A Major Defection

Eight Million Ways To Die
Burglars Can't Be Choosers
Hit Man

Famous mystery/crime writer Lawrence Block has decided to go the indie publishing route, a major defection from the traditional publishing world. His new indie-publishing endeavor is described in this article from Kirkus Reviews. He cites his reasons for indie publishing as control of the publishing process and timeliness of publication for his readers.

For those who aren’t familiar with his work, I can’t recommend him highly enough. I have, like, a bazillion* of his books.

      * I checked the database; I own 39 of Lawrence Block’s books.


My friend, author Cheryl Baker, asked me why this “defection” is so important, i.e. – why is it worth blogging about?

Here are my reasons:

  • Lawrence Block is a very good mystery/crime author. He’s the author of notable series like the Matthew Scudder detective series, the Bernie Rhodenbarr series about a professional thief, a series about a hit man named Keller, etc.

  • Not only is he a good writer, but he’s won tons of awards and had a bunch of best sellers.

  • Lawrence Block is now self-publishing because:
          – He has more control over the product.
          – He makes more money self-publishing.
          – He can get his books to readers faster than traditional publishers.

It’s a big deal when best-selling writers start defecting from publishers. It’s one thing when a brand new writer like me looks at traditional publishing with disgust and elects to go the indie route. It’s another matter entirely when an established, best-selling writer who could easily have his book published by a Big Five publisher says, “No thanks, I’d rather do it myself.” It’s an indication that self-publishing is becoming increasingly viable as a business model.

It’s also personally relevant because: 1) my friend, Pam Wilson, has self-published a motivational book, Say Yes to the Universe, 2) I’m planning on self-publishing my own fiction in 2014, and 3) Cheryl herself should be looking at self-publishing as one of her options. Since I’m planning on self-publishing, it’s really nice to see some third-party evidence that I’m not charging down a foolish path.

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2013 in Review

2013 in ReviewIn August of 2012, I met Hugh Howey, the author of the best-selling Wool and its sequels, at Worldcon 70 in Chicago. I was fortunate enough to have dinner with him and some of his fans at a nearby Irish pub (which Hugh even paid for). He talked about indie publishing and how it was a viable platform for authors. What he said about this whole new realm of indie publishing really resonated with me. He wasn’t some ravening fanatic about the issue. He was, instead, exceedingly logical about the advantages, and the disadvantages, of this new and powerful outlet for writers.

I’d always wanted to be a science fiction and fantasy writer, but every time I’d looked at what was required to achieve my dream, I’d gotten discouraged. There were too many gatekeepers. The system was clearly rigged so that it favored the publishers. So I’d buried my creative urges in other pursuits like creating elaborate roleplaying games for my friends.

Hugh Howey made me want to dust off the dream again.

After the convention, I began researching this new publishing paradigm that people were referring to as “indie publishing,” or sometimes “self-publishing,” or even “artisinal publishing.” I found that some really great people were sharing information about their experiences, including Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Dean Wesley Smith, J. A. Konrath, and others.

Based on my research, I concluded that indie publishing was viable. For the first time, the gatekeepers and the rigged game of traditional publishing could be bypassed. Writers had options that they’d never had before.

Now, please bear in mind that my research showed me only that success could be achieved through indie publishing, not that it was assured. Those people who were successful with this new paradigm of selling content directly to readers, well, they were working their butts off. But here’s the kicker — the things that they were doing in order to be successful (in addition to actually writing) were things that I was ideally suited for because of my extensive background in web technologies, graphics and social media.

By the end of 2012, I had decided to make a serious run at becoming a professional writer. Starting in early 2013, I began actively pursuing my dream.

This is 2013 in review. How did I do?

Accomplishments

Let’s talk about expectations for a moment.

I’ve worked for several Internet startups. I know that success isn’t something that just magically occurs. Lightning didn’t strike in 2013, nor did I expect it to. Here’s what I did accomplish in 2013:

  1. Writing: I started writing fiction. It’s been a major adjustment, of course. Years of writing technical documents, proposals, business content, and blog entries are great for exercising your content generation and editorial skills, but not so great for honing talents specific to fiction. Like plotting, pacing, characterization, etc. Surprisingly, my training in writing entertaining speeches for Toastmasters helped me leap this gap faster than I expected — a good speech is, at some level, a story that resonates with an audience.

