On Easter Eggs…

(I had this post in mind to write months ago, last Easter, but it wasn’t possible to write and post it back then for a variety of reasons.  Even though it’s no longer Easter, there’s no real connection beyond the name, so I figured I’d go ahead and write it now)

In 1979, a programmer for Atari, working on the game “Adventure,” was fed up with not being credited for his work. In secret, he added a feature that could be used to display his name, and never told his bosses even after he left the company. When Atari management learned of it, they considered removing the unauthorized feature, but instead decided to leave it in. Atari started adding more ‘hidden’ features for customers, calling them “Easter Eggs.”  (I pulled this bit of history entirely from the link; I’ll just assume it’s the truth and not apocryphal)  These of often fun little inside jokes, though sometimes (in software, at least) can add quite a bit of enjoyment to the game.

I like to have fun with my writing, even when writing about serious things.  Among other ways of doing so, I include ‘Easter Eggs,’ ‘Inside Jokes,’ whatever you want to call them.  Often, for me, this is in the form of ‘fantasy’ languages (for example, mid-way through In Treachery Forged, the characters partake in a Dwarven ‘Fu’Ro Bath‘), making subtle references to my other books and stories (such as when, in one draft (not the first) of The Merrimack Event‘s prologue, the archaeology expedition was digging up a building which greatly resembled the Royal Castle of Svieda; those details did not survive to the final draft, however), or giving characters certain meaningful names (like when I use one of the monuments in the city of Norre to add a expy-like tribute to the 1974 Washington Capitals season (and, in an earlier draft, to a certain Monty Python movie, but again that didn’t survive to the final version).  In my fantasy novels, many of the names I use are derived from names pulled off of international hockey rosters, and the Washington Capitals have long been my favorite team (WE GOT THE CUP! Uh… sorry; it’s been weeks and I’m still quite happy about that one).  Their inaugural season, in 1974, was an exercise in futility, however).

The difference between an inside joke and an ‘easter egg’ (at least, in this context) is that an easter egg is hidden away, but could be recognized if you know to look for it.  Most of the jokes mentioned above?  I try not to give any indication that they’re jokes, when seen in context, but it might be obvious to people in the know.  If you know Japanese, the ‘Fu’Ro bath’ was probably pretty obvious.  The archaeological dig’s discoveries might have been a bit obvious to my regular readers, if that scene had survived intact.  I’m not so sure casual fans of the Washington Capitals would recognize that particular tribute, but someone who was particularly knowledgeable on the team’s history might see it an go “wait, what?”

The trouble comes with what happens if you want your Easter Egg to refer to one thing, but readers might think it refers to something else.  I really, really wanted to name a character of a recently-written scene Ubleck the Unbreakable, who would have had an odd fondness for certain types of custard-like puddings, but would readers (those who recognized the reference, anyway) think of the non-newtonian fluid, or the Dr. Seuss book it was named after?  Or would people recognize the reference at all?  Does it even matter?

Well, sadly, Ubleck the Unbreakable will NOT be appearing in the next Law of Swords book — I’ve already cut the character and merged his role in with someone else’s, so the pudding fiend will be saved for another time… perhaps.  But at least he reminded me of something I wanted to blog about, so there is that.

Well, that was fast…

When I wrote last weekend’s post, I was thinking the decision of which convention I would attend would be a long way off. Libertycon had just ended, and there’s no way to apply to be an “attending professional” (or even to buy tickets to attend as a fan) for Dragoncon 2019 until Dragoncon 2018 happens in September.

But Libertycon was quick to start selling badges for their 2019 convention.  And Libertycon has a limited attendance (of 750 people, which includes staff and guests).

Now, the EARLIEST Libertycon has ever sold out, in previous years, was March (for a show that has usually been in late June or early July).

At about noon, ET, on the day that badges for Libertycon 2019 were first offered (July 4th), I heard that there were under a hundred badges left available, and they were going fast.  So, instead of waiting until September at the earliest (as I’d planned), I had to decide which conference I’d be going to right then.  And, well, I just barely managed to pick Libertycon before all the tickets sold out.  Libertycon’s Facebook page says that it took 5 hrs, 52 minutes and 50 seconds to go from just going on sale to selling the last badge.

I suspect there are a number of factors going into why Libertycon sold out so much faster than usual (Such as:  There is a new hotel hosting it, announced during the closing ceremonies; the hotel they were at this year was a placeholder while that one was undergoing renovations and the hotel before it was widely hated.  There was apparently a new method of ticket-purchasing that made the early “run” on tickets more visible, so where in the past the initial wave of sales would peter out at about 1/4-1/3 of the available tickets on the first day, and then all the rest of the tickets would be sold at a much slower pace over the course of the rest of the year, this time people SAW the initial rush and panic-bought (sort of like I did).  There was a date change, for this year only, moving it back a month and into a time that might be more convenient for some people.  And so on).  Regardless, I managed to get a ticket before it sold out.

