Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

Bio From Hell : Sans Spam - Self Promotion For Authors

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This post is part of a project tentatively titled Sans Spam: Self Promotion For Authors. I'm releasing this book in sections on my blog, but when it's all finished I will offer the whole thing as a single eBook. Everyone who donates toward its production (use the coffee cups to the right, note that it's because of this effort) will get a free copy of this eBook. You can find all the posts here.

So you're an author (or writer, whichever title you prefer).
While this alone comes with a certain level of prestige, that's not enough to get someone to remember you. Not when there's dozens (or more) authors at conventions.
At the beginning of every panel, presentation, and reading - along with most articles - you have about thirty seconds to sum your life up, get someone's attention, and give them a reason to remember you. If this sounds like the "hook" and "elevator pitch", you're on the right track. Except instead of applying to a project, this is applying those principles to yourself.
Your biography or name can be enough to provide that hook. I'll give you the two examples I use.
My name: "Hi, my name is Steven Saus - that's pronounced like spaghetti, but spelled different."
My bio: "I inject people with radioactive material as my day job, but only to serve the forces of good." OR "I rent virtual apartments for real money in Second Life."
Like our other hooks, these all sound like coherent sentences, but are just a teensy bit "off". Each requires some processing in order to make sense, and that's what makes it a good hook.
Name hooks require some creativity. If your name's unusual, congratulations! This is the first time in your life that it's helpful! Even if your name is something like "Smith" you can make a joke or observation on it. "My name is John Smith. You can find me - and my five zillion namesakes - by googling me, so make sure to search for 'author John Smith'".
You have done something interesting and unusual in your life. Even if it's not the focus of your day-to-day experience, you can use it as part of your bio "hook". Even better is if it's related to the topic at hand (often writing). "I often ask my goldfish for writing advice, but then I remember I'm not supposed to do what they tell me anymore."
That example points out a necessary caution with crafting this kind of hook. A better hook would be: "I got serious about writing when I realized making money writing was a lot better than Taco Bell...and paid about the same." It's not too bizarre, and it's something your audience can relate to. The goldfish thing is close (not quite, but damn close) to being nonsensical. Nonsense turns most people away. Your hooks, just like elements in stories, should always, always have a payoff for confusing the audience. They must be able to figure it out, and soon. The stranger your hook, the sooner the payoff.
You can also create visual hooks - a trademark hat or purse or bag - or a verbal hook like a catchphrase. These are also effective, but also can't be too strange. You want to avoid things that are already associated with a franchise. Celery on your collar has been so done already, and that fez is rapidly approaching the same state. Be known for you, not for another franchise.
Depending on where you're at, you may also fade into the background as being too "normal". Finally, and most importantly, visual hooks and catchphrases limit you. Consider carefully if you want to be known by those forever.
Important note to costumers and cosplayers: What you do is not the same as a visual hook. Costuming and cosplaying are displays of skill, and different than a single eccentricity.

This post was part of Sans Spam: Self Promotion For Authors. I'm releasing this book in sections on my blog, but when it's all finished I will offer the whole thing as a single eBook. Everyone who donates toward its production (use the coffee cups to the right, note that it's because of this effort) will get a free copy of this eBook. You can find all the posts here.

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Howdy folks!

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If you're joining me from CONTEXT, I've probably mentioned some of my stuff on this blog.

The text to the handout from the grab bag is at:

A lot of the stuff I mention is at my frequently mentioned page:

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Elevators Don't Just Pitch - Sans Spam (Self-Promotion for Writers)

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selfpromotionThis post is part of a project tentatively titled Sans Spam: Self Promotion For Authors. I'm releasing this book in sections on my blog, but when it's all finished I will offer the whole thing as a single eBook. Everyone who donates toward its production (use the coffee cups to the right, note that it's because of this effort) will get a free copy of this eBook. You can find all the posts here.

