Business 101: Smashing Assumptions on Day One

This week, for five days or so, I’m pulling back the curtain and blogging about what you need to know from a business perspective as a new writer. I’m a little punchy, because I’ve been seeing so much b.s. not related to the nuts and bolts about the business of writing, so please forgive me if I come across as blunt and overly comma splice. These posts are not going to talk about administrative-related piecemeal crap or “theories.” This, quite frankly, is about a word I understand very well — survival. Not everybody can be a writer full-time or make a career out of it. That is totally fine. That’s why I’m blogging this week, because if you’re ready to make that decision, then these are the questions you need to ask yourself.

Today’s post is very important to understand where I’m coming from in my business philosophy. Every business has one, whether you see it or not. There is no one way to run a business and, for everything that you could be doing, there’s another example of someone who was successful doing the exact opposite. These are my opinions on the subject, and no doubt you have yours. Good. Own them, but put them into practice. Otherwise they are just theories, and thinking does you no good unless you actually go forth and do.

On to the assumption-smashing!

Agents are not satanic worshippers who sacrifice new writers at the gilded altar of publishing.

If you go the agent route, look at that person as somebody you want to enter a business relationship with. Don’t worship them. Don’t stalk them or be pushy. Don’t expect that they owe you anything, either. Listen to them. Respect them. Follow their guidelines and ask questions. At the same time, return e-mails as appropriate. You may decide not to seek out an agent and that’s okay! This is one of many business models. This does not mean you’re right and they’re bad, though. Different does NOT equal bad. Different is just different.

Publishers are not six-horned beasts with eight toes who drink your blood and suck you dry.

Publishers are business owners. Some are good at running a business; others are not. These business are large, medium, and small. To trust that the publisher will automatically do everything in your best interest is foolish. Let me be very, very clear about this: you can have faith, yes, but you cannot build a business based on your expectations about what other people should be doing for you. At the same time, being overly skeptical or nervous about basic business practices like contracts and the like will send up a red flag. When you get a book/story published, you are entering a business agreement. This is not your first born child you’re sacrificing here. This is about selling your work for money. Dinero. Soldi.

Anyone can be a writer.

I hate semantics, but I had to put this one in here. Yes, anyone can be a writer – as long as you write to get paid. Being a professional writer means that you are either providing a service, by freelancing, or you are selling your finished work to a publisher or publishing it yourself. There are multiple business models out there with a variety of levers to push and pull, but in the end: the goal is to earn money through your business either full-time or part-time.

Any model you choose or build should serve your core competency as a writer who wants “x.” That “x” could be a dollar sign or number of copies sold, but bottom line: “x” is career-related. If you’re in this for the long haul, then “x” changes. Maybe there’s a new “x”. Maybe you raise the bar or remove it completely. Either way, “x” isn’t about achieving the one goal and quitting. It’s about the milestones you achieve to build your career.

I don’t need to make money as a writer. I’m creating Art!

Okay, then. Well, you’re probably not the writer who needs to read posts about building a business. The process of creating Art is separate from selling it. If you only want to create it, that’s fine. Just don’t shit on any other writer who feels differently than you do.

Only writers who write “X” are real writers.

My answer to this statement is usually an eye roll. I’m very good at them. :-p

I can post whatever I want online and not experience any consequences.

Bullshit. Yes, it’s true: we’re all human. The more people get online, the more common certain behaviors might be, the more social pressures you’ll encounter, but silent judgments are always occurring. Never mind the legal implications of what you post online, bias is a fact of life and it’ll never go away. Posting about your long, laundry list of medical ailments, begging for money, revealing the intimate details of your sex life, always being negative and reactionary about rumors/politics/etc., attacking other writers, being so desperate for attention that you have to give us the sordid details about your personal sob story…

Folks, if I’m pissing you off, slow down for a second. People do read what you post and either stop reading or make an instant assessment about you. New writers without a proven track record are not treated or viewed the same as established writers. Do you really want to come across as someone who can’t get their shit together? If you’re applying for a day job, the answer would be: “No.” Then why the hell would you present yourself in a way that gives people a reason NOT to work with you or buy your work? If you tell people you’re broke, you come across as desperate. Then? The offers you get will be lowballed. After all, you’ll sign any deal on the dotted line. You’re broke. You’ve broadcasted that… And now you’ll continue to be so.

