UBI: Work, Purpose, and the Worth of Human Life

A big thing that I think can get lost in discussions of Universal Basic Income (UBI) is the way that UBI allows for a re-definition of how we think about work, purpose, and the worth of human life. Especially UBI combined with a universal healthcare system uncoupled from full-time work.

  • UBI allows the homemaker that raises children to be valued for their contributions for more than the money you save on daycare. It lets the caretaker parent be more involved in their children’s lives.
  • UBI allows the twenty-year-old that has to drop out of college or trade school to take care of an elderly or sick family member or other loved one and can’t work regular hours to be able to get by and do that critical labor.
  • UBI allows the aspirant creator to dedicate themselves to improving their craft without needing a menial job to make ends meet. How much faster could a new musician become experienced and skilled enough to play professionally if they don’t have to work 40 hours a week in an office job to get buy?
  • UBI means that if you’re a writer, you wouldn’t necessarily need to have a “real” job to get by. You could be a writer that also teaches storytelling to kids. Or a writer that helps out at their church or local school. Or a writer that provides for their family by cooking wonderful home-cooked meals? Those are all ways of contributing, and in a functional UBI system, they can all be supported and valued.

UBI means that we can continue the trend of letting people spend more of their time on hobbies, civic engagement, caretaking, enjoying life, and being fulfilled. There’s a strong cultural dictate that says that life has worth because of work and “contribution to society.” Thanks, Protestant Work Ethic and/or Capitalism. In the US/Developed nations, we were trending toward people having more and more leisure time, because productivity was increasing due to improved tools, better systems, etc. But wages didn’t keep pace with productivity.

In a UBI system, everyone benefits from increased productivity and efficiency. The office administrator can work 20 hours a week and still keep everything flowing. They can use the other 20 hours a week to spend more time with their family and friends and to develop their passion for painting or volunteer at a local community center. And so on.

I think it’s very important to consider and get excited about the ways self-fulfillment and ideation are a contribution to society. Why do we value work at a job you don’t care about as being more important to societal well-being than taking care of family and/or playing music at a faith center or teaching kids how to draw with crayons or running an after-school program and on and on? Capitalism is the thing that values selling your labor for the good of people that own systems of production. Capitalism is not inevitable. It is not intrinsic to humanity.

What is intrinsic is our community orientation. We’re social animals. We need physical touch and shelter and the chance to continually discover who we are as people more than we need to labor for someone else’s profit. We need sunlight and physical activity and love far more than we need a job title and quarterly reports.

If you’re a happier, more whole, more fulfilled person, you’ll be a better friend, neighbor, partner, etc. A better citizen.

This, for me, is one of the biggest, most important things about UBI. It allows us to move humanity forward past a scarcity mindset into an abundance mindset. It can strengthen civic society. Family ties. Political engagement. And on and on.

This is the future I am fighting for. A future where living a fulfilling life is the priority more than selling your time to survive. We don’t have to live in a subsistence, scraping-by paradigm anymore. We can all live better.

Disclaimers and answers to expected questions:

  • Of course no system is perfect. UBI would have to be very carefully implemented to not just re-create or enhance various systems of inequality.
  • Yes, I am a hippie utopianist. That’s my whole deal. That’s what being a speculative fiction writer means to me: imagining better possibilities.
  • No, this won’t lead to a huge % of the population just being leeches on society. See the resources below.

Further reading on UBI, including a variety of perspectives:

Studies on UBI
UBI pilot program in Kenya
UBI in Ontario, Canada
The Alaska Permanent Fund
The Conservative Case for UBI”
UBI in Finland
“The Wrong Kind of UBI”
Universal Basic Assets
“UBI: The Answer to Automation?”

Writers, Artists, and the ACA

There’s a call to action further down. If you’re already convinced that the ACA is important to keep, skip down for action steps.

A lot of people are talking about the GOP and the new Senate, Congress, and President-Elect’s likely actions on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), commonly known as the ACA or Obamacare.

I personally used the PPACA exchanges to find a cheaper and higher-quality health insurance package for my 2015 health insurance, and I personally know dozens of writers and other freelancers who use the PPACA exchanges for health insurance. I’ve seen over a dozen direct accounts from writers/artists/freelancers that they’d be dead or back in terrible day jobs without the PPACA, due to the protections it offers against being denied health insurance because of pre-existing conditions or for other reasons.

