Category Archives: Superstars Writing Seminars

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 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.

 

Frog Jones Year-in-Review

OK, they tell me I have a single blog post to recap one of the biggest years in my writing career. So, here we go.

1. January

January was actually relatively calm. We will think of this as the quiet before the storm.

FFG Cover2. February

February kicked off with my first time attending the Superstars Writing Seminar. Despite spending a third of the conference in bed due to altitude sickness, thereby becoming the black sheep of the seminar, I made a lot of great connections and met a lot of good people. Also, I was introduced to this group of authors who call themselves the Fictorians–you may have heard of them.

But wait, there’s more.

February also saw the release of Book 3 of the urban fantasy series I co-author with my wife. We launched the book live at RadCon in Pasco, Washington; the good folks at that con and the Central Washington Authors Guild helped to insure our best launch ever, putting us briefly in the top 40 list on Amazon’s Urban Fantasy category.

3. March

March saw the release of Horseshoes, Hand Grenades, and Magic. This is an anthology we were really happy to be a part of. The entire anthology is filled with stories in which close is good enough. Our story, “Some Kind of Way Out Of Here,” involves a thief who steals a number of magic wands–only to need to use their random effects in his botched escape attempt.

12998266_10154046171413080_5286021561999122271_oMarch saw us attending Norwescon, the largest of the regional conventions at which I’m a regular. The picture’s a little fuzzy, but the bowler stands out). In addition to being a big, awesome con that gives its authors free booze in the evenings (no joke there, just awesomeness), Norwescon is the home of the Fairwood Writers Workshop, which is a really amazing chance for me to give back to new authors in exactly the way I got my own start.

4. April

I’m going to cheat a little bit, here; while at Norwescon we recorded the first episode of 3 Unwise Men, the comedy genre fiction podcast I record alongside two other nimrods. Season 2 released in April, though; it was a six-episode season, beginning with the Livecast from Norwescon.

5. May

In May, I attended Miscon as a professional. Miscon was an amazing experience; I did dinner with Jim Butcher, drank beer with Kevin J. Anderson, and ended up in a sweet game of Fiasco with Christopher Paolini. In addition, with the help of the Fairwood Press table, we had our greatest single day of physical book sales ever. Possibly the most heady con experience I’ve ever had. There was a moment at Miscon where a fan walked up to the WordFire Press table, where my wife Esther volunteered, and asked Kevin J Anderson where he could find our book. That’s something that makes you really feel like you’ve arrived.

13415482_10208446988645564_8879850187004161903_o6. June

June is a time for getting things done. CampCon happens in June, a small gathering of professionals in the woods surrounding Mt. Hood in Oregon. We bring our laptops. We place them on picnic tables. And we throw down word count. Esther and I finished the draft of the first novel in our new series, Black Powder Goddess. When is it coming out? Well, that’s up to whoever buys it. But CampCon is an amazing experience, where the creative juices are flowing and nobody has an internet connection to distract them. That’s the group pic we took; there’s several new authors that come, but we also have Phyllis Irene Radford, Bob Brown, Sanan Kolva, Joyce Reynolds-Ward, and Blaze and Leah from Knotted Road Press.

13516369_10206756434249727_4232598126185580488_n7. July

In July, we did Westercon! Westercon was the first con at which Esther and I appeared at a table featuring our own books. We shared that table space with the great David Boop and Peter Wacks, and broke all of our sales records. Also, the Unwise Men made an appearance at Westercon. It was the last panel of the day for me, and you can tell that all three of the UWM were shocked to see us not only invited back to a convention, but actively advertised by that convention.

But wait there’s more.

During July, we also appeared at Capital Indie Book Con in Olympia. We had a table here, as well, and had decent sales as well as a couple of unexpected guests.

13699999_10206858004628923_3882587901125880649_n

8. August

During August, we took deep breaths and dove headfirst into revising Black Powder Goddess. In addition, we began drafting Graceless, book 4 in the Gift of Grace series. Normally in August we attend Spocon, the convention which gave us our start back in 2011. This year, Spocon took a year off after putting on Sasquan in 2015.

9. September

Easily the best-selling anthology to date for us is the great How Beer Saved the World.  Keeping a copy of this book on the table at any given con is difficult at best, and the online sales for it have been fabulous.

In September, Esther and I were proud to be a part of the launch of the second volume of How Beer Saved the World. Having two of these books on our table from here on our is really going to be quite something, because we cannot stop people from buying the first one. Here’s a quick marketing tip: if you want to sell an anthology, make it about booze. Half the people at a convention are already thinking about it.

10. October

October…sucked.

The editor of our first three novels, Sue Bolich, lost her fight with cancer in early October. Sue has been with Esther and I from the beginning of our careers, and losing her was a serious blow. I would not be the author I am today if it were not for Sue flaying me alive at every step. Sue, we loved you, and we are far better writers with far better books for having known you. Nothing we do in the industry would have been possible had you not ever-so-politely laid the skin from our flesh every time we looked at you. She was a great author and an amazing editor, and I still feel directionless in this industry without her.

11. November

November began with the release of Dragon Writers. a charity anthology put out by WordFire Press. If you’re reading the Fictorians regularly, there’s fair odds you’re going to see this mentioned a lot this month. Frank, Jace, and Kristin (and maybe some others I missed, sorry guys) appear alongside Brandon Sanderson, Jodi Lynn Nye, David Farland, and Todd McCaffery in this anthology of stories featuring (1) dragons, and (2) creativity.

In addition, Esther and I made yet another con appearance, this time at OryCon in Portland.

12. December

It is December 2nd as of this post. Who knows what the next 24 days will bring?

That’s me for the year. It was a huge year with our biggest releases, our most effective con appearances, and some of our best networking. For Esther and I, 2016 is going to be looked back on as the year we started going full-bore as professional authors.