Thursday, January 23, 2014

Could you write without a computer?

When I was in elementary school way back in the 1960's, I didn't struggle at all with math, science, language arts, etc. But I did struggle with "handwriting."

There wasn't a problem with my handwriting technique until, at the beginning of third grade, the introduction of "cursive." Even though my third-grade teacher still stands out as one of my favorites, I hated being forced to make the transition from printing to cursive. 

I simply could not grasp the concept of seeing the purpose in following a bunch of rules in how to communicate via the written word. I liked how my printing of the English language looked, so what's the big deal with relying on it compared to some fancy-pants curvy lettering style? I was earning excellent grades in all of my subjects except "cursive." Mrs. Johnson (not her real name) was such a sweet-heart, though; she even made me stay in from recess to tutor me in this new-fangled way of writing. But it was to no avail; there was no way to please her.

My fourth-grade year was marked with a variety of changes, a major one being an adventurous move from Florida to Kansas. In the back of my mind I am certain I wondered: "Will I have to write in cursive in Kansas?" The answer, unfortunately, was "yes."

Every report card from then on said the same thing: all A's but nothing better than C in "cursive." Even in sixth-grade with my second-favorite teacher, Mr. McAtee (his real name, BTW) things were much the same: straight A's ... and a C in handwriting.

But what about junior high? My two older step-brothers told me that once I made it there, I would never have to worry about writing in cursive again. I didn't believe them. Surely something so essential to my educational upbringing couldn't be tossed away so easily ... could it?

Yes, it could. I was overjoyed to get to junior high where writing in cursive was not required, where I could revert back to my own style of handwriting! But I still could not get a perfect grade card (thanks to the rigors of junior-high physical education classes).

In eighth grade I jumped at the chance to be part of the newspaper staff where I thrived in writing/taking notes that no one but myself could decipher. And, as is par for the course, this was my first opportunity to work with an "editor."

Once in high school, I was able to fake through two high school history classes where the teacher, Mr. Ryan, preferred "essay" tests. I would fill the pages up with illegible ramblings and he would put A's on top of each of them. 

My senior year my counselor suggested that if I was "college-bound," I should take a typing class. Everything has to be typed in college, he said. So there I was, faced with yet another set of "do's and don't's" when it comes to writing. Can you believe that I was admonished for not holding my wrists over the keys in a certain way? That I was castigated for looking at the keys while typing instead of looking at the stuff I was supposed to type up? The horrors of "writing in cursive" returned like a flood! (BTW, this was a manual typewriter, not an electric one!)

But I persevered. I liked how the things I typed looked, more professional, more literary. Once I was able to get my word-per-minute speed up to around 30 (with as few errors as possible), I told my counselor that I wanted to drop the class. 

Those five weeks in that typing class revealed that even though writing in cursive was impossible for me, using a typewriter to communicate my thoughts and feelings was going to be quite possible. And just as my high school counselor told me, college was about typing research papers and essays, not about how "beautiful" my handwriting was.

But what if I had to "write" by hand again? Cursive or otherwise? What if I didn't have a computer to write on ... or even a typewriter? Would I still write?

I often cart along a small spiral notebook in which I jot down story ideas. But could I actually write an entire story or even a 70K+ novel onto a college-ruled spiral? 

To be honest: not on your life!

Now let's see what the wonderful writers who 
frequent The Writers' Cafe think 
about this topic of writing without a computer.

"Computers make it so easy to write. It is easy to make changes and move things around. We can check spelling and reseach on the Internet. It makes writing a story much easier. Some of my first short stories were written by hand and were a real struggle. My hand kept getting tired. I was talking to my wife about that the other day and she agreed that using a computer is so much easier than using a pen. I am not sure that I would continue writing if I had to use a pen or pencil instead of a computer.  I am not talking about jotting down some notes but full time writing."

"I tried writing w/o a computer a while back and it was dreadful. It gives me a profound respect for writers in the past who had no choice and people today who can pull that off. Suffice it to say, I have no idea how people can possibly write without an electronic device of some sort."

"I started out writing on a manual typewriter,  so sure. But it would SUCK to make revisions. As much as I tweak [crap]? Zoiks."

"Olivetti and Smith Corona were my friends long before Macintosh, so yeah, I could write without a computer. And pencils came in handy, too."

"The short answer would be no. But if I had no choice, perhaps I would learn to use a pencil and paper. The inability to easily edit could be a blessing in disguise. Manuscripts can lose their power when over-edited. Often a rough draft has a more sincere tone. I probably could, but it would no longer be fun for me I think. I use a very basic handheld psion computer to write on to keep distraction away, but of course it doesn't work when my tablet is right by my side ready to be googled upon for research. I never would have started writing in a serious way without that psion. I just picked it up and began, and before I knew it I was jotting things down on it every spare minute. Would I have done that in a diary or notebook? I doubt it very much. Now? Well this is my career and I think I would DO ANYTHING to keep writing, but the joy would leach away with the edits and hassles of writing long hand I feel."

"When Gordon Dickson got his first word-processor, he said it was like getting 7-league boots. Yeah, I *could* write without a computer,but it's so much easier with one."

"Wrote my first stories on a typewriter when I was a kid. Saved my money and bought a word processor in high school, a magnavox video writer. I loved that thing! My hand writing is horrid, so while I suppose it is possible that I could write by hand, no one, including myself, would ever be able to read it."

"Writing by hand is incredibly painful for me, and has been since I was a child. In college, I was diagnosed with a type of arthritis that resides in the hands. I used to dictate stories to friends to write down, but I avoided writing by hand in every way possible. When computers became accessible and the internet was available, I discovered a whole new freedom when it came to expressing myself, because I wasn't limited by handwriting anymore. I know Kevin J. Anderson dictates many of his stories and a typist types them, so that would be a possibility, but I don't think I'd be a writer if I couldn't use a computer."

"I wrote my first book by hand on a big pad and actually got more done than I do now with the constant siren call of the internet (yes, I know I can turn it off but that just doesn't happen). On the other hand I love the clean copy that the computer gives me as opposed to the constant crossings out and arrows etc that litter my hand written stuff. Also I don't have to type it in before publication if it's all done straight to the screen."