At this point, I haven’t gotten a hotel room (I usually never buy a badge for a convention until after I’ve secured a room, but the hotel the convention is hosted at is under renovation, and rooms cannot be reserved until September, at the earliest).  I don’t know whether I’ll drive or fly (confession time:  I’ve never flown in a plane, before; a balloon, yes, as a kid, but never a plane.  I’m thinking of changing that for this trip; however, I can’t even book a flight, yet, because the dates are a touch too far out), though I know I won’t be taking the train (despite there being a famous train museum in Chattanooga, I could not find any train rides that go there from where I live).  Meanwhile, according to Google Maps, it’s an eight to ten+ hour drive.  The most I’m comfortable driving on my own in a stretch is five hours, and at present it looks like I’ll be going by myself, so that would probably make it a two day trip (though if another person were going along, we could take “shifts” in the driver’s seat and probably make it in a day).  Or I could (as one person suggested) take the auto-train to Atlanta, and then drive the rest of the way… though that might take longer than either of the other two options.

As far as other considerations go, it’s far too early to worry about anything else.  I suppose I could try and apply to convert my badge over to a guest badge at some point, but I think it’s a good idea to attend a convention as a fan at least once before applying to be a guest there.  Maybe I could get a table in Author Alley?  Although that would require bringing books with me (which, if I fly, might be problematic), and I still haven’t attempted an Author Alley-type of sale at one of my more local and familiar cons.  We’ll see, I guess.

But, at least for right now, it looks as if I’ll be going to Libertycon next year.

I’d better finish my next book so I can afford to pay for it all, then.  (And if you want to help, you can always buy one of my books).

Deciding on Conventions…

(Once again, I’m a day late posting my blog.  It seems I’m always doing this, nowadays — I’d make the switch from (ir)regular Sunday postings to (ir)regular Monday postings official, but then I’d probably not get them out until Tuesdays!)

Libertycon (the science fiction convention, not the political one of the same name) was this past weekend. Much of my Facebook feed these past few days has been all about it (coincidentally, I’m sure. It has nothing to do with the fact that many of my Facebook friends are authors, and almost all of the Facebook groups I’m a part of are writing or sci-fi\fantasy related).

It’s been fun watching everything that’s been going on. There’ve been pictures of interesting panels galore, stuffed manatees and mastadons, and even a dancing cow. (No joke — an author was selling her books by agreeing to dance around in a cow onesie for thirty seconds to a minute (depending on product) each time someone bought one of her books).

I have never been to Libertycon.  I’ve wanted to go (precisely BECAUSE so many of my Facebook friends are regulars, there), but every year I’ve tried to budget for it, I’ve had something major stop me — for example, an air conditioner failing at just the wrong time, forcing me to instead spend that budget on a replacement air conditioner rather than a convention (it’s 100 degrees outside, as I’m typing this, so I REALLY hope that doesn’t happen again, any time soon.  As it is, the AC is barely keeping up).

I’m still hoping to be invited back to Ravencon as a guest in 2019, but after seeing all the Libertycon-related posts I thought I might try, one more time, to go there as well next year, even if I can’t go as a guest.

I felt much the same, last September, when Dragoncon was happening and so many of the same people (and then some!) were attending.  Unlike Libertycon, I’ve been to Dragoncon before (once).  It’s utterly massive, and while quite fun it’s also a lot of work, even if you’re just attending (as I was).  I generally prefer smaller conventions, and it can be a bit overwhelming, but at the very least there was no lacking of things to do the one time I went.

While it’s too late for 2018, I was thinking of applying to be an “Attending Professional” (what many smaller conventions call a guest) of Dragoncon in 2019.  If accepted, it would be a big step in my career — the largest con I’ll have been a guest (or “attending professional”) at, and the first “non-local” convention I’ll have guested at.  Assuming they accept my application, that is.

The thing is, Libertycon is a small con, like I prefer (they have an attendance cap to ensure that).  I’d probably have a lot more fun there than I’d have at Dragoncon (though it’s not as if going to Dragoncon would be a huge burden — I’m sure I’d enjoy attending there, as well).  It’s a more social event — I’d probably be able to do more socializing than I have since a couple years before I published “In Treachery Forged.”  Just attending such an event (even not being a guest) would probably be pretty good for business.

I can only manage two to three conventions a year, and I’m already planning on Ravencon next year.  Due to the efforts and costs of traveling, I’ve only got the budget and time for just one of those two events, not both.  Assuming I go to either, that is — I could stick to just one convention next year, or try for somewhere more local where I have a better shot at getting a guest slot.

Decisions, decisions….

Moving on to other things…

Note:  This post was ready to go last night, but I (to be blunt) forgot to post it.  Oops!  Still getting back into the blogging habit.

After last week’s post, you must be wondering what I’m going to talk about here. (Well, maybe not, but _I_ sure was wondering what I’d be doing for this blog this week). I’m certainly not going to talk politics, or wade in on whatever the latest outrage is in the publishing industry. (I do think there have been some less controversial newsworthy stories in the publishing industry over the past couple months, but I don’t think I’d cover the one that comes to mind the most better than the articles I learned the story from)  However, this week an offer came to my attention that actually gives me something to talk about.

For years, I’ve used Adobe InDesign CS6 to build my print books with. InDesign is professional-grade design software used for the creation of PDF files that meet the best standards of most printers and print shops.  It is possible to create professional-looking print book without such software, but this kind of software provides specialty tools that can improve on that.

