Fun Moments in eBook History with Stephen King

Stephen King Kindle horror story ebook - UR

Stephen King lived his own amazing story. He travelled back in time to the year 2000 in order to write the first massively successful ebook. Or something like that. At least, that’s what I was thinking when I first discovered that Stephen King actually released the first mass-market ebook over 10 years ago, and within 24 hours he’d achieved an amazing 400,000 downloads!

In the story, a young man has a strange adventure while hitchhiking to the hospital bed of his sick mother. (Fans may remember the novella, which was called Riding the Bullet, and is still available as a Kindle ebook.) Stephen King’s profits may not have set a record, since according to Business Week more than 90% of those readers downloaded that book for free. But Stephen King still remained a pioneer in ebooks, and it was just five years ago that he finally read his first book using the Kindle.


“The advance publicity says it looks like a paperback book, but it really doesn’t. It’s a panel of white plastic with a screen in the middle and one of those annoying teeny-tiny keyboards most suited to the fingers of Keebler elves. Full disclosure: I have not yet used the teeny-tiny keyboard, and really see no need for it. Keyboards are for writing. The Kindle is for reading…”

I really like the way Stephen King described WhisperNet as “the electronic ether, where even now a million books are flying overhead, like paper angels without the paper, if you know what I mean.” And soon King had decided to write his own spooky story that was about the Kindle itself! After writing the article Amazon had asked his agent if King wanted to write an original story for the release of the Kindle 2. “I decided I would like to write a story for the Kindle, but only if I could do one about the Kindle. Gadgets fascinate me, particularly if I can think of a way they might get weird.”

That story is called Ur (and you can still download it to your Kindle for just $3.19.) “At the time the Amazon request came in, I’d been playing with an idea about a guy who starts getting e-mails from the dead,” King wrote in Entertainment Weekly. “The story I wrote, Ur, was about an e-reader that can access books and newspapers from alternate worlds. I realized I might get trashed in some of the literary blogs, where I would be accused of shilling for Jeff Bezos & Co., but that didn’t bother me much; in my career, I have been trashed by experts, and I’m still standing.”

Since then, Stephen King seems to have developed a good relationship with Amazon. Just a few months ago, he provided Amazon with a special list of his three favorite books from 2012. (Say You’re Sorry, And When She Was Good, and The Good Son. And on Amazon’s list of the best-selling Kindle ebooks of 2011, Stephen King had two books in the top 50. If you’re browsing through magazines in the Kindle Store, you can even have Amazon send you a free edition of Fantasy & Science Fiction, the magazine where King first published the short stories which became the first volume of The Dark Tower. Sign up for your free subscription by pointing your web browser to tinyurl.com/FreeSciFiMag . It’s “the best fiction magazine in America,” reads the endorsement from King himself.

It must be exciting to spend 12 years writing ebooks, only to see digital book-reading technology make its way from the world of fiction into the real world!


Click here to download UR

And if you want to travel back in time to 2000, Riding the Bullet also appeared in a King collection called “Everything’s Eventual: 14 Dark Tales.”

Stephen King releases a Kindle Exclusive

Stephen_King_Comicon

Stephen King did something strange on Friday. He crept into the Kindle Store, and released a new exclusive that he’d just finished writing. But it wasn’t a horror novel, or even a scary short story. Instead, it was a personal essay about something dangerous in the real world. Stephen King released a Kindle Single called Guns.

For a shortcut, just point your web browser to
tinyURL.com/KingOnGuns

It’s a surprisingly good read, trying to offer the same understanding of our universal fears that have characterized his novels. Using taut prose, he describes how the media reacts to the horrors of a shooting. (“Few of the trigger-pullers are middle-aged, and practically none are old. Some are young men; many are just boys. The Jonesboro, Arkansas, school shooters were 13 and 11…”) According to a British newspaper, he’d just finished writing the essay less than 10 days ago. “Once I finished writing Guns I wanted it published quickly,” King announced in a statement on Friday, “and Kindle Singles provided an excellent fit.”

Amazon was delighted. (“It’s exciting to offer a way for a brilliant writer like King to publish quickly,” Amazon added in the same press release, “and to reach a large audience of loyal readers and new customers.”) David Blum, editor of Kindle Singles, said that they’d agreed to publish King’s essay within hours of receiving it. “By that night we had accepted it and scheduled for publication…”

It’s already become the #1 best-seller in the nonfiction section of Amazon’s store for Kindle Singles. (Though ironically, the #2 best-seller in the nonfiction section is a parody about the life of Vice President Biden by The Onion.) But King had another reason for publishing this 25-page essay as a Kindle Single, according to the article in Britain’s Guardian newspaper. He “wanted it published as soon as possible, given the Obama administration’s looming battle with the National Rifle Association and its allies.”

America is in the middle of a nationwide debate about the possibility of new gun control laws. And King’s essay “stresses that he is an unapologetic gun-owner with at least half a foot in the conservative camp of the US divide,” the Guardian notes. But he’s calling for a ban on automatic and semi-automatic weapons, calling them weapons of mass destruction. “When lunatics want to make war on the unarmed and unprepared, these are the weapons they use.”

The essay also takes a surprising turn when King remembers that some teenaged gunman claimed that their inspiration came from a story written by Stephen King — the 1977 novel Rage. King wrote it when he was a teenager himself, and later published it under his pen name, Richard Bachman. According to the Guardian, King’s essay “did not apologise for writing Rage — ‘no, sir, no ma’am’ — because it told the truth about high-school alienation and spoke to troubled adolescents who ‘were already broken’. However, he said, he ordered his publisher to withdraw the book because it had proved dangerous.”

“My book did not break (them) or turn them into killers,” reads a quote from King’s essay on The Huffington Post. “[T]hey found something in my book that spoke to them because they were already broken. Yet I did see Rage as a possible accelerant which is why I pulled it from sale. You don’t leave a can of gasoline where a boy with firebug tendencies can lay hands on it.”

King remains firm in his opposition to censorship, but also criticizes the staunch gun advocates who take an absolute position which he characterizes as “to hell with the collateral damage”.

I didn’t pull Rage from publication because the law demanded it; I was protected under the First Amendment and the law couldn’t demand it. I pulled it because in my judgement it might be hurting people, and that made it the responsible thing to do. Assault weapons will remain readily available to crazy people until the powerful pro-gun forces in this country decide to do a similar turnaround. They must accept responsibility, recognizing that responsilibity is not the same as culpability. They need to say, ‘we support these measures not because the law demands we support them, but because it’s the sensible thing.’

Until that happens, shooting sprees will continue.

The Day I Held a 100-Year-Old Book

Mark Twain writes a play with Bret Harte

There’s a tradition I like to observe at the start of a new year. It’s remembering a moment when time itself seemed to turn into something you could hold in your hands. It gave me a magical feeling about books — and about the authors who write them. And it seemed like it turned “history” into a special glow you could almost feel…

Surfing the web, I’d discovered that Mark Twain once co-authored a play with a forgotten writer named Bret Harte. Their legendary meeting was even depicted in an advertisement for Old Crow whiskey (above). Here’s how Twain himself described it.

“Well, Bret came down to Hartford and we talked it over, and then Bret wrote it while I played billiards, but of course I had to go over it to get the dialect right. Bret never did know anything about dialect…”

In fact, “They both worked on the play, and worked hard,” according to Twain’s literary executor. One night Harte apparently even stayed up until dawn at Twain’s house to write a different short story for another publisher. (“He asked that an open fire might be made in his room and a bottle of whiskey sent up, in case he needed something to keep him awake… At breakfast-time he appeared, fresh, rosy, and elate, with the announcement that his story was complete.”) I was delighted to discover that 134 years later, that story was still available on the Kindle, “a tale which Mark Twain always regarded as one of Harte’s very best.”

Bret Harte’s short story (as a free Kindle ebook)

Biography of Mark Twain by his executor (as a free Kindle ebook)

Right before Christmas, I wrote about how Harte’s words had already touched another famous writer — Charles Dickens. Before his death, 58-year-old Dickens had sent a letter inviting Bret Harte for a visit in England. But ironically, that letter didn’t arrive until after young Harte had already written a eulogy marking Dickens’ death. It was a poem called “Dickens in Camp,” suggesting that to the English oaks by Dickens’ grave, they should also add a spray of western pine for his fans in the lost frontier mining towns of California…

But two of Harte’s famous short stories had already captured Dickens’ attention — “The Outcasts of Poker Flat” and “The Luck of Roaring Camp.” John Forster, who was Dickens’ biographer, remembers that “he had found such subtle strokes of character as he had not anywhere else in later years discovered… I have rarely known him more honestly moved.” In fact, Dickens even felt that Harte’s style was similar to his own, “the manner resembling himself but the matter fresh to a degree that had surprised him.”

The Luck of Roaring Camp and other stories
Forster’s Life of Charles Dickens (Kindle ebook)

So on one chilly November afternoon, I’d finally pulled down a dusty volume of Bret Harte stories from a shelf at my local public library. I’d had an emotional reaction to “The Outcasts of Poker Flats” — and an equally intense response to “The Luck of Roaring Camp.” But Harte’s career had peaked early, and it seems like he spent his remaining decades just trying to recapture his early success. (“His last letters are full of his worries over money,” notes The Anthology of American Literature, along with “self-pitying complaints about his health, and a grieving awareness of a wasted talent.”) Even in the 20th century, his earliest stories still remained popular as a source of frontier fiction — several were later adapted into western movies. But Harte never really achieved a hallowed place at the top of the literary canon.

Yet “The Luck of Roaring Camp” was the first ebook I’d ordered on my Kindle. I’d checked for print editions but hadn’t found a single one at either Borders, Barnes and Noble, or a local chain called Bookstores, Inc. Days later, I’d decided to try my public library, where I discovered a whole shelf of the overlooked novelist (including an obscure later novel called The Story of a Mine). And that’s when I noticed the date that the library had stamped on its inside cover.

“SEP 21 1905.”

Bret Harte library book - checked out in 1905Close-up of library check-out date for Bret Harte book

I felt like I was holding history in my hand. The book was published just three years after Harte’s death in 1902, and there was an old-fashioned card, in a plastic pocket glued to the inside cover, which showed some of the past check-out dates, including FEB 12 1923 and APR 8 1923.

Bret Harte library book - old check-out datesCheck-out dates for old library book

More than a century later, my local librarians had tagged this ancient book with an RFID chip so you could check it out automatically just by running it across a scanner. A computerized printer spit out a receipt, making sure that the book wouldn’t remotely trigger their electronic security alarm when it was carried past the library’s anti-theft security gates.

I hope that somewhere, that makes Bret Harte happy.

George Takei comes to the Kindle

George Takei Oh Myy ebook cover

He’s the TV actor who’d played Mr. Sulu on Star Trek. But now he’s also a huge internet phenomenon — and he’s written a great ebook about the experience. It’s called Oh myy! (There Goes the Internet), and last night George Takei surprised fans by announcing it had just become available on the Kindle (in addition to the Nook). “Surprise!” he posted on Facebook. “The folks at Amazon sped through my approval process, and my new book…is now as available as Katie Holmes.”

Check out the ebook at TinyURL.com/TakeiBook

It’s already racked up 35 five-star reviews — though that’s understandable, since George Takei has over 3 million followers on Facebook. (“As a starfleet officer, Sulu was dedicated to peaceful exploration,” Forbes magazine once wrote. “But when it comes to Facebook, he’s a conquerer.”) What surprised me even more is just how much I enjoyed the book. It’s a warm and thoughtful read, and it’s also genuinely entertaining.

That’s partly because he has a great story to tell. At the age of 75, George Takei has become one of the most popular people on Facebook, and he brings his humble humor to the tale of his success. “I’m not sure exactly when this shift occurred,” he writes, “but it delights me to know that, though I am separated in age by some 40 or 50 years from most of my fans, they have welcomed me into their lives. As my fan base demographic tilts even younger, fewer and fewer fans will know me merely as ‘that guy who played Sulu.'” And then he lets readers share in some of the fun of his success – like his Twitter showdowns with celebrities like Donald Trump, Tracy Morgan, Victoria Jackson, and even the Aflac duck.

