News

First, the good news. This weekend I received a letter from the DetCon1 Programming folks and I quickly shot off a reply. I’m headed, once again, to Detroit, Michigan for a summer convention.

I don’t know what it is about that part of the world, but man you “Yoopers” sure have a thing for SFF. I’m not complaining. Not even a little bit. In fact, I’m sort of ecstatic to visit Michigan in the middle of the summer. I’ll get to hang out with the mucky-mucks for a couple of days. Meet new friends and share with colleagues. I’m currently planning on driving so if you’re interested you’ll get to experience my overlander first hand.

Yesterday I nailed down my reservation at the hotel, and there is even the possibility that my beautiful and talented wife might join me on this excursion into intense geekery.  And for that I am even more excited than I have the words to express. I might have to bump up the reservation and get a room with a view.

In other news I have lined up a couple more author interviews for FROM THE INDIE SIDE. Be excited, you’re going to get buckets of new author blood really soon. Peter Cawdron is due this upcoming Friday. Followed by Ernie Lindsey, Susan May, and Mel Hearse.

In the mean time, if you’re looking for something to read you won’t be disappointed with this anthology. The diversity of voices and tales means that you can pick and chose what you’d rather read based on your mood in the moment. And, even though it is thicker than a Chilton’s Auto Repair manual, it won’t break your budget at $4.99 (kindle price).

While you’re supporting independent authors you should give me a try. I’ve just put out a short story of my own which is turning into something of a series. ON THE LEFT FOOT: A TALE OF THE LONG EARTH is only $0.99 on Amazon and it will transport you from that dull, slightly musty bus seat into an otherworldly back country filled with the rich scents of waking pine trees and fresh trout.

Also, last weekend I added another couple of thousand words to the next in the “sports in space” series UP SLOPE. It is on target for spring release and I’m pretty happy with how the story is coming along. You don’t need to read the first in the series to understand the story, but if you gave THE BIG RED BUCKLE a gander you would not be disappointed.

Next up, this morning I was browsing through your many, many Facebook posts when I came across a real gem from Jacqueline Carey, who is a formidable presence in the the world of wordsmiths to say the least, and she has something really poignant to say about our professional organization.

I don’t mean to imply that the blame for all that ails SFWA lies with its most senior members.  I’m sure it doesn’t, but I can only speak to what I’ve observed, which is that there’s an undeniable generational push-back against changing mores that’s a significant part of the problem.  I don’t want SFWA to lose its identity or its sense of history, but if it’s going to remain relevant, it needs to adapt.  Honor the past, but celebrate the present and look toward the future, too.

I can thank my wife Tess for getting me hooked on Carey’s Kusiel series, late night readings from Kushiel’s Dart were something of a treat back in the early days of our relationship. It is sexy stuff, but with careful and complete construction, deep plots that make it difficult to sleep (even though you have work in the morning).

At ConFusion I had only the briefest of encounters with Carey, but her opinion, and the action (or inaction) she is willing to undertake in order to achieve a clear and unmistakable expression, is admirable. And she has done a wonderful job of laying out all the things SFWA might be missing its maddening rush to cling to BS and drama.

I mean… seriously?  The publishing industry is undergoing seismic changes, changes that affect every single author in (and out of) the genre.  E-book pricing and royalty rates, the antitrust lawsuit, DRM, the rise of indie publishing, Amazon’s slow-burning bid for a monopoly, dwindling brick-and-mortar stores, the commodification of fan fiction, promotion in the age of social networking, the Google Books lawsuit, the consolidation of the Big Six into the Big Five, etc.  There’s a lot to talk about!  And yet when it comes to SFWA, it seems all the oxygen in the room was—and still is—being sucked up by a discussion that has no business taking place in this day and age.

When I first started to accumulate rejection letters one of my primary motivations to be a writer was SFWA membership. I wanted to be included in the group and run along side others doing the same thing. In my past life as an engineer I belonged to a variety of professional organizations, and for the most part, this was a useful and even necessary requirement for inclusion within the network of people working in the field. They kept me appraised of the major currents in my industry and helped me make good decisions that ultimately made me a better engineer.

