Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tor Free e-Books—Last Chance

If you were sort of thinking of snagging the e-books has been offering on a weekly basis, but never got around to it, or missed some, it's not too late. With the launch of Tor's new web site, they're making the whole lot available one more time for procrastinators. Check it out this week only on this page at Tor Books. There's a bunch of cover art available for download, too. Through July 27. Don't wait!

I just today installed the free Mobipocket Reader software on my Pocket PC, and loaded a whole slew of books in Mobipocket format onto the storage card. Though I've only played around with it a bit, I have to say it's a pretty nice way to view the books, especially considering that the PDA itself (a Cassiopeia) is now something of a vintage device. Tor is offering the books in a variety of formats, but the Mobipocket seems the most compact, and works best as long as you have the software.

Also, thanks to a tip from Rob Sawyer, I purchased on ebay, from a nice lady in England, a DVD containing 10,000 e-books from the Gutenberg project. All kinds of classics, ranging from the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire to H.P. Lovecraft, all in the public domain. It's only $24 including airmail from England. To find it, do a search on ebay for ON DVD 10.000 MOBIPOCKET ebooks for the KINDLE READER — and you'll find it.

"A room [or PDA] without books is like a body without a soul." —Cicero

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Readercon and E-Books (Part 2)

Okay, on to the Readercon panel on e-distribution of our books and stories, which was titled, "If Free Electronic Texts Are Good Promotion, What's Piracy?" I was on the panel along with James Patrick Kelly (moderating), Cat Rambo, Graham Sleight, and Gordon Van Gelder (editor and publisher of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction). The basic questions, which are seriously intertwined:

1. Is it good for a writer (or publisher) to give away your goods for free on the net?
2. If the answer to (1) is yes, is it so bad if someone else decides to give your stuff away for free on your behalf (e-piracy)?

I'm not going to be able to repeat the exact points made on the panel, so let me try giving the gist, in the form of Q&A.

Q. Does it really help writers to put their stuff up for free? Does it help book sales, or hurt?
A. No one knows. Anecdotal evidence (ala Doctorow, Scalzi, and others) suggests that it helps. But that's very anecdotal, and to the best of my knowledge, no one has released any actual sales figures as evidence. But no one seems to feel that it hurts—and the fact that Baen gives away free e-books, and Tor too (and the fact that Tor is fine with my giving away my books if I want to) lends some authority to that position. But...this could well just be the early adopter effect. And while it's seemingly helped some people, is it also reinforcing a perception in the public that stuff online simply ought to be free, dammit? What will happen when e-books are a bigger part of the whole publishing picture? Will readers be willing to pay for the cow when they're used to getting the milk for free?

Q. Is it better to emulate the drug dealers, and give the first one for free—and try to hook them, so that they'll pay for the ones that follow?
A. No one knows. But that's kind of what Baen Books does, and it seems to work for them. So should I put up my new (forthcoming) book Sunborn for free, along with the first three books in the story arc—or is three enough, and if you like those, c'mon, just buy the next book, please? No one knows. Or at least I don't. (But that's how I'm leaning at the moment.)

Q. How do audiobooks and podcasts fit into this?
A. It's sort of the same deal. Some authors, Jim Kelly in particular, have been energetically giving away podcasts of their own readings, as a way to promote the printed stuff. According to Jim, when he won the Nebula Award for his novella "Burn," it had probably been heard by more people as a free podcast than read by people on the page. His audio promotion probably has increased his readership, and now it's resulted in a paid arrangement with

Q. Is it okay that strangers are scanning in our books, or hacking the protected e-books, and putting them up online on BitTorrent sites, in complete violation of copyright and common courtesy?
A. No, it's not okay. It sucks. It's piracy, and it's illegal and immoral. Only one person should decide whether a book or story goes up for free—and that's the author.

Q. What if I ask the question again. Will you give the same answer?
A. Maybe not. Unquestionably it's free publicity, and it may well draw new readers into the author's fold. After all, what's the bottom-line difference between someone finding a pirated version of your book on BitTorrent and grabbing it for free, and someone paying a penny for a used copy on Amazon? Neither one makes the writer a cent in royalties. But there's that new reader thing; we like it when new people discover our stories. Sometimes they go on to buy other books, or even the same ones, in royalty-paying copies. (Sometimes they don't.) But at least they're reading our stuff.

