Thank God For Beta Readers

Working on the sequel to my debut novel has been an interesting experience because of the unique pressures of a) trying to live up to the first novel which was well received enough to sell and generate some buzz from readers of excerpts and b) being a write as I go non-outliner in the midst of an employment crisis and divorce, focus has been hard. I have often felt lost. But I have the good fortune of some smart friends who volunteered to beta read and they have saved me in one very simple way: feedback. First, I deliberately chose three beta readers who had not read the original novel because I wanted to be sure the back story was a) poured out like sand through a tight hourglass and not b) like dropping a huge load of sand off a 747. I wanted to introduce only what was needed when it was needed and avoid the trap many writers struggle with and critics complain about in 2nd books of trilogies. I wanted a book which could stand alone for new readers. The advantage was of new readers was a) getting three creatives who are fans of space opera who can analyze the book on a level some of my non-creative readers couldn’t and b) getting feedback as I write which can help me better shape the book. In the process, they have had to wait for long gaps between chapters, deal with me rewriting earlier stuff to make new stuff work (I frequently just make stuff ut up as I need to to make the story work and go back later to make the other chapters work with that). They have been very patient. But recently I reached a point where I just felt totally lost. Writing the last half of chapter 5 and all of chapter 6, with 7 or 8 being the midpoint of the novel, I just felt like I had it wrong. So I brought in a beta reader from novel 1 and had him go over it. Boy am I glad I did. 1) he assured me right away that it felt like a novel that flowed from the other in style, voice, etc. 2) the characters were developing well and things seemed paced well and 3) he helped me sort out some ideas on story I really need to clarify to keep this thing going. Not only did Chapter 6 come together with a fun 10-page action scene at its close, but I also immediately outlined Chapter 7 which came together with good ideas for the various twists I want to include in the rest of the book. Oh, I don’t know everything that will happen yet, but I know the ending and I know the twists leading there, so the rest should flow. Thank God for betas. Some writers tell me they like to write in a vacuum, letting no one see their work until they’re sure it’s ready. The advantage is the manuscript may have less warts when readers see it, but the disadvantage is, when you’re on you’re on and you’re stuck, it’s all on you. My readers know the final draft will be much better: a) because one of them has seen the progression of book 1 and b) because they are also writers. And as they now all read the final book 1, they’ll realize that I will polish this up and add many nuances and fine details later, right now I just want to get the story down. I also know that I learned from the many drafts on novel 1 and novel 2 won’t, hopefully, require as much work as a result. And I know that they will enjoy rediscovering the book in its final form because other betas have and that’s the joy of publishing–taking a rough cut stone and polishing it into a precious gem. So you may decide you don’t need betas, but I am thankful for mine because they’ve already kept me going when I felt like it wasn’t worth the effort, and they’ve reminded me it’s actually pretty good, in spite of my distracted lack of focus, even when I don’t feel it. That alone is worth the trust I’ve placed in them. For what it’s worth…

AUTHOR’S TIP: Thesaurus Abuse No

I got criticized once that my writing style uses simpler words.  Why not show off your vocabularly or use more sophisticated verbage, they asked.  My answer:  I’m writing for a wide age group, and vocabulary is only useful if it adds to understanding, not if it takes away from it.

For example, my friend, a talented writer, just tweeted this from his WIP:  “Her soul was gnawed through, suffocating, sensitive though numb.”  Out of context, that does very little for me.  Intriguing use of words? Yes.  But meaningless without more context.  Knowing this friend, he’ll give it the context.  So I’m not worried about him, but I’ve seen plenty of writers who use words like this and end up with a jumbled mess.

Have you ever been reading and come across a word you had no idea the meaning of and it ripped you right out of the story and world?  Do you hate that?  I know I do.

Publisher Candlemark and Gleam offers this comment:  There’s a difference between having a good vocabulary and a good grasp of wordplay and being overly clever; think of the poor, overused thesaurus before running amok. Trust us, saying “her violet orbs welled up with viscous, salty fluids” does not, in fact, work as well as “her eyes brimmed with tears.” Won’t someone think of the thesaurii?

It’s not that I’m not impressed with a good vocabulary.  Well used, it can be both educational and intriguing.  I often go through during polishing and substitute words using a thesaurus.  This is to keep it from being stagnant with overly repeated words.  But I’m very careful where and what I replace.  It does you no good to show off words when the reader has to look them up constantly and step out of your story.  It’s distracting, annoying, and, in the end, insulting.  Writing is communication.  Communicate with your readers.  Fiction is story telling.  Telling them a story doesn’t work if they don’t understand it.

So when I’ve heard people criticize my lack of sophisticated words on occasion, I point to authors who are quite successful and don’t need that.  Authors like Mike Resnick, Orson Scott Card, Kevin J. Anderson, Timothy Zahn, to name a few.  I’d much rather have words a lot more people can read than words only suitable for a select few.  How about you?

