Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

Backer Rewards and Retail Sales: Funding Through Kickstarter In the Future

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Kickstarter has really allowed me to be able to make the last several books happen, because the backers allowed me to pay authors a professional rate up front. I - like most people - don't have enough cash laying around to finance these books on my own.
But together, we do.

And that's really what crowdfunding - and Kickstarter in particular - is about. 

But that's also the problem.

Even though Kickstarter has gone to great lengths to ensure that people know that it is not pre-ordering and that Kickstarter is not a store, lots of people don't get that. Kickstarter is something different; as the Verge put it: "Kickstarter is a fourth type of payment, where backers contribute out of an affinity for an idea and a desire to see it exist, that sits somewhere between philanthropy, patronage, and consumption."

And that's nice and good, but I have to deal with the way things are, even if they're nowhere near what they're supposed to be.

Although unfounded and flat-out wrong, there seems to be a large number of people who view Kickstarter more like a store than a PBS pledge drive. And could cause me a big problem when the next anthology goes up.

Because we're trying to fund a concept, the backer levels don't correspond directly to the eventual retail price. When I back a project, I'm okay with seeing it cost less when it eventually goes on sale... because if I didn't back the project originally, it would never go on sale for anyone. I'm more invested in helping the thing become real than just shopping.

But if people are just looking at Kickstarter as pre-ordering, they'll be super ticked if they later see the same product for a lower price.

And with that as the case, it'll be harder (and require more backers) in order to reach the same funding goals.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do in order to work with this changing perception. Make the retail copies more expensive than the backer rewards? Just try harder to get more backers? Assume that less expensive backer levels will attract more backers?

What do you think? How do you look at Kickstarter? What do you think about the price points for the backer rewards?

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If the Panel Is Not Diverse, Get Up And Leave

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Obvious (to me) disclaimers: I am not claiming personal discrimination here; I am assuming  structural discrimination and unconscious bias. I am also less interested here in an individual's beliefs than the behaviors involved. Thanks.

I am tired of writing about panels - especially panels on diversity - that are not diverse themselves.

GenCon had a panel on diversity in gaming with an all male panel back in 2011(screenshot). Denver Comic Con had an all male "Women in Comics" panel in May of this year. And now GenCon's Writer's Symposium had (past tense) an "Writing Women Friendly Comics" with all male panelists.

Yes, had. When The Mary Sue wrote the article about the Symposium, it got attention, and "female speakers have reached out to the WS, and now are set to join the panel". When you look at the Symposium's blog, the organizer, Marc Tassin1 said:
To ensure that the women we hoped to involve knew how much we wanted them there, I've re-extended a number of invitations. I want them to know how much I personally would have liked to have them join us. It's unrealistic that at this late stage they can join us, but if not this year, perhaps we can try again in 2016.

I'm also talking to the women who volunteered to join us this year. I'm not going to make any final decisions until Monday, but I'll let you know then what we've decided. As I said, some really cool people reached out to us. There is no way I'm going to say no to that generosity. We may even be able to add a few cool panels thanks to there offers.

Thankfully, there are now quite a few women on this panel (and in the comic writing track in total); you can read that announcement from Monday on the Symposium's blog. That's an important change, and one I'm glad to see. So kudos to the Symposium for fixing the problem when it was pointed out.

I'm glad that the attention that The Mary Sue brought effected real and speedy change. But The Mary Sue (or a high profile blog) can't be at every convention... and the reasons given for the lack of diversity are still sadly the same.

The reasons for the lack of diversity usually boil down to one of two things (or a combination of both):

1. There was a schedule conflict/we couldn't get anyone to attend
2. It's about "quality" above all else

Let's ignore the insulting nature of the "quality" argument (which is just a variant of the "I don't see race/gender/etc" argument)2 and address the actual issue.

I've organized programming for a convention before. My first time out of the gate, 42% of the panelists were female. 79.6% of the panels had both men and women, and all the panels that were about a specific gender had that gender well represented.

And unlike some cons I've heard of that use one or two women or people of color on many multiple panels to technically have some representation, most of my panelists had only three panels.

From the feedback about the convention's programming, the quality of programming was as good or better than it had been in prior years. And that was a small convention, with a regional draw and a very limited budget.

But that wasn't good enough, and had I the chance to do programming again, I'd be even more deliberate in ensuring equity.

But for FSM's sake, we aren't even talking about the overall panels at these conventions, but just panels specifically about diversity and a particular gender.