Q. Are there any other parallels with the music biz, beyond the audiocasts?
A. The emusic/itunes/etc music model of selling songs for a reasonable price has clearly established that many people are willing to pay a fair price for a legit copy of something they want—even if they could get it for free in pirated form. Clearly this is working for the mp3 retail industry. But is it actually working for the artists? (By which I mean the midlist artists.) I don't know. One thing I do know is that the e-book industry has yet to fully grasp the concept of fair price; most legit e-books still cost way too much. And I include my own in that. (However, I have no control.)

Q. Would it make sense for a magazine like Fantasy and Science Fiction to go to a free, online, giveaway model?
A. Sure, if the purpose was to put it out of business. That's the opinion of publisher Gordon Van Gelder, and the experience of online magazines seems to bear it out.

Q. How much time and effort should a writer put into all this, if he/she desires to put stuff up for free.
A. That's a good question, because every hour spent making corrected book files or audio files (or writing blogs) is an hour not spent writing new stories. And it can be stressful. Sometimes very stressful. And creatively draining.

Q. There are a lot of unknowns here. When are we going to start seeing some answers?
A. Nobody knows. But if you're just joining the conversation on this blog, scroll down a few posts for more on the subject.

I hope I've been able to clarify the picture for you. (Hah.) No doubt I've forgotten some things that were said on the panel. If so, perhaps someone out there can add it in a comment.

"When we read, we start at the beginning and continue until we reach the end. When we write, we start in the middle and fight our way out." —Vickie Karp

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Readercon and E-Books (Part 1)

First of all, let me say that Readercon was great this year—which I measure primarily by the enjoyable and interesting people I talked to. A partial list would include Jim Kelly, Rob Sawyer, Ann Tonsor Zeddies, Geary Gravel, Rosemary Kirstein, Tom Easton and his wife Kate Savage (who let me hold an Amazon Kindle in my hands for the first time, and even put some of my books on it!), Michaela Roessner, Terry McGarry, Paolo Bacigalupi, Jim Freund, Judith Berman, Victoria McManus, Dan Kimmel, and—neither last nor least—a bunch of members of the writing workshops I've led with Craig Gardner. In that latter group, Chris Howard was positively glowing. His first novel, Seaborn, is just out. It looks terrific. (Two short sections of it went through critique in our workshop.) And Chris figured he'd made it—because his book was already pirated and up on someone's BitTorrent site. And probably was before the print version was even available.

Whatever you think about that last, good or bad—congratulations, Chris!

On the subject of e-books and piracy, I participated in a lively panel on the subject of e-piracy versus the rising trend of folks making their work available for free online. Our panel moderator was James Patrick Kelly, who has been in the forefront of putting his work up in audio format, initially as free podcasts, which eventually led to a paid appearance on We batted around a lot of ideas on the subject—which I promise I will talk about tomorrow. It's late now. Time to get some sleep.

"I write for the same reason I breathe—because if I didn't, I would die." —Isaac Asimov

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Readercon: July 17 – 20

Readercon happens this coming weekend, just outside Boston. It's one of my convention-going highlights of the year, being full of people who truly love reading and love science fiction! I'll be on a few panels, and doing a reading. The full text of the Program Guide is online as a PDF. But here's my schedule:

Friday 4:00 PM, Salon F:
If Free Electronic Texts Are Good Promotion, What's Piracy? -- Jeffrey A. Carver, James Patrick Kelly (L), Cat Rambo, Graham Sleight, Gordon Van Gelder

"Webscabs, who post their creations on the net for free . . . [are helping convert] the noble calling of Writer into the life of Pixel-stained Technopeasant Wretch."--Howard V. Hendrix, former Vice-President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). In a recent issue of _Locus_, Cory Doctorow summarized the evidence that giving away free electronic versions of books actually helps rather than hinders sales of the printed versions... What are the differences between giving away a text electronically yourself, and letting others disseminate it without your knowledge and/or permission? ...If "piracy" is actually good for all except the best-selling authors, how do writers reconcile this reality with long-standing and deep-rooted feelings about intellectual property rights and getting paid for work?