CS6 was the last non-cloud version of their software, which is the “industry standard” for book design, but it’s now several versions out-of-date, and the only updates for it require paying a monthly subscription fee.  I far, FAR prefer paying one-time fees, I hate working on the Cloud (especially when it comes to software I am likely to use when I’m away from home and internet access is uncertain), and Adobe software and for as long as I typically use this kind of software, paying that subscription fee can be more expensive in the long run.

CS6 isn’t very instinctive to use, however, and can be difficult to work with.  From what I’ve seen of it, the cloud-based updates are just as difficult to manage and more (because they need to add in the new features, many of which I’d never use).  It also is showing signs of age; most of Adobe’s technical support for the product ended in 2014, and even the last bits of legacy support for the product ended in May of 2017.  Worse, while I am still using Windows 7, I understand that CS6 is only partially compatible with Windows 10, so if I ever upgrade my operating system it will probably break my InDesign.

This has had me thinking about alternatives for a while, now.  Much like Coke has major competitors in Pepsi (and smaller competitors in Royal Crown, Hansen’s, and other smaller soda companies), InDesign does have a couple major Industry-accepted competitors:  Scribus (a freeware program I tried out for one project; it works, but the six year old version of InDesign I use felt more modern), Microsoft Publisher (sometimes bundled with Office; it’s considered something of an entry-level version of the software, and I believe more recent versions are also cloud-based subscription model-only software), and QuarkXPress.

QuarkXPress is the big one.  Back when I was studying computer-aided design in college (this was more years ago than I care to admit), QuarkXPress WAS the industry standard, and while InDesign was gaining ground it was still number two.  The courses I took in college were centered around… whichever version of QuarkXPress was the latest at the time (or Microsoft Publisher, depending on which class and which year).  It was only when InDesign was bundled with Photoshop in the “Creative Suite” (2003…ish) that InDesign overtook them.  At least, from what I remember of them both in 2003, when I last had access to the latest versions of each piece of software, QuarkXPress was a far more intuitive design.  Since then, QuarkXPress has been a bit under-the-radar (and arguably they had a few years where their updates underperformed the competition, though I understand they’ve turned things around and have been producing an excellent product, again, for the last five years), but they still have a good product, and they are continuing to update it without tethering you to some cloud-based monthly rate model.

And I recently learned that QuarkXPress is offering a significant sale to anyone using one of their competitors’ products, and I think that’s too good an offer to pass up.  I’ll still have InDesign CS6 around (at least until I switch computers) in case I want to update the old files, but I will be doing most of my work, going forward, using QuarkXPress.

So, when I get ready to prepare the print version of my next Law of Swords book (which is 90% written, based on word count estimates; I couldn’t possibly say based on outline, as I’ve thrown out the outline on this book, but that seems about right story-wise as well), it will be my first using the new software.  I’ll let you know what I think of the experience as it happens.

A Change of Plans…

I think I need to make some apologies, here. The planned “Ravencon Panels (I didn’t do)” series just isn’t materializing. Between blog outages, a hack, my mother falling ill (she’s okay; we think it was an attack of a chronic condition she’s had to deal with, before), and more, I’ve really gotten out of the habit of writing blog posts at all.

Worse, I just don’t seem to have the “free” time to write on this blog any more.  Or rather, I have fewer long stretches of time to work on the blog (without eating into my novel-writing time, that is; when I started this blog I decided right away that I wasn’t going to take time that I could otherwise use to write my novels to keep it up).

So I’m just going to discontinue the involved work needed for the Ravencon panels series, at least for now (I may cover the same topics from those panels in other posts, mind you, but not for some time, and not under that title) and move on to less intensive posts.  At the very least, I can’t keep postponing my Weekly Sunday Blog Posts without warning as much as I have.  I’m hoping to gear up the hype for my next novel, soon, and letting my blog sit around, dead, won’t help with that.

So… I’ve got no idea what my blog will feature next weekend, but I’m really hoping I at least get SOMETHING out.

Ravencon Panels (I DIDN’T do): Independent Publishing

I’ve had to re-write this intro three times, now.  At one point, this was supposed to cover two topics.  That changed once I learned this website had been hacked.  Now, I’m only covering one, and I’m probably cutting it short because I want to get this post out there (it really feels jinxed, in a way).

The two panels I’d hoped to be on, for Day One of the convention, were the “Independent Publishing” and the “Worldbuilding: Crafting New Worlds” panels. Go back through the past posts on this blog and you’ll find a lot of discussion on both topics (see here and here, respectively, for a couple examples, but I talk about aspects of both topics in numerous posts). That said, the world of indie publishing is always changing, and worldbuilding is a massive topic (we’re talking building whole WORLDS here… eh, so I’ve used that joke before, so what?).

To start with, on Indie Publishing:

Much of the discussion at this year’s (2018) Ravencon was not on self-publishing, as I had expected, but rather was about working with Small Press publishers.

Now, I’m almost entirely self-published (I’d say entirely, but there is that one story I did for that one anthology, and I did just have the audiobook for The Merrimack Event published through Tantor, so I can no longer say I’m wholly self-published), but I’ve been learning about the small press industry since I was ten years old, when my father was still alive and co-writing translations of Croatian Poetry.  And I continue researching it, keeping my ears open on all aspects of the publishing industry (Big 5, Mid-sized indie, small press indie, self-publishing, hybrid, vanity, etc.). So, I know a few things about it, even if my personal experience is limited.

