Despite having just come home via a ten-hour flight from London, we’ll be making our way down to San Jose for Worldcon 76! I’m not on any panels this time out, but I’ll be saying hi to all my writer friends. If you see me, say hi! 🙂
Conventions and Meeting People
I’m not exactly an introvert, but I’m not one that can easily insert myself into conversations in public places. I tend to be more of a listener in mixed company, patiently waiting for a subject I can latch onto. Sometimes it works, other times I’ll only passively jump in. [There’s also the fact that I sometimes have trouble filtering noise when there’s multiple loud conversations going on. It’s not that I’m hard of hearing, it’s that I hear every local conversation and noise at the same level, and need to do the classic hand-to-ear gesture and point it in your direction. But that’s another blog entry altogether.]
Networking at conventions as a writer can be a daunting task, especially when you’re just starting out. I certainly hate to come off as pushy or annoying. And I’m certainly not a born salesman, so I feel like an idiot going up to complete strangers and foisting my books upon them. I mean, sure, I can do the elevator pitch if I have to, and I don’t mind talking about writing at all, but that’s not how I am 24/7. I’d rather talk about music, or the latest book I read or movie I watched, or any other mundane subject like we’re friends that met up at the bar.
On the other hand, there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years: the convention is also full of pros who’ve been in the field quite a long time who feel the exact same way. Many are already self-conscious and nervous in this kind of public situation. We’d all rather just wave a quick hello and go back to hiding in our offices so we can write our novels!
In the end, the best way for all of us to break that feeling of mortification is to just jump in and go for it. It takes practice, but you’ll get it after a while. It took me a few cons before I finally steeled myself to talk to the pros. Some of them are even my online friends now! And as I’ve said, the best way for me to do so is to treat the connection like we were friends at a typical gathering. I understand that the social link might not actually reach that far, but it helps for me to think of the conversations that way so I don’t feel as nervous.
[Mind you, I also understand there are those with certain anxieties that make this sort thing hard to achieve. To that, I say: I gladly welcome you into the conversation, and I will try to understand what’s needed for you to feel comfortable while we hang out.]
For years I twitched at the word ‘networking’ because for me it drags up images of businessmen gathering at a fancy overpriced bar in the city center where they all talk about things that I have absolutely no interest in. After years of social media and the occasional convention, however, I’ve learned that it doesn’t have to be that. It can be the simple act of meeting a writer and getting to know them, they introduce you to their writer friends, and so on, until you find yourself knowing a surprisingly wide assortment of people, either as friends, associates, or acquaintances. Social media has definitely helped this become easier for many, including myself.
I know it’s only mid-June, but I’m already thinking two months ahead to August, specifically Worldcon weekend. [Okay, I’m also thinking about our week-and-a-half vacation to London just before it, and about how I’ll be a walking zombie by the time the con is over, but that’s another blog entry altogether.]
At present, I can safely say that I’m nearing the climax to In My Blue World. If I time this right, I should have this draft done by the end of June, leaving me the entirety of July to revise it and ready it for self-publication. I may or may not have it ready in time for the con, but I’m not too worried about it. If I’m successful, I may be able to snag a reading panel then to read from it.
I’ve done this for pretty much all my books so far…once I know I’m nearing the end of the first draft, that’s time for me to start working on the post-production things. I’ll start playing around with book cover images. I’ll start thinking about promotion items and platforms. Working out the final release schedule. Those sorts of fiddly things.
I work on those things very early on and in a piecemeal fashion so I’m not crushed under the weight of doing it all at once at the end. It’s also so I can give myself time to make final decisions or if I should go in a different direction. And also, these fiddly things are often quite enjoyable to me when they’re not breathing down my neck!
As a self-published writer, I find that I often have to plan out my post-production work in very much the same way I plan out my novels. I need to think about the overall plot and how each scene and sequence fits together to form the whole. Or in this case, plan out where I’m going to be when, and what needs to be done to make it all happen. There’s a lot of multitasking going on, but if I spread it out a bit, I can handle it.
My plan is to do a reading at the con, and if I don’t have the book available, I’ll at least have postcards to give away with the book cover image. I’d like to have the book out into the wild by September, at least in e-book form. [I’m also thinking of other platforms for physical copies, but that’s another long term project and another post entirely.]
So yes…even though I’m wrapping up another novel, I’m just getting started on the post-production, which should keep me busy for a few months longer.
