Category Archives: Conventions

LibertyCon Recap

Well, it’s been over two months since my last post, and I had HOPED to have a very different “first post back,” but unfortunately that announcement is still running late. However, I DID just come back from Libertycon (well, I started this post shortly after coming back from the convention; it’s taken me weeks to finish, but more on that later), and I figure I should report how things went.

Now, I haven’t been to a convention that was outside of one day’s driving range since Dragoncon in 2007, which I went to by train.  Libertycon is even further away than Dragoncon, and despite being the home to a nationally-renowned railway museum, there is no train between my hometown and Chattanooga.  (In fact, according to a local taxi driver, there are no trains into the town at all)  So I had no choice but to fly in on Thursday.  Keep in mind that I haven’t been in an airport, much less on an airplane, since I was in Junior High School (late 80s/early 90s), so this was an adventure for me in more ways than one.

My flight required taking a connecting flight in Atlanta.  I’d seen several Libertycon veterans talking about flying into Atlanta and then renting a car for the rest of the trip, but that didn’t make any sense to me — I wasn’t going to be driving anywhere once I got to town, and it would be much cheaper to take the connecting flight than to rent a car for the whole weekend.  What I was unaware of was that the flight from Atlanta to Chattanooga is too short for any sort of air conditioning to work, so… 90+ degree weather in a what is effectively a metal can like that isn’t pleasant.  I, and all the people on the plane, were roasted by the time we arrived.  (According to my taxi driver, this is a common problem for flights from Atlanta)

I arrived at my hotel late Thursday night, tired (from the early morning; it may have been a relatively short flight, but thanks to a longish layover in Atlanta it took all day) and extremely overheated (also from the flight).

Now, most regular readers of my blog are probably unaware of LibertyCon’s problems this year.  They were moving to a new hotel, the new hotel had problems just processing the number of people coming into the convention, then they LOST the new hotel and had to change both hotels and dates in the last few months… (their founder also died, and a few other things I’m not remembering right now happened over the past year)  The end result is that, even though I usually NEVER plan to go to a convention without having first secured a hotel room in the host hotel, I was NOT in the host hotel for this convention.  I was, however, in the hotel that had a back door into the City Cafe Diner.  The City Cafe Diner produces great food, at great prices, 24 hours a day — the best dining I’ve ever had at a convention.  So there was that going for me.

So, I had dinner at close to midnight (the cafe was packed even that late, by the way), and wasn’t back to my hotel room until 1am.  I didn’t have time to unpack and prepare myself for the convention, but I figured if I set my alarm I’d be fine getting everything ready to pick up my badge and familiarize myself with the convention center before the first panel of the con.

Except I slept through my alarm.  I woke up at almost noon, and by the time I rushed through getting dressed and found my way to the convention center (skipping breakfast and most of my unpacking, by the way), I’d missed the first panels of the day.  I was able to pick up my badge in time for the 2nd set of panels of the day, however.

That panel (and forgive me, I didn’t note who was on it other than Toni Weisskopf and Les Johnson) was a discussion of the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop, which is an every-18-month (what do they call that, anyway?  Annual-and-half?) symposium discussing the implications of and the realistic methods for interstellar travel, now sponsored by NASA and Baen Books.  It sounded interesting, and learning (as something which had added urgency to the symposium) that there was now a congressional directive ordering NASA to prepare to launch an interstellar probe to Alpha Centauri by the 100th anniversary of the moon landing was news to me.

After that panel, I returned to my hotel room and did all of those things that my late start had prevented me from doing (unpacking my gear, eating breakfast, figuring out my schedule, etc.).  It took a while, and another good meal had me fall in love a little with the City Cafe Diner.

By the time I had everything sorted, I’d missed the opening ceremonies of the convention (which I had planned to go to, for once. Oh, well — there is a recording of it, which includes Sarah A. Hoyt saying “Moose and Squirrel.”  If you aren’t sure why that would be notable, you will have to watch it).

I did, however, make it to a panel James Beall was giving on “Warships of Sea and Space.”  Thanks to my computer disaster earlier this year, I was never able to write up my report on Ravencon, but Jim Beall had previously provided me a great deal of help for a short story I’ve had in the planning stages for years (still haven’t finished it, but after the computer crash I’ve been too busy with other things).  This panel of his was… rather topical, as most visitors to this blog might recognize:

Beall discussed the Battle of Hampton Roads (aka the battle of the Monitor vs the Virginia, aka the battle of the Monitor vs the MERRIMACK), the Battle of Mobile Bay (made famous by Admiral FARRAGUT’s orders (paraphrased), “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”), and the Second Battle of LISSA. If you’ll recall, some of the titles I intend for my Shieldclads series are The MERRIMACK Event, The FARRAGUT Affair (in progress), and The LISSA Incident. While I knew many of the details that he discussed about these battles, he shined a new perspective on them which I will likely consider while continuing the series.

When that panel let out… well, I never quite found out what happened, but there were a large number of fire engines and ambulances driving around, and I think they stopped at the hotel attached to the convention center.  A bit distracting, I must say, and the flashing lights were still flashing an hour later, when I went to my next panel, “Meet the Literary Guest of Honor Sarah A. Hoyt.”

I’d never seen Sarah in person, though I used to follow her group on Baen’s Bar (though I doubt she remembers. I was only an active poster there for a few months; there was a technical glitch which had me in read-only mode on the Bar for a a couple more years that was never fixed, and when they changed forum software I never went back).  Now I’ve joined one of her groups on Facebook, which is a large community very reminiscent of the old Bar. Her blog\essay, “He Beats Me But He’s My Publisher,” greatly influenced my decision to self-publish my works instead of continuing to try and hunt down a traditional publisher.  Under her pen name of Elise Hyatt, she writes some of the only mysteries I enjoy reading (I usually find I prefer mysteries in theatrical\video\film over books). But I had never met her in person.

This was a wonderful first impression.  Her interview was hilarious, discussing things like how to deal with writing while also looking after a four year old son who could concoct effective explosives, why she associates the word “Dragon” with Mexican Fried Ice Cream, and the vagaries of the Portuguese language, among other things.  Unfortunately, this ended with one reminder of why I usually never go to a convention unless I can get into the host hotel.

I’d been keeping an eye on the weather for weeks leading into the convention.  The predictions had all said that the weather would be good for my flight over, but there would be several thunderstorms during the convention itself.  The weather app on my cell phone, all day, had been predicting thunderstorms that evening.  Finally, towards the end of the panel, I noticed some flashes out the window that I thought looked a lot like lightning.  No rain, yet, but distant lightning.

Knowing that my next stop was my hotel room, and that I would have to walk a couple blocks outside to get there, I felt I needed to beat the storm (which never, as far as I can tell, materialized. Perhaps that wasn’t lightning, after all?), so I had to run before I could introduce myself or to ask any further questions.  It was a missed opportunity… (which became a recurring theme in this convention, but we’ll get to that later).  And thus ended my first day of the convention… (after another City Cafe Diner dinner, of course).