"I could, but I wouldn't like it. I don't even journal by hand any more. I do it on the computer. I get a much more free flow of my words that way."

"I don't think so. I used to when I was little, but I've been working with computers all of my adult life, so long projects with a pen and paper seem foreign to me now. It's like my creativity is short circuited somehow, I can't even outline by hand. Now, if I lived in a world without computers, I suppose it wouldn't be like that, but then we also wouldn't have the ability to self publish, so why even bother?"

"Words come easier to me with a pencil in hand. Somehow it makes it easier to shut off my internal editor and just write. So my system is to scribble a few messy pages in a notebook, then type it up, rearranging the words and sentences as I go. The typed version is like a second draft. Around 20% gets changed as I'm typing. My hand cramps when I write for more than an hour or two, which is why I only do a few pages at a time. For awhile I thought I could save time by cutting out the middle man and going straight to the keyboard. No pencil and notebook. But I found it took me longer to get my thoughts together while staring at that blank screen. And what I wrote still needed to be redrafted, so I wasn't really saving time at all. I gave up and allowed myself to go back to longhand scribbling. I've even ordered myself a handy little book stand for my desk to make the typing process quicker (my stupid notebook kept falling over as I copied). My handwritten stuff is incredibly messy and filled with scribbles and arrows - another reason I have to pause often and type it up while it's fresh in my memory. Otherwise, I won't be able to make out my own handwriting."

"I have a lot of pain in my hands that makes my hand-writing too atrocious to stand, even to my own eyes. So if I were forced to hand-write my novels, then no. I could use a typewriter, though I wouldn't want to. I work better with words on a screen. I usually have three pages side-by-side as I work. I write the words, move them, play with them until the flow is just right. I can just *spot* where something else is needed when it is up in front of me. And it's so easy to pop up a page or two and insert a little something, change a name/word/action. At the bottom of the document, I make notes that pop into my head but will need to be worked in later. The computer makes it really easy on a writer. That's for sure."

"I actually DO write on a pad and paper. I use the internet for research, but the actual first draft is always done on paper. The reason for this is that my goal with the first draft is to just "get it down." The problem with writing on a computer is that it is too easy stop and edit...and stop and edit...and stop and edit...and stop and edit. Writing on paper forces me to just keep moving forward. I can't easily just go back and rewrite the same scene again and again. Once I have it down on paper, it goes in a file for two month. Then I come back to it and type it into a file, at which time I do any needed rewrites. I can't properly edit my work if I am too close to it. The wait give me distance to look at what I wrote objectively and think about what needs to be fixed. And I still have tons of books that I reference for my actual research. Sometimes it is easier to pick up a book and find info that to go online, because it is too easy to get distracted online."

"Yeah, I wrote about 25 novels/novellas as a teen, all longhand. But typing them up took so long aggravated my back problems, so now I just write on the computer. I do miss the contemplation time, though. While my hand was scribbling, I had time to really figure out what I wanted to say. I had a massive callus on my third finger from the pencil."

"I used to love fountain pens and paper and I still do ... but like antiques. I couldn't possibly work without a computer. My significant other wrote his thesis before word processors and he had to retype everything 10 times before getting to the final draft. What a pain and so much time wasted. Don't you think this is one of the major reasons while today's author are more prolific ... makes you wonder how many more stories Victor Hugo or Jules Vernes would have told us with a wp."

"On a typewriter, yes. Pen and paper, no. My poor arthritic fingers would scream in protest after a short time. I do jot down notes when I think of something, but more and more I just turn on the voice recorder on my IPhone and talk. I would go mad without my computer. For more reasons than just writing."

"I got my first word processor in 1982 when I was 16. The answer is a very big no. My hands cramp within minutes of printing and I can't even write cursive anymore. I can remember the lower case letters, but I tried to write something cursive a few years ago and realized I no longer even remembered how to properly form the capitals."

"I first began using a typewriter when I was about 8, so I could go back to it, but why ever would I want to. Changing anything would be a constant chore and re-writes or scene moving...ugh. Please pass the White-Out. My cursive looks like the enigma code and I never use it. My printing best resembles early Sumerian and though I use it for shopping lists you can find me in the supermarket staring at a little piece of paper trying to figure out what I wrote the day before. I'd be toast without a computer. Some authors find it soothing to write by hand on paper. I'd be crying."

"I do most of my writing long hand in notebooks before getting to the computer. There is something so off-putting about a blank computer screen for me, not so much a blank page. My first ever 'published' writing was done on an old-fashioned manual typewriter, where the S key was stuck in subscript the whole time, but the newspaper I was sending articles to accepted them despite that. Of course, the subscript S didn't appear in the newspaper though."

"My first computer was a Commodore; it had to be hooked up to the TV for the monitor and didn't have a hard drive.  Programs had to be loaded from a floppy disk. It had a word processor that was build into the Rom so I could do limited word processing on it. It had to be saved on a floppy disk. Printing was incredibly slow and was expensive, especially for colors. This was before the Internet; some people had sites you could dial into and download things or chat with other people. Of course, modems had to be bought extra. I remember this one site that the guy had. He bragged that he had a 10 mg hard drive that you could download things from.  It was only available for a few hours each day. My son and I downloaded a nude picture that took about half a hour.  In those days, you couldn't see the picture ahead of time so you got what you got. Now things are much different; I have newer desktop computers running Windows 7 and a laptop running Windows 7.  We have high speed Internet and download whatever we want. It is hard to realize how much computers have changed.  Now I mainly use my computer to write on. My wife uses hers to e-mail her friends and to play games. We use the laptop as a backup computer and to reconcile the checkbook. It is amazing how much we depend on our computers when once we didn't even have a computer. Now my son does his job over a computer from home since he is a computer tech. I write up my novels on my computer and send them to Amazon and Draft2Digital for publishing. My computers were bought with money that I earned writing.  So life has gotten better with computers."

"I wrote in speckled composition notebooks from childhood until my 20s. Then I typed on a Smith Corona until I discovered the Internet in 1995. I find writing on the computer so much easier."

