Ravencon 2016 Recap

So, I’m back from Ravencon this year. It was utterly exhausting. I enjoyed myself quite a lot, met a lot of interesting people, learned a few things, and made it home safe.  Here’s a recap of how things went:

THE TRIP TO WILLIAMSBURG

I drove from my home in Ashburn, Va down to Williamsburg — normally a 2½ hour drive.  My GPS said it would be 2½ hours.  It wound up taking considerably longer.

First, my GPS decided to send me on a stressful detour through the side streets of another town a half-hour away before getting me onto the highway.  This was completely unneccesary, and I still haven’t figured out why it did this.

Now, I was listening to the radio as I drove; sports radio (this sports station was the only remotely acceptable radio station I’d be able to listen to for most of the trip) broadcasting out of a sports bar ten minutes away from my home.  Just as the broadcast was going to a commercial break, one of the broadcasters gave the startled shout of “Was that an earthquake?” (Commercial starts seconds later).

Um… what?  I waited until I was stopped at a stoplight and called my mother, who lives in that area, and asked if she’d had an earthquake.  She said it certainly seemed like it, as the house had rumbled and was shaking.  (As it turns out, the USGS did NOT record an Earthquake in our area.  We have talked it out, investigated local news reports, etc., and still don’t know what happened, but it was something that resembled an Earthquake hit the local area).

Then I landed in stop-and-go traffic.  This was unusual because, even though it was Friday, I had timed the start of my trip to avoid the worst of the traffic (evening, rush hour, even on a Friday, usually starts mid-afternoon; I picked a time before then, but after the morning rush hour was supposed to have ended.  I passed no obvious accidents or construction delays; things were just… slow).

But finally I passed that onto a different stretch of the highway (Interstate 95, if you were curious).  I was in a 70 mph zone (in light traffic), and there was a little spout of rain.  I started my windshield wipers.  These were brand new windshield wipers, installed by my mechanic just days before the convention, and it was doing a great job… at first.  But, about at the midway point between home and the convention, one of the wiper blades popped off.  It sounded like glass breaking (it didn’t; I checked), and then started flopping around and banging on the windshield, still hooked on by a corner.  Startling, and a bit scary, but I was eventually able to pull off to the side of the road and re-connect the wiper blade (as cars buzzed by me on the highway at roughly 80mph).  After that, while I was a bit rattled, it was smooth sailing to the convention.   And I was only an hour later arriving than the GPS said I should be.

THE VENUE

This hotel, the Williamsburg Doubletree, is the newest home for both Marscon and Ravencon.  I wasn’t able to attend Marscon this year (I was struggling to get In Forgery Divided out at the time), so this was my first experience with this hotel.

First impression is that it’s huge, but the layout is a little confusing.  Now, once you get used to it, it makes some sense — there is one convention space wing, which starts with a big ballroom (which, in this case, was being used as the dealer room) and, if you go down a ramp, two additional floors of convention space.  On the bottom floor, you have a pair of auditoriums and various meeting rooms listed by number.  On the top floor, you have more meeting rooms listed by letter.  The confusion is partly caused by the hotel;s signs, which seemed to be saying the rooms listed by number and the rooms listed by letter were on the same floor.  And there were some rooms the signs wouldn’t direct to at all.  And… well, basically, I’m not sure what was going on with them, but they were wrong.

The facilities were in pretty good shape.  I had a slightly crooked bathroom door in my suite, which made it difficult to close, but everything else was far better maintenance-wise than past hotels for these two conventions.  The amenities were nice, and they have a much better brand of coffee and tea than you usually find in hotels.  So, overall, a good location for a convention.

Dining was an issue, however.  They must have been understaffed, because they had the restaurant closed and were feeding people only from the bar.  However, the bar never seemed to have enough workers to satisfy all the customers — they had one waitress, one bartender, one cleaning person, and one person running the orders from the kitchen to the bar and back.  The food was good, but horribly overpriced (more overpriced than it was at either of the two conventions’ previous hotels; I’d budgeted for dining to be comparable to those two, but I wound up spending almost double and wasn’t ordering as much), and service was slow — you had to block out at least an hour and a half, sometimes two hours, if you wanted to be able to eat the meal you ordered.  Room service was even slower (my food arrived cold after I waited nearly an hour and a half for it) and more expensive (they added service and delivery charges, and expected you to tip over that).

There was a dining option — the convention had arranged for a relatively inexpensive “grab and go” menu to be serviced by the hotel.  $4 would get you a burger, $3 for a hot dog, etc.  This food was horrible; the burgers were like sawdust, and I never knew you could make a tasteless hot dog before this.  And even if you were desperate enough to buy these, they weren’t always in stock when they should have been; I tried grabbing these grab and go “meals” four times during the convention, and it was only on Sunday that I found any in the warming trays.

Okay, that was a long rant about the dining, but overall I thought it was a fine hotel.  Lots of convention space, the rooms were great, the amenities were satisfactory, etc.  I’d gladly stay there, again (though I’d bring some of my own food from home)

FRIDAY

Despite all the delays, I made it to the hotel in plenty of time to register (I normally pre-register, but I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to go until it was too late) and attend the earliest of the programming.  I was focusing on attending panels and workshops which were on writing, self-publishing, and marketing.

So, I started with a panel called “Designing a Cover For Your Self-Published Book,” presented by Chris Kennedy.  Now, I plan to have a seperate post on “Lessons Learned From Ravencon,” so I won’t go into too many details about what I learned from this panel here.  I will say this was a fairly informative panel, but most of what was said was information I already knew.

I was hoping to see Allen Wold during the convention.  He runs a fun and interesting set of writing workshops at several conventions across the East Coast, and worked with me one-on-one to help me with some techniques in self-editing.  I haven’t seen much from him on social media in a while, however, because he’s recently had cataract surgery on both eyes.  Scheduling issues prevented me from attending any of his workshops or readings this convention, but I’d hoped to at least have a chat and see how he was doing.  I never got a chance to talk with him, however — whenever I saw him (and my first chance was right after that last panel) he was always rushing off to do something (in this case, to run his plotting workshop).  I got to wave and say “hi” a few times, but I didn’t really need to ask — I was happy to see him looking hale and hearty following his eye surgery.

