Dissecting Getting Published

When I first started on this journey, I was confident of only one thing: I would have a lot to learn.  Needless to say, I wasn’t wrong.  In fact, I was being too conservative in my estimation!  Self-publishing is a wonderful, scary thing.  I had, many years ago, discovered that the world of publishing had three routes to getting into print: finding a literary agent willing to take you on (along with your money) so that they might make a deal with a large publishing house, finding a small publishing house specialising in your favoured genre, or being suckered into “vanity publishing” (whereby your masterwork is printed and bound just as you’d wish, regardless of quality, errors or other blunders, and having the delightful task of hawking your published book to every bookshop you could get to, unless you wanted stacks of boxes of your book, unread by anybody).  The one beauty of this was the simplicity of it.  Today, things are nowhere near as simple.

Very recently, I had my first ever sale of  priced ebook!  It will sound silly but I was ecstatic and would have capered with joy if able.  The ebook is self-published through Smashwords.  They provide an excellent service, and I have no complaints. In fact, I consider myself immensely lucky to have found them first, before discovering the numerous alternatives.  In a very short space of time, I have learnt that the service sites differ widely (and wildly, at times).  They may shout about a “free service”, and provide just that, but the quality of that service is another matter.  On just one issue, I have found that Smashwords is unusual.  You can publish your ebook and offer it for free, in multiple formats that will serve the vast majority of eReaders.  Some others will allow you just one format, or perhaps more than one as long as the prospective reader is willing to pay membership fees.  Many will allow you to self-publish for free, but insist on you charging a minimum price for your ebook.  There are several other factors, too.

Apart from these “free service” sites, there are publishers clamouring for submissions, allegedly. Some of these are seemingly legitimate, though I can’t vouch for any.  They offer all that you could want, from editing, through proofreading to professional cover design.  Of course, it all comes at a price, which varies considerably between publishers.  Most of these are actually offering real, printed books.  Some, if not most, of these publishers don’t print a quantity, however.  They print on demand, when an order is received.  It’s a very sensible concept, in many ways.  The potential pitfalls, however, are that your book won’t appear on any book shop’s shelves, unless it’s second-hand, and just what happens if the company folds?  You could find yourself with a pile of orders (let’s be optimistic) and no way to fill them!  How so?  Well, you’ll find that, as is commonplace with all self-publishing, you take on an enormous burden – marketing!  You will lose a significant amount of writing time to publicise your book, creating promotions, giveaways, and various other devices to try to win an audience.  Of course, you could pay another company to do all that for you, or the publisher (really more of a printer than a publisher) may offer the service for a hike in their fees.

There is, of course, still the option of finding, satisfying, and paying a literary agent to do it all for you – at least as far as getting published is concerned.  And there are still traditional publishing houses, many of whom disguise themselves under the names of various less well known names.  You will, naturally, still find the same old obstacles to dealing direct with these big publishers.

Having a publishing option sorted, you may want to recheck the terms and conditions, and any royalties arrangement.  There are services out there where you will be expected to give them exclusive rights, which really isn’t a good idea.  The amount of royalties offered varies widely, too.  Be wary on this one!  A service that has only just started up and hasn’t yet gotten a proven record of success could offer a high royalty rate, but then you may not sell anything through them. You also have to beware of things like transaction fees ns other ways to minimise what you actually receive!  So, don’t sign over any rights and make sure that royalties are fair and that fees are minimal or non-existent.

Ah, the joys of self-publishing…

~ Steve

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Meet Tim Griggs: An Author Interview

It’s my great pleasure to present an interview with Tim Griggs, author of Redemption Blues, Distant Thunder and The Warning Bell (as Tom Macaulay).  It’s a real delight to hear about Tim.  Look at the photo’ of him and imagine yourself sitting opposite him and listening to him say these very words.

+ Steve

TG study shot compressed When did you first discover the desire to write was so strong in you?

I suppose it sounds like a stock answer (like the way all bad-boy actors were expelled from school) but I have always wanted to write. Before I even could write. This was in part because my father was a writer of teenage adventure novels and children’s books in the 1950s, and I idolized him. He had picked up a lot of material, to put it mildly, during three wartime years with the RAF on a high-speed launch in the English Channel. He didn’t share that with me, but he was constantly making up stories, many of which I can still remember. He’s been dead for decades, but I have tried to pay some sort of a tribute to him by drawing on many of his experiences in my recent book The Warning Bell (Orion Books, 2010, written under my one-time pen-name of Tom Macaulay). It’s a modern father-son story with links to WW2 and set in part upon a wartime RAF launch.

