Book Gadget v0.72

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tutorial: How to Hold Your Kindle or E-reader in Your Hands JUST LIKE A REAL BOOK!

Several readers have told me that they would love to buy my ebooks, but you see, when they read they like to “hold the book in their hands.”

Until recently, I didn’t realize how complicated a problem this actually was.  To remedy it I’ve decided to write a detailed, step-by-step tutorial on how to hold a Kindle or other e-reader in your hands just like a real book.  If you follow these instructions very carefully and concentrate, paying close attention to all the details, I’m almost sure it will solve your problem.

Step 1.  Buy a folder-over cover as shown here, and attach it to your e-reader using the instructions provided by the manufacturer.

 Step 2.  Grasp your e-reader with both hands as shown:

Step 3.  With your left hand, grasp the front flap of the cover (pay attention here, this is the key step).  Pull it open as shown.

Step 4.  Sit back and read, holding it just like a real book!

Note:  If you’re left-handed, it’s probably best to substitute “right” for “left,” and vice-versa, in Steps 2 and 3. 

Extra for Advanced Readers

Once you have practiced this for a couple of months and really have it down, here is an advanced step that some particularly agile readers prefer to master.  I call it the “one-hander.”

Step 5 (advanced).  Hold your e-reader open, as in Step 4 above.  Very carefully, shift the weight of your e-reader into your left hand.  Now, even more carefully, remove your right hand and...voila!  You will be amazed to see that you are now holding your e-reader with one hand, just like a real book.

Look Ma, only one hand!
There is one more bit of advice I have for the truly die-hard paper book folks (you know, the ones who care more about the paper than the words printed on it).  By a canister of Smell of Books spray and dispense it lightly over the cover of your e-reader every now and then.  

I understand that most readers prefer “Classic Musty Smell,” but some of the hardcore paper book freaks prefer the more pungent “Eau You Have Cats” aroma.

If you have any questions, please ask!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Which Book Hero is Your Ideal Lover?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Independent Authors. We Try Harder

As an independent author, I feel a lot like the Avis Rental Car Company must have felt back in the 1960s.  Hertz was the first company to aggressively pursue the rental car market, and competitors found it almost impossible to gain any ground.  Their main rival, Avis, lagged far, far behind.  For 10 long years, Avis tried to compete with Hertz, but could not even make a dent in the market.  Finally, at their wits end, Avis management hired the small but prestigious Madison Avenue firm Doyle Dane Bernbach to come up with a “killer” advertising campaign against Hertz—if they failed, Avis would throw in the towel and shut the company down.

The result was one of the most successful campaigns in advertising history.  The slogan created for Avis was “We’re Number Two.  We Try Harder.”

In the next few years, Avis grew at a remarkable 35% rate, grabbing big chunks of market share from Hertz.   The strategy exceeded even their most optimistic expectations. 

Why did the “We Try Harder” campaign work so well?

Because it was true.

When you’re the little guy, going up against the heavy, entrenched competition, you really do have to try harder.  If you don’t, you simply won’t survive.

As I said, I feel a lot like the folks at Avis must have felt back then, and I know a lot of my fellow independent authors feel the same.  We are struggling to have our voices heard.  We are a bunch of Davids going up against a Goliath, the Goliath being the big publishers in New York.  We can’t simply be as good as the Stephen Kings and James Pattersons and J.K. Rowlings—we have to be better.  And on top of that, we have to do it on a shoestring budget.

Now, I know what you may be thinking.  There are a lot of independent writers who produce junk, badly-written, badly-edited, and badly-formatted books that are not worth reading.  And you’re absolutely right—I’ve seen plenty, and bought some of them, too.

But doesn’t the same hold true for the big, established authors?  Aren’t many of them producing “junk” as well?  I know at least some of them are because I often spend my hard-earned money on their latest books, only to find myself disappointed.  Due to their success and fame, they’ve lost touch with how to engage and satisfy the very readers who made them successful in the first place. In short, they don't need to try so hard anymore.

Another criticism of independent authors that is that they "are just bad writers who couldn’t get published by the big guys.” 

Not so.  At least, not in my case.

The reason I was never published by the big guys is because when push came to shove, I didn’t want to be.  I wouldn’t play their game. I wouldn’t rewrite my books to conform to their cookie-cutter standards, to make my books more like all the other books they sold in order to minimize their risk.   

