Phoenix Comicon Retrospective

I’ve really got to get this blogging thing down better.  What I should have done was post a nice blurb here and on the various other social media outlets that we were going to go to Phoenix Comicon and where we were going to be.  Not that I think it would have brought anyone extra to the booth…but hey, it would have at least been the smart thing to do.  Oh well, there will always be next year.

For the uninformed, Phoenix and the state of Arizona in general seem to be nature’s way of sorting the wheat from the chaff in terms of creatures that survive there, humans included.  The flora is all some degree of scary, sporting spikes and blades, and I didn’t hear about a piece of fauna that wasn’t deadly.  At one time during the trip Black Widow spiders were an actual concern, some being far too close for comfort.  Glenn (mighty artist of Edge of December) was far too nonchalant about their presence.  My default reaction to venomous spiders of that variety inevitably involves the proper application of fire, but I’m not even sure that would work since Arizona is actually an oven on a state sized scale.  Lets not even talk about the scorpions with hundreds of young upon their back.  In short, I found Phoenix to be an environment hostile to my flesh.  I feel that this should lend more glory to our victory there.  Really, I’ll take tornadoes over Arizona any day.

Phoenix Comicon was my very first Comicon experience, and holy hell, was it an experience.  We’ll completely leave out the booth for now.  I don’t think that I’ve ever been in a crowd like that before, and I’ve been to Disney during their busy season.  The event was massive on a scale that I did not appreciate before trying to navigate it for myself.  The thing takes up at least three buildings whose size is roughly akin to our biggest convention center here in Omaha.  The Exhibition floor alone was easily twice as big as the exhibition floor at the CenturyLink Center, if not more.  And the cosplay!  The wonderful cosplay!  I saw a couple of people dressed up as bride and groom zombies, shambling across the floor, grunting in undead confusion, then pausing for photo ops.  I saw every Disney princess in various flavors; vanilla, warrior, undead, etc.  I saw a fantastic Avatar Aang.   I know, some photos here would be ideal, but here’s where the bit about being in a booth comes into play.

Most of the convention I was on duty at the Edge of December booth (Booth 890, we’ll be right there next year).  Whooo boy.  You think actually going would be exhausting, you should try running a booth.  You are on all the time.  And I mean ON.  A smile for every person who passes by, conversation with every person who looks even remotely interested in what you’re selling.  Over the course of four days I got my Edge of December pitch down to a science.  I could segue into talking about the book from just about anything.  “Interested in prints?  Why don’t you consider our comic?”  I had a bit of a rocky start, but picked up the knack of things pretty quick.  If I’m painting a negative picture in your mind, then I’m just not doing things justice.  It was exhausting, but a ton of fun.  I got to tell tons of people about Edge and even sold more than a few books.  Books I got to sign!  I’ve never signed books before, and it was pretty cool.  Still, by the end of the con I was thoroughly jealous of the other authors who just got to sit and sign books.  I would have killed to have been able to just sit for a while.  Such was not my fate though.  I had to remain standing and approachable.  And that was probably the real kicker that made things exhausting for me; the standing.  I’m a big dude, and standing for that long does horrible things to my feet and ankles.

Still, we did really well with the booth; well enough to ensure that we’ll have a booth in the same awesome location next year and then some.  Beyond that, I’m hoping that we see a steady uptick in traffic over at Edge Of December.  Other than that, I met a LOT of the authors who I look up to, like Chuck Wendig (who’s awesome), Seanan McGuire stopped by our booth (I squeeeeed!), I went to a great class by Michael Stackpole, and got a lot of other books to read and met several other authors.  I met a few other web-comickers, such as the author / artist of JEFbot, and the author / artist of Mystery Babylon, both of which I can strongly recommend now.   Not only are they good reads, but they are fun people too.  And the art at Mystery Babylon is completely kick-ass!

Oh.  And I met Nathan Fillion.


Are you scared yet?

