Come to Pittsburgh, it’ll Be FUN!

TL;DR summary: I’m going to Pittsburgh this week! Lots of amazing authors will be in Pittsburgh! You can meet them for free & get autographs!

Why Pittsburgh? So glad you asked. It’s the Nebula Awards Conference Weekend, a traveling event held annually by The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (aka SFWA)

There will be loads of professional development panels for authors and the big Nebula Awards Ceremony, but the reason I’m sharing  is that the event also has a super cool tradition called the Mass Autographing.

Open to the public. Here be all the official bits:

Basically if you’re within a distance of Pittsburgh where you can be at the Pittsburgh City Cetner Marriott Sunday May 20, 1-3, and you’re interested in excellent science fiction & fantasy books, you really should come to this event!

You can meet loads of authors–Nebula Award nominated, and Nebula Award WINNING authors–they’ll be there, and they’ll all have books available for purchase too.

Also there will be me. With my books. Not nominated books, and I’m not a SFWA member (not yet! SOMEDAY!) but I will be at the conference absorbing knowledge and maybe helping out if I can.

And so I will also have my excellent books for sale at the event Book Depot. In case anyone wants them.

What about next year? Will I go to the SFWA conference then? Maybe.  Depends on where it’s held, and even more it depends on whether I make enough sales to become a member. I’m not sure how long I can justify attending when I’m still not making enough sales to qualify as a member. Maybe forever? Maybe not. I get more self-conscious and nervous about it every year.

But that’s next year, and I’m not sure what next year will bring.  For sure it will be an adventure.


Chip off the Ol’ Writer’s Block

The information in this post comes from an SFWA panel on writer’s block I attended in June 2015. If you’re a speculative fiction writer and can afford to attend the SFWA weekend in June 2016, I highly recommend the experience. I learned a lot in this session and others, and I met a lot of great people too. Now, about that block…

What’s that? A blockage? Let me at it.

Authors Nancy Kress, Sarah Pinsker, Jack McDevitt, and Jack Skillingstead began the session with introductions and a definition of what writer’s block would mean in the context of their discussion. That’s more important than it might seem on first glance. See, the creative dry spells writers usually mean when we talk about being “blocked” are frustrating, but they’re actually not the debilitating condition a psychologist would call writer’s block. Everything here is directed towards problems of the  “where do I go from here?” “I’m stuck,” or “what happened to my motivation?” type rather than deep-seated avoidances and phobias rooted in “I’m scared. I can’t face it.”

Point 1: There’s no one cause or type of block, and writers can be blocked for more than one reason at a time or over time.  If I’m blocked I might be:

emotionally or technically unprepared for a specific project
distracted by life’s other necessities.

unsure what comes next, plot wise.
buried under too many voices/advice/info on how to. 
suffering from”Tolstoy syndrome” (mired in the emotional swamp of “If it’s not as good as why bother?”)
having an episode of blank page panic
overwhelmed by discouragement.

(to name only a few common issues) 

Point 2: Nothing works for everyone. Nothing works for anyone every time. The suggestions below have worked for some people some of the time. Trying them out is one way to find what works for you. 

Go back to the last place in the story you were excited and re-write from there.
Refuse yourself writing or even words (even talking, if that’s practical) until the ideas start to flow again.
Go be physical (run, walk, garden…)
Free-write: start typing thoughts from a characters standpoint, riff on a keyword related to plot, anything that gets random words on paper
Keep away from the work area and think until start is set in mind before sitting down to the blank page.

Deny self TV/ reading/Facebook/other entertainments until work is done.
Keep multiple projects in play and switch between them whenever the energy on one wanes.

Point 3: Some general tips help writers avoid blocks and ease the work of grinding them down:
Know what you need to do to get the brain settled. Rituals and routines help.
Know your rhythm; work when your mind is sharper. Morning, evening, whenever.
Set smaller goals when you can; focus on writing a paragraph, not a novel
Recognize that each scene is a thing–helps clarify n move ideas
Write into the next scene, try to not end a session on an end
Set a far goal aim, even if it’s not the goal you end up hitting
Reread or read work aloud to find tiny changes to make

Suggestions from the audience at this point included:
using a spreadsheet (the panel wasn’t enthused but agreed it was a good motivator for those who feel motivated by word counts. Petty counting-hater that I am, I silently cheered.)
Opening new files for free writing with the thought “this doesn’t count” in mind
Rewriting other people’s work
Write a bear into the scene. Literally. Just to see what happens.
Outline a scene, if you usually don’t, and when dialogue or description starts happening on its own, go with it.

The panel then digressed into a neat conversation on types of stories: gifts vs shitting rocks. Some stories come wrapped in excitement, others have to be bled from a vein.
And then they meandered into discussing their approaches to writing & rewriting (free vs critical first drafts, some like rewriting, some despise it, etc)
The session ended with commentary on critiquing and the results and how it can both cause and cure blocks, which leads to the last point.

Pointers on using criticism as a springboard to renewed motivation:
Don’t get annoyed. (Silent tears of mirth on my part, on hearing that. Might as well suggest people stop breathing. In fairness, I think the idea was more to recommend getting over being annoyed, without responding. That whole side conversation is what inspired the whole Critiques Are Like Road Trips post.)
Find a good critic who won’t hold back but also won’t indulge in toxic superiority
Find a simpatico readers who are looking for the style and content you create.

