On Typos and Professionalism

This afternoon, I checked out a pretty sweet Kickstarter for a graphic novel. The story seemed interesting, the art was gorgeous, and the buy-in was pretty decent. I really liked the project.

I almost backed it, but one thing stopped me.

The Kickstarter page was riddled with typos and poor punctuation.

When I’m backing a project, I want to know that the quality will be the best it can be. When I’m creating one of those projects, I want to make sure that my backers get the best possible thing. Anything less is a problem.

We all make errors, sometimes in highly-visible, embarrassing places. Everyone has a story or ten about typos. Lord knows that a recent project has two errors that I’m mortified about. But I do my best to prevent them, because, as a writer, editor, and publicist, I make my living with words, and that means that I am judged by my words.

We’ve moved out of the exciting, fresh days of Kickstarter. Most of us have backed more than a few projects, and many of us have gotten burned, somehow. Backers typically also have limited budgets, and Kickstarters aren’t usually cheap. It’s more of an uphill battle for pledges than ever, and everything has to be just right.

There are several hurdles to overcome in the quest to earn pledges. When I put together a Kickstarter page for a publishing project, my words literally make the difference between success and failure.

Step 1: First look: Is it pretty? Does it immediately capture their interest? Do they want to look at more? This is a combination of the visual elements and the first hooks.

Step 2: The overview. They think it looks cool, but now they want to find out if it’s something they really want.

Step 3: The critical judgment (sometimes overpowered by the shiny). The visual and informative elements are now combining to give your project a total sum. There’s a tipping point between ‘yes’, and ‘no’, and from there, it’s a matter of how much they’ll be pledging, which is also complicated algebra dependent on your page.

All of the steps are complicated and important, but they can all be undone by one little element: poor execution. Bad spelling, poor punctuation, clunky language, or inconsistent formatting can completely ruin all the other amazing things you’ve done with your project. It introduces an element of doubt: “If they don’t care about proofreading this important, public-facing thing, will they care about the project once I’ve given them money?”

There are so many battles to fight on the road to create a successful project. Don’t sabotage yourself by neglecting the most important details.

The SFWA Bulletin

In late November, I found out that I’d be acting as Production Editor for a special issue of the SFWA Bulletin, edited by Tansy Rayner Roberts. A little over three months later, the issue is beginning to land in mailboxes, and we have a new editor! But we’re already hard at work on the next issue, a special for the Nebulas. But for anyone who missed out on the news via the SFWA outlets, here’s a little on the new editor, the table of contents for the special edition, and how to obtain a copy of said special edition.

John Klima previously worked at Asimov’s, Analog, and Tor Books before returning to school to earn his Master’s in Library and Information Science. He now works full time as the assistant director of a large public library. John edited and published the Hugo Award-winning genre zine Electric Velocipede from 2001 to 2013. The magazine was also a four-time nominee for the World Fantasy Award and recipient of the Tiptree Honor List for one of its stories. In 2007 Klima edited an anthology of science fiction and fantasy stories based on spelling-bee winning words called Logorrhea: Good Words Make Good Stories. In 2011, Klima edited a reprint anthology of fairytale retellings titled Happily Ever After. He co-edited Glitter & Mayhem with Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas—a 2013 Kickstarter-funded anthology of speculative nightclub stories. He and his family live in the Midwest.

TOC for Issue 204 of the SFWA Bulletin
2 SFWA at Its Core – Susan Forest
3 Editorial
4 Science Fiction on the Front Line – Richard Dansky
7 Social Media & the Solitary Writer – Cat Rambo
10 The SFWA Forum – Susan Forest
10 Volunteering – Dave Klecha
11 Writer Beware – Victoria Strauss
13 Estates Project – Brenda W. Clough & Bud Webster
17 SFWA Operations Manager – Kate Baker
18 Everything Old Is New Again – MCA Hogarth
21 From the Ombudsman – Cynthia Felice
22 Website Redesign & Featured Book – Jeremiah Tolbert
23 Anti-Harassment & Diversity – Jaym Gates
27 Moving to California: The SFWA Bylaws Overhaul & Reincorporation Process – Russell Davis
32 Of Myth & Memory – Sheila Finch
36 SFWA’s MG/YA Group – Jenn Reese
37 50,000 Words Under the Sea – Ari Asercion
40 Copyright Battles & SFWA – Michael Capobianco
43 SFWA Standards for Pay – Jim Fiscus
45 Picking the Right Convention For You – Nancy Holder & Erin Underwood
53 Better Teachers, Better Writers – James Patrick Kelly
59 SFWA Annual Events – Steven H Silver
60 The SFWA NY Reception – Steven H Silver
61 SFWA Reading Series – Merrie Haskell
62 About the Nebulas
64 Interview: E.C. Myers – Tansy Rayner Roberts
Norton Award – Merrie Haskell
President/Vice President/Secretary
From the Treasurer
The Board Members Called “Directors”
74 Apres SFWA, The Deluge – Lynne M Thomas
75 Keep New Friends: Interview Rakunas & Gunn – Rachel Swirsky
78 SFWA Discussion Boards – Cat Rambo
80 Communications – Jaym Gates
IBC About the Cover Artist

For information on subscribing, contributing, or advertising in the Bulletin, please email bulletin@sfwa.org. For information on the Nebula Awards Weekend, May 15-18, in San Jose, CA, please see http://www.sfwa.org/nebula-awards/nebula-weekend/. (Non-SFWA members welcome!)

