Mon
Feb 16 2009 5:40pm

Book View Cafe: New Adventures in Online Publishing

I am frequently possessed by the irrational fear that technology has made our lives worse and not better. Yes, Twitter and Facebook are bringing us ever closer to the inevitable robot uprising. (Repent! The end is nigh!) And yet, occasionally something occurs to remind me that we can use our powers for good. Online publishing is one of those things (which is why I blog for this site, after all). More good reads to more people more easily—this is what our ancestors worked so hard for us to achieve, kids.

The folks at BookViewCafe.com are relatively new among the clever individuals using the Interwebs for (gasp) cultural enrichment, by offering free literature in all shapes and sizes. The website, which launched in November, has sizeable sections for science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction. BVC’s 20-odd authors offer serialized novels, short stories and even poetry, by gum. The site includes heavyweights like Ursula Le Guin and Vonda McIntyre, and they’re exclusive: right now they’re not accepting new members, but adding applicants to a waitlist. Think of it as an online collective/bookstore made up of professional, published authors, most of whom write SF/F. It’s a place where established authors hope to build a Web presence, promote their printed works, and connect directly with readers.

I caught up with some of these word peddlers on Sunday at WritersChatroom.com, where they discussed their work, tips for new writers, and the future of the printed word. In attendance were: Maya Bohnjoff, Brenda Clough, Laura Anne Gilman, Sue Lange, Nancy Jane Moore, Pati Nagle and Sarah Zettel.

BVC is not quite like other e-book Web sites. As Moore writes, “We’re different because we’re writers controlling the publishing process. Other e-book sites are either publishers of e-books, or e-book bookstores.” Clough added, “As Marx advised, we own the means of our production.” This collective format enables the authors to define their own work and how they’re going to release it, and allows them to respond quickly and directly to reader feedback, members agreed. This is how, for example, BVC ended up with separate sections for science fiction and speculative fiction. Authors label their work as they see fit, rather than, as one participant put it, being typecast by their publishers.

The great thing about BVC is you can get hard-to-find works from authors you know. Much of what BVC offers are works that have been published but are out of print, although they also have never-before-seen content. Feast your eyes on a Le Guin screenplay, or Sue Lange’s serialized Textile Planet (complete with sound effects), or Anne Harris’ oddly kinky “Still Life with Boobs” (for adults only). Currently everything is free, but they do plan to offer additional paid content beginning in a few weeks, both by subscription and one-off purchases.

Sure, there’s room for improvement, and BVC knows it. Right now their format options are limited. You can get some BVC content for iPod and iPhone, but no PDFs or ePub for other handheld users. But patience is a virtue: As they expand the site for paid content, they plan to add more formats and more members.

Speaking of which, if you want to join the fun, e-mail Book View Cafe your C.V. When the site staffers are ready to add new members, the current members will vote. (Although one-on-one combat was proposed during the chat as an alternative.) BVC grew out of a women writers’ newsletter, so all the current members are women, but don’t let that stop you from applying if you’re low on estrogen. Sarah Zettel assured the room that, “We will be letting the boys play in the future.”

Better living through online publishing. There’s hope for the human race yet. Now if we could only get more e-books out of Tor.com …

13 comments
Todd McInroy
1. Todd McInroy
The site is a fail, because they appear to want you to read online only. Baen Books free library, for instance, is much better because you can download the books in many formats (I prefer Mobipocket which I read on a palm pilot).
scott hhhhhhhhh
2. wsp_scott
I just took a look at some of the novels on the site. A couple sound interesting, but it is unclear if the whole book is online or just some sample chapters. If I bother to read a book online, I am going to be pretty pissed if the whole thing is not there :)

I agree with Todd, pdf at a minimum is necessary so I can read on a plane or dr's office. With that said, I hope the site is sucessful.
Todd McInroy
3. Sarah Zettel
Hi. I'm Sarah Zettel, and I'm the project manager for Book View Cafe.