Everyone’s afraid of something.  Personally, I hate flying.  The knowledge that I’m trusting my fate to uncounted individuals while I’m thousands of feet in the air, moving hundreds of miles an hour, with absolutely no control over whether I survive to the next airport gets to me every time.  I’m sure that I’m not alone in this fear.  There are loads of reasons why airlines don’t offer parachutes.  I accept these reasons intellectually.  BUT if I were ever to get up to the counter, and the attendant asked “Would you like to rent a parachute for just $50?” my fear of flying would make me think about it.  I’d think twice if she followed that with “There’s only a slim margin that the plane will crash, but here at Blabla Airlines, we believe in offering safety.”  Now, lets add a couple TV’s covering the most recent plane crash, maybe a couple stories about people who’s lives were saved by parachutes in commercial airlines.  Suddenly, my knowledge of why taking a parachute on a passenger airplane and paying for the privilege is dumb becomes a whole lot less important than the fear.  While my knowledge might prevent me from forking over $50 to the airline, there are plenty of people without that knowledge.

Now, any airline that actually started doing this would be dumb on a scale I couldn’t even begin to describe.  First and foremost, you don’t want people to be scared of flying, or they will keep their feet safely on the ground … and do something much more dangerous; driving for example.  See, my brain KNOWS that flying is safer than driving, but I’m not scared of driving (most of the time), I’m scared of heights and falling from them and the long, long wait to hit the ground and the SCREAMS AND THE OH GOD WHY AM I STILL THINKING ABOUT THIS?!

Ahem.

Point is, fear short circuits knowledge. It bypasses natural skepticism and it makes you want to act to relieve that fear.  Fear doesn’t even need to be rational and often it isn’t.  The above example of the fictional, moronic airline is purposefully dumb, but it is closer to a lot of modern advertising, and politics in particular.  I saw a little Google Ad a while ago, advertising about the great American plague, or something like that.  It was a quick little picture, with a medical looking graphic and some symptoms listed.  I saw it, and I thought, “I’ve got a couple of those.”  And BAM! Fear.  I had a disease I didn’t even know about.  I clicked the link.  It was a medical looking site; a foundation I hadn’t heard of before.  I watched their video.  By the end, I was half-convinced that my stomach bacteria were quickly killing me and causing every ill in my life.  They were pretty clever, waiting until the very end of the video to subtly drop information that, even though my gut was full of world ending killers, all I had to do was balance them out, using one of the many pro-biotic solutions, like eating yogurt or taking Brand A probiotics, or even one of the many others.  And then I realized what happened.

After just a couple Google searches I find out that the medical foundations page I had been on was, in fact, part of Brand A Probiotics.  It was subtle.  The video was pretty good, not even mentioning the “disease” I’d clicked the link to find out about until a goodly ways in.  *sigh* It was a long video, and actually pretty interesting but I shouldn’t have watched it for quite so long.  Anyway.  They presented information like a history documentary, establishing credibility, then when the hook was set, they started describing symptoms.  Then they told me the cause.  Then they told me the cure.  The basic plan is to play into everyone’s natural and entirely sensible fear of illness by telling you about a broad range of symptoms.  So broad, in fact, that just about everyone who sees an add will have one of them.  You think you’re sick, so you’re afraid.  What do you need to be afraid of? Gut bacteria.  How do you protect yourself?  Probiotics (preferably Brand A, the most trusted in the business)!  They have science!

They’d used my fear against my reason.  It makes me angry, in retrospect.  Granted, they’d obviously put a lot of that into the marketing campaign, but some googling and reading quickly showed me that while some of what they said was true, certain things were only true or just might be true.  Maybe.

The experience proved to be an eye-opening one.  I’m noticing more and more how fear is used to motivate people, and often how its used to bypass thought and knowledge.  I’m not going to give any examples here, but we’ve got primary elections coming up here in the States.  Listen to what the candidates are saying.  I find a lot of arguments lately are playing to our fears, as a people.  We’re scared of terrorists, so we consent to being monitored to “make us safe.”  We’re scared of losing our jobs so we need stricter immigration laws.  We’re scared that our side isn’t going to win, so we have to vote along party lines because the other side will lead us all to ruin and damnation.  This side is racist!  That side is Communist!  What are you scared of?  That’s what they’ll play on.

