. And another thing I know for sure: I’m glad I wasn’t the one making these decisions.

So where do things go from here?

The terms of the settlement are confusing. Essentially, publishers can still use the agency model, but they can no longer dictate prices and have to allow a variable pricing model and booksellers can discount, but not more than the 30% publishers are allowed to… yeah, you get the picture. There are actually things called discount pools. Whether publishers continue to stick to agency or try and re-summon the wholesale genie remains to be seen.

But regardless, we’re about to enter a very chaotic phase in the e-book marketplace where suddenly price is going to be an important part of our e-book choices when it comes to which apps we use and which devices we buy.

And of course: e-book prices are coming down.

So here are some “ifs” about where things can go from here:

If publishers are able to recapture the revenue per copy that they had in the old e-book wholesale model they might have just bought themselves some valuable time in the past two years to soften the blow from the Borders bankruptcy, to help make Apple and B&N viable contenders in the e-book space, and they’ll be happy they took the agency gamble while they could, DOJ lawsuit or no.

If, however, publishers find themselves stuck in a situation where they have the agency model but variable pricing, it could mean the worst of both worlds: less revenue per copy and little ability to hold the line on prices. In that case they may well regret letting Steve Jobs sweet talk them down the agency model rabbit hole.

We’ll see. I do know one thing for sure: The e-book world is going to keep on changing fast.

Format: Will Availability Limit Your Readership?

A lot of writers are–usually by necessity or natural inclination–up to date on the latest technology. What you have to be careful to remember, though, is not all readers will be as tech-savvy as you. Depending on your genre, your expected readership may prefer one format over another, or may be split evenly down the middle. Whatever the case may be, it’s something to take into consideration, especially if you’re considering self-publishing.

Jody Hedlund, who I’ve quoted a few times on this blog already, recently posted about this very issue. Her personal experience with the question is why I’m posting it here.

the truth is, not everyone is moving at the same technological speed we are.

I’m reminded of this from time to time when I interact with readers. I often get handwritten notes in the mail from readers. And recently I received TWO letters from women who said this:

It was nice to see your P.O. Box included in your book, as we do not have a computer.”

I don’t have a computer (not good at it). Let me know if you write any other books—the titles, etc.

No computer? That may sound archaic to those of us whose fingers are super-glued to a keyboard. But it just shows that not everyone is as bonkers about computers and the internet as we are.

Recently, I was speaking at a library in Bay City, Michigan, to a group of 50-60 people at a lunch program called “Booked for Lunch.” I shared about my writing journey, research process, and had a power point presentation giving some of the background information of my books.

At the end of my talk, I left time for questions and answers. In the course of the conversations, I mentioned that my eBook of The Doctor’s Lady was on sale on Kindle (at that time was a part of Amazon’s ‘What’s the Big Deal’ promotion). I asked for those who had eReaders to raise their hands. And as far as I could tell, NOT ONE person raised his or her hand.

Jody explains this more, breaking it down into three reminders:

1. Know your genre readers and their demographics.

2. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

3. Stay humble and don’t burn bridges. 

 She goes into more detail within each bullet point on the main blog post, but even as simple reminders, they are points all writers should keep in mind. The world, your readership, and the industry are constantly changing. These days, adaptability may be key to long-term success.

Research: Seek And Your Shall Find

Sometimes we have questions, but the answers don’t come easily. Or maybe they just bring up more questions. Maybe you’re working on a project and it would be so cool if your character could do such-and-such or if they knew everything about whatever. Researching the topic yourself is the best way to get answers, but that research isn’t always easy.

One of my novels on a back burner right now involves a girl who is very math-minded. The problem? I am so not a math person. At all. Never have been. In fact, it took me three years just to master multiplication. I wish I was exaggerating.

I haven’t worked on this story much yet (partially because the idea of going back and assigning myself math homework was a little scary), but I overheard someone at work talking about an online library of videos, something called The Khan Academy.

