Tag Archives: money

On Research: Finding Sources on a Budget

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A good portion of the research budget for the new book was selling my Inuyasha manga (which to be fair I hadn’t read in years). This is still better than my old budget for Fractals: A Programmer’s Approach, which consisted largely of buying fractal books I could get for $4 (1 penny cost plus $3.99 shipping). For both books I’ve made good use of the library, and the wonders of this thing called the internet, and I thought I’d share a little of what I’ve learned along the way.

Dover Pictorial Archive: A lot of what I’m looking for in this book are designs from different cultures and some background on drawing techniques, religious significance, history, etc. There are a number of great books on Amazon all pretty affordable from the Dover Pictorial Archive. But if you’re even more of a cheapskate, for a lot of these books you can look on the copyright page (using Amazon’s Look Inside feature) and find the original public domain book the new printing is based on. The Internet Archive will often have the original book for free. Now considering the fact that one of the books I did this for was originally in French (Les Elements de l’Art Arabe), there are some drawbacks to this approach. But then again, if your main interest is public domain designs, this isn’t a bad way to go.

Papers Submitted to Conferences: A number of the papers I’m working from are from various years of the Bridges conference. Most of this stuff is available for free online on the conference websites and includes some fascinating material, ranging from presentations of new techniques, to more general overviews.

Papers on Professor Websites: If you find a particular name coming up again and again, you might want to find their university page to get a complete list of their papers. Some will be available directly on their site. Just be sure to keep some idea of when you accessed them and their URL for your works cited.

Google Books: Let’s face it, you really might only need 5 pages of a 1000 page tome that costs over $100. Google books isn’t a bad way to find the little tidbits you need from books without forking over for the whole thing. It can be a little hit or miss as to whether you’ll be able to access the parts you need, but often you can get enough.

ILL (Inter-Library Loans): I haven’t done this a lot since I tend to get more done with digital sources, but ILL’s can be a good way to get that expensive book you really need (the one that every paper seems to cite). Just be sure to return the book on time or you’ll be slapped with pretty hefty fines.

Your own collection: I have a whole bookcase dedicated to fractals, some of which I’ve barely touched. Some material that didn’t really work for Fractals: A Programmer’s Approach might be just what I need for this one. Keep a running archive of the things you gather even if you never use them (I keep all my papers in Calibre). And you can always raise a little money by selling books you no longer need (though do this wisely because you’ll lose more if you end up buying the book again).

Google the Works Cited: Most papers and books will have a good bibliography. While not all of these resources will be accessible, some will be, and there’s a good chance they’ll fit in with your subject since the author based their work on them.

My last two tips don’t really have anything to do with money, but I think they’re valuable nonetheless:

Do the Works Cited as you go: I never do this, and I always realize later that I should have. If you’re pulling from a lot of diverse sources, you absolutely need to keep track of them, or you’ll have to do detective work to find them again.

Cite more than one author: Some of the areas I’m covering really haven’t been widely studied, but there are still ways to corroborate the research of one-off writers. Again the works cited is key, and some wider Googling. Just be careful if everyone else has based their work on your one original source without any new information. If they’ve been out there for a while, it’s probably fine, but it’s better to have multiple sources.

Friday’s post won’t be so work related. I’ll review something fun you’ll like.

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What writers want from readers

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Writers shouldn’t work for free.

There’s been a bit of an internet brouhaha over a request made by one particular reader:*

“[To author] I wanted to tell you that your books are above par and you should be proud. I was able to read them all, but sadly I returned them all because they range from $0.99 to $2.99 and that is just too much for me to spend on a ebook. Can you please make all your books in the future free so I do not have to return it?”

This post is not intended to add to the shaming of this person, which as I understand it has been quite substantial.

As a self-published author, you have to wear both the customer and the business hat. So let’s break this down from both sides.

As a reader I like to read a lot of interesting books and I like to get a return on my media investment. I will often seek out the minimum possible price I can pay for a book, or I might even borrow it from the library. I joined NetGalley in part to get access to some stuff that I might not have checked out otherwise, which has led me to some of my favorite authors. I always shop used bookstores, and the idea that $9.99 is somehow cheap for a book is ludicrous to me.

And even $0.99 can be a barrier to entry. A lot of people focus on the money part of the original post. $0.99  – $2.99 is not that much money, so what’s the matter with this person? But $0.99 might be a lot to some individuals, and I certainly can’t buy every $0.99 book I see.

And you know what I do when $0.99 seems like too much to buy a book? I don’t buy it. I don’t return it after buying it and reading the whole thing. I don’t buy it at all. That’s how this works as a reader. The writer charges whatever they want, and then I as the reader figure out if I think it’s worth it. Since Amazon let’s me sample the first 5% of the book for free, I usually have all the information I need to make that decision. That’s what this reader did wrong. They bought the book, enjoyed the book, and felt they should be able to keep it without spending any money. And they expected the writer to continue to provide free entertainment.