Granted.  I’m engaging a little hyperbole, but for good cause.  Do I want you to be scared that you’re scared and people are using it against you?  No.  I was people to gain knowledge and use it against that fear and the people who want to take advantage of them, no matter who or what it is.  Fear is weakness.  Knowledge is power.   Quoting Frank Herbert’s Dune:

“I must not fear.

Fear is the mind-killer.

Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

I will face my fear.

I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.

Where the fear has gone there will be nothing….only I will remain. ” – Paul Atreides, Dune by Frank Herbert


Storium is Nigh!

Alright, I should have written this post a while ago.  There isn’t much time, so I’m going to break it down fast.

First off: Storium is in its last week of its Kickstarter.  Go there now and back it.  Watch the video, read the breakdown, look at all the awesome stretch goals that they’ve already reached.  Go.  I’ll wait.

Great, you’re back.  Did you back it?  If not, shame on you.  You’ve only got six days…well, five when this posts, to correct that mistake.  That being said, lets talk about Storium.

Storium is a web-based, multiplayer, storytelling game.  I liken it back to ye good olde days back when Yahoo Groups was good and didn’t suck.  There were several groups dedicated to telling group based stories.  One person would start it, then others would join in and the various characters that you created would move the stories along.  Unfortunately, there was no structure, no guidance other than what the group would provide, so things could go crazy and everything could fall apart pretty quick.  But when it was good, it was a whole lot of fun.

Storium is a bit like that, but more focused, and much more structured.  Every “game” has a narrator and several players.  The narrator is responsible for setting of the world (if applicable) and getting the story rolling and roughly staying on track.  Each player makes a character, who then acts using cards to affect the outcome of each scene (more about that in a moment.)  In any scene the narrator will set up challenges or objectives for the characters to face, overcome, or fail and the story will move with how the players deal with this.  The players can complete objectives and challenges with their Strength and Weakness cards (and others).  Strengths will move the scene toward a “strong” conclusion while Weaknesses will move it toward a “weak” conclusion, each of those being determined before hand.  The player who actually finishes the objective will then get to write how that turns out.

This is really neat, because it encourages players to strive for more than just “beating the bad-guy” and winning the prize.  Even completing the objective with a weak outcome can be fun and interesting to write, sometimes more interesting.  There’s a lot of room within the system to tell some interesting fun stories while still really feeling like you’re playing a game with other people.

Kicking Storium will let you play instantly.  Right now.  As soon as you back it you can go and find a game to play in or make your own, which is great since the instant I saw the video I knew I needed to be in on this.  I started off finding a game to play.  That first attempt didn’t work out to well.  Turns out I might not play really well with others because I have strong ideas about where story should go.  Solution: create my own game!  Which I did.  I’m currently running a game with four players, trying something that I haven’t seen other games trying.  Really, I’m experimenting with the system (the whole point of a beta test, I should think) and having quite a good time.  I’ll have to be careful to let Storium get in the way of my other writing responsibilities, but its a good way to get the creative juices flowing.

Right now, Storium has about 10 pretty basic worlds, but the Kickstarter has hit a LOT of stretch goals and it looks like they’ll be close to tripling that with a lot of custom worlds made by some really well known authors., like Chuck Wendig (who I am NOT fan-boying about.)   Seriously, check ’em out and lets see if we can’t kick them up to $200,000.  If you do kick them, and are interested in checking out my game, just go here and follow along as we play “The Newly Blooded“, an evolving urban fantasy.


April is done. All hail May!

