It’s time for another Storify Post! This one is on comics & books industries, with a compare & contrast on digital strategy, overall vision, etc.
It’s time for another Storify Post! This one is on comics & books industries, with a compare & contrast on digital strategy, overall vision, etc.
I’m very excited to be a Featured Guest at NerdCon: Stories in Minneapolis, MN this October 14-15th. NerdCon: Stories is a new convention (in its 2nd year) celebrating stories and the power of storytelling. I couldn’t imagine a convention more up my alley if I started it myself. I heard great things about the con from several friends, and was eager to be a part of NerdCon: Stories this year.
And here’s where you can find me during the show:
Saturday, October 15th:
11:00 AM – Room 101A – How To Hand-Sell Your Book
Author and publishing professional Mike Underwood shares lessons from seven years of hand-selling books to readers, booksellers, and sales reps. Learn how to put your work into a market context, showcase what makes it special, and connect with readers when selling at conventions, festivals, and more.
12:30 PM – Room 101 BCHI – Storytelling in Tabletop Games
Role-playing and other tabletop games are a fantastic catalyst for collaborative storytelling. Creating narrative frameworks and game rules that allow players to have enough control over both story and interaction can be a tricky business. How do game designers do this, and what makes a game truly great?
3:30 PM – Saturday Afternoon Variety Show
Hosted by Paul & Storm
I’m very excited to reprise and further refine my How To Hand-Sell Your Book presentation, which I’ve given at the Nebula Conference and GenCon. The other programming looks fabulous, as well. Other than this official programming, you can find me in the Expo Hall all weekend! I’m sharing a booth with fellow author Jay Swanson (check out his cool real-time fantasy blog Into The Nanten). And if all goes as planned, I will have paperback copies of the Genrenauts Season One Omnibus!
Hope to see you there!
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.
I’m participating in the Worldbuilders campaign again this year, offering a 10,000 word critique AND a Skype consultation about the manuscript and submission package, all in one. My hope is to give both wide-ranging and deep feedback for a writer looking to get a competitive edge for their novel submission.
You can see the auction here. Please do click over to the other Worldbuilders auctions, as there’s plenty of awesome stuff up for bid, and it’s a great cause.
Yesterday, I resumed work on the first of a series of novellas. I had around 4K already banked, and I’m shooting (agressively) to have three 25,000 word novellas drafted by January. It’s about the speed that I wrote Hexomancy in April/May, with the added challenge of being three stories instead of one (though they are the same series, and follow sequentially).
That’s the context. Here’s the blog-worthy thing:
Today, I went massively off-plan. Like, ‘oh, the main guest star is this character, not that character!’ off-book, including creating a whole different backstory for that guest, which then called for completely re-writing Act Three to suit the new character.
That’s…scary, to be honest. I loved the new approach, and I think it is very promising. Generally, when my subconscious suggests an alternative plot approach or lobbies to promote a character from secondary character to guest-star, or extra to secondary, I try to listen. I’m generally a very conscious writer – I think ‘What makes sense to happen here?’ or ‘How should this work?’ and then answer that question for myself. I don’t often rely on ‘inspiration’ to come along and deliver a story idea while I’m pounding the keys.
So when inspiration comes along, I take those gifts very seriously, because it generally means that my brain has figured out how to tell the story in an even cooler fashion, and that I should listen, using my conscious skills to incorporate the idea given to me by my unconscious.
I do this all the time, in little ways. Even with my mostly-outlining style, I try to leave room for my subconscious to contribute – set dressing (both physical and worldbuilding nuggets), character inflection, and more.
For me, character voice almost always has to emerge in the writing. I blame my RPG background – just like when I’m gaming, I have to inhabit characters for a while, spend time with thm, before I can really lock down their voice.
I think the change will make the story stronger, but it does mean that four days into drafting, I now need to re-outline the rest of the story (I’m at about the 35-40% mark), which involves completely re-working the plan for the back half of Act Two and all of Act Three.
If this were a novel, I’d probably be in more trouble, going off-book in a major way only 9,000 words in. But for a novella, I think I’ll do fine. And if it goes poorly, I’ll only have to fix a 25,000 word chunk of story, as opposed to 100,000 words.
What will this big change lead to? Only time, and more writing, will tell.
“The Folly of the Journeyman”
So, here’s something I’ve noticed this the last few times I’ve been in a classroom atmosphere *not* as a teacher – I’m becoming something of a bad student.
I’m moving into the stage of my life where the times I’m a teacher are equalling or sometimes outnumbering the times I’m the student. And being a good student requires beginning from the premise of “I don’t know better, I should listen,” which is hard when the rest of the time you’re teaching from the premise of “I know something worth sharing, I should speak.”
This whole post was inspired by a student moment I just had last week, but I’ll go back to an older one, first.
When I lived in Queens, the only renaissance martial arts group I could find was the Martinez Academy of Arms, which has a *very* different learning culture than the one I was used to in the SCA. At the Martinez Academy, you do what the Maestro says, when he says it, and nothing else.
Problem is, I knew enough about fencing already to want to move past the basic stuff and get on to the other, cooler bits. The Maesto had me start with several weeks of stance, walking, and completely constrained plays, despite the fact that I’d been a competitive renaissance fencer for five years. I got no special treatment due to having a background. Yes, I’d already studied historical martial arts. Yes, I’d had success as a competitive fencer. None of that changes the fact that properly lead drilling where the objective and process is well-explained is an important way to develop skills in isolation to later integrate into your overall approach. The Maestro’s way was not my way, and I was paying for the Maestro to teach the Maestro’s way.
The lesson I had to learn there was to stop trying to jump ahead, and to let my focus dwell on the constraints and the focus, not on what might come next. There is value in going over the basics, and I struggled against those constraints, depriving myself of the best learning experience.
And just last week, I was doing a writing exercise in a group class and wrote past the constraint, instead of keeping the constraint in the forefront of my mind. In this case, it was a small violation (we were told to show emotion from a character POV and only use three sentences. I used four), but it was still a failure to embrace the constraint, to let that one variable dominate.
Isolating variables and focusing on constraints is, I think, a great way to develop a specific part of a skill set, whether it’s in writing, martial arts, or whatever. If you can make time to do those admittedly artificial exercises, where you know that it’s not how thing usually work, but you’re doing the drill because it lets you form good habits, I think it can have a great effect. It’s not something I’ve ever been too good at as a student, even though I teach it as an instructor. My brain wants to roll everything together, to always be integrating everything at once.
I need to be better about embracing constraints so I can up my game, both in writing, martial arts, and in training myself into better professional behaviors, interpersonal behaviors, everything.
What constraints to you struggle against that you could be embracing? How do you check yourself when that happens?
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.