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Away, but not lost.

July 14, 2013
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One of the difficulties of being an author that writes non-fiction is doing the research. True, fiction writers have the same challenge, but often they can use data that already exists. In my case, since I write about personal experiences, ones that are somewhat recent, I have to go out and “have” the experience.

I’m currently doing just that, and have been since the beginning of May. Jane and I started off on a cross county bicycle ride across Spain, from Barcelona to Santiago de Compostela. It went okay for about 500 miles (800 km) and then she had a crash. Her knee needed twenty-plus stitches and she was told she wouldn’t be able to ride her bike for at least a month or more. She could walk just fine, so we shipped the bikes home and are now walking around Europe.

Jane has been keeping an excellent blog on our adventures at:

http://womanonherway.com/

Thus far, we have hiked across Portugal on the Portuguese Camino, about 600 km and now we’re in England. We walked about a week on the South West Coast Path, in Cornwall. The scenery there is stunning and I hope to one day come back and hike the whole 1000 km. Another book, who knows?

Anyway, this short update is to inform you that I am still alive and will return by mid-October or so with more data and research information to fuel more books. I’m investigating my Dad’s adventures over here during World War II. He was in the 82nd and 101st Paratrooper divisions and I’m finding it is quite a story. He would have been 100 years old this year.

Stay tuned.

Dennis

Things just keep getting more and more complicated.

March 11, 2013
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Technological marvels.

Technological marvels.

A few days ago, I received a problem report ticket from Amazon:

Text in your book is unreadable for readers using black or sepia color schemes.”

It is a rather cryptic message and didn’t give any details about solutions. It did give a link to the Kindle formatting page: Guide to Kindle Content Quality. The guide gave very little useful information about the issue.

Ultimately, I went off on an Internet search and eventually discovered that I wasn’t alone, others had received emails such as mine, but there were no real solutions. The original problem, which wasn’t readily apparent, is the newer Kindles, such as the Fire, can display the book with a black background with white text. Several authors took the attitude that viewing a document with white-on-black letters was so “80’s.” I didn’t exactly see this as a healthy attitude or solution to the problem. We authors can’t always know the reasons our customers do things.

I originally wrote and published my book using Microsoft’s Word. I no longer have Word, it proved too arcane and difficult to use, not to mention, expensive. I’ve since migrated to OpenOffice.org and their Writer tool. It is user friendly and offers all the same bells and whistles as MS Word, and is free! (they DO appreciate donations)

For reasons I won’t go into here, when I first published Three Hundred Zeroes, I was able to upload the document to Amazon’s Kindle site as a MS Word document. Recently, I had to make some changes to the document and decided to do all the work in HTML (a language used to write web sites). The tools I have are not very robust for such work, but I’m sufficiently comfortable with HTML at the source code level and can fix things where needed.

In January, I did an update of the Kindle version of the book, uploaded it to Amazon’s KDP site (their Kindle interface) and thought I was done. Then came the email, I wasn’t done, apparently.

I couldn’t find a solution in any of the OpenOffice forums, so I posted my problem. Usually, within an hour or two, someone will respond with a solution. I waited. Nothing. I then decided that I had to dig in and find the problem. It occurred to me that the HTML for the book has various “styles” defined. The styles guide the electronic viewing equipment (computer, Ebook, Iphone, etc.) with instructions on how to display the information.

After diving into the HTML code I found that it did indeed have some CSS definitions, and in there, I did find a few that explicitly defined that the text should be “black,” using code #000000. Black text, on a black background means a black screen!

The definitions defined the basic text (P)and a few of the headers (H2, H3 and H4) as black. I fixed just the “P” (for paragraph) and loaded it back into my Kindle simulator. Sure enough, I was now able to read white text on a black screen for the paragraphs and the H1 headers. Problem solved!. I went back and fixed all of the parameters to use “automatic” colors, instead of “fixed” colors.

It has since been posted and updated on Amazon. If you already have a copy of the book, pester Amazon for the updated version (11 March, 2013.) They probably haven’t sent out word about the fix yet, but if they get enough requests, they will.

Several technological areas collided to cause this problem. First of all, when I first wrote and published this book on Kindle, it wasn’t capable of being displayed in this fashion. Since I originally posted it with MS Word, it probably would have worked in the newer units, since I didn’t have CSS code defining colors. When I saved the file in OpenOffice as an HTML file, it wouldn’t allow me to turn on the automatic color feature, which means, let the viewing device control color. In spite of all of this, I’m really surprised that the Kindle code doesn’t inspect the CSS to see if there is a request for black print, on a black background. It should, and it should force the text to white under those conditions, that just stands to reason.

