Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Adventures in Self-Publishing: Google

I want Google Books to do well.  I want there to be a second absurdly big company selling ebooks. iTunes hates its customers as much as it hates proper capitalization, and Barnes & Noble just ain't hacking it either.  I don't see any other major player competing with the 'Zon.  Which is a shame, because Google is so bad at it.

I've never tried to publish on Google, and I understand they're not taking folks off the street, so my experience is second hand, mainly through confused authors trying to figure their system out.

The main complaint is pricing.  Google has the right in their contracts to slash the list price to nothing, and Amazon has the right in it's contract to price match it.  So Google drops the price of your book to 12 cents.  They still pay the full royalty (bleeding buckets of money in the process), but with few sales because nobody buys from Google.  Amazon price matches, giving you 9 cents a copy.

During the last Black Friday, Google was slashing everything.  Authors were jacking up the price hoping that the final result would be their actual desired list price.  The ended up pricing a $2.99 book at $69 to get the list price stable.  Then they found out they still got paid the full royalty on the $69.  Lots of prices got jacked up that weekend.

Amazon sucks at all thing mobile.  Their attempt at a phone, their shopping app, their app store, the Kindle app - all horrible.  Unfortunately, Google sucks at all things book.

Maybe it's the one book I've bought from them.  I can read it on the Google Play website on a PC, but only if I'm logged on to that particular Google account.  If I want to use another Google sign-on, I'll get kicked out, and have to do a workaround like opening a different kind of browser.  The text doesn't resize well on Firefox and bookmarks disappear or can't be deleted.  I usually use Chrome anyway, but a text reader should be able to work anywhere in 2015.

I clicked to download the PDF, but you don't get a real PDF.  You get an ascm file, which requires a different form of Adobe and lots of signing on and an internet connection every time you want to look at the book you paid for.  I finally got a version that reads offline without a password, but every time I open it Adobe tries to spend ten minutes re-downloading it.  And when I read it, there's a two second lag every time I try to scroll.

Amazon is smart enough to know that this level of DRM is counter-productive.  Step Two trouble shooting any DRM issue is always "look for pirated copy".  It should never be easier to steal than it is to buy.

Hopefully the largest data collecting organization in human history can manage to figure out how to sell letters on a screen.  Right after the world's largest bookseller figures out how to keep bookmarks from disappearing.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Mark of the Werewolf by Jeffrey Sackett

Mark of the Werewolf
by Jeffrey Sackett
1990 Bantam

A gypsy werewolf is captured by a neo-nazi genetics lab who tries to recreate the phenomena to create an unstoppable army.

The text is filled out Interview with a Vampire style with hypnotic regression sessions with the immortal werewolf, where he hangs out with Nostradamus, Dracula, Merlin, and Pontius Pilate.

Put together well enough, but a bit dry.  I think Sackett just forgot he was writing a horror novel at some point.  There's a battle between neo-nazi half-werewolves and armed Jewish Nationalists, want to see?  Nah, of course not, we'll just summarize it in a couple sentences.  A detailed explanation of Zoroastrianist symbology?  Yes, twenty more page please.

An updated version of this book is available for Kindle under the title Lycanthropos.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Things I Didn't Finish - Bite by Richard Laymon

by Richard Laymon

Not sure why I picked this one up.  After witnessing his steady decline with the Beast House chronicles, I figured his early stuff was his best.  As time went on, the gory madness went down and the interminable interior monologues and obsessions with tedious admin went up.  1991's One Rainy Night was tolerable (albeit with overlong clothes changing scenes), but sometimes I think I'm still reading the posthumous 2005 Glory Bus.

A guy answers the door to find his ex-girlfriend and one true love in a bathrobe.  She asks him to kill a vampire.  He does, which starts the most tedious body disposal scene since Pulp Fiction.  Laymon's obsession with intimately detailed changing scenes turns up again, as characters spend page upon page worrying about what clothes to wear before, during, and after the killing.

Looking at plot synopses later it looks like I dodged a bullet.  The entire novel is about disposing of that stupid body, like if The Trouble With Harry crossbred with 90s psycho road trip.

I'll have to go back to his analog stuff and work my way forward.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Adventures in Self Publishing - Whining About Whining About Formatting

I've bought a couple of ebooks that were not only poorly formatted, the publishers knew they were poorly formatted and offered excuses in the blurb or the text itself.

The issue with both these books was the same.  The publisher has a nice little PDF they probably spent a lot of money and/or effort formatting that they used to give their printer.  The physical book came first, and they wanted to get away with just uploading the PDF to Amazon and calling it a day.

The problem is, PDFs don't play nice with Kindle.  They basically act as a series of snapshots of the pages.  To read on on an actual Kindle, you have to zoom in on a quarter of a page, then zoom out and zoom back, and maybe there's a trick to it, but it's basically unreadable.  Phones are worse.  They kind of work on PCs and tablets, but even then it's not always ideal.

