Thursday, May 23, 2013

FastPencil compared to Smashwords & BookBaby

I was going to write a post comparing Smashwords (which is how I self-published) to BookBaby (which I have not used).  However, in my research, I came across this excellent post from last year that gives a much more in-depth comparison than I planned on doing.  Since it's silly to re-invent the wheel, I thought I'd link to this post and move on to another topic.  If you're interested in comparing the two self-publishing services, check out Giacomo Giammatteo's fantastic guest post (and resulting comment thread) on How to Successfully Self Publish.

A third self-publishing/distribution service, with certain similarities to Smashwords and BookBaby is FastPencil (which I have also not personally used).  So I wondered if FastPencil was different than Smashwords and BookBaby, and if so, how?

For starters, FastPencil is a self-publishing platform that targets not only authors, but publishers and enterprises as well.  From my perspective as an indie author, I'm most interested in the self-publishing component of FastPencil, but details for publishers and enterprise can be found on their web site.

For the self-publishing author, FastPencil offers four different publishing packages, ranging from the free DIY package to the $1,999 Gold package.  What services you receive from these suites can be found in the Publishing Packages table. FastPencil also offers a variety of 'a la carte' services (too many to list) but they can be found in this Publishing Services table. In addition, FastPencil also has three imprint options, which are described on their Author Page. FastPencil provides a variety of options, although all but the base services cost extra.

FastPencil takes 20% of the retail markup when you sell through the FastFastPencil Marketplace. By comparison, Smashwords takes 26% from books sold on their page and BookBaby doesn't sell directly on their site (as far as I can tell).  For books sold through their distribution network, FastPencil and their distributor take a 44% cut, while Smashwords averages about 40% and BookBaby ranges from 30%-50%  depending on the distributor; which brings us to our next topic:  distribution. FastPencil distributes ebooks to:
  • Apple iBookStore, Amazon Kindle Store, Barnes&Noble.com, Kobobooks.com, Powells.com, Ebookmall.com, Diesel-ebooks.com, Booksonboard.com, Lulu.com, Lybrary.com, and the FastPencil Marketplace.
FastPencil includes this disclaimer:  Outside of the Amazon Kindle Store for ebooks, it’s important to remember that FastPencil has limited control over which book retailers actually list your ISBN title, i.e. we place your title in catalogs, and it’s up to the retailers to fetch and list them for sale on their websites.

FastPencil's 20% 'internal sales' cut is less than Smashwords; their distributor sales cut is in the same ballpark as Smashwords and Bookbaby; and their distribution network is comparative, including all of the big players. To me, their website is a bit more overwhelming than Smashwords and Bookbaby, but that may be due to the variety of options and platforms. Sticking to the free self-publishing components would likely streamline the experience.

I'm interested in hearing from people that have published through FastPencil's free package (or used any of their fee services, for that matter). If you have, please let me know. How easy/hard is it to publish your book? How is the customer service? Please share!

Mirrors & Mist update:  I'm currently polishing chapter 17 of 18.  Once I've filled in the holes, I'll edit the chapter, then move on to number 18.  Here's another map (a zoom-out of last week's figure) from the Oxbow Mountain Kingdom setting (the City of Dwim-Halloe, which sits in a mountain pass):





May 2013 - Hello Reader of 4concpoesiaecsps, In the article you read this time with the title May 2013, We have prepared this article for you to read and retrieve information therein. Hopefully the contents of postings We write this you can understand. well, happy reading.

Title : FastPencil compared to Smashwords & BookBaby
link : FastPencil compared to Smashwords & BookBaby

Read Also


May 2013

I was going to write a post comparing Smashwords (which is how I self-published) to BookBaby (which I have not used).  However, in my research, I came across this excellent post from last year that gives a much more in-depth comparison than I planned on doing.  Since it's silly to re-invent the wheel, I thought I'd link to this post and move on to another topic.  If you're interested in comparing the two self-publishing services, check out Giacomo Giammatteo's fantastic guest post (and resulting comment thread) on How to Successfully Self Publish.

A third self-publishing/distribution service, with certain similarities to Smashwords and BookBaby is FastPencil (which I have also not personally used).  So I wondered if FastPencil was different than Smashwords and BookBaby, and if so, how?

