Perspectives Past and Present

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I’m diving into alternate history storytelling for a magical world I took four years to build. Some of this has roots in world history and the way society evolved (or didn’t) in certain contexts. I’m taking the approach that to truly represent the scope of the story, I cannot just write one type of character from a particular ethnic background. What happens in this series is epic, but the story itself begins small. To tell the story and build the world, I ask questions. I think. I need the mental space to do that, but this is where everything begins: when I wonder.

History fascinates me in a way I cannot describe properly. It’s partly due to the ghosts of the past and the nostalgia that comes from that, but also caused by the fact that human beings have dealt with less — and still survived. I suppose what interests me the most, is the ability to piece together a particular person’s story, and empathize with that individual. For example, slavery appalls me. But how did folks survive? What would I have done if I was in their situation? To me, this is what keeps the historical record alive, not just by learning what happened, but by trying to identify with the people on some level.

What saddens me, is that the human side of the equation often gets lost. New is better. Our ancestors were dumb, right? Only, that’s not true. How we view history depends upon who’s telling what happened. It’s not a zero sum game. Just because we have technology, it doesn’t automatically mean that human beings are more evolved and somehow better than we were in the past. Just because it costs more to take sick leave, for example, doesn’t mean that’s morally wrong, it just means that human beings get sick and have to take off of work. But on paper, it looks bad or seems impressive. Often, dissing the past is a technique folks use to sell the living something. Even nostalgia-based advertising is about what’s new, for collecting vinyl records is a new experience to those who didn’t grow up with them. Popular isn’t necessarily better, either. How long did people believe the Earth was flat? That Earth was the center of the universe? Do you know which Western mathematician proved the Earth was round? How many years did it take for that knowledge to take hold worldwide?

When we have something new like an advance in medicine or technology, we change internally and externally. For example, we can now track how our brains change with internet usage. But are we really better off? Are we superior to those who came before us because we have something shinier, better, newer? Because life is more convenient?

If, all of a sudden, an EMP blast went off and our technology was wiped out… Would we know what to do? Can you identify poisonous versus edible plants? Kill, clean, and cook your own food? Those who lived in the past could and where their knowledge was focused as part of their daily life, ours is now lacking. Flip that around, and a pioneer wouldn’t be able to drive a car, but we could teach them how with time and patience.

Take also into consideration what an archaeologist of the future might find from our culture. What traces will we leave behind? If all our art, for example, is digital… Will that survive? Or are we headed for another Dark Age because the physical record of our culture is moving more towards data?

Fiction allows me to explore the human aspects of historical events by asking questions; magic provides me with a sense of wonder and, I hope, my readers, too. Storytelling in an alternate historical timeline gives me the chance to explore the past. I am not seeking to be right. Instead, what I hope to find, is a connection.

    Mood: Thunder, Thunder, Thundercats!
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: I’m on my second count.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: A nice, albeit mistified, walk.
    In My Ears: Climbing Up “Iknimaya – The Path to Heaven” from Avatar (Don’t judge.)
    Game Last Played: Last Night On Earth
    Book Last Read: The Shadowmarch Series by Tad Williams (Re-Read)
    Movie Last Viewed: The Last Stand
    Latest Artistic Project: *Still* *still* *still* need to take pictures…
    Latest Release: “The Button” We Are Dust anthology and for gaming, a fun Scion: Extras (Supplemental Yet Can Be Somewhat Useful On Occasion Scions)

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Look at this Post about eBook Sales and Writing Advice. Now Return to Me.

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Tobias Buckell pens a brilliant post about Survivorship bias. Or, to put it in his words: Survivorship bias: why 90% of the advice about writing is bullshit right now.

Read that. Then return, for I have more to add. First, those graphs? True of every online retailer on the internet. The graph is shaped differently depending upon the number/type of products offered and sold; the bigger the retailer, the more closely their sales data will resemble the Smashwords graphs Tobias provided in his article, but a long tail is where the majority of products, in this case ebook titles, lie. When I talk about over-saturation of the market, this is what I mean. That tail keeps getting longer and longer and longer… What impact do you think that has on the reader? What they want to buy? Or why?

Secondly, I say this with love: the best people who will offer “how to sell” advice are those who have access to industry-wide (or multi-store) data. Not only will they be able to show trends and buyer behavior, they can avoid anecdotal information or outliers in favor of a strong foundation built on common experiences. This is a more conservative approach to running a business and one I adhere to. I think “long-term” as opposed to short term gain.

