Category Archives: Professional Behavior

Brand Identity

A guest post by Kevin J. Anderson

Kevin J. AndersonWhen I started my career with traditionally published novels, my editors and publicists encouraged me to make sure I mentioned the publisher whenever I talked in interviews and panels. I would promote my novels and proudly announce that it was “from Signet Books” or “from Bantam Books” or HarperCollins, or Warner, or Tor. I would print up my own postcards and bookmarks, sometimes even take out ads in publications. Once, I was roundly criticized for forgetting to put a publisher’s logo on the back of a postcard (that I paid for out of my own pocket).

It’s a basic commercial principle to promote brand loyalty among your consumers. Coke drinkers always drink Coke. Budweiser drinkers always drink Bud. Car owners are loyal to Ford or to GM. But…publishers?

I was an avid reader, a dedicated writer, earnestly trying to get a foothold in the industry. I paid attention to the news, to the editors, to shifts in publishing, but even I would have been hard pressed to define the difference between, say, an Ace science fiction book and a Roc science fiction book (yes, they are now under the same parent company). Or a Tor epic fantasy instead of a DAW epic fantasy.

Sure, there are some exceptions, most notably Baen Books, which has not only carved out a niche and a brand for themselves in the types of fiction they publish—generally reader-driven and fast-paced rather than literary and artsy-fartsy—and they even have a distinctive brand look with their cover art and type design. Baen has also drawn together a very devoted group of their core readers through parties at conventions, online forums, and extremely loyal authors.

But that’s the exception. As an author, I’ve been published by Signet, Tor, Bantam, Ace, HarperCollins, Simon and Schuster, Pocket, Gallery, Kensington, Hodder & Stoughton, Warner, Baen, and more. Some of those books or series went out of print from one publisher to be picked up by another. Did my readers really notice the brand name on the spine, or did they go for the author or the series?

The dramatic changes in the book industry lag behind similar changes in the music industry. When was the last time you actually paid attention to what record label your favorite band or album was on? Who released Led Zeppelin? Pink Floyd? Celine Dion? Taylor Swift? My favorite band Rush was on Mercury Records for their first several albums, but at some point it changed to “Anthem Records.” As an administrative matter with behind-the scenes paperwork and distribution, it made a difference to the band, but as a listener, it made no difference to me.

Same with movie studios. I’m pretty sure everyone knows the original Star Wars movies were from 20th Century Fox because of the seminal fanfare before the rollup text, but—quick!—which studio released the Predator movies? The Transformers movies? The Twilight movies?

One of the little-recognized consequences of the widespread changes in publishing and the surge in indie authors is that it has almost entirely erased the lines of brand identity for publishers. Most indie authors create a “publishing house” and a logo for their own books. In a few years, what used to be a dozen or so major publishing houses and hundreds of smaller ones including university presses, has become hundreds of thousands of imprints, all of which look “real” on the amazon listing.

When you order a book called The Ogre’s Toothache because the title is intriguing, the cover art looks good, the story sounds amusing, and you’ve read something by that author before, do you really notice—and more important, does it affect your buying decision—whether the publisher is listed as Gallery Books or Moonglimmer Books? (Gallery Books is real, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, but I just made up Moonglimmer Books…though I wouldn’t be surprised if such an imprint actually exists somewhere.)

When Rebecca Moesta and I formed WordFire Press, it was merely an exercise to release the eBooks of my own out-of-print backlist, to which I had reacquired the rights. We had called our own company WordFire, Inc. for many years, so WordFire Press was the obvious name. We had no intention of building it into a much larger publishing company. Rebecca herself created our original WFP logo with a graphics program, and then other author friends of mine, seeing the success of our original releases, came to us with titles of their own, and our publishing company unintentionally expanded.

At first, we took all kinds of books from author friends, some out-of-print romances, some unusual nonfiction titles. (In fact, technically, our very first book was a rather esoteric religious treatise by Rebecca’s father, which we published as a gift for him.) We didn’t really have a brand identity, nor did we intend to, but as we grew and we saw which books performed well and which ones didn’t, we started to focus on particular types of fiction, mainly the kind of stuff I liked.