For starters, FastPencil is a self-publishing platform that targets not only authors, but publishers and enterprises as well.  From my perspective as an indie author, I'm most interested in the self-publishing component of FastPencil, but details for publishers and enterprise can be found on their web site.

For the self-publishing author, FastPencil offers four different publishing packages, ranging from the free DIY package to the $1,999 Gold package.  What services you receive from these suites can be found in the Publishing Packages table. FastPencil also offers a variety of 'a la carte' services (too many to list) but they can be found in this Publishing Services table. In addition, FastPencil also has three imprint options, which are described on their Author Page. FastPencil provides a variety of options, although all but the base services cost extra.

FastPencil takes 20% of the retail markup when you sell through the FastFastPencil Marketplace. By comparison, Smashwords takes 26% from books sold on their page and BookBaby doesn't sell directly on their site (as far as I can tell).  For books sold through their distribution network, FastPencil and their distributor take a 44% cut, while Smashwords averages about 40% and BookBaby ranges from 30%-50%  depending on the distributor; which brings us to our next topic:  distribution. FastPencil distributes ebooks to:

  • Apple iBookStore, Amazon Kindle Store, Barnes&Noble.com, Kobobooks.com, Powells.com, Ebookmall.com, Diesel-ebooks.com, Booksonboard.com, Lulu.com, Lybrary.com, and the FastPencil Marketplace.
FastPencil includes this disclaimer:  Outside of the Amazon Kindle Store for ebooks, it’s important to remember that FastPencil has limited control over which book retailers actually list your ISBN title, i.e. we place your title in catalogs, and it’s up to the retailers to fetch and list them for sale on their websites.

FastPencil's 20% 'internal sales' cut is less than Smashwords; their distributor sales cut is in the same ballpark as Smashwords and Bookbaby; and their distribution network is comparative, including all of the big players. To me, their website is a bit more overwhelming than Smashwords and Bookbaby, but that may be due to the variety of options and platforms. Sticking to the free self-publishing components would likely streamline the experience.

I'm interested in hearing from people that have published through FastPencil's free package (or used any of their fee services, for that matter). If you have, please let me know. How easy/hard is it to publish your book? How is the customer service? Please share!

Mirrors & Mist update:  I'm currently polishing chapter 17 of 18.  Once I've filled in the holes, I'll edit the chapter, then move on to number 18.  Here's another map (a zoom-out of last week's figure) from the Oxbow Mountain Kingdom setting (the City of Dwim-Halloe, which sits in a mountain pass):





Thursday, May 16, 2013

Running Best-Sellers through an Online Writing Editor

Did you ever wonder what an online editing program would say about the work of a best-selling author?  Well, I have, and to satisfy my curiosity, I ran portions of three famous books through the Pro Writing Aid free online writing editor. The results of my experiment are described herein.

If you're asking "What's the point?" I wanted to see if there were any mechanical deficiencies in my writing that best-selling authors had mastered (i.e., too much passive text, too many pronouns, excessively long or short sentences, etc.). These are the types of analytic data an online editor can provide (among other information).

A secondary question was to see if the information provided by an online editor offered any insight on the marketable quality of the writing. I'm already convinced that there are enough features in a good online editor to make it worth my while to use in self-editing my text, so this wasn't an exercise to determine if there was value in using editing software, because for me, there is.

I also wanted to prioritize the myriad of report outputs provided by the editor.  For example, which 'red flags' deserve the most attention?  Which ones are less important for fiction (as opposed to non-fiction)?  Can any of these critique categories be safely ignored entirely?

In the table below, I summarize select portions of the Pro Writing Aid report that were easy to compare in a quantitative manner. The text I ran through the editor was selected from excerpts available online, each by different authors of famous speculative fiction series (ones involving dire wolves, a young assassin, and vampires, respectively).  I added a fourth column from a portion of my upcoming novel Mirrors & Mist (Book II of the Oxbow Kingdom Trilogy). For comparison purposes, each selection of text was approximately 2,000 words in length.

Disclaimers:  The table below is not the only information you receive in a free Pro Writing Aid report, it's only a portion of a full report. Furthermore, I do not advocate the use of these editors in lieu of (or as a replacement for) a human editor, rather as tools to polish your work before passing it on for review.

