Write Tip: Top 10 Writer Lessons Learned From Cons & Appearances

Love it or hate it, for the modern author Conventions and Appearances come with the job. These can be a great deal of fun or  a great deal of stress or both. I’ve done 9 Cons since 2010, 5 since March 2012.  (You can check out my appearances here.) I’ve enjoyed them all for different reasons and yet some were better than others. Still, overall, the contact with fellow creatives and the public is a stimulant to creativity even if it drains time away from writing while I’m there. The biggest strain, of course, is budget. Cons are not cheap. But still, if you take the time to learn how to maximize them, there can be great benefits. Here are Ten Lessons I’ve learned from Cons and Appearances so far:

1) Selling Books Is Hard. A good signing/appearance tends to be around 12-13 books for me so far. As a new, relatively unknown author, it’s really hard to get people to try out your stuff. You do readings at which 4 attendees is a good turnout. You do bookstore appearances/signings and are happy if three people an hour actually stop to talk. At Cons, you do tons of panels and hand out info cards and are happy if people take them with any enthusiasm. In dealer’s rooms, if 5% of those who stop to look buy your book, you’ve done well. If you are a writer thinking selling the book is the easy part, think again. It’s hard. I don’t know how this compares with those whose publishers have thousands to spend promoting their books, but for micropress writers like me with promotion coming from my own time and money, selling books is hard.

2) Face-To-Face Matters. I realize many authors are socially awkward. We spend so much time alone by ourselves writing that social skills are not being developed. And many of us started out socially awkward in the first place. Thus, public appearances can be nerve-wracking and stressful. Still, nothing gets people’s interest like a face-to-face encounter. If you’re nice, funny, interesting, etc., people take notice. They realize you might be someone whose voice they’d like to spend time with listening. And this leads to sales and word of mouth. It’s a slow process, in my experience, but I’ve definitely seen it enough to know it’s true.

3) Most of Your Sales Come After Cons Online Or In Stores.  No matter how few or many books sell at a Con or appearance, I always know more a week or two later by looking at online sales and Author Central. Almost always we see numbers increase from people who met me or saw me at a distance and went to buy my books. I don’t know if this is because they don’t trust buying from you, worry about pressure sales if they approach or what. PayPal is secure, people. Whatever the reasons, I do see most sales coming from online or stores, even when I offer discounts through my website store, which I still can’t figure out.

4) Partnering With Dealers Has Advantages And Disadvantages. If you’re going to a Con, it’s always good to check out the dealers and see if you can find someone to either order copies of your book to sell or accept them from you on consignment. You will be expected to offer 25-40% of the price to the vendor, but I have still been able to sell books at a slight discount off retail when doing this. The bigger issues come from expectations. One, you should expect the vendor to display your books in a way that customers will see them, but not necessarily center stage and upstaging the vendor’s own wares. Two, pairing with a bookseller for books is better than pairing with another type of vendor. Vendors selling gadgets and toys will get customers who are easily distracted from books by their other wares. Clothing vendors have customers who aren’t looking for books. And so on. Booksellers are the best bet, but regardless of the vendor’s product, all of them expect you to get people to the table and come by to help sell your book. Working with booksellers makes this easier because they know how books sell, even those by unknown authors. Their expectations will therefore be appropriate. A toy vendor I worked with complained that I didn’t jump up and run out to pitch every customer who touched my book. My experience is that having a table between you is less intimidating than standing next to them on the sales side of the table and that being pushy is less effective than being casual and nice. Offer to answer questions, tell them a little about it, and even offer to sign it, yes, but being pushy is something to do at your own risk. Vendors don’t always understand because you are taking table space from their wares and sometimes the stuff they sell is sold well with a bit of push.

5) Plan Time To Be In The Dealer Room. If you have product for sale, it’s a really good idea to plan time to be at the dealer table greeting customers, signing, etc. Not just because of what I said in item 4 but because not everyone will see you at panels, readings, etc., and sometimes knowing the author is there makes buying a book more enticing. So check out the dealer room hours, compare it to your schedule for panels, etc., and plan some time. Remember: dealer rooms keep daytime hours. They will close at night, even when panels are still ongoing, so if you can, use the gaps during dealer room hours to be present and save your alone time, etc. at night for the much needed breaks. One good way to do this is to plan to bring carryout food to eat in the Dealer’s Room and eat behind the table so you can jump up and greet, etc. when customers stop by. Also, be sure and help sell the vendor’s other items, too. It shows a commitment to team and partnership that vendors will really appreciate.

6) Learn To Set Limits. Cons and appearances are tiring. You can only do so much. Overcommit at your own peril.I’d say 2-3 panels a day is a pretty good chunk, especially if you have readings and signings on top of that. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but when you wind up doing two morning panels and then two late a night, you will realize your day has gotten really long quick. Also, being on panels requires a lot of focus. You have to be cheerful and nice and smiling, and you also have to try and give intelligent output, which also requires energy. Plus, banter with fellow panelists is also important. I did 4 programming items a day at the last Con and after the first day felt like I’d done the whole Con already. I was so tired. And I still had another day and a half to go. Some have more energy than others. But this applies especially if you are staying at a cheaper off-site hotel and you don’t have a room to run back to for a nap or recharge. Big Cons, especially, have no quiet corners for that much needed Introvert recharge either. So you can find yourself stuck in crowded, noisy areas for whole days with no real breaks and it wears you out. Also, if you actually plan to attend panels, parties, etc., the more tired and overcommitted you are, the less able you will be to not only participate in those activities but enjoy them.

7) Preparation Saves Stress. Think up questions which you might ask on a panel or might be asked and practice answers. They won’t come out exactly the same way at the time, but at least you’ll have some coordinated, coherent thoughts already floating in your head to pull out and use. If you do get asked to moderate, you’ll have some idea how to approach it. With readings, you need to practice reading slow, at a good pace. If you can read with some character voice changes, it makes it far more interesting than reading with the Ben Stein-drone. At least know which passages you plan to read and how long it takes to read them. And have an idea what you’ll say to introduce the scenes and your book as well as yourself for panels and readings. Keep it short but don’t be afraid to highlight your credentials. And if you’re new, holding up a copy of a book or two is perfectly fine. It creates a visual memory for panel attendees who might later see it in the dealer room and consider buying it.

8 ) Spread Them Out. Doing a Con every weekend may sound fun in theory if you like Cons, but in practical fact, besides being expensive, it’s quite tiring and stressful. Sometimes it will be unavoidable. But most of the time, you can alternate Cons with local signings, readings, etc. in such a way to give yourself time to rest and recover in between. I also think you benefit from geographically spreading out appearances. I blocked out a number of driving distance cons this year and prioritized based on location, cost, guest list, expected attendance, etc. to determine which I should aim for and which I could skip or leave for “if I have time.” If you have books to promote, you can’t really show up last minute and expect to do signings, readings or panels. But if you’re well known or just going to network and participate as a fan, you can definitely just make last minute choices. I like to vary Cons in size a bit but generally Cons of large attendance numbers are easier to get lost and forgotten in than smaller Cons. You also have better chances to do panels at smaller cons, although there are exceptions.

9) Take Pictures.If you have publicists you work with, they will constantly nag you about this. My publicist friend does. If you don’t have that, you should remember and find people to take pictures for you. In every panel, if you get there before hand, you can find a fan who’d be willing to take a few pics. Remember, you get what you get. If you’re anal about pictures and how they’re framed, etc., it’s better to bring your personal photographer along. Otherwise, ask them to shoot several and hope you get something you can use. But pictures are helpful for blogs, PR, websites, and more, so having them is really helpful and if you’re by yourself, you want to be in them, so you’ll need help.

Here Dana, Michael and Doug demonstrate how tired we all feel, while Kelly and I fake alertness as we answer a question. Beware overcommitment–10 p.m. Panel Friday night, 12 hours after Dana, Michael & I started our day at a signing

10) Take Handouts. Have business cards, info postcards, book sell sheets, etc. and make use of the free literature tables scattered throughout Cons. Some have one, most have several. Put your stuff out and stop by from time to time to see if anyone’s taking them or to replenish the stack. Be sure and pick up extras before you leave, although I always leave a few behind for last minute people to take in case. Business cards will be helpful for fellow authors, editors, artists, etc. Postcards with book cover info, your website, a few blurbs, a small bio, etc. are good to hand to fans at panels, signings, etc. I use sell sheets at my book tables for people to take even if they don’t buy the book on the spot. Many people come back Sunday to make their purchases, browsing first to decide where they want their limited funds to go. So don’t miss the chance to give them something which might bump your book up on the list.

I’m sure I’ll do plenty more Cons and appearances this year and beyond, as my career is only just beginning (I hope). So there’ll be more lessons learned by this time next year, but for now, I hope these are helpful. Love to hear your thoughts and lessons learned in comments, too. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

 

Write Tip: How NOT To Approach An Editor

This is hard because I hate to potentially embarrass someone. But I was pretty shocked by this approach and really felt it worthy of blogging about so I am taking that risk. I am paraphrasing things as much as I can and, since it was done through a website and anonymous, I am not revealing a name or project title. But nonetheless, this is worthy of a Write Tip, it really is. Now there are many things you shouldn’t say to editors which won’t be covered. This post refers to a specific situation and scenario, but I hope you’ll see why I thought this warning was important to give.Recently, at the recommendations of friends, I have sought out freelance sites to promote my editing and drum up business. I’ve got enough experience now and recommendations to really make that worth my while but not enough incoming business just from reputation to keep my busy or keep food on the table. So I posted an add that read like this:

I will offer 30 minutes of professional editing on your novel, book, short story or blog for $5

Here’s a paraphrase of  the response I got:

Hi,  I have done the opening 500 words of a novella. Would you be interested in reading, editing, criticizing, providing ideas etc. Feel free to comment or add ideas. I won’t care if it grows from 500 to 1000 words.  

First of all,  the client means well. He’s just unaware of the right approach and what editors really do. So here’s the problem: 500 words is flash fiction but if you want an editor to help you with a longer piece, it’s probably not ready to be edited. If you’re looking for an assessment of craft, maybe it’ll work, maybe not. It’s not much to go on for a longer piece because it’s just a snippet. You need to write more. Plus, asking me to provide ideas sent up read flags. I am offering editing, not cowriting or ghostwriting by to give the person benefit of the doubt, my response was basically:

Sure. But 500 words is not very far in to be doing much good for you because the story likely has yet to take shape fully. I can certainly comment on the beginning and how it works, etc. but I’m not sure how useful it would be.

There were some minor exchanges between but then I got this (again paraphrased here):

I think your input at an early stage would actually be very useful. At an early stage bad habits that set in can ruin the book. And without early comment one can have nagging doubts and uncertainties that will not only plague the author but lead to a despondency and lack of confidence and finally failure and surrender…. another unfinished novel. Thus, your early action is imperative.

I did end up doing the edit, and I gave as close to 30 minutes worth as I could. $5 is well below my usual rate but as  a try out, it’s fine, and since this is my first bid on this site, I didn’t want to turn work down and risk a bad rating or something. But the attitude really doesn’t sit well with me. Here’s why:

First, an editor’s job is not generally-speaking to provide ideas on your unfinished work. Oh they can help you shape a book already written but not on something that’s incomplete. Especially not something that’s one page. What you’re looking for is someone to tell you what to write, and, frankly, that’s not the editor’s job nor am I going to risk working with someone I don’t know or giving away ideas. That’s something for which I should get paid, and probably a much higher rate than the standard editing fee. There would contracts and all kinds of negotiations and I’d have to know you better and really like the piece to agree.

Second, one page can reveal bad habits, yes, but it’s not a good assessment of your overall ability. It may tell a slush reader or editor that your work is not professional enough or interesting enough for their zine or anthology, but it’s not enough to determine your overall skills. Perhaps you’re just bad at openings. Perhaps this idea just didn’t work. Perhaps the reader just has different needs or desires. There are a lot of factors, but truthfully, one page is not a whole lot to go on. In this case, the writing was fairly strong in many ways but the polish was definitely not there and I made suggestions above active vs. passive voice, etc. It’s not ready for prime time, but the person shows potential.  I could see it turning into something decent with time and effort.

But when edited it, beyond typos, verbage, punctuation, tenses, and a few observations, I did not offer ideas. It’s just not what I’m there for. It’s your vision, your piece and your decision. All my input could do is muddy the waters and risk changing the story into something you never intended or might not write well, because it’s from me not you, and, since I’m not going to write it, how does that help you? What’s in it for me? At $5, nothing. Realistically.

The third issue with this: you are basically telling me you don’t know how to finish or what to do, and you are suggesting that I fix that. Again, that’s not what I’m there for, and it also, frankly, leaves me with the impression that despite your claims that by proving myself for $5 we can establish a future relationship, you are not a good basket into which to put my eggs, because if you never finish a story, when will there be anything to edit? It’s  not that I object to one-off clients, mind you, but I’d really like to establish a client base that keeps coming back and, thus, someone who doesn’t demonstrate the ability to finish stories is not someone I can count on to come back for more.

So basically, I’m doing him a favor and taking a risk to preserve my relationship and reputation via the site,  but not for any real benefit to me. It’s not something I would do a lot. Maybe not again. Because it’s not something that’s likely to bear fruit with steady work.  So, frankly, even if this is the position you’re in, revealing it is not the wisest course for the reasons stated. Someone else might just say “no” and never look back and you may well have left a permanent bad impression. In this case, it’s anonymous over the internet, but what if it wasn’t?

In 30 minutes, I could have edited the first 3-10 pages of a novel, perhaps a whole short story, depending on length, etc. So what really happened here was my doing something that probably won’t pay off long term and may well not serve the client well for an overall evaluation. Neither the client nor I got the full benefit of the offer: I will offer 30 minutes of professional editing on your novel, book, short story or blog for $5. Unless, of course, this blog post goes postal and many of you buy my books. Which would be really coolness, let me say, but I’m not putting my eggs all in that basket either. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Guest Post: Writetip-Writing Suspense In Science Fiction and Fantasy by Linda Rodriguez

Today’s guest is one of my favorite people, a local friend who’s talented and writes both mystery and speculative fiction as well as poetry. Her debut mystery novel Every Last Secret was published this Spring by Thomas Dunne and tells the story of a college police chief and Cherokee Indian investigating a murder on a college campus. Linda agreed to join us today to talk about writing suspense in Science Fiction and Fantasy. Recently I did a guest post for www.sfsignal.com identifying 15 Science Fiction and Fantasy Thrillers That Are Worth SFF Fans’ Time and mentioned that my second novel,The Returning, book 2 in my space opera epic The Saga Of Davi Rhii, is written like a Ludlum thriller in pacing and surprise plotting,  so her topic seems particularly appropriate.

Writing Suspense in Fantasy and Science Fiction

 by Linda Rodriguez

Suspense is not only the province of thriller writers, and some of our techniques can be useful to science fiction and fantasy writers. Every novel needs suspense elements to keep the reader turning the page. At its simplest, suspense consists of making the reader want to know what happens next. At its best, suspense is making the reader worry that his beloved protagonist will never reach his overpowering need or goal and what on earth is going to happen next! You will find this kind of suspense in all kinds of good novels. Will Atticus Finch be able to save innocent Tom Robinson’s life in To Kill a Mockingbird? Will Scarlett O’Hara save Tara in Gone with the Wind? Will Paul Atreides be able to become the Kwisatz Haderach to defeat the evil Harkonnens and the Emperor in Dune? There are a number of ways to provide suspense in a story. I say “provide” rather than “insert” because the suspense needs to be integral to the story and not just something added on.

One of the most important ways to increase suspense is to make it clear to the reader at the beginning of the story just what is at stake. It must be something that threatens to devastate the protagonist’s self-image, life or world, and he must be willing to make any sacrifice and go to any lengths to keep this from happening. However, another fine way to keep the reader wanting to know what happens next is to open your story or book deep in the action and explain it later. Although these strategies seem contradictory, they can be combined to add powerful elements of tension and apprehension to the reader’s experience of the book. If you start in the middle of some strong action scene, and then in the next scene or chapter, establish the background of your characters and the situation, you can delineate the high stakes that are involved for your protagonist here. These combined strategies can be used in almost any kind of story.

An alternative to this kind of two-part opening can be a first scene or chapter that establishes the protagonist within her everyday world but buries hints of impending change or danger within these ordinary moments. This is foreshadowing, and it has been misused often, but when the hints are subtle enough (while still being apparent to the attentive reader), foreshadowing can build excellent suspense. Movies have it easier here because they can use the background music to warn the audience that something wicked this way comes. Writers must try to create that same kind of atmosphere with sharp dissonant details and atmosphere.

One of the key ways to ensure that your book has the kind of suspense that keeps the reader saying, “Just one more page,” is to offer the reader the viewpoints of both the protagonist and the antagonist. This way the reader can see the problems the antagonist is planning for the protagonist long before the protagonist is aware of them. The reader can see what the protagonist cannot—that he’s on a collision course with disaster. This is a very powerful tool for suspense in all genres of novels, but is unavailable to those of you with a first-person protagonist-only viewpoint.

In the case of the first-person protagonist viewpoint, you can avail yourself of some of that reader foresight of disaster by stealing a trick of the traditional mystery writer. In the traditional mystery, as opposed to the suspense novel or thriller, the reader is in the dark and trying to figure out what happened and who the villain is at the same time as the protagonist does. Write in details that plant questions in the reader’s mind about the various characters, about what really happened in the past, and about what might happen in the future. Mystery writers call these “clues” and “red herrings.” Clues are actual evidence of what has happened or might happen, while red herrings are false harbingers, leading the protagonist and the reader in the wrong direction. Either of these can increase the reader’s need to know what’s going to happen. All characters have some secrets, even from themselves. Something that reveals one of these secrets, perhaps one that someone has lied about, will build suspense. When using clues and red herrings to increase suspense, keep the ratio of clues to red herrings high in the favor of real clues to keep from annoying the reader.

Another way to use clues is to plant some detail that brings uneasiness but is made to seem innocuous at the time. Later, this detail will turn out to be an important harbinger of some violence or problem. This stems from Chekhov’s gun on the wall which must go off before the play is over, or Brian Garfield’s famous dictum—“Plant it early. Pay it off later.”

A great technique to ratchet up tension in a book or story is to use a deadline. Time becomes the enemy and is working for the villain in this technique. The bomb is ticking and our heroine must find it and disarm it while that clock on it is inexorably ticking down to explosion and other obstacles are thrown in her way inevitably slowing her down. It needn’t be an actual clock or bomb, and it needn’t be minutes counting down to disaster. It could be years if we’ve been given a large enough view and long enough timeline at the beginning of the book, perhaps with a genetic time bomb ticking away.

Suspense is always present when the reader knows the protagonist is fighting seemingly overwhelming odds. The reader wants to see him stretched to the breaking point as he tries to prevent the feared disaster (remembering that this is a disaster in the protagonist’s eyes, not necessarily a “blow-up-the-world” disaster). Your character must learn new skills, access new abilities, overcome old flaws in ways he never thought he could in order to save the day. This kind of determination will keep the reader turning pages to find out what happens to him next.

We’ve seen how important the protagonist’s character is to reader suspense. He or she has to be earning the reader’s backing. But the antagonist’s character is just as important for true suspense. The antagonist must be worthy of the hero and capable of providing clever and devilish problems for the hero that will really stretch the protagonist. Unless you’re doing first-person narration by the protagonist, allow the reader to know the antagonist’s motivation and make it strong, so the reader will believe that he’s dedicated to what he’s doing to undermine or destroy the protagonist. If your story is a first-person protagonist narrative, once again you can attempt to let the reader know the villain’s motivation through dialogue overheard or another character telling the protagonist or some other bit of news that will tell the reader why the antagonist is determined and just how very determined he is.

An important but often overlooked way to ratchet up tension and suspense is to allow daily life to throw extra obstacles in the protagonist’s way. She’s trying to get to the old house where her child’s been left by the bad guy before the flood waters drown the kid, but it’s rush hour and there’s a huge accident and traffic jam, or she runs out of gas on the deserted creepy road to the house, or the flood waters have brought out alligators or poisonous snakes, or the street she needs to take has been blocked off for road repairs, or her ratty old car that she can’t afford to replace refuses to start, or… None of these are things the antagonist did, but they impede her nonetheless. This technique also has the positive effect of increasing reader identification with the hero. The reader knows what it is to be in a hurry to get somewhere important and encounter a traffic jam or blocked-off road. It also helps with the writer’s most important goal—verisimilitude. We all want to make our story-world become so real to the reader that he will never wake from the story-dream.

