Ravencon Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oops. And that was it for Friday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this time I steered clear of the calimari.

Ravencon Schedule…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope to see some of you there!

Cover Reveal: Law of Swords, Book III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Audiobook Now Available for Pre-Order!

My original plan for this weeks blog included the cover reveal for the next Law of Swords book, perhaps have that concluding blog for This Book Cannot Make Any Money (though I’m leaning, now, towards just leaving things as they are), and if I’d gotten my schedule for Ravencon, maybe I’d start going through that (still haven’t gotten it, yet, though.  I have no idea whether I got any or all of the panels I signed up for or not).

But I’d forgotten that today was April Fools day, and anything I did on those subjects would probably be regarded as an April Fools prank.

But there is one thing I could talk about which I can prove isn’t an April Fools Prank (and which is so simple, why would it be a prank?):  The audiobook for The Merrimack Event goes on sale, live, this Tuesday (as I mentioned last week).  I’ve been giving you the Tantor link, so far, but now a pre-order link has appeared on Amazon.  Yes, Tantor distributes to the more popular audiobook channels such as Audible, too (and to iTunes, Hoopla, and many other audiobook channels I don’t keep an eye on).

I’d say more, but again — anything else I said might be regarded as an April Fools prank, so… um, next week, I’ll be doing at least some of the things I planned for this week?

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!

Blog Fixed!

A Quick administrative note:

As some people probably noticed (in fact, even one Amazon review mentioned it), this blog experienced a few weeks of downtime.  I tried fixing it myself, but was unsuccessful.  It just so happened that it went down at the same time I was also dealing with oral surgery, trying to help babysit my nephew, and several other tasks that prevented me from being able to spend several hours contacting technical support until now.

However, the problem is fixed, and I now know how to fix it if the same problem occurs again.  Plus, I was able to convince my web host’s tech support to allow me to upgrade my PHP version from the same one that was in use when I first set up Maelgyn.com (more than a decade ago) to one that is still supported by somebody, somewhere, so this may help future-proof this blog from other incidents.

As many things have happened during the period this blog was non-functional, expect lots of announcements this Sunday.

This Book Cannot Make Any Money: Ebook Editions…

Normally, I try to get the eBook out first. With “This Book Cannot Make Any Money,” however, the print edition had a deadline (Marscon) but the eBook edition didn’t, and so I never even started an eBook edition until after the print version was complete. In fact, as I start the eBook version, the ONLY editable file with the final version of the completed book is the one I built in Scribus to produce the PDF. And Scribus can’t compile ePubs (yet; it’s on their ‘to do’ list, according to some of the things I’ve seen in their forums).

So I’m going to use Sigil to build the eBook with. Now, Sigil is most useful for editing pre-existing ePubs, such as those produced by Scrivener or InDesign. It is CAPABLE of producing ePubs from scratch, however… and that’s what I’m going to have to do here… yet as I’m writing this, I have no idea how to begin.

Fortunately, there are several tutorials out there — available both in written format and in video format — which will certainly help.  The problem is, every tutorial I’ve found has had completely different, and frequently incompatible, methods for how to get things done, and yet none of them are telling me everything I need to know.

Even with Sigil, I need to learn a bit of how to code in Cascading Style Sheets to get everything done I want to do.  I’ve never worked with CSS before, however, and I started building this eBook not knowing anything about how to code CSS.

A few days later, and I still know ALMOST nothing about coding CSS, and the process I eventually settled on was tedious and occasionally frustrating, but I’ve figured out enough to put that darned eBook together.

Now, it’s taken me a bit longer than I’d hoped to actually put the book together, but it only took me one day of, quite frankly, fumbling around blindly, guided only by mismatched tutorials, to learn what I needed to get started.  It’s a bit daunting, but it’s doable, and it doesn’t take THAT long to learn the basics.

