Covering Alternate History

Where Sarah Hoyt discusses the difficulty of putting a cover on alternate history works.  Go on and take a gander…

Mad Genius Club

This one is difficult, because you have to convey three things: alternate time line, where it deviated from ours, and what in general the reader can expect from the book.  You know: funny, serious or adventure.

The easiest ones are the ones that are sf or Fantasy and obviously so.  For instance, my dragon-shifter-red-baron will eventually when finished and ready to go have a dragon with the paint to match Richthofen’s plane, flying over the trenches. Title and subtitle will help, and I’ll come up with something.

Alternate history that is “just” alternate history is more difficult, and you sometimes have to “represent things that aren’t in the book to represent something that is in the book.”

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Never Do Business With…

There’s an old saying about commercial relationships:  “Never do business with someone you’re not ready to do business to.”  I can’t recall when I first heard it (recent attempts to blame my mother have been vehemently refuted by Mama Shark), but it’s something I’ve remembered.  Especially with regards to doing business with friends and family.

The implied task in that aphorism is A. read the contract (to prep the battlefield), B. always maintain a “war chest” that will at least allow one to consult with a lawyer, and C. when civility fails, be prepared to engage in (legal) barbarism.

I provide that introduction as I relay a blog post from fellow author Alma Boykin.  To be blunt, an author got hosed by his publisher.  As in, “Hey dude, we’re just going to rob you of your royalties because, to be frank, we’re not worried about you doing anything about it.”  Mistakes happen once.  Happenstance may explain a second time.  But when someone forgets to pay you 13 years of royalties, that’s malevolent action.

I would argue my first warning on this is, as always, try to have a lawyer read your contract.  Second, if you’re going to deal with a publisher, get an agent.  (With the corollary of making sure they’re not linked to the publisher you’re signing with.)  Because if there’s one person who is going to raise a fuss over some math that smells like it just came off a tuna boat, it’s the other person who won’t get paid unless you do.  Especially given that person probably has contacts in the publishing world who will be like, “Wow, you’ve gotta be happy with how [insert your title] is doing!”  “Wait a minute…”

If you’ve chosen to ignore 1 and 2, then start figuring out an action plan when things go hokey.  Over at the Passive Voice, the host lists several helpful actions.  He’s an attorney, and these are all very sound.  That being said, I’m afraid at some point a person is beyond worrying about “grease” and well into “seeking pound of flesh.”  Certainly in the case of the author relaying this, I’d be checking with a solicitor / attorney (see “This is why you keep a war chest…”) as to whether that then kicked things into civil court.  Why?  Because that’s where the damages are.  At the point someone’s been sitting on my wages for 13 years and now refuses to go into arbitration, I’m going to gleefully seek an opportunity to start nailing body parts to the bulkhead.  If for no other reason than good companies don’t do this, so as a person I feel one should be willing to make sure they don’t do it to someone else.

Now, understand, being ready to do battle does have its risks.  Short term, this will make it hard to get future contracts.  Your publisher is probably going to smear your good name all over the place.  Which if you get evidence of them doing, save that, as few things are sweeter than people who wronged you having to make public retractions.  (“Tell them your name…” and all that.)

Long term, you might end up with your rights back and little else.  Court costs are expensive as hell, and you may literally spend $10,000 to get $11,000 of royalties.  However, I would submit that if a company is screwing up this bad, they may go under.  What an author doesn’t want to have happen is them go under while still holding your rights to your work.  Especially if the contract is at all squiggly about future, unrelated projects, i.e., “Publisher holds right to first refusal on all other writing projects…” (huge paraphrase there–but see guest blogger Amie Gibbons’ talking about rights here).  Having seen that recently with other companies that have folded, that is a form of writer purgatory (with another link here).  Personally, I’d rather burn the money to be clear of the impending shipwreck–but everyone must do what is in their best interests.

Fight…for your rights…NO REALLY

A friend of mine shared this news story out of Los Angeles today.  When I saw the headline and preview, I had to do a double take to make sure it wasn’t The Onion.  I cant’ really fathom who thought this was a good idea to try and fit into an employment contract, even as a negotiation start point.  It’ll be interesting to see if A. this is in the final offer and B. just how quickly it takes for it to result in litigation.  Indeed, part of me wonders if this is a law firm trying to make future work for itself.