For example, a number of successful self-publishers (or authors with even more experience) are turning their self-publishing enterprises into small press ventures.  I know of several (and I have worked with one):  Martin Wilsey, Chris Kennedy, and fellow Ravencon guest John Hartness (who was on the Indie Publishing panel).  Kevin J. Anderson (who you might be familiar with for his Star Wars novels, or for his contributions to the Dune series, but many of his 120+ novels were for original series or stand-alone novels) started a self-publishing company called “Wordfire Press” to re-release some of his out-of-print and backlisted titles; he now has a stable of over a hundred authors listed as having books released under that imprint.

IN GENERAL (some time in the next week a news story will come out with a counter example, I’m sure, but I’m not aware of one now), this latest crop of self-publishers-turned-publishers are treating authors far better than the Big Five do.  Better royalties, clearer language contracts, and none of the career-killing non-compete clauses, as some examples.

But small press is (and has always been) a mixed bag.  A small press publisher might treat its authors well, and appear successful, but could go out of business overnight.  This latest crop seems to be doing well (and I’m hoping for the best for all of them), but many of them are going into business without any other prior business or publishing experience.  This can be good (they may not have picked up on the bad habits of the industry) or bad (they may have no head for business and could easily go bankrupt, taking your books with them).  So, if you go that route you need to protect yourself.  That comes down to the contract you sign, but fortunately most indies are quite willing to negotiate.  And if you want advice on contracts, well, I am hardly an expert, but there are other bloggers who are.

Also, while not as prevalent as they were before, there still are shady vanity presses masquerading as small presses that prey on inexperienced and under-educated writers.  Before going into business with ANY publisher, big, small, or somewhere in between, educate yourself on good business practices from multiple sources, first.

There was also one author on this panel presenting the “hybrid publisher” model.  At least, I think the link’s description was what they were referring to (hybrid publishing has other meanings, too).  I will be honest — I don’t get the difference between the type of hybrid publishing described and the vanity press model (save, perhaps, the hybrid publishing model doesn’t always take all comers, and their services may be slightly better for the buck), and nothing that was said on this panel changed my mind on that, but this was just a fifty-minute panel.  While the author in question claimed to have success using their hybrid publisher, she did not go into details about what that meant, or how her hybrid publisher operated.

And  while this is a short-for-me post (especially after such a long wait), I think I’ll leave it here for now.  I will likely revisit this topic later (this has all been discussed before, and it will all be discussed again), but I managed to find a couple things I haven’t discussed (at least, not with these details) before.  Next post will be on Worldbuilding  (which originally was going to be combined with this post for one large “Friday panels” blog post, but after the hacking incident and other delays I just want to get something out there).  Expect another short post, but who knows?  Building worlds is a huge topic, after all.

Administrative Notes:

I know this blog has been quiet for the last few weeks, as far as its readers are concerned. It hasn’t been quiet here, behind the scenes, however.  I have a whole series of blog posts to write related to Ravencon (and its panels).  I’ve been looking forward to working on it, and went on to my blog a few weeks ago to start writing.

I instead had to scramble to fix the damage of someone hacking into my website. So, if you got a “this website may have been hacked” warning from Google or elsewhere… I’ve done what I can, and the problem should be fixed (at least nothing popped up in the scans), assuming nothing gets through between when I write this post and when I post it. I’ve been trying to fix it, myself, but since my tech team (me) is part time and under-educated for this sort of thing, it took me a while to take care of things.  I’d replace me, but it’s not in my budget to hire someone else.

Since the repairs have been completed, however, I’ve been trying to figure out how to prevent this from happening again without reducing functionality or spending way more money than I can afford.

Curiously, I only found out about the hack not because of a warning from my security software, but because Google had detected I was using an “outdated” version of vbulletin’s forum software. Since I’d deleted any forum software from this website years ago (and before it was deleted, that forum software wasn’t vbulletin), I knew something was wrong.

The hack appears unrelated to the problem from earlier this year that took this site down for a month, but it’s still troubling on that issue’s heels. Both problems seem related to plug-ins; one was a bit of old code that confused my security software, the other was a security hole in a different plug-in that a bot was able to use to hack into my website.

That hole that may have since been patched, but now I’m going through my old widgets, plug ins, etc, and deleting some old stuff that hasn’t had any updates for a while and may be vulnerable.  Much of it is stuff no-one out here will notice, but there are a few things you might see if you go digging deep in my blog’s archives.  The old polling plug-in that never worked right is now gone (which may mean the three year old posts that had been using that plug-in won’t display correctly, any more; I don’t think that’s a reason to keep the plug-in, however). I’ve also removed some broken links from previous blog entries that were detected during the clean-up process.

The next step will be to clean up and re-purpose the “Convention Calendar.”  At one point in time, I was hoping to use that plug-in to create a resource that could help SF\F writers and fans find writer-friendly conventions… but no-one ever seemed interested, the conventions themselves rarely cared when I e-mailed them to ask for a missing piece of information, and it took a lot of work, so I haven’t bothered updating it in ages.

