My Jekyll and Hyde Speech

Recently, I decided to take an online course from Coursera called “Introduction to Public Speaking,” taught by Matt McGarrity, an acclaimed instructor at the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington. I’m already in Toastmasters, a non-profit, public speaking and leadership training organization, but I thought it would be interesting to get another perspective on public speaking.

Our first class assignment was to record a short video where we explain: 1) why we’re taking the course, 2) what we’re hoping to get out of it, and 3) list one public speaker that we admire. Since this class is a Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC, with over 40,000 people signed up around the world, I thought I’d have fun and try to be a little unique with my first speech.

I recorded it pool-side. It was immediately after a thunderstorm, so the heat was temporarily relieved, and the air was clean and fresh. I also tried to introduce myself with a certain amount of humor. Interestingly, I was standing on the edge of the pool so I couldn’t move around the “stage” as much as I normally like to — at least not and keep my eyes focused on the video camera.

Here’s my speech on YouTube. Let me know if you enjoy it.

For the benefit of those who aren’t in the position to watch the video, here’s a transcript:

Jekyll and Hyde
My name is David Keener, and I live in northern Virginia, just outside of Washington DC. Why I joined Matt McGarrity’s online public speaking course is kind of complicated, and requires you to know just a little bit more about me.

You see, I’ve got this Jekyll and Hyde thing going on. I’m not talking Evil Dave vs. Good Dave. It’s more like Technical Dave vs. Creative Dave.

You see, Technical Dave works for the Federal Government, where he builds web applications and does cyber security stuff. He also speaks regularly at technical conferences, where he has to communicate complicated subjects as effectively as possible — without being too dull.

Creative Dave, on the other hand, is a science fiction writer with a passion for storytelling. The oral kind of storytelling. The kind of storytelling where you interact with the audience, and you pull out all the stops to try to be as entertaining as possible.

Both Creative Dave and Technical Dave have to be comfortable in settings such as panels, interviews, and even conducting classes.

So I’ve got a lot of ways that I want to use public speaking.

On the flip side, who do I think would be a great model for public speaking? In the Ruby software development field, Jim Weirich is awesome. The reason he’s awesome is he’s got this terrific knack for teaching technical subjects and making them really, really interesting for the audience.


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The Force May Have a Scientific Basis

I saw this cartoon about the Force on Facebook, and I just had to appropriate it for my blog:

The Force - A Cartoon Featuring Real Physics

Sometimes I think this is the real purpose of Facebook, the distribution of cartoons and urban fairy tales. Kudos to whoever created this cartoon.

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GFIRST 2013 Canceled

Citing sequestration and the need for financial tightening, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) just canceled GFIRST 2013, a major cyber security conference that I was scheduled to speak at. Frankly, DHS may also have had some concerns about the scrutiny to which the IRS is currently being subjected for is expenditures.

GFIRST 2013 - 9th Annual Cyber Security Conference

You see, DHS hosts GFIRST for free. As someone who runs and organizes events myself, this boggles my mind. They host a 1500-person conference in a top-notch venue…for free. If I was running the event, I’d charge for conference tickets, I’d charge extra for hands-on classes, the vendors would be paying for their booths, and I’d be looking for sponsors to help subsidize the event.

Even if the event didn’t turn a profit, I’d want it to cover as much of its expenses as possible. Anything that wasn’t covered after that could probably be justified as a reasonable expense incurred in accomplishing DHS’s mission: to educate and inform people about the dangers of cyber security attacks, including phishing, spearphishing, viruses, worms, etc.

Anyway, the GFIRST conference was going to be hosted in Grapevine, Texas in August, overlapping slightly with the 2013 World Science Fiction Convention. I was looking forward to my corporate overlords paying for my travel, while I also scooted over to the Worldcon, but it looks like I’m gonna be on my own dime now.

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Largest Public Speaking Course in History

Some of my technical friends have been extolling the virtues of online courses for quite a while now. Some of them have even taken several highly technical college courses for free on Web. The courses didn’t count for college credit, of course, but they still had the chance to learn in an organized way from some highly qualified professors. Their view is that education, particularly college education, is heading for the same kind of massive disruption that has already impacted the music and publishing industries.