The realization that SFWA membership might be beyond my reach, even with the growing collection of SFF bearing my name, gave me pause. I started to ask myself, “What could I get out of this relationship if I take the time to jump through their hoops?” The answer that I reached basically amounted to not much that I couldn’t find on my own. I’ve got KBoardsGoodreads, and conventions for community, inspiration, and to keep me appraised of what is and isn’t happening in the writing world. The organization’s Writer Beware blog tends to be far behind the 8-ball when it comes to breaking news and new predatory practices that harm creatives, and its contributors spend at least half their time tooting their own horn. The organization has become, in many respects, just a breading ground for drama and discontent.

So, with that in mind, I’m going to extend some kudos to Jacqueline Carey, I think she is doing a good thing and I hope the best for her and wish her luck. Yes, she has lost her nomination privileges for the Nebula, but her opinions are already well respected. I’d happily read anything she recommended, her cogent and considered opinion has lot more weight than an award.

And finally, I wanted to take a moment to pass along the announcement that Michael J. Sullivan‘s next book is available for pre-order. And if you order now, you’ll get a pile of extras and bonus stuff … early. This is a series I’ve had on my W2R list for a while and Mr. Sullivan is an excellent dude.

So, I will round out today’s news and announcements with one more place for you to spend your hard earned dough on books. Click on through to this announcement for all the details and goodies.

Don’t Be Jealous

The next person who tells me to “just keep writing” is going to get a punch in the nose. Okay, maybe that’s a little extreme. Okay, not “maybe,” it is extreme. So don’t worry, I probably won’t punch you if you tell me to keep at what I’m already doing. But here’s the deal, friends. Since setting out on this path last Summer, all official-like, with the intent to make a go of writing as a career, I have written. I have written when I felt sick. I have written when I was tired. I have written, written, written. I have written from odd locations and under unusual circumstances. I have written. And, as a result of all this writing, I’ve got a pile of words. Some of which I have even edited, packaged, and am trying to sell.

Writing (and reading) are what I do. I take care of chores around the house so I can write. I take advantage of opportunities when my son can go play with kids his age in order to write. I move my calendar around, ask for help from friends and relatives, and re-prioritize my finances all so I can write. I’m writing plenty and I will continue to write.

What I’m discovering is that, just like any other small sole proprietorship (save dealing crystal meth), getting this thing off the ground is a lot of hard work and, more importantly, disappointment. And despite constantly stoking the fire of my small business it feels much like I’m blowing on punky, damp wood. I am trying to understand what I am doing wrong, but honestly, this thing sometimes feels a lot like failure.

Being an Indie is Hard, Really Hard

Society has stacked the cards against self-publishing authors. It is possible that you all have way too much to do, too much taking up your time. A friend posted this image on Facebook today and it illustrates at least in part what mean.

As I got closer to getting “The Big Red Buckle” ready for publication I started to think seriously about the many ways I might get the book into the hands of readers. This blog went through an iterative remapping process (still underway), I re-worked my trail running pages into author pages, and started pouring the foundation of my social media presence as an author. I researched different methods of getting my pages to market, considering the pros and cons of a handful of services. I pulled money from savings to finance imprints and editing.

And I guessed that of the 515 friends I have on Facebook I might expect at least 5% of you guys to say “Oh hey, look what Matt did this time. I might try his book just so I have something to tease him about.” So far 2% of you have earned that leverage.

Come on nerds, if a bowl can get 50k likes why can't my book get 100?

Come on nerds, if a bowl can get 50k likes why can’t my book get 100?

But I understand. I get up in the morning and crawl toward the coffee pot, too. I write to you today at the foot of a mountain of laundry — washed, dried, and folded waiting to be carted off and put away — there are so many thing to be done. So I am eternally thankful to the 2% of you who have bothered to put off your favorite re-run episode of “Breaking Bad” on Netflix in order to spend an evening with my book.

But this next part is for those of you who have expressed interest in this path. If you’re not up for the disappointment of staring day after day at sales numbers that never move, don’t envy me. Not even a little bit. If you’re not interested in trying to find out what will hook people in general, let alone your friends and family, by experiencing failure after attempted failure, then this is not the life for you.

Closed Doors

One of the things I’m discovering about indie publishing is that while some doors have been removed there are a lot of closed doors out there still. While the old game of submitting your work to publishers who will only accept something if you’re a “good bet” is a thing of the past, my experience is teaching me that readers may not accept your work. What this means to you as the writer, and the sole risk taker in your own little enterprise, is that the door just got moved. It is still there. The reading public just controls the knob now. And this means that you’re competing with all sorts of entertainments and distractions, head to head, for their attention. The question, “how am I going to get them to open my door?” keeps popping up.