Still, there must have been more to it than my Dad’s influence, because I had three siblings and none of them showed any interest in fiction writing. I suppose I’m just wired that way: certainly the spell started working on me very, very early.

Do you usually write in the same genre you tend to prefer to read?

Half and half. I’ve always enjoyed reading crime, although for some reason I find it harder to feel satisfied with the genre since my own mystery novel Redemption Blues was first published. Perhaps reading in this field is too much like work, or maybe I’m just insanely jealous of more successful writers. Also, I tend to prefer crime and mystery which has a certain psychological complexity – Le Carré, Len Deighton – and (call me old-fashioned) that’s not so easy to get hold of right now.

As you know, I also write historical fiction (my latest is Distant Thunder, Orion Books, 2013) which is a late-Victorian epic, full of action and colour. I do enjoy reading some other historical writers – Lindsey Davies, C.J Sansom, Patrick O’Brian – and I am easily seduced by historical non-fiction and biography, too. In fact if I’m not careful, I can distract myself for days in the name of ‘research’.

When reading, do you prefer traditional printed books or ebooks?

I’m old-fashioned enough (and old enough) to prefer print books, but I’m no dinosaur. I’ve had an e-reader for years and use it a lot, especially when travelling.

Print books will never die out, any more than the theatre died when cinema came along, or cinema died when TV made its appearance. These earlier media simply adapt and get better. In the case of print books, we are already seeing them develop into increasingly handsome ‘fetish’ objects, items which are a pleasure to own and to handle. They’ll be more expensive than e-books – they already are – but there will always be people who appreciate the heft of a good tome and the silky touch of good paper, and thus they will continue to be produced.

Do past or current events in your life have an influence on your writing?

Never believe anybody who denies this. Loss, loneliness, fear, love – these are all universals, but each one of us experiences them in our own particular ways. It would be impossible not to be influenced by our own experiences. Mind you, this isn’t always conscious. In The Warning Bell, the main character ‘loses’ his father in his teens: so did I, but I didn’t see the connection myself until the book was published. In Redemption Blues one of the main characters is a guitarist: so am I, even if I am atrocious at it. In Distant Thunder the hero makes his way in the world’s wild places: I’ve done my share of that, too, living in Africa, Asia and Australia as well as Europe.

Have you got a favourite author, who stands well ahead of all others?

If I had to nominate one, I think Patrick O’Brian would get the nod. I have no special affinity with sea stories, but I love his combination of colour, action and complexity. I believe his Aubrey/Maturin pairing will end up being one of the great double-acts of English popular fiction, like Watson and Holmes.

RED BLUES_2012 cover HR (1) Have you got both printed and digital books published?

Yes, I’ve embraced the new technology with alacrity. All of my books are available as e-books, and Redemption Blues has just been re-issued for the first time in digital form, so it is enjoying a whole new life. I shall certainly be doing more e-books in future: it is unquestionably the way ahead.

Do you try to write to satisfy what is fashionable, or do you write pieces that you would want to read?

It’s a truism (but also true) that if you identify a bandwagon to follow, it’s already passed. It obviously makes sense to keep an eye on trends in the broadest sense, but I think it’s fatal to try to second-guess your market too precisely. Erotica is in right now, for example, but I dread to think what would happen if I tried to write an erotic book: maybe it would sell in the horror genre. Above all aspiring writers should write books they would like to read themselves.

How do you fit writing into your life? Do you have set times for writing?

I write full-time these days, a rare privilege. I do tend to start writing at about 8.30AM, and that gets me in the mood. I’ll then hit the keys for a couple of hours at a time at various intervals during the day. I don’t have trouble making time to write – that’s obsessive – but I do have to make time for everything else (you know, people, food…that sort of thing).

Do you keep every jotting of ideas, just in case they might be developed at some later date?

Yes. I’ve kept a diary since I was 24 (that’s 40 years ago) and I have folders hopefully marked ‘story ideas’. I do occasionally refer both to the journal and to these folders – especially for short story plots – but I confess that when it comes to novels the central idea sometimes creeps up behind me and hits me over the head.