"I used a notebook per story for the longest time, then a friend borrowed me a typewriter, which was a manual.  I was eventually able to get an electric typewriter of my own and for years wrote on that, maybe going through three typewriters... the last being a very nice one with a correction ribbon, but an error had to be realized within one or two sentences or out of luck.  I spent a lot of time retyping entire manuscripts.  My first computer was an IBM PS1, not internet-capable, so while I was able to enjoy all the editing and print-out benefits, I still ended up retyping entire manuscripts onto the Dell once I owned one. It's been a long journey, but all I learned about the craft during those times has been invaluable. All the references were in books and The Writer for years and years. I still use a paper notebook for the first several chapters until the story really begins to formulate, and then turn to Google Docs where I store everything in case of a computer malfunction. So, I do still compose by hand to a great extent.  So, yes, I would still write without a computer."

"Sure. I spent most of my life writing by hand. I have several old manuscripts written entirely by hand. I trained myself to write cursive clearly when I was in college and had to take notes fast in class. I always hated typing back in the day of the typewriter, and still dislike it, but I use the keyboard now because it's so easy to make revisions and corrections. However, I can always achieve smoother, better writing if I rough it out in a handwritten form first. I guess it depends on how you trained yourself to work when you were young."

"I can't seem to go more than a few hours without jumping on a computer. A friend of mine writes all of his books, by hand, in his car, while chain smoking. He later types out the books on his PC."

"I wrote my first book on a portable electric typewriter (didn't have a PC of my own at the time). I think I did one more draft that way and then scraped up the $$ for a PC of my own. I do remember that getting the whole thing into the PC was a major chore and something I vowed never to do again. That said, I was an avid fan of Albert Payson Terhune in my teens and remember reading an autobiography where he said he wrote by hand until writer's cramp was so bad he couldn't hold a pen or pencil. At first he tied a pencil between his fingers and kept going, then he learned to type. When typing became too painful, he learned to dictate. It stuck in my mind all these years as an example of the lengths people will go to when they're determined to do something."

"I was just reading Lawrence Block yesterday about rewriting, and remembering how difficult it is when you have to type everything over again! I have done it. I'm sure I could do it.  But I am so glad we don't have to anymore."

"I could write as long as I had pencil and paper -- good luck in reading any of it. I used to buy spiral notebooks and write stories in them turned around because I am a wicked, wicked southpaw. I still buy little notebooks to write down notes.  My printing is neat, and my cursive can be read by some people. I print my notes because I have a deal with a friend of mine that she gets my notes when I die (this water tastes funny). Ever since I got my first typewriter, I haven't really hand written rough drafts. When I got my first PC back in the mid 90's, I have not looked back. I don't think I could be as productive as I am now... well, relatively speaking when it comes to productive."

"Of course I could. The question is: would I?"

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Why buy the cow when the milk is free?

Amazon's Kindle Desktop Publishing program, informally known as KDP, has been around for nearly four years now. I noticed an advertisement for it somewhere, possibly from an email, close to three years ago as I worked on Betrovia, book one of what was to become The Land of Betrovia trilogy. As the day to unleash Betrovia on a completely unsuspecting audience approached, I learned more and more about KDP. In August of 2011 I took a leap of faith (so much irony in that idiom) and signed Betrovia up for the program. To make a long story short, the following December I also enrolled Betrovia in Amazon's Select/Prime program, an off-shoot of KDP. As nearly every self-pub, indie writer should now know, Amazon Select/Prime allows writers to promote their ebooks by offering them as "free" for a short time during a 90-day period.

In April of 2012, Betrovia, along with a few other authors' fantasy/sci-fi novels, was part of a nifty promotion. Since I discussed that promotion within this blogpost, I don't want to belabor the point further.

And so here we are at the crux of this blogpost.

It's been a bit over three years since Amazon shoved Select/Prime out the door.

Let's see after all this time what the kind folk who frequent The Writers' Cafe think of it now!

"Making written works available free, is IMO harmful to both the Indie author and the industry. Many people believe you get what you pay for. The worker is worthy of his/her hire. Not much is free in this world, why should your work be free? If you just want to get your work out there, keep in mind that a freebie is a potentially lost sale to a serious reader, and your book if looked at will serve to evaluate you as a writer. Therefore your freebie should be very carefully edited, and be your best work. I have seen freebies referred to as sales. A free giveaway is not a sale. There is a world of difference. To my mind, if a person doesn't think enough of their reading to spend a few dollars on it, they need not read my work. On the other hand, I gift ebooks to people I want to read them. And, I will gift an ebook on request. People, please keep in mind we are in the USA, where the minimum wage is now $7.25 per hour, and so an ebook price of $2.99 is less than half an hour's work. Do you really feel your work is not even worth so little? To read my work you must repeat must pay a (very) minimal fee. Or, request the book. Get it generally free- forget it! No way Jose!"

"Because a lot of people like steak with their milk, and they have to pay for that."

"Do people still say that? My mom did, when I was living with my boyfriend. Also (and even more confusingly), 'He won't buy the loaf if he can get all the slices.' We've been married for 23 years. Does that mean I am now perma-free?"

"It's called a loss leader. It's a very common method of sales. It works, if done right."

"Calculated timing of loss leaders is what has made me a bestselling author and a ton of money. I don't consider it devaluing my work. I consider it showing people that my work is worth purchasing."

"Gamers out there likely know this, but often time console makers will sell their new machines at cost or sometimes even at a loss. They know they will make it back in future costs of games. While not exactly the same the same argument can be made for free books, especially those with series. You have 5-6 whatever books in a series. A person may see it, but not willing to spend money on it. They get a free taste and suddenly they are hooked....wait I think this applies to drug dealers to. We are literary crack dealers! If the cops come get me, I will testify against Hugh (Howey) for a lesser sentence! (or even for a grammatically correct sentence!)"