I wrote my first book and it’s a guaranteed best-seller. I write better than [insert famous author here] and you should be privileged to publish my masterpiece.

Let me be blunt, because if you’re reading this, you probably have dreams. So, allow me to crush them by saying one word: no.

To end today’s post, here’s a breakdown of this “No!” point-by-point.

    1) Bragging leads to buying your own bullshit. When you’ve got those blinders on, then you make really terrible decisions for yourself and your business. I’ve seen this happen all too often, sadly. Have some amount of pragmatism and find a way to remain grounded. This is not the same thing as letting success get to your head. This is full on “I’m a very successful writer” delusion territory, even though you aren’t making any money. That’s dangerous.

    2) Agents, editors, and publishers are inundated with people who make broad, sweeping claims – all of which can now be researched by a click on the internet. It’s just not possible to make shit up anymore. The rapid speed of communication and the way people are super-connected to one another, especially in this industry, means that if you talk smack you will get caught.

    3) Even if your story is that good? You still have to find a way to sell the book. If it really is that good, it’ll sell itself. Focus first on the story, not on the fact that YOU wrote the story. Marketing comes later.

    4) You will not sell every book and story you write. You cannot sell every word. At times, you will suck and you will need to revise. Own it. This is the unsexy part of being a writer.

    5) Your first book usually blows. I say “usually” because this obviously isn’t always the case. There are exceptions, but this is not the rule. Laugh. Rip it up. Delete it. (I did!) Write the next one.

    6) The only way to get better as a writer is to write, and that takes time. I’ll be talking about time this week as a stand-alone post. This one… Oh, you may not like that one in particular. But, it must be said.

    7) Success can be desired and dreamt about, but you will starve if you bank on what you haven’t sold. Pay your flipping rent and put food on your table. If you aren’t selling enough to pay rent and eat, then get a job. Your health and safety are important. You may be able to write anywhere and cheaply, without a ton of equipment, but take care of yourself. Sheesh!

    8) You cannot predict what will be popular and will go Cthulhu-crazy if you do. I’ve tried to analyze books after the fact, but that’s after the fact. BAD MONICA! See also: before I knew what the story was about, I thought 50 Shades of Gray was a book about graphic design… The moral here is: the market is unpredictable and publishers are always operating way ahead of you. The trick is to always have a polished story to sell — one that you’ve loved to write!

    9) Quality is subjective. I have unsold stories like every other writer out there. Sent a story to a publisher who has two editors. One loved it, the other hated. The “No” won out. This has happened to me twice. Besides quality, there are other factors that influence buying decisions. Good stories don’t always get published according to YOUR schedule. Sometimes, it takes a while.

    10) FFS, write like yourself. Writing like Stephen King or Nancy Collins or whomever means you’re writing like them. You’re not writing like you. Have some flipping pride in yourself and in your work. Readers will make that comparison – DON’T DO THIS TO YOURSELF. The only way you can write like you? WRITE. Just [1,000 F-bombs] write.


Boundaries and Reporting Problems at Cons

Celtic Wheel

Today, a serious matter. I am sharing a guest post from Chuck Wendig’s blog titled: “How To Report Sexual Harassment.”

The post uses a personal circumstance to offer a “how to” guide for what you should do if you have a problem at a convention. It’s a good article and I wanted to share it with you, because this is the appropriate action to take if you’ve been harassed. If you decide to properly report your situation, it should/will trigger an investigation, and much of the advice here will help bring about resolution.

Sexual harassment is a serious, legal matter, which is why I’m boosting the “how to” signal, because it’s not said often enough. You have the right to have your issues heard and addressed. This is how you do that. Then, time will tell. Legal matters, corporate processes, organizational investigations… These things don’t happen overnight. If you make a big deal out of a case prior to it being investigated, that could work against you. Seriously. E-mails? Are legal. So are Tweets and Facebook posts, people. That’s why there’s a process in place to follow up.