Clearing out the calendar’s archives (which apparently attract harmful bots) will kill that plan for good.  I still think I can use the plug-in, however.  We’ll see.  After that, I may think about changing the “theme” for this blog; the current theme is one of the WordPress default themes, and is regularly patched by them (which, in theory, suggests they’re on top of plugging any security vulnerabilities), but it’s an older one, and apparently that might increase the potential for there to be exploits.  If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know.

Oh, and in unrelated (but still largely administrative) news, I finally made some minor updates to the Fennec Fox Press website.  Nothing major (most importantly, I added This Book Cannot Make Any Money to the “My Books” page, as well as an audiobook link for The Merrimack Event), but in the process I went through the “Fennec Fox Press Recommends” page and updated links to reflect newer editions, and to replace items that were no longer on sale.  I didn’t add anything all that new to it, but in the process I found that a book I would recommend to any writer (indeed, most creatives), which had long been out of print, came out with a new edition.  Since I think this particular book is so important for the writer, I will highlight the newest edition of The Law (In Plain English) For Writer’s.

And that’s it.  I had a blog post ready to go last week, but I didn’t want to put it out until I was confident that all the damage had been fixed.  So, starting next week, my long-delayed series of “Ravencon Panels (I Didn’t Do), 2018 Edition” posts will begin… unless something ELSE goes wrong.  (Sheesh, this year has been hard on this blog).

Ravencon Recap

A word of warning before we begin — I am typing this post up DURING the convention, sometimes during breaks between panels that give me only a few minutes at a time to recount something. I’m going quickly, and I’m not likely to be in any shape to do much editing when the convention is over, so there (probably) be typos here.

To start with, I left for the trip to Williamsburg on Thursday, in the middle of a wind storm, with dark and ominous clouds overhead that dumped rain on me for about a third of the trip.  Traffic was horribly slow, and I never could figure out why, but I do know that if I’d been going the other way along the same stretch of road things would have been worse:  Traffic was backed up for miles following some incident that I (after searching the web) couldn’t find out about involving two limos, an expensive-looking wrecked sports car (which looked as if it may have hit one of the limos, but the limo itself didn’t look damaged), and about thirty police cars all flashing their lights.

About the time that the CD in my car stereo started switching over to the Volga Boatman’s Song, the skies started clearing up.  Odd, that — the way things work, you’d think it should have gone the other way around.  The rest of the trip to Ravencon went smoothly, though I had the nagging sense the whole time that I’d forgotten a particular bag that had all of my toiletries, food, and similar supplies in it.  (Turns out I hadn’t forgotten that bag, but it was distracting me the whole rest of the drive).

I spent the rest of Thursday prepping for my moderator duties — I actually typed out the questions I wanted to ask so I’d have them ready for the convention, as well as copying in the selection of the upcoming book I plan to read, a copy of my schedule, etc., and used Scrivener to turn them into a .mobi file, which I uploaded to my Kindle.  And then I turned in (kind of late, because that chore took me longer than I’d thought it would), confident I was ready for the rest of the convention.  (As I’m typing this on Thursday, we’ll see how well that goes)

Now, I’d scheduled the Thursday trip expecting to be on a couple Friday panels.  It only made sense — my first Ravencon I asked for five panels, I gave them a list of my five favorites, five alternates, and three reserve alternates.  I wound up on seven panels, which (once they removed redundant panels, and factoring in the impossibility of being in two places at once) was all of the panels from my list that I could have possibly done.  For Marscon, I said I wanted to do six panels, again gave a list and an alternates list, and wound up on all of the panels and alternates I could have been on — a total of nine panels and a 2 hour workshop.  So, for this Ravencon — where they set the schedule before asking authors which panels they wanted to be on — I figured I’d ask JUST for the eight panels I wanted, expecting to be named to all of them and fearing that if I gave an alternates list I’d be on the alternate panels too.  Instead, I was only put on four of those panels, and got neither of the Friday panels I’d signed up for.  So… I guess I just don’t know what to do in order to sign up for the exact number of panels I want to participate in, with no fewer panels and no extra panels.  Sigh.

That said, I did go to attend a few Friday panels in the audience.  The first was the Independent Publishing panel, featuring John G. Hartness (expect to see his name again a few times), Ashley Voris, FT Lukens, Laurel Wanrow, and John (JC) Kang.  The intended moderator was absent (traffic, apparently), so John Hartness (who arrived late, himself) took over the role.  There was a moment of humor when he initially introduced himself as “The Late John Hartness,” and then let JC Kang know that “Hey, wait — you can’t be John, I’M John!”  I suggested (from the audience) that they instead refer to themselves as Late John and Early John (which they did a time or two).  The panel itself was interesting, though nothing I hadn’t heard before.

The next panel I went to, at 6pm, was Worldbuilding: Crafting New Worlds, with Michael Thompson, Jennifer R. Povey, Mark H. Wandrey (who has grown a rather impressive beard since I saw him, last, at Marscon), and Jean Marie Ward.  It was an interesting enough panel, but I did get the impression it needed more time.  The moderator, towards the end, was cutting the other panelists off noticeably, because he was trying to preserve time, and some topics which were raised “for later” but never discussed (Jean Marie Ward, during the first question, had mentioned avoiding “White Rooming”, and said she was expecting the moderator to bring that up in a future question, so she’d talk about that later; no such future question arose).  As big of a topic as this is (seriously, you’re talking about BUILDING WORLDS, here), it might justify a longer-than-standard panel.