University of Washington - Intro to Public SpeakingAbout a month ago, my friends convinced me to enroll in an online course with Coursera called “Introduction to Public Speaking.” It’s taught by Matt McGarrity, a dynamic, top-ranked lecturer at the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington.

The course is what’s known as a Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC. It’s free. It’s open to the public. More than 40,000 people from around the world have signed up for the course, leading McGarrity to say: ā€œIā€™m preparing to teach the single largest public-speaking course in the world — in the history of the world.ā€

It’s a 10-week course, with lectures made available online as videos. Discussion groups will be available in different forums. Google Hangouts are also likely to play a role. There are quizzes associated with some videos, as well as three optional speaking assignments (they’re optional because they require video equipment in order to perform them).

You can learn learn more about the course from this excellent article in The Seattle Times. You can see the course syllabus and description at Coursera.

The course begins on June 24th. I’m really looking forward to it.

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Balticon 47 Highlights, Part 2: Self-Publishing, Tools, & Podcasts

This is Part 2 of my two-part article discussing the sessions that I attended at Balticon 47. In these two articles, I’ve tried to distill some of the major points that I derived from my exploration of the self-publishing track at the convention. Part 1 covered Saturday and Part 2 (this article) covers Sunday.

You’ll see from my choice of sessions that I was very focused on self-publishing, but that I also branched out to learn more about podcasting, voice acting and short films. These are all areas where I think my skill set is well-suited, even if I clearly have much to learn.

So, let’s explore together what Balticon had to offer for someone like me. Also, for those who share similar interests, Balticon did record the audio for most of their sessions, which they plan to release eventually as podcasts.

Sunday, May 26

11:00 – 12:00 PM 5. Narrating Podcast Fiction
Renee Chambliss

You don’t need to have a deep, resonant, radio-announcer voice to be an excellent podcast fiction narrator. The most important quality a narrator can have is the ability to convey vocally the appropriate tone and emotion of the writing. In this session we’ll talk about what you can do before, during and after your recording session to beautifully capture the spirit and intent of a story, with your voice.

Renee Chambliss is a voice actor for podcasts. In this informal discussion, she talked about what you needed in order to podcast effectively. She was also ably assisted by Doc Coleman, another podcaster, who helped her out by augmenting her information nicely with his comments.

She talked some about preparation, voice excesses, etc. The real meat f this particular session occurred when she and Doc Coleman went over equipment recommendations. For podcasting, your computer microphone isn’t really good enough. Renee mentioned that she used a Blue Snowball microphone when she started; it had the advantage that it had a USB port so that it could plug directly into her computer.

She mentioned that GarageBand, which comes with a Mac, was a good tool for editing podcasts. There was also Audacity, a free tool for the PC world (but not as intuitive as GarageBand).

For microphones, Doc Coleman also mentioned a brand called Zoom, and specifically recommended their H1, H2 and H4 products. He liked the fact that these devices recorded to either SD or mini-SD cards.

12:00 – 1:00 PM 6. Websites for Authors
Randall B. Chertcow, Brandon Gamblin, A B Kovacs (Moderator), Betsy Riley, Scott Sigler

Taking your brand and owning your site. Panelists discuss what attracts readers, gets purchases, and increases viewer interaction on author web sites.

This was a free-ranging discussion of author web sites, or more specifically, the features that an author’s web site should have. The general consensus was that when you were starting out, you should just have a relatively simple blog. Advanced features such as forums can be added later when, or if, you have the audience to support them. Having forums without an audience could just make you look bad.

Somebody pointed out that there is no one, single audience. In reality, your audience is made up of different segments, who may be coming to your site for very different reasons. Know your audience, and make sure that your web site has something to offer each segment.

Your web site should also have a Press Kit, with short and long versions of your biography, and pictures that others can use when they discuss you and your work. You’d think this would be obvious, but maybe it’s not — your web site should include links to all of your published works, preferably with a link (such as an Amazon widget) that will help people buy your book.

An author web site should include an Appearance Calendar, so fans and professionals can discover how to meet the author in person. From Allison Gamblin, your web site should include a Terms of Use page and a Privacy Policy, primarily because Google is beginning to expect this for quality sites ‐ check out for some sample content (she’s the wife of author Brand Gamblin and a professional WordPress consultant, so this is probably good advice).

