Category Archives: craft

On being good at sales

I’m still not totally comfortable with being really good at sales.

Because, I am. I’m a sales machine. At large comic-cons, my single-title sales are on par with best-selling writers — which is good, because I still only have a single title. (Working on it.)

Other writers tell me I am good at sales, a complex compliment inside our introverted guild. It helps that, if a reader doesn’t want what I am selling, I will send them to another’s work with equal enthusiasm. I’m good in the booth.

I have made money in sales, covering all my bills during my year as a ski-bum in Lake Tahoe with a part-time telemarketing job. One of my most treasured compliments was from my manager there, who told me, “You give good phone.”

I am a fierce fan of my stuff. It’s not for everyone, but it’s for more than might initially see themselves buying it. I see my book becoming ever more relevant to the world outside it. I want the world to know so my subset of it will find me.

I don’t presuppose any strengths or weaknesses. I say what I have, strongly.

In a teen-focused genre, I write mature work. At cons and festivals, I say “10 o’clock shows, not 8 o’clock shows.” It’s a happy expression because it’s a fact they differ, it’s not an apology, and it hints at earned privilege, an adult’s welcome relief from explanation or euphemism.

Demon is a standalone novel. No sequels, except for a Tarot. “A big book, but one and done.” Maybe a fifth of people don’t find that appealing — Vayan con Dios. Most are at least fine if not happy to hear it. We talk about the joys of a certain ending, a lack of commitment, an amuse-bouche while awaiting GRRM.

While I can spot aligned styles — if you cosplay Death from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, I will sell you a book — even at cons I can’t know my readers on sight, especially since I am winning a few over right there. I assume all bipeds are in play until they make it clear they’re not.

That said, I know the wrong audience. 1-star reviews never go away, and a good way of avoiding them is keeping your work out of inappropriate hands — or, disappointed hands. I use horror as a flavor, but if you want it as a main course, that’s not my Demon. For action, I have some fisticuffs, but only one drawn gun in the whole book. I have bone-dry acidic wit, but no chuckles.

I say these things and people buy my books, people of all kinds, in very good numbers for the venue. I don’t know why it worries me, as opposed to the superpower that it really is. Maybe it’s impostor’s syndrome, that I am somehow more appealing than my work.

Maybe it’s not impostor’s syndrome but honesty, of a kind. My sales self also expresses qualities of my work: unassuming but distinctive, unflinching not crude, erudite not highfaluting, seeking clarity but understanding about the muddle.

It makes me nervous because it is not sales. It is an art, an ethic — like this blog post, a form of my writing. I can’t pretend it doesn’t matter, because it only works when it does matter.

Then I’m a sales machine.

Recovering technophiliac

I use a MacBook Air 2012, second version of the Air line and model for all that follow. It’s a perfect size for serious work, with a screen that usefully shows a half-dozen apps in a single desktop space. It’s substantial yet light, easily portable, fine in a lap or a desk. It has local storage so no need of wifi for work on the go, and cloud backup the moment it connects.
At my desk, it runs two HD+ monitors, a backup drive, and any peripheral I need. Home and away, from apps to settings to bookmarks to the structure of the folders, everything is the same on it, wherever I take it. It’s the most useful thing ever.
Drives me crazy.
I have an addiction. I like new computing gear. I like to get better gear that does new stuff. A perfect computer can do everything – but that.
Every other year, I spend good money on e-trash, some quirky machine with a clever feature like a touch screen or small size. Each time, the affair is short-lived, and soon the device ends up housed in a cabinet, so backlogged with updates that I fear to turn it on. My last one went three days from unboxing to reboxing.
It’s as if I drive a McLaren sports car, every day, but I keep buying new Cadillacs for the bigger cupholders.
It started out innocently enough. I got into computers as a teen, as a writer, at the dawn of word-processing, still a hobbyist’s preserve but even then superior to typewriters. My then-rare comfort with the technology dovetailed with the dawn of online connectivity as a consumer business. I was rewarded with a prestigious international career.
If you bought your winning ticket for the mega-lottery at the liquor store, how would that affect your alcohol abuse?
The same for my success and my need to poke at new gear – even in this new career where (from a gear perspective) I merely key words in empty spaces, and there’s no more technology to master.
Meanwhile my MacBook Air just works. It’s got another four years at least. Four more years of perfection, of comfort and familiarity and a natural flow.
Maybe longer.
The itch is stressful. I am trying to realign it with better pursuits, like the ambulance-chasing lawyer in Banks’s The Sweet Hereafter, proud to have a good use for his anger. When my dad’s old desktop needed its final backup, I taught my son the basics of computer architecture. We rebuilt it at modest cost with new drives, cards, and memory. We did such a good job my dad demanded it back.
Of course, I spent two afternoons after thinking through and researching how to build powerful desktop machines for different uses from parts at low cost.
But I didn’t buy anything.
That’s something.