PROTIP: If you can't get people of the impacted group to be on your panel about that impacted group, either look harder or cancel the panel.

Look, I am not saying that anybody's being deliberately sexist or racist. I'm not saying that these exclusions are conscious decisions.

I am saying that we must expend conscious effort to overcome our unconscious biases to reach out to and include people of all types.

Those unconscious biases are, well, unconscious. (Again, see Liz Bourke's essay over on These biases are only able to be overcome through deliberate and conscious effort.

Or to put it another way, if you rely on reaching out to "the best people you can", you cannot assume that you will get a diverse and representative mix, because your unconscious judgement of "the best" will be skewed.

Last year I pointed at plzdiversifyyourpanel and pointed out that ensuring diversity in our panels is "something that those of us who are running conventions must be aware of... and it's a standard that we must be held accountable to."

But who, exactly, should be holding programming types accountable?

The Mary Sue (or other journalist types) can't be the only ones who are holding us3 accountable. Even the panelists (as exemplified by plzdiversifyyourpanel) can't be the only ones who effect change.

There's only one group of people who can really make a difference.

It's you. 

The people who attend conventions.

One of my friends said "As long as there are butts in the seats, nobody will do anything. So all the people attending would have to walk out of panels without women on them."

That's what we all need to start doing.

We need to stop showing up. We need to leave. Politely, but loudly.

We need to let the organizers know why we are leaving. Let the other people there know why we are leaving.

Because our community is inclusive, and all voices should be heard.

And that's worth standing up for.

1 Full disclosure: I've known Marc for many years; he's invited me to the Symposium in the past. This isn't about him; this example is just the latest in a long line of examples.
2 If you don't understand why "I don't see X" is an insulting and racist/sexist/etc statement, let me point you to and for a quick primer.
3 Yes, us. The people in charge of selecting panelists, guests, authors, editors, and the like. Please see the opening paragraphs of this post.

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Writing Music Review: Project Zomboid

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The nice thing about going and looking for great writing music is that you can realize that more than one part of a game can be really freaking awesome.

For example, I wrote about Project Zomboid late last year.

Even though No More Room In Hell (whose soundtrack I discussed last week) is a bit more about survival than movie-style gunfighting shenanigans, it is a first person shooter... and the soundtrack reflects that.

Project Zomboid is not a shooter. It's an almost meditative game. It is about survival against horrible - and horrific - odds. With its very different take on the zombie game, Project Zomboid's soundtrack works well as a creepy atmospheric background for your writing. Since so much of the game is not fast paced, the music (composed by Zach Beever) has to serve to keep one's interest while not calling attention to itself; this OST does so admirably.

Unfortunately, I cannot find a way to purchase this soundtrack directly - even from the artist's website. You can hear it on YouTube (see below) to check it out, but I'd recommend picking up Project Zomboid to support both the game and the musician. Then you can get the direct OGG files to convert or play yourself.

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Authors: If you want publishers to e-mail you, they have to be able to find your address.

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Over the last few years, I've watched as the conversation about diversity transition from "There aren't any speculative fiction writers of color/female/LGBTQI/etc" to "We must expend effort to overcome our unconscious biases to reach out to and include writers of all types." (Liz Bourke's essay over on Tor unpacks this beautifully.)

And particularly over the last eighteen months, I've heard more and more editors and publishers state that they have to expend that effort to reach out to diverse voices. 

I'm one of those publishers saying that, after all.

So when a friend had a list of diverse speculative fiction authors at a recent convention, I jumped at the chance to get a copy. I maintain a list of authors for my editors to use, and I wanted to add more voices to my list.

Unfortunately, that list my friend had didn't have contact information. So I got a minion to try to find contact data for these authors. It took a little while, but she got it back to me.

And then I realized I had two big problems.

1. A substantial number of those authors only have social media profiles (or forms on their website) as ways to contact them. The webforms aren't too big of a problem, but the social media stuff is. It just feels super awkward to write:
@AuthorIDontKnow Hey, can you send me your email address for reasons?
Especially when I'm trying to collate a list like this - it means I'll have a bunch of tweets all in a row that say essentially the same thing, and might be perceived as a spammer rather than an interested party. I'll probably have to bite the bullet and just start tweeting and hope nobody gets upset.

2. Far, far worse is when authors have no public-facing contact information. Sometimes I can look them up on SFWA's membership roster (since I'm a member), but too often it means I just have a name, nothing more.

Perhaps these folks are already swamped, and aren't interested in more writing work.