There are some ideas and that are so genius you wonder how no one ever done something like this before. Salman Khan began by tutoring his cousins online and eventually posted some of his lessons on YouTube. Other people found them, commented, and soon he was posting more and more lessons, getting hundreds, then thousands of comments from all over the globe. Soon he’d created a library of simple lessons on math and science from basic addition to higher maths like calculus and physics. These videos have been used as tutoring tools, homeschooling lessons, and even in classrooms. Suddenly, because of these lessons, going back and relearning math doesn’t seem so scary.

I’m telling this story for two reasons. 1) Don’t back away from a story idea just because one element of the story is daunting. You never know when the right tool is going to fall into your lap. And, 2) Salman Khan really is a genius. For a long time I’ve hoped to homeschool my kids (when/if I ever have any), but teaching math and science wasn’t something I looked forward to. I think that the lessons he’s creating here will change the face of education not only for parents who don’t trust the educational system, but also for the students who are enrolled in public (and even private) schools. The Khan Academy and Salman’s hopes for the future of education are best explained in his own words, so I’m going to leave you with this video of his appearance at the TED Talks (another really fascinating library of videos).

Hopefully you’ll learn something new. If not, you might at least find it entertaining.

Legalities: A Follow-up

Not too long ago, I wrote a post talking about the power-plays companies like Amazon and PayPal have been making in recent years. This morning I stumbled across more information on two of the specific cases I mentioned in that post.

Nathan Bransford talks about the DOJ investigation into ebook pricing on his blog, specifically how the decisions made in the case could impact the publishing industry as a whole. It’s an interesting insider look at the big picture and I highly recommend heading over to his blog to check it out. Jut in case you don’t have time to do that, here’s just a little bit:

Up until now, conscious or not, consumers have grown accustomed to the idea that e-books cost what they cost. The decision of what e-reader to buy or which app to read on has largely been driven by user experience preferences.

Do you like the feel of the nook? The ease of the Kindle app? The pretty iBooks page animation? Those are the decisions people have been basing their decisions on – the reading and buying experience.

But if the agency model is dismantled in whole or in part and Amazon and others can go back to pricing as they see fit, suddenly price is going to be at the forefront of consumer choice.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that Amazon and their deep pockets are going to have a big advantage in that environment.

And, just an fyi, he explains the difference between the agency and the wholesale model in the post.

In my previously mentioned post, I also talked about how PayPal was using its leverage against ebook distributors like Smashwords to ban certain types of erotica. Apparently, they’re backtracking fast. [[edited to add: article no longer up]] Their new policy is much more reasonable and will only refuse the sale of books containing graphic (and potentially illegal) imagery and anything hinting of child pornography. The new rules will also look at books on a case by case basis instead of making sweeping statements about entire genres or topics. Mark Coker, founder of e-book distributor Smashwords, said:

“This is going to be a major victory for writers, readers and free speech. They are going to build a protective moat around legal fiction.”

I have to agree with Mr. Coker. It’s fantastic PayPal was made to see reason because otherwise this could have been a dark day in the annuls of literary history.

Oh, and, in completely unrelated news,  

THIS IS MY 200th POST!

Go me! 😀

Look for a giveaway of a bracelet I made to celebrate this milestone.

Technology: Digital Power Plays

Have you ever met someone so sure of their own power over the world around them they could hold up their hand to block the sun and swear they’d created an eclipse? I have and sometimes it feels as though certain digital entities are beginning to see themselves this way.

Amazon has been facing charges of monopolistic action for some time now, even before they deleted copies of George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm from customers’ Kindles back in 2009. The furor of this action (supposedly taken because the copies were from a pirated version of the book) was not any less despite the company granting ever customer a full refund of the purchase price, which I completely understand. It’s just an unheard of proposition! No one ever had to worry that Borders employees were going to break into your house and steal back a copy of the book (leaving your refund on the kitchen counter, of course) just because a publisher no longer owned the rights to that book. We expect that once paid for, the book belongs to us. Apparently, we were wrong. And it’s not the only time they’ve been accused of this. But this is old news and now customers aren’t the only ones dealing with Amazon’s power plays.

