Category Archives: Conventions

My Year In Review: Guest Post by Doug Dandridge

My Year In Review

I had planned for 2016 to be my best year yet, moving forward with all my writing projects, and doing the ground work to build a larger readership. As some of you may know, I do this writing gig fulltime, it is my job. As this year closes out, I have sold about 200,000 books, eBooks, paperbacks and audiobooks. I was hoping to pass the half million dollar gross income level as an independent for the four years I had been doing it. I was planning on releasing seven books, as well as finishing off an effort I was hoping to interest Baen books in. Unfortunately, things don’t always work as planned.

As the year dawned, I had just returned from a workshop cruise in December (Sail To Success), and had taken a belt test for Kempo Karate. I had been feeling my best in years, and I was planning on putting out five thousand words a day, which would put me at almost two million words. I really didn’t think I would do that, but a million seemed like a possibility. Then, in January, I started losing energy. Every morning I woke up feeling like I had fought a battle the night before. I kept on writing, but not at the level I wanted, and the workouts went out the window. In March my primary care physician told me she thought I had sleep apnea. Now, since I go to the VA, this didn’t mean I would get immediate treatment. It took two months to get the sleep study, followed by another sleep study, and four months after my primary told me her thoughts I finally got my CPAP. It has made a world of difference, and I started working out again. Still not at one hundred percent, but I can see it coming.

Now that that’s out of the way, what did I do with my year? To start off I put out a book I had on my hard drive for five years, just so I could get something out. The first of the second trilogy of The Deep Dark Well series, it did well enough. I also put out a collection of short stories set in the Exodus Universe, a little under 70,000 words, and sold about five thousand copies in the first three months, about what the first, shorter volume had done. The production company that does my audiobooks put out Exodus: Empires at War: Book 5: Ranger, which did okay, though I’m not sure if sales were enough to convince them to do book 6. Time will tell. In May I put out Exodus: Empires at War: Book 10: Search and Destroy. While the book sold well, it was probably my weakest reviewed novel since the first of the series, many people thinking it was just a placeholder novel, which it kind of was. That taught me something about series, something I will avoid in future efforts. In August I put out Book 11: Day of Infamy, which met with much better reviews. I had planned to have that book out by the end of June, but the sleep apnea interfered. I started to work on Exodus: Machine War: Book 3 and finally got it out the door on November 20th. I have also put out some short stories for anthologies, and did some of the planning on future series. Not my most productive year, but still enough to make more than twice what I made in a year at my old day job.

I attended three conventions this year, starting with Pensacon, where I was merely a visitor and spent some time with my Superstar Friends. In July I went to Libertycon in Chattanooga, where I sat on two panels and moderated a third. Good practice. Dragoncon in September, and this year I was able to get two panels, one on the writer’s track, and a really fun one in the scifi lit track called starship showdown. I have been told I will get even more next year, and I am planning on putting in an application as a Dragoncon guest. We can always dream. And I was invited back to Sail To Success this year as a Student/Instructor, at a hefty discount, so I can give my take on Indie Publishing on two panels. Add to that, I have been invited to next year’s Florida Writer’s Association con as a faculty member.

The year didn’t go as planned, but I still was able to work my dream job and make a good living at it. Hopefully I will do better this next year, and if I don’t? No problem, I will still be happy.

 

Doug’s Bio:

Bio – Doug Dandridge

Doug had been writing since 1997, and had garnered almost three hundred rejections from publishers and magazines before trying his hand at self-publishing on December 31, 2011. A little over a year later he quit his day job with the State of Florida, and has been a full-time author ever since. Doug has published thirty-one books on Amazon, and has sold over two hundred thousand copies of his work. His Exodus books, with eleven volumes in the main series, plus five in the two spinoff series, have sold over a hundred and seventy thousand books. They have consistently hit the top five in Space Opera in the UK, as well as top ten status in the US. Doug likes to say that he does not write great literature, but entertainment, and his fans agree enough to keep buying his work. He has well over three thousand reviews on both Amazon (4.6 star average) and Goodreads (4.12 star average).