An elevator pitch is a synopsis of your project that you could (theoretically) give during an elevator ride. Thirty to sixty seconds.
It's not as important as you think.
Okay, that's not fair. An elevator pitch is absolutely perfect for what it's for - when you've got an audience (captive or not) for about a minute. They either want to (or have to) listen to your pitch. They're not actively antagonistic toward it. And it's not directly competing with a lot of other pitches at that time.
So an elevator pitch is great for when you've bought an editor or publisher a drink and they ask (ASK) "So what are you working on now?" That is the time for your elevator pitch.
But it's only one tool. The weakness of the tool is its length. Just as it's too long for something like a dealer room floor, it's too short to deal with anything more in depth. So for each of your projects, I recommend the following:

  • A tagline
  • An elevator pitch
  • A summary
Let me give you an example, using my short story "Kicking the Habit".
Tagline: A romantic zombie story.
Elevator pitch: After the zombpocalypse, two high-school sweethearts meet again as zombies, and they work together to stop eating brains.
Summary: After the zombpocalypse, the main character meets his high-school sweetheart again. They're both zombies, but somehow, she no longer eats brains. Despite the baggage of their bad breakup and her sudden death, they work to rekindle their romance and overcome the curse of the zombie lifestyle.
The tagline is designed to be something that both gets attention and tells a little bit about the project. If it's slightly confusing - just slightly - all the better. Then it can't be pigeonholed. "Romantic zombie story" works perfectly. It gets a "WTF?" reaction - and while the person may not buy the story or come to the reading, they'll definitely stop to hear more about it.
The elevator pitch seems short, but 30 seconds is a short, short time. Technically, my summary could be an elevator pitch, but we're looking at the comparative level of detail. Summarizing a short story without retelling it is a bit difficult. Still, we've got more of the actual plot here - a little bit more about the characters, and what they're struggling to overcome.
The summary describes more of the plot - bad breakup, huh? - and a bit about the opening setup where the female lead doesn't eat human brains. Again, this is a bit short, but I think it gets the point across. We'll do this again with another (longer) project of mine - "Spec The Halls".
Tagline: Raising money for charity with holiday-themed speculative fiction.
Elevator pitch: Spec The Halls is going to raise money for charity, increase exposure of writers, and generate holiday-themed fiction through a contest and sales of an eBook.
Summary: Prior winners of Spec The Halls, along with professional authors, will be asked to donate their stories to the creation of an eBook that will go on sale at the beginning of Fall. All net receipts will go directly to a charity. At the same time, a contest for new winter-holiday themed fiction will be going on, judged by professional authors and editors. The cash prizes for this contest will be donated by Alliteration Ink, and the stories will be incorporated into the next year's charity eBook.
In this case, it is very obvious that each section builds on the one before. The idea again is to intrigue your listener - whether they're an editor, publisher, or random con-goer - into wanting to hear more. You have your tagline ready when someone is walking by your dealer table and glances at the book, or when you're at the end of a panel.
"Oh yes, this is my zombie romance story."
Trust me - this sort of thing not only makes you memorable, but it also makes them want to know more.

This post was part of Sans Spam: Self Promotion For Authors. I'm releasing this book in sections on my blog, but when it's all finished I will offer the whole thing as a single eBook. Everyone who donates toward its production (use the coffee cups to the right, note that it's because of this effort) will get a free copy of this eBook. You can find all the posts here.

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From Writers To Writers

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Last year at a convention, I was horrified to discover that there were handouts in the swag bags that promoted predatory "publishing" companies. (Both were mentioned by name in Writer Beware.) Sure, I started each panel by saying "take the handouts out, crumple them up, and throw them away - and here's why", but that only goes so far.

So this year, I decided to do my own PR blitz. I asked writers, editors, and small publishers to offer the single most important thing they could tell an author today. This is what they told me. Each person speaks for themselves. Some quotations were edited for length and clarity.

You may reproduce the PDF below for your own local convention's swag bags under a CC license. You can copy it, just keep it intact as it exists. Please link to instead of this post.

Creative Commons License
Business Advice From Writers To Writers by Steven Saus is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Exposure is a word pertaining to nearly dying of cold, not a useful way to make a living as a writer.
- Tobias Buckell,

Don't be afraid to try something new - audiobooks, bookmarks, book blog tours, serializing, etc. Don't hesitate to stop doing what doesn't pay off.
- Daniel Coleman,

Sales need contracts. Read everything in the contract and pay attention to what rights they’re buying. This is more important than how much money you get, especially for a short story.
- K. W. Taylor

Think long and hard before you self-publish. It is easy to get a self-published book in your hands, but incredibly hard to get it into someone else’s hand.
- Maxwell Alexander Drake,

Finish your work. No one publishes half of a story.
- Stephen D. Sullivan ,

Never collaborate with someone you don't trust; never undertake a collaboration that lets someone else hold YOUR idea hostage.
- Richard Byers,

Never say yes until you’ve thoroughly vetted the offer. Check the contract, company, co-writers, etc. Even the big players respect your right to get the details before making a commitment.
- Kerrie Hughes

