Digital Strategy and the Future

It’s time for another Storify Post! This one is on comics & books industries, with a compare & contrast on digital strategy, overall vision, etc.

 

Norwescon Schedule

Next week, for the first time, I will be attending Norwescon in Washington. Even cooler, I’ll be attending alongside my boss, Marc Gascoigne, representing Angry Robot Books as the Spotlight Publisher for the con. It’s kind of like being a Guest of Honor, but in a publisher-specific fashion. A number of our authors will be in attendance, as well. It should be a grand old time.

Here’s my schedule! I’ve left off the specific info on things that I’m not certain are open to the full attendance of the convention. It may be that some of those are in fact open, and regardless, I hope to see people during the con!

Thurs

Opening Ceremonies
7:00pm – 8:00pm @ Grand 3 and Grand 2
Nancy Kress (M), Catska Ench, Cory Ench, Ethan Siegel, Ian McDonald, Marc Gascoigne, Mike Underwood

Friday
The Geek Life
11:00am – 12:00pm @ Cascade 9
Shannon (M), Shubzilla, Mike Underwood, Jason Bourget

Interview and Q&A with Angry Robot
1:00pm – 2:00pm @ Grand 2
Adam Rakunas (M), Marc Gascoigne, Mike Underwood

Saturday
Autograph Session 1
2:00pm – 3:00pm @ Grand 2

Autograph Session 2
3:00pm – 4:00pm @ Grand 2

What’s New at Angry Robot
5:00pm – 6:00pm @ Evergreen 1&2
Marc Gascoigne, Mike Underwood

The Evolution of Star Wars
7:00pm – 8:00pm @ Cascade 9
Spencer Ellsworth (M), Dylan Templar, David Fooden, Mike Underwood, Rob Stewart
Sunday
Closing Ceremonies
4:00pm – 5:00pm @ Evergreen 3&4
Rob Stewart (M), Catska Ench, Cory Ench, Ethan Siegel, Ian McDonald, Marc Gascoigne, Mike Underwood, Nancy Kress

The Substitute Sleuth launch!

She’s a Wacky Comedian. He’s a Gruff Detective. They Fight Crime!

The Substitute Sleuth - Genrenauts Episode 4 cover

Today, Genrenauts continues with Episode 4 – The Substitute Sleuth.

This episode draws on contemporary police procedurals like Castle, Psych, Lie to Me, White Collar, and others. It puts Leah Tang on the spot in a big way, and dives into Angstrom King’s backstory. It also kicks the season into high gear as we barrel forward into the season finale.

You can buy your copy direct via Gumroad.

Or on: Kindle  Nook  Kobo  iTunes

The first season of Genrenauts will conclude with The Failed Fellowship, the two-part finale, coming in October!

To whet your appetite, here’s the first chapter of The Substitute Sleuth:

 

Continue reading

10 Things I Learned From Running My First Kickstarter

It’s been a bit over a month since the conclusion of the Genrenauts Kickstarter, and looking back, here are some things I learned/verified during the campaign.

It’s Best to Bring Your Own Crowd…

When people talk about crowd-funding, we can’t forget the crowd part. One of the best ways to ensure success is to have an existing base of readers/supporters/fans ready and excited to back your campaign as soon as it launches. Thanks to newsletter mailings and some social media activity, people knew about my Kickstarter and backed very quickly. Here’s a chart of the first few days:

Kickstarter funding first few days - high # of backers and pledges

In the first day, the campaign got 56 backers for $1,497, which was 29% of the original funding goal.

The second day got us to 82 backers, $2,398, 47% funded.

And day three brought the total to 100 backers, $2,758, and 55% funded.

In those first days, friends, readers, and family mobilized to get the ball rolling in a huge way. Existing fans of the Genrenauts series jumped at the chance to be a part of the next step, and friends from all over pitched in to help me reach my goal.

