The Ohio Novel #1 Is Done! (Or what it’s like to disappear into a black box)

By Holly Lisle

I wrapped up my final draft yesterday.

In spite of best efforts, I came in over my 90,000K wordcount by about 12,000 words.

I don’t have a title for the novel yet (Matt comes up with my best titles, and I’m really hoping he can pull out something amazing, both for the first book and for the entire series).  

I do have my pseudonym. I can’t give either until — BARE MINIMUM — the first five books are out and starting to find their audience.

And then I’ll only be giving it to the folks on my mailing list who are genuinely interested in the genre. 

Since I’m publishing the Ohio series independently, since I’m bringing the series and world (with possible subsequent series) out under a pseudonym, and since I have to plot the next four novels, then have to complete the entire 5-book series — have all five written, revised, edited, bug-hunted, formatted, covered with pro-quality covers, and get them all up into Amazon-exclusive KDP and print formats, and then launch them at the speed of one book a month for five months, I have a long, long way to go.

But… THIS TIME, I’m trying to work with Amazon’s algorithms, and see what I can learn from doing that. 

It’s an investment in manpower. A BIG one — primarily but not exclusively mine. We’re talking the time, effort, focus, dedication, that goes into thinking and then writing 400,000+ MORE connected, related, compelling words of fiction that must be outlined, first-drafted, finished, revised, edited, bug-hunted, typeset, put into Kindle, print, and other formats (the Ohio novels will start Amazon-exclusive, but probably won’t stay that way past the completion of the initial five-book launch) have cover copy written and tested and re-written, have title testing — so I’m talking about an all-in commitment of a big chunk of my life, with no feedback (except from Matt, Becky, and my bug hunters) until this whole things goes live.

It’s also an investment in money: All mine. Just the cash outlay for five great, professional covers, is significant. But much, much more expensive than that is opportunity cost — the things I don’t get paid for because of the time and effort I’m putting into this project that I hope I might get paid for… that isn’t a new writing class or a couple of classes I KNOW I could get paid for.

If it goes big for me, THEN my writing students will get my numbers and how I did it, along with this really cool story development process I’ve come up with and am using for these. Maybe some workshops. 

If it doesn’t go big for me, they’ll get the really cool story development process… but that’s not a cool new workshop that might be able to give writers willing to do the work (as outlined above, so we’re talking BRAVE writers) a path to building a live-on fiction income. The story development thing is just a few lessons. Probably added into an existing class or two.

And here’s the thing that’s making me a little nuts.

The entire process has to be done completely in the dark. I have to build EVERYTHING, pay for EVERYTHING, set up EVERYTHING, write EVERYTHING, and publish EVERYTHING… with nobody but Matt, Becky, and myself seeing what I’m doing. (Well, at the point where I’m ready for bug-hunters, I already have a couple lined up, and will bring in a few more, and this handful of readers will go through all five novels back to back to back. And sign an NDA beforehand that they can’t tell anyone who I am, or what my pseudonym is, or where the website is, or anything. Not until the books are doing so well that I can bring in my other genre-related fiction to the new writer under a “written as Holly Lisle” label with the pseudonym as the author name.

I can’t share snippets of any of the Ohio stuff — not snippets or scenes or teaser stuff or worldbuilding — on my blog, on the podcast, in the writing community forum. Nothing.

I can’t put links to the books when they come out here or in the writing community or on the podcast page.

I can’t link my old novels to this new set.

I have to become invisible.

Not my strong suit.

But for this test to mean anything, for this process to mean anything, this is where I am.

At some point in the future, I hope to be able to share some crazy great news. Or at least, “Hey, I’m making enough to pay off the house.” That would be really cool.


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First draft of The Ohio Series First Novel is DONE! Includes FRIDAY SNIPPET

By Holly Lisle

I did not expect to finish the first draft today. Thought it would take me a couple more days to get there, but while Becky and I were running ten-minute work sprints together, what had to be in there just clicked, two complete chapters flew off my fingertips, and all of a sudden, I have a done first draft in my brand-new Urban Fantasy world.

I wrote it using the same process I teach in How to Write a Novel, I had a blast doing it…

And now it sits in a corner of my hard drive for a minimum of one month while it cools down. 

