In which Alexa reads my novel to me

My wonderful kids got me an Amazon Echo Dot for Father’s Day. This is an awesome little toy. Alexa (the thing’s voice) can play music and set a timer and tell me jokes and do math problems and lots more. It didn’t take me long to discover that Alexa could read books in my Kindle library. So of course I told her to read one of my own books–in this case, Terra.

The first problem was that she insisted on narrating all the front matter–copyright statement, ISBN, etc. There should be a way to turn that off or skip through it, but I couldn’t figure it out.

Then she started reading my deathless prose. She will not be replacing professional audiobook narrators anytime soon. The meaning is reasonably clear in her narration; she pronounces the words correctly (except for the oddball name “Polkinghorne”) and she pauses between sentences. But her emphasis was consistently a bit off: she said “post OFFice” instead of “POST office”; “cell PHONE” instead of “CELL phone”. And she didn’t do dialog right: you need to drop your voice a bit when you come out of a line of dialog to identify the speaker: “Larry said” or “Vinnie said”. She didn’t do that. And of course she made no effort to characterize the speaker; they all sounded just like Alexa (she sounds great, but she doesn’t sound like Larry Barnes). I couldn’t imagine listening to her for a whole novel. I gave up after about a page.

By the way, one of the most popular posts I’ve written is the one where I contemplate whether Jeff Bezos is the Antichrist. Apparently people Google that question a lot, and my opinion comes up second, just after Jonathan Franzen’s.

Maybe I’ll ask Alexa what she thinks.

Terra now available on Kobo, Google Play, iTunes…

For those of you who like to take less-traveled roads, my new novel Terra is now available on Kobo, Google Play, and iTunes.  I’m not sure what’s taking Barnes & Noble so long.

Here’s an article about the market shares of ebook vendors.  iTunes has 11% of the market; Barnes & Noble has 8%; Kobo has 3%; Google Play has 2%; Amazon has almost all the rest.  Oddly, most of my sales come from Barnes & Noble.  I do see a smattering of sales from the other vendors not named Amazon.

I will now start reminding people that customer reviews are the life’s blood of book sales.  So far Terra has none.  I expect that they may be hard to come by, since the novel will be of most interest to folks who have read The Portal.  So it’s all the more urgent for me to browbeat you into both reading and reviewing the thing.

Here’s the plot summary and first chapter.

Does everyone know I have an Amazon author page?

You can find it here.  Notice the exciting Follow button beneath my photo.  Click it, and apparently Amazon keeps you updated on my new releases and maybe other cool stuff.

(For those keeping track, I’m about halfway through the second draft of the sequel to The Portal.  I was hoping to get it out this year, but I have a feeling it’s going to leak into 2016.)

My ePublisher weighs in on the state of ebooks

Every once in a while my ePublisher sends out an email giving their thoughts on the state of ebook publishing.  The latest one is pretty interesting. In a section titled “Reality Sets In” they talk about the glut of ebooks on the market:

With the filters removed, the market is flooding with dreck. It’s hard to get an exact number, but there are about 4 million ebooks on the market right now with nearly 100,000 new titles added each month. Shockingly, most will never sell a single copy. Of the remainder, only about 2% will sell at any meaningful quantity.

Unfortunately for many, self-publishing was sold as the easy path to notoriety and fortune; simply publish your story and readers will send you mountains of cash! But many found out the hard way that the only thing more demanding than publishers are readers and their unbridled reviews. A few discovered success, while the masses simply found a harsh dose of reality; this business is tough.

With time, this realization will thin the ranks as the hopeful become discouraged and opt for other pursuits.

They point out one way that Amazon (and other vendors) could help thin the ranks:

The available inventory of ebooks needs to be purged. At some point, natural selection will reign and the purge will happen.

We’ve already seen the first waves in the subscription services, and, at some point, resellers will also tire of being loaded down with dreck and will perhaps begin charging to maintain books in their system. Imagine the income Amazon could draw down if they charged $1 per month per title? Once one eRetailer does it, the others will follow. Then, all books that never sold a sustainable number of copies will leave the system and things will normalize—for a while.

It never made much sense to me that Amazon (and other vendors) would just store everyone’s ebooks on their servers for free.  Sure, storage is cheap, but it costs Amazon something to store millions of books, from most of which they will never see a penny in revenue.  I would certainly pay a storage fee if it would help get rid of the dreck.

My ePublisher’s advice to writers has been constant for a while: quality matters.  So does productivity.  Series are better than individual titles.  Long, complex narratives don’t do as well as simpler narratives.  Attention spans aren’t what they used to be.  Readers have lots of other ways to entertain themselves–often on the same device on which they’re doing their reading.  So get back to work.

Which I will now try to do.