I’ve been to dozens of conventions, and I think I’ve been to only one opening ceremonies (though it’s hard to remember, for sure, with some of my earliest ones).  Most of the time, that’s because it seems to be the best opening in my schedule for dinner, and this Ravencon was no exception.  So, I had an unremarkable dinner (the period of time was unremarkable, mind you, not the food.  The food was pretty good, for hotel fair), and then I returned to my room.

I didn’t have anything else I wanted to attend until the Eye of Argon reading at 10pm. Well, I’d PLANNED to go to the Eye of Argon reading — I got lost in a book, lost track of time, hadn’t thought it necessary to set up an alarm, and missed the start.

Oops. And that was it for Friday.

The first panel where I was sitting on the OTHER side of the table — the “Package Your Book to Sell” panel, where I was scheduled alongside Gail Z. Martin, Kim Iverson Headlee, and Alex Matsuo, was also my first panel on Saturday, period. I tried to get there early but arrived late (I have an excuse, involving the elevator and someone putting up signs for a party, but it’s a boring story so I won’t go into it here). Even so, I didn’t think I was that late, but I still felt as if I was playing catch-up with the other panelists for the whole panel. At least I was able to make a few points, at times, and the panel was well-attended, so I think it was successful.

After that, I went to lunch in the “Ten Forward,” a light fare station (with a cash bar, though I didn’t partake) set up in a meeting room. I needed something quick and light, and it was advertised as having “light fare,” but it was a little disappointing. The food was fast, but not very good (I had a luke-warm McDonalds-level hamburger, chips, and a warm canned soda. I had been told they also had pizza, but I didn’t see any while I was there).  There was supposed to be entertainment as well as food (fitting the theme of it being 10-Forward, they were supposed to have a series of Star Trek movies playing), but instead there was just a video projector and a group of people who were trying to get it to work and failing (as the movies were supposed to have started two hours earlier and run for at least six hours, I was wondering how long they’d been working at trying to get the thing to work).  Just as well — I wouldn’t have been able to stay until the end, anyway.

But it allowed me to have lunch in a hurry, which was important as one of the panels I REALLY wanted to be on (and wasn’t) was up next: “Ignore This Advice: Writing Tips that Aren’t So Great” with Greg Smith, Darin Kennedy, Misty Massey, and Michael A. Ventrella. I generally agreed with what they said, and they talked around it a bit, but they never quite said the point I would have loved to make: That just about EVERY generalized platitude you hear on writing should be “ignored,” because most writing advice is over-generalized. It’s usually good for addressing a specific problem that SOME writers have, but should not be used for EVERY writer, and applied to some writers it will weaken their writing rather than strengthen it.

After that, I had planned to attend the “Medicine in Fantasy” panel, because I’d applied to be on it and wanted to know what they were going to talk about for my upcoming “Ravencon Panels (I WASN’T on)” set of blogs… but I happened to also want to watch the Washington Capitals playoff hockey game, which was happening at the same time. As I did not HAVE to go to that panel (I can say quite a bit on that topic for my blog without attending the panel), so I skipped it to watch the game.

I had to leave before the game was over, however, so I missed a thrilling overtime goal by Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals to win the game in sudden death overtime.  Sigh.  Instead, I went to what was supposed to be a book reading.

Except… no-one showed.  Outside of the other author, Ken Shrader, there wasn’t anyone there.  Honestly, between the hockey game and the Clue murder mystery dinner theater performance going on at the same time, I probably would have skipped my reading, too, but I was hoping SOMEONE might pop in, curious to see what was going on.

I talked with Ken for a bit, then I decided to read a bit of Detective Hummer to see if anyone would come into a more active room (plus, sitting in silence was getting to be a little creepy), saving the clip from my next Law of Swords book until I had an audience.  Once I reached the end of the first scene, however, we’d been waiting there for a half-hour with no-one stopping by, and we just gave up (without me ever reading that clip).  I packed up my books and was about to leave when a teenage girl popped into the room, asking to see one of the stuffed Fennec foxes I’d brought to the con as swag.  I had plenty, so I let her have one of them, and then finished packing up to return to my room.

So I dropped my stuff off and updated this blog post to recount the reading.  And then it was dinner time — earlier than I’d planned, because I’d not expected the reading to end that early, but what can you do?

Turned out to be a good thing.  The restaurant was heavily backed up, warning people at the door that there was a one hour wait time.  I remember such wait times at the first Ravencon I went to at this hotel, which is why I usually planned my meals around 2+ hour breaks in my schedule, but this was the first time at this year’s convention it was an issue.  The food at this hotel always seems to be either good but slow (from the restaurant), or fast but barely edible (from their other eating stations).

But having started dinner early, I had enough time to return to my room, freshen up, and pick up my swag before my next panel — the Writer WithOUT a Day Job panel, alongside Guest of Honor Chuck Wendig, John G. Hartness, and Chris A. Jackson (the absence of Gail Z. Martin, who had lost her voice earlier in the convention, turned this into a “men with beards” panel, as someone in the audience suggested).  This was a fun panel.  John Hartness was cracking jokes in answer to every question, Chris Jackson talked a bit about having not quit his day job to become a writer but instead to spend his life sailing, and all of the panelists had a laugh when, in answer to the question “What are the things you like most about being a full-time writer as opposed to one with a day job,” they said (almost in unison) “Not having to wear pants all day!” (I forget which of them said it, but one of them added something like “Pants are the work of the oppressor!”)