Because I need to NOT be wildly in love with it when I do the read-through. I have to be tired, and grumpy, and bored, and wishing I was someplace else. In THAT frame of mind, the good stuff with hook me in, but I will be unable to make excuses for the bad stuff.

But before I put it away for the requisite month (and possibly a bit more), I have the Friday Snippet for you.

The Snippet Disclaimer: This is raw first draft, copyright Holly Lisle and all rights reserved. Do not quote, review, or bug hunt. The contents of this snippet are subject to change, and during revision I will not see any problems you find here.


Now here I was with a cookie junkie who’d just heard there was a new dealer for his long-lost favorite drug, looking at me with eyes that were shining with need, that said he was jonesing pretty hard.


“I could get you the ingredients so you could make them,” he said. “If you told me what they were.”

“Didn’t Grandma give you the recipe so that you could learn how to make them yourself?”

I was watching him. I work the streets, I know what addiction looks like, and I was seeing a guy who’d gotten a hit of something that had sunk hooks into him and dragged him out on a cold, mean day to a dead woman’s house in search of cookies. Nobody does that.


Only the look people get when you’ve pulled them over and they think they’re about to pull one over on you was on old Mr. Yeager’s face, and that cop sense kicked in and all of a sudden I knew this wasn’t about cookies. It was… but there was a lot more here, and for some reason I didn’t know, it was important.

Really important.

In no universe are cookies a big deal.

So this was something else. Something was wrong with my picture.

When in doubt, poke the problem with a stick.

“I’m not going to be baking cookies here,” I said. “I’m just going to be going though the attic and the basement, clearing and cleaning, and then I’m going back home.” When I said the word home, it sounded like a lie in my ears. No matter. I was watching his body, watching his eyes.

And I saw a whole lot of panicked crazy go skittering beneath the surface. “Could I buy the recipe from you?” he asked.

The answer to that question came out of my mouth unbidden, instantly, like someone had programmed it there. “Old family recipe,” I said and shook my head.

And he hung his. “That’s what she always said, too.”

And though I could not understand what made me do it, I grabbed my metaphorical stick a little more firmly, and said, “Tell you what. Why don’t you bring those papers by the house for me so I can look them over while I’m cleaning. If you do that, I’ll think about making some more cookies.”

When it came out of my mouth, I knew it was a mistake. No lawyer would say yes to that. There was no guarantee, there was no promise, there was nothing to pin down. It was an utterly one-sided deal.

“All right,” he said, and sighed.

And that gut thing I had going said, Ding, ding, ding. We have a winner. Whatever Mr. Yeager is, he is not a lawyer.

Contents © Holly Lisle. All Rights Reserved

Marketing Tuesday #1 – Reading Emails, Building a “Loves, Hates, and Recommends” chart

By Holly Lisle

So because last Tuesday was TAX DAY, in which I had to finish up everything to get to my accountant, today is my first ever Marketing Tuesday.

In which I am building a chart to help me understand who my readers are, what they’re looking for from me, what other work they like and what they like about it.

Reader and Email are on there so the folks who answered the three questions I asked, whether via email, on my blog, or over in the HWC forums, can get their stories.

And so far, it’s looking very much like I’m going to have to write a new story for them. The people who like my work are enthusiastic about it — but in most cases, not for the reasons I thought.

SO FAR… (and I have a LOT of feedback yet to go through) many of MY readers love the fact that I mix genres, love my insertion of grim and gritty and real-world into fantasy and science fiction, love the fact that my worlds feel real, and do not mind at all that I smoosh all the stuff I love from nonfiction (anthropology and archeology and history and science and pseudoscience) into books that are ostensibly about other things.

Turns out… I’m not the only writer who is currently doing this — and the fact that there are folks who write what I love to write and who have really good audiences for it is encouraging as hell.

It just means I’ve been putting the stuff I love to write in front of the wrong people.

And the answers I’m getting to the questions I asked are showing me everything I was getting wrong… and better yet, how to get those things right.

So I’m going to have to write a story for these folks.

I think it’s going to be a short one-off that will introduce a new character, a new world, and an idea I have for my first “now I know what I’m writing” series.