As we revamped our website, we also got a snazzy new logo. We built up our author and title list, and we started to get a little more attention through word of mouth. But the real thing that began to draw recognition as “WordFire Press” rather than “Some Publisher” was our monumental effort of exhibiting at numerous conventions, comic cons, and pop-culture shows around the country. We gave our authors a chance to meet fans face to face, hand-sell and autograph their books, an opportunity to be seen by thousands of potential readers in a day. In 2016 we did 22 shows with a total attendance of 1.5 Million people. (That was insane, and those operations are now run by Rabid Fanboy, so that I can concentrate on the publishing end and, more importantly, my own writing career.) But even under Rabid Fanboy, the “Bard’s Tower” gives ambitious WordFire authors the opportunity to have the “famous author experience.”

But do I think that readers have a strong brand loyalty, that they pick up a book because it has the WordFire Press logo on the spine, rather than because it has a story that fascinates them, an author they’ve enjoyed before? No, I don’t think so.

Now, more than ever, you can’t rely on the brand of a publisher. You have to rely on your own brand as an author or the brand of your series. You have to rely on YOU.

Guest Writer Bio: Kevin J. Anderson is the author of more than one hundred novels, 47 of which have appeared on national or international bestseller lists. He has over 20 million books in print in thirty languages. He has won or been nominated for numerous prestigious awards, including the Nebula Award, Bram Stoker Award, the SFX Reader’s Choice Award, the American Physics Society’s Forum Award, and New York Times Notable Book. By any measure, he is one of the most popular writers currently working in the science fiction genre. Find out more about Kevin at Wordfire.com.

Waking Up from a Nightmare

I had a nightmare last night, and it was bad. There was no natural disaster, no fire, no car accident, no home invader, no endless falling through the abyss—indeed, no violence. I was at a writer’s convention, which for introverts can be almost as bad, and I didn’t know anyone there. Not a soul. The dream consisted of me making concerted efforts to join conversations and mingle with the other con-goers, and time after time it went badly. I stuck my foot in my mouth. I suddenly remembered that I hadn’t brushed my teeth that morning and had bad breath. Suddenly everyone spoke a foreign language and I couldn’t keep up. The reasons varied. The results didn’t.

It was a story of constant rejection. Which is a worse fear than falling through an endless abyss.

Eventually I did find someone I knew, a writing friend from my hometown. She was gregariously holding court with a bunch of people, and the sense of relief I felt when she welcomed me in and facilitated introductions was so intense that it literally woke me up.

Such is the power of friendship.

I’ve said before that I find friendship to be a more powerful force in many ways than romantic relationships. Going by my own personal tastes, it’s a more powerful force in fiction (sorry, romance readers, I know you outnumber me). In a larger sense, I think the argument could be made that it’s a more powerful force in the world. It seems to me that friendships often outlast romantic partnerships. How does the average length of a friendship compare to the average length of a spousal relationship? I wonder! Calculating these averages would be extraordinarily tricky.

I’ll take Thelma and Louise over Romeo and Juliet, thank you very much. I’ll take Han and Chewie over Han and Leia, Geordi and Data over Riker and Troi, Norm and Cliff over Sam and Diane. But maybe that’s just because fictional couples are plagued by narrative-mandated drama in a way that many real-life couples aren’t. Maybe.

When I think about my best friends, they’ve been with me for an awfully long time. Many of them have been in my life since high school or college, and they are crucial supports. If I lost my boyfriend (whom I love dearly, are you reading this?), I would be devastated. Devastated. But I’d need my friends to get through it.

Friends support us in a multitude of ways, but for now I want to focus on those who support us professionally. I’m talking about writer friends, and how until seven years ago I didn’t have any. Talk about the dark ages. The good times started to roll when I first attended Superstars Writing Seminar, a story I’ve told many times before and won’t go into now, since it’s a story shared by just about every writer on this blog and most of its guests.