"Let's not forget how many MMORPG's have moved to Free-To-Play and Freemium formats. And let's not get into indie games where people like ToadyOne of Dwarf Fortress are making a living exclusively off donations garnered by fans of the game he's giving away for free, or Jick of Kingdom of Loathing, who is running a company off of his Item of the Month system and Merch. Outside of games, this is literally how it has always been done with webcomics (Scott McCloud aside). Penny Arcade has a media empire based on a comic they still give away every single day, Rich Burlew of Order of the Stick had a million dollar Kickstarter to do a book of side stories for his free comic, plus merch. Content-as-loss-leader and Content-as-promotion is probably the most powerful emergent force in the digital age. The money, for these endeavors, isn't in the work, it's in the fandom who click your ads, pay for extras, buy your merch and donate to keep you comfortable enough to give them more."

"I received a free razor in the mail about a year ago. 
I'm still buying replacement blades for that razor."

"What do people think Amazon have been doing with the Kindle itself? Exact data is hard to find but most commentators reckon they are sold at near to or below cost price. Ask ANYBODY who works in selling ANYTHING & they will tell you the same story- loss leaders can work & in our case, it can achieve severals things we all crave- visibility, Reviews and possibly even (gasp) sales. The cow/milk analogy also doesn't work. We are the cow producing the milk. If anything, we're more like drug dealers giving away free samples to get consumers 'hooked' (although morally that metaphor doesn't make us look great)."

"Here's the numbers of copies sold for Amulet 2:
Jan 2011 - 1
Feb 2011 - 8
Mar 2011 - 5
Apr 2011 - 5
May 2011 - 3
Jun 2011 - 3 
Jul 2011 - 495
Aug 2011 - 276
Sep 2011 - 221
Oct 2011 - 202
Nov 2011 - 207
Dec 2011 - 190
Jan 2012 - 308
Feb 2012 - 251
Mar 2012 - 249
Apr 2012 - 211
May 2012 - 216
And so on...
Can anyone guess when Amulet 1 went free?"

"I went from earning 150 dollars to 1500 the first time one of my books went permafree.
Now I'm at 5000/6000 a month.
Does that answer your question?"

"As a relatively new (since june 2011) author with 8 novels self published, I have my very first novel set free at another popular publishing platform.  I can't set it free at Amazon because I'm a UK author and we're not allowed to have perma freebies for some unfathomable reason.  It is the first in a four part series, and I have it set free because several authors said this is a good idea.  Readers will take the freebie and if they like it, they're more likely to buy the others.  I've found that those who've read it, have loved it and several times it has led to sales of further volumes in the series.  I'm not in the position of making  huge numbers of sales as I have zero money to pay for aggressive marketing/promo, so anything that doesn't cost me much in money or time is worth it as far as I'm concerned.  I certainly do value my work, but I am willing to take a chance on a formula that some say has worked for them."

"Once a month, most museums nationwide offer a free night or a weekend day. Completely free admission. Doesn't devalue other museums, or museums in general. Goldstar is a discount ticket aggregator for live plays, musicals, and performances. They often have free tickets -- the price set by the production company or venue. Doesn't devalue other performances. Libraries offer free books for those with a card. Doesn't devalue other books. Those who are against permafree/free eBooks tend to be those who 1) haven't tried it or 2) tried it and it didn't work."

"Free samples are as old as dirt. They are a proven way to get new customers."

"That said, I do think that only some of an author's books should ever be offered for free. I think it's a big mistake to have all your books in Select and rotate them all into being free. You just train your readers that eventually they can get any of your books for free. The first book in a series permafree has worked for so many authors here at KBoards that I consider it the norm."

"You need to view it as a product. There is a place for giving away free books. If they are part of a series, or part of larger whole, having the first book free (or at a reduced price) is a good tactic.  In my day job, we get samples all the time chemicals to try out and use. The point isn't that it is free, but that it is a sample.  You are trying to convince a customer to try out a product they have never used before, or have very little experience with. Now, don't put your whole catalog for free, unless making money is not your goal (and for some it is not). But putting a free book (or maybe two if you have multiple sets) is a way to get people interested. Many of the books that I read now started because I downloaded a free or reduced price book to try them out. I won't do that for a $10 book, but for a $3 or so I will take a risk. As with all things marketing, it is a tool, but not the only one."

"Amazon's free book supply draws in customers who then go on to buy the books we have for sale. If Amazon thought they could make more money by getting rid of free books, they would do it.  But it's a business strategy to make them more money.  And the way they make more money is by us authors selling more books. Consider the extreme situation of Amazon selling only one author's books - yours.  At first glance, that may seem like a good thing, but it isn't.  Because there would be nothing (no offense) to draw more readers in.  No one would show up if Amazon only offered one author's books.  But add in more authors, and more people show up. So what seems like more competition, is actually beneficial to all authors involved. It's the same with free books.  They even help authors who don't give out free books, by attracting more readers to the website.  So you're actually benefiting from my free books without having to donate any of your work to the cause."

"As far as I can tell, there are two main answers to that question:
1: Put a link to your other book/s in the back of your free book.
2. Put a sign up form to your 'Be notified of new releases' email in the back of your free book.
Do you have those in your book?"

"In terms of the (theoretical) size of the market, I think authors are competing at least as much against all sorts of entertainment. It's not just books. Games, movies, TV, dinner out with the S.O., everything you can do for fun other than reading is what we're competing with. And as a reader and consumer, I'm good with that. I have zillions of options every day that never existed before. But what I want most is for reading to take up as much of that entertainment budget (time and money) as it can. Because I think reading is a positive good."

"Free gets me in the door. Easy shopping keeps me coming back. BTW just so you know amazon has always offered free e-books. Even if they got rid of the indie and select freebies one could still get the public domain books free. So yes, Amazon on the whole would make less money. Heck the freebies save them on advertising. Oh are you all aware that Amazon also has free apps and free mp3s everyday?"

