Failure to Follow Through

I was working on another idea I’ve got (it can wait – it doesn’t require any action until 2013, so posting about it here a few days later won’t make a difference), and I went back and was reading my blog posts from Fall of 2003 and I re-discovered something I’d forgotten. Now, if you go back and try to look at the original posts for yourself, please keep in mind that there were some problems converting the site from MoveableType to WordPress last year that I haven’t taken the 100+ (estimated) hours it will take to go through and fix, yet. So, some posts are just a mess, right now, and some are almost entirely missing. Still, from what’s there, I was able to piece this together:

I started recording and posting my first Podiobook online 16 months before the word “Podiobook” was coined.  Heck, it was two months before the word “Podcast” was suggested, according to Wikipedia.  (Consequently, I wasn’t trying to podcast it at that point – I was simply blogging about it & trying to sell it through my blog.)  I had even found a way to monetize it from day one, with a now-defunct micro-payments system called BitPass – at 25cents per chunk or about $1/half-hour (ie: about the same price for the whole thing whether you buy it all at once or a little at a time).  My plan, according to this post from September, 2003, was to simultaneously release the book in paperback, electronic format, and as MP3s (and possibly CDs).  By the first week of December, 2003 I had the first four files recorded and available for purchase, right from this post (broken links now removed).

I was testing the waters, trying to see if anyone was interested in an audio version (trying to see if anyone was willing to give micropayments a try, too).  The plan, as of December 11, 2003, looks like it was to post the rest of the audiobook serially, for micropayments, but also to offer options to buy the whole book as MP3s together, an MP3 CD, and possibly a set of audio CDs (since the MP3 Audiobook was unheard of at that point, I thought I should at least offer it in the old way).  Unfortunately, no one bit.  No one even commented to say they were interested.  According to my posts about stats, my blog was getting between 10k and 30k “unique visitors” per month (in the months I mentioned stats) from September 2003 through February 2004, and had fewer than a dozen regular commenters.  By March 2004, thinking there was no interest and it was taking WAY too much work to not be heard, I’d given up on the audio version of Lost and Not Found.

I didn’t persist.  Well, I did keep working, I kept writing, I kept creating, I just didn’t try to do audio again until 2008.  And by 2007-2008, when I looked into it, I discovered that what I’d thought of doing 4-5 years earlier had taken off and now I’m late to the party.  In the intervening time, I’d never given up on the idea of someday recording audio versions of my own books in my own voice, but in the insulated world I lived in I didn’t know anyone else was doing it.  And since I was working full time and splitting my off hours between having a life, writing, painting, and more, there wasn’t time to be doing the audio versions.

“If only, if only…” If only I’d followed through on my idea.  If only I’d finished recording it, despite an apparent lack of interest from my audience.  If only I’d heard of Creative Commons (founded in 2001?  Who knew?  Not me!), or thought to give away my content instead of insisting on trying to sell every copy in every format.  If only I’d somehow thought of podcasting prior to its adoption and…  umm.. yeah.  ((I was SO reading RSS specifications in 2003/2004, and was only thinking of enclosing files for my online comics and my occasional “audioblog” posts, not for books.)) So.  I have a long history of thinking of things a couple of years before anyone else, and then losing interest in them and setting them aside long before they suddenly hit it big.  I need to work on my follow-through, and I need to work on persistence, even in the face of adversity.

I have good ideas, I even often know what to do with them, and I need to get myself to actually follow through.  To carry my ideas to fruition.  So that the next time I invent the next big thing, maybe I’ll be at the center of it instead of on the outside, looking in.

followup on Smashwords & the publishing industry

Another of my books, Lost and Not Found, is now available through Smashwords – so you can download and read it directly on your iPhone or iPod Touch through Stanza.  In addition, I’ve updated the kindle version of the book – there was something strange going on with the left margin in the one that was available before, but it should be corrected now.  (Sorry about that.)