Part of having a vocabularly is knowing when and how to use the words.  If you can’t do it well, you don’t really own those words.  So don’t try and fake it, because, trust me, readers will know.  And it won’t give you cred.  It will take away cred.

For what it’s worth…

FIrst Book Signing

Attended my first book sale/signing this weekend at the La Viña Winery Harvest Festival.  We were situated right next to the very loud music stage in the El Paso Writers’ League booth.  The booth was nice and it was loaded with books by our members.  I sold 3 Saturday and 2 Sunday, but that was just my own.  I sold several books by other authors as well.  I am not and never will be real pushy.  My theory is: I want people to get the right book for them.  No sense having them mad at me for talking them into the wrong book plus badmouthing the book to their friends.  Better for everyone if they say: “I got it from El Paso Writer’s League.  The guy was really nice and the book was good.”  Good for me, good for EPWL, and good for the author.

Being the only SF book was a bit tough, but those to whom it sold seemed really enthusiastic about it.  I had hoped that my bargain price would make the book sell a little better, but it didn’t sell much when I wasn’t there.  So I am assuming it’s either my charisma or the lack of others’ knowledge of the book which made the difference.

It was a fun experience.  Fun to chat with the customers, other authors, browsers, and just to hang out in the clean air.  We had the world’s longest corndog, samples some wines, and even had a funnel cake.  Two weekends in a row.  You can’t beat that!

In any case, I hope to do more of these and start selling my book.  I really need to get the income and make back my investment, plus, I’m proud of the stories.  I think they’re enjoyable and a good tease of my writing, even if they’re shorter and simpler than most of what I do.

One weird thing about book signings is that sometimes people ask you to write things like “to my best friend” or “with all my love.”  I wasn’t asked to do that this time, thankfully, because I won’t do it.  To write anything untruthful just isn’t me.  But I did have a guy who wanted me to include “outlandish” in whatever I wrote.  So to him I wrote:  “May this book inspire you to dream outlandish dreams and reach for the stars.”  Pretty good improv, if you ask me, but then, I am a writer, so I’m supposed to have a way with words.

I’m going to offer a special deal.  The first 15 people to comment on this blog this week will get the discounted price from LaViña of $5 per book.  That’s $7.49 retail, so you ave $2.49.  You’ll either have to pay shipping or arrange to pick up your copy, but hey, everyone who’s read it has liked it, and you will too.

Okay, let’s start those comments…

NOVEL EXCERPT: Prologue from The Worker Prince

This is the first chapter of my forthcoming science fiction novel The Worker Prince. It’s a space opera in the vein of Star Wars and Star Trek. If you enjoy it, please spread the word.

Prologue

Sol climbed to the top of the rise and stared up at the twin suns making their daily ascension. Yellows and oranges faded under the increasing blue of oncoming daylight, leaving a red glow on the horizon.

For as long as he could remember, he’d started each day with an escape from the heavy, polluted air and the noise of people, factories and traffic. He’d hoped the peaceful, quiet sunrises would calm him as usual to face the day ahead, but today he had no sense of peace, and the silence of the city’s edge drowned beneath the clamor within him.

My precious son! My God, don’t forsake us now!

The wait had been interminable, punctured by endless prayers to God for a precious gift. Now they had to send him away—their Davi! Was there no justice in this universe?

He glanced at his chrono and sighed. Wouldn’t want to be late to serve the Borali Alliance! After one last look at the twin suns, he turned and hurried back along the path toward Iraja and the starport stretched out on the horizon near the city’s edge.

He labored more with each breath as heavy air filled his lungs. The depot occupied a strategic site at the center of the planet ensuring easy access from all regions. Ignoring the droning soundtrack of the city awakening, Sol timed in on the chrono and greeted Aron, his co-worker and lifelong friend.

“Regallis,” Aron said, smiling.

“Regallis?” Sol asked. It seemed so far away—one of the outer planets in the system.

Aron nodded. “It’s perfect. Good population, frequent tourists, fertile plants, peaceful, no pollution. Best of all, no slavery. Davi should find a very happy life there.” Sol smiled at the thought. “I plotted coordinates for the capital. Figured it would give him the best chance.”

Sol clapped Aron on the shoulder, as the idea blossomed. “Thank you, Aron. We knew we could count on you.”

Aron, short and bulky, filled out the blue-green uniform jumpsuit, leather boots and tool belt both wore more fully than the thinner, taller Sol. They moved across a hangar toward their workstation, despite the deafening racket closing in around them—the constant hum of machinery, men raising their voices to be heard over it, the roaring of engines, the staccato hammering of tools. The sounds, the chaos of starships in all states of repair and the smell of fuel and sweat combined to make the hangar a place most visitors preferred to avoid. Sol didn’t even notice.

“What do you have left to do?” Aron asked as their eyes scanned the daily work assignments on their terminals.

“Test the seals and navigation system, replace injector. Then I need fuel.” Sol sighed, ticking the tasks off on his fingers like always. There would be no time to work on the courier today.

