New cover time! #sf #sfr #uf #homeschool

Ugh, the past few weeks have been terrible for blogging, not because I don’t have anything to say (you know me!) but because the new homeschool schedule is leaving me squeezed when, last year, I had lots of room to breathe. This year, the subjects being taught are:

  • English
  • Reading & Film Club
  • Maths
  • Martial arts
  • Geology
  • Astronomy
  • “Soft skill” interests (world cultures, creative thinking)
  • Cooking (theory and practical)
  • History
  • Science
  • Music (theory and practical)

I think that covers it. Classes are held in the morning and evening, so the entire family (that includes J) can participate. Being older, TW has also begun C programming.

So anyway, I’ve got to come up with a day that feels like a good, steady blogging day and, until that happens, you’re going to be confronted with posts that jump all over the week. Sorry about that.

Maybe it’s because the Chinese New Year is much more of a celebratory time around here, I didn’t even countenance any resolutions back in December, but moved on some over the past couple of weeks. And they had to do with covers and distribution.

Firstly, covers. The prevailing wisdom has it that if you have good writing and a good blurb, you should end up making a few thousand dollars a year from your self-published gem. Ha! Now, I don’t think it’s my writing and, while I hate writing blurbs, I think mine are okay. Which led me to covers. I have revamped the covers to WAR GAMES and THE CHECK YOUR LUCK AGENCY. Here’s the simplest one to explain:

WarGames-ebook-200x300 WarGames-cover-200x300
Old New

When it comes to the Check Your Luck stories, I bit the bullet and made several changes:

* I got rid of Books 2 to 5. You can now just download the first book (THE CHECK YOUR LUCK AGENCY) and, if you like it, buy the omnibus (THE COMPLETE CHECK YOUR LUCK AGENCY). No halfway books to distract anyone.

* Because of this, I have reduced the price of the omnibus from US$8.99 to US$6.99. Considering that price is for 227,000 words of a multi-edited book, I think that’s a more than fair.

* We are also told to divide our foci, using a different pen-name for each genre we write in. Screw that. Seriously, I’ve had no traction from my “Cara d’Bastian” pen-name and have decided to put everything under the Augustin name where, I think, more people know me. From past sales reports, it couldn’t hurt. At all. Really.

* Then there are the covers:

WarGames-ebook-200x300 WarGames-cover-200x300
Old New

I have also made some changes to the way books are distributed. Normally, I stand, checklist next to me, and tick off each etailer as I upload. I’ve hated this for several reasons:

* Smashwords is completely inflexible about how ebooks are to be formatted. I can’t, for example, have a lack of indentation on my Copyright page, and indentation in the main part of my novel. I also have to have a Table of Contents for a damn short story! I have to rely on their wonderfully-named “Meatgrinder” to produce a sub-standard PDF. (Yeah, you go tell a client that you’re putting their baby through the “Meatgrinder” and see how they feel. It’s not funny, it’s unprofessional.) The list goes on. So Sandal Press, regardless of how Forbes feels about it, is giving Smashwords the boot. Too much hassle for too little gain.

* Amazon pays me by cheque, which is a method of payment that went out with pulse-dialling. The minimum it costs me to cash an overseas cheque is SG$45 (US$35). You add it up. And I have to wait for the good ole postal system to get the cheque in the first place. Archaic!

* The Kobo dashboard is worse than useless when it comes to granular royalty reporting…when it works.

* Every change through XinXii has to be done via email to Customer Support. There is no dashboard where you can upload new versions of books, for example.

* I couldn’t find a good way to get to Overdrive and, thus, libraries.

And so on and so forth.

Then I came across a mob called Ebook Partnership. They distribute to several major sites for a flat fee of US$40/title/year (if you met the 5-book minimum) and I pocket 100% of the proceeds. Paid electronically. Every month (after a minimum threshold has been met). I think Ebook Partnership is a great idea for self-publishers outside North America, so I’m trialling several titles with them. If anything looks fishy, I’ll let you know. (I think you know that by now.)

