Friday Morning Round-Up

The release week whirlwind continues! I’ll try to round up some of the greatest hits here for folk that haven’t been glued to their Twitter streams (you know, sane and normal people living their lives and not obsessing over their first book release, natch.)

Geekomancy now has several reviews across the eTailersphere, including this one from Publishing Iconoclast, Evil Wylie:
http://www.amazon.com/review/R34154ARB58LFY/ref=cm_cr_dp_title?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B007SNRRP8&nodeID=133140011&store=digital-text

For any readers out there — the more reviews the book the has, the easier it is for readers to know if they’re likely to enjoy the book. So if you’ve read Geekomancy and feel like reviewing it on BN.com, Amazon, iBooks, Google, Goodreads, etc., I would be very appreciative.

I also had the chance to guest blog at the journal of Mary Robinette Kowal, talking about My Favorite Bit in Geekomancy:
http://www.maryrobinettekowal.com/journal/my-favorite-bit-mike-underwood-talks-about-geekomancy/

The Reading Room has an exclusive on sampling the third chapter of Geekomancy. This means you can now read three chapters of Geeky Goodness to see if the book is going to be up your alley.
http://www.thereadingroom.com/geekomancy/bp/5746247

The novel has been hanging out in some pretty sweet positions on the sales rankings, which I hope will continue to help with exposure.

And, speaking of exposure, here’s a special ‘Mike’s Vicarious San Diego Comic-Con Awesome’ glimpse of Geekomancy at the convention. I may not be there, by my book is!:

 

Clarion West Write-a-Thon 2012

For those of you who don’t know, I attended the Clarion West Writers Workshop in 2007, and it was a huge boost to my writing career. Clarion West allows writers to focus on craft and critiquing for six weeks. Most writers are urged to write a story each of the six weeks as well as critiquing 3-5 short stories by their classmates each day during the week. It’s often described as Boot Camp for writers, and while I haven’t done a military boot camp, my Clarion West experience was certainly a crucible. I’m still applying and re-interpreting lessons learned at the workshop, and Clarion West also gave me a community of peers, most of whom I’m still in touch with and some of whom I see once or twice a year at conventions, keeping up and basking in one another’s successes.

Digression for plugs — Success like Cassie Alexander’s NIGHTSHIFTED, first a three book (and counting!) series about a nurse that works in the paranormal ward of her local hospital; David Constantine’s PILLARS OF HERCULES, a Roman Steampunk action-adventure novel that includes Steam Engines, a Possibly-Divine Alexander, and the secrets of Atlantis; Melinda Thielbar’s MANGA MATH series of manga  about kids in a dojo that have to use math and martial arts to solve mysteries; and others!

I wrote my first salable novel after Clarion West (though it hasn’t sold yet), and I’ve tried to keep some connection to the workshop by participating in the Write-a-Thon most of the summers since.

For more info about the Clarion West Write-a-Thon, head here: http://www.clarionwest.org/writeathon

I’ve pledged to write 10,000 words and am hoping to raise $150 this year. My participant page is here, in case you feel like sponsoring me. 🙂

http://www.clarionwest.org/writeathon/michaelrunderwood

First Blurb for Geekomancy

Today, I got the first blurb for Geekomancy! And it’s a doozy, if I do say so myself.

“If Buffy hooked up with Doctor Who while on board the Serenity, this book would be their lovechild. In other words, GEEKOMANCY is full of epic win.”
– Marie Lu, author of the Legend trilogy
This is me doing my happy author dance. Those who have seen the ‘There Will Be Flail’ video will have a good idea of what said dance looks like.
We’ll be able to use this quote on the cover, at the various websites, etc. Cover blurbs are a great way to give a snapshot of what is worth getting excited about in a novel, and they help draw in the audiences for established/popular authors to build buzz. We’ve got a few other leads out for blurbs, and I hope the novel connects with some of the other folks reading as well.

2012 Debut Author Challenge and Sequel Musings

I’ve been invited to participate as a featured author in the 2012 Debut Author Challenge at The Qwillery.

I followed the DAC a bit last year, and have had author friends featured last year and more folks featured this year.  I’m excited to participate in this conversation, sharing thoughts about Geekomancy, writing, and whatever else comes up.  My presence there is currently slight, since I don’t have a cover or locked-in pubdate for the book.  But as that info comes in and I get approval to unleash it on the world, you’ll find it there as well as in all of my other social media presences.

This week, in addition to flailing in excitement over the deal, I’ve been thinking about possibilities for the second book in the Geekomancy series.  Adam and I will be talking this coming week, and I’m very excited to chat about future possibilities for the series — I’ve never written a sequel before, so it’s going to be a great challenge to take the same core concept and fun characters which caught so much attention with Geekomancy and take it up to the next level, with new characters, new stories, and new geeky jokes and references.