But those friends still weren’t local. I couldn’t call them up and go out for a coffee. I didn’t manage to find those kinds of friends until four years ago, and it turned out they were right under my nose all this time. It’s hard to imagine being successful in my career without them. I see some combination of them once a week, often on Mondays, and they play a big role in kickstarting my productivity.

They also hang out with me at those otherwise scary writing conventions, pretty much ensuring that nightmares like the one I woke up from this morning can’t possibly happen.

Evan BraunEvan Braun is an author and editor who has been writing books for more than ten years. He is the author of The Watchers Chronicle, a completed trilogy. In addition to writing science fiction, he is the managing editor of The Citizen. He lives in Niverville, Manitoba.

What Kind of Year Has It Been?

So what kind of year has it been? A year of transitions—although that may not be saying much since it increasingly seems that all years are transitioning to and from one thing or another. The idea I once held in my imagination of a stable life and career seems more far-fetched every day.

The reality is that I didn’t make much overall progress on my fiction in 2016, although the business of my writing life is a different story. After a four-year absence, I dove back into the convention pond (I attended two, When Words Collide in Calgary, Alberta and World Fantasy in Columbus, Ohio) and emerged with some excellent prospects. I had a very good year in my writing-adjacent day jobs, as a newspaper owner/editor and freelance book editor. I broke ground on a novel which I expect to be my most challenging and ambitious project to date; it’s the sort of project that keeps you up at night for the sheer excitement of plotting it out.

And yet I didn’t actually do very much writing, an ugly truth which I must stare down. In the face of this, it can be small consolation that I’ve greatly strengthened the infrastructure of my life. I must do better in 2017. It’s as simple as that.

Let me talk about those convention appearance, which I came back from energized to produce more and better work. Every time I attend a convention, it solidifies my certainty that there’s a market for my writing. That’s the value of conventions, but they are really hard.

Well, maybe they’re not hard for everyone. For me they’re nigh impossible. Gone are the halcyon days when I went to my first conventions and filled my days with programming. It didn’t take long to realize that the panels are mostly doesn’t come at all naturally to me. You need the ability to walk up to strangers, or near-strangers, and find something to talk about instantly—without seeming needy and pushy. This is quite a tightrope.

Because that’s what you’re there for. You’re generally not there to listen to a panel of novelists talk about the importance of map-making in fantasy literature, nor are you there to listen to well-established professionals wax eloquent about their decades-long careers and the generally pretty unrelatable logistics of publishing fifteen-volume epics. Those are definitely perks, but eventually you’ll realize that those panels are more or less all the same, and they don’t get you from A to B. You could get a similar result from an afternoon browsing YouTube clips.

I spent the first evening of World Fantasy returning periodically to my hotel room to steal precious alone time, breaks from the stress of wandering through the convention halls looking desperately for people to talk to, like a feral animal.

At one point, a friend of mine said to me that most of the people there were just like me and they were wildly faking their smiles and easy-going manners. He pointed out that a majority of writers are probably introverted shut-ins, which explains why they would be attracted to a field where so much of the work happens when you’re, well, very much alone.

But anyway, you don’t spend hundreds (thousands) of dollars on convention fees and airfare and hotel rooms and pub food only if you’re going to actually dive into that pond. So when the second day dawned, I pulled on some swimwear and got wet. The water was excruciatingly cold at first, and only slightly warmer by the end when I finally crawled onto shore like a beached whale, but damn it I came away with a couple of manuscript critiques and some short story anthology opportunities. (One of those opportunities came when an editor inadvertently dumped his entire beer all over me, a soggy mess which ultimately paid off handsomely by weekend’s end.)

It’s not comfortable, and it’s not my favorite part of the job, but I’ve already booked a couple of conventions for 2017 and hopefully it won’t take me so long to acclimate this time.

Evan BraunEvan Braun is an author and editor who has been writing books for more than ten years. He is the author of The Watchers Chronicle, a completed trilogy. In addition to writing science fiction, he is the managing editor of The Niverville Citizen. He lives in Niverville, Manitoba.

Most Times, Catharsis Isn’t Worth the Price

I get it. You’re angry, furious even. Your masterpiece has been unjustly defamed by a cruddy review. You’ve received your millionth “dear author” rejection letter. Or some idiot at your publishing house has messed up your precious manuscript as they were shuffling it through the process of becoming a best seller. Whatever the cause, all you want to do is lash out and tell the world what a moron the offending individual has been. It’ll feel soooo good to write that scathing blog post, email, or response in the comments section. You’ll be witty and cutting. It’ll go viral. You know that the Internet cannot help but see that you are in the right, that your cause is just.

STOP.

Stop and take a deep breath. Take a walk, beat up a punching bag, or scream at the moon. But whatever you do, do not click send. Not in your current state at least. As good as it would make you feel, trust me, the catharsis isn’t worth it. The Internet never forgets, so why give it something that could come back to haunt you later? Furthermore, the publishing business is a small world where everyone knows everyone else. And, everyone talks. You DO NOT want to be the unflattering email that gets passed around the office. You do not want to end your career in a moment of pique.

So, what do you do? The first step is to acknowledge your emotion. You’re mad. You’re sad. You may be right to feel that way. You may be wrong. Frankly, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you feel the emotions, that you admit to them, accept them, and then own them. Acknowledge that your feelings aren’t within your control, but how you act absolutely is. You won’t be judged for being angry, but you will be judged by how you behave.

The next step is to be thoughtful and deliberate in how you will react. The situation is already bad, so what’s the best case scenario for an ending? Chances are that a bad print run, a hostile review, or an impartial rejection cannot be changed. So then, what is in your control? Perception, specifically how others perceive you. Are you going to be the drama king/queen that flies off the handle or are you going to be the suave professional that takes the situation in stride? Will you let your baser instincts drive your reactions, or will you rise above them?

Let’s be frank. You cannot use anger to win over someone who is determined to be hostile. More often than not, both parties simply make fools of themselves. If you don’t feed the haters, they’ll get bored and find the next person they can rile up. Like the wise samurai, leave them with their anger, jealousy, and vitriol. If you write the best book you can, keep improving your craft, and be a likable author, your fans will speak up for you. Their praise and fan-love will drown out the haters.

Impersonal rejection is part of the business. We all deal with it, and past rejection has no bearing on your future success. J.K. Rowling was rejected by, what? 12 different publishers? Now she’s one of the most loved and powerful voices in the world. Furthermore, there is no point in souring your relationship with an editor or agent just because your manuscript doesn’t fit their needs at this time. Throwing a fit just convinces them that you are too much trouble to be worth working with in the future. And they will share that opinion with all their friends and colleagues. By ranting at one closed door, you may destroy another opportunity.

Sometimes even major goofs can be turned to your advantage. I recently read a really suave blog post from an author I admire. He had written a short story for an anthology. Somehow, the end of his story was left out of the first run of printed books. What a big “ooops!” However, instead of expressing perfectly justifiable frustration, he publicly acknowledged that such mistakes sometimes happen. He went on to tell his fans that the publisher had fixed the problem and reordered the copies of the book, so future orders would be whole. However, there existed 50 books with the miss-print. Act fast, he urged us, and the publisher will sell you a signed copy of the miss-printed book paired with a special, one-run-only chapbook that contained the end of the story. That’s right! Only 50 of these items would ever exist. In so doing, he turned an embarrassing mistake into a collectible. Now, that’s smart business.

There are many things in this world that are beyond our direct control. Mistakes will be made. People will be hateful. Business deals won’t always go through. We will feel angry, frustrated, and disappointed when these things happen. However, how we choose to respond to these circumstances will define who we are. More importantly, it will shape how others think of us. In our media driven world, perception is power. It’s the power to sell books, close deals, and win over lifelong fans.

So you’ve acknowledged and mastered your emotions. Now you have a choice to make. Will you be the author who flies off the handle when things go wrong or will you be the suave professional? Will you be the voice that adds to the cacophony and catastrophe, or will you be the one to turn a bad situation into an opportunity? An emotionally driven outburst may make you feel better in the short run, but it often makes matters worse. So when you feel the need to unleash a heaping portion of righteous wrath, instead think… is the catharsis really worth it?