The panel also pointed out that there are also additional web-related opportunities for authors to promote themselves. For example, Amazon supports an Author page for the author and up to three pen names.

There was some agreement that authors should be careful when producing content for their blog. The Internet audience is, by nature, somewhat liberal. A conservative stance, or an overly liberal one, can cost an author fans. Orson Scott Card was specifically mentioned for his conservative stance on topics such as gay marriage, etc.

There was some discussion of shared blogging, where an author guest blogs on other blogs. One panelist described this as “borrowed credibility,” while another panelist corrected this to “borrowed audience.” Generally, they felt this was a good way to get yourself in front of other audience segments, and to hopefully add them to your overall audience.

One author noted that non-fiction giveaways were great for drawing people to your site. Discussing new writers, Scott Sigler stated unequivocally: “Get a web site today.”

The talk concluded with the authors getting whimsical about cool, but as of yet unused, story titles, such as “Girls on Rocks in Space,” “Bear Polo,” and “Soccer Playing Elephants on the Moon.” The last two came from Brand Gamblin, with the elephants title apparently having previously starting an extended discussion on his blog.

Bottom Line: A very useful session, with excellent insights from all of the panelists.

2:00 – 3:00 PM 7. Guerilla Indie Filmmaking on a Budget
Rebecca Davis, James Durham (Moderator), Clint Gaige, Larry Reclusado

A “how-to” roundtable discussion with independent filmmakers.

I went off for a quick lunch, then got back just in time for this session with a bunch of independent filmmakers. This session didn’t provide much in the way of detailed information about indie film production, but it provided a number of excellent anecdotes about things that have happened to derail projects for these filmmakers. And these stories, quite frankly, were worth hearing.

One panelist was filming guerrilla-style, near New Orleans. Specifically, they were doing an action scene that included a vicious-looking knife fight on a levy outside the city. Naturally, the police showed up, called to the scene by an unsuspecting bystander. So the director sent the best-looking girl on his crew to talk to them, and she managed to sweet-talk them out of shutting the production down.

Another filmmaker was doing a gruesome serial killer movie. The twist was that the killer was a diabolical young girl. Again, they were filming guerrilla-style in the stairway of a hotel. In the scene, the girl has just killed someone. She’s standing there, holding a knife, covered in blood, with the body of an adult man lying in front of her. There’s blood splattered all over the wall. And then the door opens and a hotel customer wanders into the scene.

The audience laughed when they herd this story. Then somebody quipped, “Well, did you use the footage? That would have been great for the movie.”

The most serious incident actually stopped production on a film for a month. One of the filmmakers was doing another serial killer film. In one scene, the killer has captured and subdued a young woman, who is now in his cabin in the woods (where he takes all of his victims). In the scene, the woman’s shirt has been torn off, and her bra is exposed. The killer feverishly prepares to decorate her chest using the materials at hand, so to speak.

The woman was a professional actor, albeit not a terribly well-known one; the man more of an amateur. They’d been briefed on how the scene was supposed to go. The quarters where they were filming were cramped and somewhat dark, and the scene was being shot from behind the male actor. The director had no visibility of anything in front of the man.

Well, the male actor apparently decided to augment the reality of the scene by fondling the actress’s breasts, including going underneath her bra. She stayed in character until the end of the scene, and didn’t say anything immediately afterward. The first that the director knew of the issue was when she engaged lawyers to shut down the production.

It took a month to smooth things over. It was a nightmare scenario for a director, who’d been unaware that anything had happened. I’m guessing that the director will never work with the male actor again. Apparently, the director and the actress are still friends despite the incident.

Overall, the session was fun and interesting. The one down-side is that it really didn’t include any actionable information for the audience.

3:00 – 4:00 PM 8. Steps to Successful Self-Publishing
Collin Earl (Moderator), Allison Gamblin, Betsy Riley, Jennifer Zyren Smith, Cecilia Tan

The basic and necessary steps to go from unpublished to successfully self-published. What do you need to make sure to do?

The core takeaway from this session is that you have to produce quality content, first and foremost. If you haven’t got any worthwhile content, then self-publishing is a moot point.