I had some difficulties with Smashwords over the weekend – I kept trying to upload my book and it kept timing out or getting stuck or something.  I was time consuming to deal with, because it would often freeze up on an actively loading page that said it was working and not to refresh.  So I would wait what I was sure was long enough before interrupting it.  I thought it was possibly on my end, to before I even contacted Smashwords for help (they have a link at the top of every page that allows you to contact them with any questions, comments, or problems) I tried uploading through 4 different browsers on 2 operating systems, tried deleting cookies, checking over my code…

I did, eventually, contact Smashwords to ask for help.  And immediately had a response.  From the founder, Mark Coker (who I had several interesting conversations with at Tools of Change, last month).  We emailed back and forth and he went way above and beyond (especially considering this was taking place on the weekend – the bulk of the back and forth taking place on a Saturday night!) to try to figure out why my book wasn’t going through the meatgrinder.  Eventually, looking at the HTML I was feeding it, he ran it through the W3C validator and discovered that I had some errors.  Okay, that’s my fault.  (Then we each went out for the evening – neither of us is staying in all night on a Saturday night fiddling with eBook conversions!)

Turns out that when I had initially exported from Adobe’s software to HTML, it had both put in the incorrect doctype and had failed to close the head tag.  WTF, Adobe?  I fixed that & still had trouble, but Mark was there trying to help along the way.  Sunday I didn’t work on it, and since he hadn’t heard from me and we hadn’t had it resolved yet, he even followed up with me this morning.  (Right after I’d got everything working, actually.)  The meatgrinder doesn’t seem to like big HTML files (it works best with Word .doc files, I’m told), but Smashwords has amazing/fantastic/excellent/astounding customer service and a real dedication to helping authors/publishers and to creating a tool that works.  They’ve earned a lot of loyalty from me by actually caring about doing a good job and supporting the authors they’re trying to provide a service to.

Now, how did I get it working?  I just used TextEdit (on OS X, where I do most of my work) to save the HTML file as an .rtf, adjusted font sizes a bit (TextEdit seems to make everything a couple of sizes bigger), and Smashwords’ meatgrinder worked great.  So if you’re thinking of uploading your books to Smashwords, first look at their style guide, but then try to upload a .doc or .rtf file.  It should give you awesome output.

Which brings me around to the other subject I wanted to address: Why does the publishing industry use Microsoft Word as the de-facto standard for writing/editing/et cetera?  Word isn’t good at handling book-length manuscripts.  It isn’t good at multi-user editing, tracking changes, and the like.  It isn’t good at layout.  I’m not sure what it’s good at.  I’ve used the Windows versions and the Mac versions, and I even wrote a book in it once. Ugh.  It’s terribly unstable when you have a document of book length. How does the publishing industry function?  As soon as I had Apple’s Pages available, I imported from my Word .doc (cleaned up the formatting) and the stability, speed, ease of editing and layout was instantly orders of magnitude better.  Pages wasn’t really designed for book-length documents, either -its strength is the brochure and the full-color newsletter with lots of pictures and complicated layouts, not the block of text that is a novel- but at least it handles them well.  After the first version, Pages refused to output text in CMYK, which is a bizarre sort of a problem that means it isn’t of much use if you’re outputting for a professional printer, but for the couple of books I wrote in it, it was oh-so-easy.  And stable.  Never crashed, never froze, didn’t get slower the more I wrote.  Nice.

Of course, since I do have to do professional layouts and put out files my printer can use, I started using InDesign for layout… and then, for my last book, I just wrote the first draft directly into an InDesign template.  I was able to make layout decisions as I was writing the book, so that – when the first draft was done, so was 90% of the layout work.  Editing in InDesign (for the one person that I am) is simple enough -easier than Word, though not as smooth (yet) as Pages- and I can immediately see how my changes will look when printed.  I don’t know for sure what layout software is ‘industry standard’ -though anecdotally I have an impression that InDesign is fairly widespread in use- but I’m sure it isn’t MS Word.  So why do they do everything else in Word?  Why are all the tools designed assuming that I’m going to work in Word, Smashwords & kindle included?  Word is terrible at this sort of work.