I’ve always been a big Star Trek fan, so I pre-ordered a digital copy of the book, and it came with a special additional chapter. (Takei fondly remembered his very first Star Trek conventions — and the surprise when it went from 12 fans in a hotel conference room to a thousand people in an auditorium.) Maybe that biased me towards a positive review, but this feels like a very personal book. “It gives me great joy to feel back on the ‘cutting edge’ of things,” Takei write, “and to know that the best years may yet lie ahead. So thank you, again, for buying this book early and supporting me in this new endeavor.

“May we live long and prosper together.”

One reviewer on Amazon hit on something that I’d noticed, too. “While the first 69 pages or so are, as one might expect, the tale of a man in his sixties coming to grips with the modern internet… George Takei is, fundamentally, a geek. And brilliant. And given to reverse-engineering everything he comes across. So the last two-thirds of the book ends up being one of the most coherent, insightful, and accessible explanations I’ve ever seen on how to build and maintain a social media presence.” Even seen as a social media guide, the reviewer notes that “this one’s actually fun to read.”

But the book also comes across as a very special experience, a man warmly sharing stories of wonder and amazement. I found myself thinking that it was true to the Star Trek spirit – a celebration of humanness and laughter that would’ve made Gene Roddenberry proud. Maybe all the fans magically amplified the show’s positive vibe, and George Takei somehow absorbed it over four decades of Star Trek conventions. His ebook is gracious and fond, but it lets them all share one more voyage together.

“Our dazzling tech-driven society today stimulates and inspires me,” he writes — giving him one more reason to sincerely say… “Oh myy!”

Check out the ebook at TinyURL.com/TakeiBook

Even More “Best Books of 2012” – from Amazon Canada!

Flag of Canada in a love heart

When Amazon announced their list of the “Best Books of 2012”, they also issued a second press release with an entirely different list chosen by the book editors at the Canadian version of Amazon.com. “From new books by beloved Canadian authors like ‘Dear Stories,’ to memoirs like ‘Waging Heavy Peace’…” announced the “country manager” for Amazon.ca, “there is something for everyone on this year’s list.” But in just the top 10, their editor’s independently picked five of the same books that were chosen by Amazon’s American editors!

Click here to browse the special Canadian version of Amazon’s “Best Books of 2012” list. Of their five other choices, four of them were written by Canadian authors, and they haven’t been released in the U.S. There’s Carnival, a literary novel by Rawi Hage about a city cab driver during the chaotic Carnival. And Amazon Canada also selected the novel Above All Things by Tanis Rideout as one of the 10 best books of 2012. (It’s the story of the first man to climb Mt. Everest…and his wife.)

Their third Canadian-author choice was 419 by Will Ferguson, a crime novel based on those Nigerian e-mail scams. And their fourth Canadian-author choice was a mystery in the “Chief Inspector Gamache” series — The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny. But their fifth unique choice for their top-10 list of the bests book of 2012 was The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver. The American blogger predicted the outcome of two U.S. presidential elections with uncanny accuracy, and he’s turned his attention to the larger question of predictions in general — and why so many of them turn out wrong! Amazon’s American editors also selected the same book, but didn’t place it in their top 10.

Here’s the five books that Amazon’s American editors chose instead for their top 10 (which didn’t make it onto the Canadian top 10 list.)

     Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk: A Novel by Ben Fountain
     A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers
     The Middlesteins: A Novel by Jami Attenberg
     Mortality by Christopher Hitchens
     The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

But even when the same books were selected by the editors of both the American and Canadian versions of Amazon, the Canadian editors ranked those books in an entirely different order. Here’s their list of the 10 best books of 2012, along with the ranks from the Amazon’s American editors (shown in parentheses).

     1. (3) Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
     2. Above All Things by Tanis Rideout
     3. (1) The Round House by Louise Erdrich
     4. (2) The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
     5. (4) The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
     6. 419 by Will Ferguson
     7. (6) Behind the Beautiful Forevers:
             Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity
by Katherine Boo
     8. Carnival by Rawi Hage
     9. The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny
     10. The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver


I really enjoy these lists, because there’s always something new on them that I’d never even thought about reading — so I’m delighted to discover this second list with even more titles from Amazon Canada. The idea is that no matter who you are, there should be something intriguing among all of the new choices, according to the announcement from Amazon’s country manager for Canada.

“From new books by beloved Canadian authors like Dear Stories, to memoirs like Waging Heavy Peace, and thrillers like our top pick, Gone Girl – there is something for everyone on this year’s list.”


Click here to browse the special Canadian version of
Amazon’s “Best Books of 2012” list.

Special eBooks for Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving Curious George book and Kindle ebook cover

Are you ready for some Thanksgiving fun? Thursday is the great American holiday, and if you’re traveling for the holiday – or just have some extra time to relax — I’ve picked out a few Thanksgiving-related ebooks.

It’s sort of a tradition, since last year I also recommended some Thanksgiving ebooks, and it made me feel like in some way I was celebrating the holiday together with my readers. I like to joke that we all have at least one thing that brings us together: we can all be grateful that we own a Kindle! And yes, I’m especially grateful, because it’s been exactly one year since I published my very first e-book. (A funny, short Thanksgiving mystery about turkeys written in rhyme – which is now free until Wednesday night!)

Anyways, for this year’s holiday, I’ve identified some of the best ebooks — in different categories — that are available for for Thanksgiving in Amazon’s Kindle Store.

The Best Romance
“Thanksgiving” by Janet Evanovich

Best-selling author Janet Evanovich wrote several funny mystery novels — but she actually began her career writing romance novels at the age of 45. One of her first books was “Thanksgiving,” written in 1988, describing how overworked Megan Murphy meets a good-looking doctor at historic Williamsburg, Virginia. (Megan’s enjoying a cup of hot cider and two sugar cookies from the Raleigh Tavern Bake Shop when she discovers the doctor’s giant pet rabbit is eating a hole through her skirt!)

According to the book’s description on Amazon, “she meant to give its careless owner a piece of her mind, but Dr. Patrick Hunter was too attractive to stay mad at for long,” and soon “the two are making Thanksgiving dinner for their families.” And 12 different Amazon’s reviewers gave it five-star reviews, including one who wrote that “If you’ve enjoyed Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, you’re going to get a kick out of her stories for the Loveswept Romance imprint…”

The Best Cookbook
Thanksgiving 101 by Rick Rodgers

Perdue Farms sells over $4.6 billion worth of poultry every year, and for eight years, Rick Rodgers was their media spokesman. He traveled the country giving classes, according to Amazon’s description of the book, and delivers “everything, absolutely everything, you would want to know about buying, thawing, prepping, and roasting a turkey.

“You needn’t look any further. There’s a long question-and-answer-style section that anticipates any questions you might have. Then it’s right on to everything from Perfect Roast Turkey with Best-Ever Gravy to Holiday Meatball Lasagna.” And in addition, there’s lots of recipes for stuffings, side dishes, appetizers, and even leftovers. 29 of the book’s 34 reviewers on Amazon gave it five stars, while the other five
awarded it four. It’s a classic — Amazon’s first review of the book was written in 1998 — but even today, it’s become one of Amazon’s best-selling holiday cooking books.

The Best History Book
On Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford

Who better to tell the story of Thanksgiving than the pilgrims who lived through it? (My favorite chapter was the one about the very non-Puritan antics of Thomas Morton…) William Bradford began writing his history of America’s most famous pilgrims back in 1630 (according to my anthology of American literature), and he continued chronicling their life up to 1647. But the invaluable manuscript was never published in his lifetime, and after Bradford’s death, his family passed it down through the generations.

The precious unpublished memoir traveled its own complicated journey, down through Boston’s Old South Church, and eventually even back to England. Finally it was published in 1856 — a full 200 years after it was written. It never did arrive on the shores of Amazon’s Kindle Store, but you can download a free Kindle version from Project Gutenburg. I’ve always thought it’s excited that, thanks to the Kindle, today we can take peek into the lives of those very pilgrims who first started celebrating Thanksgiving.

The Best Children’s Book
Happy Thanksgiving, Curious George

Just 12 weeks ago, a new Curious George book appeared, and this one has a special surprise. Yes, you may have read other children’s books about the playful and accident-prone monkey… But this one rhymes!


George wakes up in the morning.
Something smells quite nice.
He knows for sure he wants some —
A piece, a smidge, a slice.

He rushes to the kitchen
and there he sees the man —
with yellow hat an apron,
A turkey in the pan.

The turkey’s in the oven.
It takes some time to cook.
But every now and then
George can’t help but take a look….

Uh-oh, I bet there’s going to be trouble.

Hope you have a happy Thanksgiving!

Amazon Announces “Best Books of 2012”

Amazon's List of the Best Books of 2012

The editors at Amazon have just announced their list of the very best books of 2012. They’ve also chosen their Best Book of the Year — and created 24 more “top 10” lists for different categories, including fiction, romance, mystery, and this year’s 10 best Kindle Singles. They’ve even got a list where Stephen King chooses his Top 10 favorite books of the year, along with other famous authors like Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald. Plus, each individual category also has its own a “best book of the year.”

Visit Amazon’s “Best Books of 2012” page at tinyurl.com/BestBooksOf2012

“We are confident that we’ve chosen a list that customers will be excited about,” announced Amazon’s Editorial Director for the Kindle and Books at Amazon.com, Sara Nelson. And on a special web page, Amazon explains that “All year, the Amazon Books editorial team reads voraciously, tracking down and sharing the most fascinating, compelling, enlightening, and entertaining books…” Their pick for the best book of the year was The Round House, about a teenager’s investigation into a family tragedy on a reservation in North Dakota. Here’s Amazon’s complete list of the Top 10 Books of 2012 — and what they had to say about them.


1. The Round House by Louise Erdric
“Likely to be dubbed the Native American To Kill a Mockingbird, Erdrich’s moving, complex and surprisingly uplifting new novel tells of a boy’s coming of age in the wake of a brutal, racist attack on his mother.”

2. The Yellow Birds: A Novel by Kevin Powers
“With this compact and emotional debut novel, Iraq War veteran Powers eyes the casual violence of war with a poet’s precision, moving confidently between scenes of blunt atrocity and almost hallucinatory detachment.”

3. Gone Girl: A Novel by Gillian Flynn
“Masterfully plotted from start to finish, the suspense doesn’t waver for one page. It’s one of those books you will feel the need to discuss immediately after finishing. The ending punches you in the gut.”

4. The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
“As much an homage to literature as to the mother who shared it with him, Schwalbe’s chronicling of his mother’s death to cancer—they wait, they talk, they read together—is nothing less than captivating.”

5. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk: A Novel by Ben Fountain
“Debut novelist Fountain follows a squad of marines as they engage in a ‘victory tour’ in the States. Set mostly during halftime at a Dallas Cowboy’s football game, Fountain skillfully illustrates what it’s like to go to war, and how bizarre and disconcerting it can be for these grunts to return from combat to the country they love.”

6. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo
“This searing portrait of life in a Mumbai slum reads like a novel, but it’s all-too-true. Pulitzer Prize-winner Boo’s writing is superb, and the depth and courage of her reporting from this hidden world is astonishing.”

7. A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers
“Both disturbing and funny, this novel from onetime wunderkind Eggers shows surprising depth. A man’s wayward attempt to find himself and retake his life delivers him to Saudi Arabia but the journey abroad is also internal, and it ends up saying as much about life in America as in the Middle East.”

8. The Middlesteins: A Novel by Jami Attenberg
“A quick read that’s more complex than it seems at first, this story about a Midwestern Jewish family is both recognizable (sometimes uncomfortably so) and entertainingly idiosyncratic.”

9. Mortality by Christopher Hitchens
“Like the late author himself, this book is funny, smart, entertaining and unflinching to the end. Mortality has the power to change ideas that you might have held immutable—which is one of the best things you can say about a book.”

10. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
“This soulful novel originally written for teenagers tackles big subjects – life, death, love – with the perfect blend of levity and heart-swelling emotion.”



There’s a humorous note on the web page where Amazon’s announcing their final list. “Picking the best of anything is always difficult, but this year Sara Nelson and the gang had a different kind of difficulty: an embarrassment of riches. All year long we read and loved so many books that the usually spirited Best of the Year meetings were, well, especially spirited.” I can only imagine what that discussion must’ve looked like, but in the end, Amazon explains, we arrived at a list that we’re proud of, offering something for everyone.

“Enjoy!”