And for those curious, here’s a very rough draft outtake for the cover of In My Blue World. This is by no means the final cover, of course, but it’s along the lines of what I’m aiming for.
On Moderating a Panel
Being on a panel at a convention can be a lot of fun, especially when it’s about a subject in which you hold a ridiculous amount of knowledge and fannishness. [Not to mention that it’s a perfect time for a bit of shameless self-promotion!] It’s also a great way to meet other people from all levels of the writing world.
But what about moderating?
This past weekend was definitely a learning experience for me, as I had to moderate not one but two panels that I’d created for BayCon. The first one (recent music inspired by SF/F) ended up being more of a group conversation, as there was a total of six of us in the room. When it’s that small, it’s usually better to be a little informal, and have a bit of fun with it. The audience will enjoy being a part of the conversation as well.
The second one — regarding mentors in the Star Wars universe — needed to be a bit more strict in format. We had about a dozen people in the audience, there were were four on the panel, and of course there would be A Lot of Opinions being shared.
One thing A and I did for this second one was to prepare ahead of time — she created a spreadsheet of possible character relationships to talk about. The panelists were excited by this and used it as a quick reference guide on what they wanted to talk about. Another thing was that I emailed all the panelists ahead of time — especially as a moderator — to ask if there were any issues or points they wanted to make, or if they had any personal requests. [One of the guys wanted to bring in some of his collection of lightsabers, which he very creatively tied in with the theme of the panel.]
Another thing I kept in mind is that I had to, well… Be the Adult In the Room, for lack of a better term. Not that everyone acted like petulant kids, mind you… this was about being the one to keep everything reined in. The moderator has to lay down the rules, make sure that the panel doesn’t drift off topic, and also has to be the official timekeeper. I was willing to let the audience comment now and again — especially since it was relatively small — but I also had to jump in and be the one to say “okay, moving on…”
[I should also mention here that, this is precisely where the moderator should also pay attention to who’s talking and who’s merely interrupting. There were one or two moments where I noticed someone was about to talk over someone who was making a point, so I had to make sure that didn’t happen. And yes, this does in fact include Those Guys who will interrupt women who are speaking.]
That doesn’t mean you have to be the teacher watching the kids at recess. Have fun and be a part of the chatter! But you definitely need to remember that you’re also the one in charge — you own this group and this subject for an hour and a half, so you most definitely have the right to steer the conversation where it needs to go.
Note: ALWAYS start the wrap-up about fifteen minutes before the ending. This is for last minute questioning, not to mention gathering your things for a smooth exit to your next scheduled event. Many find that the clock feature on their cell phones is a perfect time keeper.
And in the end, if the audience enjoyed it, they will may want to come up and have a question or a comment they’d like to share. If you’re not in a mad hurry to get to your next panel, by all means, chat away! [And if you can, leave your books and freebies out on the table in front of you for a few moments longer, because they might want to take a peek!] Just remember to leave enough time so your panelists and audience can leave, and the next panelists and their audience can come in.
I still have to get used to moderating, and I’m sure I made a few mistakes, but all in all, I definitely had fun with it, and would totally do it again.
Looking Forward to 2018
I’ve got a busy 2018 ahead of me, that’s for sure.
A good busy, though. I’ve given myself a lot of goals to hit, and I’m sure I can hit most if not all of them. A few will be harder than others. Some will most likely roll into 2019. A majority of them will take most of the year. And I’ll be juggling it all with the Day Job, of course. But I think I can pull it off.
The trick here is to have a long-term schedule going, which I’ve been playing around with over the last few days. It’s a little like how I write novels: multiple threads going at the same time, fully aware of how to orchestrate them, put them in order, and make them flow. It’s only taken me how long to figure out that I can (and should) do this with the non-writing part of my writing career? Sheesh.
Anyway…I’ve got a novel to prep for self-publishing (Meet the Lidwells!), a new novel to start writing (untitled Apartment Complex story) and one, maybe two others to outline when I have the time. I’ll be going to three conventions, with the plan of being on a few panels and possibly a few readings. I’ll be resuming my photography for book cover and image library purposes. I desperately need to do restart the document scanning (it’s something I’ve put off for far too long). I’d like to record some more mp3 demos, maybe pull them together into full completed tracks. And most importantly, I need to move forward with the Mendaihu Press entity, using it as an umbrella for both my self-published novels and cover artwork.
