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Author: Karen Myers

Karen Myers is a fantasy and science fiction author, best known for her heroic fantasy novels. Her stories feature heroes in real and imagined worlds filled with magic, space travel, and adventure.

The Chained Adept – German edition

Posted in Language, and The Chained Adept

I've commissioned my first translation. This is a new experiment for me, and very exciting!

I decided the German market was the place to start, since it has a well-developed interest in SFF, both locally written and in translation. While I have some knowledge of German (well, the language from hundreds of years ago, anyway), I naturally needed to turn to a professional.

My biggest concern is not just the accuracy of the translation, but the tone of it. I want to make sure it doesn't have any whiff of modern slang to throw the reader out of the story while still presenting itself in living German idiom. That requires a sensitive hand, willing to reset the phrasing as necessary instead of just processing the words mechanically.

Image of robot from Metropolis
From Metropolis, part of the long history of SFF in Germany

I am myself slogging through the translated results with the aid of automated translation (Google Translate) to try and catch any obvious issues with individual words, especially since my English vocabulary is broad and therefore a potential source of confusion. This has the added amusement of showing me German constructions I've never seen before, as when “bandy-legged” becomes “o-beinig” (bones shaped like an “O”, I presume — who knew?)

I anticipate this will be ready by the end of the summer. Now I have to study up on my international marketing skills.

 

 

Using ONIX as an Independent Author

Posted in Just for Writers

Image of computer screen with dataIntroduction

I've learned something about how the systems of traditional publishing work, since I started in 2012. As a career systems technologist, I've paid particular attention to the data systems, standards, and tools that I've been able to learn about.

While it's a truism that traditional authors who have gone hybrid or converted completely to independent publishing have shared a lot about traditional publishing with the indie community, by the nature of things we don't get a lot of conversations from the techies in the book trade, so it's not terribly easy coming up to speed on the technical systems used by traditional publishers.

Why do I care?

Common Problems

I can't help but notice, whenever I compare my own ebook listings at a retailer with a traditional publisher's listings, that theirs are often cleaner and more complete. Combined with the knowledge that they have large catalogues to maintain, I want to know how that's done, so that I can achieve the same effect. My own catalogue is now 24 titles, so it's not just a matter of data quality but also data quantity.

Managing and Updating Metadata for Many Titles

Whenever I have a bright idea about a better way to manage keywords or categorization, or how to adjust pricing or format book descriptions, I often find myself facing my catalogue and shaking my head about 24 titles times all my distributors.

Today my ebooks are widely distributed. I go directly to Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords, and I use PublishDrive and StreetLib for Apple and Google Play, and for dozens of international retailers. That's in effect 6 retailer/distributors, for each of whom I might have to update 24 titles.

It would be so much better to have a single database for all my titles and just use that to update all my trading partners, so that they could update their own trading partners or international sites, wouldn't it? My massive spreadsheet can marshal all the data, perhaps, but that just sits on my computer and doesn't communicate with anyone.

The villains of Atlas Shrugged

Posted in Characters, and Villains

Image of cover for Atlas ShruggedIt's not the heroes of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged (1957), nor its peculiar human simulacra, nor its polemical message that make it such an influential book, still a perennial best seller after 60 years (800,000 copies/year). According to a Library of Congress poll, Atlas Shrugged is the second most influential book after the Bible, at least in America.

It's the villains.

Like many others, I came across the book at the perfect age and in perfect circumstances — I was 13, working summers in my father's company, just like Dagny Taggart. I had no notion of political flavors, had never heard the term “libertarian” (much less “objectivism”), and was as stunned by the length of John Galt's speech as anyone would be, but I still found the book absolutely fascinating.

At the same time I was well down the road of total immersion into what science-fiction and fantasy was available in the mid-1960s. I read it all, and when I say that, I really mean that I bought everything in the genres that was available in paperback. Everything. Thus began a habit that has run to hundreds of books per year for five decades (somewhat fewer during the dark days of New Age…).