Based on my experience following Kickstarter, if I had been a brand-new creator — launching a brand-new series with no track record — there’s basically no way I would have seen 100 backers in the first 72 hours.

…but Kickstarter will help, too.

A full 28% of the pledges (for $2,287) for the campaign came from Kickstarter links. This means that it’s very likely that those backers did not know me or Genrenauts before funding. Instead they found the campaign through Kickstarter’s own systems, from editorial spotlights to their search engine. That was notably higher than the 15-20% I was expecting, since Fiction projects aren’t at all the hottest geek-related category on Kickstarter (games are far hotter).

The Middle-of-campaign Doldrums are Real

Looking at the full funding chart, we can see that things really slowed down in the middle of the campaign:

Full chart of Kickstarter backers and funding by dayAround the 16th of May, things slowed down some. An then after the 26th of May, the campaign really slows down, getting less than 5 new backers a day for over a week. I was still putting out updates, hitting blogs and podcasts, but not at the same rate, and even so, we were still very far from our first stretch goal (more on that later).

This was the chunk of the campaign where I was getting kind of frustrated. I was having problems getting promotional hits confirmed, and I ended up having more sparse programming at BaltiCon, my local SFF con, than I had expected. And the items I did have didn’t seem to end up moving a lot of pledges. I did have a great time there, and recorded two interviews, which will me grow my reach over time.

Get Excited in Your Video (but don’t go on too long).

I spent a fair amount of time on my video. I wrote a script, rehearsed it until I could perform it mostly without visual reference, and did some work on setting the scene for better composition, as well as the time editing.

But the video was still too long. My video got 1,238 plays (so if no one re-watched the video, that means about 1/4 of the people who played the video backed the project. I think it’s far more likely that the video got re-played several times, so it’s harder to know the conversion %). But only 17.21% of the plays completed. Some might have cut off half-way through and just backed, and some might have watched 99% of the video and cut it off as the credits were rolling. But if I were to go back, I’d probably make the video about 1/3 shorter.

Lock Down Your Promo Schedule Early

Thanks to having a lot of connections in SF/F, I was able to get a lot of help spreading the word about the campaign – guest posts, interviews, podcasts, etc. But despite starting that process around 6 weeks before the campaign launched, I did not do a great job of locking down all of the go-live dates for those promotional hits. This means that I was sending follow-up emails, chasing schedules, and writing promo content during the campaign.

Stretch Goals Should be in Small Increments and be Broad-Reaching 

I was pretty confident that the campaign would be able to hit $5,000, the original goal. And due to the cost of producing audiobooks, my three main stretch goals were to create audio editions of episodes 3, 4, and 5&6. The trick there is that despite being a growing segment of the book industry, and despite Mary Robinette Kowal being an amazing audio performer with her own audience, it seemed like the promise of audio alone was not quite enough to carry momentum forward for another $4,000 very quickly. The campaign finished at $8,247, and thanks to Mary Robinette’s generosity, we will be able to have audio for Episode 3.

But I think I made an error in spacing out the stretch goals the way that I did. In addition to the stretch goals, I also had backer # goals, including a goal at 150 backers, one at 300, and the whimsy goals. If I’d set the first backer goal at 200 or 250 backers, that would have positioned the carrot of the bonus content more effectively to keep excitement up after hitting the initial funding goal but before reaching the audiobook goal.

The difficulty with the audio stgoals is that due to the cost, it wasn’t feasible for me to have intermediary stretch goals which required a capital cost. I needed all of the $ to pay for the audio production. Which means all I could do was offer goals with a labor cost – my labor. And because I was busy during the campaign on both keeping up the energy and in making promotional hits happen, I wasn’t in a good place to create additional labor-only stretch goals that would be feasible.

