Michael McCollom, a Pioneer in the eBook Industry

It takes a lot of work and a lot of years for most writers to be noticed. Writers that are serious about their craft must have perseverance. Without, chances are that you’ll fade into oblivion even if you manage to somehow get published. The first thing you notice when you visit SCI FI – Arizona is that Michael McCollum is like a Diehard Battery.

Trained as an aeronautical engineer, Michael McCollum writes about spaceships as if they were real. In his mind they are. He admits that space is a problem because of the science we understand, so like most Sci-fi writers, he explains space travel in science we don’t understand, and hopes for man’s sake that we someday discover Warp 10.

Michael also does Writer’s Workshops. His website is a world of information, and although directed at the Science Fiction enthusiasts, there are plenty of words of wisdom for all genre’s of writers.

He adds this tidbit of insight about himself: “Most people when asked for their political orientation say, “I’m middle of the road.” I always answer the question, “I’m middle of the ditch… right-hand side.”

SCI FI - Arizona

The Interview:

1. You are a pioneer in the eBook business. Does it surprise you that it has taken so long for eBooks to become popular?

I am a pioneer in the INTERNET book business. In fact, I may have the oldest author owned/operated site on the web. There was an e-publisher before me, but I think he went belly up. I went online in 1995 (as I remember). As for the development of eBooks, I’m actually surprised that they are coming on so fast. I once read an article in the Encyclopedia Britannica (I have a complete set, including yearbooks, which I keep buying for sentimental reasons), that the basic invention is not what changes things. It’s the secondary invention. The example they used was the invention of the radio. Marconi invented the radio and all anyone ever used it for was Morse code, ship-to-shore. It was the invention of the voice modulator that made the radio business take off.

Likewise, the invention of the microcomputer, of which I was an early adopter, really didn’t make as big an impact as I expected. It wasn’t until the development of the INTERNET that things went BANG. Likewise the eBook. Since I was, and am, predicting that the eBook will kill the real book, I have followed every development closely. Every eBook introduced basically either crashed or languished until Amazon’s Kindle. Amazon now has 75% of the eBook market even though they don’t have the best machine. What made the eBook business go was the infrastructure for downloading books anytime and anywhere.

In addition to having my own website, I have my own bookbindery in my backyard. When I brought out GIBRALTAR SUN in 2006, book sales were 50% trade paperback and 50% eBook. I brought out GIBRALTAR STARS in October 2009 and sales were 10% trade paperback and 90% eBook. Since then, Kindle has exploded as a market and sales are probably 95% eBook. That is damned fast! The word is that they will drop the Kindle price to $99.00 sometime this year, an important psychological price point, and that should about finish off the paper printing business. Luckily, I have my bookbinder paid off.

2. Where do you see the book industry in 10 years?

As noted above, in ten years the book industry will be almost pure electronic. Publishers still perform a valuable service in that they provide known products. I was a Del Rey author. You always knew what you were going to get when you bought Del Rey science fiction in my era. Most of us were either ANALOG writers or people who write like ANALOG writers. Publishers perform the same function as McDonalds. I’ve been to the one in Moscow. You pretty much get the same thing as in the US (there is a minor national variation).

I don’t know whether publishers will survive the move to eBooks or not. Del

Rey used to pay me 6-8% royalties (40 cents per book). Kindle and iPad are paying 70% royalties. I now make an average of $4.50 a book. The writers no longer need the publishers. The question is whether the readers still need them or are willing to sail the trackless sea without a pilot. We shall see.

3. Do you try to influence humanity to make better choices with your fiction?

I just try to write what it is that I like to read. Most writers do that, which is why when you ask them how good they are, they will tell you that they are one of the five best. And none of us are lying. We are one of the five best at writing what it is we like to read. Personally, I like(d) Tom Clancy novels. That’s because I think he writes like me (I’ve been at it longer). Unfortunately, his stuff appeals to just about everyone while mine appeals to physics majors. You can tell the difference by the dichotomy in our sales figures.

However, I don’t have the same awe of writers as many in the general public. Perhaps that is because I am about to hit the 40th anniversary of when I decided to become a writer as a hobby. It took me 3-1/2 years to actually sell. Writers have been running a scam on the readers for several centuries now. We imbue our craft with a mystic aura that is entirely undeserving. In fact, writing is harder work than ditch digging and probably not as socially useful. As for trying to influence humanity, I try to remember the advice of Louis B. Mayer to his writers: “If you want to send a message, use Western Union.”

4. Do you have great hope that humans will ever explore the cosmos?

I have considerable hope that humanity will explore the cosmos. Otherwise, humanity will get a serious case of claustrophobia. However, the light speed barrier is a big problem. Like most science fiction writers, I compete with my fellow practitioners in trying to think up plausible new ways to get around the problem. A few years ago, I learned a factoid that depressed me. It turns out that light speed is not merely the fastest speed you can go in the universe. It is the ONLY speed you can go. In fact, there are no other speeds.

Most people respond to that by saying, “Huh?” However, it’s true. If you construct a graph with the X-axis being Time and the Y-axis substituting for all three of the space dimensions, you can see the problem. Photons are zipping along straight up the space axis at the speed of light. Time, therefore, has no meaning for them. Their direction arrow is straight up. We (and all matter) are zipping straight up the time axis at the speed of light, clipping off a good clean one year per year of time velocity. Our velocity vector is horizontal along the X-axis. We are essentially standing still on the Y-axis. However, if we speed up significantly in space, hitting 0.707c, then our velocity vector points up and to the right at a 45-degree angle. However, in achieving 0.707c on the space axis, we have dropped our velocity on the time axis to 0.707c as well. Our total velocity vector remains the same length it always did, which is 1.0 times the speed of light. The whole thing is hard to describe in words, but that shortening of the time component of our velocity through space-time is Einstein’s Time Dilation Effect in the Theory of Relativity.

If everything always moves at the speed of light in either space or time, how are we going to make our ship change to some higher velocity when there is but one velocity in the universe? I guess we’re stuck with Warp Factor 10. Here’s hoping it’s possible.

5. With a boom of authors using the Internet, do you think there will be enough readers to support the new authors?

There are never enough readers for the writers. That is because just about everyone on Earth wants to write at one time or another. And therein lies the hard part. The publishers solved this problem by filtering out the writers who a significant number of the readers wouldn’t read. Now that we can all compete on an even playing field, how does an individual writer stand out in the trackless forest that is the INTERNET? Good question. If anyone has an answer to the problem, I’d like to hear it. I have been plugging away online for 16 years and have slowly built my sales through word of mouth. That is the best way to do it, but it takes a long time. In fact, it has always taken 15 years, even with the publishers helping. That is why people successful in one genre generally can’t switch to another. There are only so many 15-year periods in a human lifespan.

6. Do you have any advice for formatting for the Internet? Do you do it yourself or hire professionals?

I am the chief cook and bottle washer at both Sci-Fi Arizona and Third

Millennium Publishing. The first is my personal site and the second is my little publishing company where I am currently working on my 248th book. I have one helper. My wife binds books for me. Other than that, I do it all . . . in addition to my day job. It would be too expensive otherwise.

EBooks require very specific formatting. It is important to learn what those requirements are and do it right. I use a program called CALIBRE to do a lot of the work.

There was once a cute little short story in Analog Science Fiction titled “Computers Don’t Argue.” A guy had an overdue library book: Robert Louis

Stevenson’s KIDNAPPED. By the end of the story he was executed for kidnapping due to a series of unfortunate computer glitches. My advice to new eBook authors regarding formatting: Remember, COMPUTERS DON’T ARGUE.

Michael McCollum

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