These technical devices we use these days are extremely complicated and I can only imagine that these sorts of problems will continue to crop up. They are designed by humans, and we’re not infallible.

The E-book vs. Print book debate in graphics

January 22, 2013
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In case you missed it, there is a great debate going on in authors circles. The debate centers around how long it will be before E-books send print books the way of the dinosaur. There is all sorts of crystal-balling and black magic being used to come up with the predictions, but most of it is apparently gut-feel.

That is, until now. Recently, Allison Morris wrote me about work she has been involved in. The research culminates in interesting graphics. Yes, E-books are wreaking havoc in some areas of print publishing, but all is not lost yet. Her graphics show what I’ve suspected right along, that there are still rays of hope for print books, and more importantly, libraries. The graphic below can be found at:

Libraries are forever: E-books and print books can co-exist.

E-books Infographic

Anyone that has ever sat down and read a book to a child will appreciate that kid’s books are still in demand, and there may even be reason to believe that demand will increase with time. E-books for children can have whirling figures and icons, as well as sound, but at some point, it is no longer a book, it is an animated amusement. Reading is a more solitary activity and involves the reader and the child and the animation and noise can detract from that relationship. Print books offer that solitude and enhance that reading experience. Of course that same experience can be had with an E-book, but one has to pick the material carefully.

E-books solve a serious problem for schools: backpack weights have been escalating over the years, an E-book can replace many pounds (Kilos) of books. However, a workbook, as opposed to a textbook, one where the student can write on the pages, scribble notes and drawings and create a permanent record of what they were thinking as they did exercises, is invaluable. Here is an area where print and E-books can improve the learning experience. A creative workbook could be saved in digital format (scan, photo, etc.) and be carried on the E-book, once the exercise is finished.

I have a number of my books from college and often refer to them. I won’t part with them; I can see future students having the same sentiments. Perhaps the print version workbook will eventually end up in the recycle, but the work can be preserved in the E-book. I can see the day where a workbook/textbook will display on an electronic “Etch-A-Sketch,” and the student will scribble notes, drawings etc. right on the screen, to be saved at the end of the session. The work could be reopened later, for further editing.

I disagree with Allison on one thing: I think eventually almost all of the paper books will disappear. She waxes philosophical about the sensory feedback of a print book, “There’s plenty to love about the weight and feel of a physical book in your hands…,” even my own adult kids feel that way, but I think those days are numbered. However, for the time being, print books are still here. It will be interesting to look at Allison’s data in, say, five years? These days, five years is a long time! My guess is, the debate will still be going on, but there will be far fewer print books.

Check out Allison’s work, there is some pretty interesting stuff there. If you’re a teacher, or want to be one, she has a plethora of valuable links on the page as well.

Writers and Authors Need Toastmasters

September 23, 2012
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At our Toastmasters meeting, a few nights ago, I was scheduled to give our Inspirational Moment. Some clubs refer to this as their Invocation. I had something all prepared and at the last moment, I decided to change what I was going to present. The theme for our meeting was “languages,” so I greeted the audience in German, and then went on with the Inspirational Moment.

Hopefully, it will inspire you.

Dennis’ Inspirational Moment

 

Readers, reviewing books on Amazon IS really easy!

September 3, 2012
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Back in the good ole days of traditional publishing, authors wrote books, agents found a publisher for the book, publishing companies printed the books, and readers read the books. Most marketing was pushed by the publisher and the author was sent off on a book signing tour— if there was enough interest.

The only participation, on the part of the reader, was spreading good reviews about the book via word-of-mouth. Those “good ole days,” were about three or four years ago. Technology changes things, and how things have changed! Today, Amazon has an algorithm that tracks all of the things that readers do on their book pages and “ranks’ the book, based on those calculations. Nobody knows for certain how the algorithm actually works, it is a more closely guarded secret than nuclear weapons.

Today, readers can be much more participatory in promoting the books that they love. Lets take a look at a few ways to do that. We’ll take at look at specific ways one can do this on Amazon.com, but similar methods apply at sites such as BarnesandNoble.com and Goodreads.com, just to mention a few.

