Going to Capclave 2014!

Capclave 2014, Gaithersburg, MD

I’ll be going to Capclave again this year. It’s a small literary SF convention serving the Washington DC metropolitan region, probably around 450 – 500 people. We’re expecting attendance to be down from last year’s numbers, which were around 900 or so thanks to the “George Factor” — the Guest of Honor was George R. R. Martin, the author of the Game of Thrones series and the inspiration behind HBO’s hit TV series.

It’s October 10 – 12, so it’s only about a week away. As with last year’s event, it’s being hosted in Gaithersburg, MD. So, be there if you can. It’s money well spent, whether you’re a reader or a writer.

Speaking of writers, Capclave has also got an excellent Writer’s Track, which I’m proud to be part of this year. I’ll be conducting my workshop, “Public Speaking for Writers,” on Sunday, October 12th. This is a talk that is clearly on the business side of being a professional speaker, and which also leverages my extensive Toastmasters experience.

That same day, I’ll also be on a science panel with Guest of Honor Paolo Bacigalupi (I’ve learned how to say his name just so I can manage to not embarrass myself on the a panel — batch-i-ga-loopy), the award-winning writer of The Windup Girl. The panel is entitled “Writing About Climate Change.” Authors James Maxey and Max Gladstone will also be on the panel with me, along with D. Douglas Fratz, a writer and climate scientist (in his day job). It’s my first panel at an SF convention, so I’m really looking forward to it.

One more week, and then it’s off to Capclave!

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Quadruple Booked!

Quadruple Booked for Four EventsWell, this has never happened before. It appears that I’m sort of quadruple booked for events on the November 7 – 9 weekend. Specifically, I’m supposed to go to the following events in the Washington DC area:

Sigh. Still not sure what I’m going to do. Barring cloning or time travel, there’s just not enough Dave to go around.

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Presenting at Capclave 2014

Capclave 2014, Washington DC's regional SF conferenceOK, you can officially label me as surprised. I just unexpectedly landed a speaking gig at Capclave 2014, the regional SF/Fantasy convention for the Washington DC metropolitan area. Here’s how it happened…

I was attending a WSFA (Washington Science Fiction Association) meeting in early June. If you’re not familiar with WSFA, they’re the organization of volunteers that runs Capclave, as well as administering their annual Small Press Award for new writers, and publishing a few books each year by well-known writers. During the evening, I ended up talking to Cathy Green, the Head of Programming for the convention.

I asked Cathy what it took to qualify as a presenter at Capclave.

Now, I know from the conferences that I attend in my daytime IT career, as well as from the the technical conferences that I run, that you generally start planning your speaking engagements a year or so in advance. At least, you start planning for the ones that you intend to pursue; you don’t necessarily get picked for every conference or convention for which you apply (unless you’re a draw like Neil Gaiman or George R. R. Martin). So, I was really asking so that I could ensure that I’d be ready when I went to pursue a speaking opportunity for 2015.

Yes, that’s right. 2015.

However, Cathy knew some things about me already from previous, unrelated conversations. She knew that I attended two writing groups, that I had extensively researched all things related to indie publishing, and that I had experience running technical conferences in my daytime career (the one that pays the bills). She essentially took me more seriously than I had expected.

Without explicitly saying so, it became clear during our conversation that she was considering me for the 2014 Program. What probably helped was that I wasn’t the slightest bit pushy. I was inquiring about opportunities to present, I wasn’t aggressive, and I was perfectly fine if there wasn’t an opening. Trust me, just being “easy to work with” can go a long way sometimes.

I pitched a couple of ideas for her, including my “Pitfalls of Medieval Fiction Writing” presentation that I’ve been putting together. She didn’t bite on any of the ideas. Not that they were bad, but she had other panels that already covered similar topics.

During our conversation, I mentioned that I was in Toastmasters, which is a non-profit organization that helps people learn public speaking and leadership skills. I added that I had spoken at lots of technical conferences, which is something I’ve been doing since 2007. I figured that if she wasn’t interested in one of my panel ideas, maybe I could be a sort of backup speaker, capable of filling in on panels wherever she had an opening.