Do you write freeform or do you faithfully plan every piece meticulously before you start on a piece?

I plan, but then the plan goes out the window and I have to sit down and plan it all again. The broad narrative arc of my novels is always firmly set before I start, though.

When writing, most authors now use a computer of some description. Which do you find more satisfying: writing using any means available, using a computer, using a typewriter or using a pen/pencil?

For notes, nothing beats a pen or pencil and a decent notebook. I have an obsession with handsome notebooks. They don’t require power, no-one wants to steal them, you can drop them, rest your beer glass on then, swat wasps with them, and they still work. You can even write in them.

But the actual business of writing the novel I do on a computer. I used a typewriter for years until the day I unwrapped my first Mac, and that was in 1984, at which point the typewriter became a boat anchor.

Have you ever been somewhere and discovered a copy of a book that’s extremely difficult to find, and drooled over the discovery?

My shelves are half-full of obscure books on arcane subjects which thrilled me when I found them (A History of Machine Guns in Bulgaria, Hitler and his Love of Newts, A Transvestite in Medieval Doncaster) but I have to confess that they tend never to get opened, far less read.

If you’ve had books published in print form, have you ever come across a copy of one of your own books by accident?

All the time. The best example was finding Redemption Blues in a flea-market in Reykjavik. I reasoned that at least someone must have read it.

What is your greatest ambition in writing?

Like a lot of writers, I suspect, I would like to have a reputation and an audience big enough to allow me to forget about marketing altogether, so that I could get on with what I feel I was put on the planet to do – tell stories.

You never know, though: maybe it’s the constant engagement with the market, the need to meet deadlines and to attract attention, which sharpens us up and keeps us hungry.

Certainly it’s been a pleasure answering your questions.

Tim Griggs

Redemption Blues (by T.D.Griggs) is now available for the first time as an e-book.  A million sales in hard copies overseas – but it’s hardly been read in UK. If you liked Distant Thunder (by T.D.Griggs) and The Warning Bell (by pen-name Tom Macaulay) then let me brighten your universe once again!

For more info, take a look at my website at www.tdgriggs.co.uk, and follow me on Twitter @TDGRIGGS1.

Hardware, Software and Brainware

I was browsing the statistics for this site.  It’s amazing what information you can find, though I’m not sure how relevant some of it is.  For example, between the creation of Imagineer-ing, in March 2012, and the end of December, this site had a total of 651 hits.  So far, in January 2013, we’ve had a phenomenal 444 to 29th January!  This is further analysed to give an average of 2 visits per day in 2012 – but that doesn’t mean much as there’s a definite rise towards the end of the year.  Even the January 2013 average of 15 visits per day is deceptive, as the number of visits continues to rise.

The question of what software is of any real use to authors is raised by such online analytical data.  Personally, as an ex-statistician, I confess that I find some of it fascinating.  It doesn’t, however, contribute anything to writing, other than blogging.  Of more interest, perhaps, is the facilities available to authors.

Hardware

I use a desktop PC more than anything else.  I can, though, also use a netbook that is synchronised to the desktop.  The first uses Windows XP and the second uses a cut down Linux.  Apart from these, I could use my iPhone or iPod, though I find those less user friendly.  You could also use a notebook, a tablet or a laptop, if they are available to you.  Outside the realm of computers, there’s also the option of using a typewriter or even handwriting.  Your preference is exactly that – yours!  What should be noted, however, is that your manuscript (MS) must, at some time, be processed for publication.  A handwritten MS will be costly to have worked up into a typed/printed form, unless you’re willing to do it yourself.  Then, there’s the question of formatting.  From what I’ve seen, this varies surprisingly widely.  The one thing that is certain is that you will need your MS to be formatted to suit a publisher’s requirements – even if you self-publish.  You can, of course, write your MS in a word processing package on computer already formatted in the most common way.  That would certainly save some effort.  The matter of formatting is something where software can help.

Software

First and foremost, you’ll need some kind of word processing package.  Of course, many computers come with things like MS Word already installed.  If you don’t have that, then there are some excellent options that are free to download and use.  Probably the biggest, and most reliable, is OpenOffice.  A version of this is called Libre Office, but I confess I’ve found no differences between them.  Other options exist, such as AbiWord, and there are some packages specifically designed for authors, though the latter are not free software.  I, personally, would not recommend using software that produces Adobe PDF files.  I’ve experienced some annoying errors in ebooks that have been converted from PDF.

