Thursday, April 29, 2010

New Survey: Who is your favorite Spinward Fringe character?

As I close in on writing the last few chapters of the last draft of Spinward Fringe Broadcast 6: Fragments, more and more readers are starting the series and catching up. People who enjoy the First Light Chronicles Omnibus tend to finish the rest of the books in about a week.

I can read the average novel in an afternoon or two, and I realize the Broadcasts are relatively short, but I'm still surprised every time someone emails or leaves a comment telling me that they finished everything in a few days. Recently I got a laugh when someone told me they spent a weekend in "an eBook coma" while reading the First Light Chronicles Omnibus. A few readers have read all the books several times over, in fact.

I think this is the right time to ask a question that I hope people are interested in answering. Who is your favorite Spinward Fringe character?

I'll be writing a Spinward Fringe book centering around that character after I've finished with my concrete plans. By now everyone knows I'm going to be wrapping up most of the ongoing plot lines in the Rogue Element Trilogy (Broadcasts 5, 6 and 7), so this gives me a unique opportunity to give the readers a chance to choose.

So, it's time for you to decide which character I'll be putting at the center of one of the future books. I'm looking for a clear leader, so conspiracies and collusion are strictly encouraged.

Thank you for your emails, comments, votes and for reading. Real progress is being made towards finishing Broadcasts 6 and 7.


Now go click your favourite!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

No More Lulu

I'm not going to tell anyone else to stay away from this print on demand company, or POD for short, but I will tell you what my readers and I have experienced.

Bad customer service:
I had to speak to a half dozen "live chat" representatives and communicate with even more representatives via email before they agreed that they should de-list an old .pdf that shouldn't be on their system for a de-listed book. After that it took them 14 months to restrict access to it. Piracy sites were linking to it for the entire time.

After shipping a defective version of one of my books to a reader, that reader was told by one representative that there were no returns, which isn't actually true. After a few more emails, another rep gave them an address to ship the book to for credit. Three months after shipping the book back, the credit hasn't made an appearance even though a Lulu rep told them that they received the book and a credit would be issued. I sent them a copy from my shelf. [To be fair, Lulu now has a proper return policy in place, and I hear it works most of the time. That isn't enough to gain the trust of readers wronged previously, however.]

After speaking with many Live Chat customer service reps over the last two years I can tell you they have no power, and seem to copy and paste pre-written answers until you corner them into providing you with the email address for someone who can make decisions and answer more complicated questions. Those senior reps answering emails have little more power, but access to even longer copy and paste responses, some of which contain thrilling passages of legal-ese that really just say what everyone under them keeps repeating; "here are the various reasons why we can't accommodate your request or provide you with the information you need. Please read our FAQ if you face any further challenges with the system we provide." The questions they've had difficulty answering include; Distribution, shipping costs, tracking numbers, failure to meet contractual obligations with regards to distribution, privacy and shoddy workmanship.

The price they quote for shipping is prohibitive. When I ship a book somewhere it costs me a quarter to half as much as they charge, and it normally gets there sooner. It's not illegal to over charge for shipping and keep the difference, and I assume they're one of many companies that do exactly that.

Poorly Made Product
I've bound books by hand with more than one machine myself. Enough to say that properly binding a book isn't difficult with a little practice (2-5 tries usually gets you there with a fully manual machine), and recognizing that you've done a poor job is even easier.
A recent email from a reader telling me that they've received a book with a cover that "was slipped half way up the spine of the book so it only covered the top" was unwelcome to say the least. I'm glad the reader told me so I could ship her a signed copy from my shelf (my last copy of that book, actually). She won't be returning the book, since she already read it after tearing off the defective cover. Instead she'll be passing that copy around and keeping the signed copy I sent her as a keepsake.

Every time I see a copy of a book from Lulu beside one from Createspace/Amazon I can instantly tell the difference. The color on the Lulu version is always either faded or way over saturated, and the quality of the cover material is so very far below that of any other on demand service.

While flipping through a copy of Spinward Fringe: Triton, a page fell out. Their binding machine missed it. That's a first for any on demand producer for me.

Lulu is slow and incapable:
Only months ago did Lulu start offering real tools to convert books into eBooks. Their tools aren't very good, either, nor are they able to distribute a book to most of the online retailers in any meaningful way, though they may be changing their tune with the arrival of the iPad. They don't seem interested in partnering with retailers so the books that die slow deaths in obscurity can grow some legs and find a hope of gaining a readership. I'm glad I never trusted them to move copies, I was well aware that I was on my own for distribution.

Public Image:
In an article in the New York Times, Robert Young, the Chief Executive of, admitted, "We have easily published the largest collection of bad poetry in the history of mankind."
It's true, self publishing sites are host to plenty of bad work. What he managed to do with this comment is actually stop people from visiting his site looking for the cream that's risen to the top. As far as I can tell, neither Robert Young or Lulu have made any effort to improve their public image.
The real problem is how that image projects onto the authors who use their services. They haven't done the Indie scene any favors in that respect.