“My friend at the fuel depot has left over military fuel cells. They almost never ask for them back. He volunteered some for the courier.”

Sol beamed. If he’d ever had a brother, he hoped it would have been someone like Aron. “What did I do to deserve a friend like you?”

Aron shrugged. “Some people are luckier than others.” Sol laughed at Aron’s silly grin as they set to work on their assigned tasks.

As they commenced with their work, Sol stared through the hangar’s transparent roof at the clear blue sky overhead. Through a break in the gray, polluted clouds, the clean purity of a blue sky contrasted with his daily existence. He and Lura had adored every moment since the birth of their son. Every giggle, smile, or sign of personality sent waves of warm amazement coursing through him. There was not any more precious gift than that of this little creature who’d come from their love.

Lord Xalivar’s decree had taken the planet by storm. All first-born worker sons would be slaughtered for the gods. There were rumors that the crisis resulted from one of the High Lord Councilor’s nightmares, but no one knew for sure. Xalivar didn’t need a reason. Concerning the slaves, his word was law.

The gods! Gods our people don’t even believe in would dare to take away our Davi! Sol and Lura desperately wondered what they could do to save their precious boy. After hours of discussion, they’d found a single choice.

The next morning, Sol had begun modifying the round, silver craft designed to carry supplies and papers between planets in the solar system. Being a mechanic at the depot put him in the perfect position. He installed a vacuum sealer and oxygen vents and hollowed out the carrier cavity to hold the cushion on which he would place their tiny son for the journey.

Sol enlisted Aron, who had access to navigation charts for the entire system, knowing together they could find a place where Davi would be found and cared for. The courier’s sub-light drive would cut travel time to no more than a day to anywhere in the solar system.

Lura wouldn’t eat and barely slept, sitting with Davi and refusing to leave him. At least Sol’s work kept him occupied. He couldn’t bear watching her suffer, and if he didn’t act, Davi would be sacrificed with the others. Healing would come when they knew he was safe. Sol was, even now, working on a tracking device, which would send back a signal to the depot when the craft landed. They might never see Davi again, but at least they would know he’d escaped to a new life.

As the suns’ rays warmed the space where he stood, it comforted Sol to know their baby boy would see the same suns wherever he wound up. Shadows crept away like their quat, Luci, who loved to sneak around feeling invisible with her arched back and long tail. Luci would miss the precious little one, too. Sol offered a silent prayer of thanks for the time they’d had with their precious son then turned back to his tasks.

***

“LSP Squads are landing and moving toward our neighborhoods.” A co-worker appeared beside Sol’s worktable, his fearful eyes darting around like flies hovering over a corpse.

“We don’t have much time,” Sol said to Aron as the co-worker hurried off, and they abandoned the hulking barge to finish the courier.

Aron tested the navigation system, while Sol checked the seals. Less than thirty minutes later, the first reports of methodical killings came in—first-born males of all ages slaughtered by LSP squads moving from home to home.

“I hope Lura heard the news.” Sol couldn’t stand still.

“I’m sure everyone on the planet knows about it by now,” Aron replied as both did their best to hurry without making any mistakes. “She’s probably on her way here already.”

Sol nodded, fighting the tension rising within. She would follow their plan and head for the depot with Davi. With his supervisors watching, he couldn’t run home and warn her. He’d risk encountering the LSP squads, who tended to shoot first and ask questions later of citizens who interrupted them in action.

The supervisor was upon them within the hour. “There’s no courier on your worksheets.”

His gray jumpsuit bore not a blemish or wrinkle, unlike theirs which were covered with grease and grit. The stare from the green-scaled supervisor’s disproportionally large orange eyes might have been intimidating if Sol hadn’t already grown used to it. Tran hurried over waving the two lower arms extending from either side of his rounded, voluminous stomach. Two parallel arms extended out of his shoulders above them, one holding an electronic translator which translated his words from his native Lhamor—a series of clicks and clacks—into the common used standard, the official language of the Alliance.

Sol’s throat tightened, but Aron remained calm. “It’s the courier for Estrela Industries, Tran,” Aron said as he typed calculations into the navigation system’s computer. “We got notification they’ve moved up the testing. It’s for a top-secret program authorized by Lord Xalivar himself.”

Sol and Aron had long ago devised the story about the courier belonging to an important defense contractor. They’d seen too many other workers killed just for failing to meet their quotas. Since couriers were a part of their regular routine, it was easy enough to excuse their working on it from time to time if anyone asked. Before now, no one had.

Tran mulled this over, staring at them as if he could read their minds. “It’s almost done—a few minor adjustments.” Sol used a wrench to finish checking bolts on the courier’s hatch.

“Well, you can’t leave today without finishing your assignments.” Tran’s eyes reddened with suspicion before he whirled and marched away. At least they’d bought themselves time.

“If he goes to the manager—” Sol shuddered at the memory of past tortures for disobedience.