For writing, I’d rather use something like Scrivener or even just WriteRoom.  For layout, obviously I’d use a professional layout software (which Pages does well enough – too bad about the CMYK).  Why Word?

I think it’s the ongoing acceptance of standards like the industry-wide use of MS Word that are indicative of why old-school, big publishers are going out of business.  They aren’t thinking clearly about what would be the best way to do what they’re doing, they just keep doing it the same way they’ve been doing it.  If you aren’t looking forward, if you aren’t concerned with whether you’re using the best tools for the job, you’re going to face stiff competition from those of us who are.

For now, I can give Smashwords the .rtf files it likes.  No problem.  But XML is the future (and, yes, the publishing industry is trying to figure out how to integrate XML into its MS Word-based workflows.  Seriously.), the open epub standard is the future, and I talked to Mark about it at ToC and hopefully, eventually, the meatgrinder will be able to take the soon-to-be-worldwide-standard epub format and grind it out into all the old, dying, proprietary formats.  And hopefully someone will create an easy to use tool for originating documents in XML – that doesn’t involve plugging something into MS Word.

A lot of podcasting

You’ve been reading a lot about it here because it’s been dominating my time and my thoughts a lot lately. In case you somehow aren’t aware, I’ve been podcasting my fiction and poetry via the Modern Evil Podcast, and simultaneously releasing my podcast novels over at in sync with my personal feed. My feed (the Modern Evil Podcast) has also included (in addition to the weekly, half-hour episodes roughly identical to the Podiobooks release) poetry and short fiction in mid-week episodes.

What this means, for my time, is that I have effectively been running three weekly podcasts: The podiobooks feed, with just the novel, the Modern Evil Podcast Friday episodes, with the novel and alternate introduction and closing, and the Modern Evil Podcast mid-week episodes, with my poetry and short fiction. ~2.2x the recording and editing, 3x the mixing, converting, and uploading vs. doing one weekly podcast. It’s been a lot of work, and time and thought consuming.

So, along with the upcoming release of my new book, Forget What You Can’t Remember (now targeting a January release), I’m going to be starting podcasting it. In fact, I’m planning to overlap the two novels’ releases, so that people who listen to the final episode of Lost and Not Found on Podiobooks can immediately go subscribe to Forget What You Can’t Remember and so that people who subscribe to the Modern Evil Podcast will -instead of going for a while without episodes- get an extra episode or two during the overlap. Now, here’s the lazy part:

I’m going to continue releasing on the MEPodcast at the same time as Podiobooks, but Forget What You Can’t Remember is already broken into chapters of roughly even length, each of which should be around 15 minutes long. I’m going to release one chapter at a time, twice a week, into each feed. No poetry or short stories in the MEPodcast during the run, just chapter after chapter of the novel. Also: because of the structure of Forget What You Can’t Remember, the majority of chapters have no “breaks” in them, and thus will have a somewhat reduced editing time and effort – a savings then multiplied by the double feeds.

The Forget What You Can’t Remember podcast should wrap up around mid-April, 2009, according to this release schedule. Hopefully by then I’ll have another book or two written.

New novel complete!

(This post was originally created for and posted on the Modern Evil News (& Podcast) feed.)

Monday night I finished typing up the first draft of my new novel. (I’m still working on a name – what do you think of “Forget What You Can’t Remember”?) I wrote the entire thing on a manual typewriter, an Olivetti TROPICAL, which is to say ‘on paper, with ink.’ In between other projects and errands in the last two days, I’ve read the entire thing from start to finish. Out loud. Mostly to myself and to the cat. But it sounds pretty good, and I think it’s self-consistent, well-resolved, and perhaps yet another novel without an easy answer to the question “What’s it about?”