The first thing you, the reader, can do is to go to the book’s page on Amazon.com and click the “Like” button. This is found right at the top of the book’s Amazon page, next to the small image of the book’s cover. Here we see Scott Meade’s page for his book, Twisted Christians. The “Like” button is circled in red. Just “click’ it. What this does is tells Amazon that you merely like the book. This is not a commitment to purchase or anything of the sort. It just tells them you find a book interesting. This does help the author though, and will help others find the book:

Next, you can give the book a “star” rating. Looking at Liz Parkers book, Finally Home, you can click on the “star” ranking you feel the book deserves. To do this, just click on the appropriate star and the stars will fill in with gold color. If you change your mind, (and hopefully add another star), just click and the change will update:

Now, lets look at tagging a book. Amazon has a feature that allows you, the reader, to “tag” books. All this means is you can click on “tags” that you feel are appropriate for the book. Not all readers agree on what makes a good book, and you need only click those that you feel apply. Now we’ll take a look at Jane Blanchard’s book, Women of the Way: Embracing the Camino:

There are two ways to tag a book. Lets look at the simpler one first. Scroll down the book’s Amazon page until you see the tags:

Notice Jane has ten visible tags shown here, and there are a total of twelve. You can see all twelve, or however many there are, by clicking the “See all 12 tags…” link. These tags shown here were added by the author, and you, the reader, can click the boxes of any you agree with. Any box that is clicked, can be un-clicked, should you change your mind.

Notice the line along the bottom, Your tags: caminode santiago, pilgrimage and so on. These are tags that I, as a reader have added. Other readers will see these as well and can click on them. To add your own tags, merely type them into the empty box, separating them with commas, and click the “Add” button. If you make an error, you can click the “Edit” link and correct them, or change them in later visits to the page.

Recall, I said earlier, there are two ways to work with tags. The other way is simple, but not obvious. While looking anywhere on the book’s page, merely type the letter “TT” quickly, like a double-click of a mouse and menu box will pop up:

It will grab any tags you’ve previously selected and put them in the edit box, and it shows suggestions, including ones you may already have entered. Click any of the suggestions and it will add to Your tags. When done, just click the “Save Tags” button.

Now, lets look at the most powerful assistance you can give an author, the book review. A new book on Kindle is:  The Book Tourist: Seven Steps to a Wildly Successful Book Tour. I just finished reading this book and found it extremely useful. I would argue that is a great book for anyone that is going on a road trip to promote a product, not just a book. It is geared towards authors, but covers road trips, for any product, in an upbeat and enthusiastic format:

The book is new, and as of this writing, has only two reviews. Let’s take a look at my process of writing the review. Scroll down the page to the “Write a customer review” Notice the button where the red circle is, click it

You’ll be brought to a page where you can write a review:

The review process is quite simple. Once again, you can click how many stars you rate the book with. Next, create a title for your review. Keep it short and to the point. I believe it is limited to so many characters. Try to come up with a title that gives a summary of the book in a few words. Moving down the page you’ll find a box to enter your review:

Enter the review in the box. It is wise to first write it in a word processor, so you can use it to spell check and work over the grammar. This is the actual review I wrote for this wonderful book, The Book Tourist. Once done, click the “Preview your review” button. You will see a message that tells you the review was submitted, and once Amazon approves it, it will be posted in the book reviews. The posting can take from a few minutes to a day or so, depending on how busy their staff is.

The following information is for those folks that have Kindle Ereaders. The Kindle has an interesting feature for highlighting text in a book. The details of setting up the highlight feature are beyond this article, but one basically turns on the feature and the sharing capability of the Kindle. Once done, the reader merely highlights text in the book that they find of interest.

Prospective readers that go to the book’s page on Amazon, can actually see those highlighted lines of text on the book’s page. Here’s an example of what it looks like on my book’s page for Three Hundred Zeroes: Lessons of the Heart on the Appalachian Trail:

Here we can see the three most popular highlights for the book. These came directly from various reader’s Kindles. One show that 24 different people have highlighted the same line in the book, 19 for another, and 17 for another. How cool is that?

These readers help other readers not only find your book, they show their enthusiasm for your work. This is something that doesn’t even exist with a print book. This is readers helping readers.

Hopefully, you’ll find this information interesting and helpful. As a reader I didn’t know about these things for the longest time. I now go and help my favorite authors with every book I read, using the above techniques. Give it a try, it is easy, and you will encourage your favorite authors to produce more of the books that YOU enjoy.

More Adventures In Writing

August 28, 2012
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One of the cardinal sins of blogging is, well, not blogging. I owe my readers an apology. I haven’t posted anything here since my last post, way back in May. Much has been happening since then, so I guess we can start with that.