Then she asked, “How long have you been in Toastmasters?”

I said, “Four years. I’m closing in on my Distinguished Toastmaster accreditation.”

“Really? Could you give a workshop, say, maybe a 2-hour workshop, on public speaking for writers?”

Needless to say, I was surprised. But what I said was, “Yes. Of course I could do a workshop like that. It would be fun, too.”

So that’s how I landed speaking engagement at Capclave 2014. One of the things the convention organizers pride themselves on is having an excellent track for writers. It turns out that Cathy had a hole in the schedule for the writer’s track, and I had the legitimate skills and experience to craft a workshop that would fill the hole.

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So You Want to Quit Your Day Job?

For me as a writer, one of the most interesting panels at Ravencon was one entitled, “So You Want to Quit Your Day Job?” It featured four relatively new writers who were, in my opinion, extremely open and honest about their experiences.Since I took such copious notes on this session, I decided to devote an entire blog post to it.

Panelists Edmund Schubert, Joelle Presby (moderator), Tim Burke, and James S. Stratton

Panelists Edmund Schubert, Joelle Presby (moderator), Tim Burke, and James S. Stratton at Ravencon 2014.

Here’s what the Program Guide had to say about the session, which was held Saturday, April 26, from 11:00 AM to noon:

So You Want to Quit Your Day Job?
Edmund Schubert, Joelle Presby (moderator), Tim Burke, James S. Stratton

Panelists discuss what you need to consider as you shift careers from corporate employee to something else. Discussion topics include reassessing finances, finding alternative healthcare coverage, managing odd neighbor/acquaintance expectations, defining and defending work hours, refilling the creative well, and more.

Hard as it is, writers enjoy writing. Every writer wants more time to write. However, most writers start out writing on the side while supporting themselves with some sort of day job. Getting to the point where you can quit your day job is hard. Here’s what the panelists had to say about the writing life.

Have You Quit Your Day Job?

What does it take to quit your day job so you can write full-time? The consensus was that it takes money, either money you’ve saved, inherited, or are earning through your writing. How much? Well, that depends on your personal situation.

Joelle Presby, the moderator, had quit her day job six weeks ago, something she was able to do thanks to her husband’s support. Tim Burke quit his job a year ago to focus on writing full-time. He said that he’d hit that magic milestone of 50, and realized, “If I was going to make a stab at it, this was the time.” James Stratton still had his well-paying job as a lawyer for the government, but mentioned that he hoped to retire soon. Edmund Schubert had closed a business, exiting with some reasonable (but not excessive) money, had no debts, and a wife with a salary and benefits. Of this, he said, “I quit my day job because my wife didn’t.”

How Do Non-Writers Look at Writers?

All of the panelists had stories about funny reactions from non-writers. Tim Burke said that when he described a writer’s lifestyle to friends and neighbors, he often got reactions like, “You can do that?” Most people looked at him as a curiosity, an oddity. He added that he had to develop metaphors to speak with ordinary wage earners, because they had no idea how the writing profession worked.

Edmund mentioned that people treated writers like “strangers in a foreign land.” According to Joelle Presby, a common question she received was, “When is the movie coming out?” Again, this showed how little understanding of the writing life most people possessed.

How Have Recent Changes in Publishing Affected Writers?

The panelists also spoke generally about how much the publishing industry has been changing in recent years. Generally, they felt the changes offered more opportunities for writers, but stressed how chaotic and confusing the industry could be today.

Writers need to treat the profession as a business. Edmund mentioned that the rule of thumb for a new business is that it takes five to seven years to break even. He asked, “Why would you think it would be any different for writers?”

What About Healthcare?

Edmund stressed that healthcare was in a state of flux, but that there were healthcare options for writers. He cited the example of C. J. Henderson, a popular and well-regarded writer who was currently fighting a second bout with cancer, sans healthcare. All of the panelists agreed that healthcare was vital.