Visit Amazon’s “Best Books of 2012” page at tinyurl.com/BestBooksOf2012

Playboy Comes to the Kindle – Sort of

Playboy magazine interviews are now Kindle ebooks

There was a surprising announcement yesterday morning. Playboy magazine is now making content available for the Kindle! But there was something even more surprising about the announcement. The content Playboy was making available was their interviews with famous people. (And not their notorious centerfolds…)

“Playboy has curated 50 of its best interviews from the past 50 years in a special 50 day promotion,” reads the announcement. It promises a new interview will be released every day for the next 50 days – and each one will cost just 99 cents. Today’s interview is with one of football’s most famous all-star quarterbacks, Joe Namath. And they kicked off the promotion Tuesday, publishing Playboy’s very first interview from 1962, with jazz legend Miles Davis.

At Amazon, each interview’s description includes the story of how this tradition got started. “In mid-1962, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner was given a partial transcript of an interview with Miles Davis. It covered jazz, of course, but it also included Davis’s ruminations on race, politics and culture. Fascinated, Hef sent the writer – future Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Alex Haley, an unknown at the time – back to glean even more opinion and insight from Davis. The resulting exchange, published in the September 1962 issue, became the first official Playboy Interview and kicked off a remarkable run of public inquisition that continues today…”

But you won’t find them if you search the Kindle Store for Playboy. (Although you will find some amateur erotic fiction, a tell-all memoir by Hugh Hefner’s girlfriend, and a chance to subscribe to Maxim magazine). There’s also the Playboy book of cigars and a collection of the magazine’s Playboy Advisor” columns. But you have to specifically search on Playboy interview to find these new releases. (Or, point your browser to this shortcut — tinyurl.com/PlayboyEbooks .)

Thursday they’ll publish their interview with Martin Luther King as an ebook. Friday’s interview will be Jack Nicholson. They’ll even be republishing their headline-making interview with future president Jimmy Carter. “50 Years of the Playboy Interview features one-of-a-kind in-depth, provocative interviews with the world’s greatest celebrities and icons,” their announcement promises, “such as Tina Fey, Francis Ford Coppola, Howard Stern, Fidel Castro and Robert DeNiro.” They’ve even created special “covers” for the ebook editions — both front and back — featuring their photos of the celebrities, and some especially intriguing quotes. (For Jimmy Carter, the quote was “I’m a human being. I’m not a package you can put in a box….”)

Browse the available interviews each day at
tinyurl.com/PlayboyEbooks

How Amazon Rescued a Struggling Writer

Jessica Park - author of Flat-Out Love

It felt like something happened last week. A writer dared to speak the truth — spilling the beans about how hard life is for a professional book author. Jessica Park finally revealed how much real writers can hate their publishers, and how much happier she is now that she’s publishing her ebooks in Amazon’s Kindle Store. “The funny thing is that I feel more like a real author now that I self-publish than when I had the (supposed) support of a publisher behind me.”

The article was just published on the 15th at a web site called IndieReader.com (and it was later republished on The Huffington Post). But by that Tuesday, Amazon — in what’s almost an act of war — featured her article on the front page of Amazon.com! It seems like now everyone is noticing it. Three of my friends each decided to share that same article last week on Facebook.

The top Kindle blogs are also buzzing about it, and it’s almost starting to feel like a revolution. “One of the major reasons that I write is to connect with readers, not publishers,” Jessica explains. “The truth is that I couldn’t care less whether New York editors and publishers like me. I don’t want to write for them. I want to write for you.” Publishers had rejected her newest novel, Flat-Out Love, because its main character was a few years older than they’d wanted the character to be. “It clicked for me that I was not the idiot here.

It’s hard to ignore Jessica when she reveals just how much more money she’d earned after leaving behind the traditional publishers. (In one especially good month, she sold close to 50,000 ebooks.) And despite her role as an author, Jessica writes that “I have to credit Amazon with giving me such a strong platform with such overwhelming visibility. I can be a writer. I am a writer….”

“It’s heartwarming,” Amazon’s founder wrote on the front page of Amazon.com, saying that Jessica’s article “tells a powerful story about what Kindle Direct Publishing makes possible. Kindle Direct Publishing empowers serious authors to reach readers, build a following, make a living, and to do it on their own terms.” And he points out that it’s not just the authors who are benefiting. “Readers get lower prices, authors get higher royalties, and we all get a more diverse book culture (no expert gatekeepers saying ‘sorry but that will never work’).”

Is it a trend? Maybe. Amazon’s founder also notes that of the top 100 best-selling ebooks in the Kindle Store for all of 2012, there are 22 that came from Amazon’s “Kindle Direct Publishing” program. (“[A]nd more great stories are being published every day…”) But I think there’s an even more compelling piece of evidence — the real passion that seems to glow in every single word of Jessica’s article. “We get to bring you our stories in the way we want to tell them, without the dilution and sculpting from publishing houses. And the fans? Oh, the fans are simply unbelievable…Their support and enthusiasm breathes life into days when I feel particularly challenged.

“I’m in a circle of authors who have been dubbed The Cancer Warriors because our books have become saving graces for people going through cancer treatment. Readers are escaping hell on earth through our books. …books that never would have reached these readers without the ability to self-publish. We get to do our small part to help them fight. Getting to be part of something like this is at the top of my list for why I write.

It makes me want to face New York publishers head on and scream, “You see that? Do you see what we’re doing without you?”

Dilbert and Doonesbury – exclusive Kindle ebooks!

Dilbert and Doonesbury Kindle ebook anthologies

For the first time ever, you can read Kindle anthologies for two of the most popular newspaper comic strips — Doonesbury and Dilbert! They’re available now for Kindle Fire tablets, though you can also read them on any of Amazon’s Kindle apps. Check out the books at these “shortcut” URLs — tinyurl.com/DoonesburyEbook and tinyurl.com/DilbertEbooks. “These remarkable volumes represent a tremendous body of work from two exceptional cartoonists,” announced the publishing company behind the two books, “and we are delighted to make them available to a new audience.”

These exclusive Kindle editions don’t just include a few of the famous newspaper comic strips — it’s a lot of them! The Dilbert collection includes 2,000 different strips, nearly 30% of all the Dilbert comic strips that have ever been published. And the Doonesbury collection has everything — every single newspaper strip from the last 40 years. (If my math is correct, that means there’s 3,650 comic strips in each of the four editions, or nearly 15,000 comic strips in all!)

The Doonesbury collection is split into four separate volumes that each cover one entire decade, so the first volume starts with the 1970s. (There’s a famous series of strips in 1971 that pokes fun at young anti-war activist John Kerry, 33 years before he became the Democrats’ candidate for President in 2004.) Two more volumes collect all of the strips from the 1980s and 1990s, respectively, covering the Reagan, Bush, and Clinton administrations, and the final volume almost catches up to the present, covering the years 2000 through 2010. (Cartoonist Garry Trudeau titled the collection simply “40: A Doonesbury Retrospective.”)

When the Doonesbury collection was released in print, each edition weighed almost 10 pounds, but the digital editions fit right into your Kindle apps (and each volume apparently takes just one-tenth
of a megabyte.) In a special introduction at Amazon.com, the cartoonist jokes that “I’ve come to appreciate that many readers prefer to forego the risk of herniation while picking up a book – no matter that the risk is slight if you push up from your knees and have someone spot you.” And he remembers the time crooks actually hijacked a truck which had been delivering print copies of the book. “I’ve tried to imagine the reaction of the hijackers’ supervisor when he broke into the trailer and discovered 13,000 pounds of Doonesbury where palettes of hi-def TVs should have been!”

Dilbert’s anthology has more descriptive titles for its four volumes, starting with “The Early Years, 1989 to 1993.” (It’s followed by “The Boom Years, 1994 to 1997,” and “The Dot-Com Bubble, 1998 to 2000.”)
But there’s seven whole years crammed into the final volume –“The Modern Era, 2001 to 2008.” “I tried to find the strips that were the funniest,” cartoonist Scott Adams explains in an interview at Amazon.com, “while also having some meaning, or a funny story attached.” Each strip was personally selected by the cartoonist himself, and it looks like he put a lot of care into the final anthology. In the interview, Adams remembers that “it felt like I was a mother with triplets and someone told me I could only keep one of them!”

He also reveals that he’s hoping for a Dilbert movie (though “A lot of elements have to fall in place.”) And he has big plans, some of which involve the comic strip’s web site, and even distributing the comic strip directly to mobile devices. “It’s an exciting time to be a cartoonist,” But in some ways, Dilbert has already made a very grand entrance for the Kindle. Dilbert himself makes a special appearance on the ebook’s page at Amazon.com — explaining exactly how to read the comic strip on touch screen. (“Hi, Kindle Fire Users,” the strip begins. “Double-tap on any panel to enlarge it…”)

By the end of the strip, Dilbert’s joined by his pet dog — Dogbert — who asks an even more important question…

Dilbert and Dogbert explain Kindle Fire ebook

Best New Books for May!

The best books of the month

I just noticed that Amazon has finally unveiled their “Best Books of the Month” page — a selection of May’s best new books, as chosen by Amazon’s own book editors. They’ve identified nine very special books, including new novels by some famous authors, and some very interesting non-fiction! (For a shortcut to Amazon’s list, just visit tinyurl.com/BestBooksOfMay .)

Here’s what’s on the list…


In One Person

John Irving wrote some of the most famous novels of the last 50 years — everything from The World According to Garp and The Hotel New Hampshire to The Cider-House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany. But this time he’s written a more poltical story, according to the book’s description on Amazon, which calls it “precisely the kind of astonishing alchemy we associate with a John Irving novel…, brilliant, political, provocative, tragic, and funny!”


Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk: a Novel

Eight American soldiers survive an intense firefight in Iraq, only to be honored with a guest appearance beside the Dallas Cowboys during a Thanksgiving halftime show. There they meet a wild cast of characters, according to the book’s description on Amazon, and “Over the course of this day, Billy will begin to understand difficult truths about himself, his country, his struggling family, and his brothers-in-arms – soldiers both dead and alive. In the final few hours before returning to Iraq, Billy will drink and brawl, yearn for home and mourn those missing, face a heart-wrenching decision, and discover pure love and a bitter wisdom far beyond his years.”


An Uncommon Education

This thought-provoking novel tells the story of a woman in college who’s “consumed by loneliness,” according to the book’s description on Amazon, “until the day she sees a girl fall into the freezing waters of a lake.” There’s a secret Shakespeare society, rituals, friendship, and enthusiastic students, offering a “compelling portrait of a quest for greatness and the grace of human limitations,” and a novel that’s both “poignant and wise.”


Season of the Witch
This is a fascinating history of San Francisco during a period of transformation — from 1967 to 1982. A reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle called it “A gritty corrective to our rosy memories…enthralling, news-driven history…smart and briskly paced tale…” (They added, “I found it hard to put down!”) This 482-page book looks absolutely fascinating, and it was written by David Talbot, who co-founded Salon.com and (according to Wikipedia) has also written for The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, and Time Magazine.


Home

Toni Morrison has already won a Nobel prize, so it’s a literary event when she releases a brand new novel. “Nobody owns a sentence like Ms. Morrison,” Amazon writes in their review, describing its “slender, lyrical prose” that tells the story of a Korean war veteran and his sister who’s been abandoned by her husband. One newspaper called it “an intimate story with epic implications,” and another said author Toni Morrison was “at her best,” calling Home “her finest work since the groundbreaking 1992 novel Beloved.


Trapeze

The story of a female spy in World War II is based on the author’s own memories of her personal connection to a real-life spy. Her mother worked in England’s Women’s Auxiliary Air Force alongside another woman who was recruited for Britain’s “Special Operations Executive” program. “The role of SOE was destruction, not intelligence,” the author remembers on the book’s page at Amazon. “In the famous words of Winston Churchill, they were to ‘set Europe ablaze’.” The author’s father, a pilot in the Royal Air Force, air-dropped supplies to the same undercover agents when she behind enemy lines in France. Amazon describes the book as “a smart, well-paced spy thriller based on the true, extraordinary story of the SOE…”


The Passage of Power

Biographer Robert A. Caro has spent several decades producing a series of definitive books about the life of President Lyndon Johnson. And according to the book’s description on Amazon, he’s still delivering the pieces of a very powerful portrait. “Book Four of Robert A. Caro’s monumental The Years of Lyndon Johnson displays all the narrative energy and illuminating insight that led the Times of London to acclaim it as ‘one of the truly great political biographies of the modern age. A masterpiece’.”


