Writing Tips: Anthology Roles

Creating a quality anthology is a complex project, especially an indie-published anthology. Through painful experience, I’ve learned that it is most effectively accomplished by a dedicated team. I thought it would be useful to others if I defined the roles that I think are necessary for the production of a successful indie-published anthology.

It’s worth noting that, in addition to these roles, other people may provide services for a project, such as a cover artist, a photographer for author biography photos, an illustrator, etc. In practice, I’ve also found that participants may swap some tasks around a bit. Still, the roles are generally as I’ve outlined.

Project Manager: Manages the anthology as a project, starting with the creation of a project plan that defines the activities necessary to create the anthology and a realistic timeline for those activities. Ensures that all necessary roles are filled on the project. Responsible for ensuring that content contracts are signed and rights are properly secured, by contract or by usage agreement, for other elements such as graphics, photos, illustrations and the cover. Often referred to as the “Chief Cat Herder.” Sometimes functions as the “Bad Cop.”

  • Contracts
  • Timeline
  • Project Management

Editor: Responsible for the content of the anthology, including story selection and editorial input on stories. Also writes the “Call for Stories,” which publicizes the anthology theme, payment plan and submission guidelines. Writes the “Introduction” for the anthology. Responsible for nagging contributors to get their stories or edits “done by the due date or they’ll face the wrath of the Project Manager.” Sometimes referred to as the “Good Cop.”

  • Call for Stories
  • Provides an “Introduction” for the anthology
  • Provides Editorial Input on all stories

Copy Editor: Does an exhaustive scan of the anthology content for typos, text problems, grammar mistakes and other issues that would detract from the content. Also responsible for copyediting related content, including back cover text, blurbs, advertisements and author biographies. Often referred to as “Donna Royston.”

  • Edits content for typos and grammatical issues

Book Designer, Print: Professional-caliber books are designed, especially indie-published books that need to stand out from competitors. The book designer lays out the copyedited content in a pleasing and effective design, which can be painstaking work.

  • Designs the print edition, including layout, fonts, graphic elements, illustrations, photos, etc.
  • Orders proofs from Amazon as needed to verify print quality.

Book Designer, Ebook: The ebook designer lays out the copyedited content in a pleasing and effective design, emulating the print design as much as is feasible due to the limitations of the Kindle’s mobi format.

  • Designs the Kindle ebook edition.
  • Tests the design in HTML, in the Kindle Previewer, the Kindle Reader and any
    Kindle devices that are accessible to the designer.

Marketing: Creates any necessary marketing materials for the anthology, including the back cover blurb, the Amazon blurb, etc. Sets the pricing strategy for the anthology, including pricing for the various editions as well as any pricing for marketing campaigns.

  • Back Cover Blurb
  • Amazon Blurb
  • Pricing, for all editions including ebook, print and audio (if any)
  • Marketing Activities
  • Initial Wholesale Order

Author: There is no anthology without content. Authors provide the content, as well as edits to that content and approval/rejection of copyedit changes. Authors are expected to deliver their stories in a timely manner and respond to editorial input and copyedit changes in a timely manner.

  • Provides a Story
  • Provides an Author Biography
  • Provides an Author Photo (or allows one to be taken)
  • Signs a contract for any content provided
  • Responds to Editorial Changes
  • Responds to Copyedit Changes
  • Assists in promotional activities for the anthology when published
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State of the Publishing Industry in 2016

Author Earnings is a (free) web site run by best-selling writer Hugh Howey and the anonymous data analyst known only as Data Guy. For the last few years, they have spidered Amazon’s online bestseller lists, as well as other sites, on a quarterly basis. Basically, using some pretty advanced data collection and analysis techniques, they’ve assembled the best look at what is really going on in terms of sales of books in the United States.