The big publishers are bureaucracies, and like all bureaucracies, they are not known for their creative, out-of-the-box thinking. They make decisions by committee. I don’t have to tell you how many fantastic books like Harry Potter were almost overlooked by the big publishers—you know all those stories yourself.  I sincerely believe that many of the books we independent authors are producing are far more creative and original than many of the books produced by the big publishers in New York.

Independent authors try harder.  We have to.

Discover us!

Which Literary Heroine are You?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Developing a Thick Skin

One of the things that we writers are supposed to do, in order to deal with rejection, is to develop a “thick skin.” 

I heard this at the very beginning of my writing career, and unfortunately, I took it at face value.  I thought that somehow I could build up immunity to the pain of rejection and criticism using willpower or “mind over matter” approaches, the way it’s possible to psyche yourself into tolerating more pain at the dentist’s office.

It doesn’t work this way.

The only way I know of to develop a thick skin as a writer is simply by going through the process of dealing with criticism, over and over and over again, until each criticism is no longer a surprise.  In other words, you finally arrive at a place where you are 100% aware of how you write, how you compare to other writers, and every little choice you make during the process of crafting a story.

I’m sure some relatively new writers are reading this and that you may find the news disheartening.  But perhaps you’ll take solace in knowing that razor-sharp sting you feel each time someone criticizes your book or gives you a bad review is perfectly normal.  There are no quick fixes here.  What you need to do, after the sting wears off, is consider each and every criticism soberly and honestly, decide whether or not the criticism is valid, and whether or not you would change anything if you had the chance to write the story again.

Over the years, I’ve had thousands of rejections from agents and editors.  Thousands!  At the beginning, when I was still in an intense learning process, many of the criticisms were valid.  My stories did start too slowly.  My dialogue did have stilted spots.  I did delve into too much detail. 

But as I continued to develop my craft, the nature of the rejections began to change.  Many of the criticisms, I began to realize, were about my style

Probably the most difficult part of developing the “thick skin” is being able to separate the elements of your writing that are natural to your personal style, that you want to keep, and the elements that are truly part of the craft, that you want to change or improve.  Not everyone will like your style.  And if you develop a truly unique style—which is crucial for success—you will necessarily break some of the rules they teach you in fiction writing classes.

Sorting all this out is not an easy process.  I went through more pain and frustration than I care to remember in dealing with these issues, arguing with agents and editors, screaming and yelling and cursing (in the privacy of my own home), coming to grips with it all.  But I eventually got through it. 

Does criticism still hurt?  Of course it does.  But the sting usually only lasts seconds—namely, as long as it takes me to run through the decision-tree in my head and remember why I did whatever they are criticizing and my logic behind doing it.

A good sign that you have arrived at this place is that you no longer feel the urge to defend yourself or argue with the criticizer.  An impulse to argue is always a sign that you are unsure about the criticism yourself.  If someone walks up to you and says, “The sky is yellow!” do you feel any impulse to argue about it?  No, because you know the sky is blue.  It's a non-issue. You think that the person is either crazy or sees things from such an oddball perspective that you don’t even bother.

When you’re confident about your craft and your personal style, you reach a similar place.  I’m not saying that you ever feel as if you have mastered the art of writing.  The notion is ridiculous—there is always more to learn, at times it seems endless.  But you do reach a point where you are comfortable enough with your writing that you really do have the proverbial “thick skin.”

It’s a nice place to be.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Writing: A Career You Can Fall Forward On

When I was 16, my dad casually asked me if I’d decided on a career.  I told him I wanted to be a writer.

He looked a little pale.  “You mean a journalist, right?”

“No, I mean a fiction writer.  You know, one of those guys who writes novels.”

He looked even paler.  He then proceeded to advise me, in a fatherly way, to choose a practical career I could “fall back on,” and that I should go to college and get some experience in that career.  Afterwards, I could “play around” with fiction writing, if I was so inclined.

I took his advice.  The practical career I chose was engineering.  Electrical engineering, to be exact.  With a specialty in computer hardware/software design.  You can’t get much more practical than that. 

