Odds and Ends

A wrap up of a number of things I’ve wanted to talk about over the past few weeks, but which I didn’t have enough to talk about to justify a seperate blog post…

1. Author Earnings recently made a “state of the market” presentation to the Science Fiction Writers of America at their annual Nebula conference. There’s been some discussion that the market for science fiction and fantasy was dying, but that doesn’t appear so. Seems instead that it’s the untracked market of self-published\indie writers taking over to explain the supposed “decline.”

2.  I had a moment where I was worried my books had completely dried up — no sales and almost no page reads for several days in a row.  Turns out reporting was just down (or broken, in my case; I was showing a slight trickle, but only a small fraction of what I should have been getting) and page reads and sales went back to my typical numbers once it was fixed… (though it still seems a bit unstable).

3.  While I occasionally express controversial opinions on some subjects on this blog, I have a policy of never discussing anything contentious from a political or religious perspective.  (I may occasionally mention sports, but not to argue).  Occasionally, things come up I REALLY want to talk about, but… no.  Not going to say anything.  I will say, though, that I think while some people on all sides have had success bringing real-world politics into the BUSINESS and or MARKETING of their writing, but unless you’re already well-established, I think in a long-term sense it is a poor strategy for MOST writers.

4.  It’s been out for a year, so I just got my first royalty payment for Worlds Enough: Fantastic Defenders.  It hasn’t sold very well, so far, but it’s been well-received by those who have bought it.  Also, the period of exclusivity for my short story (novella, technically, I think) in that anthology is over, so I can publish “A Gun for Shalla” elsewhere, if I want.  Hm.  It would require its own cover, probably need to be re-formatted, etc.  I’ll think about it, but it’ll have to wait until I’m done with the next Law of Swords, first.

5.  Apparently, there’s been some kerfuffle about someone claiming a .PDF file is not an ebook.  This is foolish, because it IS an eBook, and has been an eBook format longer than any of the more common eBook formats used, today.  It’s not a great eBook format (at least, unless your eBook has certain technical requirements), and the format is far better used to prepare your print book, but that doesn’t negate the fact its an eBook.

6.  I met up for lunch, earlier today, with David Keener, a fellow author (who was also the project manager) in the aforementioned “Worlds Enough: Fantastic Defenders” anthology (there was someone else there, too, but I’m afraid I didn’t ever catch his name).  We criticized a few authors who are wildly more successful than we are (heh), talked some about where each of us are in our writing careers, recommended the odd book\movie\TV show or two to each other, etc.  As we were leaving, he mentioned another anthology project he was thinking of that my silly story involving the robot cook-turned-burger flipper-turned-detective (which you can find a portion of in This Book Cannot Make Any Money) might be a good fit for.  So maybe I should finish that up, at some point… but, uh, first I think I need to finish the next Law of Swords and Shieldclads novels.  At any rate, it’s nice to be able to talk shop with other authors, now and then.

7.  I’m on a particular writer’s Facebook group who is talking about setting up some sort of link-sharing for authors’ mutual book releases or something like that.  I may get involved in that, in which case I’ll be sharing some of those links on this blog… but we’ll see whether this effort actually turns into anything or not.  She just sent out the feelers for it today.

And that’s it for this week.  Tune in next weekend, same blog time (roughly), same blog URL (well, you wouldn’t call it a channel, would you?).

Titular Inspiration

This post will be one of those dreaded “status report” posts I mentioned last week; sigh.  At least there’s some actual news in this one.

I’m approaching the end of the next Law of Swords manuscript, and earlier this week I was distracted a bit by thinking about “What’s next?”

Well, what I WANT to work on is the sequel to the Kitsune Stratagem, or maybe the Rink of War novel-length expansion, but the success of The Merrimack Event has bumped the next installment of that series to “highest priority,” so that’s next in the queue.

There is still quite a bit of work I need to do before I can get started on that, however. First off, I need to finish the next Law of Swords book, and fast — my editor has an unexpected opening in his schedule, but if I don’t finish it soon I’ll have to hire someone else.  But once that’s done, I’ll have to immediately go into planning out the Shieldclads series.

I do have an outline for the next several books, but it’s been untouched for the past 13 years.  I’ve grown as a writer since then, and see lots of weaknesses in those outlines, so I think I’m just going to start over.  I’ll cannibalize those planned elements from the outlines that I THINK (13 years; I have a good long-term memory, but not THAT good) I was setting up, mind you, and I intend to keep the gist of the story each outline tells together, but I’ll need to re-do them as if from scratch.

And I’ll need a title.  Even if it’s just “Untitled Number (#N)”, I need at least a working title before I can begin.  It’ll just bug me if I don’t (and even having a working title can be a distraction).

Well, I DID need a title.  Even knowing I was going to re-do the outline, I have some idea of how the rest of the series should go.  I spent a large part of a day, this past week, working out titles for the next several books in the series… and would up coming up with a few other ideas along the way.  Each title has a historic reference which you can probably guess relates, in some way, to the book.