In addition to all this, I’m also working on the first draft of the third Perdition book, QUINTEN’S CHOICE. I plan to have both the third and fourth books out this year (QUINTEN’S CHOICE / QUINTEN’S GAMBLE), and the fifth and sixth (the last!) next year. I have the names, I have the arc, I have synopses. It’s just a case of getting down and writing the bloody thing.

What’s happening at your end, stalwart reader? Care to share?

 

Prime Suspect released #ebook #sfr #masturbation

PRIME SUSPECT, my SFR featuring a hermaphrodite protagonist, was returned to me a few months ago and I’ve been revising and sending it along to my editors and generally readying it for release.

In looking back over my books, I’ve noticed something. Quite a few of my protagonists masturbate in the books. I think this is utterly normal behaviour yet it kinda squicks people out. Which got me thinking.

Isn’t it strange that we can sit down and watch people being blown to bits (in ever more spectacular and gory fashion) and yet should anybody’s hands venture south, we start screeching about going blind, growing hair on our palms and contributing to the fall of human civilisation? At best, we squirm uncomfortably.

Let me ask you this. When you cook a meal for someone, do you know what you’re doing? Do you use a recipe book? Do you have some idea of what the other person likes? Confidence in what you can do well? Then why doesn’t the same apply to our own sexuality? Why is it GOOD to practise by yourself when it comes to cooking, writing, hobbies, education, but is BAD when it comes to learning the responses of your own body? What’s the difference? If I don’t know what turns me on, how can I be a fully-engaged partner during intimate moments? And yet, across the board, the world seems to have a rather Calvinist approach to self-pleasuring. It’s like we’re scared of feeling good. And, to be honest, I think too many of us (particularly women) are content with too little when it comes to intimacy. We think that showing or telling our partner what makes us feel good somehow means we’re sluts, when all it means is that we’re confident enough within ourselves to recognise when a partner doesn’t show us the proper respect.

Now, I’m not saying that masturbation should be an Olympic sport (a tour-guide friend once squicked me out by telling me about a Turkish man who began masturbating in public once he caught sight of her blonde hair) but, at the same time, it shouldn’t be denigrated or reviled the way it is. We were born with bits that make us happy. Let’s work with that.

===

A lonely being in a lonely galaxy…PrimeSuspect-200x300

Heron Meed has two strikes against it. It is a hemaphrodite in a galaxy dominated by two-gendered beings. And it’s a convicted criminal.

After six years of incarceration, Heron is trying to start a new life, but that isn’t easy when so many avenues are closed to it. It finally finds a refuge of sorts on the Castor Xeni Orbital and a surcease from its pain in the arms of voluptuous Subah Doisson, but then various systems on the Orbital start getting sabotaged. With a small engineering population, and Heron the only newcomer to the station, how can the hermaphrodite prove its innocence amid a sea of entrenched prejudice?

Here’s the link to the Book page. It’s only US$1.99 and was on the 2008 Short List for the Gaylactic Spectrum Award.

 

The holidays

They don’t have to do it, but Malaysians tend to throw themselves into every holiday. Right now, it’s the Christmas season, so the nearest big shopping centre (Japanese-owned AEON) is decorated for Christmas. AEON takes special pride in its decorations and tries to come up with something new each year. No more of the dusty ribbons, faded colours and dented bells that we were subjected to while living in Australia! I took a couple of photos before the crowds began:

aeon-dec2013-1
In addition to the decorations are seasonal treats such as muffins decorated with sugar Santas and snowmen, stollen and — for the first time this year — Red Velvet Cake in the shape of Christmas trees. It pays to fossick around and see what’s new. Artificial trees are displayed at the front of shops and, at certain times, there are even (Asian) Santas wandering around, giving balloons and sweets to kids.

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After New Year, the decorations will be coming down quick smart as Chinese New Year kicks into gear. It’s at the end of February in 2014. In a few years’ time, it will collide with Christmas and I’m wondering what the decorative scheme will look like then! It’ll be dragon heads and tinsel fighting it out for floor space!