“This is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming…”

This book actually has a very long subtitle that sardonically lists out all the things it will help the reader overcome. (Like grief, disease, shyness, decrepitude “and more. For Young and Old Alike.”) But it’s really a new dark humor advice memoir by Augusten Burroughs, delivering “raw, hard-knock-life advice,” according to Amazon, “veering from brutal to hilarious to deeply compassionate.” It looks brutal but intriguing, and it’s described on Amazon’s page as a “no-holds barred” book that “will challenge your notion of self-help books!”


Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power

This isn’t just any investigation into a wealthy energy producer. It was written by a staff writer for The New Yorker who also spent 20 years as a reporter at The Washington Post, where he’d won a Pulitzer Prize, according to the book’s page on Amazon. Various reviewers described the book as masterful, magisterial, meticulous, or multi-angled, with one calling it a “must-read” that at the same time is both “riveting and appalling.” And one Amazon customer even warned that “You can’t put this book down. It just grabs you!”

Maurice Sendak on Your Kindle?

I was sad to hear that Maurice Sendak died on Tuesday. He wrote “Where the Wild Things Are,” and also wrote or illustrated several dozen more books — all just as original, and just as exciting. So it’s surprising that there aren’t any Kindle ebooks available by Maurice Sendak. But there is one way to get Maurice Sendak’s works onto your Kindle — by listening to an audiobook!

And amazingly, there’s also a full-length novel adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are that was written by Dave Eggers!

The audiobook is narrated by Peter Schickele, who is better known as the classical music humorist, P.D.Q. Bach. Schickele also composed a lively musical score for the story, which plays in the background as he reads the book’s short dialogue. (Sendak’s story famously has only 10 sentences in it — just 338 words — but with the additional music, the audiobook version is six minutes long.) “Schickele narrates with infectious enthusiasm,” wrote one reviewer on Amazon, “bringing life to the words, sounding as if he’s telling his favorite story…”

It’s also available as a DVD with animated versions of Sendak’s original pictures — along with adaptations of more Sendak stories. The DVD includes versions of the four short poems in “The Nutshell Library” — Pierre, One Was Johnny, Alligators All Around, and Chicken Soup With Rice — sung and set to music by Carol King.) Just point your web browser to tinyurl.com/SendakCartoons. And that collection concludes with Schikele’s version of Sendak’s “In the Night Kitchen.”

Audible.com is also selling an audiobook which contains a 25-minute interview with Sendak on the PBS radio show, Fresh Air. (Sendak was one of two guests on the show, which also includes another 25-minute interview with actress Patricia Clarkson.) It was recorded in 2003, when 75-year-old Sendak had just released a new book called Brundibar that was based on a dramatic Czechoslovakian opera. The audiobook offers a fun to hear Maurice Sendak’s voice coming out of your Kindle!

Finally, “Where the Wild Things Are” was adapted into a live-action movie in 2009, with a screenplay that was co-written by the award-winning novelist Dave Eggers (who was once also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize). I’ve been a fan of Eggers since he wrote A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and along with the movie’s screenplay, he also wrote a full-length novel version of Sendak’s story. The San Francisco Chronicle called it a “funny and touching novelization of Maurice Sendak’s picture book,” saying that Eggers was “brilliant at portraying the exuberance and chaos of a young boy’s mind and heart.” And it’s available as a Kindle ebook. (Just sail your web browser away to tinyurl.com/SendakNovel )

I’m a big fan of Sendak. One year before he wrote Where the Wild Things Are, Sendak even drew the illustrations for a dark little children’s story by Robert Graves (the 67-year-old author of I, Claudius). People are remembering their favorite Sendak stories today, all around the web.

And it’s nice to know there’s also ways to remember Sendak with your Kindle!

James Bond Comes to Amazon!

James Bond montage
The first James Bond book was published nearly 60 years ago — and it was nearly 50 years ago that the first James Bond movie was released. Now the famous secret agent has found his way into the world of ebooks. This month, Amazon announced a 10-year license for the every one of Ian Fleming’s “James Bond” books for North America — both in print and as Kindle ebooks.

“We believe that Amazon Publishing has the ability to place the books back at the heart of the Bond brand…” announced the managing director of Ian Fleming Publications, Ltd., praising Amazon for ” balancing traditional publishing routes with new technologies and new ways of reaching our readers.” They seemed intrigued by the reach of the Kindle, and the possibility that it could open up an entirely new market. . “We are excited to be using the opportunity of this re-license to introduce Ian Fleming’s books to a broader audience in the USA.”

Amazon noted that the books have already sold more than 100 million copies — and that the James Bond series of films is “the world’s longest-running film franchise.” But more importantly, “We are devoted fans of Fleming’s Bond novels here at Amazon Publishing,” noted business development director Philip Patrick. In a statement, he said that Amazon’s book-publishing arm could offer famous authors “a new life for great backlist titles” (adding that Ian Fleming was “the perfect fit.”) So how does it feel to be keeping Ian Fleming’s books alive on one of Amazon’s own publishing imprints?

“We’re thrilled…”

Here’s a list of the James Bond titles which will be available as Kindle ebooks.


Casino Royale (1953)
Live and Let Die (1954
Moonraker (1955)
Diamonds Are Forever (1956)
From Russia with Love (1957)
Dr. No (1958)
Goldfinger (1959)
For your Eyes Only (1960)
Thunderball (1961)
The Spy Who Loved Me (1962)
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963)
You Only Live Twice (1964)
The Man With The Golden Gun (1965)
Octopussy (1966)
The Living Daylights (1966)

In addition, Amazon also plans to publish two interesting non-fiction books written by Ian Fleming — The Diamond Smugglers, a true-crime story from 1957 analyzing the illegal trade in precious stones, plus Thrilling Cities, a 1963 collection of travel stories.

It reminds me of a conversation I had with my friend Len Edgerly (who broadcasts a new episode of the Kindle Chronicles podcast online every Friday). Last summer he’d read From Russia With Love during a trip, and noted that even back then, it wasn’t available on the Nook (or on any other digital reading devices that he’d tried). But on his podcast, Len shared another interesting observation: that reading that ebook also opened his eyes to the potential of “public notes” created for a Kindle ebook.

[T]here’s an intriguing use of public annotations in that book, because Jeffrey Deaver has — apparently he was authorized by the family to write another 007 novel in the series. It’s called Carte Blanche, and it was actually published in May. But he was going through “From Russia With Love, written by Ian Fleming, sharing his impressions of the book as part of his preparation for writing his own James Bond novel. And one of the ones I loved the best was, in that book, Bond isn’t — doesn’t appear in the book to where you can see what he’s doing and saying until a third of the book goes — has passed. It’s all preparation and Moscow and — the spy’s getting ready to seduce him, and all this. And Deaver says, this is amazing, you know, that he would have the discipline and the skill to wait this long to introduce his main character…. I’m going to be really curious to read the Deaver book to see if I can see things that he flagged in his reading of From Russia With Love as he was preparing his own version of a Jame Bond story.

But I can picture other uses of that where a favorite author is reading a classic or just another book of some kind, and you have a chance to look over his shoulder and see what he or she is jotting down, highlighting and making notes about…

Len’s comment got me thinking about the possibility of a college professor leaving notes for his entire class in a Kindle ebook. Or maybe the members of a book group could all pool their notes, so they could share their reactions to the ebook while they were still reading it! I wondered if someday, a president of the United States might leave notes in an ebook to commemorate National Reading Month. And Len remembered that on one of Barack Obama’s vacations last year one time, “it came out that he had read the biography of Ronald Reagan. And man, that would’ve been fascinating to see what he was highlighting in the notes he was jotting down about that!”

My theory is that people just aren’t aware of the power of public notes. (To follow a specific person’s notes, just login at Kindle.Amazon.com and search for their name, and then click the “Follow” button that appears over their profile picture.) I predicted to Len that as time goes by, and as people become more familiar with the possibilities, we’ll see more interesting uses for public notes on the Kindle. The last thing I said to him?

“I’m actually surprised more people aren’t doing this already!”

A Kindle Success Story

Bob Mayer book cover art - Body of Lies

There was an inspiring story in Amazon’s newsletter for self-published authors. (You may remember that for a birthday present, I published a short ebook for my girlfriend with pictures of her dog!) But
in a section of the newsletter called “Your Voice,” Amazon lets one of their self-published authors share a big success story. And this month, that author is Bob Mayer, who sold nearly half a million ebooks in 2011!

He was born in the Bronx, according to his biography on Wikipedia, and he’s published over 33 novels (under his own name, and four different pen names!) Mixed in with the action adventures are some thrillers and sci-fi stories that build on his Special Forces experiences, including a popular series called Area 51 I found his story inspiring — and very compelling!

Bob Mayer shares his experiences with Kindle Direct Publishing….

I am a former Green Beret having served with 3-11-2012 10-43-17 PM 2 recon and Special Forces teams. I then went on to serve as a writer and instructor at the JFK Special Warfare Center & School at Fort Bragg. Needless to say I didn’t have the typical writer background, but my military background inspired the content of my future writing. 

I started writing all the way back in 1989 and I bounced around between the big six as a mid-list author, selling well enough to not be dropped but yet not relevant enough to be important to them even when I hit the NY Times Bestseller List. I’ve come a long way since then, and started a small publishing company in 2010, but was still with a Big 6 publisher. I made a decision that I was going to go 100% Indie in January 2011 and it really took off once I jumped in.  From 347 eBooks sold that month, I ended the year with over 400,000 sold!

I have published over 50 titles under my name and my Robert Doherty pen name and have sold over 6 million books (most since going to eBook).  However, self-publishing is not as easy as it seems: It requires your devotion and attention. In my opinion it’s a full time job. Besides the writing, it takes a tremendous amount of time to do the promotion, marketing and technical aspects. I’ve got a few other authors that I’m working with to get out there because they have to focus on the writing and we take care of the business aspects. I have Jen Talty to help me with all the formatting — in fact we even published a book about how we are doing this:  The ShelfLess Book: The Complete Digital Author.

I interact with the author community through Kindle Boards and with the readers through Twitter, my blog, appearances and go to other people’s blogs making comments. Joe Konrath and I post on each other’s blogs; we try to build a community of readers. I think the most effective way of marketing my books has been linkage. To give you an example, I had a series (Atlantis) that was similar to the show ‘Lost’ so I linked to the ‘Lost’ page and blogs in a relevant manner and that helped my page’s relevance tremendously from an organic search perspective. I try to link my books to something in media or something in history as I write Factual Fiction’stories based in history and facts with a fictional element thrown in.

I have nothing but good things to say about KDP and Amazon. They have dramatically changed the world of publishing.  No longer is distribution controlled by a select few.  Readers Rule!  I’ve seen Amazon sell motorcycles!  I wouldn’t be surprised if they started selling other things no one would have expected, soon. And that’s the key:  they’ll figure out how to do it, because Amazon is active rather than reactive.  Amazon was founded in 1994 and went online in 1995.  Only 17 years online.  I ask myself how much had I changed my business model in 17 years.  Truly not much until January 2011 when I went 100% indie and committed to the eBook.

Who is the Best-Selling Kindle Author of All Time?

Suzanne Collins

Friday Amazon made a special announcement, to reveal the best-selling Kindle author of all time. It’s Suzanne Collins, the author of the Hunger Games trilogy (and the Underland Chronicles, a fantasy series for children). But she’s achieved some even more amazing milestones in Amazon’s Kindle Store, as Amazon shared more statistics about the author’s massive audience. And it’s all happened extremely fast, since Collins first published The Hunger Games just three and a half years ago!

Her books have been consistently popular ever since. The first two books in the Hunger Games series sold 1.5 million print copies in their first 14 months in print, and The Hunger Games even stayed on the best-seller list of the New York Times for more than 60 weeks in a row! All three books have spent more than a year and a half on Amazon’s list of the top 100 best-selling Kindle ebooks, and Collins also had the #1 and #2 best-selling ebooks this Christmas — The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. And in November, when Amazon first announced their “Kindle Owners Lending Library”, Collins achieved another milestone. Members of Amazon’s Prime shipping program could borrow one ebook each month for free — and three of the top four ebooks came from the Hunger Games trilogy!

In fact, by June of last year, Collins had become one of just seven authors to sell over one million copies of her ebooks on the Kindle — joining other popular authors like Lee Child and Michael Connelly. “What a lovely and unexpected honor to be in such wonderful company,” Collins said in a statement, “and see my books reaching readers in this exciting new format.”