The PPACA is crucial in making it possible for many writers, artists, web designers, graphic designers, and many other freelancer able to work in their desired field full-time. We know that 20 million more people have health insurance because of the PPACA. That’s over 6%. 20 million people is greater than the population of the entire state of New York. That’s huge.

Gutting or repealing the ACA would have a massive impact on my field – SF/F prose, as well as comics, visual art, etc. The ACA has let more creatives and freelancers go full-time. If the ACA goes away, the best opportunity for full-time creatives to obtain healthcare for themselves and their families goes out the window.

Even if you don’t use ACA plans, please consider calling in support of the ACA to make sure that your favorite writer, your favorite artist or graphic designer, your favorite freelance pop culture writer, etc. will still have access to affordable health care. The ACA is not perfect, but so far, the GOP has done little more than spread lies about what the ACA does and promise to remove it and somehow give us something better. But without any details.


I’m not saying that the PPACA is perfect. It was the result of a lot of legislative fighting and compromise. But it’s done a lot of good, and we can build on it instead of throwing it all out and starting over or, possibly worse, trying to keep only part of it and throwing out the rest. The PPACA was designed to function because of the inter-dependent parts – the individual mandate brings people into pools so that the price of insuring high-risk people becomes more manageable for the companies and keeps costs down, etc. I’d prefer single-payer or other systems more like Canada or one of the other ally nations we have with very strong health care programs. But right now, we apparently have to fight tooth and nail to keep the imperfect but life-saving system we have.

Additionally, if you are a writer, artist, graphic designer, web designer, or other freelancer that uses the ACA plans, or someone who the ACA has personally assisted, I’d love to hear your story in the comments so other people can see just how much good it’s done.

ACTION STEPS – Copied over from material shared on FB/Twitter

If are a US person and you support the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, please consider calling or writing your elected representatives in the Senate and the House. Here’s a contact sheet with info as well as suggested scripts.

The New Landscape – Platforms, Crowd Funding, and More

Last November, I wrote a post called The New Landscape – Access, Discovery, and Media De-centralization. I’ve decided to call that essay the first in a series (The New Landscape), and today I want to take the topic in a new direction, jumping off of this point:

Here’s what I see as the dominant progression for a creator trying to make money from their work (visual art, music, prose, comics, video, etc.)

Level 1 – Start small, give stuff away for free, sell some stuff. At Level 1, a creator is almost totally reliant on big systems, for both discovery and fulfillment/delivery. Basically no one knows who they are, so they join larger infrastructures and services to get the word out about their material through algorithmic and organic discovery.

Level 2 – Building Audience & Relationships — At this level, it becomes viable to diversify their portfolio, maybe by selling some merch (T-shirts, mugs, stickers, patches, etc). Here, a creator can bring dedicated fans onto a growing mailing list. This level enables direct sales and stronger performance on retail sites, but the creator may still be largely dependent for discovery-enabled growth and a lot of fulfillment/delivery.

Level 3 – Big Creators – Here, creators have a dedicated audience large enough they can get a living wage directly from their base, either totally direct or through Patreon/Kickstarter. Maybe they supplement their income speaking/appearance fees etc., having a large enough platform that they are in demand not just as creators, but as entrepreneurs/thought leaders in their field. They may still use large systems, but if they do, they do so from a far stronger position – they are less dependent on any given system, since their supporter base is strong, a base that is specific and mobilized, not platform-dependent.

This three-tier system is a bit reductive, as I said in the original post, but it provides a framework for what I’d like to talk about today: the differences between services/systems for Platform Building and those for Platform Mobilization.

At the Nebula Conference, I got to meet with a representative from Patreon, who helped answer some questions I had about their company and business model. Their rep confirmed what I’d already seen from being a patron on that platform – that it is more of a Platform Mobilizing system rather than a Platform Building one.

(Note – a number of writers I admire have found some success already using Patreon to support their other writing-based income, including Saladin Ahmed, Kameron Hurley, and most recently, N.K. Jemisin, who hit and easily passed the goal she’d set to allow her to quit her day job.)

Defining Terms

Here’s what I mean:

Platform: a creator’s established body of work, professional networks, and the way that they present as a creator. A creator with a small platform may just have started releasing works, or they may not have reached a very wide audience. A creator with a large platform may be well-known for some other work before they entered a creative field, or they might have built it as their career developed. A large platform tends to come with and from a large supporter base.