When researching agents or publishers, always, always check Preditors & Editors and Writer Beware.
- Matt Forbeck,

Ask questions and learn to parse the advice you're given. Learn the business as well as the craft. If I wanted to write just for the love of it, I'd just put my stories on my blog. My time and work are worth pay, not just the promise of "exposure."
- Maurice Broaddus,

Professionalism in everything: your finished product, your attitude, your whole life. Those worth working with will do the same.
-EA Younker

Never stop learning - business, craft, economic changes. Be a student forever - and check your ego at the door!
- Kris Rusch,

Tell the story you want to write; otherwise no one will want to read it. And if no one wants to read it, no one will want to buy it.
- Dylan Birtolo,

Believe in yourself, and don't give your manuscript to yes men. Get readers that are honest - your story will benefit and so will you as a writer.
- Janine Spendlove,

"Writing" and "Publishing" are two very different things: Many people enjoy writing, but few people can put up with the effort and heartbreak required to publish.
- Margaret S. Lundock

When you deal with small press, sanity is optional. When working with a new publisher, never send them a second project until they've paid you for the first.
- Ramsey Lundock

Write what you want to read. Finish what you start.
- Jennifer Brozek,

True writing is rewriting. Your first draft  isn't  good enough. Your second and third probably aren't either. Have someone else read it and give honest feedback. Have the professionalism to polish your work before you submit it.
- Justin Swapp,

Find a writing group with similar interests and share not only your work but information about opportunities for publishing, further education, and suggested reading. Although many of us still cling to the image of the solitary writer, don't fear collaboration and cooperation.
- Cynthia K. Marshall

Don't be afraid to spend money on improving your writing skills via writing classes, coaching, and workshops, but do your homework first to match what you need and want with a reputable teacher/program/workshop. This may not seem like publishing advice, but it is, because the better your writing becomes, the more opportunities become available to you. 
- Sarah Kanning,

Publishing services means that a specific service is delivered for a specific fee. I do what you pay me for, and not any more or less. Someone providing publishing services gets paid by the author. A publisher takes a percentage - usually a majority one - but handles much, if not all, of the business aspects without involving (or bothering) the author. The publisher pays for editing, cover art, and also (usually) pays the author an advance against royalties with royalties paid out to the author through the sale of the book to the general public. A publisher makes money from sales of the book to the public.
- Steven Saus,

This industry is not about telling compelling stories, creating dynamic characters, nor memorable villains – you have to have all those to succeed, yes. But, this business, at its root, is about making money.
- Maxwell Alexander Drake,

Keep writing. A lot. No matter what happens.
- Patrick Tracy,

The following were mentioned by many of the respondents

Money Flows Toward The Author - Yog's Law

AbsoluteWrite -
Book Country -
Critters Writer's Workshop -
How to Write a Query Letter -
Miss Snark (read the archives) -
AgentQuery -
SlushPile Hell (how NOT to write a cover letter) -
Preditors & Editors -
Writer Beware -
Duotrope's Digest -
Ralan's SpecFic and Humor Extravaganza -
Strange Horizon's "Stories We've Seen Too Often" -
William Shunn's Manuscript Format Guide -
Writer's Digest -
Science fiction & Fantasy Writers of America -
Horror Writer's Association -
Romance Writers of America -
International Association of Tie-In Writers -

Compiled and edited by Steven Saus
Brought to you by Alliteration Ink Publishing -

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Wild - A 100 Word Story

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storytime.pngYup, it's flash fiction time again! As always, this is based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. It's a great exercise for writers - writing a good drabble is a lot harder than it appears, but is still a "small" task so you can get around that idea of it being too much work. And then you get a random (and often bizarre) writing prompt to shoehorn you out of writer's block! Go read the rules for the Weekly Challenge and participate!
The player below should have the audio for this week; if it doesn't, you can find the audio here to download. You can also read and hear the rest of the entries (and vote for your favorites) at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!

S.M.U.T. NYC at The Trash BarI take her hair in my hand and pull back. It's a rough mess of untamed curls, as wild as she is. "You've been a bad girl."

She moans, presses her hips against me. "Very bad, sir. You should spank me."

I can't help it. I chuckle and let go. "A spanking! A spanking! Bad Zoot!"

She stands up, straightens our band shirt over her chest. "What the hell?"

"Sorry. I'm just not into S&M."

She storms out, shoving past the bassist.

