Back from WisCon, Tuesday Blah

Spent the weekend at WisCon and hung out with a number of people and talked on panels. Much of my time was spent talking to new authors and readers, but I did get the chance to hang out with Matt Forbeck, Monte Cook and a few local authors. The show takes on a professional tone; it’s well-organized and gives participants the chance to honor authors like the guest of honor, Nisi Shawl. Finally got the chance to listen to Cat Valente speak (the woman is electricity in a jar!) and ran into Kelley McCullough, who read from the debut book in his new series due out in November, and Brad Beaulieu, who’s celebrating his new book. More to come on that.

Many of the conversations I had involved some element of concern for the state of the publishing industry. There is a lot of uncertainty, but one of the common pieces of advice I continue to hear is to focus on having a volume of published works (regardless of whether or not you’re self-publishing) to ensure a better chance of success.

This advice is no different than what I’ve heard five years ago or even ten. Technology may have changed, but the mantra focus on the work is a solid one. Worrying about the state of the state doesn’t get a short story submitted or sign the next contract. Jobs may come and go — jobs not related to what I want to do — but I remain. I’m an author and an artist, and no matter what I’m doing, that’ll always be there.

And I’m okay with that.

If you’re visiting my site today, you may have noticed I changed the way the categories show up on the home page. I did that, because I’ve been getting back into blogging instead of penning stuffy articles here. I’ve got several places where I’ll be writing on a monthly basis that I’ll be sharing with you, but this’ll be shifting away from the center-left parts of me toward the light. I mean right. Er. Whatever.

Since the con was pretty intense, I needed to decompress. *coughs* Beer! Well, and shooting stormtroopers in the head. Combine and mix vigorously! W00t!

‘Course, margaritas are better. Good margaritas, that is. I loves me some tequila.

Yeah, that was pretty anticlimactic, but decompression is necessary and blargh. I don’t mind conversations taking on a more serious tone, or even going to those types of conventions, but post-con suxx0rs.

The fix? Engage sushi therapy, fifteen minutes of sunlight, obligatory hugs/torments from sleepy cats and, of course, my next story.

Day 21 of 100: What I Miss about Social Media

The other day I ran into a friend at a coffee shop and, in an effort to schedule lunch, she had mentioned to catch her on Facebook. I mentioned to her my experiment, and we worked around it, but the interesting thing was that this led to a discussion about what social media meant to her.

Paper Chain in the Dark by hoefi at sxc.huBoth of us are authors and both of us are tired of people who use social media to heavily promote themselves. She uses Facebook primarily for the community-related aspects. Facebook has allowed her to connect with similar-minded authors. Since she’s of the same mind I am (e.g. meet people rather than opportunities) she gets a lot out of Facebook because the people there motivate and support her.

When I got offline initially, I talked about how I was inundated with noise and updates. What I’ve missed, though, is the community-related aspects. It’s strange, though, because I don’t really feel I have been using the tools to interact with a community. I used to. Back in the day I was on message boards, forums, LiveJournal, etc. But now? I’ve been using them to interact with individuals I already know, within the gaming and publishing communities, and meet new people. Is that the same thing? Not sure. Add a new element–readers or personal friends–on top of that, and the community gets a bit stranger, doesn’t it? Now there’s multiple communities as opposed to just one.

I don’t miss the noise, but I miss the people. Not sure if that makes any sense to you or not. To me, it’s telling me that some people get online to foster a community around themselves or their own work. I’m not that kind of an author and right now, that doesn’t make any sense. I’d rather take my cue from my readers as opposed to acting like author deity. (Although, I would make a rather smashing literary goddess. Wouldn’t you say? Hah, hah!) When I do get back online, I’m wondering if I should take a look at new opportunities to connect with a community as opposed to looking for new ways to share my thoughts or simply promote.

Liz Danforth and Neoncon

Last year I virtually met Liz Danforth through Facebook and we had exchanged a couple of e-mails. We ended up being not-so-secret santas, primarily because we both thought it’d be something fun and geeky to do. I had given Liz what all women normally want (A chocolate care package… Hah!) and she had been kind enough to provide me with a few prints of her artwork which now adorn my walls.