As usual, I’m not very good at updating the blog.  Thankfully, I can claim this month I was busy working on the projects that I should have been working on.  Thanks to one of those projects, I can even prove it!  Behold!April Writing

One of the nifty features of the Highcharts plugin that I’m using in WordKeeperAlpha is that you can save your chart to an image file and easily share it.  Hence, you can see exactly how I did in April.  Ok, I know that I’ve had better months, and I certainly could have done better last month, but I certainly did get a good amount written.  Nearly 12,000 words is nothing to sneeze at, especially for me.

I got a pretty good amount done in WordKeeper too.  The new method of fetching graph data via JSON is coming along nicely, the stats are fixed and I’m getting some of the ancillary pages done, like the Contact page and the Register new user page.  I just want to publish it now, since it works so well for me … but I’d still be the only one able to use it.  Which is frustrating since I just want to start telling people about it, shouting and pointing at this awesome thing they could be using too!  I don’t even know what my goal is for WordKeeper anymore.  I’m getting so excited about it, I wouldn’t mind being able to work on it, at least part time while I devoted the rest of my time to writing.  I suppose that all depends on if it could ever make any money, which I’m not holding my breath on.  I never plan to charge for it, so any funds would have to come from advertising and I have no idea how to do that.  Nor do I really want to take the time to learn, but I suppose I’m going to have to.  Ugh.

I also got a LOT done on Impervious last month.  See all that black in the chart up there?  That’s me working on Impervious and finally getting the markup step out of the way.  Now that’s done, I’ll really be able to dig into the new chapters, having a very firm plan on where I’m headed in the next draft.  I’m excited about that too!

Oh, and not to mention, there’s been some changes around here to!  Check out the new blog design, courtesy of my bearded friend, Dustin Dahlberg.  He’s a great designer, and you should check him out if you need anything done.  I finally have a blog look that I don’t have to share with a few thousand people around the internet.  And it has HATS!  I love hats!  Its also nice and responsive now.  Check it out on your phone sometime.


Social Media: What I’ve Learned So Far (Part 2 – The “Don’ts”)

*WARNING* STRONG LANGUAGE FOLLOWS *WARNING*

In my last post I started talking about the “Do’s and Don’ts” of using Twitter, trying to focus on building an audience or just enjoying yourself. What I probably didn’t really get into is that those two things are one and the same. Yeah, if you’re going to be a self-published author, developing your audience and social media in general are going to be part of your “job”, but that doesn’t mean it should be dull drudgery. Twitter is something you can, and should have fun with. It’s full of delightful people, crazy drunken authors, and random (possibly smelly) vagabonds. Become one of them! One of us! (One of us! One of us! One of us!)

Really though. If you’re a pleasant individual with interesting things to say, you will get followers. It may be slow at first, but like anything else, if its worth doing it isn’t going to be easy. Sure, there are a so many “pay us for followers” things in any social media platform that it will destroy any hope you have for the world, but, like the Dark Side, this is the quick and easy path. Plus you won’t actually be able to choke those who displease you or fling them across the room with abandon.

If you go in for “purchasing” your followers, you won’t actually have an audience. They won’t give fuck one about what you have to say. Sure, you’ll have a nice big number next to “Followers” in your profile, but it won’t mean anything. In this case, 100 people who actually read what you write is better than 10000 who will scan over it on their way to better, more interesting content. Which, bring us straight into the “Don’ts” of using Twitter. Hang on, its going to be a bumpy ride.