Suspense is a technique every writer can use. It’s a matter of creating a steam engine with no whistle, so that the steam builds in pressure, and at any time there could be an explosion. As a writer, in a thousand ways, great and small, your job is to keep turning up the heat under that engine.

In my own mystery-suspense novel, Every Last Secret, I can show some of these techniques right in the jacket copy. I’ll bold them. Marquitta “Skeet” Bannion fled a big-city police force and painful family entanglements for the peace of a small Missouri college town and a job as chief of campus police. Now, the on-campus murder of the student newspaper editor who traded in secrets puts Skeet on the trail of a killer who will do anything to keep a dangerous secret from being exposed. While Skeet struggles to catch a murderer and prevent more deaths, a vulnerable boy and ailing father tangle family responsibilities around her once again. Time is running out and college administrators demand she sweep all college involvement under the rug, but Skeet won’t stop until she’s unraveled every last secret. Secrets, high stakes, motivated and strong antagonist, overwhelming obstacles, everyday difficulties, a deadline, and dedicated protagonist.

You might take your book’s synopsis/summary and try bolding or underlining all the various techniques of suspense you find in yours. If you only find one or two, perhaps you’ll want to rethink your story so it will include more elements of suspense to keep your readers turning the page.

Thanks, Bryan for having me here today. I’ll be happy to answer any questions anyone might have. Suspense is one of those fundamentals with lots and lots of different applications.


Linda Rodriguez’s novel, Every Last Secret, won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition, was a Barnes & Noble Mystery Must-Read, and was a selection of Las Comadres National Book Club. Julia Spencer-Fleming, New York Times bestselling author, said, “Every Last Secret is a triple crown winner; superb writing, hell for leather plotting and terrific characters.” Criminal Element said, “Every Last Secret by Linda Rodriguez is a dark, twisty, turny tale of love, lies, loss, and murder on a quiet college campus.” Publishers Weekly said, “Fans of tough female detectives like V.I. Warshawski and Kinsey Millhone will be pleased.” As a poet, she has won the Thorpe Menn Award for Literary Excellence, the Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, and the Midwest Voices and Visions Award. She blogs about books and writers at www.LindaRodriguezWrites.blogspot.com, reads and writes everything, including science fiction and fantasy, and she spends too much time on Twitter as @rodriguez_linda. Every Last Secret can be obtained at http://www.amazon.com/Every-Last-Secret-A-Mystery/dp/1250005450.

Guest Post: Historical Research & Science Fiction by Robert L. Collins

One of the benefits of Cons, without a doubt, is networking. You visit with old friends, discover new ones, and have a lot of fun along the way. One of those new friends from two cons this year, ConStellation Nebraska and ConQuesT, is fellow author Robert Collins. Robert’s published books include Stories Of Feminine Strength, Lisa’s Way, and True Friends. His short stories have appeared in venues like Aiofe’s Kiss from Sams Dot, Golden Visions, Pulp Empire and Tales Of The Talisman. But in addition to his speculative fiction, Robert also writes nonfiction. His works include the books: Ghost Railroads Of Kansas, Pieces of Kansas History, and Jim Lane: Scoundrel, Statesman, Kansan. So since research can be an area with which we writers struggle–how much to do, how to do it, etc.–I asked Robert if he had any thoughts he could share about research. Here’s what he sent me:

Historical Research & Science Fiction

by Robert Collins

Many Science Fiction authors know the value of researching history for their genre work. Usually they do so because they’re writing a time travel story and need to learn more about the era their characters are visiting. Occasionally, they do the research because they have the idea of,  say, “the battle of Trafalgar in space” and want to make certain the plot follows the real event. However, most Science Fiction authors don’t think much about researching local history to get story ideas.

I write Kansas history as well as SF/F. I’ve done a great deal of research into the history of my home state. I’ve used that material to jump-start several of my fictional works.

One example is my biography of the “Bleeding Kansas” leader Senator Jim Lane. I found a newspaper story that claimed that Lane, in the run- up to the reelection for his Senate seat in 1865, had promised a federal post to 17 men. He made these promises to secure their support for him in the Kansas legislature come election time. Sure enough, the men came to Washington demanding Lane keep his promise to them. Lane gathered the men together one night. This is what he said, quoting from my book:

“What I did last winter, I did with the purest motives,” he asserted boldly.  “I thought the state of Kansas needed me in the senate, and it was with that idea that I made those promises which I cannot now fulfill.  If I have deceived you gentlemen, I believe that heaven will forgive me.  But you, gentlemen, who should have voted for me from the purest and highest impulses–you were actuated only by sordid motives.  You voted for me for a price and I do not think you are worthy in the sight of heaven of any recognition or consideration.” Lane lowered the boom.  “I renounce all of you, and in the interest of the state of Kansas I will select an entirely new man for the position that you all covet, and have him appointed marshal.”  With that Lane dismissed the men for the night.

Great, huh? But how to turn that into a story?

I chose to set my fictional version in the universe of my Frigate Victory stories. I’d already established that colony worlds are governed in a similar way to how United States territories were governed during the frontier period. All that I had to do was adjust the anecdote so that it fit into the established background. My research not only led to a story that sold, but helped me fill in details about that universe. Finding such useful material will take some effort, but you’ll can control how much. Start by checking state histories. Look for events or personalities that appear interesting yet aren’t well-known. From there you can either take what you have and build, or dig deeper. If you’re willing to look, and send out inter-library loan (ILL) requests, you should be able to locate biographies on important state figures and histories of state events, periods, and trends.

Statewide sources aren’t the only places where story and character ideas might be hiding. Most towns and counties have histories published. A local library will have their town or county history. Books on other communities can be obtained through ILL. Some states, like Kansas, have a State Library that handles ILL requests. If so that State Library will probably have a searchable website as well.

If you want to go as far as possible, consider historical newspapers. The Library of Congress has a handful of newspapers from each state digitized at their website. A few states like Colorado are doing the same with newspapers in their states. However, for most local papers you’ll have to look at microfilm. Libraries and historical museums are the first places to look for local newspapers on microfilm; state historical societies typically have all that state’s existing newspapers on microfilm.

Keep in mind that this is research for fiction ideas, not nonfiction books. Don’t get bogged down with accuracy or verification. Also remember that, when it comes to local history, there may only be one source.

One last point: there’s always a need for more books on local historical subjects. POD now makes it possible to publish a book without requiring a large print run. If an event, person, or trend interests you, writing a book could allow you to make use of your research, earn back what you spend, and maybe get you a few more readers.

Thanks, Robert, for those helpful tips. For what it’s worth…

Write Tip: Stepping Outside The Box –Thoughts on Race, Class, Gender and Sexuality In Worldbuilding

We all live in a box. You may not be aware of yours, but you should trust me, when I tell you: it exists. It’s hard to see it when you’re inside of it, too. It’s only by stepping outside of it where, in essence, the control and comfort it automatically provides are gone that one becomes aware of its existence. It’s vital to be aware of this when creating characters and building worlds, because it can be such a valuable tool in that process. So much of our own cultural identity, understandings of race, class, gender and sexuality result from that box. It’s the lens through which we view ourselves, our world, and everyone around us. We’re all biased, even though we often hate to admit it. It’s not fun to think about, but it’s very much the truth.

A person who grows up poor and black in a ghetto and only meets white people as authority figures (cops, teachers, government officials, etc.) who treat them as lower class and tell them how to act, who control their income or access to various opportunities and goods and services, will inevitably regard white people differently than a black person who grew up in a middle class neighborhood where people of all mixed races lived, intermarried, etc. To the poor, ghetto kid, white people may be either hate or envied or both. For the middle class kid, they more likely are neighbors, playmates, friends, at least until one comes along who treats them badly for racial reasons or they step outside their box and encounter attitudes about separation of race. Because those attitudes may not be as apparent in the middle class box. I am generalizing, so let’s not debate specifics. I am aware the real world gets far more chaotic in such divisions but these are just examples, after all.

Growing up in Midwest, I had only a few friends of color (i.e. non-white skin: black, yellow, etc.). I used this term for anyone non-white to keep it simple, so pardon any offense inherent in the term. My grandparents and great uncles and aunts had often grown up in generations where segregation existed. I was born in 1969, after all. The Civil Rights movement was fresh on everyone’s mind. Places still existed with old signs about separate sections in restaurants, separate sections on public transportation, etc. Black and white churches were still quite the normal, with only a few mixed congregations. We happened to attend one, actually. Racial jokes weren’t all that out of fashion in public yet. You didn’t tell them in front of anyone non-white usually, of course. Unless they were the one telling the joke, which happened. But the older generation, in particular, had a stockpile of the jokes. As a kid, you don’t really get what’s wrong with them, because jokes aren’t something you tend to think about with much depth. It’s only later in life, when you’ve unpacked the issues surrounding race, that the obvious issues with such humor become readily apparent and you start to wonder if grandpa’s racist or Uncle Joe has issues. I never saw any mistreatment of people of other races by anyone in my family. They were invited to events and gatherings whenever appropriate like anyone else. No one made them use separate facilities or eat at different tables. No one treated them like servants or separated them in other ways. But they did have these jokes, and growing up in that environment,  one’s attitudes about class, race, gender, etc. are affected, right or wrong. I never looked at anyone by race, class or gender as less than myself. Never have and never will. But what it did do is create a sense of numbness about the pain such jokes could cause. It created a sense of ignorance about how passionately some people felt about this issues and divisions and attitudes and how strong they had to fight daily against them in other places.

When I went to college, I met people who had grown up solely in urban areas. They interacted daily from birth with people of all races. Nothing stood out to them about anyone different. And it was so normal, they hardly noticed. They didn’t like the same kinds of jokes. It wasn’t just frowned upon, it was wrong and insulting and just not allowed. They didn’t understand why anyone would tell them, and to them, it’s just a sign of deep pure hatred. How could anyone see these normal people around them as anything but equal? Who cared about skin color? It was like hairstyle and clothing–a factor of diverse humanness, not an indication of worth, value, status, etc.

Then as a volunteer I went to Ghana, and I witnessed another attitude that’s also stayed with me forever since. There are African-Americans who come to Africa with a certain attitude. You may have heard it expressed on TV: “I’m going to the motherland. I’m retracing my roots. I’m going home.” It never really occurred to me that anyone in Africa, outside of South Africa (which for part of my life had major racial discrimination in Apartheid), would take issue with this. Certainly no one black. But then I saw my Ghanaian friends get irritated with a couple African-American tourists with this attitude. “You’re not African,” they mumbled. “My people bought and sold your people a long time ago.” Suffice it to say, I was pretty shocked. These were Ghanaians who had travelled widely. Some had Ph.Ds. They lived in European-style houses in nicer areas and neighborhoods. They were not tribal villagers or particularly poor by their cultural standards.

Ironically, I later saw a similar attitude amongst some poor. And it was not every Ghanaian, but it was not uncommon either. I later talked with them about this and they said: “You’re more African than those people. You’ve taken the time to study our clothing, our history, our language, our culture. You’ve eaten our food, been to our homes, learned our customs. Those people have no identification with our ways–our culture, our traditions, our history–what makes us Ghanaian. It’s offensive for them to suggest otherwise.” Now I asked Nigerian-born author Nnedi Okorafor about this and she took great offense. She feels it’s a very pedantic and insulting attitude. So not every African or African culture may reflect this. But I bring it up because in these stories, we have several different ways people look at their world and make determinations about who belongs and who doesn’t based on race, birth, gender, etc. The Ghanaian attitude frequently extended to things like foreign adoption. White or black, they didn’t want African babies adopted by foreigners because “they would not grow up African. They won’t know who they are.” It shocked me that if a child had a shot at a much better life, they’d object to that, but they were fairly adamant that “African children belong with African parents.”

In regards to sexuality, if you grew up in the church and never met anyone who had a civil marriage or dated the same-sex, your attitude upon encountering the issue of gay marriage or gay couples will be a lot different from someone who grew up with gay classmates and had people who were civilly married. Let me be clear, I am not equating gay relationships and civil marriage as exclusively related. I am pointing out that many times, if people see marriage as strictly a sacred church right between a man and a woman, it really pushes them outside their understandings to discover some get married on the courthouse steps and that some who want to marry are same-sex.  They have so long equated marriage as a sacred act that the possibility of it being non-religious is hard to fathom and may have never occurred to them.

Due to length, I won’t get into gender here, but I hope you can see how attitudes and experiences with gender roles can also be similarly impacted by environment, history and experience.

I don’t bring any of this up to debate its validity. And I would ask you to refrain from doing so in comments, because I don’t intend to engage in such dialogue. Instead, what I want to unpack is its value for us in building realistic worlds and characters. How your characters and their neighbors regard each other and others with whom they come into contact as belonging or not belonging to their group can say a great deal about the characters themselves and their culture. In cosmopolitan areas, you can create people with a variety of such attitudes, affected by their personal background and history. For example, India has the complicated class system which involves various levels, including ‘untouchables.’ And there is no sense of moving from one class to another. You can be a wealthy ‘untouchable’ and still be ‘untouchable’ just the same. Other societies allow much more fluidity based on wealth, education, jobs, etc. One can move into various levels of the socioeconomic spectrum based on where one stands in any one of more of those factors. Quality of life can be determined merely by the respectability of job class or ability to send children and yourselves to higher class schools, eat in high-class restaurants, own transportation, etc.

If you grew up knowing people of diverse race, gender, etc., you are far more likely to be accepting of that in adulthood than someone who was never exposed. Yes, there are people who are sometimes naturally accepting for various reasons. But that doesn’t make them colorblind. Those so used to diversity often don’t even notice consciously the differences anymore. Those less familiar with it will find it tends to be more often recognized and mentally noted when they encounter it. Thus, they may be more likely to make accommodations in obvious ways with obvious effort, whereas those who are colorblind just go about life as if no divisions exist and never have to make an effort to accommodate.

I hope you can see what I’m getting at here. These are all attitudes, conscious or unconscious, subtle or obvious, which can be employed to define your characters and their relationships with other characters and the world around them. Subtly interwoven into your world building, they can create rich tapestries with which readers will immediately connect and which make the world much more vivid and realistic in reading your words. They can be woven into the dynamics of world and character relationships in many ways. They can create subtleties to be exploited in building character and conflict in your storytelling which can be quite powerful and useful.

On the other hand, sometimes, they can be employed to create a world so foreign its hard to grasp. In some ways, Joe Haldeman did this by making heterosexuality forbidden in Forever War, for example. There have been alien races which had solely same-sex mating customs, etc. Mike Resnick, in his books Paradise, Purgatory and Inferno, and his Kiranyaga stories, posits futures involving aliens and even African colonists and looks at how relationships exist between them and their cultures, classes and other beings. It’s so powerful and yet subtle, and actually resulted in him oddly predicting real historical events in Africa before they happened.

In my own Davi Rhii novels, I have employed a lot of alien races and class divisions. Everything from religion to skin color to education plays a part, some more subtly than others, in societal attitudes and roles. The biggest divisions are ideological and species (i.e. aliens vs. human) but others are touched upon as well. For me, it creates a more interesting tapestry for building my world and characters and their relationships. It also affects the story itself, adding many dynamics which sometimes were unintentional or which I had to go back an exploit in later drafts for best affect.

How do you think about and employ these factors in your world building? How have you seen them handled both well and badly in books you’ve read? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on ways to explore these aspects of world and character creation. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: Outlining From A Finished Draft For Pantsers (How I Do It)

Okay, if you’re a pantser like me, you may reach a point where you feel like you need to actually get a better handle on organizing your manuscript. You’ve finished a draft or two but there’s character arcs to refine, plot line arcs to refine, motifs to identify & exploit, etc. You’re not an outliner. Organization is a crutch. It might even block your process. But there comes a time when one has to refine and examining the structure is usually key to success in doing that. Since people ask me for advice on this, I’d like to show you how I go about this process. It may not work for everyone, no method does with writing, but at the very least, it might stimulate your creativity and help you create your own approach to accomplish the same thing.

First, I like to do this on paper. One, because staring at things on screen gives you an incomplete image of each page/scene. Two, because I stare at the screen all day when writing and editing and need a break. Three, because I can do it anywhere without electricity needed and thus find energy by moving around or even have the manuscript with me on errands if I wind up having to wait, etc. (Although please don’t do it while driving. This has been a public service message from bryanthomasschmidt.net.) Four, because it helps you stay focused on the goal without getting distracted tweaking your manuscript and then never getting back to this task. (Don’t lie, you know it happens.)

 

Second, there are three phases to this:

 

Phase One, make a list of your plots and subplots and assign each a number or letter. For example:

A Assassins are killing Vertullians and Davi and friends must investigate

B Davi and Tela’s relationship hits some road blocks

C Aron has joined the Council and must adjust to life as a leader working amongst his former enemies

etc.

 

Phase Two, you reread the document which you should have not touched for at least 2-3 weeks, preferably a month, so you can be objective and fresh. As you go through, you make notes.  You will label each scene with the letters of the plotline it relates to: A, B or AB if it involves more than one plotline as some scenes can. If you want to focus on the outline, you should also make notes of anything such as character names switched or POV issues or pl0t holes. But keep it short so you can stay focused. You can go back later and wrestle with these. Make notes in margins or keep a separate sheet. You might even do a separate sheet for each plot line. It’s up to you.

 

Phase Three, this is where you go back and take your notes and write a brief description of each scene on a page for each plot line or a master sheet for the whole story with plotline indicators (A, B, C). You might even want to color code it in Excel or with highlighting in Word. This will allow you to read through each plot separately and examine the arc and tension and turning points, etc. to make sure it’s where it needs to be. All you need in scene descriptions is the key dramatic points and which characters and plots are involved. Keep it concise. No need for a whole synopsis of each scene unless you feel compelled. There are no rules. Writing is a journey and a constant process of growing and refining your craft, after all, and that’s what these Write Tips are designed to help with and stimulate. None are intended as end-all rules.

 

That’s it. Three easy phases to an outline AND the bonus is you’ve probably already made notes on some of the issues you need to address. Now it’s easy to go back and move scenes around if you need to, find flaws in plotting or character arcs, or expand motifs. You can also look at pacing, balance and other things.

Now lest any of you pantsers get said pants in a bunch with the “I CAN’T WORK FROM OUTLINES” attitudes, remember that all I am helping you do is make a chart of the outline that already exists in your work. You wrote it by the seat of your pants but you still created a structure in doing so. Now’s the time to fine tune and refine it and I’m merely suggesting a way to do that simply so you can be more effective. If this doesn’t work for you, feel free to take the concepts I suggest and make your own method. In fact, I’d love if, when you do, you’d comment on this post so we can all learn from it.

So there you have it, a simple method for Outling From a Finished Draft. At least, that’s how I do it. What’s your way? We’re waiting with baited breath. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

 

Write Tips: How To Check The Ego & Be A Better Artistic Citizen With Fellow Creatives

You know, watching Celebrity Apprentice, a guilt pleasure, has actually brought back unpleasant memories this year of my days working in theatre and why I burned out. There’s something that happens when you get creative people together that can be very unpleasant: a clash of the titans, I mean, egos. If you’re artistic, you’re passionate, if you’re passionate, you’re ego driven, and if you’re ego driven, and Western, in particular, you’re likely an individualist. Those three traits combine to make collaboration a challenge for most of us. It can be hard enough dealing with editors, publishers and critics commenting on our ideas, our art, etc., but to have to create with someone equally driven and deal with their opinions too can just push you over the edge. But art is often, at its best, in collaboration. So proper care and feeding of the ego is important.

This post is not as much about how to collaborate well as how to be a decent artistic citizen, let’s get that straight, How to be professional and courteous when working with others, i.e. how to play nice.

1  ) Respect Others’ Gifts. You are not the only gifted person on Earth. It’s best to remember that. Think back to the last time you wrote embarrassing prose. Yesterday? The day before? Everyone writes crap, no matter how experienced or trained you are. Sometimes it’s quickly overcome and tossed aside, other times it consumes your frustrating day. You’re not above it, so before you pump up the ego and get cocky, give yourself a little flashback. Nothing tames the ego like a reminder of your own frailty.

2 ) Remember Your Last Bad Review. We all have gotten them. We all dislike them, even when they teach us stuff. It’s just not fun to have someone criticize a piece of your heart. Before Mister or Miss Ego mouths off to someone else, try to remember what it feels like to get a bad review. That ought to temper your words or at least slow you down enough to think before you speak.

3 ) Check Your Motives. Why are you there at that moment interacting with those fellow artists? Did you get invited or did you choose to come? What value can the interaction provide you? Unless they’re crashing a hot date, chances are, they’re there for a reason and you should take advantage of the opportunity to network and build relationships. These could be the people who recommend your work, vote for you in future awards or introduce you to your next publisher or agent, after all. No artist is really in competition with another. Our selling point is our unique voice. And, in the end, networking is so key to everyone’s success that we all need each other, so check your motives and remember that.