The next panel I went to was “Marketing and Branding for Authors,” featuring Baine Kelly, Gail Z. Martin, Alex Matsuo, and Michael A. Ventrella.

I won’t say I learned nothing from this panel, but I did (perhaps) come to the conclusion I’m just too boring for social media marketing.

I don’t have a cat to take silly pictures of, I don’t have a second career worth talking about, and my everyday life is mostly just spent sitting in the basement, writing.  (Or, well, trying to write, at any rate).  I don’t take very good pictures (something you’ll probably notice when you get to the pictures I started taking when I remembered that, oh, yeah, my iPod has a camera).  I cook many of my family dinners, but my style of cuisine is more sloppy-chic than photogenic and I don’t really have that many good recipes.  In other words, the panel advised “talk about something other than your writing,” and the only things I ever seem to be able to talk about is my writing.

(At least I know not to spam “Buy my books” to you all, all the time)

After that was dinner (and my first experience with how slow the restaurant was), and then more panels.  I’m not going to say too much about the next couple I attended save to say I was a bit disappointed by them.  While I was interested in the subject matter, they weren’t especially helpful, and I was starting to wonder if I would get anything out of this convention, after all.

But then I made it to my first ever Eye of Argon reading, and while I didn’t learn much of anything, this was worth the price of admission in and of itself.

For those who are unfamiliar, the Eye of Argon was a horribly-written story published originally in a low-end fanzine in the 1970s that has since been turned into something of a convention party game.  The idea is to read it (in its original form, including pronouncing the words as they are misspelled rather than how they would be if properly spelled) without making mistakes or breaking down laughing.  Not many can achieve this feat.  There is an evolving set of forfiets if you make a mistake (this time, you would have to stop and act out the scenes that were read by the next player) and a small reward for participating.

In a way that just seems totally appropriate for a celebration of such a mistake-ridden piece of fiction, things went wrong before the game even began.  The quick-reference grid guide, the programming guide, the pocket program, and the signs indicating the programming in each room disagreed about where the reading was supposed to take place.  So, if you wanted to go, you had to guess whether it would be in the Small Auditorium, the Large Auditorium, Room E, or… well, I don’t have copies of the room signs to look up where they were directing people.

But people eventually did find it (including the guests who were supposed to be hosting the panel, though two of them were late), and the reading began.  So, with a multi-fauceted scarlet emerald, a knife forced from a rat pelvis, and as many incorrect spellings of the word “swivelled” as you can imagine, we delved into the epic tale of Grignr the Ecordian.

An attempt at reading it can be found here, just to give you an idea, but it really is an event that must be experienced to get the full idea of how ridiculous it can be.  The guests\panelists involved in this reading were particularly experienced (and still bungled their readings on occasion).  This was a dramatic reading, and I really have to say Gray Rinehart really hit it out of the park.  Other guests included Michael A. Ventrella, Gail Z. Martin, and (as judge) Peter Prellwitz.

And so, with a heart lightened after hearing of that mighty quest, I returned to my suite and rested for the long night.

SATURDAY

Okay, I think I have the Eye of Argon out of my system.  Friday was a bit of a weak start, but I really learned a lot from the Saturday panels.  And I remembered I had a camera on my iPod, so there’s that, too.

I started the day with a panel called “Self-Publishing Doesn’t Mean Solo Publishing,” presented by Doc Coleman, GB Macrae, Alex Matsuo, and Christine McDonnell.

Okay, I’ve decided at this point, since I’m not actually saying what I heard from these panels, I’m not going to bother mentioning them unless I have a viable picture to go with it, or something more to say than “I went to (such and such a) panel.”  I am not a photographer (an understatement), and a lot of the pictures I tried taking didn’t turn out.

As proof of how bad, I couldn’t even identify the picture I took of the above panel, which I was going to put here instead of this paragraph.  The surviving pictures aren’t especially exciting, but I know that panelists are always happy to see pictures of themselves running a panel, however bad the picture.

I also met briefly one-on-one with Meryl Yourish, who tried to help me work out a problem with WordPress.  (We’ll see if what she said helps the next time I try to schedule a blog post)

That meeting had me a minute or two late to my next panel, Self-Publishing 2.0: Maximizing Your Profits With Amazon.com, presented by Chris Kennedy.

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This was a very informative panel, and I took a lot of notes… some of which I will discuss in my upcoming “Things I Learned From Ravencon” post.

Then Lunch (with another Allen Wold “I wish I could have talked to him, but we were both too busy going in opposite directions” sighting).  Slow service killed almost all of my time until the next panel, but I was able to catch a few minutes of one particular event that was taking place right outside of the restaurant:  Splendid Teapot Racing.

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(Yes, you can’t make anything out beyond a little bit of a ramp.  I said I wasn’t a photographer, didn’t I?)

The one race I caught was fun while it lasted, though the “teapot” in question (it resembled the classic-series Starship Enterprise) flipped over and crashed exiting the ramp.

Watching the teapot races made me late to my next panel, as well.  That was the Worldbuilding: Creating Fictional Political Systems with Larry Hodges, DJ McGuire (no website or author page I can find), Kate Paulk, and Stephen J. Simmons (moderator).

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Unless you want images too blurred to make anything out or a picture of the back of some blue-haired person’s head, I don’t have pictures from my next couple panels (Researching Your Book followed by Worldbuilding: Economics and infrastructure).

I did get a viable picture of the What Sciences Haven’t Been Used panel, featuring Christopher Weuve, Susan Zee (another person who I can’t find a viable website for), an unscheduled (at least according to the program book) appearance by Lou Antonelli, and moderated by Kate Paulk.

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This panel was quite interesting — less so for the practical reasons that were discussed, but more for inspirational reasons.  It gave me an idea for a possible short story collection or anthology… but I’ll have to save that idea for a future post.  This blog entry is already getting long, and there’s still a lot to go.