Hugs and thanks to everyone who answered my questions. You guys are magnificent. 

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The Publisher-Devils are still out there…

By Holly Lisle

So… I got this email, which wrapped up with this question:

I’ve been in contact with Christian faith publishing the past year but haven’t submitted my manuscript because I recently finished writing, reading and editing it, & wanted to know more info before doing so. They have finally informed me of production costs if my manuscript were chosen for publishing. It’s a little steep for my liking, not knowing if my book will even be successful. Could you give me a little information of what I should look for, what costs are appropriate & which companies could be suitable? I appreciate it.

And I’m beating my head on the desk, because if you’re me, you’ve already covered this on your site in a lot of places and a lot of ways, but on a really BIG site like mine, you can’t always get folks to the places they need to find.

So, because so much is on the line, I answered this one personally. As follows:



You do not pay to write. Writing is a JOB, and people who work get paid.


If you are submitting to a legitimate commercial publisher, the publisher pays you.


Up front.


With a contract that explains your initial advance, subsequent payments, your royalty schedule, what rights you retain to sell elsewhere, AND which includes details of the reacquisition of your rights if the book does not do as well as the publisher had hoped.


If the publisher wants you to pay it, and the payment is large, then you are that publisher’s product, not its client. That publisher makes its money off of you, and your book will get no distribution, no promotion, and no sales, and you will never make a dime off of it.


It you want to publish independently, that’s a completely different conversation. You can publish your own work well for free, or very nearly free, and make pretty decent money doing it. And actually get your story into the hands of readers who want to read what you’ve written, and will benefit from it.


Do not pay these thieves anything. Learn more about the business part of writing fiction, including writing Christian fiction, here:


Starting with THIS article:


DISCLAIMER: I am not a Christian, and I am not always warm and fuzzy in what I write (and while I generally don’t use profanity on my site, occasional words do creep in when I am incensed). I get incensed about seeing writers misused as this reprehensible scumbag is trying to misuse you and your work. If I whip out the wicked wango tongue in what you read, please understand that I do so because sometimes you have to call these abusive creeps what they are.



I want the assholes who do this to new writers to be eaten by rabid weasels one slow bite at a time.

And that’s my cheerful thought for the day.

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Tom Vetter Hits #11 on Amazon’s Bestseller List

By Holly Lisle

Tom Vetter holds the #11 spot this morning in Adventures and Discoveries World History on Amazon’s Bestseller List!

The book jumped significantly overnight, from the high 300,000s overall to 28,289 right now, and he’s sold most of his first editions.

The author’s page with first editions is here:

The book on Amazon is here:

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The Author Earning Reports: Indie Pub Gets Bigger

By Holly Lisle

With thanks to Jerry Pournelle for posting this link:

Across websites and genres, indie authors are doing better—and in MANY cases are doing better than Big-5-published authors.

It’s true for me. Nice to know it’s true for a bunch of my fellow writers, too.

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Do I still recommend John Locke? No.

By Holly Lisle

Back at the end of June, 2011, I read a book that succeeded because of a lie, and I turned my entire life upside down as a result of that lie.

The book was, of course, John Locke’s How I Sold 1 Million Ebooks in 5 Months.

Like a lot of other writers, I let myself be suckered in.

I bought the pretty lie hook, line, and sinker.

The writer, John Locke, had the bestsellers that seemed to prove the validity of his approach. I didn’t like them, but I’m not everybody’s reader. He had the seeming endorsement of Amazon, which had sent out a single-title recommendation of his book.

And mostly, I WANTED to believe.

Sadly, his whole house of cards rested on the unspoken promise that he had actually done what he said he’d done—wrote a blog post a month, hung out on Twitter, talked to people, and wrote good books.

I know I write good books. And I desperately wanted to get back to fiction, which I’d put on hold after a couple of nightmare experiences.

One nightmare was with an editor at Tor (now an ex-editor) disemboweling HAWKSPAR, a novel that I then had to fight like hell to get returned to my version, which still included both main characters.

The second was waiting six months for Scholastic to pay me, after having approved the book…and watching my finances circle the drain while I waited.

WHILE my finances were circling the drain, I started self-publishing nonfiction (Create A Character Clinic was my first onsite self-pub project), and I did very well at that. Well enough that I started creating other writing courses, and put fiction aside for a few years.

