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Congratulations Again to Nick Earls (with further thoughts on indie quality)

In addition to winning Best Adult Fiction ebook for Wisdom Tree, I’ve just learned that the collection also won the gold eLit award for literary fiction.

The eLit awards are intended to “illuminate digital publishing excellence.” From the site, “The eighth annual eLit Awards are a global awards program committed to illuminating and honoring the very best of English language digital publishing entertainment.

The eLit Awards are an industry-wide, unaffiliated awards program open to all members of the electronic publishing industry.”

These are, in other words, digital-specific. Even the FAQs mentioned that if you absolutely must send a hard copy, you can, but . . .

Which I think is terrific. That’s what I intended Exciting Press to do. I honestly can’t remember the last time I read a print book; I used to say it’s been five or six years but I feel like I’ve been saying that for several besides. We’re a specifically digital publisher, and I don’t anticipate that changing anytime soon.

What’s more, though, is that I think it’s awesome for venues like this to recognize indie literary fiction. “Literary” is a weird genre, unlike most others. You know with fantasy that you’re getting fairies and with science fiction you’re getting spaceships and with crime you’re getting a dead body in the first chapter (and yes I just oversimplified all those genres but bear with me here), but what are you getting with “literary” fiction? I think a lot of people dismiss the idea of literary as a separate genre as snobbery, and perhaps that’s a response to a perceived condescension, because there’s a thought that writers who aim for literary would sniff at genre fiction as trashy, as “oh, I don’t read that. I prefer LITerachure.”

But I’ve said before I’m desperate for discussion of quality in the indie world. Far too often coverage of indie success stories is positioned as “Self-published author sells go-jillion copies, sells book to HarperCollins.” This is the lazy sort of narrative that lumps 50 Shades of Grey into the indie world (it wasn’t “self-published” — it was posted in fan-fiction forums before it was picked up by a small Australian publisher, who later sold it to RandomHouse).

I think I get why it happens. Because anybody can click that publishing button, there’s no longer an impedance, so the corporate publishing industry and those associated with it want to maintain an illusion that there’s a separation of wheat from chaff, if you will. That sure, anyone can put some chaff out there, but without that “refinement” it will never be wheat. And the indie world, meanwhile, still wants a seal of quality, a way of demonstrating legitimacy, perhaps,  and so it falls back on the only objective measurements it can — sales and Amazon rankings and a lot of numbers more related to algorithms than to stories or books.

My hope is that one day we’ll talk, simply, about great books. That one will be able to open the NY Times or Atlantic, or tune into NPR, and will hear a story about a great book, and when one goes to find that book, it’ll turn out to cost five dollars on Amazon and the author of that book will get 70% of those royalties when readers get it for their Kindles.

And you’ll notice never once do I hope that who published a book will be part of the discussion. And sure, one could try to argue it’s not now, that NPR never mentions X book was published by so-and-so, but often that’s because media venues are, by policy, closed to what they consider “self-published” titles. They don’t just not want to cover them — they outright don’t want even receive anything. Book blogs, lots of awards . . . “Sorry, we don’t accept self-published submissions.” They’re the ones who will write about indie success only when there are sales numbers behind them.

If you sense a frustration here, you’re right, but moreso I’ll argue this is my hope. This is why I founded Exciting Press. To bring great indie fiction — and not just titles we’re publishing — into a conversation about fiction and quality that may never even consider an algorithmic result or a moment-to-moment ranking on some list or other.

It’s also my hope that congratulating the others I’m working with on more accolades becomes something of a habit.

But hey, don’t take my word for it. And don’t take the eLit or Ippy awards for their word, either.

See for yourself how terrific Wisdom Tree is:

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On Plans & Agility & Ippy Awards

Updated Wisdom Tree cover featuring gold Ippy seal

This post was, as of even as late as mid-April, intended to announce the availability of the second installment of Nick Earls’ The True Story of Butterfish. I’m looking very forward to uploading those installments and sharing that book with you, but barely more than a week ago we learned, as we shared last post, that Wisdom Tree had won the Independent Publishers gold Ippy award for Best Adult Fiction ebook.

That night, I got to talk to Nick by phone for the first time. We’ve been working together for going on seven years now, but all our communication has been digital. It’s mostly logistical; given Nick’s location, he lives not only around the world but technically tomorrow from me most of the time, and that’s not to mention that though a cell phone can call basically anywhere, they’ll sure charge you for it, and I think I paid nearly five bucks a minute to deliver the good news by voice (WORTH IT).

Within that initial excitement we were still able to discuss current plans a bit, enough to note that we’d planned for Butterfish‘s launch in just a few days, and to rethink that. We’re excited to make it available digitally, and hopefully for it to find a new audience.

In fact, that’s what we’ve been hoping for ages; that Nick’s work will find a new audience. I’ve long held that Nick’s work deserves it — I’m thrilled that Nick has one in his native Australia, but his work isn’t so very Australia-specific that it should find its only audience there.

That’s why we’re holding off on Butterfish for now.

The Ippy award is big. There are an incredible amount of entries, and previous awards have recognized authors like Dave Eggers and Ayelet Waldman and publishers like McSweeney’s, Grove, and Dzanc. It’s basically a who’s who in indie publishing.

So it’s a huge honor for Exciting Press (and me) for Nick’s work to be recognized in that context. We want to celebrate Nick and that recognition.

