Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Indie Ebooks: The Future of Publishing?

There’s been a lot in the news lately about how self-published (indie) ebooks are changing the publishing world. I have to admit that, like most writers, I used to look down on self-publishing, but after doing a lot of research on the subject I’ve changed my mind, mostly because of the great opportunities presented by ebooks.

Although publishing an indie print book can be a dicey financial adventure—there’s a good chance you won’t make back your investment, which can easily run into the thousands of dollars—publishing an indie ebook is much cheaper. In fact, if you don’t hire a cover artist (a good one can cost $200-300) or someone to format your book ($150-250 for average-length fiction), it costs next to nothing.

(Note: From what I’ve read, it’s best to hire a cover artist. Covers may be even more important with ebooks since you’re trying to persuade the buyer to purchase a product she can’t touch or see. If you have a good eye for design, though, you can try your hand at making your own covers, and you can even buy software that helps you do just that. You’re also probably better off hiring a formatter, at least for your first ebook, as well as an editor or copy editor.)

There’s another major difference between indie print books and ebooks. With print books, you haven’t got the widespread, easy distribution of ebooks (just try to get a bookstore to carry an indie print book). When you upload your ebook to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords, you have instant distribution—and no worries about paying for bookstores to return your unsold books.

There are four benefits to publishing your own ebook that are particularly appealing:

  • You can bypass the traditional gatekeepers. I’ve never liked the idea of jumping through hoops, especially when those hoops seem arbitrary and consist mostly of waiting . . . then waiting some more.
  • Author royalties are substantially larger with ebooks than with traditionally published books.
  • Sales of ebook readers, such as the Kindle, Nook, and Sony Reader, are skyrocketing as the price for the devices decreases and the number of ebooks sold increases. Ebooks are no longer a tiny part of the market.
  • You get to put your work out there. Don’t we write to be read?

If you’re interested in indie ebooks, the first place you should go is author J.A. Konrath’s blog. It’s a goldmine of ebook information. Check out Konrath’s links and his post archives.
Also check out's Kindle Direct Publishing, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble's PubIt, where you can both buy and create ebooks.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Walk the Line

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how Christians can be in the world but not of it. How do we become all things to all people (1 Cor. 9:22) while remaining rock solid in the faith?

We’re told we are the salt and light of the world (Mat. 5:13-14), and at the same time we’re told we shouldn’t be conformed to the pattern of this world (Romans 12:2) and we must sometimes shake the dust from our feet (Luke 9:5). It’s a tough balancing act, walking the line between “hard Christianity” and “cool Christianity.”

Some Christians, the hard ones, forget to be salt and light. They’re so intent on making converts and “preaching the Word” that they drive people from Christ. They like being called “hateful” because it’s proof they’re preaching the real Word of God—even if people run screaming from them.

But while hard Christians can do damage, they’re easy to spot. They don’t blend with the scenery.

Cool Christians, on the other hand—cool as in hip— blend with ease. They feel at home in the world. They like being called “reasonable” because they’re living in the twenty-first century, for crying out loud. Cool Christians are “refreshing.” They’re called “loving” by people whose definition of love leans toward lollipop acceptance and away from the image of an enraged messiah overturning tables outside a temple.

Cool Christianity is popular because while it appears to be forward looking—and who doesn’t like to be called forward looking?—it’s simply the path of least resistance. It’s the mind falling into the comfortable rut dug by the prevailing culture.

Which takes us back to the balancing act. It’s hard to be in the world but not of it. Although we shouldn’t speak the truth without love (hard), neither should we play it safe (cool). Christians should be dangerous—without becoming hard. They should pose a threat to secular culture, not embrace it.

It’s hard to walk that line.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Happiness and the New Pagan Chaplain

Norse pagans, Sweden 2008
“If being a pagan makes me a better person and makes me happy, that's all that matters.” —Mary Hudson, the first pagan chaplain at Syracuse University

“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that.” —C.S. Lewis

In doing research for my novels, I sometimes visit pagan message boards (a task that’s both fascinating and sad), and I’ve noticed over the years a popular theme on those boards: I became a pagan because I wanted to be happy.

Not “I found happiness in paganism,” but “I searched for happiness and found it in paganism.” And there’s a difference. The search for happiness first and foremost will lead you astray every time. In most areas of life, certainly in matters of religion, the search for truth has to come first. You may find happiness—or better yet, real joy—at the end of your search for the truth, but if you search for happiness first, you’re likely to find it in the spiritual equivalent of a bottle of port.

And that leads me to the breathtakingly silly comment by the new pagan chaplain (a self-described “third-degree priestess”) at Syracuse University. “If it makes me better and makes me happy” is the sort of thing you hear from people who haven’t given truth much thought at all. It’s pop psychology. But it sounds good, doesn’t it? How could one object to someone being better or happy?

The first part of the chaplain’s statement depends very much on her definition of “better,” and I’m not that confident of her ability to draw sound conclusions. Her “better,” as I discovered through reading more about her, is a somewhat hazy concept that excludes outside judgment. Even the “deities” don’t judge her, she says. It’s a do-it-yourself kind of thing, putting a gold star sticker on your own forehead.

So how does Hudson define “better”? Being so self-contained, how does she even know what better is? The less-than-better become better by striving toward a something or someone separate from, and better than, themselves. But to do this, they must recognize that they are less than better, an impossibility unless they take notice of outside judgment. The less-than-better who refuse outside judgment have no idea what to aim for—they can’t. They have no compass point.

The second part of Hudson’s statement is nonsense. All sorts of things make people happy. Vapid things make vapid people happy. Evil things make evil people happy. The fact that something makes you happy is not, in and of itself, proof that you’ve found something good—or true. Happiness is a byproduct, not a goal.

But this is modern paganism, and part of why paganism today embraces so many different, often conflicting practices and philosophies. Because it’s not the truth of one or the other belief that matters, or if one actually believes in Celtic or Norse or Greek goddesses, or whether Cerridwen or Artemis could actually coexist, but the happiness it all brings.