Last week, Data Guy was invited to do a keynote presentation at the Digital Book World conference, which is now online for everybody to view. I have taken some time to digest his presentation, which includes some startling findings. Especially in light of the fact that the October 2016 Earnings Report showed a slight, but unexplained, downturn in ebook sales.

The best graphic from the presentation was this one, which illustrates what Amazon did to traditional publishers in 2016:

Slide 13: Amazon Eats Traditional Publishers and Retailers

For easier discussion, I’ve divided my takeaways into distinct categories…

Market Size

The traditional publishers have virtually no understanding of the size of the book market in US. And the data vendors they depend on are only slightly better. Data Guy’s collection/analysis techniques are not rocket science, but the principles they’re using are alien to organizations like Bookscan, Nielsen and others that the traditional publishers relay on to make business decisions.

  • Even 15% of traditional publisher sales are not being recorded at the point of sale.
  • For traditional publishers, 49% of their sales are digital, but their pricing strategies are designed to preserve the profitability of their print products. Despite the fact that they make more money per sale off ebooks. So they’re using a more profitable format to bolster up the sales of a less profitable format.
  • Overall, Adult Fiction is 42% non-traditional. And 70% of Adult Fiction sold is digital. For the record, digital formats aren’t sold in brick & mortar stores, so this means that 70% of the action is online. As an author, do you even have to be in bookstores to be successful? Especially if you’re a debut author or a mid-list author?
  • In 2016, 14% of all ebook sales were Kindle Unlimited (KU) full-read equivalents. KU is Amazon’s subscription service for online books. Nobody else has tracked this area of the market except Data Guy.

Print is Back

  • In 2016, US print sales grew 3.3%. BUT all channels declined except for Amazon. So “Print is Back” really translates into “Amazon is eating the lunch of Traditional Publishers and Brick & Mortar Retailers.”
  • Ebook sales are not shrinking. They only stopped growing for traditional publishers because of stupid pricing ($14.99 for an ebook!) and Amazon print discounts.In actuality, Amazon’s ebook sales grew 4% in 2016. Traditional publishers are losing market share to indie published writers and Amazon imprints./li>
  • Print sales ticked up in 2016 because of Amazon. Unable to discount ebook prices thanks to publisher-enforced contract terms, Amazon discounted ebooks so they were often lower than the (ridiculously high) ebook prices set by traditional publishers. This caused publishers to sell more print books…instead of more profitable ebooks, which in turn affected their overall earnings.
  • 43% of all print sales occur online, with the majority going to Amazon.

Should Authors Go Traditional or Indie?

  • Print-book customers are migrating away from venues where indie authors cannot compete effectively toward venues where indies can compete effectively, with less risk, with digital upsells, better pricing and outlearn traditional authors on every sale.
  • Overall, Adult Fiction is 42% non-traditional. And 70% of Adult Fiction sold is digital. For the record, digital formats aren’t sold in brick & mortar stores, so this means that 70% of the action is online. As an author, do you even have to be in bookstores to be successful? Especially if you’re a debut author or a mid list author?

Where Did the Coloring Books Go?

Coloring Books emerged as a major new profit area for traditional publishers. Then it disappeared almost overnight. Where did it go? Data Guy has the answer…

Well, it went indie. It seems that indie authors and artists can produce coloring books faster, cheaper and more effectively than traditional publishers.

Conclusion

If you’re a debut author, it’s probably better to start indie, build an audience and go hybrid if a publisher provides a sufficiently lucrative contract (this includes potentially being picked up by an Amazon imprint).

If you’re an indie author, the market has gotten both better and tougher at the same time. The bad news is that, in order to be competitive, indie products must be comparable…or better…than products from traditional publishers. The good news is that most sales are happening online, and in digital formats, so authors with traditional publisher support getting into bookstores are increasingly on a level playing field with indie authors.

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Writing Tips: Your Amazon Author Page

With both the Uncommon Threads and Reliquary anthologies now out and available on Amazon, and “Worlds Enough: Fantastic Defenders” in progress, I recently set up my Author Page on Amazon. It’s really easier, and one of the best things you can do to help promote yourself as a writer.