Platform Building: A system or process that is Platform Building is one that includes discovery systems – good ways for people that have never heard of the creator to find them and engage with their works. Producing content is Platform Building, as every work creates the opportunity for someone to find and engage with your creative efforts. YouTube, Twitch.tv, and any retail system where a consumer can follow a creator can serve as a Platform Building system. Platform Building enables creator and consumer/reader/fan to engage through the work as well as enabling other forms of communication to strengthen those relationships.

Platform Mobilizing: A system or process that is Platform Mobilizing is one where a creator can send or bring their fans/readers/viewers/etc. in order to make a project happen or to allow more direct financial support for a project/creator. Kickstarter and Patreon are both Platform Mobilizing companies, though in different ways, to different degrees.

Example – Mobilizing for Genrenauts

I’m running a Kickstarter right now, and as of the time of writing this essay, the project is less than 10% from hitting the $5,000 funding goal (yay!) When I launched the project, I was a bit worried that $5,000 might be too high for a first Kickstarter, that maybe I needed to aim lower and then try to build momentum by over-funding.

But in reality, I hit 50% of the goal in two and a half days, largely based on existing fans and strong signal-boosting from friends and colleagues. Based on how things are going, I’m likely to hit the funding goal about halfway through the campaign, and then spend the final two weeks pushing for stretch goals. That seems like a perfectly solid way of going about things in a single-creator project.

What has surprised me is that according to Kickstarter’s dashboard analysis tools, around 27% of the pledges made to the project have come from Kickstarter’s own discovery systems. Those include their search engine, their Projects We Love recommendations, and so on. I had not expected Kickstarter to provide so much discovery. I’d estimate that close to a third of the backers on the project had not heard of me before launch. This, in my opinion, means that I’d substantially under-estimated Kickstarter’s utility as a tool for not only Platform Mobilizing, but also Platform Building. There are going to be notably more people invested in the Genrenauts series when this campaign completes than when it had started.

Given the opportunities involved, any Platform Mobilizing system that uses a crowd-funding approach like Kickstarter will likely be working on building in some discovery systems. The company benefits if people come to trust their system as a way of discovering amazing new content, and the creators benefit from crowd-funding with a system that helps do more than just facilitate a direct mobilization of existing fans/readers/viewers/etc. And it definitely works for me as a consumer, too – I’ve backed a fair # of projects that I only heard about through Kickstarter’s search system. Patreon’s discovery tools, in my experience, are more nascent, and have a ways to go. The company is also much younger thank Kickstarter, so this is to be expected.

The Inevitable So What

Here’s why I think this is a useful framework: I’ve been following Kickstarter and Patreon each since pretty early in their public histories, and trying to study what they can and do offer to creators. In publishing we have this idea of The Discoverability Problem, which is that it is getting harder for individual creators to have their work discovered, which makes it harder for new creators to find a following and build a sustainable career. There are so many books being released (largely due to digital self-publishing) and more releases means that there are more works to choose from. In publishing, the loss of shelf space from the closing of Borders and the lessening number of indie bookstores in the USA (a trend that has thankfully reversed, as we’re seeing new strong indies doing a great job around the country) means that writers are posed with discovery being an ever-greater problem.

One of the best ways to be discovered is to build your platform. The more people know you and have positive associations with you, the more chances you have to sell your work.

With the proliferation of social media, there are ever-more places creators can go to try to build their platform. You can be on Instagram, Tumblr, or Snapchat, as well as older systems like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc. Social media channels are a well-trod way of building platform – incrementally growing your readership/tribe/etc. by consistently entertaining, informing, or whatever you choose to do. This form of Platform-Building tends to take time and a lot of effort. The first few people to any platform will be far more likely to benefit from it, growing their profile as the platform grows.

But any one media company can come or go – the fortunes of a social media company rise and fall. LiveJournal and MySpace are mere shadows of what they once were. Facebook lists on, and Twitter is harried by largely-unchecked abusers and the continual frustration of not being able to edit a typo out of a tweet that’s raking up RTs.

If a creator gets in deep with a single platform, their ability to connect with their fans/readers/etc. is bound up in that company’s fate. This is why people have been harping on and on about email lists/newsletters – if you bring you audience to a system that is much more directly under your control, that ability to connect is much more robust.

And from a mailing list, you can then direct your fans to a new platform, mobilizing them in order to help make a project happen.

