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Sunday Fun-Day Free Titles!
Free Book Alert for December 1 Featuring Six Bestselling Freebies Plus The Best Kindle Deals & Steals
Today’s Hot Bargain eBook: April L. Hamilton’s The Digital Media Mom’s Guide To High Tech In Plain English ($2.99)

But first, a word from ... Today's Sponsor

The Digital Media Mom's Guide To High Tech In Plain English

by April L. Hamilton
Supports Us with Commissions Earned
Text-to-Speech and Lending: Enabled
Here's the set-up:
Fear your gadgets no more! Author and Digital Media Mom site founder April L. Hamilton is on a mission to help ordinary consumers better understand their devices and get more and better use from those devices. The Digital Media Mom's Guide To High Tech In Plain English provides over 100 tips, tricks, troubleshooting techniques, answers to specific tech questions, money-saving ideas, and clear, step-by-step instructions compiled from the Digital Media Mom website into this one volume.

If you're a relatively intelligent person who's ever been made to feel incompetent by a metal or plastic box filled with electronics, this is the book for you. The Digital Media Mom's Guide To High Tech In Plain English demystifies everything from the basics of Wi-Fi to beating hackers and spammers at their own game, from managing your Kindle or Fire content library to texting acronyms, from little-known Facebook tricks to tips that can help you extend the lives of your devices, and MUCH MORE! Here's what consumers are saying about this book's content:

"I enjoy your articles and tips. These are so down to earth and very informative."
"I’d give you a + for sure. I really enjoy your brilliant writing."
"Who says techie thingies can’t impart a great deal of good info along with a good laugh?"
"At last, a resource for non-techies like me! I learn something new and helpful in every article."
"This one article alone saved me hundreds of dollars in unnecessary tech support charges and repairs!"

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Now, 6 FREEBIES – Just For Today!

Prices may change at any moment, so always check the price before you buy! This post is dated Sunday, December 1, 2013, and the titles mentioned here may remain free only until midnight PST tonight.

Please note: References to prices on this website refer to prices on the main Amazon.com website for US customers. Prices will vary for readers located outside the US, and even for US customers, prices may change at any time. Always check the price on Amazon before making a purchase.

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by Laith Doory

3.6 stars – 12 Reviews
Text-to-Speech and Lending: Enabled
Here’s the set-up:
Never before has a fictional character that embodies wickedness been so entertaining. It is 1984, the year of the Los Angeles Olympics, and Merle LaBrune plans to remain young for however long it takes for her to ascend a pantheon of Hollywood idols and be worshipped as a latter-day Aphrodite, goddess love.

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4.8 stars – 4 Reviews
Text-to-Speech and Lending: Enabled
Here’s the set-up:
In an age between the beginning of all creation and the end of all things, humanity knew the truths of sorcery and gods, steel and blood, courage and cowardice. During this forgotten age rises an evil that threatens to destroy the laws governing life and death….

 *  *  *

The Pigs’ Slaughter

by Florin Grancea

4.6 stars – 17 Reviews
Text-to-Speech and Lending: Enabled
Here’s the set-up:
Undoubtedly, “The Revolution WILL be televised” was the main players’ motto. Most Romanians only saw their revolution on their small black and white televisions while others were the actors, willing and uninformed. Young draftees, sacrificied to put on a show to fool a deceived population into believing terrorists were responsible. The “Pigs’ Slaughter” is the story of how the events during the run-up to Christmas Day 1989 changed a family and nation forever.

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by Elaine Waldron

4.2 stars – 20 Reviews
Text-to-Speech: Enabled
Here’s the set-up:
In an effort to escape the pain of the sudden loss of her husband of six months, twenty-two-year-old Amber Dalziel leaves her home, family and friends in Texas and moves to the Pacific Northwest, where she has purchased a cabin near Mount Rainier and hopes to lose herself in her painting. She soon meets Paul Stevenson, the handsome proprietor of the local gas and grocery and his younger sister, Judy.

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4.0 stars – 6 Reviews
Text-to-Speech and Lending: Enabled
Here’s the set-up:
Grace is a fixer. She’s good at it, too. In her acupuncture practice, she fixes the community of Darling Bay, and in her personal life, she’s rescued her sister too many times to count. Her love life, though . . . Grace doesn’t think she needs help, especially not from a man whose very nickname is unhealthy.

