Introducing “Farmer One”

Update: Farmer One was purchased by StoryFront, and is now exclusively available on Kindle.

My newest book/novella, Farmer One, is now available in all formats (Kindle, Nook, iBooks, EPUB, and HTML). If you’ve read my other work, you’ll find that this one is a little different. It’s still science fiction, but I took it in a slightly new direction. Here’s the synopsis:

In an economically depressed and politically dysfunctional United States, the long-defunct National Aeronautics and Space Administration is reestablished in a desperate attempt to channel the patriotism and optimism of the previous century’s Soviet Space Race. But this time, the nation to beat is China, and the goal is Mars.

Far behind steady advances in Chinese aerospace engineering and even lunar colonization, a team of American scientists, engineers, and astronauts struggles to integrate decades-old technologies, untested prototypes, and some very out-of-the-box thinking to give their nation a shot at one of the most important achievements in human history. Nothing goes as planned while pursuing what appears to be the impossible, but the ultimate surprise lies in the mission’s conclusion.

This quirky and intelligent novella by Christian Cantrell is both humorous and unpredictable as it explores an unfamiliar, but not entirely unimaginable, post-superpower United States.


I owe special thanks to David Coletta and Ben Rossi for their excellent editorial assistance.

Artificial Photosynthesis Becomes Reality (as Predicted in “Containment”)

My science fiction record is getting better. Last week, scientists theorized that it might be possible to use the LHC as a time machine (which is the premise of my story The Epoch Index), and this week, artificial photosynthesis, one of the themes of my novel Containment, becomes a reality.

Check out the article on the ACS website for more details, but the general idea is that Dr. Daniel Nocera, a scientist at MIT, says his team has successfully developed the first practical artificial leaf. In his own words:

A practical artificial leaf has been one of the Holy Grails of science for decades. We believe we have done it. The artificial leaf shows particular promise as an inexpensive source of electricity for homes of the poor in developing countries. Our goal is to make each home its own power station. One can envision villages in India and Africa not long from now purchasing an affordable basic power system based on this technology.

In Containment, the concept is called AP, or artificial photosyntheses, since the scientists are not so much interested in creating an artificial leaf as mimicking (and improving on) the chemical processes that happen inside the leaf. Interestingly, the scientists’ objective in Containment isn’t the energy that photosynthesis creates, but the oxygen byproduct.

Here’s a quote from one of the lead scientists studying the problem from Ishtar Terra Station One, humankind’s first permanent outpost on Venus:

The Agriculture Department has perfected stemstock, or meat without the animal, and now we need to perfect photosynthesis without the plant. As much as I love our ferns, the day is coming when we’re going to need more oxygen than they are able to provide us. Without more oxygen, V1 is as big as it’s ever going to get, and it will always be vulnerable to things like pathogens and any number of other events that can unexpectedly destroy plant life.

If this is the kind of thing you’re into, give Containment a try. It’s available in all digital formats, and for this much hardcore science fiction, you can’t beat the price.


Review of the BUILT Kindle Sleeve

built_kindle_caseI was a big fan of Amazon’s Lighted Leather Kindle Cover, but whenever I took my Kindle out of the case, I was always amazed by how light the device is, and how much weight the lighted case adds to it. One of the advantages of reading on a Kindle (as opposed to a tablet) is that the Kindle is far lighter than either my Xoom or my iPad. So I finally decided to ditch the cover and go with a sleeve, instead.

I’ve had dozens of neoprene gadget cases in the past, so I decided to try the BUILT Neoprene Kindle Sleeve. It’s extremely lightweight, very well cushioned, and shaped perfectly. Now my Kindle is well protected when I’m not using it (I’ve already dropped it while in the case on a hardwood floor, and it was perfectly fine), but I can pull it out and enjoy the lightness and form-factor of the Kindle the way it is was designed to be enjoyed.

The only problem is that the case is a little pricey. At $29.99, I was hesitant, but although I would have liked a cheaper alternative, I’ve been very happy with it.