So, is it practical for someone, with zero previous experience and zero budget, to learn how to make their own eBook?  Well, I’d say “yes,” but then again people have been eating Tide Pods lately, so… yeah.  I would say that it is doable for MOST people, however, if they’re willing to spend a day or two mucking about trying to figure things out.  You don’t need to learn all there is to know about coding .css, you don’t need to know everything about book design, etc., you just need to know enough to get YOUR book ready.

When the eBook is done, I’ll test it on my Kindle (as well as on other devices and through whatever .mobi reading software is available that I can find) before uploading.  I suppose that will be cheating, a bit (if I’m not allowing myself to use things like Microsoft Word for this challenge, I shouldn’t let myself use things like my Kindle, either), but the idea at that stage is to see the eBook across as many devices and platforms as you have access to.

But I’m not at that stage, yet.  I’m about half-way through the eBook conversion process… so I guess there’ll be one more blog on this topic, after all.  Next week (hopefully), the book will be done, and I’ll discuss setting up and uploading a book to Amazon.

This Book Cannot Make Any Money: Book Design (Print)

As a self-published author, I need to take on a number of job titles.

I’m the author, which means I write the books.

I’m the managing editor, which means I am the ultimate word on whether a book is published (you have to know when to reject your own books), I select (and hire) which editor goes with which project (yes, that is precisely what hiring a freelance editor is), and I am the one who has to decide when a book is edited well enough to publish.

I’m the Chief Financial Officer, or CFO.  I set and manage the budget, do the accounting, deal with the taxes, etc.  (Yes, even if you hire an independent tax preparer, you are dealing with the taxes).

I’m the Art Director.  That means I select (hire) the artist to do each cover, make branding decisions regarding artwork (for example, I always use Yataghan as the title font for my fantasy novels), and try to direct the artist to produce the best cover I can get.  Frequently, this includes doing some aspects of the cover design, myself (I usually commission the front cover artwork and do the other aspects of the cover — such as placing the fonts — myself; however, I did let Joel C. Payne handle the font placement for the cover of The Merrimack Event, when he said he wanted to).  Art Directors are often also in charge of hiring the book designer, but more on that, later.

I’m the Marketing and Social Media Director.  I handle my business website (even if you hire it out, you’re still responsible for picking WHO produces your website), this blog, my Author Central profile, my Goodreads author’s page, the mailing list, my Facebook account, my Twitter account, and any of the smaller, newer social media platforms I hear about and might want to try out.  I’m also responsible for getting any promotional materials made (I’ve had two business-card sized and two post-card sized cards promoting two of my series prepared; I’ve also purchased, but have not yet deployed as a marketing tool, a bunch of keychain-sized plushy Fennec foxes for Fennec Fox Press).  And I’m responsible for hiring any advertising services (I can’t really say I’ve tried one that has been very effective, yet (a few which appear to have earned back a little more than I spent on them, but nothing with huge results yet. I’ve also never done a serious price promotion, which may have something to do with that).

I’m the Human Resources director.  That I have no employees (only project-by-project freelancers) doesn’t matter — it’s still my job to my job to scout out all of the people I might hire as a part of any of the jobs above (or below).

And, in my capacity as Art Director, I’ve also picked myself to be the Book Designer.  Even when I do have a budget of more than $0 to work on my book with.  I’ve made a couple mistakes in the past (I still don’t like the font choice I used in In Treachery Forged; it makes the book look like it should be a large-print book when it isn’t, and some of the punctuation looks off), but I’ve never committed any of the “Top Five DIY Layout Mistakes,” and I think I’ve gotten better with each new book release.  So now, by my fifth book (and having collegiate training in the field, albeit years before that first book came out), I have enough experience I can say with confidence that I know what I’m doing with this job.

But, uh, I don’t have any prior experience with Scribus, which I was forcing myself to do all the book design in.  And that proved to be something of a problem.