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Ivory (The Ivory Saga)

by F. M. Sherrill

4.7 stars – 34 Reviews
Text-to-Speech and Lending: Enabled
Here’s the set-up:
As a child in the desert kingdom of Gryth, Ivory witnessed the brutal murder of her parents at the hands of a sinister race known as the Lecs.

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Publetariat Dispatch: “Inbox Zero”? Here’s How To Do It.

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!

In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, April L. Hamilton offers her simple method for achieving Inbox Zero.

Inbox Zero is that state of digital communications nirvana in which you empty your email inbox, and keep emptying it on a daily basis. This may sound like a pipe dream to many, especially if you’ve had your email account for many years and your inbox message count is hovering somewhere around 1700, as mine was when I finally bit the bullet and tackled Inbox Zero. But believe me: it can be done, it’s not that difficult, and you don’t need to worry about the possibility of deleting messages you’ll later wish you hadn’t. First, let’s look at why Inbox Zero is a very, very good idea.



If you’re like me, you receive anywhere from 15-40 new emails on a daily basis. Some can be immediately deleted as spam, or filed in some existing folder, but many of them fall into that gray area where you know you’ll need to take some action or respond in some way, but can’t do so immediately for whatever reason. Maybe you need to do some research, maybe you need to invest some time in crafting a thoughtful reply…whatever. So you make a mental note to deal with those “gray area” emails at your first opportunity, and maybe you even mark them with a star or checkmark or whatever other symbol your email program allows to highlight important messages, then the next load of 15-40 new messages comes in and the “gray area” emails slowly but surely get pushed off your inbox screen and are soon forgotten.

Next thing you know, you’ve got 1700 emails in your inbox, you know that quite a few of them required a response or action at some point, and you also know that finding them will be a big, hairy pain. And even if you can find them, it’s probably too late to take whatever action you had in mind when you first saw them. Meanwhile, the people who sent those emails are thinking you’re a huge flake and entirely unreliable. These are not good traits for the reputation of an indie author, for whom building and maintaining a contact network are important.

You’ve thought about spending a day, or several days, or a week going through your inbox one message at a time and dealing with them once and for all, but it’s a daunting task. You can’t just summarily delete any messages that are older than a certain date of receipt, because many are from people you really will need to get back in touch with at some future date. You know you’ve got a problem, but you can’t see your way clear to a workable solution.


Here’s how you do it.

1) Create a folder called “Old Mail” and archive all messages that are 60 days or older into that folder. This will take a little time, since you’ll have to do a search based on your date criteria, mark all the matching messages as “Old Mail” and archive them, but it’s a whole lot less work than paging through the actual messages one at a time.

Yes, you will definitely be archiving many messages that really ought to have been deleted instead. But if you don’t have the time or desire to look at every one of your inbox messages individually, this is the most efficient tack. Besides, most email providers allow their users gigabytes of storage, so space limitations aren’t generally a concern. The important thing is, you haven’t deleted anything. So if at any point in the future you desperately need to find the email address of that contact who, back in 2010, offered to interview you when your book was published, you can easily do so by searching your email.

2) Go through the remaining, relatively recent messages in your inbox one at a time, and dispose of them appropriately: reply, and/or file, delete, or report as spam. Again, this will take some time, but MUCH less time than tackling the original virtual stack. If there are any you’re filing, but not opening to read because you already know what’s in them, be sure to still use the “mark as read” option before filing them away. This will prevent your email system from showing you an alarming count of supposedly new, unread messages for each folder.

2a) Don’t be afraid to create LOTS of folders. If you need to create a folder called “Reply After [date of your choosing]”, by all means do so. Your goal is to get every single message out of your inbox, whether by replying, filing or deleting. Creating some folders with built-in action triggers in their titles, such as certain dates or events, can be very helpful, since you’ll see those folders sitting right there on your email screen every day.

In December I received many emails related to cross-postings for Publetariat and already had content scheduled through the end of the year. Rather than let these emails sit in my inbox, where the old me would’ve reasoned, “How can I forget about these if I keep them in my inbox?”, I created a folder called “Publetariat-Publish In Jan”. Now I’ve got all the relevant emails collected in one handy spot. After everything from the folder’s been published, I’ll re-label the emails as “Publetariat – Contributors” and archive the messages permanently there.

Be sure to create folders for your personal emails, too. I have folders for “Family”, “Shopping”, each of my kids’ schools, and plenty more.