How to Read EPUB Files on Your Amazon Kindle

I'm a big fan of the Amazon Kindle, but one of the issues I've had with it is that it doesn't support EPUB files natively. Fortunately, there's a free and relatively easy way to convert EPUB files into the Kindle's native Mobipocket file format.

The easiest way I've found to read EPUB files on the Kindle is to use Amazon's free tool, KindleGen, to convert EPUB files into the Mobipocket format. KindleGen is a tool for publishers designed to convert existing HTML and EPUB files into the Kindle's native file format. You can download it for free from Amazon and use it yourself to convert EPUB files into a Kindle-friendly format.

To read EPUB files on your Kindle, follow these steps:

  1. Download KindleGen for your platform (available for Windows, Mac, and Linux — thank you, Amazon, for cross-platform support).
  2. Follow the instructions for converting your EPUB files into the Mobipocket format.
  3. Connect your Kindle to your computer via USB. It should appear as a mounted drive or volume.
  4. Drag your new EPUB files into your Kindle's "documents" directory.
  5. Eject or unmount your Kindle, and you should find your books available in your library.

There are several other EPUB readers out there that support EPUB files natively and don't require you to go through a conversion process, but I really like the Kindle platform for other reasons, so it's worth the additional step for me.

Everything You Need to Know About How to Digitally Self Publish

Final Update: I’m now publishing with a traditional publisher, so I haven’t updated this page in quite a while. Some of this information will still be relevant, but some will also be obsolete, so make sure you cross reference with other (better maintained) sources. Good luck!

Update (9/27/2011): Added the section on copyrights.

Update (5/15/2011): Changed DTP (Digital Text Platform) to KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) in accordance with Amazon’s rebranding.

Update (10/1/2010): Added details about PubIt, and added the royalty chart.

If you’re thinking of publishing to the Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks store, or to the Barnes & Noble Nook, this article will provide you with everything you need to know to get started. It is the result of many hours of research and experimentation, and probably represents the most comprehensive guide on digital self-publishing currently available. Keep in mind that this is necessarily a living document; I’ve been shocked at how much the industry has changed just since early 2010, and I expect it to continue to change at an equally rapid pace for the foreseeable future. As it does, I will update this resource to reflect everything I continue to learn.


Digital publishing has been around in one form or another for many years (starting with early eBook readers from Sony and devices like Palm PDAs), but it wasn’t until Amazon introduced the Kindle — and then Apple followed up with iBooks and Barnes & Noble with the Nook — that eBook readers really went mainstream.

I’ve been digitally self-publishing fiction on these new platforms for about as long as it has been possible. I’m a huge believer in digital publishing, but the truth is that it’s not nearly as easy as it should be. The industry is changing extremely quickly as are the tools, devices, and the best practices. The newness of the industry, and the pace at which it continues to evolve, means that mastering digital self-publishing is still pretty challenging. I’ve spent a huge amount of time learning the ins and outs both through research and trial and error, so I decided to put together this comprehensive resource to try to make digital self-publishing more accessible to as many other writers as possible.

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Review of the New Kindle 3

I’ve been a big fan of the Amazon Kindle since its initial release, and I’ve faithfully upgraded with every new generation. The Kindle 2 was a huge improvement over the first model, and the newest third generation Kindle appears to be a worthy and worthwhile successor, as well.

The biggest differences between the Kindle 2 and the Kindle 3 are:


The very compact Kindle 3 on top of the larger Kindle 2.