Go to the following Author Central URL:

     https://authorcentral.amazon.com

You can login using your regular Amazon.com login. The site will allow you to upload an author photo, provide a brief biography and claim any books that you already have published on Amazon. For example, Martin Wilson and I have already both claimed the aforementioned anthologies.

This also means that when your name is listed as an author next to a book image, your name will have a rollover that shows your bio picture and links to your Author Page. Likewise, you’ll be listed as an author, with bio image, further down on Amazon’s product page. Martin, as the first to claim authorship of Reliquary, is currently the only author listed in this area. I’ll be there shortly (I’ve “claimed” the book, but it takes time for Amazon to regenerate the product page with new information).

There are several reasons I think your Author Page is important. First, having an Author Page makes you look more professional. Second, it facilitates some cross-promotion to your other books and stories. Third, Amazon’s “Follow” feature is layered on top of this, which allows people who like your work to “follow” you and receive notifications when you have new stuff coming out.

So, it’s a good thing for general PR, and it’s trivial to set up. Go make it happen.

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Writing Tips: The Blog Ratio

As soon as you announce that you’re serious about this “writing thing,” people tell you that you need a blog. As if magically having a blog will bring you a massive influx of readers like rain from the heavens.

The reality is a little different. Your blog is part of your brand. It’s where people go when they’ve heard of you and want to know a little bit more. It’s part of how you engage with your readers, including people who are just thinking about becoming readers of your work.

You want to give the right impression but…what are you supposed to blog about? Should you put up cat pictures?

In her book, The Business of Writing: Practical Insights for Independent, Hybrid and Traditionally Published Authors, Kim Iverson Headlee provided me with what I thought was a pretty reasonable answer.

Her formula for author blogs is:

  • One Third In Support of Others
  • One Third About Your Non-Writing Interests
  • One Third About Your Stories

So, one third in support of others includes book reviews, interviews with other authors, writing tips, convention summaries and other things that help out your audience.

One third about your non-writing interests includes information about your personal life, cat pictures (if that’s your interest), movie reviews, inspirational pictures, etc. Things that you find interesting but which aren’t specifically about your writing.

One third about your stories. This includes books for sale, your upcoming projects, online freebies, offers for your mailing list, etc.

I like this blog ratio because it makes your blog more of a conversation with your readers and not just a strident, always-on sales channel.

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Rocco Fitch, on Fighting Evil

The Forever HouseRocco Fitch is the hero of my story “Road Trip,” which is being published in an anthology called Reliquary in January 2017. It’s the first novelette in my Roadwerks Limited series. In this story teaser, Rocco is being interviewed in a mysterious tavern outside of time and space known as the…Forever House.


The Svendeep Interviews:
Rocco Fitch, on Fighting Evil

Rocco Fitch stood at a mahogany bar, his right foot resting on a brass foot rail, and listened to the hubbub of numerous conversations behind him. He had not the slightest idea how he’d gotten here.

Gazing around, he took in the rustic atmosphere of the place. A log fire burned merrily in a stone fireplace, casting its flickering light on a dark-skinned balding man sitting in an armchair and flipping through the pages of a book. He was dressed like a Roman soldier. Two baroque, seven-armed chandeliers, complete with flickering candles, provided light for the four long wooden tables in the center of the room, currently occupied by a motley assortment of customers. Bookcases lined the walls, with an occasional gap for sconces that provided illumination for the armchairs scattered around the periphery. Oddly, there were no windows anywhere.

A thin, lanky man in a gray robe came down a stairway, ambled across the room and leaned on the bar next to him. “You’re Rockford Jeremiah Fitch III, aren’t you?” He looked like he was in his late twenties, but Rocco thought his eyes looked older. His hair was pulled back into a queue that emphasized his high cheekbones. He looked like a medieval monk or maybe a philosopher.