I use OpenOffice, coupled with the pay-for ebook creation package, Jutoh.  This allows me maximum freedom.  I can write on any device, with the files being shared between all devices, and then Jutoh will help me produce ebooks in a variety of common formats.  That saves me some huge headaches!  Personally, I think Jutoh is worth every penny.  These, together with various desktop eReader programs, mean that I can write, create an ebook in different formats, and check how they will look on eReaders like the Kindle, the Nook and the kobo.

Finally, I use Calibre to organise my collection of ebooks, including updating their metadata  and converting between formats where desired.

Brainware

Sound silly?  Well, perhaps it is, in a way.  What I mean, here, is the core of all writing activity.  It’s a plain fact that none of the above have any relevance if your Brainware isn’t what it needs to be.  It’s the home of creative thought, creating structures, and just plain dreaming.  If you mistreat it, you can be sure that your writing will reflect that.  I don’t say that it has to be perfect!  Some of the great writers were somewhat disturbed, mentally.  They are the “flawed geniuses” who create works of immense power and significance.  As for the majority of us, we need to place ourselves in a situation in which our Brainware can function comfortably, usually where distractions are minimised and you’re physically comfortable.  Whether you need a neat, tidy workspace or chaos, all that matters is that your Brainware will function for you.

~ Steve

A Question of Format

Well, it’s been a little while since I got my kobo mini eReader, and I’ve spent a fair amount of time either reading or trying to organise its contents.  Having shelves is useful but I’ve discovered that there are definite failings, though I’m not sure that they’re unique to the kobo.

I like to have the best metadata (information about the ebook) possible, and the nicest covers I can find, for all the ebooks I’ve got.  Neither the kobo desktop app nor Adobe Digital Editions allow the metadata to be altered from within them, any more than the eReader does.  As a consequence, I’ve been using Calibre to perform the task, and also to keep a track of my full library.  It’s a very useful tool for such activities as updating metadata, converting formats and maintaining a database of contents, including moving books to and from the kobo.  Unfortunately, problems are thrown up very early on!

First, and perhaps the most frustrating, is that when you obtain an ebook through the kobo store, adding it to your library but not actually downloading it, a “virtual book” record is created on the eReader.  This shows up in Calibre as being a book but is in reality just a pointer – you can’t save the book to your Calibre library or to disk!  The first ebook I opted to read on the kobo was The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, which I added to my library on the kobo site.  All was well, until I discovered that I didn’t actually have the ebook – just that pointer.  Naturally, I downloaded it then, from the kobo store.  The metadata was very poor and the cover was transformed into something of no interest.  Naturally, I updated the data in Calibre, though I first had to copy the ebook to disk and add it to my Calibre-kobo library.  To get the information back onto the kobo, I then had to copy it back to the mini, which left me with two copies!  Deleting the original, uninformative version was the obvious thing to do – until I ran the Synch process – which proceeded to reinstate the version on the kobo store.  I had to delete it from “My Library” at the store to avoid duplication on the eReader.  What’s more, I lost annotations and bookmarks in the process.  Updating metadata leaves much to be desired!

Next, there’s an issue with the way ebooks are rendered.  Pages don’t flow properly.  I constantly encounter situations where large areas of the screen are empty – with fragments of text which are completed on moving forward in the ebook.  Also, bookmarks don’t work!  Periodically, a muddled piece of text is displayed, where a page number collides with a word, at the right edge of the screen.  Putting the eReader to sleep, or powering off, causes a complication in that the automatic bookmark, which is supposed to remember where you got to, restores you to an earlier position in the ebook because the page numbers don’t equate to the number of actual screen pages you’ve read.  This has happened in both PDF and ePub versions.  I don’t know whether it’s a question of the kobo getting it wrong, or the publisher/author!

None of these problems are truly critical, but they are niggles which cause some annoyance.  Interestingly, the pagination/bookmarking worked perfectly for the Sherlock Holmes ebook when it was just a virtual book!  It was only after I switched to a genuine copy of it that the pagination/bookmarking errors started.  It’s not a good advertisement for ebooks.  I’ve also discovered a problem with the Facebook connectivity function – which may be a consequence of using different email addresses for my Facebook and my kobo accounts – I’m still investigating that.