We are in the process of getting our downloads up and running. As we are at the moment an all-volunteer (as well as an all-author) organization we are having to do things as we can get to them. We hope to be able to offer PDFs of our "premium content" titles beginning in the next couple of weeks.

Thank you for your comments.
Todd McInroy
4. DivaDiane
I've been a subscriber to the BVC for a while now and enjoy it immensely. My solution to lack of off-line reading? Print. It's offered as an option.

The novels are serialized and some are as yet incomplete, but my understanding is that all content on the site will eventually be complete, not just samples.
Todd McInroy
5. Sue Lange
Sue Lange here. First, thanks Erika for joining us in the chat. It was a lot of fun.

Let me add to what Sarah said, we plan on giving the readers what they want. If they want something other than what we're currently offering, as far as formats and methods of serving our material up goes, we will do our best to get it for them.

I thank the readers here for commenting. It really helps to know what people are looking for.

Stay tuned!
Blue Tyson
6. BlueTyson
Minimum useful stuff, as I see it, is :-

Ability to read it online - e.g. basic html, so someone can read a couple of chapters of their book if they are at work, or whatever, if they want. Think you are doing this already.

PDF certainly good for those that like it, or are keen enough to want to print it, or parts of, where it is most useful.

One easily transformable standard format like html or rtf, compiled into a file, so people can download adapt it to their uses, whether plucker, or some other readeer, etc.

Mobipocket, eReader etco. good, too, of course.
Arachne Jericho
7. arachnejericho
HTML gets you a long way to just about every other ebook format.

Mobipocket is great because there are Mobipocket readers for the Palm and other mobile devices, and the Kindle reads Mobipocket books.

ePub is great because it gets you the Sony Reader, Adobe Digital Editions, the iPhone, and most new ebook reading software out there, free or not.

Mobipocket + ePub + PDF is extremely good coverage. There are other formats to consider as well (such as LRF for older Sony Readers and Microsoft's LIT format for Microsoft Reader) but those three, plus HTML, gets you pretty much everybody.

I really, really hate to bring this up, because it's a link to my own site, but I have my own workflow for creating ebooks, and have created some doozies in my time (such as the 100 chapters of Journey to the West and all of Shadow Unit - Season 1, the latter of which I did back when all I knew was Mobipocket. And yes, both are licensed by their creators/copyright holders/etc under Creative Commons licenses that allow remixing).

I do let people pick my brain when I like them. So far I like what I've seen of Book View Cafe.
Blue Tyson
8. BlueTyson
That Shadow Unit book was very useful, too, thanks. :)

Compiling the SF stories or fantasy stories etc. into one download like that would be useful.
Todd McInroy
9. Kim Richards
Hi! I'm Kim Richards with the Writer's Chatroom
www.writerschatroom.com We really enjoyed having these ladies as our guests.

I also have to disagree with Scott's assesment of the site. The Book View Cafe looks to be an evolving project. Some people don't have the money to spend on hand held readers so for them reading on line is fine. I'd also be willing to bet these books are available at mobipocket or fictionwise. Depends on whether their publisher participates with those or not.

Additionally, we've seen many authors post blurbs and excerpts, sometimes whole chapters on their websites and blogs. I've read novels in installments in newsletters or on blogs (Doug Clegg, Patrick Keenan Burke and David Wellington).
The Book View Cafe does something similar, yet on a grander scale and involving more than a single author.

I call it a definite success.
Arachne Jericho
10. arachnejericho
@BlueTyson #8 -

I've done that for ebooks for my private use-- gathering excerpts from Webscriptions or author sites into one big book to peruse for later purchases. Once I know what a site looks like, it's pretty easy for me to do (I heavily script my ebook workflow for individual cases). Sometimes I can go from visiting a new site to an ebook compilation of maybe 20 chapters or so, direct to Mobipocket, in about 15 minutes. (ePub takes longer because it's much stricter in its HTML, so you need to do a lot more error checking.)

