Monday, January 26, 2015

Overque - Stitch's Great Escape

The Overambitious Overflow Queues of Walt Disney World - Stitch's Great Escape

First, let's orient ourselves.  We're walking back towards the Hub from Tomorrowland.  Monsters Inc Laugh Floor is on the left.

Stitch's Great Escape is to the right.  Keep walking, and past the entrance to Stitch are the Fast Pass machines [snicker].  Keep walking a little bit more, just before the stupid Fred Flintstone rocks, behind and to the left of the Fast Pass area, there is a small area with a roped loop.  Usually, this area is roped off, and it's hard to see any of it.  The rocks block off the view from the bridge, a wall blocks it off from Cosmic Rays.  You can see a little bit of it from the Peoplemover as it passes above it and when it emerges after making the final loop after the Laugh Floor.

Before Stitch, this area was originally Mission to Mars.  It had two theaters, each with separate exits.  This was originally one of those exits.  I've seen employees wheel carts out of that area, so there may be some storage back there as well.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Adventures in Self Publishing - Amazon KDP

Submitting a book over Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing website is amazingly easy.  If you've got all your material prepared, it takes a couple minutes at most.

Use your real name, and if you already have an Amazon customer account, just use that to start.  They will need your real name and SS#, as you're getting paid and doing taxes and such.  You can use a pen name for the actual books, and shy of a subpoena or such, your real name won't get attached to your Vampire SEAL Team Menage series.

Have your text in a .doc file and your cover in a jpg.  The title and subtitle should actually be on the cover.  If it's in a series, let them know.  There seems to be a cyclical thing in book marketing whether a series (or number) is a good or bad thing.

You can try to be a fancy ass like me and make up a publisher name, but I don't think it does any good.  I think most people don't care, and they few that do probably appreciate authors doing it for themselves.

Now your description.  This is incredibly important!  You have free billboard space in the largest book market in human history!  Use it!  Seriously, I've run into tons of books that have this blank or near blank.  When book shopping, I end up clicking over to Goodreads just to find out what the book is about.  Often the customer comments do a better job than the publisher.  Let the customer know what your story is about.  Don't just throw out advertising buzzwords - what's it about?  "A single mother cop hunts down a killer", "Four high school friends search for treasure and find love", "A kid goes to magic school".  Readers can be weirdly specific in what they like, so let them know.  And not only do you want to hook a potential customer, but the wordage in the description gets mixed in with the metadata when doing a search.

Like everything else, you can change it whenever you want, either through the KDP submission page or Author Central, which I find easier.  You're a writer, kind of, so you should challenge yourself to write the best ad copy for your work as possible.  Make it a habit to revisit your descriptions on a regular basis to punch them up.  And for heaven's sake, check your spelling and grammar!  Let the reader have to pay before finding out you're incompetent.

Next up, contributors, which will most likely just be the author.  You can put literally anything here you want.  In theory, you'll get caught if you put James Patterson or Stephen King, but there's no verification process up front.  Later, you can synch up the titles in Author Central so Amazon knows who wrote what.

Next is categories and keywords.  I'll go into those in more detail next time.

Check the layout in the previewer.  If it looks funky, you'll need to reformat.  There may or may not be a bug with the iPhone option - the centering always looks wonky, but I've heard that on an actual iPhone it's okay.

Next, set your price.  $2.99.  There's a lot of debate and... no, $2.99.  Unless you want to do an introductory deal or some such, in which case you might as well do that one free (I'll cover that later).  The way Amazon's pricing structure works, anything less than $2.99 gets only 35% royalties.  You may sell more books at $0.99, but not seven times more.  Authors have experimented with lowering the price, and most find they don't sell any more at $0.99 than $2.99.

"But I worked really hard on it, poured out my heart and soul, and it's worth more to me!"  Well, you're not the one buying it.  It might hurt your pride to sell your baby for so cheap, but it will hurt worse when nobody buys it.  And let's be honest, it's probably not even worth $2.99.  If a reader wants to waste time slogging through some garbage indie book, there are plenty of free ones to choose from.  If it turns out you don't suck and end up selling a million copies, up the price, or make the next one ten bucks.

We'll talk later about whether it's worth it to go KDP select or not.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Nest by Gregory Douglas

The Nest
by Gregory Douglas
1980 Zebra Books

Hells yeah.