4 ) Your Art May Be About You But The World Isn’t. Yeah, sorry, the world doesn’t revolve around you. Ask the biggest names you know: Mike Resnick, Robert Silverberg, Kris Rusch, etc. They’re all quite secure in their gifts and their goals and yet, they’re nice and respectful toward others. Why? Because they know that they are one of many: many have gone before them and many will come after. You can make a choice: do you want to be remembered well or badly? It’s your call.

5 ) Learning Rarely Occurs In A Vacuum. Sure, working out the nitty-gritty issues with craft can occur on your own in your office or studio, but chances are the interaction which gave you the insight needed to know where and how to make improvements in your craft came through interaction with others. People speak into our world all the time unexpectedly and without even being aware of it. If you view every opportunity to interact with other creatives as a potential learning opportunity, the chance to get better at what you do–even if it’s learning from someone else’s mistakes or wrong thinking–then your attitude during such encounters will adjust accordingly.

6 ) You Can Control Yourself, Not Anyone Else. Okay, so one of the other creatives is being an egomaniac jerk. So what? You can’t control their behavior, you can only control your own. If it gets too bad, you can always leave, yes. If it’s someone with whom you have a good relationship, you can try to pull them aside and let them know. But beyond that, it’s out of your control. Don’t let it stress you out or change your behavior. They’re the one who’ll really suffer from their behavior in the long run as long as you stay out of it. Remember what you can control and let go of the rest.

7 ) Listen More Than You Speak. One of the best ways to control that ego is to let someone else talk more than you do. Look at the interaction as an opportunity to practice listening skills. For most creatives, listening is key to learning things which we’ll later try to capture in our art. So…look at the opportunity you have to listen first and talk later. Make sure when you do speak that what you have to say matters. People who feel you’re listening to them are much more likely to listen to you anyway.  And frankly, the less you speak, the less chance you have of saying something dumb, right? Especially if your ego is making you tense.

Ultimately, any successful creative’s career involves interacting with other creatives and those who support them. My experience in television and film was that the most successful and longstanding people in Hollywood were the nicest. The ones who’d just appeared or risen quickly were more likely to be jerks. There’s always exceptions but that tended to be the trend. From my experience so far in publishing, I’d tend to say the same rules apply. I’ve already met people who fall into both categories. What about you? The best advice I ever got on entertainment came from Ted Danson, off the cuff, after I’d interviewed him one day. He said: “Always surround yourself with people who are willing to tell you the truth. You’ll get lots of people telling you how great you are all the time in this business, but what you need is someone who’s still willing to tell you when you’re being an asshole.”

Good advice for all of us, if you ask me. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

 

 

Write Tips: The Road Back To Discipline With Social Media

Well, this is a departure from my usual Write Tips post and I hope I don’t bore everyone, but I have a writing related issue to discussed and I thought I’d include it in tips because it might be useful to others. I’ve blogged about this before in Write Tips, the need for discipline to be consistent across the spectrum of one’s life to avoid distractibility from one area corrupting the others. I’m sure I’m not the only writer who struggles with discipline, and I find myself guilty of that very issue, so I am putting myself on the road back to discipline. I have been getting less wordage in lately than I used to manage. 1200 words if I’m lucky, 700 if I’m not. When I need to be getting 2-3k words a day for all the projects I’m working on. I also need to be more focused on the freelance editing work. Right now, those gigs are temporarily on hold with other people doing their thing before they start-up again, but I have struggled through some projects the past six months and realized I needed a better work ethic to avoid stress. I haven’t seen any major mistakes, thankfully, but I don’t want to see them either. So off on the road back I go.

There are several things besides my ongoing battle with depression and my ADHD which play a part in this. I am also facing a major diet which starts tomorrow, and so the timing is good to be more disciplined as that will require it of me as well. Other factors include computer issues wherein my computer freezes for odd periods and makes it impossible to do anything, thus requiring me to wait. I think I may lose 2 hours a day on this several times a week. Also, my exercise routine with the dogs fell off, which means less energy, so I must build that regular one hour walk back into the schedule. The dogs will appreciate that as much as I will. Additionally, my social media time, which I’ve found invaluable for networking, maintaining and building relationships and marketing, nonetheless has gotten a bit out of control.

For one thing, my Facebook was unmanageable. My Twitter feed is not much better. And Google+, which I’ve never warmed to is a mess so much that I stopped adding people two months ago, plus I had some blog issues for almost a month. With the blog issues recently resolved, I decided to start with social media, so I converted my 1100+ followers on Facebook to fans by making my Facebook profile an Author Page, deleted the old author page, and am rebuilding a Facebook Profile from scratch. The advantages are: 1) no timeline. Somehow when you reset your profile, timeline doesn’t come back in the new one until you choose it. I don’t plan to do so; 2) Friend Groups. Trying to keep up with anyone in a feed from 1100+ “friends” and groups on top of that became impossible long ago.

By starting over, I am admitting only a few “friends” at a time and grouping them as “Family,” “Close Friends,” “Friends” and “SFF People.” I also allow no subscribers. This will allow me to control my feed by posting to each group or to everyone. I can talk politics and religion with those whom I enjoy that interaction and stop having the frustrating and often irritating, meaningless debates with others with whom I don’t enjoy the interaction on those topics. I have stopped discussing them to a point in general, but I’m rather tired of having people feel the need to lambast my views or blast me with theirs, especially total strangers who subscribe, so I am putting the brakes on that and reining it in. Additionally, publishing and SFF business can be restricted to the group who care about such things without bothering others. I still have my author page which many people will follow, and my fans, old classmates who never speak with me, and strangers can either stay with that or leave. Someday, that page may reflect popularity if I succeed as editor and author but for now it frees me up to keep people informed of what I want and reserve privacy for what they don’t need to know.

Because I can only add people a few at a time, it will take me a while to sort through and reassemble my profile “friends,” but at least I already am enjoying the easier walls for each group and feeling less out of control. I lost all my games in progress but many of the ongoing ones had reached the boredom point. Scrabble can just pick up with new games, so I’m fine with that. Other than Scrabble, they’re all probably just distractions I don’t need anyhow.

I will maintain the SFFWRTCHT group and The Saga Of Davi Rhii page as well as my new author page. I will update them as appropriate and run contests, etc. But my more personal or controversial posts will stay with the new profile and the select groups I wish to share them with. I hope then less time can be spent in meaningless debate and  going-nowhere discussions and thus more time productively elsewhere.

This will be a good step in the right direction toward greater writing productivity, I hope. After all, I still have Twitter Lists to tackle to try to manage that feed. And I will have to sort out whether Google+ is part of my future or my past. I refuse to join Foresquare and Pinterest because I just don’t need another time swallowing social media outlet. I know some people love them, but I think no one really needs to know where I am all the time for one (Foresquare) and Pinterest looks like a lot of work I just don’t need at all.

I still have my regular blogging duties her, at SFSignal,  Grasping For The Wind, Ray Gun Revival and Adventures In SF Publishing, and with another blog tour coming up, and many Cons, I just don’t need to be scrambling or wasting time. I need to be focused. So I’ll report back on the results of my new strategies and how my routine falls into place. I am a creature of habit, and I really to work better with routine. Just in case, I also downloaded Cold Turkey, a program which allows you to lock out various programs to avoid being distracted. Once it’s initiated it cannot be reset, so if you change your mind when Facebook or Twitter are blocked, tough toodles. You’re stuck. Have to put that energy elsewhere. I know other writers who use it and I want it on hand if I find I might. I wonder if they have something similar for cable TV. I have had to stop watching my morning routine, including The Price Is Right and Live With Kelly, because that’s my prime writing time. Now if I can get off Facebook and use that time to write, I might actually be productive again before noon. Wouldn’t that be grand?

How do you discipline yourselves? How do you handle social media time? What would you do differently? Has anyone tried my approach? What path have you taken on the road back to discipline? I’d love to hear your thoughts. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: 7 Things I Learned About Working With Editors From Editing SPACE BATTLES

In Spring 2010, I got the chance to pitch publisher David Rozansky of Flying Pen Press some anthology ideas I’d been developing and wound up hired to edit the next installment in the publisher’s long running Full Throttle Space Tales anthology series, Space Battles, which release last week, April 18. After three years now of significant work editing books, stories and now an anthology with authors, I can tell you I have come to the conclusion every writer ought to get experience being an editor. There’s so much helpful stuff to learn but this was particularly true from editing an anthology. Here’s 7 things I learned:

1 ) Meet Deadlines — As an editor, there’s nothing worse than sitting around waiting on writers. If you set a deadline, particularly as I did, many months out for your project, and hardly any stories come in by deadline, you start to worry. I had invited 37 people and needed 17-19 stories, and I had 6 come in by deadline. Unsurprisingly, two of those were by my headliners Mike Resnick & Brad R. Torgersen and Jean Johnson. There’s a reason Mike Resnick gets so many awards and has such a body of work: he’s a pleasure to work with. He’s a professional. He’s reliable. You never appreciate that more than when you’re editing something like this.

2 ) Be Courteous — I invited you to submit to my anthology, in many cases because you’re friends or I like your work. Some of you expressed an interest beforehand and I honored that. Okay, then how come I can name at least 10 “friends” I’ve never heard from since? They didn’t thank me for the original invite. They didn’t respond to the reminders as deadline approach. Not a word after the post-deadline pleas for more stories. I have heard nothing. How do you think that makes me feel about their professionalism and their friendship? How likely do you think I’ll be to invite them to my next project? I leave it to you to figure that out but I’d bet it’s pretty obvious after what I said about Resnick. Resnick’s already invited to my next project.

3 ) Work With Me — Editors edit. It’s what we’re employed to do. My job is to help both your story and the anthology as a whole be the best it can be. I want us all to win. I don’t want to ruin your story, so don’t be difficult. Yeah, I’m not perfect. I don’t know everything. But neither do you. When I ask for changes, I expect you to discuss it yes, but I also expect you to make the changes. If there’s something you feel strongly about, I am fair. We can discuss it. But don’t make me do it for you from stubbornness and don’t nitpick every single minor change. I had some authors who asked to keep a couple things for various reasons and I agreed because they willingly made every other change I asked for. I didn’t ask for a lot. I hate asking people to change their precious words. But sometimes it’s necessary for good reasons. One of my authors wrote enough backstory to fill several novels and his story dragged and suffered for it. He refused to make changes, even after I went through and marked stuff out for him. Most editors would have just rejected it, but I went the extra mile. I wanted to help him make it work. Then this same author kept bragging about how this was “the most brilliant story” I’d gotten of all of them. I passed. And I won’t be inviting him to future projects. I asked for a couple tweaks in Resnick & Torgersen’s story and had it back in less than 24 hours. Who would you rather work with?

4 ) Editors Want Your Story To Be Good — Not only is hard to ask writers to change their precious words, but it’s really hard to reject their stories. It broke my heart. The first story Jean Johnson subbed, I rejected. It didn’t have a core ship on ship battle in space. I did the same with trunk stories from Jay Lake, Kevin J. Anderson and Chuck Gannon. The stories were all brilliant. I’m sure they will find homes. They just didn’t fit the guidelines for this. Yes, I couldn’t believe I was rejecting stories from such talented people. But then I also rejected a couple off sub-par stories as well. And one of them was by a good friend. That was really hard. It hurt me to say it. I didn’t want to be another rejection for any writer. We get enough. I wanted their stories to be good. I wanted them all to be ready and right for the anthology. They weren’t. Thank God I chose not to do an open call. Imagine how many more painful rejections I’d have had to make? As it was, at least I could personalize and praise the good along with saying “no.” And although I know I did the right thing by saying “no,” I still wish I could have said “Yes!”

5 ) Editors Have Deadlines Too — Yeah, I set a deadline for story subs, but you know what, your missing that deadline creates issues with my deadlines for having stories picked and submitting a manuscript to the publisher. I actually had to push it back waiting for stories. How does that make me look professionally? Oh, the publisher was gracious. He understood. But if you continually put me in a spot where I can’t meet deadlines, how likely am I to want to work with you in the future?

6 ) Editors Work Hard — I don’t think you realize how much work it takes to edit until you do it. I’m not talking revision passes on your manuscript. I’m talking editing someone else’s precious work so that it comes out shiny and make everyone get the praise they deserve. It needs to not just fit with the stories around it and flow well, but you need to polish it for typos, get their name right, format it, polish it. It takes a lot of passes reading the stories and it takes a lot of time nitpicking little details. Sadly, I just the other day found a typo in one story near the end of the anthology which I should have caught. I am going to be kicking myself about that forever. I let those writers down. It’s a lot of pressure and work to not just sell the anthology to the publisher, but figure out the best story order, manage the budget wisely, recruit writers, control deadlines, meet deadlines of your own, etc. It takes work to keep fresh eyes rereading the same stories over and over because of all the details. You want to make sure they’re as good as can be and yet you’ve read them so many times it becomes a bit like editing your own work. So writers, don’t think editors have the easy job, because they don’t. And they’re reputations are dependent not just on picking great stories but lots of other factors too.

7) It Feels Just As Good — The sense of pride and accomplishment you get from seeing an anthology you edited published is not that different from that you feel when your novel comes out. It feels really good to help fellow writers achieving career goals even as you achieve your own. It feels really good to know someone finally made it into print with you. It feels good to see them published alongside respected colleagues like Mike Resnick, Jean Johnson, or David Lee Summers. It’s not entirely your own work, gestated for years, pounded through many drafts, yes, because it’s a community effort, but that doesn’t make the success of that any less different. Especially when, having finished, you feel like the writers have become better friends and people you’d welcome working with in the future and who would welcome the opportunity to work with you. And when the publisher asks you ‘what else have you got?’ Boy, that’s a great moment, too. I never looked down on editing as lesser–less of a craft, less significant than writing– but I also never realized how good it could feel to do it and see the end result published professionally. I’ve been proud of the books I edited which got published and were well received, but this pleased me more because I really played a more significant role in its creative design and overall final form by choosing stories, cover, writing intros, bios and the cover copy. It’s a really good feeling and I doubt anyone who takes it on would disagree.

Well, there’s 7 things I learned from editing Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6. What lessons have you learned from editing, working with writers, or editing others? I’d welcome comments. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, the children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing and editor of the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  An affiliate SFWA member, he also hosts Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter and is a frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and Hugo nominee SFSignal. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via www.bryanthomasschmidt.net.

Write Tip: Making Book Cards For Your Book Table To Increase Ebook Sales

Ebooks are a huge market these days. Everyone knows the market share is growing. But the one problem with ebooks is when an author is making appearances, they’re often not readily available to sell. Interested readers have to go back to a computer or ereader and download them. And if the bookstore doesn’t have Wifi, it may not happen. Oh sure, they promise to do it later, but often those sales never materialize or, at least, there’s no effective way to measure them that tells you how successful your author appearances really are. Whereas people will buy paper books on the spot, and, often on impulse. So how do you take advantage of those sales with your ebooks for people who might still think the paper version is too expensive for their budget?

Dean Wesley Smith and his wife Kristine Kathryn Rusch are friends of mine and they are brilliant, not just as writers, but as business people. Their blogs are filled with all kinds of great advice, warnings and tips for writers. It’s no surprise that their blogs provided the answer to this delimma for me. In fact, I saw it in action at Larry Smith’s bookseller tables at Conclave in Detroit: ebook cards of Kris’ books. What are they?

Well on the outside, they look like this (works in progress):

They are pocket sized, greeting card-like brochures printed on light card stock, featuring the book’s cover and descriptions, etc. But inside, they contain a code for downloading the book when the buyer gets home. Yep. They buy it off your table, folded like a card and sealed with two of those round disk sealers that come on newsletters and mailers all the time. But the difference is, they download them after their already bought using codes and the weblink listed inside.

Here’s an example of the inside:

And yes, the code is fake, of course. But it won’t be on the real thing. With Smashwords or Paypal, you can change the codes whenever you want, so once an event is over, make a new code, then just hand write in on the cards for the next event or, even better, print labels with new code to go over the existing code. That way you can match downloads using the code with sales from your events to keep track of anyone who might “loan” the code to a friend or spread the word.

I think you get the idea. The beauty is that you can make these yourselves using Microsoft Word or Microsoft Publisher and then print them on your printer as you need them. I get two out of each sheet so I tend to take them with me about 20 each to events.  Remember to offset the margins properly so they print on both sides lined up correctly. Then trim them down with a paper cutter, fold them, clip on those sticky round disks and you’re good to go. Note how I also list my other books with ISBNs so people can find them later.

You can even autograph these ebook cards so that ereading folk take home a signed book cover in effect. It can be set on a shelf or kept in a scrapbook, etc. very easily for collectors.

I think this is a brilliant idea Smith and Rusch have. They’ve even gone so far as to get theirs placed in stores. I’m just getting started with it, but to me, the possibilities are endless. And having these on hand can only help increase sales to people who are excited about the book on the spot but whose enthusiasm might fade later. After all, people are confronted with lots of books and items for sale at events and cons. It would be disappointing if they got distracted and never got around to checking out your books after they seemed so excited about them.

So, ebook cards, another do-it-yourself solution. Yes, professional printers could do these for you but they cost a lot more and you’d have to buy them in larger volumes. My total cost making mine was an hour of time for the original set up (doing a second book took 10 minutes just to modify data and change images) and then 1 ream of cardstock at around $7.50. That’s 250 sheets and thus 500 potential cards. 600 round/waffle mailing seals came in a pack for $8.67. So less than $17 total. Not a bad investment if you ask me. For what it’s worth…

By the way, when they’re done, they look like this and they fit in a standard business card holder:

P.S. If you want to borrow my .doc template, I’ll happily send it to you. Just ask.


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing along with the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

 

 

Write Tips: 5 Tips For Writers On Planning Their Con Season

For most writers, Conventions and Author Appearances are of huge importance for both selling books and networking with industry professionals. Although Conventions and events can occur year round, you may not be able or willing to travel the entire year. Whatever the case, it’s never too early to start identifying Cons and planning for the coming year. If you’ve never done it, approaching and identifying potential Cons for author appearances might be daunting. Here’s some tips I’ve used which have helped me succeed at planning a Con schedule:

1) Identify The Priority Cons First– Con lists are everywhere. You can find them in the backs of zines like Asimov’s and Analog. You can search the web for places like upcomingcons.com/sciencefictionconventions or en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_science_fiction_conventions or by city and state or region. Once you have a list though, the first step is to identify the Cons you want to hit and the Cons you need to hit. What determines your need? Why are you going? If you’re going to promote yourself and your work, you should look at the themes of the Cons, the past locations, and past attendance. Since many conventions cater to returning fans, try and identify cons which cater to those sharing interest in the types of genres and books you write. Are authors similar to yourself going? How many? You don’t want to many, but there can also be advantages to not being the only one. Do they focus on media guests? Literature guests? or a combination? Is the theme something you can speak to on panels or at your reading? Is the Con well attended? Unless you’re just trying to get your feet wet and need a low profile place to do your first reading and panel, you want Cons large enough to expose you to lots of people. Not too big, if you’re small. You don’t want to be lost in the shuffle, but big enough that you can get the word out to a decent spectrum.

Once you’ve identified the Cons you want to prioritize, check the locations. Look at things like the cost, who’s coming, the hotel, travel arrangements, dealers, etc. Then decide if the expenses and difficulties getting there are worth it or not. I always google the Con hotel and search for nearby hotels to see if there are cheaper options. After all, Cons are expensive and often thrown in the most expensive hotels. Yes, it’s fun to stay in those hotels, but unless your publisher is paying for it, consider whether you can reasonably hope to recoup your costs. If you pay for a membership, which many Cons require, housing, food, and travel, it can add up to several hundred dollars quick. Will you sell enough product to pay for that? I doubt it. There’s also product cost, too.

2) Contact Programming–Panels are a key opportunity to see and be seen as well as prove your value to readers and fellow professionals in a way that doesn’t involve self-praise or pushy sales tactics. I usually consider programming as I determine which Cons to put on my list for the following year. Contact Programming early on and find out if they would promote you as a guest. Do they offer discounts for participants? Can you be on panels or do a reading? Is there any interest? Knowing this may help you narrow down your list to the final choices.

Once you’ve identified the Cons you want to attend, be sure and contact programming. There’s usually a link or email address on the website. Send your bio and tell them which books/products you’d promote. Offer panel suggestions and ask to do a reading. Be sure and consider their theme when suggesting panels.  I have never had anyone turn me away. Most are very happy to have another creative professional headed their way. And they are more than happy to have volunteers to up the value of programming. [NOTE: If you’re nervous about panels, here’s 12 Tips For Preparing For Author Panels. I really find them quite fun, especially when other authors participate.]