Once you’ve got worthy content, you need to prepare it for publication. Some specific tools that were mentioned were:

  • OpenOffice – A free, open source word processor.
  • WriterToEpub – A plugin (for Microsoft Word) to produce the epub format.
  • Sigil – Improves HTML output.
  • KindleGem – From Amazon, for making Kindle-format files.
  • InDesign – For graphics. From Adobe.
  • Calibre – For tansferring content between formats.

Panelists recommend that you get book review bloggers to review your stories. Most bloggers only accept books for review in electronic form.

As far as producing print books, it was mentioned that Lulu was inordinately expensive, costing at least twice as much as CreateSpace (which is owned by Amazon). Plus, CreateSpace is a print-on-demand service, but Amazon will show a book as “in-stock” if it’s available for production from CreateSpace.

CreateSpace seemed to be the favorite for producing books. However, one panelist mentioned that LightningSource produced better hardcovers and had better distribution to bookstores.

As far as getting the word out using Feedburner, that service is apparently going the way of the dodo. It’s expected to be shut down at any time. and were also mentioned as places where writers could purchase cheap services. The web sites KindleNation and BookBud were also mentioned in passing.

A nice, informative session.

4:00 – 5:00 PM 9. Narratives in New Media
Brandon Gamblin, Bruce Press, Patrick Scaffido (Moderator), Jennifer Zyren Smith

Between blogs, flash games, podcasting, ebooks, twitter fiction, and more — stories can be experienced in strange new ways. What has worked well so far? What would we like to see for the future?

The big takeaway from this session is that sometimes your writing brings about the opportunity to make money from ancillary products, such as podcasts, games, posters, stuffed animals, etc. Writers should take advantage of these opportunities if they can, because it’s always nice to have multiple income streams.

One of the panelists mentioned that we’re still in the early stages of New Media. Mostly what we’ve seen so far are fairly traditional books in electronic form. As the capabilities of book readers advance, and standards evolve, other types of stories will become possible. Right now, for example, electronic formats don’t work well for illustrated fiction or hyper-linked media. There will be more opportunities in the future, and we should all be prepared for them.

5:00 – 6:00 PM 10. Metamor City Live Show
Mildred G. Cady, Renee Chambliss, Doc Coleman, Veronica Giguere, Christopher Lester (Moderator), Hugh J. O’Donnell, Nobilis Reed, Patrick Scaffido

“Rafak Aliri and the Book of Shadows” — A plucky detective with a nose for trouble. A mysterious woman with a hidden agenda. A book of secrets that dangerous people will kill to possess. Come hear a live radio drama of mystery, magic and mayhem in the urban fantasy world of Metamor City, starring Chris Lester, Mildred Cady and the Metamor City Players.

I attended this session sort of by accident, and it turned out to be one of the best sessions that I attended at the convention. It was 5:00 PM on Sunday, and I wasn’t interested in any of the sessions that were being held (well, except for one of airships that was two hours long, but I didn’t want to spend that much time in one extended session). From the description of this session, it sounded like they were going to record a full-cast podcast during the session.

Well, I’d never seen something like that before, so I thought I’d check it out.

Metamor City - An urban fantasy podcast seriesThe show’s script was written by Christopher Lester and Mildred Cady. Christopher also voiced the main character, Rafak Aliri (the detective), while Mildred voiced the “mysterious woman with a hidden agenda.” It turned out to be a well-written, fast-paced detective story with magic, vampires, mages, etc. The participants went straight through the script, with each voice actor coming on at the appropriate times and doing their part.

I was exceedingly impressed with the production, which was smoothly and effectively recorded in front of the audience. The entire audience, including myself, had a great time, and even burst into applause at key moments in the show. Finally, the show featured background music and limited sound effects (mostly for when magic occurred), which were incorporated into the production while it was being recorded. It was also, quite clearly, a great opportunity for all of the voice actors to show off their skills.

Kudos to Christopher Lester and the Metamor City Players for an awesome session. If you weren’t there, I highly recommend checking out this podcast when it becomes available online. It also turns out that this is the latest in a series of podcasts about Metamor City; there are many additional podcasts available at the Metamor City web site. Go check them out! You won’t be sorry you did.

6:00 – 7:00 PM 11. Dynamic Voice Acting
Veronica Giguere, Stephen Granade, Starla Huchton, Alex White (Moderator)

The popular Dynamic Voice Acting panel returns to talk about how to best show off your vocal talents.