3) Unsubscribe from any mailing lists that aren’t really adding value to your life, or that, despite your best intentions, you know you never actually have the time to read. If there are some you just can’t bear to part with, or don’t want to unsubscribe from because they’re from members of your network and you may need to refer to them at some point in the future, create a folder for each subscription and immediately mark each copy as “read” and file it when a new one comes in.

4) Gaze admiringly at your spiffy, EMPTY inbox and give yourself a pat on the back. And a cookie. You deserve it.

5) Going forward, every time you receive an email dispose of it on a same day basis: reply, and/or file, delete, or report as spam. Create new folders as needed, and dispose of the mail in your action-trigger folders when each trigger occurs.

You will find Inbox Zero becomes addictive. The presence of a mere 4-6 emails in your inbox will seem an unbearable clutter, and you’ll long to see that inbox screen empty once again. But most importantly, you’ll be back to taking care of business and done with letting important messages and opportunities fall through the cracks.


April L. Hamilton is an author, the Editor in Chief of KND’s sister site Fire on Kindle Nation Daily, and the founder and Editor in Chief of Publetariat. This is a cross-posting from her Indie Author blog.

Publetariat Dispatch: Stretching the Definition of the Word, “Book”

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, author and Publetariat founder and Editor in Chief April L. Hamilton discusses the inspiration and technical challenges that went into creation of her new, very unusual “social media novel,” Overshare. 

The concept for my latest book, Overshare, had been bouncing around in my head for well over a year. In it, a young man encounters some major life challenges in rapid succession, and unwittingly, publicly reveals his increasing stress level and alienation from his wife, family and friends through his posts on social media sites. It was a scenario I’d seen unspool in the real-world life of an online acquaintance, and I knew it would make a very timely and relatable story. The only problem was how to convey the events of the story in a way that would capture my experience: following status updates and posts with growing heartache for this person with whom I was only nominally acquainted, yet whom I’d come to know so much about—so much more than I’m sure was intended.

Then it hit me: why not give the reader exactly the same experience I had?

Why not show the reader my protagonist’s actual social media web pages, containing his status updates and others’ responses to them, as well as his blog posts, but purposely limit the content to only what a member of the general public would see? To make the reader’s experience as realistic as possible, I knew I’d have to mimic the look and content of the most popular social media sites very closely, and the resulting book would have to be presented in full color. To produce such a book in print would be cost prohibitive, but with the advent of color ereader apps and devices, it seemed an ideal fit for a totally new kind of ebook.

The next hurdle to overcome was sourcing the many photos I knew I’d need to fill the simulated social media site pages. I’d need avatars, or user pictures, of the protagonist and everyone he’d be interacting with online. I’d need candid family and event photos of the sort people regularly post on Facebook. And because of the story arc, I’d need a series of pictures of a young woman at various stages of pregnancy, a series of pictures of a young man depicting the journey from hale and cheerful to beaten and haggard, and finally, baby pictures depicting a preemie’s path from NICU to healthy newborn at home.

At first this seemed an insurmountable obstacle. I couldn’t afford to hire models to pose for all the pictures I’d need, and didn’t have the time, equipment or skills to act as photographer. Anyway, posed stills would never give me the realism I needed. Then, another stroke of inspiration: Creative Commons –licensed images are easily found online, and plenty of them have been licensed as permissible for commercial and remix use. I soon had a treasure trove of real-life photos of real-life people for which the rights holders had pre-emptively granted permission to anyone to use for commercial purposes (such as in a book to be sold for profit) and remix use (such as cropping and coloring to achieve my desired effects).

With this last piece of the puzzle locked into place, I knew I’d be able to produce the “book” I had in mind: one consisting entirely of simulated screen shots of the protagonist’s social media postings.

It would be a novel, in that it would be fiction, but it would be unlike any novel I’d ever seen before. Kind of like an epistolary novel, in that much of its content would consist of written communications taken directly from the characters, but not really, in that those communications did not take the form of letters or any other kind of traditional correspondence. Kind of like a graphic novel, in that much of the content would consist of images, but not really, in that it would also contain blocks of prose in the form of blog posts. I decided I’d need to come up with a new term for this type of book, and after giving it some thought, I came up with “social media novel”.