Three authors sell one million Kindle e-books - Michael Connelly, Lee Child and Suzanne Collins

Four authors had beaten her to the one-million-ebooks milestone — Stieg Larsson, James Patterson, Nora Roberts, and Charlaine Harris. But within 9 months, she’d overtaken them all, and become the best-selling Kindle ebook author of all time!

But there were even more triumphs waiting for Collins. Last July, I’d discovered Amazon’s list of the 100 most-highlighted passages of all time from Kindle ebooks. At the time, the #1 most-highlighted passage was from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice — but the second and third most-highlighted passages were by Suzanne Collins (who also had a third quote in the top ten).


“It takes ten times as long to put yourself back together as it does to fall apart.”


     – from Mockingjay
            Highlighted by 4,390 Kindle users in July
            Highlighted by 8,482 Kindle users Today



“Because sometimes things happen to people and they’re not equipped to deal with them.”

     – from Catching Fire
            Highlighted by 4,001 Kindle users in July
            Highlighted by 13,983 Kindle users Today



“We’re fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great gift for self-destruction.”

     – from Mockingjay
            Highlighted by 3,206 Kindle users in July
            Highlighted by 6,408 Kindle users today


But just eight month’s later, Jane Austen’s quote from Pride and Prejudice has dropped into the #3 position behind the two Collins quotes. And amazingly, now four more quotes from the Hunger Games trilogy have crashed into the top 10 on Amazon’s list of the most-highlighted passages.


“‘I wish I could freeze this moment, right here, right now, and live in it forever,’ he says.”


     – from Catching Fire
        (Highlighted by 6,418 Kindle users)

“‘I just want to spend every possible minute of the rest of my life with you,’ Peeta replies.”

     – from Catching Fire
            Highlighted by 6,410 Kindle users

“‘Having an eye for beauty isn’t the same thing as a weakness,’ Peeta points out. ‘Except possibly when it comes to you.'”

     – from Catching Fire
        (Highlighted by 6,097 Kindle users)

“Life in District 12 isn’t really so different from life in the arena. At some point, you have to stop running and turn around and face whoever wants you dead.”

     – from Catching Fire
            Highlighted by 6,000 Kindle users

In fact, 29 of the top 100 most-highlighted passages in Kindle ebooks now all come from Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy. (Back in July, Collins’s books had just 13 of the top 100 most-highlighted passages on Amazon’s list.) And there’s an even more stunning statistic if you visit Amazon’s list of the most-recently highlighted passages. On that list, Suzanne Collins has written every single one of the 10 most-highlighted passages — and 17 of the 20 most-highlighted!

The three non-Collins books include The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and the text of Apple’s “Think Different” ad campaign from Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. (“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers…”)

Ironically, the #18 most-highlighted passage came from Amazon’s Kindle User’s Guide — its instructions on how to highlight a passage! (“Press and hold, then drag your finger across text to select it…”)

This represents another triumph for Collins, since last year The Hunger Games was also one of the 10 most-frequently challenged books, according to the American Library Association. I always say that the ready availability of those titles in a digital format suggests that the Kindle might someday play a role in fighting the censorship of books.

For even more information, Amazon also calculated the 20 cities in America which purchased the most copies of Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy. I plotted the cities on a map of the United States, to look for a recognizable pattern.

Where Suzanne Collins books are most popular

Sunnyvale, California
Salt Lake City, Utah
Tallahassee, Florida
Seattle, Washington
Orlando, Florida
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
St. Louis, Missouri
Provo, Utah
San Francisco, California
Naperville, Illinois
Washington, D.C.
Richmond, Virginia
Scottsdale, Arizona
Wilmington, North Carolina
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Vancouver, Washington
Portland, Oregon
Tampa, Florida
Overland Park, Kansas
Norman, Oklahome

The first thing you notice is that Amazon’s list includes three different cities in Florida. I’ve heard there’s a lot of retirees in Florida — so maybe they’re reading a lot. (Maybe Amazon was even reaching out to specifically them with those ads about reading on a Kindle at the beach!) And there’s two different cities that are very near Silicon Valley — including the #1 city, Sunnyvale, California. Maybe those towns are full of affluent geeks and other early adopters of technology — or at least, lots of fans of good science fiction books!

“There’s no denying that The Hunger Games has become a worldwide phenomenon,” announced Amazon’s editor for young adult book. She added, “we love that it all started with a great book…and you can see from our Top 20 list they’re captivating readers across the whole country.”

One of the most interesting facts about Suzanne Collins is she used to be a writer for Nickelodeon, the cable TV channel for children. (According to Wikipedia, she worked on “Clarissa Explains it All,” and was the head writer for “Clifford’s Puppy Days.”) Now she’s penned a best-selling trilogy that’s also about child performers — except in this trilogy, they fight to the death!

Maybe after writing all those sweet stories for Nickelodeon, she was ready for something darker!

A Kindle Blogger Gets Honored by Reader’s Digest

A trophy

A funny thing happened when I found Reader’s Digest‘s list of the “Best Reads of 2011.” A post from my blog was #4 on the list!

Woody Allen wrote the #3 article on the list, and Roseanne Barr wrote the #13 article. (And I also recognized the names Christopher Hitchens and David Brooks). The editors of Reader’s Digest had selected “the most unforgettable articles” for the entire year from newspapers, magazines, and from the internet, but it still took me a while to fully accept what had happened. The “best reads” of the year came from The New York Times, Vanity Fair magazine, The Atlantic, National Geographic, and — from this blog!

I write this blog under a pseudonym — and I’d also used another pseudonym when I published a “short picture scrapbook” about my girlfriend’s dog. It’s kind of funny that the Reader’s Digest list apparently just used the dog book’s pseudonym for their list, which meant that the honor of authoring the #4 ‘best read’ of the year went to ‘Moe Zilla’, the non-existent persona I’d created for writing funny children’s picture books like “The Turkey Mystery Rhyme”. I was too shy to ask Reader’s Digest to correct the name — so I’m just changing this blog’s byline to “Moe Zilla” from now on. :)

The post they’d selected was about the cartoonist who drew the Family Circus comic strip. I’d started out lamenting how he’d published nearly 100 paperback collections of his newspaper comic strip — and yet none of them were available on the Kindle. But soon I was reminiscing about “my favorite memory” of cartoonist Bil Keane — and the day when a piece of kindness somehow magically escaped from his comic strip and found its way into the real world. (The editor of Reader’s Digest’s “Select Editions” called it “the touching story of a real and honorable gentleman.”)

But the truth is, I was sharing an actual memory of my own about the early days of the internet. Back in 1999, I was still caught up in all the excitement about the very first years of the web. And I’d laughed hysterically — till tears rolled down my cheeks — at some of the crazy new web sites that were springing up in my web browser. And yes, that included that very rowdy web site where anonymous strangers submitted “alternate” captions for Bil Keane’s Family Circus cartoons. But in a strange way, there was a real innocence to it. Pesky concepts like copyright infringement simply hadn’t occurred to a lot of people back in 1999.

An invisible community slowly started to grow around the act of re-captioning someone else’s cartoons. At one point, I’d heard that a handful of people even flew in to Chicago from all across the country — just to share that connection in real-life. (Before it was over, someone played a VHS tape of an animated Family Circus holiday TV special, and they’d all joked about it together.) I’m not sure any of them understood it as having a larger significance — beyond “It was really fun.” But I wonder sometimes if it was something special — a once-in-a-lifetime happening, the near-spontaneous formation of a massive grass roots comedy collective, united only by their strange, shared belief that this needed to happen.

After four years, there was almost a sense of tradition about it. (And to this day, there’s a rumor that all 50,000 of their captions are still being secretly passed around, preserved like a sacred text from the ancient 1990s.) That’s the forgotten piece of history that I think ultimately was left out of my story. That there was a very strong sense of community on that day when a lawyer showed up in their virtual village — and demanded that they all stop.

It was a “wild west” moment — but I mean that in the best possible way. In this strange new frontier, the villagers then gathered together to try to work out what was fair and what was right. There was some fretting and some chest-thumping, but there were also some very earnest and absolutely sincere discussions about the right to freedom of speech, and for their legally-protected right to create a satire. But it was a frontier moment in another way, because beyond all that high talk about powerful institutions — about a “body of intellectual property”, and the law firms defending it — were people.

“This showdown finally ended in the most unexpected way imaginable,” I wrote in my blog post. “One day the webmaster picked up his phone, and discovered he was receiving a call from cartoonist Bil Keane himself.”


The webmaster never revealed what they talked about, but “…as we got further into the conversation, I just realized I couldn’t really go on doing what I’m doing,” he wrote later on his web page. Bil Keane had simply surprised him. “He’s actually a nice guy….”

Their 90-minute phone conversation may have disappeared into the mists of internet history. But maybe Reader’s Digest is right. Maybe it’s worth taking a moment to remember that day when a moment of Bil Keane’s genuine warmth somehow magically escaped from his comic strip – and found its way out into the real world.

Larry McMurtry Challenges Amazon’s CEO

Larry_McMurtry
Image courtesy of The Dallas Observer

Larry McMurtry has a question: “Will Amazon kill the book?” At least, that’s the headline for a new article that he’s written for this month’s issue of Harper’s magazine. The 75-year-old author provides a very thoughtful answer, looking for historical precedents to the rise of Amazon. But I also learned that besides being famous — Larry McMurtry also owns a bookstore!

“My own bookshop, Booked Up Inc., consists of four buildings and about 400,000 books,” he explains in the article — establishing his credentials for weighing in on the future of publishing. The store sells mostly used books, and he reports that since the dawn of the ebook, he’s actually seen an increase in orders from overseas. “Of course it’s not all roses for traditional booksellers now, and in part the downturn is due to the digital revolution. We have bought the stocks of some 26 booksellers, but it wasn’t just the e-book that caused these shops to die, it was a withering of generations.

“The owners of these shops had no one to pass them on to…”

McMurtry himself is the son of a Texas rancher, so he’s seen first-hand how the world can change. In 1986, McMurtry even won a Pulitzer Prize for his historical novel about cattle drivers — Lonesome Dove — and he’s also been involved in several Oscar-winning movies. (He wrote the novel Terms of Endearment in 1975, and co-wrote the screenplay for Brokeback Mountain.) But for his article in Harper’s, he casts a skeptical eye on the claim that the death of the book is inevitable. “The culture has surged in the direction of e-books, but the surge might not go on forever,” he writes. “It might be a bubble; history grinds slowly, and despite impressive sales of the Kindle, it seems to me a bit too early for Bezos to gloat.”

McMurtry is reviewing a new book about Amazon’s CEO, called One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of Amazon.com. He writes sardonically that “There were rivalries, failures, and leadership crises, and Amazon is now one of the largest book suppliers in the world.” But it takes a certain amount of ego to run a $40-billion-a-year corporation, and McMurtry wonders if bookstore owners recognize something that’s being overlooked by Amazon’s CEO. “He is so accustomed to the very vastness of his own empire — 850,000-square-foot distribution centers — that he may not see the tenacity of our appetite for variety: for good books of all formats, including old-fashioned ones.”

I thought McMurtry’s assessment of Bezos was ultimately pretty fair — and it was grounded in a real sense of history. He reports that like Henry Ford, Bezos “had a single culture-changing idea that they executed doggedly until the culture came round.” And he applauds Amazon for the way that they’ve already revolutionized the purchasing of printed books. “Bezos is a farsighted merchant whose company provides an excellent service,” McMurtry writes. “Want a book? Use Amazon and you can have it the next day. Such literary expeditiousness has never existed before and all readers should be grateful that it’s here.”

But McMurtry also notes that despite the popularity of the Kindle, printed books are still competitive, and he considers the position of Amazon’s CEO to be “less attractive”. “He has pointed out that the traditional book has had a 500-year run; he clearly thinks its time for these relics to sort of shuffle offstage. Then he will no longer be bothered with old-timey objects that have the temerity to flop open and cause one to lose one’s place.”

I know that I don’t know, for sure, what’s going to happen in the future. But I do know that something big is going on, and it’s fun to watch writers — and corporations — as they try to make sense of these changes. So I enjoyed reading what Larry McMurtry had to say — especially knowing that it comes from a man who’s owned a bookstore for more than 40 years.