This is why I see Platform Building systems as mostly being oriented toward Stage One and Stage Two (see the framework from the earlier post), and that Platform Mobilizing systems are more effective for later Stage Two and Stage Three. It doesn’t seem terribly viable (at least right now) to start a brand-new creative career by going directly to Patreon as your main way of interacting with fans/readers/etc.. For the most part, the people succeeding on crowd-funding/crowd-patronage systems are those with proven success and/or an existing fan-base. But once you have those connections and have earned that support, systems like Patreon and/or Kickstarter can let a creator provide an opportunity for fans, and especially super-fans, to go the extra mile in supporting a creator.

21st Century Creative Economics

Here’s another way we can express this:

Most of my books are available digital-first, from $2.99 to $5.99 per book. I also have paperbacks for $12.99 to $14.99. I don’t have any books out in hardcover, so $15 is the highest price for any of my books. If I have a super-fan who absolutely adores my works and will buy anything I publish, but I only ever ask $2.99 to $15 for my work, then they’ll buy as many of those as I can produce, but maybe I won’t actually provide them with an opportunity for them to support me to their satisfaction.

Then I launch my Kickstarter, with a $100 backer level, and they pick it in a heartbeat. They get a lot out of being able to directly support me and the extra rewards I offer above and beyond the book. And I get a big chunk of $ toward my project, plus a way to engage directly with a major supporter.

This is, I think, the source of one of the big appeals of Kickstarter and Patreon: With those company’s business models, I can offer a wider range of commercial interaction possibilities, and find places where the existing mix of products doesn’t satisfy a fan/supporter’s interest. If I have a fan who makes a really good living and wants to be able to help support me, if I make it easier for them to get more out of supporting me, we might both be able to win – me from greater financial support, them from getting more content from me, more direct interaction, and/or more insight into how I make my art.

This is another way to diversify your portfolio as a creator – offer a lot of different ways for people to support you – ebooks, paperbacks, audio, crowdfunded support, large-ticket experiences (critiques, Google Hangouts, etc.), and so on. And offering that wider mix you may find that you’re not only making more $, you’re giving readers/fans/etc. more chances to connect with you and your work. The perfect overlap of Platform-Building and Platform-Mobilizing.

Speaking of that Kickstarter, please check out the campaign and see if you’d like to join over 180 people helping me realize my creative dreams:

What Star Wars Means To Me

I saw The Force Awakens again yesterday. And I loved it with every fiber of my being.

I am the person and writer I am in no small part due to Star Wars. I know I’m not alone in this. I’m not claiming to be singularly influenced in a deeper way than anyone else, yadda yadda. But here this is my story. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

I don’t remember a time when I hadn’t seen Star Wars. Its structure and tone has left an indelible mark on me.

Continue reading

The Flurry Before The Storm

Hi folks! I know it’s supposed to be the calm before the storm, but sometimes I get too excited.

I wanted to give you all a heads-up that coming into next week, I’m going to be quite active with promotion for Hexomancy, the fourth Ree Reyes book, and that promo will eventually give way to promotion for Genrenauts: The Shootout Solution.

Hexomancy coverShootout Solution cover

But first, here’s a bit of catch-up of what I’ve been up to over the last month:

At GenCon, Wesley Chu (now a John W. Campbell Award-winner) and I talked with Greg Wilson and Brad Beaulieu of Speculate! The Podcast For Writers, Readers, and Fans) about our publishing journeys, as the start of a new series of episodes.

Then I turned the mic and interviewed Greg and Brad on their journeys so far, their podcasting, hobbies, and life balance.

Tor.com released a free collection with sample chapters from each of the launch list of novellas, including the first Genrenauts story.

Audec-Hal was included in Bradley Beaulieu’s List of Top 10 Metropolis stories.

And right now, Shield and Crocus is on sale for just $1.99 in ebook – grab a copy if you’ve been holding off, or buy a copy for a friend if you feel so inclined.

Deb Stanish interviewed me for the Uncanny Magazine Podcast about my essay on representation in the Marvel & DC Cinematic Universes.

And there’s plenty more to come!

Why Writing Diversely Matters To Me

The Younger Gods is my fourth published novel, but my first with a white male protagonist. This is not a co-incidence – it was a very deliberate choice.

Stories make our world. As a writer, I help tell the stories that people internalize to set their expectations of what the world is, and who is welcome and valid in it. For me, being a writer means including people from diverse backgrounds and lived experiences. To do any less is to erase them from history and deny their existence.