His eyebrow raises. "Lose another groupie?"

I shrug. "What's the lead singer of Satan's Soldiers to do?"

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One Week Until CONTEXT

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random.pngI'm going to be at CONTEXT again this year, along with quite a few of my author friends (some of whom I've helped publish)! It's a writing-focused convention in Columbus, Ohio, and it's usually the second one I recommend to people after the GenCon Writer's Symposium (though Origin's Library program is aiming to rival it, and with a slightly different emphasis).

The Writer's Symposium is a four-day crash-course in all the basics of writing. CONTEXT is for after you've had a month (or a year) to let that percolate, and are ready for the "next step". It features in-depth workshops (for an additional fee); I was very pleased with ones I've taken in the past with Lawrence Connolly and Gary Braunbeck. Additionally, there are (free after admission) panels throughout the day - and I'll be on more than a few of them.

If you're going to be at CONTEXT, I look forward to seeing you!

**PLEASE NOTE** I am not on the schedule due to a SNAFU during a volunteer's illness. But I assure you that we're open!**

E-Books: Good News and Challenges - Fri 9pm
While e-books have opened up a world of possibilities for writers, they also have their pitfalls -- and sometimes even pratfalls. The good news is that now, with the right blend of talent, ability, and market sense, you can put your written vision into words -- and not only have artistic control but also earn a king's share of royalties. The trick is in doing it correctly, and there are plenty of challenges along the way, from cover design to editing/proofreading to formatting to understanding the potential audience to the biggest hurdles of all -- getting publicity, readers, and sales.

Swearing in Alien Tongues - Sat 2pm
A unique and fun way to add realism to your SFF world building is to watch how your characters insult each other… or other species. Whatever your alien culture values or disdains can be used to create epithets and derogatory remarks – and be used to unobtrusively teach your reader about your world.

Rail Guns, Who Knew? - Sat 3pm
SF weaponry that’s become a reality. What are the consequences? What might be next?

Hook 'Em Dano - Writing the Grabber Opening Scene - Sun 2pm
Almost all stories fail before the publisher gets to the bottom of the first page. Why? How do I write a great opening?

The Rules of Writing - and When to Break Them - Sun 3pm
We all know successful writers who break the rules. When, how, and why should we do it ourselves?

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Radio - A 100 Word Story

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storytime.pngYup, it's flash fiction time again! As always, this is based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. It's a great exercise for writers - writing a good drabble is a lot harder than it appears, but is still a "small" task so you can get around that idea of it being too much work. And then you get a random (and often bizarre) writing prompt to shoehorn you out of writer's block! Go read the rules for the Weekly Challenge and participate!

The player below should have the audio for this week; if it doesn't, you can find the audio here to download. You can also read and hear the rest of the entries (and vote for your favorites) at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!

Radio con experiencia.There's nothing but static.

Just the crackle-hiss-pop of solar radiation imitating breakfast cereal. Listening is dangerous - they might detect my radio, but I'll risk one set.

A brief whistlescream from the speaker: the electromagnetic death whine of an orbital station. Damn aliens. They gated to the surface instead of coming through low earth orbit, but they're making up for lost time.

The speaker comes fully alive. Some fool's broadcasting the national anthem.

I listen, and turn on every radio in the place. I salute, wondering if they'll vaporize me or the broadcaster first.

And I no longer care.

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Random Cool Stuff

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random.pngSometimes I forget to mention the cool stuff that happens.

For example, I just got an acceptance letter from Three Lobed Burning Eye for my story "Hard Lesson". I've also got a story accepted for Westward Weird, which should come out late this year or early next. And I have a (lengthy) article coming up in the next SFWA Bulletin about digital marketplaces (which will surely get me tons of mail...).

C'mon, share the cool stuff that's happened to you in the last six months in the comments!

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Publishers Must Justify Their Existence

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publishing.pngOne of the most powerful experiences I had at FandomFest (beside the heat!) was a talk called "The Role of Publishers in a Post-Paper World".

It was held by Debra Dixon of Bell Bridge Books and BelleBooks. What really struck me were two things:

1. Here was a publisher willing to take the time to point out exactly why they deserved their percentage, and show the results of it.

2. I needed to start stepping up my game.

If you've noticed the line I've been drawing between publishing services and being a publisher lately, it's largely thanks to Ms. Dixon. She did a great job articulating much of what I've been saying since then.