GRRM Hobb Rice CMS
Overused words 7 3 6 2
Redundancies 12 2 2 0
Passive index (target <25) 4.2 1.8 5.4 4.3
Pronoun % (Target 4-15%) 15 11.5 11.6 6.5
Initial pronoun % (Target <30%) 39.6 23.6 47.6 12.3
Sentence Length (target 11-18) 13.7 8.3 13.9 13.4
Sentence variety (target >3) 6.9 5.3 9.4 4.6
Long sentences 14 1 17 1
Vague & Abstract Words 71 36 46 26
Sticky sentences 10 21 17 3
Glue Index (target <40%) 44.7 48.4 49.3 36.7

So what did I learn from this exercise?  I learned several things, including:
  • Not surprisingly, best-selling authors keep passive text to a minimum, and use pronouns within the 'target' range (as determined by the online editor). However, the use of initial pronouns (first word in a sentence) can be well outside the target range without any apparent ill-effects to book sales.
  • The use of long sentences (>30 words) does not appear to be an indicator of success or quality; however, sentence variety and average sentence length does.
  • The 'vague and abstract words' report is not a good quantitative comparison tool for speculative fiction, due to the many fantasy words typical of the genre. 
  • Even among the best-selling authors, there is a wide range of results in many of the categories.
On a personal level, I've learned that the quantified portion of my writing style (as evaluated by the online editor) is not vastly different (or worse) than a best-selling author. However, I realize this says nothing about my story-telling abilities. This research also reminds me not to obsess over everything an online editor flags, because obviously, you can sell millions of books without getting a 'perfect' score. The one item that did jump out at me was my score for sentence variety--it was noticeably lower than the other authors and will be something I take a closer look at.

So there you have it--a glimpse into the strange things I ponder and the obsessive-compulsive exercises in futility that those thoughts inspire!

In regard to an update, I'm still plugging away on the 1st Draft of Mirrors & Mist. I'm currently editing Chapter 16 (of 18) and am at just under 72,000 words. I've also been making maps of my fantasy setting (using ProFantasy Software's Campaign Cartographer 3). Here's an example:


May 2013 - Hello Reader of 4concpoesiaecsps, In the article you read this time with the title May 2013, We have prepared this article for you to read and retrieve information therein. Hopefully the contents of postings We write this you can understand. well, happy reading.

Title : Running Best-Sellers through an Online Writing Editor
link : Running Best-Sellers through an Online Writing Editor

Read Also


May 2013

Did you ever wonder what an online editing program would say about the work of a best-selling author?  Well, I have, and to satisfy my curiosity, I ran portions of three famous books through the Pro Writing Aid free online writing editor. The results of my experiment are described herein.

If you're asking "What's the point?" I wanted to see if there were any mechanical deficiencies in my writing that best-selling authors had mastered (i.e., too much passive text, too many pronouns, excessively long or short sentences, etc.). These are the types of analytic data an online editor can provide (among other information).

A secondary question was to see if the information provided by an online editor offered any insight on the marketable quality of the writing. I'm already convinced that there are enough features in a good online editor to make it worth my while to use in self-editing my text, so this wasn't an exercise to determine if there was value in using editing software, because for me, there is.

I also wanted to prioritize the myriad of report outputs provided by the editor.  For example, which 'red flags' deserve the most attention?  Which ones are less important for fiction (as opposed to non-fiction)?  Can any of these critique categories be safely ignored entirely?

In the table below, I summarize select portions of the Pro Writing Aid report that were easy to compare in a quantitative manner. The text I ran through the editor was selected from excerpts available online, each by different authors of famous speculative fiction series (ones involving dire wolves, a young assassin, and vampires, respectively).  I added a fourth column from a portion of my upcoming novel Mirrors & Mist (Book II of the Oxbow Kingdom Trilogy). For comparison purposes, each selection of text was approximately 2,000 words in length.

Disclaimers:  The table below is not the only information you receive in a free Pro Writing Aid report, it's only a portion of a full report. Furthermore, I do not advocate the use of these editors in lieu of (or as a replacement for) a human editor, rather as tools to polish your work before passing it on for review.