Here are some examples from the book:

Something I wanted to be sure to illustrate in the book is how what someone doesn’t say online can often reveal much more than what he does say. The screenshot below shows the protagonist’s first post following the decision to go public with his wife’s pregnancy; note the complete absence of happiness or excitement in his remarks. There’s not even a smiley face there. What does this tell you? Also note how, based on the number of “Likes” and “Comments”, you can tell how large Michael’s circle of acquaintance and support is at this point; as the story goes on, these numbers shrink.

In creating this unusual book, I found that the form it took underscored and illuminated the theme as much as the content. A few early readers asked if the people in the pictures might be upset to learn their photos had been used in this way, and my response was if they did, that would only serve to further exemplify the point I’m trying to make in Overshare: that posting anything online for public consumption can have unintended consequences.

This book took a LOT of effort to produce. The words were the easy part, and constituted maybe only 40% or so of the finished book’s content. I had to do a great deal of work in my graphics editor program, and a lot of complex formatting in MS Word. Then I had to pass the completed manuscript on to someone well-versed in advanced HTML and graphics techniques to take my Word file and convert it into an ebook file that preserved my images and formatting. I’m thrilled to see the finished product at last, and know that it looks exactly like the book I pictured in my mind’s eye all those many months ago. I’m also very excited by the creative possibilities I can now see in full-color, non-traditional ebooks. I hope that as time goes on, many authors will be inspired to explore those possibilities.


April L. Hamilton is the founder and Editor in Chief of Publetariat. Overshare is now available.

Today’s Kindle Daily Deal: Save 88% on The Hangman’s Daughter, the chillingly detailed, fast-paced historical thriller from German television screenwriter Oliver Pötzsch

But first, a word from … Today’s Sponsor 

Snow Ball: A Novel By April L. Hamilton

by April L. Hamilton
4.4 stars – 16 Reviews
Lending: Enabled
Here’s the set-up:
Cinder Torley is an intelligent young woman who yearns to escape the stifling yoke imposed by her small town upbringing and unhappy marriage, but that doesn’t mean she killed her husband. When he goes missing one night, Cinder quickly learns who—and how few—her friends really are in this darkly comic tale of dueling schemers and incompetents.The sheriff thinks this might be his only ticket out of back-country law enforcement. Coffee house barista Clark Norris knows a sordid, true-crime story could jumpstart his stalled writing career. Glamorous correspondent Bailey Weems sees a ratings bonanza that can make her a cable news star. And as for Velma and Naomi, who may or may not be part of the notorious Manitoba Six Canadian crime ring, they’re only in it for the black market Phen-Fen. The surprising truth about what happened to Cinder’s husband will lay waste to all these agendas, but will it prove Cinder’s innocence?


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The Hangman's Daughter

Kindle Daily Deal: The Hangman’s Daughter

Germany, 1660: When a dying boy is pulled from the river with a mark crudely tattooed on his shoulder, hangman Jakob Kuisl is called upon to investigate whether witchcraft is at play. So begins The Hangman’s Daughter, the chillingly detailed, fast-paced historical thriller from German television screenwriter Oliver Pötzsch, a descendent of the Kuisls, a famous Bavarian executioner clan.

Yesterday’s Price: $7.99
Today’s Discount: $7.00
Kindle Daily Deal Price: $0.99 (88% off)

Publetariat Dispatch: Publishers Be Crazy…Or Desperate

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!

In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, Publetariat founder and Editor in Chief April L. Hamilton marvels at Bookish.com, major publishers’ latest plan to compete with booksellers directly.

I just read this article about Bookish.com, a new joint venture being launched later this summer by Hachette Book Group, Penguin USA and Simon & Schuster. Per the article:

The site intends to provide information for all things literary: suggestions on what books to buy, reviews of books, excerpts from books and news about authors. Visitors will also be able to buy books directly from the site or from other retailers and write recommendations and reviews for other readers.

The publishers — Simon & Schuster, Penguin Group USA and Hachette Book Group — hope the site will become a catch-all destination for readers in the way that music lovers visit Pitchfork.com for reviews and information.  

A couple of sentences further down, you’ll read:

“There’s a frustration with book consumers that there’s no one-stop shopping when it comes to information about books and authors,” said Carolyn Reidy, the president and chief executive of Simon & Schuster. “We need to try to recreate the discovery of new books that currently happens in the physical environment, but which we don’t believe is currently happening online.”

There are three problems with Ms. Reidy’s statements.

