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Posts by Kevin
OK, this is pretty wild and too cool not to post about!
Apparently a father and son team used a weather balloon to launch an iphone and video camera up 100,000 feet above the surface of the Earth. At that altitude, the balloon exploded, and the foam “craft” began to descend again, using wings and a parachute to slow entry. It survived – taking video the whole way, and was recovered using the GPS on the iphone.
So, Apple can now advertise that really, REALLY – no matter where you go, even if you’ve frozen to death in the nearer reaches of space – your iphone will still work…!
I think this is a pretty amazing little experiment. Talk about a way to get a kid interested in space exploration. Maybe we should encourage more of this sort of thing!
Here’s the video they put up:
As you’ve probably already noticed, if you were reading the site before this weekend, I’ve moved the website to a shiny new URL – http://www.kevinomclaughlin.com. The old site (http://www.kevinwriting.com) is still active, and will be until January – happily redirecting anyone who hasn’t updated their bookmark yet. But this new site name will be the permanent new home.
In some part, this decision was based on my wife hating the old name. That doesn’t mean I changed sites merely to maintain matrimonial harmony though. My wife has an uncanny grasp of knowing when something sounds wrong or feels off. She might not always be able to tell me why something feels off, but she’s rarely wrong in her perception.
In this case, it’s all about branding.
I started reading a bit of Seth Godin’s articles on marketing. He’s got quite a few interesting comments. Two things caught my eye:
1) Brand names become more powerful as they become less generic. “Nike” is a good brand name. “The Athlete’s Foot” is not, and not just because it suggests a fungal infection. When the company by the latter name first came up with their brand, it was OK – because a funny/punny name was a good idea back then, since it kept it in the shopper’s memory more easily. Today, Seth insists, brands should be focused around search engine optimization. If you Google “athelete’s foot”, you tend to get a bucketload of links about fungus and how to remove it. If you make it “The Athlete’s Foot”, you get some links to the company – but not everyone will think to do so. So his suggestion is to avoid a brand name built out of commonly searched words – you know, like the fairly common name “Kevin” and the very common word “writing”.
2) He also mentions that using your own name as a brand can be powerful, for certain types of business. It has the negative side effect of not being transferable to someone else if you want to quit (no selling the brand away, usually), but that isn’t a major obstacle to a writer, who can’t really sell the writing business anyway. So for an author, whose sales to a large degree rely on name recognition anyway, using one’s own name to “brand” a website is more effective than not. It’s also not so good if your name is really, really common (especially in your field!), but on searching Amazon, I found that there was no author listed as Kevin O. McLaughlin. There was a Kevin McLaughlin that isn’t me, but no one with a middle initial O. So that’s how I’ll be releasing books there – and tying that name directly into the new website should make both easier to find.
New site, and new articles coming soon!
I’ve been reading the Dean Wesley Smith and Joe Konrath’s blogs quite a lot lately. Both of them have (to varying degrees of severity) expounded on how publishers just don’t “get” the new media, and are not making the appropriate changes for the times. We’re already seeing the results of that, with hundreds of authors eschewing publishers and agents and self-publishing direct to ebook instead. And the trend could accelerate, with Amazon now predicting that ebooks will outsell paperbacks by the end of 2011. Publishers are having trouble with the changes, scrambling to catch up. Agents are on the verge of making the endangered species list.
But it seems to me that authors are not all making the transition very well, either. Perhaps nowhere is that more clear than in writers’ “professional organizations”. Last night, sparked by an idea, I cruised around a few of the websites for these organizations. The published policy for the Authors Guild, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association, and Novelists Inc. all stated about the same thing:
Not published by a traditional publisher with a substantial advance and royalty setup? Don’t bother applying for membership here.
I had to shake my head at this a little. You’d think that writers, at least, would be more on the ball.
Until fairly recently of course, that all made sense. A professional writing credential was one where people paid you money – either a lump sum for a short work, or a lump advance and royalty for longer ones. There have always been vanity publishers who would print an author’s work for a fee. Those have never been considered professional writing credits, and I think that’s a valid argument (although there are probably viable exceptions among vanity press authors, as well). But with e-publishing, everything has changed.
The SFWA specifically excludes self-publishing from being allowed to qualify an author for membership. Now, let’s ask this: which work is more professional, the new author who publishes through a traditional house, sees $4000 in advances, has a 5000 copy print run which sells 3000 copies? Or the author who puts their work up on Kindle, and over the next year sells 10,000 copies of their work with a net profit of $20,000? Money aside, I would suggest that the book that is three times as popular with readers is probably the writer you want as a member.