The first book was a scholarly work which said in the blurb that they could only have a PDF version because of all the graphs and charts that wouldn't work on the Kindle.  I'm a third of the way through, with no graphs or charts yet.  But at least they were up front.

The second book was from a Fortean small press that doesn't make a lot of money.  I know this because the publisher mentioned it in the actual text of the book.  Several times.  The ebook actually opens with a chapter about how you should have bought the physical book instead.  This time around, the publisher blamed the "limitations in the technology", because evidently nobody has invented a thing that displays both text and pictures.

This aggravates me to no end, because it's bull and they know it's bull.  Formatting a PDF for your galley proof is way, way harder than formatting an ebook, so these folks know better.

There are a few exceptions.  Some things like comic books, travel books, some magazines, things where it's either all pictures or the text needs to be lined up with images.  These books were neither.  There were some pictures, but they stood alone between sections of text.  Nothing mobi or epub can't handle.

Some PDF files you can convert to DOC or copy and paste the text out of.  These are easy.  Convert to text using the nuclear option (convert to a txt file and lose all the formatting), then go back to clean it up and add minimal formatting.

The Fortean book was formatted more like a series of pictures, and one couldn't directly convert the text, not that I tried to hack it into readable shape.  Go back to an earlier version, maybe a DOC file the author submitted, or run it through an OCR program and clean it up.

Neither mentioned footnotes, and those can be a legit pain in the butt.  The only time I've used footnotes in an ebook as a reader was an Alan Partridge book, and they worked wonderfully well.  Just click on the number like a link, read it, and click "back" to return to your place.

Footnotes are simple, but tedious.  Have the footnotes at the end of your book.  Make a bookmark at the note, then a hyperlink from the number in the text.  For added points, you can have a bookmark and hyperlink going the opposite direction as well.  Simple, but if there are hundreds of them it can take a while.

Both publishers could make a case that the ebook version won't recoup the time/cost to properly format it, and they may be right.  In which case, don't release it in the first place.

Having known some graphic design / layout folks, I suspect the issue is one of attitude rather than ability.  To put it nicely, some of them are insane control freaks.  Layout, font, font size, page breaks, everything has to be in their control.  And ebooks aren't about that.  You control what letters show up in which order and that's about it.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Old Time Radio - CBS Radio Mystery Theater - Cold Storage

Every few years I make an attempt to get through all 1399 episodes of this incredibly uneven series.  Here's one of the better ones - a nasty little slice of Southern Gothic, complete with an antebellum trap queen, secret rooms, and horrible accents.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Night Raider by Mike Barry - Lone Wolf 1

Night Raider
by Mike Barry (Barry Malzburg)
Lone Wolf 1
1973 Berkley

Burt Wulff is a good cop who refuses to go on the take.  His girlfriend ends up dead of an overdose and Wulff decides to kill a lot of people.
"I'm going to kill some people,"
"Take it easy man."
"I'm going to kill a lot of people," Wulff said.
This is rushed out in a prologue that was less fleshed out than most series' recaps.  Wulff then proceed to target random drug dealers and follow to chain up to the big fish.  Not much action, and his last two targets he dispatches by setting the building on fire.

There are some occasional stream-of-consciousness flourishes (though not on the level of the early Butcher novels), but most of the prose is confusing and awkward.  The few dialogue scenes are repetitive, with characters making the same point five or six times in a row.

I've heard a lot of takes on this series.  That is was written purposely bad as satire on the genre.  That it has a character arc that requires reading all 14 volumes to appreciate.  That it's hackwork pooped out to cash in on the Executioner's popularity.

Read on its own merits, this is probably the most poorly written of the Men's Adventure series.  Cliched and derivative, but with the promise of having possibly the most unhinged of main characters.

Critics seem to give the series a lot more credit than I think it deserves, probably based on the respect they have for Malzburg's science fiction.  I wonder if they give the same credit to his erotica novels like I, Lesbian and Nympho Nurse.

Malzburg himself talks about the social vision he had for the series, and how the war on crime mirrored the war in Vietnam.  As if this was unique and profound, and not cliche and omnipresent in Men's Adventure of the time.

I'd be nicer, but he pooped all over Don Pendleton, so screw him.  I might skip forward to the end, as number 14 is supposed to be especially crazy.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Who's Watching the Kids

Opens at my favorite casino, Slots of Fun, a sad little dive connected to Circus, Circus.  Jim Belushi sets the tone for the rest of his career.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Monster From Earth's End by Murray Leinster

The Monster From Earth's End
by Murray Leinster
1959 Fawcett Gold Medal

Cut-rate "Who Goes There?" / The Thing From Another World knockoff.  A plane makes an emergency landing on an Antarctic base.  The pilot commits suicide.  The rest of the passengers and a penguin are missing.  Clearly, some kind of creature attacked them all.

