Tomorrow I’m headed to Madison, WI for WisCon, a feminist/activist SF/F convention. This trip also kicks my summer convention season, which will be intense. I have two back-to-back cons this month, then three conventions back-to-back-to-back-to-FLOP at the end of June July, which will culminate in coming home after ReaderCon, dying for a night, and then rising like a Literary Phoenix to celebrate the release of Celebromancy.
I really like WisCon, and one of the big reasons is that the default level of discussion tends to be equivalent to a graduate seminar – so I get to utilize my grad school brain without the other trappings of being in school again (always having more work I should be doing, living simultaneously below the poverty line and performing high culture status, and having no chance of explaining my career choice to people on the street).
Other reasons include a chance to see friends who live in the area, the hilarity that is the Tiptree Auction (seriously, if you ever come to WisCon, you owe it to yourself to spend an hour or so at the auction. It’s awesome), a GenderFloomp Dance party, and close proximity to about 20 amazing restaurants.
This year, I’m doing a reading, several panels, and leading a novel section for the WisCon Writers’ Workshop. The rest of the time, I expect to kick around, visit friends’ readings, pop my head in on some thought-provoking panels, and generally soak in the awesomeness.
Here’s my complete schedule:
Writers’ Workshop 9AM-Noon.
Reading: Oxford Comma Bonfire 9PM-10:15PM at Michaelangelo’s coffee shop.
with Nancy Hightower, Vylar Kaftan, and LaShawn M. Wanak.
Steal Like an Artist 4:00PM – 5:!5 PM – Conference 4
with S.N. Arly, Kater Cheek, Alexandra Erin, and Brooke Wonders
Patriarchy Hurts Men Too 10:30-11:45 PM – Senate B
with Alan Bostick, Kay Johnson, Philip Kaveny, and Joselle Vanderhooft
Fear and Masculinity in SF/F 2:30 PM-3:45PM – Senate B
with Gregory G. H. Rihn, Liz Argall, and Mary Anne Mohanraj
The Sign-Out 11:30AM-12:45 PM – Capitol/Wisconsin
If you’re going to WisCon, I hope you’ll swing by one of these panel sessions or say hello during the weekend. And if you’re elsewhere (like BaltiCon), I hope you have an awesome weekend there!
It’s that time of year again. The time when the young writer makes the rounds on the internet, hat in hand, asking for brief berths on websites, submitting reading copies to reviewers, and generally trying to build a promotional blitzkrieg to surround their new release.
So this is me, standing on the sidewalk of the internet with my Eight-Foot Bride costume holding a rose.
Celebromancy is coming on July 15th, so if you’re a reviewer and don’t have a copy of Celebromancy (or Geekomancy) but would like to review it, OR if you’d be interested in having me visit your blog for an interview or guest post, please drop me a line.
Some book industry folks are saying “The blog tour is dead, don’t put yourself out over it,” but working for Angry Robot, I’m seeing a solid correlation between authors who to a *lot* of blog tour and outreach and authors who have a good first month of sales. It’s certainly not a guarantee (almost nothing in publishing is a guarantee) but the correlation is enough to make me willing to hit the promo circuit hard for Celebromancy.
That also means that this blog will get quite full of promo activity from June through August, so if you like seeing lots of content about my writing career, rejoice! If you like everything else, I hope you’ll stick around through the self-promo to get the other fun bits you enjoy.
For an idea of what awesomeness could result from answering this request, here are some of the Geekomancy promo appearances that I think came out the best:
This is not a post about Star Trek: Into Darkness – not in the normal sense. I haven’t seen Into Darkness yet, but with all the discussion around Star Trek, I had a different point.
I’ve talked a lot about the role of Star Wars in my life. But for a big chunk of my formative years, Star Trek had a bigger effect on my development as a citizen and as a thinker.
I enjoyed the rebooted Star Trek film, but it didn’t do, for me, what I want Trek to do, and I think we need that thing.
What thing? you ask. For me, Star Trek is about sociology, about psychology, about ethics and philosophy. Trek is about exploring not only new worlds, but new ideas, about re-examining your own worldview.