Now, all of the print book design software I’m familiar with — InDesign, Microsoft Publisher, Quark XPress, etc. — operates the same way:  You create a set of master pages that account that place the page numbers, account for the margins, etc., you use guidelines to show where you want titles placed, etc.  That allows you to make text boxes that “snap to” those grid lines\margins\etc. easily, making your pages consistently uniform.

Theoretically you can do that with Scribus, too, but I had a dickens of a time getting my text boxes to “snap” to the appropriate guide lines.  There was a learning curve, as everything seemed to work in a different way than it does on InDesign or Publisher (I haven’t used Quark recently enough to know if it compares).  I goofed up a few times (there was one section — fortunately caught before I sent it to the printer — where all of the pages were scrambled).

In general, that was my experience with just about all of Scribus’s features.  I could still do most of the things that I was able to do in InDesign (though there are a few InDesign features I haven’t used that weren’t available, such as compiling the book into an .epub eBook), but the methods used to do them were more error-prone, the options weren’t as great, and the controls were different.  It made putting the book together… frustrating, to say the least.  And I got really concerned about what the end result would be.

But, well, I got it done.  If I never had access to InDesign or Publisher again, I think I could live with designing all my print books with Scribus (I wouldn’t like doing it as much, but I could make it work).  And I’ve never used Scribus before I started this project, nor were any of the controls (that I could find) the same as on InDesign.

In other words, even if you have never designed a book before, and don’t have any money, you can (eventually) teach yourself to use this software well enough to do your own book design, just like I had to.  (You just need to learn the basics of book design, which you can do by studying how other books in your genre work.  And if you don’t own any other books in your genre, well, that’s what the library is for).

This (print) book didn’t end up looking as good as I’d hoped, but that wasn’t the software’s fault.  It was KDP Print’s documentation’s fault.

Basically, the problem comes down to the margins.  You need extra margin on one side of the page (the side connected to the spine) so that people can see the whole page when they open it, called a “gutter” margin.

My books usually are in the 400-500 page range, which KDP Print recommends 0.625″ in margin for.  I usually give myself a little margin of error and set it up with 0.75″, and it looks fine.

I wasn’t sure how long this book was going to be, but I estimated it would be between 100-300 pages.  So, I checked the guide, and it said I only need 0.5″ of gutter margin for the outside of that length, and it turned out to be less than 250 pages.  So 0.5″ should be plenty.

But at 0.5″, I’m not happy with the look of the gutter margin.  If it was an easy fix, I’d go ahead and change the margins so that it looked better… but it’s not an easy fix.  Changing the margins changes the page count, changing the page count changes the spine width, changing the spine width means changing the cover, etc., etc.  In other words, I would basically have to start over from scratch.

While not IDEAL, the current gutter is serviceable.  I had a few people look at it, and they thought it was fine.  So, it’s just my own sensibilities as to whether anything needs to be changed, and that’s not worth taking a book that’s on sale off sale for the several weeks needed to make the fix.

Had I been able to order a proof copy instead of having to put it on sale, first, to get my own, I might have changed it.  That is, after all, what physical proof copies are FOR — to catch things that don’t (necessarily) show up in the digital file before the books go on sale.  (Then again, you do have to pay money for a proof copy, so I suppose it would have been cheating, as far as the “rules” set out for this book go).

At any rate, the print version is now available… but, unusually, I still have to do the eBook.  Again using a piece of software I’m largely unfamiliar with.  Which means the next entry in this blog series is going to be… fun.  Heh.

This Book Cannot Make Any Money — How the Cover Was Made….

Well, I’m recovered from the convention (I didn’t get con crud, but I did need some time to get over things) and ready to resume the “This Book Cannot Make Any Money” blog series.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I’ve already managed to release the print edition of “This Book Cannot Make Any Money.” It might still be further revised; I’ll go into this more on my next blog, but I found at least one issue with the print edition that I would have fixed if I’d been able to get a proof copy first (a week after I pushed it out, Amazon announced that all KDP print authors could now purchase proof copies… just that little bit too late. Sigh), but I don’t think there will be any changes that will affect this blog post.  At least I met my goal by getting the book out in time for Marscon.