Let this be a lesson to would be writers:  Always read your employment contract’s portion on intellectual property.  If you have questions, get a lawyer involved.  A prospective employer can and likely will try to put anything in a contract, to include attempting to claim rights which they would seemingly have no right to.  While this story is in the news, I have a fellow author who had a would be employer try to slip similarly punitive language into his “signing on” contract.  When he (rightfully) called the employer on it, they immediately provided him with a different set of signing papers with the offending language removed / revised.  Needless to say, this immediately colored his view of the folks who wanted to hire him.

As always, keep your head on a swivel.

On Anthologies

So there was a discussion on a fellow author’s Facebook about anthologies.  While I wasn’t going to add to my long “to do” stack, Cedar Sanderson felt strongly enough about the issue to put together a great post about the topic, while Dorothy Grant also gave her views on the topic.

I’ll add a couple things here.  First, getting paid in contributor’s copies is also worthwhile if you sell books in person.  I’ve been able to seal many a deal at cons with a “Hey, I can throw in this bludgeoning device, I mean, anthology for half price…”.  While this may make your neighbors slightly angsty (“How in the hell are you selling a book that thick for only $10?!!”), it’ll be worth it.

This also provides another illustration of how anthologies are a marketing tool.  To put it even plainer, anthologies will not, as a rule, make you rich by themselves–too many mouths to feed.   However, as a marketing tool, they do allow you to use someone else’s network to propagate your name to the masses.  So once you have a back catalog, definitely take advantage of the chance to bang out a 10,000-word story in one of your chosen genres.

From the editor’s perspective, I can also say that the biggest trick to actually getting accepted is to read the rules.  In a couple cases I merely had to gently, but firmly, remind people that there was a word count band for a reason, and that neither Chris Kennedy or I felt comfortable paying someone a full share for less work than we’d asked for.  Thankfully they were able to add elements to the story that made them even more awesome (because, believe me, they were amazing even in shortened form), and we were able to proceed with no problems.  However, not everyone is going to have the time or wherewithal to make corrections like this.

Closely behind following the rules is, as with all things, be a professional.  Positive example of this–I had an author who had, shall we say, a horrendous stretch of bad luck.  She not only persevered, but her story was kick ass and a great addition to the anthology.  A negative example was the author who, after getting a multi-week delay to get their 33% over word count story back within parameters, had a fit of pique because I did not call them.  Yeah, don’t be that person, as the expectation that an editor is personally going to call 10+ authors is insane.  At best, expect that a good editor will make regular email contact, keep you appraised of publication delays and, finally, tell you when the anthology is done.  From the author’s perspective, professional behavior means letting the editor know if there’s going to be a delay, definitely making any extended deadlines, and generally conducting oneself in a manner that makes an editor decide “Whoa, I’m adding that person to my next gig if at all possible.”  There’s a reason you got invited in the first place, so don’t mess it up (and possibly also harm a recommending friend’s reputation) by being a jerk.

Any questions about anthologies?  Hit me up in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.  Also, Those In Peril is still burning up the charts on Amazon, so go grab a copy if you want to see theory in action!

The Write Up That Was Foretold…

So about a year ago, when I was talking to several of my fellow indie author friends, they mentioned a convention known as “LTUE.”  When I asked what the acronym stood for, I was told, “Life, The Universe, and Everything.”  Being familiar with conventions overselling and underperforming (and shamefully not recognizing the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy quote), I merely nodded and made a note that the event existed.  I mean, surely a convention full of writers couldn’t be really that good.  Plus, as long-time readers of this blog know, I go to cons to fleece people, erm, I mean, give them products in exchange for money.

Hi, my name is James, and I’d like to talk about why you shouldn’t be as idiotic as I was.

 

BLUFLTUE isn’t a seller con, it’s a professional one. (Although, there was a dealer room and I did get my wife a really nice dice bag from Words & Geekery, a local small business.)  If you are an indie author, you should go expecting to have knowledge poured into your head by people who are quite knowledgeable in their field.  You should also go expecting to hear diverse points of view.  Finally, you should attend to reconnect with old friends, make new ones, and quite possibly end up dragooned into moderating / guesting on multiple panels.  Like, oh, nine or so of them.