This was a fun panel. I had no idea what to expect from it. It was held in the same room as the “Metamor City Live Show,” and I couldn’t find anything else in the program book after that show to make me want to move. So I just stayed, and I’m really glad I did.

Alex White ran the session. His thesis was that many people didn’t understand what directors did in order to get the performance that they wanted out of actors. In fact, he added that a lot of directors don’t even understand how to tell actors what they want. In this session, he and the small team of actors assembled for the panel illustrated how the director could provide “context” to actors to subtly shade their performances.

To facilitate this, Alex provided a number of short scripts for dual-part scenes to his actors. He told the actors the context of the scene, then asked them to do a read-through. Then he’d alter the context, and ask the actors to redo the scene taking into account the altered context.

For example, in one scenario the actors acted out what seemed to be a break-up scene between a man and a woman. Alex asked the audience who was dominant in the scene, and the consensus was that it was clearly the man. Then Alex altered the context: the woman became a 007-style secret agent and the man became her handler. In the ensuing read-through, the woman was clearly in charge, and there was a sinister undercurrent that made it seem unlikely that the man had too much longer to live.

The panelists did a number of scenes like this, and even brought some audience members in to act out a couple of scenes. It was all great fun, but also surprisingly educational.

8:00 – 9:00 PM 12. Open Readings

I went off for a quick dinner, and then came back for an Open Readings session. Five authors did 10-minute readings. Since I plan to do open readings in the future, this was basically me checking out what the competition at a typical session would be like.

Frankly, three weren’t really ready for prime time. One had a a story that he wasn’t sure was any good. One had a humorous SF story that wasn’t (it wasn’t funny, it wasn’t science fiction, and it it wasn’t interesting). Another was a young girl who was having trouble figuring out POV, but had lots of imagery. However, I give them all credit for: 1) finishing a story, and 2) having the courage to read it in public and ask for advice.

The remaining two writers were reading from published works, either self-published or from a small press. Both of these writers had reasonably good content, but weren’t dynamic readers. One of them was T. J. Perkins, who was writing a YA book about a young ninja warrior.

I think my plan to do storytelling at an Open Reading would go over really well. I WILL do this in the future.

9:00 – 10:00 PM 13. Beyond Medieval Fantasy
Peter Bryant, James R. Stratton

A look at the challenges and possibilities of fantasy inspired by time periods other than medieval northwest Europe.

Most fantasy seems to use western medieval Europe as a model. Other societies that were mentioned as interesting were Japan (particularly older time periods) and the Mongols.

Some resources mentioned included:

  • Saxo Grammaticus – The writings of “Saxo the Learned.”
  • Poul Anderson’s works in general.
  • Poul Anderson’s essay, “On Thud and Blunder.”
  • Musashi and Monkey – A book about the creation of the Shogun.
  • Dab Carlin’s history podcast – A well educated amateur historian.
  • Guns, Germs and Steel – An excellent book about the rise of civilizations.

Some choice tidbits include the fact that “viking” means “trader”; that the samurai and kitana are fairly recent developments in Japanese history; and that the Mongols were not exactly the barbarians that they’ve generally been pictured as in films and books. For example, Mongols were brutal, but surprisingly sophisticated:

  • Knew the value of knowledge.
  • Killed all as examples, except scientists and scholars.
  • Allowed freedom of religion, even in conquered populations.
  • Would kill most as an example if their rules were broken, but leave some alive to carry the news to others.
  • Used curve swords to disable as many foes as possible without getting stuck; many injuries led to eventual death through infection in those days.

Overall, a pretty interesting session.

10:00 – 10:30 PM — Meeting with Joe Haldeman —

I blogged about this in another entry, but Joe Haldeman and his wife, Gay, showed up in the “Beyond Medieval Fantasy” room after being misdirected by convention staff (they were supposed to be going to a special meet-and-greet session with convention volunteers). Six of us were still discussing things, because there was no session scheduled in the room after the one we’d just attended. So we all got to have a 30-minute conversation with famed writer Joe Haldeman (but I’m the only one that got a photograph taken with him).