But if you're an author and are interested in more writing work, it's important that you have a way (like a nameplate page and e-mail address) that publishers can reach you.


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Pics of my son: Shawndra Jones is an excellent and affordable photographer

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You might remember that I was really impressed with the photos that Shawndra Jones did for me a while back.

Enough so that when I saw my son's school pictures, I realized they were... aggressively okay. Not bad, really, but not good.

So I asked Shawndra if she'd take on another job doing photos of my son.

And man, did she deliver.  (These pictures are posted with his permission.)

She worked with him to get pictures that both he and his dad are happy with.

Highly recommended; if you need photos for any reason, toss her an e-mail first.

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Check out the Humble Indie Bundle: Made With Kickstarter! (get good books for less!)

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If you haven’t heard of the Humble Indie Bundle before now, this is a great time for you.

The basic idea is this: You pay what you want and get cool stuff. Pay more than the average that others have paid, and get even more cool stuff.

In this case, it’s books that were originally funded on Kickstarter - including the award-winning Steampunk World… and will also include another Alliteration Ink title midway through!   (There’s no need to wait - if you pay more than the average now you’ll get all the added books later too!)

But you don’t want to wait - in the two days this bundle has been running, the average price has increased by almost two bucks. To get the most bang for your buck, you want to act now.

What if you already have Steampunk World? That’s cool - there’s a lot of books included in this bundle, so you’ll still end up saving quite a bit of money by jumping in now! (Heck, I just bought a bundle, and I’m the publisher!)

Check out the “Made With Kickstarter” bundle at right now so you get the best deal possible!

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Writing Music Review: No More Room In Hell

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Sometimes you need music for dealing with the undead. Something a little bit creepy, a little bit otherworldly, a little bit exciting.

The OST for No More Room In Hell, a simply brutal zombie mod for Half-Life 2, will fit the bill.

This 45 minute album (available on Bandcamp) is great for writing that tense dramatic scene where everything goes wrong.

Highly recommended; check out the preview below.

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Why I Think Writing About My Problems (And How I Work On Them) Is Important

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I do have an artistic license policy. If you think you see yourself in what I write here… well, you might very well be wrong.

That said, I frequently write and talk about things that are happening to me, or that I’m wrestling with.

Write what you know, right?

It’s tempting to think that I’m writing these things for attention. That it’s pure attention whoring.

While it is true that I do get some attention from writing those types of posts, and I do not mind the attention, it is also true that I write them for two other reasons.

The first is that writing these posts helps me work out the specifics of my emotions and thoughts.

But that doesn't explain why I post them. That’s the second reason.

It would be easy to say I write these “to help others”, but it’s a little more complex than that.

At the turn of the century, just before 9/11 I wrote “Trainees”, detailing the ways that some behaviors of drill sergeants ended up turning gung-ho patriotic recruits into bitter, injured civilians. Since then - it ran in the post newspaper and has been on my websites since - I’ve heard from other trainees and families of trainees. Knowing that someone else saw what they went through and acknowledged it was important.

That recognition that they were not invisible was the defining factor in helping them start to make progress.

Back in 1999 or so, I wrote “I listen to them snicker” after an experience at a suicide prevention class while also on active duty. Fifteen years later, the suicide rate for active duty troops is 48% higher than the civilian rate, even though it’s finally declining again.

But it is fifteen years later. And while people tend to be supportive of suicide hotlines and the like in the abstract, and the popularity of things like “Everything Is Awful and I’m Not Okay” demonstrate a need, it is still difficult to talk about it if you are feeling suicidal.

But I've found that if you do talk about it, if you do talk about your problems and what you are doing to deal with them, then others realize they’re not alone.

You can’t fix anyone else’s problems in their life. You can’t, no matter how much you want to.1

But you can let people they’re not alone. That they’re not the only ones facing those particular demons. That others have done it before, and that there are people out there who truly understand.

And that helps people in a way that nothing else can.

1 And believe me, I tried, even if you didn't realize it, and even if you don’t believe it now.

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Moving Beyond Toxic Empathy

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This is a hard post to write, even though it's mostly just me pointing toward another post.

If you're wanting the tl;dr version, here's the post: The Toxic Attraction Between A Narcissist and an Empath. Go read it and the post about the traits of an empath and a narcissist.

This post is hard to write because of another post: Five Powerful Ways Abusive Narcissists Get Inside Your Head.

It's not that the latter post is bad, not at all.

It just doesn't leave room for goodness. For people being better.  For people changing. (And yes, that this bothers me is clearly a sign that I'm more like an empath.)