I woke up on time on Day 2, though I had various minor hotel problems throughout the day that didn’t amount to much, but seemed annoying at the time (the only hotel elevator quit working — and would stay broken through my departure, which made carrying my bags out something of a problem when I was leaving.  My WiFi wasn’t consistently working… which is par for the course with hotel wifi, I suppose, .  Oh, and I forgot to mention this one on Facebook — my hotel coffee maker didn’t work, which meant (as I was packing light and didn’t bring my usual electric kettle) I couldn’t make any of the tea, or coffee, or instant ramen packs I brought from home.  Ah, well, the City Cafe Diner was open 24 hours a day, so I was okay on that front).

The first panel I attended was the Indy Author Resources panel.  I was hoping, being in a different state (indeed, a slightly different region of the country), the panel might cover resources I was unaware of.  Alas, no, but I figured it would be rather informative for the newbie.

I followed that up by attending a panel entitled “Beamed Energy Launch.”  This panel was a technical discussion on the sort of beamed energy propulsion as theorized by physicist (and hard science fiction author) Robert L Forward.  And when I say “technical discussion,” I mean that I wasn’t able to follow half of the things that were talked about (and I would like to think I’m fairly knowledgeable about these sorts of things, for a layman).  The half that I was able to follow, however, might wind up incorporated into a story, some day, so the panel was worth it.

Libertycon, I’ve been told, is one of the best conventions out there for authors to do some networking, and one of the best features of the convention for networking was the Libertycon Banquet.  It’s an additional charge, but that charge is about the same as a regular lunch, but that means you really don’t want to miss it.  And it was being held just about as far away from the panel rooms as it could be, so I left the Beamed Energy Panel a little early to be certain that I’d be able to get to the banquet in plenty of time.  And I did… and had to wait in line for a bit, as they weren’t yet letting anyone in.

They finally opened the doors, and almost instinctively I went for the table which was the least occupied.  There were a few people sitting there already, but not many… however, I was told, when I got to it, that they were reserving seats for “someone else,” but I was free to take any of the seats on the other side of the table.  I wound up at a very bad seat at a very good table.

My seat was… well, to explain, you have to understand how the room was set up.  There was a long table at the head of the room where the head of the convention and all of the guests of honor were sitting (for those unfamiliar with these types of conventions, there are usually two levels of guests — the regular guests, who some conventions call “attending professionals” or “panelists” or whatnot, and guests of honor, who get all the perks (in larger conventions, I’ve heard this can include such things as an appearance fee, free travel to the convention, a limo ride to the convention center, free hotel rooms, free meals, maybe some complimentary fruit baskets and champagne, etc.).  The other tables included a mix of attendees (as I was for this convention) and regular guests.

Sitting where I was, there was a large pylon between me and the head table, so I couldn’t see the guests of honor at all.  So, a bad seat.  However, when it comes to who the “someone else” I’d been asked to move was, well…

My table included Ben Yalow (son of Nobel Prize winner for physics Rosalyn Sussman Yalow), Libertycon guest Jeff Greason, and… uh… Baen Books head editor\publisher Toni Weisskopf.

Unfortunately, as I said earlier in this blog, the theme of my experience at this convention was one of missed opportunities.  Toni was there to talk with someone else (a new and inexperienced publicist for — and possibly the relative\wife\girlfriend of — an author going by the pen name of S. Andrew Swann… who was also, incidentally, sitting at the table with the lot of us), so I decided to let them talk.  Don’t get me wrong — I LISTENED to everything that they were saying; they were talking about book marketing, and whatever else you might think of Baen Books, they understand how to market science fiction to the masses better than just about any of the Big Five publishers do.  But I kept quiet, figuring that eventually they would either wind up their conversation so that I could involve myself a little better, or at least that the conversation might drift to something I felt a little more on even footing to talk about.

Unfortunately, just as the conversation seemed to be reaching that point, we were all interrupted by the guests of honor speeches.  And thus that opportunity to try and glean more relevant (to me) information from Toni was missed.

The speeches themselves were interesting.  Sarah Hoyt, as she was at every panel I saw her on, was hilarious.  The science guest of honor broke down on the podium in a way everyone could sympathize with (the founder of the convention had passed away unexpectedly a short time ago, as I mentioned earlier, and the two of them were quite close).  The Master of Ceremonies used dry humor to bring things back up so the banquet could end on a lighter note.  (Honestly, I forget the artist guest of honor’s speech — it probably was very interesting, but I was focused on trying to solve the dilemma of not being able to see the speakers thanks to the pylon standing between me and them).

And then the banquet was over.  Oh, and as I seem to make an effort to review all of my meals at a convention (this was not intentional, but something I’ve noticed that I do in these recaps), I recall that the food was good but that there wasn’t anything adequate to drink it with — the only drinks available were water (which had been acidulated with lemon juice to the point it tasted like furniture polish) and unsweetened iced tea (I like tea, but if it isn’t cut with sugar and\or cream (when hot), it’s far too tannic for me).

After the banquet, I followed Toni Weisskopf (not literally; in fact, if I recall correctly, I left before she did) to the Baen Books Traveling Roadshow.  Usually a fun time (and I suppose it was, here, too), with a chance to pick up a free book (not this time, for me), but my ultimate downfall for this convention.

I sat on the front row, on the left (which was probably a mistake for more than one reason; I had a bad viewing angle of the screen and couldn’t see half of the guests), and initially had no-one near me.  About five minutes into the presentation, someone came and sat next to me… and promptly coughed directly in my face (he tried to cover his mouth with his arm, but he didn’t succeed).  He did that about half a dozen times, then left.

Those of you familiar with the term “con crud” probably have a good idea of what happened after that, though nothing happened at first.

I later attended a panel led by Sarah A. Hoyt and my tablemate from the banquet, Jeff Greason, entitled “Space Pioneers.”  My biggest takeaway from this panel was a line Jeff Greason had, referencing how some protests of the various private interests in Manned Mars expeditions were complaining that people would contaminate scientific findings we might have if we landed them on the planet, “The Universe is not a scientific preserve.”  I’ll have to steal that line.

Once again, the threat of rain chased me back to my hotel before I could meet and socialize with anyone (such as Sarah Hoyt, who — as I mentioned earlier — I had come to this convention hoping to introduce myself in person to).  I had a quick dinner at the City Cafe Diner, and that was it for my day at the convention.

I slept horribly that night, and woke up with the start of a sore throat.  Undecided if it was just the bad night or a cold, I stayed in my hotel the next morning… which was a real shame, because (in YET ANOTHER example of how this was a convention of missed opportunities for me) I missed another of the premiere networking events of the convention on Sunday:  The kaffeeklatsch with all the guests.  It was an opportunity for anyone to network with… well, anyone, again befitting Libertycon’s reputation as a great place for networking.