Thing is: if you feel what you’re saying might be inappropriate to that particular person, consider your audience. If you don’t, and you make a mistake, expect there will be consequences. Own up to them. No one has the right to just say whatever they want whenever they want to. Madness! Remember: there are lots and lots and lots of people out there who don’t like confrontation. An inquiry could happen because that person was offended and you didn’t even know it. It could also happen if you tell the person: “No, I am uncomfortable. Back off.” (Inquiries never happen if shy people don’t speak up, either. So don’t be afraid to protect yourself.)

So pros? Pay attention. This is the world we live in. If you’re not good dealing with people, and that is very, very common in the creative industries, take ownership of that. Learn. Get help. Consider it part of your job. Social skills CAN be improved, but if/when you’re in the spotlight, you should expect that people WILL criticize you moreso than somebody who isn’t. This is me saying I feel that: “When you’re in a position of power, that comes with a certain amount of social responsibility attached.” You don’t get a “get out of jail free pass” because of the position that you’re in.

Here’s how I deal with people: I don’t show “me me” unless I really know somebody. That means my friendship/acquaintance cycle is probably longer than most. It takes a long while for me to open up. If it seems like I do? I’m probably not. Onions have layers, yo. That’s my built-in mechanism to ensure that I am respecting people and that I will be in return. Why? Because I understand that people have key word here—-> boundaries and that I might come across as being abrasive. Different people have different boundaries. To get along with people, to not piss them off or be jerks or offend or whatever? Respect them like an adult. It’s as simple as that.

Does that mean I should automagically run away from people? That I’m inherently broken or wrong? NO. All I’m saying is that when you deal with social situations, err on the side of professionalism. That’s all. I’m not going to change who I am for anybody, but I am going to be respectful of new people (ergo: why I’m shy) when I meet them for the first time. Crack a bad joke to one person and they’ll laugh. Crack a bad joke to another and they’ll cry. It’s just that simple. Even within the realm of “bad behavior” there are different boundaries on what people find acceptable and what they don’t. That’s part of the reason why I try and stay out of internet kerfluffles. I am so disconnected from what happens at these places that reading blog posts on the internet doesn’t give me the full picture. I learned that working behind-the-scenes with so many people, so many companies. Rumors you hear about folks are really hit-or-miss. I could spend all my time just proving/disproving those, and I just don’t have that kind of time.

To me, when these things happen, and they do often and daily, if you consider it harassment then in my mind this is the ideal and most professional response: report it, trigger an investigation, and move towards resolution. This is how shit gets done and really, I applaud the action because it means that the “r” word I prefer, resolution, will happen for the individuals involved.

I posted this in a comment on a Facebook thread, but I do feel it bears repeating, so here goes:

“There are a lot of conventions without clear policies in place, which I’m sure is the underlying reason why people take to the internet to report what has happened. I get that. I understand the need to do it. And I’m not saying that it’s “right” or “wrong.” But, social pressures via the internet don’t always reach the right ears in order to have a situation addressed and investigated. The situation gets exacerbated when other people who weren’t present chime in and speculate. It’s impossible for HR to follow up then, which they would have to, because sexual harassment is actionable in a court of law. It can also lead to termination, and companies can get sued for wrongful cases. There needs to be a clear trail of events in order for appropriate actions to be taken that doesn’t boil down to a pile of updates on the internet. So, if it makes somebody feel that uncomfortable, then yes… Absolutely… Report it, but be smart about how you’re doing it.”

Remember this, though. I feel that if you are offended because something happened to you, regardless of what that was about, your feelings are personal and unique to you. If you are offended, then you are. No one can take moment away from you or rationalize that out of existence. I believe, with all my heart, that feelings are never wrong. We may make mistakes. We may read into things. We may misinterpret situations. But feelings? You have them. You have them in response to your thoughts, your experiences. They’re not bad, they are a part of you. If you truly feel offended or uncomfortable, if you firmly believe you’ve been sexually harassed, then get help. See things through to resolution. Just be prepared, that you may have to follow a specific set of steps or deal with the situation over a longer period of time.