After this panel, Lou Antonelli talked me into delaying my dinner (though in the process, he inspired a craving for a Wendy’s hamburger that I have yet to fulfill) to attend the Ask SFWA: What Do You Do For Writers panel.  There were almost more people on the panel than there were in the audience:  Lou Antonelli, Rob Balder, Jack Clemons, Harry Heckel, Gail Z. Martin, Bishop O’Connell, and Bud Sparhawk.  Here’s a distant, out-of-focus picture of them all:

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This actually could have been a very interesting panel.  When the SFWA opened its doors to self-published writers, I was eligible (and I should be eligible again) to become a member.  However, I was a bit reluctant because the SFWA has worked against self-publishers best interests in the past (whatever they claim, they picked the wrong side for most self-publishers, and arguably most authors.  Even the members of the SFWA’s own self-publishing committee were in disagreement with the decision, and committee member MCA Hogarth mentioned in the comments section of the Passive Voice blog that the committee wasn’t even consulted before the decision was made) in the matter of the Amazon-Hachette kerfuffle about two years ago.

I wanted to ask about this incident, and whether steps have been taken to ensure that the SFWA won’t run roughshod over the interests of a portion of its membership (again) in the future, but the moderator had made it clear from the beginning that they weren’t going to take on controversial topics after the topic of the Hugos came up.  I stuck it out for an hour of the (scheduled, though they thought they would end early) two hour panel, but it was mostly an SFWA love-fest and I was starting to get a headache from lack of food.  So, I walked out and went to go eat dinner.

This was the dinner which I tried to get through room-service (hoping that cutting out the fifteen-twenty minutes it took to attract the attention of the waitress and make my order would speed the dinner order) that arrived very late and cold.  Some of it was no longer palatable, but I was so hungry by then that I ate through it anyway.

However, I’d been in a Facebook dialog with Joelle Presby about a cake being delivered to the Baen Barfly room party at 9 that evening (she was promising that the cake wasn’t a lie, and I feigned not being sure if I believed her).  And she posted that the cake arrived.

“Food!” was the only consideration.  I went to my first ever Baen Barfly party.  And yes, there was cake, decorated with Joelle’s latest book cover, and she was quite happy to cut it.

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Now, a little bit of history of me and Baen:  Back when the late Jim Baen was alive, and I was polishing my first book for submission to a publisher, I was a member of Baen’s Bar, the forum for Baen Books.  I was a big fan of several of the authors, who were frequently found on the forum.  As the years passed, fewer of the authors showed up on the Bar, Jim passed away, and I went to an all-lurker format (it used to be accessible through a Usenet reader, if you remember usenet, but my usenet-reader was read-only).  That usenet access went away, at one point; I remained a fan of the author (and the publisher), but quit going to the Bar forums.

But I remember hearing about so many interesting discussions and things happening at these Barfly parties.  I’d never been to one, however, for a variety of reasons (usually some combination of scheduling conflicts and just not being able to figure out where the darned thing was), so I was really looking forward to finally making it… but first I had to have my piece of cake, because I was starving.

I had an interesting chat or two while eating the cake, but afterwards… well, I hate to say it, but I fell asleep.  Not because there weren’t interesting discussions going on, but because I was just so horribly drained by the day, by the lack of\late\bad food, etc., etc.  So, while there was still interesting programming later that day, I figured if I fell asleep at the Barfly party I wouldn’t make it through any of the other panels.  I wound up calling it a night, and that was it.

SUNDAY

An early night led to an early morning, and I made it to the first panel of the day.  Sadly, I don’t have any photographic evidence of that, but the panel was on Book Covers that Sell Books (my second panel on book covers; this one was less of a “how to make a book cover” and more of a “this is what looks good on a cover and this is what doesn’t”).

I followed that up with “The Economics of Self-Publishing.”  This panel featured Chris Kennedy, Alex Matsuo, and Nancy Northcott.

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You could tell that everyone, both audience members and panelists, had been worn down by this panel — one person (not listed) never showed, Nancy Northcot dropped her tablet (I was sitting in the front road and picked it up for her; no damage), and there was a bit of a lazy air to everything.  A lot of this was rehashing of information I already knew, but I think I picked up a tip or two (one reason I’m making the “lessons learned” is that I’ve only got bits and scraps from several panels, and I’m not always sure where I learned what bit that I put in my notes).

I went for lunch after that (FINALLY finding the items from the “Grab ‘N Go Menu” in stock… and discovering that they were the most tasteless burgers and hotdogs I’ve ever tried, even going back to Elementary school).  The convention was almost over… but not quite.  I had one more panel to attend.

That panel was the one on Species Creation: SF vs. Fantasy panel with Bill Blume and Harry Heckel… and we waited a bit for a third panelist who never showed up.  That led to some… interesting conversation.  But first, a picture of the two who did show up.

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(Actually, maybe that is three.  But we’ll get into the dragon in a moment)

I’m not sure how much of the subject I took away from this topic.  I remember disagreeing with the panelists on several things.  Not that it matters — it was a fun, and at times utterly hilarious, ending to a really good convention.

Harry Heckel was the first to show up, as he had been on the last panel to use that room (How to Be a Writer With a Day Job).  However, the other two panelists were late.  It was Sunday, the last panel of the con, so he decided to give the other panelists some extra time before starting.

To fill the intervening time, however, Harry Heckel brought up his own “it’s the third day of the convention and we’re all exhausted” tale.  Earlier that day, he was supposed to moderate the aforementioned How to Be a Writer With a Day Job panel.  He had the room wrong, though, and was sitting in the moderators seat for another panel, the Future of Love and Courtship panel.  The other panelists for that panel didn’t say anything to him about it — it was only after someone else in the audience prompted him that he realized he was in the wrong room.

That led to some speculation about what that panel would have been like.  We (both Harry and the audience) speculated that it would have become a mash-up panel of some sort.  “The Future of Love and Courtship With a Day Job.”  “How to Be a Writer With Love and Courtship.”  Etc., etc.

Then Bill Blume showed up, only a minute or two late.  Now, throughout the rest of the convention he’d apparently been accompanied by a stuffed dragon named Windsor (great name for a dragon, btw).  Harry Heckel had his own dragon with him, Magdella (I don’t know if I’m spelling that right, but Magdella wasn’t listed in the program book).

The mention of a “dragon habit” was made (I can’t remember which of them said it first, but both agreed that they had one, collecting stuffed dragons when they could).  Between Windsor, Magdella, and (from conventions past) Barry Mantelo, I’ve come to the conclusion that writers are well-served to have their own mascot.  Or at least I would be… but I’ll decide what that mascot would be later.