I had a great time at Balticon, and really benefited from the fact that on Sunday I was able to visit for the full day. I was really pleased that I was able to get a photo with Joe Haldeman, the Guest of Honor for the convention, and a great writer. I was also pleased with all of sessions I attended. I learned some new things, and achieved validation for many of the things that I want to do with regard to self-publishing.

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Jason Cohen’s eBook Pricing Model

eBook PricingI came across this interesting article from Jason Cohen on eBook pricing. Now, Jason is a web designer trying to sell a web design book to a) a limited audience, b) a professional audience that will use the information to enhance their professional skills, and c) an audience that is used to paying higher prices for quality technical materials. So his thoughts and techniques might not be directly applicable to science fiction and fantasy stories, but they are at least worth some discussion.

One of the things he does is create different versions of his product at different price points. The lowest price gets you just the book. The next price up gets you the book plus all of the support materials, e.g. – Photoshop files, sample code files, etc. The highest price point gets you everything the middle product includes, plus a bunch of how-to videos related to the book.

Even if he sells only 500 copies of his product at the different price points, he still makes more than enough to count as what most people would consider a very good annual salary. Now, granted, the income is only attractive because of the higher price points that he can sell at. And this is due, at least partly, to the fact that people are accustomed to paying more for education that is directly applicable to their professional career.

Can packaging enhance an SF author’s revenue? Especially if the packages are sold directly through the author’s web site where, theoretically, the author takes all of the revenue (by cutting out all middle-men).

By packaging, I’m not talking about 20 books in one 4000-page PDF file (as I’ve seen recently for authors like Andre Norton). Consider the following pricing scheme:

  • Great Fantasy eBook – by Y. Truly (388 pages): $5.99

  • Great Fantasy, Silver Edition – by Y. Truly: $9.99
    Includes the eBook, plus…
    Great Fantasy Audiobook – (10 hours of audio, downloadable)
    Autographed Bookplate

  • Great Fantasy, Gold Edition – by Y. Truly: $15.99
    Includes everything from the Silver Edition, plus…
    World Map
    Fantasy World Encyclopedia (plus free updates)
    6 Related podcasts
    Video Interview with the Author (1 hour)

Would packages like this make sense? Is there any demand for packages like this? It’s attractive to contemplate selling a bundle of downloadable products for a higher price (except for the bookplate, which could be mailed out for relatively low postage). I’m curious if anybody has explored this type of packaging in the SF field.

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Balticon 47 Highlights, Part 1: Lessons in Self-Publishing

Attending Balticon 47 wasn’t something I did solely for entertainment (although it was, in fact, a very enjoyable event). I’m in the beginning stages of executing my own self-publishing plan, and I wanted to learn as much about that section of the industry as I could in the time that I had. Unfortunately, various commitments allowed me to attend only the last half of Saturday and the entirety of Sunday, so I wanted to cram as much learning into that time as possible.

In this two-part article, I’ll discuss the sessions that I attended and try to distill some of the major points that I derived from each session. Part 1 will cover Saturday and Part 2 will cover Sunday.

You’ll see from my choice of sessions that I was very focused on self-publishing, but that I also branched out to learn more about podcasting, voice acting and short films. These are all areas where I think my skill set is well-suited, even if I clearly have much to learn.

So, let’s explore together what Balticon had to offer for someone like me. Also, for those who share similar interests, Balticon did record the audio for most of their sessions, which they plan to release eventually as podcasts.

Saturday, May 25

I drove to Hunt Vally, MD, from northern Virginia, which took me about an hour-and-a-half. Once I got registered, and took the mandatory quick spin through the Dealer’s Room, it was a couple of minutes after 4:00 PM, so I slipped into my first session just a couple minutes after it had started,

4:00 – 5:00 PM 1. Make Your Book Shine!
A. L. Davroe, Allison Gamblin (Moderator), Starla Huchton, Betsy A. Riley

Basic information on interior formatting and layout of manuscripts and book cover design. Includes when to DIY or hire someone, how to find the right people for the job, and why all of these elements are important for a successful book.

The basic takeaway that I got from this session is that it’s a competitive market out there. The days when you could self-publish anything you wanted, and then just slap a crappy, amateur cover on it, are gone. If you’re going to succeed with self-publishing, you need to produce a quality product, including a good story, competently copy-edited text, a solid interior layout, and a professional-looking cover. Ideally, you want a prospective reader to be unable to distinguish your product from one produced by a traditional publisher.