But I love fiction, and saw John Locke’s method as my opportunity to revive my Cadence Drake series (which was only ever a series to me, since Jim Baen refused to reprint HUNTING THE CORRIGAN’S BLOOD after it hit Locus bestseller lists two months running, and sold through its initial printing in four months).

I know I’m repeating what a lot of you already know. I’m sorry. I have a point.

Based on John Locke’s lies about how he hit bestseller lists, I ditched a whole long list of planned nonfiction courses, and revived my fiction career. I’m now a couple weeks out from finishing the first draft of my second Cadence Drake novel: WARPAINT.

I’ve planned the revival of another series, MOON & SUN.

I have a list of partially completed novels that have been sitting on my hard drive that I want to finish.


First, I recommended this asshole. I’m very sorry about that. I’m sorry if you bought his book on my recommendation, and I’m sorry if you—like me—thought he was telling the truth.

Second, I took a MAJOR financial hit for stopping writing course production to focus on fiction. I paid, and paid, and paid some more, and told myself it would be okay, because I write good novels, and using Locke’s method, I’d come out all right.

But I won’t. At least not anywhere near as well as what he suggested was possible. Because I won’t buy reviews. I won’t do what MAKE A KILLING ON KINDLE author Michael Alvear suggests either, and make a bunch of fake Amazon accounts so I can review my own books.

I’ve never cheated at publishing, and I’m not going to start now.

Did anything good come out of the wreckage I’ve wrought in my writing business?


  1. I’m about done with WARPAINT, and I love it, and I know I’m never walking away from my fiction again.
  2. And… And… No. That’s it. Just the one thing.

I’m picking up the teaching. Resuming creating courses, offering them exclusively on my site again—though I’ll still do Kindle and Nook versions of everything. And of course I’ll leave the HTTS Direct version available on Kindle, Nook, and Apple (still haven’t uploaded the last lessons, but I’ve been scrambling and doing damage control for a while now). Maybe it will eventually take off in those versions and make the expense worth the massive time and effort it took.

So what happens next?

First, I’ll write fiction every morning, because it remains joyful and wonderful—and moreso because I know some publisher or editor won’t manage to wreck the joy of it.

Second, I’ll create more writing courses. I’ll teach and create courses at a slower pace, because from now on, fiction gets the first few hours of my morning every day.

The plan now is, in other words, to work hard, create the best stuff I’m capable of creating, and count on quality to keep a roof over my head.

This is one of those times, though, when I wish my blog was still titled REAL WRITERS BOUNCE… because after falling for a liar’s lies, you bounce or you fail.

If you bounce, you pick yourself up, figure out how to put yourself back together, and you go on.

I’m a real writer. I know how to bounce.

New York Times
Karen Woodward
Three Percent
Tales from the Sith Witch
Jane Friedman

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Apple Has Started Listening to Indie Publishers

By Holly Lisle

I and other indie publishers received notice from Apple that the company has changed the way it deals with indie publishers.

To better serve your needs, English-language phone support is now available to iBookstore publishers. With this new option, we now offer four ways to get answers to your questions:

  • The Book Forum is a community-based, collaborative environment to find solutions and share tips on creating, delivering, and marketing books in the iBookstore.
  • The iTunes Connect FAQ is constantly updated to answer common questions. (You must be logged in to your iTunes Connect account to use)
  • The iTunes Connect Contact Us module provides the option to send inquires directly to the support team, for email-based support. (You must be logged in to your iTunes Connect account to use)
  • If you prefer to speak to one of our iBookstore Publisher Support advisors, you can also use phone support. To contact the phone support for publishers, call [PHONE NUMBER AVAILABLE TO APPLE INDIE PUBLISHERS]. Phone support is available in English only and provides the same support as our email support option. Calls are toll-free from the U.S. and Canada. International calling rates may apply elsewhere. An active iTunes Connect account is required to use this option.