Liz’s artwork is a study in line art perfection. No, I’m really not just saying that, because it really and truly is. I knew Liz was a professional illustrator, but I was not aware of the breadth and depth of her abilities. She’s brilliant and I’m happy that she’s decided to step back into freelancing.

Well, a year passed by and Liz and I had chatted online a bit about how she wanted to get back into illustrations. (You can imagine I was cheering her on.) Then, we happened to meet up at Neoncon in Las Vegas and we were able to chat about her new beginnings.

Neoncon is a convention held in Las Vegas that has, at its core, a vision that isn’t just about gaming. It’s also to connect creative professionals with others to help them in their quest to develop their careers and find new opportunities. This year, I hosted a few panels to share my knowledge and see how people might respond to my style of speaking. I was happy to finally meet Liz for the first time; we had a great conversation and she seemed really excited about new possibilities.

Well, a few weeks ago Liz had posted Gearing up in the Next Expansion at LizDanforth.com. Earlier, I had asked her to provide some insight about my talk, because that feedback helps me grow.

I’ve met plenty of razor-sharp women and men over the years, many of them willing to share their knowledge. Monica is particularly good at what she does, in my opinion, pragmatic without being dogmatic. –SOURCE: Gearing up in the Next Expansion at LizDanforth.com

As you can imagine, I was pleasantly surprised. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to adhere to a simple philosophy: There are six billion people on the planet. Everyone has a different way of doing things. That way is not my way. Instead, I want to listen to their stories. Sometimes it’s challenging to balance the listening part with the advising part, but that’s an area that I’m growing in. It was nice to hear that I’m achieving that goal.

I’m hoping to make it out to Neoncon next year, too, though I’m not sure what I’ll be doing. Such is the life of a creative professional, but one that is a lot of fun. After all, I probably wouldn’t have been able to meet Liz otherwise.

My Role with Apex Book Company

Hi everyone,

As you know, I’ve been looking for new professional opportunities. After posting about my pursuit, I had a good discussion with Jason Sizemore who runs Apex Book Company who decided to help me out while I continue to look for a full-time job.

For a few hours a month, I’m going to be consulting and directing their marketing efforts to help coalesce their initiatives into a big picture strategy I’m designing. Apex has a really smart and dedicated team of people in place that the previous Marketing Director, a lady by the name of M.G. Ellington, helped put together. My efforts will be behind-the-scenes.

I’m really excited about helping Apex for a few reasons. Months ago I turned to a few recruiters who suggested that since this is an employer’s market, in order to get a good job, I really need to keep my online marketing and writing skills fresh. I’ve been able to do that with my writing, because like so many writers, that’s something I’ve always done, even when I was working. Now, I’m able to elevate my visibility for online marketing and pad my resume a bit.

Another reason why I’m happy to provide a few hours of marketing support for Apex, is because this is my chance to apply six years of online marketing knowledge to the publishing industry. Apex produces quality books, anthologies and a magazine. Jason has made it clear that I wouldn’t be given any special treatment. So, if I want to publish a story through Apex, I better write a good one.

Believe me, I am doing everything I can to step up my writing and my career to new heights. I’m excited, because ever since I posted my news about how things have been going, so many people like Jason have reached out to me cheering me on. I don’t know what 2011 is going to bring, but I’m ready to find out.

If you’re job-hunting like I am, I really hope you consider reaching out to uncover potential opportunities–regardless of whether it’s a volunteer position or a few hours a month. I know I am.

– M

Tips on How to Be a Pro | Part 3 of 3

Thanks for your feedback on this series about “How to be a Pro.” Even though I could go on forever about the importance of being a professional, I’d like to wrap up this topic by offering more tips from other pros and ten more nuggets to consider.

First, here are the links to the first and second part:

To finish with a bang, let’s here from some other pros first. This first tip is from Cam Banks, author and managing editor at Margaret Weiss Productions.