I hope that these problems can be addressed and solutions found.

~ Steve

Population Control – Groaning Shelves

BookcaseSince childhood, which is now lost in the mists of time for me, I’ve been something of a hoarder collector.  It started, as you’d expect, with things like toy cars, soldiers and animals.  It wasn’t very long, however, before I began to find it impossible to part with books that I enjoyed reading, or which were useful as sources of reference.  By the time I was into my teens, I had a bookcase all of my own – four shelves in a three foot high affair.  Within a short two years, this was nowhere near enough!  I was now using a wall-high, wide-shelfed bookcase as well.  In fact, both were groaning under the burden of books, with several of the shelves on the bigger bookcase having their contents doubled up.

It’s still true that I can’t part with favourite books.  Only once, many years ago, did I ever thin out my collection – and I’ve regretted it ever since.  Now, however, we’re definitely suffering from a space problem.  There simply isn’t the room for all our books (Jenny’s also an avid reader) along with our other interests and the inevitable items we’ve been given or otherwise made or obtained as a result of having had a family.  We’ve got real overpopulation problems!  We have bookcases filled with books, DVDs and even videos.  We have books piled in stacks or lying in clusters in various places.  The situation is serious, but the thought of disposing of treasured books actually hurts.

Our own situation has, however, given me cause for thought.   At one time, our local town was a haven for numerous second-hand bookshops.  Now, I can think of only one in a neighbouring town.  Most second-hand books come from charity shops, with that peculiar blend of over- and under-priced volumes.  Most of these seem to offer a good outlet but I couldn’t bring myself to pass any of my books on to them.  I’ve seen unsold books being bagged up as nothing more than trash!  Also, most charity shops here, in Britain, have become very commercial – raising prices for many items to a point where some actually exceed the “new” price for items.  We had always seen such shops as a way for those on, or below, the “breadline” to be able to afford things that were otherwise beyond them.  With the raised prices, more and more people are losing out.  That seems to be contrary to what charity shops should be about.  Consequently, we now avoid them most of the time.

Now that Jenny and I both have eReaders, her Kindle and my kobo, we face new choices.  We can obtain only new works as ebooks or we can mix in some old favourites.  I’ve opted for the latter.  I often have difficulty holding physical books, especially larger tomes.  Getting the ebook versions allows me to enjoy those books without difficulty.  We’re looking at a happy situation, where we can also add to our reading matter without increasing the population in our home!

As I see it, there are many people less inclined to hoard their books.  They are frequently found to be great users of public libraries.  If such folk obtain eReaders, then they have a golden opportunity to be generous.  If you can part with books you own, then it must be possible to get them out to folk who can’t afford to buy books for themselves, especially those with children or the elderly or infirm.  Authors (and publishers) may not thank me for the suggestion, of course, but being sensible, they aren’t going to lose anything!  I’m talking about giving books to people who can not spend their precious funds, needed much more for food, clothes and other mundane living costs, on new books.

I really wish that I had the heart, and courage, to follow this suggestion myself.  If, however, I’ve inspired you and others to do so, then perhaps my sin can be forgiven me.

~ Steve

Feeling Cheated – DRM and ebooks

As I mentioned in my last post, I was given a kobo mini eReader for Christmas.  I was also given some cash.  I thought about it carefully (so I believed) and decided that, as shopping locally is difficult, I would get my wife, Jenny, to buy me iTunes gift cards.  The plan was that iBooks are generally in ePub format so would suit the kobo.  With the gift cards activated and registered on iTunes, I hunted down C S Lewis‘ “Space Trilogy” and purchased all three books, though I thought they were rather pricey.  I then copied them to the kobo, only to discover that they wouldn’t work!  I had fallen foul of that vile invention: DRM!

DRM, or Digital Rights Management, is a copy protection system, of sorts.  In fact, for ebooks, what it does is stops you from being able to reading your ebooks in the way you choose.  I could read these three volumes on my iPod, but as that has top remain plugged in to the mains or a computer, that really wasn’t what I was looking for!  If I had bought paperbacks, I could take them wherever I wanted and read them at my leisure.  I simply wanted to do the same with the ebooks on my kobo.  DRM ensured that I couldn’t make that happen!