Destroying Budapest

My science-fiction work-in-progress is set in a single city, and I needed to see it to imagine living in it. Welcome to Pest! Only walk on gray parts….
Pest, the White Lake and the Soft Lands
Budapest was a proxy in the One-Day War between Greater Russia and Umoja East Africa. Buda is now the White Lake, a boiling toxic waste of microscopic robots that eat carbon dioxide, and anything else, to make diamonds that wash on its shores. Both embargoed no-person’s-land and boomtown, Pest houses thieves, smugglers, engineers, and skaters, daredevil gladiators who jump and spin over the Lake in maglev boots, just one fall from death.
I suppose I could have done any old thing to ruin a city, but I wanted a dusting of Science! in my fiction. I thought a fractal would make a believably consistent result small enough for microscopic robots to store. I used FractalWorks, a Mac app, to generate a tiny portion of the celebrated Mandelbrot function, and overlaid this on a large screenshot of central Budapest, so its finer arcs and whorls were the length of city blocks.

Budapest map and Mandelbrot sliver

Budapest map and Mandelbrot sliver


I didn’t think at the scale of blocks it could ever be so precise – if nothing else, land would collapse – so I cut out the Lake using an image editor’s predictive selection tool, to make the edges sloppy and eroded.
Both the pink and white areas are products of the fractal. The white is the Lake itself, while the pink represents Soft Lands, areas of shifting underground streams through which nanites recharge, around which smugglers tunnel.
It’s been a huge help to have the reference. Putting my characters on a literal map lets me figure out relative distances, and helps me imagine the land and the city that might grow from it.
I also thought further about my mechanical monster’s makeup. Where Lake meets land has always been seductively quiet, since earliest drafts. Instead, let the meeting of Lake and Soft Lands be a place of churn and upheaval, the turbulence of nanites going into and out of dormancy around the buzz of other nanites quantumly-uncertain just where their strange fractal stops. I have a heart murmur too.
It’s easier to name things in the context of the city’s weird sense of humor now, and I’m looking at it as more impressively built than previous drafts. Where before it was falling apart and hastily erected, now I see it as printed and reprinted, strange but regular, by the same artificially-intelligent drone “taxibots” that run the city services. This has new virtues and a very different look. And some rewriting.
If this map gets reproduced in the book, I don’t want the plain line drawing quality of most novel maps. Rather I’d commission a graphic artist to generate a cityscape, degrade that so it looked like a 12th-generation-photocopy of an old image, have all the landmarks written in sloppy marker. At top: “Welcome to Pest where you will likely die.” At bottom: “Wanna know more? Live and learn.”

A quick hello during a busy season

I am sorry to have been so silent. In between summer travels with family, all my projects have been in construction phases, and I don’t like vague-posting.
But, news. I have several author events scheduled for this fall. You can find me at:
The Fredericksburg Independent Book Festival, Fredericksburg, VA, Sat Sep 23
YABBAFest, Warrenton, VA, Sat Oct 14
Quest-Con, Mobile, AL, Fri Oct 20-Sun Oct 22
Philcon, Cherry Hill, NJ, Fri Nov 10-Sun Nov 12
I have also begun recording The Demon in Business Class audiobook. People who sign up for my mailing list at Fredericksburg or after will get a free copy of the early session recording of Demon chapter 1.
Want in on the goodies? Sign up too! 
The third project is of course my new novel, which I finally have come to admit is not going to be fleshed out from the previous manuscript, but completely rewritten. I have however set myself the semi-impossible goal of debuting it next year at Atlanta’s massive DragonCon, which means that next week I get to writing in a headlong Phildickian rush. Well, maybe not, but I have a lot to do.
I’ll be posting about the book in a couple of days, since I can actually discuss it now and show some concepts.
A fourth project … awaits much more solid scheduling. Suffice it to say I am working with great artists.

Hello Florida Supercon – goodbye wonderful Raleigh!

Hope to see you this coming weekend, July 27-30, at Florida Supercon in Fort Lauderdale, FL. I’ll be at the Bard’s Tower booth all four days of the con with Kevin J. Anderson, Josh Vogt, Kevin Ikenberry, Keith DeCandido, and J Scott Savage. I have one scheduled panel, on using real world experiences in fiction, at 3:30pm on Thursday.
I’m pleased that Florida Supercon is under the same management as last week’s Raleigh Supercon. Raleigh was a tremendous event, well-run and with a welcoming energy. I met many enthusiastic people, and even got to join a panel on Religion and Magic.
I’m very lucky to have Bard’s Tower as a promotional outlet to the world of fan conventions. Bard’s Tower helps me connect to my audience while working in a collaborative way with fantastic and experienced writers. Speaking as a business, tens of thousands of people with hundreds of options and real-world budgets are a brutal lab for direct marketing. As an artist, it’s an incredible chance to find that certain reader my work really speaks to, live and in-person — an unrivaled source of joy.

Hello Connecticon 2017 – and thanks!