Do You Need Agents?

None of the panelists had an agent. Additionally, Joelle was picked by David Weber to work with him on the third book in his dimensional war series (taking over from Linda Evans) based on the recommendations of friends. She mentioned that Weber himself has never had an agent (for books anyway — he does have an agent for movie rights).

Several of the panelists noted that both Baen and Tor, the two most popular SF lines, take unagented submissions.

What About Marketing?

The general consensus was that, barring a lucky lightning strike like Fifty Shades of Gray, it takes a concerted effort over a period of time to build a brand.

Different writers market in different ways. John Scalzi blogs, and is known for it. Don’t blog unless you like to, because your readers will be able to tell. Joelle stated that the biggest thing was to get your stories read, to get a novel out there if you can (even a short one), and to start doing the convention circuit to get the word out.

Tim added that new writers needed to be willing to make sacrifices. He said, “It’s like having to build the airplane while it’s flying and people are shooting at it.” There was general agreement that you needed to plan your writing/marketing, execute that plan, and then be willing to make course corrections as needed.


Overall, a well-done session, with the panelists trying hard to address the topics in an informative and useful manner for the audience. As a new writer, I really appreciated how open everyone was. While they didn’t sugarcoat the amount of work necessary to jumpstart a writing career, they all agreed that the rewards of being a writer were worth it.

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Attending the 2014 WorldCon in London

The 2014 World Science Fiction Convention It’s official. I will be attending the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention in London this summer, which is shaping up to be the largest WorldCon ever outside of the United States. We’ve moved the family vacation to the summer so I can attend, and are in the process of arranging a dog sitter to stay with our dogs.

I’m really looking forward to it. The last WorldCons I’ve been able to attend were Chicago in 2012 and Denver in 2008.

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John Hemry at Capclave

John Hemry and David Keener Saturday night at Capclave 2013, I decided to avoid the preparations for George R. R. Martin’s mass signing — he just about doubled the size of the conference, and the line for his signing wrapped around the interior of the Hilton. I checked the schedule and noticed that there was a John G. Hemry reading, so I decided to attend that session.

I got there a few minutes early, and there was another man also waiting outside the room for the previous session to end. So I joked around with him for a few minutes before I finally looked down at his badge. I’d been speaking to John Hemry for more than five minutes without realizing it, which just shows how observant I am.

Stark's War by John G. HemryWe both laughed when I explained to him that I had just realized who I’d been speaking to. Then I added, “By the way, I saw you speak the first time you were ever a panelist. You’d signed a publishing contract, and your first novel, Stark’s War, was due to be released but wasn’t out yet. So they added you as a panelist for the Baltimore Worldcon in 1998.”

Hemry said, “I bet I was a lot thinner, back then.”

“Well, me too.”

In fact, it was the 56th Worldcon, which was held in 1998 in downtown Baltimore. I remembered picking up his first novel a few months after the convention. So, I’ve been reading Hemry’s books for the last 15 years.

His career has had a very interesting trajectory. Like a lot of midlist SF writers his sales over his first seven books (the three books in his Stark’s War trilogy and the four books in his JAG in Space series featuring military legal expert Paul Sinclair) either diminished over time, or didn’t grow fast enough to suit the publisher. So he began publishing his Lost Fleet series under the pen name of Jack Campbell.

Henry / Campbell BrandingThat six-book series proved to be extremely successful, and allowed Hemry to “graduate” to hardcover releases. Hemry is now publishing two new series set in that universe, The Lost Stars and The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier. Plus, all of his backlist books have been re-published with better cover art and re-branded with both his regular name and his pen name.

This is actually a pretty big deal. Most writers who are forced switch to a pen name are fortunate if they subsequently achieve success under that pen name. It’s even less common for such a writer to resurrect their entire backlist or re-brand themselves back under their original name. So kudos to John G. Hemry for this feat.

