My Time at Zapcon

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Have you ever wanted to step back in time and relive something for your past? I had the chance to do that last weekend when I attended Zapcon, the yearly classic pinball and video game party. A party it was.

I spent most of Saturday playing all the machines that kindled my love of video games and pinball. I am sadden to say there remains very few arcades and the ones that do bear little resemblance to the pinball halls I blew my quarters in every chance I could. This brought it all back to everyone who attended.

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Rows of pinball and video games filled the room lit only by the glow from the LEDs and CRT screens. Just like in the old arcades. Granted this little foray into nostalgia has little to do with writing, but I think it’s good to point out that even as writers we need hobbies, distractions, whatever, outside of our beloved craft. This keeps our creative juices flowing and helps avoid writer’s block or worse burnout. Let’s have some sharing time in the comments section let everyone know what you do to step away from the keyboard.

Got Blurb?

I do not know which can be worse when someone asks you. “Oh you’ve written a book? What’s it about?” You stare back at them as though they had just sprouted tentacles with little teeny tiny eyeballs on the ends of them from their ears and nostrils as your brain links words and phrases together. Or worse, you answer them with such a long convoluted description of your epic work that you doubt the English language will have evolved enough words to convey it all. Oh and the person who asked the question is now certain they will never ever ask that question again.

Coming up with a good blurb can really help you through that situation and spare you the fate of either scenario. A blurb isn’t a micro summary of your plot. Nor is it a restating of the hook. Don’t even touch the underlying philosophy behind the work. No, the blurb is a little seed. A seed that when planted has no other option but to take root and compel the person who asked you the question to buy a copy. The blurb has to not only describe the story for the reader but also sell it. I could tell you my book is about garden tools. But if I tell you my book is about how to defend your family from the zombie apocalypse using only garden tools, well, you know you want to check that out.

You could pull your blurb right out of your query letter. That would be a mistake. While they perform the same function and have the same requirement of brevity, a blurb is even more concise. Think of your blurb as the tweet of query letters. The good news here is that one will lead you to the other. Just remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day and your blurb is not likely to pop out of your head. Instead, the words will roll around and coalesce into blurby greatness.

For more tips on creating the drop dead hydrogen bomb of a blurb take a look at this post from Anne R. Allen’s blog. http://annerallen.blogspot.com/2014/03/8-tips-for-writing-that-killer-blurb.html

Putting the Cart Before the Horse

How often have you gotten a really great idea that you do not want to keep to yourself? It’s human nature to want to share our stupendous explosions of mental brilliance. Sometimes though we forget that what we have is an idea. It isn’t a book, it might not even be a story.

I have often heard other writers, (and I’ve done so myself, in the past), talk about ideas for their next book. We either have an incredible location, a really unique twist on history or even a character that is beyond any before. Any number of things lend themselves to a great story, but rather than talking about them we need to be capturing them.

In my case I have taken to creating a notebook in Evernote to capture these ideas for future use. That takes away some of the urge to want to talk about them and all of the fear of forgetting them. I used to, actually still do, keep a leather journal and pen on my nightstand for those ideas that always seem to come when I’m barely cognizant of the day of the week. The few instances where I have been able to decipher my handwriting have yielded some great ideas but little in the way of complete books.

I guess the point I am laboring to make is sometimes it is best to talk your ideas out with you and yourself. Commit them to paper and play with them but remember a story is much more than a killer idea, neat twist, or social statement. A book is blood, sweat, ink, patience and discarded pages. You know better than anyone when the time to plug your work is at hand. You should also know not to even think of approaching an agent or editor without a complete manuscript. I’ve seen this repeated over and over in agency submission guidelines and it rings true. The time will come when you can talk and pitch away, just make sure you have a product to back it up.

Marketing Your Fiction

Light from a show. Vector illustration.This week while going through my RSS feed I came across this little gem over at the Book Designer Blog. http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2014/03/how-to-keep-your-fiction-marketing-lean-and-focused/

There are so many great tips in this post that I do not have much to offer. Having a clear focus on what you mean to accomplish is important. Are you drawing attention to yourself? Your latest book? How about keeping interest in all your works going? The strategy for each of these is just different enough that you cannot do it with just one activity. You need a strategy that incorporates your blog along with other social media.

Target the right audience. Letting your friends and family know you have written a book is easy to do and will probably net you the most sales. The challenge is building your audience among the reader’s you do not know. To do that you have to start somewhere. You have to find some common ground. That is where local fan or reading groups and communities come in. Join a writing/critique group. Sure they will help you before publishing. They can also help afterward by getting you some sales.

Keep the excitement going after the book has been out for a while. This can be the most involving and for me involves soliciting reviews and or offering to talk about my work in front of various groups. This is a long process and you may find yourself feeling like you are just banging your head against the wall but you still have an audience to reach and develop so stick with it. Having said that I should also mention to leave yourself plenty of time to work on your next book. As you know the greatest thing you’ll ever write is always the next thing you write.