I recently participated in a Facebook discussion where people were asked to name the most influential SFF book they read, and I suggested Atlas Shrugged. It's nominally set in the future (from 1957) even though it's not a standard genre specimen. While some agreed, others spouted the usual objections: paper characters, flawed plot, debatable ethics, and so forth.

I've never understood the visceral hatred for the book from some people. Sure, it has plenty of flaws, and it's message fiction which is generally objectionable. But no one has ever suggested it was a perfect book — why does it bear some special burden for perfection as compared to, say, Frank Herbert's Dune, or Mervyn Peake's Titus Groan?

What the detractors don't care for, I've come to believe, is Rand's depiction of the villains, the various wreckers of civilization. They are many and various, and they range from journalists, scientists, industrialists, bureaucrats, and politicians to ordinary people — wives, parents, strangers.

We see these same villains every day in the news. They couldn't be more familiar to us, now.

Image of White Suit manga villainsThat must be unbearable to some people. Some scene will feature one or more of the these villains mouthing the same pious elite words that seek approval today, and Rand makes it perfectly obvious just how little good faith is involved and how clearly and comprehensively these policies lead to disaster. As a bonus, she illustrates the resentment that is the underlying motive for many of them.

Other SFF authors (Mil SciFi comes to mind) have dwelt upon a limited subset of these people, in the context of a (military) bureaucracy gone mad, but no one has been so thorough and wide-ranging and… accurate as Rand.

I reread the book every few years, and the villains become ever more non-fictional. The heroes may not be 100% convincing, but the villains certainly are. I'd be delighted if I could make my own villains half as compelling.

What is Self-Publishing?

Posted in Just for Writers, and Publishing

Image of logo for Pennwriters.orgA presentation for The Inkwell,
a gathering of writers from Pennwriters.org.

Introduction

I’m a writer of fantasy and science fiction stories. I wrote and published my first novel in 2012, and I currently have 9 novels in 3 series, short stories, and book bundles – 23 titles now, with 3 more novels expected for 2018.

I have always been a self-publisher – what is known as an “independent author” (indie) – and wouldn’t dream of mortgaging my ordinary rights to an agent or traditional publisher. I publish in ebook, print, and audiobook, and I’ve just commissioned my first translation. My books are published worldwide through dozens of retailers and a handful of distributors. You can find my books online anywhere.

I’m just an ordinary author with an ordinary following in my genre, making ordinary proceeds – not any sort of superstar or major bestseller. I started this business while I was employed full-time, and now I’m retired and able to devote more time to it.

Books as manufactured goods

You can take 200 of your family’s recipes, do them up in a word processor, and take the file to your local book-printer and have them run up 100 bound copies for you to sell or give away to friends and family.

Church groups do something like this all the time, to raise money. Corporations publish their annual reports in glossy hardbound editions for handouts at meetings.

Your collection of recipes — that’s a book. But it’s not part of the book trade. No one can order it online. It’s not in any bookstore (unless your local shop decides to take a few on consignment and add them to the “local region” section, because you asked them to.) It doesn’t have an ISBN number, that fundamental identifier that distinguishes one book from every other book in the world and lets it be ordered from anywhere.

This is not what we mean by “self-publishing.”

Vanity Presses

Vanity publishers, like the notorious Author Solutions, are predatory organizations that take advantage of would-be authors. They make their money by selling services, including unnecessary ones, at tremendous markups, upselling as many of their service offerings as possible, and then producing some form of book product, often badly-edited, poorly formatted, and ill-covered, distributed somewhere obscure.

Helpful tips for new writers: 4

Posted in Just for Writers, and Tips for New Writers

At the request of a colleague, I'm spending some time talking to some writers far, far away that she's working with, and I thought it would be useful to collect the presentation in a blog post for them, and for anyone else who might be interested. You can find all the posts in this series here.

I can't possibly touch on more than a handful of topics in a single session, so I'll just mention a few that I think are important:

* The dubious romance of being a starving artist
* Your first million words
* Read like a writer

As question/answers are added during the talk, I'll update this.