If I could go back, I’d definitely have smaller goals at $6,500 or $7,000, then at $10,500, etc. This would mean that there was always a stretch goal within $1,500 to $2,000 at any point once the original goal was hit. Having watched a lot of campaigns, the framing of “Only $5,16 dollars left until we hit <Small Goal #2!>” is really strong at converting. And for me, after hitting the original goal, it was $4,000 more until the first stretch goal. No one’s fault but my own, but I think with better-spaced goals, the campaign could have hit $12,000 or even $14,000.

Graphics are Key

This is something I got feedback on from Kickstarter-veteran friends, including Jay Swanson, Bradley P. Bealieu, and Gregory A. Wilson.

Originally, I had the covers of episodes 1 & 2 as my title card graphic for the campaign. My friends urged me to use a section of the amazing “There Will Always Be a Max” art, and they were of course right. I mean, look at it:

KS Crop

it’s got storytelling, it has bold colors, it’s just stunning. Goni Montes is amazing, and I have been plotting to get more art done by him for my work since I saw this image the first time.

Additionally, I used apps like Canva and WordSwag to make social media cards for the campaign to help mobilize whatever engagement I could get:

Genrenauts Kickstarter cardGenrenauts Twitter Card #3

and Jay Swanson very helpfully turned some of the blurbs for early episodes into image cards:

Marie Brennan blurbMatt Wallace blurb

all of these, plus adding the cover images from the episodes and short to the campaign description, gave the campaign a very strong visual appeal. Even the small preview card for the campaign was compelling, with solid copy and catchy art:
Campaign preview card

Don’t Expect To Get Anything Else Done

It was about all I could do to run the Kickstarter and stay on top of my day job. Thankfully, my wife Meg was 100% supportive of the campaign, and took on more of the household day-to-day during the Kickstarter in order to leave me with the time and energy to be the 24/7 cheerleader that a campaign requires.

Every day, I was writing thank you messages to backers, coordinating promotion, keeping in touch with my publishing team (since I was also getting Episode 3 ready to publish during the campaign), boosting on social media, revising projections, working on updates, and generally running around with lots of nervousness trying to keep my energy channeling into useful places instead of just fretting. Friends who had run Kickstarters told me about the exhaustion, and I believed them, but being in the middle of it running a campaign is a whole different thing.

Celebrate Success and Be Generous With Gratitude

The campaign had a lot of help, from friends giving me advice and support ahead of launch, Kickstarter staff (especially the amazing Margot Atwell) advising me on how to strengthen my campaign page/video/etc., and the colleagues who gave of their blogs, podcasts, and social media platforms to support me.

And most of all, no campaign can happen without backers. They are your Super-Fans, your colleagues, your family, and the wonderful people who have come to you through the joyful happenstance of algorithmic searching and are taking a chance on you. A Kickstarter is a way to re-connect with old friends, to strengthen your relationship with long-time readers, and more. A Kickstarter is the 21st century version of a Barn-Raising. At the end of the day, one person gets the barn, but everyone who helped make it happen has a sense of ownership, a sense of pride and accomplishment. That amount of support is a huge gift, and like any gift, it is not to be squandered.

Here’s what I’ve already with some of the Kickstarter funds: Paid for cover design, editorial development, and more. Most of the costs are still ahead, and will involve producing and shipping the physical editions for the campaign. But a Kickstarter doesn’t end when the campaign closes, nor does it end when the result is delivered. A Kickstarter forges a bond between creator and backers that continues for years to come, as I’ve learned by being a backer. One month after the campaign, I’m still deep in the production process, and even after fulfillment, I know that I’ll want to communicate with and draw upon the incredible support of my 321 backers as I continue the Genrenauts series and keep them appraised of my other projects. A successful Kickstarter is a gift that does, in fact, keep on giving.

And now the bonus lesson:

Folks out there that have run Kickstarters – what did you learn during your campaign that surprised you? Or if you’ve backed Kickstarters but not run one, what surprised you as a backer?

The Cupid Reconciliation launch!