  • Better screen. Amazon claims that the Kindle 3 has 50% better contrast than any other e-reader. I’m not exactly sure how contrast is quantified, but I can say that the Kindle 3’s screen is much better than the Kindle 2’s. In fact, the first thing I noticed about the Kindle 3 after unpacking it was how much whiter the background looked.
  • Smaller form factor. The Kindle 3 is 21% smaller than the Kindle 2 and 17% lighter. In terms of dimensions, that’s about half an inch smaller in both width and height. Note that the 6″ screen remains the same size.
  • Wi-Fi version. Amazon is now selling a Wi-Fi version for $139 and a 3G version for $189. I decided to go with the Wi-Fi version and save the $50.
  • Better battery. I haven’t really been able to test the battery thoroughly yet, but Amazon claims that the Kindle 3’s battery will last up to a month (with wireless turned off). Based on the battery performance of my other Kindles, I would say that’s probably accurate.
  • More storage. My Mac reports the size of the Kindle 2 as 1.59GB, and the size of the Kindle 3 as 3.33GB. Amazon says that’s enough to store 3,500 books.
  • Faster page turns. Amazon says the page turns on the Kindle 3 are 20% faster. Honestly, that seems low to me. I would say the Kindle 3 is at least 50% faster if not even more, but I’m not doing actual benchmarks. Let’s just say that the Kindle 3 is noticeably and significantly faster.
  • Better fonts. The fonts on the Kindle 3 appear thicker and darker.
  • No joystick. The Kindle 3 replaces the navigation joystick of the Kindle 2 with a D-pad. So far, I think I prefer the new D-pad.
  • Rubberized backing. The Kindle 2 has a brushed metal backing and the Kindle 3 has a nice soft rubberized coating on the back.
  • Better PDF reader. The new PDF reader on the Kindle 3 supports looking up words in the dictionary, notes, and highlighting. I don’t find the Kindle particularly useful for PDF viewing because PDF text gets scaled rather than reflowing, but if PDF viewing is important to you, the Kindle 3’s improvements will probably be a welcomed upgrade.
  • WebKit-based browser. WebKit is the standard for mobile browsers now, and Amazon has built it into the the Kindle 3. I don’t consider this a very important feature, however; frankly, I think you’d be crazy to browse the web on any Kindle. The Kindle 3’s browser works much better than previous Kindle’s, but if you have a computer, smart phone, or tablet anywhere nearby, you’re always going to reach for it over your Kindle when you need to look something up on the web. That said, in a pinch — when you’re out at the pool and your phone and your iPad are both up in the room — it’s serviceable.
  • New color. I bought the graphite version which is the only Wi-Fi option available, but the 3G version comes in graphite or white.

The three features that mean the most to me are the higher contrast screen, smaller size, and faster page turns. These are the things that you will notice right away, and that you will appreciate throughout the entire life of the product. The new lower prices are nice, as well. The cheaper the Kindle gets, the more places and situations you’re willing to expose it to, and hence, the more useful it becomes. I still don’t think we’ve hit that magical price point where purchasing a Kindle and keeping it with you at all times is a no-brainer, but we’re definitely one step closer.

Review of the Amazon Kindle 2

I bought the first Kindle the second it was available (and gave it a thorough review, naturally), but sold it to a fanatical Oprah watcher the moment I saw leaked pictures of the Kindle 2. I liked my Kindle, but I found I was still more likely to reach for paper books for several reasons:

  • The battery life was really bad, probably because I kept the wireless on all the time, but having to remember to activate it in order to receive daily content kind of defeated the purpose of the incognito "Whispernet."
  • The famously poorly designed buttons were very annoying. Amazon says they want the Kindle to disappear in your hands, but when you’re always worried about accidentally hitting the wrong button, it’s hard to relax and let your guard down.
  • It was slow. I didn’t mind the refresh rate of turning a page since you can get into a good rhythm, but otherwise navigating the device was cumbersome.
  • Most of the books I wanted to read weren’t available, and despite the Kindle’s versatile capabilities, it really is designed much more for books than magazines, newspapers, or anything that comes from the web or is accompanied by images.
  • The first book I read on the Kindle (1984 — George Bush and our impending economic situation inspired me to reread several such classics) was full of OCR mistakes — so much so that it was distracting. Fortunately, the more modern books I read didn’t have the same issue.
  • The case and the way it attached to the Kindle was just plain strange. The two often came apart, and the power and network switches in the back were obscured by the back of the cover. Very curious design.