When I read that post about "Abusive Narcissists", it seemed like I had to hate the other person. It seemed like I had to cast them as some kind of bad person... and that simply wasn't true.

That weighs heavy on me when I think about exactly how many of the traits of a narcissists I have exibited. Maybe I was the sole problem. Maybe I was solely the reason everything self-destructed.

And then I read this passage:
An empath at this stage must realise the situation they are in and wake up to it, as anyone who is deeply in pain and has been hurt can then become a narcissist themselves as they turn their focus onto their own pain and look for others to make them feel okay again.
And it all came clear.

I've been telling people that I used to be more empathic, but that a prior relationship really jacked that up. And for a while, I was really unable to react appropriately to other people.

It took me a while to learn that again. To learn to ask when I didn't know. To learn to not second guess.

During that time, I did a lot of damage to two people - the woman in the relationship I was leaving, and the woman in the relationship I was entering. I didn't mean to. I didn't want to.

But I did.

What that passage above did for me was to allow me to both see how I've behaved narcissistically in the past and to see how others have behaved that way towards me... without dismissing them as a person.

There is a danger in emotional self-diagnosis.

There is also a liberation in being able to identify behaviors without vilifying the person attached to that behavior.

When I identify behaviors that are counterproductive, I try to work to fix them.

And the first article let me see clearly the problems I have right now. 

An empath will begin to frantically seek love, validation, confirmation and acceptance from a narcissist and each cry for help as such will affirm to the narcissist what they are desperate to feel inside—worthy. A bitter battle can ensue.
As an empath focuses solely on their pain, trauma and the destruction of their lives, they become self-obsessed and fail to see where the damage is coming from. Instead of looking outwards and seeing what is causing it, the empath will turn everything inward and blame themselves.

I hope that I am right.

I hope that the damage I did created the narcissistic behaviors that ended up hurting me so badly.  I hope this statement is right:
From my own experience and studies on the narcissist personality type, there is always one core trait: A narcissist is wounded.
Something, somewhere along the line, usually stemming from childhood causes a person to feel worthless and unvalued and, due to this, they will constantly and very desperately seek validation.

And I hope that I caused it.

Because if I caused it, then it is something that may eventually be healed.

And even if I never see the benefit of that healing, I still hope that the healing occurs.

For everyone involved.

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Intent Matters In Relationships

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Intent matters.

Start with that thesis statement.

This is pretty clearly codified in our laws - there's a hell of a difference between manslaughter and first degree murder, after all.

This goes for relationships as well.

Everyone screws up. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone does things that hurt the person that they're in a relationship with.

This always...always!... happens.

Maybe it's something small. Maybe it's something big. Maybe it's a lot of small things, or a few big things.

It happens. It will happen.

But there's a hell of a difference between the person trying to hurt you and the person who is trying to not hurt you.

This is not to take away from your experience of being hurt.

It's reminiscent of what I said about people with Asperger's. The people who are trying to hurt you, or who simply don't care (and believe me, I've had experience with them) will deny their role in your pain forever. They will make no effort to treat you better.

The people who did not mean to hurt you will apologize once they understand the pain they've caused. They will do what they can to make it right, and to try to keep the situation that hurt you from happening again.

Both types of people hurt you. Both types of people caused you pain.

But one type did not intend the pain.

Don't treat them the same way.

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Special Call For Submissions: Steampunk Universe

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[EDIT:  Please note the guidelines have been altered due to some poor wording on my part. You can read the story behind that here: and the updated guidelines at Thanks!] 