So, when we last left this blog series, I was talking about the cover.  I had a plan to produce an “illustrated” cover by blending clip art elements to put together something resembling a custom illustration. Those of you who’ve seen the final result know that I didn’t end up with anything resembling that plan, but let’s discuss what I attempted, why that didn’t work, and what I ended up with.

To start with, I had to figure out the dimensions.  Normally, when I have the budget to hire someone, I only commission the front cover (which is all you need for ebooks) and slip that artwork onto a solid-color background to make the full wrap, so all I need to know for the cover artist is the trim size.  Because I was STARTING with a full-wrap cover, however, I needed to know a bit more than that, first.

I decided to make this a 5″ x 8″ cover, which is smaller than my typical trade-paperback standard-sized 6″ x 9″ book.  I wanted to be sure the book was thick enough to have legible text on the spine, so a smaller trim size made sense.

Because I was starting with a full-wrap cover, I had to build the whole book to find out the actual page count (which is partly what derailed this series, making it more re-cap than follow-along like it originally was intended to be).  In the end, I was able to determine that my book (factoring in not just the text but the front-matter, aka the copyright page, title page, acknowledgements, table of contents, etc. in the front, and the back-matter, aka the advertising in the back) was 234 pages.

Per the formula on both the Createspace and the KDP Print page (I am linking to Createspace because its bookmarked, and at the moment it’s the same for both printers, but it may change in the future; more on that, later), the way to figure your cover width is Bleed + Back Cover Trim Size + Spine Width + Front Cover Trim Size + Bleed.  Similarly, cover height is determined by the formula of Bleed + Book Height Trim Size + Bleed.  Bleed is a constant (0.125″).  Trim size for front and back are always the same (in this case, 5″ x 8″).  Spine width, though, requires you multiply the number of pages by the paper width, so I had to pick which paper I was going to use.

I had an option of white paper or cream paper.  The choice is largely aesthetic, but the cream paper is a little thicker (by some thousandths of an inch) than the white paper.  Picking cream paper (again, I wanted to thicken the spine, but there are other reasons you might pick one over the other), I multiplied the 234 pages by the 0.0025″ paper width to get 0.585″ for the spine.  Please note, different printers calculate spine differently, and they will give you their own formula for determining it.  Sometimes, a “page” refers to one side of the page, as it currently does with Amazon’s two print services; sometimes it refers to both sides of the page (front and back), so I would have had to multiply the paper width by 117 instead, and the paper might have been a different thickness altogether.

Sometimes, the printer may change the page width on you, if they get a different paper supplier.  So, READ THE DOCUMENTATION your printer provides, EVERY TIME you build a cover.  The documentation will also give you such information as how much bleed you need for the cover, how much of a margin you need to give between the edge of the page and the “live elements” (meaning the text and the important parts of the artwork), etc., etc.

Now, I had a concept for the artwork I wanted to put together.  For an unrelated project, I had — entirely with free clip art, but using Photoshop Elements — been able to reproduce different versions of the British Royal Coat of Arms (for purposes of comparison and contrast).

Given what some of the stories were in the book, my plan was to reproduce one of the simpler coats of arms from this project, but instead of using lions and fleur-de-lis I would use other, thematically appropriate silhouettes.