Ironically, after only one week working at my first full-time job, I was taken off the computer design project I’d been assigned and was given the task of writing a user’s manual.  I was insulted.  By that time, I had all but forgotten that I wanted to be a writer.  I felt like I was being demoted.

Nevertheless, I gave the user’s manual my best shot.  I had no clue as to what I was doing.  I simply tried to make it as interesting and engaging as I possibly could.  If I did a halfway decent job, I reasoned, they would put me back to work as an engineer.  

I printed the manual out and turned it into my boss on a Friday afternoon.  First thing Monday morning, I was called into his office.  His boss was present, too, the department manager.   I knew I was about to be fired.

“Mike, this is fantastic!  It's so good we want you to rewrite all our user’s manuals.”

I was stunned.  And even more insulted.  I’d just suffered through four hellish years in engineering school so I could write freakin’ computer user’s manuals? 

“To be honest,” my boss said, “you’re a much better writer than you are an engineer.”

I quit right then and there, walked out of the office and did not look back.  But I found it very difficult to get a job as an engineer.  I ended up starting my own computer business with my stepfather.  It all seemed very easy at first, until we actually tried to find customers.  It turned out that to make sales, I had to do a lot of writing.  Tons of writing.  Press releases, proposals, advertisements, newsletters, brochures, telemarketing pitches...and, yes, user’s manuals. 

Eventually we sold the company for a tidy sum of money.  That nest egg gave me the freedom to write two screenplays and more than 20 novels, some of which you will find online.

I often hear parents advising their children to choose practical careers, careers they can “fall back on.”  This is probably good advice.

But at the end of the day, I don’t think you choose your career.

I think your career chooses you.


Friday, July 8, 2011

Go for it, Scarlett O'Hara!

Just this week I was re-reading Gone with the Wind, mainly to study the amazing character of Scarlett O’Hara.  I like to feature strong, independent women as the heroines in my own novels, and it’s hard to find a better role model than Scarlett!  She broke the rules, did whatever she wanted, did not care whether her actions were frowned upon by “proper” society.

Yesterday, a friend picked up my Kindle and noticed what I was reading.  “You can’t go wrong with classic literary fiction,” he remarked.   My wife overheard this and said, “Sorry to contradict you, but Gone with the Wind isn’t considered a literary classic—the highbrows look down on it, even today.”

I had forgotten that sad fact.  You won’t find a copy of Gone with the Wind in the libraries of very many literature professors.  When Margaret Mitchell wrote the book, her intention was to entertain, not to make any earth-shattering, philosophical statements about the meaning of life, or push a pet political agenda.  And—God's nightgown!—she certainly accomplished her goal.

We decided that in penning Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell did exactly what Scarlett O’Hara would have done in the same situation—she wrote the book she wanted to write, and the critics be damned!

Go for it, Scarlett!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Can I Have Your John Hancock on My Kindle, Please?

Books printed on paper have been signed by authors ever since the invention of the printing press.  As readers, we love having our books autographed by our favorite authors.  It makes us feel a personal connection to the writers that have given us so much entertainment and enjoyment, perhaps even helped us see the world a little differently.  I know that I cherish my signed hardback copy of Insomnia, which Stephen King signed for me when he came to Nashville on a book tour.

As authors, we also enjoy signing books (although it can wear out your hand if you do a few thousand in a row!)  This gives us a chance to connect face-to-face with readers, hear your comments in person, and allows us get to know you a little bit.  Also, book signings sell books, which help provide the income to keep writing.

Enter the Ebook

Ebooks certainly have loads of advantages over paper books, but they also have some disadvantages, and book signing is one of them.

How the heck does an author autograph an ebook?

One brute-force solution is simply to have the author sign the back of your Kindle or whatever ereader you own, if you are lucky enough to meet him/her in person.  Many people have done this, collecting signatures on their devices the way some sports fans collects signatures of famous players on a football (see photo).

The problem with this approach, of course, is that there’s only a limited amount of space on the back of an ereader, and the whole notion of it is a bit messy.  It’s just not the same as having a “real”, author-signed book.

There are a number of entrepreneurs working on solutions to the problem, most notably Autography, a company in Florida.  This firm is offering several options, one being that the reader would request an autographed copy of the book through the retailer or publisher, the author would “sign” a blank page in the copy using a tablet computer and a stylus, and then the signed copy would be sent to the reader’s device.  Another approach includes gadgetry to allow authors to sign ebooks while in brick-and-mortar bookstores, creating a photo of the author and fan together, and then inserting this into the fan’s ebook copy with some stylus-scribbled words from the author.