‘A New Generation of Rep Groups’ at PW

I’m quoted in a story at Publisher’s Weekly — talking about being a second-generation bookseller (I’m at the end of the story).  It’s interesting for me to see what quotes and topics were chosen out of an hour-long interview.  It was a fun process, and of course my grand ambitions are to be quoted there many times in my life, including more as a writer.

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/bookselling/article/47745-a-new-generation-of-rep-groups-.html

 

I haven’t seen the print version yet, so I’ll keep an eye out for that during my travels this week.

WisCon — Changing Science Fiction With Bake Sales

This weekend, I became a member of the Secret Feminist Cabal, with insidious plans to take over the world and indoctrinate the masses…with Feminism.

I’d been hearing about the awesomeness of WisCon for years, from writer friends, scholar friends, and complete strangers.  I intended to go last year, but plans fell through.

This year, I made it a priority and finally reached the nerdy casual halls of the Concourse Hotel and Governor’s Club in Madison, WI.  I flew directly from having been in NYC for a week (working, including BEA), so I had a wicked-overpacked bag.  We had a six-hour delay getting out of LaGuardia, and I was very happy to have my various gadgets and some books on hand for distraction.

I could spend quite a long time talking about how awesome WisCon is, but I think I will start with a bullet point approach.

  • Starting off the convention with a writing workshop, getting great feedback on the opening of Shield & Crocus.
  • Getting to see friends from far away, catching up with @Teleidoplex, @futuransky, @DougHulick, @CassieY4, @creature57, @rachelswirsky and many others
  • A convention where the default level of discourse is high enough that when I ramble about the ideological implications of semiotic paradigms, people nod instead of making confused or annoyed faces
  • Bake Sales for Activism
  • A riotous auction filled with communitas
  • Great readings from brilliant writers.
  • Meeting several of my authors (for Night Shade Books and Prime Books)
  • Acquiring several books and only having to pay for two.
  • Discovering delicious food in downtown Madison, from tapas to pizza to Himalayan food
  • My awesome roommates @Keffy and EJ — we all worked excellently together and helped me have a Con Posse despite never having been to WisCon
  • Rar and Squee in various amounts across the weekend, with cutting critiques and effusive praise
WisCon has been going on for thirty-five years, and as such, has an incredible amount of history, in-jokes, and a lovingly-curated feel of inclusiveness, plurality of voice and perspective.  Unlike pretty much any other convention I’ve ever been to, the gender balance was possibly up to 2:1 women:men — making for a very different feel.
I’m excited to attend again next year, and I’d love to be able to do a reading (especially if I have more sales by then).  I think WisCon and World Fantasy are a great pairing of conventions for me, one more formal and ‘professional’, the other more informal and more academic.  If possible, I’d like to hit even more conventions, but that will come down to budgeting and time negotiation between the SCA and writing conventions.
Next post:  Week One with my HTC Flyer.

Re-Launch — Now “Geek Theory”

I’ve decided to re-vise, re-name, and re-launch this blog as “Geek Theory.”

Since I’ve been focusing more on my fiction and my ambitions as a writer of speculative fiction, I’m re-branding this WordPress blog as my personal-professional blog, talking about writing, my life as an independent publishers’ book rep, and other fun things.  There will be far fewer reviews and essays, and they’ll be in a more personal tone, rather than my pop-academic tone from before.

First up — a summary post on the awesome that was WisCon 35.

A Geek’s Insider View of the Publishing Industry Pt. 2 — Indies

This NPR piece was thought-provoking, mostly in the ‘I have lots to say about this’ fashion: http://www.npr.org/2010/12/14/132026420/end-of-days-for-bookstores-not-if-they-can-help-it

When you say ‘bookstore,’ the exact image evoked will be different for almost everyone, but there’s a lot in common. The shape of that image has changed over the years, and these days, independent bookstores are right in the middle of a lot of pressures and changes in the publishing industry.

I love independent bookstores for a lot of reasons, including the fact that they’re my professional lifeblood. Chain stores offer a lot of perks, but with size comes timidity and uniformity of stock and a grand lack of agility. A local big box store is constrained in a lot of ways by their corporate higher-ups, with imposed practices, obsession with metrics, and more.

But indies, as quintessential small businesses, have an incredible degree of flexibility and are in prime position to adapt quickly to change in the industry, but they are also walking a razor’s edge. The ‘imminent doom of the independent bookstore’ is a meme that’s been around for quite a while now, and has been in the national consciousness since at least 1998 with You’ve Got Mail, featuring Meg Ryan as a friendly local independent bookseller and Tom Hanks as the heir to a big chain that threatens her business’ very existence. And in fact, many independent bookstores have closed due to pressures from the chains, and more recently from loss of sales to Amazon.com and eBooks.