"Free books draw people to the website. Once you're in the store, you're apt to buy something you didn't plan to.  To sell stuff (and I'm broadening this to more than books), you have to get people into the store. Free books do that. I've bought books by authors I sampled by reading their freebies. I'm pretty sure member Michael Wallace is one of them, for some of the others I'd have to go check (because by the time I actually get to a book, I have no idea what I paid for it without checking.) I pick up all of MW's books as soon as they come out, and wouldn't have tried them without the freebie. Freebies work for Amazon because they bring people into the store.  Freebies may or may not work for individual authors--because the freebie has to be good enough to make the reader want more of that author. There's always going to be a place for a loss leader in sales, whether it be free or just really, really cheap. It's a time tested method of attracting interest.  As are tentacles."

"I've done the math on this over and over again and I've proven that free books cost Amazon virtually nothing. You know that 'delivery fee' they charge for each of your paid books? Yeah, each nickel of that can pay the bandwidth bill for thousands of free books. Even with the absolute worst hosting deal (which they don't have because they are the host), the entire free book market costs them less than a few thousand dollars a month. So the cost to them is negligible. Not only that, but even if all the naysayers are completely correct and free books are terrible advertising, they only need to sell a couple of thousand books to turn a profit on them. But the naysayers are in no way correct because that's literally not how commerce works. As long as the free thing doesn't cost more to produce than the business it brings in, it's working as designed. Here's the big question though: how much money are you spending on promos without the loss-leader to get the same amount of effect as having one? I'm not burning down the chars, but I've spent all of $50 this year and am doing better profit-wise than some folks that have spent twenty times that. And that $50? I had to spend that to keep afloat before my permafree kicked in."

"Russell Blake already did 'test the waters' — he used freebies to expand his reader base, then stopped using freebies when they were no longer cost-effective for him. So if you're 'a true disciple', you'd use free copies as a tool to expand your reader base until you had a solid enough position high enough in various algorithms that you no longer need that freebie as a promo."

"Blake benefited from free for a very long time, and it helped him get where he is. The larger fanbase you already have, the less relatively useful free will be. It's a building strategy, mostly. Indeed, Blake's overall example on this is a good one to follow. He used free when he thought it helped him, and he monitored things and decided it was in his interests to make a change. I'm sure if he feels something would benefit him by being free, he'd do that. That's how you run a business or an independent career. You learn, apply what you learn, and understand that you will almost certainly need to change from time to time. FYI, I have never done free, but I would if I thought I needed it or could gain a net benefit from it. This is a business strategy, plain and simple, to be analyzed, tested, and applied if you feel it will benefit you. It is not a religion; it is not a philosophy. Uncounted businesses have given away product to build a client base. Lots of examples were given here. When I was in high school, a new radio station had a commercial free summer. They were trying to build a listener base. There are dozens of comparisons. For those trying to erect a golden idol to the "no free books shall pass" religion, ask yourself this: if writer A gives away a bunch of books and sells 5,000 in a month and writer B refuses to go free with anything and sells 50, who is 'giving away' their work?  You don't rate your success one book at a time, nor do you pay your bills that way.  It costs a writer nothing whatsoever to give away a free ebook: there is no incremental cost. If you sell more books overall (to a point), you are getting paid more for the work you did, not less. I do think some people go too far with free.  Some genres are smaller than others, and if you give away an enormous number of books, I don't see how that doesn't cut into the potential paid market. Perhaps you don't care if it is book one of a 6 book series (and, in that case, perhaps you shouldn't care), but it is something to consider in developing an overall strategy."

"In general, for FREE promos to work, the books have to be worth downloading in the first place, and for follow-through the rest of the books also have to be worth paying for. I wouldn't "buy" a free book just because it was free, it HAS to have honest effort put into it. DON'T just type up something, slap together a cover in Paint, and throw it up for sale, it won't go anywhere at any price. I'm not saying you have to pay thousands of dollars for the best editor out there, but good lord, at least get someone who can spell and has a decent grasp of the language the book is written in check it over.  Get a cover made if you don't have the skills yourself.  Barter for it if you don't have a spare cent. (BTW, pre-made covers that look good are advertized here all the time, and they aren't that expensive.) And none of this is even pointing out, Do NOT overprice your crap stories, and then WHINE about them never selling. I have recently seen a slew of "new authors" who are putting out "books" that are under 50 pages, and charging $3.99 or more. Let's see, short, un-proofread or edited, crappy story with a horrendous cover, and it's at $5? yeah riiight. It's Free? who gives a rip? I wouldn't sully my Kindle with that."

"There are two groups of freebie users
1. Those that will never pay for a book because they have grown accustomed to getting freebies (these are the people that writers opposed to freebies are understandably most scared of)
2. Those that use free to try new writers and then go on to buy more books by that writer (these people are the reason why free works as a marketing tool)
I know a lot of people who fit into category 1. for music.  When they mention an album they like, if you ask them where they bought it, the colour drains from their face and they tell you they download all their music from torrent sites.  Hopefully this culture never becomes ingrained in book buying (some opposed to free may argue it already has). However, my experience is that most people are 2. - as evidenced by mine (and most others') experience that free promotions lead to measurable gains in paid sales."

"If free books hurt Amazon's overall strategy they would have dumped it. When it no longer works they will dump it."

Saturday, January 11, 2014

What do you think of using a Chromebook for writing?

The first draft of the novel that seems to be turning into these "Life in Beatty" stories was downloaded onto paper via an IBM Selectric typewriter the winter of 1984. And to make the experience even more antiquated, one of my college professors taught me that it was a good idea to stick carbon paper between two sheets of typing paper to create a "copy" of whatever was being typed. And I think I actually did that most of the time (even though I have no idea what I did with the "copies"!)

For my birthday that following winter Wifey bought me my first computer, a Tandy/Radio Shack! The school where I was employed that year had a few Apple IIe's that I enjoyed using. So when I opened that big box and saw that computer, my mind started racing! Here was my opportunity to not only use my own computer to crank out assignments, etc. for my students but to continue writing my novel from the year before!

Funny how things sometime work out differently than planned ...

I did, however, use that Tandy computer to write my Masters thesis. Whoa! was it a challenge to make what was printed from those saved pages (that were saved on those wonderful 5 1/4 Mylar floppy disks!) to look anything like what I wanted a Masters thesis to look like! To say it was a frustrating experience is an understatement.