Considering that Christians make up a tiny fraction of the population, there’s really no need for the locals to go to this trouble; after all, when was the last time you walked into a Western shopping centre and saw a display celebrating the end of Ramadan? But go to the trouble they do and everything looks lovely.

In other news, I’m also decompressing. Homeschool has officially stopped for two weeks and I’m immersing myself in doodling and other artistic pursuits rather than writing. There’s a demon in the back of my head telling me how lazy I’m being (you should be starting the third Quinten book!), but this year has been quite busy and I’m only taking a two-week break, so I hope that other voice settles down a bit and hits the alcohol instead.

Just to show that there’s peace at home as well, here’s Sausage and Squeak sharing Sausage’s beanbag:

Sausage-Squeak
Actually, I think it was originally The Wast’s beanbag, but Sausage commandeered it early on and now it’s hers. Every morning, Squeak goes through the same ritual of gingerly stepping into the bag and settling into a spare corner. If he’s already cuddled in and Sausage comes by, she’ll let him have the whole thing and snooze on the rug instead. For a bull terrier, she’s terribly considerate.
Sausage-Squeak-2I’m not sure if I’ll be blogging next week (or the week after). If I’m not, I’ll take the opportunity to wish you, stalwart reader, a pleasant Christmas, filled with lots of good whisky and not a single caroller in sight!

Catch you in 2014!

At @FussyLibrarian

This is going to be a quickie as I have various edits and formatting backed up in my work queue!

My book, QUINTEN’S STORY, is being featured Saturday at The Fussy Librarian, a new website that offers personalized ebook recommendations. You choose from 40 genres and indicate preferences about content and then the computers work their magic.

The idea is cool and I’ve signed up as a reader. I like that they have shopping choices other than Amazon, for those of us who (still!) can’t buy books from the Kindle store.

In the meantime, the sequel, QUINTEN’S REVENGE should be live by the middle of next week.

Dammit, I want to come back to my little economics screed but circumstances are conspiring against me. Aaargh!

A little bit of everything

Sorry about the last two weeks, but it’s been hell at the Augustin household. For purely professional reasons, that is.

First of all, the new online magazine, Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly, is now online! As is usual with most publications, everything seems to be ticking over just fine until the last two weeks, and then it’s panic stations. Considering this was Issue #1 of the magazine, it was double panic stations! But we managed to put out the magazine in a variety of formats — HTML, EPUB, Mobi, PDF and Flippy (flip-magazine format, thanks to the wonderful Issuu engine), so readers could decide how they wanted to read it. Feedback has been positive but the team and I have great plans for the next few issues, and isn’t that half the fun?

QuintensRevenge-200x300Because of the magazine, the next book in the Perdition series slipped by two weeks, which meant I had to take time out to finish off all of DevEd’s mandated changes for QUINTEN’S REVENGE. It is now with CopyEd and on schedule for a December release.

Also on schedule for a December release is PRIME SUSPECT, a previous Spectrum Award finalist, which had its rights returned to me. It has passed DevEd and I’m now working on the edits before passing them along to CopyEd.PrimeSuspect-200x300

And I also wish to introduce a wonderful service for readers called The Fussy Librarian. Here’s their mission statement:

With millions of books out there, it can be time consuming to find the good stuff. We can help! Only The Fussy Librarian remembers what genres you like and your preferences about language, violence and sexual content. Like only cozy mysteries? We’ll only send you an email when there’s a mystery that doesn’t have sex, violence or profanity. Read everything? We’ll send you lots of suggestions each day. It’s that easy!

QUINTEN’S STORY has been accepted as a submission from TFL (thank you very much, TFL) and I also signed up for their email. One thing I like is that I’m not just limited to Amazon (which I can’t buy ebooks from), so if you’re in the same boat as I am (or even not), please sign up with them. They are quite new and need all the support they can get.

There’s also something else in the pipeline, but I might sit on that for the moment, in case it blows up in my face. (A likely possibility.)

And how have you been, stalwart reader? Busy? Fill me in and we’ll commiserate together over the weekend. Oh, and a Happy Thanksgiving to all my US readers. You’ll be pleased to know that the tradition of “Black Friday” has now travelled to other countries and even here in Malaysia, a number of shops are having “Black Friday” sales. Don’t spend too much or eat too much turkey and I’ll catch you next week.

