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Last weekend was Los Angeles’ annual “Who Says We Don’t Read?” gathering. Every year 150,000 people gather at the USC campus over a weekend to “celebrate the written word.” And this year, despite an unseasonably warm Saturday and the March for Science, they did it again. If you care at all about books and you’re anywhere within 500 miles, you should come to this.

My wife and I volunteered (both days!) as author escorts, leading groups of authors (and entourages) to their panel discussions, and signing areas for autographs. This involves, naturally, a certain sense of longing, since for once I’d rather be led than leading, but it’s satisfying nonetheless. We’re performing a service for the speakers and the attendees, we get a reserved front-row seat, and it’s not arduous work–except…

Hmm. How do I say this? I’m an author, and I’d like to be on one of those panels some day, so I don’t want to speak ill of the team…I guess it’s just that authors are not used to being the center of attention. I’m not saying they’re treated like rock stars at this thing, but they do get a lot of attention. And sometimes when we need them to do one thing, they’re busy doing another, which is Being Admired. That’s when we have to find a diplomatic way to separate author from fan without offending either and get the author to where he needs to be because fifty other fans are waiting for him. (Yes, him. It’s usually the men, for some reason.)

Over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at this, and as far as I know, I’ve never caused offense. But every time it happens, I have to ask myself: Is that Me? Will that, if the opportunity ever arises, be Me? I certainly hope not.

But then again, if the opportunity ever does arise, I’m not going to waste it either. So to that hypothetical author escort at that hypothetical Festival of Books where I’m a guest author, I’m sorry. I’m sorry if I’m making your life difficult. Believe me, I’ve been there.

But I’ve never been here before. And damned if it doesn’t feel good.

#SFWApro

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Here it is–the cover of my latest book, the third book in the Stolen Future trilogy, The Cosmic City. Just as Keryl Clee thought that he could settle down to life in the far-distant future that is now his home, a stranger brings him news of a calamity of such staggering proportions that if he cannot unite this fractured world, he will soon witness its utter destruction…
untitled1

The Cosmic City goes on sale March 1. Vols. 1 and 2, The Invisible City and The Secret City, are available on Amazon and Smashwords.

#sfwapro

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The Helsinki Worldcon has just announced that it will present, on a trial basis, a Hugo award for “Best Series,” in 2017. Personally, I would just as soon see the award stay in Finland and never get a visa, as it were.

Without going into the guidelines, what I see is an annual “Best Novel” Hugo not going to the best novel. In other words, series will be nominated either because their partisans just love it to pieces (and good for them) or because the latest installment sits head and shoulders above the standard previously set for that series. In the first case, you’re nominating a series that no one who hasn’t read it already is going to read before voting. Voting in the “Best Novel” category is already hard enough (no time, expensive hardcovers). This category will have a small voting pool. In the second case, well, there’s already a “Best Novel” Hugo.

It has been suggested (and I suspect the suggestion will prove popular), to limit each series to one win. On the surface, I agree. But there are only so many great series out there, and I fear we would quickly read the state of “American Idol disease,” where once the deserved winners are burned off, the selection becomes less about quality and more about filling slots.

If this must continue (as I predict it will), I would be less opposed if a negotiated settlement could be reached. How about we eliminate a category, like “Best Professional Editor-Long Form”? I appreciate the work that goes into editing books, but I don’t have the faintest notion how to vote that category. I’m sorry, but who pays attention to the editor? How do you even know? At the very least, change it to “Best Professional Publisher-Long Form” so all we have to do is check the imprint.

By the way, in the interests of full disclosure, I hope to finish my trilogy by the end of the year. It would be eligible. But since it would be disingenuous to seek nominations, I won’t. Really, don’t nominate me. I wasn’t even planning to go. Oh, all right, if you must…

#SFWApro

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I was wandering the halls of the internet a while back, and came upon a discussion of some of the classic (as in old) novels that formed the foundation of the “planetary romance” genre, the genre my Stolen Future trilogy belongs to. Some I’d heard of, some I hadn’t, but it was fun to see just how far back the antecedents of what I’ve been working on go. Turns out they go back to at least 1905, in the person of Edwin L Arnold‘s Lieut. Gulliver Jones (later reprinted as Gulliver of Mars), published in England seven years before Edgar Rice BurroughsA Princess of Mars, which is usually considered the seminal work in the field.