And I missed it, because I was feeling sick.

But later in the day, after missing the kaffeeklatsch, I was feeling better.  I decided it must have been the bad night’s sleep, so I went back to the convention for one last panel:  A discussion of SIGMA, a think tank featuring scientific-minded authors (many of whom have highly technical PhDs) who provide public service futurism consulting, founded in part by the science guest of honor (and a former Science Advisor to the White House, back in the 90s), Dr. Arlan Andrews.  The very concept of such a thing has long fascinated me, and I remember being very intrigued by the panel at the time… but I don’t remember much about it.  I went back to my room afterwards, fell asleep, and didn’t wake up again until I had to pack up to go home.

I made it home, safe and sound (I was worried I’d oversleep, but that was never an issue, and after dealing with security\etc. from Dulles, going through the Chattanooga airport was a dream).  Since then, though, I’ve either been suffering from con crud, helping my mother who caught the con crud from me, falling down a flight of stairs rushing to get some cough medicine for my mother who needed it desperately (I’m okay, but I was bruised and sore for several days afterwards), or… well, just too busy.  Which is why this write-up has been so late in coming.

Overall, I rather enjoyed those bits of Libertycon I was there and alert for, but the “missed opportunities” thing, the wrong hotel thing, and the con crud thing all worked together to make it so that I didn’t have as good of an experience as I think I could have.  I have (well, had; they SOLD OUT in LESS THAN 30 MINUTES, so it wouldn’t matter if I changed my mind at this point) no intention of attending Libertycon in 2020; indeed, I’m still not certain if I want to go to any conventions in 2020.  But I DO hope to go back to Libertycon, some year, and hopefully I’ll be able to make more of the opportunity next time.

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….

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
READING!
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!

Some Catching Up to Do…

Several things have been happening these past few weeks that the blog was down, all of which would normally deserve their own blog entries. With several things coming up in the next month or so, however, I can’t afford to give them all separate blog entries (though I’ll try). So I’ve got to compress all of these items into one blog post just to catch up.

To begin with, This Book Cannot Make Any Money was released in eBook form, as expected (and the print edition was revised). It’s $2.99 (it IS a full-sized book, albeit tiny compared to my normal books), but it is free with Kindle Unlimited.  Reviews would be appreciated!

I may still write the originally planned full blog entry about the process of releasing it, as I mentioned in my last blog, but that won’t be until next week at the earliest. Or I may decide that I’ve done enough on this blog series and be done with it, because I’ve got a lot of other things I hope to cover over these next few weeks.

Second:  Back in November, recalling how long he needed to complete cover art in the past, I contacted Alex Kolesar to see if he could start the cover for the next Law of Swords book, hoping to get it by Ravencon in April.  However, he was unavailable… and, worse, he would no longer be taking on freelance work of any kind.  So… I needed to hunt down another artist.  And it couldn’t be just any artist, but one whose style was similar enough that I wouldn’t have to re-do the first to covers to match.

Found one.

The new artist is Hans “Hanzo” Steinbach, a freelancer currently working with Udon Entertainment.  Some of his past credentials include concept art for big-name video games such as NieR: Automata, costume designs for Capcom’s Street Fighter 4, and general concept art, character design, and illustration work for Tokyopop, Emerald City Games, and Boom! Studios.

And while I’d given up hope of getting that cover by mid-April, I’ve already received and approved his artwork; he works fast.  Again, showing off that artwork deserves its own blog.  I may wait to debut it at Ravencon, next month; we’ll see.  (I’ll note that I still only have a working title for Law of Swords Book 3, so even then it may not be finalized).

Third:  I have a release date for The Merrimack Event‘s audiobook:  April 3rd.  Tantor has even put up a sample of the reading, which you can now listen to from their website.  You might want to go listen.

I will note that, while they have the cover art I bought from Joel C. Payne showing, the final version of the Audiobook will have a different cover on it (this is necessary:  The standard size of an audiobook cover is VERY different from an eBook\Print cover, so it would still have needed to be re-done by someone; Tantor will want to work with someone from their regular bullpen of artists to get that done, so it’ll be done by someone else).  I’ve seen a mock-up of the new audiobook cover; thematically, it looks very similar, but the ships are different, the colors are different, the fonts will probably be different, and it looks like they want to show the same scene as the current book cover, but from a different angle.

Finally, I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll be at Ravencon, which runs from April 20-22nd.  I’ll be giving a reading from the upcoming Law of Swords book, showing off the new cover, and dispensing what passes for my wisdom from several panels (how many?  I don’t know yet.  I haven’t received my schedule.  I signed up to do eight panels, but we’ll see how many I get).  Once I get my schedule, I’ll be doing (as I did last year) a few “Ravencon Panels (I’m not on)” posts, as well as a few “Ravencon Panels (I did do)” posts after the convention.

I THINK that’s it, but it’s been more than a month since my last real post, and a LOT has been happening.  If I remember something else that happened, I’ll be sure to let you all know.

Until next time!

Marscon 2018

Just as much of a recap as I can manage after an exhausting weekend at Marscon:

This is the typical post-convention blog recap which is really just an excuse to plug the names of the people who I worked alongside or whose panels I attended.  A warning:  I’m writing this in a stage of near delirium-inducing exhaustion, and sometimes I have to refer to the program guide to keep straight who was on which panel.  If you are one of the panelists I worked with and you notice a name mentioned on the panel who shouldn’t be there (or a name there that shouldn’t be there), let me know and I’ll make corrections.

Friday:

While the trip down (on Thursday) was uneventful, Friday started out a little weird in the food department.  I usually make it a point to make my first meal at a new hotel a room service meal, just to settle in.  Problem:  I couldn’t get through to room service from my hotel room phone.  After several tries, I gave up and went down to their breakfast buffet.  Learning that my guest badge wouldn’t be available until noon, and remembering how that went at Ravencon (as this was only my second convention as a panelist, I had no idea if this was standard practice or not, but the badges weren’t available until after some early panels started running at Ravencon), I waited until lunchtime to get my badge and welcome packet, and when it was actually there on time I went to lunch.

I ordered a panini sandwich and — in my biggest culinary mistake of the convention — a “starter” (which I interpreted as “appetizer”) portion of calamari.  Out comes this plate of calamari (which, admittedly, was pretty good) that was larger than any TWO plates of anything else on the menu.  I needed a to-go box… and discovered that the mini-fridges the hotel provides aren’t big enough for to-go boxes.  (I still was able to put it away by repackaging it in a ziplock bag I happened to have, but still a bit frustrating).  Oh, and cold, left-over calamari is not mankind’s most appetizing meal, but at least I had dinner taken care of.