Friday 7:00 PM, Salon F:
Waking Up Sober Next to a Story Idea -- Paolo Bacigalupi, Jeffrey A. Carver (L), David Anthony Durham, Kay Kenyon, Barry B. Longyear, Jennifer Pelland

Really, it seemed absolutely beautiful once upon a time. Now that you've had intimate knowledge of it (say, midway through the novel), you can see all the less-than-flattering sides. You may even wonder, What the hell was I thinking? How do you recover enthusiasm for the work? Now that you see the flaws, how do you begin the process of fixing them?
Saturday 12:00 Noon, Vinyard: Kaffeeklatsch (meet the author)
Jeffrey A. Carver; David Anthony Durham

Saturday 2:00 PM, RI: Workshop
Writing Jujitsu: Turning Writer's Block into Stories. -- Barry B. Longyear with participation by Jeffrey A. Carver, Barbara Krasnoff, Sandra McDonald, et al.

You can't sell it until it's on paper and you can't get it on paper if things keep eating up your time, nag at you, bully you, or you're filled to the brim with illnesses, insecurities, or crushing doubts. Longyear presents a how-to workshop for beginning writers and those who have been there on how to turn what's blocking your muse into stories.

Sunday 1:30 PM, VT: Reading (30 min.) -- Jeffrey A. Carver reads from his forthcoming novel Sunborn.

If you're going to be at Readercon, I hope you'll come say hello. (I won't have a designated autographing time. They had too many authors, and since I don't currently have anything new out, they triaged me. But I'll be around. Grab me after a panel, or come to the Kaffeeklatch.)

"First you're an unknown, then you write a book and you move up to obscurity." —Martin Myers

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Unusual Book Signing Planned

This weekend, I was at my usual early-Saturday-evening haunt, which is the free and very friendly wine tastings at my local beer and wine emporium, Menotomy Beer and Wine in Arlington, Massachusetts. I was looking around, and had a sudden inspiration: why not a combination wine tasting /book signing? A natural, no? (Could be a beer tasting, too; they do those on Friday evenings.)

I suggested it to the management ("I have a crazy idea..."), and they loved it. Turns out they've been *trying* to get local artists in there to display their work for free, just to liven things up even more. I believe their exact words were: "You're here. It's a done deal."

So if you're in the Boston area, mark that on your mental calendar for sometime in November, when Sunborn is published. I'll post more later.

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

More On Free E-Books

There's been a lot of interesting stuff written in just the last few days, fortuitously (some of which was brought to my attention by Charlza in his comment to my last post). Simon Owens has a long article about the Tor free e-book program on his blog, bloggasm. He notes several authors' impressions that book giveaways have helped sales, and quotes extensively from Tobias Buckell, a newer writer who seems to be doing very nicely. There are some provocative comments from readers, on both sides of the question.

Rob Sawyer responds on his own blog with a much more analytical approach to the question. Pointing out that there's really no hard data for us to base judgments on, he does a nice job of extrapolating some likely ranges for increased sales (and earnings) for writers. In his view, the benefits are probably far more modest than suggested by anecdotal reports. A key point in his argument is that Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi, who have reported such apparent good results, are not necessarily typical cases. Both of these writers have huge online presences, and probably got way more downloads than the average writer would. (Certainly they have far more active blogs and web sites than I do.)

So where does this leave me? I learned from reader Pascal that a fair number of my earlier novels are already up on Bit Torrent networks in pirated PDF editions. He got copies to me so that I could look at them, and I see that they range from barely readable hack jobs to thoroughly professional-looking work. I must say it was a shock to see how many novels by how many SF writers are floating around in pirated editions. I'm of two minds about it: On the one hand, it's clear copyright infringement, and to a significant degree badly done infringement. On the other hand, it's free publicity.

One of my workshop students suggested, why not find the pirate scanners who did the good job and see if I can get them to scan in the first three Chaos books for me. Then I could put at the top of the PDFs:

"This electronic edition, and no other, has been distributed with my consent and co-operation. Those who approve of courtesy (at least) to living authors will download it, and no other."

(If you don't recognize the source, it's from Tolkien's note in the Ballantine Books edition of The Lord of the Rings, following the Ace pirated edition, many decades ago.)

So am I any closer to a decision on whether to post Sunborn for free when it's published? Not really. But leaning now towards putting the first three up to introduce new readers to the series, then letting the book carry it from there.

But we'll see.

"Advice from this elderly practitioner is to forget publishers and just roll a sheet of copy paper into your machine and get lost in your subject." —E. B. White

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