“He won’t. He flinches at the mention of Xalivar’s name,” Aron reminded him, as they hurried back to work on the courier. Sol’s breathing normalized again, and he hoped Lura was on her way there.

A clerk in a red jumpsuit appeared, handing Aron some parts for another project. As Aron signed the laser pad to acknowledge receipt, the co-worker looked at Sol. “They’ve started in your neighborhood. We just heard.”

Sol and Aron exchanged a frightened glance as the co-worker slipped away. Sol’s muscles tightened as his heartbeat climbed. He jumped at the communicator’s beep, then double clicked the talk button. “Station sixty-five.”

“Your wife is in the lobby,” the auto-bot receptionist responded. The line went dead.

Sol’s shoulders descended as he turned to Aron. “Get the pod to Test Pad Seventeen-A. We’ll meet you there.” Aron nodded as Sol hurried toward the lobby.

Lura waited with Davi wrapped in a blanket, rocking him in her arms. She wore a simple white jumpsuit and tan leather shoes, her long brown hair flowing down her back. As it had for fifteen years, her beauty took his breath away. The most perfect human he’d ever met had chosen him. He felt like a leprechaun from an Old Earth fairy tale grasping a pot of gold.

Sol hugged Lura, seeing the fear in her eyes. “Come with me.” Grabbing her arm, he steered her away from the four-armed auto-bot, which sat permanently affixed before a huge communications console. He tried to relax, knowing it was a mech but as they neared the door, Davi began crying.

“Is that a baby?” Tran’s voice came from behind them, and they turned to see him frowning as he approached.

“It’s our son,” Lura commented, then put a hand over her mouth as Tran reached for a communicator on the wall.

The clerk who’d delivered supplies to Sol and Aron earlier entered at a run. “Tran, Station Thirty-Four has no fuel.”

Tran stopped reaching for the communicator and turned to face him. “What do you mean they have no fuel?”

As Sol pushed Lura through the door, Tran whirled back around, scowling before the door slammed shut behind them.

Lura’s tears flowed as they zigzagged through the chaotic hangar toward the test pads. They almost couldn’t hear Davi crying above the din.

“I’m sorry…” Lura’s hand shook as she clung to his arm.

“Let’s hope Aron’s got the courier ready.” Sol tapped three numbers into a security door and it rose into a ceiling cavity with a loud, whooshing sound. He ushered her down a dimly lit corridor.

“I don’t know if I can let him go,” Lura said, as she had over and over since the decree’s release.

“If we want our son to grow old, we have no choice, love.” Sol’s practiced emotional burying failed and his voice cracked as they moved past numbered doors toward Test Pad Seventeen-A.

The dark walls and floor of the narrow corridor absorbed what little light the reflector pads overhead provided. If Sol hadn’t known the way, they would have progressed more slowly. They stopped before a gray door marked seventeen-A as Sol entered another key code into the security pad.

The door swung up and Sol rushed Lura and Davi onto the test pad, where Aron was busy double-checking the courier’s navigation system. Mounted on the launcher, the courier appeared bigger and taller than it actually was. Upon seeing it, Lura clutched Davi tightly to her chest.

“Lura, we must hurry!” Tiny daggers danced and sliced at the surface of Sol’s pounding heart.

“I’ve got the coordinates programmed. And I borrowed fuel for the sub-light drive from Station Thirty-Four,” Aron said and Sol winced. “It should take them a while before they miss it.”

Sol climbed a small ladder and examined the courier one final time. “Tran’s already been alerted. Why’d you do that?”

“There was no time to go anywhere else,” Aron said, his face registering alarm.

Sol motioned to the courier. “Let’s get the engines prepped. They don’t know where we’ve gone.”

Aron and Sol hurried about the final launch preparations as Lura held Davi and cried. After a few moments, Sol stepped down from the ladder to join her.

“He’s going to Regallis, Lura. Aron checked it out himself. He’ll be in the capital. Someone will give him a life we never could.” Tears flowed as his hands carressed the feathery down atop his son’s head.

“How can this be happening?” Lura said through her sobs. “We’ve waited so long for a child!”

Sol’s arms wrapped around her, holding his family for the last time. “We have to have faith, Lura. God will protect him. It’s time for him to go.” He reached for Davi. Lura resisted a moment, then kissed Davi’s forehead and surrendered.

His infant son lay so light in his arms—soft and warm. The eyes looked to him with total trust, but instead of cuddling with him as he wanted, Sol hugged the tiny boy to his chest and hurried up the ladder to the courier. Placing Davi in the molded cushion, he wrapped the safety straps around him, put the life support pad in place and turned it on. Its LEDs lit up bright green. The note he’d written for whoever found Davi rested secure in the info pouch on the side wall. Everything was good to go.