I grew up with Star Trek: The Next Generation. It was a big chunk of my Science Fiction 101 education. From there, I watched Voyager and Deep Space Nine, which for all their flaws, taught me that the universe was bigger than I imagined, that many different kinds of people could and should wield power and determine their own future. And above all, I think it taught me two things:
1) To challenge the idea that there’s only one right way of thinking about the world.
2) The joy of exploration.
Looking at 21st-century America, I see an ongoing need for both of these.
Austerity and short-sightedness has crippled NASA’s ability to follow our once-inspiring path into space, and every year that we let our space program moulder, the more we lose a foothold in space as well as losing the dream that comes with it, the call to adventure. And contemporary political discourse in the USA is so polarized that it’s become obstructionist and truly vitriolic. Members of the other party are painted as THE ENEMY, as Un-American, as Tyrants/Fascists/Socialists, and all the while, income inequality grows, education atrophies, and our infrastructure crumbles.
We need a new Star Trek. Not the films, because the films seem to be far more about the action than the Utopian dream of Gene Roddenberry. I think cinema is the wrong place for Star Trek at its best.
What we need is a new Star Trek TV show. A 21st century vision of space exploration, filled with optimism, acceptance, and heterodoxy.
Star Trek has usually been on the leading edge in diversity, but it’s been long enough since we had a new Trek show that the shows are now several steps behind the curve in terms of reflecting the fight for visibility and acceptance being fought by marginalized groups.
We need a Trek show with a <50% white cast. We need a new Trek show with a female chief engineer and/or a female doctor and/or a female captain. We need a new Trek show with Muslim command staff, with Wiccan officers, with atheists and agnostics alongside devoted theists of many stripes. We need a new Trek show with differently-able crew in command roles. We need a new Trek with trans characters, visibly GLBTQ/QUILTBAG characters, who are far more than their gender identity or sexual orientation.
Star Trek is a universe where humanity has supposedly figured its shit out, and I think that’s a dream that’s very worth dreaming, and is powerfully important to see.
The re-booted Battlestar Galactica was a powerful vision of a possible future, one deeply reflective of a post-9/11 USA mentality of being under siege, of getting our hands dirty for survival. I though that show was powerful, and eventually got to some good thematic ground about accepting the person-hood in others. But it was dark, nihilistic, and for me, not inspirational.
That’s not the dream we need right now. We need a brighter dream, the dream we want to dream for our children and those who come after us. Now I admit that part of heterodoxy is accepting views other than your own, and on this I admit my own bias. I imagine there may be Trek fans for whom the Rodenberry Ideal is different – where the right religion has saved all of humanity, where homosexuality has been cured.
This is a point I struggle with. Because as much as I firmly believe that we *must* accept the validity of GLBT/QUILTBAG identities, that we must accept religious diversity, I know that there are people for whom that world is dystopian. I believe that I am right while accepting that requiring others to live by the way I see the world is still control, and can be met with the same rancor as I direct toward current legal/social structures.
The only thing I can do is talk about my dream, is call for people to imagine a more accepting, more compassionate galaxy. I can write about it here and in my own fiction, and hope that others are inspired to find empathy and compassion through narrative that influences their own lives.
But most of all, I want a new Star Trek. I want to see the dream reborn.
To boldly go where no one has gone before, into a future of compassionate heterodoxy, acceptance, and where all people are equal parts of the future.
A couple of weeks ago, while John Ward and I were wrapping up after the video interviews, he suggested that I write up my suggestions on marketing/sales techniques based on my experience working in publishing.
I liked the idea, and I’m trying to blog a bit more regularly, so here we are. And because ‘Lessons from the World of Sales & Marketing sounded boring, I decided to come up with a snappier (or at least shorter) title. So Tricks of the Trade it is.
First, the disclaimer: this advice, like all advice, is subjective. It may work for you, or it may lead to terrible frustration and people hating you. I think it’s not likely that this advice will lead to people hating you, but you never know.
For readers who don’t know, I work in SF/F publishing – I’m the Sales & Marketing Manager for Angry Robot Books, Strange Chemistry, and Exhibit A, covering the North American territory. Before that, I was a commission sales rep with the Wybel Marketing Group, traveling around the Midwest selling the lists of publishers to independent bookstores, small independent chains, and special markets like museum stores. It was a handselling business, built on relationships and the personal touch. And before that, I’ve worked in a bookstore, a game store, and a build-your-own-stuffed-animal store. My retail and business experience has been all about that personal connection, and that informs my approach to sales & marketing even now as an author and a professional.