With that in mind, the next few Shieldclads books will (at least for now; I may re-arrange the order or change other things about them along the way) be entitled:

Book II:  The Farragut Affair

Book III:  The Casemate Incident

Book IV:  The Lissa Experience

But, as I said, I came up with some other ideas along the way.  Researching the titles themselves inspired some other ideas, which may (MAY) result in a set of short stories set in the same universe, as well.  These would be:

I.  The Gwiseon Enigma (A prequel story about earlier experiments in creating Shieldclads, named after the first-generation Korean Turtle Ships).

II.  The Keokuk Occasion (Named for the USS Keokuk, and set between The Farragut Affair and The Casemate Incident.  I’d explain this one but, uh, spoilers.

III.  The Manassas Mishap (Named for the CSS Manassas, and set during The Casemate Incident)

IV.  The Novara Farewell (named for the SMS Novara and set during The Lissa Experience).

So, that’s the big news:  I am thinking of writing a set of short stories to go with each new Shieldclads book… and I’m thinking about giving them away for FREE!  (Okay, if you’re any kind of reader of indie books at all, you probably have seen a ton of “FREE” books, and have downloaded so many that you couldn’t possibly read them all)  At least they’ll be free at first, and exclusively off of my website (FennecFoxPress.com, though with the limitations of the site my internet provider imposes, the actual downloads may need to come from somewhere on Maelgyn.com (note this blog’s URL).  That’s why my website is spread across two URLs — some features are only available on one or the other.  But that’s a technical issue I’ll resolve when I get to it, not something you need to know right now).  Then, at some point not TOO long afterwards (say, a week or two?), I’ll be uploading them to Amazon.  KDP requires a minimum of $0.99 per “book” (short story, or whatever), so I’ll then be pulling the free copies down.  So, it’ll really only be free for people who follow my blog (hi!), my newsletter, and\or my Facebook\Twitter\Etc. pages.  So… stay tuned.

I have other news, however.  My local library is hosting an “Eat Local, Read Local” event (note that the website is referring to last year’s event; they don’t have a website for this year’s, yet) and as a local author I’ve been invited to participate.  It will be held at the Cascades Library on September 29th, from 10am to 1pm, and I will be selling my print books (signing them, if you want) at the event.  I’ll present more details as we get closer to the event (and I get them, myself).

And… that’s it, for today.

Inspiration for the OTHER Parts of Writing….

I wasn’t entirely sure what to write for a blog this week. Most of the things I could think of were too involved to complete in a week, and doing yet another status report (I’m still working on the next book. I hope to have the next installment of the Law of Swords series sent off to the editor by August (I better; he has an unexpected opening in his schedule, and if I get it to him by then I may not have to find another editor for this series, after all), which should allow for it to be published by year’s end, and for me to move on to the second Shieldclads book) when I had no real news felt a little boring.

Fortunately, I was saved from having to either skip this week or do just that when a certain crowdfunding project popped up in my newsfeed and inspired this post. It is an effort, by one of the original creators, to produce the sequel to one of my favorite computer game series… from the 1980s: Starflight (well, technically, Starflight 2 was the only one I played back then). The campaign is not fully launched, yet (they’re trying to get a handle on how much funding they need), but it’s looking like a direct sequel to the originals. I haven’t had time to play an involved computer game in quite some time, however — it’s been months, I think, since I even opened a game significantly more complex than the “Reversi Free” game on my cell phone.  Despite that, I did make a small pledge to support the game, already.  The earliest it will be out is 2020 (and if they actually make that deadline, I’ll be shocked; I’ve never known a crowd-funded computer game that was delivered on time), so maybe I’ll be able to fit it into my schedule by then.

I loved those games. Some of my other favorite games from that era were the Ancient Art of War (and its sequel, the Ancient Art of War at Sea), Sid Meier’s Pirates!, Red Storm Rising (also by Sid Meier, curiously enough, but based on the Tom Clancy novel), and (squeaking in at the end of that era) the Wing Commander series.*

One thing all these games had in common: Absolutely fantastic, well-designed, well-illustrated, and heavily lore-filled… manuals (sometimes not just manuals; some games came with other material that just added to the fun of getting a boxed game edition.  Nowadays, it seems every game manual you get, even with a boxed game, is little more than what the quick start guide was back then). In the days before every lore-rich game has its own fan-compiled Wiki and computer games had their own novel series written for them (and sometimes even after they started getting their own books), the game manual would often be the definitive source of canon for the lore.