Jane and I went off on a sojourn from Florida, to Ohio, over to New England, down to Virginia, and then finally, home. We were gone something over a month. Jane took along proof copies of her book, Women Of The Way. Even though the book wasn’t quite ready yet, she felt she needed to be able to have something for potential readers as we traveled.

We had to wait for the book shipment to arrive, otherwise we would have left earlier. Jane was scheduled to do a presentation on Friday night, in Ohio, so that was cutting things close. The van was all packed and we were ready to go. I hit the starter and the engine just “clicked.” “Click, click.” The battery was dead. We didn’t have time to go get another, so I just grabbed my emergency battery pack and attempted to use it; that battery was dead too. I have another emergency pack, yes, it was dead too. I charge them often, but the batteries were old, too old. You would think an electrical engineer wouldn’t get caught like this. Hey, cobbler’s kids never have shoes. Finally, we took the jumper cables and started the van with the other car in the yard. I figured we could charge one of the emergency packs as we rode along. In retrospect, it would have been wise to go to a local auto parts place and just get another battery.

We left, much later than planned, on Thursday afternoon.

We stayed near Valdosta, GA, late on Thursday night. After some rest, we were up early. The van started right up and we were on our way. An hour later or so, we stopped for gas. After filling up, the battery was dead again. A good Samaritan in a pickup truck saw our plight and gave us a jump start, we didn’t even have to ask. We went down the road and found an auto repair center and for perhaps twice what it would have cost me to do it myself, they replaced the battery. This cost us another few hours. The clock was ticking.

Jane was scheduled to speak at 7 PM, and we rolled into Dayton, Ohio about 7:30 PM. We didn’t even have a contact number to call, so we could let them know. Rule #1 of public speaking events, be certain to have contact information for the event with you! Rule #2 is always be early to scope out the speaking venue. We knew better. It was poor planning on our part.

The folks at the convention center graciously rescheduled Jane to speak on Saturday night. Actually, it was two “wrongs” making a “right.” The folks managing the presentation found on Friday night that they didn’t have the electrical power and room set up for the presentation on time. So, even if we had arrived on time, they were not ready. Whew.

The rest of the weekend went smoothly and we both found lots of new readers. I had a presentation to deliver on Sunday morning, and it went off without a hitch. Life was good again.

The rest of the trip went well. Jane did a number of presentations in New England, and Virginia. In Charlottesville, VA, home of the University of VA, Jane presented at Blue Ridge Mountain Sports, on one night and I the next. She discussed the Camino de Santiago, and I, the Appalachian Trail. It was a nice audience and a fantastic outfitter. Check them out if you’re in the area.

Writing is an adventure, and you never know where it will take you. One word of advice: plan better than we did!

 

Publishing your book and Toastmasters.

May 6, 2012
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Toastmasters International is generally understood to be an organization where people go to learn about public speaking. Actually, it is much more than that. It is also about leadership development and personal growth.

I had the pleasure of giving a presentation at a forum on 5 May, at the District 47 Toastmasters Conference here in Sarasota, Florida. The conference was well attended, with some 450 Toastmasters from all over Florida, the Bahamas (which is part of District 47) and a few international attendees as well.

My forum was titled: The Book Inside You: Taking your speech to the next level. The focus of my forum was taking ideas and material used to give a speech and using that subject matter to create a published article or book. The forum was very well attended, there was seating for 65, they ended up bringing in ten more chairs and there about twenty people standing. Needless to say, a public speaker appreciates such an enthusiastic audience!

I opened by holding up a slide-rule and asking if anyone recognized what it was. A number of hands went up. I explained, as I have elsewhere in this blog that in a few short years time, the slide-rule disappeared, to be replaced by the electronic calculator. Next, I covered how, six-hundred years ago, the monks and scribes that were laboriously hand writing books in very small quantities were replaced by Gutenberg’s printing press. Prior to that, only kings, queens and churches could afford book, within twenty years a billion books had been printed, the masses were now reading!

During the rest of the presentation I covered my discovery of Createspace.com and POD, and the wonderful readership I’ve found in the eReaders, especially the Kindle audience. We quickly covered basic book formatting and I gave them a handout sheet with links to the various topics we covered.

Unfortunately, time ran out and we didn’t get to discuss the marketing side of things—maybe next year.

If you’re an author, share what you’ve learned about writing and publishing. Start here, on this forum, leave a comment and then go put something together for YOUR local book club or library. Spread the word, there has never been a better time in history to be an author.

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