I don’t apply DRM to my own works.  I have a strong dislike of it, whatever media it’s applied to.  If I’ve paid good money for something, then I expect to have certain rights.  I expect to be able to read ebooks in the way that suits me.  There’s a big difference between the iPod Touch screen and the kobo mini eReader screen.  Apart from the obvious size difference, reading on the iPod isn’t possible in string sunlight.  Then there’s battery life.  With wifi turned off on the kobo, the battery will last a very long time between charges.  The iPod drains very quickly in comparison.

Apart from the fact that many ebooks from mainstream publishers are overpriced, the application of DRM is a limiting factor which must surely impact on sales, which also impacts on the author’s income.  There is nothing like such protectionist systems to encourage the “black hats” to break the encryption and then “share” the cracked items with all and sundry.  If DRM didn’t exist, then piracy would, I’m sure, be greatly reduced.  Eliminating DRM and asking a more reasonable price would encourage far more people to remain firmly on the legal route for obtaining ebooks.

~ Steve

The kobo mini eReader – and a bit more

Well, I hope everybody has enjoyed the last couple of days.  Our Christmas Day was very quiet, just myself and Jenny this year.  Boxing Day (more properly, St. Stephen’s Day) was a bit more busy as we visited our daughter and her family – which exposed us to two grandchildren and several other people, who were in high spirits!

To the matter of this post’s title.  I was delighted to receive the kobo mini eReader from Jenny!  I’d used an iPod Touch and an old iPhone for reading ebooks, but it was less than perfect, especially with the battery running down quickly.  The kobo was another matter entirely!

kobominiThe mini eReader comes packaged as simply as possible.  You get the eReader and a usb cable, plus a couple of leaflets and the normal guarantee information.  Personally, I believe that the usb cable is too short, giving little chance of having the eReader at a distance from the computer.  You have to connect using the usb cable to charge the device.  I haven’t tried any other method – I have a mains adaptor which allows Jenny’s Kindle and my iPod Touch and iPhone to charge quicker but I’m not sure that’s safe with the kobo, and I can also charge some devices through a usb port in our car but I’m again not sure it’s sage for use with the kobo.  Apart from the length of the usb cable, it’s a pity that the user manual doesn’t come in paper form with the eReader.  I eventually found it as a PDF on the kobo site and it provided information that’s actually quite essential for effective use of the device.  I can only assume that it’s not included as a means to maintain an economical price.  The eReader’s screen is protected by a transparent film but I found that this started to hinder use of the device after an couple of hours or so.  I’m not sure whether this means that commercially available screen protectors would be worth getting for the kobo.

Your first task on receiving, or buying, your device is to attach it to a computer using the usb cable.  This, of course, means that you either have to have a computer yourself or you need somebody with one to help you!  Having connected devices, you are then guided through downloading and installing the kobo desktop app.  You really need Adobe Digital Editions too!  You need to register with kobo, so you’ll need an email address, even if you don’t have a computer yourself.  The rest of the setup procedure is quite simple and is accomplished fairly quickly.  If you have a Facebook account, you can connect to it with your eReader, so you can post to your timeline when you are reading particular books.

Unlike the Kindle, the kobo mini eReader is a touch screen device.  The “home” screen is quite nice, with access to the device’s settings much better than the system used on the Kindle, in my opinion.  There’s a limited set of options available on a single tap, plus more advanced options as an offshoot of that.  I did find it rather odd that the four “extras” were buried in the advanced settings menu.  Then again, having used the built-in browser, it’s not a big deal.  The web browser is probably the worst aspect of the device!  At normal zoom, it flickers and is almost invisible. That was quite a disappointment.  The home screen also displays the health of the battery and any wifi signal strength.  The top of the screen offers options of “Reading” or “Bookstore”, with the former automatically selected and the latter leading to the kobo bookstore.  From “Reading”, you can opt to enter your library, go to kobo’s “Reading Life” record of your activities, or synchronise the device with your computer, either via the usb cable or, if you have the facility, by wifi.  From “Bookstore”, you can opt to “Discover”, Browse or Search, plus there’s an opportunity to browse current offers.  If you have placed books in your Wishlist, this will be indicated right at the bottom.