Briefly: It’s a followon to Lost and Not Found, though not a direct sequel. There are roughly two characters in common between the two books, and the main character from Lost and Not Found does not appear at all in this new one; it has an entirely new cast of characters and settings. It begins with the event that changed the world at the end of Lost and Not Found, and with zombies, but soon the story follows the characters to the flying city of Skythia while delving into the ways these various characters respond to both what has happened to them and the strange environment they now find themselves in. Going back to their old ways, moving on with their lives, lashing out against a system and a world they don’t understand, falling in love, or simply going a bit mad in a mad, mad world – the several interconnected characters’ journeys are really the heart of the story.

I’m about to start re-typing the whole thing into my computer. I haven’t decided how and when to first make it available, but I know for sure that it’ll be available in all the formats I have to offer: Paperback, eBook, and audiobook. I’m also planning on writing a companion book in November (for NaNoWriMo, actually), a collection of short stories which will tell stories somewhat perpendicular to the main thread of this novel. That is, where the novel follows closely the lives of its ensemble cast, especially re: the main progression of events, the short stories will help to build out the world the story takes place in, adding richness in the periphery of that story by telling stories that intersect with it. So, for example, in one chapter of the novel a superhero interrupts a mysterious, murderous heist at a Kwytzwyk Temple, and it changes his outlook on justice and ethics – and I want to write the story of the thieves, their previous exploits, and to give a lot more detail on the specifics of the Kwytzwyk religious practices and beliefs; all things that weren’t relevant to the main story of the novel, but which is a narrative with details worth exploring. (Playing around with a title for that gives me things like “More To Forget” and “More Memories For Forgetting”…)

starting work on Lost and Not Found audiobook

I’ve begun work on recording the audio version of Lost and Not Found this month. I recorded the first 14 pages or so, though I need to re-listen to them … I think I may have been reading a little too quickly. I want to set a good pace, speak clearly, and really create a professional product. The current plan is to record at least half a dozen episodes and at least one promo and get it started online on under their “normal model” – which is to say, one episode a week until it’s done, somewhere between a normal podcast and a limited run series. They require 5 episodes done before they’ll start you, anyway, so that’s easy enough. Theoretically I could record them all in a week or so and get started as soon as they get the book started online. Due to some system changes they happened to be putting into effect at the exact time I submitted it, it was several weeks after I submitted it that they put Dragons’ Truth online. Since I’m known, since I’m already set up in the system, and especially because I hold myself to such a high personal quality standard (I really want to be putting out as professional quality of work as I can), it shouldn’t take as long with Lost and Not Found.

Depending on how recording goes and how quickly I read and how long each episode is (there are no chapter breaks in Lost and Not Found, so I have to find places in the story where it makes sense to stop), I expect to have somewhere in the vicinity of fifteen to twenty-five episodes for the full book. This puts the length of time for the serialized release at roughly three to six months. I would like to have the novel I’m currently working on come out concurrent with or prior to the completion of that audio program, since it is almost -but not quite- a sequel to Lost and Not Found, and the cross-promotion should probably be helpful. Also, since I expect to be able to do most or all of the recording of the audio version of this new novel during that period as well, so that people could start listening to one immediately after finishing the other. I’m trying to build an audience, see?

In order to get even a single episode of the audio book ready for publication I need both the text of the book recorded and to [select|compose] a [piece|pieces] of music for the opening, closing, and as a bridge in between different sections of the same episode. There is also the question of “bed music,” which I understand means music which plays softly in the background of the entire audiobook. Bed music has the benefit of covering the tiny amount of background noise which cannot be avoided without [buying thousands of dollars of gear plus building a soundproof recording booth | removing it in post-production and somewhat distorting the sound of your voice in the process], but also represents the challenge of finding music which relates to the story and setting without becoming distracting or annoying to readers, plus that of finding thirty to sixty minutes’ worth of it for each episode (depending on the length of your episodes). On one hand, I’d like to have bed music, to create the perception of a better recording. On the other hand…