Luckily, she's done a few interviews that largely mirror the conversation that we had in Louisville. While I've not worked with her, she openly and transparently answers questions I rarely hear the Big 6 (or even small presses) even acknowledge.1

Again, following my credo that publishing is like investing, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. That said, I firmly believe that publishers (and those providing publishing services) must show how they add value just like she has.

Debra Dixon's Interview With Mike Duran (Part One)
Debra Dixon's Interview With Mike Duran (Part Two)
Debra Dixon's Q&A with Ciara Knight

1 This isn't to say I agree with all of her answers; for example, I disagree with her on DRM. But she treats the issue with respect and fairness, even if she doesn't agree with me.

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DRM is losing your (digital) cool

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publishing.pngYesterday, I completely lost my cool.

The details aren't important - I just felt up against a wall, trapped, taken advantage of, exploited, and betrayed.1 Upset and scared, I finally just started lashing out verbally.

Which accomplished all of nothing.

Neither the immediate situation or the larger one changed. I was more tired, more upset, and generally less able to get myself out of the actual problem that started the whole thing. If anything, my little tirade probably made the whole situation worse.

That same pattern shows up with DRM (Digital Rights Management).

An author (or publisher) sees their work stolen. Takedown notices are ignored, their hard work is taken advantage of, and exploited, and their trust betrayed.

Trust me, I understand this feeling.

But blowing your stack, slapping digital locks and keys on everything doesn't actually change the situation. Oh, it's noticed - usually by the innocent people who happen to be inconvenienced or kept from your work.2 But the torrents are still there, the unauthorized sites still exist, and all you manage to do is piss off people who happen to be nearby.

Yeah, the situation sucks. Creator's rights need to be respected. But that doesn't mean that all reactions are actually effective.

1 Whether or not I was actually trapped, betrayed, etc., is a completely different story and largely dependent upon one's point of view.
2 Yes, DRM hurts legitimate consumers. Again, I know from personal experience.

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If Books Had Smithee Awards...

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The Smithees are an award celebrating the worst on video. One of the most memorable for me this year (PRAISE THE RAY) was Shredder Orpheus. Go ahead, watch the trailer. There's few clips available online, and this is probably good for your sanity. (PRAISE THE RAY)

That magical guitar (made by Hendrix according to the script, if I remember correctly) plays a very, very prominent role in the movie. So I was very amused when I got the (unsolicited) flyers for The Armageddon Chord (warning - site has embedded auto-playing audio).

I mean, it could be good1... but there's plenty of "warning signs". The Mary Sue element. The bizarre names (Festus Baustone III, for example). The embedded flash music. And then there's the Publisher Weekly review. Oh my. They quote this line on their site (emphasis mine): "a highly entertaining, albeit predictable, blend of heavy metal and hardcore horror."

Well, yes. The Smithee Awards is entertaining as well. All this needs is a line like "Praise the Ray"... what's that, Publisher's Weekly? It contains "memorable lines like 'the power of the riff compels you'". Right.

I go through all this detail not so much to just poke fun at the book's cover copy, but to instead explain why I bothered looking further. I wondered who gave a green-light to this kind of over-the-top excess and called it marketing?

Funny thing, that. There's not a link to the publisher's website on the book's page. They're easy to find, though. kNight Romance Publishing (the capitalization is not a typo) ... well, go look at the website. I haven't investigated enough to be 100% sure it's a bad deal, but here's some things that made me suspicious:

  • Crappy website design. I mean, it's a basic template.
  • Acquisitions editor is the CEO - whose bio extols that they were "a college major in Accounting and Business Management" as well as "over 20 years of extensive corporation research and development, structuring and management experience". Not sure how that makes one a good acquisitions editor...
  • Only accepts subs from "qualified" literary agents. Except there's no such thing - anybody can claim they're an agent. There's no licensing board.
  • After saying they won't take unagented manuscripts, then proceeds to have "suggestions for new writers"
  • They go out of their way to say they're not a vanity press or self publishing company - without saying what distinguishes them.
  • Check out #4 here. Seriously. Read it carefully. Note the bad grammar. Note how the jobs of a publisher are offloaded onto the author - especially professional editing. There's also grammar and spelling mistakes on their "About Us" page.

Again, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the book's awesome. Maybe these are awesome publishers. But, damn, they're tripping all my warning bells. Later this week, I'm going to write about a good small publisher.

Small no-prize contest: Can you find other warning signs at the publisher's website that I missed?

1 I will seriously review it if the publisher tosses me a digital (ePub preferred) edition. No joke.

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Where's Captain Jack When You Need Him?