CONCLUSION

And after that, there was a really, really long nap (I crashed at 4pm Sunday and woke up at 9am Monday.  I had to rush packing to get everything packed in my car before check-out time), I drove home in the two and a half hours the trip is supposed to take.

If I had one real criticism of the panels, it was mostly that the self-publishing panels seemed a bit weak on, well, self-publishers.  There were a few (Chris Kennedy, in particular) who really knew their stuff, but many of the self-publishing panelists weren’t actually self-publishers.  By that, I mean they weren’t focusing their writing careers around self-publishing; many of the panelists were trad-published writers who may have self-published one or two short stories and re-published some of their backlist on their own.  There’s nothing wrong with that — getting that perspective can be a good thing, if you have plenty of people from the more ‘self-publishing-centric’ side of the equation — and these people were not bad guests overall, but they weren’t really self-publishing experts.  They didn’t have any real insight on the field of self-publishing.

Again, this wasn’t true of all of the guests on these panels, just a few of them (and I won’t name names, here, because I don’t want to offend anyone, and that’s not the point.  The panelists did the best they could), but it did feel odd that they’d been put on these panels.

I really did enjoy Ravencon a lot, despite the few flaws I had with it.  I just hope I can come back as a guest next year.  (I won’t make the mistake of applying too late to be considered, this time)

The Print Proof Has Arrived… But I’m Not Happy

Okay, so the print proof for “In Forgery Divided” has arrived (as of last Friday), several days ahead of schedule. It’s a huge book, and will take me some time to go through it: While not a true proofread in the sense most people use the term, I do have to look at every page and every line (I don’t have to actually read anything; I need to look at the first letter of each line, the kerning (space between words), the margins, the fonts, the widows and orphans, etc., just to make sure everything looks nice and legible).  I figure I’ll still be just half-finished when I get to Ravencon next weekend.

So why, as I said in the title, am I not happy with this fast service?  Well, there’s a defect, and I’m worried it’s symptomatic of a quality control issue that may force me to make a decision I’d rather not.

I wanted a matte finish cover; both of my previous books have been matte finish, and I like the look of matte finish covers (especially for Fantasy novels).  It was a great boon for self-publishers when Createspace started giving a matte finish option.

However, my cover arrived with a defect; the matte cover finish had a bubble in the lamination, leading to a discolored bar traveling from the top to the bottom of the front of the cover.

Now, I could let Createspace know about the defect, and from what I understand they’ll replace the book free-of-charge (at least, that’s what their reputation says; I haven’t needed to contact their customer service before).  I don’t really think I need to, however — this is a completely disposable copy that I’ll be marking up, anyway, so no big deal.

Except… I’m now hearing that this lamination issue is becoming increasingly more common with Createspace’s matte finish covers.  That worries me; I don’t want my customers buying defective books.  I don’t want to be buying defective books, either, when it comes to purchasing review, consignment, and giveaway copies.

So, I may have to consider a glossy cover, instead.  I need to order at least one more proof before I put it on sale (I learned you should never assume the electronic proof, even for the “second” proof, is accurate, after the cover for “The Kitsune Stratagem” turned out to be misaligned by less than a quarter of an inch after I was finished with the first proof, even though I never did anything to the cover.  So, from now on, if I make changes I order another proof), so maybe I’ll change it to gloss and see what I think.

There may not be a blog next weekend.  I will be attending Ravencon (my application was too late to be considered as a guest, but it’s always a fun and educational convention, regardless), so I probably won’t have time to post anything.

Edit:  I accidentally hit “post” instead of “save draft” when I was working on this on Friday.  Oops.  If you’re the one person who my statistics plug-in says saw this early, that’s why the post vanished on you.

Odds and Ends

I had three possible posts I was getting ready for today, but none of them are ready. So, I figured I’d do a quicker blog covering some odds and ends…

I.  Print Edition Progress

The Print Edition of In Forgery Divided is compiled and a proof has been ordered.  There are certain design issues that cannot be checked or corrected until I’ve recieved my print proof (for example, I need to know what the cover looks like with a matte finish; from past experience, I know there can be contrast issues that don’t show on a computer screen).  It should arrive just in time to have it with me while attending Ravencon.  (Probably a good thing I applied too late to be a guest, there — I’m probably going to be going through the proof while I attend panels).

Of note, I am breaking my own pricing policy with this book.  In my Self-Publishing Roundtable series, I note that most physical bookstores won’t agree to carry your book unless you charge enough for them to make a profit — another writer\blogger calculated that if you (the writer\self-publisher) are earning a $2 royalty per sale in expanded distribution, the bookstore can earn a profit selling it.

However, to get that royalty amount, I would need to charge at least $20.80 (I used Amazon’s royalty calculator to narrow it to the nearest penny).  This is mostly because the book is that much bigger than my past books.  BUT… I’ve decided not to cross that $20 line; I’ve never seen traditional publishers charge more than that amount even for the most expensive of trade paperback books, so I won’t either.  Instead, I will keep it at the same cost as Book I, charging only $18.99 a copy.  I don’t exactly earn many royalties selling it at a price like this, but I’m still making a print edition made available for those of you who want one.  Just don’t complain about the price, please — I really can’t go much lower.

II.  Sales

In Forgery Divided had the strongest launch of any book I’ve released, at least in terms of day-one sales.  Sales have remained fairly steady (though there has been a surprisingly steep dive in sales so far, today).  Of course, a few good reviews can really help with that, so please review!

The most surprising thing, though, is that it really has lifted sales for my other books.  In Treachery Forged, book I of the series, hasn’t sold this well since May of 2014.

Even The Kitsune Stratagem (which has always disappointed me with its weak sales, even though I believe it’s my best written book to date) has posted more sales than it has since December 2014 (and may end the month even better).  I guess it proves the old adage correct — “Nothing sells Book I like Book II.”

The third bit of sales news is a peculiarity:  All of my sales have come through Amazon.  This is peculiar because it’s also available from Nook, iBooks, Kobo, Smashwords, etc.  In my past books, these stores haven’t been all that large of a percentage of my sales, but they were significant enough to be worth listing there.  So far, not a single sale on any of those has shown up.  I don’t know if this is because my past customers from those stores haven’t gotten the word, or if it’s because these ebook stores just aren’t selling anything, any more.  I’m strongly considering listing my next book with KDP-Select (the exclusive-to-Amazon program), just to test some of that program’s marketing tools I’ve sacrificed to keep my books available in wide release.