Tonight I fly north to Hartford, CT, to join the Bard’s Tower booth opening Friday at Connecticon. It’s the first of three cons I’m doing in July at Bard’s Tower, with other fantastic writers.
Cons are intense, by design, and they’re also long days standing on concrete. Three cons in four weekends is a heavy schedule, personally tiring and hard on my family. Still, #livingthedream . These are my last big cons this calendar year. I want to connect with every interested reader during my hours in these big convention halls.
How immediate these connections can be! People know their tastes, even if naming them with difficulty, but they feel. Once in a while I get a visual clue that a convention-goer might be my audience – cosplaying Sandman‘s Death, or wearing an Unknown Pleasures t-shirt – but more often, the readers find me and click. I’ll see an hour of people glancing away, then a delighted voice reads my title aloud and everything brightens.
Connecticon 2016 was my first con behind the table, learning to connect with readers in person and find their interests, before my launch in Cincinnati. Seeing how little time one gets in the hugeness of a con convinced me to market overtly to a niche sensibility.
I am excited to come back with my book – and new trading cards!

New Demon trading cards!

As a promotion on social media for The Demon in Business Class, I created a virtual trading card deck. For cons, I printed card versions of the nine character pictures. They were done as a last-minute inspiration, made by shoving the cards’ original Instagram proportions into a business card template on Moo.com, the excellent online printer. The cards turned out to be popular at cons and events, and at a better cost-per-item than postcards.
I updated the info on the back and resent the cards to print a larger order – seven this time, of the original nine, because nine is unwieldy at a con; and extra Zarabeths.
This time, Moo said the uneven border made for unsatisfactory results, and offered me the chance to do the cards over with new images. They were right of course, and I took the opportunity.
At my upcoming cons in Hartford, Raleigh, and Ft Lauderdale, I’ll be sharing the good word about Demon with new promotional trading cards!

The Inner Loop reading series

I had a great evening under twilit stars – and frequent, seemingly aimless helicopters –  with The Inner Loop, a monthly DC reading series for poetry, fiction and non-fiction writers, at Colony Club. The headliner was Jennifer Atkinson, a poet drawn to human disaster, with readings by Joel Goldberg, Matthew Moniz, Alyssa Oursler, Alex Aronovich, Peg Alford Pursell, Alan C. Page, Leila Rafei and Sam Mahone.
Standing room only!
       
I’m firmly in the camp that writing is an art for the ear. Studying other languages’ poetry let me hear the latent music in my own writing. I always want my work to sound good aloud and I love to hear other authors reading. It’s a happy time for this viewpoint, with the growing market, and quality, of podcasts and audiobooks. I’ll be fascinated to see how English prose style changes for a world where most of it is heard not read. (Prediction? Dialogue tags will lose “said.”)
The evening had a warm, friendly feel. I talked shop with other writers, books with readers. A writing event is quieter than a band, with no dancing or chatter and surprisingly little phone use other than recording videos. The vibe remains casual and attentive. Even for the writers – 5 minutes, and you’re back in the audience.
There will be a bigger market for these. Already the Moth series has spread to live events in several cities. Reading for performance will be the new penmanship.

Sexual tension in fiction

My guest post for the Fictorians, a site on writing fiction, discusses sexual tension and its different roles in different stories. It’s part of the Fictorians’ month-long Tension series.
Read it at: 

Sexual Tension in Fiction

Sticking to my knitting (opinions)

As Facebook gently reminded me —
2017-fb-little-while
my professional media have been stale. It was less a writer’s block than a blind alley. Perhaps others will find my thinking instructive.
Like everybody, I have opinions about the world, and in these contentious times, it’s very tempting to share them. Everyone else is, and I talk prettier than many. Why not join the fray? Ooh, ooh, you’re discussing politics, or climate change, or guns? I can do that too!
I drafted three different posts on things political. One even got into my WordPress dashboard, until I deleted it.
Truth is, I just don’t want to be a public intellectual.
It feels irresponsible to say this. In the face of the great activists of the past, and today’s popular writers who still manage worthy columns (or at least snarky tweets) – and often get slagged by some fans for voicing opinions they don’t like – it seems weak to say, nah, I’m out.
I’m out. While it might feel good to get something off my chest, people aren’t waiting around to hear what I have to say about today’s crisis. Or, if people are, they don’t just want it once. If I start down that road, I have to stick with it, have to make it a bigger part of my life and thought.
Perhaps this would be virtuous, but it wouldn’t be singular. Many good people already discuss the state of the world, plainly and well, after actually investigating it and reporting on it. If I want to change the world in favor of my political beliefs, I’m better off writing checks.
Or, writing novels.
Not that I’m going to be ripping tales from today’s headlines. That’s not my thing. More to the point, the political power of good fiction is often indirect. Fiction can say complicated things to culture, often better than it says simple ones. There are political ideas in my novel The Demon in Business Class, but they’re neither immediate nor partisan.
The “messy ground where the worldly meets the divine,” as my back-cover text promises, is a place in the mind. My characters in their big world might inform your opinions about tomorrow’s crisis, whatever it is, but only by example and analogy.
That’s my contribution. We’ll see if it’s enough, over time.