Some spoilers for Torchwood: Children of Earth and Torchwood: Miracle Day follow. I try to keep it minimal and thematic rather than plot-specific.


rant.pngI have a new respect for Russell T. Davies. He won a lot of it back with Children of Earth, and honestly, it's only going up with the strides made with Miracle Day.

Because I finally figured out who the monsters really are, and they're a hell of a lot scarier than the Daleks. They're scarier than the Weeping Angels. They're scarier than the Silence.

I know quite a few people who don't like Children of Earth, not because of the nominal plot arc, but instead because of the actions other people take during the course of the series. With that series, it was relatively easy to be distracted - the 456 are there, after all, center stage. And they're pretty callously awful.

But they aren't the monsters in Children of Earth.

There's some shadowy organization, reminiscent of the Illuminati, that pervades the storyline of Miracle Day. They aren't the monsters, no matter what eventually gets revealed.

And of course, there's Oswald "she should have run faster" Danes. But for all his sociopathic evil, he isn't the monster either.

We don't need a monster for either series.

We already sacrifice the futures of millions of children every year. Best estimates are that 1 in 50 children live in homeless families. As many as 14% of children in Ohio live in extreme poverty. But we don't provide for them. We make sure people with more than enough money to survive get more through tax loopholes and call them "job creators".

We already wall our old into nursing homes with substandard care, and slash medical aid and benefits to those who need it. (Do I really need to cite this one?) We make them get out of the way, and claim that we have no choice.

I already see hospitals that construct facilities to keep outpatients from ever seeing inpatients. I see fake sanitized downtowns taking the place of real city centers. I see us shuffling the homeless and down-on-their-luck somewhere else - just Not In My Backyard.

Everything is in place. It already exists.

We don't need an alien monster to show up for Torchwood to fight.

The monster is us.

And we're already here.


Publisher VS Publishing Services

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This is a definition I was redefining throughout the weekend at GenCon, and just used it to answer an e-mail to a new author. I think this is a pretty good distinction; what do you all think?

Publishing services - whether with me or someone else - means that a specific service is delivered for a specific fee. I do what you pay me for, and not any more or less. (For example, I don't correct grammar or spelling during eBook conversion.) Someone providing publishing services gets paid by the author.

A publisher instead takes a *percentage* - usually a majority one - but handles much, if not all, of the business aspects without involving (or bothering) the author. I would hire both copy and line editor, cover artist, etc without payment from the author. The author is paid an advance against royalties (most of the time) and royalties are paid out to the author through the sale of the book to the general public. The publisher makes money from sales of the book to the public.

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Review: Brother's Keeper, Stained With Nightmare Juice, To Duty Sworn

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This is a review of three stories in The Crimson Pact: Volume One. While I am the publisher of the book, I do not have a story in the text. I've also worked to keep all of these reviews as impartial as possible; I hope you agree.

If you wish to check out The Crimson Pact, stop by its website at If you have a computer, you can read the digital version of this book. Not only is there a PDF version at the website, but you can read it on a free desktop reader from Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

Brother's Keeper - Lester Smith

This flash fiction is a creepy bit in the tradition of Cain and Abel, but with a twist that the very story structure cunningly conceals in plain sight. In many ways, the conflict - and near-pyrrhic victory - echoes "The Failed Crusade" earlier in the volume. This story reinforces both the bleak prospects - and firm determination - of the members of the Pact who fight these demons.

Stained With Nightmare Juice - Isaac Bell

This short story (which, fair warning, has a goodly bit of profanity) fits right in with the grim urban fantasy landscapes of the original The Books of Magic, Hellblazer, and even Neverwhere. There is a vast and vital secret world not out of sight, but hiding right there in front of us, and we never even notice. The supernatural strangeness and oddities are almost more "normal" than the real-life problems faced by the (largely homeless) characters.

I mention the profanity not because it particularly bothered me, but because it was a change from the (largely curse-less) stories before it, and for about half a page, I noticed that. But the language is perfectly suited to the narrator, and does not feel gratuitous at all. The story pulled me in, delivering a short novel's worth of story, character, and action in a short space. A great bit of gritty urban fantasy.