First, I attended (not as a panelist) the Fandom Generations panel. I’ll be honest, this panel — which, whatever the write-up said, basically turned into a discussion of “by what path did you become a con-goer” — was not the most interesting of topics for me, but I wanted to attend at least one panel before I started being on them, and this one had Toni Weisskopf (Editor, Publisher, and apparently even the Art Director of Baen Books… and co-author of Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts, which I proudly own a signed copy of) on it. The panel seemed to have trouble sticking to the topic (or any topic, really), but it was still fun.

Next was my first panel as a panelist: Costuming in Fiction: Creating the Total Package. I had this panel alongside fellow author Pamela Kinney and Charlie Stayton, a developer of card and role-playing games who — as came out during the panel — has occasionally worked as a technical consultant for historically-set films.  I had an excuse to wear my Sherlock Holmes hat (and discovered it was too hot in the panel rooms to wear that heavy a hat for every panel), and used it in a discussion of how certain items of costuming are so iconic that the character is expected to wear it, even if (as was pointed out during the panel was true of the deerstalker) said item never appeared in the text of the book.

We talked a lot about why costumes matter in fiction, how to consider what the costume says about the character, as well, and probably several other costume-related things I’m forgetting at this time (I’m writing this while recovering from the con in my hotel room, dead tired and a little fuzzy-headed, so… don’t expect much from this blog). The panel went pretty well, I thought, but the sore spot for me was that I accidentally left all of my give-away swag back in my hotel room, and there were people who wanted to grab some from us panelists; I did have a small business-card sized thing for one book, but that was it. *sigh*

I skipped the Opening Ceremonies. Hard call, but especially in this cold and flu season (despite getting a flu shot a few weeks ago) I think it’s important not to skip meals when at public events like this… even if that meal was cold, leftover calamari.  It also gave me a chance to grab the missing swag I forgot.

Not that I needed it for my next, uh, “Panel”: Fantasy Draft League, where I faced off against Baen editor Jim Minz. According to the panel description, this was supposed to be “Fantasy football, but hold the football. Our authors assemble an adventuring party from fantasy characters and duke it out to determine the one bracket to rule them all.” Both of us “panelists” had no idea what the rules for such a thing would be, figuring whoever came up with the panel idea would have had some.

Maybe they did, but whoever came up with this panel wasn’t on the panel, so we came up with rules of our own for this “Fantasy Fantasy league” style draft: We would pick teams that fit various fantasy staple trope characters (such as the Knight Paladin, the Big Dumb Barbarian, the Wizard, the “Face”, the Rogue, the Supply Officer, the Goalie (okay, we threw that one in here as a nod to the sports fantasy element; in this case, the person best capable of defending the home base while the main party is elsewhere), and the “Substitute” (who would be able to go out and sub for any role if someone was… unavailable)). Then, once we picked our teams, the audience would vote on which character “won” that position. When all of that was done, we have a vote on whose team would work together best.

In the end, it was a tie; my team of King Arthur (legend), Cohen the Barbarian (Discworld), Lina Inverse (Slayers), Vlad Dracul (Dracula), Bilbo Baggins (The Hobbit\Lord of the Rings), Xanatos (Gargoyles), McGonagall (Harry Potter), and “Wiz” Zumwalt (Wiz Biz) went toe to toe with Jim Minz’s team of Buffy (Buffy the Vampire Slayer… TV version), a Balrog (Lord of the Rings… though I nearly challenged the notion that a Balrog fit as a barbarian, here; I was prepared to argue the merits of picking Cohen the Barbarian over Conan the Barbarian, not Cohen vs. a bloody Balrog), Gandalf the Grey (again, Lord of the Rings), Achmed the Assassin (I’m afraid I missed his full name, and which series he was from), Milo Anderson (Monster Hunters International), Granny Weatherwax (Discworld), and Sauron (yet again, Lord of the Rings).

I next attended (but was again not a panelist on) the “Building a Space Station” panel. This panel had a team of scientists and engineers, moderated by Toni Weisskopf, talking about the logistics and motivations behind building a space station. I’m not going to go into my full reaction to this panel, because I probably would have to name names, but I personally thought it would have been a more enjoyable panel had there been one fewer scientist on it.

And, for my last Friday panel, I was a panelist on Research, Point of View, and Filtering, alongside fellow panelists Rowan Worth and Y.A. Guest of Honor Maria V. Snyder.  Honestly, I was a little dubious, as this was a pretty heavy topic for a 10pm panel, and one of the expected panelists (Kim Iverson Headlee) was late, and chose to sit in the audience instead of up front, when her prior panel ran long.  However, we summoned up enough energy to have a fairly entertaining little panel, energizing the audience at least a little, and (surprisingly) it ended up as the best attended of that day, for me.

Then there was Saturday.  I did not get enough sleep Friday night (sadly not because I was having fun with room parties or whatever, but because I had trouble getting comfortable on the hotel beds, which made getting to sleep difficult and woke me up way too early.  It made the whole, busy day just a touch more difficult for me.

I opened the day (after breakfast) with a seat as a panelist in the Allen Wold Writing Workshop.  I’ve participated in this workshop, before, from the “other side” of the table (as a participant), but this was my first experience as one of his other author-guests.  This workshop is an institution at many of the conventions I attend, so I was proud to be invited to be a part of it.  I was a little afraid to bring a pen and paper, or my laptop, because I was worried I’d start acting like a participant instead of a guest out of habit.  I enjoyed myself, and I think I was able to add some meaningful contributions to the workshop, so I think it was a success.

I may never know just how successful, however; there was a Part 2 to this workshop where the guest-panelists could see, roughly, how much improvement (at least in the 100 word hook paragraphs that were produced in the workshop) the participants could make based off of their comments; sadly, I was scheduled on another panel at the same time Part 2 took place, so I missed it.

After the workshop, I retreated to my room for a couple hours before my 3pm panel, “Questions to Ask before Creating a Fictional Culture,” alongside Christopher de Matteo, Jim Beall, and Donna (D.M.) Patterson.  I am not sure how this panel went, actually.  There were times I was expecting the audience to interact or make comments and they didn’t (it’s especially unnerving when you’re trying to end your point with something you think should get a big laugh, and the result is complete silence).  There was a moment where I thought that the panel had completely lost the audience and then suddenly we had a series of relevant questions related to the topic.  I think the panel went well enough, but I couldn’t read the audience reaction at all.

After that panel, I had to run back to my hotel room and dump some things off before heading to the 4:30 Baen Traveling Road Show.  This is something Baen puts on at dozens of conventions where Baen’s cover art is presented (and promoted), and bits about the artwork or the book itself are discussed.  Baen gives away a lot of books at these panels (I did not get a book, this time; ah, well) as well as other swag (I did get an interesting bit of swag, but I’m not sure how to describe it.  A… plastic logo pendant for Baen Books on a string of mardi gras beads?  I’m not sure what this was supposed to be, exactly).  I don’t always go to it, but I’ve always found the ones with the aforementioned Toni Weisskopf presenting are can’t-miss shows, so I went.