Based on those years of experience, I’ve developed a fairly solid sense of how I want to present myself as an author and try to make my books a success. In this series, I’ll be sharing these experiences to provide what I hope will be a useful set of ideas and approaches, specifically for selling & marketing genre fiction, and for trying to function well in a social group more broadly.
Here’s Mike’s Rule #1 for applying Sales & Marketing skills to being a successful author:
Be Nice To People
You might think – “Mike, that’s pretty basic advice.”
Well, pretty much all of my other advice stems from the starting assumption of ‘Be nice.’ Don’t be pushy, don’t be arrogant. Don’t dominate the conversation. Listen to others & tailor your approach based on what people give you in conversation.
When I was a sales rep, I was the opposite of the Hard Sell. I talked about the books on my list, foregrounded their features, but I tried to never make a book out to be something I knew it wasn’t. I argued the books’ merits, but I wasn’t That Salesman that says ‘I won’t leave until you take 5 copies of this book’. The hard sell never worked for me when I worked retail, I hate it when people use it on me, so why would I use it when I’m operating as an author?
For me, the Hard Sellis pushy, it’s arrogant, and it often relies on the socialized push to get along to pressure people into buying the Thing just to make a tense situation (the Hard Seller’s pressure) go away.
You can make some sales in the short run with the Hard Sell.
When I started attending conventions and conferences, I was the New Guy. I had a couple of friends who very kindly introduced me around, but I was still the new person, the guest.
And when you’re a guest, you tread lightly, you try not to make a bother, and you listen a lot. The first time I attended the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts, I didn’t know how the convention worked. I didn’t know what all was expected. So I listened, I observed, and I tried to be polite. I met people where I could, but tried not to impose myself on anyone’s time.
When you’re the new person, either at a con, in a social circle, or the person someone just met, I think it pays to listen, ask polite, genuine questions about the other people in the situation, and to figure out what you can bring to the situation to make it more awesome for the people involved. With luck, the Thing you want to sell is one of the things you can bring into the situation to make it more awesome. Especially if the situation is ‘a group of people who love books.’
By taking this quieter, more humble approach to a social group, I think it’s easier to learn about what the group’s expectations are, and to them meet those expectations. This lets you move from ‘New Person’ to ‘new member’ more rapidly and more seamlessly, and should help you build trust. And trust, for me, is a great foundation to build a sales relationship upon.
Sneak Preview: Part Two will be about using handselling techniques to make a connection with a potential reader/customer.
This is going to be a digital folklore/marketing rant. You have been forewarned.
Viral. This is one of the marketing buzzwords that hit the scene a while ago, having already spent quite a long time in Internet years bouncing around in conversation before that.
Here’s what “viral” means when you’re talking about actual flow of attention and cultural transmission:
A video, post, or idea is ‘viral’ when it spreads aggressively, seeming to grow and spread on its own (like a virus, you see. Brilliant!).
To best talk about Viral content, it’s good to mention the briefly-hot discipline of Memetics. To me, when you talk about viral videos, the idea of a meme as a seemingly self-directed bit of information making its way through an ecosystem of ideas is a useful framework, especially when it comes to talking about modes of transmission.
Here’s the important thing: If you’re a company or marketing firm, you can’t just make something that’s viral by design from the beginning. A cultural property/meme becomes viral through its spreading. You can do your best to make a meme that’s easily spreadable, that you think is as catchy and engaging as possible. But it’s up to the cultural ecosystem to decide whether something is viral.
Very often in marketing business-land, I hear the preposterous phrase “We made a viral video” or “You should make a viral video.” But that’s not how it works. You can’t just hop on YouTube, see some crazy videos that have inexplicably risen to millions of views and just go “Yeah, I’ll do that!”
Even if you’re Paul and Storm. Actually, their video from the Geek & Sundry show “Learning Town” helps explain how silly the idea of “making a viral video” is. Let’s bring in the Troubadours themselves to help out.