Mutated cockroaches eat people on an island in Cape Cod.  That's pretty much the whole story.  We've got some entomologists that just happen to be there giving us weird bug facts to pad it out to over 400 pages, but mostly just cockroaches crawling into ears and so on.

I had a much higher opinion of this book before I started reading Scorpions, which has this one beat for gore and craziness.  Stay tuned.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Overque - Dinosaur

The Overambitious Overflow Queues of Walt Disney World  - Dinosaur

As you walk up towards the show building, there are some loopy paths to the right with some dinosaur statues.  Couldn't find any video, so I'll pass you on to Parkeology, where I got this from.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Adventures in Self Publishing - Where to Sell

Unless you're opposed to it on principle, Amazon will be your main market.  On rare occasions authors will find a particular title does better somewhere else, but if you only want to mess with one market, go with Amazon.  Weirdly, Amazon is far and away the best selling ebook retailer, but the most popular format is epub, which is not the format Amazon sells.  I'm guessing pirating has something to do with that.

I don't have specific numbers, but based on what I hear from authors, Barnes & Noble is still clinging on at a distant second, with iTunes third.  iTunes seems not to have caught on as much as people had thought for books.  Fourth would probably be Kobo, which I understand is bigger in Europe.

Consider using an aggregator.  This is a service that takes your book submission and then submits those to the various markets, taking a small cut for their service.  Some markets don't accept submissions directly from indie authors, and some are too difficult to even try to deal with (iTunes in particular).  The good thing with aggregators is that you can mix & match.  You can have an account directly with Amazon and B&N, then use an aggregator to submit to Overdrive, Oyster, etc.

Aggregators include Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and Lulu.

I haven't used Lulu, but just looking at their site, they seem more focused on fleecing writers ($99 to convert to epub - every other market I've seen converts for free), though they may be better for print on demand than ebooks.  Draft2Digital I haven't worked with, but I've heard good things.

I have a love/hate relationship with Smashwords.  I like their general vibe and I like them as a customer.  In addition to distributing, they have their own store, and you can choose what format to download from.  I don't sell much, but I find I shift more freebies through Smashwords directly than with B&N or iTunes.  You can set your books for free without jumping through any hoops.  Text is submitted as a .doc file and sent through what they call the "meatgrinder", which converts it to several formats.  The meatgrinder is reportedly notoriously picky, but I've never had a problem with it, just use as little formatting as possible.

I've had a few minor issues.  Sometimes a book won't go through to a particular retailer, and I get a kinda "you don't sell enough for us to care" vibe from support, which is fair enough.  I found that just resubmitting the same file or cover will start the process again and sometimes jump start things.

They do not adequately support multiple pen names or multiple authors.  You have one pen name per account, period.  If you want another pen name, open another account under a different email address (something that would get you in trouble at Amazon, so don't do that there).  I had two author names on a cover (both of them me - there was a good reason for it), and they sent a message saying I needed to contact support to let them know who the primary author was, etc.  I did, and got a canned response saying to basically do the same thing again, but to also create ghost accounts for the other author.  At that point I took my ball and went home, taking the opportunity to go exclusive on Amazon (more on that later).

To their credit, the titles disappeared from all the retailers within 24 hours, which is pretty good turnaround.  Hopefully they'll add support for multiple pen names, because I do like dealing with them, and continue to do so with some single author titles.

One of the issues that authors will face with aggregators is "censorship".  I put air quotes around it because I know that it's not really censorship, the government isn't involved, nobody's going to jail, and if a company doesn't want to sell something they don't have to.  Again, just remember that nobody reads this stuff.  I've got all kinds of nastiness in my books and it's available everywhere.  If one puts something in the category of "Erotica", tag it as adults only, and have keywords like "incest", "bestiality", etc, yeah, it might not make it to all the retailers.

Smashwords has guidelines (no rape, no underage stuff, incest, bestiality) but sells and supports it anyway.  An aggregator may take the route of only distributing certain stuff to certain markets, while they might also take the route of not accepting erotica at all and avoiding the hassle.  Additionally, most of the smaller companies use paypal, and they are notoriously conservative about naughty stuff, so I could see a crackdown in the future.