Jump ahead about 4 years and I'm flying to Kobe Japan for a week-long teachers' conference ... and I was blessed to have along with me a friend's "portable" computer! We lived in Taichung Taiwan at the time and had a pretty nice desktop computer, loaded with MSDOS 3.0 along with Windows 3.1 so it wasn't like I didn't have access to something better than my old Tandy (which we did BTW bring with us to Taiwan).

In 1993, those foldable-screen computers weren't called "laptops" and I don't remember calling it anything but a portable computer. I had plans to "log" my adventures in Japan using that little beastie ... but because of the strange keyboard and not having a mouse to navigate the OS with, my plans fell through completely.

Flash forward a few more years (to 2003 to be exact) where I was given a true laptop ... I think it was a Dell. The administration at Jefferson City HS asked if any teachers would like to add PC projectors to our classrooms -- which included the Dell lappys -- and I jumped at the chance. So there I was, with a desktop along with a fast laptop in my classroom, and what did I do? I created Powerpoints, charts, and even some tests ... that's what I did! Even though the Dell came with a mouse which made it feel quite a bit like a desktop PC I still did not like typing on the laptop keyboard. It just didn't feel right: I liked both the sound and the tactile sensation of a traditional keyboard. (Like right now, as I'm typing this blogpost, I'm using a desktop with a traditional "click-clack" springy-key keyboard!)

In the spring of 2007 I bought an IBM Thinkpad off Ebay. It cost only 50 bucks ... and it ran like a charm! It wasn't nearly as fast at the Dell I used at school, but it was mine! And I could even connect to the Internet wirelessly via one of those wireless cards. So what did I use it for? Not for typing anything, that's for sure!

(I really should try to bring this rambling to some kind of a logical transition)

There are two laptops and two desktops in our house. One of the laptops is used primarily by Wifey for streaming Pandora into our bedroom while I cart the other with me when I take care of my part-time responsibilities at church. As could be predicted, nearly all of the typing/writing done within the King house is done on the two desktops.

A few months ago, I stopped in BestBuy to look at computer monitors and was attracted to the Chromebook display there. I had read a bit about Google's venture into the laptop/netbook market but up until that point had not taken the time to examine one. And guess what? I was quite impressed!

Chromebooks are full-powered laptops that run between $200 and $300. They come with a complete software package ... or so it seems. In order to use a Chromebook, a stable and fairly-fast connection to the Internet is required. Why? Very little operating software rides within a Chromebook; its "operating system" located in "the cloud". The process of a Chromebook running software programs that aren't actually installed on the laptop is called "cloud-based computing".

Now these Chromebooks look real tempting. But are they as good as modern laptops like a Macbook or are they more like netbooks like the Acer EEE? And, most importantly (as it pertains to writing), how feasible is it to use a Chromebook for writing novels?

Let's check in with the fine folks at The Writers' Cafe to see what they think!

First of all: Those who have, like or plan to buy and use a Chromebook

"So here's my dilemma: right now I'm doing most of my writing on a 5+ year-old 13" Macbook in Scrivener, which is a great workhorse but the battery life kinda stinks even with a new battery and it's too heavy to lug around everywhere I go really. Add to that the fact that this Macbook has literally my life on it, so even though it gets backed up pretty religiously it'd still be a major pain to lose or drop it. So here's my question: is anyone out there writing using a Chromebook and if so how has it been? The new Acer C720 is under 3 pounds, less than an inch thick, and only $200 with I think something like 8 hours of battery life. It seems like I could use Scrivener's sync functionality to sync .txt versions of my chapters to an external folder (Dropbox or Google Drive) and then use something like to edit from there. I've tried it out and it works pretty well, but I'm just curious if anyone has written on a Chromebook for extended periods and if they liked it. A $199 light, 11" laptop that I can bring to the coffee shop just to write with would be pretty ideal."

"They are flipping fantastic. My writing output probably doubled last year because of all the writing I was able to do whilst commuting. And because of the short boot time, and the flash memory, I basically boot up on Monday morning, and shut it down on the weekend (treat it like a phone, or a tablet, there's rarely a need to actually power the thing off). I have a Samsung 11.6", the keyboard is amazing and comfortable - it doesn't have A CAPS LOCK  FOR CONVENIENT SHOUTING but that's it's only fault, and in six months, I think I've noticed that maybe three times. In short: they're cheap, light and work well for writers - buy one at your earliest opportunity."

"I purchased a Samsung Chromebook in October and am thoroughly enjoying using it for writing.  I get about 6.5 hours of battery life on a full charge.  It's light and comfortable to carry around (I bought the Techair Z Slipcase): from bed to desk to park to library to meetings.  And as you mention, it's not the end of the world if it gets broken because everything is saved in the cloud.  I left my PC for the family to use so I use Chromebook for everything.  My only frustration with it is I don't have the use of Scrivener (and a few other downloaded software programs) and am not sure how I'm going to format/upload my new book to Amazon.  I'll be doing the opposite of you and buying a Macbook Air as soon as I have the money.  Since you already have a MBA for the heavy lifting and just want something low-cost to write with, I can definitely recommend the Chromebook.  There's a new model out now called Chromebook 11."

"I use a chromebook and have been very happy with it. I bought it instead of a more fully functional laptop specifically because I didn't want a full on second machine to worry about maintaining. The chromebook is basically just a remote terminal for my desktop. It's cheap, light, the battery lasts ages and it's instantly on whenever I feel like opening it. Personally I think they make wonderful little second machines. I was already using gmail and chrome, so setup was almost done just by logging in the first time. If you really want, you can dual boot linux/chromeos. I haven't personally, so I can't tell you what the performance is like. A lot of people seem to do it though. My experience with Google Docs for writing is that it works. I won't sugar coat it and say it's ideal, but it gets the job done and it's been easy to collaborate with my editor through sharing. Things like Word and Scrivener are obviously more fully functioned. I have had to write offline occasionally, and it has synced up just fine when I got back on wifi. (You do need to remember to enable offline editing for Docs when you first get going on the chromebook.) It's maybe worth mentioning that android phones (and iphones I believe) allow you to easily share their internet connections with other devices. It's built in functionality that turns the phone into it's own little wifi network that you can connect to. We did this the other day with my husband's galaxy s2, and it worked perfectly for getting our chromebooks online."