To Duty Sworn - Jess Hartley

When those who have always helped you to do good suddenly ask you to do evil - or even something that *may* be evil - what do you do? That's the crux of To Duty Sworn. Set in a not-so distant fantasy past, this story follows a mysterious female operative who works as part of a religious order called the Brotherhood. While this story is part of a larger world of Ms. Hartley's, it can be read alone without any difficulty. As someone who has wrestled with religion for a huge portion of my life - as well as disillusionment with and betrayal by the leaders of an organized faith - the dilemma of the main character really spoke to me. In the end, it all comes down to hard choices with imperfect information. It is so easy, so tempting
to just relax and let someone else take care of it all, but even that has its pitfalls. This story explores that quite well, with far higher stakes than we (usually) have to deal with.

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I mentioned that my contracts were online today at GenCon, and forgot that I hadn't linked to them lately... so here it is: Dissection of a Contract.

Also, I'd like to expand (and clarify) on something that at least one person misunderstood, in regards to my public persona. I said (as I have often before) that my political opinions, such as my stance on GLBT rights, get expressed publicly because if I work with you, they will become apparent rather quickly. If my political opinions are enough of a problem that you don't want to work with me, then it's best that we know that ahead of time, because we won't work well together.

This person misunderstood me, and thought I was stating that I would only work with those who agreed with me philosophically and politically. This is not (usually) the case.1

I routinely work with (in my day job, in my second job, in publishing/writing, and socially) with folks that disagree with me. We all know we disagree, and if it's a big disagreement, we don't talk about that aspect of our lives with each other. We concentrate on the job that is there to be done. Likewise, there are some people I get along with socially and politically that I have no desire to work with professionally.

Is there any danger of me working with the Phelps "church"? No. Would I work with someone who thought homosexuality was wrong? Yes - but I'd still disagree with them. 2

My politics do inform my ethics - including Alliteration Ink's ethics, but they don't dictate professional decisions on who to work with.

And if you had any questions at GenCon you didn't get to ask3, this is the time and place to ask them. Comment below!

1 I'm not going to distribute a book that extolls the virtues of racism, for example.
2 I may not invite them to an anthology that required LGBT characters...
3 Or didn't ask because you weren't there...

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Dear Scammers: Stay the hell out of my convention

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publishing.pngAfter registering at a convention last year, I was horrified to find flyers for not one, but two vanity presses (aka "scams preying on desperate writers") in the goodie bag. Both of them were listed - by name - on Writer Beware or Preditors and Editors. For the rest of the convention, I spent the beginning of every panel saying "Please take these papers out of your bag, crumple them, and throw them away."

And then I explained why.

And I just found some flyers from a vanity press1 on the table with the rest of the GenCon Symposium's stuff.

The nice thing about playing paladins is being able to drive away undead. The nice thing about being a publishing paladin is being able to drive away scammers.

New, aspiring, and fledgling authors! Here are some key warning signs to look for:
  • Writers Wanted
  • We want to "review" your manuscript
  • Up-front fees to publish
  • Discounts if you buy many copies up front
  • Editors only if you pay extra
  • Boasting about really rather basic services.

This particular "publisher" is essentially charging you for printing services from CreateSpace and LightningSource. (With e-Book services coming soon!) Would I have a problem if they billed themselves as providing publishing services? Not at all. After all, part of what I do is publishing services.2 But they're not up front about it, and they're sure as hell not being up-front about their fees and what they're used for.

And between writing that last paragraph and this, the guy stopped by again. We spent an hour talking, and it seems like a lot of things were bad communication. I'm still not going to point you at them (yet) until they fix the things we talked about, but we addressed all these issues and more - and he seemed rather receptive. I hope he's sincere and another person has been converted to the light side.

1I'm not going to embarrass you by name on the interwebs unless you force me.
2I am also a micro/small press; they aren't the same thing and I treat those aspects separately.

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Best of...

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Because I've already started referencing these, these are the pages I tend to reference on a regular basis at conventions. I've also put them up as a page here (look down at the bottom right of the page).

Self Promotion
eBook Conversion
A Practical Guide to Online Privacy
Pirates, Pirates, Everywhere
Making It and Giving It Away
Digital Publishing is Investing
And Open Letter to Pirates
Publishers Making Money From Author Copies is Bull
Pricing and Digital Books
Smashword's Conflict of Interest and Why I Don't Recommend Smashwords

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Gencon, day 0

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Rode up with fellow author Sarah Hans...

and ended up in the Mariott with the "eye" carpets. If I remember right, this place was the genesis of the were-jaguar...

And the obligatory view from the window...

Then over to the ICC to see the HUGE registration lines and a statue of Drizzt

And then a surprise thank-you party for Jean Rabe!