If you’re looking for a blow by blow AAR, friend and fellow indie Cedar Sanderson is starting a really good one here [EDIT: and the rest of it here]. I’ll simply give some background and hit the highlights of my attendance, but Cedar captures the nuts and bolts of what it was like day to day.  I will say that there were Belgian Waffles:

Belgian Waffles

Stores that made me wonder if the Mortal Kombat crew had fallen on hard times:

 

Subzero

And my favorite, traps, erm, I mean, hazards:

Tripping

LTUE used to be held at BYU, but outgrew the college and was held at the Provos Marriott.  Inprocessing was pretty easy, especially as originally I wasn’t planning on presenting.  Indeed, I specifically said to my friends that I was coming “as an innocent bystander,” i.e., just some rando guy who happened to know people until I got the feel of the convention.  This is standard for me (several of my friends are laughing right now), as it’s a lot easier to get a good feel for things if one grabs a seat in the corner of a room and just listens.  However, I greatly underestimated the number of Libertycon alumni who would not only be attending, but were quite happy to dime me out as knowledgeable history and military subjects.  When the head of the con walked up and said, “Oh, you’re Dr. James Young, I’ve heard so much about you”, I kind of knew my [albeit flimsy] cover had been blown.  Hilarity ensued from that point on, especially when I may or may not have heckled fellow author Kal Spriggs. I pretty much stood in for my friend and fellow indie Peter Grant (who ended up having to cancel at the last minute) as well as another author/presenter who just flat out didn’t show up.

This leads well to another discussion that is very pertinent not only to LTUE but conventions in general:  If you’re ever asked to present, moderate, or be a panelists at a conference, the most important thing to do is show up.  If unable to do the most important thing, it is incumbent that you let not only the convention organizers but your fellow panelists know that you will not make it.  I will merely say that missing three days of a panels with nary a word to folks who expected you to be on panels is a great way to get a reputation as a jerk.  Stiff people like that, you better be able to say, “Well, there was that little matter of me nearly dying…” or “Look, I didn’t know my first cousin owed the cartels money and they were going to kidnap me to make my grandma pay up.”

On the other hand, being able to discuss a topic coherently, even with no warning, is a good skill to cultivate as an author.  Furthermore, seizing the opportunity to either moderate or be on a panel will, apparently, get one kudos for an entire weekend as well as a reputation.  Finally, being on panels is a great way to meet other subject matter experts in your field.

 

Even more fun than being on panels, however, was attending several (list at the bottom of the post).  I learned a lot about prison guards, artist networking, The Cuban Missile Crisis, and various other sundry subjects than I had expected.  A panel on death and dying provided by a good friend who is also a hospice nurse not only gave me a story idea but also helped me reconsider my own blind spots and how I dealt with terminal disease in some books.  There was a panel in which I learned new ways to assess gender and power relationships in both reading and writing.  Lastly, I got to meet one of my favorite alternate history authors by total and complete accident.

That last one deserves its own paragraph.  When Angels Wept is an alternate history of the Cuban Missile Crisis done by Dr. Eric Swedin that won the 2010 Sidewise Award.  Having only met Eric the night before, I did not put his name and the book together when I started talking to another individual about the book.  That person pointed out that Eric had given him a copy, at which point I said, “You gave him a great book.”  To which Eric replied nonchalantly, “I know, I wrote it.”  After a moment of fanboying, I pointed out that at least he knew I honestly liked it and wasn’t just being polite.  (Why yes, next year I do intend to take my copy to have him sign it.  Why do you ask?)  However, bonus points: I was also able to recruit Eric for To Slip the Surly Bonds, the next Phases of Mars alternate history anthology which will focus on air combat.

In the end, it was this face-to-face interaction that was LTUE’s best aspect.  There are only a few cons where several New York Times bestselling authors and illustrators (to include Brett Helquist, who is simply amazing with his advice and knowledge) are not only in attendance, but also  happy to share their experiences at length.  This by itself makes LTUE worth its low price of admission ($55) and the trip out there.  Add in the fact you get to test new plot outlining technology and have a chance to talk with experienced editors looking for clients, and it’s almost stealing.  If you’re an indie author, especially west of the Rockies, LTUE should definitely be on the list of cons to attend at least once.