This is not to say you shouldn’t try to make content that’s spreadable and exciting. You should! But when you’re in the planning stages, don’t talk about how you’re going to “make a viral video.” That’s not how things work.
You can, with enough money, force something to look like it’s gone viral. You can promote it, advertise it, stuff exposure into a bajillion different outlets. But that’s not a viral meme – just a massively-advertised one. Some things are both, but virality is not controlled by the creator. The point of something ‘going viral’ is that it doesn’t need that push. If something is viral, it’s because it is sufficiently catchy that viewers/readers/etc. advertise it for you. Since word of mouth is the holy grail of content recommendation, it’s understandable why companies want to find the magic formula for making viral cultural properties/advertisements. But it’s not up to the creators to decide if something’s viral. That’s for the crowd to dictate. Viral cultural properties are an example of the Word of Mouth phenomenon going into overdrive. It’s not about you, it’s about us.
That’s how the internet works. For better or worse, only the crowd can decide what the next Nyan Cat or FUS RO DAH! will be. And that’s kind of cool.
This week, there’s been a great campaign (which I’ve mostly seen on Twitter) with #WomenToRead – encouraging readers to investigate the works of the incredible female writers in the genre. I have the honor of knowing many of those women professionally and personally, so I’m very happy to give some suggestions. I could go on, but this should do you for a while.
- If you like your epic fantasy with cool worldbuilding and lush language, read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms or The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin.
- If you like your dystopia with a strong sense of community, read The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler.
- If you like Indiana Jones and dragons, read A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan.
- If you want something with a classic SF feel but a modern sensibility, read vN by Madeline Ashby.
- If you like pirates and magic and romance, read The Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke.
- If you want to read an award-winning, truly different urban fantasy, read Zoo City by Lauren Beukes.
- If you like Downton Abbey and magical machination, read Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman.
- If you like Urban Fantasy with a overmatched but determined lead, read Nightshifted by Cassie Alexander.
- If you want to read some fantasy and SF classics by women, make sure you’ve read A Wizard of Earthsea and The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin.
- If you want to read up on the origins of Cyberpunk, be sure to read “The Girl Who Was Plugged In” by James Tiptree Jr. (aka Alice Sheldon)
- If you’re looking for some awesomely surreal 70s utopian/dystopian SF, read The Female Man by Joanna Russ.
- If you want to read what is arguably the first modern Urban Fantasy, read The War For The Oaks by Emma Bull.
What Women in Genre do you think everyone should read?
Added – friend recommendations
My friend Chad (also a writer), recommends Low Red Moon by Caitlin R. Kiernan. I haven’t read it, but she’s also a Nebula award nominee this year with The Drowning Girl.
I’ve been sitting on this for a while, but I’m now allowed to announce that I’ve made a new three-book deal with Pocket Star!
|Digital: Fiction: Sci-Fi/
Author of GEEKOMANCY Michael Underwood’s YOUNGER GODS, about a sorcerer raised by demon cultists who turns away from the family to learn about the real world and a sequel, to Adam Wilson at Pocket Star, in a nice deal, in a three-book deal including a story about Ree Reyes for the GEEKOMANCY series, by Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary Agency (World).
YOUNGER GODS is a very different kind of UF series, but I think that it will appeal to readers who have enjoyed GEEKOMANCY, while also broadening my reach to folks who aren’t as much All Geek Stuff, All The Time.
I’m also very happy to be continuing the GEEKOMANCY series with a new short novel in that world.
I’ll be talking more about both of these projects soon, but for now, it’s off to a celebratory dinner with me!
It’s been very cool to give more interviews from the POV of my work in publishing, especially as people ask about how my day job helps me and can help other authors. I’m thinking about how to help authors all the time for work, but trying to adapt my experience to make it applicable for all types of authors has been a great mental exercise. For Angry Robot, I have one set of resources and expectations. I use the work experiences to be a better-informed author, but having an interviewing prompt is great, as it provides a framework for me to push my knowledge and try to come up with even more and smarter ways of thinking and talking about succeeding in this crazy-but-awesome time in the industry.
Thanks to Tim for the cool interviews, and to the AISFP folks for hosting the chat. Keep your podcatchers tuned for part two sometime soon.