III.  Ravencon

As I mentioned earlier, I will be attending Ravencon from April 29th to May 1st.  As you might imagine, it’ll be a bit difficult for me to release a blog that weekend, but I’ll see if I can’t get something ready before I leave and set it to auto-release.  And, of course, I still should have a post for next week, as well.

IV.  Coming Plans

I’m not 100% sure which book, in my “to by written” list, will be next.  I hope to move straight into Book III of the Law of Swords series, but we’ll see.  I like the idea of it, but I was feeling a bit burnt out on things by the time I finished In Forgery Divided.

Hopefully enough time has gone by that I’ll be able to work on it again, but if I find myself staring at a blank page for weeks on end I’ll probably move to something else rather than just let my writing stagnate.  I also hope to eventually get The Merrimack Event out, but of course it still needs a round of editing and some cover art, as it has for over a year now.  My mother has offered to try her hand at the cover art (It sounds a bit lame to say “my mother made my cover art,” but she does have a resumé to suggest she can handle it.  She had collegiate training in artwork and design (had she not transferred to a different college to finish her degree, she would have earned a minor in it), and has continued her education in artwork all of her life.  Her career had included design for fashion in the past, and now uses her art background in her award-winning quilt designs.  I’m just not sure it all translates well to cover design), so we’ll see how that goes.

In the meantime, of course, I’ll be continuing this blog and working on… whatever I decide to work on.  See you all next week!

Post-Publication Quality Control… (Oops)

Voltaire once wrote: “The perfect is the enemy of the good enough.”  (Well, he said something like that — translations get a bit wierd.  And he probably wasn’t the first person to say it, but I couldn’t find anything proving that.  At least it’s not another misattribution, however).

In writing, it is often used to refer to the phenomenon of never being happy enough with your finished work, and constantly revising it, to the point that your manuscript can never be good enough to publish (or submit to an editor, or… well, you get the idea).

The way to combat this is to work out all of the truly major errors, and then to set limits as to how long you take to polish out the rest (for example, “I’ll give myself until (insert date here) to make as many changes as I can” or “I’ll make one last pass and then I’m done.”  You can fudge this a bit — say, you need one or two extra days to complete a pass through, or you want to go back to make some quick changes to one particular scene one last time — but you can’t go over “deadline” too far or you’ll never finish).

There may be a few errors left in such a manuscript, even after a good proofreading, but believe it or not that’s average — in studies done comparing indie publishing to traditional publishing, there are an average of six typos or other mistakes that make it to publication by traditional publishers, even with all of the extra manpower they can afford.  One of the advantages eBooks have over print is that, if the author (or publisher) can catch these errors after the book is released, corrections can be made.

Now that “In Forgery Divided” is released and dozens of new eyes are on it, I put out a call on Facebook for people to track down any typos.  I’ve recieved a few replies, and in those few replies some minor errors (emphasis on minor) have surfaced that need correcting — about two dozen all told; a little more above average than I’m happy with, but not horribly so.  (Note: I haven’t asked permission from these people to use their names, here, but I am very thankful that they were willing to help).

So, tomorrow (or perhaps you could call it the day after tomorrow) I will be uploading a slightly revised version of “In Forgery Divided” to the various online stores where it is available for purchase (this will be happening after midnight, to minimize sales disruption). The book is quite readable as it is, and nothing substantive will change, so feel free to buy it now if you haven’t already.  My understanding is that, once I’m done uploading and the revision is approved, anyone who has already purchased the old version will get the revision the moment your Kindle (and thus far, all of my reported purchases have been for the Kindle) syncs up with Amazon.

If you’re expecting to notice any changes… well, unless there was a particular typo or missing word that caught your attention, you won’t. The changes are all insignificant to the average reader.  The book has already been edited, proofread, etc., so there aren’t even that many of these changes, and I wouldn’t bother mentioning it — I wouldn’t even bother doing it — except for one thing:

I made a mistake in the back matter.

Some of you may not be familiar with this term; it is a technical term writers and publishers use, but is not often used in common vernacular. The term, paired with “front matter,” refers to all of the material which is included inside the (virtual, in this case) binding which is not actually part of the contents of the book. This would include (if the book has them) the title page, copyright page, acknowledgements and dedications, frontispiece (either as an illustration or as a map), table of contents, maybe a foreword or afterword depending on how the book is structured, even things like cut-out coupons (in the old pulp novel days), etc.

I hope you can see why a mistake in the back matter might be a bit… frustrating to have to correct.  In my case, the mistake is the announced title for the (still to be written) third book in the “Law of Swords” series.  I used the wrong version of this upcoming novel’s title, and must swap that out for the correct “newer” (scare quotes for a reason) title.

Now, by now I’m hoping my readers understand the system in place for this novel’s titles.  The forged, from In Treachery Forged, became the Forgery in In Forgery Divided.  The Divided in that title will become “In Division” for the third book’s title… and the word following “Division” will be used in slightly modified for the fourth book’s title, etc.  I made a mistake with the 3rd book title because the title of the 4th book was also changed.

Now, in writing parlance, I am something in-between a plotter and a pantser (a plotter tends to write detailed outlines they try to follow; a pantser starts with little or no plot in mind and develops the story “by the seat of their pants,” hence the name).  While I started writing In Treachery Forged with a “seat of their pants” plot, I made plans for the future as I wrote.  By the time I was done writing, I had outlined the series to its conclusion for an expected total of five books.

This was back in 2007, before the industry changes which made self-publishing practical (yes, In Treachery Forged is that old.  Stick around and you’ll hear why it took so long).  I started reading guides on making pitches to agents, attending conventions where editors were present (at a Marscon one year, my mother went around following Toni Wiesskopf, the publishing editor of Baen Books, from panel to panel taking notes.  I, meanwhile, was tracking down all the other authors and editors at the convention — there were too many of these panels for me to attend by myself), etc., etc.  Basically, while I was revising and polishing In Treachery Forged, I was educating myself on just how to “Get Published!” in the traditional way.