There's no reason why I should use their services with the negative points raised here. In fact, I highly recommend that anyone who may be looking to pick up my books in print go straight to If Lulu decides to improve things, it'll take a very long time for them to improve enough for me to begin offering my books on their site again. Even then, their reputation is so stained that it doesn't make sense for anyone to associate themselves with the company.

If you'd like a copy of any of my books in print, please use Amazon.


PS: I'm all out of books. Might I suggest something for your eBook reader?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Creators Who Break Free From Market Direction

In 1977 there was a three year old boy in a movie theater who stood, yes, stood on the edge of his seat. A parental hand held the back of his jeans so he wouldn't slip and crack his head open since trying to get him to sit down had proven impossible.

What had him so excited? An over budget, late on delivery film that many called a "silly children's movie." It was Star Wars, which would later be called Star Wars: A New Hope due to the addition of two blockbuster sequels.

In a time when dark, anti-hero, and disaster films like Taxi Driver, Silent Running, Dirty Harry: The Enforcer (3rd film in the series), and Voyage of the Damned ruled the box office, George Lucas came along with a futuristic adventure romp that had delivered a message of hope. Even if you don't credit Star Wars with the message that a farm boy can rise up and, with the help of a few good friends, defeat a suppressive power, you have to admit it was a spectacular bit of entertainment, whether you were three or thirty. It was also drastically different. Not in line at all with the direction of the market at the time.

This isn't an article about Star Wars, so I'll give you another example.

In the middle of the 80's a Seattle Indie record label called Sub Pop signed a few bands that were known for rejecting theatrics, accused of ignoring hygiene by some early critics, and combined punk, metal and a little progressive (also known as Prog-Rock or Psychedelic rock), then taking it to the stage with wild abandon. At the time it seemed like everyone in the world was interested in shiny, well engineered pop music from artists like Rick Astley, Madonna (whose music was heavily engineered and pop, despite the risque message she conveyed), a-ha, and the Pet Shop Boys. That's what was selling by the millions, and that's what the market leaders wanted more of.

The bands Sub Pop signed included acts like Soundgarden, Nirvana and their first offering included tracks from Sonic Youth and other bands that are well known today. Industry critics panned and often attacked the early releases. When Soundgarden's first single landed, no one knew what hit them. Radio stations picked it up, and MTV, not quite sure where to put the new sound, gave Grunge time on metal shows as well as regular video flow. It took a while for the Seattle Sound to get to Canada, and when it did, it was Nirvana who was most popular, led by an apparently unwashed but undeniably passionate Kurt Cobain. Pearl Jam, Sonic Youth followed close behind with hit singles. Some of them had long, unrecorded back catalogs that had developed while they'd been roughing it on the road for a decade or more, so within a few years the Seattle sound was everywhere and for those who wanted to look, there was a lot of content available.

The market's direction changed fast, and as we entered the 90's Grunge bands invaded the radio after being picked up by major labels who couldn't pass up a new sound. The market was shown the way by small independents with new ideas that listeners didn't know they wanted until they heard them.

Fast forward to today. I'm not going to give you tons of modern stories about current trend starters, or little indies who are breaking from market direction, because you only have to examine the publishing, gadget or environmental blogosphere to pick up many examples of where companies as well as individuals think they're blazing new trails. In some cases, they really are, but in most they're just offering variations on a theme or propelling themselves further down an existing path to profit faster than anyone else to stay ahead. The iPhone 3G, 3GS, iPod Touch and iPad are a perfect examples of this. While those devices are fantastic, they're just variations on a product that was a break through years ago.

What brought on this train of thought? Well, it's been brewing for quite some time. Ever since I received a letter from someone claiming to be an editor from a major publishing house (which they never named), after they picked up the First Light Chronicles: Limbo from Mobipocket. In no uncertain terms I was told that no one would be interested in "another space opera series" and I was "damaging any hopes for a real writing career by self publishing." Yes, I still have the Email. While there was every chance they might have been right, I couldn't help but think that if it was true that no publishing house would take the First Light Chronicles Trilogy, and a few people found it entertaining, wasn't it worth sharing? No one would enjoy the manuscripts if they were sitting on the top shelf in my closet.

The First Light Chronicles is probably not the best example to use, since the whole trilogy was in need of a polish when that editor read Limbo, and space opera isn't everyone's cup of tea, but many very talented Indie authors are told similar things by industry professionals that pick up the occasional $0.99 Indie book for their Kindle. Authors who are better than I am at this with more well polished books in their back catalog. Many agents and editors still take every opportunity to voice a rallying cry against self-pubs and indies on blogs as well as printed periodicals, and the surprising thing is that, more than anyone else, the indies are listening.


Is it because the publishing industry has proven, without a doubt, that they're doing everything right? Is it because readers everywhere are more often than not overjoyed with the products they see and buy in book stores? Could it be because all the best books have come from the biggest segment of the market? Could it be because no one working independently can produce a book worth reading? An album worth hearing? A movie worth watching? You can answer those questions yourself, I'm sure.