There are a couple of things I need to say as a response to this: I know where the event took place, was at the con, recognize the person accused (and his wife) as an acquaintance, and I live in Madison. But, that’s the end of it. Does this mean I’ll never speak to this person again? No, but it does mean I’ll be more aware in the future.

I feel like I had to say that, because I am often disconnected from community-related events, and… in many ways… I’m very new to the science fiction and fantasy community. I really don’t feel like I’ve gotten to know enough people on the “me me” level, and that makes me a bit self-conscious given my outrageous personality. :-p (I am NOT new to conventions, by the way. Ten years on the pro side and counting.) Doesn’t matter what I have out. Publishing is about people and I know full well how I come across (e.g. bull in a china shop), so I’m very careful about when I’m “me me” and when I’m “pro me.” Recently, I’ve teetered into “me me” land, but I often err on the side of professionalism.

    Mood: What happened to this week, anyway?
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Switching off of soda suuuuccckkkkksssss.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: A lot of activity. So much, today I’m sore.
    In My Ears: GTalk blips and boops.
    Game Last Played: Final Fantasy XIII
    Book Last Read: Paranormal Great Lakes: an Encyclopedia
    Movie Last Viewed: The Mummy
    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)


My “You Pick” Reading at CONvergence

On Saturday, July 6th, I will have a reading at 7:00pm during CONvergence. Will there be tears of blood? Sadly, my reading has to err on the hygenic side, so the answer to that is “No.”

However, I can do one better. You get to pick what I read. Here are the stories I’ll have on hand:

We Are Dust apocalyptic anthology

“The Button” – a Lovecraftian apocalyptic tale that fans voted me to write. It’s about a scientist who must make a terrifying choice as the end slithers ever closer.

The New Hero

“Fangs and Formaldehyde” – a vampire noir tale set in Las Vegas starring Atlas, an iconic character who helps other vampires. Somebody is hunting down other bloodstalkers. Who? And, more importantly… Why?

Don't Read This Book an anthology for Don't Rest Your Head

“Don’t Ignore Your Dead” – a very sad and sordid tale about one woman who is unable to let go of her guilt and get a good night’s sleep

OR…

???MYSTERY TALE???

An original story, un-named, never before been published… For your ears only…

Bad Behavior and other Non Sequitors

There's a trojan on your computer

In a state of random today, so you get a conglomeration of thoughts in separate paragraphs rather than a cohesive sticky pile of goo.

Those of you who follow my blog know that I have a background in business. Everything I’ve ever done has been to go into business for myself as a creative professional, whether that’s in a part-time or full-time capacity. The last ten years I’ve specialized in the web and my love/hate affair with the internet can pretty much be summed up by two simple phrases: “no good comes out of forgetting your audience” and “timeliness is the attention span-killer that stalks your monitor.” Otherwise known, in very blunt terms as… People can read what you post online now and forever — even after you delete it. They don’t see trends. Most people see the effects of trends and don’t realize what they are.

There are super users online, sure, but the vast majority of people out there aren’t online as much as you might assume and they certainly don’t pay attention to what’s happening in the manner you think they are. Engaging in ‘net rage really doesn’t do anybody any bit of good, especially when that issue is resolved quickly. Passive readers exist and they are common. In fact, you just never know…

Which brings me to my next point. There are a LOT of websites that engage in what is known as “tricking for a click.” This is intentional, people. Why? Because the internet rewards bad behavior. Yes, it’s a good thing to tap into your tabloid sensibilities because it grabs your attention. A person’s name is known. A website gets more eyeballs on the page, which equates to advertising. While there are plenty of consultants out there who advocate that the best way forward is to attract the right readers, there are 100s of others who advise to get clicks any way you can because it results in advertising dollars. It *may* or *may not* result in sales, but it does indeed get eyeballs on the page at that particular moment in time. That is financially soluble and a requirement for many websites to function.

