Happy Veteran’s Day Potpourri Post

So it’s been a bit since I’ve updated the blog.  I figured I’d hit some of the high points of the last couple of weeks:

Attended the Ozark Book Con down in Fayetteville this past weekend as a vendor.  First year event with all that entails, but had good panels and talks with several good authors.  I recommend attending the event for the professional aspects if you’re in the area.  If you’re coming from out of the town, it’s definitely a “Hey rando friend I haven’t talked to in years, mind if I sleep on your couch?” until it grows some.  Which, given the professionalism and drive on display, I think it definitely will.

On the way back, finally got to meet Acts of War‘s editor, Mary, in person.  In addition to being long overdue, the fact it’s been 5+ years since that book went through her able hands made me marvel at what modern technology makes possible.  Although her current work with medical journals precludes her from working on anything else, I’m glad that a mutual acquaintance said “Hey, I know someone who might be able to help you…” many moons ago.

Speaking of the Usurper’s War series, Against the Tide Imperial continues to move along.  Unfortunately, after getting read the riot act by an author mentor, I’ve had to accept that the Phases of Mars anthologies are 100% my “books for the year.”  Combined with the new day job’s obligations (oh, yeah, I got promoted and changed positions), the process of putting out Those In PerilTo Slip the Surly Bonds, and Trouble in the Wind has pretty much sucked up a lot of available time.  So, rather than put out a substandard product or skimp on marketing, Against the Tide Imperial is slipping to the right again.  The manuscript will get done this year (which means preorders will be up), but the actual _book_ is probably going to be out in 1st Quarter 2020.  *angry author noises*

This dovetails to a professional lesson that I am learning again, but in a different dialect:  Projects are rarely as easy as they may initially seem.  At the beginning of the year, with Those In Peril shooting up the charts, “Suuuure, we can do two more of these this year…” seemed like a good plan.  What I now realize is one can do three books in a year, it just means one probably shouldn’t also do cons and other creative projects if there’s also a fourth book one would like done.  So, for 2020, the lesson will be, “No, I think that timeline doesn’t work for me, thank you…” as I get solo projects back in line.  (Feel free to remind me of this in the comments when my hair is on fire again this time next year.)

In addition, having now done editing three times, I cannot emphasize enough that you should always pay your damn editor.   It’s a whole different animal than writing, and I will issue a blanket, heartfelt mea culpa for some of my past sins to my editors.  In addition, as an author, understand that your editor’s job is to polish up your work.  “Polish” implies that you have done a grammatical read through, researched the technical aspects of the work, and are basically giving the editor a complete story that just needs a set of professional eyes to look upon it.  This goes doubly so for an anthology submission.  Indeed, I’m just going to let John G. Hartness take it away…(language alert…NO REALLY!):

Anyway, it’s Nano (and yes, I’m counting these words), and I’m going back to US CVs about to go to guns with an Italian Fleet.  (Yes, that’s a teaser.)

Loss of A Sensei

Sensei. n. A teacher or instructor usually of Japanese martial arts (such as karate or judo).

“No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away…” ― Terry Pratchett, Reaper Man.

 

On Monday, I learned that one of my  doctoral committee members had passed away.  As one should do when a person’s made a big impact on your life, I’m going to throw my own rock into the proverbial River of Time to commemorate someone most of you never had the joy of meeting.

I first met Al Hamscher in Spring 2006.  Dr. Hamscher taught “Writing In History,” a class solely devoted to developing an article for professional publication.  I walked into his class having won awards, scholarships, and money in writing classes.  In short, I thought I knew what the hell I was doing writing-wise, and that this was basically going to be a pro forma easy A.

I’m not saying that this was Dr. Hamscher’s actual face…giphy

 

…but I am saying it was close enough.

I mean, I’ve been hazed.  I’ve been forced to box against the Corps of Cadets champion for the sheer amusement of my instructor.  (Okay, fine, not just sheer amusement…) Bent into a near pretzel shape only to be told “high zero.”