Lura rushed up the ladder beside him. She removed her necklace his mother had given her before their joining ceremony and set it beside their son. Since the ceremony, Sol had never seen her without it. Tucking the family crest emblem inside the blanket where it couldn’t float free and scratch their son, he reached for the hatch, bending down as he did to kiss Davi’s head.

“Always remember we love you,” he said, the last words his baby son heard before the hatch closed over him.

Sol clasped Lura’s hand and led her down the steps. He nodded as Aron entered the launch code in the computer, and they all moved out of range to watch. The courier’s engines ignited, humming as they rose to full power in preparation for launch. The room vibrated around them as the courier’s engines shot out twin columns of orange-red flame, rocking the pedestal upon which it rested, before launching into the sky on its journey to the edge of the solar system. Sol wrapped his arms around Lura as she collapsed against him, sobbing. Security forces arrived, surrounding them, and Sol glimpsed Tran’s orange eyes peering in from the doorway.

326 pp · ISBN 978‐0‐9840209‐0‐4 ·Trade Paperback/Epub/Mobi · $14.95 tpb $3.99 Ebook  · Publication: October 4, 2011  · Diminished Media Group
Available now for 20% off on preorders!!!

Trade paperback only

 EPUB or MOBI — please specify in notes on order

The Worker Prince: Book 1 In The Saga of Davi Rhii

AUTHOR’S TIP: Playing The Waiting Game

I think one of the hardest parts of being a writer is the waiting. You wait to hear back on submissions, wait to hear back from beta readers, wait for checks to arrive, wait for books to arrive, etc. And if you’re anything like me, waiting is probably not your forté. So what do you do to get through it?

Here’s a few suggestions:

1) Keep multiple projects going. Once you send out the latest manuscript to your betas or a slush pile, get to work on the next one. Okay, you can allow yourselves one evening to celebrate your satisfaction, but, after that, back to work. After all, even if this one gets accepted, careers don’t happen on one submission. You have to keep building your business.

2) Regard it as a business. All too often I meet writers who talk as if their writing is a hobby, yet act as if acceptance or rejection is something their life depends on. I have few friends whose hobbies are so important to them. If you’re that invested, it’s not a hobby, so stop pretending it is and treat it like a business. Work on your craft, including writing classes, reading a lot, studying what other writers do and how they describe their own craft and struggles. Set up a database for you submissions and your income and expenses. Treat it like the business you want it to be.

3) Blog about it. That’s what I’m doing and it’s therapeutic. There are lots of people going through the same thing and sharing with each other is an encouragement and learning experience.

4) Remind yourself that finishing and submitting your work puts you a step ahead of many others. Lots of people say they are writers or want to be, but only those who actually write, complete it and submit it have the chance to actually make it as professionals.

5) Offer Reader Incentives. This one won’t work with the markets you submit to, but it might work with your beta readers. Of course, it all depends on your budget. But think about running little contests with your betas for the person with the most helpful notes, the quickest response time, etc. You can offer everything from gift certificates for a cup of Starbucks to writing lessons or services. It might be a way to keep your betas motivated. After all, if they’re not writers, they probably don’t realize how hard the waiting is or how important their input is to your success.

Everyone’s situation is unique, so I’m sure you can think of better ideas than I can. See what you can come up with to make the wait time pass more quickly. Whatever works for you might not work for me. The point is to use the time to further your career, instead of regarding it as holding you back.

Good luck with your writing.

For what it’s worth…

Write Tip: Making Perfect Bound Arcs With Create Space

After almost a year, nine drafts, two independent editors, a series of beta readers, two critique groups, and a few rejections, I was tired of looking at the word file that was my novel’s manuscript. I still believed in the story and characters and felt good about my writing though. Both the professional editors I’d worked with and the betas had raved at about, as had my crit group members. I’d polished and polished. But still had not achieved what I wanted — holding the finished book in my hand.

Then I remembered the process I’d used to self-publish my short story collection using Create Space. If you format the cover and book interior yourself, there’s no set up cost. And if you don’t click “Submit For Publishing,” Create Space never releases the book to Amazon or stores. This could be the perfect way to get to that next phase, I thought.

I went through the manuscript again and polished it some more, addressing a few issues I discovered with the main character’s arc, polishing and tightening words and sentences and making sure it was ready. Then I sent it out to two betas for corrections and final notes.

After their notes came back, I implemented them into the manuscript, made a copy of the Word file and started reformatting the copy to meet Create Space’s instructions for the interior of a 6×9 trade paperback. Locating a free temporary cover image off the web, I trimmed that down and used Photoshop to fit it into Create Space’s cover template. Then I sent both files off to a friend who was experienced with Photoshop to double check and polish.

When they were ready, I sent them to Create Space for file approval.

Up to this point my total cost: zero. Much cheaper than print cartridges and paper reams would be.

A day or two later, after Create Space approved the files (which took a couple of tries with the cover because Create Space’s instructions aren’t any more understandable than anyone else’s), I ordered a copy for proofing.

Looking it over, I made a few changes, resubmitted the files, and, a week later, had another proof.