Genrenauts 3 - The Cupid Reconciliation - small for KS

Today is the day! Genrenauts continues with the third episode:

Wounded Genrenaut Mallery York returns to active duty just in time for the team to deploy to the Romantic Comedy story region. But before they can fix the broken story, they have to find it. The team scours dating sites, cocktail bars, and jogging paths looking for the right pair of lovers to re-unite.

Mallery takes the lead, bringing her expertise to bear as the team plots a grand reunion between two estranged lovers, hacking social networks, running confidence games, and doing whatever it takes to make sure the story ends in Happily Ever After.

I think it’s the best Genrenauts story yet, and I’m very excited to share it with the world. You can buy the ebook at:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Kobo
iTunes

…and you can buy direct from me via Gumroad.

That’s right – direct. With the release of The Cupid Reconciliation, I have joined the proud ranks of hybrid authors, those publishing both with traditional houses and through self-publishing. Getting into self-publishing has been a long process of study and research, as well as consulting with friends and colleagues that have been blazing the hybrid paths for several years.

The next Genrenauts story, The Substitute Sleuth, is scheduled to publish on July 26th, 2016. Pre-order links are available here.

Here are some reviews of Episode 3:

“With the Genrenauts series, Underwood has crafted a wonderfully delightful series of novellas using the episodic structure of a TV show to tell his tale. This makes for a perfect bit of binge-reading, one that reminds of me shows I loved as a kid like Quantum Leap and the early seasons of Sliders. Think of it as Netflix for the mind.”
Michael Patrick Hicks

“Underwood has a good thing going here, and it’s just getting better. Fun, yet thoughtful; action-packed, but pretty restrained in use of force. A great balancing act that should inspire more to do this.”
Irresponsible Reader

“Mike has a breezy conversational way of writing that lends itself well to quips, wordgames, and great characterization. He’s able to pack in a lot of quirks and personalities into each of his characters, to really make them separate entities.”
Blackfish Reviews


 

A reminder – the Genrenauts Kickstarter has a week left, plenty of time to push for the audiobook stretch goals and to hit the whimsy goals, which will force me to to do marvelous and ridiculous feats for your entertainment!

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:

Nebulas Recap

 

Nebula ConferenceLast weekend, I had the fortune of attending the 50th Annual Nebula Awards Conference. I originally wasn’t planning on attending, due to an already-full con schedule, but a friend pitched me on the con, with an intent of having me participate in programming. And the panels being discussed were amazing.

Thanks to the fact that it was a professional conference instead of a consumer show, I managed to avoid coming back totally exhausted. So that’s already a win in my book, considering that I was sick for almost two weeks after C2E2.

A while back, I mused on Twitter that I wanted to see an honest-to-goodness SF/F ProCon, with a professional development focus, integrating self-publishing, traditional, and other hybrid paths. I am very happy to report that the Nebula Conference is in fact such a ProCon.

I attended programming that I wasn’t participating in, including panels on career longevity, Kickstarter, and more. It’s been a while since I attended much programming that 1) I wasn’t participating in or 2) didn’t include friends and AR authors. I usually just hang out and socialize, since not as many panels offer a lot to me these days, unless they’re more advanced in their discussions). And there was so much good programming that the fact that I was on four panel slots meant that there were even more good items that I had to miss.

My other programming highlight was the Ask an Expert sessions, where representatives from KDP, ACX, Patreon, Kickstarter, and other major companies were in attendance and making time for individual discussions. I got a lot of very useful, specific answers to questions I’d had about indie/self-publishing, and feel even more prepared as I move into being a hybrid author.

My own programming was some of the best that I’ve been a part of, and audiences seemed to get a lot out of the sessions. We had very good questions and comments from the audience in the Future of Racism panel, and my How To Hand-Sell presentation went over very well, though next year I will definitely want a projector or white-board in order to write out my Hand-Selling flow-chart.