It’s not even that hard a change to make. Simply set minimum standards of ebook sales (either number of books sold, money earned, or some combination of the two), and the author who wants to join under ebook self-pub must be able to show evidence of having passed those standards. But none of the organizations I listed have done this. I’m a bit surprised at the SFWA, to be honest – with John Scalzi at the helm, I figured the SFWA would be moving on this already. And…maybe they are. Maybe this whole thing is just hurtling along faster than they had thought it would, and they’re trying but haven’t caught up. Maybe they’ve already even “exempted” in a few authors for e-self-pub works. But the site still doesn’t show that they’re aware it’s a problem now, and is going to be a bigger one in the future.
In the long run, I’m not that wrapped up in this issue. Interested and mildly amused (writers of the future, caught “fighting the last war”?), yes. For myself (planning to self-pub to ebook next month), my plans may not win me membership in these sorts of organizations, but that’s not really on my agenda. If I am making good sales (income) and reaching lots of readers (entertaining with good work) then I’ll be happy. My own sense of legitimacy comes from “do people like reading what I write?”, not from joining a writer’s club, regardless how well known it is. And I think a lot of the new generation of writers that I belong to feel the same way.
Besides, when I think about it – any organization that doesn’t change is signing its own death warrant. Or at least, its own statement of obsolescence. If the old communities don’t keep up, the people riding the wave will found their own groups that do.
Amazon and B&N are getting ready for a brawl this holiday season.
Speculations have been made that ebook sales will represent 12-15% of gross book receipts in the critical fourth quarter this year. It seems obvious that the ebook market is expanding fast; either of the first two quarters of 2010 had higher ebook revenues than the first six months of 2009. None of this is really news. But this holiday shopping season, the two companies with the largest ebook market share are planning to go toe to toe in the retail market.
In this corner: Barnes & Noble. Leveraging their brick and mortar stores is key as they push on into the digital publishing age. Those 800 stores may become an albatross around their neck in years to come, but for now they give B&N a platform to reach paper book readers with their new toy. They’ve had a little display stand to show off a few demo models of the Nook ereader at most stores since they launched the product. But at the end of July, B&N launched a new program to put “Nook boutiques” in as many of their stores as they could.
I got to see one last night (it’s actually opening here today). The press release says a thousand square feet; it’s about the size of a very large living room. My local store has plunked it down where all those cheap “coffee table” hardcovers used to live, right in front of the registers. Most customers will pass this huge set of white display tables, ereaders, cool gadgets, and paid demonstrators going in. All customers will pass it on their way to pay for their books. It’s well planned, well placed, and looks pretty sharp.
And it’s just in time…because Amazon’s putting their Kindle into retail.
The Nook’s biggest strength was always that you could see it in person, touch it, play with it. We’re a tactile species. We tend to want to see and touch to believe (and like) a product. Amazon’s Kindle has been sold online-only since it was released, and that’s undoubtedly hurt sales. So just in time for catching those Christmas shoppers, Amazon is putting Kindles in Best Buy stores all around the country. They’ve got demo models in already, and will have actual stock for sale soon. Best Buy is a huge chain store. Amazon already has 70% of the ebook market, and this move seems perfect to get the gadget loving Best Buy customer into their corner.
There’s a down side though… Although no hard numbers on production costs have been released, speculations have been that most ereaders are being sold as loss leaders – that Amazon is at best breaking even when they sell a Kindle, and hoping to make their money by selling ebooks once customers have purchased their inexpensive ereader. Teardown published last year that the Kindle 2 cost $189 to produce; that’s the same price they’re selling the free-3G-for-life high end version, and more than their inexpensive WiFi version ($139). So given that Best Buy is undoubtedly taking a retailer’s share of each Kindle sale, Amazon is probably losing a lot of money on every Kindle they sell in retail this year.
On the flip side, B&N is selling the Nook at…B&N. The retail outlet gets credit for sales, but the company overall keeps the money. They can sell the Nook at cost and not lose much beyond the cost to set up the boutiques. So while the Kindle retail option is an expensive advertising campaign to hold Amazon’s market lead, the B&N plan is actually a very stable investment in expanding their own share.
In the end though, the success or failure of both retail programs might come down to a single question. Who will adopt ereaders more, and buy more ebooks? Best Buy customers, who are into gadgets, high end phones, computers, and home video centers? Or B&N customers, who already enjoy reading, but who (if they’re not already early adopters of ebooks) are enjoying their paper books just fine right now?
Should be quite the showdown.