What a great feeling it was to finally hold the book I’d dreamed up 25 years before in my hand looking like a real book. Oh sure, I still had to find a publisher, but at least I knew it would look good that way, and reading the paperback was much easier than reading a backlit .doc file.

Since I never submitted for publishing, Create Space never released the book for sale so no one except me and Create Space even know it exists. I sent a few copies to faithful betas and a couple of reviewers and then submitted to small presses.

Now I am awaiting word from two who are interested in bidding for it. Altogether a very useful tool for getting professional looking book copies inexpensively. Total cost per ARC: $7.50 + shipping.

For what it’s worth…

ConQuest 41

I got back yesterday from my first ever Science Fiction/Fantasy Convention, ConQuest 41, in Kansas City, Missouri. There are many reasons I’ve never attended a convention before. Most related to either money or the fact that I was uncomfortable with someone dressing up as an alien and expecting me to call them “Zorg” all weekend. Happy to report this convention was not only economical, but “Zorg” free. There were people in costumes (mostly steampunk per the theme), but most were dressed in ordinary clothes just like me.

The convention gave me a taste of how beneficial such experiences can be. The first panel, helpfully, was an introduction to conventions in general with suggestions for how to make the most of them and a breakdown of the various types and what kind of attendees they cater to.

There were typically panels from 10 am to 5 pm in three rooms simultaneously while readings occurred in another room. There was Live Action Role Play gaming and video gaming as well as writer’s workshop activities.

I focused mostly on panels catering to writers which covered such topics as how to schmooze, the science in science fiction, what is steampunk, the changing face of publishing, and other related topics. Unfortunately, I only saw one reading featuring the authors of Hadley Rille Books. I enjoyed it and would have liked to see more, but my goal of building relationships got in the way as the people I needed to connect with always seemed to be available during the readings I wanted to attend.

I did get critiques of 50 pages each of my two novels which were helpful in thinking about how to make them better, and I also entered the “Story In A Box” writing contest which required you to draw from a bag your first line, setting, a character, a prop, and timeframe. My story required a steam powered vehicle, swimming in dangerous waters, and a bad angel in the future. It’s included below this post.

I did meet some publishers, writers and others. I gave out 25 teaser copies of my new book, and picked up some other books I have been looking for at the various dealers. I also got a number of autographs as well as photos with George RR Martin, Toni Weiskopf and Michael Swanwick.

I definitely enjoyed the experience and would recommend it to others. I can’t wait to do it again.

Here’s my story from “Story In A Bag.”


Floater

The stars went out one by one leaving Bia alone in the dark. Damn him! She knew she shouldn’t have listened. She knew and yet the same as always, his smile had been all it took to convince her to ignore her reservations and climb aboard his steam ship.

Another relic from the past to feed Jax’s endless fascination with history. He’d spent two years researching the parts needed to fix it and making them in his shop. “A spacecraft mechanic can fix anything,” he’d bragged.

She remembered the glow in his eyes when he told her he’d finished. A working steam ship, and he wanted her to go with him on its’ maiden voyage. The thing didn’t even look seaworthy to her. Besides, no one sailed on actual water anymore. It was unnecessary with all the abundant shuttle craft and air taxis. They could get you across any body of water in minutes, so why bother? It was the twenty-third century, for heaven’s sake. She cursed Jax again for his stupid obsession with the past.

To make matters worse, when it went down, he hadn’t even stayed with her.

“A captain goes down with his ship,” he’d said. Some stupid quote he’d read in an old story or fable. She hadn’t really thought he meant it. Her last memory of him was Jax kneeling on the deck, hands deep inside a compartment, struggling to figure out what went wrong and repair it. All he cared about was saving his ship.

“What about me?!” she screamed to the stars. “If you loved me so much, why wasn’t I more important than that stupid ship?!” She sighed.

No one could hear her anyway. At least, no one who could answer. Besides, she was in dangerous waters full of all sorts of creatures she didn’t even want to think about. What if one of them heard her? No more yelling, Bia. You’ve got to not panic and stay in control if you want to live. And she desperately wanted to live. Never had she been so grateful for her mom’s insistence that she learn how to swim.

“No one swims, Mom!” she’d protested. “I don’t even like water!”

“Swimming used to be very popular,” her Mom insisted. “Remember Grandma’s stories? You never know when a skill like that might come in handy.”

Her mother was right again, damn it. She hated when that happened. She’d tried swimming for a while after the ship had disappeared, but she couldn’t continue for long. Her arms weren’t used to it. I have wimpy arms, crying out at me with every stroke! She blamed her Mom for that, too.

“Men are the ones who do the heavy labor, Bia,” her Mom’s voice echoed through her mind with such clarity that she almost expected to see her mother floating nearby. “Women take care of the softer, finer things.”

So she’d grown up shirking physical exercise as something for men. With four bothers and a father, she hadn’t needed to do it, and after she’d grown, she’d had boyfriends and friends to take care of those things requiring physical endurance.

