Some of what I learned at a SF con, while networking and stretching my imagination
I’m a Capclave today, the Washington, D.C. area annual Sci Fi & Fantasy Convention. I’ve attended sessions on “Editor Pet-Peeves,” “Diversity in Fiction,” and “New Media, New Markets, New Business Models,” and after a bit of networking, heard George R.R. Martin read from his soon to be published short story, “The Princess and the Queen,”
Now, I loved these sessions, but hearing George R.R. Martin read his short story this evening was special. Martin is the Guest of Honor at Capclave and I’ll be lining up to get his autograph tomorrow. I think what I like about being at the reading, with my new eight hundred or so new friends in the audience, was his intro about “The Princess and the Queen,” which will be coming out in an anthology, which he is editing, Dangerous Women in early December (2013).
He wrote this story as part of the forthcoming coffee table compendium, World of Fire and Ice. The companion book to his Songs of Fire and Ice Series (aka The Game of Thrones) was envisioned as being 50,000 words pulled from the history laid out in the series with added art and illustrations, plus some added information from Martin’s mental notes on the background of the series. His editors pulled 70,000 words of material, then Martin wrote another quarter million words. This apparently was going to change the nature of the project and is a reason he has again missed his deadlines for a number of other projects (the next season of HBO's Game of Thrones, the next novel in the series, etc.) again.
So, what’s an author to do? Pull all that text out and consider creating a Silmarillion, or in Game of Throne’s speak, a future Grimarillion. Amid that material was the short story, “The Princess and the Queen.” The problem was for the anthology he was committed to, as editor and author for one short story, he needed to write 30,000 words. However, his short story was 80,000 (a novel length for many another author). So, being behind schedule or deadline, he asked help from from editor Gardner Dozois, who got it down to the requisite 30,000 words as only a superb editor could (or perhaps dared).
That intro spoke volumes about George R.R. Martin, who then read the opening pages of his short story. His humor and his passion reading his story were wonderful. Also, I think he was serious about the Grimarillion. After all, he only wrote a quarter million words, offering background history for his epic saga.
Hmm, I may have to pre-order that forthcoming anthology, after all, Martin actually wrote an end to that story in the Game of Thrones Universe…
Capclave - Day Two
Capclave, featuring, George R.R. Martin, is larger than ever. One of the benefits of so many people being registered is a plethora of sessions that have given me a lot of food for thought. It’s also been a great time to network, which led to my going to an activity I hadn’t originally planned on. I started the day off by attending an author reading, followed by sessions on “Moving Beyond the Small Press,” “1001 uses for an Unpublished Story,” “Kickstarter, the Pros and Cons,” the one I hadn't expected to attend, and a workshop: “Area 52: Military SF – Getting it Right.”
The author reading was with Janine Spendlove, who I learned has been involved with several very successful Kickstarters. I recently saw a major flame out of kickstarter, so I started considering. Should I do a Kickstarter campaign one day? Best way to find out – head over to that session. There I learned, 48% of such campaigns failed overall. For sci fi/fantasy books, that failure rate is closer to two thirds. The key seems to be: a.) modest dollar goals, b.) stretch levels that revolve around “community,” not necessarily just stuff, c.) creating a solid profit and loss (P&L) for the project that justifies – and is now required by Kickstarter to justify the monetary goal since Kickstarter which doesn’t want to see such major flame outs anymore (apparently its bad for business), d.) do not expect the Kickstarter community to fund your entire project – you need to promote it, hard, through your our social network and platform, e.) do not over-promise, because it’s on you to fulfill all those promises, and f.) the month of running your Kickstarter is basically a full-time job. Oh, and one tip I thought was interesting, start and end on a Tuesday or Wednesday, which happen to be the most active Internet buying days. Tuesdays are when new books are released online, which likely happens because of that fact as well.
Among the panelists was author Lawrence Watt-Evans, who has run a number of successful Kickstarters. He ended up running his first after a publisher decided they didn’t want the seventh book in a series that they had contracted for, which he had already written four chapters of. He began serializing those chapters and told his fans if they wanted the next chapter it would cost $250, and so on, which led to his self-publishing the entire book. Watt-Evans also suggests having a modest Kickstarter goal of about $5,000. With his stretch goals, he’s raised significantly more. The panelists stressed seek to breakeven with that first goal, people will not rally around an unrealistic goal. I saw that with a massive Kickstarter failure, based on creating a video game of one of my favorite series for $1 million. (They raised $68,000 before the Kickstarter was cancelled midway through the drive.)