The Ancient Art of War included a complex discussion of strategy and tactics (and the differences between the two, and it included an abridged version of Sun Tzu’s original text). It’s sequel had textbook-level discussions of many of the greatest naval battles in the history of the age of sail. Sid Meier’s Pirates! had bits of humor, a discussion of the different types of ships and arms and bits of history from the era of the early colonization of the Caribbean. It explained why they programmed the ships in the game to react to wind the way they do, and they made it FUN. I learned more about the history of fighting sail from those game manuals than I EVER did in school (and later would read quite a bit more, and learned that while there were some inaccuracies, these manuals were closer to the scholarly accepted truth of these events than any account I could find in my high-school era or earlier texts, including some produced by the US Navy for JROTC). They weren’t novels, nor were they textbooks, nor were they scholarly texts. I’d hesitate to say they were even manuals (at least, compared to what most people think of when they hear the words “software manual”). But they were brilliant examples of writing. I’ve saved a couple of them until today… (I would have saved all of them, but I think the Pirates! manual fell apart from over-use).

I’d say the same was true of the Starflight manuals, and the Wing Commander manuals. These were fun, small texts, again filled with lore, and were excellent examples of worldbuilding.  The Starflight manuals opened with briefing notes on the state of the universe, before discussing the game functions in a less “in-character” way.  (Just curious — does anybody know a term for the inverse of ‘breaking the fourth wall,’ where you’re writing a non-fiction account of a fictional matter, then switch “in character” to the fiction for a moment?  Because these manuals did just that, once or twice).  They would describe the mechanics of the game, give touches of gameplay advice, and intersperse all of that with snippets of fictional “transmissions” and “captains logs” and the like, which were meant to give you clues on how to solve various puzzles throughout the game.  Then it would have an appendix with charts, illustrations, etc. regarding the materials that could be collected in game.

The Wing Commander series manuals (and, curiously, the Red Storm Rising manual) started out in similar fashion (If I recall correctly; I was able to find a copy of the original Starflight manuals online to verify my recollections, but I couldn’t with these).  Their appendices instead were more like “Janes Fighting Ships” entries, detailing the various fighters, capital ships, and equipment you could encounter throughout the game.

I won’t say these sorts of game manuals have gone away completely (I don’t buy NEARLY enough games, nowadays, to say anything of the sort; I do know the 2004 Pirates! remake had a similar style manual, but I’m coming to believe that was a rare exception), but I think a lot of what used to be in the manuals aren’t there any more.  The material’s still around, but its been moved inside the game itself, like the “books” your create-a-character can read in the Elder Scrolls games.  In some ways, this allows for even more of these worldbuilding bits to be included in the lore.  You can’t curl up in bed with them like you can a book (or a Kindle), though (don’t be pedantic and mention laptops; yes, technically, that can work, but laptops generally aren’t that good for gaming, and are harder to “curl up” with than a book).

Again, I’ve tried to keep these books around, but I think I was a bit less successful here — the Starflight 2 manual was once dropped in a bathtub (don’t ask), and I haven’t found the game manuals from the Wing Commander series since my last move.  While I had them, though, they were fun reading — sometimes, even after I stopped playing the games, I would pull them out, curl up in bed, and read these manuals just for nostalgic fun.

So what is the point of all this?  Well, as much as I was waxing nostalgic, it isn’t just to lament the long-forgotten art of computer game manuals.  It’s to talk about applying writing lessons from unexpected sources.  In this case, those old computer game manuals proved to be an excellent model of worldbuilding, for me.

Were I to do a touch of editing (and some additional reconstruction; a portion of them were lost in one of the incidents that delayed The Merrimack Event’s release, and while I reconstructed the important bits I did that a little haphazardly), the notes I wrote up for my own use in the Rink of War universe would greatly resemble the Wing Commander\Red Storm Rising\etc.-style appendices.  My outlines will sometimes include little diary entries\captains logs like you find in the Starflight manuals — things which likely won’t ever make it into the books, themselves, but which help me figure out what the characters are thinking.

You often hear people say “Inspiration comes in many forms” when it comes to story ideas, and writers often take experiences from real life to plot their books around. I’ve come up with childrens book ideas (which I’m not sure I’ll ever have time to write) just by watching the birds at our birdfeeder, myself.  I don’t think most writers think to apply the same thought process to other aspects of their writing careers, however.  When veteran book designers are giving advice to amateurs, they often say to “look at books you like” as examples to base their books around, but there are a lot of self-publishers who still have no idea how to go about formatting their books.  So how many writers would think to apply the lessons learned from game manuals from the 1980s when it comes to writing up notes for their books?

Just a thought.

*- I’d also like to mention the Sierra Classic games, which are also favorites of mine from that era and also contain lots of good examples of good worldbuilding and complex lore. Most of the best examples of the writing of those games were IN the games, not the manuals, however. Oh, and while I’m at it, I might as well mention “Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego,” which I think was the last game I bought for my old Commodore 64; I didn’t play that game for very long (I switched over to a PC not long after), but it came with a copy of a (real, unadulterated for the game) desk encyclopedia I still have and may occasionally still use now and then.

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).