Confessions of a Digital Novelist

Archive for January, 2010

Building a Blurb – Evermore: Call of the Nocturne

by on Jan.31, 2010, under Digital Publishing

After a long day finishing Bioshock, buying groceries, and making lunch for the work, I finally found some time to work on the web page for my first novel – Evermore: Call of the Nocturne.  To start with, I’ve decided to stick to a simple teaser blurb.  Despite its short length, blurb writing is no easy task.  In the two years that I’ve struggled to get COTN published, I have always a challenge summarizing the story.  My first synopsis was eight pages.  I managed to shorten that to five for my later submissions.  For a blurb, on the other hand, you only have 100 words or so.  Not very much space.

So for help on this task, I turned, as usual, to Google.  Google led me to the following link by Marilynn Byerly which helped me a lot in writing my blurb.  Marilynn has specific tips for each of different genres in which she writes.  Based on her science fiction advice, I wrote the following:

Adam should be a happy man.  He is the creator of Evermore, a virtual reality world in which millions of people play, work, and live out their lives.  Days away from an initial stock offering that will make him a millionaire, Adam is on top of the world.  But there is one secret that Adam must hide.  Evermore can kill you.

Faced with a sudden and inexplicable murder inside his virtual paradise, Adam must turn to a dangerous mercenary known only by the name Blue.  Driven by her insatiable lust for violence, Blue must enter Evermore and hunt down the killer.  But once she jacks in, will she be ready for the secrets that await her?

Evermore: Call of the Nocturne is a science-fiction digital novel coming to iPhones everything Fall 2010.

All in all, not a bad first try at it.  This blurb will of course change as we get closer to publication but to be frank I am pretty happy with my first try.

The Evermore: Call of the Nocturne page can be found at http://scottblurton.com/?page_id=23.  Stayed tuned to this page for new information about my first digital novel.

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The Biggest Apple News Today Was Not the iPad

by on Jan.27, 2010, under Digital Publishing, Tools of the Trade

There was great excitement among tech geeks today as Apple revealed its first-generation iPad.  Some people like it, some people hate it, but you can’t deny that there is some great potential there.  However, the iPad announcement was not the biggest news of the day.  This was.

That’s right.  Apple has created their own electronic book store.

Now in their announcement today, Apple boasted the support of five major publishing houses including Penguin, Macmillan, and Simon & Shuster and most likely many more.  However, that in itself is not a particularly revolutionary concept for digital publishing.

What is revolutionary is Apple’s vision for the digital publishing medium as covered in this article by Wired.  According to Wired, Apple’s goal is not simply to sell mainstream books, but to revolutionize publishing in the same way that they revolutionized music and movies.  In a sense, Apple wants to open up content production to everyone, a strategy that they call crowd-sourcing.  This was the strategy that propelled the App Store to over a 100,000 apps, 3 billion downloads, and over a billion dollars in revenue.

With books, if the Wired story is correct, that means that Apple would allow small publishers to publish content for the iBookstore while only taking a 30% cut.

The consequences for our nascent industry are astonishing.  The traditional chokepoints to distribution would essentially be annihilated.  Through the iBookstore, essentially anybody would be able to sell their content to everyone for the first time and in only one place.

So rather than sell self-published digital novels on Amazon, and Smashwords, and numerous other small distributors, you would sell it on iBookstore and reach an already established user base of millions (assuming that they’ll bring the iBookstore to iPhone).

That’s it.  No more half-solutions, no more backdoors, just one-stop shopping for everything.

When I saw this story this morning, my jaw dropped.  My game plan had to change.  My goal was not just to get my novel onto iPhones.  My goal is now to get my novel onto the iBookstore.

How to do that however is left unanswered.  If we are to go by the experiences of iTunes, then within a few months we’ll have to go through a third-party like CDBaby that has an Apple License.  Regardless of how it’s done, it is apparent that it will soon be possible to self-publish your stories and sell them directly onto the iPhone and the iPad.  This has been the holy grail for self-publishers and now it’s within reach.

Another interesting choice for Apple’s new iBooks service is the adoption of the open source ePub file format.  The ePub file format does have some detractors but it has one huge advantage over the “Meat Grinder” option that Smashwords offers: control.  Using the ePub file format allows you complete control over how your digital book is displayed.  This means that not only will you be able to publish your books on iPhone, you will be able to manage the typesetting of the manuscript.  As someone who was discouraged by the Meat-Grinder one-size-fits-all typesetting of Smashwords, today’s development enables me to make my manuscript look indistinguishable from the books from the major publishing houses.  That is a major improvement.

In short, it’s a brand new world for digital self-publishing thanks to Apple and more importantly the new iBookstore.  It is a world that I and many other prospective digital novelists will have to learn how to navigate.  I hope that you will be able to join me.