Well, on the other hand, I don’t like to select music, I like to compose it myself. Not that I have any experience composing music – I’m certainly not trained, and I’d pause before describing myself as self-taught. I haven’t even looked up a basic how-to online. I just like to screw around once in a while, whistling, with an instrument, or in GarageBand on my iBook – and I’ve only spent perhaps a total of a few weeks in my life (a day here, a couple days there) doing anything musical at all before this year. On the other hand, I sit in front of an piano or pick up an accordion or a guitar and, after a few minutes of re-acquainting myself with the interface, music comes out. I sit down with an instrument and melodies build from my fingers. Not proper songs, usually, but in opposition to what I’ve seen happen with other people at untrained instruments (how do they get it to sound so bad?), something musical. Anyway, starting with Dragons’ Truth I began composing my own music and I plan to do so for my future audio releases.

For the purpose of opening, closing, and bridge music I only need about sixty seconds of music, max. For podcasts it’s a good idea not to put more than about thirty seconds of anything in before getting to the story itself, or more than about sixty seconds of anything at the end. More than that, and people tend to skip it. For some listeners, even sixty seconds it pushing it for a closing. Most promos (which theoretically I could get other podcasts to play in their episodes) are sixty seconds or less, as well. So for these things you don’t need more music than this. Easy, right?

Would you believe I spent the better part of last week (nearly four full days) working on the music I want to use for Lost and Not Found, and the end result -at four thirty in the morning yesterday- was a sixty second audio file? What if I told you it was just a first draft? That I spent the first three days scrawling in a notebook, obsessively crunching non-base10 math by hand, creating page after page of numbers, up to 24 digits in length (so far), and that I spent the fourth day transcoding the results into the computer as music? Music that I couldn’t guess the sound of before I was finished entering it in and hit play. Music that I think I like with a little faster tempo so maybe I’ll have to do another several hours’ math to get to a full minute again. Oh, and incidentally, music the math for which also creates the possibility of a generic sort of non-repeating but boundless melody, which I may be able to use as bed music? Which simple mathematical variations on could change the tone to match the four different stories in the novel that I’d like to each have individualized music? Hooray, crazy! Hooray, math! Maybe.

I’ll have to spend a couple more days entering the numbers into the system in various configurations to see if the calculations continue to sound good or if I’ll need to start from scratch (or worse, just modify this melody system heavily – I prefer the beauty of math right now) to create working music. And once the music is ready, it can be combined with the spoken word recordings of the book’s text and the book’s promos, and once that’s done I can submit it and start serializing it. Which reminds me, I really need to write a promo for Lost and Not Found. If you’ve read it, how do you think I could sell it to new [readers|listeners]?

One other little thing on the subject of the audiobook – since we don’t really have the room (or the money) to create a dedicated (or even isolated) recording space, I’ve set up in the bedroom. The other day while trying to adjust after working so that people could get by, a piece of equipment fell down and the jack on my headphones broke. These are relatively nice, closed ear headphones of sufficient quality to do near-professional quality audio work (really, my ears aren’t trained to do well enough to know the difference between these headphones and the ones that cost 5x-10x), and the only thing wrong with them right now is they can’t plug in to an audio source. All they need is the jack cut off and a new one spliced/soldered on, though I don’t trust myself to do a good enough job repairing them to end up with quality sound. So I took them to a local repair shop Monday (and called a second one) and the cost to have a professional repair it is the same as the cost to order another set online (depending on shipping cost). Sigh. I can’t really record any more until I have [new|repaired] headphones. So in reality it’s a good thing I’m spending days and weeks on the musical portion of this project right now, since I can’t get any more done on the spoken portion.

I’m sure I’ll post again when I have a promo. Oh, and when I have a site design for, which I would like to be able to launch simultaneously with the Podiobook, and whose design should allow for the new book to be advertised along side it. Sigh. What should that look like? What should it do?