Note: in case authors are worried, I don't distribute those sorts of ebooks. I know the differences between copyright and Creative Commons licenses that don't allow for remixing, versus Creative Commons/other licenses that do allow for remixing. The first two I would never distribute without express permission from the author; the third I also do not distribute without permission from the author when it can be gotten, actually, but that tends to be easier.

Book View Cafe looks to be easier to do this with than most sites are.

@Kim Richards #9 -

I'm fine if Book View Cafe decides to restrict (though "restrict" is an odd word in this case) themselves to online HTML viewing. If that's what they want to do, it's what they want to do, and nobody should demand anything different; although I think suggestions are still good, and they seem open to suggestion.

Here's my problem: I can't read for very long on a monitor because it hurts my eyes a lot. We're talking migraine-style pain after a few hours. That's primarily why I bought a Kindle---because I figured I knew enough scripting to put this kind of web content onto it.

I know folks who use Kindles, Sony Readers, iLiads, Plastic Logic betas or whatnot, or even iPhones (what hurts people's eyes depends) and Palms, for this reason.

So in that way, Book View Cafe is actually *less* accessible to me.

I'm pretty sure no one outside of my mobile reading kin are going to be sympathetic to that, Book View Cafe included, and really, they don't need to be. If the books are available to *buy* for these devices to boot, there is no reason for mobile readers to really complain about free samples not being available the same way (although the Kindle store offers samples for the Kindle, which helps a lot with buy-through, I should think; practically no one else does).

Anyways, I know I personally can still get Book View Cafe converted for my Kindle (though I'm principled enough not to distribute my results). But that's because I know how to do this kind of stuff. Not everybody has the time or the resources to do that.

But like I said before: Book View Cafe can do whatever it desires and whatever is right for it. No one should take umbrage at that nor complain. Suggest maybe, make the choice not to use, certainly; complain? No.
Todd McInroy
11. Sarah Zettel
Thanks for all the comments. This is really interesting, and very helpful as we look towards expanding and improving the Book View Cafe.

Since I've got you all here...

What would you think of the following format: You click on a book title, and this takes you to a place where you can read a sample (or the entire work) and on the side (the left rail, say for the sake of argument), you have a menu offering a selection of downloadable formats that can be accessed for free or for pay, plus an option to purchase an actual print book.
Arachne Jericho
12. arachnejericho
@Sarah Zettel #11 -

If the downloadable formats include the free sample in those formats, I think that would be helpful for folks. If not, then it would make me sad, for the reasons I stated above. I've been thinking about free samples more, and have realized that, yes, I pretty much ignore samples on the web because of the eye-hurting thing. I can't even read a text short story on Tor.com without being in pain.

When I think about other folks who use the Kindle, where short excerpts are available for free in the Kindle format (rather than as something you read on a computer screen), that feature alone has resulted in people expanding their reading horizons, whereas before they would stick with the few authors they knew. It's even more infectious than "Look Inside the Book" because the excerpts are longer---usually the size of a short story or a couple chapters.

So I make a very strong suggestion to please, please, please get the free samples into the various formats, in addition to the HTML. I think it'll help far, far more than not. In fact, I'm pretty much begging for this, because otherwise I know a fair amount of people will ignore Book View Cafe.

Anyways.

For the downloadable options in full, there's no reason you shouldn't list them on the side. For online stores with associate programs, you'll make money---both Amazon-the-normal-store and Amazon's Kindle store work this way.

For the print link, there's definitely no reason why you shouldn't list them on the side.

Both of these will prompt more purchases for these books, because the links are right there.

If you make things more convenient for the consumer, they will usually come in droves. This is the driving principle for successful online stores---not that I say that Book View Cafe should necessarily view itself as a store, but the perspective may help.
Blue Tyson
13. BlueTyson
Sounds reasonable to me.

Further to what AJ is saying on the samples - Pyr for one has had a 'compiled samples' of new stuff file in the past - you could go better than that, and do that in multiple formats, having them all in, all your excerpts etc. as well or instead of singly if 67 different single chapters is too painful to do.

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