This is going to be a very complex symphony to orchestrate, and I’m quite sure I’ll hit all the typical obstacles along the way, but I’m in it for the long haul and I’m too stubborn to quit easily.
This coming year is going to be one hell of a challenge for me, but I’m looking forward to it nonetheless.
An overview of 2017
It’s been an interesting year, I’ll say that much. Personally we’ve all had one hell of a bumpy ride. I’ve certainly had my highs and lows. And somehow I persevered.
Anyway, looking back over the past twelve months, I’m proud to say I went a hell of a lot further in my writing career than I ever thought I would. A project that I started in all seriousness twenty years ago was finally signed off as complete. I started not one but two completely new projects and sowed the seed for even more ideas. I kept a solid blogging schedule. I took part in panels on two different local science fiction conventions. All while still holding a Day Job.
—The Balance of Light e-book and trade release, and completing a long-term project. That was the toughest of the three to revise, so it took me most of 2016 and early 2017 to finish. Even the cover was a bear to get right. But at the same time, overcoming the hurdles I faced on this one made me an even better writer; it taught me to take all the time I needed to get it right before I released it upon the world. It was worth the wait, as that book went from the Troublemaker for a good few years to a novel I’m proud of. And added to that, it truly did feel like a weight lifted off my shoulders when I realized I did not need to work on that project any longer. I still miss it, of course, but I’m definitely glad it’s done. Most importantly, I saw a very long-standing goal to its conclusion and I couldn’t be happier.
–Daily words at 750words.com. I’ve been quite consistent with this as well, much more so than previous years. I trained myself to use this site as a place for playing around with ideas instead of trying to force myself to use prompts (suggested or otherwise). I just went with whatever popped into mind. In 2015 and 2016 I used it to write an extremely rough and incomplete draft of Meet the Lidwells, and in 2017 I used it to plot out most of the project after that. I’ve taken this month off from it for various reasons, but I’ll be picking it up again come January.
—Meet the Lidwells! This one surpassed all of my expectations, to be honest…so much so that I spent the first half of the project questioning whether or not I was doing it right! This project hit a lot of goals: writing a complete outline ahead of time, writing a shorter novel, writing a story that had a personal connection (music), and writing in a minimal amount of time. Because of this I have a minimal amount of post-writing work to do: some minor revision, shooting the cover picture, and prepping it for self-publication. Quite possibly the shortest novel project I’ve had to date.
–Untitled ‘Apartment Complex’ story. Having written out a few key scenes and plot ideas for this story using 750Words, I’m now working on the outline in the same manner that I did MtL. That way when MtL drops, I can immediately focus on writing this one. This too has goals: to see if I can pull off ‘writing econo’ again. I’m using the same process as the previous project, to the extent that I’ll play around with ideas on the project after this one for my daily words.
–Consistent blogging. I wrote two different blogs twice a week for nearly the whole year, with very few lapses. There were moments when it was tough, given that I always wanted to write something of interest and/or purpose, and did my best to avoid the fly-by entries as much as I could. I also wanted to avoid repeating myself whenever possible; I’ll totally cop to writing the same damn nostalgia piece over and over, and I’m doing my best to break out of that rut. And in the process, I’m learning how to expand my palette by expanding my interests.
–Participating in Convention Panels. This was another big one for me. I’ve gone to a number of cons over the years but always as an audience member, but never as a participant. After releasing my books I knew that this would be a great way for me to get connected to the non-writing part of the business. [Mind you, my very first panel was a reading, which went over well but I think could have been better. Once I got past that first one, the jitters were no longer there.] In 2018 I’ll be attending three more cons, and I’ve signed up as a participant at all three.
All told, I’m ecstatic with what I achieved as a writer in 2017. It was an extremely productive and fruitful beginning to my career as a professional self-publisher. There are some goals I wish I’d have hit, but I’m not going to let that bother me. I’m definitely looking forward to reaching those plus many new ones.
Convention Time Coming in 2018!
HEY KIDS! I’ll be hitting the science fiction convention circuit with a force next year, as we’ve just bought our registrations for three of them that will be our neck of the woods! And yes, I’m planning on getting myself on some panels and maybe even doing a reading of something from the New Project (aka the Apartment Complex story)!