That was fun.  We got to see a piece of cover art intended for a future David Weber book that even David Weber hadn’t seen yet, there was a discussion about how a particular anthology editor\writer (Eric Flint) and his anthology’s cover artist (I’m afraid I didn’t take notes, and I don’t want to get the name wrong, but he’s the regular cover artist of the Grantville Gazette) had a friendly rivalry going where the cover artist would draw a piece of artwork (with increasingly complex scenarios) and the editor’s story contribution would be made while trying to fit the cover art into a scene of his story.  A few other things like that.

When that presentation ended, I scrambled to find a meal before my 7pm panel on “Worldbuilding 201:  Filling in the Details” about getting into the smaller details of worldbuilding.  This panel was with Maria V. Snyder, Pamela Kinney, and Chris de Mateo, all of whom I had worked with on a panel earlier in the convention.  I think that helped make this panel a little more lighthearted and fun, and I think the audience reaction was largely positive.  The panel ran a touch long, though within the margin of error.  (It’s generally a good idea for each “hour long” panel to run for 50 minutes, so as to allow guests coming in to set up and people to move between panels without having to hurry too much; we nearly hit the full hour, however.  Marscon, I will note, had a strange system this year where some panels had moderators but most didn’t, and while a panelist stepped up to take charge on every panel I either worked or attended, there was a lot of discussion about that among the guests.  Someone stepped up on this panel, too, but he wasn’t keeping track of time).

When that was done I had to immediately head to the room next door for Mapping Your Novel, at 8pm.  I was again paired with Maria V. Snyder (and it was just the two of us on the panel, this time), and we were both clearly flagging by this point (neither one of us wanted to bother with our whole “introduce ourselves” spiel, beyond letting everyone know our names), but I think we helped inform the crowd (which asked a lot of questions, was engaged in the discussion, and reacted positively when more amusing things were discussed) and I had fun.

My final panel on the day was “It Takes a Village (Traveling at 80% of the Speed of Light)”, alongside Mark Wandrey and Drew Avera.  I was absolutely totaled, by this point, and this was my third panel in a row, so I’m not sure how much I was able to contribute.  I don’t think I embarrassed myself, at least, even if I didn’t get around to discussing all of the points I had come up with for the panel.  There was a very small crowd and we ended the panel a little early because none of us wanted to keep talking, I think.  I was so tired I don’t remember much of what we talked about, to be honest.

I did have other “fun” things I was hoping to attend, after that, but between the lack of sleep the night before and all of the panels that day I was just too worn out to do much else.  I was also starting to get a little hoarse at the end of that last panel (from talking so much; I was fine by morning), so I figured I’d just call it a night.

I certainly did NOT have trouble getting to sleep that night (while I woke up a little earlier than planned, it wasn’t that much earlier), but I was still feeling a bit worn out in the morning.  Still, I had enough energy to go to the panel “Freelancing in the Publishing Industry,” presented by Chris Kennedy and Toni Weisskopf.  I might have skipped it, since I wasn’t one of the panelists, but I knew this was in the rumored “room with the comfy chairs,” and I was able to get one of said comfy chairs by getting there early enough.

The comfy chairs led to a relaxed atmosphere, and the discussion was very interesting.  It actually started with a description of the difference between hiring an employee and contracting a freelancer (including the tax and regulatory concerns, which even in Baen’s case make employing freelancers preferable to full-time employees, in some situations).  Mentally, I was comparing my purely self-publishing experience searching for and hiring freelance editors and cover artists like Keith RA DeCandido and Joel Christopher Payne with the experiences of Chris Kennedy, a self-published author turned full-fledged small press publisher who has a regular stable of freelancers he works with, with Toni Weisskopf who is a long-time industry veteran as well as the publisher, editor-in-chief, and art director for the largest independent science fiction publishing house in the country, heading a company with several full-time employees as well as commanding a much larger stable of freelancers on a regular basis.  There were more similarities than I was expecting, to be honest, which was a pleasant surprise.  (Though, as you might expect, both publishing houses have been in this field longer than I have and have larger budgets for this kind of thing than I do).

I originally had planned to follow Toni Weisskopf for a couple more panels (her next panel was Beyond Infinity, which I’d hoped to go to, and it would have been followed by the even more interesting Hard Science: Gift or Curse panel, which might have been of benefit to the Rink of War for when I get around to turning that into a novel), but without the lure of the comfy chairs I figured I needed more physical rest if I was going to be in any sort of shape for my final panel of the convention.

That last panel was at 1pm, “The Name Came First,” alongside Guest of Honor Carrie Vaughn as well as fellow panelists Tara Moeller.  At one point, there were supposed to be as many as five people on this panel…

Which would have been real overkill, as there weren’t even five people in the audience for most of this panel (for a GoH panel, attendance felt… uh… low), with only two people at the start and two more wandering in about fifteen minutes later (though several others popped in by the end, though they were late enough for me to wonder if they were waiting for the next panel).  We started not by introducing ourselves, but by asking if we wouldn’t be better off moving the whole panel over to the hotel bar.  Had it been Saturday night instead of Sunday morning, I suspect we would have.  We did, eventually, get on with the topic — which was suggestions for answers to the “what do we name our characters?” question, evolving into a discussion of naming conventions, apostrophes in names (yay or nay), etc.

And then the convention was over.  I was originally supposed to meet some family members local to the convention who I only get to see once or twice a year after that, but one of them had hurt their back and the other came down with the flu, so those plans were scrapped.

Overall thoughts:  This was only my second convention as a full-fledged guest, but I could tell there were some oddities.

  • Almost every panel I was on had a “who’s the moderator?  Oh, wait, we don’t have one?” conversation before the panel started.
  • Unless it’s a regular and long-established panel that’s a con tradition, it’s expected that the person who suggested the panel will be on it; that didn’t seem to be the case with ANY of the panels at this con.
  • I didn’t realize quite how busy I was until I started putting this together.  More panels as a guest than at Ravencon 2017, and I sat in the audience on a few others besides.  I think I’ve got a better idea on how much I can manage for the future, but I really do need to get enough sleep at night, despite the hotel beds, if I’m going to try and manage this kind of schedule at future conventions.
  • Panel attendance seemed lighter than I remember from past conventions, both as a guest and as a regular con-goer, and it wasn’t just me who noticed.  Considering the number of attendees I was expecting (the hotel sold out and an overflow hotel was needed), I wouldn’t have thought that likely; I’m not sure if it was just a case of no interest in the panels, or if the weather or something else had prevented some people from coming.  I’m honestly wondering if it might have been partly because of the flu epidemic that’s been so fierce, this year.
  • I love the Marscon Con Suite, because it provides full meals for free (which can really reduce the cost of attending a convention).  Somehow, I never went.  I also never found (or even seriously went looking for) the Green Room.  Mostly that was because of the “I  accidentally wound up with two and a half meals worth of calamari from my calamari appetizer” issue, but when the event ended and I realized I never even went looking for these rooms, I was surprised.
  • I also never made it to the Dealer’s Room.  I was just either too busy or too tired (or both) to do so.
  • I’m not going to attribute this to anyone, but I will say I overheard one of the major author guests saying:  “Is Barnes and Noble TRYING to put themselves out of business?”  (Not sure what sparked that comment, but I’ve had the same thought a time or two).
  • Several guests and\or former guests who had been planning to attend anyway were unable to because of deaths in the family or health issues.  More possible support for my “attendance was lighter than usual due to the flu” theory.
  • I wish every panel I was on was in the comfy chair room, even if that was one of the smaller panel rooms.  I was really uncomfortable sitting in some of the chairs the hotel provided, but those chairs were really nice to sit in, and made for a very cozy atmosphere for discussion.  Maybe it’s not really appropriate for every possible panel, but I think several of the panels I was on would have benefited from that room (and I know my knees and back would have).