The iBookstore support team is available to assist you via email and phone, Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (Pacific). When requesting support, be sure to provide as much detail as possible, including:

  • The book’s Apple ID, ISBN, or vendor ID and the title (for title-specific queries).
  • The transfer log for delivery failures. Include the entire transfer log in your Contact Us inquiry. You can access the transfer log by clicking the magnifying glass in the iTunes Producer delivery window. You can also use the “Send to Apple” feature in iTunes Producer to submit the entire log for review.
  • The device, browser, version number, and operating system for technical issues in the iBookstore or on iTunes Connect. You can get this information by choosing About This Mac from the Apple menu in OS X.
  • Any other details that can help us replicate and resolve the issue.


The iBookstore team

I don’t know how much my own recent run-in with Apple, and the surprising amount of fallout, had to do with this decision, but I’m delighted to note that Apple has decided to present a much more workable platform for indies not too long into the aftermath.

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Crippling A Lesson: An Apple iBookstore Ethical and Practical Issue

By Holly Lisle

Decision Made: Thank you to everyone who commented.


I’m going to ask for reader input ONLY from Mac product users who buy books from iBooks. If you don’t have a dog in this fight, then no matter what you think about the ethics of this situation, I don’t need to know. I am going to make a decision on the availability of one (or maybe more) lessons in this course that will affect iBooks customers only based on what I learn here, and I ONLY need to hear from them.

If you don’t buy books from the iBookstore, please DO NOT answer the following question.


I received an email from Apple’s iBookstore that How To Think Sideways—Lesson 6: How to Discover (or Create) Your Story’s Market has been pulled for containing links to a “Competing Website” and that in order to have the lesson put back on sale, I’ll have to remove the offending links.

The problem with this, however, is that the links, which are to, are part of the content of the lesson, in which I demonstrate a technique for doing market research into other genres which might be reasonable places to attempt to sell your book along with your planned market (because in some cases your planned market won’t pan out, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other places that would buy what you’ve written).

Two examples of my own experience with cross-genre marketing came with the sales of TALYN (started as high fantasy, was sold as fantasy romance) and MIDNIGHT RAIN (started as urban fantasy, was sold as paranormal suspense). THIS IS A COOL TECHNIQUE.

There is NO other site upon which this technique will work. None. Anywhere. It is the combination of unique features and cross-references on the website that allowed me to come up with this technique, and I have linked to the features and sections writers need to do this research.

If I remove the links, I cripple my iBooks reader’s access to the technique, and make it more difficult for readers of the iBook version of the lesson to do research that will help them build and maintain their writing careers.

I have also noted, in my usual smartass fashion, that if you happen to be one of those folks who hates Amazon, you can always use their site to gain the knowledge you need to further your career, and then not buy anything from their site. Strangely, Amazon did not remove my lesson for that bit of obvious commentary. Fancy that.


Neither nor, the other two big distributors where I have placed my lessons, have demanded the removal of any “Competing Website” links from the lessons before they will publish them.

Such links are in the lessons, because I want to give my students meaningful options, and meaningful options require me to link to sources that compete with each other. That’s what OPTIONS are. (Obviously, the lessons are available in their full versions directly from my shop, so writers who usually buy from iBooks, but who hate Amazon or B&N, are not stuck with buying from sites they hate.)


I can remove the links from the iBookstore edition, and leave the reader to find his way to and the features it offers for research on his own.

I can remove the links, but add a link to a PDF the reader could download directly from my site that would include the missing links, knowing when I do this that many readers will NOT download the PDF.

I can take a stand against the crippling of the lesson, leave the links in place, make the lesson unavailable on the iBookstore, and hope that iBookstore readers will download either a copy of the cross-platform Kindle app or the cross-platform Nook app, or will come to my site directly, and buy the missing lessons from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or from my shop.


ONLY IF YOU ARE A CURRENT IBOOKSTORE CUSTOMER: Please copy and paste the following text into the Reply box at the bottom of this page, and then answer the questions.

You don’t need to be a potential or current student of the existing course, though if you are, please let me know. I want iBookstore customers’ input on receiving iBooks content that is incomplete, crippled, or intentionally inconvenient compared to versions offered on other platforms.

Copy and paste the text between the lines:




Thank you for taking the time to help me figure out my response on this issue.


