Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Read an Ebook Week Specials for March 4-10

Via Smashwords, feel free to use the coupon codes below.  At Harpers's Ferry and Malediction will be offered for free, while The Blackwood Trilogy is 1/2 off.

At Harper's Ferry List: $0.99 RE100     

Malediction List $0.99 RE100

The Blackwood Trilogy List: $1.99 REW50

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Review: Destroyer - Kaputt

Released on January 25, 2011, Kaputt is Destroyer's ninth album.  The band is a brainchild of Daniel Bejar of the more famed The New Pornographers.  Previous Destroyer albums covered the gamut of low-fi pop to quirky honky-tonk, so this new direction of Roxy Music-influenced lust is a strange, but lovely move.  Low-key vocals, female backing vox, saxophone, and synth all rumble in the background to create a simplistic, but beautiful noise.  This is one of those 'slow burn' albums that I keep returning to, even though I can't put into words exactly why.  Highly recommended.

Available as a CD (people still buy those?), MP3 download, or a double-LP.  The LP, to my amazement, actually features more music than the other releases.  A MP3download coupon also comes with the vinyl release.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Review: Focusrite Saffire 6 USB Audio Interface

Since I've started messing around with synthesizers, I decided I needed a method to record my madness.  The world of DAW and audio interfaces is quite new to me.   It should be noted that I'm pretty old-school, having in the past messed around with 4-track tape units - both cassette and reel-to-reel, along with big analog mixing boards.  It took some reading and decisions on how I wanted to record before I pulled the trigger on this particular product.

The Focusrite Saffire 6 USB has two inputs and four outputs.  Featuring only two microphone preamplifiers that can be switched for line-level use, this is really a limited number of inputs, making it only suitable for stereo mixdown of a live band, recording only two musicians, or multi-tracking for a solo home studio.

Supplied software is Ableton Live Lite 8 and Novation's Bass Station synthesizer.  I won't go into the software aspects here, but will instead concentrate on the sound quality and hardware functions of the Saffire 6.

Unit quality is pretty high - not ultra high-end - but still, a pleasant surprise at this price level.  Being made out of metal, the case is rather rugged and has already survived one fall when my foot accidentally snagged a cable lying on the floor.  Plastic knobs aren't uber high quality, reminding me of mid-level gear, but certainly good at this price range. Front controls and jacks are fairly self-explanatory - two inputs that can accept XLR or 1/4" jacks.  These have level controls, along with overload indicators and line/microphone gain selection - useful for guitar direct-in and microphones versus higher outputs like keyboards.  There is also a 48V phantom power switch needed for some microphones.  Also included is a headphone jack and volume control, balance, and monitor level.

The back is home to the stereo RCA outputs and the four stereo/mono 1/4" jacks.  This is also where the USB connection is.  Note, there is no outboard power supply required since the Saffire 6 is powered through the USB.  MIDI in/out is also there for those who need it.

Attempting to record my first sample track and I immediately realized that two inputs is a limitation that must be considered when buying an audio interface.  In this case, I wanted to record my mono drum machine along with a stereo sequencer track from my synthesizer.  Since I only had two tracks available, I was forced to record the synth in stereo, and then had to add the drum track later.  This took some careful recording to accomplish with good results.  Adding another lead synth layer was easy enough, and latency was minimal enough with my Quad-Core processor PC that I could play in real time with the recorded event being synced correctly.

Sound quality is very good - I've heard higher-priced mixers and soundboards with worse inputs.  The end results were very clean, but still not antiseptic or cold.  A nice, natural sound that reflected the audio that was coming out of my keyboard amplifier.  Pretty much what I recorded was how it sounded during the creation.  Not bad at all.

Friday, February 17, 2012

First Try on the Akai MINIAK - includes MP3 download

I've been spending my limited free time playing around with an Akai MINAK, Alesis HR-16 drum machine, and recording them through a Focusrite Saffire 6 USB.  My first "song" - more like noodling around - is available as an MP3.  Forever Goodbye

The MINIAK - especially for the price, is very flexible and provides tons of presets for the rhythm, sequencer and multi modes.  The negative is the lack of easy editing which is thankfully remedied by the aftermarket Hypersynth editor.

The Alesis HR-16 is a vintage piece from the 80s.  Not an uber-wunderkind compared to the gear of today, but very old-school beats are available.  For this track, I just used a simple preset.

The Saffire USB and associated Ableton Live Lite sofware took some monkeying around to get working.  I still have plenty to learn in this department, since I ended up doing the final mastering using Audacity!

Anyways - some more in-depth reviews coming soon.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Next Book Update: I soldier on

I've finally finished the first pass of my next novel.  As usual, this thriller came in a little shorter than I would have liked, but such is the nature of my terse writing style.  Now it's time to start editing and expanding the document until I am satisfied.  And then it's off to one of my fellow authors for a sanity check and ideas for improvement.  After that round of work, I'll send it off to be edited and hammered into shape.  As usual, I'll publish through Smashwords and Amazon.  But perhaps I'll try out KDP Select, and see if I get any improvements in sales over the normal route.  It's worth a shot.

After this, I'm taking the summer off.  I have several other pursuits in mind - notably some synthesizer music and a car project.  I've also been toying with the idea of quitting my job of ten years - with the idea of going solo: part-time consulting, more time for writing, and following my dreams.  Perhaps it's a mid-life crisis, but I'm sick of the rat race.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Review of Smashwords

Since I'm coming up to my one year anniversary of publishing Of Ghosts and Gunpowder with Smashwords, I thought I would offer a little review of the process and end results.