And… that’s it.  I’ll get back to work on my regular blog posts soon.  If you would like my take on any of the panels listed above (as I had been doing with last year’s Ravencon Panels blog series) please let me know, and I’ll start on that once the “This Book Cannot Make Any Money” blog series is complete.  Until next time, have fun out there!

2017 Year In Review AND An Out-of-Order This Book Cannot Make Any Money post…

As promised last weekend, today I’m going to do my “Year in Review” for 2017.  After that, I’ll be giving my Marscon schedule (since it arrived this week), but first, an announcement:

“This Book Cannot Make Any Money” was submitted to KDP Print and  is now live on the Amazon store, though in print form only. Keep in mind that I was never able to get a print proof (the reason I decided to do this series NOW rather than a few months from now was that KDP Print had announced they were now offering print proof options, which made me want to try them out. I’m a bit frustrated to learn, in the end, that I wasn’t in the beta group offered the ability to buy print proofs).

Not having a print proof is both good and bad for the “This Book Cannot Make Any Money” series. It’s good, in that I’m forcibly unable to “cheat” and spend money on the proof copy, and must only use the “free” online reviewer tools to see how things come out. It’s bad because, well, I know from working with Createspace that print copies can look dramatically different in real life than they do in the virtual proof on-line.

You can go ahead and buy a (print) copy now (I will not be able to get around to working on an ebook copy until after Marscon), but be warned that these may be (ahem) misprints, at least until after I’ve had a chance to go through the print copy.

Now for the Year in Review:

I had two publications in 2017.  One was the short story (really novella), “A Gun for Shalla,” published in the “Worlds Enough: Fantastic Defenders” Anthology.  I have no idea how, exactly, the sales have been for it, but the reviews have generally been very good to excellent.  The point of an anthology like this is not to turn a profit, necessarily, but rather to cross-pollinate the fanbases of multiple authors, and good reviews help with that.

As far as the books I actually have stats on, however:

In Treachery Forged sold 195 ebook copies and one print copy.  Yeah, my print sales never do well.  One hundred ninety five copies may sound small, but it’s been out for four years and there were no new books in the series released this 2017, so that’s not too bad.  I expect sales of this book to go UP in 2018, as I intend to get the third book out.  It remains my best-SELLING ebook (though it is no longer my biggest money-maker, as we’ll get into later).

In Forgery Divided sold 182 ebook copies and TWO print copies.  While it’s only in its second year, I’m still satisfied with those sales, as — again — there were no new books in this series in 2017.

The Kitsune Stratagem sold 32 ebook copies and three print copies.  The Kitsune Stratagem has ALWAYS underperformed, and I have yet to understand why; I honestly believe it’s my best book, but it always seems to get the fewest sales no matter what I do as far as marketing for it goes.  I’m hoping to “re-launch” it when I get the next book in the series out, but its low sales have reduced the priority of that next book significantly.  I really, really want to get back into this series, however.  There’s an outside chance I’ll get to its sequel in 2018, but I doubt it.

One oddity:  While The Kitsune Stratagem is my worst-selling full-length novel in eBook form, it ALSO is my best-selling print book… with fifteen print sales, lifetime.  I really, really wonder if print books are worth it, sometimes, considering how much time they take out of my writing.

To the Rink of War is a special case.  I don’t really count it as a “book,” because it isn’t one:  It’s a short story, or rather (by the standards established by the SFWA)  a novelette.  Priced at $0.99 (which is the LOWEST I can set the price; no, I can’t make it free) I literally get nothing more than pocket change from each sale.  And, until this year, I could just about count the number of sales on my fingers (that’s hyperbole… but only just).  But, well, there was a bit of a surprise resurgence of interest in this story.  With 58 ebook sales (there is NO print version), I’ve literally tripled its lifetime sales in one year.  Not great, but enough of a spark of interest that I thought I might re-visit the story, taking both it and its intended sequels and knitting them together to form a full-length novel.  A novel is important enough I could afford to spend some money on things like a new book cover, better editing, etc.  Originally I was going to try and get that out in 2018, but a radical shift in priorities makes that… unlikely.

Finally, there was The Merrimack Event.  The Merrimack Event managed a grand total of 2,911 sales (which already makes it my second-best selling book, in terms of lifetime sales).  In addition to that, however, this book was my first foray into the Kindle Select story, which put it into the “Kindle Unlimited Lending Library.”  That is Amazon’s version of a “Netflix for Books,” a sales model I am dubious of, which nevertheless made this book the top-EARNING book of my career.  I had 4,869,121 page reads through KULL.  In addition to all that, I also signed an audiobook contract which earned me a $500 Advance, and should also start earning royalties at some point.

I’ve seen some authors go into financials (and I actually wrote it all out, but decided I was oversharing a bit).  I will give you a bit on my expenses, though:  I spent a grand total of $10 on marketing (not counting convention expenses, which I view more as research and networking, but some authors think of as marketing), gave away two (print) books (one to a cover artist, one to the cousin\IP attorney who helped me with my audiobook contract), and never ran a price discount on anything.  I did spend about $150-200 on swag, but most of that was for the keychain-sized plushie Fennec Foxes that I’m not going to be doing much with until Ravencon, at the earliest.  Given that I sometimes see authors report having spent thousands of dollars a year on marketing, often accompanied by deep discounts or even freebie giveaways, I think that’s notable.

So, a reasonably good year.  I hope to do better in 2018, but there you go.