Doug attended Florida State University (BS, Psychology) and the University of Alabama (MA, Clinical Psychology). He served four years in the Army as an Infantryman and Senior Custodial Agent, followed up with two years in the National Guard. A lifelong reader of the fantastic, he had an early love for the classics of science fiction and fantasy, including HG Wells, Jules Verne and the comics of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. He writes fast moving, technically complex novels which appeal to a hardcore fan base. He has plans for several future series, including several space operas, a couple of classic fantasies, some alternate history, and even a post-apocalyptic tale. He puts out about five books a year, and still has time to attend several conventions, including Dragon Con and Liberty Con. This year he added board member of Tallahassee Writers Association to his resume’.

Learning to Piece Together the Story Puzzle

I have found that there a few divides amongst writers more contentious than the arguments between discovery writers (pantsers) and outliners. I used to be firmly a member of the pantser camp. While I recognized that outlining had its benefits, I felt that planning with such excruciating detail would “ruin the fun” of creation. Plus, outlining was difficult and boring. The outline would only change as I got into the trenches and discovered something new and shiny, so what was the point? I had tried to outline a few times, I argued, and it hadn’t worked for me. It never would.

Fortunately, I had a few friends patient enough to take the time to convince me otherwise. Outlining isn’t a single, specific, regimented process, they argued, but rather a way of approaching a story deliberately. I would still create, discover the characters, the world, and the plot in the brainstorming section of the process. Then, the outline itself would be like writing an extremely condensed first draft. I would be able to edit it for major structural problems without the emotional baggage that came with hours and hours spent working on prose.

Once I had a coherent skeleton, I could write the first draft without worrying about writing my way into corners. My structural edits would already be done, and so I could focus my creative energies on producing powerful prose, vivid descriptions, and touching emotional moments. Not only would my first draft be better than what I had done before, it would also take less time to complete.

As for the “inefficiency” of prewriting, any time that I spent up front would be repaid twice over in the back end of the first draft. My manuscript would be leaner and free from most, if not all, structural problems. Additionally, outlines were guides, not shackles. Of course the outline would change as I wrote, but I would “discover deliberately” rather than wandering off into the weeds. I would be able to compare new ideas against a well thought out plot and be able to decide what was truly better for the story. Though it took a few years of conversations and cajoling, they eventually won me over.

Convinced, I decided that 2016 would be the year that I learned to outline. I struggled for a few months and grew disheartened. Outlining was proving to be as difficult, boring, and ineffective as I had feared it would be. I took my problems back to my writing group and we talked through numerous blocks. The issue, I eventually came to realize, was that I hadn’t learned the skills I would need to outline effectively. I knew how to work with character, with plot, with theme, and with milieu. I had all the pieces, but didn’t know how to put the puzzle together.

Again, I was lucky in that I wasn’t alone in my struggles. Of the three members in my group, two of us were discovery writers who were trying to make the transition. After some discussion, we decided to act as a group to resolve the problem. We enrolled in one of David Farland’s online classes, The Story Puzzle. Over the course of 16 weeks, the Story Doctor walked us through his process and theories, answered our questions via email and the biweekly conference calls, and provided valuable feedback on the writing assignments we submitted to him.

It was hard and frustrating at first, but eventually I found the joy that has always driven me to write. I was still discovering and creating, but by doing so deliberately I was finding more than I had expected. My story improved with each passing week and I began feeling the itch, the need to dive in and write prose. I resisted and kept working Dave’s process. By the end of the class, I had all the pieces that I needed and some good guidance on how to put them together into a functional outline. I was in no way ready to begin writing the first draft, but I knew how to get there.

Time passed as I continued to work on my outline. I built my world, wrote down scraps of description and dialog, and found ways to heighten my story and characters on every level. On the first day of each month, I surveyed my progress and decided if I was ready to start prose. Month after month, I judged that I was close, but not quite there. It wasn’t that I was stalling, like I had in the past when my project seemed intimidating. Rather, I had a task list that I needed to finish.