Instead, I aggressively seek out ways to write characters from diverse backgrounds and lived experiences, both to show the breadth of viable lives and perspectives that humanity holds, and to use my disproportionately-favored voice as one with privilege Yatzee (male, straight, white, cisgender, middle class, neurotypical, able, etc.) to bring greater attention to and respect for the diversity of lived experiences in the world.

Writing diversely has been a mission that I embrace whole-heatedly, challenging myself to learn more about the world and about the people in it. I feel that writing diversely greatly enriches my work, helps me avoid cliche and lazy storytelling. In writing diversely, I seek to create stories that people from many different lived experiences can see themselves in, stories that say, “We can all be heroes.”

So, that’s all great in theory, Mike. But do you walk the walk?

In addition to actively casting The Younger Gods in a manner that fits the city’s demographics (numerous African-american characters, Filipino characters, Hispanic characters, South Asian Characters, etc.), I made several conscious casting changes in The Younger Gods – one in the middle of the rough draft, and another change very close to publication. the first change is that the character of Dorothea was originally a man. I wanted my cast to have a better gender balance, and found that writing the Broadway Knight character as a woman was even more interesting for me.

The other changes were the opposite direction, changing a female character to male. In an earlier draft, Jacob’s friend Thomas was his girlfriend, Jennifer – things still went sour after prom, but it was a loss of a romantic partner instead of a platonic friend. The death of Jessica had been part of the character’s story pretty much since the beginning, from when I first had the idea over ten years ago.

But in the process of revisions, I realized that there was no way to keep Jessica in the role without her being an example of Women in Refrigerators (trigger warning: sexualized violence against women). I’d internalized that narrative trend thanks to decades of reading comics and playing video games, etc., and only when I was nose-deep in revisions did I realize that I was replicating it without useful critique or subversion. No matter how I framed the death or demonized it, it was still another Fridging. And I wouldn’t have been proud of the work if I hadn’t made that change. In the conversation I had with my fiance, I had to actively push back the panic and shame I was experiencing about putting a book out with a major fail like that. But thankfully, I was able to make the change, with the support of my editor, Adam Wilson.

The Takeaway

Making that change not only meant that I didn’t have a fridged girlfriend as a motivating factor for my leading character, but what I ended up with was a stronger story overall. Having Thomas in that role – as Jake’s one friend betrayed by his family, sending our hero away from the family – meant that all of the other themes of friendship and alienation throughout the book were enriched by that loss and guilt about Thomas that Jacob felt.

In my experience as a consumer and student of stories, the loss male best friend is a far less common motivating factor for a male character than the loss of a romantic partner. Male friendships are downplayed, contextualized as being ‘bromances,’ often to avoid homosocial/homosexual connotations (because the patriarchy says that gay = effeminate, and since feminine = bad, gay = bad! Thanks, patriarchy! Your logic is as straightforward as it is spurious and toxic). So having Thomas be a major motivator for Jake gave me a new perspective on the story. And I think the novel is stronger for it, since so much of the rest of the novel is about Jacob learning about how to reach out to other people, to build friendships and rely on those friends and allies.

It is not sufficient for me to write only people who look like me, who come from my exact background. Writing diversely gives me challenges, forces me to stretch my writing skills, and creates the opportunity for me to explore the world through the perspective of people who come from and have lived very different lives than I have. I can’t tell other writers that they *have* to write diversely. Even if I did, it’s better for writers to come to that decision for themselves. I think it’s far better to write diversely and to mess up than to be afraid and let that fear of rebuke control you, so that you settle for the easy writing choices and produce another white-washed, overwhelmingly male, white, cisgenger, straight world that Hollywood so often shows us as their ‘default).

Writing Diversity While Playing in Life’s Easy Mode

The weird thing is that my Privilege Yahtzee actually puts me at an advantage even when intentionally writing diversely. I’m more likely to be able to sell a work that has a lot of diversity, than a woman or a person of color is. And once sold, I’m more likely to be lauded for it, as a “brave” or “insightful” or something. All of this, just for meeting a minimum bar of decency that I set for myself. It’s a weird reality, but it seems to be the way of things. And if I can use my privilege to get more stories into the world that acknowledge and celebrate the lived experiences of people from diverse backgrounds, then I will totally do so. And along the way, I’ll also use my privilege to promote the voices and works of people from diverse backgrounds and lived experiences. I can do both, and both make the world better.

