Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Lurking in the audience at your con. Not creepy at all.

I love going to cons: fan, lit, gaming, comic, anime, and all other cons. Like, love love those things. My family and I attend the local science fiction literary convention here in Austin every summer, and have for roughly the last 20 years. I've been to World Con, PAX South, ApolloCon, AggieCon, Chupacabracon, A-KON, OwlCon, and, most recently, Coastal Magic in Florida.

Only one time have I been invited to attend a con as as writer. (Thank you, Coastal Magic 2019. I just want to hug the whole idea of you!)

Let me tell you, being a writer at a con is a trip and a half. Don't know if it was my lofty seat at the panelist table or having that featured-writer color-coded badge (eee!) that turned the whole universe on its head, but for four whole days, other writers didn't run away from me when I smiled at them. Even better, when I approached a group of them, they didn't huddle in closer toward each other and desperately ignore me, as if I might suddenly break in and force them to listen to an impromptu pitch for my 400k-word unpublished epic about squirrels. I mean, they let me into their conversations, even sometimes invited me! Also, readers struck up conversations with me, and most were kind enough to ask about my books. When I went to panels other than mine and sat in the audience, the panelists treated my questions seriously, as if that badge magically meant that I have a clue what's going on. (I don't.) It was... I dunno, like an alternate universe.

Also, I most likely won't do it again.

For one thing, it was really expensive, and if we are being gentle, we could describe my career thus far as one hell of an IRS deduction. And in terms other than money -- expertise, wisdom, that sort of thing -- I'm not fancy enough to do this on the regular. Lord knows I still feel like a noob who needs to learn so much and is completely undeserving of the that alternate-universe level of respect.

Which all combined to make what should have been an exhilarating, professional experience kind of ... nerve-wracking. So much so that when I got back to my hotel room after one panel discussion, I flopped down on my bed face-first. My room-mate, who was not attending as a writer, was typing away on her laptop. Working. Bliss!

"Is this what having a writing career is all about?" I asked, my words muffled by the hotel bedspread and way too much hair.

She stopped typing, considered the question, and replied, "I dunno, but...I think I want to be the kind of writer who doesn't have to go to these things."

Did I mention that she is a wise woman? Because OMG, that! So precisely that! I write stories. Sometimes I share them in public. Sometimes people even buy them. But I'm not a writer in the dais-sitting, halo-wearing, people lined up to get my autograph, special guest sort of way. Probably never will be. And thank Spock for that.

So yes, you are likely to run into me at a con. But no, you probably won't realize you did.*

* Unless we make arrangements and text each other, and then I will buy you a drink at the bar and you can tell me all about your squirrel epic. I love squirrels. Just let me know. :)

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Indies at Cons: You're Welcome as a Reader, Not as an Author

Here at the border to the Midwest, we have a lot of book cons within driving distance. Small ones, huge ones, genre-specific, generalized, library-sponsored, city-sponsored--not publisher or Hollywood sponsored, mind--but if you got an itch, we've got the festival with the book on backscratchers.

The catch for me? I'm a self-published author, which for the sad majority of the conference organizers means I'm not a "real" author. I'm welcome to attend as a reader, but not as a professional. "Thank you for interest, but call us when we can find your books in Target." It makes choosing which cons to attend really simple: if the Con welcomes Indies and treats them equal to trad-published authors, then the odds of me participating vastly improve.

Now, there are Indie-specific cons, but it's an author-beware sitch. Too often, they're akin to MLM trade shows, where you're the prey and the "networking" is with vanity publishers, "PR" spammers, and book "doctors." Also unless it's a genre-specific con, most of the Indie stuff is targeted at non-fiction authors. When it comes to those type of cons, the emphasis is on the "con." You're better served handselling books at a local fair.