No, not THAT little black book – my wife would kill me if I had one of those!
I’m talking about a writer’s idea journal. The place to story novel ideas for later use. Mine is a little 4×6 inch spiral bound notebook from Staples. With a black cover, so it’s a little black book. Its small enough to fit in my pocket and haul around with me, although it lives on a shelf next to my computer much of the time. It’s where I store novel ideas when they come to me. Even if it’s just a one sentence blurb that flashed into my head, I jot it down so that I can add to it later.
Often, I’ll re-read the notes there on each idea. That gets my mind working on them; might as well have that subconscious doing something useful, right? And sometimes as I do a read, I’ll think of some other notion to add to one of the ideas. Each one gets a single page, front and back. There’s a lot of blank room on some, and not so much on others.
One thing a lot of people ask me about writing is “where do you get ideas?” There’s books about generating story ideas, with tricks you can use to get your creative juices going. The best tool I have found for my own work is the little black idea book. When I get an idea, even a rough one, I write it down. Here’s an example I added just the other day:
SF, present or near future. Want to write something “Stargate-like” (but fresh) with exploration/adventure. Serial/series of novel/novellas – focus on uplifting nature, positives of humanity (as opposed to negatives). Need hook and mechanism for exploring.
That’s the result of watching the last few episodes of Stargate: Universe Season 1, and the first episode of Season 2. I chatted with my wife about my issue with the show, for a bit. To me, it feels more like Battlestar Galactica (the new version) than it does like Stargate. That’s not a compliment, either. Stargate, Stargate: Atlantis, heck even Star Trek or the *original* Battlestar series all had one thing in common: they focused on how at our core human beings are basically good. Anne Frank said it best: “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are good at heart.” And these shows put humans through the twister, but show them still holding to their ideals. Sure, there are exceptions – but the heroes of the show are the ones who stay true.
But we’re seeing modern shows like the new Galactica series, the Universe series, and others that don’t really have heroes. They have a cast of deeply flawed human beings who crack, fail, and fall apart at the first opportunity. It’s like the writers delight in reminding us that humanity is frail, weak willed, and immoral or amoral at our core. I don’t believe that; I have a hard time watching it in fiction, and would find it impossible to write. My reaction is so strong that I *know* there is a good book or books in there for me. Because what I feel is Truth (to me), I know I can write it well.
That story may sit there another year or more while my subconscious percolates how best to write it, before it’s written. That’s OK though, because there are more than twenty other story ideas jotted down there waiting to be written, and that’s not including the one I already yanked for the novel I’ll be starting in November. Here’s another, a little bit more fleshed out (but not much):
Science fiction. New x-prize: race around the moon. Young person (protag) enters. The adventure is about the race (think book “Rocket Jockey”). Light tone, adventure/thriller, hero vs deadly environment and other racers, some of whom are less than honorable.
I read a book called “Rocket Jockey” when I was a kid, about a race around the solar system. It was sort of an Iditarod in space, as I recall it, and the heroes went through a series of dangers as they zipped around. Fun, light adventure book. I had been reading about the x-prize race, and the new one for a race to get an private unmanned probe to the moon, and thought ahead just a few steps – what’s next? What about a manned probe? Then what? What about a race? And the idea was born in a flash. It’s still not a full novel. It needs a lot of poking before it will become something ready to pour onto a page. But it’s the germ of an idea, and as I go along I’ll add notes. I have two idea pages that are almost completely full, front and back, and I’ve started jotting in the margins of a third.
So story ideas are never a problem for me, never going to be a problem for me so long as I continue working to take notes from my subconscious when it deigns to spit stuff out at me. Here’s the thing, though. You never know when it’ll happen. You never know what you might see, or hear, or smell, or talk about, that might click together the pieces of a new novel. And if you don’t have something to jot it down with, you’re liable to forget the idea. It only arrives for a moment – that brief flash when your conscious and subconscious are chatting on the same wavelength. And then it’s gone, unless you’ve made a written record. When I read that note above, I not only remember the story idea, I remember what I was feeling about the story idea when I wrote the note. That’s important for me, because my ability to write seventy five thousand words on a topic is inextricably linked to how much I care about that subject.
Try it out. You might like it. You might find something entirely different that works well. But if you want to write, and want to be able to generate ideas for new stories, you need to find a way to remember those flashes of connection that we call inspiration – to save them somehow, for later when you’re ready to put pen to paper and create fiction around the flash.
I’ve added some notes to the “About” (about this website, what it is, what I’ll be talking about) and Bio (who the heck is this guy?) pages. Think links are right below the header, if you want to give them a read.