Sales and marketing have always gone hand in hand and both rely on a lot of data. Without verified data, you’re getting a skewed view, and both sales and marketing suffer greatly as a result. You cannot have a proper view of selling eBooks if you’re only looking at your own data and the success stories. You need the full picture to fill in the blanks to know what’s normal (in a statistical sense) and what’s not. This will help you set expectations and (hopefully) end the discussions about quality and sales. If your ebook isn’t selling, it doesn’t mean your story is crap. It could be, but knowing what to expect sales-wise is important. Heck, it could even mean the difference between self-publishing or not.

There is a market for providing writing advice books and, as the newest iteration in this trend, tomes about selling ebooks, novels, and the like. I am happy for those who have done well in this area, but on the consumer side, I have no qualms saying: buyer beware. Be smart about what you’re applying to your business model. Look to the person’s background. See what they’ve done in the past. Do they have ecommerce experience? Do they know how Google Analytics works? How many clients have they worked for? Who were those clients and how much did they increase sales?

And, more importantly — why? Why did sales go up? When did they go back down? Was it just that store’s algorithm? The format you offered? When you released it?

With good data, you’ll get the answers to these questions and more. To me, having that data is more valuable than any advice book, because it’s a depiction of what’s actually happening as opposed to selling you a promise of what could happen.

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WisCon Day 2: More Eating and Drinking

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Oh, this con was about the food, wasn’t it? Well, I totally slept in as a post-college graduate who no longer stays up until 2 a.m. would do. Hauled my lazy bum out of bed, got down to the show, and ran into Lynne Thomas and Kelly Lagor. The majority of the folks I’ve met through Apex Publications (or have known before who’ve worked with my friend Jason Sizemore) are amazing people, and I was not disappointed to make a new friend. Kelly and I had sushi (SURPRISE!) and drinks before I ambled (shambled?) back to the show.

I played a zombie game (as the zombie…) Last Night On Earth with a few new faces. I am pleased to say the zombies successfully ate the brains of the heroes, but not happy to mention my allergy medicine kicked in about halfway through and the fog ensued.

Then, I went up to the parties to mingle a bit before heading home. These old bones were creaking mightily, but I’m glad I forced myself to be social. Met Wesley Chu, ran into folks like Chesya Burke <--- WOULD SOMEONE BUY THIS WOMAN'S NOVEL, PLEASE?, Michael Damian Thomas, Jim Frenkel, and Brad Beaulieu.

After two hours of chit-chatter and rampant speculation about nothing in particular, I turned into a pumpkin. So, if I missed you, I’m sorry.

This was primarily a social convention for me and I recognize that folks are there to make contacts and do business. Sometimes I have a one-track mind that way. Either I have something I need to do or I don’t. I have a lot of friends who aren’t writers to keep me grounded, but I’m hoping to change that just because I feel effing awkward at these things wandering around like a damn ghost. :-p I do feel the parties and meet-and-greets are the best part of this convention because it makes the show smaller and more intimate. I’m glad I got to go just for that alone and I’ll see about panels next year. Really, my status quo is to make friends. That’s more comfortable for me than BUY MY BOOKS ZOMG YOU NEED TO PAY ATTENTION TO ME RIGHT NOW AND WHAT’S IN IT FOR MEEEEEEEE.

I’m not entirely sure what 2014 holds, but for now… I have books to write and read. Games to create and play. And a future to unfold.

Over and out.

    Mood: Wait… It’s lunchtime, already? When did that happen?
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: I had one. It was not enough.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Reached the step count!
    In My Ears: More birds. There’s this sun thing, too. Eesh.
    Game Last Played: Last Night On Earth
    Book Last Read: The Shadowmarch Series by Tad Williams (Re-Read)
    Movie Last Viewed: Mission Impossible
    Latest Artistic Project: *Still* *still* *still* need to take pictures…
    Latest Release: “The Button” We Are Dust anthology and for gaming, a fun Scion: Extras (Supplemental Yet Can Be Somewhat Useful On Occasion Scions)

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WisCon Day 1: The Drinking, Eating Edition

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Worked on Firefly for most of yesterday, so didn’t get down to WisCon until later. As I mentioned before, this is primarily a meet-and-greet weekend for me and the chance to catch up with old friends. I’ve got some panels I want to go to, but I won’t be diving into loads of details here. It’s been a long time since I’ve had the chance to go to a con and simply enjoy myself. No speaking on panels. No moderation. No meetings. Nada. Strange feeling!