A bit of a jump in logic, but we're not done!  Most of the book is the base crew endlessly speculating what manner of creature it might be.  It must be nocturnal - is it attracted to light?  Is it repelled by light?  The dog made a noise - quick!  Set everything on fire with molotov cocktails!

Finally something kind of happens in the way of little venus flytrap plants running around attacking people.  These midgets, as their called, aren't well described and don't cause a lot of damage.  Frustratingly, everyone thinks these little monsters are completely unrelated to the "boojer" beast they've been making up in their head.  Are there 5 or 7 of them?  Are they transparent?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

TV Obscura - Strange Paradise

Never heard of this one until just recently - a 1969 supernatural soap opera, a Canadian knock off of Dark Shadows.  Called Strange Paradise, it is set in the Caribbean, though in a spooky house in the Caribbean, so what's the point.  A man sells his soul to the devil to bring his wife back to life.  It stars thick slice of ham Colin Fox, a man so Canadian he played three different villains in Friday the 13th: The Series.

The series was co-created by Ian Martin, who later recycled elements into CBS Radio Mystery Theater and a couple of gothic romance novels.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Don D'Ammassa's Horror Checklist

I've spent the last week going over Don D'Ammassa's massive Horror Checklist, a pretty exhaustive collection of capsule descriptions for hundreds of horror novels.  He only lists supernatural horrors, and I skimmed past anything later than 1991, but I still added a couple hundred titles to my own want list.

About thirty of those are currently available for Kindle.  This made me happy, because I'm assuming the vast majority were placed there by the author or their heirs once the rights reverted back to them from their original publisher.  I hope to be giving them some love soon.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Who is Peter Raft?

Who is Peter Raft?

A figment, evidently.  The Online Peter Raft resource blog is the only reference to such an author aside from links from Mark West's blog.

A pity, too.  Someone has created a series of crime and horror books in the tradition of 70s UK nasties, complete with (mostly) authentic looking covers and plot synopsis.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Mike & The Mechanics - Silent Running

This one just keeps getting more baffling.

Listening to this song in 1985 it's clearly a survivalist theme about Russians taking over the US Red Dawn style.  According to the guy he wrote it, it's about a guy in space in the future sending a message back in time to his family.  A message about commies, evidently.

The song was used in some movie about nuclear waste called Choke Canyon, clips of which are in the video.  The song's original title is lifted from the unrelated science fiction movie Silent Running, and the video has yet another sci-fi story with Billy Drago.

And, yes, it was normal in the 80s to have soft rock hits with lyrics that might have come from Jerry Ahern.

For some reason I always thought the Mike of Mike + the Mechanics was Mike Post, but I'm glad I was wrong.  Mike Post is better than this.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Lupe by Gene Thompson

by Gene Thompson
1977 Ballantine Books

Emily's husband David is cheating on her.  An eleven-year-old Mexican boy follows her around and keeps offering to have sex with her and get rid of the mistress.  They bang in a cemetery in a scene to dull to be creepy, the mistress dies from spontaneous combustion, and Emily is put on trial.

Yep, didn't see that coming.  This is a legal drama.  An overzealous prosecutor files murder charges "by supernatural means" and the judge, with all the dignity of a referee in a Francis the Talking Mule movie, allows it.

Lupe died before the cemetery shenanigans and only shows up just kind of standing around from afar.  The rest of the book is Emily being languid and neurotic, being framed for satanic evilness, being harassed by crowds, and the dumbest courtroom scenes since Drop Dead Diva.

The courtroom stuff has enough legalese to show that Thompson took it seriously enough to know better than to try to get away with it.  All of his evidence is kept secret (can't do that) and the prosecutor acts as his own expert witness throughout the trial, The only suspense in the whole book is waiting for the reveal of how the prosecutor knew how the mistress died and how he intended to prove it in court...

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

TV Obscura - The Grand Knockout Tournament

It's 1987 and the stars have come out to Alton Towers to help the British Royal Family raise money for charity.  We've got John Cleese, Christopher Reeve, Tom Jones, Sheena Easton, George Lazenby, John Travolta, and of course, Meatloaf.

Here's the American version, hosted by Barney Miller.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Devil, Devil by Michael Avallone (Satan Sleuth 3)

Devil, Devil
by Michael Avallone
Satan Sleuth 3
1975 Warner Paperback

Philip St. George is the Satan Sleuth, another in a seemingly long line of useless occult detectives who end up doing more harm than good, though to be fair, given Avallone's idiosyncrasies, this may have been on purpose.

St. George is a pretty self-conscious Doc Savage homage, down to his bronze skin and hidden explosive buttons, and a magnificent schlong as Lester Dent only wished he could have described.  A wealthy adventurer, he dedicated himself to exposing fake occultist and satanic cults after his wife and child were murdered in the first book.

Here he faces a satanic cult of wealthy socialites, coerced by Sister Sorrow and kept in place through a series of human sacrifices.  And by face I mean get captured by and run away from.