Friday, October 24, 2008

Scary Tales From Both Virtual And Real Worlds

Okay, I came across a story online that led me to another story. I'm going to share both as examples of things that scare the hell out of me.

The first story comes from Tokyo where a 43-year-old woman was arrested. She committed a virtual murder in an Internet game after her on-line husband in that virtual world divorced her.

The woman, a piano teacher whose marital status is unknown, lived in southern Miyazaki, 620 miles from the man to whom she was married in the interactive game Maple Story. The Associated Press quoted her as telling the police, "I was suddenly divorced, without a word of warning. That made me so angry."

Using her "ex-husband's" ID and password, the disgruntled woman logged onto the game in May and murdered his avatar, his digital persona. When the 33-year-old man discovered what she had done, he lodged a complaint with the police.

The woman has now been arrested--not for murder--but for hacking into his computer. She faces charges which, if she is convicted, could bring her five years in prison or a $5,000 fine.

That story referenced another story. This one did not occur online although it began there. In August, police arrested a woman who tried to abduct a man she'd met online.

The 33-year-old North Carolina postal worker, Kimberly Jernigan, was not happy when a 52-year-old man she'd met in the online game Second Life broke off their relationship a few months after meeting her in real life.

The Delaware man came home from work around 5:30 one evening and saw a figure in the shadows pointing a laser beam at him. He fled his apartment and called the police, telling them he suspected his ex-girlfriend who had tried to kidnap him two weeks before in Pennsylvania, where he worked.

The police entered the apartment to search and found Jernigan's dog in the bathtub where she had bound its mouth with duct tape to keep it from barking. She had entered the apartment through a bedroom window after cutting a screen and then fled, leaving a pair of handcuffs behind.

Using info the victim gave them, Delaware police broadcast her description and the Maryland state troopers picked up Jernigan an hour later. She struggled with the troopers who found a BB gun and Taser in her Kia Rio. Here's her mug shot.

The inappropriately grinning mug shot makes me suspect the man had good reason to break off the relationship.

Besides, it was probably doomed to failure. Her avatar in Second Life was a virtual woman. His was a lion.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Third Quarter Results on the Amazon Kindle

Amazon released its third quarter ending September 30 results on Wednesday and held its usual call with analysts. I was mostly interested in what they had to say about the Kindle. Here are some excerpts from the call--
According to Thomas J. Szkutak, Chief Financial Officer, “Kindle selection continues to grow. Since inception, we have more than doubled the number of books, magazines, newspapers, and blogs available to be delivered wirelessly in less than one minute. Kindle titles already account for more than 10% of unit sales for books that are available in both digital and print formats. We’ve ramped up manufacturing capacity over the past 10 months and Kindles are in stock and available for immediate shipment. Kindle sales since launch have significantly exceeded our expectations. We will not introduce the new version of the Kindle until next year at the earliest.”

Question from Merrill Lynch--“As books go more digital and you hopefully can capitalize on the Kindle, does that help Amazon's long-term profitability or hurt it? How do you look at that over a long-term basis?”
Answer from Jeffrey P. Bezos, Chairman and CEO (who jumped in for the first time to answer)--“Well, one thing that I think you could imagine happening over the long-term there is that the prices of books will be cheaper, so most of the books that we are offering on Kindle today are $9.99, even if they are $20 or $25 in print form. And so you can see that -- I think that probably the best way to answer your question is we would hope to sell many more units and make less money per unit but all in, have a very strong business.”

Question from Sanford C. Bernstein-- “. . . could you just give us an indication--when you make electronic sales of media, are they completely cannibalistic to your traditional media sales or are they additive? Thank you.”
Answer from Jeff Bezos--“So far what we have seen with the Kindle book units is that they are additive to physical book units. So when somebody buys a Kindle and the period after, you know sort of the post purchase period post buying a Kindle, they buy 1.6 times as many Kindle books as they bought physical books prior to buying a Kindle, and they continue to buy the same number of physical books. So that’s what we have seen so far and it’s a very -- obviously a very positive outcome. We hope that continues.”
The preceding comes from the Seeking Alpha transcript of the call, which permits the copying of up to 400 words of a transcript. You can read the entire transcript here at Seeking Alpha.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

So What Is XML?

Okay, we’ve defined chunking and talked about changing habits.