To all those who complimented me on my “fantastic hat” thank you. Grabbed dinner and drinks with my friend Alex Bledsoe and author Melissa Olson. We talked shop some and I found out Alex is going on his first book tour. A mighty congratulations to him! Mostly though, it was shop and I feel bad about that because I went straight from work to try and unwind. And failed miserably though I had some odd concoction with Jameson in it.

But, that happens. I have the coolest day job in the world, working and writing for a Firefly game published by Margaret Weis Productions, in a continuation of cool jobs like being Marketing Director for Steve Jackson Games. I have nothing to complain about other than the fact that I wish the dust bunnies in my house would magically disappear and there’d be more hours in the day to create.

To some, probably, it seems I’m behind on fiction since I’ve been talking about Violet War and obsessing about the world for some time. But, like I told you earlier, I’m a turtle. I had to start working on this, for myself and my readers, when it made sense for me to do so. Now that I can worry less about income coming in the door, I can devote a portion of my passion (and it is abundant) to The Queen of Crows universe… Among other stories…

Anyhoo, the subject of writing advice came up and I said: There’s only one piece of writing advice I have. Stop reading it and write. This, my friends, is courtesy of the Talk Is Cheap administration. Which is why, circling back to the point above, I’ve stopped talking about what’s in development until it’s done. Day job aside, because there’s a business plan/licensing in place there, though I have a business plan for Violet War that’ll survive even if my situation changes, I’d rather not talk about what you can’t read. ๐Ÿ™‚

Getting to hang out was fun and I got to see friends and local writers LaShawn Wanak, Bill Bodden, and Patrick Tomlinson. Bill, Patrick, and Alex read from their stories for the Sidekicks anthology. There was laughter. There were tears. There were sidekicks.

I also lost my badge, but it was found later. In true, Monica fashion. In my pocket…

Then it was back to BarConTM where Matt McElroy and I had drinks with Christopher Shy, too. The waitstaff was absolutely the best I have ever encountered and though I tried like hell to say: “No, you don’t have to wait on me hand and foot, I’m not a diva,” they weren’t listening. Mentioning Chris here, because really, anyone who’s announced a Guest of Honor for San Diego Comic Con deserves a mighty congrats. ๐Ÿ™‚

I’m running late today and missed the interstitial meet-and-greet I wanted to attend, but bringing along Rory’s Story Cubes for (hopefully) some impromptu storytelling fun tonight. After this weekend, it’s back to the slave mines of Kessel for me.

Or, in other words, I have wandered far from the path of first, second, and third drafts into revisions and proofreading land. The words are starting to blur together… Well, not really, ’cause I’ll be damned if any product of mine goes out half-ass.

Anyway, off to shower and be social. Shocking, I know! But, I’m going to get all full up on crowds and crowds of people now… So I can chill out before CONvergence and the mighty to-do list I’ll have waiting for me on Tuesday. ๐Ÿ™‚

I don’t know what I’d do without one. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Mood: Give me coffee or give me death.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: There was a lot to offset other adult-based beverages.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Moderate number of steps.
    In My Ears: Birds chirping. I wish they’d shut the hell up.
    Game Last Played: Final Fantasy IX
    Book Last Read: The Shadowmarch Series by Tad Williams (Re-Read)
    Movie Last Viewed: Mission Impossible
    Latest Artistic Project: *Still* *still* *still* need to take pictures…
    Latest Release: “The Button” We Are Dust anthology and for gaming, a fun Scion: Extras (Supplemental Yet Can Be Somewhat Useful On Occasion Scions)

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Comics and Opportunity

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This conversation started on my Facebook page, but I’m continuing it here so you understand my perspective on the subject. I read comics and prefer graphic novels to the stand-alone issues. There is something very visual about a graphic novel and I love the art form. I’ve got my first comic coming out in the Unfashioned Creatures anthology this Summer from Red Stylo Media and I’ve got *at least* two graphic novels I need to script.

Now, I frequent a comic book store. I walk in and it’s depressing — because the majority of the comics in the store are written by men. You have to really dig to find one written by a woman and this discourages me because my gut reaction is this: it’ll be that much harder to get on the shelf. A handful of female writers for mainstream publishers doesn’t qualify as saying “Oh, yeah… There are women in comics.” Women are under-represented in the print art form. No, this isn’t true across the board, so what I’ve found valuable is to follow up on a publisher’s catalog — like Archaia or Dark Horse, for example — to see what I’m interested in and get to know the creators.

The question came up about whether or not there was opportunity in comics for women writers.