 

Introduction

I'm Karen Myers, and I've been a writer of fantasy and science fiction books for five years. I came to this late, after an official career building computer software and services companies that lasted four decades.

Today I have nine novels in three series and several shorts stories and bundles for a total of twenty-three titles. I produce three or four novels most years, when I'm not concentrating on other aspects of the publishing business. (This year, I'm producing my first translated title, into German.

I'm an independent author — all my books are available worldwide, in ebook, paperback, and audiobook formats. I expect to bring most of the audiobook editions out next year (only one is currently available).

As an independent author, I'm in charge of all aspects of publishing, from writing and editing, to layout and formatting, covers, audio recording and production, distribution, marketing, and all the finances of the business. Almost the only thing I don't do myself are translations and the cover backgrounds and titles (though I do the Photoshop work that adds my author name, imprint, and blurb to the work from my cover artist and I make all the output formats). Independents work with various third parties for those parts of the publishing business that they can't or won't do themselves, and different authors have different needs for those services. My publishing business is evolving, too — I've started publishing other authors in 2018.

This is not the only time I've taken on serious work in the arts. I picked up a violin for the first time in my 30s, and a camera in my 50s, so I know what it's like to go from nothing to reasonably competent. I'm finding it's no different for writing fiction, now that I'm a few years into it. You can see some of my other interests here.

Just about all the best advice I've ever gotten came to me from people just a little further along on the same path, and I'm grateful to have the opportunity to do the same in my turn.

The romance of being a starving artist

Look, I get it. You'll do anything to get your first short story or novel or poem into print. We all understand. “Maybe if I give it away for free, someone will enjoy it and look for other things I've written. It'll be great publicity.”

Bad idea.

Image of Starving Artist posterIt's much more satisfying to be a paid professional than a starving artist, as any starving artist will tell you.

Using Schema.org for books – an example

Posted in Just for Writers

This topic came up in conversation elsewhere, inspiring me to do an annotated post of how I use Schema.org information to partially control how my book's metadata is presented on the Internet.

Intelligence for search engines

In an ideal universe, search engines would understand the context of the data that they retrieve. They would just know that a recipe is a recipe, that a book is a book, that a business location is a business location, and so forth. To the degree that they have gotten as far as they have, it's because of metadata — data about the data that they retrieve — that allows them some intelligence about presenting the information that they find.

To do this requires a combination of descriptive metadata from the data owner, and collation and presentation work from the search engine presenter. As in most such things, Google seems to be leading the way.

Google's Information Cards

When you search on a restaurant using Google, you get not only ranked links scrolling down the screen — you also get a nicely formatted “information card” on the top right of the screen that collects the information you would find most useful in an intelligent way.

Invest in your business

Posted in Just for Writers

A version of this article was first published here.

There’s more to being an indie than the writing

We come to self-publishing out of a love of writing, but if we stop there, and go no further, then we risk never developing our writing into a full-fledged business. Writing itself can be such a challenge that it’s tempting to postpone dealing with some of the other challenges in becoming a fully-developed self-publisher.

Certainly, without the writing, you have no product. But without the rest of it, you have no business. Now, not everyone wants to build a business, and that’s fine, but for the rest of us…

I published my first book 5 years ago. As I look back, I can see all the places where I invested in things beside my writing. If I had done nothing but write, I’d have several more books – but then, I’d probably be selling fewer of them, in fewer places, in fewer formats, and I’d be less prepared to support my new books as they emerge. On the whole, I recommend balance between the writing and everything else.

It helps that I have a technical background and some experience with professional photography, so investing in things like learning how to format my own books and make my own covers (out of someone else’s background art) came relatively easily to me. So did building my first websites, one as a publisher (Perkunas Press) and one as a platform for other writing friends (HollowLands). That held me for the first couple of years as I tooled up and kept my costs down.

But I face learning curves, too, just like all of us, and my biggest are:

  • Product availability (format & distribution)
  • Marketing
  • Learning the deep processes of the current (traditional) book trade