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My review just went live at Black Gate for James Enge’s The Wide World’s End, a book I spent the last five months dying to get my hands on and the last week swimming in. It is every bit as good as I’d hoped it would be, and far more surprising than I thought an origin story for a long-established signature character could be.
Source: Dr Pretentious

My website has needed updating for a long time. Now that it’s been inexplicably down for a week, it’s probably broken enough to move up the priority list and get done. Yay? Well, yes, yay, because maintaining my website is one of the many kindnesses Dan does for me, and he’s excited about trying some new things. His explanations of the things get very technical very quickly, so I just say thank you a lot and try not to get in the way.

What are the most important things to change about it? It needs to be faster, so some of the lovely design elements that Deena Fisher put in for me back in the days of Drollerie Press will have to get swapped out for something else. It needs some free reads and exerpts. Dan has some ideas about calendars that sound complicated and time consuming, but we’ll see. From my side of things, the highest priorities are to build a mailing list, and to come up with a newsletter people will be delighted to receive. If you’re on any authors’ mailing lists and like what you get, or check in regularly with any authors’ websites, please tell me what works for you as a reader.

The timing for my website’s temporary collapse is lucky. I was just about to start spreading the word about a reading for the Trafficking in Magic, Magicking in Traffic anthology that was supposed to happen in NYC next month. I’d been kicking myself for not publicizing the reading more, but first there was the concussion, and then we all got sick (like, 104.4 degree fever sick), and by the time I emerged from my cave again, blinking like a mole again, the reading was cancelled.

(My winter is some kind of Groundhog Day joke waiting to coalesce. On February 2nd, I’m going to step out of my front door, and if I see my shadow and scurry back inside, we’ll have six more weeks of revision. If I bumble out into the sun, we can forecast six weeks of gregarious Kickstarter preparations.)

On the one hand, I’m disappointed, because readings at the KGB Bar are a big deal. On the other hand, it was going to cost a small fortune in babysitting money to cover my absence from home for an entire weekday, to say nothing of gas and tolls from DC to Manhattan. Our odds of selling enough books for it to be a break-even proposition in financial terms were not great. In non-monetary terms, well, sometimes you don’t know until years later what was important. Maybe something wonderful would have come of it. Now some different wonderful thing will happen instead.

If the different wonderful thing has a word count of its own, so much the better. And now, back to work on it.
Source: Dr Pretentious

The good news: Exactly the editor I would want to work with to self-publish the Big Book wants to work with me. We’re at the point of discussing prices and schedules. She thinks the manuscript is in good enough shape, the number she’s quoting me is lower than the figure I’d budgeted for the developmental edit in my grant proposal. If the grant comes through, I’ll be able to do more in the production phase than I originally thought.

The bad news: I also worked on figuring out what kind of goal amount I should set for a Kickstarter campaign in case the grant doesn’t come through. For a first-timer, the number of people who know me in real life is a bigger determining factor than the merits of the project are for how much I can plan to raise. Note the distinction between hope and plan here. It’s not unusual for people to exceed their goals on Kickstarter, but if you don’t at least meet your goal, you get nothing. (That may sound nutty, but there are good reasons for doing things that way.)

All the old hands at crowdfunding agree: Figure out what is the most scaled-down version of your project that you can still bring yourself to do. What it costs to do that should be your starting goal.

The upshot: The lowest number that works for the editor is higher than the highest number I can be really sure of raising through crowdfunding. Even if I could raise money for the editor, the entirety of the production process would be a stretch goal. Under these parameters, this project really is out of reach, at least for a year or two and possibly longer, without the grant. I said so in the application, but for a moment I hoped I’d been mistaken.

So I go on playing the long game — I’ve been playing the long game for 11 years, it’s nothing new — and I work on changing the parameters. At the risk of buzzwording myself into unreadability, I need to expand my circle of influence (more readers = more potential backers). I need to connect with my readers in more ways. Just possibly, I might need to try the crowdfunding/self-publishing process with a smaller project before I try a bigger one.