This is where the disconnect comes in, right? If you go to a comics book convention, you will see lots and lots of women there: fans, small presses, artists, etc. Webcomics offers ways for many women to get into comics because it allows them to participate in the form without going through a traditional publisher like Marvel or DC or any of the other mid-tier folks. But here’s the thing: webcomics may be booming, but it’s a separate form than a stand-alone comic or graphic novel, and as such — it’s a different business model.

I can “distribute” webcomics online if I had a) a reliable artist b) a way to pay said person c) costs associated with hosting and d) time to dedicate one-to-three times weekly to grow and audience and promote it there. Or, to put it in a fiction context, this is very much like self-or-small publishing to get readers to get the “book deal” and generate demand. This is more time-consuming and less financially viable for me to do than to focus on original storytelling. Twenty years ago? When I was first starting out as a writer? Sure, but not now, in part because I’d have to draw folks to read a free webcomic. But what are they buying to help me off-set costs? Monetizing a webcomic takes time. If I self-to-small publish stories, novellas, and novels, I can get polished work up for sale.

The way comics is set up, though, I have less chance of bridging from webcomics to traditional comic publishing and get in *stores* than I would with self-to-small publishing fiction. Part of this is how comics distribution has changed, but it’s also how small-to-medium size comic book presses are featured in stores. I’m ignoring the larger comic book publishers for the moment, because there is a serious lack of opportunity for new writers — both male and female. Comic book writers are a dime a dozen and, to be truthful, this form cannot exist fully without an artist, colorist, and letterer. Writing is the “easy” part.

Now, I “could” write a best-selling novel and get the opportunity to write a graphic novel based on that. Plenty of female writers in that sphere. Novels are on my writing plate, but two things: a) can’t predict success and b) I’m not writing novels just to break into comics. I’m writing novels because I want to write novels as part of my overall plan.

Ergo…

What am I left with? Contests and open calls for existing properties, self-publishing, or pitching. Most likely, I’d take the latter option, write the full script, then pitch to a publisher. Or, have an agent do that for me. The question is: who will I be pitching to? And what? Well, if it’s my original work, I would typically need to find/hire an artist to do the pitch, have the novel totally completed/polished, and find a publisher with comic book store distribution (e.g. through Diamond) that accepts pitches. I would do that knowing the artist may leave in favor of other projects, too, but pitches are usually done with a creative team in place.

Of course, I “could” pitch without writing the full script, but that would be unprofessional. It’s in everybody’s best interests if the script is done and polished with the knowledge that the publisher may request changes to fit their needs. However, I have no control over the art, so even if I have my script done and find an artist to join me on a creative team, AND get accepted — if the artist leaves halfway through the project or doesn’t finish? I have to start over or cancel the project, which affects my reputation.

I could get everything done art-wise and written out of the gate for the pitch, but then I’m back to hiring artists to do work-for-hire on a project that is on “spec.” I could ask an artist to work for free, but if you’ve ever been involved with comics, you should know that they are a LOT of work. For many reasons, I cannot do that and won’t do that — especially if I want good art.

Contests and open calls are *very* rare and competition is fierce. Most companies with comic book distribution don’t accept pitches, either, though there are exceptions (Dark Horse being one of them) and this changes frequently. But, the ability to accept pitches based on the script *alone* is the exception rather than the rule. Being in the position that I am, Marvel and DC aren’t going to reach out to me unless I have a proven ability to write and publish comics in a more mainstream fashion. Even if they’ve done that in the past with new writers, again… This is the exception rather than the rule.

Is this doom and gloom? For male and female comic book writers? No, it’s not. Both exist and both are abundant. Just because you don’t see equal amounts of male and female comic book writers sitting on the shelf at your local comic book store don’t think there aren’t any women who love the form. There are loads and loads of fans, too, and the internet has helped change that. It’s given more people access to comics because they’re not required to go into a store. Something I hope publishers will continue to keep in mind: there isn’t one comic book customer, anymore. That’s why these kinds of talks exist, because there’s an audience out there begging to be heard, and if folks aren’t listening, they’ll speak out anyway. (See The Hawkeye Initiative as an example.)

The only thing any of this means, is that though the road to a graphic novel in comic book stores may be narrow, I know what direction *I* need to take and will seek a way forward.

I’m not giving up, I’m just doing what I do with fiction: pay attention and when I’m ready to submit and pitch I do. I have a vision and everybody who knows me understands how passionate I am about my work, but I have no intention of waiting around for 40 years for that right moment or going broke because I banked everything on one piece of my overall dream. I have to be smart about what I’m doing, because though writing is my calling, it’s also my career.

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