Don’t edit your book while you write. It will only take a hundred times longer to finish.–Cam Banks, Author of the Dragonlance novel, The Sellsword.

Many of you are either working on your next novel or are trying to work on/sell your first one. I’m pleased to offer you a few tips from Gary, the co-founder of Bubblecow. Bubblecow is a business that specializes in helping writers to get their book into print by offering editorial feedback, one-on-one mentoring, and publishing advice. Gary was kind enough to offer these tips on how to get published:

cow_lickingThree Tips For Getting Published from BubbleCow

    1. Don’t be rubbish – Books get rejected from publishers for many reasons but by far the most common is that the writing is not of a publishable quality. It is true that all publishers are prepared to work with a writer to improve their book but this can only go so far. A book must arrive at the publishers being good enough to go into print as it is, if they feel a book needs too much work it will simply be rejected. It is the responsibility of a writer to deliver a manuscript for proposal that it the best it can possibly be. Writers often get just one shot and you don’t want to be rejected simply because you have spelling mistakes on the first page.
    2. Spend time on your submission package – A submission package is typically a query letter, synopsis and fifty page, double spaced, extract. I have come across many amazing writers that simply go weak at the knees at the idea of writing a query and synopsis. In many cases writers have spent years preparing their novel and then want to knock off a submission in a few hours. It is essential that a writer invests as much time and effort as is needed to write a fantastic proposal. There are loads of great resources on the internet (e.g. How To Write A Book Proposal on BubbleCow) and I suggest a writer reads as many as possible before putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard). The trick is to see the submission package as a sales document. The publisher will view your book as a product, so you must also. It is essential that you convince a publisher why your book will be the perfect match for them, who will buy your book and why they will part with their hard earned cash.
    3. Be appropriate – Publishing, like any other business, is all about making money and publishers all have their own particular niches. It is the job of a writer to find the most appropriate publisher (or agent) for their book. A writer can save a lot of wasted submissions and depressing rejection letters by making sure they are getting their book in front of the correct pair of eyes. A writer needs to research the market and find out which publishers are publishing books similar to their novel. It is no good pitching a Science Fiction novel to a publisher who specialises in romantic fiction.

Special thanks to everyone who supplied tips for this series, your thoughts are appreciated! Now, to finish up I’d like to take the floor and provide you with ten more things to consider.