Then came the first day of another month. November first. NaNoWriMo had just begun. I looked over all of my prewriting and decided that, yes, I was ready. I dove into the prose and emerged thirty days later with my first ever NaNo victory. The story wasn’t done, in fact I had quite a ways yet to go. Rather, I had proved to myself that with a good outline to guide me, I could out-write my old pace by a fairly significant margin. Most importantly, I knew that I could do it again. And again. It was the sort of skill that I could develop into a career.

Learning To Market My Book – Guest Post: Tony Dobranski

 

Learning To Market My Book

Guest Post: Tony Dobranski

I signed my book contract in March 2016. Since then, my professional life has been a crash course in marketing, a mix of constant research and the ongoing leap of faith that I knew how to reach my audience.

*A Marketing Primer

Marketing is how you tell your audience about your book. Because it’s a message, it can have creativity and artistry to it. Marketing is always a business act, however. It connects you with your audience so your audience wants to buy and share your book.

The huge changes brought by ebooks, independent publishing, social media, fan conventions, and giant corporate media mergers have completely upended the publishing business. Whatever business structure helps you get your work out to the world, you are your best marketer, and you will be for years to come.

*A Marketing Plan

When WordFire Press asked for the manuscript of The Demon in Business Class, they also asked for a marketing plan. I took it very seriously, examining my market, publisher, and novel, with an honest if enthusiastic eye. Never hide from the truth of your book. All lemons are potential lemonade.

Demon is a hybrid novel with corporate thriller and romance elements and a literary style. It has a forward-looking, niche audience, not in the mainstream of the fantasy genre, and aimed at mature readers. It’s also an outlier in the WordFire Press stable, which tends to more adventure and to an all-ages audience.

This gives a granular answer for where I find my audience: eager for novelty, happy with a relaxed approach to genre, wants good writing but also a plot. Comfortable with mature content, even pleased to have it. Interested in travel. It suggests their likes, their touchstones, how to reach them and with what kind of attitude. It’s clearly a market my publisher has yet to tap.

Plus, this audience spans genres. Romance readers, thriller readers, and people who care what the New Yorker reviews all have a subset with these same tastes. With a scenario that depends on magic, fantasy is my natural starting point, but modern shopping makes genre labels less prominent. You don’t browse Amazon aisles the way you browse bookstore aisles.

For all these reasons, it was clear Demon would depend even more than most books on word-of-mouth – a long process, but one where an author can help.

*Learning to Con

It took eight months from when I signed my contract to when my book could be bought by the greater public – on the most aggressive timetable possible, to get to fall conventions before shopping season. The WordFire Press staff pushed tremendously hard to make a stylish, bold product in double-time. I needed to be ready to be its author!

One major outlet where an author can make a personal impact is at fan conventions. If you don’t think your niche has them, you haven’t looked hard enough! It’s a good idea to attend them before you have a book to sell, to see what works for you as a con-goer and what you need to do to make being a con-guest worth your while.

In the science-fiction and fantasy genres, cons differ widely. Festival cons, or comic cons, have tens of thousands of fans celebrating all fantastic genres, but emphasizing the visual. Though these cons have discussion panels and interviews with artists, they are foremost a huge marketplace, with the added draw of the costumed shoppers themselves. You can find readers there – if you’re eye-catching and fast. They are budget-conscious and overwhelmed by sights, but they are eager for some new thing. If you have that thing, it’s a positive connection.

This inspired a banner and marketing materials narrowly tailored for my audience’s sensibility, with edge, wit, and maturity all quickly established. It helped to have an amazing cover!

dobranski-banner

 

So far it’s working. I see my title or cover or banner catch eyes and draw smiles, long enough at least for me to engage people. Readers with different tastes walk on by, which is just as good – better no sale than an angry bad review!