In February, CNET reported that Amazon shut down the sale of over 5,000 Kindle titles in a pricing/discount dispute with distributor Independent Publishers Group. The President of IPG suggested this was a strong-arm move by Amazon to increase their margins and get better terms from the publishers. Amazon refused to comment, but the sudden disappearance of those titles does kind of speak for itself. The article also mentions an issue with major publisher MacMillan over pricing when the internet giant refused to price ebooks higher than $9.99. This reminded me of an article I read a couple months ago about an official investigation into ebook pricing by the federal government.

According to the LA Times, “A Justice Department spokeswoman confirmed that the probe involved the possibility of “anticompetitive practices involving e-book sales.”” Major retailers have been controlling the prices of ebooks and despite their price being lower than the paperback or hardcover versions, prices have been rising steadily until there’s barely a difference between buying a physical copy and downloading the ebook version. One of the major draws of ebooks (at least for me) is the price drop. If that goes away, they may see sales start declining across the board.

But pricing isn’t the only issue. Apparently PayPal has taken it upon itself to become a moral compass and content censor as well. Ebook distributor Smashwords was threatened by PayPal in February that the company would revoke it’s account unless Smashwords banned certain types of erotica from their site. While the content banned would all be considered by most immoral (and in some cases illegal), Smashwords spokesman and founder Mark Coker said,

“it’s a slippery slope when we allow others to control what we think and write. Fiction is fantasy… A reader should have the right to feel moved however they desire to be moved,” he writes. “We do not want to see PayPal clamp down further against erotica. We think our authors should be allowed to publish erotica.  Erotica, despite the attacks it faces from moralists, is a category worthy of protection.”

And he’s right. Letting a third party who is essentially unconnected with the production of content dictate what you are and are not allowed to print is ridiculous and probably unconstitutional. However, because PayPal is literally written into the code of the Smashwords site, switching to another payment provider is not a feasible (or fiscally responsible) option. 

What does this all add up to? I have no idea. These are all pieces of the still shifting publication puzzle. All it seems to me is that digital self-publishing may not be as free form as it is currently for much longer. The major players are taking control.

Website: A New Design!

It’s official! I’ve hired PIP Designs to help me give the blog a facelift. She’s working on the new design starting today and I hope to unveil it sometime next week! Making the blog unique is a big step in self-promotion and something I’ve been working toward for a long time. I had to prove to myself I could keep up with regular posts before I spent the money on a redesign, though. I’ve managed at least a few posts a week since late last year, so I’d say the test of time has passed! On to the rewards!

Hope you all will like the style I’ve chosen when it’s finally revealed! I can’t wait to see it myself! 😀

Technology: Who Was The First?

History is marked by “firsts” and made by those who risk everything on new technology, new ideas, or new trends. Gutenberg earned his place by being the first to create movable type. Henry Ford is a household name not because he invented the automobile, but because he was the first to take that idea and make it accessible to the rest of the world. George Washington, our first president. Amelia Earhart, the first woman to make a transatlantic flight. René François Armand “Sully” Prudhomme, the first winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Before the huge technology boom of the last few decades, firsts were well recorded. We know with relative certainty that Mark Twain was the first author to turn in a manuscript created on a typewriter (Life on the Mississippi) and Jack Kerouc made history with his 120-foot long roll of paper containing the first draft of On the Road. The New York Times has an interesting article on the scroll if you’re interested. You can read it here. But what about the first author to submit a document created on a word processor? Who were the early adopters of that technology?

While literary historians know that Stephen King bought one of the earliest editions of the Mac home computer in the 1980s, was he the first author to do so? And after that? Who was the first to move to PC? Or to write a book on an iPad? Do we even care? Matthew Kirschenbaum, an associate professor of English at the University of Maryland, does.