Mike Shatzkin of Idea Logical gave a speech at the Book Industry Study Group’s Annual Meeting last month in which he said--
All of us in this room started in a book publishing industry that was pretty single-minded. We developed content into books. When something was extracted from the book, the publisher almost never had to deal with the physical production of it. So we had one output that mattered, which was . . . the mechanical and then later the film and now the file which we prepared to go to the printer. The printer[’s] job was to deliver accurately what we specified. And that was that.
He went on to explain that, as the industry changes and as reading habits change (remember my post from yesterday) more demands are being placed on the publishing industry. However, with those demands come opportunities. Shatzkin again--
. . . two things characterize the new opportunities: they are relatively small on a per-title basis and they require a little bit of digital massage to take advantage of them. If the digital massage costs very much, the revenue gain could be wiped out. It is a StartwithXML workflow that is the key to being a cost-effective 21st century publisher.
Now it’s time to talk about XML. A caveat first. I am not a computer guru. I struggle with the terminology if not the concepts. I found a site here that explained XML in simple terminology--
. . . XML is used as a method of labelling pieces of information so that computer software knows what to do with the information. An XML document consists of your information, "marked up" with tags that define what kind of information it is. Because you can create your own tags that mean whatever you want, XML is considered "extensible". An XML document must follow certain rules to ensure that the computer software can understand it, so XML is a "language".
Most of us know HTML. HTML displays our data. XML carries data, rather than just displaying it. Where the tags in HTML are predefined like those that italicize or bold the information being displayed, XML has no predefined labels. The author of the document creates her own tags.

Here’s a very simple example of XML. I’ve had to replace the < and > arrows with brackets because Blogger wants to use the XML
[narrative]Don't forget to send me the name of that author[/narrative]
You can see how the XML tags identify what the parts of my note are.

Here’s another example. I might create an XML list of my professional contacts, including agents, editors, and other authors. One of the entries might read--
[StreetName]Main Street[/StreetName]

In other words, when you use XML, you are breaking down and defining each section of your document so that software can read your tags and process the data contained within them.

Shatzkin is encouraging authors and publishers to use XML for manuscripts. For instance, a very simple example would be that when I describe my grandmother’s pasta y fagioli recipe in a manuscript, I might enclose it in tags that identify it as a recipe.

To see more of Shatzkin’s September speech to the BISG, go here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Are Your Reading Habits Changing?

One of the issues that was discussed during the recent Frankfurt Book Fair was the way our reading habits are changing along with our daily lives.

What did your life look like ten years ago?

How much time are you spending on a computer today compared to ten years ago?

Ten years ago, I was already chained to email at work. But I was not using my computer at home anywhere near as much as I do today. Back then, my computer at home was a desktop. Today it is a laptop. I had dial-up service then. I have high-speed wireless today.

Ten years ago, I had a PDA (personal digital assistant), but I used it mostly as a portable telephone directory and to take notes or write myself a reminder. Back then, my cell phone was just a cell phone.

Ten years ago, I probably read a book a week--sometimes more--year-in, year-out. I would estimate that today my reading quota is half that, maybe even less.

Bookchain sales are down, although Internet sales and e-book sales are on the rise. My experience mirrors that trend. I now buy a higher percentage of my books online--both print and e-books.

I also buy more anthologies, novellas and books that allow me to read in discrete chunks. Right now there is a horror anthology sitting on the passenger seat of my car. I keep it there so that, when I have a few minutes, I can read a short story. Last night at 8 PM I stopped at Panera to have a bowl of soup and an iced green tea on my way home from work and read my third story in the book.

I’m saying all this prior to mentioning a service I first heard about on GalleyCat nearly a year ago here. offers both public domain and copyrighted works for free and for sale in small chunks by email or RSS feed.

When I first read about the service last December, I thought it was an interesting novelty. They have since delivered their 250,000th read to one of their 125,000 subscribers. And I’ve become one of those subscribers, receiving an email every night at midnight for reading during the following day. Right now, I’m reading The Brand You50 by Tom Peters.

This is exactly what Mike Shatzkin was talking about last week at the Frankfurt Book Fair when he referred to “chunking” or the trend of breaking up intellectual property into its component bits of content.

Take a look at this brief article on “How Users Read on the Web” here, and we’ll talk more tomorrow.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Do You Know What Chunking Means???

I’m back--rested and glad to be blogging again.

Regular readers of this blog know that one of my heroes is Mike Shatzkin, founder of the company Idea Logical. My last post about Mike was five months ago here when he spoke at the London Book Fair. His speech then is well worth reading (or re-reading).