First, there is NOT “a frustration with book consumers that there’s no one-stop shopping when it comes to information about books and authors,” because in fact, there are several sites that offer one-stop shopping for author/book information. Perhaps Ms. Reidy just hasn’t heard of such obscure, underground sites as Amazon.com, Goodreads.com, Shelfari.com, and LibraryThing.com.

Second, nobody needs to “recreate the discovery of new books that currently happens in the physical environment,” because for the average consumer, discovery of new books NO LONGER HAPPENS IN THE PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT. Once again, it’s Amazon, Goodreads, Shelfari and LibraryThing to the rescue here, not to mention genre-specific online communities like Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and format- and device- specific online communities like Kindle Nation Daily.

Third, Ms. Reidy and her compatriots don’t “believe [this is] currently happening online.” Why not?! How is it possible that publishers are THAT FAR out of touch with book buyers? I’ll tell you how: traditionally, publishers have viewed booksellers as their customers, and book-buyers as the customers of booksellers. They have little to no idea what’s bouncing around in the head and life of the typical consumer, because they haven’t had to know those things to run their business at any time in the past—past being the operative word there.

So these three major publishers are sinking massive amounts of time, effort and money into a huge new initiative that I think just about any typical book-buying consumer on the street could tell you today is destined to fail. And how do you suppose they’ll be financing this new initiative? Certainly not by reducing the prices of their books, or signing more new, unproven authors, or keeping books on physical shelves longer to give them a better chance of catching on, or giving individual authors more marketing money.

I’m sure the publishers would say this initiative is all about supporting their authors and marketing books in a cost-effective way, so kudos to them for good intentions. But while they may know book and author marketing today is all about author platform, they clearly don’t understand that author platform is all about community, and community is about making personal connections and feeling like you’re part of a movement. Which do you think a fan of Stephen King would rather visit: Stephen King’s personal site and online community of fans, or the obviously corporate umbrella site, Bookish.com?

Bookish.com content will necessarily be vetted and vanilla, so as not to hurt the corporate images and reputations of its backers and to avoid offending any site visitors. Anyone who wants the raw, unfiltered version of musings from their favorite authors and opinions of others in those authors’ communities won’t bother with Bookish.com when they can get the straight scoop right from the horses’ mouths elsewhere.

I hate to sound so negative and dump all over publishers like this, because it’s a good thing that they’re finally willing to try something new. But at this point, they face the same problem Microsoft did with its Zune MP3 player: Apple got there first with the iPod, and they did it very well. If you’re going to enter the marketplace with a new product for which the demand has already been fulfilled by someone else (or several someone elses), then your product has to be so incredibly, amazingly compelling that consumers will feel they’re missing out by not switching to it. Microsoft tried it with the Zune; I think by now we can all agree they failed to capture enough of the MP3 player market to even make Apple break a sweat. And Microsoft has decades of experience with technology and marketing direct to consumers.

So Bookish.com gets an A for effort, but a goose egg for vision and sustainability.

Publishers: maybe you’re looking at this all wrong. Maybe instead of trying to supplant the Amazons, Goodreads and Shelfaris of the world, you should be looking for ways to leverage what those sites and communities are already doing, and doing very well: crowdsourcing.

Let them tell you what the readers want to see in print and ebook forms. Listen to consumer complaints about ebook release windows and pricing, and respond accordingly. Switch to POD book production so you can offer a much wider variety of titles at a much lower cost; grousing about the lack of variety and fresh, new voices from mainstream pub is so common as to be a pastime in reader communities. Stop chasing after blockbusters and start tuning into the pre-existing discovery network to locate your new literary stars. Keep your ears to the ground for breakout indie authors, and sign them, knowing they’re already proven commodities. Get and keep a bead on technologies consumers are excited about (color ebooks, interactive book apps, etc.) and invest in those technologies.

Your role as arbiters of taste and gatekeepers is a thing of the past, and the position of Reader Community Leader has already been filled. Own it. Restructure your businesses and legacy thought patterns to embrace this new reality. Now, your role is to find out what consumers want in print books, ebooks and emerging media technologies, and give it to them. Period.

This is a cross-posting from April L. Hamilton‘s Indie Author Blog.

Publetariat Dispatch: Can the Subscription Model Work For Trade Publishers?

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!

