Hunter: Mortal Remains Preview

Popping in today to give you a preview of my work for the upcoming supplement HUNTER: MORTAL REMAINS by Onyx Path Publishing. I wrote interstitial fiction for this and provided art notes to thematically tie all the chapters together.

What follows is one of my favorite pieces; it’s an interview between a Hunter named Carlos Gutierrez and a Changeling named Zanthus. For updates on the upcoming supplement, visit the publisher’s website or forums.

    Carlos: Do you mind if I record this?
    Zanthus: I encourage you to do so.
    Carlos: Then let’s begin. I wanted to —
    Zanthus: — I agreed to this interview on two conditions. Do you remember what those are?
    Carlos: I promised you a favor.
    Zanthus: And?
    Carlos: You would ask the questions.
    Zanthus: That is true. May I ask what you were doing in Central Park? Odd time of year to summon the fae, and you don’t exactly look like the sort of mortal who’d seek us out.
    Carlos: No, I’m not. I just wanted to ask you a few questions.
    Zanthus: I will gift you with an answer for any question you ask, provided you agree to perform a favor for each one in return.
    Carlos: What? No, that wasn’t… Fine. I’ll do it.
    Zanthus: Oh, you must be desperate. Go ahead. Ask your first one.
    Carlos: Did one of your kind murder my friend? Here’s what he looked like before he was killed, then after.
    Zanthus: No.
    Carlos: Do you know what did?
    Zanthus: Yes. You now owe me three favors.
    Carlos: Wait! Just two, right?
    Zanthus: That’s four. You clearly asked me if this conversation would be recorded.
    Carlos: Fine. Have you seen my friend, Mags? Here’s her picture.
    Zanthus: Yes.
    Carlos: Where?
    Zanthus: The Museum of Conjurers, Spiritualists, and Charlatans. That’s six favors, Mr. Gutierrez. Would you like to know how to wipe the slate clean?
    Carlos: Yeah, sure.
    Zanthus: Then ask me.
    Carlos: Unbelievable. Fine. How do I combine all six —
    Zanthus: — seven
    Carlos: — seven favors into one?
    Zanthus: If you survive your ordeal, I will make arrangements for you to replace me as guardian of this ring.
    Carlos: You don’t sound too confident.
    Zanthus: No, Mr. Gutierrez. I am not. Now, you will give me the recorder as proof of our contract. In return, I will send you a printed transcript of this conversation. Of course, upon your death our contract will be null and void. We may be magical creatures, Mr. Gutierrez, but we are not creators or destroyers of worlds.


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.


So What Goes Into A Firefly Game Anyway?

Firefly Avatar

Fans are excited and I’ve had non-stop questions about when the game is coming out. I mentioned this earlier, but I tend to err on the conservative side of announcing releases because, in my experiences, there IS such a thing as marketing/publicizing too early. This is also why we’ve been more transparent about what’s happening and when. Fan expectations are high and that means better (more) communication as this process continues. See also: talk is cheap and doesn’t get the words down or the game/album/story/novel/comic/etc. out the door!

Or, to put it a little more blunt: you really don’t want us to rush and put out a crappy game — do you?

Still, I realize there’s probably a ton of folks who have no idea what goes into game design and production. Hence, the reason for my post today. I thought I’d take a minute and show you what goes into this process. Mind you, these are very common components that relate to a lot of games and this one happens to be a little more complex because we have to get approval from our friends at Fox television studios. (This doesn’t include any of the other business-related elements like marketing, putting the game into distribution, convention planning, etc.) We’re not creating the game in a bubble, you see. They’re very much involved in what we’re doing.