If you’re in the SF Bay area, and are at one of these, come and say hi! 🙂
March 9 – 11: FOGcon, Walnut Creek, CA
May 25 – 28: BayCon, San Mateo, CA
August 16 – 20: WorldCon 76, San Jose, CA
[I will of course be posting this elsewhere on the blog later on under an ‘Appearances’ tab and again when it gets closer to the dates…just thought I’d share the excitement now!]
Not always on schedule, but at least consistent
Oh hey! I’d completely forgotten to write up a WtBt entry yesterday! Sorry about that, folks. Here you go. Sometimes the weekend gets the best of me.
Or in this case, A. and I binged on the Star Wars movies this weekend, watching the original three and following it up with The Force Awakens (which we still hadn’t gotten around to watching). We also bought Rogue One at the mall this weekend so we’re all good to go with that series for the moment. [Not including the prequels — that’ll be for another time.]
I’ll be honest, I’m not used to taking days off from writing. I get a nagging in the back of my brain that I shouldn’t be wasting time doing frivolous things when I should be working on a project. It usually goes away with a good movie or television series (British TV is really good at that for me). But it’s worth it, especially as I have to remind myself to watch and read new things that could give me insights on my own work.
In other news, I’ve been keeping busy with Meet the Lidwells, and I’m glad to report that the word count has been consistent. I’ve been hitting between 500 and 1000 words a night, which is alright by me. That’s my normal average on first drafts, so I’m happy with that. And as first drafts go, this one’s going fine so far. Room for improvement, but I’ll let myself worry about that on the first once-over later on. To tie in with the music metaphors here, I’m laying down Take 1, where I’ll hit a few bum notes and flub a few of the verses, but at least I’ll know what to fix when it’s time for overdubs and mixing. 🙂
Meanwhile, it’s finally dawned on me that BayCon will be in a few weeks!! It’s probably time for me to prepare myself for that considering.
Here’s my schedule for the con…if you happen to be there, stop by and say hi!
World building techniques and approaches
Saturday 11:30 – 13:00, Synergy 4 (San Mateo Marriott)
Specifically focused on pointers for attendees to attempt rather than history of what panelists did with X.
Panelists: Margaret McGaffey Fisk (M), Kevin Andrew Murphy, Ms. Jennifer L. Carson, Jon Chaisson, Katharine Kerr
Monday 10:00 – 11:30, Convene 1 (San Mateo Marriott)
How to put a good cover on your book.
Panelists: Ms. Jennifer L. Carson (M), Mr. Ezra Barany, Jon Chaisson, Daniel Dociu
You Want to Build Your Own Language?
Monday 13:00 – 14:30, Inspire 1 (San Mateo Marriott)
An intro course on how to build a language.
Panelists: Jon Chaisson, Kai MacTane (M), Juliette Wade
In the meantime, back to the mundy Day Job with the hopes that I can sneak in some Daily Words later on when things quiet down!
Budgeting for Self-Publishing
When I was on a FOGCon panel about self-publishing a while back, one of the things I felt I had to point out — something that everyone else was skirting around but not really touching upon — was one of the most important parts of being a self-published author.
If you’re going to be serious about self-publishing, you’re going to have to be willing to fund it to some degree, out of your own pocket.
It’s a tough thing to admit, I know, but it’s true. You’ll need to budget to some degree.
I knew and understood this going in when I decided to self-publish the trilogy. It’s part of the reason I wanted to try my hand at doing as much of it myself as I knew I could: the editing, the cover art, even the various promotional avenues. [I should state now that some people aren’t interested, willing or able to do any or all of that — and that’s just fine. This is part of what I mean: you need to budget for those things.]
As it happens, the uploading of documents to Smashwords and Createspace is free if you’re doing most all of the work yourself. For the production, the only costs I had were the Shutterstock picture package (five for $40), and trade galleys from CS (~$60 for five). The cost of course will go up if you need to outsource your art and/or editing and formatting.*
*There are many legit sources out there for these things…caveat emptor, of course, but a lot of fellow writers and editors online can steer you in the right direction.