Literary cons are smaller, scholarly events, with a pronounced emphasis on readers and writers. Though the membership is only in the hundreds, these fans are deeply connected in the word-of-mouth fan communities, and eager to discuss their genre with creators and with other enthusiastic fans. The high writer-to-reader ratio makes for engaging discussions in hallways and at bars and suite parties. New writers will find both fellowship and validation.

You may get a reading slot or autograph table, but new writers get noticed on panels. Be courteous, especially when you disagree, and knowledgeable. Engage questions creatively, and as positively as you can. You and the other panelists are together an event for the audience. Look for creative ways to turn questions around.

Involve the crowd. Remember – in each audience are likely readers of your book.

*Social Media

Curated corners of social media still feature long-form writing, but blogs are passing. If you look at social media as a marketing channel, you’re competing with many other voices – sometimes, your own friends! Make your posts image-driven, eye-catching and quick to read.

For a book release, YA paranormal writer Shannon A Thompson makes single image “book teasers” with a character’s backstory and a clipart image. https://shannonathompson.com/2016/06/15/ww-how-to-create-book-teasers-on-a-small-budget/ I saw them as a great way to create interest in the story. Not only were they vastly less expensive than a video trailer, each one could be shared on its own.

Keeping in mind my core audience, I wanted to share my style and my hybrid setting. One night, while drifting off to sleep, I remembered my old Star Wars trading cards. Perhaps it was my dreamy state, but I imagined them as a kind of shattered and reassembled movie trailer, with important moments in random order, something familiar yet offbeat. Perhaps I could make the offbeat a path to the familiar.

I developed my own trading cards, online images with sly quotes from the book, and clip-art lookalikes of my characters that I made more expressive using the online Prisma app:

dobranski-cards

I made fifty-six, to release daily on social media in the two months spanning my release, my first readings and my four fall cons.

They were popular, and easier to share across multiple platforms. People told me the quotes and visuals gave a much better sense of my book than the title alone. You can still see them on my Instagram! www.instagram.com/adobranski

People crave original content, even if it’s commercial. If you can express your sensibility in small, steady streams of content, social media can send it far and wide.

* Check Your Tech

Tablets and smartphones are tough for long-form writing, but they are essential for social media. Remember the Prisma app for modifying stock photos to use on Instagram? Prisma is ONLY made for iOS and Android, not for computer desktops. While you can view an Instagram feed on a computer, you can’t post to it – handhelds only.

I hope my approaches inspire you to take a fresh look at how you can find your audience, creatively and entertainingly. Each book has a different main and secondary audience, and a different publication path – giving a unique set of marketing opportunities. Maybe next year will be your year of marketing!

Nathan Dodge: Reflections of an “Old Newbie”

Reflections of an “Old Newbie”

Nathan Dodge

I’ve wanted to be a fiction writer—mainly science fiction—since I was twelve years old. Problem is, life always seemed to intervene.

I grew up, well, not exactly poor, but certainly what would be called “lower middle class.” Often it certainly seemed that we neared the poverty line. I was an only child, certainly not coddled or spoiled, and my parents were loving, nurturing parents, but we didn’t exactly live in the lap of luxury. So, as I was good at math and science, I decided on a career in electrical engineering, for which I seemed to have an affinity—I wanted to have a career where money would not be a problem. Eventually I earned a Ph. D. Along the route to finishing my education, I got married, and children appeared on the scene. Suddenly (a couple of marriages later), children were out of school, I had retired from industry to a teaching position at the University of Texas at Dallas, and I was seventy years old. So far, no writing career.

In 2011, I took a one-day seminar at UTD by Tony Daniel and Bob Sawyer, two amazing authors and speakers, got a few compliments from Tony on a writing exercise, and decided, okay, it’s now or never. It’s not like you’ll be around another fifty years. I started writing and looking online for courses or studies about writing and saw an advertisement for SuperStars Writing Seminars sponsored by Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta. By golly, I had heard of them! Famous writers that were willing to share their secrets with amateurs like me!