The Site:
The Smashwords site certainly won't win any awards.  It has a real "Internet in the Year 2000" feel.  For the more prudish among us, there is also a high amount of Erotica here.  There is button to filter this out, but be warned - on the new books listing, your work could be right next to "Spank Me, Daddy" or some other work.

But really, Smashwords should be used as a way to easily distribute your books, not a main source of sales.  I have gotten some sales through the site, but nothing like Amazon or one of the larger vendors.

Preparing a book for submission:
After you have written and edited your book, it's time to prepare it for Smashword's "Meatgrinder" software.  This process is used to take your word document and translate it for multiple formats - .mobi .pdf .epub .lrf and even plain ol' .txt.  The end result seems to work just fine with simple word-only documents, but I can't imagine what a heavily illustrated book would look like.  Also note, the Meatgrider seems to work best when your document has been edited for submission using Microsoft's Word product.  I use a lot of OpenOffice, which forces me to switch between the two.  The Smashwords formatting guide can be found HERE.  Download it in a .RTF format it, print it and have at it.

My first stab at this was frustrating - and I work with computers on daily basis - but after a few tries, everything fell into place.  I can now prep a book in just a few minutes.  The most difficult part is removing the tabs for paragraph indentation.  It may throw off your document, which will require a manual search to make sure everything properly lines up.

Premium Distribution:
After submitting your book, it goes into the Meatgrinder queue.  When I first started using Smashwords, the wait time could be several days.  Now it is much faster - only taking a few minutes to process.  Once Meatgrinder is done, your book is immediately for sale on the Smashwords Site.  However, your book must meet certain criteria to be distributed to the other vendors - Apple, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, and Diesel (Note: Amazon is not supported at this time).  This review process can take a couple days or perhaps up to a two weeks, depending on their workload.

At this time, it's good to check your channel distribution (what vendors you want to distribute to), pricing, and book description.  You would be surprised how many new books on Smashwords have spelling errors or poorly constructed sentences in the short and long description.  This will certainly turn away any potential buyers.  The Short description is a limited blurb which some sites use.  The Long description is much lengthier - good for reviews, samples, etc.

Smashwords "ships" books to the other vendors on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, so it will take some time before your book shows up on other sites.

The Smashwords Dashboard screen lets you see all the sales, but just for the Smashwords site.  Of note is the Books Sold and Downloads Column.  Sold, is of course, the number of units paid for.  The Downloads is the total sold + the free samples. 

Clicking on Stats, under the Operations Tab, will show the number of hits that your book's page has had.  This is useful for fine-tuning your keywords and book description.  A new book will always show an initial jump in interest, but eventually fade once the entry falls off of the main Smashwords page.

To see your Sales with other vendors, it's time to visit the Sales & Payment Report tab.  Here you can select a year, generate a quarterly spreadsheet, and see your current account balance.  Selecting a year will display your total sales to the different vendors, even including Amazon - which isn't currently supported through Smashwords.

Some negatives: Though Smashwords displays sample downloads from their site, no such information is available from the other channels.  This would be useful to know, but is not supported.  Sales reporting time is also not instantaneous - Barnes & Noble and Sony are almost weekly, while the other vendors are reported monthly.  This can lead to some frustration on the part of the user - who doesn't want to have quicker feedback?  This is one area that consistently bothers me since Apple is usually a large source of sales.  A weekly update would be much better, but I imagine Smashwords is limited by the information that Apple gives them.

Smashwords has a coupon generator.  This is a nice feature which allows the writer to keep his current price, but give a discount on a book.  This is useful for new work and marketing.  However, the coupon can only be used on the Smashwords site.

They also give away free ISBN numbers.  Some eBook sellers - notable Apple - require these.  Once your book has been submitted, go ahead and get one assigned to your work.  Note: These ISBNs are used for the Smashword edition - which is published across your selected vendors.  It is not a generic one for Amazon usage.

You can also create an Author Profile on the "My Smashwords" profile.  Here is a chance to write something pithy.

Yes, Smashwords has its flaws - notably the slow sales reporting time, the old-fashioned website, the lack of an Amazon channel, and the nefarious demands of the Meatgrinder submission process.  However, it is a one-stop location for submitting your work to several vendors, all in one fell swoop.  My publishing method is to use Smashwords in conjunction with Amazon's KDP service.  The majority of my sales are through the latter, with Smashwords and the associated vendors picking up the slack.

For all my complaints, I'm just happy to have an easy way to publish my works - it certainly is less frustrating than waiting months for a rejection letter, or an emai/phone call from an agent, who may or may not want to see your book published.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Review: Neon Indian - Era Extraña

A very nice synth-based pop record.  Lots of flashes of 80s brilliance here with some analog-type noodling to keep things interesting.  Though rooted in the past, Neon Indian also stretches the boundaries of this type of music - this doesn't sound dated or tired, which is a problem when dealing in this genre.  The rhythms are particularly engaging, with a fresh, bouncy step. Very recommended.

Available on LP, CD, and MP3. The LP comes with a download coupon which gets you uncompressed WAV files.

Over 3000 copies of Murder At Zero Hour have been given away

Not bad.  Of course this isn't anything like a major seller yet, but it's crawling up the ranks of free Ebooks on Amazon - rating a #4 or #5 of Historical Mysteries.  Not bad for an unknown author.  My other book sales seemed to have increased because of this free giveaway, but only time will tell if this has been a game changer.

Murder At Zero Hour is available at: