Wednesday, July 12, 2017

How Did it Go - BEA/BookCon edition

I have had a lot of people ask how this event went. It was, a big deal after all. I have to say, unabashedly, that this event was amazing from start to finish. I think that the big difference is that we came into this event thoroughly knowing what to expect. his time Martha and I felt like the pros. It is nearly impossible to walk into an event knowing what it is really going to be like. I'm not sure why this is an issue; surely the planners know we, as small business owners, need to know the facts about what we can expect on returns before we decide to commit, right? And yet, every event is the Premier Whatever Event in the Wherever. Attendance is always a) hugely inflated (Vegas Valley, I'm looking at you), b) growing (read, we have no idea), or c) they will not mention that 95% of attendees are other authors (read, broke and wanting to sell their books). Some event planners will tell you anything to get you there. I've found that "networking" is the word that lets me know I need to avoid an event at all costs; I know enough people by now, I think. But, having attended ALA, we were ready.




 We walked into the room at the Expo Center and got ourselves set up back in Small Press Land (Patent Pending). We had been working with a publicist and as such had pitch sheets, catalogs, and other promotional materials on hand. We had come in with a list of professionals to whom we wanted to speak and things we wanted to learn. Also, we came in with the correct expectations, that the first three days were not for ready sales.
And they weren't. They were for meeting people. Martha and I worked hard. We met reviewers, we discovered companies that can link us with vetted authors, with movie and television producers, and that can automate some of our processes. We found printers who can print better books for cheaper. And, in the evenings, we saw New York. Guys, it was heady. It was amazing to be recognized as professionals and to be told over and over again that we were one of the best put together and most impressive groups there. It was amazing to eat dinner at the Algonquin Round Table, to see a show on Broadway.




Days four and five were for sales. That's where we did, what we do. I am discovering that we need to get back into our niche markets to take care of the genre authors we represent, and I have discovered some holes in our line. Sci-Fi/Fantasy fans are rabid and hungry for more, but they don't always show up at literary based events. I feel like the same can be said for Romance, there appears to be a stigma there. I am, as always, surprised at the number of people who read non-fiction. But, I sold out of several titles, including my own, and made a total of about 2K.  People were walking by Neil Patrick Harris and R.L. Stine to come to OUR table, and we could have made more if we had brought more of our bestsellers. That was pretty awesome. It felt so good to get back to our direct sales with people who were excited to see us.



Next year, BEA is in Chicago, and I'm already planning our attendance!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Sexism in SFF - Part 1

While I was at Book Expo America, I ran into Zoe Quinn.  I probably made a fool out of myself because I really dig strong women. And I feel a kinship with women who overcome whatever vindictive men throw at them. But after I fawned like a fangirl and she let me pet her sparkly jacket, we had a pretty good talk about sexism in the Geek community and how incredibly rampant it is. I've been doing a lot of thinking about that. After all, we as geeks, nerds, wierdos, whatever really were fairly marginalized until a couple of years ago, when suddenly the whole world realized that Dr. Who and superheroes were amazing. So, one would think that we would work diligently to avoid making others feel that way. And, at least if you read the novels that we are putting out, we are a pretty socially liberal group, which at least implies a certain set of ideals regarding equality and diversity and whatnot. Yet, it seems that every year or so there's some new trauma (and drama) inside of our community. Whether it's Gamergate or Sad Puppies or the rampant sexual harassment at conventions it seems readily apparent that our theoretical ideals are not being applied to our everyday lives.

I went home, and I started talking with people about this conversation. Then, I started talking about the microcosm that is the local SFF scene. I live in a liberal city, and own a business in a liberal business and yet. ..

-And yet of the publishing houses that I can name off of the top of my head, I can only think of one other that is not owned by a cis white straight male.
-With a few notable exceptions, outside of my publishing house women write romances or cozy mysteries. The rest is No! Man's Land.
-Inside my publishing house there is one author who will ADMIT that I have gotten him better sales than anyone else. Will ADMIT that he likes the way I do things better than anyone else. ADMIT that he likes the cover that I made for him, and still goes with the boys' club and hasn't shown up to sign books at one of the events we attend for years.
-And yet I've been told the names that I've been called by a couple of the other publishers. How I'm a bitch. How I "don't have what it takes" regardless of a record that tells a different story. Let's say that again, even though I have an education, a track record, documented growth, I'm a bitch who doesn't have what it takes.
-And yet it seems like when it comes to local awards, panels, events, I'm fairly frequently overlooked even though I can hold my own using whatever measuring stick you like. Sales, events, number of titles released, awards won. Whatever. I can sell out of books sitting 50 feet from Neil Patrick Harris in NYC, but can't get an email returned in my hometown.
-and yet I was part of an online writing group. Recruited members. Ran a writing contest. Complained to the owner after my winning story -after I-was ripped apart online. It was sour grapes, plain and simple. People complained about unfair wins until the owner of the site went from public vote to weighted within the group vote to within the group judges to outsider judges. Still, talented people are talented and so talented people won lots. This was over the top, though, and I told him so. Got to read an email he sent to others about having to deal with my "whining and bitching." Yep, when the dudes in there complained about stuff, he changed the voting format. Sent me emails telling me to stop teasing them. When I did, I was "whining and bitching."

I don't know. Maybe it's that I'm new. I'm relatively new to the publishing world and I'm still new to town. Maybe it's that I have a different idea of what makes a show "worth it" to show up to an event, an idea based more on dollar signs than other things, so I'm kind of out of the loop. I network in Atlanta, in NYC. I fellowship at church. If I'm working I'm WORKING. Not that I don't want to hang out with everyone. I'd love to. Over coffee or a beer. At a get together. Not at work, though. At work I'm looking for money. So maybe that's it. Maybe it's that I've gone toe to toe with a couple of people over a couple over shady business practices, royalties not paid and books not represented. Apparently that's not allowed. I can be abrasive when pushed, I know that. So maybe I offended the wrong people.

Or maybe it's that you can be a female publisher, but you cannot be loud. You cannot be assertive. You cannot call the guys out on their crap. You cannot be successful. You cannot be unapologetic. Not if you want to be allowed in the sandbox. You can if you're an author. Then that's flavor, and you get invited to the booth to bring people in. But not in leadership. Because even in the hallowed halls of science fiction and fantasy you can be a Black Widow - ready to kick ass in service of the dudes around you, but you'll never be Cap. You'll never be Tony. You can be Black Panther's drop dead gorgeous assistant, but not the Panther.

We are ahead of the pack, we geeks. For every Harley Quinn there is a Wonder Woman. There is a River Tam. But from where I'm sitting that glass ceiling still looks pretty intact. We still have a long way to go.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Emerging Author Mistakes - AKA Please Stop. Please.

As an avid reader and a publisher, I have become very aware, in the trends of authors. Now, don't get me wrong, I love authors. I love that they are creative, and passionate, and can bring to life worlds that existed, up until that moment, only in their heads. But, after years now of talking to writers and readers and buyers, formatting books, engaging in endless emails, I have compiled the following list of mistakes that most emerging authors make. If you, as an author, can overcome these mistakes, your writing will be more appealing to publishers and readers alike.



1. Telling not showing
    "Laurie was very upset."
    "Jennie was one of the most popular girls."
    " Neil was very charming."

     There are two reasons this is bad writing. First and foremost, it falls emotionally flat, preventing me from engaging and reducing the power of your writing. Secondly, I don't know that I believe you. Why are you an authority? Why should I care? This is lazy. Instead, show me that Laurie is very upset. Is she screaming? Is she crying? Is her face blotchy? Describe her character's appearance. How do we know that Jennie is popular? What do the people around her do when she enters? How does she carry herself? What is Neil doing to charm us? Is it working? Use actions, reactions, appearance, and reduce statements of adverbs.




2. The redundent people of redundency who say things more than once. 
There are two ways that writers are unintentionally redundant. First, they use the same word repeatedly in the course of a sentence, paragraph, or the entire novel. Please, get a thesaurus. Use it. The writing becomes magical instead of monotonous. Secondly, the writer will try to show the emotion or validity of the point that they are trying to get across by just saying it over and over and over. And over. Repeatedly. I mean they say it more than once. Again. You know what? I still don't believe you because you are providing no evidence to back it up. Refer to the first point; that's your answer.


3. Table of Contents 
If this is not an ebook, this is unnecessary. More than that, it costs your publisher money and makes your reader wait to get to the part that they want to read. .. your story. These things are important to the author, but truly not to anyone else. Similarly, do not tell me what happens in your chapter or give it a name. Unless you are A. A. Milne and these are Winnie the Pooh what you are doing is weakening your writing.




3. Scene Breaks
Scene breaks are necessary; there is no doubt about that. However, if you have more than one scene break in each chapter, possibly two in some specialized cases and chapters, what you need to do is rethink your chapter, not add more asterisks. It's hard to take a step back, but is sometimes necessary. I find that the old-fashioned story arc or outline is helpful in fixing this issue.



4. Ellipses - Ellipses have become a huge part of social media communication; part of the unique grammatical and stylistic language that online communication is developing. That being said, it does not transfer well to professional writing. Please. .. .. . . . ..  . . don't.



5. Letters to Readers - I'm going to say something that is going to be really, really harsh. I'm sorry. It needs to be said. That thing is, no one cares. At least, not yet. We come at this from the perspective of people who are avid readers who have read every interview and letter with and from our favorite authors. We are people who have planned what we would say when this moment came for years. Here it is and. . .no one cares. They will. Someday, if they are very lucky, people will hang on your every word. For now, though, save these for your blog and for interviews. Do not put them in your books, costing yourself profit and delaying the time until your reader can get to the story that will make the fall in love with you. If you must include it, please do not put it at the front of the book. Put it after, so that those who can't get enough of you get a delicious treat. But understand, because this will be important as you begin the work of getting your career off of the ground (work that is just NOW starting), the concept that no one cares yet will be plaguing you for a while yet. But they will. Then, add everything you ever wanted to. You can introduce a character and have him kill off a multiverse-wide Big Bad 70 pages later (erhem Stephen King I'm looking at you). Now, you just have to wait.

You don't like what I've said. I know. You're different. I know. All of your Beta readers have said that your work is amazing just as it is. I know. Who do I think I am?

Ah, well, that's the crux of it. I'm an author who has made the same mistakes I listed above. I am a publisher who has read thousands of author submissions. I am a salesperson who has sold, or tried to sell, to millions (!) of readers. I'm someone who has cried, and raged, and jumped up and down in glee. Most of all, I've learned through some of the most brutal and expedited hands-on experience that I could have imagined. Take the time to get over your ego, and overcome lazy writing, and your success will grow exponentially.

Trust me. I believe in you.

Monday, March 6, 2017

PSA

This weekend the second "Fifty Shades. .  ." movie became the highest grossing movie of 2017.

This weekend Facebook blew up with the "controversy" of having a gay character in a movie about an abusive relationship between a young, sheltered woman and a were-buffalo.

This weekend was my one year divorce-aversary.

These things may or may not be related. Probably not.

Still, I feel the need to say this; I don't believe in censorship. I believe that we, as individuals, have the right and responsibility to self-censor. To decide what we want in our lives. However, I believe just as strongly, if not more so, that literature and movies have things to say about society, about ourselves, even if we don't agree with them. Maybe especially. So, while I don't like, don't support, and will never read a piece of poorly-written, sophomoric, Twilight fan-fiction that paints abuse as glamorous and sexy, I will defend the right of the author to write it and the right of people to read it. I will question their taste, but not their right.

But . .

But something else needs to be said. In case someone needs to hear it. That something is this:

Abuse, even if the abuser is richer, smarter, more glamorous, more charming or more anything is not okay.

Abuse, even (especially) if you are dependent on the person for hearth and home, is not okay.

Abuse, even if (s)he is emotionally damaged, is not okay. It is not your job to turn a beast into a prince, and the simple fact is, only a very small proportion are victims of a sorceress' spell.

Abuse even (especially) if YOU are damaged, is not okay. In fact, most abusers pick partners with self-esteem issues, mental health issues, or who have already been traumatized.

Emotional abuse is still abuse.

Sexual acts of any sort without consent, EVEN IF YOU HAVE GIVEN CONSENT BEFORE, is abuse.

Being forced or manipulated into a type of relationship you do not want, is abuse.

If you are being abused, IT IS OKAY to demand that it stops.

If you are being abused YOU DO NOT HAVE TO STAY. There are resources out there. There are people who love you and will help you. Yes there are. No matter what you've done. Feeling isolated is part of abuse.

Abuse is not glamorous Abuse is not love. Abuse is not romantic

That is all.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

How Did It Go?

I got hit with a case of the dry heaves when I walked into the exhibition hall. There I stood, in my slept in clothes, getting out of my slept in vehicle, with a display made up of bricks and lumber and fabric, walking through the likes of Penguin Random House, Disney Books, Scholastic to set up my wares. I felt, for only the second time since I started doing this and definitely the most extreme, like an imposter. I mean, listen, I know there are small presses here locally whose owners don’t like me. Still, I don’t have a problem walking into a room where they are and setting up shop, because I know that I deserve to be there, every bit as much as most and more than some. I know there are authors who don’t much care for my hawking, but I don’t feel out of place. Here, I waited for sirens and lights to go off, for someone to catch on to the fact that I obviously, patently didn’t belong. I Messaged librarian friends, looking for reassurance. I put some vague panicked messages on Facebook. Then, I set up my booth and we did what we do. Since then, people have been asking me how it went, and the honest answer is, “I don’t know.”


I don’t know because this weekend wasn’t about ready sales. Sales on the spot. Foolishly, I had thought it would be. One man laughed. “Did you think they were going to buy for their libraries on the spot?” Uh, yeah, actually I did. In fact, in the world in which I’ve cut my teeth, we have a term for those who say they will buy later. We call them bebacks and they are generally dealt with with a roll of the eyes or worse. In this environment, though, I had an intelligent, charming man next to me who was giving books away for FREE who got shot down because the participants didn’t want to have to carry the book. (This man was Chris Beakey, by the way. Awesome man. Excellent writer.You can find him here.)  So, I’m watching sales slowly trickle in. Not huge, but they are happening.



I don’t know because I have some prospects on the line that could change our publishing house in huge ways. But I don’t know if they will turn into anything or not. I came home from Printer’s Row Literary Festival convinced that I had made the kind of connections that would change our world, and they were nothing. Yet, I have people reaching out to me. People saying that we were the highlight of the event for them. Did you get that? A veritable smorgasboard of free books, authors doing signings, Neal Freaking Patrick Harris, John Lewis, and I was the highlight? I. .. don’t really know how to deal with that. Especially when, as I said, I felt like such an imposter. I can’t talk more about them now, not until they are done deals, but there’s some potentially exciting things happening.
I don’t know because while I thought I was an imposter, other people were amazed by our story. By the tenacity and grit that we’ve shown. Not everyone. We had eyes rolled at us more than once by academics who informed us that speculative fiction isn't "real" fiction. I had one woman told us our books are ordinary. Still, I made some friends, business aside, that I truly hope to keep in touch with. More than that, I was told over and over again what an inspiration we were. Which was really different from the “I” word that I had in mind.



It was not ready money. Financially, at least for the short term, it was a bit of a bust. It was emotionally and physically exhausting. But by the end of the weekend I could breathe because we did it. .And we did it well. So, how did it go? I don’t know, but I think it went all right.