As a writer my #1 priority is getting you to read my book. I work just as hard to get my book into libraries as I do to get them in bookstores. Fractals: A Programmer’s Approach can be borrowed from Kindle Unlimited (for which I do get slightly compensated), and it can be borrowed from my local library in digital form. I recently put Surreality in a digital lending system called SelfE designed to get it front of library patrons who use an app called BiblioBoard. I try to make sure all my books are released DRM free so you truly own them when you buy them, and I try to price them so you can buy them, while still making a decent percentage of each sale. I probably could have sold Fractals: A Programmer’s Approach for $9.99 or $7.99, but I wanted to release a $5 fractal book so people could get one for less.

My point is this. I want you to read my books. You can borrow them for free, or buy them and truly own them. But if you like them and want to keep them, then I should get paid for the investment I made to create the book. Fiction doesn’t just pop out of a writer’s head, there’s research, hours, and money that are spent to edit the book, create the cover, market the book, feed the author, etc. eBooks can be distributed for next to nothing**, but eBooks cost money to make, and therefore they should be sold for some compensation.

I got a request after the Kindle Scout campaign asking if I would still give Surreality away for free to the people who voted even though it did not get picked up. This was a rude question that I chose to ignore, though obviously it still bugs me a little. I still have all the costs of making that book to consider, and I didn’t have the benefit of a $1500 advance to cover them. This isn’t me saying that I’ll never do giveaways, or give the book to people who want to read it if they’ll write a review. But this was right after I hadn’t made the contract, after a month of campaigning which was tough for me. I was tired, and a little disappointed, and apparently I should just give all that hard work away because you clicked a button. It might have been different if this person had said something about really liking the book, or being excited for it to come out. But this was just another person wanting something for free.

I’m not a fan of shaming people. I feel there’s a way to have this conversation without calling out an individual for public disdain and scrutiny. But I also understand the frustrations of authors who deal with this problem. We’re not giant faceless corporate entities. We’re passionate people, who love writing stories as much as you love reading them. And hey, if $2.99 is a lot for you to buy a book, then don’t buy it. It’s not that hard. We all have things we want, but cannot afford. That’s okay. Just don’t steal. We’re not going to thank you for being a pirate even if it increases our “exposure.”

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*The text of the original messages was posted on Writers United which I am excerpting here.

**One of the reasons the $119 fee for Goodreads eBook giveaways kinda bugs me but that’s a topic for another time.

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Financial Writing Goals

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It can feel a little icky to have writing goals that involve money. Most of the goals I’ve created over the years have been about words per day, books completed, or projects undertaken. In other words, purely artistic goals. But the truth is one of the unspoken, pie in the sky, long term goals of mine is to be able to live off the writing, or at the very least have the writing make things easier.

This year I have two main goals or mantras:

  1. Earn more than $500 (net) from writing.
  2. The writing funds the writing.

Goal 1 is about breaking out of the bottom third of author yearly earnings (according to The Guardian in 2015). It’s not a huge amount of money in the grand scheme, and the hourly rate is abysmal, but it’s a start. Four months in, this looks like an attainable goal, particularly if I can get some work selling shorter pieces.

Goal 2 is about investing in the business side. Selling books to a bookstore funds buying another order of books. Selling coloring books funds research material for my next book. Amazon profits go to buying writing supplies and notebooks. This goal is not strictly fenced in by any means (I’ve raised nearly $90 toward the writing just by selling things I no longer need), but it is a broad principle intended to keep expenses in check. Keeping the cost of writing a book below the money earned from it would be a great place to be (it took the first fractal book at least a year to reach this point).

Both of these goals drive writing and creative decisions throughout the year. Over the weekend I created a short story to submit to a magazine, which in turn might drive some people toward the universe of Surreality. I’ve subscribed to a number of Facebook groups that show listings for paid articles and am working up some submissions. This feeds the artistic side in that it demands versatility, requires the ability to get work done in a timely fashion, and keeps the brain creative and from getting into ruts. In other words, money goals can drive creative goals.

I won’t be hugely disappointed if these goals are not strictly met. Just shooting for them puts me into places I might not have tried without them. And earning some money makes this feel more like a profession, and less like a hobby.

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Pledge Drive

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It’s the NPR spring pledge drive this week. When I tuned in last Friday during my commute (at the start of the drive) I actually made a Homer-like groan. Not that I don’t love supporting my local NPR station, but the pledge drive is kind of annoying.

NPR has taken a more tongue-in-cheek approach to the drive over the years, from the Alec Baldwin pieces, to Ira Glass calling up individual listeners and asking them why they don’t give. A variation I heard this morning was from Jacob Goldstein calling up listeners and asking if one of them would be willing to cough up the $46 million to make pledge drives unnecessary for all NPR stations in the country for a full year.

Turns out they should have just called Homer. In the 11th season episode “Missionary: Impossible,” Homer anonymously pledges $10,000 to attempt to get back to regularly scheduled programming. Unfortunately the Pledge Enforcement team, headed by Betty White, tracks him down, forcing him to leave the country and teach gambling to natives. It gets a little fuzzy from there.

Another bit of evidence toward my theory that The Simpsons is relevant in every discussion. Have a happy Monday!

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Ben Trube is the author of the noir/technological mystery Surreality and a lot of books on fractals, including this one.