Amazon pays after 2-3 months (at the end of the month, two months after the sale), no minimum with direct deposit (or if there is, it's under $1).  For a beginning author who also sucks at selling books, it's nice to get that little $1.70 deposit and not have to wait a year to hit some minimum balance.

Smashwords pays after 3-6 months (at the end of the quarter after they get paid, which may be at the end of the previous quarter).  Minimum $10, payable over paypal.  I have yet to be paid by Smashwords, though that's entirely my fault for sucking.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Raw Pain Max by Dean Andersson

Raw Pain Max
by Dean Andersson
1988 Popular Library

No, not that.  Pure coincidence, I'm sure.

If you read the acknowledgments (Dallas Fantasy Fair, Z Rock, the one book about Bathory that Dean read for research), you can probably piece together the book for yourself.  Picture if Richard Kern listened to LA Guns in Dallas instead of Foetus in New York, and you kind of get the idea.

Phil and Trudy are a kinda couple who are into mild BDSM and do a live sex show in Dallas.  After a violently accurate description of Dallas traffic, Phil picks up a cousin and her friend Liz.

Liz ends up being the sarcastic reincarnation of Elizabeth Bathory, except later she ends up being the reincarnation of the witchy friend of Bathory, or something.  Then Trudy ends up being the reincarnation of Bathory.  Anyway, there's a torture scene with more snark than pain, and Trudy lops Liz's head off.

To sort things out, Phil and Trudy drive around Dallas and Fort Worth visiting comic shops, which I'm sure isn't some self-indulgent shout out nonsense.  They then drive through Oklahoma to Lindsborg, Kansas.  For absolutely no reason that I can tell.  Seriously, the structure of this book is a road trip from Dallas to Lindsborg, with three torture sessions sandwiched in.  And Z Rock, lots of Z Rock.  Z Rock playlists, Z Rock t-shirts, discussions of the range of their transmissions,

The torture scenes are meh, with dialogue like:
"We'll whip you some more, especially your breasts and vagina, then introduce you to some megapain.  Raw pain, to the max"
Sade meets Poochie.

While in Kansas, Liz comes back to life and tortures some random victims in a barn in Denton.  This book has a weird mixture of both under and over-explaining its premise.  There is a demon that lives off of pain, and another demon or something that doesn't like the first demon, and they use people as pawns and live off the pain they cause.  To be fair, it might have been coherent and I just didn't care enough to pay attention.

After going to Kansas for no good reason, Liz hypnotizes Phil to drive back to Denton.  Trudy astrally travels back in time to witness Bathory torturing a servant girl, and this somehow was all part of some demon's plan, and the end, except for more explanations that don't make sense and more damn Z Rock.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Cat's Eye by William W. Johnstone

Cat's Eye
by William W. Johnstone
Zebra Books 1989

A sequel to Cat's Cradle, this installment mostly abandons the original premise and brings the story in line with his other Devil books.

A quick recap of that series (Devil's Kiss, Heart, Touch, Cat, Laughter) - Satan periodically picks a random American town and seduces almost all of its inhabitants.  The teenagers start being rude to the elderly, talking back to their parents, having orgies, killing babies, etc.  Then Beasts (stripped down werewolves) and the Undead (stripped down vampires) roam the town, and a hero ordained by God and a small handful of pure souls fight back with machine guns and grenades to a convoluted finish.

We start off with a bodyguard (the son of the hero in the first book, who evidently went through a lot in three years) being hired to protect his author daughter by a rich developer.  Unexpectedly, the rich guy is a conservationist, which is a good thing here.  And the town Sheriff is corrupt and worthless, also a big switch for Johnstone.

Johnstone does not work from an outline, and it shows here.  It shows real bad.  We start off with some bad slapstick.  Animated corpse parts kick people in the butt like an Army of Darkness schtick, and Satan himself catcalls characters with a disembodied voice.

The incoherence becomes an asset as Johnstone picks up steam.  Satan frees some prisoners who go on a raping spree.  Their rape victims become lizard women.  At some point Johnstone tries to shoehorn in a lot of the Satanic Panic nonsense floating around at the time.  There are over 100,000 satanic covens in America, about five times more than Catholic churches.  Almost the entire town is part of a coven, but they hide their heavy metal posters when the police get a search warrant.  It's not really a conspiracy anymore if 90% of the town is part of it.