Guys, this is NOT a censorship issue. ONLY GOVERNMENTS can censor. They make it illegal for individuals to say certain things or present certain content, and if you do, you either:

  • go to prison
  • end up in a reeducation camp/concentration camp, or
  • are killed

What Apple is doing is NOT CENSORSHIP. I have the option to work with the company, to work around the company, or to tell the company to go stick its head where the sun don’t shine, and I will suffer no repercussions from doing this beyond minor financial ones. I AM NOT BEING CENSORED.

Apple is doing nothing more than requiring all products on its site to meet standards it sets. This is not illegal. This is not immoral. It’s just business.

It IS bonehead stupid “Business By Idiots” business—and this process is precisely why iBooks has such thin content, and does so little business for me compared to Kindle, Nook, and even my personal shop—but Apple has as much right to be stupid and act against its own best interests as any other company.

(The fact that this topic has generated so only four responses in the 24 hours since it first aired—compared to topics like DRM which generated not only hundreds of replies to the site, but also hundreds more directly to my email—demonstrates to you how effectively Apple has made its iBookstore irrelevant.)

The ethical issue is MINE.

I am unwilling to sell a crippled product on one platform (compared to full working versions on other platforms) in order to make sales I cannot reach otherwise, but I know there are some folks in some countries for whom the Apple iBooks store is their ONLY way to get these lessons. I’m looking for direction from iBooks customers on the issues of buying crippled products, and I’m waiting to hear back from the folks on my mailing list, many of whom will receive an email on this issue tomorrow.

Contents © Holly Lisle. All Rights Reserved

Self-Publishing Round-Up #1

By Holly Lisle

I’m trying to keep up with what’s going on in indie publishing, and I realized there are a lot of folks, both readers and writers, who would be interested in taking a look at the same issues I’ve come across.

The first thing I’ve come across is an issue of terminology. You may laugh at this, but I didn’t. When I was searching for “self-publishing,” I got a boatload of services dedicated to separating me from my money—websites offering to help me promote my work, with no evidence that they had anything real to offer, or anything better than what I could do on my own. It was depressing as hell.

When I switched to searching for “indie publishing,” however, the world got a bit brighter.  I actually found some useful information.

So let’s get on to that.

Because I know number of my students write erotica, and because this is going to affect indie publishers who have their own sites where they sell their work via PayPal, or sell their work through distributors who use PayPal, this is big news.

PayPal Strong-Arms Indie Ebook Publishers Over Erotic Content

PayPal’s new aggressive campaign wants to stop independent e-book publishers that use its service from including certain kinds of erotic content in their catalogs. On Saturday February 18, PayPal began threatening indie book publishers and distributors with immediate deactivation of the businesses’ accounts if they did not remove books containing certain sexual themes – namely, specific sexual fantasies that PayPal does not approve of. Read more

This is a big deal. While businesses have the absolute right to decide on the material they choose to support, there aren’t any other payment processors as popular as PayPal. What PayPal is doing is creating an opportunity for a rival company (or companies) to come in with favorable terms for the folk PayPal is deciding it doesn’t want. PayPal is creating the hole into which an aggressive competitor can slide. I’ll be interested to see who jumps first.

Day 8 of Amazon boycott of indie presses: Still no comment from New York, but …by Dennis Johnson

As we enter the second week of’s boycott of ebooks from over 400 American, Canadian, and British independent presses distributed by the Independent Publishers Group (IPG) (see our earlier MobyLives report), …

This is also a HUGE deal. I’ve said writers need to keep their options open, and need to deal with as many bookstores as they can. This is why. Amazon, like PayPal, is creating reasons for people not to use its service.  It is giving other sites and other companies the key to making it less relevant.  Watching both Amazon and PayPal making these mistakes is like watching Letterman bring out TWO “Stupid Pet Tricks” acts at the same time. You look from one to the other and you wonder what the hell they’re thinking.

Finally, something that isn’t a Stupid Pet Trick.

IndieReader Helps Connect Authors with Their Readers

I can understand the gatekeeper perception of the traditional publishing process, but the world of publishing is changing. There are self-published authors and traditionally published authors, as well as those indies whose works are being published … Read more

I’m cheering for IndieReader. I like their slogan. Independent Books for People with Independent Minds.  I think that’s a damn good place to start.  I hope they’ll do well by their customers.

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