Annnnnnnnnnd on to another… Do small changes matter? I believe so. One of our neighbors turned her unit’s backyard into a garden paradise — and it’s catching! Several of us now have greenery around. And I have…

WAIT FOR IT

WAIT FOR IT

BEBEH JALAPENOS

Baby Jalapenos

Am now researching all the things I can do with spearmint (which tastes great!), peppermint, lemon verbena, and lavender. Huzzah! It’s quite possible I may keel my lavender with water and vitamins, though. More rain here.

Sadly, my caffeine addiction needs to exclude one regularly drunk drink in particular: soda. Though I drink diet, I just cannot inhale caffeine in this fashion. Has to be coffee or tea. This makes me sad.

That’s all I have for today. More books need to be read. More words to be written. More e-mails to be sent.

    Mood: Feeling a new appreciation for growy things.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Iced tea can kick in any time now.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: There was a visit to the gym.
    In My Ears: White Noise courtesy of my computer fan.
    Game Last Played: Final Fantasy XIII
    Book Last Read: Paranormal Great Lakes: an Encyclopedia
    Movie Last Viewed: The Mummy
    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)


Why I Don’t Play Lara Croft et al. (NSFW!)

gaming avatar

There’s this purview in business that says: “We’ll make the same old, same old because that what sells to our target audience.” So, naturally the reason why there’s this big upheaval in the creative arts is because new demographics who couldn’t buy comics/stories/games/etc. now have access to these things without ever leaving their home. They can read reviews, share information, try something new and they don’t have to walk into a store. (To be clear: I feel that where you shop is a personal choice. I proudly support our local book/game/comic stores when we can.)

Anyway, point made. So, when I say that I choose not to play Lara Croft and other female-lead games like Bloodrayne… It’s not because these games are not unknown or accessible to me. And it’s NOT because of this:

Bloodrayne

Or this:

Lara Croft

Or this, though… Oy. I’m surprised Ivy doesn’t fall over on a regular basis.

Soul Caliber 4 Ivy

Now, if Lara Croft, for example, looked like this…

Gender Bender Lara Croft

I might play, but it’s still not a guarantee. So the question is: why. Why wouldn’t I go out and support games with a female lead? Because these games were obviously not designed with me in mind. Tried playing Bloodrayne, but even in the demo portion there were… Well, I get to some of that later. You get this glorious butt shot, of course. But the mechanic to feed just put me over the edge. I want to play the game, I don’t want to play a game and look at butt cracks.

That’s the difference between me and other gamers, I suppose. There are two things I like in games. Good stories and kicking ass. I like to play Ivy from Soul Caliber on occasion because she has a chain sword. CHAIN SWORD! Lara Croft I like in theory, but I have no interest in looking up her bits just to swing from vine to vine. If I’m on a vine, I’m not thinking: “Oh baby, please admire me because my boob crack is so awesome and my abs are rippling.” I have other problems with Lara Croft. Which is sad, really, because kick ass female archaeologists a la Indiana Jones and Alan Quartermaine could be pretty effing cool.

This is why I tend to play games by certain companies. I know what I’m getting if I buy a Square Enix or a Bioware game. Is there weird sexuality/attractiveness in Final Fantasy? Dragon Age?

Well, there’s… I don’t even know what’s going on with Kuja.

Kuja

And there’s…

Rikku

Mind you, Final Fantasy X-2 was a bit too girly for me in some places. XIII is what I would consider my favorite in the franchise next to X, which has a much clearer story. Lightning is the lead, by the way — and that should not be overlooked given the popularity of the franchise. But if you want the guy to save the world and his “girl,” you can get that in Snow.

And in Dragon Age there’s Morrigan. Who, incidentally, was considered one of the twentiest “least” sexy video game characters on account of her biting sarcasm and general bitchiness. Oh boy, if that was an indicator of sexy I think the entire female gender is in trouble. ‘Cause newsflash: we ain’t just crabby during that time of the month. Holy hell… Since when did women have to be all sweet and nice and never say anything bitchy?