Locally, there is an exception to the Unwelcome Indies trend. One part due to the genre to which it caters (hello, Romance) and one part to the tenacity of the organizer who embraces the community as a whole. I'm referring to Lori Foster's Reader & Author Get Together (RAGT) that welcomes trad and indie authors for a weekend of hanging out with readers and an open-to-the-public book sales/signing event. It's a pay-to-play event, with conference revenues going to local charities. It is, in essence, a fundraiser more so than a con. Mad props go to Lori Foster and her team of organizers who persevered through all the lumps and bumps over the years of integrating indie books into the event. (The onsite-bookstore had challenges offering indie books, what with the inability to return unsold stock among other issues. Lori and her team continue to revise solutions while offering ones that work best at the time for all.) 

Monday, April 22, 2019

Sigh. Conventions,

Here's a sad fact of life. I am a midlist author. 

I mean, I make a living at this, but sometimes it's damned close as to whether or not I'll be able to make the rent work out on any given month. 

I love conventions. I have a great time and while they are often exhausting, I also get a different sort of energy from them. I am often revitalized by even the madness of massive conventions. 

That said, there are very few conventions I am willing to pay to attend. Not that I don't want to, but, again, I have bills to pay and a great portion of my life can easily be qualified as Russian Roulette for authors. Will I get that check I was promised this week? next week? Next month?

If it's a local convention I can probably be got for a free pass. If it's further out, I have to seriously consider whether or not it's worth the cost of a hotel room, even if I'm sharing the costs. I mean, I have deadlines, and how much of my life is going to be changed by attending that convention? The older I get, the less likely it is I will make the effort for a convention that isn't ponying up for a free pass, transportation, and a hotel room. I can make the rest of it up on my own, but the cost of a hotel room, especially for some of the conventions in bigger cities, can be absolutely obscene. 
I'll be attending Dragon-Con it Atlanta this year. I love Dragon-con. Last year it broke 80,000 people and the air is often a wall of sound. When I was younger and lived in the Atlanta area, I could make the drive down to the city, spend fifteen or so hours there and then drive back. With a little caffeine in my system, it was survivable. 

These days? I need a hotel room to move into when the white noise reaches the earthquake levels. If I don't have a room, I'm not likely to attend.  I'm getting older and despite my beliefs when I was younger, I am not immune to the effects of that fact. 

I'm a midlist author. I know plenty of people who get invited to conventions all over the country. Despite the fact that I have written horror for over 2=twenty-five years, I have never been asked to be a guest or guest of honor at the World Horror Convention when it existed, or for the Horror Writers Association. Frankly, I'm not holding my breath. The likelihood of me attending one of those conventions that is more than driving distance away is incredibly slim. 

They want to invite me and pay for a room? Sure. If I'm up for a major award I can probably make it happen (not likely) but aside from that, if it ain't in my backyard I'm not taking the extra effort these days.  

Are the conventions worth it? Absolutely if you pick and choose. But the fact of the matter is, I've made most of the connections I need to make, and while I would love to spend a dozen or more weekends at conventions around the country and the world, I am simply not in a position where I can afford the loss of revenue and time if there isn;t a bit of compensation in the equation. not a fee. I can make that up, but at least a comped room and transportation. 

Until I have a few bestsellers under my belt, or maybe a movie deal, that's the equation I'm going to have to stick with. Or, you know, until my publisher pays for a book tour, and trust me that ain't happening.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Show Me the Money! (Or at Least Don't Make ME Pay)

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is Lit Cons, Fan Cons, Comics Cons: What’s Best For You?

I imagine there will be a variety of replies to this topic - and maybe someone will take on defining each - but I'm taking a bit of a slant and talking about the stance I've taken on conventions in general.

Aside from professional conventions like the RWA National Conference or SFWA's Nebula Conference, which I attend for my own networking, craft improvement, etc., I've established a personal policy of not attending conventions that ask me to pay my own way.

Now, there are some gray areas here. The panel above - where everyone is clearly RAPT by the wisdom I'm sharing - is at Bubonicon here in New Mexico. It's a "local" SFF convention that I attend most years for various reasons. They don't pay my travel, but they do comp my registration. And it's close for me, and staffed by a lot of people who do many things to support my books.

That tends to be the model for a lot of smaller fan conventions: they invite authors, comp the registration (or sometimes only reduce it), and provide opportunities to network with readers. Unless you're a GOH (Guest of Honor), however, that's as far as it goes.