None of these things approached the sheer frustration I felt in the first few weeks of that course.  Dr. Hamscher warned us up front that he was acerbic.  I figured I knew what that word meant.  Born and raised in Philadelphia, the man made me understand how Santa Claus got booed at the Linc, why Rocky was dumb enough to fight Apollo Creed the second time, and why “The City of Brotherly Love” was the biggest false advertisement since the Serpent talked Eve into biting the Apple.  From a man who walked into that course supremely confident in my abilities, I was beginning to doubt my ability to string together coherent sentences.  I could see the same creeping “What the ___ have we done?” creeping into my classmates’ faces also as we each presented our drafts in round robin fashion.

Then a funny thing happened. About draft number 3, after getting good and strafed (he may have said “Tell me everything you know about the Golan Heights. Leave nothing out!” and apparently misheard my inquiry of “Uh, everything?”), it was like something clicked.  Really clicked.  As in, suddenly I had leveled up as an author and as a historian. The end result was “The Heights of Ineptitude,” my first professional article of any sort.

Both of my classmates also subsequently published their articles in professional journals, nor were we alone. At one point, Dr. Hamscher had an over 90% success rate with folks who took “Writing In History.”  I didn’t matter whether it was military, women’s, American, or some other historical discipline.  If a student was willing to have a thick skin and take direction, Dr. Hamscher was able to be a cross between Pai Mei and Obi-Wan Kenobi for historians taking their first steps into “publish or perish.”  Although I am fairly certain each of us getting published will never compare to the joy he felt when his beloved Eagles finally won the Super Bowl, Dr. Hamscher always made sure I knew how proud he was of me and what I’d accomplished.  Having taught thousands of undergraduate and graduate student, the ripples Al Hamscher created will continue to lap against various intellectual shores for decades.

“Philly Philly,” Dr. Hamscher.  I’m glad to have known you both as a mentor and a person, and thank you for making me a better writer.

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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At the Sharp End

This was the runner up for last week’s Memorial Day edition of Metal Monday.  Like Five Finger Death Punch, Avenged Sevenfold has done a lot to support members of the Armed Forces by putting in their time with tours.  “Danger Line” is a pretty intense song about a soldier’s last moments and the chaos of combat, and I’ve used it as background for several scenes in Aries’ Red Sky.

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.

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!

Four Days With My People (GENCON 2018)

GENCON.

Man.

Part of the reason I’ve taken so long to do this AAR is that I was having trouble trying to put the experience into words.  It’s been two weeks since I loaded out of Indianapolis and began the long trip home…and I still find myself having a goofy smile for no good reason.  If you crossed Toad the Wet Sprocket’s Walk on the Ocean with some goth synth metal fantasy power ballad all over a rolling dice track, that would probably be what my homage to “The Best Four Days in Gaming” would probably be.  Which is ironic, because I didn’t do a whole lot (read none) of gaming.

So what was so great about it? More on that later.

TL:DR for those here for the “Go or not go…” from the author’s perspective:  That hall is wait listed for a reason, and I did great fiscal murder there.  With only books, my books, as in I couldn’t even take any anthologies there.  No prints either.  So, if you want a chance to hand out your swag at a con that has (conservatively) to 75,000 rabid gamers and can get into the author alley, go.

NOTE: I was wait listed and got into Author’s Alley late.  

I will add this caveat, however:  Lodging is going to eat you alive.  If you are comfortable with Air BnB, several vendors had success with that.  However, if you’re not comfortable with Air BnB, expect to spend upwards of $600 on lodging, and that’s if you don’t stay downtown.  Which, for the love of God, stay downtown if you can.  Technically, according to the hotel I was staying at and Mapquest, it should have taken 25 minutes to get downtown.  Yeaaah, that’s not counting weekday rush hour my friends.  Time is money, and in this case it’s worth that extra $10-$15 a night to be able to walk back to your hotel if necessary.

The tables in Author’s Alley were your standard 6-foot con table.  As originally set up, the grey walls behind were angled in order to make them slightly more stable.  This…this was a problem, as it sharply constricted the back area space, meaning I had to empty two of my book crates:

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“I think we’re going to need a bigger booth…”
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“It’s also going to be super awkward if I don’t sell anything…”

Despite the booth shock, load in (and load out) went really well.  This was a con that took security seriously, and woe be unto you as a vendor or help if you did not have your badge during setup.  Park in Parking Lot A if you go–it’s not that much further than the “Marshalling Yard” behind the building, and you won’t have to wait for a pass to park.