On October 17, Mike spoke at the Frankfurt Book Fair at a session titled Start With XML.

As an introduction, I’m going to post a comment Mike recently made on the StartWithXML website here--
Until very recently, we lived in a world where the book was the sun and everything else orbited around it. Now the CONTENT, the IP, is the sun, and the book is relegated to one of the satellite bodies (still often the biggest, but it is a lot different to be Jupiter than it is to be the sun!) When what is at the "core" is different, the processes to create it have to change.
According to Publishers Weekly (PW), Mike said something very similar during his Frankfurt talk. PW said--
For those who don't know, XML - standing for Extensible Markup Language - allows users to determine their own markup elements, its prime purpose being to allow systems to share structured data via the Internet . . .

Essentially, it means that publishers working in XML . . . can repurpose it for downloads to e-readers, mobile phones and devices as yet unknown to us. "Chunking" and "transforming" were words that Shatzkin used repeatedly, meaning that content - what publishers currently like to think of as a book - can be customized to suit buyers' individual needs and delivered in a variety of ways . . .

Back on the StartWithXML website here last Thursday, Laura Dawson said this--
Chunking, at least as we're talking about it, means carving up your content into chunks and distributing those discrete pieces of it. Travel content (distributed over GPS, the web, and in book form) and recipes (distributed via Epicurious and as well as in book form) are the most obvious examples of this. Textbook publishing does this as well - certain assets can be used in the main text, in supplementary workbooks and lab manuals, as individual activities to be downloaded to an iPod, or embedded in e-books.
The reason I mentioned Mike's speech from May is because, in that talk, he discussed vertical integration. Chunking lends itself beautifully to a vertical model. Laura gave this example here on September 17--
I think about one of my favorite authors, Wayne Dyer. He writes his books. From those books are generated calendars, one-a-day cards, daily journals, audiobooks, supplementary materials (such as meditations). If Hay House felt like it, they could send an email containing an inspirational quote to my inbox every morning. Dyer writes once. But Hay House [his publisher] publishes his stuff many times over, in many different formats.
We'll talk more about this tomorrow.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Saturday Night Live Does It Again

Sarah Palin--yes, the real one--guested on Saturday Night Live last night. She played in the opening sketch and again in the news sketch at the mid-point of the show.

Go here to see the video of the opening skit.

See you tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Trend Versus Fad

I'm not ready to come back to blogging quite yet, but I've been thinking about this subject quite a bit lately and decided to post about it.

Now that I've got a little distance from the process of writing Bad Boy, my second novel for NAL (a division of Penguin), I want to talk about changing markets. While my genre is erotic romance, I believe the concept is universal to genre fiction.

It's been three years since I wrote Bad Girl and more than a year since its publication. I began writing Bad Boy during the holidays last year--about two and a half years after writing the first in the series.

In that period of time it seemed to me that erotic romance had experienced a significant shift. When I first began writing erotic romance--and when I was one of the founders of Passionate Ink, the erotic romance chapter for RWA--there was a distinct difference between erotica and erotic romance.

The distance between the two has shrunk considerably in the thirty months since. What I would have once considered erotica is now generally accepted in erotic romance.

In other words, the erotic romance market has become much more graphic and much more hard-edged. The result is that the novel I would have written a year ago was not the novel which will be published next spring.

We always hear the advice given to writers to read widely in their genre and to know their market.

The thing is, markets are not static creatures. They evolve and change. This means that writers must pay attention to that evolution.

We also hear not to chase markets by trying to write something that is popular at this moment. I'm beginning to thank this is dangerous advice because it may result in a writer confusing a sea change with a popular trend.

I'd be interested to hear from other writers . . . and readers.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Taking a Break

On October 6, I accepted a new assignment at work. I will be the process owner for my department's billing--an important issue in an unstable economy.

For this reason, I am going to have to take a two-week break from blogging while I get up to speed. I may be able to come back sooner, but for now I'm going to say that I will be off-line until October 20.

See you then.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Tina Fey Is Taking Up Residence on SNL

Once again, as a public service to my friends overseas, here's a link to last night's SNL with Tina Fey as Governor Sarah Palin and Queen Latifah as Gwen Ifill, the moderator of Thursday night's vice presidental debate.


I'll be back later today.

