Jan 30 2013

Sick Kid

I haven’t posted much in a few weeks—it seems like we’ve all been dealing with a string of colds and coughs that just. won’t. go. away. Davy has been the hardest hit—we finally took him into the doctor today and learned that the poor little guy has RSV, respiratory syncytial virus, and a piggyback ear infection. And possibly pneumonia. The doctor gave us antibiotics for the infection, which will likely knock out the pneumonia too if it’s there, but the only treatment for RSV is rest and lots of fluids. It’s one of those things that’s really mild in older kids and barely noticeable in adults, but can be quite serious for babies. So in a way I’m glad we’re dealing with this now, and not in a couple months when we’ll have a newborn in the house.

Davy hates the medicine, and hates us for forcing it on him, and hates the cough that wakes him up in the middle of the night, and hates not being able to go to school or have playdates with his friends, and generally is a very crabby two year old right now. Poor little tough guy.

Jan 7 2013

Book reviews: The Chukchi Bible, Bloody Fabulous, Washington Square

These reviews are cross-posted from my Goodreads account.

The Chukchi Bible

This account of the myths and legends of the Chukchi people (a native Arctic tribe) is written by a contemporary Chukchi author, which sets it apart from a more anthropological narrative in some vital ways. Yuri Rytkheu is telling the history of his own family, and he claims the right to tell it in his own way–which in this case means with a rather modern narrative voice. Though the stories themselves may have been handed down through an oral tradition, this book was written: there’s none of the formulaic, repetitive cadences that you generally find when encountering narratives that are primarily designed for storytellers to memorize and repeat. Instead we are told what characters thought and felt and sensed in each moment, as with a modern novel.

Yet the stories are infused with a more ancient sensibility. There’s an easy interchange between the material and spiritual worlds, and between the animal and human realms. War and rape and murder happen, and are neither excused nor treated as anything particularly shocking. There’s euthanasia of the elderly, harsh treatment of children, and one act of human sacrifice (although that IS shocking, even to the people carrying out what they perceive to be a divine mandate). The most thrilling part of the book is Rytkheu’s account of the life of his grandfather, who traveled the world during the early twentieth century and witnessed the loss of the traditional Chukchi lifestyle at the hands of the Americans, Europeans and Soviets. Rytkheu doesn’t sentimentalize the often-brutal lives of his ancestors, but he’s clear-eyed about what the Chukchi have lost, and he brings that heritage brilliantly to life.

Bloody Fabulous

I bought this collection because it had a Zen Cho story in it, and while her piece (“The First Witch of Damansara”) is my favorite in the book, I enjoyed several of the others as well. As might be expected from a fashion-themed speculative fiction anthology, it’s heavy on the vampires, but there’s also fairies, ghosts, time-travelers, immortal children of an Aztec blood god, and acrobatic mathematicians. (I quite liked the acrobatic mathematicians.)

Washington Square

Spoiler alert!

Henry James is obviously an amazing stylist, and I love the way he excavates the thoughts and emotions of his characters. I love the way the conflict in his stories almost always comes from characters encountering the limits of their own natures, and how he explores the nature of true honor in a world of hypocrisy and sham propriety.

That said, sometimes I can only take James in small doses, and Washington Square exposes some of his more artificial and frustrating traits as a storyteller. I could believe in Catherine to a certain extent, and certainly found her quiet defiance of her overbearing father compelling, but the resolution of the situation seemed forced and hollow. After showing us a character of such unexpected depth and strength, James expects us to turn around and believe that she’s utterly broken forever? No, sorry, I feel pretty sure that the Catherine we met over the course of the book would have been able to find happiness with a John Ludlow. The final image of the spinster alone with her embroidery is meant to be striking, but I just found it false.

Jan 5 2013

Yay! Another Review!

Quick link: Noor A Jahangir at Trollking has posted a review of The Millennial Sword, giving it a solid 3 out of 5 stars: “The story is well-written with an almost whimsical style and it is clear that Phillips has done her research without info-dumping or the story reading like an interesting history lesson. The lead character is likable in that she feels compelled to her duty by her employer, her colleagues and the mantle of the Lady of the Lake, but selfish enough to make her more human and interesting.”


Jan 5 2013

Amazon’s “Automatic Renewal” of KDP Select Terms Is a Deceptive Practice

Warning: this post is very much “insider baseball” for e-published authors, probably only of interest to those who are marketing books with Amazon or who like to keep tabs on various predatory corporate tactics.

So Amazon has this program, “KDP Select,” which is designed to increase the number of e-books that are Amazon-exclusive. The KDP Select program offers authors some increased visibility and promotional tools on Amazon’s site. In return, authors agree not to sell their e-books through any other retailer for a period of three months. This is in contrast to “vanilla” publishing with Amazon, which doesn’t require exclusivity but also doesn’t allow for things like free promotional giveaways. So far, so good—there’s a lot of chatter on the author boards about whether the Select program is worth it or not, and about the effects of the exclusivity agreement on the larger e-book marketplace, but plenty of authors have found the program at least worth a nibble. I decided to launch my book through KDP Select, which is why I delayed publishing in other formats for three months.