Whether or not any of these solutions will take hold in a big way is questionable, at least to me.  It’s hard to imagine some of these approaches creating the same sense of reader/author connection as physical, author-autographed books.  I know that in my case, the main reason I cherish my signed copy of Insomnia isn’t so much Stephen King’s hastily-signed signature or the value it might have someday, it’s the memory it conjures up.  I had a chance to meet the man in person, shake hands with him, and tell him how much I liked his work.   Most of the solutions I’m seeing, save the fancy bookstore-based setup I mentioned above, don’t result in the same effect.

But I have no doubt that with the rapid advance of technology and the number of brilliant entrepreneurs there are in the world, creative solutions will continue to emerge. 

In the meantime, I’ll be happy to sign your Kindle!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

True Friendship: The Story Behind "The Wrong Side of the Tracks"

Readers often tell me that their favorite aspect of my book Wild Child is the incredible loyalty Kyle shows towards Briana.  “It’s refreshing to see such  loyalty between friends," one reader wrote.  "A rare commodity these days."

I'm not sure such loyalty is necessarily rare these days—I think it’s just rare, period.

This theme runs through a lot of my books. 

When I was 12, my parents went through a terrible divorce, and my mother ended up moving me and my 6 year old sister down to Nashville, Tennessee, to be closer to her family.  Talk about culture shock!  We may as well have well landed on the moon. We had been living in a nice, quiet middle-class neighborhood in upstate New York.  I won’t call the place we moved a ghetto, but it wasn’t far from it.  It consisted of a row of cracker-box rental houses that ran so close to a railroad line that your fillings rattled with the trains thundered by.  Alcoholism, drug abuse and prostitution were rampant.  Few people on the street had finished high school, let along college.  Kids hung around on street corners in gangs.

I’ll never forget the look the teenage boys gave me that stifling hot day in August as they watched us drag our furniture in from the U-Haul.  The message was clear:  “We’re going to kick your ass, you little pussy.”

I was afraid to go outside.  Later that evening there was an ominous knock at the door.  My mother answered it and came to me and said, “There’s a boy who wants to talk to you.”

My god, I thought.  They sure don't waste any time.

I went to the door expecting the worst.  Standing outside was a tall, lean boy, barefoot and shirtless.  He wore only a pair of faded jeans. 

“Hey, Mike,” he said, a toothpick between his lips.  “I’d like to show you around the neighborhood.”

He had a rugged, handsome face.  I did not remember seeing him hanging around on the street with the other boys. 

I  looked into his eyes.  He seemed sincere, but it might have been a trick.  I didnt' feel I had any choice—I mustered up the courage to go with him. 

He did exactly what he said he would do—showed me around the neighborhood.  His name was Ben, and he was 16.  It did not take me long to understand that he was the toughest kid around.  Ben came from the worst family imaginable.  His mother was a prostitute, his father a violent drunk who drifted from one construction job to another and often beat Ben senseless just for the hell of it.  Ben’s older brother was on death row for killing a policeman who tried to tow away his car.  The entire family had been petitioned out an even worse neighborhood when Ben’s younger brother, age 9, shot out all the windows with a .22 caliber rifle.

Each time we encountered a new boy, Ben would put his hand on my shoulder and say, “This is my friend, Mike.”  There was a subtle but unmistakable look in his eye.  “You mess with him, you mess with me.”

Ben became one of the most true and loyal friends a person could ever have.  He taught me how protect myself, he taught me about girls, about self-confidence, and about life in general.  

Why Ben decided to take me under his wing and protect me when we moved into that hellhole, I do not know.  Maybe it was because he saw how vulnerable our family was—a mother, a 12 year old boy, and a 6 year old girl.  Maybe he wanted to give to someone else the protection he never got from his own family.  Maybe he simply liked my northern accent—he often told me he did.

Whatever the reason, the experience had such a profound effect on me that I was compelled to write a whole a book about it, The Wrong Side of the Tracks.

Such loyalty and friendship are indeed rare commodities, these days and in all times of living.

Ben, wherever you are, I will never forget what you did for me.