Monday, April 29, 2019

Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I loved this when I was little.  I loved it again last week.

It's funny, because it really doesn't have much of a traditional plot. The stakes feel quite low (though I suppose the true stakes are survival). The characters are all unrealistically perfect and good and there's not much character arc.

But...I couldn't stop reading.  It only took me a day and a half to finish (when that length of book would usually take me a week or two).

I kept telling people all about it and all the things I learned.

I suppose the amazing draw of this book is a combination of the simple but warm and beautiful writing and the fascinating details on how frontier Americans knew how to make everything and do everything.  I have no idea how to make cheese or smoke meat or weave straw hats. They had such clever solutions to problems we solve by turning on a switch or going to a store or searching the internet.  It's absolutely fascinating.

Now I want to read the others again.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Cactus Flowers in April

In the middle of April this year I went camping and hiking near Roosevelt Lake, Arizona. 

The desert was dotted with magenta, courtesy of Engelmann's Hedgehog Cactus.  So beautiful.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Bear Safety In Alaska

If you're visiting Alaska, you probably want to see a bear.  However, you may be worried about meeting that bear face to face at close range.  

It's a valid concern.  Bears can be dangerous.  But mostly bears are just doing their own thing and do not want to hurt you.   

In my book, Hiking Alaska from Cruise Ports, I detail the advice I've compiled from various Alaska agencies (which might be slightly different from advice in other locations, since Alaskan bears are less habituated to people).

Here are some of the highlights:

1)  Hike noisily.  Talk, sing, or clap your hands, especially in brushy areas and around blind curves.

2)  Don't carry smelly food--or anything else particularly smelly.

3)  If you see a bear, keep your distance, no matter how much you want that perfect photo.  And never put yourself between a mama and her cub.

4)  If you meet a bear up close, stay calm and DO NOT RUN.  Stand tall and talk in a calm voice, loud and low.  You might want to wave your arms gently or otherwise hold them so that you look as big as possible.  If you have children with you, pick them up.

5)  Back slowly away from the bear.  If it follows, stop.

6)  If it charges, stand your ground and talk more loudly.  Do not scream or make high-pitched noises.  It'll probably veer off at the last second.

7)  If a brown bear / grizzly attacks, curl in a fetal position with your hands laced behind your neck and play dead until it goes away.

8)  If a black bear attacks, (or if a grizzly starts mauling you) fight back as hard as you can until it decides you're not worth it.

9)  If you carry bear spray, learn how to use it before you ever set foot on the trail.

For more, read my book:  Hiking Alaska from Cruise Ports

-Great ideas for hikes, walks, and strolls in Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Haines, Icy Strait Point, Sitka, Homer, Kodiak, Whittier, Seward, and Anchorage. 
-Practical information on the trails, including distance, difficulty, elevation gain, and how to get to the trailheads.
-Trail stories
-A few longer routes for those traveling independently
-Tips on hiking safety, offline maps, etc. 

Friday, April 5, 2019

Kindle Publishing: File Size vs Royalty Rate

Time for a helpful hint of the day.  If you publish e-books independently on Amazon (called KDP--Kindle Direct Publishing), you know about the different royalty rates...but you might not know a few important details.  If you're new to publishing, here's what you need to know

If you price your e-book between $2.99 and $9.99, you have two options:

70% royalties
35% royalties

70% sounds better, right?  Well, mostly yes.

But don't forget about delivery costs.  The 70% royalty rate has delivery costs.  The 35% royalty rate doesn't.

What are delivery costs?  Amazon charges you for delivering your ebook to the customer.  The delivery charge is based on the converted book's file size, and it's taken directly out of your 70% royalty.  For novels or narrative non-fiction without any fancy graphics or images, the delivery cost is not significant enough to stress about.  For anything with photos, illustrations, graphs, maps, etc., your file size will be a lot bigger and thus so will your delivery charges.  They can really start eating into your profits, especially if it's a big file and a low list price.


My novel, Far-Knowing, has a delivery cost of 6 cents.  So, if it's priced at $2.99, I get 70% of 2.99 minus 6 cents, which somehow comes to $2.05 of royalties per copy sold (Amazon does creative math, but luckily it's creative in our favor). 

My travel guide, Cruising Alaska on a Budget (with pictures and illustrations), has a delivery cost of 24 cents.  That's after I used Gimp (a photo editor) to individually scale my images down so they're still pretty good quality but don't take up so many kilobytes.  I also saved the manuscript as an html file then zipped up all the photo with the text instead of just uploading my Word document, as some people do.  This also reduces final file size.  If I hadn't done so much work to scale things down, delivery costs would have been well over 65 cents, which would have eaten up about a fifth of my profits when it's priced at $4.99, almost a third of my profits if it were priced at $2.99.

Delivery costs mean that you should pay attention to your file size and try to reduce where possible.

Even with the delivery costs, however, the 70% royalty rate is almost always better.  But not always.  So be aware.

If you price your book between 99 cents and $2.98, you must go with the 35% royalty rate.

Why price something so low?
-If it's short
-If you want to give your fans something at a bargain price
-If you want to use it to drive sales to other books

The other advantage here is that there is no delivery cost, so if you have something graphics-heavy, you don't have to worry so much about scaling things down.

However, here's what isn't immediately obvious in the KDP information: if your file is too big, you cannot price it at 99 cents...or even 1.99.

I planned to sell my new travel guide, Hiking Alaska from Cruise Ports, for less than $2.99 because it's a relatively short book.  Plus, I wanted to have more pictures of the beautiful hiking trails, so I didn't want to have to worry about delivery costs.  However, after preparing my file and uploading it, I discovered that KDP wouldn't let me price it at my promotional 99-cent book-launch price.  Why not? I asked.  It took a bit of Googling to find this page:  List Price Requirements.  Here's the most important bit:

99 cents pricing--your file must be under 3 MB
$1.99 pricing--your files must be under 10 MB 

Mine was 4.5 MB.  I had to do a lot more scaling down to get it to 99 cents.

So, I learned some new things with this new book, and I thought I'd share.

Want to see those pictures I had to scale down?