“My friends call me Rocco. What is this place, anyway?”

There were huge ceiling beams of some dark wood and the floor was made of three-foot-wide wooden planks. It must be an old building, because he didn’t think it was possible to find beams like that anymore. And the planks didn’t look like something that was going to be on sale at Home Depot either.

“It’s a tavern, Rocco.”

“I can see that, thank you very much.” Rocco fixed his patented military-grade glare on the man. “How’d I get here?”

“I don’t know,” the man said. “People get here all kinds of ways.”

Continue reading »

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Mad Scientist Contest?

Mad Scientist ContestI am going to take a run at this contest: The US Army Training and Doctrine Mad Scientist Science Fiction Writing Contest. The contest started on November 15 and runs until February 15, 2017.

They’re looking for near future military SF that highlights innovative uses of military forces in the 2030 – 2050 timeframe. They’re particularly interested in not just military technologies and tactics, but also how these aspects of war fighting are impacted by ongoing trends such as global warming, etc.

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A Series of Pilots

Tell Your StorySome people have asked me why I’m writing novelettes and novellas and not novels. My response: I am. Sort of.

So, I will explain in the following five points…

1. I like the Format

I like novelettes and novellas. Some of my favorite stories are too short to be considered novels, and thus fall into this category. For example, Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild” is a novella. And let us not forget Robert Silverberg, an award-winning SF writer who has excelled at these lengths with stories like “Sailing to Byzantium” and many others.

The Hugo Awards define a novelette as a story of greater than 7500 and less than 17,500 words; and a novella as greater than 17,500 and less than 40,000 words. Since most non-writers don’t think in terms of word count, a novelette is roughly 30-70 pages, while a novella is roughly 71-160 pages. Back in the sixties and seventies, lots of books were published that would now count as novellas. Then came the the rise of “The Big Book,” which led to the bestseller-driven approach followed by today’s traditional publishers, and the smaller books just disappeared.

2. Viability

Ebooks and print-on-demand services have made novelettes and novellas viable again. For busy people, like me and many others, it’s easier to carve out the time to read a shorter-length works than some massive tome. There are other advantages to these shorter-length works, as well. The stories tend to be the length they need to be, so there’s no padding and no extraneous subplots. They’re long enough for complex story lines, but not so long that readers get bogged down.

3. Multi-Tasking

I have so many ideas for stories in my head, ideas that have been bottled up for so long that they’re all clamoring to get out. If I worked on a mammoth project like a novel, I’d have to concentrate for an extended period of time on just the novel. Since my day job is all about multi-tasking, it just feels more normal for me to round-robin across my various projects.

By multi-tasking, I mean that I tend to work on up to eight projects at the same time. There’s a cost, of course, because each project takes longer in terms of calendar time. But, then again, there’s always new work coming out of my “story pipeline.” And my writing groups have gotten used to me bringing chapters from different stories to be critiqued in successive weeks.

Um, note that I don’t recommend this approach for most people, but it works for me.

4. Marketing

My pipeline of shorter works fits into the marketing approach I’ve chosen for indie publishing. Assuming a quality product as a baseline, then to some extent the amount of money that a writer can make is predicated on the number of products that they have. New products (and sales) tend to boost the sales of older, related products. This is the approach used by well-known indie writers Kristine Kathryn Rusch and her husband, Dean Wesley Smith.

5. The Pilot Approach

In my stories I’ve tried to emulate some of the television shows that I like. Shows where a season is really a novel, composed of individual episodes. One of the most famous indie-published books, Wool by Hugh Howey, was originally published in five parts.

In some sense, you can look at most of my novelettes and novellas as pilot episodes for different TV series. Right now, the series are:

  • Belters: In the 24th century, Jonas Kastle is a troubleshooter for the Outer Planets League (OPL) in the run-up to what may become the first interplanetary war.
     
