feb 2015 / greg goebel / public domain / follow "gvgoebel" on twitter

* This weblog provides an "online notebook" to provide comments on current events, interesting items I run across, and the occasional musing. It promotes no particular ideology. Remarks may be left on the site comment board; all sensible feedback is welcome.

banner of the month



* ANOTHER MONTH: As reported by a note from AAAS SCIENCE Online, a survey conducted by Oklahoma State University demonstrated that 80% of Americans support the mandatory labeling of food containing DNA. We may be hearing about this again, come the next election; the urge to put this proposition to a referendum may be difficult to restrain. I'd certainly think of it.

A less interesting study showed that people with extremist mindsets are more likely to believe conspiracy theories. Gosh, who knew? That's along the lines of my observation that, while it's not a good bet that a conspiracy geek is an antisemite, it is a good bet that an antisemite is a conspiracy geek -- oh, excuse me, I mean "anti-Zionist". One of the peculiarities of such folk is that they insist on the semantic distinction, despite the fact that nobody else either can, or wants to, comprehend the difference.

In more cheerful news of the weird, Bostonians got some comedy relief from the intense blizzard that swept New England by somebody who put on an Abominable Snowman outfit and strolled the streets. He had troubles hailing a cab, but he was able to get a Twitter account and reassure the world:

   @BostonYeti2015:  Loves the snow, but wants everyone to be safe 

There were reports (unconfirmed) of school closings due to widespread terror caused by the Yeti. We probably haven't see the last of the Yeti, either; he is likely to show up elsewhere in cities under assault by blizzards in the years to come.

* Regarding my current lack of pocket money: I was reading an article in THE ECONOMIST that touched on ebooks, with a mention that some authors are making good money self-publishing ebooks on Amazon.com. It didn't seem all that promising to me -- I suspected I'd have to jump through too many hoops, with no promise of enough return for the effort -- but I checked around on publishing Amazon Kindle ebooks, and found that they were in HTML format.

That caught my eye: I wondered if I could simply bundle up one of my website documents and sell it as an ebook. That sounded too easy to be true, but I was curious enough to set up an Amazon Kindle author account and give creating an ebook a shot. I found to, no surprise, it wasn't true. To make a long story short, Kindle ebooks follow a particular scheme related to MS Word (or equivalently, OpenOffice Writer) formatting, just saved as an HTML file. Trying to shoehorn one of my big website documents into the Kindle ebook format was clearly unworkable. It wasn't just a question of the overhead of reformatting; although one might write a long novel as a Kindle ebook, it's not very good for long technical works, the "window" into the text is just too small. I bailed and shut down my Kindle author account.

However, during the dark hours of the night, I woke up and realized that I might be able to alter some of my smaller documents, convert them to HTML, copy and paste them into Writer, and then make the appropriate formatting tweaks. The next morning, though I was concerned I'd get pulled in up to my shoulder figuring it out, I decided to give it a try. I wouldn't be able to forget about the matter unless I saw it through, either to success or a dead end. With a bit of embarrassment, I revived my Kindle author account.

The first thing to do was to revise my home-grown HTML formatter program to do the appropriate first-phase conversion -- which wasn't that much work, all I needed was some cheap-&-dirty tweaks. The next thing was to figure out how to perform the proper formattings in Writer, which was more problematic. I don't like word processors, I just want to write; please don't hassle me about formatting any more than I need to be, and word processors tend to be fussy to work with. However, though it was indeed troublesome to get Writer to do what I wanted, I persevered, sometimes having to google the world to figure out some function I needed, and made progress.

Although I had feared having to push through an endless thicket of obstacles, I was a bit surprised to find how quickly I ferreted out all I needed to know about Writer, and was flying straight. Indeed, I felt confident that I'd be able to figure out anything else I needed to know about Writer in the future. It's nasty, but not so nasty after I got my head wrapped around it.

Figuring out how to upload the ebook to my Kindle author account was relatively straightforward, more time-consuming than anything else. It took a number of cycles to get on an even keel, but not more than I could have expected. It turns out Amazon is not all that picky about formats, and I found I could devise my own tricks to make my ebooks more readable. I published my first ebook, A SHORT HISTORY OF MONEY, on 27 December. I wasn't expecting to get a sale before the end of the year, but I got one on 31 December, to a Japanese reader, for 166 yen -- a yen's about a penny, BTW.

By the end of January, I'd published eight more ebooks. It took a little time to set my expectations for sales, but I settled on a target of an average of one sale per title per month. At the end of the month, I'd sold ten, and given that I'd started from one title, that means I was doing more like two sales a month. It seems Amazon pays off once every six weeks, meaning I don't get paid once in every three, sometimes four, months. I figure I should pull in $25 USD in the first payoff, which is my baseline target, with a longer-term target of $50 USD. Any more would be gravy; it would be very nice to make some multiple of that.

I have over 40 more titles lined up, though I don't think I'll be able to crunch more than four a month out; I got eight out in January in an initial burst of enthusiasm, but that was eating into time on other work I have to get done, and I want to take the time to do a good job on the ebooks anyway. It might take me until the end of 2016 to get to the fifty titles knocked off; after that, I'll be writing them from scratch, and I won't get out more than two or so a year.

I had to laugh at an ebook on ebook publishing that proclaimed an author could make "A SIX FIGURE INCOME!" -- well, maybe six figures in a penny currency like yen. If I wasn't satisfied with the prospect of making $50 USD per payoff, I would have thought it more bother than it was worth. Like I said, I need the pocket money, and have no other realistic way of making it.

Another nice thing about publishing ebooks is that it makes me feel more like I have a real job, and not just an obsessive hobby. It certainly feels good to get some financial reward, even if petty, for my work. It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery -- wrongo! Payment is.

Amazon also has a scheme for self-publishing print books. I won't be able to consider that until I get to a saturation point on ebooks, and that won't be for several years. If the ebooks never sell more than a few each a month, I doubt I will be inclined to churn out print books, they wouldn't be worth the investment of time. Still, the idea has its attractions. I've never wanted to have to jump through the hoops of dealing with a publisher, but in that case I would be largely my own publisher, Amazon merely being the printer.

* One of the things that I have to do in February that limits my time to work on ebooks is get my taxes done -- I usually like having them complete by March 1. It shouldn't be too difficult. One thing I've already done is update my spreadsheet for Colorado state taxes; the Colorado state tax form is simple, and some years ago I made a spreadsheet version of it, tweaking it every year as per changes to the official form. There was only a single addition to my spreadsheet for the tax year 2014 form: a new entry for "Colorado marijuana business deduction". I won't be getting that deduction.

* Thanks to four readers for their donations to support the websites last month. It is much appreciated.