So I signed up—and shortly, I’ll be attending my sixth SSWS. These last five-plus years have been amazing. Whereas a half-decade ago, I was a wet-behind-the-ears wannabe, with maybe a smidge of talent, I am now a somewhat experienced writer, with lots of wonderful friends and colleagues via SSWS. That talent, though still far from perfected, is at least refined a little. I have even published a bit, though my main accomplishment is writing two series of novels and discovering that I really like writing young adult science fiction. I have two novels submitted to a publisher and I continue to write, although at my age, I realize that I have a limited future in writing (as I am fond of saying, I have a fairly short timeframe in which to become an “overnight sensation”).

As the senior member of the SSWS tribe, (even older than Don Hodge, who was generally regarded as our “elder statesman”), I may be an old fogey to many of the younger members, but I sincerely love and appreciate all of them and treasure my opportunities to interact with them. I am fortunate enough to count Kevin, Rebecca, and Dave Farland among my friends, and David has even edited some of my work. His editings of several of my books have been highlights of my short “career” and major learning experiences in term of our craft. Another huge plus is that I have persuaded my youngest daughter (and superb author) Sharon to join the tribe, so that each February I not only get a chance to renew old friendships but also spend time with her.

The last twelve months have been a real breakthrough year, as I placed a story with Mike Resnick’s Galaxy’s Edge, and saw my writing style hit a major maturation point. Do you believe in the “10,000 hour rule”? I do, and as my six-year experience in writing approaches that mark, I can see that my ability to coax emotions out of the written page has improved a good deal. I’m not a Kevin or Rebecca or Dave by any means, but maybe I’m not a million miles off anymore. Daughter Sharon and I are readying an anthology of stories on alien contact for publication and discussing with some other writers a second anthology on science fiction stories about religion.

Though semi-retired, I still teach an engineering course at UT Dallas, trying to stay active and on the go. I treasure my interactions with tribe members, and one of the highlights of the day is getting on Facebook to see what fellow writers are up to. I thank my lucky stars that I found the SSWS website and for the friendships and relationships that followed. How many men can say that they share a passion for something with a daughter who is nearly forty years younger, plus have an encouraging wife who says “go for it”? Pretty amazing, right?

So, only about sixty years late, I am “living the dream,” finally practicing the profession that I aspired to when I turned twelve years old and wrote long, involved, truly terrible 200-page novels that have long since turned to dust. I look forward to early February about as much as I do to Thanksgiving or Christmas because it gives me the chance to reunite with many friends and colleagues. I offer thanks to all of them—Monique, Vicki, John David, Jason, Phil, Lissa, and so many more—who have befriended and inspired me, and in doing so, made an old guy feel far younger than his years.

The saying goes, “Do what you love in life, and you’ll never have to go to work.” I’m lucky enough to be living that truism, and even if my time horizon is more limited than most, I plan on living what’s left with zest and joy. How lucky can one guy get?

Thanks, Kevin, and Rebecca, and Dave, and Eric, and James, and all the rest who make SSWS so inspiring and fulfilling. I’ll see you in February—and every February to come, so long as the future allows.

 

Bio

After receiving a BSEE from Southern Methodist University and MSEE and PHDEE degrees from The University of Texas at Austin, Nathan Dodge practiced engineering in industry for nearly 30 years, retiring from Texas Instruments in 1998. He also worked at General Dynamics and Bell Helicopter in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Joining the faculty of the University of Texas at Dallas, he taught full time for 16 years before retiring a second time in 2014, serving as a senior lecturer, teaching four courses per semester and working full-time through the summer season. For five years, he also served as manager of undergraduate electrical engineering laboratories. He still teaches half-time at UTD.

In addition to activities listed above, he also served as a member of the Executive Board of the SMU School of Engineering and Applied Science, a member of the USC School of Engineering Board of Councilors, and a member of the Advisory Board of The University of Washington Human Interface Technology Laboratory.

He was for many years a registered professional engineer in the state of Texas. AT UTD, he was awarded the Electrical Engineering Department Faculty Outstanding Teacher Award in 2005 and 2011, and the UTD President’s Outstanding Teaching Award for Senior Lecturers in 2007.