On the “Reading” screen, tapping on the Library option offers you the opportunity to browse through all the books you have loaded, any newspapers or magazines, any previews you’ve downloaded or go to your list of library “shelves”.  These shelves are set up by you.  They allow you to organise your books more efficiently. I tend to just use author shelves, but you can use whatever system you prefer, and the books may appear on more than one shelf.  Using shelves is certainly advisable if you have a large number of books on the device.  “Reading Life” has two options: Reading Stats or “Awards”.  The latter reward you for being active on kobo, allowing you to collect “badges” or “trophies”.

On the “Bookstore” screen, “Discover” permits you to access a list of similar books to what you’re reading or a list of books recommended for you by kobo.  “Browse” lets you do so by using Categories, Reading Lists or a selection of Free ebooks.  “Search” is obviously your opportunity to search either the kobo bookstore or your device’s library.

When you open a book, the screen starts uncluttered.  Tapping on the left takes you backwards, on the right takes you forwards.  Tapping the centre brings up additional options and information.  The top left shows the Home icon so you can leave the book  (opening it again will return you to where you left off) and the top right shows any wifi signal, battery health and the standard setup box.  Along the bottom, the left shows what percentage of the book you’ve read and the right offers four icons giving access to reading options.  First, an open book icon, accesses a menu of “Table of Contents”, “Annotations”, “Search in Book”, “Definition” and “Translate Word”.  The table of contents pops up in its own screen and allows quick navigation.  Annotations gives access to any notes you’ve made or highlighted passages.  Definition accesses the dictionary and Translate Word does what it says.  Next, the double-headed arrow icon pops up an information box on your location in the book and a slider to let you navigate faster.  The double A icon lets you change font, font size, line spacing, margin sizes and paragraph justification.  The final icon, a spanner, accesses miscellaneous general options.

I think that’s enough detail about the mini eReader.  A little exploration and experimentation is worthwhile.  I’d prefer to go on to some personal observations, now.

The eInk  display works very well, except for the web browser.  Light isn’t an issue, other than when it’s very dark.  Not being backlit, you will need a light of some kind in a dark room.  My device froze a few times, without obvious cause but perhaps because I was working too fast for it, forcing me to remove the back cover and use the reset switch hidden under it.  The power slider is OK, but could possibly do with having a ridge or ridges at one end.  The touch screen is just sensitive enough.  All in all, I like the kobo mini eReader!  The weakest part of it all is the kobo desktop app.  You can add ebooks (in the right formats) from any source to the device.  This is a fact which kobo make much of.  Unfortunately, the desktop app doesn’t recognise anything unless it’s obtained through the kobo bookstore!  This means that the synchronisation is rather pointless in some respects.  Your library, and any shelves, will differ from eReader to desktop unless you only shop through kobo!  You can use Adobe Digital Editions to add ebooks from other sources, but it still won’t update the kobo desktop app library.  Personally, I regard this as a major failing that kobo need to fix as soon as possible.

I’m happy to recommend the kobo mini eReader.  It’s just the right size – not too small and still pocket sized.  Like the original Kindle, the eInk display works well in almost all circumstances.  Using it is simple and the display is easy on the eye.  It isn’t all-singing-and-all-dancing, but it’s exactly what it should be for any serious reader.

~ Steve

A Merry Christmas!

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We would like to wish all our readers who celebrate the season a
Very Merry Christmas.

For all others, we wish you Peace and Health.


We look forward to bringing you all more blog posts and ebooks in 2013 and hope that you will not only stay with us but that you will also tell your friends and families about us.  Hopefully, some of you will have received eReaders, books or vouchers for books/ebooks, to further enhance your reading for years to come.

For now, please enjoy a safe, peaceful, and healthy future.

It’s Christmas Eve, When Hope Shines Bright

Yes indeed, it’s Christmas Eve and all should look good, for tomorrow and the future.  The first thing I’d like to do is to wish all readers of this blog a Very Merry Christmas, with fun, friendship, family, peace, god health and good fortune.

In fact, for us, things are more complex.  A brother-in-law in hospital with serious health problems, who won’t see Christmas outside the hospital, which is miles from his home.  My father-in-law in a care home, at least temporarily, because of numerous falls and lost vision.  My own father, whose health has been precarious for a while now and who has also lost his sight, following an operation that was supposed to make it better!  And, of course, there’s my own health problems.  That’s been going on with a certain emotionality on my part, with memories of the sister I lost a few years ago and who I shared so much time at Christmas, when we were Children.