Find people who are better than you when it comes to craft and technique.
Find people who aren’t interested in scoring ego points on you.

There. I think that covers my notes. I hope someone else gleans some useful ideas from this. I know I did. 

Maximum Book Muscle

TL;DR subtitle: I attended a self-publishing seminar at the SFWA Weekend in June, and I learned a bunch o’ useful stuff. 

Pump up your book’s appeal. But not with these.

The first session covered formatting tips for each of the main parts of an ebook. There were digressions into print formatting as well. Most of the ebook tips were based on one fundamental point: ebooks aren’t books. They attempt to replicate the feel and look, but they offer “unique challenges and opportunities.”

I could spend a whole post on covers alone. Later. The teaser: your graphic should look as tempting on screen at 1″ as it does at 6″ or on a physical book. Your cover won’t sell a book, but it can lose you sales. 

Front matter This = everything in the book before the story.
Cover page, copyright/cataloging data, tables of contents, dedications, acknowledgements, introductions, teasers, reviews, artwork, and secondary title pages. Not all books have all these feature, obviously. All have some of them.
Books: readers who want to browse simply page past it all.
Ebook: online sampling only shows the first 10-20% of the interior. If you have a lot of front matter, your reader only gets a few pages of story at best. I’ve seen books where barely two pages of a novel were visible.

Book suggestions: 
if you want a book to attract readers, put all the work into the front matter a traditional publisher would. Check books of similar subjects, and format your book accordingly. Appearance matters. Make your book look and feel “real.”
Ebook Suggestions
1. Lose the table of contents. E-readers generate them automatically.
2. Move dedications and all other non-essential material to the back of the book.  Yes, even maps. Especially maps. A cover page & copyright/catalog info are all you need before the story. Pump up the sample size for all it’s worth. Samples hook readers. It’s that simple.
Common to both formats:
Make sure your copyright page has all the information a library would need to classify your book. (Another topic that may take up its own post.)

Body The text of the story. Prologue, chapters, etc.
Books: A lot of tiny details make a huge difference in a reader’s impression of your story. They’re points most readers don’t consciously notice (and some swear they don’t care, but overall sales patterns say otherwise) Once again: a book should look like a book and read like a book.
Ebook:  The online ebook converters for most of sales channels handle most of these tiny details for ebooks automatically. Huzzah! They don’t do them all, however, and they don’t necessarily do them well. 
Book Suggestions:
At a minimum, your pages should have running headers and footers alternating title and author at the top, page numbers on each page of the story and only within the story, dropped capital letters and decorations at the beginnings of chapters…again, it should have all the real book flourishes. Yes, font matters.
Ebook Suggestions:
1. Format your text like a book. Use indents to begin paragraphs, not line breaks. Always. (It went without saying for print books.) Don’t worry about font, as the reader can choose their own–but don’t use lots of different fonts.
2. Do all you can to make your titles and chapters “pop” for readers. If you can add graphics to your chapter headers, that’s a great start. Ditto for using dropped capitals and other decorative tidbits that make pages pretty.
3. If you can create an ebook format yourself and upload it, you can customize presentation to your heart’s content. That requires a whole ‘nother skillset and tool kit though, and it’s not for everyone. (Not for me!)

Back matter This = everything after the story, and it’s where ebooks can really outshine print books.
Books: The costs of printing and the need to have a certain page count for balanced printing drastically limits the amount of space you can afford to give all the extra bits beyond a story. 
Ebook: Only pixels die for your extras, and the download costs are minimal. The sky is the limit. Add All The Things
Ebook Suggestions:
1. Immediately after “The End,” lead right into an excerpt from the next book you want the reader to try. Not the first chapter! That’s in the look-inside feature every sales channel has now. Pull a short dramatic scene, an action sequence or something funny from later in the story. No spoilers! 

2. Introduce and end the excerpt with live links to the book’s sale page. I’ll say that again with shoutycaps. LIVE HYPERLINKS ARE YOUR FRIENDS! Formatting them is a royal pain if you’re on more than one platform, since you’ll have to change the hyperlink to match Amazon, iBooks, Nook etc–and if you publish through Smashwords you’ll have to post different book editions that each distribute to only one outlet–but’s it’s worth the effort. Never underestimate the power of the impulse purchase. It rules online retail. Make it your new buddy.
3. Then add a teaser and an excerpt from any other series that you’d like the reader to see, if you have them. Don’t go wild. Two or three at most, and keep ’em short.
4. About the Author: make it work for you. Keep it short and pithy, use a style and keywords tailored to the audience of your books. Yes, keywords.
5. Full bibliography. Made of LIVE LINKS. Because why not? 

There it is. Advice. Like all suggestions, these should be taken with a grain of personal-experience/YMMV salt, and I’m not interested in arguing their merits. I’ve passed along the words I received. I’ve also taken most of it to heart and implemented changes to most of my titles. Sorry, they’re not the kind that makes Amazon update files for existing readers, so they’ll affect new sales only. (But if you’ve purchased my stories & want an epub or a mobi with the editorial changes, contact me, and we’ll talk.)