I fell into a stereotype! My God! I hate stereotypes! Too lazy to live by my own principles! Maybe I deserve to drown out here.

A white glow floated across the water to the east, drawing her eyes to it. It seemed to float along across the water. She watched it approaching until a face appeared, and then a long white gown. Were those actually wings she was seeing? She hated clichés even more than stereotypes. The angel-like creature stopped above her and looked down, smiling.

“Hello, Bia,” he said in a soft, tenor voice.

“What are you, some kind of angel?”

He laughed. “Something like that, I suppose. I’m whatever you want me to be. I appear differently to each person who meets me.”

“What are you doing here? I don’t exactly have time for light conversation.”

He laughed again. “Keeping your sense of humor, even at a time like this. That’s a good sign.”

She frowned. “Look, either help me or go away.”

“What if I told you your swimming is a waste of time?” he said. “The shore’s too far away. You’ll never make it. Not in the shape you’re in.”

She cursed to herself and sneered. “Is that why you came here? To tell me something I’d already guessed?” She started swimming again, hoping to get away from him, but he floated along above her, never losing the position he’d held when he first arrived.

“That’s it. Wear yourself out. It will make it easier when you go down,” he said.

“Look, I thought angels were supposed to help humans, but you’re not helping at all,” she said between breaths as she swam. “So shut up.”

The angel chuckled and shrugged. “I’m not that kind of angel.”

“What are you then? A bad angel?”

“Perhaps to some.”

She ignored him and kept swimming. “Fine. Enjoy your last moments, Bia.” He watched her a moment, then disappeared into the blackness as if he’d never been there.

Her arms were already tired. Maybe he was right, she couldn’t even see the shore from here. “Jax, you idiot! Why do I always choose the losers?”

She realized she might die out here, but if she was going to go, it was going to be her way. I will not just lie her and drown, damn it! The thought made her swim harder, stroke after stroke, doing her best to ignore the emptiness of the horizon in front of her.

After she’d struggled on for what seemed like an hour, another white glow appeared on the horizon, moving toward her. Not another angel. God’s mocking me, just like those religious fanatics at university did. Okay, so I have no faith in fairy tales. It’s my right. Freedom of choice and all that.

The white glow moved faster than the bad angel had. Within moments, it was upon her. A shuttle craft? She blinked. Her eyes weren’t lying. She stopped swimming and began waving frantically. “Over here! Please God, let them see me!”

God? Why am I calling him? Stupid expression! Another thing she’d gotten from her mother.

She spun in the water as she continued to wave. I don’t think they saw me. But then the shuttle turned, moving back toward her. She saw the pilot’s eyes as he leaned toward the window and peered down at her with surprise. Yes! He saw me!

The shuttle turned again and hovered over her. She saw the door slide open and the ladder drop. Even angels can be wrong? She laughed. I can’t wait to tell my mother.

Self-Publishing

Well, it’s time to get back to blogging after another week of insane busyness. I’m not sure if anyone regularly follows this or not, but from the comments at least a couple of people have stopped in. Since I just had my first experience with self-publishing, and I try and make this blog about all things related to writing, publishing, editing, creating and reading fiction, it seems appropriate to blog on that experience.

First, a disclaimer. I don’t put much credence in self-publishing. Okay, I know that’s ironic coming from a guy who just self-published a book. Want to hear something more ironic? The small press which publishes the ezine running the stories told me after he heard I self-published that he’d like to publish them. (Still talking to him about that possibility so these few books may actually end up as collector’s items one day). I don’t give self-publishing much credence because the publishing industry as a whole doesn’t, and I share their reasons. Anyone can self-publish, and, in many cases, they don’t even have to hire a professional editor, copy editor, etc. So with self-published books, you don’t know what you’re getting.

Also, since self-published books are a dime a dozen and professionally published books are not, it is clear the ones people put money in and agents chose to represent have been vetted as standing out amid the hordes of possibilities, which means they are probably higher quality than the run of the mill self-published book. (Don’t yell at me. Of course there are exceptions!) So generally the pro-published ones can be bought with confidence that your money and time will not likely be wasted. We all know how that goes though.

The reason I chose to go this route is that I have queried a ton of agents about my novel, which gets rave reviews from readers, editors, and others but can’t see to land an agent, and I have yet to sell short stories to major markets, so I need to build my brand identity and name recognition. The best shot at doing that is at the two conventions I will attend this year: ConQuest 41 in Kansas City at the end of this month, and World Fantasy at the end of October. I will also try and slip out to Raleigh in August for National Science Fiction if I possibly can.

The goal is to give these books to agents, writers, publishers, and editors as swag. 13 pulp-style space opera stories, all 5-6 pages, 15-1600 words, with one chapter from each of my novels at the end and information on my website. If nothing else, I hope to sell enough to family and friends to support the swag copies, and one or two people might actually like the stories enough to take a further look at my work. If I get really lucky, I might get a reputation as a promising writer and generate far more interest than that. Either way, I have nothing to lose.