All in all, a good first day. Huzzah!!!!

(Look, y'all got the serious pirate post yesterday. You get vacation pics for a while now.)

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An Open Letter To Pirates (and Ourselves)

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essay.pngSo, um, hi. You don't have any rum, do you? I was expecting someone more like Johnny Depp.

Instead you look like me. Huh.

That's not too surprising. Most of the other authors I know have pirated something, sometime. At the last convention I was at, one even said "Hey, during the nineties, music was free. Of course I got music online."

Very few of us pirate anymore, and the frequency is pretty rare even among those of us who do. It's always accompanied by something like "...and then I bought the record/book anyway." Hell, I watch Doctor Who religiously... but I'm not going to be restrained by the BBC's occasional flakiness in getting episodes to where I can buy them. But that season pass at Amazon is staying bought.

Look, I'm not saying it's okay, or that you have my blessing or anything. I'm saying that I understand. I've been there. I need you to understand that I'm not "the man", and that I'm being completely straight with you.

So I'm an author. And I think it's important that authors get paid so they can keep making the stuff I like to read. (Same goes for TV shows, movies, and so on.) If we get paid, we can make more of it. If we don't get paid, we make less of it... or instead make that show (or write that book) that you just hate. (Put another way, people bought Twilight...and SG:U got canceled. What the f##k, right?)

And it gets worse. You probably don't know a lot about publishing. Right now, it's seriously f##ked up and changing fast. Lots of authors are getting completely reamed by the big companies. Others are finding their successful series of books canceled because they aren't growing fast enough. Other authors are going it alone, without the support of a big company.

So, if you're anything like me, you don't lose a lot of sleep from pirating (stealing, right?) from a big faceless company. Those big publishers only pay authors a tiny percent of the cover price, right?

Bullcrap. Problem is, those big publishers still pay us. They're the ones that give us advances and take the risk that a book won't sell.

And more authors are going it alone - but you may not be able to tell the difference between the big company and an independent author working with a business name. The books I produce as Alliteration Ink look pretty much like a book you'll find from a big publisher - and sometimes my digital versions look better.

Look, pirates, there's a metric f##kton of you. Us. Whatever. Enough that we can make the difference between an author making it independently (or keeping that contract) and not. There are enough pirates that it makes a difference in individual author's lives.

I know there's DRM and legislation, but that's not ever going to work. And yes, I know that pirates buy more than non-pirates in aggregate...(most recently reported here but that aggregate number doesn't help the individual author who falls through the cracks.

So here's what I'm going to ask you to do. Here's a way that doesn't quite make it right, but at least makes it up a little bit.

1. If you possibly can, buy the actual books that you like. Digital or paper. It makes more of a difference in that author's life than just the percentage of cover price. It lets the author negotiate better deals for future books (and then write more).

2. Review the book on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Seriously. This makes a difference. Rate it, and do a two sentence review. The first sentence is "I liked/didn't like this book because..." and the second can be "The best/worst part of the book was..."

And whenever you can (not when it's convenient, but can), just buy the damn book in the first place.


Profit Sharing Is Trust

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publishing.pngThere's a specific reason I like income-sharing (or co-op) models for businesses. They inherently work to ensure that everyone's interests are aligned.

For example, take the "author copies" scam I talked about the other day. A large part of the reason this is problematic is because the publisher's interest is not aligned with the author's. Yes, they're both interested in making money - but the publisher is interested in making money from the authors, not just by selling to readers. So the publisher has less interest in promoting and distributing the book to readers - because they already have a market
by selling marked-up copies to authors.

There is enough acrimony and distrust between authors, editors, and publishers out there today. That's why I make a big deal about being financially transparent, each project being self-sustaining, and that when I publish 1, I only get paid when authors and
editors get paid

Sometimes that means my prices are a little higher... because I'm not taking a loss on one project in order to make money on another. That's not fair to authors. That also means that I don't publish work that I don't believe in. If I don't think it can make money
on its own, then it doesn't pass the green light.

Because I know that our interests are all aligned, I can trust that authors and editors are all doing the best job they can. "Phoning it in" doesn't work in a profit-sharing environment. Likewise, they can trust that I am doing my job to the best of my ability. None of us can
take financial advantage of the other.

Being able to trust each other like that means we can focus on the quality of the work, and not have to micromanage or second-guess each other.

And that's a damn cool thing.

1 As opposed to the daywork of publishing services, such as
eBook conversion.

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