I did burn through all of my planned questions a little fast (partly because two of them were rendered moot through the answers given to other questions), but the audience was full of follow-up questions, and I wish we’d had more time to answer them all.  I did give away another of my foxes after this panel (to one of the incoming panelists, I think, though I don’t know which one) once it was over.

That was pretty much it for Saturday.  Sunday was actually a little busier for me, however, at least at the start of the day.  To begin with, I overslept — I accidentally set my alarm for PM, not AM, and so… oops.  I didn’t miss my first panel of the day, but I also didn’t manage to fit in breakfast, either.

The first panel was “Promoting Yourself as a Writer” with John G. Hartness (moderating), Samantha Bryant, and Shawnee Small.  I was a bit flustered, having gotten up so late, and forgot my nameplate — not a good thing for a panel on self-promotion — but I had several of my books for display, my cards, and my foxes.  I started the panel by giving away yet another of those little guys, which may have been a SUCCESSFUL bit of self-promotion as it encouraged several people to come up and grab some of my post cards when the panel was over.

I found that the Hotel restaurant was still serving breakfast after the panel was over, and so in the end I did manage a late breakfast (even though I told the panel audience I was heading out to lunch).  And then back to my hotel room, to find my missing nameplate and swap around some of my display items.

After that was my final panel for the convention, “Self-Publishing on a Budget” with John G. Hartness and Michael G. Williams (who, in addition to self-publishing, writes books for Hartness’s Falstaff Books imprint.  Like some other veteran self-published authors I’ve met, such as Chris Kennedy and Martin Wilsey, Hartness’s self-publishing outfit has turned into a small press in its own right.  I’m still a few years away from that, even if I decide to go in that direction).

A fourth panelist (who I had never met, before, and who wasn’t listed as having any other panels at the convention, and whose name I couldn’t remember) no-showed, but the three of us handled the panel well enough without them.  John G. Hartness goes to dozens of conventions each year, and has a theater background, so he really knew how to play the crowd (which was true of all the panels we shared, but with fewer panelists it really showed here).  The only disadvantage to having so few panelists, though, was a lack of diverse viewpoints; I would have liked a different answer to “How do you go about setting a budget?” than “Well, I don’t set one,” but it was a valid answer to the question; I just think with more panelists we might have gotten some different answers.  It was pretty close to the last panel of the convention, however, so just having panelists with enough energy to keep the people in the audience entertained was a good thing.

And that was it for me.  I might have gone to the Dead Dog Dinner (a post-convention dinner gathering of guests and con staff; I went last year) had I known it was happening this year (just as there was no meet-and-greet for the guests this year, I figured there was no Dead Dog Dinner when I wasn’t informed about it in the various e-mails I’d gotten from the convention), but I didn’t find out about it until I received my author packet on Friday.  By that point, however, I’d already made other plans and couldn’t reschedule.

Overall, I enjoyed myself.  I think things went relatively well, with one or two hiccups along the way.

And this time I steered clear of the calimari.

Ravencon Schedule…

Note:  This was supposed to come out yesterday.  Oops.  I blame watching a disappointing playoff hockey loss for forgetting this… and everything else I had planned for last night.  Good thing, though — when checking through to add some links plugging my fellow authors, I found a change in the schedule which I really needed to know to prepare for.

The Ravencon schedule has come out. I originally signed up for eight panels (two on Friday, four on Saturday, two on Sunday; a nice, balanced schedule), but I only got three (Edit:  When I went to check times for the schedule, I found myself returned to one of the other panels, so I’m now on four?  Maybe?  Still not on the two I MOST wanted to do, but better). And l’ve still got the reading.

But, if you’re able to come to Williamsburg (Virginia) next weekend (that soon? Yikes!), I’ll still be there, attending some of the more interesting (to me) panels, even if I’m not on them as a panelist. The panels I DID get assigned are the following:

Saturday, Noon
Package Your Book to Sell
From covers, title design and what to include in the blurb, we discuss how to get your work off the shelf and into reader’s hands. (When I first checked this listing, there were four panelists on this panel, and now there are three.  Hm…)
Other panelists (as currently scheduled):  Gail Z. Martin (Moderator), Kim Iverson Headlee

Saturday, 6pm
As I’ve been saying for the last several weeks, I’ll be reading from the next installment of my Law of Swords series, and maybe giving out some swag (IF it gets finished in time).  If there is any extra time, however, I’ll also read selections from any of my public work that you request.
I’m apparently sharing the reading room with another author, Ken Shrader.  Not sure how that’s supposed to work, but I’ll take it.