But the NPR story above mentions that the changing landscape of publishing may in fact be a great opportunity for indie bookstores. They trot out the encouraging example of Greenlight Books in Brooklyn (which I went to last year and is fantastic), a newer indie bookstore that is thriving. The owners found a location that was under-served and has proven supportive.

Here’s the thing. Not everywhere is Brooklyn. Highly urban centers are great places to have independent bookstores. Most of my territory doesn’t fall under that definition. When you’re a bookseller in the heartland, the circumstances are very different. There’s a lot of places where there isn’t a bookstore around for 50 or more miles — and when gas prices are re-approaching record highs, I can understand why someone might not want to spend a 1/4 tank of gas to go to a bookstore when they could browse and buy online.

Fortunately, indies have responses for this, too. IndieBound allows indie bookstores to band together and offer internet sales through a consolidated web presence. And just this month, Google eBooks went live, with a number of partnerships with indie bookstores (http://www.indiebound.org/google-ebooks) — there are differing opinions on what exactly this will do for indies, with some seeing Google being likely to want to circumvent the retailer and sell directly themselves (http://www.bnet.com/blog/publishing-style/why-google-ebooks-could-hurt-independent-booksellers-instead-of-helping/1058)

One of the things I’ll be looking at this coming season is asking my customers who are partnered with Google eBooks what it’s meant to their business.

All of that aside: Here’s what indies mean to me. Indies are community centers, they are cultural commons, they are cultural gatekeepers.

For many people, the local independent bookstore is a Thirdplace (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_place), where they meet with peers and neighbors and build community. The increasing prominence of coffeshop/cafes built into/alongside bookstores helps this impulse in a big way. Come for the coffee, stay for the books. Many indies work closely with their local school districts as business and educational partners, which is good business, when the grants are still flowing, at least. Indie booksellers, in order to survive, must be brilliant handsellers. Since they can’t compete with chain stores in breadth and depth of stock, they have to adapt to the customer and sell to their aesthetic more actively.

But Mike, what’s handselling? (just go with me)

Say you walk into a bookstore where I’m working (I have in fact done handselling at accounts when visiting for a sales call. Once a bookseller, always a bookseller), and you’re looking for a new science fiction novel.

First, I ask “what have you been reading lately?” And you say, for example “I’ve been on a M. John Harrison and Michael Moorcock kick, but I’m looking for something new.”

So I go through my brain, think about what I know about Harrison and Moorcock, their style, content, and role in various literary communities such as the New Wave and what they’ve been doing lately. Then, walking over to the SF section if I haven’t already, I think about what I have in stock, because it’s far easier to sell a book I have on hand than to get someone to order it from my online store or special order to pick up later or get shipped to their home. So while I have them in the store, I try to find the right one-to-three books that will pique your interest.

So I go to my shelf and I pick out China Mieville’s The Scar, asking “Have you tried anything by Mieville?” and then mention how Harrison heralded Mieville as a Bright New Hope for fantasy, and maybe talk up the New Weird if you seem interested in chatting, or just talk about the book if you’re not. I put the book in your hand, which then puts the onus on you to put it down.

And if you seem amenable, maybe I grab something by Steph Swainston or K.J. Bishop to add on, building on the New Weird theme, or maybe I go back to a J.G. Ballard to sell you more work by New Wave SF authors. It’s an ongoing process, and every bit of information you give me refines my approach. If I misfire on something, don’t grab your interest, I probe for more information, not satisfied until I’ve given you at least one book that should float your boat. And sometimes, if you’re the kind of customer who all booksellers love, you’ll keep asking for more, and we’ll spend maybe half an hour building you a leaning tower of awesome.

That’s handselling. Sell to the customer and their tastes, not just pushing the same new Hardcover Besteller down everyone’s throats because ‘if it sells, it must be good!’ Many of the bestsellers get that way because they’re good, but there are far too many books out there to read all of them, so you might as well read books that you will enjoy, that will challenge you when you want a challenge, will comfort you when you need to be reassured, will take you away to another world when you want to take a break from this one.

The indie bookseller, at their best, is a literary guide and advisor, helping you find the right book for the right mood — they’re a matchmaker for an audience of serial bibliovores.

Amazon.com can’t do that for you anywhere near as well as a good bookseller can. I’ve used Amazon’s systems for years now, as well as the systems of the other chain online retailers. And it’s my firm belief that we’re nowhere even remotely close to the time when a computer algorithm can handsell and recommend as well as a living-breathing bookseller.

And if the Google eBooks turns out to be a credit to the bookseller, then they can handsell you books right out of the online catalog if there aren’t any in stock, or if you have a preference for eReaders.