In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, Publetariat founder and Editor in Chief April L. Hamilton wonders if a subscription model, such as that employed by Netflix and Gamefly, could work for trade publishers where ebooks are concerned.

I recently read a Slate article about how the film industry is repeating the DRM and business model mistakes of the music industry, and of course saw many parallels with, and implications for, trade publishing in it. But unlike the film and music industries, Big Pub has plenty more market and cultural shifts to contend with these days than just the rising popularity and availability of digital media.

The once-mighty Borders has failed, proving once and for all that brick and mortar is no longer the ace in the hole it once seemed for trade publishers. Authors, established and aspiring alike, are seeing fewer and fewer reasons to partner with trade publishers now that it’s become clear they can get their work to a readership more quickly, keep control of their intellectual property rights, and earn higher royalties to boot by going indie. As if to add insult to injury, Amazon seems poised to eat whatever’s left of Big Publishing’s lunch after everyone else has had a go at the trough. But it occurred to me that there may yet be some unexplored and promising territory for Big Pub, if they’re willing to entertain an unorthodox idea: a subscription model of ebook content delivery.

Much like Gamefly and O’Reilly’s Safari Books Online, major publishers could offer a monthly, flat-fee subscription service for

book-at-a-time access to all their ebook titles in various ereader formats. Note that I said access, not ownership. It would be a rental-type paradigm, and like Gamefly and Netflix could be offered at various pricing tiers according to how many titles the consumer is allowed to have checked out at any given time. Such a plan would enable publishers to maintain steady, ongoing revenue streams in addition to their existing sales channels, and would allow publishers to do an end-run around Amazon, B&N’s Nook store, and Apple’s iBookstore, too.

Perhaps just as importantly, it would allow publishers to gracefully exit the ebook pricing, DRM and staged release debacles of the past, and finally be seen as offering a valuable service to consumers instead of being the big, greedy bad guys.

Gamefly charges the equivalent of the cost of one new game at retail prices for its basic subscription; trade publishers could do the same. At $10 – $15 per month I think plenty of avid ebook readers would be willing to sign up, because they’re probably already buying at least one ebook at retail prices each month.

There are only 5 major players left in trade publishing, so even if you had to ‘subscribe’ to all 5 of them individually (since it’s not likely they’d form some kind of collective service), you’re still only talking approximately the same monthly fee as what plenty of people are already paying for their Gamefly accounts.

While publishers would lose money on accounts signed to voracious readers who currently buy numerous ebooks every month at retail prices, those folks are outliers. Most people I know don’t buy ebooks at that rate, and most people I know don’t read more than one book a month, either. Also, there would surely be a large contingent of people who sign up fully intending to wring their money’s worth out of the subscription fee, but ultimately end up ‘checking out’ a book only every second or third month. Once you know the books are there for the taking any time, there’s no urgency.

If you subscribe to Netflix, Gamefly or even a health club, you’re probably personally acquainted with this phenomenon. I say this while gazing ruefully at the Netflix DVD I’ve had checked out for nearly four months now. Yep, I’ve paid the monthly fee for that movie three times over, and in fact could’ve bought the DVD for less than I’ve paid for this rental by now. But I still have no intention of cancelling my Netflix subscription because it’s a convenience I’m willing to pay for. And maybe someday I really will end up checking out a new movie every few days, like I imagined I’d be doing when I first signed up.

Yes, there are technological hurdles to be overcome. And yes, there will be some considerable startup effort and investment. But those things are true of any new business model trade publishers might try to adopt. And heaven knows, the model they’ve currently got is no longer working so they’re going to have to try something.  

This is a cross-posting from April L. Hamilton‘s Indie Author Blog.

Publetariat Dispatch- Interactive Novels: Not So Much.

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, Publetariat founder/Editor in Chief and indie author April L. Hamilton explains her reservations about interactive novels, such as those offered for the iPad.

I love books, but I am not a particular lover of paper. For years now, most of my "reading" (where fiction is concerned, at least) has been done via audiobooks. I am also receptive to ebooks, and feel that certain books actually offer much more functionality in electronic form than in hard copy: travel guides, tech books, pretty much anything where the ability to easily jump to a specific topic of interest is desirable. With the advent of the Vook and book apps for the iPad and iPhone, I’ve looked forward to seeing what an "enhanced" novel might have to offer. The answer to that question—at the present time, at least—is disappointment.