P.S. Thanks to Laura and Stephen who provided a link for overseas viewers here.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Daily Coyote Revisited

I'm celebrating! I just got an email from agent Jonathan Lyons, telling me I came in third in his triva contest on Wednesday (tied for second, but three hours later than the other contestant--who's being competitive? ).

So today, I'm taking a break from posting and referring you to one of my absolute favorite blogs.

I first posted about The Daily Coyote on last December 1st. Shreve Stockton, a woman who fell in love with Wyoming during a cross-country trip, now lives there with a tomcat named Eli, a border collie cross puppy named Chloe and the coyote she adopted last year and named Charlie.

It's been a tough year. No vet would innoculate Charlie, and he almost died from Parvo.

The early photos of Charlie, who was ten days old when she adopted him, frequently make me go "awww."

Here is the "awww" one for this week. Be sure to scroll down to the second photo.

Here is one of my favorites from when Charlie was a baby. And another.

Here's one with Charlie stalking Eli the cat.

Here's one that reminds you Charlie is a coyote, not a dog.

Here's one that reminds you of the ever-changing beauty of this great land.

And, finally, one that gives you hope for peace among all the races here.

Shreve has a book coming out in early December on her first year with Charlie.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Update 3 on The Jewel of Medina

From today's Shelf Awareness:
[U.S. publisher] Beaufort Books has moved up the publication date for Sherry Jones's The Jewel of Medina . . . a fictional account of the love story between Mohammad and his favorite wife, A'isha, to next Monday, October 6.

Top Ten Best Paid Authors

The October 1st edition of Forbes magazine has an article titled "The World's Best Paid Authors."

For the period from June 1, 2007 to June 1, 2008, here's the list of the top ten best paid authors:

1. J.K. Rowling -- $300 million
2. James Patterson -- $50 million
3. Stephen King -- $45 million
4. Tom Clancy -- $35 million
5. Danielle Steel -- $30 million
6. John Grisham -- $25 million
6. Dean Koontz -- $25 million
8. Ken Follett -- $20 million
9. Janet Evanovich -- $17 million
10. Nicholas Sparks -- $16 million

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Dead Tired But Happy

Okay, here's the deal. Jonathan Lyons just exposed my most intractable trait.

I am unbelievably competitive.

How competitive you ask? I only play one or two online games/puzzles. However, once the timer goes past my best score, I stop the game. There's no point in continuing, you see. I've already lost.

Why am I revealing this personal failing at this particular moment?

At 11:00 PM last night, I was winding down for the day. I'd already taken out my contacts and was about fifteen minutes from bed. I checked my favorite blogs . . . among these being Jonathan Lyons of Lyons Literary.

And . . . there . . . the man had a trivia quiz.

How many questions would you expect? Ten? Twenty? Twenty-five?

Nooooo. Jonathan and his wife--sadistic little souls that they are--came up with THIRTY-FIVE trivia questions.

Did I go to bed? Nooooo. I stayed up until 2:00 AM, playing the quiz.

It wouldn't have been so bad if they were all straight-forward trivia. But there was question #24. I'll let you all read it for yourselves.

It is now 2:00 AM, and I am about to CRAWL into bed after spending more than an hour on question #24. Grrrr.

No other post for today, kiddies.

Go here to play Jonathan's twisted little teaser.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The U.S. House Passes A Libel Tourism Law

The Association of American Publishers issued a press release on Monday:
The Association of American Publishers cheered the passage of legislation by the U.S. House of Representatives late Saturday that would make it harder for “libel tourists” to threaten American authors and publishers with foreign libel suits aimed at undermining their First Amendment rights.

The bill, H.R. 6146, . . . would prohibit U.S. courts from recognizing a foreign defamation judgment “based upon a publication concerning a public figure or a matter of public concern” unless the court determines that the foreign judgment satisfies the free speech and free press protections guaranteed by the First Amendment. H.R. 6146 is substantially similar to the Libel Terrorism Protection Act adopted earlier this year by New York State. The Senate has yet to take action on libel tourism legislation . . .

AAP President and CEO Pat Schroeder expressed thanks on behalf of the publishing industry to members of Congress for focusing attention on the serious problem of libel tourism . . . “Libel tourism is an insidious threat. It seeks to intimidate and silence American authors and deprive us of vital information on issues of public concern. I hope we can build on H.R. 6146 with hearings in the new Congress that will shine a light into this dark corner,” . . .