Writing diversely, and doing it well, is not easy. I will mess up. I have already messed up, and been called on it, and have taken those comments to heart. But I wouldn’t have learned those lessons, wouldn’t have become better-able to write diversely, if I hadn’t tried.

This is not about fishing for cookies, it is not about white/male/anything guilt.

Here’s what it is:

  • A promise to myself that I won’t settle for my ingrained, lazy defaults as a person who grew up in a culture that’s patriarchal, kyriarchal, racist, and more.
  • A realization that challenging my own assumptions will let me dig deeper and find fresh, more interesting ways of storytelling.
  • A public pledge to tell stories about and for as much of the world as I can, to make sure that I do not erase and ignore people who have been marginalized, oppressed, and erased in/from narratives of all sorts (fictional, historical, etc.).
  • An effort to show other writers who are intimidated by the idea or practice of writing diversely for fear of its difficulty or fear of getting it wrong.

To those writers, let me say this: it’s better, in my eyes, to be a screw-up with good intentions, working (imperfectly) on the side of social justice and inclusion than to take the easy route and let your work perpetuate the crappy, marginalizing and erasure-tastic status quo. Your mileage may vary, but this is where I stand.

When it comes to writing diversely, I am proud of The Younger Gods. I put a lot of time into making sure that it showed a more accurate cross-section of the people who live in actual New York even as I was moving apocalyptic sorcerers, Nephilim, and other super-humans around to chase each other and have fight scenes. I feel that it is a stronger book for being diverse, and I hope you will enjoy it.


The Younger Gods cover

Remembering Graham Joyce

Today I remember Graham Joyce, one of my teachers at Clarion West, who passed away this afternoon after a long battle with cancer.

Graham was the instructor the week we critiqued the original short story version of “Shield and Crocus.” Graham encouraged me to go and write the story as a novel. He also taught me about dialogue and about how to break apart revision tasks in a way that made it seem doable.

He was with us for the third week of the workshop, when nearly all of us were locked into a somber routine of spending all of our time writing and critiquing. Graham gathered us up and took us out to the pub – he took us out pretty much every day that week, leading by example to show us how to build community as writers, how to balance work and play, to enjoy ourselves after putting a hard day’s work.

I got to see Graham last fall at World Fantasy in Brighton, along with several of my Clarion West classmates. As ever, Graham was warm, smart, and supportive, giving generously of his time to catch up with us.

Graham brought great work into this world, and his warmth and insights moved many in the community. He will be remembered.

If you’re not familiar with Graham’s work, I’d recommend The Tooth Fairy, which I read before heading to Clarion West. You might also try his recent The Year of the Ladybird.

ACA, Artists, and Me

I think every blogger has a graveyard of half-finished drafts of posts that they can’t quite find the time or words to finish to their satisfaction. One of mine is about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or ACA, commonly known as Obamacare.

Thankfully, instead of having to finish that post, I can link you to several other posts made by working artists and critics to give a sense of what ACA can mean for our country, as well as what it has already done.


Critic Alyssa Rosenberg, on what the ACA could mean for artists: http://thinkprogress.org/alyssa/2013/10/02/2719011/affordable-care-act-artists/

Author Kameron Hurley, sharing a horror story from her own life about what can happen when you’re young and uninsured in America pre-ACA. http://www.kameronhurley.com/the-horror-novel-youll-never-have-to-live-surviving-without-health-insurance/

Author Jay Lake, who is living with terminal cancer, about what ACA has already done in extending his life: http://www.jlake.com/2013/10/03/politicscancer-the-government-shutdown-and-the-aca-and-me/


For myself, I’m very excited and optimistic about PPACA/ACA – I think Alyssa’s dead-on about the potential for artists and freelancers, and if I wasn’t really happy with and excited by my current job, I’d be taking a serious look at going full-time as a writer in 2014 with the healthcare exchanges. As-is, I’m going to be looking at the exchanges anyway, to see if I can save money by switching over to the exchanges and strengthen the pool by participating as a healthy young person.

What the exchanges, the employer mandates, and the individual mandates will actually look like and how they will shake out in terms of costs, really remains to be seen. But ACA has already taken a big step forward in several areas, (the ones discussed above, among others) from our total cluster@$% of a healthcare system to something somewhat less callous and exploitative. Maybe one day, we’ll move forward from PPACA and institute a real, single-payer, universal healthcare system like the vast majority of the rest of the developed world.

Tricks of the Trade: Part One (Intro)

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.