  • Don’t be a dick. Wil Wheaton may not have said it first, but he certainly is not “internet famous” for Wheaton’s Law, “Don’t be a dick.” By all means, participate in conversation, even debate, but as soon as soon as you start attacking people, you’re going down the wrong path. Everyone has an opinion about something on the internet, but you’re not likely to change their mind in 140 characters, or even 1400. The likelihood that you’ll influence them decreases as your comments become more caustic. Be better than that. Please.
  • Don’t spam. You know what?  I shouldn’t even have to explain this one.  Nobody likes spam and if you do it, no one will like you.  If you have a Twitter feed that is nothing but advertisements for your book, or other peoples you have a Twitter feed that is as forgettable as the coupons on the back of a grocery receipt.  Do you want people to know about your new book? Twitter is the place to put that!  Your readers want to know.  What we don’t want is to hear about it, hear about it, hear about it and hear about it.  Would you call your friend 5 to 10 times a day to tell them about your new awesome short story?  Even after they’ve bought your book?  For weeks and months, end upon end around 16,000 times?  No? Why?  Because they’d murder you and they would probably get away with it.  If you don’t think your friend would appreciate it, why do you think you can treat absolute strangers that way and expect them to not stab you in the eye block you.
  • Don’t Abuse Direct Message. Just. Don’t. Do. It. Direct Messages are for conversations that you don’t want the whole world to see.  Sooner or later you’ll encounter someone who auto-DM’s you as soon as you follow them.  If you don’t share my utter contempt for this practice, then I’m afraid we can’t be friends anymore.  It doesn’t form a “connection” and if its just a robo-message its just more spam to mark as read, delete and then unfollow.  Congrats, you just drove away some of your audience.  Take a second and ‘@’ reply new followers with a “welcome” message if you want.  Read their feed and find something to talk to them about.  Start a conversation.  That’ll make a bigger impact than five rubber stamped direct messages and be much less infuriating.
  • Don’t Abuse Hashtag.  This is related to not spamming.  I love the ‘#amwriting’ hashtag.  There’s a lot of opportunity there to meet new people and read interesting thoughts.  Then, there’s shit like this:2013-08-27 22.30.02Every time you do this, you break that awesome flow of information.  I get it.  I really do.  You want people to see your stuff, and hey, there’s a ton of people looking at the ‘#amwriting’ hashtag.  But you’re not writing are you? No, you’re pimping your book.  See, what you’re doing there is called Spam.  Its filling my eye-holes with unwanted crap against my will.  There are plenty of other venues that are just for authors to showcase their stories.  Just because its there, doesn’t make it a forum for you to advertise on.  You spam, you get blocked because I can’t stab you in real life.  How should you use the “#amwriting” hashtag?  Here you go:
    2013-08-27 22.29.15
  • Don’t ask people to do stuff for free. You have followers. That’s awesome.  Go you.  Don’t abuse them by demanding they ‘Retweet’ your book announcement.  If this, “PLS RT” is anywhere in your message, you fail at social media.  No, really.  Want people to spread the word about your book?  Do two things.  First, write an awesome book.  Second, make some actual friends on Twitter by interacting with people.  If you’ve got some actual friends and have some good news, they’ll go and retweet it on their own.  Doing anything else is just treating your followers like a megaphone and I don’t want to follow someone who views me as just another number, potential sale or extension of my social reach.
  • Don’t retweet all willy nilly.  The other side of this is not to retweet crap like that.  Retweeting is awesome and fun and I love it.  Use it how its supposed to be used: To highlight someone else’s awesome tweets and to make yourself look better by associating yourself with someone smarter and better looking then you.  Don’t use it to further the schemes of some second-rate author who’s abusing the audience that you’ve gone to so much trouble to cultivate.

That should cover most of the major offenses.  Give me a second while I regain my cool and let the rage die down to a lower level.

Ok, I’m better now.   You’ll notice that I talked a lot about “developing an audience” but really, that’s the wrong way to think about it… yet also the right way.  If you’re thinking about it like increasing your number of followers for the sole purpose of getting a bigger megaphone to sell more books, then you’re being a bad person.  Social media is about being social.  It’s about making friends, keeping in touch and learning new things, terrible truths.  Approach it like that, with that goal, and you’ll accomplish the former goal along the way.  At the end of the day, you should be enjoying yourself.  Be someone that other people want to follow, and you’ll gain followers.  Treat them well, and you’ll gain more as those mindless drones new friends spread your name.

Also, this post isn’t exclusive to Twitter.  Apply it to Facebook, Google+ and what have you.

This post has included a lot of the lash, so now its time for a little carrot.  Want some good examples?  I’ll close with a few of my favorite authors on Twitter.  Happy Tweeting!