Romance fan conventions tend to offer a much worse deal. I can speculate on the reasons for it (though I won't), but a number of "reader conventions" sprang up in the last decade or so that not only required authors to pay all their own expenses, not only never comped or discounted registration, but also required authors to pay full registration or significantly MORE than readers paid, and then repeatedly urged authors to chip in even more money for gifts, meals, promo, etc.

In essence, these cons sustained themselves on the author's dollars, relying on them both for content and to pay for the con. In return, they offered exposure to readers, but very often even that fell flat, with the con mostly attended by other authors and the readers that did attend were frequently regular attendees or existing fans.

I stopped doing these.

Not because I didn't have fun - I often did! - but because I was paying a sometimes HUGE amount of money to gain maybe a few new readers at best.

I have come to see this as a matter of treating myself as a professional author. I don't pay anyone to publish my work. Money should flow to the author. Thus, I won't pay anyone to have me at their con.

The other day I shared a tweet thread from Seanan McGuire on the topic
She makes really excellent points. Which I'll bullet a few salient points in case you don't want to go to the tweet thread, though she puts it better.

  • I go where I am invited. I don't (usually) charge an appearance fee, but I'm a full-time author; I can only afford travel that's subsidized in some way, usually by a convention.
  • When we appear at a con near you, it's because someone said "hey, invite _______," and we were offered travel costs, room, and a certain amount of cash for food in exchange for being your hired entertainment.
  • I don't go to cons to "have fun." I enjoy myself, absolutely, but I am all too aware that my presence has been paid for, and I want the con--and its attendees--to get their money's worth. I'm not insulting your con by not having fun. I'm doing my job.
  • If you want me--or any author!--to come to your area, you need to ask for us! Suggest us to your local conventions; suggest us to your local libraries. We are like vampires. We go where we are invited, and where the food is.

That about sums it up for me. I love going to cons, but I have to budget where I go. I don't expect to make money off of attending. At the same time, I won't come away in debt.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Rejection Marshmallows


Our topic this week has the intense title “Knife in the Heart: The Harshest, Meanest Rejections from a Publisher/Editor/Agent.”

I want to be respectful of my fellow SFF7 authors, some of whom have told really painful tales this week and I sympathize with them and everyone else who’s suffered this type of trauma, versus the one star review on a book situation or any other type of feedback, like a job performance evaluation.

But here I am again, the SFF7 maverick without much to say. All I can talk about are marshmallow type rejections. (By which I mean they didn't carry any extra hard edges...)

I never wanted an agent so I never subbed to any so I have no rejections there.

I’ve never received a mean or harsh set of notes from an editor. I’ve gotten all kinds of notes of course, including my personal favorite where I had the brilliant idea to have my alien who could be invisible leaving visible slime trails. Um, okay, time to rethink THAT plot point for sure. The phrase ‘slime trails’ is now a catch phrase in my family. But it wasn’t pointed out to me in a mean or derogatory fashion. More of a tongue in cheek “I think you have a problem here.”

I didn’t really pursue becoming traditionally published so I don’t have stories from the trenches of subbing things to gate keepers. I did send a few stories to magazines in high school but it wasn’t much of a serious attempt to become published. I was such a newb to the whole idea of publishing – I had no idea what I was doing. I still can’t understand why TEEN didn’t fall all over themselves to buy my fabulous romantic short story between an American student and a dashing matador (no doubt heavily influenced by the Harlequins I was reading at the time but certainly not up to HQN standards); however the rejection was the standard form letter. I even got a rejection from ANALOG, from Mr. Campbell himself…but yup, form letter. I never received a personal rejection.

I believe once or maybe twice in the intervening years while I was pursuing my career in business at NASA/JPL I might have gotten myself energized to type (no word processor at that point) an entire science fiction novel, put it in a box, add the SASE and send it off to the general address for a publisher. But again, I had no idea what I was doing, knew no other authors, hadn’t a clue about writing to market or the essentials of the craft…so eventually a form letter showed up and I wasn’t too surprised.