A certain conclusion was reached from all of this:  Most publishers wanted to know that you had sequels planned before buying your book.  Many publishers would ask to see your outlines for these plans.  Few publishers at the time would buy an unknown, debut author’s proposed five-book series, however — with some exceptions, they were looking for trilogys, and the longer you planned it to go beyond that, the less likely a publisher would take it.

An axe was taken to my outlines.  While I couldn’t cut it back to trilogy-length, I was able to cut the length down by one book.  The story elements in Book Four were divided between books Three and Five, so book four no longer existed (and, incidentally, the final book’s title was changed as well).  I thought the plot was weakened, and that I’d still wind up with absolutely massive tomes for the new books three and four, and it still didn’t bring be down to that ideal “trilogy” length, but I’d cut out as much as I could.  “In Division Imperiled” was re-named “In Division Deceived” (the errant title in the backmatter).  I wasn’t happy about it, and saved my original plans while I started submitting to publishers.

Fast forward about six or seven years; while I’d originally expected it to take two-three years to find a publisher in that climate (as I’d been warned about through my research), I wasn’t published yet and hadn’t even gone through a quarter of my “submit to these publishers” list.  I started with the bigger names, of course — Daw, TOR, Baen, Pyr — and had a number of smaller presses on my list as well.  I knew some took longer and others shorter to reply, but I was expecting an average turn-around time for a rejection of 3 months, and an acceptance of 1-2 years.

The numbers I had read about were wrong.  Every single submission I made took longer, by far, than the “3 month average” I had read about.  One publisher held the manuscript for six months, one for a year and a half.  A third held onto it for over four years… and I had to pull it from them because they still hadn’t made a decision!

During those years I was waiting, a game-changing revolution was going on in the publishing world:  A practical system of self-publishing had been introduced.  And better yet, authors were having success at it!

I had my head in the sand.  I really wish I’d considered the idea before; trying to get myself published the traditional way was interfering with my ability to write new books, and it might have even been more profitable had I released “In Treachery Forged” just one year earlier.  Ah, well — playing “what if,” while a good way to come up with a plot for a novel, is not a viable life strategy.

At a Marscon, one year (several years after the Toni Weiskopf one), I arranged a one-on-one sit-down discussion with the editor\publisher of a small press publishing house.  It was that editor (who later shut down the traditional publishing wing of her publishing house and became a self-publisher herself; curiously, many of the authors she’d published also went the self-publishing or similar route) who talked about how the self-publishing revolution was changing the industry that finally got me to see what I was missing.

It took a while to get everything I needed together (cover art, editing, etc.), but by December of 2013, In Treachery Forged was out.  A little after that, I released Kitsune Stratagem, and started the process (which has been discussed here, before, ad nauseum) of getting the still-delayed “The Merrimack Event” ready.  Then, FINALLY, I was ready to start writing the sequel.

I found the old file with my outline.  Both versions of the outline, in fact, with both sets of planned titles.  And even though I’d had several years of seperation to detach myself from my original plans and to think about it all, the five book outline was still MUCH better than the four book outline.

And so “In Division Deceived” went back to being “In Division Imperiled.”   Just not in the back matter.

In case you were wondering, Book Four went back to being “In Peril Revealed,” instead of the four-book outline title of “In Deception Betrayed.”  I’m still undecided about the ultimate title of the fifth book (or even whether the series will stay at just five books; new plotlines have arisen that weren’t planned for; while I’m hoping to keep to the gist of the outlines I have already made intact, I’ll have to completely revamp them to account for these new subplots.  If enough new material gets added, I may have to plan on a sixth book)

And, like I said earlier, don’t worry about buying it in the meantime — you probably won’t even notice the changes.

In Forgery Divided RELEASED!

Links are still coming in, but In Forgery Divided has been released through Amazon Kindle, Nook, Kobo, etc.!  Hurray!  (Please buy and review; reviews are extremely helpful)

I suppose, in a sense, this book made it by “deadline.”  It was uploaded on April 2nd (though the first live link didn’t appear until after midnight, so April 3rd).  In another sense, it’s well over a year overdue (I originally projected that I would have it out in January of 2015.  As I hadn’t even started writing by January of 2015, that was never going to happen).

Regardless, it’s out.  And I’m exhausted.  Tomorrow I’ll register the copyright (it IS protected under US copyright law, but until I register I can’t take legal action, and you must file within 30 days (or maybe it’s 60 days?  Something like that) for the full protection, but you aren’t supposed to file until after you’ve published.  Yeah, it’s stupid, but the Copyright Office is a bureaucracy, so what do you expect?), then start myself on the print edition.

Some Statistics:

This is my largest book, to day, running at over 165,000 words by Microsoft Word count.  While I don’t have an exact page count, yet, the print version will probably top four hundred pages long.

Writing the book took almost nine months.  My editor took four months for his pass.  My own review of his edits (which also was a self-editing second pass of edits) took three months.

Fun news:  The book somehow sold three copies on Amazon before I was able to find a live link.  Two of those sales, oddly enough, were in the U.K.  (I’m not certain it’s hit Amazon.au or Amazon.ca yet; those are #s 3 and 4, resepectively, for the sales of my other books).  The book went live first on Amazon, then on Kobo, then on Smashwords.  In fact, it’s gone live on Inktera — which is a little remarkable, as you have to go through a 3rd party (in this case, Draft2Digital) to get to them.  As of when I’m first typing this, it still hasn’t gone live on Nook — they’re the slowpokes, this go around.

Links for sale will be edited in below as I find they’ve gone live, or you can go to the Fennec Fox Press website (where I’ll also be posting links as they go live).

Purchase from:

Amazon

Smashwords

Nook (eventually, a day after everyone else)

Kobo

Apple iBooks

Inktera

DriveThruFiction

24Symbols

 

NOT An Official Release Date For In Forgery Divided

Well, I’m just about finished getting “In Forgery Divided” ready for release. It’s close enough I’m TEMPTED to set the release date as April 2nd, but, well, I’m really very terrible at setting schedules.  I always run late, and it always seems as if I’ll NEVER finish.