List of panels where I was either the moderator or a panelist (so you can find them if LTUE puts them on YouTube):

“Joining the Rebellion”—Moderated

“Chesney to Heinlein to Weber: The Evolution of Military SF”

“Rules of Engagement”

“Heinlein and the Battlefield: Starship Troopers’ Influence on the Military”—Moderated

“The Art of War 1 and 2”—This was a double panel

List of panels I attended:

“On Death and Dying: Watching Over the Terminally Ill”—As noted above, this was done by my friend, and hospice nurse, Amanda Fuesting.  Amanda rocked it, and if you’re ever around for her doing a repeat, go.  Not just as an author, but as someone who will likely end up with someone close to you being terminally ill.

“Book Cover Design and Layout”

“Prisoners and Prison Guards”

“Writing a Diverse Cast Without Stereotyping”

“Hacking in Fiction” –Henceforth known as the one in which I’m pretty sure the attendees watched a young woman embrace a path to super villainy because she “had student loans to pay.”)

“Making a Living Through Art”

“Feminism and Intersectionality in SFF”

“Networking for Artists”

“Realistic Self-Publishing: What It Takes to Make It in the World of Self-Publishing”—This is a must see if it makes it to the YouTube channel.  Ms. Keary Taylor did an excellent job of laying out the path to success for a new indie author.

“The Cuban Missile Crisis”

“Working With a Cover Artist”—This one was an interesting juxtaposition on how covers are approached by small press, indies, and traditional publishing.  There was one point where Cedar, seeing my gnashing my tongue to ribbons, tried to get me to say what I was thinking.  Ha ha ha…no.  😀

A note on getting there:  I chose to drive out to Provos from the Fortress of Despair due to the fact I hate flying and it’s kind of hard to bring books on an airplane.  [“Wait, I thought you said this wasn’t a selling con!”  It wasn’t—doesn’t mean I was going without product.  Please.]  A couple of my West Point classmates graciously let me crash at their place (Thanks Shannon and Joe!  Baby goats!) on the way out, so I decided to take I-80 across Wyoming and Utah.  It was a pretty scenic drive despite high winds in Utah and a snowstorm that went from “Oh, it will be a light dusting…”-forecast to “Yep, Frosty the Snowman found out about your affair with his wife and is coming for your soul…”-actuality.  Bonus?  Got to drop in and see the guys at Die Hard Dice, a regular supplier of accessories for my and Anita C. Young’s DnD habit.

On the way back east, I drove I-70, and that’s probably not happening again anytime soon.  *shudder*  Something about being higher than the majority of aerial combat over the Eastern Front in World War II was unsettling.

Vale Summit

The skiers returning to Denver from the slopes didn’t help my mood either.  Add in yet another snowstorm, and I think I’ll take the wide open spaces of Wyoming over choked mountain passes any day of the week.

I70 Traffic

Still, driving was definitely the way to go if you’re attending the con.  I came back with lots of goodies and business cards, plus stopped and saw friends along the way.

 

LTUE Snippet and Those In Peril

Hey Everyone!

So last week was pretty wild.  I attended Life, The Universe, and Everything (LTUE), a writer’s symposium based in Provo, UT.  Longer discussion coming soon, once I have a chance to collect all my thoughts and note from the weekend.  Suffice to say I had a blast, got to see lots of old friends and make new ones, plus network.  Highly recommend, especially if it’s a trip that won’t require a hotel stay.

While I was at LTUE, Those In Peril, the alternate history anthology I edited with Chris Kennedy, dropped.  To be clear, when I say “dropped,” I’m meaning out the bottom of a B-san on an unsuspecting civilian city.  Not only did Peril rocket to the top of the alternate history charts, at one point is was #513 on Amazon’s charts period.  As in, there were only 512 books that sold more copies than Those In Peril did on 15 February.  I remain totally blown away, and hope everyone reading this decides to go grab a copy.

For all the LTUE folks who were at my panels, feel free to poke around.  As I mentioned, I talk about cover art here, also here, and finally here.  History-wise, I have entire categories dedicated to air warfare and naval history.  Feel free to poke around a little bit, and I’ll probably be putting another short piece together again in the coming weeks.  Thanks for stopping by!