In late 2010 I decided I could now make the effort to really hone my craft and do my best to become published. In 2011 Carina Press acquired the first thing I ever submitted in that iteration of seriously working to become published and in 2012 my first book was released by them. So, again, no rejections.

I did get a few after that, including a revise and resubmit letter from Carina on the second book in my projected series, but again, all professional, collaborative, nothing unpleasant. I subbed something to Harper Voyager (? I think maybe it was them) and made it past the first round before getting a nice form letter email of rejection. By then I was full blown on my self-publishing career and have never been in a position again to encounter gate keepers with the power to say hurtful things to me.

I just have to keep pleasing my readers and that’s a pleasure!
As it happens, this past week my eighth book in the ancient Egyptian paranormal connected series was released. (The title that Carina Press acquired was Priestess of the Nile.) Yes, mostly I write scifi romance but I like to treat myself to a total change of pace and visit 1550 BCE at least once a year.

Here’s the blurb for the new book, Song of the Nile:
Merneith, a harpist of rare talents, blessed by the goddess Hathor, has recently arrived in Thebes and joined Pharaoh’s court, but must hide secrets from her past. As she settles into her new life in the palace, the one man she can’t forget and followed to Thebes is unaccountably absent.

Nikare, a Medjai police officer serving under Pharaoh’s direct orders, is now deep undercover investigating high crimes against Egypt and forbidden to contact Merneith. Masquerading as a priest to deceive the plotters, he watches over her from afar and longs for the day he can approach her openly.

When an unscrupulous noble ensnares Merneith in the web of evil Nikare is pledged to bring down, the two must stand together against earthly and magical forces to save their own lives and protect Egypt.

How much help will the gods provide? Will the pair survive the final showdown between Pharaoh and the conspirators and find the happy future together they desire?

This is a standalone novel but is also a direct sequel to Lady of the Nile, which is where Merneith and Nikare were first encountered as supporting characters. Now they move front and center in the fight to protect Egypt from a new threat. Mild spoilers for Lady of the Nile.
Buy Links: Amazon     Apple Books     Nook     
Coming soon: Kobo and   Google

Friday, April 19, 2019

Rejection Stories.

Today's photo brought to you by He Who is Fussed By Nothing. This is Crow, 'helping' me get this manuscript finished.

As to godsawful rejection stories. Mine is pretty tame, but I do still hold a grudge. So there is that.

One of the great benefits of having gone through an acting conservatory program was that we actually had training in how to handle rejection. There were rules. First rule was: It's never, ever personal. It may FEEL personal, but it's not. It could happen that you'd walk into an audition situation and a casting director would stop you and send you home before you'd even opened your mouth. How was that not personal? Easy. You had to realize that you probably look like that casting director's ex and there's not a damned thing you can do to counter that.

So when I screwed up the courage to start submitting my writing for publication, I figured I was pretty well adjusted for handling rejection. And to be honest, for 99.9% of the time, I absolutely was. Mainly because the rejections were all so professional and nonjudgemental. It's all been stuff like, "I just bought a story on this same theme. Sorry." That was my very first rejection and was from Marion Zimmer Bradley. It was a sweet way of laughing in my face and not saying, "OMG, this tired theme? Again? Did you not read or pay attention to my guidelines at all??" It's only after years of rejection letters that I've learned to read between the polite lines to the core of what an editor wants to say with their carefully worded 'thanks but no thanks' letters.

And then.

I subbed a story I very much loved to a small house that still exists (and which, will therefore not be named.) I'd talked to the editor at conference and been invited to sub. The rejection letter I received straight up said, "Writing's not good enough." Those exact words. You may deduce from this that the editor was male and you'd be correct. At the time, other writers shrugged when I raged over it. "Eh. It's the business. Get over it." No. It isn't the business. That's the point. It's an opinion. It's a value judgement in a business were editors have no professional business telling writers their work isn't good enough. Do it on Facebook and people will call you out for shit posting. Professionals stick to facts. The facts were that my work wasn't appropriate for this editor's line(s). Fine. Say so. That's a professional, business oriented rejection. I don't require a break down of what it is about the work that doesn't work for someone. That input is ALWAYS appreciated, but never expected.  The professional, no value-judgement rejection is what the romance industry has pretty much mastered and has been the standard rejections I've received. Except for this one editor (who no longer works in the business, much to my satisfaction.)