GRRM Hobb Rice CMS
Overused words 7 3 6 2
Redundancies 12 2 2 0
Passive index (target <25) 4.2 1.8 5.4 4.3
Pronoun % (Target 4-15%) 15 11.5 11.6 6.5
Initial pronoun % (Target <30%) 39.6 23.6 47.6 12.3
Sentence Length (target 11-18) 13.7 8.3 13.9 13.4
Sentence variety (target >3) 6.9 5.3 9.4 4.6
Long sentences 14 1 17 1
Vague & Abstract Words 71 36 46 26
Sticky sentences 10 21 17 3
Glue Index (target <40%) 44.7 48.4 49.3 36.7

So what did I learn from this exercise?  I learned several things, including:
  • Not surprisingly, best-selling authors keep passive text to a minimum, and use pronouns within the 'target' range (as determined by the online editor). However, the use of initial pronouns (first word in a sentence) can be well outside the target range without any apparent ill-effects to book sales.
  • The use of long sentences (>30 words) does not appear to be an indicator of success or quality; however, sentence variety and average sentence length does.
  • The 'vague and abstract words' report is not a good quantitative comparison tool for speculative fiction, due to the many fantasy words typical of the genre. 
  • Even among the best-selling authors, there is a wide range of results in many of the categories.
On a personal level, I've learned that the quantified portion of my writing style (as evaluated by the online editor) is not vastly different (or worse) than a best-selling author. However, I realize this says nothing about my story-telling abilities. This research also reminds me not to obsess over everything an online editor flags, because obviously, you can sell millions of books without getting a 'perfect' score. The one item that did jump out at me was my score for sentence variety--it was noticeably lower than the other authors and will be something I take a closer look at.

So there you have it--a glimpse into the strange things I ponder and the obsessive-compulsive exercises in futility that those thoughts inspire!

In regard to an update, I'm still plugging away on the 1st Draft of Mirrors & Mist. I'm currently editing Chapter 16 (of 18) and am at just under 72,000 words. I've also been making maps of my fantasy setting (using ProFantasy Software's Campaign Cartographer 3). Here's an example:


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A New Twist on Dictionaries

"Mom?  How do you spell precocious?"
"Look it up in the dictionary."
"But I don't know how to spell it!"

Ah, the dreaded dictionary. For many of us, our first experience with one was an indirect childhood punishment. A dry, sterile, overwhelming tool. No fun at all. Look up a word, and find it described by other words you don't understand. So you look them up, and then repeat. Next thing you know, you've accidentally learned something.

My favorite entries in the dictionary were always the ones with pictures (they still are, truth be told). Seemed to me, every entry should have a picture (not possible, I realize, but such was the case with many of my childhood wishes). That leads us to today's post, where in keeping with the overall theme of this blog, I'll describe some free, online resources that I've found valuable, especially as an indie author.

First, a dictionary where every entry does have a picture! The Merriam-Webster Visual Dictionary Online contains 6,000 full-color images of a wide variety of objects from all aspects of life. I've included an example entry below:
elements of ancient costume [3] - Visual Dictionary Online
Similar to the Visual Online Dictionary is the Photographic Dictionary, which has full-color photographs (and simple definitions) of over 5,000 words. An interesting feature of the Photographic Dictionary is the ability to browse or search for words not only by letters or category, but buy rhyme as well.

Another website I love is the Glossary of Medieval Art and Architecture. Again, every entry has an accompanying illustration. Although this website focuses on medieval architecture, much of the terminology still applies to modern architecture, and many of these styles and structures still exist throughout cities of the world.

An exciting resource I've recently found (and have yet to explore fully) is the Visuwords™ online graphical dictionary. While this resource doesn't provide illustrations or photographs of words, it does provide dynamic diagrams detailing associations with other words and concepts. It's difficult to explain, so I'd recommend checking out the link.You won't be disappointed.

I also frequently use the Visual Thesaurus at Free Thesaurus.org, which is concept similar to a simplified Visuwords™. It's a quick and easy way to find alternate words, and see them arranged graphically.

So the next time Pro Writing Aid tells you you've used the work 'brown' 14 times in your chapter, maybe one of these sites can help you out.