Oh! Almost forgot! If any of my friends out there in RPG-land on the publishing side spot a missing piece or want to chime in to offer links or more visibility, feel free. Without further adieu…

  • Personnel – Who’s working on the game? What talents do they have? When will they be available?
  • Time And Resources – How much time do folks have to work on this? What’s the budget? How do different roles overlap/complement each other?
  • Scheduling – Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines. So far, we’ve coordinated them for almost a dozen people. Without them, nothing for this the game would ever come out in a reasonable timeframe.
  • Brainstorming – What is the definition of a Firefly Role-Playing Game? What do players do at the table? What’s the mechanic going to be? What characters will they play? What releases do we want to make?
  • Setting Bible – Where the heck is this game being played? What’s the timeframe? What can we/can’t we do?
  • Development/Management – A developer works with the writers and knows the system to shape the game according to the overall vision of what we’re trying to do. We have a developer on Echoes of War and, in many ways, multiple developmental roles for the Firefly RPG. That’s partly what a Brand Manager (e.g. me) does in addition to people wrangling, outlines, etc. This is a step-up from brainstorming, because once the vision is clear, it has to be honed and sharpened for multiple people.
  • Writing – There are layers to writing the Firefly RPG because of the voice we use. First, we need good content. Then, it needs to be spruced up. Content here comes in multiple pieces and it all needs to fit together seamlessly. Now, here’s the thing. Right now, the estimated word count of the Firefly RPG is likely going to be 150 to 200K words. The Echoes of War adventures we announced will likely be between 20 to 30K a piece. The corebook may change pending game development; right now all we have are estimates. This does not include revisions; for every draft, there will likely be changes to fit the larger context.
  • Designing – Game mechanics don’t just grow on trees. The rules are important and that’s where the design team comes in. Even with a base system, everything has to tie together and that’s why we have a systems team in place. Remember, we’re making a Firefly Role-Playing Game. While there will be worldbuilding for fans to draw from, everything we do is in the context of a game — even the episodes.
  • Playtesting – The best games have been playtested and played a number of times before they’re released. We’re doing the same thing, but with closed groups. Playtesters have to be managed for feedback and the larger the number of groups, the more time it takes to wrangle the communication.
  • Editing – Our editors are QC – Quality Control. If something isn’t written clearly, they’ll revise it. If a paragraph has typos, they’ll fix it. But, they need a reasonable amount of time to review existing text. Yes, even text that is perfectly acceptable needs to be edited. A good editor (and we have two) is crucial to production. You can see how important it is to ensure the writing is sharp — especially for a game like this!
  • Art/Layout – Art can take anywhere from a month to three months to receive, or longer depending. There are layers to that process, too, and I think folks sometimes forget that art doesn’t just pop out of nowhere. After the final text and art is done, the layout artist needs to put together the book for whatever formats (e.g. print versus digital) it’ll be available in. This does not count time spent for revisions. And I didn’t even mention the indexing!
  • Approvals – Whether you work for your own company or not, the game has to be approved before it gets released. In our case, we have internal approvals and our friends at Fox. So, even when the game is finished, it still has to go to Fox before we can release it. If there’s changes, then the release is delayed.

I’m pretty sure I forgot something in this list… Hopefully, even with what I have written here, you can see why games are a lot more complex and time-consuming to create than you might have thought. Back to it then!

    Mood: WRITE. REVISE. RINSE. REPEAT.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Too many!
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: There was a hill. And I beated it.
    In My Ears: The screaming cries of my thoughts.
    Game Last Played: Final Fantasy IX
    Movie Last Viewed: Ted
    Latest Artistic Project: *Still* need to take pictures…
    Latest Release: “The Button” We Are Dust anthology

My New Gig As Brand Manager, Writer for Firefly

Today, I am thrilled to announce that I am the Firefly brand manager for Margaret Weis Productions. I will also be writing for the line, too! Margaret Weis has been a joy to work with and I have a fantastic team filled with very, very talented people.

The Firefly license, which encompasses the hit Fox television series by Joss Whedon, will incorporate role-playing games and supplements so you can game in the ‘Verse.

More news to come!

The Minis Fantastic

Just wanted to let you know that my very *first* miniature game is now up on Kickstarter. I worked on the setting development for War Echoes and got to do a ton of world building for different scenarios in action, mystery, and conspiratorial themes.

One of the coolest things I’ve seen here are the miniatures. It’s a very strange (if not wonderful) feeling to see the signature character you wrote about in a physical form.

If you want to jump in on this one, the Kickstarter for War Echoes by Battle Bunker Games just launched last night.

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Monica Valentinelli > Work-For-Hire

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