Flashy Fiction

(I do beg pardon for the short, flashy post. (Haha, get it?) I’m on deadline for 4 nonfiction pieces, and I’m running out of words!)

Flash fiction is hard work. It isn’t for the faint of heart, either. While it seems to be to short stories what speculative-fiction is to literary snobs, flash fiction takes at least as much work as a short story, and far more care.

So why write it?

Aside from its literary value, it is an excellent training tool. Every single word must count, without becoming overblown.

Proper flash isn’t a scene, or a snippet, it’s a micro-story. Beginning, middle and end. Conflict and resolution. Tension and release. Think of it as that twenty-minute snooze on lunch break: you have to go to sleep, sleep, and wake up. None of those things can be missing for a proper nap. (Bonus nap-points for a nice blanket and good dreams.)

Seeing the entire story on one page tightens up plotting, and allows the writer to judge flow and coherency better. It is a good chance to play with style, endings and surprises.

Flash needs depth, as well as beginning, middle and end.

Flash also allows for a higher output. When I started seriously trying to hone my storytelling, I wrote almost nothing but flash. Piece after piece of it, trying to learn how to put words together more clearly, how to raise the stakes and tension. I was able to keep a short turn-around between writing and editing, so I could also see how the drafts changed. (We won’t discuss the fact that I over-corrected and started writing way too lean.)

Besides that? It’s fun. Setting a challenge of a new piece a day stretches muscles. It’s a good warm-up if you’re working on longer pieces, or a way to get out of the all-consuming novel.

So go for it. Have fun. Write mini-myths for your novel, or an event from a character’s past, or the birth of a new species. Push a boundary, take a few minutes to explore the shadows.

Think of it as a tasting menu of fiction: a dozen stories, each with different ingredients, expanding the palate and mind.

Networking Doesn’t Mean Being An A**hole

Jonathan Wood is an Englishman in New York. His debut novel, No Hero was described by Publisher’s Weekly as “a funny, dark, rip-roaring adventure with a lot of heart, highly recommended for urban fantasy and light science fiction readers alike.” Barnesandnoble.com listed it has one of the 20 best paranormal fantasies of the past decade, and Charlaine Harris, author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels described it as, “so funny I laughed out loud.” His short fiction has appeared in Weird Tales, Chizine, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, as well as anthologies such as The Book of Cthulhu 2 and The Best of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Year One. He can be found online at www.jonathanwoodauthor.com

It is slightly embarrassing to admit, but starting out as an author, I didn’t really know what networking was. I knew I had to do it. But the actual “it” of it was never really explained to me.

I’d assume this was just my own failing, except I’ve been on Twitter. So I thought maybe some pointers might be in order.

1) It’s not about followers

You have 1 bajillion followers on Twitter. And an extra bajillion friends on Facebook. Congratulations. Well done. However, if you have also followed a bajillion people on Twitter, if you have friended a bajillion people on Facebook, then this is essentially a meaningless statistic.

I count myself as mildly discerning on Twitter because I take a full 8 nanoseconds to make sure that the person who followed me isn’t a pornbot, spambot, or a self-proclaimed marketing professional before I follow them back. Following someone back is the done thing. It is etiquette. People follow you back because it takes slightly less effort than scratching their arse.

If you have a bajillion followers and have only followed eight, then there is the chance people are following you for a reason. In order to hear what you have to say. Otherwise they’re just being nice. This is the law of social media.

2) It’s not about shouting the loudest

The way I like to think about Twitter and Facebook is to imagine it as if it is one giant crowded room. There are about a billion people in it. Screaming as loud as you can, “This person loved my book! This person gave me a 5 star review! Read my book! Read my book! LOVE ME!!!!” is not going to win you any friends in this room. Just like in a real room.

Imagine it. In a room full of a billion people there are at least billion things to pay attention to. That means there’s an awful lot of stuff to filter out. The first thing that has to go is the annoying, jumping, shouting people. The louder you yell, the less people pay attention.

3) Seriously with the auto-DMs

Sometimes I follow someone back on twitter and, just so I can regret it instantly, they automatically message me.

I assume they want me to think that they really care that I spastically clicked a small blue box to comply with social niceties. But they don’t. They care about appearing to care. A care which is completely undercut by the generic message to visit their facebook page, or webpage, or whatever the crap they want to sell me. It is the electronic equivalent of a used-car salesman’s greasy, desperately insincere handshake, given while he glances over your shoulder to see if anyone more attractive has walked in behind you. It does not work.

4) So what the hell is it?

Networking is a misleading word. It may even be a damaging word. Because what networking really is, is the thing we’d be doing if we weren’t so concerned about networking. It is simply going out and making friends.

Networking shouldn’t have an agenda. It shouldn’t be manipulative. It should just be hanging out in a social space and being a decent person, and enjoying actual genuine human contact. And then, if you need a favor, then you ask. Just like you would with a real friend. And if they need a favor, you help them out too. Just like with a real friend.

That’s all it is. That’s the whole secret. Friendship.

So go on Twitter. Go on Facebook. Go there and network. Go crazy with it. Just make sure you do what Bill and Ted would do. Be excellent to each other.