But all that’s in the past. Here are my thoughts on the Kindle 2 so far:

  • The new form factor is a huge improvement. The action of the buttons has been reversed so they need to be pressed on the inside rather than on the outside which is where you tend to grasp the device. The metal back makes it feel more substantial, and the keyboard has been dramatically improved. It’s also thinner which is a bonus when traveling.
  • The 5-way button is a significant improvement over the LCD "gutter" of the old model. It allows for much more efficient navigation which will, in turn, make some of the great features of the Kindle (dictionary, notes, etc.) far more accessible.
  • It didn’t come with a case which bummed me out. I guess I should have realized that, but in my haste to purchase one before they sold out, I didn’t read about everything that comes in the box. The first Kindle came with a basic case (poor as it was), so I assumed the second one would have a case or a sleeve, too. But in a tribute to the iPod, the Kindle 2 comes with nothing but the device itself, and a cable. Cases and other accessories are additional revenue streams.
  • The Kindle 2 does away with the external network switch. The single power switch is on the top of the device (where it won’t be covered by your case or sleeve), and control of the network is now done through a software menu. Very smart change.
  • Despite some criticism I’ve seen online, the Kindle 2 is definitely faster than the first. It’s still e-ink, so it’s not instantaneous, but there’s a noticeable improvement over the first version.
  • All my books from my first Kindle experience were waiting for me on my Kindle 2. I just had to select them from the archive section, and they immediately downloaded for free. This is an important reminder that, like the iPhone, the Kindle isn’t a standalone device. It’s part of an ecosystem which is clearly greater than the sum of its parts.
  • I haven’t been able to put the battery through its paces yet, but it’s supposed to be 25% better. I don’t think I’ll have any battery problems this time, though, because I don’t think I’m going to buy any subscriptions which means I won’t have to leave the wireless on. I’m so accustomed to reading the news on my phone or in a feed reader now that I think I’ll use the Kindle exclusively for books.
  • Amazon still charges to email documents to yourself ($0.10 each), and to aggregate blogs (about $1.99 each). I understand why Amazon does this (the cost of the wireless connection is paid for every time you buy a book, but not when you wirelessly transfer documents or aggregate blogs), but I just can’t imagine doing this when you can easily connect your Kindle via USB (on Mac and Windows), and there are so many better ways to read blogs. But just because these features don’t appeal to me doesn’t mean they aren’t useful to others, so I officially reserve judgment.

Other features of the Kindle 2 that I haven’t mentioned yet:

  • More storage. The Kindle 2 will hold over 1,500 books.
  • A new text-to-speech feature allows the Kindle to read to you. I wasn’t expecting much out of this feature, but it actually works surprisingly well. The voice and the flow are quite natural.
  • Better selection. Amazon claims there are over 240,000 books available now. I did a quick search for the next four or five books I intend to read, and they were all available which already puts me off to a better start than with the first Kindle.

Overall, I’ve been very happy with my upgrade thus far, and would recommend the Kindle 2 both to original Kindle owners, and to anyone who thought the first Kindle wasn’t ready for prime time yet. I think this time, I’m going to stick with it — at least until I see leaked photos of the Kindle 3.

Review of the Amazon Kindle

I’ve been waiting roughly 10 years for a good eBook reader. In fact, I’ve even tried several times to make them myself out of ultra-mobile PCs, tablet PCs, various Linux-based devices, phones, and old disused laptops. Once I accepted that I would probably never come up with a solution that I could stick with for more than a few days, I started eyeing technology from Sony and Seiko. And then just as I came to the conclusion that the world simply wasn’t ready for eBooks yet, Amazon launched the Kindle. I had one in my cart and scheduled for next day delivery before I even fully knew what it was.

The Kindle is Amazon’s new wireless reading device. Interestingly, they don’t call it an eBook reader. They use the term "wireless reading device" which is actually very accurate, and much more descriptive. All marketing and buzzwords aside, Kindle is a device for wirelessly downloading and reading eBooks, newspapers, magazines, and blogs. It uses electronic ink for a high-contrast and power-thrifty display, and it even hints at music and web browser functionality, as well.

I’ve only been using my Kindle for about four hours, and most of that time has been spent reading, but here’s what I have to report so far:

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