3) Find A Dealer–If the Con’s website lists dealer attendees, try and find one to carry your books if you come. Paying for your own dealer table can be expensive and, more than that, can keep you from promoting yourself by locking you down at a table for the whole Con. Unless you’re an expert salesman, you’ll want to promote yourself in subtler ways: doing panels, doing a reading, schmoozing and hanging with fans. Standing by a table trying to start a conversation with anyone who passes can make for a long weekend. Especially if you want to enjoy the Con while you’re there, this is not always the best option. Unless you have someone who can go along to man the table when you’re out, and especially if you have only a few books or items to sell, finding another dealer who will take a cut to sell your stuff on consignment is really the best way to get product out there. You can help bring people to their table and they get attention from having attendee’s books on their table. It’s often a win-win. I usually encourage people to buy from the dealer even at my readings, etc. And if I do sell books elsewhere in the Con, I give the dealer a cut. Unless they’ve already sold enough of my product that they’ll feel justified in helping me out. Fair is fair. You are taking space they could have used for other merchandise so be sure and do your best to make it worth their while by not just verbal thanks but letting them show some profit from the enterprise.

If the Con site does not list dealers, you can track them down. Some Con dealer reps will offer to put you in touch, but some won’t. You can search dealers and their appearance calendars, or, better yet, contact people you know who have attended the Con and might remember who was there.

4) Cutting Down Expenses– Many Cons offer discounts for members of professional groups like SFWA. Be sure and ask. Discounts can be given for those who participate in a certain number of panels or do readings. You can also get discounts if you’re a dealer, etc. It’s good and perfectly acceptable to ask questions and explore all the options. Some Cons will pay for your housing and meals, but usually that only applies to those on the invited guest lists or billed as headliners. There are other ways to cut costs: hotels usually occur in clusters. Check neighboring hotels for cheaper rates. You can often get a deal and still be near enough to stay up late and party withotu needing to drive or pay a cabbie. Visit the Con’s site and FB page and post about needing a roommate. Sharing a room is a great way to cut costs. I even offered to guard the dealer room at a Con and was invited to sleep in that room for free. You can also map out restaurant options. Does the hotel have in-room fridges or kitchens? Microwaves? This can help with cost savings too.  You can pack cereal, snacks, popcorn, etc. to use as fillers between meals and cut down on your appetite. You can also find nearby places with much better prices than an in-hotel restaurant. Explore your options.

Another option is car pooling. With airfares on the increase, finding Cons within driving distance can be a real advantage, particularly if you plan to stay offsite for cheaper lodging. No need to worry about transportation when you’re there, and no need for luggage fees or concerns when hauling product. You can also bring a microwave and food or a mini-fridge if you want. In the end, since it’s a business write off on taxes, paying for gas can wind up being a cheaper, more practical option. Even better, if other people want to go, you can ride together. Sharing driving time and expenses can make it even more affordable. Lots of people like to hit as many local Cons as they can. Often they need a ride or prefer to carpool for the same reason. It may even be you catching a ride with someone else.

5) List Your Appearances On Your Website–My Con schedule is listed on the Appearances page on my website. I list the date, time, location, Con name and link to the website. I also list if I am going to be a pro guest or just showing up on my own. That way people know whether to look for me on panels, etc. As I get a schedule for the Con, I do blog entries listing my schedule, panels and outlining my plans. I mention other guests and link to their websites if I can and I encourage people to come. If I know of discounts, cheaper hotels, etc., I mention that, too. The more people who come out to see you, the more value you are to the Con and the more product you move. It’s better for everyone.

Anyway, that’s how go about planning my author Con schedule. I try and vary the locations of Cons when I can to try out Cons I’m unfamiliar with and meet new people. Once I’ve been at this a few more years, I’ll likely identify a few Cons I want to attend regularly while switching up others. But in any case, I hope these tips give you ideas and assist in making the process simpler and more pleasant for you. How do you plan your Con schedule? If you have tips I didn’t mention, we’d love to have you share in comments. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing along with the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

 

 

Write Tips: 8 Copyediting Tips For Writers

It’s common wisdom that writers make terrible self-editors, even those of us who edit for others on a regular basis professionally. It’s a natural thing given the passions at play. Writers get so close to their work that it’s easy to gloss over missed words, typos, etc. We know what we meant to say and the mind just fills it in. Plus, you can only reread the same words so many times in a row without losing focus. But copyediting is an important step in the process. And when you get to the final stages of preparation for publication, you’ll face the need to review your manuscript one final time to make sure it’s right. After all, you have to live with the results ever after. So here’s 8 Tips I’ve learned from trial and error which have helped me when it comes to copyediting my own work.

1 ) Take Your Time — It’s easy to be impatient and rush. After all, copyediting isn’t the most exciting stage of the process. And again, you’ve already been over it so many times, the words just start blending together. But this is your last chance to avoid embarrassing mistakes you might regret later. So work at the pace you need to in order to pay attention to the details, even if that means taking a break every few pages.

2 ) Read It Aloud — I don’t sit down and read every word of my novels out loud. That’s hard to find time for. But I have friends who do that. I do read aloud scenes after I write them, and I read aloud passages which pop out at me in later drafts. If it raises a question mark, I read it aloud.  Run-on sentence? Read it aloud and see if you run out of breath. Awkward phrasing? Read it aloud and you’ll know for sure. Missing punctuation? Reading aloud will verify that, too.

3 ) Print It Out — Yes, I know. Cartridges and paper cost money. But if your galleys don’t come printed, it’s a good idea to print them yourselves. If you spend as much time each day staring at a computer screen as I do, you’ll understand how your eyes can begin to glaze over after a while and really affect your concentration. Copyediting required solid focus and full attention. Having the whole page in front of you without the back lighting, can really help you with this. It also makes it easier to get context and catch repetitive words or phrases. You can read aloud without scrolling. And you can flip back more easily to compare passages if the need arises.

4 ) Posture Makes A Difference — When you’re dealing with details and need focus, it’s not the time to lay on your bed or relax in a lounge chair. This posture sends signals to your body that it’s time to relax and your attention span tends to relax along with it. Seated in a good, straight-backed chair at a desk or table is a much better place for copyedits. It sends signals to your mind that it’s time to be alert and pay attention. And it really can make it easier to get the focus you need.

5 ) Plan Your Time — Through trial and error you probably have learned when your best creative times are; when you’re at your finest focus and most productive. Right after lunch when you’re needing a nap, for example, is not the time for detail work. Neither is anytime you’re riled up emotionally (angry, sad, frustrated, elated, etc.) For me, my most focused creative time tends to be from 7 a.m. to 12 noon daily. I get occasional spurts between 3 and 7 at night as well. But mornings are the times I can get the most done, so they are sacred for writing. Additionally, I edit well during the 3-7 window, post-nap and 1 mile walk with my dogs. So that is a time when I can concentrate well enough to take on editing, if my writing time was needed for wordcount that day. Experiment. Find your ideal times and guard them zealously. Plan appropriately so your copyediting will be most effective.

6 ) If It’s Not Obvious, Make A Note — There’s nothing worse than having an editor or publisher ask you questions about your copyedits and not being able to remember what you were thinking at the time. Some edits are obvious on the page. Others are not. Don’t count on your memory to keep it straight. There may be a delay before your editor or publisher has time to go through them, and if you’ve moved all your focus on to another project, you may not remember why you did what you did. If the change is not self-evident at the time you make it, write  a note for future reference.

7 ) It’s Called CopyEdits Not ReWrites — All writers have a tendency to be their own worst critics. Typos, grammar, etc. are obvious copyedits. So are repetitive words and unclear passages. But what if you suddenly decide your writing is subpar and get an urge to start fixing a lot more? Your editor and copyeditor have put a lot of time into this, and your manuscript has been approved for moving through the final stages. It costs money and time. They are not going to be enthusiastic about having to start over from scratch. In fact, they have other projects and deadlines and probably don’t have the time. Turning in a copyedited manuscript that’s so marked up it’s practically a new draft does not impress them with your diligence. Instead, it may piss them off. So remember, it’s a copyedit, not a rewrite. If something really bothers you and it’s a complicated change, include it in your notes and inquire about it later. They will happily change anything that you validly point out is worth fixing. But copyedits are for tweaking, not page by page redrafts.

8 ) Take Pride In Your Accomplishment — You, more than anyone, know the work that’s gone in to get you to this moment. So many people can only dream of sitting there looking at galleys of their about to be published work. It may not be perfect, but that doesn’t negate the significance of the accomplishment, so it’s okay to enjoy it. Allow the butterflies to dance in your stomach and enjoy seeing your work looking like real book at last. It’s come a long way, so don’t forget to enjoy the moment and be proud of yourself. You deserve it.

Well, those are 8 Tips for Self-Copyediting which I’ve picked up through trial and error as both author and editor. I hope they help you be more effective in the process. Have I left any out? What do you do that I haven’t mention? I’d love to have you mention them in comments so we can all learn from each other. Writers helping writers is what my Write Tips series is all about. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing along with the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Write Tips: The Power Of Diligence

In a recent interview with Charlie Rose, Steve Martin talks about how important diligence has been to his success. And the website Study Hacks, which explores how some people succeed and others don’t explores his comments. I also recently read that a high percentage of Robert Frost’s most acclaimed poems were written after he’d reached the age of 50. That got me thinking how important diligence is to the writer’s journey.

If anyone hasn’t figured it out yet, the writing life is a lifelong journey. The day you stop learning new things or striving to get better, you might as well close up shop because that’s what it’s all about. Through all the rejections, all the bad reviews, all the starving days, all the tribulations of artistic life, only one thing is sure: you can always get better. You’ll know know everything.

That’s why diligence is so vital for success as a writer.

If someone as respected and famous as Robert Frost did his best work in his later years, if someone like Steve Martin values diligence, how can we not ask ourselves to be diligent too?  You can only be the best you can be at any moment. But if you continue to grow and learn, i.e. through diligence, you can get better and better. And, like Frost, the highlights of your career can come later in life. Martin won two Grammys for his banjo albums, both well into his career as movie star, post-career as standup comedian. He’d been playing banjo for 50 years when he won one of them. Now that’s diligence.

How successful do you want to be? Do you want a career or just a hobby? One requires diligence, one doesn’t. Period. To do anything artistic well, one must constantly reexamine and strive to improve technique, craft, etc. No one’s perfect and there’s always room to grow as an artist. There’s a reason writers talk about the “writer’s journey.” There’s also a reason you don’t hear successful authors say “the journey is over.” In fact, many would say “my writer’s journey’s just begun.”

Think of writers like George R.R. Martin, who is writing a 7 book series but taking more than a decade to do it. The gaps between books are years, not because he intends to drive readers and his publisher to distraction, but because he’s diligent. He wants to get it right. Would anyone begrudge him that? To me, there’s something to be admired in that kind of dedication. It’s a level of intensity I sometimes wish I could match. On the other hand, GRRM has more financial security as a writer than I do and I wonder if I’d survive such long periods between paychecks. Still, I admire his dedication and diligence in writing it the best it can be and doing it the way he needs to in order to get there.

To do anything well, one must be willing to work hard. Some times working hard means different things for different people. For some, certain things come more easily than for others. I have writer friends like Jay Lake who turn in what they call “clean first drafts.” Others of us spend days going over copyedits. I think these are things one can improve on with time. I know some who struggle with POV and description, while others roll intricate flowery emotional prose off their keyboards like breathing air. (I hate them for it, don’t you?) Some are stronger on science than character. Some are stronger on dialogue than plot. Part of being human is to be imperfect. It’s not a crime. It’s a challenge. But it’s a challenge that can be overcome with diligence.

It’s a cliche, I suppose, to say anything worth having is worth working for, but in a sense, that’s just truth. The writers whose careers last decades are known for diligence: Robert J. Sawyer, Robert Silverberg, Mike Resnick, Anne Rice, Orson Scott Card, Ben Bova, Stephen King, Peter Straub, etc. All have worked hard to perfect their craft. All write with great discipline and take advantage of every opportunity. All produce multiple books and stories every year. And all will tell you it’s hard work and that they are always seeking to improve.

For me, part of following their example is modeling myself after their efforts. I am diligently blogging, writing, and networking. I am diligently educating myself about this business. I am diligently reading to be aware of what’s come before and who’s writing what. And I am diligently studying storytelling, craft, prose, etc. to understand how others do it well and improve my own work in the process.

How’s your diligence? Is it a priority for you? Are you in it for the long haul or short run? Good questions to ask, I think. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012 along with his book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing and the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novel for author Ellen C. Maze (Rabbit: Legacy), a historical book for Leon C. Metz (The Shooters, John Wesley Hardin, The Border), and is now editing Decipher Inc’s WARS tie-in books for Grail Quest Books.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

 

Write Tip: How Screenplay Structure Can Help Plotting & Pace In Your Novels

I am a film school grad of California State University, Fullerton. I spent several years working in TV and film and had a script in development at Disney. It never got made. I never got rich and famous. But the lessons I learned from film school and, particularly, the books of Syd Field about story structure have stayed with me. In Screenplay, field presents the standard for screenplay structure: 3 acts, the first and last of 30 pages (a page equalling approximately a minute on screen) and the middle being 60 pages. This is called the Three Act Structure.

On a basic level, it works like this:

The First Act sets up the setting, characters, etc. We are introduced to our protagonist, antagonist and their problems, i.e. the issues which will cause them to clash later on. Around page 30, a major plot point occurs, called a turning point, where something happens the compels the protagonist to react and takes the story in a new direction. He or she must respond and struggle to save the day, solve the problem, win over the girl, or otherwise deal with their life being turned upside down in a major way to get back to happy again. This act tends to move fairly tightly and concisely. And a good steady pace is helpful to get people into the story and make them want to stay for the rest.

The Second Act is the middle. The first major plot point has happened and the character must now respond, going on an adventure or quest to solve the problem. The antagonist, meanwhile, is working to get there first or keep the protagonist from succeeding. Act Two is full of complications. The first half propels us toward a middle plot point which in some way turns the story and compels them to action toward the second major plot point at the end of the act, around page 90. Although pace is important here, at times, in Act Two, one can slow down a bit and develop characters, etc., allowing the story to breathe.

The Third Act is the wrap up dealing with the results of major plot point two and all the loose ends from throughout the story. Like Act One, this act moves quickly, and more quickly than any of the others because it needs to feel driven to carry us to the climax.

Those are the basics of Three Act Screenplay structure, but further breaking it down is where it really becomes useful for us as novelists. In screenplays, stories consist of beats.

There are three types of beats:

1. Story Beat (Plotting) — these are action points upon which the story is framed. They build together like a puzzle. These include the major turning points at act breaks and usually the halfway beat for Act Two. But many smaller beats occur as well (we’ll get to that shortly). Major Story Beats typically include:

Opening (Normal World)
Inciting Incident (Act One midpoint)
Act 1 Break (Plot Point 1)
Midpoint (Mid-Point of the Act 2, takes us into the second half of Act 2)
Act 2 Break (Plot Point 2)
Climax (Resolution)

2. Emotional Beat (Character Arc)–We’re all familiar with “character arcs.” These are made up of emotional beats: events wherein the physical action of story creates an emotional reaction within your character. These show us what motivates the next action within the character. By connecting the emotional beats, you see the character arcs.

3. Reversal (Emotional Beat Within a Scene)–Unlike the others, this refers to specific moments within a scene where a character undergoes an emotional reversal. Example: Bob confronts Joe who killed his mother. Bob wants to kill Joe. But then Joe explains Bob’s mom viciously murdered his mom years before. Not only that but Joe is Bob’s half-brother from his father’s affair. Now Bob is reconsidering his initial emotional reaction.

Something major happens every 15 pages. While the major act turning points occur at page 30 and page 90, these in between breaks matter too. They are beats. And some are emotional, some story and some reversals. Reversals are powerful and must be used with care, but you can use more than one to provide some mystery and twists and turns to your story as long as you use them wisely.

How can this help novelists?

By thinking of your story with this framework, you can make sure you keep your plot moving at a steady pace. You can avoid long periods where “nothing happens” and, instead, focus in on beats and plot points which push things forward. It doesn’t matter if you’re a pantser or an outliner, this can work for you. I tend to be a pantser and that’s how I write. I ask myself: what could happen next that would surprise the characters and take things in unexpected directions? Sometimes, I surprise myself. The Returning, my second Davi Rhii novel, is full of moments like that. The Story Beats lead to Emotional Beats as characters affected by the events of the plot react emotionally. Examples: A friend’s life is threatened, the protagonist takes action to protect and/or save the friend. A secret past is revealed and the protagonist struggles to come to terms with it and redefine who he/she is. See how it works?

Novels don’t share the same paging as screenplays, so you have to set aside the specific 15,30,60,90 pages marks in this case. But screenplays consist of sparse description/action and lots of dialogue, so thinking through this structure should still make things come out fairly close to the same as you write. By incorporating these beats and plot points, something many of us do on instinct, you can be more deliberate about arranging your story so it moves at a good, even clip and avoids needless sidetracking or lags. The end result will be a tighter, better paced story which hooks the reader and keeps them interested to the end.

How do you structure your novels? I’d love to hear your thoughts in comments. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012 along with his book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing and the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novel for author Ellen C. Maze (Rabbit: Legacy), a historical book for Leon C. Metz (The Shooters, John Wesley Hardin, The Border), and is now editing Decipher Inc’s WARS tie-in books for Grail Quest Books.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: 5 Tricks To Adapting A Well Known Story For Fiction

It’s been done. All too many times, if you listen to some. The story is world famous, well known. Many know its details by heart. Yet it’s compelling and you have an idea you know is different—one no one’s done before. So how do you keep it fresh? Adapting a well-known story for fiction has many challenges, but above them all is the issue of freshness, avoiding predictability.

There are some techniques which work well to invigorate the retelling:

1)      Use the original story as character history/backstory so the parallels are interesting but you don’t have to follow it to the letter—In The Worker Prince, my debut novel, because my characters are colonists to space from Earth and Protestants, they share the religious history of Christianity so the Moses story, which inspired mine, is prehistory. Some parallels from that story occur, when a prince discovers he was born a slave and helps the slaves fight for freedom, for example. But having established that as prehistory, I was able to depart quite a bit from biblical elements like the plagues, miracles, and parting of the Red Sea to tell a different, although familiar story. The inspiration remains the same but the story takes new and interesting twists.

2)      Change the timeline (order)– What if the events are the same but they don’t happen in the same order? Sometimes the order of events is not vital to the story and you can make new twists and turns just be changing the order of events and, thus, how those various events affect each other. It can lead to new conflicts and new undercurrents which didn’t exist in the original story and make it more interesting for those familiar with the story on which yours is based.
3)      Identify the core elements and throw away less important ones—In The Worker Prince I did exactly this: keeping the idea of one people enslaving another under a ruthless dictator, a prince secretly adopted from slaves, ideological conflict, and injustice but dumping things like the Red Sea, years of exile in a desert, plagues, etc. It kept the story familiar and grounded in the tropes of the original while allowing me to take it in totally different and surprising directions. Some scenes and events are vital for the story to remain familiar. The same can be said of key characters. Others can be thrown away or reinvented to keep things original and unique in your telling.

4)      Reverse roles, species or genders of characters—What if your hero in the original story was male but in your story becomes female? What if a human character becomes alien or animal? What about a robot? What about other characters? Can your sidekick become the love interest? What if your antagonist becomes a relative instead of  a social acquaintance? What if the characters take on bigger roles and multiple functions they didn’t have in the original? The differences between genders, species, etc. can then be exploited for new aspects of your story and new twists and turns different from the original in fun ways.

5)      Change the setting—Setting your story in a culture and context far removed from the original can provide interesting opportunities. I set The Worker Prince in distant space far from Earth with different aliens and plant species, etc. It allowed me to have technology and related problems totally foreign to the original Moses story and made for a more fun and interesting telling for me as storyteller and for readers. The same can be true of resetting the story in a different decade or era from the one in which it originally occurred. Imagine, if you will, a steampunk Cinderella or Sherlock Holmes in the 24th Century. All kinds of possibilities present themselves.

All of these suggestions are about making the story your own. If you can find ways to do that, you can create a fresh experience and telling while utilizing powerful elements of the familiarity and themes of the original story. Grounding your story in a well-known tale, definitely has advantages.  But a little creative rethinking can make it even more powerful and draw in an audience of people it might not otherwise appeal to. It’s fun to work from a familiar foundation and structure. Especially if you love the story, it can stimulate the imagination. But if everyone knows the twists and turns and outcome of your story, why should they want to read it? I hope these suggestions give you ideas how the old can become  new and fresh in the retelling.