“Jeff Bezos and his colleagues are free to make and sell as many Kindles as they can, but Bezos shouldn’t be persuaded that our Gutenberg days are over, at least not from where I sit. One thing we offer that he can’t is serendipity — a book browser’s serendipity, the thrill of the accidental find.

“Stirring the curiosity of readers is a vital part of bookselling; skimming a few strange pages is surely as important as making one click.”

Authors Profit from the Kindle “Lending Library”


Today Amazon revealed their first statistics for the “Kindle Owners’ Lending Library”. There’s over 75,000 ebooks that can now be borrowed for free for one month by the members of Amazon’s “Prime” shipping service, who are paying an annual fee of $79. That service also offers free two-day shipping (and cheaper one-day shipping), plus free access to a selection of online movies and TV shows. But the people who may be benefiting the most are some of Amazon’s self-published authors!

The program’s “off to a strong start,” Amazon reported today, noting that in just the month of December, nearly 300,000 Kindle owners borrowed an ebook. In fact, each ebook in the library was borrowed by four Kindle owners in December, on average — though of course some ebooks were more popular than others. And Amazon had set aside a $500,000 fund for December to be shared among “KDP Select” authors (who publish their ebooks using Amazon’s tools and agree to let Amazon hold exclusive digital distribution rights). Today Amazon announced they’re bumping up last month’s fund by 40% — to $700,000 — which means “KDP Select” authors will earn $1.70 for each time one of their own ebooks was borrowed!

Self-published authors seem to have discovered a new way to measure their success. The 10 most-popular authors in the KDP Select program saw their Kindle ebooks being borrowed an average of 4,117 times, if I’m reading Amazon’s statistics correctly. They’d reported that those authors earned $70,000 from the lending library — which has to be a cumulative total, meaning on average an extra $7,000 per author. And since Amazon’s reported they’re paying $1.70 for each “borrow,” the total number of borrows is $7,000/$1.70 — which comes out to 4,117 times. “The list of top 10 KDP Select authors includes Carolyn McCray, Rachel Yu, the Grabarchuk family and Amber Scott,” Amazon announced today.

That’s especially exciting for one author — Rachel Yu — who is just 16 years old! She’s self-published five children’s books in the Kindle Store, including “A Wolf Pup’s Tale,” which she wrote when she was 15. “All proceeds will go to Rachel’s college education fund,” reads a note on the book’s page at Amazon.com. She published her first ebook just 16 months ago — “A Dragon Named Dragon” — at the age of 14, and now she’s one of the 10 best-selling authors in Amazon’s KDP Select program. “It’s so cool to be part of the success of KDP Select…,” she says in today’s press release from Amazon. “There’s truly no other opportunity like Amazon for self-publishing.”

Rachel earned $6,200 just in the month of December, according to Amazon’s announcement, and another self-published author earned even more. “Participating in KDP Select has quadrupled my royalties,” reported Carolyn McCray, who writes paranormal romance novels as well as mysteries and historical thrillers. Amazon reported today that just in December, Carolyn McCray earned $8,250.

In fact on average, all “KDP Select” authors are earning an extra 26%, according to Amazon. “KDP Select appears to be earning authors more money in two ways…,” announced Amazon’s Vice President of Kindle Content. Besides their revenue from the lending program, “we’ve been surprised by how much paid sales of those same titles increased, even relative to the rest of KDP.” Obviously Amazon is touting the experience of their most-successful self-published authors. But it’s inspiring to hear about their success. It makes you wonder if the world of publishing really has been transformed forever.

“During many decades our family is working in the Puzzle World,” reads one humble “author profile” at Amazon.com for the Grabarchuk family. Besides creating and marketing puzzles, they “produce interactive puzzles; solve hundreds puzzles a year; make puzzle researches and historical studies; and are involved into many other puzzle activities all over the World.” The Grabarchuk family also became one of the 10 top-selling authors in Amazon’s KDP Select program for December. In just 31 days, they earned $6,300. “Finally indie publishers are playing as equals with the big publishing houses in the world’s biggest eBook marketplace,” co-founder Serhiy Grabarchuk said enthusiastically in today’s press release from Amazon.

And Amazon provided one more example — romance writer Amber Scott. With seven Kindle ebooks, she’s reporting that the KDK select program “utterly transformed my career,” and her earnings for December were $7,650. She’s apparently attributing some of her success to the Kindle Lending Library, saying “I’ve experienced not only a surge in royalties but a surge in readership thanks to the increased exposure.” And she ended her comment with an exciting prediction for 2012.

“What an exciting time to be an author!”

How A Writer Confronts the eBook

Thomas S Roche - author of the zombie crime novel The Panama Laugh

As the holidays roll around, I remember my friends. I don’t want to sound like Charlie Brown, but it is a good time for some extra warmth and sharing. So today I’m sharing a special personal glimpse into the life of a professional writer — the rest of the interview with my friend, Thomas S. Roche!

He’s been working as a professional fiction writer for nearly 20 years — and just published his first novel under his own name. (A bracingly original zombie novel called The Panama Laugh.)


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Q: I was really surprised to hear you’ve actually been reading e-books for more than eleven years! That’s a lot longer than most people…

THOMAS S ROCHE: I was an early adopter of e-books; I read a couple hundred e-books on the Palm Pilot, before anyone had ever heard of a Kindle. I used to read books on a tiny monochrome display using the Pluckr ereader! I am a big fan of e-books and always have been.

Q: So how do you feel about the Kindle and the other new digital readers, and the way e-books look today?

TSR: My main gripe about e-readers in general is that is that I don’t like it when manufacturers and publishers try to make them seem like books!

E-books are not books, and I feel like the big problem with e-reading in general is that I learned how to use a certain amount of functionality with e-books very early on, and made it work for me. Then the industry changed it, and changed it again, and changed it again, and keeps changing it. This is all supposedly in the interest of providing greater functionality to the user, but it’s not; it’s about providing marketing control to corporations.

I still think that e-books should not attempt to imitate a five- or six-hundred-year-old technology (books). The people who say “But I like the way books smell!” have one perspective, and I don’t believe you’re going to win them over by providing a “page” that “turns.” E-books are something different than books, a new form entirely — the same way that online magazines are not magazines, but a new art form.

Q: But does that change fiction?

TSR: Books are not stories; books are books. The fundamental, underlying artistry of writing a novel or a short story or a nonfiction work doesn’t change when you take it out of manuscript form and typeset it. The experience of reading does, and I’m somewhat baffled by users who want to try to duplicate the experience of turning a page, when what they’re doing is nothing like turning a page.

That said, I use my Kindle a lot. And I’ve finally gotten used to the e-ink’s tendency to black out when you turn pages. I don’t need a tablet computer, so the added expense, weight, etc. wouldn’t be worthwhile for me. I prefer to have a straightforward, simple, easy-to-carry e-reader so I’ve always got a book with me, and the Kindle has satisfied that need in my life. I’ve also tried the Nook and I’m fairly impressed with its most current forms, and I’m a fan of the Sony Reader — though that platform seems to be on its way out.

Q: I know you recently bought one of Amazon’s new $79 Kindles. So what exactly do you when it’s time to read?

TSR: In addition to reading a Kindle book a week or so, I also read books quite frequently on the Kindle app for my iPod Touch. It’s advantageous because if I get caught without a book or without my Kindle, like waiting in line somewhere when I wasn’t planning to, the iPod Touch can always be in my pocket — something that the Kindle isn’t, just because of its size and its relative fragility.

However, the advantages of the Kindle are still huge, so I use it all the time. The weight, profile and contour, the small size of the data files, and ultimately the screen are all advantageous. I hate the e-ink technology’s tendency to black out between pages. But while I’m reading a single page, I’m quite happy.

Q: You’ve been a professional fiction writer for nearly 20 years. Do you remember how you felt when you first realized that someday books might be delivered in a digital format? (And were you skeptical at first?)

TSR: I read articles about the coming wave of e-books in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, way back in the ’80s. I was only skeptical about individual platforms. I hate cell phones, and I hate smartphones…

When I finally gave up my Palm, I started using the iPod Touch as an e-reader, and it worked okay, but just didn’t satisfy me as a full-time reading device… That’s still my stopgap measure when I don’t have my Kindle.

Q: I should probably ask you how you feel about the future of the local bookstore, and Amazon.

TSR: I think it’s dangerous for publishers and readers to put all their eggs in one basket. Local bookstores are cultural treasures. They’ve been beaten out of existence not just by competition from Amazon — which was explicitly devoted to putting them all out of business from the get-go — but by a community that values convenience over building local community.

However, this is not unique to bookselling. It’s the symptom of a huge corporatist migration, which is incredibly dangerous for many more reasons than just putting local booksellers out of business.

That’s a lot of what The Panama Laugh is about, in fact — the elevation of private business above community infrastructure, with catastrophic results.

Q: I’ve read it! And I was just a tiny bit disappointed that you live in Sacramento, but there’s not a scene in your novel where a zombie throng marches through, destroying all the local businesses and taking over the state legislature…

TSR: There was a first draft of the novel that was about 100,000 words, that involved a road trip from Corpus Christi to San Francisco in a Bellona Industries armored personnel carrier. Not a single word of it got used in the final draft… It involved a trip through Sacramento, including a huge zombie attack in Lathrop and a tank battalion approaching the Bay Bridge from a (fictional) Army base in Fairfield. I don’t know if it’ll see the light of day.

Q: Fair enough. But how exactly is it that you know so much about using weapons on zombies?!

TSR: I’ve always read obsessively about guns. My father — and his father — were both seasoned hunters, and I was taken to the range as a kid. But I’m not a hunter. I could never shoot a deer, or probably even a pheasant, unless I really had to. In which case I’d probably apologize to it — which might not be a bad idea. However, guns are expensive, and shooting is an expensive hobby

Q: And at the end of the book you even acknowledge a local coffee shop where you wrote the manuscript — Temple Coffee on 28th street in Sacramento. I find it almost mind-boggling that people are in there ordering their muffins and scones, and you’re writing descriptions of the writhing undead feasting on the flesh of the living…

TSR: It just never seemed that weird to me. It’s what I write about, and if I’m at home instead of in public, then like any reasonable person I go lie down and take a nap. I have to be in public when I write, because otherwise I get so isolated I can’t stave off the depression, and I never get anything written!

Q: Spoken like a man who’s just written a 315-page zombie apocalypse story. Happy holidays, Thomas!


Click here for a free sample chapter from Thomas’s new zombie apocalypse, The Panama Laugh

Thomas S Roche - author of the zombie crime novel The Panama Laugh

My Interview with a Best-Selling Author!

Kindle blogger Michael Gallagher

He’s written one of the 100 best-selling ebooks for all of 2011 — and he also writes Amazon’s #1 best-selling blog! (In fact, it’s been one of Amazon’s 100 best-selling blogs for over two years…) Michael Gallagher writes the blog “Free Kindle Books Plus a Few Other Tips,” but he’s also adapted it into one of the year’s top 100 ebooks! And as a Christmas gift, he’s agreed to share his story here in a special Christmas interview.

“Actually, I’ll be the first to tell you I didn’t know this version of the book was sitting at #72 for 2011 until I saw your email!” he told me earlier this week. “I am surprised, and my first smart*&% comment was ‘that’s worse than last year!'” Gallagher is regularly updating his 21-page ebook, so this really makes the second year that it’s appeared on Amazon’s list of the year’s best-selling ebooks. “Last year for the full year was #53, and was significantly helped by a few million people opening up Kindles under the tree on Christmas Day! ” he explained. “The week of Christmas in 2010, the sales for that week accounted for 50% of the total year’s sales. Not that I sold a million copies, but it was significant to me.”

His author’s page on Amazon describes him as “an obese, gray-haired, and desk-bound guy in Texas who spends way too much time with his Kindle.” But like the Ghost of Christmas Future, Michael Gallagher now has a prediction for all self-published authors. “If the last two years’ worth of history holds true, not only me but every other author should have a surge in sales from about the 24th of December to the end of the first week of January.” The holiday apparently brings a special gift to anyone who’s self-publishing on Amazon — new sales from enthusiastic new Kindle owners! And Michael agreed to answer a few questions from his unique perspective as one of Amazon’s 100 best-selling authors of the year.

Q: There’s one question I’ve been dying to ask you: how many ebooks did you sell?