Parenting advice: If your child listens to hard rock music, kill them and burn the corpse.

The bodyguard and few remaining non-Satanists mow down coven members, living dead, flesh eating maggots, etc, with a cache of grenades and flame throwers, the end.  This is the best book ever.

There is no cat baby.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Adventures in Self Publishing - Do Your Own Covers

If you're poor or cheap or ambitious you can take a hand at making your own cover.  The best advice is to probably keep it simple.  Too many self published covers look like a angelfire page from the 90s, with bling and lens flares and the whole works.

First, get and learn the basics of GIMP, basically the free version of Photoshop.

You'll want a nice font - try dafont or my favorite fontspace.  Enter your title or whatever in the preview box to see what it looks like, and make sure to only use 100% free or commercial-use fonts - this isn't for personal use.  I've seen it as a rule of thumb never to use more than three fonts on one document.

You may want to use photos or images. You can take them yourself or use someone else's.  You can always ask people - many amateur artists or photographers would be happy to let you.  You can use images on flickr, but you'll probably at least need to attribute the photographer, and make sure to filter results for Creative Commons with Commercial and Modifications checked.  There is way too much noise to signal for my liking at flickr, but it can be good if you just want a basic shot of a forest or skyline or something.  There are more artsy options at DeviantArt, but more hoops to jump through if you want to do things honestly.  You go through hundreds of photos to find a "maybe", then click through to find out you have to click to a separate website to find out that you can only use the photo in anti-capitalist feelings poems or some such crap, and it's just too much hassle for me.

Or you could buy stock photos for around $2 each.  There are a lot of rip offs here, so google around for customer reviews.  Avoid any claims of free trials - all that I've come across hit your credit card way before the trial ends.  Most sites will let you create an account and save favorites, or "lightbox", for free.  Also, if you find a picture on one site, you can probably find it on another by searching by picture title.  The pricing is all over the place.  You can get pics for like $12 for a single, or $0.12 each if you have an expensive subscription.  Keep in mind that you can sometimes actually get twice as many as advertised, as you'll only need a "medium" size picture, unless you intend on using it for a print cover or need to zoom in a ton.  You'll probably want to avoid the temptation to get a package deal and buy cover pictures for your next 20 books, unless you plan ahead really well.  Can Stock Photo is my current favorite.  For $9 in credits you can get 5 photos.  Fotolia is also good.

Now that you have your elements, you're on your own, but here are a few links that might help:

Fancying up text:
Text outline:
3D text:

Cutting out pictures/removing backgrounds - the trick is to get the feathering right.  I'm not great at this, and doing this wrong will make your cover look amateurish more than almost anything else:

How to fade from one color (or image) to the next:

I'll add more here as I come across it.  Some topics that will help you as you become familiar with GIMP include using Layer Masks, fiddling with the opacity slider between two layers, applying filters, and adjusting color elements.  Remember to save lots of project files of every change and element.  You may find yourself wanting to use the title in the same style in an advertisement or something, and you can just drag it off one window onto another.

Your image should be at least 1400 pixels wide - this number keeps getting bigger and bigger, I think mostly thanks to Apple and all the ebooks they aren't selling, so go ahead and make it ginormous.  Export your final product to a jpg.  I will usually come up with a dozen candidates with subtle variations, and I'll export them all to one folder and flip through them.  Also look at them at thumbnail size - some pictures that look good at regular size become smudgy blobs when shrunk down.

And if you end up being unhappy with the cover you submit (and you will), changing it is easy, though it can take a day or more to show up at the various vendors.

Covers for print books are a different animal, which I may or may not go into later.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Overqueue - Journey into Imagination With Figment

The Overambitious Overflow Queues of Walt Disney World - Journey into Imagination With Figment

About the saddest thing I've ever seen was a cast member standing outside Journey into Imagination telling guests that it was temporarily closed, especially since the only people there were trying to find the restroom after Captain Eo.

Not much of an overflow queue, but to the left just as you enter, there is another room with a roped queue circling a display of  the video camera helmet from Honey, I Shrunk the Audience.

I just found out that the rounded area at the front of the queue is the original giant turntable from the first, superior incarnation of the ride.  I like this queue a lot, but maybe that's just in contrast to the ride itself.