Picture by Zak Zyz

Picture by Zak Zyz

The Moral Responsibility of the Storyteller panel was very powerful, and my fellow panelists and our moderator did a great job of handling a potentially fraught topic with a lot of grace and compassion. My last programming item – promotional boot camp, was incredibly efficient and well-directed, as our moderator (Fonda Lee) solicited questions/topics at the beginning and used those to guide the conversation rather than hoping we’d cover what people wanted to hear about.

The other big programming item for me was the Mass Autographing session on Friday night, open to the public. I sold several books, signed even more, and got to catch up with several friends. I had my iPad set up with the Genrenauts Kickstarter information to help spread the word and to be one more way for me to draw people to my table. It seemed to work pretty well!

Signing

Since the Nebula Conference moves every two years, it may be harder to build up momentum, and there’s definitely some more work to be done in local outreach to make sure that the autographing sessions reach the largest possible audience. But it was already one of the best signing experiences I’ve had.

And on Saturday night was the Nebula Awards ceremony itself. John Hodgman was a fabulous toastmaster, with a great stand-up set about science fiction, including Dune references, the role that SF/F literature plays in society, and his attempt at pitching a novel to the entire room.

And then the nominees and winners. What an an amazing list of works! It was a great night for Team Once and Future Baltimore, as Fran Wilde took home the Andre Norton Award for her debut Updraft, and Sarah Pinsker (with whom I host Dangerous Voices Variety Hour) won Best Novelette with “Our Lady of the Open Road.”

Fellow Tor.com Publishing writer Nnedi Okorafor won Best Novella for her excellent story Binti, which you should also totally read.

It was a night full of heartfelt appreciation and recognition of the breadth and depth of what SF/F has to offer, and it gave me a lot of hope and excitement for the future of the genre.

I am already thinking about my plans to attend the Nebula Conference next year, when it moves to Pittsburgh. I highly recommend the con to any SF/F writer looking to make connections in the field, participate in SFWA, and/or pursue professional development in craft and/or business skills.


The Genrenauts Complete Season One Collection Kickstarter is going strong, already 80% funded. Help us hit our goal and push onward to audiobook editions!

Kickstarter Card

Nebulas Schedule

Nebula Conference

Hello all!

This week, I’ll be traveling to Chicago for the Nebula Conference, put on by SFWA, the SF/F writers professional guild (I’ve been a proud member for basically my entire professional career).

I wasn’t planning on attending the conference this year, but a SFWA faerie convinced me to attend and present on some programming. Therefore, I’m very excited for what I’ve got lined up during the conference.

You can find my schedule here on the official site, but I’m copying it below for ease of use.

Also, if you’re in Chicago this week but don’t have a ticket for the conference, please check out the Mass Signing on Friday evening, which is open to anyone and everyone.

Thursday, May 12th

3pm – The Future of Racism
Jennifer Cross (Moderator), Liz Argall, Tanya DePass, Michael R. Underwood

The past’s virulent racism against the Irish has now faded to linguistic artifacts like “paddy wagon” and “red-headed stepchild.” What traces will present-day racism leave behind, and what new forms of racism will emerge?

4pm – How To Hand-Sell Your Book
Michael R. Underwood

Lessons from 7 years of hand-selling books to readers, booksellers, and sales reps, for writers looking to learn how to hand-sell their books at conventions or related events.

(I’ve been given a full hour to present on this topic, which means we should really be able to dig deep – I’m also hoping to do some workshopping/role-play to talk through the techniques.)

Friday, May 13th

8:00pm – 9:30pm – Mass Signing
In the Red Lacquer Room

I’ll join the many fabulous attending authors (including Nebula Award finalists!) in a mass signing. This event is open to the public – you do not need to be registered for the Nebulas Conference to attend! Come by and say hello! I’ll have copies of Genrenauts on-hand and will be happy to talk about publishing, my Kickstarter, and/or the many feels Captain America: Civil War gave us.