I’m participating in a fun chain story as part of “Tell A Story Day” (which will be on April 27th). This chain story was organized by M. Todd Gallowglass of Genre Underground. I met Gallowglass at WorldCon last year, when we were both participants on a riotous panel on storytelling, and I’m very pleased to be a part of this tale, which is turning out to be quite fun.
You can read the previous story sections here:
All caught up? Okay, here we go:
The lawyer sighed the sigh of the endlessly put-upon. He’d spent mountains of coin on law school, for what? To serve summons in grungy bars, weave through bar fights and catastrophic magic?
For not the first time, he was glad that he’d taken a magical theory course before becoming a solicitor…sorry, lawyer. They’d managed to stay clear of the dimensional inversion, but now the elf had a getaway route. And not one that would be easy to return from, even if they did catch him rapidly.
“The gateway is unlikely to remain stable for long. Are you waiting for an invitation, perhaps?” the android said.
“Someone needs to update your humor algorithm,” the lawyer said as he stood up. “Are you coming?”
The android joined him, and the two walked forward into the light. The lawyer remembered to hold his breath, since he had no particular interest in having his soul (yes, he still had it. He’d passed on the junior position with Stoker & Benchley) sucked out his nostrils by the aetheric pressure differential.
The lawyer closed his eyes, and the light surrounded his body. He felt a slight tug, and then vanished.
The android processed its surroundings not like a human, with their limited focus, but as a true intelligence, aggregating all inputs at the same time.
Towers scaling more than one hundred meters high.
Darkened clouds registering high mana saturation.
Hundreds of lifeforms, each with pH ratings of 11 or higher.
Millions more active heat signatures across the spectra of mechanical sentience.
But more than anything, gears. Hundreds of gears, valves, tubes, nuts, bolts, and more. The android was lost for a moment in repeating a memory subroutine from its earliest backup.
They’d come home. The realm of his creation – Assembly. The android turned to see the lawyer exhale, his cheeks reddened. The human gasped, but found his breath after several moments. The android spun its head to see in all directions, applying a thermal filter to discern the most likely escape path that the meddlesome elf had taken.
“Query: Why would the elf wish to retreat to Assembly?” the android asked.
“I don’t know, but if we don’t find him soon, we never will.”
The next installment of the story comes from R. K MacPherson: Part 9
A couple weeks ago, my girlfriend and I ordered a treadmill desk. It arrived about a week ago, and has seen heavy use already.
In this case, we ordered this set:
My goals with getting a treadmill desk were as follows:
1) Have a treadmill so I could get exercise in the mornings. In our previous apartment, there was an excercise room in the basement, which had exercise equipment. I got in the habit of working in 30 minutes of exercise in the morning before heading off to work. It gave me more energy, made it easier to be healthy, and provided a chance to listen to podcasts and stay connected with the SF/F writing and fan-cast world.
2) Have a standing desk. There have been a number of studies and bugaboos about not spending so much time sitting down. I hated how much time I spent sitting when I was a field rep, but it couldn’t really be helped – I was driving, and it’s hard to drive without sitting down. Weird, right? Having the standing desk means that I can split my day into four modes. (Walking and working, standing & working, sitting & working, reclining & reading).
3) Be able to walk and work at the same time. Since I both work from home and am a writer, I have two jobs that involve being at a computer. In order to not spend 10 hours a day sitting at a desk, and in order to be active enough to be able to not worry too much about MUST EAT THE HEALTHIEST, I was excited to be able to walk 3-4 miles a day and not have it detract from time spent working.
So. How has it actually worked?
Pretty freaking well. The model we bought can run from .4 mph to 4mph, which is enough for a more active walk/jog in the morning, as well as a 1mph average walking speed while working.
Walking while typing/laptoping turns out to be not very distracting. I don’t tend to get motion sickness, so the motion involved with walking – where my field of vision shifts even as I’m typing, hasn’t proved to be a problem.
I feel more energized, partially because I’m more active, and partially because I’m not sitting at a desk all day.
The biggest benefit is just plain feeling better – I’m excited to log time on the treadmill desk, which makes me more likely to spend more time working on my writing. I’ve been doing some walking barefoot, some in toe shoes (Vibram 5fingers), and some with my sneakers.
It was an expensive acquisition, but so far, totally worth it.