A couple of weeks ago I picked up a used computer and one of the programs installed on it is itunes, an Apple program for listening to songs purchased from Apple. I think. I have never used itunes, so I’m sort of guessing in the dark here. I ran the program for the first time last night and found I could check on my stories listed in Apple’s ibookstore. The results took me completely by surprise.

The story called Healthy or Else had five ratings. I didn’t think anybody had every downloaded one of my stories from Apple, and immediately fired off a query to Smashwords asking if Apple reported downloads of free ebooks. I made my short stories free to begin building an audience, and Apple is the only store where I struck out, was skunked, or any other metaphor or cliché you care to use for no downloads whatsoever.

My query to Smashwords was premature. My next discovery was that books can be rated without downloading them. That forced my thought process into reverse, maybe none of my stories were ever downloaded from Apple and Smashwords’ records were accurate. 

The second and more interesting discovery was that those five ratings were in the Canadian itunes store. Out of curiosity I checked the American store, thinking it would have the same figure. It didn’t. The American store posted an average score based on 20 ratings.

Some time ago I used a service to generate URL’s for  all of the countries with itunes stores.  After digging out the list I clicked on the links for Great Britain and Australia, but the blurb said there hadn’t been enough ratings for Healthy or Else to produce an average. Okay, that was mildly disappointing, but at least I was getting an indirect indication of the geographical distribution of the story.

Then I decided to explore a bit more and ran across a real shocker. Healthy or Else has been rated 28 times in Germany, one more than the 27 ratings in Barnes and Noble. Not only was the number of ratings a shocker, I saw two short reviews. The reviews are in German, of course. I don’t know what they say, but both were 4 stars, so they can’t be too bad.

Now I am really curious how many times – if any – the story has been downloaded from Apple.

 Healthy or Else was published two years ago today, and my exploration with this second hand itunes program gave me more feedback than I’ve had in the last two years.  Other than the 27 ratings at Barnes and Noble there has been one (solicited) rating on Smashwords, one (unsolicited) rating at Goodreads, and a couple of early reviews on Bibliotastic. Both the rating on Goodreads and the best review on Barnes and Noble were posted in the last month. Interestingly, the rating averages from Apple, in both America and Germany, are in line with the 3.5 average at Barnes and Noble.

I didn’t fare so well in my native Canada. The average for the five ratings was three. But since the story is satirical and is set in one of the Canadian provinces, I regard the lower rating as an inverse compliment. Not that very many Canadians read it.

Smashwords replied promptly the next day and said Apple doesn’t report downloads of free books. I hate data gaps, but what can you do?

Trick or Trap is a Halloween short story I published as a free ebook. Halloween is my birthday, so it has special significance for me and is probably the reason I wanted to write a Halloween story. But the horror stories that dominate Halloween literature don’t really appeal to me, and are not particularly in keeping with a birthday or traditional Halloween activities like trick or treating, costume parties, and fireworks. 

Trick or Trap is an urban fantasy, but is a story more in keeping with the modern spirit of Halloween. It is more spoof than spooky, and all dressed up for a fun read. The setting is the Halloween Parade (Carnival) in Los Angeles, the largest Halloween event in the world. Three bikini models and their photographer, who are also crime fighters, are called to the scene to investigate a disruption, and battle the demons doing the disrupting. There is a reason the demons are disrupting the parade, but you will have to read the story to find out what that reason is. I don't want to give too much away in this blog.
The story was first published a couple of weeks ago and is being rolled out to free ebook sites and ebook stores. So far Trick or Trap is listed in the catalogues of Smashwords, Feedbooks, Bibliotastic, Barnes and Noble, and Apple’s iBookstores, with more, hopefully, to come before Halloween.  Feel free to rate or review the story. You can do so on most sites where it is available.

Happy Halloween. 

Today marks the first anniversary of the publication of Healthy or Else. It was my first and, so far, only ebook. It was listed as an experment not too long after I discovered self-publishing. I think I tried to list it on one site, but nothing came of it. Then I discovered smashwords.com and listed the story on that site. I didn't expect very many people to find it, but the number of downloads in the first couple of days was slightly better than I expected. My initial expectations were soon borne out, however, and the story sank into oblivion. I tried to promote it a bit, but nothing happened. I assumed I had done something wrong in the applications, did a little more research and found manybooks.net and feedbooks.com, and listed the story on both.

The initial response to the new listings sections was better than Smashwords. The reason being that the story was displayed in the new listings section for a longer time. Smashwords publishes so many new stories every day that they get buried quickly. Soon after the listings in manybooks and feedbooks Healthy or Else was listed in Barnes and Noble and other ebook stores in Smashwords' distribution channel. Barnes and Noble has a good free ebook program, and my story did pretty well there.

About two months after the story was published downloads from Smashwords took off. Over the course of one weekend there was close to 300 downloads. At the time that was a lot. Up until then there had been about 120 downloads from Smashwords, and I hadn't yet received the first reports from B&N. I had to search the Internet to find the reason for the surge of interest, and found the story was listed on getfreeebooks.com. It was one of the directories I thought I had made a mistake on the application form or misfiled. At the time I was not aware it had a long waiting list for applications. The wait was well worth it, getfreeebooks kept it on the front page for four or five days, and downloads continued to be strong for weeks afterwards. Smashwords became the best site, in terms of number of downloads, thanks to getfreeebooks. It also prompted me to put some more work into finding ways to promote the story.

Three weeks later Healthy or Else was listed on memoware.com, the first site I had tried to list it on. Memoware must also have a long waiting list, or not approve many stories for listing, because not a lot of new fiction has been listed since. Memoware is a volunteer site, specializing in the PDB format. PDB’s are supposedly becoming obsolete as it is replaced by the ePUB and Amazon PRC formats, but I was very pleased with the listing for two reasons. The PDB format poses a lot of problems for automated translators, so it is especially nice to be listed on a free ebook site that provides a fully formatted edition. Although the format is ageing, shall we say, there are still a lot of Palm and other devices using the Palm O/S in circulation, and hundreds of readers have downloaded the story from Memoware. It has been a good site for me, and I am grateful for the listing.

There was an upsurge in downloads around and after Christmas, probably because millions of new book readers were given as Christmas presents. Since then downloads have slowed to a trickle, but the story has been around for a while, and I am always pleasantly surprised to see it is still being downloaded. Being listed on so many sites helps, of course. Just recently downloads ticked above the 6,000 mark. That is not an overwhelming number, but certainly far exceeds any expectations I ever had. The actual number might be higher, as that figure does not include bibliotastic.com and any copies people made for their friends.

If  anybody reading this blog is one of the people who downloaded the story I would like to thank you. You encouraged me to write and publish again. I hope you enjoyed reading it.

I should have published other stories by now, but I have been working on a novel. Every time I think I am close to finishing it, I find a problem with it and defer publication. It will be posted one of these days. Hopefully soon. I have ideas for a couple of other stories I would like to write.


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