Saturday, May 14th

2:00pm – 3:00pm – The Moral Responsibility of the Storyteller
Alyssa Wong (Moderator), C.S.E. Cooney, E.J. Fischer, Michael R. Underwood

Society is shaped by narrative. What moral responsibility do storytellers have to consider the larger context in which their work appears? And how do we handle that responsibility, especially when writing outside of our own experiences, or presenting ours when they don’t fit dominant Western (esp. American) narratives or ideas of what a certain story ‘should’ be?

3:00pm – 4:00pm – Promotional Bootcamp
Fonda Lee (Moderator), Patty Garcia, Michael R. Underwood, Ellen Wright

Whether a traditionally published or self published author, you’re told that you need to promote your book. This panel of publicity and marketing professionals takes a hard look at what does and doesn’t work for promoting your work.

 

Other than these schedule items, I’ll be hanging out chatting with the other attendees – If you’re attending the conference and would like some help meeting people, please feel free to approach me  when I’m out and about – mention this post, and I’ll do my best to help introduce you around.

Genrenauts update

Hi everyone! I want to take a minute to talk about what’s next for Genrenauts.

Genrenauts Combined

I’ve been very happy to partner with Tor.com Publishing for the first two Genrenauts novellas – The Shootout Solution and The Absconded Ambassador. We’ve also got “There Will Always Be a Max,” a Genrenauts short story, coming April 6th for free on Tor.com.

There Will Always Be a Max cover (by Goñi Montes)

But honestly, I’m champing at the bit to get these stories out to readers. Genrenauts was designed to feel like a weekly TV show or a radio serial, and I want to increase the speed of release to fit that feel. In discussions with Lee Harris, my editor at Tor.com, I realized that they weren’t in a position to publish four more Genrenauts novellas in 2016 in order to get the whole season out this year, so we agreed that I’d go ahead and publish the rest of the season myself. They have been and remain very supportive of the series, which is great.

All six episodes of Season One are written. Episode 3 is already in copy-edits, and Episode 4 is with my developmental editor. I’m looking to have Episode 3 ready to publish by the end of April.

 

Here’s a preview of what’s coming in the rest of the season:

Episode 3 – The Cupid Reconciliation – Mallery returns to active duty and sparks fly as the team tracks down a story breach in the Rom-Com region.

Episode 4 – The Substitute Sleuth – A scouting mission becomes a scramble to solve a pair of nested mysteries in the Police Procedural region of Crime World.

Episode 5 & 6 – The Failed Fellowship – A two-part season finale where the team travels to Traditional Fantasy-land. Instead of overthrowing the dark lord, the prophesied hero dies before his moment of triumph, and now the Genrenauts have to find a new MacGuffin to defeat the Night-Lord before his arcane power brings about an eternal night of terror.

 

So that’s what’s coming for Leah and the team. And here’s how we’re going to get there.

The cost of publishing these novellas on my own, to the same standard as Tor.com Publishing has set, will be high. Therefore, I’ve decided to run a Kickstarter campaign to fund a Complete Season One Collection, including Episodes 1-6 and special extras. I’m shooting to launch the Kickstarter in May. And if it funds, there will be ebook and paperback editions of the complete first season. And with stretch goals, possibly even audiobooks for Episodes 3-6. The very flexible contract terms with Tor.com Publishing explicitly allow me to publish this collected edition, and I’m really excited to bring it to life.

I’ll have more information for you about the Kickstarter before it launches, but what I’d love to hear now is this: what extras would you like to see in the campaign? Character dossiers, Genrenauts patches, side mission short stories, playing cards, T-shirts? Your input will help me decide how to make the Kickstarter as awesome as possible.

And if you want to continue supporting Genrenauts right now, the best things to do include:

  • Buying the books.
  • Talking about the series to your book-reading friends.
  • Reviewing the books on retailers and/or Goodreads.
  • Lending the books to people you think might like them.