    21. Format Your Manuscript Appropriately – Many publishers have different guidelines for formatting your manuscript. Yes, technology has changed since the industry standards first began, but remember — publishing is a collaborative process. Often, your manuscript will need to be type set, which is just one reason why those guidelines are there in the first place. Programs like Microsoft Word often have auto-formatting features which can make your life hell (trust me on this one, curly quotes are my mortal enemy), so I recommend writing in plain text. Currently, I have a serious crush on New Courier.
    22. Learn How To Self-Evaluate – Sometimes, you have to sit yourself down and ask the tough questions. Am I really a writer? Is this story something other people will want to read? Should I give up on this story and move on to something else? In order to be honest with yourself, you need to learn how to self-evaluate your work. Other people’s opinions — especially those of your friends and family — won’t help you learn how to critique your own work. Of all the things you need to learn how to do, this is (by far) the hardest one.
    23. Remember, One Editor’s Rejection Is Another Editor’s Approval – Just because one editor doesn’t like your short story does not mean it sucks. Seriously. At the same time, just because an editor loves, loves, loves what you wrote doesn’t guarantee your book will sell. Writing, like artwork, is subject to people’s opinions. No, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t care whether or not you write a crappy story, because there are (or were, rather) barriers to getting a book or short story published. Now that anyone can do it through self-publishing, there’s a lot of noise out there for readers to wade through. Quality is becoming increasingly important in this saturated market.
    In the end, this goes back to that whole “know how to self-evaluate” point I offered earlier. You have to know how to balance editorial feedback with the voice of your own muse inside your head. It’s definitely challenging to achieve that balance, but once you do you can make better judgments on when to revise and when to sell.
    24. The Size Of The Publisher Means Different Things To Different People – A small press publisher produces books. A big publisher also produces books. While they are both structured differently, they both offer different benefits and drawbacks that are currently in flux, due to the state of the industry. Just because an author publishes through a small press doesn’t mean their book “wasn’t good enough” to get printed through the big guys. Every author makes different business decisions based on what they want to do with their career and who they know. (Of course, I’d also like to point out that big publishers aren’t evil overlords, too.) The bottom line is that the size of any business simply means they have a different structure and modus operandi.
    25. Keep In Mind You May Have To Self-Promote – In a word: marketing. The days of writing for a year in a gorgeous woodsy cabin on an ancient typewriter are over. Just “how much” self-promoting you’ll end up doing will depend upon the size of the publisher, but don’t be surprised if you’re required to put in a little extra legwork. Based on everything I’m hearing, many writers are now expected to be entrepreneurs.
    26. Don’t “Over” Self-Promote – Yeah…so I needed to put this follow-up tip here because there is such a thing as “too much” self-promotion. Here’s a reality check: When you engage in conversation, how much of the focus is on you? If your answer is: “Well, mostly me…” then listen up. Part of being a professional means understanding that everyone else is trying to be a successful writer, too. Seriously. Just talking about what you’re doing not only shows a lack of respect for other professionals, it also sows the seeds of mistrust in your work. If someone wants to check out you or your book — then open the door but don’t shove them through it. Several members in your audience are either a) working on a book b) have their own book to sell or c) are trying to pitch a finished book. It’s definitely something to keep in mind when you’re beating your readers to death with your sales pitch. Even in sales, people should come first.
    27. Practice Getting In Front Of People – I’m terribly shy, especially when meeting people I don’t know. Often, my friends will say: “You would never know!” There’s a reason for that. I have a background in performing. When I started getting stage fright again, I worked with a great community theatre group and got my bum back on stage. I cannot stress enough the importance of learning how to be social and speak in front of other people. Yes, it is wholly counter intuitive to being a writer, but sometimes you just have to suck it up and overcome your issues.
    28. Experiment, Experiment, Experiment – Hate romance? Read some, then try to write some. Loathe tie-in fiction? Pick your favorite character and try to write a story about it. Often, to get better at what I’m good at, I remove myself out of my element and write something that I’m not familiar with. (Usually its terrible poetry.) No, most of this stuff will never see the light of day, but it’s a way for me to help myself become a better writer. Also, playing with other genres or subject matters may also help you figure out what you want to write, too.
    29. Master The Format, Not Just The Story – Every piece of writing has a structure or a format. Screenplays. Technical manuals. Flash fiction. Novels. That structure is often dissected, discussed, analyzed and experimented with, but there is still a structure to the writing. This goes back a little to my post about writing reviews, too. By “discovering” the structure of a work, you can not only speed up your writing process, but you’ll also help yourself understand the “product” better, too.

And last but not least, I’d like to offer this bit of advice:

    30. Only You Can Tell Yourself If You’re Successful Or Not – In my experiences, I have had professionals tell me I’m not really a writer because I hadn’t sold a novel yet. A few have said that my publishing credits don’t really count because many of them are in the hobby games industry. On the flip side, I’ve had others tell me they wish they could be as “successful” as I am, too. Am I successful? To me, that’s a trick question because I look at my career as a process where I celebrate milestones. I’ve had a few milestones that have meant something to me, but I’m also looking forward to a few upcoming projects, too.
    The moral of my tale, is that only you can determine whether or not you’re successful. Some authors are happy publishing the “one book.” Others enjoy self-publishing and are fine with that. Several aspiring writers will only submit to what are considered “pro”-markets, because to them a “pro” credit means they’ll be successful. Of course, you do have to know what other people regard as “professional” in order to help you figure out your goals, but deciding what you want to do is different from being happy with what you’ve already written.
    No matter what anyone says, remember your success — like the quality of your work — is in the eye of the beholder.

Good Luck

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