Does that make me petty? Good. I'm comfortable with that. The best revenge is to have been published, won awards, AND outlasted the jerk judgy.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Harsh Rejection Stories

My story isn't technically a rejection story, but it's right up there.  It's as devastating. I was on one small, private on-line critique group.  The set-up was pretty casual: upload things to a shared folder, and then critiques are either A. sent via group email or B. also uploaded to the shared folder.  No specific timeline, just put it up and people will get to it or not.  Because of this system, I had some things up there that I wasn't actually seeking critique on anymore.  I hadn't taken them down, mostly because I wanted the other members of the group to be able to look at the whole body of work/larger plan if they were so inclined.
And then I got this on one manuscript.

I made it no further than page 5 before nearly chewing my left arm off in the frustration of knowing that a writer with a great imagination, a lot of drive, and most likely a wonderful story to tell hasn't bothered, after all these years of effort, to learn the basics of story crafting. To improve your writing, you need to, at the very least, read some well-crafted books and analyze the plotting, sentence structure, foreshadowing, and subtlety of the writers' works. No one is born knowing how to write or craft a story. Those are skills that take some effort to learn. You could be a great writer. If you don't put in some study time, all your efforts and talents are wasted.
Wow.  That's brutal, no?

That's the sort of critique that could send someone running for the hills.  Heck, that's not even a critique, that's a dressing down.  

Fortunately, I just laughed at it, and then promptly deleted myself from that group.
Because the manuscript in question was The Thorn of Dentonhill, which at that point had already netted me an agent and was out on submission.  And it was bought by my publisher just a few weeks after I got this.  I mean, what exactly was this person trying to accomplish with this critique?  I'm not sure.  But I feel like they were trying to just grind me down.

This business is tough, and you do not get handed anything and certainly don't deserve anything you don't earn-- you don't just get handed accolades and awards and film options-- but you need to keep pushing on as they try to grind you down.  Success could be right around the corner, and if you let them beat you-- you let a drubbing like that one up there break you-- you won't get there.

Don't let it grind you down.  Because every rejection and drubbing can be followed by that call.  Be ready for it.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Thank you for that rejection. No really.

In preparation for this blog post -- ha! you thought I never prepped these things in advance and just wrote them all stream-of-consciousness style on the day of, didn't you? -- I scoured seven years worth of emails, beginning with extremely unwise submission of some very bad short stories. Despite the universal ickitude of the crud I foisted upon these editors and agents (and interns), I couldn't remember any stand-out scathing rejections.

So I wasn't entirely surprised when my search yielded...nope. Not one mean note. That's not to say there weren't a metric crap-ton of "this isn't a good fit" or "keep trying, noob" or "not interested at this time" form phrasing. But everybody was super polite with their language. (Nobody used the word "noob." I just put that in because it's a fun word and lack of professionalism suits me.)

Anyway, I'm not sure if I should be flattered or disappointed by the unbroken monotony of vague, bland rejection. I mean, it took time and energy for editors and agents to compose the passionate rejections littered with Shakespearean insults that other folks received.

And then, somwhere in the fog of 2015, I found it, the exception. The one rejection that was personal, different, dare I say brutally honest. It wasn't cruel, but it was super, super true, and I wish I'd paid more attention to it.

I'll paraphrase so I don't embarrass this person, but an editor said, basically, "Kid, you need to decide whether you're writing science fiction or romance, cuz right now you could go either way with this book, and readers aren't likely to dig that kind of wishywashiness. Pick a freakin side."

If you read that book right now (because sadly, I did eventually convince someone to publish it), you'll find yourself nodding and agreeing with that honest editor. I know I do. That unnamed-here person taught me a valuable lesson in knowing the market and realizing that all the fancy words in the world ain't gonna sell a book that can't decide what it is.

So, I'm not being sarcastic in the least when I say thank you, editor who rejected my manuscript. And also? Truth is always valuable, even when it hurts.