  • Big Sky Country: Brant Halvar is a skyracer on the dangerous skyracing circuit. He and his crew overcome adversity as he advances through the ranks in his effort to be accepted into the elite Big Sky League.
     
  • Pageeda and Scuffee: Pageeda, a young homeless girl living in a gritty port city, struggles to find out what happened to her older sister. She is befriended by Scuffee, a strangely intelligent, oversized cat who has escaped from the local Arena.
     
  • Roadwerks Limited: Rocco Fitch, a wounded veteran of the war in Afghanistan, inadvertently buys a magic road…and gets far more than he bargained for.
     
  • The Royal Bodyguard: Lydio Malik is the Royal Bodyguard for Princess Analisa, the heir to the throne of Salasia. He and a team of others defend her from powerful forces trying to topple the ruling dynasty.
     

Three of these series, Big Sky country, Pageeda and Scuffee, and The Royal Bodyguard are all part of a larger canvas known as The Thousand Kingdoms.

Now, each of these series has a story arc for the “first season,” an arc that I expect to be able to fit into a reasonably-sized book, much the same way that Wool slotted together nicely as novel. Generally, what I’ve envisioned is a five-part arc for each season. And, thus, in way, what I have is a whole bunch of pilots.

So, I’m actually working on a bunch of novels at the same time. Part-time (since I still have a day job). And it all stays fresh for me, because I’m working on multiple projects at a time.

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Writing Tips: Tech Levels

The concept of Tech Levels is a useful one for both science fiction and fantasy stories. Let’s put it this way: Is it feasible for a caveman to have a rifle? No, because the creation of that rifle requires other technologies that a caveman doesn’t have.

Any technology exists within an ecosystem of other technologies that are necessary to support it. Thus technologies can be thought of as existing in levels. Here’s an example model of Tech Levels:

  • Hunter/Gatherer: flint weapons, bow/arrows, animal domestication.
  • Bronze Age: agriculture, swords, shields, infantry, cavalry, rowed ships.
  • Iron Age: metal weapons, horse shoes, stirrup, sailing.
  • Steam Age: steam engines, trains, early guns, fireworks.
  • Industrial Age: factories, tall buildings, cars, planes, radio, radar.
  • Early Space Age: space ships, satellites, nuclear power, jets, computers.
  • Cyber Age: internet, automation, first AIs, cloning.

One can continue extrapolating in order to build a plausible background for stories. So, here are eight principles to help you in crafting Tech Levels for your stories.

Eight Basic Principles

  1. “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
    – First coined by Arthur C. Clarke
  2. “Tech Levels” are a useful model for understanding species advancement.
    – The technologies grouped within a tech level can be somewhat arbitrary.
    – Useful models exist in roleplaying games such as Traveller and GURPS Space.
  3. It is possible for a technology to be inexplicably pushed into a later tech level, but the inverse is considerably less likely.
    – The stirrup was invented considerably later than it could have been.
  4. The pace of technological advancement has been increasing steadily over the course of human history.
    – Despite setbacks like the Black Plague, which wiped out 60% of the population of Europe.
    – The Black Plague actually sped up technological advancement by creating a need for less
       labor-intensive farming techniques.
  5. 90% of the technologies in a tech level can be extrapolated from the tech level below it.
    – From John Barnes
  6. 10% of the technologies in a tech level are either unimagined previously or based on newly discovered principles.
  7. A technology has a lifespan, i.e. – it starts out in an experimental form, advances incrementally over time, becomes mature and then is eventually supplanted by a different technology.
    – The horse was the most effective form of human transport from a few thousand years B.C.
       until about 1900 A.D. when it was supplanted by automobiles.
    – A supplanted technology may still hang around later for hobbyists, e.g. – horse riders,
       sailors, balloonists, etc.
  8. The primary problem of SF stories is to slow down technological advancement so that the technologies in stories remain familiar and comprehensible to a 21st century audience.