Deficit spending, dollar velocity & why USAians are doomed

I don’t often write about economics. It’s a topic I’m intensely interested in but, as a mere student of it, I feel I’m in no position to make any kind of categorical statements regarding the fate of countries. However, something occurred to me that I just had to share.

In the movie “Dave”, with Charles Grodin and Kevin Kline, we are told that running a government is just like running a household and that deficit budgets are Bad Things. This is such a pile of propaganda, I don’t know where to begin. The reason that deficit budgets are bad for households but are good (yes, I said good) for countries is because households don’t create their own currency. Countries do. What’s more, the USA is in the unique position of currently being the reserve currency of the world, which means that it can create as much currency out of thin air as it wants, for as long as other countries are willing to swallow it. What’s key here is “as long as other countries are willing to swallow it”, an important rider that seems to have bypassed Paul Krugman in several of his recent New York Times articles. As a result, I tend not to follow Krugman. Instead, I’m a fan of Peter Cooper, a scruffy semi-Marxist who runs the heteconomist blog. He’s not as widely read as Krugman, I don’t think, but he makes much more sense.

Here’s why a deficit economy in a country is a Good Thing. (I’m generalising terribly, but stick with me here.) Say the government prints up $1,000. It came into being out of nothing, midwifed by a printing press. That $1,000 then goes out into the country. It may get used to pay wages, for example. At that point, the government balance sheet is showing minus $1,000. In other words, the government is running a deficit. Is this a bad thing? No, because someone got paid.

The wage-earner may spend that $1000 on groceries, rent and a dinner at a nice restaurant, and put the rest away in the bank. At this point the government is still running at a $1,000 deficit, although that same $1,000 has now been used to sustain several other businesses. This may continue until Tax Day, when our wage-earner has to remit to Uncle Sam what is due. Say that out of that $1,000, Wage Earner has to pay $250 in tax. Guess what? The government, after receiving the $250 is still $750 in the hole. This is not a bad thing.

What happens if the government “balances” its budget? It prints $1,000, distributes it, but gets every cent of that back. Is there any money left circulating in the economy? Well, there can’t be, can there, if every single dollar has to go back to the government again? So how do people create businesses, buy things and save? They don’t. Whenever you hear the term “balanced budget”, chances are you’re talking (a) higher taxes for the middle class, and (b) eradication of a number of government programmes. That’s how they balance things, by getting all the money they put out there to return to the Treasury. It all sounds like a rather good and solid strategy but isn’t. You’re essentially getting screwed.

That’s one side of the coin. The other is the concept of “velocity” and, to my mind, it’s even more important than how much money is circulating. We all know about Quantitative Easing, the TARP program, and so on. Literally trillions of dollars were given to banks to help stimulate economic growth. Has the USA seen any of this? No. Oh, there’s a lot of smoke-and-mirrors about it but, if you read the actual financial papers and not the popular press, you’ll see that the average USAian family is dropping deeper and deeper into penury. How can this be when there are (again, literally) trillions of dollars around? The answer is, those dollars have no “velocity”. That is, they are not being spent to buy goods and services.

Let’s go back to our Wage Earner for a moment. Let’s say that $100 is spent at a restaurant. That $100 may be used to pay the staff, buy replacement chairs and tablecloths and restock on wine and food. (Notice how I put wine first? You know that’s where my priorities lie.) The wait staff may use their share of the $100 to buy a coffee on the way to work, petrol to refill their scooter, and a birthday cake for someone special. The barista may, in turn, take several cumulative shots of java money and use it to upgrade the coffee machine and maybe pay for a magazine subscription so customers have something to read while waiting for their espresso. You see how that $100 gets handed from one person to another? That’s velocity and it keeps an economy humming. Note that saving some of that money directly results in a deficit economy (because you have it, rather than the government) but, in moderation, that’s not a bad thing either.