"I have an Acer C7 and have been using it for several months.  I got a refurb for only $120.  That's a fraction of the cost of a MacBook and less than I've seen any other netbook.  At that price, it was too hard to pass up.  It's small and very portable.  Having a computer boot up in less than 7 seconds is great. I absolutely love it.  I've been using Google Docs/Drive for my writing for the past three years.  I love not having to worry about having to save files to USB drive or deal with emailing files.  Plus, I've used the offline feature a few times when I didn't have internet access and it was seamless. I even got my editor to edit my last manuscript in Google Docs.  The commenting feature was almost as good as Word and I've actually had some serious issues with track changes in the past. If you watch for deals, you can usually find a bargain on them. As for those who say you can't do actual work on them, I say pfaugh!  Along with writing, I have a 'real world' full time job and do 85% of my work (word processing, spreadsheets, and even presentations)."

"Get a Chromebook. At $200 you can drop or destroy five or ten of them before achieving the cost of a Mac, or two or three or four for a windows 8 laptop that has as much learning curve as the Mac or ChromeOS anyway. Install libreoffice but google docs will work for most tasks. However, do think about where you will use it most to write and if there are any problem wifi signals that will cause issues working to the cloud, local-apps is a good consideration. I'm also a netbook (HP) user for travel - it came with windows 7 but I immediately installed Debian Linux and LibreOffice."

"Wow, lots of Chrome venom in here from folks who've never used it. I've tested out and am saving up for one. Chrome isn't Windows? Good. Not everyone wants Windows. I would love to see Chrome OS merge with Android OS at some point. But failing that, I love what I've seen so far. I used Google Drive for a while before picking up Scrivener and it works fine.  I prefer Scrivener, but I was able to move projects back and forth between Drive and Scrivener just fine, and fast. I use Scrivener on my desktop but I want my next laptop to be a Chromebook for other reasons and using Drive is better than using  Word for me. My only undecided bit is if I want to spend less and get the Acer 720 with the Haswell Celerons but the terrible trackpad and loud keyboard, or if I want to spend a bit more for the HP 11 with the nicer hardware but less powerful processor....  Or maybe wait until they have more 4GB RAM models out. I love Scrivener, but I won't let that dictate what laptop I use as my out-in-the-living-room, distracted writing laptop. I like Chromebooks and intend to own one soon, so don't let the Windows and Mac zombies dissuade you. A Chromebook can be a fine solution."

"I have a Samsung Chromebook, which I bought specifically for writing on, but now I am about to buy something new to replace it. I like the Chromebook itself. It's a convenient size, and it's easy to use, but I don't like the Google writing software. I also don't like that once I'm away from the Wifi, most of the apps I've downloaded are useless as they only run when connected to the internet. I want to go back to my Microsoft Word, which I preferred far more. I'm now looking at an Asus Transformer T100, which I believe comes preloaded with Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013. I like the look of it because you can use it as a tablet or with a keyboard. My only concern is that it might be too small."

"I have a Samsung Chromebook that I bought to allow me to write in the summer when my office gets too hot (yes, I was just looking for an excuse) and I like it. It's very light, starts up very quickly and given that all I'm using it for is writing and the odd bit of web browsing when I should be writing, I don't have issues with speed or functionality. I haven't had a problem with the dependence on wifi yet. Google Docs is okay for writing, although I don't try to keep a full novel in one file, I break it down into multiple docs. I've actually done more writing since I got it because it allows me to find a more comfortable location to write - the library or sitting on the bed. What I don't do with my Chromebook is large amounts of editing. I've just started revising a new novel and I'm going to be doing that on my desktop PC, in Scrivener. I tend to write on the Chromebook (or my iPad with a bluetooth keyboard) then move it into Scrivener for revisions and editing.
That said, I wouldn't want to use it as a traditional laptop and if I was in the market for a solution to my overheating office right now, I'd be looking at a cheap Windows 8.1 laptop. Primarily so that I could work in Scrivener all the time and use Google Drive to sync between all my various machines."

"I'm still using a Macbook as my main computer, but using Scrivener's syncing feature to put .txt versions of everything in the cloud using Dropbox or Google Drive. I've used the syncing in the past to have copies on my iPhone and it works pretty well. I bit the bullet and picked up a Acer C720 for $200 from Best Buy yesterday and love it so far. It's definitely not going to win a beauty/build contest against a Mac, but I'm really impressed so far with how responsive it is considering the price and love the fact that it's about the size/weight/battery life of an 11-inch Macbook Air for 1/5th of the price. It won't replace my main computer, but for $200 it's so far been pretty great for distraction free writing using the full screen mode and for just general purpose web browsing on the couch."

"I have a Chromebook which I use for a pseudonym. I like it, to be honest. Yes, having a wi-fi connection helps in that the file that is open will update automatically, but you don't need it.  If I want to write for a long period of time, I just turn off wi-fi until I get home.  There, I plug it into the power to recharge the battery and let it update itself when I turn on wi-fi.  There are no games (OK... no good games... OK... no Borderlands 2) on Chrome which means a majority of the distractions I have are gone.  Yes, I had to make a new Google Account, but it was fast, painless and easy.  I can export files to my choice of formats (.docx, .doc, .rtf) and from there put them through Windows Office if I need to change things there or make them ready for conversion to Kindle or any other e-book format (not that I would do such a thing...I wuv you, Kindle!) Downside?  Yeah. The .mp3 player app doesn't work for me, so I have to use either Google Play (I have issues with how *that's* set up) and buy music or find a streaming audio service. But all in all, if you want something that's a little more business oriented and fairly inexpensive -- I've go with Chrome."