Saturday, 9pm
Writer WITHOUT A Day Job
You’re a full-time author. How do you manage? (Note:  I proposed this panel.  I know that this is NOT the write-up I included with the proposal.  This one seems a lot more… abrupt, like a placeholder description that someone forgot to include the full write-up for.  I’ll have to look up my original proposal and bring it to the convention).  As the person who proposed this panel, I volunteered to moderate it.
Other panelists (as currently scheduled):  Chuck Wendig (Guest of Honor), John G. Hartness, Chris A. Jackson, and Gail Z. Martin

Sunday, 10am
Promoting Yourself as a Writer
How to pimp your writing and promote yourself.  (Again, this panel description feels like a placeholder.  Odd)
Other panelists (as currently scheduled):  John G. Hartness (Moderator), Samantha Bryant, Shawnee Small

Sunday, 1pm
Self-Publishing on a Budget
How to get yourself published on the cheap. (Yet again, a placeholder description.  Huh.  Are ALL of them placeholder descriptions?)  After the adventure that was recounted on this blog producing “This Book Cannot Make Any Money,” signing up for this panel made a lot of sense.  When I first checked the schedule, however, I wasn’t listed on it… but now, I seem to not only be on it, but I’m its moderator.  Uh… can do? (Now I’m kind of glad I’m a day late posting; I didn’t know I’d gotten into this one, after all, until Monday).
Other panelists (as currently scheduled):  John G. Hartness, Christie Mowery, and Michael G. Williams

I’ll be there all weekend, however, on a panel or not. And, as there were five (four, now?  Maybe I’ll get put back on some of the other panels I asked for between now and then) panels I was hoping to be on but wasn’t selected for, I think I’ll have a set of “Ravencon Panels (I Didn’t Do)” blog posts that will be coming out afterwards.

These panel\posts would include: Indie Publishing (well, maybe that’s covered by my old Self-Publishing Roundtable, but I’ll try to attend the panel and see if they bring up any points I should add.  It’s a pretty broad topic, so there’s a lot that could be covered), Worldbuilding: Crafting New Worlds (as a topic, this is pretty broad; again, I’ll try to attend this panel and structure my post around what’s discussed there), Ignore This Advice:  Writing Tips that Turn Out Not to be So Great (since hearing about this panel, I’ve been scribbling down all SORTS of notes to speak about for it; I’ll see what they cover at the panel, but I’ve got a TON of things to say), and Medicine in Fantasy (WHY was I not put on this panel?  I’ve got doctor characters either already in or planned for both of my fantasy series, and I’ve been researching material and sources for this topic for YEARS!  I’ll have to really restrict myself when I write this post).

It might still be remotely possible that I could find myself on one of these other panels, if a guest cancels and they dive into the alternates, but I will still write up a post on the topic in that case.  (It’ll just be added to the “Ravencon Panels (I DID do)” series, instead).

I may or may not post next weekend.  It depends on how the convention goes, and if I do write a post it will most likely be a recap of the convention.

Hope to see some of you there!

Cover Reveal: Law of Swords, Book III

Whether the next book in the Law of Swords series is called “In Division Imperiled,” “In Division Deceived,” or something else entirely, it now has a cover that you can see below.

But before we get to that, a little follow-up on last week.  The Merrimack Event’s audiobook was released last Tuesday, so let’s talk a bit about that.

To begin with… I like what I’ve heard of it (I’m only part-way through it, myself). I think the narrator, Troy Duran, has done an excellent job, and I haven’t heard any audio glitches or quality control issues. So far, so good. If the whole book is this good, I’m really hoping he’ll read for other books of mine, some day.

I can’t say how well it’s doing, sales-wise. I can keep track of my sales rank on Amazon, but unlike with my eBook sales or my print book sales I have no idea how that translates over into actual sales — this is my first experience with audiobooks, and I have no reference to determine what having my audiobook in the top-500 on Audiobook\ScienceFiction\Adventure on Amazon (as it has been since release, peaking as high as 160, that I’ve noticed) should roughly equate to in terms of average sales per day. In print and eBooks, even without the nice charts and graphs and actual numbers Amazon’s KDP program provides, I can guess roughly how well my book is selling based on its rank, but not with audiobooks.

The audiobook release does help in other ways, however, whatever the sales ranks say about how it’s doing. For example, I noticed a slight spike in Kindle Unlimited page reads on release day (though not in eBook sales) (Well, that was true when I wrote it a couple days ago, but I’ve had a small boost in sales, today, as well — not sure if it’s related or not). Also, in a technical sense, this means I can now say my audiobook is available in libraries all across the country (through the Hoopla app, which many libraries — including my own local library — subscribe to). And, as Tantor is a major audiobook publisher, it adds a touch of validation for me as an author for those people who continue to believe that exclusively self-published authors are mere amateurs, regardless of how much success they’ve had in sales.

But I don’t know what the audiobook sales are really like, yet. I’m hoping that they are good enough that someone (maybe even Tantor) will offer to buy the audiobook rights to my other books, even those who’ve been out long enough that they no longer stand out. If you want to see my other books as audiobooks, please, PLEASE buy a copy.

But now that that’s out of the way, on to what you’re (probably) here to see: The cover of Law of Swords Book III, as drawn by Hans “Hanzo” Steinbach.

Now I just need to finish writing the book, finalize the title, and get it edited.  To meet my goals for this year, I’ll need to get the first two of those done by Ravencon, which I leave for on the 19th, so I can get started on the next Shieldclads book early enough to get that book out this year as well.  No pressure…