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FreeBooks 1 – Yes, I just bought 10 books, but they were free!

Friend of the blog Jo Eberhardt raised an interesting question on Monday: Should eBooks be Available For Free? As a soon to be self-published author, and a voracious reader I thought it would be fun to tackle this question from both perspectives.

Today I am a reader, tomorrow a writer (well hopefully both).

You Read What You Pay For

Amazon just released a software update for the Touch (details of which I might cover next week). One downside of the update is the Kindle requires 30 minutes to index each book for a search function I will never use. This indexing drains the battery, and so I did a little preemptive weeding to get the device down to the 50 magazines and 150 or so books I’m actually referring to at the moment.

What did I decide to keep? The stuff I paid money for.

I went through a ravenous free book phase when I first got both the Fire and the Touch. Not just public domain stuff, but the best of sites like HundredZeroes and anything that was toward the top of the free 100 on Amazon’s site. Probably 70-80% of the 600 or so Amazon books I own were free. Before the battery draining indexing there was really no cost to “one more book” on the Kindle. With a 3.21 gigabyte drive my Kindle can hold thousands of books, and a book only needed to look vaguely interesting to be roped into my personal cloud.

But aside from books for a couple 5% of five posts, I haven’t read any of it.

Why not?

I mainly read right before bed, or in the head

For starters money’s not the only factor in deciding what books to read (if not which to buy). At the end of the day word of mouth, recommendations from friends, and known taste satisfiers are what I make time for. This is not to say I don’t make time for new authors (my recent devouring of Scalzi books is just one piece of evidence), but “owning” their book isn’t enough. I have to actually remember it.

And I tend to remember what I go to the trouble of buying.

But it isn’t just a sense of guilt or trying to get bang for my buck. Ultimately my being willing to spend money on a book in the first place is a fairly sure sign that I intend to read it (though right now I’m buying Stanislaw Lem’s whenever they are the Kindle Daily deal just because). Like it or not price does send a conscious or sub-conscious signal that the book is worth something.

I like free samples (especially of Sushi)

Maybe a free book is too much. If I don’t know an author, I want to have a bite-sized way of deciding I like them before diving into a 400 page tome that might have needed some more revisions (don’t worry I’ll be guilty of that too). While not free, Scalzi’s “Human Division” gave me a 99 cent way of deciding if I liked an author a lot of people like me seemed to enjoy. Blogs are great for that too, and over the past year or so I have been forced to begrudgingly admit that short stories can have as much to offer as a novel (and sometimes are even more fun to write). They also can tell a lot about an author. Setting a scene or making a point in 600 words or less is tough, but the best get us to crave more.

How do you choose what to read? How many free books have you actually read?

 

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We’re all in this together

I hate living in a battleground state.

There’s a lot of nonsense that’s being slung by both sides. Frankly my wife and I are using Netflix and some DVR fast-forwarding to avoid the worst of it. But there’s one bit of doggerel being flung around by a number of my conservative and Christian friends (and commercials in general) that needs to be addressed:

“You didn’t build that.”

America has a dual relationship with success. We are united as a society, but individual in our triumphs. Small business owners create jobs, and yet we blame the government for unemployment.

Why is it a hard concept to admit that while hard work and determination are always a factor in success; luck, timing and the efforts of others are just as important? Any company that ships things on trucks relies on the highway infrastructure. Any business that sells something on the internet relies on not only their own data-centers, but the data-centers, servers, switches and hubs of thousands of others. And any company that relies on electricity relies on the power grid.

It’s not practical for us to build everything by ourselves. Factories used to make their own electricity (or at least power machinery with water wheels). But it isn’t cost effective, especially in a competitive market, to build every part, supply every need in house. You need other people.

Let’s take a look at a very individualistic profession, authors. I think self-published writers may have one of the best cases for individualistic success. They write their own material, and they put it out into the marketplace. Except for that marketplace to exist someone had to create the internet, credit cards, and devices to read books. Any good author also has beta readers, editors, and for non-fiction the dozens of previous works done by the authors who came before them.

It’s arrogant to think that all it takes to succeed is your own desire, your own sweat, your time and your investment. It isn’t humble. It isn’t grateful. And frankly it isn’t very Christian.

“With God all things are possible” kind of implies we might need a little help. We’re called to live in community. We’re called to sacrifice our will for God’s will, and the Bible doesn’t seem to put a lot of stock in material wealth.

I’m not saying that building a business, whether it’s selling books, or selling widgets, isn’t something you shouldn’t be proud of. It’s true that business wouldn’t exist if you hadn’t put your mind to it. But that wasn’t the only factor. Your employees put in their time, their effort. Your customers support you not only with money but word of mouth and brand loyalty. And yes, you rely on a lot of things the government, other business, and the society as a whole have put in place for you to succeed.

The phrase should be: “You didn’t build that alone.”

I don’t think it’s wrong to want to keep some of the fruits of your labor. But I also feel that we owe a debt to those who helped us, both directly and indirectly. And as Christians we should know that in the end everything is God’s and that we are called to be stewards, not owners of wealth.

I’m pulling for ya, we’re all in this together.

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