It’s true – Scrivener is coming out in a Windows version! Beta in late October, release around January. This is amazing news.
Why is this news? What the heck is Scrivener?
Scrivener is a writing software package that, so far, has been for Mac only. It packs in a substantial array of tools useful for researching, organizing, outlining, writing, and revising both fiction and non-fiction work. How substantial?
Enough that I know a few authors who’ve dumped their PCs to get this software.
I’m really excited about this. I’ve tried a number of ‘writer’s tool sets’ for PC, and keep coming back to OpenOffice word processor as my tool of choice. But I’ve seen Scrivener in action, and was impressed. Very impressed. Impressed enough that I’m definitely going to give this a try once the beta starts.
Perfect timing, too – I was planning to start a new novel right around then anyway, once this revision is done.
Why is it so easy to zip out a dozen replies to various blog and discussion groups on writing, but so darned hard to sit down to revise a novel?
I replied twice over on Dean’s blog today; reading and replying there is a good thing. I feel like I’m learning quite a lot from him, and his responses are quite educational. I replied a couple of times over on Joe Konrath’s blog too, and a few more to discussion groups on LinkedIn. Several thousand words in all, I think. And after all of that, I got precisely zero revision done.
Got to play with the kids quite a lot though, which is a nice plus for any day. =)
When I started this blog, it was part of a commitment toward launching a writing career. I’ve got two finished first drafts of novels, which is a lot of words to rewrite! I’ve actually made excellent progress on the first – the huge pile of printed pages here on my desk, complete with plenty of notes. What remains is basically putting those notes into prose, and bringing the draft up to where it should be.
Going to go get some sleep now and start fresh in the morning. I’ll post updates on progress as I go along!
I’ve been reading Joe Konrath’s blog, “A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing”, a bit recently, and he made an interesting observation. I’m not even sure he’s thought that observation through to its logical conclusion, yet, but his offhand comment read to me like a portent of the future.
Some background: I used to do indie game development, mostly in the art field, but also in general production. I did some work in mini, indie-level MMORPGs. A few years ago, it was fairly easy for a small development company to ‘break in’ and make a game on a shoestring, put it out there, and still do OK. Only a few years later, the game dev scene has “advanced” to the point where even free to play (as opposed to subscription based) games have high production values requiring a staff of 50-100 (or more) people to create them.
When things started heading this way, many indie devs went to the iphone instead, and began generating apps; or they went into flash games and started producing the host of little games you see on Facebook and the like. However there again we’re seeing an upward trend in production values, and eventually – not this year, or likely next, but soon – we’ll see those areas dominated by large and well staffed companies.
What does this have to do with writing? Konrath commented “Ebooks are more than just putting your run-of-the-mill stories into a digital format. They can actually do more than print books, and offer artists new, exciting opportunities. And we haven’t even broached on the “enriched ebook” possibilities with audio and video.” (http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2010/08/on-beyond-ebooks.html). And he’s right.
Now take this observation where it logically goes… Someone eventually will begin putting out ebooks. Not ebook reprints of print novels, but true ebooks, that take advantage of the medium in new ways. They will have flash. They will have bang. And we’re a culture that increasingly desires flash and bang in our entertainment. I’m not sure exactly how it’ll come about, but I am picturing something of a merging between cinema and novel.
Once down that road you have begun, forever will it etc, etc. Novels will become multimedia productions. Production value on high end novels will soar, with companies putting millions of dollars into a multimedia novel. And – not overnight, not this year, and not next, but eventually – this medium too will become dominated by larger business. Artists (the writing and the 3D sort) will still have roles, but the productions will require a staff, not one person typing in their living room.
Nothing stays static, and I don’t think the present situation, nice as it is starting to look, will remain static either. In the longer term, the ebook revolution might not just mean the end of publishing as we know it – but also the end of the novel as we have seen it before.
As a lover of books, I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about that.
If you’ve found this blog, welcome. I’ll be working to keep this updated as often as I can, and I hope you enjoy what you read. I’m working to become a storyteller by trade, and this blog will track my progress, observations, and thoughts as I go along.
Storytellers – writers – are entering into a new and unpredictable age. Over the past couple of years, e-publishing has moved from a tiny fringe toward the center. The old models are falling down, but what will fill that void? How will things shake out in the end? I don’t think anyone can say with certainty. What I can see is that it’s time to ride the tidal wave or go under – and that it’s an exciting time to be a storyteller!
You’ll see a few more additions to the site over the next couple of days, as I get things organized and structured here. And again, welcome. Share the journey.