Special Call for Submissions: Steampunk Universe
Much like the award-winning anthology Steampunk World, Steampunk Universe will be a multicultural anthology of steampunk stories. But this time, the anthology will focus on characters with exceptionalities.*
This call for submissions is aimed particularly at marginalized writers, especially those who are identify as members of a minority, LGBTQ, or living with exceptionality. Whether or not you qualify and feel this call for submission is appropriate for your work is at your discretion.
Stories are due by June 1, 2016 to . Ideally, decisions will be made by July 1, and the anthology will be crowdfunded shortly thereafter. Writers will be paid $.06/word for original stories. I’m not looking for reprints at this time. Deadline extensions will not be granted. Your story should be submitted in Standard Manuscript Format (please check and double-check that your name and email address are on the first page!) as an email attachment in .doc, .docx or .rtf format. The subject of your message should read [Submission: Story Title by Author Name]. If your submission doesn’t conform to these specifications it may be deleted unread.
What I’m looking for:
Your story should take place in a non-Western culture. I’d love to have a variety of stories that take place in the diverse cultures of Central/South America, Asia, and Africa.
Your story should contain a character with at least one exceptionality. It should be a major element of the story, providing the character with extra challenges but maybe also special insight or abilities. I want to explore how steampunk technology changes the lives of people with exceptionalities, for better or for worse.  I’d love to see characters who are also members of other marginalized groups (such as LGBTQ characters).
Your story should contain steampunk elements. I get a lot of submissions with steampunk exoskeletons and dirigibles, but not many with spaceships or submarines. I’d really like authors to stretch themselves and instead of just writing alternate history, set the story in a parallel universe or on another planet. Read Tobias Buckell’s excellent story “Love Comes to Abyssal City” for an example.
If your story lacks one of these three elements, it will very likely be rejected, even if it’s an excellent story.
I’m unlikely to buy stories that:
-Take place in North America, England or China (or feature characters from those cultures)
-Feature characters with prosthetic limbs, steam-powered hearts, or who are blind
-Involve the protagonist bravely sacrificing himself/herself at the end of the story so the characters without exceptionalities can survive (seriously, this is becoming a cliché)
-Are longer than 5,000 words (bonus points if you can keep it under 4,000)
-Contain graphic sex or violence, rape, women in refrigerators, etc. If the content of your story means you wouldn’t be comfortable reading it to your eleven-year-old, don’t submit it to me.
-Have only magical elements and no technological ones. I love a good gaslamp fantasy, but this is not the market for it. I want gadgets and goggles!
If you have questions, please comment here or hit me up on twitter @steampunkpanda. You can also email me but I respond faster to blog comments and tweets. The best way to tell what kind of story I’m likely to buy is to read Steampunk World.
Now, go get your write on! ^_____^
*The publisher and I prefer the term “exceptionality” to the term “disability,” because disability is often heavily influenced by perception and culture. 

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It isn't attention whoring if you ask for help and need it.

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Here's the thing.

If there's a reasonably smart person you know who is talking about how much they hurt - especially if it's only to a few people - they aren't attention whoring.

Because it doesn't take much to find out there's a backlash about feeling emotional pain. Too many people (like my first ex-wife) absolutely will use that as a bargaining chip, or as a way to manipulate others.

It absolutely does happen.

I've seen it happen. It's been directed at me, personally.

So let me posit this: When you've got a reasonably smart person - one who knows that emotional pain gets used for manipulation, or maybe has even experienced it themselves - then assume it's sincere.

Because it's not hard at all to try to manipulate people.

And it wouldn't be hard to avoid saying absolutely anything that would give away that you were feeling badly. 

But it's damn hard to be honest about your feelings when you're afraid you'll just be told you're manipulating someone else.


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Whoops - seems like another gun ownership meme really IS wrong, after all.

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I saw this a few days ago on imgur, so I wasn't surprised to see it show up on Facebook.

At which point I was surprised to see someone nit-picking (and calling "misleading") the Swiss person's description of their own military service, whether or not someone can have ammo at home, and so on.

Which really ignores the fact that the original meme is misleading as hell. All Mr. Shekler is pointing out (and validly) is that there are a lot of confounding variables, and that maybe... just maybe... gun ownership isn't the defining variable in the crime rate.

But this is where sociology comes in. Because we have a natural experiment that we can use to test this hypothesis:  The United States of America.

We have access to information about gun ownership rates and crime rates. If gun ownership is the defining characteristic, then we should be able to see a pretty straightforward correlation. (Remember, rates are per capita.)

I didn't look too hard - I got violent crime rates from census data and gun ownership rates from this (admittedly quite biased) article, but they'd sourced their data from USACarry which is kind of biased in the other direction... so I went ahead and used it.

For simplicity's sake, I took the states with the ten highest and ten lowest gun ownership rates (in 2007). Then I plugged in their ranking in violent crime, and made a nice little graph.

If there was a really strong correlation between violent crime rates and gun ownership rates, the orange dots should trend right along with the blue dots.  And yet they do not.

I'm sure someone with more time (or perhaps a sociology paper to write) could use this same data and plug it into SPSS or SAS and see if it comes close to hitting an alpha of 0.05 ... but I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that we're not going to see either a strong or significant correlation with this data.

Or in other words:  Yeah, this data suggests that the Swiss guy is right. If you want to talk about why Switzerland has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, you might want to talk about something other than guns.

The actual table of the data is screencapped below if you're interested.

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