A: I won’t share the exact number of copies sold of that title because there are a lot of copycats who picked up on the ranking of last year and have their competing products out there – and it’s certainly not rocket science on what I did – and I certainly don’t need other competitors but I will tell you this: the number of sales so far through the end of November of that one title equals all of 2010.

Q: eBook sales really seem to be increasing. It seemed really significant to me that this year the #1 and #2 best-selling ebooks of the year weren’t even available in print editions. Since you’re one of the year’s 100 best-selling ebook authors, I wanted to ask: do you have any official pronouncement on what lesson we should learn from this year’s best-sellers list?

Q: As far as an “official pronouncement”… the Kindle publishing platform for independent authors truly levels the playing field. Good books will rise to the top as word-of-mouth, the Amazon customer review/rating system, Kindle Discussion forum and blog posts, and good old-fashioned guerrilla marketing on Facebook, Twitter, etc. can equal and in some cases more than offset what the Big Six publishers can do. Of course, the Big Six are still there and will continue to be there, but small guys who have a good story to tell – yet may get shunned from the large publishers because they already have a stable of successful authors – can make it.

Q: You don’t just have the #1 best-selling blog for the Kindle. You’ve got five of the top 100 best-sellers, including Trivia of the Day, Bible Verse of the Day, and Kindle Books for a Buck (or Less). What’s it been like, publishing multiple best-selling blogs on Amazon?

A: Overall, the blog experience has been fun — I’ve “met” a lot of interesting people and characters, picked up more free books than most people can read in a lifetime, and learned more than enough about the Kindle than you can imagine. However, there is a certain level of disappointment as there is a real lack of support for blog publishers from Amazon. Granted, most of the blogs aren’t generating money for themselves or Amazon, but I think a lot of that has to do with no promotion from the Amazon side. I have seen membership for most of my blogs decrease for the last two months, when they had done nothing but increase each month for the previous 18 months. With the launch of the Kindle Fire and blogs not having a subscribe option, although you can certainly subscribe via the Pulse app on the Fire, I wouldn’t be surprised if this time next year Amazon drops the blog component – that would be a loss of some serious money for people in the Top 20 or so blogs.

Q: Well, whatever happens, when they write the history of the Kindle, they’re going to have to mention Michael Gallagher, the Kindle’s #1 best-selling blogger. Thanks for paying me a visit – and happy holidays!

Will Self-Published Authors Create New Kinds of Books?

Yoshi drawing with a crayon

I’ve always wondered whether self-publishing was as popular as it seems. But it’s at least earned some new attention from The Wall Street Journal. In October they dug up some actual statistics on the new growth in self-published titles. They contacted the publisher of Books in Print,” who had calculated that in 2010, there were 133,036 self-published titles.

That doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s more than the 51,237 self-published titles that they’d estimated for 2006. And of course, their estimates haven’t been updated yet to include 2011. There was a 66% increase in self-published titles from just 2009 until 2010, and if that trend continues, by the end of this year there should be more than 87,000 more. And that would bring the total of self-published ebooks to at least 220,000 by the end of December…

But many authors publish more than one book, so the number of self-publishing authors is probably much smaller, maybe even less than 100,000. And the Journal argues that self-publishing “is increasingly a tale of two cities,” with big sales going mostly to established authors (who have established audiences) while the earnings of new authors fall into a smaller, second tier. Author Nyree Belleville clearly falls in the “big sales” category, earning half a million dollars in just 18 months for her ten romance novels. In the “small” category would be Derek J. Canyon, who’s sold $10,000 worth of his four novels and a how-to book about self-publishing.

My favorite part of the article was these stories about different authors, and what happened when they explored a new kind of publishing. Nyree Belleville had been going through a traditional print publisher for her romance novels for seven years, according to the Journal. (She writes under pseudonyms like “Bella Andrea” and “Lucy Kevin”). But since April of 2010, she’s sold 265,000 copies of her ten romances as self-published books, and earned more than $500,000. The Journal notes that Amazon lets self-published authors keep 70% of their revenue — more than what they’d get from a print publisher (which is usually less than 25%). Previously the most Nyree had ever earned from a book was $33,000.

The Journal also tells the story of Darcie Chan, who self-published a “women’s fiction” novel about a secretive Vermont widow in May. In the last six month’s it’s sold “hundreds of thousands of copies,” even though it had already been rejected by several mainstream publishers. It’s all got me wondering if this will ultimately lead to new kinds of books. With hundreds of thousands of brand new writers in the Kindle Store, maybe some of them will have original new ideas that actually re-define what we’ll expect to find in books.

Just as an example, imagine the first ebook published by a teenaged reporter at a high school newspaper. If they collected their memories of their senior class, it probably wouldn’t attract a national audience. But would that really matter? Hundreds of other students in their own high school might download the ebook – and maybe also even their relatives (including curious grandparents and aunts and uncles). The high school student would be thrilled with sales in the hundreds of dollars, and maybe the book could be positioned as a kind of “alternative yearbook” — a personal and subjective counterpart to the high school’s official yearbook.

I’m not saying I know what the next big ebook will be. I’m just saying there may also be thousands of interesting “little ebooks” that carefully target a very small audience — and then make them very happy.

My Interview with My Favorite Author!

Author Thomas S. Roche

My friend Thomas S. Roche started publishing fiction nearly 20 years ago, and he’s written hundreds of crime, fantasy, and horror short stories. Back in 1999 he’d even shown me the manuscript for a great unpublished action novel — but he’s finally published his first novel for real. (Or at least, the first novel under his own name!)

It’s a zombie apocalypse thriller called The Panama Laugh. But nearly a decade earlier, before the Kindle was even invented, I’d already started thinking of Thomas as “my professional fiction-writing friend”. So I’m thrilled to be able to finally interview him about what he thinks of the self-publishing revolution, the Kindle, and e-books in general — and of course, his new zombie thriller, The Panama Laugh.


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Q: For a while, Amazon was automatically adding their standard link at the left side of your book’s page that shouts “Tell the Publisher! I’d like to read this book on Kindle…” I’ve always wanted to ask an author how you feel about that. (Their next sentence is “Don’t have a Kindle? Get your Kindle here, or download a FREE Kindle Reading App…”)

THOMAS S. ROCHE: Oh, I think that’s just typical Amazon marketing — for a while they weren’t just trying to win readers; they were trying to convince publishers to publish in e-book format. I think that battle has been won.

With its Kindle marketing, Amazon committed a brilliant coup. It handled the press like it was an army of well-trained Chihuahuas. Amazon did this because it knew that it could control the e-book market in ways that it could never control the print market. By putting out press releases about how many e-books they’d sold, they augmented the public perception that “everyone is doing it.” The result is that more people tried e-books….people who might not have tried e-books, otherwise.

I don’t believe this derives from any fundamental shift in technology that enabled the Kindle… that is, the e-ink. In other words, I don’t think the e-ink technology helped, other than providing a series of talking points: “It looks just like a book! It seems just like paper! You can read it in direct sunlight!” All of which, combined with the widespread perception that e-books were becoming more common, convinced people that e-readers were worth trying.

Q: Okay, but I’ll admit that once I tried e-books, I absolutely loved them. (And I’m not the only one!) So what do you personally think about the brand new craze for “virtual” books that can be downloaded into digital readers?

THOMAS S. ROCHE: As I found when I started reading e-books on the Palm Pilot in about 2000, the advantages of e-books are enormous. There’s something really nice about settling down with a big fat paperback or a gorgeous hardcover, and e-books are never going to take that away. But there’s also a huge advantage to having a hundred or a thousand books in your pocket…being able to get virtually any public domain work in English for free in about 10 seconds with a wireless connection… being able to buy books about organized crime in Indonesia for $10, when a year ago it would have taken me six weeks to get it through inter-library loan, or cost me $100. I’m never going to give up books, but e-books have vastly enriched my reading experience!

Q: Here’s what I consider the million-dollar “what-if.” All the Kindle bloggers are buzzing about a former insurance executive named John Locke, who became the first self-published author to sell one million e-books in Amazon’s Kindle store. (And he then, just recently, landed a contract with Simon & Schuster for his “Donovan Creed” novels.) Is this opening the door to wonderful changes in the world of reading, when any voice with a personal story to tell can skip past the gatekeepers at the publishing-house? Or are we losing something precious, which more experienced authors like yourself can fully appreciate?

TSR: I honestly have no idea… I’ve read some self-published works that were absolutely amazing. I’ve read lots more works from mainstream publishers that were wretchedly, indescribably terrible, like nightmares turned into words, and not in a good way. Many of these works that I considered awful were hugely successful, not just with readers but with the reviews establishment… So I don’t know that I see much of a difference happening.

I think the “gatekeeping” has been hugely upset by the advent of e-books, but it already was being upset by the advent of the web. What made a huge difference is that now it’s easier for a writer to produce a revenue stream, even in small amounts, without the support of a publisher. But everything’s changing every day.

Q: I can feel that everything’s changing — but what changes, exactly, are you seeing today?

TSR: I think the huge advantage of e-books, with fiction, is the potential profitability not so much of self-published work, but of work published by small houses staffed by people who genuinely love the hell out of a genre. I don’t know that a self-publishing writer is necessarily the best judge of his or her best work. But a fanatic who may have no professional credentials or credits, but just loves writing in a particular genre, may be able to start a small no-budget publisher to share work they love, and that’s awesome.

Q: Speaking of publishers, your book The Panama Laugh came out in a Kindle edition and a print version. So who exactly decides if a book available in an e-book — you or the publisher?

TSR: I don’t think that today a publisher would buy print rights without buying e-book rights, unless they were a small publisher specializing in limited editions, or buying non-exclusive rights for some reason. I could be wrong, but I think they’re all acquiring e-book rights as a matter of course.

This is a new development, however — even two or three years ago, some publishers didn’t acquire e-book rights. I don’t think a publisher worth a damn would put the money into acquiring, editing and marketing a book without making it available as an e-book nowadays — unless they’re a specialty publisher, doing limited editions, collectibles, that sort of thing. In which case they would likely be looking for non-exclusive rights, or doing reprints.

Q: You’re someone who’s actually had a publishing career before the big rise in e-books. So does that change the way you felt about e-books and the Kindle in general?

TSR: I don’t think having a publishing career before the advent of e-books really changed the way I feel about them; I always approached them more as a reader than as a writer.

As a writer, though, the huge advantage of wider adoption of e-books is that publishers pay higher royalties for e-books. Self-publishing enterprises are far more likely to make money without the print costs. That makes a huge difference, and every little dollar helps. The higher royalties associated with e-books make niche publishing far more feasible, so that, for instance, a reliable and prolific genre novelist with just 1,000 or so dedicated fans can now have a viable career, even without the support of a publisher…

I think the big potential problem for all self-publishing fiction writers with e-books is over-self-promotion. I feel like we have to hit and hit and hit and hit and bleat and scream and howl to be heard above the fray. It’s exhausting, and it means that the writers who aren’t spending the time writing, or learning to write, are more likely to get found by consumers.

That’s the main disadvantage of not having a publisher — having to do it all yourself, so you spend time learning skills that take away from your writing.

Q: I’ve already asked how you feel about e-books in general — but are your feelings any different now that you’re making a big push on your new zombie novel?

TSR: I just want people to read my book — or, if they don’t like my book, then they should read something they do like. Either way, I think the act of reading book-length fiction and nonfiction is a profoundly transformative, enriching and educational act. So I want people to find the platform that works for them, and use it! If that’s e-books, I’m all over that!

I will never stop loving having a hard copy in my hand, but e-books are wonderful for a host of other reasons…


Click here for a free sample chapter from Thomas’s new zombie apocalypse, The Panama Laugh

Thomas S Roche - author of the zombie crime novel The Panama Laugh

Five Special New eBook Releases

Five New Kindle Ebooks

There’s five brand new ebooks in the Kindle store — and each book, in its own way, represents a special milestone.


Fahrenheit 451
Ray Bradbury’s classic imagines a future where books are banned

It’s been unavailable as an ebook, even though it was written 58 years ago, and is often cited as one of the best books about books. It describes a future where books have been banned — paper burns at a temperature of Fahrenheit 451 — and the Pulitzer Prize committee gave author Ray Bradbury a special citation in 2007.

Farenheit 451 new edition cover

But surprisingly, Ray Bradbury has never actually been a fan of ebooks (or even the internet). The Associated Press remembers that Bradbury once said that e-books “smelled like burned fuel” and called the internet “a big distraction.” But they report that now at the age of 91, “Ray Bradbury is making peace with the future he helped predict,” and today the book made its first appearance in the Kindle store.