The Lost Fleet: Dauntless - by John G. Hemry Anyway, his reading was scheduled for thirty minutes, and about twelve people eventually showed up for his reading (which is a respectable number). Hemry opted to read a chapter from his latest hardcover, The Lost Worlds: Perilous Shield, featuring an incident in which a commanding officer had to remove another officer from their position.

What I like about Hemry’s work is that he leverages his own military experience to provide thoughtful military fiction that isn’t just about the glory to be won in battle. His stories show not just the battlefield, but also the behind-the-scenes problems of leadership, discipline, political maneuvering and strategy that all effect the outcome of conflicts. In short, if you like military fiction, you should check out his books — you won’t be disappointed.

I recommend starting with the Stark’s War or Lost Fleet series, both of which are shown on this page and conveniently link over to Amazon for you.

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Capclave 2013

Capclave 2013 I had a great time attending Capclave 2013, which was held this past weekend in Gaithersburg, MD (at apparently the world’s oldest Hilton Hotel). The image to the left is a dodo, Capclave’s “mascot,” which is usually accompanied by the tagline: “Where reading is not extinct.”

According to the WSFA (Washington Science Fiction Association – the group the runs the convention) folks that I talked to, the presence of George R.R. Martin at the con more than doubled the expected attendance from 400 people to about 850 people, including a lot of Saturday walk-ins. Nevertheless, it never felt crowded to me…unless you were one of the people waiting in line for a George R.R. Martin signing, where his line wrapped around the interior of the hotel.

One of the funnier moments of the convention occurred Saturday night when George R.R. Martin, the Guest of Honor, accepted his gift from the con for being a guest. He mentioned a real-world project that aims to resurrect extinct species using reconstituted DNA. He noted that the mastodon was first on the list, but that the dodo was in the top ten — this drew some laughter from the crowd. Then he said, “Screw the dodo, let’s bring back the dire wolf.” This got a huge wave of laughter from the crowd, since everyone knows that the dire wolf features prominently in his novel, “The Game of Thrones,” as well as subsequent volumes in the series (plus the TV series).

I was only able to attend the convention on Saturday and Sunday. Since the convention was (relatively) local for me, I ended up driving to it each day. So I spent a good amount of time commuting through pouring rain.

Anyway, I spent most of my time at the convention in workshops. I’ll have separate posts about the workshops, since I have some good notes that I think might prove useful for other writers.

The workshops were obviously a highlight for me. More than one person told me they viewed Capclave as a “writer’s con” more than a “fan con.” I attended the following workshops:

  • Allen Wold’s Writer’s Workshop (2 sessions, totaling 3 hours)
    — David Bartell, Andrew Fox, Allen Wold and Darcy Wold

  • Area 52 Military Science Fiction – Getting it Right (2 sessions, totaling 4 hours)
    — Ron Garner, Brian Shaw and Janine Spendlove (all active or former Marines)

  • Creating Your Ebook (1 session, 2 hours)
    — Neil Clarke, Hugo-winning editor of Clarkesworld magazine
    — (2013/11/06) Some of his CSS from the session is now up on his blog

Plus, I attended some conventional panels that were also useful to writers, including:

  • Online Writing Tools
    — Jaime Todd Rubin and Bud Sparhawk

  • Aircraft Carriers in Space!
    — Christopher Weuve

  • Self-Publishing and You / DIY Publishing
    — Jennifer Barnes, Andrew Fox, Jason Jack Miller, Betsy A. Riley and Steve H. Wilson

I also ended up having my picture taken with John G. Hemry, author of the Lost Fleet series, and Carolyn Ives Gilman, author of award-nominated novelettes like Arkfall (which I got her to sign) and last year’s The Ice Owl. I promised both of them that the picture would end up on my blog, and so they both will by the end of this week.

Overall, an excellent convention. I had a great time, got to work on my writing skills in a workshop, absorbed a ton of useful information for writers, bought some excellent books, and met some sterling people. Plus, the Philcon and Kansas City parties were very welcoming, and the Dark Quest Book Launch was a lot of fun, too.

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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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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 AllisonGamblin.com 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. Elance.com and fiver.com 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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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 justretweet.com, 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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