There are things that might delay me, however, like… oh… allergy season (I never used to be bothered by allergies, while everyone else in my family has had severe issues.  The last few years, however, I’ve started developing them, and they seem to hit me worse than they do any of my relatives.  Although possibly that’s just because they’re more used to dealing with them).  I’ve already lost several hours of work the past few days because my allergies were making it impossible to read off of a computer screen.

But… well, it might be out as early as April 2nd.  (It will NOT be April 1st, even if it’s ready in time; I don’t want to have people mistake the release for an April Fools gag)  And if it does run past that date, it won’t be much longer.

Edit:  Comments closed due to spammers.  (I’ve had to close more posts because of spammers than I’ve gotten real comments.  Geez)

The Fennec Fox Press Mailing List

Back when I first published “In Treachery Forged,” I — like all of the self-publishing gurus suggested in their marketing advice — set up a mailing list. That list still exists, but I haven’t posted anything to it in over a year and a half.

At the time I created the mailing list, I envisioned having a quarterly newsletter that would give people news on upcoming releases, the occasional Smashwords coupon, and maybe other things as well, and between newsletters it would be the first place you could see cover reveals and learn of new releases.

Unfortunately, the long delay between the release of “The Kitsune Stratagem” and today, when I’m a couple weeks from releasing “In Forgery Divided,” kind of killed that plan.  After all, how many times can you apologize for a delay before it starts to sound like you’re just making excuses?

So… there’s not been a post to the mailing list since then.  There are only about two dozen members (fewer, actually, checking the reported numbers), but I still feel horrible about leaving the mailing list hanging for so long.

Well, now that “In Forgery Divided” is about to be released, I am going to revive that mailing list… and this time, even if I don’t have anything to say other than that my next book isn’t ready yet, I’ll try to keep the quarterly reports coming.

The Fennec Fox Press Newsletter (#3) will be resurrected this Saturday, February 19th.  While I don’t expect there to be any news that you haven’t heard here in this newsletter, please feel free to sign up for future new releases.  From now on, cover reveals (at the very least) will be made over the mailing list first.

The Cover Art is In!

I originally was hoping to get this all the way back in October… but then again, I wasn’t ready for it back in October, anyway. I’m very close to finishing the edits, and I’ll need to tinker with this image a touch (it needs to be cropped slightly — you won’t even notice, as all I’m doing is removing the bleed edges that are built in for the print edition — to adjust the proportions for the e-Book cover. I also need to put in the title, my name as author, etc.), but here it is!  The cover for Book 2 of the Law of Swords series, “In Forgery Divided”:

cover-volume2Final

Many thanks to Alex Kolesar of No Need for Bushido!

And I Still Don’t Have That Cover Art Yet…

Okay, so I’ve got a series of posts which will go out as my cover art is finished, and still more ongoing blog post series that I intend to start\resume once “In Forgery Divided” is published.

But I’m struggling to come up with things to write allowing me to keep this blog active from one week to the next. I’d hate to start these series (or RE-start them) just to have to set them aside one week later for the “In Forgery Divided” push.  And I’ve already missed my regular Sunday blog twice in the last three weeks, so I don’t want to just skip it again.

So, I’m going to make a desperate plea (desperate because, while I know there are some people who actually read this blog, none of them ever comment here) for people to put in there suggestions for a Sunday Blog topic you want covered. If I actually get any, and if the cover is delayed for ANOTHER week, I’ll try and use them.

Administrative note:  Comments using the acronym “SEO” are banned.  Why?  Because, even though the people who actually READ this blog rarely seem to comment, I still have a ton of spam comments I have to deal with.  I was starting to get close to five spam comments a day on “SEO optimization” and whatnot.  Ugh.  If you DO legitimately want to talk about Search-Engine Optimization, contact me by Twitter or Facebook and I’ll consider it.

Tragic, Epic, and Heroic Commercials

So… that cover art that I was promised would be done two weeks ago still has not been completed yet (I’ve gotten two drafts in the past two weeks, both further along in completion than the previous week, but nothing final yet. Until it’s final, I’m not paying for it, and until I pay for it, I can’t post any of the cover drafts here). And I’m still working my way through the clean-up of the edits; that’ll probably take me another couple weeks.

I missed adding a blog last week (actually, I wrote about 75% of this post last week, but then forgot to finish and post it), and I don’t think it would be a good idea to miss two Sunday Blogs in a row during a period I should be trying to ramp up interest in my upcoming novel, so I’ve got to figure out something to add as a filler.

Well, I’ve got an idea inspired by the buzz over “Superbowl Commercials.” Now, I wish I’d remembered to finish this post and get it out there last week, when it would have been more timely, but it isn’t really about the Super Bowl. It’s about commercials.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that none of these ads aired during any Superbowl, ever.  Specifically, I was looking for good commercials which, in just a minute or two, maybe without even a single spoken word, were stories that fit the elements of an Aristotilian tragedy, a classical epic, and\or a heroes journey.

Tragedy

Let’s start with the Aristotilian Tragedy of these examples.  (And I’m using this link because that’s what came up in the Google search;  I could cite print books for all of these literary forms, but I couldn’t link to them).  As the link says, these tragedies include:  Plot, Character, Thought, Diction, and Spectacle.  Oh, yes, and a musical number.  And it ends with a catharsis.  Only the first two (plot and character) are truly required, but let’s see how many of them this commercial can get into its one minute and two seconds of length.

 

Plot:  It’s a fairly simple plot, but any sporting event has plots and subplot.  This may be only the last few seconds of one such sporting event, but you’ve effectively got all the details you need for the game there — it’s clearly a special game (homecoming, most likely, though maybe a playoff game), but the home team heroes lose to the visiting team (cast as the villains in the piece, sort of) in the last second.  The strange thing about this “plot” is that it’s complete in the first thirty-five seconds of the minute long commercial; the rest is denouement.

Character:  Lots of characters in this one.  You’ve got the home team hero, holding the ball.  You’ve got the “villain” who steals it.  You’ve got the coach, who recognizes what is going to happen only too late.  The cheerleaders, who are watching in shock.  There’s certainly no lack of characters.

Thought:  In this case, ‘thought’ refers more to theme than anything.  And the theme is one of loss.  Yes, it’s just the loss of a basketball game, but that’s still a loss.