 

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All done!

The crowd, as to be expected from the gaming community, was mostly (high and epic) fantasy fans, then about 75% of those sci-fi as well.  The Butcher’s Blade print, as always, was a life saver.  As my neighbors all observed, it made people stop and look, I could engage them in conversation, and at that point the magic usually happened.  Again, if only I had apparently talked to the right person and been told “book related merchandise” was safe to sell.

Speaking of fantasy, it also helped that I had great neighbors.  To my right was fellow sci-fi author Hans Cummings:

Hans at GENCON.jpg

To my left was Fantasy Author J.J. Sherwood (here with your humble host and her hubs, Michael):

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Good neighbors make any Con go well, and J.J. and Hans were awesome.  Since J.J. did not do sci-fi, she sent folks over to me.  As I lacked fantasy, I sent folks over to her.  It went really well.

So, again, if you have a chance to do GENCON as an author, do it.

If you have a chance to go to GENCON as a guest? Well, now we get to where I talk about “tribe.”  For those of you who don’t know, I’m a huge role playing game fan.  (“Wait, wait…you dropped DnD references and names throughout An Unproven Concept.”)  Being around 75,000 other people who shared the same passion was amazing.  I spent most of the weekend talking to people with whom I didn’t have to explain phrases like, “Oh, so you’re a World War II buff as well?  I shall now make my persuasion roll with advantage…” (and yes, she bought the alternate history anthology).  Even better when you see familiar faces from the Kansas City area and do a mutual “Wait, what?  Why are you here?!”  Plus, there were cool books like this:

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And a truly impressive charity set up:

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In addition, there’s Critical Role Live (if you get your tickets early enough):

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I was in a theater with over 2,000 fellow crazies when this brought the house down:
Sam on Skates

Courtesy of Leigh 574

For those of you who don’t know who that is or why we were all ecstatic about a man in a pink suit on roller skates coming out with a headlight in his crotch, I can only point you here, then point you here, and say this has been one of the best stories I’ve ever consumed.

Finally, I got to see old friends after several years.  To include my friend Quiltoni (“Queen of the Quilts” as I’ve been known to call her) and her merry band of booth helpers.

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(No, there’s not a quilter in there…we all forgot to take pics the whole weekend)

So to recap:  Go to GENCON for the sales, stay for the community.  It’ll probably be the best 4 days of your life, the people were awesome, and I have zero regrets about taking the plunge into Author’s Avenue (even with the spinning wheel of doom).  I don’t know if I’ll do it next year (I have my sights set on a couple of other shows that might eat the leave), but it was worth it this year.

 

News on Reviews

Recent news about Amazon reviews here.

My quick thoughts:

Jeff Bezos and the gang are not playing around.  This is a strong action taken against click farms and other gimmicks that have had Amazon’s review / marketing features in the news for all the wrong reasons.  It was starting to appear to some indie authors as if Amazon did not care so much about review veracity as long as the money was flowing in for sales.  This would seem to indicate Amazon cares a great deal about protecting the integrity of its brand.

Getting reviews just got harder.  If you have books in Kindle Unlimited, this probably means that getting borrower reviews may be more difficult.  I know of at least one regular indie reviewer who is on a fixed income (hence why he does KU).  It sounds like this is $50 total lifetime, but still–it’s just another barrier to having, say, people who borrow a book from the library give an author good buzz.

Grudge Killers.  While I’ve yet to annoy someone enough that they thought it was worthwhile to create 20 different accounts to one star me, I know of several authors who have.  Amazon had previously had a “We have neither the time nor the energy to get involved…”-view of this.  However, I think in part this is due to several prominent figures getting just avalanched by fake accounts when they publish a memoir.  Regardless of the reasons for the beef, this should make it harder for crap like this to happen.

Overall I think it is a plus.  We’ll see how it turns out.