Well, that’s nice, right? In one eye and out the other. Nothing special about it–until the other day when I wandered into Fahrenheit 451 Books in Carlsbad, California, reached the SF section, and there, staring at me from its own little shelf on the wall was… Gulliver of Mars. Hey! went my brain. That’s that book! So of course I had to buy it and now I’m reading it. So far, it’s…quaint.

The point of this rumination, however, is that you don’t make these kinds of serendipitous discoveries on Amazon. You don’t sit down in front of your computer, type in a URL, and inhale the subtle aroma of old paper. You don’t wander past high wooden shelves and glance through their offerings, and come away with a book you didn’t even know existed, in a genre you weren’t looking for. (As I did. In fact, the book was so obscure the owner didn’t remember having stocked it.) Only in a bookstore can this happen.

I am a book person. Not an e-book person. Amazon is for readers, but bookstores are for book people. And for book people to survive, there must be bookstores. Only in a bookstore can book people know true love. Amazon has its uses, such as when you know exactly what you want and you can’t find it locally but you have to have it now because someone’s birthday is coming. Amazon is like the 7-11 of books; it’s okay in an emergency, but you really shouldn’t do your weekly grocery shopping there.*

Many will disagree with me. Many will espouse convenience, and choice, and price. And for them, they may be right. But I’ve shopped Amazon, and I’ve shopped bookstores, and you readers who only want convenience?

You’ll never know true love.

*Yes, my books are only available on-line. I appreciate the irony.

#SFWApro

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Hope is a Field of Yellow

I keep track of my submissions on a spreadsheet. Name of story, name of market, date sent, estimated date of return, etc. Pending subs are in yellow, sales in blue, rejections have no color. Using bright colors allows me to see how I’m doing at a glance. The more color, the more chances I have to win.

I try to keep 8-10 subs out at a time, although it’s typically a bit less because I only have so many pieces available, and there are only so many suitable markets for each piece. Up until a couple of days ago, I had six. Not a lot of yellow, but there was some visible blue that perked up the picture. (Blue always helps.) In the past two days, however, I’ve sent eight book queries to agents. All of a sudden there’s a lot of yellow on that page. It’s encouraging; it says I’m working, and each one of those represents the possibility of a big payoff.

Hope is a field of yellow. Here’s hoping.

#SFWApro

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When you’re pre-published, all you can think about is that first sale. You look at the books on the shelves, and the authors sitting in the front of the room on con panels, and you wistfully imagine how wonderful it will be to join their company as a published author. And it is wonderful. There’s nothing I’d rather be. (Well, maybe a superhero.) But nothing’s perfect; in this case…
… when you get there, all you can think about is that next sale. The pressure is the same, only different. You are glad you’re now a “real” author, but it doesn’t make life easier. In fact, it makes life harder, and particularly in one critical area. In that one context, life is better when you’re not yet published.
Because, ironically, the more you write, the less you read. And reading’s necessary. Not only is it the reason you got into this gig in the first place (assuming you could read before you could write), but it’s how you re-charge your batteries, and how you see where the field is going. It also supports the publishers whom you want to publish you.
I read less than I used to, and partly it’s because I write more than I used to. Now I’m making an effort to balance the two. You should, too. It’s good for you, and it’s good for the field. If you want, you can call it research.
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It’s that time of the decade again…

  1. When it comes to trying to get one in front of the public, no matter how excited you are at the beginning of the process, by the end  you just want it to be over.
  2. Although you can’t really tell by the cover, in the end you don’t have much more than that to go on.
  3. No matter how much you love a particular offering, someone else is going to hate it just as much.
  4. The good ones you hope will never end, and the bad ones you can’t get rid of quickly enough.
  5. Everyone will try his hand at a sequel, but not everyone should. And it won’t be as good as the original.
  6. Comedy, drama, western, romance, political thriller…in the end, it’s all about the character.
  7. An editor who can help keep the narrative running smoothly is worth his weight in gold.
  8. Spending spawns popularity. Nothing flourishes without publicity.
  9.  If at first you don’t succeed, put out a new edition!
  10. When they’re done, the best will find a place in your heart; most will simply take up space on the shelf.

And our bonus fact: If you don’t ever try one, you won’t know what you might have missed.

#SFWApro

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