Diction:  Okay, I gotta admit, there isn’t a single word written or spoken in the whole thing, which makes anything you could call ‘diction’ (the “expression of the meaning of the words”) hard to find.  I don’t think that should disqualify it as a tragedy, though.

Spectacle:  The spectacle, in Aristotilian tragedy, is the part least related to literature.   In essence, it refers to the special effects, the props, the staging, etc.  Now, everything about this whole ad is spectacle — the slow motion, the dark lighting, that spinning tiger’s head… it’s all spectacle.  But, in this case, it’s the spectacle that makes all the previous elements work.

Music:  There is no spoken word, no “chorus” as Aristotle would think of it… but the music that plays throughout this commercial just sets the mood.  Lacrimosa, from Mozart’s Requiem (a song for the dead), is appropriately mournful, and the spectacle and the theme (or thought) are perfectly set up by this music.

Catharsis:  And here is where it uses the elements of a tragedy to be a good ad.  I’m not even sure the advertisers thought of it this way, but at the end of this tragedy, the “Catharsis,” the way to purge yourself of the tragic emotions that this commercial evokes, is to buy the shoe they’re trying to sell.  And all they need to do this is to show you an easily-recognized logo, and suddenly you know.

Epic

Now, ‘epic’ is a word that has come to mean a lot of things.  To be clear, I’m referring to whether or not a single commercial can fit the classical epic tradition.  The form of “epic” your High School English teacher used to refer to works such as Gilgamesh, Homer’s Oddysey, Beowulf, and the like.   Huge works, typically, that included specific elements:  A hero, who does great deeds, across a vast setting, highly stylized, with an element of divine intervention, ending with a heroes reward.

I had an English teacher who delighted in pointing out how the Princess Bride espoused all of these — a relatively short comedy, which you wouldn’t normally think of as an epic at all — but even that is massive compared to the one minute twenty second ad below:

The young boy in this commercial is our Hero.  You might say he’s on a quest to woo the maiden fair, or you might just say he’s a little preteen kid, but he is certainly — from a literary perspective — the hero of this piece.

Again, there’s not a single spoken word (beyond the name “Lily”), lending to a very stylized form of storytelling.  Arguably, this is a story which would have had a lot less impact if it had used words… (especially since this ad was for a European supermarket chain, and the language isn’t one I’m familiar with).

Now, let’s get this out of the way now:  You might consider this too “small” in scope and setting to be an epic.  After all, it’s really just two houses across the street from one another, with a brief scene in a department store.  But scope is relative; for a character like our Hero, someone who is still into making bed forts and the like, ‘across the street’ might as well be ‘across the galaxy.’  But what about the other elements of an epic?

Does he do great deeds in his quest?  Well, yes — he completes the snowmen for the girl he’s crushing on.  With remarkable likenesses.  In one night.  Sneaking past his overprotective (as seen by the father covering up his eyes) parents’ guard to do so.  Considering the scope of the characters, that was a tremendous deed.

But our Hero is still struggling to find a way to ask the girl out.  Obviously, he settles on a note… but how to deliver it?  He considers several options, but he either can’t find the courage or the technique he needs to give it to the girl face to face.  And there is where the divine intervention comes in… in the form of a Han Solo doll:  Searching for inspiration, he sees his little Han Solo doll pointing in the direction of his Stormtrooper helmet… and suddenly he knows just what to do.

And in the end, he is rewarded by the girl coming over (in Leia costume, accompanied by a Chewbacca-dog) for Christmas dinner, gift in hand.

Brings tears to my eyes… (literally, the first time I saw it).

The Heroes Journey

Many years ago, Joseph Campbell wrote the definitive work describing the Heroes Journey.  Now, I would recommend reading the whole book, but a simple summary of what he’s talking about can be found here:  It starts in a relatively ordinary world, but the hero recieves a call to adventure.  First he refuses, but then finds a mentor who guides him into the journey ahead.  He crosses the first threshold, finds allies and enemies, has setbacks, crosses a major hurdle, and then gets a reward.  After being rewarded, he starts on a journey back to his ordinary life, wherin he must use everything he has learned, and those things help him apply that knowledge to his once-again ordinary life.

That’s twelve steps; in a two minute commercial (far longer than most commercials in the US, but the example I’m giving was aired in South Africa), that just leaves you just ten seconds for each element.  Not possible, you say?  Well…

(incidentally, his may very well be my favorite of these three ads)

Let’s see:  We have a hero who has an ordinary life, who has made a living for himself without ever learning how to read.  It can be assumed that at some point, he decided to ‘refuse the call to adventure’ that is learning how to read, but there is this mysterious man in a poster who encourages him to learn how — his “mentor.”

He crosses the first threshold at the very start of this commercial, buying some books on how to read.  He finds allies in his teacher, his wife, the shopkeeper at the fishmarket, his buddies at the cafe that he plays Scrabble against, etc.  He has setbacks  (spelling cat “kat”), but he crosses a major hurdle (getting the “gold star”) and completes his adult literacy class (the reward).  He starts his journey back to an ordinary life by opening the book his “mentor” had written, using his newfound literacy to read it… before finally meeting with said mentor, who turns out to be his son, who you can tell is just so impressed that his father would learn how to read just to read his book that he has to celebrate… and in a way that the ordinary man would appreciate:  With a Bell’s Scotch Whiskey.

Another ad that brought tears to my eyes…

Conclusion

Are you readers of this blog following what I’m doing here?  These are great commercials not necessarily because they sell the product (two of the products — Kaufman’s grocery store and Bell’s Scotch — aren’t even available in my country; the third, a type of shoe, is for a variety of shoe I don’t need) but because they really are stories, accomplishing in just one or two minutes what the greats of literature needed prolonged stories to tell.

You could sum it up as “size doesn’t matter when it comes to story,” but I’m not really trying to put a moral on this.  I’m just celebrating great storytelling.  And these ads tell great stories.

It’s such a shame that most advertisers these days think the likes of “puppymonkeybaby” (no video or link added because I don’t want to have to watch it again to find it) are great ads.  After all, they think, everyone’s talking about it (in horror and disgust, but who cares about that?), so it must be good.  Who cares about great storytelling when you’re the talk of the Superbowl?

Sigh.

Edit:  Comments closed due to spammers.