Common Problems

  1. An obviously mature technology is used in a story, where no experimental or earlier versions of the technology were ever possible in the timeline.
    Dollhouse: Personality implantation with skills and memories
  2. A technology is inserted into a story without accounting for its ramifications.
    Star Trek: The transporter and its capability for matter duplication.
  3. The story is set in the future, but key technologies are inexplicably archaic or the overall tech level just isn’t as high as it should be.
    Starship Troopers (the movie): In the future but using WWII-era military weapons.
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Writing Tips: The Logline

Welcome to the inaugural installment of my Writing Tips series of blog posts. No, I’m not a New York Times best-selling writer, but I’m not shy enough for that to stop me. I’ve been working on my craft for years, and I’m finally producing stories that I’m reasonably happy with (although you never, never, never stop learning).

I’ve also been in a couple writing groups since 2014, which is more than than enough time to see a bunch of writers just simply fail. I’ve read submissions in which it was clear the author had no idea what their plot was, no conception of character goals and, often, no clue where or when to even start their story.

A lot of the issues that I’ve seen boil down to the author not knowing what their story is. If you don’t know what your story is, you have no way to reliably decide what scenes should be in it and what scenes don’t make sense. You have no basis for evaluating a scene. You may not even know where to start the story.

I recommend creating a logline, which is a sentence or phrase that summarizes your story. It’s useful, regardless of whether your preferred writing mode is pantser or planner. In fact, I think of it as the Exacto-Knife of the writing world, an awesome tool for cutting away the extraneous bits that don’t really fit into your story.

For example, my fantasy novella, “Bitter Days,” is about a ten-year-old homeless girl living on the mean streets of a gritty fantasy port city with her older sister. When her sister is kidnapped by men working for one of the most secretive and dangerous organizations in existence, she’ll do anything to get her sister back…or avenge her if that’s not possible.

My logline is: “She needed a hero, so she became one.”

That tells me a lot about my story. I already know that my heroine lives in poverty, has no education, owns no real weapons, has no training as a fighter and, finally, is a young girl in man’s world. My logline tells me that she’s got to figure out how to overcome these weaknesses herself. She doesn’t have to do all the work alone, but she’s got to be the one calling the shots.

Try it. Create a one-sentence description of the story you’re currently working on. Or the one you set aside because it was giving you too many problems. If you can create a realistic log line for your story, you may well discover that it allows you to focus your story in a way that that you couldn’t achieve before.

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Micro Fiction Workshop at Capclave 2016

I attended the Micro Fiction Workshop at Capclave 2016 on a whim. Here’s the description from the program:

Micro Fiction Workshop
Coordinator: Dustin Blottenberger, Deidre Dykes (M), Brigitte Winter
Micro Fiction, a subset of flash fiction, are stories of 300 words or less. Learn how these word count restrictions force writers to boil stories down to their most powerful core elements. You will create micro fiction pieces through a series of exercises, learn about exciting markets for tiny stories and discuss how micro fiction can be a useful tool for deepening your writing skills.
Limited to 15 people.

Now, flash fiction isn’t something you can make a living at. And micro fiction, well, ditto. But what the heck? I figured at least it would be two hours of writing practice that would exercise literary muscles that I didn’t always use.

I was pleased to discover that Dustin, Deidre and Brigitte had put together an excellent workshop with well-organized content and useful exercises. Even better, the final exercise was to write a 101-word Halloween story (that’s 100 words plus a 1-word title). I ended up with what I thought was a rather nifty Halloween story with a killer last line…and a market to send it to. Next Saturday (10/15/2016) is the deadline for the Halloween “issue” of 101Fiction.com.

I’ll be submitting my story as soon as I complete some minor polishing.

Meanwhile, here’s the selfie that Dustin took at the end of the workshop:

Micro Fiction Workshop at Capclave 2016     Photo Credit: Dustin Blottenberger

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