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Tools of the Trade: WordPress and 1and1.com

by on Jan.26, 2010, under Tools of the Trade

One of the things that I was interested in talking about on my blog was discussing the tools that I used to plan, write, edit, publish, and promote my digital novels.  For this reason, I begin a series today that I like to call the “Tools of the Trade”.  Essentially, I’ll talk about what I use and why I use them.  One of the challenges that I had when I started writing was that all I had was a pen and a piece of paper.  The last fifteen years have a dramatic shift in how we write, distribute, and promote books.

For today, I would like to discuss this website.  One of the things that I’ve always avoided during my 31 years on this earth is managing my own website.  First and foremost, I always thought that they were too egotistical.  Who really cares about the opinion of each and every person who creates a web site.  Web sites to me had always seemed an exercise in shameless self-promotion.  Just by putting your name of something does not make what you say all that interesting or important. 

Note: the author is very aware of the irony of the previous statement due to his using HIS OWN NAME in his domain.  The author accepts the irony and the mandatory round of mocking that it entails for reasons that will be discussed below.

However, when I decided to publish my fiction anonymously, it became apparent that I would have to create a website and blog.  Otherwise, how else are people going to find out about my work.  To this end, I patterned my strategy after the fine cellist Zoe Keating.  Zoe Keating is a musician that you’ve probably never heard of but through her unique music and savvy website she has been able to make a comfortable living doing what she loves while never having to go through a large scale music label.

Thus the decision was made and the battle was joined.  There was only one problem.

I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.

Despite my degree in computer engineering, my videogaming hobby that borders on the obsessive (must get … double shotguns), my experience in building web sites was limited to a summer working as a CAP Youth Intern on behalf of Industry Canada.  At that time, we used HTML.  WYSIWYG editors had not really caught on and CMS modules had not yet appeared.

So I wrote my websites in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.  They looked terrible.  They took a lot of time.  And I could ill afford either of these.

So I took the logical thing that far too many people are incapable of – I asked for help.  To be more accurate, I asked my friend Kevin Bhookun, an experienced web developer.  He advised that I sign up with 1and1.com.  And so I did.  I bought web space with the domain scottblurton.com (Ego Alert!) used the included Website Builder to build a basic shell. He also suggested that I do my blog using WordPress.  And so I did.  I created my blog at digitalnovelist.blogspot.com.  Thus with the two parts of the whole all ready to go, I tried fulfill my life-long dream of three weeks and integrate the two together.

And I fell flat on my face.

I went back to Kevin and explained to him the difficulty that I was having with 1and1.com.  He sighed, reached down for a whiffle bat labeled “For Morons Only” and smacked me across the face with it (rhetorically speaking).  He then calmly explained everything for me as simply as he could.

You see, what I had missed was the distinction between WordPress.com and WordPress.org.  You see WordPress.com is a website that will host your website for you using a default yourname.wordpress.com URL or one that you purchase from them.  All of the data that your create or add to the site is stored on wordpress.com’s servers.  WordPress.org, on the other hand, is a tool set that you download and install on your server.  So in my case, I downloaded the wordpress.org software package and installed it onto my webspace at 1and1.com.  I then set my domain to the installed folder, de-activated the Website Builder (thank you 1and1 tech support), and activated the WordPress.org plugin.

Wow.

After the installation, I logged back into my internal WebPress account and everything moved like silk.  Did I want to download and install a new theme.  No problem, just point and click.  Did I want to add widgets to my sidebars?  No problem, just drag and drop and it just works.  Oh no, there is no Twitter widget installed.  What do I do?  Easy, you go to plugins, search for the plugin you want, install it, and then activate it.  No problem.

After learning how to code the hard way, the unnerving ease of use of WordPress was astonishing.  I was creating better results with little or no work than I could ever have accomplished by hand-coding it myself.  It was so easy and intuitive.  It was like using an iPhone.  It just worked.

Thus in the end, I would have to fully recommend WordPress.  Once installed (which is certainly not intuitive) it runs like Apple had designed it.  Even a web neanderthal like myself has no troubles using it.

And what about 1and1.com.  What did I think about them?  First and foremost, WebsiteBuilder sucks.  The faster you can replace it with WordPress, the better.  But as a webspace and a service, I have been impressed.  When I encountered problems on the weekend, their technical support was available and extremely helpful.  Once I told them my problem, they had the problem fixed in ten minutes and helped me to understand what had caused the problem.  As someone who worked in technical support for a year, I appreciate the value of expert and courteous advice.  Thus far, I would have to recommend them wholeheartedly recommend them.  Their service has been excellent thus far.

Now, I’ve got my website ready to go.  It isn’t finished by any means, but its a great start that I can no put content into.  There are still problems like my twitter feed is buried at the bottom of the screen but as of this moment it looks great, is easy to use, and allows me to focus on building content.  That’s good enough for me.

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