I’ll admit that two of these have had a considerable impact on me in the last few days.  I’ve been very susceptible to the kind of emotionally charged movies that are so often shown at this time of year, which is difficult for me in the sense that I always used to suppress my emotional reactions.

Memories of my sister, Gill, were triggered by a combination of a piece I wrote on Wattpad and the fact that we saw her on her last Christmas, not long before we lost her.  That was a rather magical occasion at the time.  While we were there, our visit was interrupted by callers.  Gill’s eldest daughter and many friends had gathered outside the house, all in Victorian costume, to sing Christmas carols to her.  Extremely moving.  I won’t pretend that we had a perfect relationship.  In fact, Christmas was one of the few times of year when we weren’t at loggerheads.  That doesn’t mean that I didn’t love her dearly!

My father’s condition is, obviously, of deep concern to me.  His health has been failing slowly, since my mother passed away several years ago.  He was a keen fisherman, much respected as such and often skippering a 45 foot charter boat for sea fishing parties.  He had to give that up some time ago, which came hard.  He is also an avid reader.  For many long years, he read favoured books that he obtained from the local library.  He wasn’t a keeper of books, just a reader.  In recent times, it’s become harder for him to get to the library and finding his preferred books has also become much harder, which has driven him to buy second hand books, and keep them if he enjoys them.  Now, he is giving away some of those books, because the print is too small.  If I believed that I could persuade him of the benefits, I’d try to get him an eReader with lots of books on it, as he’d be able to read any of them thanks to the ability to adjust font sizes.  I can’t recall ever seeing him without some books to hand.  The thought that he is losing that is painful.  The fact that we are also rather alike, in many ways, tends to make me wonder somewhat about my own future.

We tend to think about what we hope to gain at Christmas.  In youth, of course, we have that sense of invulnerability.  As the years pass and we lose family and friends, still we cling to the subconscious sense that such things only happen to others.  In advanced age, we’re not entirely deserted by a kind of blind optimism.  We all know folk who look on frail friends as “poor old things” even though those friends may be years, or even decades, younger than themselves.  Perhaps we need to devote at least part of our Christmas thoughts to being grateful for the things we have, or have had, rather than to things we want.

~ Steve

No Turkey For Christmas

With the eternal problem of what to give people for Christmas, many will fall back on the old favourite option of books.  These days, there are more options, of course.  You can buy actual books if you’re confident that you know the recipient’s tastes, or good old book tokens if you’re not.  You can also buy gift cards in many places for web sites like Amazon.  If you’re happy to do it, you can also buy e-vouchers or even ebooks, giving the necessary codes/links via a card or such.  Sounds simple enough.

In reality, there are probably more Christmas gift books left unread than you’d care to know.  It’s far too easy to buy what the recipient (privately) regards as something of a Christmas turkey!  You may not know their tastes as well as you think, or you may simply buy something in the right genre but that’s not to their taste, or you might duplicate books they already possess.  That’s why book tokens have always been so popular.  They give the recipient a free choice.  The same problem applies to electronic alternatives.  You may see an ebook that seems perfect for somebody, but it’s still a gamble.  The purchase of e-vouchers makes sense, but conveying the proper information is a problem.  Gift cards for the likes of Amazon, however, fix where the recipient must shop.  Beware, too, about the format of ebooks!  Not everybody owns a Kindle.  There are plenty of eReaders that require the ePub format, rather than the Kindle’s mobi format.

I would love to say that you should consider supporting Indie authors.  Unfortunately, to do so, you need to read their work yourself.  There’s no other way that you can make an honest recommendation.  I’ve no problem with saying that you should think about Indie authors, as many provide excellent ebooks.  The problem lies more in just how willing you are to read works that may not suit you but may suit a gift recipient.  I would suggest that, if you really wish to support Indie authors, you buy e-vouchers and simply offer a few suggestions as to where to find works you think the recipient may like.

I know that many people think of gift vouchers and book tokens as something of a cop-out.  In fact, they show that you recognise the recipients love of reading and have applied some commonsense to how you choose to provide a suitable gift.

~ Steve