I’m very grateful for your support on the series so far. I’m really excited for what Episodes 3 and beyond will bring for the series, and to put years of studying indie/self-publishing into practice for myself.

 

Ebook pricing Storify and the Cult of the Debut

Today just before lunch, I saw this story on Publishers Weekly. Which reminded me of other reports like this one from the New York Times. But there’s a lot to *why* these reported print #s are likely dropping, and a lot these reports leave out. Which is where this discussion started.

I’d also like to say a bit more about the Cult of the Debut. This is a huge thing in publishing. Authors, Agents, Publishers, Reviewers, Booksellers, nearly everyone in publishing is culpable here. We all participate in the Cult of the Debut. The shiny new author, the undiscovered gem, the instant phenomenon new voice that will Revolutionize Publishing, so on and so on. Houses get into huge bidding wars over debuts they think will be the Next Big Thing, spending millions and millions of dollars on an unproven author.

And as authors, we get so worked up about The Big Debut. We see our colleagues getting six, seven figure deals out of the gate, and we despair, thinking we’ll never have the career they’re going to have. We fetishize the Big Debut as the One True Path to writing success? When in reality, a lot of those big debuts fail, and a lot of authors that do end up becoming bestsellers do so by building an audience over time.

VE Schwab just hit the NYT list with A Gathering of Shadows, the second book in a series, and her ninth book overall. She built an audience over six years, bringing her YA audience to her adult series. She has put the work in over time, alongside her publisher, to make this success happen. Stories like Schwab’s are far more achievable, far smarter of a strategy (even with the extraordinary circumstances of her film and TV deals, which are impressive and laudable in their own right), in my opinion, than throwing big stacks of money at debuts and hoping to win the lottery. Schwab has proven her work to be a good investment, has fostered a strong fan base, and now she is reaping the rewards. This is how to succeed without the Cult of the Debut.

Some people do debut right onto the NYT list. My agency-mate Jason M. Hough did with his novel The Darwin Elevator, but that happened because he busted his ass writing all three books in the trilogy so they could be released back-to-back-to-back, so his publisher had all the ammunition in the world to push the book hard. And then? It hit the NYT list probably in no small part to getting a very strong NPR on-air review during drive-time. But there’s no way to guarantee that kind of buzz or support. You make your bets, you give books everything you’ve got, and you pray. Sometimes the magic works, and sometimes, a big advance is the last advance you’ll ever see.

Me? I’m a career slugger so far. I do the work, I write pretty quickly, and I promote the ever-loving crap out of my work by being active online and at conventions. I refine my process, I look at what in my list is working and what isn’t, and I try to focus on writing to where my existing readers are – the pop-culture-savvy action/adventure kind of story.

A lot of writers carve out solid careers for themselves without ever hitting a Bestseller list, without ever getting a major award. They write, they make smart choices about what books to write when, and they find good publishing partners. They develop their careers deliberately, thoughtfully, and by making good bets. Publishers can and often do this, too. But publishers are still frequently distracted by the Cult of the Debut.

And this focus on debuts goes all the way down – Big Debuts get the budget, so they get the support. Which means they get more ARCs, more ads, more events. They get more time during presentations to buyers and librarians, which means they get more exposure to readers and reviewers. All the while, career writers, the long-term proven creators, just hammer out incrementally stronger books, trying to build their audiences organically because they’re not the New Hotness anymore.

We can all do better. Debuts are fun, and it’s exciting to be the person to spread the news about a brand-new author, but there’s a lot to be said for the experience and honed skill of a veteran writer. That’s what I’m hoping to become. It’s not as sexy a role, but it’s far more realistic.


My latest book is The Absconded Ambassador, Episode 2 of the Genrenauts series. The Genrenauts are a group of storytellers that travel to dimensions informed by fiction genres to find and fix broken stories in order to protect their home world.

The Absconded Ambassador