What happened with the banks is that they were given this great scads of money and then…they kept it. Not just some of it, which is prudent. All of it. They didn’t put it out into the general economy at all, as they were supposed to. They didn’t “oil the wheels of industry”, as it were. Unlike Wage Earner’s money, the banks’ money had (and still has) zero velocity, which is why the USA is not seeing any kind of recovery.

So that’s one myth I wanted to bust. A government is not a household. It can run at a deficit and still be pretty healthy, as long as its trading partners have confidence in what the deficit government is doing. That makes plain common sense. That’s what’s not happening in the
USA. At the end of 2008, the US government could have told the banks where to go (according to the laws of capitalism). That it didn’t wasn’t because it was socialist. (I mean, your average USAian wouldn’t know the basic tenets of socialism if it fell on his face and began wriggling.) It happened because of rule by the few and rich. This is not “socialism for the rich” for Pete’s sake. There’s already a term for this that dates back to Ancient Freakin’ Greece!!! It’s called plutocracy. I mean, really, if you’re going to waddle into the fray by espousing an opinion, at least don’t make yourself the laughing stock of the world. Get your basic terminology right!

Moving right along, then, we have a plutocracy hoarding all the money, leading to a dollar velocity of almost zero. And that means there’s really not much anyone else can do, except attempt to find a lever to pry open the bankers’ purses and get a few of those trillions out of arcane financial instruments and into the Real World. Good luck with that, by the way.

(Interestingly, the major critics of the concept of dollar velocity are the libertarian economists. Sure, run an economy on a (Ayn) Randian model and see how far you get. It’s also kinda interesting that all these good ole Austrian school economists (most coming from rich and privileged backgrounds) believed in the overarching good of “the individual” and “the market”, yet still demanded subsidised medical benefits when invited to stay and lecture in the United States. Snort.)

While all this is going on, the USA itself is declining in power and losing the US dollar as the reserve currency. Oops. What happens if the USA loses its reserve status? Well, then, it’s going to have to trade dollars on the open market, the same way as most other currencies.

You see, the Singaporeans, for example, can’t just make heaps of money out of nothing. If they do that, their neighbours are going to think they’re insane and — with millions of additional Singbucks hitting the Real World — the value of the Singaporean dollar would plummet. As I say, the USA is in a unique position where it can do this, relying on its reputation as a strong world power to keep the value of its dollar high. If the USA loses this exalted position, it’s going to have to scrabble around in the grubby foreign exchange markets like everyone else, and get treated like everyone else. Not much fun.

The problem is, that’s already happening, with several very large economies of the world moving away from the US dollar as the currency of choice, in favour of either agreed bilateral currency exchanges or use of a “basket of currencies” to smooth out any fluctuations. As noted world-systems analyst, Immanuel Wallerstein said at the end of his most recent bimonthly commentary (Commentary No. 364):

[T]here are two real consequences of which we can be fairly sure in the decade to come. The first is the end of the U.S. dollar as the currency of last resort. [This process, as I've mentioned, has already begun. --ksa] When this happens, the United States will have lost a major protection for its national budget and for the cost of its economic operations. [Because it can no longer print billions of dollars out of thin air. --ksa] The second is the decline, probably a serious decline, in the relative standard of living of U.S. citizens and residents.

Or, to put it another way, the US is not going to be a nice place to live over the next generation or so. I’d tell my friends to start making exit plans, but I’m not sure how many will listen to me. In the meantime, I’m considering this whole situation as an interesting socio-economic experiment and have bought into popcorn futures.

I feel like expanding on this a little bit, so will have to see whether I have enough to write another blog post. In the meantime, have a safe weekend and I’ll catch you next week.

* Read more about the velocity of money at Wikipedia 

 

Gordon Long: #ToC in an #eBook

[Guest post from author, Gordon Long]

All right. Half a year ago I wrote a very expressive post against putting a T of C in your eNovel. Fueled by too many margaritas, I recall being rather vehement on the subject.

cat-many-clawsObservant readers might note that my new novel, “The Cat With Many Claws,” has a table of contents. Yes, even the e-book.

How come?