Things started out okay.  I found a decent shield design:

I centered it on a background and colored it appropriately (leaving what I thought was enough room for the title and my name.  I did it using a piece of graphic software I’d never used before, simply by figuring out how to duplicate layers, use the colorify tool, and use the cropping tool.  I made it in GIMP (which was a pain, as it operates VERY differently from graphic programs I’m used to, but I eventually figured it out), and came out with this:

Problem:  The image in my head included such thematic elements as robots, Greco-Roman helmets, a space station, and crossed swords (two sci-fi elements related to the sci-fi story fragments, two fantasy elements for the fantasy story fragments).  I figured the easiest one to find would be the Greco-Roman helmet.  But when I went looking through all the clip-art sites I knew of that had free-for-commercial-use (important if you have a budget of $0, as is the case with this project) clip art, this was the best I could find:


And here we run into one of the problems of trying to get cover art when you can’t do art and don’t have the money to hire an artist:  You have to find things needed to execute your vision that are made available FOR FREE.  Sometimes, the best thing you can find is a picture of a helmet where the eyes are pointed one way and the crest is pointed another.  Sigh.  This bit of clip art would be perfectly fine for some art projects, but for a quality book cover it’s completely unsatisfactory.

I didn’t like any of the robots I found (though I did eventually pick one).  I never did find a space station that worked when reduced in size enough to fit on the cover.  And without those sci-fi elements, the swords made the cover a little too fantasy-themed for what I was going for.

I tried various options to replace the elements that weren’t working — the traditional tragedy\drama masks (as one of the stories features a retelling of a particular Greek tragedy), karate silhouettes (as one of the stories features martial arts), and finally forced myself to try slapping in the best of those robots, after all.

And this was the best I could come up with:

Ugh.  That just looks so… cartoony and mismatched.  It wasn’t appropriate for this book cover, at any rate.

So, the art director side of me had to tell the cover artist side of me to change plans.  I usually prefer an illustrated cover, but my one idea for an illustrated cover wasn’t working, so it was time to change plans.  If I have a budget of $0, I can’t afford to be too picky, and one of the advantages of a self-publisher is flexibility; so, even though it hurt, I’d have to try using a photo on the cover.

This book is mostly a collection of of (self) rejected manuscripts (well, the good parts, anyway), so plan be:  A picture invoking the image of writing, with a “rejected” stamp over it.

This proved to be both easier to find the components for and simpler to put together.  There were plenty of pictures that invoked “the writer’s desk,” and while the image is a pure fiction of what my writer’s desk looks like (much too neat, and I usually work on a computer) I found I liked this one:

Put a frame around it (and delete the parts outside of that frame, which again took me a while to figure out how to do using GIMP), slip it onto an appropriately colored background (I picked black), and then all that’s left is the stamp and the text.

Which brings up fonts.  I needed a font that looked like stamped text, which (fortunately) I found several options for.  After going through the various suppliers I knew who had free-for-commercial-use fonts (Fontsquirrel, DAFont, and 1001 Fonts), I wound up picking Armalite Rifle (which I found by searching for a “stencil” type font).  If you didn’t know you were looking for a “stencil” type fonts, you could just browse the whole collection.  It only takes about a day to go through the entire font catalog of all three sites.

It was at this point that I found a major difference between building a cover with Photoshop Elements and building a cover using GIMP:  Elements has a number of tools for adding text and word art; if GIMP has those same tools, I couldn’t find them.  I wound up having to build the cover in Scribus.

Which worked out fine.  Scribus had the tools needed to color and angle the text appropriately.  It also allowed me to add the title font (I picked Roman Caps, which I found by searching display fonts) and the back cover text (written using the Alegreya font, which I’ve been long familiar with as I use it for the print editions of my fantasy novels).

And, as I’ve already posted, I came out with the following cover:

It took some adjusting, even when I got to this stage, after I saw what it looked like in the KDP Print proofing tool (note:  there are MAJOR differences between Createspace and KDP Print.  For example, with Createspace you can place your ISBN barcode wherever you want just by including a blank box in the right spot.  With KDP Print, there is only one permitted spot to put the ISBN barcode.  I had to flip my barcode and my company logo from my standard book design because of this), but I’d figured out the software well enough to make those changes with relative ease, by then.  In the end, even though it was nothing like I originally planned, I was quite happy with the cover.

The book design, though… well, that’s another story.  But what my next blog will be about, so stay tuned!

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.


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!