Neil Clarke of the semipro ezine, Clarkesworld, has used Kickstarter to launch an anthology called Cyborg, since he as the editor is now essentially a cyborg himself thanks to medical science. The levels allowed donors to have their name appear in the back of the book, including a low level for those simply seeking to be spared by the invading cyborgs. Humor and innovative thinking apparently helped the success of the campaign.
Another key comment, Clarke added, "is that before launching a Kickstarter, share with others to review your materials." They can help with marketing advice.
Another thing to consider is that the author needs to create a good video to help kick off the campaign. One failed Kickstarter
featured an author sitting uncomfortably in front of a blank wall, saying, “Um… um… um…” The video for the online campaign is key and must be interesting, active, and engaging as to the reason for the Kickstarter drive. The “I’ve got this idea in my head” approach isn’t a good reason, and if an author is not going to present well, they should a ten second appearance, and use someone else to MC. The panelists also suggested that pictures can be used as long as they fly-in from the side or perform some other interesting effect rather than stay on screen stagnate for minutes at a time during a voice over. The panel’s moderator, Ron Garner, publisher of a small press, suggested to me afterward that the Kickstarter rewards, not just the levels, need to be considered careful, too.
What’s clear is doing a Kickstarter is a job as author Laura Anne Gilman stressed. “You can have help, but the Kickstarter is a major commitment.” Plus, you need to market it yourself. You may get twenty percent of support from the Kickstarter community, but the rest is on those seeking support. The better you market through your existing platform and social network, and the better your reason for doing the Kickstarter at a reasonable goal, the greater your success at exceeding that goal. Exceeding the modest goal is where the profits come in. But there was one last caution. You can fail by succeeding. Make sure such things as postage for thousands of books is factored in to that P&L, because that (and a pesky postal rate increase) can make breaking-even impossible.
Capclave – Day Three
I attend about five sci fi/fantasy conventions a year, most are local, an hour’s drive or less away. I’ve only been going to the convention since 2010 after I my first short stories were published. My goal was to learn more about the writing world. My goals quickly turned into building my skills and learning even more about the business of writing – and networking. My first con led to me meeting authors involved in a business of writing sci fi/fantasy seminar, which I participated in several months later.
Since my first novel, Highmage’s Plight, came out in 2012, I’ve served on panels at a number of cons that I’ve attended and gotten to know some wonderful people in the field. One thing I’m learning about networking is that each conversation is just a step on the path. For example, I attended Philcon last year as a participant. I tried to get on the program, but didn’t have the contacts I needed. I began making those contacts, first by chance, at Balticon last May. I was encouraged to send off an email, requesting to be considered for panels, but, as sometimes happens, things went awry on their end. I’m attending Philcon again in a few weeks and at Capclave this weekend I saw my Philcon program committee friends again – and got my panelist invitation shortly thereafter (since the Philcon leadership was meeting right then and sending out panelist invitations). Conversation, conversation, right time, right place, is really what networking is all about.
Another networking result, at Balticon I was attending a session with a book blogger in the audience, who was seeking to expand his audience, I gave him my novel’s bookmark and wrote that he should check out the Bloggers Book Fair, which was being held in July. He did a nice review of my novel during that online Fair. I bumped into him the first day of Capclave and we had dinner at the hotel restaurant last night and, we bumped into each other at lunch today, and continued our conversation. He told me it was a pleasure to read a well-written novel like mine, which was music to my ears. I told him the next novel in the series is coming out any minute and about the other cons in the area he might be interested in attending. He’s offered to review my new novel. I’m sending him the proofed edition in pdf and sent off an email letting my publisher know – which might get me an epub copy to send him instead. Lesson, be helpful to others, networking isn’t all about you as an author.
So, why do I go to cons? To promote my stories, to learn, to begin thinking and consider new ideas, and to network, network, network… and this time, to get George R.R. Martin to autograph my DVD of the second season of Game of Thrones. Success, success, and thank you, George, for having a silver metallic pen on hand. My DVD set looks so much “cooler.”
Author of Highmage’s Plight and Human Mage (forthcoming)
Sample chapters of his future YA urban fantasy novel Dare2Believe are available on Wattpad.com
To learn more about the author visit his website at www.dhr2believe.net