Well, as usual, it all comes down to marketing. I’m a self-publisher, and sometimes the conversations between author and publisher get quite heated. Of course I always win. The author may kick and squirm, but if it sells more books, then artistic theories take the back seat.

My first post set me thinking, and as I wrote this book, I was observing the chapter headings.

I always use chapter headings during the writing process because it’s the only way to remember what is where. They tend to be informative but geeky, so in the past I have always left them off when publishing time came.

However, I was watching prospective customers check through my book at a signing, and I started to think. What are they looking at?

Well, first you’ve got your title and your cover. They sort of take that in at a glance. If it interests them enough, they’ll pick it up and check the back cover blurb. Then they look inside, starting at the front. That’s why I always have a teaser on the first page. But then where do they go? If they’re really interested they maybe read the first page, but I’ve always thought that making the first page do all the selling work is a bit unfair, not to mention all-your-eggs-in-one-basket risky.

So what can I add at the front of the book that will give them a really quick idea of what the whole thing is like?

sword-called-kittenAnd then I watched people picking up my non-fiction book, “Why Are People So Stupid?” and got the answer: a table of contents, of course. If I create a bunch of great chapter headings, it’s one more chance to grab the reader, and have them wondering, “What happens? I’ve just got to find out!”

So, for my softcover edition, I created what I hope is a really catchy set of chapter headings. Then, since I’ve put in all that work, I thought I’d try it on the ebook as well.

Which is not to say I have caved completely.

I still think a T of C with “Ch 1, Ch 2, Ch 3…” in hypertext is pretty useless, and if you really want it in there, it should be relegated to the back where reference material belongs.

Of course, this whole argument will only be a passing fad, because technology will continue to make it easier for us to find our way around the tablet screen.

However, for your reading enjoyment and my sales, I have included a hypertext Table of Contents in “The Cat With Many Claws” ebook. It contains great stuff like:

Prologue: Creation

Chapter 2. Business Not As Usual

Chapter 3. The Lair of the Enemy

Chapter 5. A Swordsman Off Balance

Chapter 13. The Wild Wolf of the West

(Now, what could that be all about?)

Chapter 23. Another Forge-Cursed Magician

Chapter 31. Bad Lady

And my favourite:

Chapter 32. The Taste of Blood

(This is not a vampire novel)

I mean, can you resist?

Gordon A. Long is a writer and publisher living near Vancouver, Canada. His latest book, “The Cat with Many Claws: Sword Called Kitten # 2” is available in ebook and softcover at amazon.com, and the new monthly serialized version of Sword Called Kitten is free to read at airbornpress.ca

 

Complete Check Your Luck Agency now on sale #uf #ebook

The very first Check Your Luck Book, THE CHECK YOUR LUCK AGENCY, was released in October 2011. At that time, I hadn’t attempted any urban fantasy and certainly not one based in south-east Asia. The reason I began writing the series is easy to explain: after living here for a few years, I thought the melting-pot of different mythologies and belief systems was fascinating, and I wanted to bring some of what I’d read, and heard, about to a wider audience.

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By the time Book 2, RETURN OF THE HANTU, was released, in March 2012, the entire arc for the five books had been established, major plot points mapped out and synopses written. To be honest, it was the only way to keep me productive and not fall into depression. (Five books? What was I thinking?!)

The shortest book of the series, WRATH OF THE HARIMAU, came out a little later than expected, in October of 2012, due to other commitments intruding. And these commitments also pushed out NIGHT OF THE PONTIANAK. The ripple effect continued and, although the last book in the series, FIVE CARD DRAW, JINN ARE HIGH, was released in April 2013, I really wanted it out by February of that year. The best laid plans of mice, men and writers, eh?

I thought of releasing the compendium as a print book, spoke to some local publishers and distributors, got side-tracked…. Well, it’s all a bit complicated, but at least the digital version of THE COMPLETE CHECK YOUR LUCK AGENCY is out now. The total price of the series, if you buy each book individually, is US$11.96, and that’s with the first book free and the rest priced at US$2.99 each. But, if you’re thinking of taking a punt on the entire 227,000 words, then I’ve hopefully added some incentive by pricing the omnibus at US$8.99, which works out to an average of US$1.80 per book.