Unfortunately, I’ve just discovered that Amazon considers the three-month Select term to automatically renew, unless you find a hidden checkbox in their user interface (it is literally hidden; you have to find and click a special link to make it appear) and “deselect” the auto-renewal “convenience feature.”

Now, I’m pretty sure this kind of practice is not legally enforceable. My state, California, was in 2006 party to a settlement against Time Inc. that alleged automatic subscription renewals to be a deceptive business practice. In that settlement, “Time Inc. agreed to refund $4.3 million to more than 108,000 eligible consumers who made payments for magazine subscriptions that were automatically renewed between 1998 and May of 2004.” Other suits have been brought, generally successfully, against companies that engage in automatic renewals of products or services.

The problem is that Amazon dominates the e-book marketplace and few self-published authors are going to want to risk having Amazon drop their titles altogether, as it threatens to do if the Select exclusivity clause is violated.

I’m personally weighing how I want to proceed. I’ve sent a few polite-but-clear emails to Amazon’s KDP Select customer support, expressing my displeasure with the auto-renew policy. I’m also going to be linking to this post on various author boards. I’m hoping that with enough outcry from their authors, Amazon will voluntarily drop the deceptive “automatic renewal” policy. However, while I’m lobbying for the change, I may have to delay publishing to Smashwords for another three months.

And speaking for myself, I’m offended enough by the auto-renew trickery that I’ll never enroll another title in KDP Select.

Update: After a couple of go-rounds with customer support, they cancelled the “re-enrollment.” Hooray!

Jan 4 2013

Price Change Announcement

I am targeting a January 15th release date for making the e-book version of The Millennial Sword available through Apple’s iBookstore, Kobo, and other outlets. (I’ll be publishing to Smashwords, which supports basically all the non-Amazon retailers.) At that time, I’m planning to raise the price of the e-book to $3.99. My friend Megan, who has a publishing background, advised me to look into a higher price point, and after doing some research I discovered there’s something of a consensus among indie authors that slightly higher prices can actually boost sales. I’ve also noticed that on my book’s Amazon page, in the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” section, the majority of other titles that readers of The Millennial Sword are picking up are priced at $3.99 or $4.99. So, just a heads-up: there will be a slight price bump soon.

Amazon remains the 800 pound gorilla of the e-publishing market, and their royalty structure rewards e-books priced at $2.99 or higher, so $2.99 is in many ways the floor for self-published book prices. (You do see 99 cent titles, but Amazon only pays out 35 percent royalties for these books, as opposed to 70 percent royalties at the $2.99 price—making it very difficult for a 99 cent title to ever make significant earnings.) And it’s nice for authors to be able to reserve the $2.99 pricing for shorter works like novellas.

Amazon sales so far for The Millennial Sword: in the first three months I’ve sold 93 copies across both print and digital formats (mostly digital). When I started this project I decided that fewer than 500 sales in the first year I’d consider disappointing, while more than a thousand I’d consider a big success. I expect sales to end up somewhere in between. I’m not really worried about slow sales at the start, though, because the book is just starting to see some promotion on the review blogs—and the more reviews it picks up on Amazon and Goodreads, the more visibility it will have. Right now I think the book is doing pretty much exactly what I expected it to do, and the real test will be whether or not the sales figures start to gradually rise over the next few months.

Jan 4 2013

Beauty in Ruins Reviews The Millennial Sword

I wanted to throw up a quick link to the Beauty in Ruins book review blog, which has posted a very kind review of The Millennial Sword:

It’s a fun story, lighthearted and humorous where it can be, but serious and action-packed where it needs to be. Given the rather fantastic premise, it’s a remarkably believable story, owing as much to Viv’s character as to the way in which Phillips pays equal attention to both worlds. In that respect, she makes the most of her setting, using the real San Francisco as a solid backdrop, as opposed to just going with a generic big city. I’ve never been, but the setting feels genuine, as if you could use the story as a roadmap around town.

It also needs to be said that despite Viv being armed and designated for a special role, she’s no victim of prophecy or destiny. This is not one of those stories where things happen despite the characters, but because of them. Well-told, with engaging characters, and a generous mix of humour, romance, and adventure, this is a book that I suspect will have a lot of cross-genre appeal.

Jan 2 2013

Robin’s Stories

1. The bad guys trapped Batman in the fields. And Wonder Woman wanted to save him. She had really strong bracelets and then they were scared and they went in the garbage truck. Batman got out. Then the garbage truck brought them to the forest. Then Batman said bye to Wonder Woman.

2. Once upon a time there was a blue dragon that lived on the bay. It was so fluffy. One day the dragon saw a monster. The little dragon ran away. Then it got fire on the monster. The end.

3. My story starts in this kitty. Yeah. I got my kitty. I’m hugging it. The kitty needs help! The kitty needs help! The kitty needs help for the dragon. And then the kitty got the dragon. The end!