Mirrors & Mist update:  I'm still editing draft one of book two of the Oxbow Kingdom Trilogy. Current word count broke 70,000 last night, which feels like a milestone. I'm now editing Chapter 14 of 18, so I'm getting closer to the 2nd draft. Please stay tuned!
May 2013 - Hello Reader of 4concpoesiaecsps, In the article you read this time with the title May 2013, We have prepared this article for you to read and retrieve information therein. Hopefully the contents of postings We write this you can understand. well, happy reading.

Title : A New Twist on Dictionaries
link : A New Twist on Dictionaries

Read Also


May 2013

"Mom?  How do you spell precocious?"
"Look it up in the dictionary."
"But I don't know how to spell it!"

Ah, the dreaded dictionary. For many of us, our first experience with one was an indirect childhood punishment. A dry, sterile, overwhelming tool. No fun at all. Look up a word, and find it described by other words you don't understand. So you look them up, and then repeat. Next thing you know, you've accidentally learned something.

My favorite entries in the dictionary were always the ones with pictures (they still are, truth be told). Seemed to me, every entry should have a picture (not possible, I realize, but such was the case with many of my childhood wishes). That leads us to today's post, where in keeping with the overall theme of this blog, I'll describe some free, online resources that I've found valuable, especially as an indie author.

First, a dictionary where every entry does have a picture! The Merriam-Webster Visual Dictionary Online contains 6,000 full-color images of a wide variety of objects from all aspects of life. I've included an example entry below:

elements of ancient costume [3] - Visual Dictionary Online
Similar to the Visual Online Dictionary is the Photographic Dictionary, which has full-color photographs (and simple definitions) of over 5,000 words. An interesting feature of the Photographic Dictionary is the ability to browse or search for words not only by letters or category, but buy rhyme as well.

Another website I love is the Glossary of Medieval Art and Architecture. Again, every entry has an accompanying illustration. Although this website focuses on medieval architecture, much of the terminology still applies to modern architecture, and many of these styles and structures still exist throughout cities of the world.

An exciting resource I've recently found (and have yet to explore fully) is the Visuwords™ online graphical dictionary. While this resource doesn't provide illustrations or photographs of words, it does provide dynamic diagrams detailing associations with other words and concepts. It's difficult to explain, so I'd recommend checking out the link.You won't be disappointed.

I also frequently use the Visual Thesaurus at Free Thesaurus.org, which is concept similar to a simplified Visuwords™. It's a quick and easy way to find alternate words, and see them arranged graphically.

So the next time Pro Writing Aid tells you you've used the work 'brown' 14 times in your chapter, maybe one of these sites can help you out.

Mirrors & Mist update:  I'm still editing draft one of book two of the Oxbow Kingdom Trilogy. Current word count broke 70,000 last night, which feels like a milestone. I'm now editing Chapter 14 of 18, so I'm getting closer to the 2nd draft. Please stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

See Your Characters

Before I jump into this week's subject, I want to thank everyone for the feedback on last week's topic regarding naming my new book. The voting results and associated rationale were quite unanimous. Mirrors & Mist is officially the title of Book II of The Oxbow Kingdom Trilogy. As far a progress report, I'm still editing the first draft of Mirrors & Mist, currently on chapter 13 of 18, with the novel currently at around 68,000 words.

This week, I'm going to talk about a way to bring your characters to life. As I've mentioned before, I'm a visual writer: I imagine scenes and characters in my head, playing out like a movie before I describe them with the written word. One problem with this is that my memory is not infallible, and sometimes characters have a tendency to mutate or evolve. Or I just plain forget how I described them six chapters ago.

Like many writers, I use a spreadsheet to record details on my characters--what they look like, what they wear, etc. However, I've taken that a step further by using this free online program called Ultimate Flash Face, which lets your create portrait sketches with a few button clicks. Not only is it fun to play with, but I'm using Ultimate Flash Face to take a 'snapshot' of my character's faces, to give me something to look at when I'm writing about their facial features.

Ultimate Flash Face is similar to a computer game character generator, where you choose a head, chin, mouth, eyes, nose, hairstyle, eyebrows, facial hair, and glasses from their catalog of options.  The program has a scaling function that lets you size each of these individual features and adjust their opacity to make an original portrait.