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THE COMPLETE CHECK YOUR LUCK AGENCY book page at Sandal Press has links to all major etailers.

I have a guest post next week from pal, Gordon Long, so look out for that and, in the meantime, have a safe weekend.

#Kobo UK users, why not try #Tomely? #ebooks #rights #ALLi

I think you’d have to be under a rock not to have heard about the latest regarding The Daily Mail and a kneejerk reaction so strong it almost kicked the Earth off its axis. Under a rock…or in the non-publishing world, so here’s a brief recap.

The Daily Mail, a sensationalist, right-wing paper owned by a conservative with dubious morals (according to Wikipedia, the owner of the paper, Jonathan Harmsworth, gave evidence at an Inquiry into — get this! — the Culture, Practices and Ethics of the Press (bwahahahahaha) in 2012, and also has a bastard son) published an article on how children were able to buy porn from WH Smith’s ebook store! (WH Smith is one of the biggest book retailers in the UK, with presences…well, everywhere really, from railway stations to airports to main streets.)

Rather than sit and think about this for more than a nanosecond — hold on! Children buying pornography at online ebook stores? But my child doesn’t, and can’t!, even own a credit card! — WH Smith closed down its entire ebook store.

WHSmith-cropped

I particularly like:

When our website goes back online it will not display any self published material until we are completely confident that inappropriate books can never be shown again.

which is rather a ridiculous thing to say, much like “we will not allow any swimmers to enter the water until we are completely confident that sharks will never attack them again”. This all sounds rather dire, but I think that the balance sheets at Smith’s may have some input into this high falutin’ morality a few months from now. We’ll see.

Anyway, getting back to the story, as Smith’s got its books from Kobo UK, Kobo then went on to flense all its self-published material from the UK site as well.

I checked with CopyEd and he tells me that that cleansing at Kobo UK includes all Sandal Press books, even the titles that don’t contain erotica (i.e. most of them). He goes on to say that The Daily Mail didn’t quite start this whole thing, as the whole issue of porn-on-the-Internet has been brewing in the UK for some time. I suppose all that paper did was plug into the prevailing mood and sensationalise it. Ah, to be at the right place at the right time.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that Kobo users don’t have to stand for this. I own a Glo myself and have never bought a single book from the Kobo store. Instead, I buy my ebooks from other etailers that I already had relationships with before getting my Glo and then, after purchasing a book, I copy the EPUB file to my mini-SD card. This gives me the advantage of also having a backup of all my ebooks on my hard drive should my Glo ever crash/disintegrate/get stolen/etc. .

Which brings me to Tomely. They are a small independent ebook store based out of Australia, although I’ve been setting prices in US dollars, just to keep it consistent. Team Tomely have a lovely clean site, their support is extremely responsive, they integrate with Readmill and — here’s the best bit — they offer discounts to readers who either tweet or post to FB about a book. For example, if you tweet or post on your Wall about the Sandal Press book you’re buying, you get an automatic 15% discount! Isn’t that a great idea?

If you sell a book, Tomely takes a cut of 20% and immediately transfers the remaining 80% to your nominated Paypal account. Here’s their FAQ.

What am I trying to say? I can understand the outrage now reverberating around the world regarding Smith and Kobo’s moves, but all politics are domestic. This is a huge political issue in the UK, many vested non-publishing interests are making hay while the sun shines, and there’s not a goddamn thing most self-publishers can do about it. While it’s true that the traditional publishers are no doubt laughing into their morning lattés right now, I believe that’s only a side-effect of a larger movement towards curtailing individual rights in all spheres of life. Am I going to tilt at that windmill? Not while I’m not in the UK, I’m not. This is a battle that can’t be won by non-UK citizens.

But just because we can’t win, doesn’t mean we can’t suggest. And that’s what I’m doing. Suggesting to Kobo UK owners to go elsewhere for their ebook fix. After all, why would you want to give your money to a company that makes such sweeping decisions without the benefit of spine or forethought?