Now, for my Marscon Schedule:

·         5pm   Fri      Room L        Costume in Fiction: Creating the Total Package

·         6pm   Fri      Large Auditorium   Opening Ceremonies

·         7pm   Fri      Room 5        Fantasy Draft League

·         10pm Fri      Room 7        Research, Point of View, and Filtering

·         10am-12pm Sat     Room 5        Writer’s Workshop

·         3pm   Sat     Room L        Questions to Ask When Creating a Fictional Culture

·         7pm   Sat     Room 8        Worldbuilding 201: Filling in the Details

·         8pm   Sat     Room 7        Mapping Your Novel

·         9pm   Sat     Room L        It Takes a Village Moving at 80% of the Speed of Light

·         1pm   Sun    Room 7        The Name Came First

 

Obviously, I’ll be too busy at the convention next weekend for a normal blog entry, though I may be able to write a (BRIEF) recap from the hotel, if I’m feeling up to it.  I should resume the “This Book Cannot Make Any Money” posts soon, however, starting with the second part of that darned book cover post.

Observations From My First Experience with Kindle Select

We’ll get to a discussion of The Merrimack Event in a moment, but first I have a bit of news:  I must not have embarrassed myself too badly, because Ravencon wants me back.  That makes TWO conventions (both in the same Williamsburg hotel, oddly enough) willing to let a self-published hack (whose newly released book has been in the top-500 for much of this week, and was tagged as  Amazon’s number one hot new release in certain subgenre) appear as a guest speaker.

I haven’t yet requested a reading, book signing, table, or similar opportunity for hand-selling my books at either Ravencon or Marscon.  I’ve certainly considered it, but I haven’t had the technical capabilities nor (consequently) have I bothered to fill out the sales tax forms needed to hand-sell books.

I’m not sure I’ll have everything I need done by either convention, but I recently took the first step towards being able to (legally) hand-sell my books:  I upgraded my (old-fashioned flip-style) cell phone to a new (albeit inexpensive, starting-level) Android-powered Smartphone, with which I should be able to add a credit card reader of some sort (such as Square or Paypal. I want to talk to the bank (specifically, a financial advisor working for my credit union) before I decide on which one, just in case the bank has a special deal with one or another, as some do).  There’s been a bit of a a transition period (my new phone, uh, doesn’t actually work as a phone.  It makes calls okay, and I can hear people just fine, but they can’t hear me beyond a buzzing sound.  The microphone has been tested and works, and tech support says it’s something on their end… but they haven’t figured out what, yet, and they want me to wait “three business days” to see if they can fix it.  If I can get everything working in time (not just the phone, but the card reader and the tax forms), I might approach the conventions and request one of those hand-selling opportunities, after all.

Also, I completed the book block and cover for the print edition and sent them to the printer.  Ordered a proof copy… and got back a minor disaster.  Createspace somehow decided that my cover wasn’t conforming to their standards (even though it was set up to match their stated standards to the pixel) and “adjusted the size” of the text of the spine.  I… well, maybe I’ll let this photo show you just why that seems to be such a problem.

I’ll have to be making corrections for that.  I’ll also be fixing some minor typos in the manuscript of The Merrimack Event that were discovered post-ebook-publication, shortly.  I’ve already had one person e-mail me a set of typos they found, and my mother (heh) found another set.

Those corrections will be uploaded to KDP roughly around the same time I approve of the final print proof, to give myself (and any other fans who want to let me know of anything they find) a chance to discover any other possible issues.  While I try to put out the best quality book I can the first time, the final proof is done by just one person (me) and I do miss things, on occasion, and inevitably will have to issue corrections, so I do appreciate those people who point things out to me even after publication.

Now, for the post I’ve been working on for the past couple weeks:  As I mentioned at the time I first published it, I used the publication of The Merrimack Event as my first exploration of the Kindle Select Program. Now a few weeks in, I have some observations:

  • Reviews do appear to come faster from the book on Kindle Select than they have with any other book I’ve published.  I don’t know if that’s solely from the book itself or from the Select program.
  • For whatever reason, the charts on my KDP dashboard seem to update the “Page Reads” figure (based on the Kindle Edition Normalized Pages, or KENP; how it calculates the size of a KENP, I’m not certain) much faster than the sales figures.  There was one day when I went to bed (after midnight) with thirty-eight sales for the day and 50,757 page reads.  I woke up the next morning, and that day’s totals instead said I had sixty-five sales… and 50,757 page reads.  I noticed that happen more than once, in fact.  Incidentally, Amazon calculates The Merrimack Event as being 737 KENP long.
  • It is possible to increase your sales rank when your sales total drops, thanks to page reads.
  • In Treachery Forged had been my highest-ranking book ever, hitting the top-20 sales ranking in the SciFi-Fantasy categories and the top-2000 in overall Amazon sales ranking.  Strangely, at the time I’m writing this (I’ve been composing this post for weeks, now; I started it well before the post announcing my Marscon invite went up), I’ve overwhelmingly beaten it in the overall Amazon sales ranking (the highest I’ve seen, so far, was around top-500; I’m hoping it gets better before I post), but I’ve yet to even make the top-100 list for the overall SciFi-Fantasy categories.  I did break the top 100 of the Scifi-Fantasy\SciFi subcategory, however.  Probably has nothing to do with KDP Select, but worth noting.
  • In Treachery Forged sold about the same number of copies per day, if not more, at a top-2000 sales ranking (it’s first month’s release) as The Merrimack Event has at a top-500… but I’m guessing The Merrimack Event topped it thanks to page reads.  So if you were wondering if page reads factor into the rankings, it appears they do.
  • Speaking of In Treachery Forged, the success of The Merrimack Event has helped spark new sales for that and my other books as well.  The boost for my other books hasn’t been NEARLY as large as the boost that In Forgery Divided provided.  The other books are in a different genre (Fantasy vs. Science Fiction, which despite the effort of some people to convince people otherwise ARE different genre with different fanbases, even if those fanbases overlap and co-mingle), so that’s probably the difference.
  • If the page read totals remain high, I may decide to renew my KDP Select for another 90 day period.  Reviewing many of the KDP select horror stories, I intend to minimize my risks by never taking a book OUT of wide distribution to put it into Select, so for me that’ll be a one-way trip.  So, while I still intend to EVENTUALLY send it wide, it won’t be until the page reads drop to the point that sending it wide makes viable economic sense.

And… that’s it, so far.  I’m sure I’ll have more to say on the subject, sooner or later.  In the meantime… my Birthday is this Wednesday (September 20th), and adding a little signal boost pushing for more sales and reviews of any or all of my books would be a really good birthday present.

Edit:  Spammers are very aggressively moving back through my blog to try and hit the comments section.  Closing this one to new comments, too… (will they keep going back until they hit the posts that the software auto-closes comments on, I wonder?)

So… I’ve Got Some News…

I’ll be giving a bit of an update on The Merrimack Event below, but first I have a couple bits of news.

First of all, I’ve mentioned several times in the past few weeks that I’d been accepted at a guest at another convention. I haven’t said which convention that was, however, because it wasn’t posted to their website until recently. Well, if you’ve been keeping an eye on that convention’s website, you’ll have seen my name added several weeks ago, but I was FAR too busy getting The Merrimack Event out to talk about it here.