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince—which received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Best Science Fiction Releases of 2011—and The Returning, both from the space opera series Saga Of Davi Rhii. He also wrote the collection The North Star Serial, and short stories published in Tales Of The Talisman and the anthologies Of Fur And Fire and Wandering Weeds: Tales Of Rabid Vegetation, amongst others. A freelance professional editor and proofreader, he’s edited books for authors like Leon C. Metz, David Brown and Ellen C. Maze. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Twitter (#sffwrtcht), where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, A.C. Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website: www.bryanthomasschmidt.net. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

‎3 5-star & 8 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Write Tip: 8 Key Elements For Capturing The Star Wars Feel In Your Story

One of the highest compliments I’ve gotten on my debut novel, The Worker Prince, and I’ve heard it over and over, is that it “feels like reading Star Wars: A New Hope.” This was very deliberate on my part, and I referred a lot in writing it to Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy and Kevin J. Anderson’s Jedi Academy books.  It’s a challenge to capture the feel without going too far into imitation. And while watching the films repeatedly and reading tie-in books is definitely essential, I also think there are other factors which must be present to lend the right aura. Here are the 8 I’ve identified:

1) Your story must have an epic scope. Both Star Wars and The Worker Prince are stories about a quest of good vs. evil, to win justice over evil and save the universe, or at least their part of it. This is epic and requires bigness: big baddees, big ships, big planets and world, big stakes, big heroes, etc. You can’t really do it well staying inside an Enterprise or just on a single planet. There has to be a larger picture and bigger feel to capture it. Despite the different key focus of each movie or book, all encompass this epic scope of good vs. evil.

2) Larger than life characters. You need characters we can relate to, yes. Who can’t relate to the young farm boy with big dreams of a more exciting life somewhere else? Both Luke Skywalker and Davi Rhii (protagonist of The Worker Prince) share that trait. And thus, the first segments of both trilogies are coming of age tales about their quest to become men and men with a purpose. Han Solo and Leia are larger than life. Leia may be a petite figure but her attitude far outsizes her physical body. Han Solo is edgy. He comes off as dangerous and unpredictable, but, as we get to know him, he has a morality not so different from our other heroes, and, above all, he wants good to win. Chewbacca  is another obvious example, as is Darth Vader. Both are feared on sight for similar and different reasons. And both are formidable foes. One possesses a kind, giving heart. The other is selfish and cruel. But neither does it half way. Vader takes his cruelty to the extreme just as Chewbacca takes his kindness to extremes with his loyalty and dedication to his friends. I gave Davi Rhii some companions who have trait like this. None of them is a copy or exactly identical to any Star Wars character. I was careful about this. Davi’s love interest, Tela, is a pilot, a slave, but she has Leia’s sass, values and strength of will. His companions Yao, a tall alien, and Farien, a shorter, bulker, edgier human, compete and banter with Davi throughout their adventures much like Luke, Han and Leia do. And the bad guy, Xalivar, is definitely a dark lord, even though he and Vader approach it very differently. The anti-heroes are not dominant in these worlds. Luke is pretty clear cut in his goodness as is Leia. Han teeters on the edge but he comes out good overall in the end. The same is true of characters in my saga. There are very clear cut bad and good characters, not a lot left up to reader interpretation.

3) Adrenaline filled, relentless action. High stakes require a sense of fast pace and constant jeopardy for your characters. They can never be totally at ease or seem to get ahead without something new and dangerous knocking them off course. The action scenes are intense, with real danger, and the character’s witty banter adds to both the urgency and tension while also infusing much needed humor at times. Zahn and Anderson’s action scenes were particular important to me in writing the many action sequences of The Worker Prince, because I wanted to capture this style. I also had to make sure the action only lets up for short periods. The story always had to keep its sense that the heroes’ lives were on the line.

4) An overarching ideology with which characters must wrestle and which they must interpret in living according to their own understandings. In Star Wars, this is called “The Force.” In The Worker Prince, I used a conflict of religions. Not only do all characters good and evil wrestle with what these belief systems mean for them and how to interpret them in their lives (in both stories), but so do the two major opposing forces: The Empire and The Rebels in Star Wars, The Borali Alliance and the Vertullians in The Worker Prince. Some characters, like Han and Farien, are indifferent and don’t really hold much credence to the ideologies. They live by their own code of morality, even if they share some of the larger ideology’s values. Other characters honor the ideology for living good lives, serving others, like Luke, the Jedi, Leia, Davi Rhii. Vader, Xalivar and the baddies, however, turn that ideology into a force for evil. Vader playing with the dark side, and Xalivar persecuting anyone who doesn’t share the traditional birthright and ideology of his Boralian people.

5) Rapport/banter. I already mentioned how much this adds to action scenes but it adds to character in general. Good guys banter. It’s part of their rapport. And good guys banter with bad guys as well. Much of this occurs with humor. Humor humanizes the characters, lessens the tension at the right moments, and endears the characters to the audience. It’s fun, too. Banter is difficult to write without dipping into silliness. Star Wars has certainly been accused of it, at times. And I’d imagine The Worker Prince will get a few criticisms, too. But audiences love it. C-3PO and R2D2 aren’t popular for their looks. It’s their heart and personality, so often expressed through banter, which won audiences over. There’s a reason action movies are known for quotable lines. They may be silly but they sure are memorable. The key is to find proper balance and not take it too far one way or the other.

6) Cool gadgets and vehicles. Lightsabers, blasters, landspeeders, X-Wings, Tie Fighters, The Millennium Falcon–these are characters as much as the people in Star Wars. In The Worker Prince, we have blasters, datapads, Skitters, Floaters, air taxis, VS28 fighters and more. All these ships become huge parts of the world and how it operates. And they play essential roles in the characters’ abilities to survive and triumph over adversity. Can you imagine the stories without these things?

7) A Sense Of Wonder And Discovery. It’s no accident that Star Wars: A New Hope is a coming of age tale. It’s about Luke’s self-discovery and we discover it along with him: his world, his abilities, his future, etc. Davi Rhii takes a similar journey in The Worker Prince. Both approach the world, as young people often do, with wonder and curiosity that’s contageous. And they also share a drive to discover how to make the world better and how to be better men. The second stories, Empire Strikes Back and The Returning, change focus a bit. In Empire, it’s more of Han and Leia’s story. Their relationship, their beliefs, are central in focus as they are chased around the galaxy by the Empire and threatened time and again, fighting side by side for their lives. Luke’s still present and discovering who he is, but his journey is a bit more thoughtful this time around and less adrenaline packed at times. In The Returning, Davi, Yao and Farien find their lives on the line from very early on until the very end. They are involved in most of the book’s huge action scenes and there’s almost one per chapter, some many pages long. Davi is being chased by those who want to kill him, and, at the same time, he and his friends are chasing answers to who’s killing Vertullians and who’s threatening the peace. At the same time, Davi is discovering how to be a good mate to Tela and he and Tela are both rediscovering relationships with their long lost fathers. Aron’s new role on the Council as the first Vertullian to serve in leadership brings many challenges of discovery, and so does Miri’s adjustment from royalty to civilian life. In Return Of The Jedi, Luke’s quest comes center stage again as he tries to discover the truth about Vader’s claim to be his father and what that means. He also struggles to confront Vader and the Empire and end the chase once and for all. Leia and Han’s relationship continues to develop and the Rebels continue fighting the Empire, but the focus is still different from Empire. I am still writing The Exodus, my third book, so I’m not sure how it all will wind up, but this story has chase elements and also people stepping up, like Luke, for final confrontations, including Davi and Xalivar, Davi and Bordox, and Tarkanius taking charge in his leadership role.  Throughout, the discoveries impact the characters with a profound sense of change and continued wonder at the bigness of their worlds.

8 ) Emphasis on Character and plot, not science. Both Star Wars and The Worker Prince are space opera and space fantasy. They have elements of science, but the science is not hard science and often wouldn’t hold up to scientific law. In both cases, there are some elements of true science, perhaps, but mostly the tales are driven by the characters and the plot, not the science. The characters and their journeys are the heart and what draws us in and makes us care; what entertains us and captures us. There’s never a sense of some infodump teaching science nor is there a sense of it teaching philosophy or religion. The ideologies are present as part of the world, but they are not for our indoctrination but for our understanding of what drives the characters and frames their understandings of the world.

For me, these 8 elements are at the core of why stories like Star Wars have the feel they do. Reading The Worker Prince, even if you notice the feel, they’re still very different. I do pay tribute to the former’s influence, of course, but the story is original and stands on its own. And I think anyone trying to capture a similar feel would do well to keep these elements in mind. Yes, they can be traced back to old fashioned pulp stories, in many cases.  What do you think? Did I miss anything? I’d love to hear comments.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012 along with his book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing and the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novel for author Ellen C. Maze (Rabbit: Legacy), a historical book for Leon C. Metz (The Shooters, John Wesley Hardin, The Border), and is now editing Decipher Inc’s WARS tie-in books for Grail Quest Books.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: Transitions & Seeding – Essentials For Plausibility

Recently I came across a situation that reminded me how important transitions and seeding story details are to good fiction. These are things which most pros do without even thinking about it, but up and coming writers, learning craft, probably have to be more deliberate about. I will not specify where I encountered this but will give examples and suggestions how to handle this better. By transitions, in this case, I am talking not about segways between scenes, but rather, transitions in introducing new world elements so that we accept them as organic. And by seeding, I mean subtly introducing these things early enough so that when they become key to the story we have no trouble believing they belong there. (These are the best terms I can come up with to describe it, so that’s what we’re going with.)

You can put anything you want in your world but it has to fit together in a way that feels organic for the reader. Thus, you must carefully consider what you introduce, how you do it and when you do it. Foreshadowing it, planting seeds early and transitioning properly are essential.

In the case at hand, the story is a mixed genre story with both epic fantasy and science fiction elements. For the first six chapters, though, it’s all epic fantasy, clear and plain. Then, all of a sudden, these important characters from afar are said to have a space ship. Later, the protagonist is on the space ship and they pass a planet and he has a revelation that the planet has elves.

My reader’s reaction was a laugh and a “WHAT?!!” Which is NOT the reaction you want, believe me. It threw me out of the story and made me question the plausibility. Why are there elves and space ships? Just because the author likes them or is it organic to the world? The way it’s written,  they don’t feel organic but as it turns out, the elves and the space travel are vital parts of the later story and world. They can’t be cut and they definitely are not thrown in there just to have tropes the author likes. There are good reasons.  So the issue here is they are not handled appropriately. So I made some suggestions and I’ll share them with you.

Early on, the protagonist explores cities and the world. If the protagonist saw sky highways with space ships or flying cars of some kind, we’d know subtly that this is not your typical fantasy world and to expect space travel and SFnal elements. Another possibility is to have laser guns mixed with the swords. Just a subtle mention of either would have laid groundwork to make the later space ship reveal much more plausible.

BUT the author has set up a world where one group hogs all the fuel and space travel is thus not available to everyone. So the world where the story starts has no space travel. How can one reveal it as not sudden then?

One way is to have foreigners come by space ship as merchants to trade. Another might be to have disabled ships grounded with no fuel and comment on the situation when they appear.

If you, as an author, box yourself into a situation where elements necessary to your world are so limited, you still have to do the work to find a way to introduce them as possibilities so you don’t lose plausibility or chase off readers. Inventing such restrictions does make it hard for yourself but that doesn’t excuse you from doing the work to make it believable.

The same is true of the elves. If he encountered elven merchants, traders or vendors in the market on his wanderings, it would be no surprise when they turn up later on a neighboring planet. No dialogue or interaction would have to occur, it could all be descriptive passages as the protagonist observes the world.

In this case, however, there are no elves on that planet and he would not encounter them because they are alienated. So such a set up would also be inorganic to the world. So how to handle it?

One way is to have references to elves earlier. There could be problems that people comment on: “If the elves weren’t banished, this would totally seem like their handiwork” Or “Those nasty elves, always making trouble” or “This looks like the kind of trouble we’d expect from elves, not our own people.”

Another is to have the elves just appear as the protagonist encounters them and have him ask all the questions we as readers would ask. Our discovering them along with him would make it far more plausible.

In this case, since he’s traveling with others, they could tell him “we’re doing to see the elves” and have a dialogue about those questions before hand.

Whichever way is chosen, it would lay groundwork so it’s  not like elves just appear out of nowhere and make us shake our heads as to why they are there. World building is hard. It takes attention to detail even beyond what you need for the story. You may not need to describe certain aspects but you need to know them because they affect other things. Food chain affects diet, even if you never have to describe it. Geography affects diet and availability of resources, etc. And those elements you do include must but introduced well so that they seem natural and not unexpected. In both the above cases, I was thrown out of story with “why are there suddenly space ships/elves” and “why didn’t we see them earlier.”  In this case, the writer has a strong vision, but she’s still learning this aspect of craft, so my job as editor is to point that out and suggest ways to resolved the issues. As I explained, the author had good reasons for this, but we are not going to stick around and find out what they are if we are not sold on them. Because if we think the author doesn’t have a plan, we lose confidence and our interest wanes. Unless we have a compelling reason to read on (it’s a friend or family member), you may well lose us as readers.

So transitions and seeding are vital skills to learn and use as writers. What are some similar issues you’ve observed in reading/workshopping stories? How did you resolve them? Please share in comments so we can all learn.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

 

Write Tip: Special Punctuation—Ellipses, Em Dash, En Dash and Hyphen

Ahhhh punctuation. A gift and yet a bane for us all, isn’t it? Editors fix way too much of it. Writers get confused and abuse too much of it. And the rest of the world scratches their head and gives up with a bevy of messages which start to look like this: cumin 2c u ok so b thr & b readE.”

Sigh.

Today’s Write Tip is the first in what will be an ongoing series on Editing. Why am I starting with this? Because it came up first in my freelance editing and I think it’s an area all of us need clarification on. I keep my rule of thumb handy and refer to it regularly, so here goes.

Let’s examine the most common special punctuation characters we encounter:

… Ellipses

— Em dash

– En dash

– Hyphen

Here’s my simple rules for their use, based on reviewing several style guides and online resources as well as grammar books. Yes, some variations do exist, but those can get pretty complicated. If you follow these simple rules, you’ll please most people, and at least use them well. (You can’t please everybody, so let’s not pretend that we can.)

RULE OF THUMB:

Ellipses (…)

An Ellipses (…) is appropriate if the speaker trails off leaving an incomplete sentence.

Example:“Well, I was going to talk about it, but…”

This could end a sentence or be mid-paragraph as their mind wanders:

Example: “Well, I was going to talk about it, but…hey, cool hat! I really like that. So where was I?”

 

Ellipses are also used for omission of words, phrases, lines or paragraphs from a quote, in which case they replace the missing portion(s).
Ellipses can also be used for missing or illegible words.

Example: “Bryan Thomas Schmidt’s “The Worker Prince” will appeal to readers of all ages…deftly explores a world where those who believe in one God labor against oppressors, and a single man may have the power to change their situation for the better…” — Brenda Cooper, Author of The Silver Ship and the Sea and Mayan December

 

Em dash (—)

An Em dash (—) is for when the speaker is cut off either by an event or another speaker.

Example: “I think we may have a problem here, but” BOOM (car explodes).

Example: Tom was excited. “I think we may have a problem here, but” “Just shut up and follow me!” Sara said and started running.

An Em dash (—)  is also appropriate when a thought is interrupted with a clause such as: “The bass—the biggest fish Josh ever caught—was only six inches, don’t let him lie.”

 

En dash(–) 

An En dash(–) is used when demonstrating numerical ranges such as 100–200 or when making compound adjectives with more than one word “pro–German Army campaign.” In this case, the proGerman Army are two words which must function together as one adjective.

 

The hyphen (-)

The hyphen (-) is often mistaken for a dash but a dash it is NOT. The hyphen (-) is for joining words, separating syllables, simple adjectives, such as “pro-German,” phone numbers, multi-word numbers, or in prefixes and suffixes.

Examples:

twenty-eight 

co-star

ex-wife

girl-next-door

314-555-1212

syl-la-bi-fi-ca-tion

fighter-sized

line-of-sight

shell-like

anti-intellectual

I hope you get the idea. All of these can be greatly abused, of course, and paragraphs wind up looking like this:

I was hoping…well, anyway…never mind.  Would you like to go to the zoo—the new one—with me? It’s not really that far…just down in line-of-sight of twenty-eighth in that pro-Italian community, you know?”

This is simply abuse. Please remember that the purpose of punctuation is to provide clarity, not make things more complex or unclear. They are designed to help readers and speakers know where to pause, where the clauses come together, where lines of thought diverge, etc. So use them wisely. Remember that if your publisher or editor has a style guide or subscribes to specific manual, such as The Chicago Manual of Style,  you really need to consult that guide first before finalizing usage to avoid problems. It’s a matter of being a pro, as per last week’s post.

I hope the above rule of thumb is helpful. It certainly helps me. I’ll be working on more of these. Do you have requests?


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Write Tip: Be Professional

One of the highest compliments anyone has paid me is to tell me “You’re a professional.” I’ve actually heard this several times the past few months. My first reaction is: “I wish I was. I don’t make any money.” But what they really mean is that I act like a professional in my timeliness and practices toward others. I am guilty of professionalism. When I say I’ll do it, I do it and I meet the deadline. If I have a contractual obligation, I try and meet it. The exception has been when I edited Space Battles and I pushed back the deadline due to lack of submissions, but I checked with the publisher first and he was fine. I also did that editing job for a profit share, not pay, which makes a difference. Even for SFFWRTCHT, I handle things like a professional–from my preparations, reading time for each book to how I deal with publicists and authors and how I moderate the hour show.

Why?

Because if you want to be a professional, you have to act like one. Period. If you don’t act like one, you won’t get treated like one. It doesn’t matter that unprofessional people will still be around acting unprofessionally toward you. Your professionalism has nothing to do with them. It’s on you. You want to be considered a professional? BE ONE.

Why does it matter?

For me, it’s about self-respect and the understanding that when you show professionalism, people who are professionals will respect you and want to work with you. If you like to be seen as serious and someone who’s worthy of people’s time, you must be someone they trust, admire and respect. And since I like to work with people who are reliable, trustworthy and admirable, I will show them I am  myself.

What does the dictionary say it means to be professional? “to show  respect, professionalism, adherence to policies and prompt payments.

Who likes to be paid late? Who likes to be disrespected? Who likes people who refuse to play by the same rules as everyone else?

NO ONE.

Yeah, I get it. Some people hate rules. They hate to follow orders. That’s why they’re not in the military. I’m not in the military myself, I get that. But we’re not referring to a set of laws or strict regulations as much as “rules of the game,” i.e. expected behaviors of professionals. If you hire someone, pay them promptly and on time (by contract date or before); if you sign a contract for a novel/story, deliver it on time, in the format requested, polished and professionally ready for publication; if an editor requests rewrites, ask your questions respectfully, then decide if the changes make sense, make them, and turn it back in on time, etc. These are just the thing it takes to get paid for your writing. (No, it doesn’t matter that even publishers are bad about paying on time, etc. Again, their unprofessionalism has nothing to do with yours.) Be reliable. Do what you say you will, when you say you will, with respect for others and a good attitude. That’s what it means to be professional.

Some of the most successful authors I know are very professional: Kevin J. Anderson, Mike Resnick, Mary Robinette Kowal. Kevin keeps good lists and fills his orders promptly and well, with quick thank you notes hand written and includes some swag to remind you to visit again. I’ve seen Mike do a similar thing. Having dealt with all three of these fine people for SFFWRTCHT, they handled prep and questions professionally. They showed up when they said they would (except a brief car trouble for Resnick who stayed longer when required to finish the job right.) Editing Space Battles, which Resnick headlines, his story came in polished, with the right word count, right on time. All three are impeccably polite and kind. Anderson even has hecklers who are anything but kind and polite. I’m sure he gets frustrated. But I’ve never heard him say an unkind word or be nasty back. He’s a professional. Why do these people sell so many stories? They’re a pleasure to work with.

It doesn’t matter that our politics don’t agree or our religions. (Honestly, I’m not sure as they keep that to themselves mostly.) It doesn’t matter that I’m a newbie who hardly anyone had heard of three years ago and hardly anyone has heard of today. They treated me like they would any other fellow professional. And when I asked for edits, Mike Resnick sent them back without complaint. (It was intimidating to edit Mike Resnick. But man, he made it easy and I appreciate it. I don’t ask for story changes lightly and I didn’t ask for much.)