Meanwhile, for those self-pubbers affected, remember that you’re in this for the long haul. If you expect to be an overnight success in this game, well, you’re in the wrong game. Controversies come and go, and we do ourselves no good helping the bastards along by giving ourselves heart attacks in the interim. Remember the erotica controversy at Amazon? Then the one at Smashwords? Oh lookie, now we have one in the UK, howsaboutthat? We’ve weathered this before and, because we are all thinking in terms of event horizons that can encompass a decade, I think we’ll weather this one too.

I think the best thing we, as self-publishers can do, is become more involved in the area of rights and privacy and support such organisations as the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) and open-source software movements, such as the OSI (Open Source Initiative). Why open source? Because open source has always fought against proprietary use of software, restrictive terms, censorship, data mining, and all those tools that people in power use to control us and what we can, and can’t, do with our data. Organisations such as the EFF and OSI are going to be our champions and it’s high time we started building alliances in this area.

That’s my two cents, stalwart reader. Stay safe (and private) and I’ll catch you next week.

Smart #dogs and stupid #cars

Ask anybody who’s owned a dog and they’ll tell you that dogs have feelings. But ask any scientist and they’ll say we’re anthropomorphosising. The basic point of contention is one of sentience. Only sentient beings can have feelings, we’re told and, as dogs aren’t sentient, they can’t have feelings.

chillingEnter Dr. Gregory Berns, who’s been studying dogs’ brains in MRI scanners. Up till now, the problem with scanning dogs’ brains has been that dogs have been unconscious while this was done. This is because being inside an MRI machine is tricky enough for humans to endure (what with the noise and sense of claustrophobia), much less canines.

Berns got around this by training his dog to sit completely still in an MRI scanner mockup he built at home. He got the help of dog trainer, Mark Spivak, and he succeeded in getting his dog Callie, a black terrier mix, to sit completely still, on a chin rest, within the scanner for an unbelievable thirty seconds. What Berns and his team found by scanning a total of twelve dogs within the scanner is that dogs are sentient. In fact — and this will come as no surprise to any dog owners — the brain activity in their caudate nucleus was surprisingly similar to that of human children.

(The caudate nucleus is within the brain’s basal ganglia, towards the frontal lobes, and plays a role in the anticipation of joyful events, including meeting up with favourite people or enjoying a special food treat; i.e. it’s one of the brain’s “love centres”.) Here is the full article, as described in the New York Times, although I wish they had chosen a happier picture to illustrate the story.

The point I want to make is that it now looks like dogs have as much right to a life free of pain, and full of care and love, as a human child, and I think this conclusion needs to be broadcast as widely as possible.

Unfortunately, taking this research to its logical conclusion, I have the terrible feeling that cattle, sheep, goats and pigs (basically, everything I love eating!) will also be found to have sentience, thus forcing me into a life of vegetarianism. I await great strides in vat-grown meat (and it had better include ribs!) as a substitute.

— oOo —

In other news, Gajitz reported on a car with its steering wheel in the back. The article says that:

According to Yahoo! Autos, the “motivation for spending more than three months transplanting the SUV’s controls to the back seat” is not entirely understandable [my emphasis].

backseat-driver-carAll I can think is that Gajitz doesn’t have any Asians on staff. You see, the minute I saw it, I said to myself, “Of course! I bet there’s some Arab sheik out there who’s completely pissed because he has to see everything whizz past from the back seat. Why, his damn foreign driver views a more unimpeded landscape than him, and sooner too! So Sheik BagsOfMoneyNoBrain decides that he will sit in the front, drinking in the glorious vista on three sides, while his driver (low-paid scum that he is) can suffer in the back.”

Of course, there’s a reason why the driver is normally in the front of the car/top of the carriage/head of the train/etc., but I look forward to hearing about this “wonderful idea” catching on throughout the Asian continent, thus resulting in hilarious tales of crumpled customised cars and rich farts who fly through windscreens during collisions because they think they’re too important to wear seatbelts. My only surprise is that it wasn’t a Chinese who thought of it first.