  2. Rhythm: Tolstoy wrote the classic (and lengthy) novel, War and Peace, by writing during the only free time he had — thirty minutes before breakfast every day. The only way to write a significant amount of content is to establish a rhythm that allows you to write at least a little bit almost every day. It took me a while to ramp up, but I managed to get into a solid writing rhythm. The downside at the half-year mark was that my output consisted largely of blog entries and not stories, so a mid-year course correction was required to ensure that fiction was better represented.

  3. Tools: Online fiction needs graphics, from book covers to advertisements. During the year, I ramped up my proficiency level with Gimp, a freeware graphics manipulation tool, and secured a PC where I could install and use my aging edition of Adobe Photoshop.

    I also bought Scrivener, a word-processing tool targeted for authors. I love this tool, especially since it parallels the tools that I’ve always used to produce software. As a web developer, I use an IDE (Integrated Development Environment). An IDE is a tool that displays information about your source code in different ways in separate on-screen panels, and provides you with all sorts of features to manipulate your code. Scrivener is basically an IDE for writers. I started using Scrivener in November, and it’s been awesome.

  4. Networking: I started networking within the SF field, first at conventions like Balticon and Capclave, and then at the meetings of the Washington Science Fiction Association (WSFA). I need to know people like editors, artists, other writers, etc. Plus, it’s fun meeting people who are passionate about the same things that I am.

  5. Mastermind Group: I formed the Rising Tide Mastermind Group with some ambitious friends from Toastmasters. The purpose of the group is to pool our talents and experience to help all of the group’s members achieve success in their endeavors, which range from being a science fiction writer to becoming a motivational speaker.

Overall, I was happy with my accomplishments for 2013. If I were a professional sports team, this would be considered to be a “building” year, with greater things expected in 2014.

Measurable Results

I tracked my writing output, expenses, and writing income all year. Expenses included web site hosting, conventions, books, domain name renewals, a new printer, and training (in the form of Toastmasters and workshops). Toastmasters might seem like an oddity for a writer, since it’s a non-profit organization dedicated to improving public speaking and leadership skills. But professional writers speak on panels, moderate panels, participate in interviews, make pitches to publishers, do keynote speeches, and do readings in front of an audience. That’s all public speaking, and something that I’m admirably prepared for, thanks to Toastmasters.

My writing-related expenses for the year were $1,520. My income was $102, and was generated through advertising on my web sites. Monetarily, a net loss of $1,418 for the year, which was not unexpected.

I produced 70 blog entries, 18 speeches, 5 videos, 3 short stories, and 3 presentations.

My writing output was 44,630 words, but only 12,583 words (28%) were stories. The rest was blogging. On top of this, I’ve tried to account for the effort that went into speeches and presentations in terms of words (but not the videos, which were derivatives of already existing content). I estimated each speech at 1000 words, and each presentation at 1000 words per every 15 slides. So, the speeches add another 18,000 words and the presentations add another 6000 words. This brings my total output for the year up to 68,630 words.

I really started writing at the beginning of April 2012. My mid-year course correction (to focus more on stories and less on blogging) took place at the end of September. In the last 3 months of the year (and despite the holiday season), I produced almost as much straight content as in the previous six months. This basically means that after September I doubled my core output rate and brought story output into parity with blogging content for that period. The casualty in all of this was that I produced fewer speeches and presentations near the end of the year.

Conclusions

2013 was a “building” year. It accomplished what I hoped it would — getting me into a solid writing rhythm at a (hopefully) professional level. I worked on some of the road-blocks that were hindering my writing, and figured out ways to bypass them. Now, I’ve got three finished stories, one of which has already been submitted for potential publication, and the remaining two will be on the way soon.

Say what you will, but I’m gonna call it a pretty good first year. But 2014 is going to be even better…

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21st Century Writer

The publishing industry has been going through a dramatic revolution over the last six years. In my presentation, “21st Century Writer,” I cover the evolution of the publishing industry using an easy-to-understand metaphor, and detail the advantages that writers have in the current market.

It truly is a great time to be a writer. Find out why by viewing the presentation below:

Let me know what you think of my presentation. I’d love to hear your views on the changes in the publishing industry.

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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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