From January 12-14th, I will be appearing at Marscon in Williamsburg.  As an interesting side-note, the editor for The Kitsune Stratagem, Keith R.A. Decandido (who has written more than a few books of his own), announced today that he would also be at Marscon.  The panel list hasn’t been compiled yet (I’m not even sure the guest list is complete, yet), but I imagine we’ll be on a panel or two together.  That will be interesting, to say the least.

I haven’t heard back, yet, from one other convention I’ve applied to be a guest for, and there are a few other book-related events I’m trying to get involved with in 2018… but I’m starting to feel like a “real” career author after these guest spots.

Another bit of news:  As this blog goes live, so should a complete revamp of my Fennec Fox Press website, with a cleaner, less cluttered, more professional design.  Originally, I’d hoped to merge this blog and that website into one site, but that’s proven to be technically unfeasible.  At least this update will make updating that site a lot easier; the last straw for the old design was when I couldn’t add The Merrimack Event to my Book listing.  While its mostly a re-design, there is a lot of new content if you dig through it enough.

Speaking of The Merrimack Event, you might be interested to know how things have gone in the (slightly less than) two weeks since it’s been released.

First of all, I’ve been working on getting the Print Edition out.  It often feels like I have to relearn Adobe InDesign every time I put a new book out, but I’ve already finished the initial version of it.  I’ve ordered a proof copy, and I’m already aware there are a few minor fixes I’ll have to make once I get it.  Shipping is slow for proofs, so it will probably be a few weeks, still, before I get it ready.

As far as sales are concerned… well, it’s well into the top thousand best-selling books (on the overall list) at Amazon, and it has been in the top 100 sci-fi books on the Kindle, and it’s been in the top 10 in several of the smaller categories I have it listed in.  So… sales have been fairly good, so far.  It’s already broken even and is into profit.  Now I just have to sit back and see how far it goes.

For my next blog, assuming I have no more pressing news, I’ll be going into some of the observations and adjustments I’ve had to make following my decision to put The Merrimack Event in the KDP Select program.  And some day, maybe I’ll return to the “Ravencon Panels” blog series… (it’s been MONTHS; I don’t even remember what the next blog in that series is supposed to be)

Edit:  Yep, super-aggressive spambots going progressively further back in my blogs history, forcing me to shut down all the comments sections just to avoid innundation.  I dunno what’s going on.

Ravencon Panels (I DID do): Why I DIDN’T Get a Book Launched

This was supposed to be a post on my first Ravencon Panel, “Swords Not Required.”  Those panel posts are going to be very long, however, and for various reasons this was a short week for me.  So, I figured I’d explain some things I didn’t get around to in last weeks post.

I mentioned during most of my panels that I would have had another book (a sci-fi novel) out, but I had to reject the cover art a month ago and therefore it was delayed.  That was… uh, not the full story (to put it mildly), but there was too much to discuss when just introducing myself.  But I can expound on it here, without restriction.

While I did not ask the convention for a book launch space, back around January I was hoping to launch a book at Ravencon.  That book was the long-delayed The Merrimack Event, which I’ve been talking about on this blog for years (literally).  It is a novel that’s actually older than my first-released novel (In Treachery Forged) but has been in the self-publishing version of development hell since before I filed the DBA for Fennec Fox Press.

I approached an editor for it; I checked him out, found I liked his style, negotiated a price for his service, and… he disappeared before signing the contract we’d agreed to.  Vanished off the internet, never responded to any more e-mails, etc.  I hadn’t paid him, nor had he seen the full manuscript, so it’s not like he was stealing from me… he just, well, vanished.

I like having different editors and cover artists for each novel series; I’d not had the time to investigate new editors, and every cover artist I queried with this book in mind (just to see if they were available, not even yet mentioning the project) never gave me any reply at all.

But around January, things were looking up.  It may have been piecemeal using beta readers, it may have been done in fits and starts, it may have partially been edited through a self-editing procedure I would normally never do because it was too labor intensive, but The Merrimack Event had reached a level of “edited” that I felt it was acceptable for release.  There were some minor tweaks that still needed to be done before the book could be built, but those tweaks were the equivalent of running a last spellcheck and fixing a few minor inconsistencies brought about through all the various edits.  The book could be released within days… if I could get cover art.

Then my budget was hit after I broke a tooth (or rather re-broke a tooth that had previously been repaired), and the money for the cover art went away.  I could pull the money from somewhere else, but that would slow one of my other projects.  However!  I had an option.  A professional artist was willing to do the cover for free (well, sort of; no money was to change hands, anyway).  Book covers weren’t their usual medium, but I’ve had success using artists who didn’t specialize in covers in the past.  So I said yes.

Unfortunately, come the start of April, their cover proposal showed up and was unacceptable.  It wasn’t completely hopeless, but you could tell this wasn’t the artist’s usual medium.  I tried working with the artist to maybe get it revised into something acceptable.  While things were getting closer and closer, I could tell the artist was getting frustrated.  I was struggling to get them to make the right changes (I am not an artist, myself; I have enough of an eye that I could see a problem, but I wasn’t sure how to explain that problem so that the artist would understand what I wanted).  I was taking more and more of their time away from the art projects they usually did.  Finally, I decided enough was enough; I pulled the plug and rejected the cover completely.

That’s not the end of the story, though.  There was still a month before the convention.  Both my mother (a professional quilt artist) AND my brother (who, for his first few years of college, studied mechanical design) decided they would make a go at trying to put something together; I might not have been able to get the print book out at that point, but if I could get an acceptable cover by the 25th I could submit the eBook and it would be for sale by the start of the convention.  Both of the cover proposals I received from them had possibilities, but both would need work… just like the first cover option did.  I didn’t want to go through all that again, so I just said “no” to both covers.  I’ve re-established a budget.  I’ll be hiring a professional cover artist… IF I can ever get one to reply to my e-mails, and then the book will (FINALLY) be out.

Incidentally, I had other observations from Ravencon which didn’t fit into last weeks recap:

  1.  I had produced some swag, but most of the other authors had much more than me.
  2. I did not ask for any book signing or reading times (during which an author can sell their book), nor did I rent a table in author alley to sell my books from, but maybe I should have (though I might need to replace my phone to something that will allow the use of a credit card reader, first).
  3. I was a little worried that I didn’t have the ‘pedigree’ to be a guest, but there were a number of guests at Ravencon who had the same sort of writing portfolio I had.
  4. Apparently, the end of April is the wrong time of the year for me to go down to Williamsburg; I have a lot of family in the area, but none of them were able to see me while I was there due to scheduling conflicts.  I like Ravencon, and plan to return, but maybe I should look into other conventions the area as well.
  5. I still need a name for my mascot fennec fox (stuffed animal).  Fortunately, no-one asked me what his name was when I was wearing him on my badge lanyard all weekend.

And… well, that’s it.  I’ll get that first “panel” page out next week, hopefully.  Until then….