Mr. Kirschenbaum is looking into the literary history of word processors. The author of the NYT article, Jennifer Schuessler, made an interesting point in the article. She says,

The study of word processing may sound like a peculiarly tech-minded task for an English professor, but literary scholars have become increasingly interested in studying how the tools of writing both shape literature and are reflected in it, whether it’s the quill pen of the Romantic poets or the early round typewriter, known as a writing ball, that Friedrich Nietzsche used to compose some aphoristic fragments. (“Our writing tools are also working on our thoughts,” Nietzsche typed.)

And it’s true. Word processing and the internet has streamlined the creative process, making it easier to write, research, and daydream. It provides us with more opportunities and more distractions than any authors in history have had to deal with and thus changes the way we think and write. Does it make our work more disposable because the very medium we’re using to create it is so quickly thrown away? Or will quality endure just like it has for centuries? It’s something to ponder, but not the point here.

Let’s get back on track:

Mr. Kirschenbaum, whose earlier book, “Mechanisms,” analyzed experimental electronic writing, said he was less interested in analyzing the stylistic impact of word processing than in recovering its early history, particularly its adoption by mainstream writers. And in his lecture, sponsored by NYPL Labs, a unit of the library devoted to experimental technology, he ticked off some of the better-documented moments in that history. Tom Clancy wrote his 1984 thriller “The Hunt for Red October,” often cited as one of the earliest word-processed best sellers, on an Apple IIe, using WordStar software. And Jimmy Carter set off what may have been the first word-processing-related panic in 1981, when he accidentally deleted several pages of his memoir in progress by hitting the wrong keys on his brand-new $12,000 Lanier, a calamity noted in The New York Times.


Given the spottiness of the record Mr. Kirschenbaum is hesitant to proclaim Mr. King the computer-age equivalent of Mark Twain, the first major American writer to complete a work using the new technology. But Mr. King’s 1983 short story “The Word Processor,” Mr. Kirschenbaum ventured, is “likely the earliest fictional treatment of word processing by a prominent English-language author.”

It’s a fascinating subject to someone who grew up in the computer boom and actually watched computers get bigger and more powerful before suddenly becoming smaller and even more powerful. But one topic in particular intrigued me most about this article. Jennifer talks about Stephen King’s story “The Word Processor” and how it came to be:

The story, published in Playboy (later retitled “Word Processor of the Gods”), certainly captured the unsettling ghostliness of the new technology, which allowed writers to correct themselves without leaving even the faintest trace. In the story a frustrated schoolteacher discovers that by erasing sentences about his enemies he can delete them entirely from the universe and insert himself in their place, a reflection of Mr. King’s fascination with his Wang System 5’s “insert,” ”delete” and “execute” keys, recounted in the introduction to his 1985 story collection, “Skeleton Crew.” “Writers are used to playing God, but suddenly now the metaphor was literal,” Mr. Kirschenbaum said in the lecture. 

 Having never written an entire book on paper (or evenon a typewriter) will I ever know how much the computer has changed the way I would have written in a different era? Who can know, but it’s something to keep in mind. Who knows? Maybe the escape, control and home keys will inspire my next book. 😉

Research: Would People Think You Are Crazy?

Sometimes, especially while researching details for a book, I start to wonder what people would think of me if all they had was my search history and bookmarks from Firefox. Namely whatever government agency keeps tabs on things like that… I would tell you why I might suddenly be on a government watch list because of recent searches, but I don’t want to ruin any future stories that might come out. 😉

Update: Google+

So, I updated my public profile for Gmail to include the new Google+ and now have no idea why I did or what to do with it… Does anyone use this portion of Google? I don’t see a lot of ways that it’s different from Facebook except for the fact that I already have everything set up on Facebook.

I probably won’t delete it because leaving it there and not touching it doesn’t hurt anything, but now I’m curious whether or not people are actually using it.