Now those who don't want to mess with Chromebooks

"I considered a Chromebook for the Mrs who wanted a cheap second machine for web browsing. However, web browsing usually turns into 'Oh, and I'll just edit this document while I'm here, and save this photo in Evernote, and listen to some music, and maybe watch this video' etc etc. So I researched a bit, to make sure Chrome OS was up to it. The other problem I had was that the Acer is $199 in the US, and €299 in Europe - what's up with that? Acer make a full featured Windows 8 touchscreen laptop for the same price. Needless to say, no Chromebook was purchased. Ubuntu or Crunchbang on an old netbook is far more flexible, and cheaper."

"My old Toshiba laptop started to die on me last October. I went through the pain of researching absolutely everything I could find because this time I wanted something I could carry in a bag to work and on flights etc. Colleagues have Ipads (and are always demonstrating how wonderful they are) but they don't use the range of software that  I use (I use Photoshop, CorelDraw etc. as well as the Office Suite.) and I didn't want to compromise or have to buy a second machine to use all my favorite programmes.  I already had a small (cheap) android tablet for reading ebooks so I'm familiar with touch screens etc. I'm also a fully trained touch typist and the tablet screen keyboards drive me mad. I know I could have an additional keyboard but that then set me off looking at Chromebooks as it seemed like a good compromise.  However, I couldn't work out if I could use my favorite programmes in flight mode, so I was put off these. In the end, after weeks of consideration I bought an ASUS 200e, a hybrid between a tablet and netbook which has a touchscreen, windows 8 and it still has the traditional windows desktop as well. Unfortunately it cost almost twice as much as a Chromebook (and prices here in the UK are significantly higher than in the US), but it does cover all the functions I want from it and it is light at 1.3kg. It has turned out to be perfect for my needs."

"I have a Samsung 550 that I use. Once finished, I copy the file to Word to clean up then format. We got two of our kids the Acer 720 for Xmas. The battery seems to last a long time. I really like mine, and I can obviously access all of my files anywhere."

"I only have a CR-48 running Chrome OS (okay, I'm bragging, I have a CR-48), but I've never been a big fan of Chrome OS. It was already kinda when we received the beta machine. Fine for web browsing, but nothing else. (Including watching videos in that browser...) Once they updated the OS so that it resembled an actual OS, it...still only really browses the internet. But it's more disappointing because it looks like it should do other stuff well. (It doesn't.) As others said, I'd just repurpose an old netbook and install your Linux distro of choice."

"I used to use one of the little Asus Eees to do my writing. The lightness and convenience was great. The Linux OS occasionally drove me insane. Cheesy I have an Asus T100 now, and I think I'm happy that I shelled out the extra $200-300 for it."

"One thing that seems to be true when using anything related to Google (Chromebook or Google Chrome) is that Google will have copies of your book even before you publish."

"I've been using my Asus eee PC since 2008--it's been around the world with me. Great little machine. Unfortunately, 1 GB of RAM just isn't enough to cut it anymore, not to mention the replacement battery has been giving me some issues. For Christmas, my parents gave me some money for a new computer, so I bought an Asus X200CA with a touchscreen, as well as a 128 GB SSD. One I figure out how the UEFI and secure boot work, I plan to replace the hard drive and install Ubuntu 13.10 (I don't really have the patience to try Windows 8, and besides, Linux is so much better). But dang, I'm going to miss that old eee PC."

"Another Asus user here. I looked at the chromebook and came across the same reviews, saying that it's useless for actual work. I paid under $300 for it last summer, and it's on Ubuntu (I don't like the looks of Windows 8. Does that make me a Luddite?) Don't forget the drops and spills warranty!"

"Is there some reason not to want have just another macbook? I just bought MBA13 mid2013 and this little tricky juggernaut can run 21 hours on single battery charging. And if I work with wifi + scrivener + evernote + spotify it's still more than 12 hours."

"You're probably tired of no, I don't have a Chromebook, but.... But that's what I'm saying anyway. I'm another with an Asus Eee, 11" screen. I wrote one novel on it and liked it for the weight, etc. Running Scrivener on that small screen was a crunch, but what made me go and get a 15" Samsung laptop in the end was the reflective screen on the Asus. Here at home I had to position myself carefully with regard to windows and lights, and when I took it to the library, it was almost impossible to get in a position where it wasn't a problem. The one time I tried to show a friend something on it outside, suffice it to say she never saw what I tried to show her. Of course I don't know what kind of screen is on Macs and the Chromebook, but the reflective screens are almost ubiquitous these days, so I thought I'd mention it. I could only find Samsung and one other brand that made laptops with matte screens and only the Samsung was affordable. This thread makes me want to take the Asus out, charge it up and try Linux just to see what it's like."

SALESMAN: Hello, sir. How can I help?
CUSTOMER: Hi, I need a new car for my commute to work. I was looking at this Acer Chromos. Seems cheap, is it any good?
SALESMAN: Oh yes sir, a nifty little runabout. They use cheaper parts to get the price down, but it's a great car and gets excellent mileage. I'm sure it will be perfect for you.
CUSTOMER: Oh, right. Sounds interesting. Does it do everything a regular car does?
SALESMAN: Of course! I mean, you can't carry passengers, and there's no trunk, but apart from that it's just like any other car. Oh, you also can't use it on all the roads.
SALESMAN: Not all roads are compatible with this car. But don't worry, the manufacturer supplies their own road network, and new roads are being upgraded to support the car all the time.
CUSTOMER: Fair enough, I suppose that's a reasonable compromise given the price. As long as I can use it on the freeway to get to work every day, I guess it will be fine.
SALESMAN: I'm afraid it doesn't go on the freeway, sir. But don't worry: you can take the backroads. You might have to drive around the houses a bit, but you'll get to work in the end, and it won't take you much longer.
CUSTOMER: I see. What about that one over there? The Acer Winos? Does that go on the freeway?
SALESMAN: Yes, but--
CUSTOMER: Does it have a trunk? Take passengers?
SALESMAN: Yes, but--
CUSTOMER: Oh, look, it's exactly the same price as the Chromos. And it says I can even change the wheels and go off-road if I want to--
SALESMAN: Please! Sir! Stop drinking the Kool Aid. Don't be a zombie. You mustn't let your choice be influenced by where you actually intend to drive the car!"