I’ve learned so much just by watching them. If you still don’t believe professionalism matters, I asked SFWA writer friends on my Facebook if they’d rather work with professionals and why, and here’s what Barb Galler-Smith, Fiction Editor for Canada’s On Spec magazine said:

“Working with people who don’t act professionally is easy. I can ignore everything they say and do with impunity and never have to deal with them again. I am grateful that of all the people I have met in the writing biz over the years, only one acted childishly, and that was a source of great amusement behind closed doors. No matter what your endeavour, behaving professionally is essential. It’s about respect for the art, craft, job, message, person, and yourself.”

So be professional. Even if you’re still broke and struggling to make it. Act professional even when you think the rejections will never end. Act professional even when you don’t feel like it. People will remember you as a professional and, take a chance on you one day, perhaps. They’ll forgive you when life happens and you do miss deadlines. They’ll want to work with you. And maybe then you’ll live that dream of making a living as a full time writing professional.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

The Returning: How I Dealt With Middle Book Syndrome

Well, we’re four chapters from finalizing the editing of my novel, The Returning, sequel to my debut The Worker Prince. ARCS will go out next week, and then copyediting. As I look at this book, a book which I’m amazed even got written–written in the midst of my life completely falling apart (unemployment, mental health issues and hospitalization for the wife, then divorce and a cross country relocation), I also marvel at how well this second book actually works. I know, I know: “We’ll be the judge of that” you’re thinking. And yes, you will. But from beta readers to editors, responses have been encouraging. They comment that it starts out fast like a Bourne movie and never lets up. They talk of the stakes being upped on every level from character development to complexity of plot to emotional arcs and actual events of the story. The stakes were higher in every way. And although that was deliberate in part, I find myself pondering how important second books are for us as authors and in trilogies generally. And how hard they can be to write.

When I started The Returning, I had no idea what the book would be. I knew where the story would have to go for the ending in book 3. But unlike Book 1, which employed the biblical story of Moses as a framework, and book 3, which will also employ more elements of that, book 2 had to fill in gaps and required me to create more of my own storyline and structure with these characters. I knew there were mistakes I’d made in The Worker Prince which I didn’t want to repeat. I also knew there were things I wanted to do with the characters. But I wrote in total chaos. Outlining a chapter at a time is usual for me, so that’s not what I mean. What I mean is that my life was so chaotic in the background of writing that I often went a month or weeks between chapters or even scenes. Coming back to it, I found concentration hard, so I couldn’t review what I’d written as fully. And often I didn’t want to reread the previous six chapters just to write. Unlike The Worker Prince, this book took 9 months to write. And it went out a chapter at a time to three beta readers as I went. They urged me for more quite often. Their patience was greatly appreciated. I didn’t look at their feedback until after I’d finished.

I was amazed.

First of all, as I hinted at above, I’m a pantser. I let the story go where it takes me. I always have some key plot points in mind. And I always have a rough idea of the base storylines (plots and subplots). But in this case, I had no idea how I would end it until I was well over 2/3rds through. It’s a middle book. There was no real ending. Many events in this book carry over into Book 3. But at some point, I realized I could still create a satisfying denouement, even if it was a cliffhanger ending. And the book most certainly has that. At the same time, the events push toward the point where a chapter feels closed in spite of that.

Early on I realized Book 2 needed a sense of everything being turned upside down. The Worker Prince was a happy story overall. It almost feels like a standalone. Despite the survival of the antagonists and potential for more stories, everything gets wrapped up in a pretty happy ending. But for the characters to progress and the story with them, I needed to tear all the stability and happiness apart again. Their lives, relationships and future all needed to be in jeopardy, and readers needed to be surprised. So, as I wrote, I set that goal. In addition, I wanted a fast pace, action packed novel, both emotionally and physically. It required a more complicated plot. And wound up with seventeen point of view characters, a hell of a cast to manage. (Some only have a scene or two from their POV. There are major POV characters who have scenes throughout as well.)

As I reached each plot point I’d planned, I examined my options and looked for the unusual choice, the surprise twist. What could happen here that would make readers say: “Whoa! I cannot believe that just happened!” Where can I take things that makes it more complicated and pushes them further from their goals and happiness again? At every chance, I made such choices. Unlike The Worker Prince, I knew that meant important characters would have to die. In the end, four do.

It’s hard to kill characters. You spend so much time with them that you begin to feel a bit like they’re family. So killing them, unless you’re psychopathic I suppose, feels wrong and mean. Who wants to be mean? But in order for the heights of the emotional arcs and plots to be reached, the stakes had to get higher and higher in The Returning, and I found no way to do that without endangering characters. In choosing the characters to subject to this “cruelty,” I also tried to make surprising choices. I chose characters I liked but characters who, ultimately, have less interesting arcs left to them than the ones who remained. My readers may disagree, but I hope not. Because the deaths of these characters actually redefine and energize the arcs for other characters in Book 3. They serve to drive the rest of the story.

I also did more exploration of my solar system, using more alien species and worlds, and exploring more of how the Boralian Alliance got to be in control and treated the natives they encountered. This will be a big part of Book 3 as well, and I think it made for some very interesting worldbuilding along with some nice plot twists and turns.

Obviously, I can’t say too much. The book doesn’t release until June. But in any case, by the time I concluded writing The Returning, I knew I had the makings of a very satisfying chapter in my saga. In fact, editors and my beta readers all agreed it’s a better book on every level than The Worker Prince. [That’s a compliment writers. We need to grow with each book. So I took it that way. It was also my goal as mentioned above.]

And so now I can’t wait to share it with you. It goes out to reviewers and other authors for blurbs next week. I have some pretty cool people lined up, including a couple of Star Wars authors. I can’t wait to hear what they think. I hope you’ll take the time to read The Worker Prince and The Returning and love them as much as I loved the experience of bringing them to life for you.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Write Tip: How Not To Use The 9 Free Ways To Market Your Book

Our recent Write Tip on 9 Free Ways To Market Your Book has been popular but people have asked me how NOT to use those techniques, so I thought it appropriate to do a follow up post. First, here’s a refresher on the 9 Free Ways which are:

1 ) Author Site/Blogs 
2 ) Author Profiles/Blog Interviews 
3 ) Goodreads/Library Thing 
4 ) Press Releases
5 ) PSAs 
6 ) Signings 
7 ) Appearances 
8 ) Book Clubs 
9 ) Reading Group Guides 

The previous post goes over how to use those, so I won’t cover that here. Here’s how not to use them:

1 ) Author Site/Blogs — The goal is to create a relationship with readers and other interested parties, but primarily readers. Don’t use your blog and author site to self-aggrandize and totally for sales. Use it instead to reveal yourself. You don’t have to just lay it all out there transparently. In fact, that, in and of itself, may be a big mistake. You have a right and need for privacy. Determine up front where the lines must be drawn and stick to them. A couple areas you might avoid are religion and politics. I rarely blog on these. They only lead people to be offended and possibly lose interest who might otherwise enjoy your books. Unless your books promote your political and religious views, you don’t really need to go there and you’re better off if you don’t. You also don’t want to lambast people. Flame wars may draw traffic but they don’t do it because you’re winning fans. People stare at car wrecks not because they envy those involved but because it’s just hard not to stare. The same is true of flame wars. Don’t get in nasty arguments and back and forth with people. Avoiding controversial topics can help avoid drawing those kinds of comments in the first place.

2 ) Author Profiles/Blog Interviews–Don’t reveal spoilers in your interviews or profiles, unless the book has been out a very long time and you are discussing aspects of craft where it’s relevant. And try and stick to authors and topics where an audience who’d be interested in your book and its genre/topic might find you. It’s okay to reach out to new readers but, seriously, you shouldn’t be on a Christian romance authors blog promoting your paranormal erotic romance, okay? It’s just a waste of time. And don’t lie either. Be honest. At the same time, try and hold back some in interviews. Don’t tell everything to everyone. And find a new way to answer the same old questions. Keep it fresh if you can. You’ll be answering a lot of the same questions again and again at various places. It’s boring for you but it’s all the more so for fans, so try and find new ways to say the same thing and reveal new tidbits with each interview if you can. It’s hard, so hold some things back and give a little each time.

3 ) Goodreads/Library Thing–Great for giveaways and networking with book lovers and fellow authors but these communities tend to give back what you put into them, much like Twitter. They are the most successful giveaway sites, in my experience, for spreading interest and generating reviews. Not so successful, in my experience, for their ads or for generating huge sales numbers. They are a tool to be used with lots of others for spreading the word. It’s important to remember they are about “community.” Door to door salesman are as welcome on Goodreads and Library Thing as anywhere else. Goodreads has the easier interface but both are popular. Approach them as opportunities to share yourself, your love of books, and review and discuss books, genres, trends. Author interviews so far don’t generate a lot of interest in my experience. It’s more about communicating through observing what people do and their observing what you do and say about what you read. Approach them accordingly in both time dedicated to them and how you use them.

4 ) Press Releases–Don’t just copy someone else’s and don’t write blind. There’s an art to this and the goal is give them a ready to print article about you, your book, etc. You want to minimize the work for them so they’ll jump on the opportunity for an easy to prep story. And that takes practice and careful thought and editing. If you can afford it, write the first few drafts, then pay a publicist to fine tune it. There are plenty of independent publicists, like Matt Staggs or Adonna Pruette, who would be happy to assist and charge reasonable fees.  Once you’ve done several and get the format and style down, you may be able to work on your own but I know from experience, your first several press releases will not get the results you need without a professional touch. The difference is startling.

5 ) PSAs–Public Service Announcements are a funny thing. They aren’t as common as they once were but they are indeed true to their name: Public Service. It’s not about sales. It’s about making the public aware of an event which might be of interest/benefit.  Stations can be very selective about the kinds of events which qualify. They make income from selling ads, after all. Library and school events, for example, are far more likely than bookstore events to be accepted. After all, both imply educational content. And both libraries and schools are publicly funded to serve the public. Still, it’s worth checking these out but you will have to write and time the text yourself and be very careful with wording. Again, don’t self-aggrandize and don’t sell. Just inform. If the radio or tv station does you a favor, you need to make it easy and worth their time. If you make them mad or offend, you’ll alienate them from not only PSAs but also other potential opportunities for you.

6 ) Signings–Don’t expect to sell hundreds of books. The average signing is 4-6 from everyone I talk to, unless you’re a bestseller with multiple books. Signings are as much about letting people know you exist and cultivating valuable relationships with bookstores as they are about actually signing and selling books. I’m sure it varies from author to author but especially new and unknown authors need to approach Signings as opportunities to put their best foot forward and network more than selling books. The signings I have done so far have all sold at least 4 books. The most I sold was 11. All of them brought stores who carry and promote my book for me. And all of them brought publicity opportunities in the community I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. I also sell other people’s books. My goal at signings is for people to buy something from that store and to make customers feel welcome. Hopefully they buy my book or at least talk to me. But if not, at least I helped the store and the store will want to help me in return.

7 ) Appearances–Appearances are hand-in-hand with signings as networking opportunities. Especially when you get the chance to read or be on a panel, you get the opportunity for people who didn’t know your name or the titles of your book to remember you and learn of your expertise (or at least ability to b.s. really well in public).  The goal is to make a good impression on as many people as you can. You don’t do that by aggressively selling. You do it by being personable, knowledgeable and respectful. You do it by smiling a lot and being warm and friendly. If you can do that while waving a copy of your book subtly in front of yourself, all the better. But high pressure pushy tactics will not bode well for you.

8 ) Book Clubs–These are groups of book lovers who offer two advantages: 1. They go through a lot of books. 2. If they love it, they’ll buy more, recommend it to people and otherwise spread the word. The disadvantage is that some are quite picky and blunt in their response. Do offer to visit or otherwise interact with the group. Do offer group discounts if you can. Free books to group leaders are a good idea if you can afford it, but these are book buyers, so free books aren’t essential to win both interest and loyalty. The most important thing here is to write a good book. If they enjoy it, they’ll take it from there with very little effort on your part. Again, selling is less important than personal connection. Cultivate this as networking for word of mouth, more than an opportunity to sell multiple copies. If it works out, you’ll get both.

9 ) Reading Group Guides–Do not SPOIL. Do not SPOIL. Repeat after me. Reading Group Guides are for Book Clubs and others to stimulate thought and conversation, PERIOD. You do not repeat your story in intimate detail. Do not preach on your themes or message. Your goal is to get them to read thoughtfully and interact on what they’ve read. Help them enjoy the reading experience in a way which will likely result in their wanting to read more and spreading the word.

Well, those are some tips on how NOT to use the 9 Free Ways To Market Your Book, I’d love to hear your thoughts on other cautions, etc. as well as your successes. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Write Tip: The Necessity Of Discipline

Okay, it’s an old topic, I know, but discipline is so vital to your writing success. And if I’ve learned anything about discipline over the years, it’s that to be disciplined in any area of life, you need good discipline in all areas of life.

There’s nothing that bleeds from one area of life into others faster than lack of discipline. If you want to succeed at your work as a writer, you have to dedicate time to it regularly. Whether it’s an hour a day, fifteen minutes a day or five hours a day, you have to set aside time and do the writing. If you miss a day, it’s easier to miss another day and so on. If you’re only going to write five days a week, okay, fine, if that works for you. But don’t take off an extra day. It’ll be that much harder to get back to your regular schedule after.

When you diet, you can’t have a cheat day. One cheat can blow the whole week’s diet. When I lost 66 pounds in ten months on Weight Watchers in 2003, I didn’t have cheat days. I couldn’t. I counted calories every day and if I wanted a special treat, I just had to compensate with low calorie foods for the other meals that day or the next two days, period. Cheat days just made it harder to get back into the discipline, and, early on, I discovered without that discipline, my diet wouldn’t succeed.

For me, this is true in other areas of life.

The times I’ve been successful with exercise have been times when I’ve made it routine. Four to five days a week, forty-five minutes to an hour every day, period. No excuses. Once I start skipping days, pretty soon I just stop exercising. It’s happened time and time again. I find a similar thing with writing. One reason blogging helps me so much is that I am forcing myself to make content daily. I am doing my warm ups for other writing, in essence. I blog twice a week at least for my blog, but then I do guest posts for other sites on other days. Sometimes I blog in advance and save them up (Saturday I wrote my Valentines Day post), but by blogging almost every day (I skipped Friday for example), I get my writing chops working automatically and it’s easier to do other writing I need to do for the day. Similar perhaps to warming up before a jog or a game.

I do the same thing with my reading time for SFFWRTCHT, dividing a book into daily goals by page count to make sure I get the books read. Sometimes I fail because I often have more than one book to read at a time. And some books are longer than others. But I still push myself to meet the goal, and most weeks I succeed. It’s why I’ve read so many books in the past year, per my 2011 reading post.

When it comes to writing, I have to set clear goals. Without goals my discipline waivers. For me it’s a word count of 1200-3000 words a day, when I’m working on other jobs and 3-5000 words a day when I’m not. I also set goals to do a certain number of scenes or a chapter each day. Sticking to it, the work gets done. Not sticking to it, and pretty soon I’ve gone weeks with no output.

It’s ironic that the fun part of writing isn’t the task of putting words to paper. Editing and polishing is a lot more fun for me, but the really joyful part is the daydreaming when I think up ideas. I could sit and do that all day, couldn’t you? But making those daydreams work on the page is tough sometimes. Yet in 2008 I decided to write a novel and by the end of 2009 I’d written two. By the end of 2011, I had my first published novel and I already know that by the end of 2012 I’ll have two more published. Imagine what will come in 2013 if I keep working?

Right now I have two half manuscripts to complete and one that is ready for second draft. If I get all of those done this year, and that’s a goal, I will have three more books to sell for 2013 but in addition, I need to write the finale to my Davi Rhii saga which is due to be published in 2013. So I could end up with as many as four books coming out in 2013. That would be doubling my publication output every year. Pretty cool, huh? Even if it doesn’t happen, what a worthy goal, right?

In 2012 I have Davi Rhii book 2, The Returning, coming out, along with 102 More Dinosaur Jokes For Kids, the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales 6, which I edited for Flying Pen Press, and the episodic novel based on a flash fiction series The North Star. I have stories coming out in Tales Of The Talisman and the anthologies Space Battles and Wandering Weeds: Tales Of Rabid Vegetation.

None of this would be possible without the discipline of regularly sitting down to write.

Am I rich yet? No. But in 2010 and 2011 I spent more on writing than I made. In 2012, I have already made 50% of what I spent on writing last year and I still have a bunch of stuff to come out and advances, etc. to receive with only a month gone in the year. That’s what I call progress, the good kind. It can only get better.

This year I am disciplining myself to eat better regularly and exercise at least four days a week. I am getting a used elliptical machine to make sure I have no excuse to not do it. It’ll be staring me in the face and with my e-reader, I can read while I do it. I am reorganizing my grocery shopping to plan healthier meals. Cutting out some of my unhealthy snacking and replacing it with healthier choices. All of this discipline will help me keep discipline high in my writing and other areas of my life. I’m sure my reading goals will be easier met, too. And I’ll bet I can meet that 2013 goal.

So when you think about your writing, ask yourself about your discipline. How does your discipline or lack of it contribute to your writing success? In what ways can you do better? In what ways are you already doing well? Where have you made progress? Where does progress need to occur? Adjust your goals and discipline accordingly. Don’t forget to look at other areas of your life.

I wouldn’t be where I am if I hadn’t started disciplining myself, but I know I can do better. What about you? How’s your discipline? For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

4 5-star & 13 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Write Tip: The Importance Of Distance

I know it’s not obvious but I’m not a patient person. I hate waiting. I hate lines. The only form of delay I enjoy is procrastination. I’m awesome with that one. But because of this problems have developed from time to time. I always heard people talk about how important it was to get distance from your work before doing second drafts, etc. I always struggled. So excited about it, caught up. It was hell to put it aside for two or three days, let alone a month or two. And I think some of the criticisms I got in reviews for The Worker Prince reflects that struggle. I see little things I could done better. I know, authors always do that. But I see a few bigger things, too. (Oh, you say, that never happens to me.) Okay. I’m not perfect. Is that what you needed to hear? Feeling good about yourself?

In early November though, I turned in The Returning, my sequel to The Worker Prince, and my publisher was busy with another novel release and I launched immediately into a sword & sorcery book I was chomping at the bit to write. And somehow, I didn’t look at The Returning again until early January, when we started editing it. My beta reader’s feedback had already been incorporated before the publisher got it. So I was feeling pretty confident it was a better book than The Worker Prince. (My goal in life is to improve, just saying). But nonetheless, before I cracked the pages, I compiled a chart of all the negatives from the good reviews The Worker Prince has received and decided to make sure none of them repeated in the sequel.

As I began to go back through, it was fun to rediscover my book. It had been written over nine hellish months during which my now ex was hospitalized five times for mental illness, I lost my part time job, went through divorce, came close to bankruptcy, etc. In other words, a period where I had weeks, even a whole month, of no writing. So I wrote in total chaos. To make matters worse, the plot was complicated and I had fifteen Point of View characters. By the time I was done, I was totally struggling to remember what I’d done earlier. I was sure the book was a complete mess. My beta readers, however, raved and, upon reading The Worker Prince (which I refused to let them do until they were well into The Returning), assurred me this book was better. I didn’t really find it that easy to believe. Until I started back through.

Not saying it’s genius. Not saying it’s Twain. But I did find the book a lot better than I remembered. I also found a lot of conflicting plot holes and repetition and other items needing fixing. Things I didn’t catch on my second pass with beta reader’s notes. Things they didn’t catch. I’m pretty confident I wouldn’t have caught them without that distance. So, yeah, I’m starting to believe even more than I did before that good distance is vital to better writing.

For example, descriptions are a weakness for me. I come from a screenwriting and journalism background so having to wax poetic about setting and emotions is hard for me. I didn’t practice it much until I started with fiction. Much of my rewrites involve looking for opportunities to do this. In fact, I found that I had not even described the various vehicles in my story. Everybody knows what they are from book 1, right? Ha! Never assume. I’ve striven very hard to make book 2 a standalone entry for the series, not requiring people to go back to the first book unless they want to. (I hope they will, I need the sales and it has its own charms, I swear). That was why I wanted betas who hadn’t read the first book. So here I was leaving out vital description. How embarrassing would it have been to leave that out?

Other examples, I found repeated scenes where I did the same thing twice in separate settings. I found extraneous dialogue to cut. I found repetitive word choices. All things it’s so much easier to see with fresh eyes. Fresh eyes also helps me see character arcs and themes better. I find motifs and other elements I can repeat or use to add depth to the story and characters as well.