I chose CreateSpace because there was no set up cost. As long as I formatted it myself–and I spent a lot of time doing so and editing, reviewing, tweaking and still let an error through (AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH)–it only costs me shipping and cost to get the books. Selling them through Amazon’s distribution net keeps my costs down but gets me very little profit. Selling on my website gets me 4 times as much. But anyway, the point was, other than artwork, shipping and cost per copy, my overhead is very low. The quality is high. And it was fast.

A lot of sites offer you self-publishing with required set up costs from several hundred to one thousand plus dollars. I not only don’t have the money, I don’t see the point in investing that in something I will mostly distribute as swag. So this made sense for me, and although there have been some hiccups, it’s overall been a good experience.

The hiccups came in two ways. 1) Figuring out how to format the files to meet their technical requirements was tough because I had no idea what language the instructions were written in. They looked like English but read like anything but. 2) Once I did that, I had made some errors which only a person who’d done this before would know, such as making the pages you want facing the front of the book always odd pages, etc. 3) My artist is in college and almost failed to meet the deadline, so I hired another guy, and ended up having to combine their work into something that worked. Both are talented, great guys who do great work, but my deadlines were just ridiculously tight because I only decided to do this two months before I needed the books, and I still had to write the stories! 4) I set myself a stressfully short deadline.

In the end, I had to send proofs in three times to get the books right and still ended up with 50 books containing flipped pages in two spots. Not a major big deal for average readers, but for the swag-pros, I couldn’t live with it. To their credit, CreateSpace replaced those books for free, expedited shipping.

I will say it’s cool to see your book for sale on Amazon, and to receive books with your name and words on them even if they have minor errors. And I really hope they are well received by the recipients as they were by my beta readers. I am doing a giveaway on good reads to generate buzz and reviews, and who knows where this could lead. The stories start circulating in Digital Dragon online in July, and these 13 are just the first part. I hope to write at least another 13 more.

I’ll let you know how they’re received and how the various sales/giveaways go. For now, that’s how my first self-publishing venture has gone. For what it’s worth…

(To purchase The North Star Serial, Part 1 for $7.49 plus shipping, go to my website at www.bryanthomasschmidt.net)

Sharks in Publishing

I just got an exciting email this past week: an anthology wanted to publish one of my own favorite short stories. Having not yet made a professional sale in fiction (so far I have had fiction work only appear in ezines) and given that he was paying the professional rate, I was naturally excited. Until he broke the terms out. He wants me to hand over the copyright to DE (his company) and that’s for life. He wants to have his editor rework my story to meet his needs with no input from me (I did negotiate and finally got him to agree to give me approval), and he wants to restrict my sale of the story in the future unless he gets paid.

I have submitted to a lot of professional fiction and nonfiction markets. This is the first time I was ever asked to give up a copyright. I sent out the question to three groups I am involved with, including American Christian Fiction Writers. The combined membership of the groups is easily several hundred. Of the fifty responses I got within an hour, only one person had ever been asked to give up copyright and she had refused. Another friend told me it is unethical to even ask.

DE’s reasons were to protect his investment in the anthology he was creating. He wanted total control so he could market it. When I offered him First Serial Rights and Electronic Rights, he told me that was archaic and the way of the past. He was working in the way of the future. If he’s able to foretell the future, that is indeed impressive, but every fiction market I research online still asks for the rights I offered, never copyright. Not even book publishers ask for that. So I guess he’s the only one who’s really hip and ahead of his time then.

I pulled the story and refused to agree unless he changed terms, so I lost a nice pay check and a chance to be published. It made for a depressing day, but imagine what would happen if one of my favorite stories was suddenly in demand by Hollywood for a film or TV production and I didn’t own it. If I wanted to someday do a collection of my short stories (if I ever do sell any and become respected enough) and couldn’t use this one. Imagine if someone wanted to give me an award and include it in their award anthology and I couldn’t allow that?

DE justified this additionally by saying he was buying stories from Indian writers for $10 each and was offering me thirty times that, so he was treating me more fairly and helping me get exposure. Well he’s exploiting the Indians and he wanted to exploit me, because this is his first publication venture. He has no track record, no distribution and isn’t even sure which stories he’ll end up using and whether it will be print or ebook. The more we emailed, the more I realized he doesn’t know what he’s doing, and that made me even more convinced I’d be a fool to turn over my intellectual property rights to him.

To all you writers out there, it sucks to lose a sale. I get that, believe me. But don’t get so desperate you lose your self-respect and sell out. It’s not worth it, and it will come back to haunt you. Take my advice and those of lawyers and others and stand up for yourself. I hope someone else buys this story, because I really like it. But at least if they buy it, it will be from me and not someone else.

Wouldn’t you prefer it that way with your stories?

For what it’s worth…