First order of business: I need to set up a proper email list. It’s kind of shocking that I’ve gone on this long without one. My website has a link for joining my email list, but nearly all my blog readers prefer to find me at Livejournal, so the people most likely to join an email list have no idea there’s one to join. Not that I’m entirely sure what authors do with their email lists, or what readers get out of joining one. I should always be able to come up with at least one good answer to the question, “What’s in it for the reader?”
 
Source: Dr Pretentious

I’ve been watching Holly Lisle transition from a conventionally published mid-list science fiction and fantasy writer to a sustainably independent self-publisher over the past several years. All along, she’s also been running an impressive collection of online writing courses. I’ve sampled a couple of her short ones, enough to wish the big courses for beginners had been around when I was a beginner. She’s a cool human being, she knows her stuff, and she’s generous with what she knows. She also has a knack for building communities.

So when she announced that she was looking for founding members to help her brainstorm for a new community, Readers Meet Writers, that would help ardent readers and new writers find each other, I knew she would come up with something that would really work and be fun and be win-win for everybody. The brainstorming stage began right before I got my concussion, so you won’t see a lot of my fingerprints on it, but I’m excited about contributing now that the project is moving out of brainstorming and into beta.

You’re invited. Here’s a link that’s an invitation specifically from me. If you’re a writer hoping to earn the regard of some True Fans or a reader looking for the Next Big Thing, you can help shape Readers Meet Writers into what you’re looking for.
Source: Dr Pretentious

When I self-publish the Big Book, I’m going to do it right: hire an A-list team of professionals to do all the same tasks a major imprint would do (developmental editing, copyediting, book design), commission kickass cover art from the same short list of people all the big sf/f imprints use for their covers, engage a PR firm to assist with the book launch.

For this self-publishing project, I have to be prepared to go big or go home. A book unedited, undesigned, and unpromoted is, for most practical purposes, unpublished even after you’ve published it, and might as well be buried in the backyard.

Fortunately, I have some options about how to go big.

And since you guys are my core reading constituency, your input is very welcome.

The big publishing houses are trying a new model for really long books. Fantasy readers love long books and buy long books, especially in a series, but they don’t like waiting between volumes, sometimes for years, while the author finishes the next one. Readers want something more like the experience of binge-watching an entire series on Netflix, so some publishers are experimenting with breaking long books down into serials. The wave of books that will, theoretically, be released in this way has not hit yet. Nobody knows how it will go.

It’s an obvious fit for the manuscript I happen to have. I’m going to strike while the iron’s hot. With luck, Spires of Beltresa will start coming out around when that wave of books does.

Right now, Spires of Beltresa has four sections. I’ll roll my sleeves up with my developmental editor basically the second I have money to pay that person — probably late summer or fall. As soon as I can get the first movement of the book through editing and production, I’ll start releasing one section every three months in e-book format (and print-on-demand trade paperback if the funding comes together for that), and then an omnibus edition at the end of the year (definitely in print-on-demand paperback and possibly also in limited-edition hardcover with maps and stuff if the crowdfunding goes overwhelmingly well).

(And now most of my relatives are wondering what Kickstarter is and what crowdfunding is. Kickstarter allows people to raise money for creative projects sort of the way PBS raises funds to keep broadcasting: by asking for support, mostly in small amounts, from viewers like you. Like PBS, people who are trying to crowdfund their projects offer thank-you gifts of their products, their time, their public recognition of your support, and so on. Here‘s more information about it.)

If I’m very lucky, I’ll get to start out with some seed money, which would allow me to go big faster. The college I went to has an annual alumni grant that allows one person to take a year off from her day job and pursue a much desired project. If my proposal wins the grant, I’ll find out in late April, pay my pros for the first part of the book, and send that part out into the world to show what I can do. In the lucky-like-a-lottery-winner scenario, that’s the point at which I’d turn to crowdfunding, to get the other three sections of the book out.

If my luck takes quieter forms, I’ll find out in April that somebody else with an awesome project deserves my congratulations on the grant, and I’ll run a smaller preliminary Kickstarter campaign to get the first part of the book out. Universe willing, the first part will do well enough to allow me to come back with a bigger campaign to get subsequent parts of the book out there, too.

It’s a little intimidating to think that I could be taking a Kickstarter campaign live around, say, mid-July. Considering that one of the early questions that went into the Big Book was what an epic fantasy would look like if it was set in a time period like 1789, a Bastille Day launch seems potentially auspicious.

Some of you are Kickstarter veterans — what would you urge me to do or not do? If you’ve never really known what Kickstarter is, what questions would you want answered? If you’ve supported other Kickstarter campaigns, what should a first time crowdfunder know about the backer’s-eye view? What makes an awesome pitch video, or an awesome backer reward?

What do you guys think?
Source: Dr Pretentious

Some of you have been champing at the bit, asking when it would happen. You can now find the Trafficking in Magic, Magicking in Traffic anthology at Amazon here, at B&N here, and at Smashwords here. (Smashwords apparently doesn’t know how to list multiple names as authors or editors for fiction, so you’ll only see my illustrious coeditor credited there.) And, just in case any of you have experienced a news blackout like the one I’ve been in for the past month, you may have missed October’s announcement that Tales from Rugosa Coven is now available as an e-book, too, in all the places you’d go to buy one.

Last month’s concussion continues to mess with me. The docs told me to expect a long recovery, weeks for certain and months probably. The work-related problems are bad enough — my reading speed isn’t back yet, and I get too tired to write about an hour earlier in the evening than I’m accustomed to — but the human problems are worse. My temper’s shorter, I’m more impulsive. In those ways, it’s as if I’ve reverted to the person I was in my 20’s; she had her good points, but I wouldn’t want to be her again. I have cursed like a Jersey girl in front of my kids, and a couple of times at them, because the customs inspection station between my mind and my mouth is closed until further notice.

The whole experience is giving me a bad case of compassion for football players. I never really wanted to feel compassion for football players. Is this how it feels to get over a long-held bias? If so, no wonder progress toward social justice takes so long. This is kind of awful. Some days I don’t know whether I’m more embarrassed about my former contempt for the football-playing demographic, or about watching that comfortable contempt fade away.

So it’s hard to tell whether the concussion has, on balance, made me a better person or a worse one so far. The docs say I’ll get all my impulse control, patience, and multitasking ability back eventually. Eventually.

Despite all that, I’ve written a couple of book reviews for Black Gate.

Garth Nix’s new novel of the Old Kingdom, Clariel, tries to be a stand-alone story. I think it succeeds as a novel, but not so well as a stand-alone. It’s still worth any fantasy reader’s while to go back to the beginning and start with Sabriel. (Here’s why.)

Tom Doyle’s debut novel, American Craftsmen, knocked my socks off. It’s a delightfully multilayered book. It hits a lot of the same sweet spots that early Tom Clancy novels hit, yet it’s also a family saga about rival magical lineages struggling to direct America’s national occult defense. And then there are the little metalevel in-jokes Doyle has nestled into the details of his fast-paced plot, waiting for readers who remember enough of American history and American literature to spot them.

Weirdest accomplishment of my immediately post-concussion period: During the early days, when I was not only supposed to refrain from reading, but in fact had been advised to avert my eyes if I happened to glance accidentally at text (!), I knitted a cowl almost entirely by touch in full darkness. Admittedly, for casting on and binding off, I had to cheat on the full darkness part and work in low light, but otherwise I knitted like a blind person. Never dropped a single stitch.

Most striking change in my writing voice, post-concussion: Adverbs seem more essential than they used to. I try to cut them, but they cling to their sentences, and, ineluctably, I put them right back in. I really look forward to recovering from that part. Really. Intensely. Avidly.
Source: Dr Pretentious

My kid landed on me, forehead to forehead, while falling on me from a nice high climb. He, thank goodness, is totally fine. I, however, get to do another Thanksgiving with a concussion. No black eye this time — last year, when C was three years old, he threw a rubber mallet at my head and gave me a shiner that lasted nearly until Christmas. The 2014 new improved concussion features whiplash and, if my doctors’ predictions are right, an even longer recovery time.

Just when I’m applying for an alumnae grant from my alma mater that would make self-publishing the Big Book way easier and faster, I’m supposed to limit screen use, writing-related activities, and thinking in pictures. But but but I owe a book review, and that grant application deadline isn’t going to meet itself, and…

And now my head hurts.

It’s tempting to go into Thanksgiving grumpy, but here’s the thing: I’m profoundly grateful that, if somebody had to take the damage in our little Newtonian physics experiment, it’s me and not my son. As tired as I am of having spent the past four days mostly in a dark room trying to discipline myself not to think, I know my four-year-old could not have marshaled the self-restraint to spend four quiet days in the dark, nor tolerated that restraint imposed by anyone else. I get to peer out of the room, blinking like a mole at the world where I get to spend a few more hours a day, living a larger fraction of my life, and there are my boys, running and laughing like they always do.
Source: Dr Pretentious

Three days bedrest, no screen time – alas.   Full recovery anticipated – yay.

Source: Dr Pretentious

Now when people ask about my experience with Dark Quest Books, I can say definitively that they have paid me. In the first two months Tales from Rugosa Coven was out, it earned me more than the two novellas I did with Drollerie Press earned during their entire two year run. The payment passes my two tests for a significant amount of money, on the scale appropriate to fiction in small press.

The first is the Nice Sushi Dinner Test. I could afford to take my family of four out for a nice sushi dinner at the local family-friendly place, and my boys could finally order as much octopus as they want. (Yes, even though my palate for Japanese food is still stuck as it was at age ten, my children gleefully eat raw tentacles.)

The second is the Henry James Wheelbarrow Test. As I described it the first time I ever got a royalty check:

Long, long ago I read some of the correspondence between Edith Wharton and Henry James. Wharton tells James how pleased she is with the sales for her latest book, and that she’s made some enormous purchase with the proceeds–I think it was a piece of French real estate. James writes back to congratulate her and say that the proceeds from his last book allowed him to buy a wheelbarrow to trundle his firewood around in, and maybe if the next book does well, he’ll be able to afford to paint the wheelbarrow. Wharton gets so sick of his complaining, she sends his publisher a huge chunk of money with instructions to send it to him and claim it’s his royalties. It’s fraud, yeah, but back then it was gentlemanly fraud.

(What I really should have learned from Henry James was that wheelbarrows need regular repainting. Plenty of writers of comparably canonical stature can show you how to write long sentences gracefully, but I don’t recall getting that particular tip on maintaining my garden tools from Faulkner. And if I’d thought to follow Henry James’s example, rather than just comment on it semi-wittily back in 2008, I wouldn’t have had to leave my rusted-out wheelbarrow behind in New Jersey when I moved. Man, I’m tempted to make some kind of William Carlos Williams joke, but it feels like such a cheap shot.)

The day a publisher sends me a big enough check for a wheelbarrowful of sushi, I’ll have to invite you all over.
Source: Dr Pretentious

That’s what I wanted to ask The Godless by Ben Peek every time I stumbled over another copyediting blunder. When a book is self-published, the author’s alone on the hook for that kind of thing, but when a major imprint of a major publishing house sends a book into the world in that condition, something weirder has happened. The Godless is the best book I’ve seen with such a bad copyedit, or maybe it’s the worst copyedit I’ve ever seen on a good book. While I puzzle over how big the distinction between those two descriptions really is, I invite you to entertain yourself with my review over here at Black Gate.

Source: Dr Pretentious


 

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