Morrigan Poster

This desire demon is not a player-character, but one of the monsters. Kind of a seven deadly sins thing going on there.

Desire Demon

Now, there’s a huge difference in playing style between Bloodrayne and Dragon Age. I feel party-based games in an RPG style (still can’t bring myself to call a video game an RPG…) offer more variety for different types of players. Is there romance in an RPG style game? Yes, sometimes. Possibility of being consummated? Yep, it can be. Gay smexx0rs? Yeah, Dragon Age made a lot of waves because it gave that optional storyline.

Am I a prude? No, there’s a difference between being shy and saying: “PUT AWAY ALL THE SMEXX0RS I NEVER WANT TO SEE THEM IN MY GAME ZOMG.” Shy, yes. Puritan? Not remotely. I recognize when a game is not designed for me by the following criteria.

Form: When every possible chance you get, you zoom in on the cracks of an exaggerated women’s figure… It’s a distraction to me. What does that have to do with me earning XP or being a terrifying min/maxer? NOTHING. It’s much worse for me if *only* the female figures are exaggerated, but the males are not. This is why I’ve played Mortal Kombat and Soul Caliber. Both are ridiculously out of proportion, but it’s a fighting game with multiple characters so what the hey. If I don’t like a character or get tired of Ivy’s massive chest interfering with the chain sword CHAIN SWORD I can choose another one.

Function: RPG, first person shooter, or not… If you require me to play this game and have romance/boobs/rippling chests tossed in my face, I’m not your target audience. I played an hour of Bloodrayne and I just couldn’t get past the humping. Mind you, if there was ever a persnickety vampire player, that’d be me. Vampires shouldn’t have to hump to feed. The physics of that are totally super awkward and unnecessary — they’re not frogs!

Story: Oh, this is a big one for me. For example, will I be playing Duke Nukem? Not a chance in hell. To me, that’s not charming, that’s a turn-off. Hey, only the sexy women are being stolen from Earth and I have to save them because I’m a maaaaaaaaaannnnnn. Whatever. OBVIOUSLY, though, that game is not designed for all players, only a portion of them.

So where do I find games to play?

I buy games from companies like Sony, Bioware, Nintendo, and Square Enix. I read reviews before I make a purchase, too. Sometimes, I even play games like Kingdom Hearts, Sonic, Super Mario Brothers, and the Legos series because I like the story and the playing style without the smexx0rs. A better variety of video games from companies that don’t assume, by default, that women only play crossword puzzles and word games. Am I asking for all women and men never to be hypersexualized ever? No. Am I demanding that all of these games be stopped? No, that will never happen. Sales will only die off when demand decreases, so for my part I don’t play those games and I don’t buy them, either. It’s silly to think that all games will be for all people.

So what do I want?

That more game companies start looking at the full package (no pun intended) for different game styles. Make a first person shooter that men and women can play. Broaden your audience. Find playtesters that are women! Discuss what makes a good game experience, not what makes a sexy character. You can build a game around a sexy character. You can have sexy characters in a game. You can’t just create sexy characters and slap on a story/game environment willy nilly and call that a game. Video games are an immersive experience. If you want sexy characters in a game, take a page from the RPG style games that have sold millions of copies — offer a variety of them. Customization. Give people the opportunity to make the game personal and they’ll have a better experience all around, which means more players.

Over the years, of course I’ve played games with smexx0rs and exaggerated characters in them. But I stopped playing because when games are built to exploit that character’s sexuality, that fantasy is so obvious to me it rips me out of the game experience. I have no other option but to like that character and that character alone. Men, women… Makes no difference. If there was a game that, every time you walked in a weird angle, the camera rested on the guy’s crotch, I wouldn’t play that, either. Does any of this mean I’m right and you’re wrong? No, this post is about my personal preferences based on my experiences.

The only thing is… I can’t think of a game that’s like that? Where it’s really about the male crotch shots and the big bits and the tight butt cracks. Can you?


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