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.


NerdCon: Stories Schedule

NerdCon: Stories


Hello, all!

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.

The schedule for the con is up for all to peruse.

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


  • A rapid-fire Q&A with Chris Rathjen, Eileen Cook, Joe DeGeorge, Jonathan Ying, Karen Hallion, Kevin MacLeod, Nalo Hopkinson, and Paolo Bacigalupi
  • A talk by Sara Benincasa
  • Daniel José Older and Nalo Hopkinson in conversation
  • Ms. Pacman vs the Patriarchy – a talk by Paul DeGeorge
  • A reading by Michael R. Underwood
  • A lip sync battle with Blue Delliquanti, John Scalzi, Paul Sabourin, Matt Young, Mikki Kendall, and Darin Ross
  • A talk by John Green


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!

You can register for NerdCon: Stories here.

Hope to see you there!

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.

Worldbuilders Critique

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.

Literary Off-Roading

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.

10 Rules for Getting the Most Out of Conventions As a Writer

Attending a convention as a writer can be a ton of fun, but it’s also work. You’re putting on your public face, asserting yourself as a working professional, and forging connections that could become an incredible asset in the short, medium, and/or long-term.
Here are some general pieces of advice for professional development and self-care at conventions:
1) Be genuine. Being the best, most generous and excited version of yourself is probably the best support you can give your career in terms of activities at a convention. If you’re naturally shy, you don’t have to put on false airs and try to be a social butterfly, but try to be the friendliest version of yourself. If you excel in small groups, find and build small groups and have those great in-depth conversations. If you’re the life of the party, be the life of the party. But remember that you’re a professional. Each community and con is going to have its own tone, and try to match that tone – some conventions are more academic, others more fannish. Sometimes the enthusiasm will need to be more reserved to fit in, other times you can squee all over the place.
2) Be positive. You’re at the con because of a shared passion for narrative. The people you meet will very likely be your tribe – they’ll get more of your jokes, have read more of the books you love, and should, in general, be ‘Your People.’ That’s really exciting, and it’s great to be enthusiastic.
The back edge of this rule is that I don’t recommend spending much if any time throwing shade or trash-talking other authors or their work. Best-Selling Author’s writing may be drivel in your informed opinion, but that person is a peer, trying to make a living in the same career you’re building for yourself. Plus, it’s bad Karma to cast aspersions. And if you trash-talk in public or in small circles, people may associate you more with that negativity than anything positive, especially if they happen to love Best-Selling Author’s work. Thoughtful critique is fine, especially in small circles of colleagues/peers.
3) Take care of yourself. This ranges from making sure you eat enough (recommended two meals a day minimum, or whatever you need to function, whatever is greater), taking pride in your hygiene, dressing to impress (assume conventions are business casual until told otherwise, and ask whether there’s an awards ceremony or banquet. If you’re going to go to either, pack something a step up from your default wear). Taking care of yourself also means making sure you get alone time to de-compress when you need it. Conventions are very taxing, and if you need to skip a panel to take a nap, or just take a breather, then do it. If possible, figure out times that you can use for solo relaxation ahead of time, so you know when you have breaks available.
4) Eat socially. Meals are some of the best opportunities you will have at conventions to make real, lasting connections with people. If possible, invite a new friend you’ve made during the day to dinner, and assemble a dinner posse of a size that’s workable for your temperament (love small groups? Get a small group for dinner), and head off for some food and fun.
5) Enjoy the Bar-Con. Most genre fiction conventions have a designated Convention Bar. Writers and publishing professionals often congregate there in the evenings. You’ll see editors holding court, authors entertaining their colleagues and/or fans, and aspiring pros trading tips and making friends. You most certainly don’t have to drink, but BarCon can be a great part of a convention experience, and buying someone a drink is a solid invitation to a chat (especially if you make it clear that said drink is not the start of a pick-up attempt). As indicated above, if you’re at a convention, you already have something in common with your fellow attendees, and chances are, they will be excited to talk to you.
5a) But don’t over-indulge. Everyone has their limits, and you should know yours. If you’re effective socially when tipsy, that’s fine. If you go directly from drunk to sick, that’s bad. Or if you’re an angry drunk, that’s also bad. Know your limits, and remember that you’re being a professional.
6) Know how to open a conversation. I’ve developed a series of stock questions that serve as conversational openers at cons.
In the first day or two of the convention: “How was your trip in?” “Did you get in today?” “Are you on panels this weekend?”
Anytime: “How’s your con going?” “What are you working on these days?” (works for writers, editors, and some other publishing professionals) “What have you been excited about lately?” (this can be books, projects, movies, etc.) “Any panels you’re particularly excited about this week?”
If this is your first time at a given convention: “This is my first time at <Con>. Is there something I absolutely shouldn’t miss?”
Towards the end of the con: “How was your con?” “Were you on panels?” “What was your favorite panel?” “When are you headed home?”
7) Talk about your work when invited. Chances are, you’ll end up talking to other writers. In those cases, shop talk is expected. Ask people about their work, and they’ll probably ask about yours. When talking to readers, reviewers, booksellers, editors, etc., it’s fine to talk about your work, but do so briefly, and try to limit it to when you’re invited to talk about your work or when you’ve already talked about something else for a while. Hand-selling your book to people at conventions is not a way to make a living, and if you’re obnoxious about it, then it could have a net-negative effect of turning someone off. As with many things, there’s a balance to be found between wanting to get the word out there and not being too pushy.
8) Be generous. Praise the work you found inspirational and exceptional. Compliment people when they excel on a panel as a participant or a moderator, or ask an insightful question. Thank your servers. Tip well. Thank booksellers for supporting your work. Thank fans for reading your work. Thank reviewers for discussing your work and for supporting the genre. Thank everyone for their time when you talk with them. Wish people well and support their endeavors. The more robust sales in your genre are, the better a chance your work has of succeeding.
9) Take business cards. I still use business cards a lot at conventions. Whenever possible, I take notes of where I met someone, so that when I go back over my stack of cards the next week, I can put names & Faces to conversations. “John Steele – Talked about Indiana Jones at Sushi.” “Gina Chen – dinner on Sunday, writes Middle Grade Horror.” This way, you can follow up with all the cool people you met, sending them short emails and/or Facebook messages to say how much you enjoyed meeting them and talking about <X>. This helps cement short-term acquaintanceships into burgeoning friendships.
10) Think about making friends, not networking. If you want to be in the writing business long-term, you’re going to be around the same people for decades. So why not regard your community as a group of friends who are also business associates, rather than thinking about people first and foremost in terms of what they can do for you as connections.

Embrace the Constraints


“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?


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.