Let's move on to the example of Independent film before I wrap this up. Let's look at a film maker who was astounded and changed by a movie called Slacker. Let's look at Kevin Smith and Clerks. His honest and comedic look at a lives in convenience store stasis was unlike anything anyone had seen before. He maxed out credit cards, sold prized possessions, drafted friends, family (I still love the scene where his mother is carefully examining the expiry dates on the milk), and traded every favor he could to get it made.

It took audiences at the Cannes Film Festival by storm and earned Kevin Smith the opportunities that he's enjoyed since. He maintains his independent spirit whenever he can, which shows in most of his films. Whether you enjoy his work or not, you have to admit his body of work stands apart from the norm. It's another flavor of film entirely and, regardless of the subject matter, demonstrates that movie goers can still see something that doesn't conform to the norms set by the movie industry without having to go to a film festival.

I've started most of my examples by describing the early stirrings of change because that's what this article is really about. It's about the gold we haven't discovered yet. Independent musicians, film makers and authors bring us an unsupervised look at our world, adventures into fiction, and show us that the direction the market is taking shouldn't determine what kind of entertainment we enjoy or limit our ideas about the world as a whole. Most times it's the independent that shows us the way, and it's their viewers, listeners and readers who discover them first. They are an important part of the change, armed with the power of word of mouth.

It may take a little more patience, but I promise you'll find something surprising, different, and new eventually if you start looking outside the box for your entertainment. Independents give their audiences the opportunity to discover them and it takes us back to our own beginnings, when we wanted to share new discoveries with the world. Just like that three year old boy who saw Star Wars and couldn't stop talking about it to everyone he met for months.

What are you waiting for? Go discover something new and share it.

A few places to start:
Youtube (Film)
Youtube (Music)
Somacow (Independent Internet Radio)

Randolph Lalonde
Is the author of several independent novels, and is best known for his Spinward Fringe series.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Spinward Fringe Broadcast 6: Fragments - What's Taking So Long?

That's what people are asking, and considering how long it's been since Broadcast 5 was released, it's the right question. Not many authors give people the the nitty gritty details on how a book is written, and in the next couple paragraphs you'll probably learn why.

Fragments has been the most challenging work I've ever engaged in. Before November, 2009 I scrapped the first half of the book, then I tried to start over during National Novel Writing Month. I did fairly well, completing more than half of the book again, but after much reworking and editing, I've scrapped that as well, keeping two concepts that are the core of what I'm doing now.

Why scrap the drafts? The first draft delivered something I feel has been seen in film, in this series already, and some of it felt like filler even though it wasn't. There wasn't a story worth telling there, it didn't have the punch and drive that I try to maintain in my work and it didn't even come close to surpassing the previous book.

The second draft has been scrapped for a broad variety of reasons, but something good happened while I was working on it, something important to the story and I'm carrying a few very important ideas forward. If I didn't do the work this book wouldn't be as well developed as it is now.

The mad thing about this is that the process I'm outlining here is something that happens all the time. Most books go through multiple drafts. Ideas get tossed aside while small details get brought to the foreground. What makes Fracture even more challenging is that it's the middle act of a trilogy and part of a major turning point in the entire series. Setting the stage for Broadcast 7 is important, but Fracture also has to have its own story, it has to be a worthwhile read on its own, and the version I'm working on now provides that, finally.

While hearing that I've scrapped two versions of this book is discouraging, I'm sure, there is a silver lining. The third version of this book, the one I'm working on now, is worth reading. It's the tense middle act of a three act play that presents drama on multiple levels, an interesting point of view, growth for more than one character, the products of over a year of geographical, government and warfare research. It's in there, and I finally feel like all these things fit together.

I'm writing the last 12 or so chapters and editing with hopes that I blow my editor's mind, then get it to all of you sometime before June. I'm not going to say for sure when this book will arrive simply because I've learned what happens when you rush a book out with the previous Broadcasts in the series. I'd rather take extra time and do it right the first time instead of being left with something I have to revise later because it needs polishing.

Thank you very much for hanging in there, if you liked what's come before, you're going to love this.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Indie Spotlight Featuring Randolph Lalonde & The First Light Chronicles Omnibus

Several weeks ago I gave a text interview for the Indie Spotlight, a website that features indie authors with work on the shelves. The article has made its way onto the Internet and is featured on their quickly growing site here: The Indie Spotlight Featuring Randolph Lalonde

The focus of the interview is the First Light Chronicles Omnibus, so if you're looking for more background on the origin of the Spinward Fringe series or a little info on my personal history where writing is concerned, then this is the article to read. The book has been downloaded nearly 20,000 times (over 95% for free), and has been a fantastic launch pad for the Spinward Fringe series. With the next Spinward Fringe book on the horizon, this is the perfect time to introduce new readers to the series.

Thanks to everyone at the Indie Spotlight for featuring me, you've grown a fantastic site in a short amount of time.


- Next on the blog: Update on the status of Spinward Fringe Broadcast 6: Fragments and another post about the ever growing Spinward Fringe Universe and Encyclopedia.