For my first foray into the world of book apps, I decided to go with an award-winning, best-of-breed title: Dracula: The Official Stoker Family Edition, produced by Padworx Digital Media, Inc. I’d read many glowing reviews of this book app online, and since I’ve also read the book in the old-fashioned, paper-pulp format, it was an ideal candidate for comparison and evaluation.

First off, let me say the book app is beautiful to look at and the music is both lovely and entirely suitable for the subject matter. There are interactive elements on many pages. In one instance, you must move a virtual lantern around over a darkened page to read it. In another, you can bring a background illustration into better and brighter focus by touching it. In yet another, you must move a crucifix necklace about where it hangs over the page in order to see the text beneath it. Sounds cool, right? Well, these interactive features ARE cool, but they also pulled me right out of the story.

The experience of reading the book very quickly devolved into an exercise of hunting for "easter eggs", the term used for hidden bonus features in computer programs, on DVDs and Blu-Ray discs. You can’t always tell by looking at a given page of the app whether or not it contains interactive elements, so I found myself reading the text and then tapping all around on the screen to check for those elements. On the pages that don’t have them, all the tapping is for naught.

The experience ends up falling somewhere between playing a video game and reading an ebook, but it’s not a very good experience of either one. If the app were a full-fledged video game, I’d want interactivity on every page and I’d want it to be more extensive in terms of controlling my experience of the content. When I play a video game, I want my choices and actions to have consequences beyond causing formerly hidden images to display and being able to move objects around on a screen. Conversely, in an ebook, I want to feel immersed in the story world, to lose my awareness of the device on which the ebook is displayed; if you must tap or click all around on each screen to expose and enjoy the interactive elements, this is impossible.

 I thought this might be a case of this specific book app not being my cup of tea, so I also decided to check out another much-lauded title, the War of the Worlds book app from Smashing Ideas, Inc. Again, as a literary classic I’d read previously, it seemed a terrific pick. And again, I was disappointed.

With the WotW app, the interactive illustrations are not as numerous as in the Dracula app, though they are just as beautiful. However, I still had to tap around on them to find the hidden goodies, which was kind of annoying and again, took me right out of the story.

I’ve pondered how this issue might be overcome, and I’m stumped. Even if some sort of indication were given as to the location of the interactive elements (as is the case for some of the Dracula app content), the moment you’re tapping the screen and thinking, "Cool!" at whatever happens, you’re no longer gripped in the terror of Castle Dracula or an alien invasion, you’re admiring the technology.

The good news is, I think the book app is still very much in its infancy and publishers and developers just don’t know quite what to do with the capabilities of the technology yet. My prediction is that where novels are concerned, the book app will find its full flower in a sort of purposeful hybrid of book and video game. And yes, the words will no longer be the stars of the show in most cases, much as it is with movies. Every year there are those few, standout examples of films that are worth seeing for the sake of the whip-smart and insightful script alone. The Social Network is an example of that type of film. But most often, moviegoers are satisfied to be thrilled by action, wowed by special effects, or cracked up by comedy.

Such entertainments are largely disposable, and while it pains me to say so, I’m afraid this may prove to be the future of literature. Every year there will be a handful of new books that are worth actually reading, simply as words on the page, and for these the experience will be one of good, old-fashioned theater of the mind. But for the rest, consumers will come to expect the play to be delivered not only pre-scripted, but with the cast, costumes, sets, stunts and special effects already in place, with the reader empowered to act as director of the entire production via its interactive elements.

But this raises another, and I think thornier issue: in the case of a completely original interactive book app (as opposed to the re-imaginings of literary classics examined here), assuming a team of people were involved in creation and production of the app, who is actually the Author? I’m not sure that title will be apt for anyone involved in such a project, since the consumer’s eventual experience of the content will not be limited to the written words, but driven just as substantially by the multimedia and interactivity of the app. I suspect it’s more likely that the person we used to think of as the author will be given a "Written By" and/or "Story By" name check in the credits of the app.

If I’m right about that, it’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, there should be more and better opportunities for writers to see their works produced and brought to an audience; maybe aspiring authors should start querying book app companies like Smashing Ideas and Padworx right alongside agents and publishers. But on the other hand, those writers won’t get quite the same level of recognition and prestige as in the past. Is this a good thing, or a bad thing? As of yet, I’m uncertain.

This is a reprint from April L. Hamilton‘s Indie Author Blog.