LepreCon 2014 Mark Your Calendars

leprecon 40 posterI will be in the Dealer’s room for LepreCon 2014.  The 40th running of LepreCon will take place on May 8th to 11th at the Phoenix Marriot Mesa. Come by and say hi I’ll be at table T-15 selling and signing copies of all my books. I will have more information on other activities as the date gets closer and I know more. This will be my first time taking part in Leprecon and I am really excited for this opportunity. It is going to be a fun time.

Did You Get Your Payoff?

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I was surprised to get an email telling me I had a credit from Amazon on my account. I didn’t recall returning anything. After reading the email I realized it was from the price fixing settlement that I, because I had bought some eBooks, was a part of. So thank you Amazon I will put your credit to good use, but we still need to talk about eBook prices.

http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/amazon-issues-credits-in-response-to-ebook-price-fixing_b84002

I am of the mind that prices for current eBooks offered by the big publishers are too high. I know this ventures into the whole debate of how do we, as authors, attain value for our work, but I, as a consumer, do not place the same value on eBooks as I do other content. It isn’t that I don’t enjoy reading eBooks, I do, it is more one of consumption. Since an eBook only exists so long as I am reading it and I cannot sell it or lend it to extend my value for it I cannot see paying more than six dollars for it. Sadly that is about 1/2 of what many best sellers go for in the Kindle or Nook stores.

The other side of this is, I don’t have to pay that much for eBooks. There are a wealth of independent authors offering their works at the consumption friendly prices that bring them closer to the impulse buy of supermarket checkout line paperbacks. Some might make the false assumption that these prices represent the quality of the work. Some might erroneously conclude that anything at this basement price indicates something of a farm team effort, professional but not quite the big leagues. All of these people would be far from the mark. When you are a self published author coming up with the price of your work is probably the most difficult decision you have too make. Once you do make it you will always second guess yourself. Is it too low? Am I shorting myself? Is it too high? Could I sell more at a friendlier price? I have books priced at ninety-nine cents and ones priced just under three dollars. Sales have not proven one price better than the other. The debate continues on. The only advice I can give is go with your gut. Look at eBooks you have bought and what price made the transaction a done deal and what price left you with a, “maybe if the price ever goes down.” Let that guide you for your own work and hopefully put an end to those sleepless nights. You have bigger things to fuss over, like your next book.

Isn’t Science Grand

In grade school I always looked forward to science class. Call me curious like that. So, I find it so exciting that in my life time, short as it is, three major discoveries have broadened our knowledge. These are discoveries that answered questions that the text books in my grade school said were unknowns.

The first one is exoplanets. Remember when we only had nine planets to remember the names of. Well we crossed one off that list. Sorry little Pluto I was gunning for you. According to the NASA Exoplanet Archive we know know there are 1,692 planets around 1,024 stars. There are also some 3,845 candidates for confirmation. 441 systems have multiple planets. Let that sink in, that’s 441 solar systems that didn’t exist when I was making my first model out of coat hangers and Styrofoam balls.

Who here remembers the 1979 Disney film The Black Hole? It was the stuff of science fiction, the black hole I mean. Once again science fiction has become science fact. More than that, scientists expect billions of these things in our universe, so many they cannot be counted. Just imagine, one theory has a super-massive black hole at the center of every galaxy, including our own some 28 thousand light years away.

And the last one? Why just this week scientists have found irrefutable proof of the big bang. Not the TV show. Einstein predicted it and the scientists at Harvard found it. You can read the story at Gizmodo.com right here: Why the Big Bang Discovery is Even More important Than You Think. There isn’t much that I can add since the details barely fit in my little brain.
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So what does this have to do with writing? As writers we bask in our imaginations. We swim in a lake of make-believe and what if. Yet, at the same time our world, our universe is uncovering itself and rewriting our understanding of it. No plot, no setting can be as real or as weird as what is around us. It is
definitely an exciting time. Today’s fiction could easily become tomorrow’s fact. Yet we still face challenges and questions of ideas that to some seem so perfect, so true they are beyond question. Couple that with the importance we place an liberty and freedoms and expressing those ideas and the mind finds itself in a weird quandary. Accept or question, approve or ridicule the choice is yours but remember just when you think you know where all the pieces are on the board the universe changes the game.

Well There’s Your Problem Right There

Open-bookI kind of figured this but seeing it in map form is scary. http://gizmodo.com/america-doesnt-read-much-says-map-1534623889 In truth you only have to browse a Facebook feed to see that sad fact of America’s fondness for illiteracy.

I am often surprised by the number of writers who are not reading. If you ain’t reading you ain’t writing. There are two questions every writer should have an immediate answer to. What is your latest work? What are you in the middle of reading right now? My writing has improved by leaps and bounds once I began reading regularly.  By that I mean as soon as one book is done the next one in my que hits my Kindle or Nook app. I find it is also useful to read outside your genre of interest and even books with some issues. It all goes into making you a better writer.