So, yes, I do believe distancing yourself from your work is vital to good fiction writing. And I think we do ourselves a favor when we force patience and take time away. After all, it writing is an art (and I do strive for it to be), part of the artistic process is seeking excellence. Anything one can do to get better perspective and improve is worth doing. Don’t you think?

What are your experiences with taking time away? Do you have a set period? Do you ignore the advice? Has it helped you? Hindered you? Frustrated you? I’d love to discuss it more in comments. I’m sure there’s a lot more to say but those are my thoughts for now. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

4 5-star & 12 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Write Tip: 9 Free Ways To Market Your Book

By now most writers are realizing that in the face of the changes in the publishing business, marketing is an area which falls more and more on their shoulders. For newer writers with untested track records, this is especially true. I’ve had writers tell me they don’t believe in self-promotion. Not only is this foolish (sorry but it is denial of reality) but it’s often based on being overwhelmed and not knowing where to begin or how to promote one’s self without being obnoxious or coming off arrogant. I could speak volumes on those topics and probably will sometime but first, let me demonstrate some easy ways to promote which don’t cost anything and are abundant. All you have to do is pay attention to what other writers are doing and do a few simple web searches to find them. Then just follow simple instructions, send a few emails, and you’re good to go.

1 ) Author Site/Blogs — I’ve already blogged about how important these are in previous Write Tips, but for the modern author your website is your number one most important marketing tool. No one can keep readers up to date like you can and readers want to connect and get to know the author behind the books. Blogs are often free on sites like Blogger and WordPress. Websites may cost more, although mine is set up using WordPress with the help of a friend. I pay for hosting and domain names, something I also suggest in my prior post, but if you can’t afford that just yet, you can probably do it simple on your own. Check my article for the essentials but the most important is to offer insight into yourself, your books and regular updates. Even if it’s once a month, giving them something new to keep them coming back is so important.

2 ) Author Profiles/Blog Interviews — There are tons of bloggers looking for authors to profile and interview. Some are authors themselves, some are not. Some interview specific genres and some cover anyone and everyone of interest. To find them, see where authors you admire are being interviewed. Look at what authors you know from Twitter and Facebook post. Do web searches on terms like “author profiles, author interviews, blog profiles, writing blogs, etc.” You’ll find more than you know what to do with. Many/most have guidelines posted. Read them. Follow the instructions. They’re usually fairly simple. Most provide a list of questions to answer in advance and an email to send them to. Fill them out, keep a list and do them one by one until you’re done. Then make a new list. Don’t get overwhelmed by doing them all at once. Try and change the wording in your answers a bit. Don’t just cut and paste. It makes each interview feel unique and keeps the bloggers feeling like they got an exclusive. I just answer them from scratch each time. I may say the same things but it always comes out differently.

3 ) Goodreads/Library Thing — There are other sites but these are arguably the biggies. Joining is free, so it becoming an author and building your profile. You can enter your own books and list them. Then you can join book clubs, interest groups, vote in polls, etc. You can review books you’ve read or are reading and you can interact with tons of readers and authors who love writing and books as much as you do. This is a no brainer and can take as little or much time as you’re willing to put into it. You can do giveaways, interviews, connect your blog, do Q&As, etc. The audience is already focused. It’s truly a nobrainer.

4 ) Press Releases — There may be an art to writing them but there are plenty of examples online and frankly, plenty of newspapers, magazines and sites which allow you to upload them for free. My latest is posted on the Kansas City Star, the biggest newspaper in my local region, and all I had to do was upload it on their webform. Within 48 hours, it was searchable for all to see. You used to have to work a lot harder and pay a lot more money for publicity like that. Asking around or simple web searches can find not only tons of examples but tons of outlets for them. Don’t miss this opportunity to let people know what you’re doing and when: every book release, every award, every signing or appearance, every new contract–put out a release and let people know. It builds your reputation, name recognition and audience. It might even get you interviews in newspapers on Tv, radio or blogs.

5 ) PSAs — Public Service Announcements are offered free by radio and TV stations to organizations and individuals and businesses announcing events of benefit to the community. Writers talking about writing should qualify, even if you’re paid. As long as you can convince them you’re running an event with public benefit and which doesn’t charge for tickets, PSAs should be available. You have to write them up yourself, per the station’s standards, and submit according to their deadlines. But they will announce several times on the air and get your event a lot more notice. Free advertising is priceless.

6 ) Signings — The average number of books sold at signings: four to seven for non-celebrities, according to a recent survey. The average number of books sold after signings? Immensely more due to word of mouth from bookstore employees and customers who attended the signing. In fact, the friendlier and more supportive of staff you are, the more you pay attention to other people, i.e. the more fun you are to have around, the more successful you’ll be, and they’ll invite you back again and again. The more signings before the same crowd means what? Increased sales and recognition. Recognition always builds word of mouth. See what I’m going for? They may sometimes seem a lot of effort for little return, but I think signings are very important. Anywhere and anytime you can appear in public is.

7 ) Appearances — So appearances: readings, book clubs, libraries, literary festivals, conventions, schools, you name it, are key to your success and marketing. If people like you, if you seem knowledgeable and like a friend they’d enjoy spending time with, they’ll want to read your book. They’ll want to know you better through your words. You can’t do enough appearances and most will not cost as much money as a con or fesitval. Most will be free. Be creative in coming up with ideas. Work with local nonprofits, schools, etc. There’s automatic prestige wo writing a book. Often you won’t have to work hard to convince people to invite you…as long as you’re not a jerk.

8 ) Book Clubs — Book Clubs, online and off, are a great resource. Offer them a discount for quantity, send them your sell sheets, send them arcs, send them press releases. Smooze them like old friends. You get in with them, you have a ready made word of mouth machine to sell a lot more books because Book Club people are book people and book people know other book people. And what do book people talk about with each other? Books. Books they like. And if they’ve met the author, all the cooler. Not everyone gets to do that. Built in free word of mouth sales.

9 ) Reading Group Guides — Yes, you can get a lot of sales and word of mouth by networking with Book Clubs and other Reading Groups. Not only can you use your Book Sell Sheet to get them interested but you can make reading guides to offer free as well all by yourself. Penguin Group has examples on their website here: http://booksellers.penguin.com/static/html/pop.html The basic idea is to assemble questions and examine themes which prompt discussion about your book, its characters, meaning, etc. Fairly simple to put together for most authors. After all, who knows your book better than you?

Well, there’s 9 free ways to get started with marketing your books. I’m sure there are more. Which can you suggest? Please add them in the comments so we all can learn from each other.


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

4 5-star & 12 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

 

Write Tip: How To Get The Most Out Of Your Book Sell Sheets

In our previous Write Tips post, we talked about Why Your Book Needs A Sell Sheet How To Make One. This time, let’s focus on how to use the Sell Sheets once you have one.

Right off the bat, here are some ways you can put Sell Sheets to work:

1) Market To Bookstores — When given to bookstores and libraries, Sell Sheets help get your books on their shelves. That’s their purpose. And by creating one for each book and describing the book in context of your qualifications and publishing experience, you are selling yourself along with your book. It’s about credibility. And professional marketing materials add a lot to credibility. Every bookstore that I approached with Sell Sheet in hand was willing to discuss ordering my books and doing signings. I have yet to encounter one who didn’t take me seriously after seeing my Sell Sheet for The Worker Prince. They knew I was professional and taking it seriously and those are the kind of authors they want to do business with.

Adonna spoke with a bookstore manager to get an opinion from the other side of the counter for us. “According to a large independent bookstore manager that I interviewed for this post, he felt that the sell sheet gave him something in hand to refer to later when he had the time to consider whether or not to carry the book. Remember, the employees can be busy doing any number of things when you walk in and may not have half an hour to discuss your title with you. *You*, however, came prepared because you have in hand the very thing they will need later when making their purchase decisions – all of the information about your title on a neat and handy little paper. The manager stated that the first two things he looks for are the book’s cover (attractive? appealing? sellable?) and if the book would be available through his current book distributors (Ingram, etc.). Overall, he felt that unknown books that had a sell sheet with all of the pertinent information on it received more consideration than ones that did not.”

2) Market To Libraries — As mentioned by Librarian John Klima in our write tip on How To Get Your Book Noticed By Librarians Or Not, getting a library to buy your books is tough. Sell Sheets are a great tool to make them aware of your books value for them and their community. They’re something you can give to them as you stop by to introduce yourself and offer to do events if they ever need local authors. And something you can leave behind to remind them when they’re thinking about making the next book order. Remember, don’t hand them the book itself. Don’t ask them to evaluate it on the spot. As John told us, if you make them aware of the reviews and other information in a non-pressure way, it’s much more effective. Your word isn’t enough. Your being nice isn’t either. And it’s even better if you can do it at a ALA meeting or outside the library. Because they get way too many authors walking in trying to get libraries to stock their books already and most of them are crap. Don’t throw on the sales pitch either. Talk to them like a person. Relate to them. Share their love of books. Find out what they like in books. Find out what they like in having authors visit the library. But be subtle. Not pushy.

3) Increase Author Appearances — You can use Sell Sheets to get more opportunities for readings, book signings, lectures and other author appearances. Sell Sheets can showcase your qualifications and experiences to conference planners, event organizers, stores and media and that gets you noticed when those people are looking for speakers and presenters. Make sure that if you are available for those that you explicitly say so on the sheet and remember to put your direct contact info.

According to Adonna, “Go ahead and ask the bookstore manager when you talk with them about your book (with sell sheets and a copy of the book in hand of course) if they currently allow book signings in their store. Find out what requirements they have for those and how far out they are booked up. If they do let you have a signing, expect to help promote it in within your community and on local event calendars and such. In any case, make sure that you leave a copy of your sell sheet behind with the employee that you spoke with.”

4) Sell More Books To Readers – Many authors attend fan cons, book conventions and author events every year but what do you do when the people that are passing by your table aren’t ready (for whatever reason) to buy your book at that time? Adonna suggests: “Hand them your sell sheet while you tell them about it. Flip it over and write something on it that relates to what they have discussed with you (perhaps another book or con that you’ve recommended, the name of a section on your website they may be interested in, etc..) People have a tendency to hang on to things that have human (that’s you) writing on them. See there? Your autograph is good for something important already!”

Note: Take the time to reformat your sell sheet beforehand to remove book distributors, etc. as this wouldn’t apply to marketing directly to readers.

5) Sell Products and Services — If you’re not just an author but an editor or teacher, etc., Sell Sheets are quite cost effective ways to get the word out. You can print them as you need them, customize them for specific markets/audiences, and you can distribute them across a broad base by carrying them with you wherever you go.

6) To Inform The Media — Adonna had some advice for us here. “If you do approach the media regarding your title, a copy of your sell sheet is a great thing to send to them along with a handwritten thank you note for taking the time to speak with you. It will help them to remember your title and more importantly – YOU – for the next time that you are in touch with them. Never underestimate the power of reaching out the old fashioned way, especially in the digital age.”

Additional Tips:

** Book Sell Sheets are best delivered by hand. YOU are part of what helps to sell a buyer on an unknown book: your very own sales force and book cheerleader.

** Try posting them on bulletin boards on college campuses. College students read a lot and if the book looks appealing, they might just pick one up, especially if you modify your Sell Sheet to let them know where to find it.

So get those Book Sell Sheets together and let people know about them. Good luck! We hope these tips were helpful. Big thanks to Adonna Pruette for her help and advice and be sure and remember to check out her special offer below.  And please post links to your finished Sell Sheets in the comments so we can all learn from you and see how you did, ok? For what it’s worth…

Exclusive Offer:

Adonna has agreed to a special offer exclusively for the visitors here.
PR Quick Check $35 – Adonna will check your current sell sheet offering general guidelines as well as give you tips for how to revise and improve it yourself to increase it’s marketing value for bookstores.
PR Sell Sheet Review – If your sheet needs more than just a few tips, she can fix it up for you for a range from $50 – $150 depending on how much work is needed. You will be given a quote before any work is completed.
Custom Book Sell Sheet – Created for your book from scratch for $200 (which is $100 off of the normal fee for this type of detailed service). Contact her at adonna@theauthorpro.com to get started. From DIY help to full service PR, there’s something for everyone in there. You must mention this site in your email to her to get these discounts! Enjoy!


Bio:

Adonna Pruette is a freelance professional publicist that works with fiction authors and publishers to create digital PR as well as traditional media outreach. Her clients range from well known writers like urban fantasy author Faith Hunter (www.faithhunter.net) to debut authors such as Lillian Archer (Twitter: @LilliansBooks). Her online home at TheAuthorPro.com (http://www.TheAuthorPro.com) is her current WIP. You can contact her at adonna AT theauthorpro.com or connect with her on Twitter @PassionMuse.

Contact details:

Website:  http://www.theauthorpro.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/authorpro

Twitter: @PassionMuse https://twitter.com/#!/passionmuse

Google +: http://bit.ly/Ar7hzi


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

4 5-star & 11 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

 

Write Tip: Why Your Book Needs A Sell Sheet & How To Make One

Book sell sheets are a key component of publicity for books in traditional publishing. Having a professional sell sheet can help distinguish your book from thousands of others and really help it get noticed. It’s important that it stand out from the crowd, because a mid-size bookstore can receive a hundred or more sell sheets a year. For your book to get noticed, you need to distinguish yourself and your book from the crowd. A professional presentation, careful selection of items to include, and proper placement of wording can make all the difference in the hands of the bookstore’s buyer on the other end.

Although you can do one book sell sheet for whole series, typically a sell sheet exists for each book you release.

Professional book publicist Adonna Pruette explains: “When you are making efforts to promote your new novel, you want to walk into the bookstore with at least two things in hand – your books (buy some to take with you!) and your sell sheet. You want to be able to hand the manager, owner, or book buyer an attractive sheet that will act as an actual sales piece after you leave. It’s wise to spend some time reading up on the basic rules of effective sales copy to make sure that your sell sheet makes the grade. You want to present your book (and yourself) well on paper so that your book can get it’s foot in the door at that bookstore.

“Please remember while you are designing your sell sheet to try and make it as quickly scannable as possible. You aren’t trying to bog them down with a full page of paragraphs. Use color, lists, and boxes where possible and effective to make it a quick read with all of the info that the store needs. The person that you hand this sheet too will read it just as you would – they are going to quickly scan it from top to bottom with their eye stopping briefly on focal points on the way down.”

Let’s cover the basic information suggested or expected, look at some examples, and then talk about how to make your own, okay?

This is the sell sheet for my novel The Worker Prince.  It’s probably easier to just click on it and open a separate screen so you can view it as I go through the elements. I have marked them on the sheet for visual reference. But here’s a breakdown:

Book Sell Sheet Examples1. Book title. Make it big, use the font from the cover and put it at the top. The title of your book is the most important thing on the page. Try the squint test. Look at your sell sheet and squint. Can you see the title really well? Make sure the font is very readable. If not, try adding spacing between the letters o u t just a bit. If that still doesn’t help, then change the font to something similar but more readable than what is on the cover of your book.

2. Sub-title (if you have one). Not as large as the title though.

3. Next, a brief book teaser description. Two paragraphs max. Don’t tell the whole story.  Keep it open ended so they want to find out what happens. Leave them with questions they just have to get answered! Get a friend or fiction loving neighbor to read over your description and see if they want to know more about your book after reading it. Do they start to ask you questions about it? That’s a good tip off for you that it is “just right”.

4. Basic data: book categories, include the number of pages, ISBN (this is super important), all formats available, pricing per format, and publication info. (Stores will use this to look it up right away.)

5. Special honors, especially national ones come next, followed by blurbs or excerpts from reviews which demonstrate your book’s quality or appeal. Use the more well known reviewers or larger book blog review snippets toward the top of your reviews section. You will bold the reviewer’s name or site name to make it stand out more than the review itself usually. This practice will make your sell sheet a much more scannable read.

6. Which book distributors can your book be ordered from, if any? Two of the largest are Ingram Book Company (http://www.ingrambook.com ) and Baker & Taylor ( http://www.btol.com  ). Adonna says that the store will want to know if your book can be ordered along with the normal book order that they place to their suppliers. If not, make sure that complete ordering info is on your sell sheet: Publisher’s name, web address, phone number, and email.

In cases of nonfiction, you may wish to bullet point your platform and what you offer as a speaker and expert here. Why should you be chosen? What do you offer which no one else can? What distinguishes you?

7. CALL THEM TO ACTION: Ask them to order copies and give them the info to do it NOW!

8. Sell yourself, not just the book, with a brief bio and contact info, including 1 or 2 (max) social media accounts.  Make it easy to go directly to you. You’re the one with whom they want a personal relationship. Not just an order desk.

9. If you can’t give them an ARC (they cost money, of course), then tell them how to get a peek inside right now. Tell them where they can read an excerpt in big, bold, colored letters that say FREE.  This also gives them a good reason to hold on to the sell sheet. If they’re intrigued by all of the rest, they’ll look into it.

10. Always include the publisher’s logo, if you have one, and the book cover shot and your photo. Be professional. If your book is traditionally published, even by a small press, this helps it to stand out as gatekeepers have approved it.

Here are links to sample sell sheets. One covers a series, the others individual books.

http://www.iuniverse.com/uploadedFiles/iUniverse/Expert_Advice/Selling_Your_Book/Make_a_Sell_Sheet/iU_LoveWhatYouDo_Sell%20Sheet%208%2028%202009.pdf — Here’s one for a Nonfiction book from iUniverse.

http://www.captainwrite.com/SalesSheet.pdf — This series one was created by my friend, graphic designer Jeana Clark (@jeana_with_a_j on Twitter.)

http://www.beaverspondpress.com/assets/files/Johnson_Sellsheet.pdf — another nonfiction example

http://www.beaverspondpress.com/assets/files/sickbug_sellsheet.pdf — this is fiction

You can create these Sell Sheets in Microsoft Word or Microsoft Publisher fairly easily. Having a publicist create your sell sheet isn’t a necessity but it can be helpful if you still feel lost or unsure about your sell sheet. In my case, publicist Adonna Pruette looked mine over for tweaks after the fact. She also suggested this alternate layout as yet another option:

Book Sell Sheet ExamplesMy version was created using Publisher and Adonna’s using Word. Either way, text and photo boxes and other tools, it’s fairly easy to create one.

Adonna has some final thoughts:

“Your sell sheet is an actual marketing piece. It’s not just a piece of paper that you should throw together haphazardly. After you’re gone, a store employee may see it on the counter three hours later, check out your book info, read it, and then ask the manager to order in a few. This is marketing material will be used over and over again to sell your book to the book buyers. Take your time pulling your sheet together. Make sure it looks really nice. No typos! Color printed (if color adds to your layout). Attention to detail matters here and it just may sell you quite a few books.”

Ok, once you have a Sell Sheet, what do you do with it? Well, that’s what we’ll talk about Monday in Part 2: How To Get The Most Out Of Your Book Sell Sheets. So meantime, get to work on those Sell Sheets. OMG Blogging guy just gave me homework! Why yes, yes, I did.

For what it’s worth…

Additional Resources:

Here’s what Absolute Write says about Sell Sheets: http://absolutewrite.com/novels/sell_sheets.htm.  Independent Book Publisher’s Association offers another resource: http://www.ibpa-online.org/publishers/flyer.aspx. Check http://www.fedex.com/us/office/templates/sellsheets.html for templates.

Exclusive Offer:

Adonna has agreed to a special offer exclusively for the visitors here.
PR Quick Check $35 – Adonna will check your current sell sheet offering general guidelines as well as give you tips for how to revise and improve it yourself to increase it’s marketing value for bookstores.
PR Sell Sheet Review – If your sheet needs more than just a few tips, she can fix it up for you for a range from $50 – $150 depending on how much work is needed. You will be given a quote before any work is completed.
Custom Book Sell Sheet – Created for your book from scratch for $200 (which is $100 off of the normal fee for this type of detailed service). Contact her at adonna@theauthorpro.com to get started. From DIY help to full service PR, there’s something for everyone in there. You must mention this site in your email to her to get these discounts! Enjoy!

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My latest project:

Bio:

Adonna Pruette is a freelance professional publicist that works with fiction authors and publishers to create digital PR as well as traditional media outreach. Her clients range from well known writers like urban fantasy author Faith Hunter (www.faithhunter.net) to debut authors such as Lillian Archer (Twitter: @LilliansBooks). Her online home at TheAuthorPro.com (http://www.TheAuthorPro.com) is her current WIP. You can contact her at adonna AT theauthorpro.com or connect with her on Twitter @PassionMuse.