The big problem with eReaders as far as indies go is that they steal away stores’ most prolific buyers. If we apply the 80/20 rule to bookstore customers, where 20% of customers make up 80% of your business, then what happens if half of those 20% of your customers buy eReaders? It’s logical for them, because they’re buying maybe 5 or more books a month, and shelf space is becoming a premium, or they travel a lot for work, etc. That steady business that the indie had been depending on then vanishes. But if that customer knows they can continue to benefit from the expertise of the bookseller, get the recommendations as eBooks and support the store which has been a part of their lives for years, it could be a great match.

The story of the indie bookstore is far from over, but the upcoming chapters are going to be very interesting, and pretty much no one knows how they’re going to unfold — not the chains, not the publishers, not the book reps, and not even the booksellers themselves. It’s a thrilling and terrifying time to be in publishing, which means we all have lots to talk about.

A Geek’s Insider View of the Publishing Industry Pt. 1

Since I’ve been doing my job as a sales representative for a year and a half now, and I continue to get to explain what it is I do, I thought I’d do a series of posts here about my view of the publishing industry, centered on the ‘what I do in my job’ aspects, but also covering things like eReaders, agents/copyright/publication, and so on. For this series I will rapidly switch between my professional hat and my writer hat.

Item the first: Who I’m talking about — I sell to independent bookstores, museum stores, book wholesalers, and some specialty accounts (in a category we call ‘special sales’). My accounts range from online-only children’s bookstores to local mom and pop bookstores to small chain bookstores. My business is, these days, a very small percentage of the overall book business. Independent bookstores (as in not Borders, Barnes & Noble, Amazon or the chain Books-a-Million) comprise only 8-15% of the book business these days. The big money is in fact in the chains and Amazon/online retailers, and more and more in eReaders and the electronic book market. What is important about the independent bookstores is both the local business aspect and the fact that the indies have a strong effect on award recognition and reviews.

What this means, though, is the fact that the people who do my job for Amazon, B&N and Borders are incredibly important and can have a strong effect on a book’s potential. In the book biz, we call these accounts the ‘major accounts’ or ‘national accounts’ — and therefore one can be a ‘major account rep’ which grants a large degree of cache because your company has trusted you with handling a crucial part of the business.

Given that I’m still relatively new (especially compared to people who have been reps for 20+ years), I’m not yet selling to the major accounts, but I do have my own specialties which I have developed to help push our business the best I can. One of the ways I do this is by assisting buyers with social media — this will deserve to be its own post, later on. The other thing I do is take the lead for our Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror publishers, which will also be its own post.

So who are the people at these bookstores? Many of my accounts have been in business for 20+ or 30+ years, and some have become inter-generational now, with the business being handed down or partially run by the younger generation within their family. Some stores are newer, open for a handful of years and one account that opened just this fall — proving that there is more than one trajectory for indies. Most of my buyers are women between the ages of 30 and 65. I have some male buyers but I’d say they are less than 1/3 of my account’s buyers. As a rule, my buyers are tremendously bright, very well-educated, and left-leaning (sometimes notably left-leaning compared to their area). It’s been fantastic to get to know these people who are on the ground-level, selling books in the trenches and doing their best to get good books in people’s hands. They’ve got a combined cache of experience that would fill the Library of Alexandria, and I’ve really enjoyed learning from them.

Many of my accounts are also closely connected to their local school districts, buying children’s books and/or educational materials to sell to educators as a group or individually. This means that my children’s books are an essential part of my business and by selling them, I know that I’m part of enriching the education of kids across the midwest (which warms my heart).

My independent bookstores range in size from hole-in-the-wall to old houses filled with books, bookstores in malls, and bookstore/specialty stores in tourist towns, and more. Each store has its own demographic based on their location and based on the readership which they court. Two bookstores across the town from one another can have wholly different readerships based on their focus as a store as well as their location within a town.

In addition to the indies, I also sell to some museum stores, which is fun because then I get to hang out in the museums/gardens/exhibits. I also sell to some wholesalers — wholesalers buy the books on a higher discount and then re-sell to their own list of retail customers. Some wholesalers are the clearing house for a set of bookstores, some are notably different (one account is a re-binder, that buys paperback children’s books, re-binds them into hardcovers and sells them to libraries), and each of them requires a different approach for selling.

One of the things I had to learn most quickly about this job is how important flexibility and adaptation are to my success. I can have my general strategy, but to get the best orders I can and most effectively serve my accounts, I try to filter the material to present the books with the best potential for the market while also probing to see where there is other demand or where there have been difficulties that are facing a category (‘travel books don’t sell for me anymore’).

Many people are in a gloom-and-doom mode about independent booksellers, but I think that it’s premature at worst and mere anxiety at best. But that’s a whole other can of worms.