Then there is the traditional publishing segment of the market. This part of the publishing world has its own institutional inertia. While there are cracks in this particular door it still presents a significant barrier to the self-published author.

For instance, North America’s premier genre guild Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America won’t even consider you unless you meet their bar of selling some number of pieces to a select list of traditional publishers.

“To become an Active member of SFWA, applicants must demonstrate either:

  • Three Paid Sales of prose fiction (such as short stories) to Qualifying Professional Markets, with each paid at the rate of 5¢/word or higher (3¢/word before 1/1/2004), for a cumulative total of $250, minimum $50 apiece; or
  • One Paid Sale of a prose fiction book to a Qualifying Professional Market, for which the author has been paid $2000 or more; or
  • One professionally produced full length dramatic script, with credits acceptable to the Membership Committee.”

And, as if often the case, even other authors may exclude indie authors from consideration. As an example, John Scalzi (who I am a big fan of) has been reviewing and promoting other’s fiction via his blog feature “Big Idea“. He only does this if you sell your book traditionally or if you happen to already be a super successful Indie.

“Works must be published by a third party, i.e., not self-published (Amazon Digital Services, Smashwords, et al are distribution platforms, not publishers in the usual sense). This third party publisher must publish more than one author, must have an editorial staff that is not comprised of the author or their immediate family, and have a Web site which includes its current author slate and immediate release schedule.

“In very rare cases self-published work by authors with substantial, successful previous publishing history will be considered.”

In some small way I can understand why SFWA and Scalzi might not want to deal with the zombie hoards of self-published “authors” out there. Quite often I feel that my book, and my voice, are completely drowned out in a sea of other writers all grasping for “brainssssss” of readers. And I’d hate to be on the receiving end of that fire hose of submissions and requests myself. But it’s a door, a closed one, nonetheless, and it makes life out here in the zombie wilds just that much more difficult.

Incidentally, while I’m not eligible to be a SFWA member my work can still be nominated for the Nebula by members in good standing. As a quick aside, if you’re a SFWA member who would like a copy of “The Big Red Buckle” before February 15th, my email is right here.

The Final Issue

Sometimes, what you must necessarily do and say as an Indie feels a whole lot like panhandling. Really, it does. I find myself swallowing my pride very often lately. Begging for reviews. Or just your spare change.

This is an uncomfortable sensation. I deal with it the best way I can, which is often to write more. Usually with a scowl on my face and potentially a chip on my shoulder. But I like to write so eventually the scowl melts away and the chip falls off.

If you have considered writing for a living and you cannot humiliate yourself to close the deal on a $0.99 ebook than this is not the right career path for you. Also, don’t judge me.

Conclusion

Last Wednesday, while I was sitting at a table typing up a storm at the Rec Center, a lady sitting on the couch in the lobby across from me asked a couple of questions. She was being polite and nice, initially all she wanted to know about was the bluetooth keyboard I use with my iPad. It turns out that her Mother, in her eighties if I recall correctly, loves to write and so, as these sorts of conversations go, we ended up chatting about independent publishing.

Since then the topic has been riding me hard. I’ve even been a little grouchy about the current state of my book and ever so reluctant to keep writing more “sports in space” if “no one is ever going to be interested in the topic” (boo hoo for me). Maybe I should focus on teenage vampires or zombie crushing monster truck kids? But for me, that sort of writing would not be very much fun. It is not what I like to read and it is not what I will write (although monster trucks in a zombie story, I mean, why hasn’t this been done?).

I’m about 30% done with “Up Slope“, as of last night, so it is entirely possible that my Fat-Bike, sci-fi, action adventure will be pressed by April. By that measure, I feel like I am an instant success. In a very short period of time I have completely changed how I live my life, and how I write (from technical documentation and project planning to science fiction). It is not a hobby or pastime. And I’m producing a book about every quarter.

Sales, I know, will come with time, and exposure, and with all the help that you guys will lavish on me. If you haven’t already bought my book, maybe some day you will. That is a fairly heartening thought. Something to look forward to.