Contact details:

Website:  http://www.theauthorpro.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/authorpro

Twitter: @PassionMuse https://twitter.com/#!/passionmuse

Google +: http://bit.ly/Ar7hzi


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

4 5-star & 11 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Write Tip: Thoughts On Choosing Point Of View

There are many decisions one makes when writing fiction. One of the most important is the choice of POV character and whether it’s first person or third. Often, when dealing with multiple POV characters, the choice is based on who has the most to lose or gain in a particular scene. But sometimes other factors can be useful.  

In The Returning, my forthcoming sequel to The Worker Prince, I found it advantageous to tell a scene from the POV of an antagonist despite the fact the focus of the scene was a subplot of the romance between the protagonist and another character. In doing so, I was able to up the tension beyond the drama of the moment. While Davi and Tela are having a fight and their relationship is jeopardized, the scene becomes more powerful because Davi’s rival, bent on killing him in revenge for past slights, is stalking them during the scene. Thus, not only is their relationship in danger, but their very lives. It wound up becoming one of my favorite scenes because of that.

A further advantage was that several subplots are advanced in the process–the Davi-Tela love story, the Bordox revenge plot, and the main story about attacks on Davi’s Vertullian people are all advanced in this scene. Having Davi’s rival, whose hatred for Davi seethes throughout the book, see Davi in a humiliating fight with his girlfriend also serves to make Davi’s situation more sympathetic. It’s bad enough he’s messing up his relationship, it’s bad enough some of that conflict is based on misunderstanding each other, but now his life’s in danger and he’s been humiliated in front of Bordox. It just adds layers of dynamics to the scene which up the pace, the tension, and the stakes all at the same time. When you add to that the fact that this encounter was coincidence–Bordox was there for other reasons and just stumbles upon them–it’s all the more dramatic.

Below is the scene from my third draft so you can see how it plays out. Remember: Bordox is working for a group trying to unseat the government and reenslave the Vertullians, ancient enemies. He’s Davi’s Academy rival and his family are the rivals of Davi’s for the leadership of the Borali Alliance. Tela is Davi’s former trainee, fiancee and a fellow Vertullian pilot. The romance that started in The Worker Prince is facing new pressures and their relationship is strained because of it. 

As you read, consider the POV choice. How does it work for you? Would you have chosen differently? What are the questions you ask when deciding which POV to use in scenes? Feel free to discuss it in the comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts on choosing POV.

***

Bordox fought his every instinct as he stepped off the shuttle into the starport landing bay on Legon. His mission required stealth yet he stiffened at having to sneak around a place he’d once walked freely—admired and respected. Here he was, less than a year later, hiding in shadows like a wanted man. And there was only one person to blame: Davi Rhii!

He made his way through the pedestrian corridors and deliberately avoided areas frequented by pilots and maintenance crews with the hopes he’d be less likely to be recognized. The datacard in his pocket pressed against his leg with every step. He just needed to get to the flight data booths and insert it. The program it contained would do the rest, drawing out the desired intel from the systems, and he’d be on his way again.

“What’s keeping you so quiet?”

He knew that voice, stopping to listen as it came from around the corner ahead of him.

“Nothing. I’m fine.” A woman’s voice answered. One he didn’t recognize. He heard footsteps approaching and shrunk back into a shadowed doorway. “Just let me check the shuttle maintenance records for Aron and we’ll be on our way.”

“I know you, Tela. Something’s upsetting you.”

Rhii! Bordox gritted his teeth. His old enemy, the idiot who’d ruined his life, was coming toward him. What was he doing here this time of night? Last he’d heard Davi was a squadron commander. Military pilots didn’t casually walk around this side of the starport.

Davi and the woman appeared around the corner and stopped as Davi jumped into her path so they were face to face. The woman was medium height, shorter than Davi, with long brown hair and sparkling blue eyes. Her pleasing curves stiffened in anger as Davi blocked her way. Both wore Borali Alliance flight uniforms with rank insignia on their shoulders and blasters holstered at their sides. Seeing Davi in uniform just launched him into a rage. Rhii had the career Bordox deserved.

“I know you, Tela,” Davi said. “Why won’t you talk to me about it?”

“Because it won’t make any difference. We’ve tried before.”

She stepped around him and continued down the corridor as he hurried after her.

“So it’s about me then? What did I do?”

The woman, Tela, sighed. “I am not some delicate damsel in distress, Davi Rhii. I’m a fully qualified Borali officer, just like you.”

Davi looked confused. “Of course you are. What are you talking about?”

She stopped and whirled to face him, arms on her hips. Her eyes narrowed with annoyance. “You had me taken out of your squadron rotation. You got me in a lighter flight duty assignment. I keep finding myself not chosen for any risky missions—”

“There haven’t exactly been a lot of risky missions lately, and your reassignment was required by military rules. Couples can’t fly together.”

Tela growled. “A convenient excuse.”

“It’s true. I can show you the memo the commander sent asking me to sign the transfer paperwork.”

“You don’t get it! I am not going to be the girl who sits at home and pines after you. I want to do my duty like anyone else. I don’t want to be protected.”

“I’m not protecting you.”

“Yes you are!”

She whirled and started up the corridor toward Bordox again. He slipped further back into the shadows, sliding his hood up over his head as he enjoyed the show. They were so distracted with each other he doubted they’d even notice him. Bordox began to relax from his rage a bit as he watched Davi Rhii get put in his place by a woman. The only thing better would be the day he did it himself. Like instinct, his hand felt for the blaster at his hip, closing around the handle, he squeezed it. All he had to do was draw and shoot and Rhii would be dead. They would never see it coming, totally taken by surprise. His fist clenched and unclenched around the handle as he fought the urge. He’d blow his mission. But he might never get a chance like this. The feel of the cold steel of the blaster against his palm got his adrenaline pumping.

“Okay, maybe I didn’t argue.” Davi smiled as if that alone would charm her. Bordox wanted to step out and wipe that smarmy grin off his face with a fist but he swallowed, silent and hard, and stayed frozen in place. Or maybe I should blast it off. “Look, I love you, okay? Guilty! It’s my instinct to want to protect you.”

“We fought side by side in the Resistance. Why can’t we do that now?”

“Well, there’s not really any enemies at the moment for one. And we were just getting into things then. Now we’re together.”

“So I’m supposed to sit at home and worry about you while you get to relax and know I’m safe? That’s fair.”

Davi grinned and shrugged. “I’d feel good about it.”

Tela groaned and punched him hard in the arm. “Well, I don’t.” She turned and marched on down and through the door into the landing bay as Davi raced to catch her.

Bordox paused a moment, tempted to follow, but shook it off, remembering his mission and slid on down the corridor the way they’d come. There was more at stake. He had to remember that. Rhii’s day would come. Just not today. In less than two minutes, he’d stepped into the data center and selected a private booth. He slipped the datacard from his pocket and inserted it into the terminal then watched as the screen exploded in thousands of numbers moving and changing at a pace so fast his eyes could barely recognize them. After another minute, the terminal beeped and the datacard ejected. He returned it to his pocket then slipped out and headed back the way he’d come.


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

4 5-star & 11 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Write Tip: 15 Top New Year’s Reads For Writers

As my Holiday gift to fellow writers, who have been so supportive of the tips offered on this blog, I’ve compiled a list and brief descriptions of 15 really top writing resources to help you move forward in your growth as a writer. Links to either Amazon or Barnes & Noble are included for those who want to purchase the books or just read reviews. With the exception of one series, they’re individual books, organized by category. All on my shelf and well worth your time and money. Thanks again for the support you’ve shown me and this blog in 2011!

Standards:

On Writing by Stephen King — a go to book by a master storyteller. Part autobiography, part examination of craft and writing process. Widely recommended for all writers with good reason.

On Writing Well by William Zinsser — Yes, I know, the subtitle is about writing nonfiction. Don’t let that put you off. An amazing classic on how to write well which every writer of all genres and stripes should have on his or her shelf. Period.

Imaginative Writing: The Elements Of Craft by Janet Burroway — a standard textbook for MFA programs, very useful for any fiction writer. Really in depth examination of the elements of craft with exercises, tips and more.

 

Marketing:

Guerilla Marketing For Writers by Jay Conrad Levinson, Rick Frishman, Michael Larsen and David L. Hancock — Great tool to learn marketing on a budget. Walks you through all kinds of promotional resources you didn’t even know you had as well as breaking down the ones the pros use and how to plan your PR campaign like a pro. Very useful tool with great resources in the appendices as well.

Crossing The Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore — great marketing book on the psychology of successful marketing and pushing through to the next level. A standard in marketing.

Getting Known Before The Book Deal by Christina Katz — A new standard for how to build your platform and audience well before your book’s release. A must read for writers of all levels.

 

Craft:

Screenplay by Syd Field — One of the all time most important books on story structure, often used at film schools, of great use to novelists as well. Learn how to follow the three act structure and develop your plot in a solid, powerful way.

Writing The Breakout Novel by Donald Maass — written by a leading literary agent with years’ experience selling books and writing them. Agent to many big name authors. A really powerful book for any author on how to make your novel top notch.

Revising Fiction by David Madden — a great book full of tips on how to revise your novel to the minutest detail. Covers anything and everything with good organizational suggests for how to approach it and think through later drafts. Out of print but well worth tracking down used and easy to find.

Writer’s Digest Elements Of Fiction Writing series — a series of books by successful authors like Orson Scott Card, Monica Wood, Nancy Kress and more covering specific elements in each book: Plot, Description, Setting, etc. Very useful tools. Like a classroom in your bookcase.

The 10% Solution: Self-Editing For The Modern Writer by Ken Rand — life changing, hands down. A great, short, concise editing methodology which will improve your writing over night. A must have for writers. The one writing resources I seared in my brain and use daily.

 

Resources:

The Writer’s Guide To Creating A Science Fiction Universe by George Ochoa and Jeffrey Osier — useful for any writer needing to learn worldbuilding. Although it’s specific to science fiction, the reasoning and tools apply to any genre. Very useful. Also out of print but easy to find used online.

Negotiating a Book Contract: A Guide For Authors, Agents and Lawyers by Mark L. Levine — Step by step guide to book contracts covers standard clauses, negotiation, and how to identify what you want and get it. A must read for anyone involved with book contracts by an author who also happens to be an attorney.

English Through The Ages by William Brohaugh — Another out of print gem which covers the origination of English words through history. Helps authenticate your language usage in writing novels set in particular periods, especially historical or fantasy ones. Easy to find used.

I Have This Nifty Idea…Now What Do I Do With It? by Mike Resnick — A collection of book proposals for best selling novels compiled and edited with commentary by Mike Resnick. If you hate writing outlines, proposals, synopses, etc., this is the book for you. How the pros did it. You can emulate it. Can be hard to find. Small press. But well worth the hunt.


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎

4 5-star & 9 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

 

Write Tip: Preparing For Book Blog Tour As You Write Your Book

Okay, I know. It sounds crazy to some of you already. Preparing for a book blog tour when my book’s not even done? Insane! Arrogant! A distraction I don’t need! But wait. Let me explain please.

Book Blog Tours are a great way to promote your book. I had 32 stops on my book blog tour, stretching from interviews to podcasts, to short story prequels, to dialogues, to excerpts, and more, and I can tell you it’s hard work. It takes a lot of time to prepare so many posts, even if all you’re doing is answering someone’s interview questions. And here’s the thing. Your blog tour posts are supposed to be unique, interesting and keep people coming back daily for the next one. And they should relate to you and your book in some way.

Do I have to tell you it’s easy to run out of ideas?

When you’re writing your book, however, there’s often nothing you’re thinking about more. You’re always analyzing what you’re writing, why, how, etc. It’s the perfect time to capture this process in little snippets you can use later for those book tour blog posts. I am not talking about writing whole blog posts necessarily, although let the muse lead where he/she will, okay? But what if you jot down a paragraph or two of the various craft processes you’re going through as you go through them to give you something to build a blog post around later?

Seriously.

I do 18-20 blog posts a month. Two a week for this blog, at a minimum, and 1-2 for sffwrtcht’s blog. Then I do the other 10 for guest posts on other blogs. I have 4 a month for Grasping For The Wind as a column. I do one a month for SFSignal. That makes 15. So I do 4-5 others for other blogs. Yes, it’s time consuming. Yes, it’s a lot of work. Yes, it’s worth it. The result is that my name and my book’s name are never far from people’s minds. I may not reach the same audience every week, but I’m out there and name recognition of me and my book is growing daily. It’s so important to book sales, not just of the present book but future ones, too.

Doing all of this, as I think about my next blog tours which will be next Spring and Summer, I get overwhelmed. How in the world will I continue all this posting and write 31 more blog posts?

And here you are thinking, I’m fine. I don’t have all those commitments, Bryan. So I don’t need to worry about it.

But the catch is, since most books are written a year or even longer before they actually hit shelves, your blog tour posts will be written 12-18 months after you’re done writing the book. You will have moved on to something else. Your thought processes on writing THAT book will be dominant and remembering what you thought when writing the PRIOR book will be frustrating and difficult at times.

But not if you have little thoughtful notes written during the writing of the book to capture your frame of thought at the time, jolt your memory and help you frame blog posts.

Do you see what I’m getting at? And we’re talking something that takes less than 5 minutes for most of us. It doesn’t have to be polished or even formal. Just stream of thought and you’re done. You fix it later when you make the post.

Does anyone not see how helpful this could be?

As the world of publishing continues to change, writers become more and more responsible for our own publicity and marketing. And PR/marketing is something people do for a living. That means it’ll be almost a full time job for authors as well. If you’re not a full time author, or even if you are, you have a lot going on already. Making time for all this marketing is a push. Some people can’t do it well. Some don’t even try. And they’re missing out on a great opportunity as a result.

My suggestion is to help yourself by setting yourself up with some possible prompts as you go. It will not only make things easier, your blog posts will be richer. You’ll capture the feeling and thoughts behind your book and readers will be fascinated. The result will be a better blog tour and more interest for everyone, including you. Writing a book is a big accomplishment. Going back to it can be very encouraging for you, not only in reliving the experience as an accomplishment but in seeing how far you’ve come.

Readers always want insight on their favorite author’s writing processes and lives as books come out. So do fellow writers. And the more personally meaningful and detailed a blog post is, as far as giving real insight, the better it tends to be received. So preparing for your book blog tour as you write the book itself can make a lot of sense and save a lot of later stress. It shouldn’t get in the way of the writing itself, of course. But it can be a valuable part of the analysis you’re already doing as you write. It isn’t a distraction if you are just documenting what’s already going on in your head.

And it’s not arrogant. You’re not blowing your own horn. You’re explaining why you do what you do. Leave it up to others to decide if you did it all wrong or if it’s of any quality or other value. Those are not things you can worry about. You can only do the best you can.

So there’s a write tip I hope gives you something to think about. You can prepare for marketing your book even as you write it. And that can be a real blessing. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

‎4 5-star & 8 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Write Tip: The Importance of Heroines

A modified version of this post first appeared on the blog of author Jeremy Ship on October 27th. A companion piece on heroes appeared around the same time on Adventures In SF Publishing’s blog.

One of the traditional tropes of much science fiction and fantasy has long been the damsel in distress. Naturally, modern women often find such characters hard to relate to. They certainly find them hard to admire. So in revisiting the Golden Age style for my debut science fiction novel, The Worker Prince, one trope I was determined to avoid was the damsel in distress. In the end, I wound up with four strong female characters in major supporting roles. Here’s a break down:

Tela—pilot, slave rebellion leader, young but very smart and very independent.

Miri—Boralian princess, spoiled but yet independent. Refuses to accept the history and philosophy officially espoused by her ruling family, instead educating herself and her son, Davi, with exposure to diverse sources. Unafraid to question. Unafraid to confront her brother, who rules the Boralian Alliance, when necessary.

Lura—slave woman long separated from her husband who disappeared along with their only son, Davi, twenty years before. Nonetheless, she takes care of her sister’s family and stands firm in her faith and conviction and hope for the future.

Kray—sole female member of the ruling Boralian Council, life-long friend of Miri, independent, strong-willed, not intimidated by the powerful men around her.

One advantage in writing strong women characters is that I grew up in a family of strong women. From my mother to my grandmothers to my twin sister, the women in my family were taking no guff, and believe me when I say I tested those boundaries. But you quickly learn to respect women who are not pushovers. It’s amazing to be both loved well and scolded well by the same people. Yet you learn that their passions for both run deep, and it makes you a better man.

To me, the importance of strong heroines is twofold. First, for inspiring young women to grow up to be proud and comfortable and secure in their identities. And second, to raise young men who will respect and appreciate those women for all they have to offer.

Literature is influential. It teaches even as it entertains. If all we provide for young readers are examples of weak heroines, they will, in some way, grow up expecting that’s all they should find in the real world. All human beings have their weaknesses, of course. No two humans are exactly alike, we are all individuals. So writing characters as individuals is vital. And offering examples of the infinite possibilities available to our young people, I believe, is an author’s responsibility. A part of this is modeling behaviors which such strong individuals might exhibit. Being strong women does not automatically mean bitches. That is one old stereotype we can all do without. At the same time, strong women can cry and express a variety of emotions. Showing emotion is not a weakness. It’s just something women in society have learned to do better than men. In many ways, they are fortunate in that opportunity.

For me, the trick to writing strong women is to write them like men. But remember key things. Women are all about communication, especially emotional communication. Whereas men tend to prefer action to show their emotions and don’t tend toward long emotional discussions, those things are the opposite with most women. Of course, women also have different priorities and often different concerns. From child birth to homemaking, etc., women do have different societal expectations to wrestle with than men. Whether your characters go the traditional route or buck the trend, the questions must be asked and answered and can be used in building their characters.

One important clarification point: when I say I write them like men, what I am saying is that if I treat women characters like men in initial approach it’s easier to make them stronger and write them with the same considerations I give male characters. Because I, like many male writers, never claim to understand women, there is a tendency to write weaker women and feel uncomfortable with approach but if I approach them the same as male characters, it becomes easier. Then I apply the key things mentioned to focus on aspects which address femininity and differences like the importance of emotional express and communication and it works well for me. Female readers, at least, respond to it.

There’s also certainly nothing wrong with male heroes rescuing or helping their women. Some women in real life even fantasize a bit about this. But you can have a woman in jeopardy without her being weak and defenseless. Especially in larger than life space opera settings, such as mine, the odds against characters are often larger than life themselves and require teamwork to overcome. A male hero leading the way is not all bad if that character has knowledge the female character would rely on to help get them out of the trouble they’re in. The woman can use her skills as well to contribute and work with the man to extract themselves to safety.

I think the key to keeping heroines strong while still building dramatic situations with real jeopardy and challenges for the characters is to emphasize the individual strengths of the characters and think about how those can be used for each character to react differently to the various circumstances you put them through. It’s also not wrong to have the woman rescue the man sometimes. In my case, having a woman partner who can do that is a big turn on. I like to be taken care of, too. Don’t you?

It doesn’t make me feel week to rely on someone else’s strengths. It make me feel loved and safe, and that’s a good feeling. So employing these things in your story just makes it more relatable for readers. It also makes it more fun and connected to their contemporary reality, and that, when writing in the speculative realms, can only make your stories more accessible and successful.

There are many ways to approach this, of course, but here’s one technique you may find helpful:

Make three lists:

1) Traits typically associated as typically associated with men

2) Traits typically considered associated with women

3) Traits your story will require characters to have

Be sure and write these lists in context of the world you are creating. In other words, if it’s not set in the contemporary world, think through how things might be different in the period/place in which you are writing from the contemporary world in which you live and employ those ponderings in making lists of traits which would exist in that world.

Then pull items from the first two lists to create characters which meet the needs of the third. Consider specifically how these traits can be used to surprise readers, not in a “that’s unbelievable” way but in a “I didn’t expect that way.” Remember, they still have to believe the character could exist. Part of that depends on setting, situation, etc. of course, but don’t overshoot the mark either. You can use traits appropriate to a made up world which might seem different from the contemporary one. You just have to set them up properly through world building. The key here is to be aware of what you are doing and work deliberately to sell it in the context of the story.

So don’t forget about the need for strong heroines. What are some ways you can employ them to make your stories rise above the rest?


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. The sequel to The Worker Prince is forthcoming in 2012, The Returning. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

The Worker Prince is the story of a prince who discovers he was born a slave. When he raises objections about the abusive treatment of slaves, he finds himself in conflict with both friends and families. After a tragic accident, involving the death of a fellow soldier, Davi Rhii winds up on the run. He then joins the worker’s fight for freedom and finds a new identity and new love. Capturing the feel of the original Star Wars, packed with action, intrigue and interweaving storylines, The Worker Prince is a space opera with a Golden Aged Feel. 

4 5-star & 8 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.