Explosive Eighteen
A new Stephanie Plum novel by Janet Evanovich

She’s flying back to Newark from a vacation in Hawaii, when the popular bounty hunter glimpses a crucial photograph that’s needed by the FBI (plus “a ragtag collection of thugs and psychos,” according to the book’s description on Amazon.) There’s trouble at her bail bond agency — and what exactly happened on that Hawaiian vacation? (“It’s complicated,” Stephanie insists…)

Janet Evanovich - Explosive Eighteen cover

68-year-old author Janet Evanovich released the eighteenth book in her “Stephanie Plum” series just last week, and it’s already become one of the top five best-selling ebooks for the Kindle. (In fact, it’s been in the top 100 for 39 days, spending more than a month on the best-seller list before it was even released thanks to a legion of fans who pre-ordered the title!) She’s been writing the series for 17 years, and in August, Evanovich became only the eighth author ever to sell one million copies of her ebooks. (When Amazon’s publicity department contacted the author with the news, her first reaction was a simple one-word interjection. “Wow!”)


A Little Bit of Everything for Dummies
A free eBook that celebrates the best titles in the popular “…for Dummies” series

Those familiar yellow covers have now been insulting us — or empathizing with us — for 20 years. So to celebrate, the publishers of the series have collected 20 chapters from from 20 different books, honoring “the breadth and depth of the For Dummies series.”

A Little Bit of Everything for Dummies yellow cover

There’s Sex for Dummies — one of their best-sellers — and DOS for Dummies, the 1991 book that launched their empire. There’s some self-help titles (like Meditation for Dummies) and even some titles to improve your social skills (like Dating for Dummies), plus some “international” titles like British History for Dummies (and Rugby Union for Dummies).


Guinness World Records 2012
The famous yearly record book finally comes to the Kindle

It’s become a part of our lives since it was first published in 1951 — and yes, it is related to Guinness beer. (The brewery’s managing director had wanted to create a reference book that could settle bar bets.) Its collection of strange triumphs may inspire you or disgust you, but it’s still a grand and compelling collection of all the things that people can do. (Previously, the only the “gamer’s edition” was available for the Kindle, but last week the complete world record book arrived in Amazon’s Kindle Store.)

Guinness Book of World Records 2012 cover

It may not be the stodgy collection of lists you remember, as one reviewer on Amazon reports, since over the decades the famous annual book has apparently started including include more pictures. They bought it as a gift for their family, and concluded that “There seems to be a lot of new records and there really is something for everyone! ”


The Moonlit Mind
A short “Kindle Single” by suspense novelist Dean Koontz

On Monday, horror author Dean Koontz released a brand new story about a child on the run from his mother and stepfather, who’s travelling with an unusually talented dog . Living on the streets (for several years) he’s haunted by the memories of what he saw in their house, and of course the story finds its way to a final confrontation.

Dean Koontz cover for Moonlit Mind

Koontz released the story Monday for just $2.99 as a Kindle Single, and it’s already become the #2 best-selling Single in the Amazon Kindle store. Amazon’s page quotes a reviewer from People, who wrote simply that Koontz “has the power to scare the daylights out of us.”

My Favorite Memory of Bil Keane

My Favorite Bil Keane Family Circus cartoon

Though he published nearly 100 books, not a single one of them is available for the Kindle. For more than 50 years, cartoonist Bil Keane wrote the one-panel Family Circus comic strips which appeared in 1,500 newspapers around the world. Some readers complained that its sweet familiarity was out of place in the modern world. But when Bil Keane collided with wise guys, both on Amazon.com and on the web, he ultimately proved that he was a very good sport.

I’d like to share that story today, because Bil Keane died Tuesday, less than a year before his 90th birthday. The L.A. Times remembers that he’d seemed almost proud to be old-fashioned when they interviewed him in 1990, and the cartoonist explained that he wasn’t going just for punchlines. “I don’t just try to be funny. Many of my cartoons are not a belly laugh. I go for nostalgia, the lump in the throat, the tear in the eye, the tug in the heart….”

Keane drew those comic strips — and regularly collected them together into books — starting all the way back in 1961. He based the mother in the cartoon family on his own wife — also named Thelma — and the family’s father’s, of course, was named Bil. Even the children in the strip were modeled after Keane’s own five children, according to the L.A. Times. One of his son’s eventually grew up to be an animator at Walt Disney Studios.

But it was Keane’s daily comic strip that made him famous — so much so that after several decades, it became an easy target for other would-be humorists. For example, just a few years after Amazon.com was launched, Keane’s books began receiving some very strange reviews from Amazon customers who seemed to be taking them just a little too seriously. (“Having already taken his place among the company of Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, and Dostoyevsky, with the publication of Daddy’s Cap Is On Backwards Bil Keane now emerges as the master of them all…”) It was one of the first fake reviews that I ever read on Amazon, and its humor rests on everyone’s familiarity with The Family Circus characters — and the fact that the review is obviously describing the wrong plot. “The turning point of the narrative is the episode where Jeffy sells his soul to Mephistopheles for power and knowledge, yet this can be fully understood only in contrast to the many events that precede and follow it — such as the haunting scene where little Billy carries his father out of the burning city on his shoulders, or the passage where PJ, now the viceroy of Egypt, reveals himself to his brothers as the boy whom they sold into servitude years before…”

Soon dozens of fake reviews sprouted up on several of Keane’s Family Circus collections — and I thought Bil Keane handled it like a true gentleman. When he was reached for a comment by the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, they reported that Keane laughed and said genially that while some of it was in bad taste — some of it was also funny, and “I assume my readers are intelligent enough to know I didn’t do the bad stuff…”

Keane was also apparently friends with cartoonists who drew some of the ‘hipper” cartoons. According to Wikipedia, Keane once even agreed to draw his characters into a special series of Zippy the Pinhead strips, while their dialogue was provided by its creator, Bill Griffith. And while the Pearls Before Swine strip used to mock The Family Circus, in real life, the two cartoonists behind the strips were good friends. In fact two years ago, Bil Keane even wrote the introduction to a Pearls Before Swine collection.

But the amateur satirists — and the internet — weren’t through with Keane yet. By the 1990s, Keane’s characters were also appearing in a rowdy (and wholly unauthorized) “zine”. (Back before the dawn of ebooks and personal sites on the web, self-publishing authors would just photocopy things they’d written and drawn, circulating them through the mail or at live concerts.) One zine-ster decided to photocopy Keane’s newspaper comic strip, but then type in their own raunchier captions. A MacWorld columnist wrote that sometime back in the 1990s, if you posted your e-mail address in one of the internet newsgroups about comic strips, “this would set into motion a complex and mysterious chain of events that would ultimately result in an unmarked envelope with no return address arriving in your mailbox… and inside you’d find a handmade mini-comic entitled The Dysfunctional Family Circus!”

The zine eventually inspired a similar parody web site, which began inviting its readers to type in their own crazy captions for Keane’s Family Circus cartoons. And by 1995, when that site went down, a 25-year-old webmaster in Chicago had decided to keep the new tradition alive. Amazingly, for the next four years, he presided over the “Dysfunctional Family Circus” web site, and more than 2,500 enthusiastic people submitted crazy new captions for Keane’s cozy newspaper comic strip. (Like “I finally did it! All ten commandments in one day..!”) It proved to be very popular, and ultimately the webmaster and his friends picked through nearly half a million “alternate” captions, publishing dozens and dozens of the best ones (along with Keane’s original cartoon).

And then in a surreal moment, The Family Circus‘s lawyer” showed up, threatening legal action if the site wasn’t taken down. The defiant webmaster pondered a “freedom of speech” defense, and even posted more of Keane’s cartoons online, letting his community weave their own reactions into still more new captions for the strip. But this showdown finally ended in the most unexpected way imaginable. One day the webmaster picked up his phone, and discovered he was receiving a call from cartoonist Bil Keane himself.

Bil Keane was already 77 years old, and for the next 90 minutes, he engaged the 29-year-old webmaster in a long conversation. The webmaster never revealed what they talked about, but “…as we got further into the conversation, I just realized I couldn’t really go on doing what I’m doing,” he wrote later on his web page. Bil Keane had simply surprised him. “He’s actually a nice guy….”

It seems that Bil Keane’s real-life sweetness had won over the wild webmaster. He voluntarily removed all the Family Circus pictures from his site. Bil Keane even sent him a personal thank-you note — on Family Circus stationery that included the “Billy” character from the comic strip. In the end, the webmaster simply scanned that, and posted it in place of the other 500 strips.

I’ll remember that as the day when a moment of Bil Keane’s genuine warmth somehow magically escaped from his comic strip — and found its way out into the real world.

Bil Keane sends a memo about the Dysfunctional Family Circus

Ellen DeGeneres Visits the Kindle

Ellen Degeneres

I was surprised when I visited Amazon’s Kindle Blog — and discovered that the person writing it was Ellen DeGeneres! The comedian/talk-show host was a “guest blogger” on Thursday — and she had a message for us all.

“Hi, e-readers! I hope you are e-reading something good. I was just thinking — you know, I’m always thinking. Sometimes I’m thinking about the world we live in, sometimes I’m thinking about work, sometimes I’m just thinking about seedless watermelon. How do they have babies?

“Anyway, I was just thinking that all you e-readers out there should know about the new book I wrote. It’s called Seriously… I’m Kidding and it will have you rolling in the aisles — if you decide to read it somewhere with aisles, like a movie theater or a supermarket or even during a wedding ceremony. ”

The blog post helped push Ellen’s book onto Amazon’s best-seller list, and within five days of its release, it became the #35 best-selling book in the entire Kindle Store. (And #1 in the Entertainment/Humor subcategory). Ellen’s a fun personality to watch, and it turns out that she’s also a very witty writer. (And she provided the voice of Dory, the big blue fish in Pixar’s animated movie, Finding Nemo.)

I didn’t know much about Ellen, so I looked her up on Wikipedia, where I learned she’s won four daytime Emmy awards for “outstanding talk show host” , and another five daytime Emmies for having “an outstanding talk show”. (Plus three more daytime Emmies for the show’s writing.) She’s starred in two different sitcoms, she’s hosted both the Oscars and the Emmy Awards, and last year she was even one of the judges on American Idol. (She once joked that she’d become so attached to the young singers in the competition that in the end, “they’re probably all going to end up living at my place.”)

“Seriously…I’m Kidding” isn’t Ellen’s first book on the Kindle. Other titles include “My Point…And I Do Have One,” a 1996 book which came to the Kindle store in March. (And another 2003 Ellen title is also available as an ebook — “The Funny Thing Is… “) But it looks like in all the books, she’s done a good job of transporting her cheerful personality into an entirely new format. Here’s the way she opens her newest book.


“Dearest Reader,
Hello. How are you? That’s great to hear. Listen, I want to thank you for buying this book. We’re about to begin a beautiful journey together – one that is unique and special. I know a lot of you might watch my talk show, but communicating through a book is different than communicating through television. Like, on my talk show I tell you what’s going on in my life and what I’m thinking about each day. But in this book, I’m going to tell you what’s going on in my life and what I’m thinking about — you know what, I don’t want to waste your time with silly comparisons.”

There’s one funny problem with the book’s sample chapter. Ellen makes some funny claims about her accomplishments, but then backs down from them in self-deprecating footnotes. “[S]ince I wrote my last book a lot has happened in my life. I got married. I got my own talk show. I started a record label. I became a CoverGirl. I was Dory. I won an Academy Award.* I won the Boston Marathon.** I started a compost heap.*** And I was knighted by the Queen of England.****” Unfortunately, the footnotes aren’t included with the ebook’s sample chapter — so there’s no way to confirm when she’s kidding! (I sent an e-mail to Ellen’s show, joking that “Maybe I need to start watching your show more. I didn’t know half that stuff!”)

But the bottom line is her new book is full of jokes, and it seems like a lot of fun. It was just last week that it turned up in the Kindle Store, and it’s spent every day since in the top 100. She’s obviously attracted a large audience of loyal fans from her TV shows (and her funny blog posts) — so I’ll give Ellen the last word.

“What’s really exciting about you e-readers getting my book is that now you won’t just be e-readers, as in electronic readers. You’ll be e-readers, as in Ellen readers! You don’t even have to change your name, and I think that is “e” as in excellent.”