Which is why we’re for the moment postponing Butterfish. We want to focus for a few weeks on this cooler than cool (ice cold) news.

The good news is that’s the benefit of agility, and Exciting Press. We may be small, but we can pivot quickly when we need to, update sales info and cover images within hours, instead of days or even weeks.

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No Expectations & The True Story of Butterfish

At this point, we probably have to call this launch one of the marshmallow variety, given how it’s going. I’m working to tweak and fill in pages behind the scenes while trying to keep up with the publishing (that’s the real work) behind those scenes, and meanwhile there’s life and taxes and housework and day jobs to attend to.

But anything worth doing is worth doing well, and anything worth building is worth building solidly. As my father would tell me.

This summer, Exciting Press has at least two brand new titles on the way: Miya Kressin’s great new No Expectations and Nick Earls’ truly excellent The True Story of Butterfish, as I mentioned a week or so back.

And I mentioned an Easter egg, and now that it’s Easter, I think it’s only appropriate to reveal it.

The astute among you will have caught the “1” there on the No Expectations reveal. And if you didn’t you can see it right there in the cover.

We’ll be serializing it. In five parts, starting on the first day of summer.

We’ll be doing the same thing with The True Story of Butterfish, as well as Nick’s other novel Analogue Men. No cover reveal there, because I’ve been working on the text first and haven’t gotten to the cover yet. You can, however, expect a late summer/early autumn release for that one. As far as I know, both will mark the first publications of those two novels outside Australia and New Zealand (where Nick’s huge).

We’re doing it as an experiment, much as Nick’s Wisdom Tree novella collection was. But keep an eye out, and expect to see installments announcements as we go.

We’ll also be looking at doing pre-orders.

And I’m saying “looking at” and “experiment” because I’m not yet sure about this format, but I’ve talked to both Nick and Miya about it and both have been encouragingly excited about it.

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Kindle Create: The Best Thing to Happen to eBooks Since Kindle (if you don’t have Vellum)

Yesterday, I saw  The Digital Reader  post about a new Amazon-created tool for publishing on the Kindle platform, called Kindle Create. The screenshot (right) looked both simple and cool. A what-you-see-is-what-you-get tool that could help turn a Word doc into a Kindle ebook. I’m a total publishing geek, so I was excited all day to get home so that I could download it and try it for myself —

And it’s exactly as described. You import a Word doc, it runs some likely fancy algorithms, and BOOM nicely formatted Kindle book with guesses at elements like new chapters and such.

I’m not sure how the screenshot is appearing for you, but the interface is nice. It’s a simple menu, and then there are three columns:

Contents – which appears to be mostly navigational, and lets you flip through the book based on its chapterination (that’s not a word, but pagination is, and this is based on chapters, not pages, so there).

Preview – which you can move the cursor within, highlight and delete and add.

Text properties – which is basically formatting, so you can highlight something in the preview and change it to a different element. Like make a heading a subtitle, or something.

I downloaded and played with it for ten minutes. I imported a complete copy of Miya Kressin’s No Expectations, which I’m going to be working in this weekend to lay out and design, and it seemed to get most everything right. It broke out the chapters well, maintained section breaks, and where it didn’t it was fairly obvious what I should be highlighting to change so that I could format elements correctly.

From that ten minutes, I’ll say this: it’s fantastic. It’s easy to use, easy to understand, and it has all the basic elements necessary to import a Word doc, change formatting you can see, and export a file ready to upload to Kindle.

There’s an important word in that sentence, and it’s “basic.”

If Kindle Create had been available, say, six months ago, I think I might have adopted it and never looked back. It’s that good. Like Kindle, it’s platform agnostic, available for both Windows and MacOS as Kindle is available for everything from Amazon’s own e-readers to iPads to Android to etc.

And “essential” may be a better word than “basic.” It’s got everything essential you need, and there’s something to be said for essential. Without digging too deeply into it, I don’t see a way to change the design of the “Separation,” but hey three black diamonds is as good a signifier as any.

I specify “without digging too deeply into it” because it may include others, but I just didn’t see them. Just like I think it can handle pictures and videos, but I wouldn’t see that because I don’t really deal with those.

But recently I’ve been using Vellum. I use switched to Apple’s ecosystem after one too many Windows laptops crashed on me and several too many Android phones went without upgrades to the latest, most secure versions, so I didn’t mind that Vellum is a Mac-only program. So is iTunes Producer, which is the only way to upload your book directly to the iBookstore.

Which is what I do. Where Exciting Press ebooks are available on different platforms (we’re still building out), they’ve been uploaded directly to those platforms. Mainly because there are four, total (Amazon, Apple, Kobo, and B&N).

Among those four, Amazon not only has the most marketshare but also the best experience for readers. Honestly, sometimes it feels like Amazon is the only ebook retailer that cares about readers and the experience of reading.

So maybe concentrating there isn’t a bad thing. That’s something for authors to decide for themselves. For authors who are fine with Amazon exclusivity, Kindle Create seems pretty great. Also, Amazon being Amazon, the algorithms that guess chapter breaks seems pretty spot on.

I’m not sure the final file is easily converted to an ePub, though — which may not be surprising, as ePub as a file format is awful. So backwards and difficult to format. (It’s no wonder all the corporate publishers chose it as their “standard” — long after the market had already decided on a different standard on its own.)

Also, Kindle Create is free. That’s huge. Vellum is better, with deeper formatting options, but it also costs $200 for a copy that is available only for Mac.