The big part of the cost for me was after that — I had to be willing to budget for promotional things over the last few years such as flyers ($60 for 100 half-page cardstock flyers from MOO.com, which I created and mocked up myself), short-term advertising on a website ($100 at NoiseTrade.com to feature on the landing page and a mailout for a week), and cut the cost of the book for a site promotion (books 1 and 2 free for a month on Smashwords). Recently I’ve spent some money signing up for a few local science fiction conventions (FOGcon and BayCon over the last few months), where I will be using that time to plug my trilogy as well as talk about the writing biz. I also paid a graphic artist friend of mine to create my Mendaihu Press logo (see my blog site header, courtesy of MeaganHealy.com) that I will be using in the future.
I’m quite sure I’ll be spending more funds in the future — the occasional advertising, more flyers, and so on — but so far I’ve been keeping it reined in pretty well. I know well enough that I shouldn’t be creating thousands of flyers or having hundreds of copies of my books printed. I’m notoriously cheapass when it comes to the creative part of it; if I can pull it off well with minimum cost, then I’m happy.
Point being: if you’re going to do it DIY, do it responsibly, and be aware that you’re going to have to prime the pump a bit in order to start making any money out of your endeavor. Whether that’s hiring an accountant or learning how to do it yourself, as long as you do it well and do it right, the end result is almost always worth it.
Going Public: Conventions
So! My first official convention as an author rather than a fan went well, all told! FOGcon was a very good place to start, as it’s a relatively small convention attendance-wise, so I didn’t feel overwhelmed by standing up in front of any large crowds.
A few things I learned:
–Dress for the occasion. What I wore is actually pretty conservative for a typical SF/F con, but my Diesel Sweeties ‘Almost There’ shirt went over well with a lot of people, including one of the hotel bartenders!
–Keep well hydrated, especially if you’re doing a reading. There’s a bottle of water hiding behind my book in that picture there, which came in handy.
–You will always end up reading faster than you think; remember to slow..it..down. I forgot this and zipped along at quite a pace, according to Amanda.
–Noted: remember to say what you’re reading and give it a bit of a preface. Due to my nerves I’d completely forgotten to do so. D’OH. Thankfully I had my book front and center, so I’m sure most in the room understood that’s what I was reading from.
–Reading in small rooms means you don’t have to shout; however, it’s also good to remember to enunciate and project regardless. Try to remember to keep your chin up when reading; tilting your head down tends to muffle a person’s voice a bit. [Yup, sort of failed here too. Didn’t think about it until about halfway through.]
–Important: even though I made those couple of mistakes? I’m far from a failure. I read my piece and got a positive response, and that’s all that really matters.
–With some conventions (like this one), you’re not doing readings alone. This works well on multiple levels: you can choose to go last if you need that extra bit of self-preparation; you’re not up front and completely on your own; that little bit of camaraderie between authors before the panel starts really does help calm you down; and if someone in the audience is there to see their friend read, they’ll be there to hear you as well. This last bit nicely quashes any worries that you’ll read to an empty room!
–Some are picky about it, but really, don’t worry about it: if you want to put your book up for all to see, by all means, go for it. I stood mine up and kept a few of my flyers next to it. As long as you’re not doing the Shameless Salesman thing every other sentence.
–On a completely random note: About halfway through the day, it suddenly occurred to me that, since I was now a panelist, I’d leveled up and could now visit the Con Suite if I wanted. [I didn’t, but con suites (aka the green rooms) are quite excellent for unplugging from crowds and refueling with snacks if needed!]
And as for being on panels where you chat about a subject instead of reading? I’d say that by far was the least stressful thing this weekend. I was part of a panel about Self-Publishing and Marketing Strategies with three other people of varying levels of success. [I lightened the mood by introducing myself as being a total DIY writer who’s using the Indiana Jones method of marketing strategy: “I dunno, I’m just making it up as I go along.” That got a chuckle from the room, as I’d hoped!] Again: talk with your other panelists before the show starts, get to know them a little and gauge how they’ll perform and what points they might hit, so you can adjust your delivery accordingly. Keep a bottle of water nearby. Again, no need for shameless self-promotion, but if you use your book as a prop in the point you’re trying to make, that’s fine. [I spoke a little about visibility of covers, pointing out how I deliberately used certain colors to make them stand out.]
Granted, I lucked out in that I’m fine with speaking with large groups. I’m always a little nervous about being the center of attention, but I pushed past that the best I could. As the panel went on, I became more comfortable talking with both the panelists and with the audience — it felt less like putting on a performance and more like having a fun and super geeky conversation with a bunch of other like-minded people.
Will I do it again?
Hell yes!! 🙂