The panelists had a mix of skill-sets, in addition to all of them being writers, which provided an interesting cross-section of perspectives. Starla Huchton is an author, an accomplished voice actor (I got to hear some of her voice work on Sunday), and a cover designer. I liked her cover samples, so consider Starla if you need a cover for your next story. Betsy Riley is an author and editor; Alison Gamblin is a WordPress consultant and blogger (and the husband of writer Brandon Gamblin); and A. L. Davroe is a writer.

5:00 – 6:00 PM 2. Put Together the Total Package
Collin Earl (Moderator), Allison Gamblin, Starla Huchton, A B Kovacs, James R. Stratton

Tips on how to make your book sell, including various self-publishing avenues and requirements, marketing strategies, and tools to promote your work.

This session echoed some aspects of the previous session. The fundamental aspect of selling a book requires that you have a solid, professional product.

There was some discussion of where to sell your self-published stories, but the consensus was that Amazon was clearly the top market. If you only had time to “do” one market, then make it Amazon. But you should promote it in other venues and formats if you can. Some very good points were made by A B Kovacs, who is essentially a publisher (teamed up with author Scott Sigler).

Numerous tools were discussed, including Google Docs, as a great collaboration tool; Google+ for its video Hangout capabilities; and others. Most of the authors, if they Twitter, used some sort of tool to manage their tweets, such as HootSuite, TweetDeck and others. There was also a mention of, to help organize re-tweets.

It was a generally informative session, but without any tips or revelations to rock my world.

6:00 – 7:00 PM 3. Google+ for Authors
Brandon Gamblin, Pamela Gay (Moderator), A B Kovacs, A. C. Wise

Google+ is built to showcase your skills and expertise. Come learn how authors can leverage this first-ever social layer to win fans and showcase their expertise across all of Google’s properties.

I have an Information Technology (IT) background. I have a pretty solid grounding in services like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and many others. But Google+ has been one of my blind spots. I just haven’t had a chance to do much with it yet. I thought I’d give myself a lift up by attending a Google+ talk at Balticon, which was nicely moderated by Dr. Pamela Gay.

Now, Pamela Gay is a smart lady. According to the Balticon Convention Program, she’s “an astronomer, writer and podcaster focused on using new media to engage people in science and technology.” She was also clearly the most knowledgable on the panel about Google+, as she uses it to promote AstronomyCast, a popular astronomy podcast, and CosmoQuest, an online portal targeted towards getting people interested in astronomy. As an aside, both initiatives are highly recommended.

My overall impression from Pamela Gay and the other panelists is that Google+ seems like a cleanly designed, tightly integrated product from a technology company — one that is trying to leverage its high-tech expertise to out-innovate competing social networks. In contrast, Facebook seems like a duller, less innovative alternative that’s having trouble matching the new media features in Google+.

I think Facebook is dominant now, but Google+ seems like a contender in the future. Additionally, the usefulness of features like Hangouts for distributed video communication, interviews, and podcasting can’t be underestimated. I came out of that session thinking that I needed to become an expert with Google+ as quickly as possible, not just for promotional purposes, but also for collaboration, communication with different groups (circles, in Google+ parlance), and using the service’s new media features.

7:00 – 8:00 PM 4. Nurturing Online Communities for Writers and Fans
Pamela Gay, Abigail Hilton, A B Kovacs, Patrick Scaffido (Moderator), Scott Sigler, Jeri Smith-Ready

How do you encourage your readers to form a rabid online fanbase? Can a writer nurture fans to gather in groups so large they rival the might of Joss Whedon’s Browncoats?

The general takeaway from this session was that, if you were lucky enough to garner fans for your work, you needed to be “genuine” with them. Having a fanbase is like having a relationship with a bunch of people — you need to be sensitive to their needs, because they can always go somewhere else. At the same time, there’s a balance to be determined, because you can’t let fans dictate how you live your life either.

Scott Sigler and his partner, A B Kovacs, mentioned that they had many Sigler fans who had formed friendships on the forums of their web site. When they periodically revamped their web site, they tried to be sensitive about preserving the history and features of the forums, so as not to “pull the rug” out from under Scott’s fans.