Here's an example of some of my characters: in order, Jetsam (a 13-year-old orphan boy), Yduk Thiern (a bounty hunter), Giselle (a young friend of Jetsam's), and Seryn Vardan (a fugitive mage):
Ultimate Flash Face lets you save (if you register) your creations. You can also print them to pdf (with no registration required). To take this a step further, I printed my character portraits to pdf, then saved the pdfs as image files (jpgs). You'll need a pdf editor to do this, or can use a free online converter if you don't have a pdf editor. Once I had the jpg images, I edited the portraits using Photo Pos Pro (free digital photo and image editing software). Whether or not I made them better or worse is open to interpretation, but for my purposes, I made them all a little more like the characters I envisioned. Here are the modified Ultimate Flash Face portraits (of the same characters):

You could go further by coloring the portraits to capture skin, hair, and eye color, but for now, I'm still using the spreadsheet for that. I did something similar to this by 'pinning' pictures that reminded me of my characters on Pinterest, but Ultimate Flash Face gives you even more flexibility in capturing the character as you see them.

Now I just need to find a program that let's me make portraits of dogs and dragons!  If you have any questions about this process, please feel free to leave a comment or drop me an e-mail.  Have a great week and weekend!

CM Skiera
May 2013 - Hello Reader of 4concpoesiaecsps, In the article you read this time with the title May 2013, We have prepared this article for you to read and retrieve information therein. Hopefully the contents of postings We write this you can understand. well, happy reading.

Title : See Your Characters
link : See Your Characters

Read Also


May 2013

Before I jump into this week's subject, I want to thank everyone for the feedback on last week's topic regarding naming my new book. The voting results and associated rationale were quite unanimous. Mirrors & Mist is officially the title of Book II of The Oxbow Kingdom Trilogy. As far a progress report, I'm still editing the first draft of Mirrors & Mist, currently on chapter 13 of 18, with the novel currently at around 68,000 words.

This week, I'm going to talk about a way to bring your characters to life. As I've mentioned before, I'm a visual writer: I imagine scenes and characters in my head, playing out like a movie before I describe them with the written word. One problem with this is that my memory is not infallible, and sometimes characters have a tendency to mutate or evolve. Or I just plain forget how I described them six chapters ago.

Like many writers, I use a spreadsheet to record details on my characters--what they look like, what they wear, etc. However, I've taken that a step further by using this free online program called Ultimate Flash Face, which lets your create portrait sketches with a few button clicks. Not only is it fun to play with, but I'm using Ultimate Flash Face to take a 'snapshot' of my character's faces, to give me something to look at when I'm writing about their facial features.

Ultimate Flash Face is similar to a computer game character generator, where you choose a head, chin, mouth, eyes, nose, hairstyle, eyebrows, facial hair, and glasses from their catalog of options.  The program has a scaling function that lets you size each of these individual features and adjust their opacity to make an original portrait.

Here's an example of some of my characters: in order, Jetsam (a 13-year-old orphan boy), Yduk Thiern (a bounty hunter), Giselle (a young friend of Jetsam's), and Seryn Vardan (a fugitive mage):

Ultimate Flash Face lets you save (if you register) your creations. You can also print them to pdf (with no registration required). To take this a step further, I printed my character portraits to pdf, then saved the pdfs as image files (jpgs). You'll need a pdf editor to do this, or can use a free online converter if you don't have a pdf editor. Once I had the jpg images, I edited the portraits using Photo Pos Pro (free digital photo and image editing software). Whether or not I made them better or worse is open to interpretation, but for my purposes, I made them all a little more like the characters I envisioned. Here are the modified Ultimate Flash Face portraits (of the same characters):

You could go further by coloring the portraits to capture skin, hair, and eye color, but for now, I'm still using the spreadsheet for that. I did something similar to this by 'pinning' pictures that reminded me of my characters on Pinterest, but Ultimate Flash Face gives you even more flexibility in capturing the character as you see them.

Now I just need to find a program that let's me make portraits of dogs and dragons!  If you have any questions about this process, please feel free to leave a comment or drop me an e-mail.  Have a great week and weekend!

CM Skiera