Jeri Smith-Ready also mentioned that she communicates with her fans, and that her fans are thrilled to hear from her. Again, she tries to be respectful and considerate to her fans. Much of her fanbase has organized itself, though, without her input. The other panelists agreed, and augmented, most of these points as well.

To me, having fans seems like a good problem to have. Treating them respectfully and taking steps to encourage them seems not just like a good idea, but common courtesy.

9:30 – 11:30 PM Concert: Ditched by Kate

Next, I had a long dinner. I missed the start of the next round of sessions, so I watched a rock concert with the band, Ditched by Kate. They weren’t superstars, but they were a solidly entertaining 5-person rock act. I had a great time. It was an excellent way to cap off a day that, for me, began at 5:00 AM. Afterwards, I drove back to northern Virginia.

Overall, I was thoroughly pleased with my first day of Balticon 47. I’ve attended the convention in the past (I think this was my fourth time since 1983), and I’d like to commend the Baltimore Science Fiction Association for hosting yet another well-run event. It was definitely well worth my investment in time and money to attend the convention.

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Promotion 101 at Balticon

I had a great time attending Balticon 47 this past weekend. I was there to learn as much as possible about self-publishing. Now, one of the key challenges in self-publishing is discoverability. You’ll hear that keyword like a mantra whenever you talk to self-published writers. Basically, it boils down to this question: Given the multitude of stories available, and the many writers clamoring for attention, how can you stand out so potential readers will discover your work?

Many of the sessions I attended were focused on promotion. Which is why I was so shocked to see some glaringly bad promotion … on the part of some of the panelists from the sessions that I attended. Note that I’m not going to call out any panelists by name.

What’s my background in promotional activities? Well, I’ve been creating web sites since 1998, which led to me working off and on in the Internet startup world since 2000. In this world, promotion is everything, because your promotion has to make your business viable before your money runs out. I’ve done business promotion, leveraging Internet marketing techniques to build an audience. Additionally, I’ve been organizing and promoting events, such as conferences, since 2008. I don’t consider myself a marketing expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m not a layman either.

So, based on what I saw at Balticon, here are some promotion tips for writers:

  • Have a Bio and Picture Ready to Go: All panelists had the opportunity to have a picture and a short biography printed in the Balticon 47 Convention Program. It boggles my mind that, in this age where “discoverability” is so important, that anybody would neglect to provide both of these items. But some panelists didn’t, including a couple from the sessions that I attended. Never, never, never pass up any opportunity for advertising, especially 3rd-party advertising (having someone else promoting you is far more powerful than self-promotion). Bottom Line: Have a bio and picture prepared, and easily accessible. Any time a professional opportunity arises, provide them promptly to whoever the appropriate recipients might be.

  • Your Bio Needs a URL: If somebody asks you for a biography, make sure that it includes the URL for your web site (where you SELL your stuff, or link to somewhere that SELLS your stuff). If somebody is interested enough in you to look up your biography in the convention program, give ’em somewhere else to go where they can find out even more.

  • You Need a Web Site: I didn’t think I’d have to add this bullet point, but there was at least one panelist from the sessions that I attended who was promoting their work at Balticon, but didn’t have a web site (and couldn’t even be found on Amazon). Seriously, you need a web site. It’s not that hard.

  • Ask for the Sale: Your web site doesn’t need to do a “hard-sell,” But make it clear that your work can be purchased from your web site. If you have the technical capability, sell it direct in various formats (you get to keep even more of the money that way). Failing that, at least link to someplace like Amazon or Smashwords where a prospective reader can purchase your work.

  • Have an Elevator Pitch Ready: Somebody has just asked you about your latest book. You have 30 seconds to get them interested. You need two or three sentences that will engage their interest. You’re a writer — you can come up with two or there sentences, right? Here’s an example: “Well, it’s basically a bent fairy tale with delusions of grandeur, on steroids. Plus, you know, the prince doesn’t always deserve to get the girl, but you’ll have to read the story to find out why.” Don’t give them the plot, plant a hook.

Impressing your audience is one of the first steps in converting potential readers into buyers. These simple tips will enhance your image as a professional writer and position you to more effectively take advantage of opportunities when they arise. As the famous philosopher, Anonymous, once said: “Luck is when opportunity meets preparation.”

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