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!)

Something Worth Doing is Worth Doing Well

This refrain comes up again and again when talking to my writer friends (and not always initiated by me): something worth doing is worth doing well. It’s certainly not a controversial idea, though talking about it is not without its risks (as writer myself, I will not be providing examples of poor work to avoid shooting myself in the foot).

Put another way: we as an industry are going cheap, and it shows.

Usually it starts with the cover—bad art, or weak stock photos, with poor typography. If the cover is bad, the inside is often worse—poor layout, weak font choices, text that’s too small to read, or so big you could read it from across the room. The interior art looks fuzzy, or way too dark. Maybe there’s nothing in particular you can put your finger on, but something just isn’t right—very possibly the paper itself is poorly chosen (or left unconsidered).

Overall, you’re left with a feeling of cheapness—and it’s probably true: not enough money and attention has been put into this product.

Like it or not, this lack of detail negatively impacts the stories themselves. Fewer people will buy the book, and some people will be so turned off by the experience that they will set it aside for good. All of this, regardless of the quality of the stories themselves.

It would be easy to lay blame at the feet of self-publishers, but it’s not limited to that world. Poor quality runs throughout all levels of publishing, at least sporadically, from indies to the big names.

The blame for this lies in a few areas.


It’s been said that there’s little money in publishing, and perhaps that’s true. Spending much on something with little chance of seeing it returned doesn’t make too much sense. To create a work of quality, it does take skill (or money to hire that skill). We are at a point where it requires little to no money to produce books, even printed books—from ebooks to print on demand, a publisher does not need to outlay much cash to get a book to a reader and see a return on investment. Unfortunately, this low-budget approach shows all too often.

Too Many Hats

I’m a jack-of-all-trades kind of guy: I have an art background, I work as an illustrator and designer (and animator, and video guy, and…), I’ve done some sound work, I write. I understand there are people (and publishers) out there that can handle the whole shebang and do a fine job of it. The thing is, the vast majority of people can’t, and even those that can generally are not great at everything—I know this, all too intimately. If you’re trying to take it all on, you probably shouldn’t.

Plus, if you are taking on all of the roles, you will generally suffer from tunnel vision, and miss out on glaring problems. As the wearer of all of the hats, you are probably working in a vacuum, and regardless of problems with teams (group think, lowest common denominator results), more people means more eyes on the end result.

Another quick point here: I’m a big believer in using the right tool (or software) for the right job, but just having that tool does not make you a master of it (and mastering it still doesn’t make you a designer).

Quantity vs. Quality

Perhaps this is a flawed perception, but it appears that some go for the shotgun approach: more products offered, more sales. It may be accurate, too—I haven’t looked for research to disprove this notion—but it seems to me that spreading money across fewer books (and thus more per book) would significantly improve the end results, and the financial gains from each. No doubt there’s a tipping point, where a piece goes from appropriately treated to collector’s edition (with a price to match)—but if this is your concern, this article isn’t really aimed at you.

Contrary to what it might sound like, I’m not trying to say “you all suck!” or that I want fewer books around. I love all kinds of books, and I want to see the publishing world do better by delivering better.

There are solutions to these problems, and not all of them require more money spent (though some expectation of investing in a work should be assumed). Educating yourself, spending smarter, hiring the right people, finding others who will give you honest opinions…these are all steps in the right direction.

And these are all planned future posts. Stay tuned.

How Long Did That Take?

During a #SFFWRTCHT last month I was asked this question: “How long does it take you to do a piece from first line to finish?”* I responded with something vague about always being amazed at how quickly some pieces come together and how slowly others do. And that’s completely true: The time from first line to finish varies enormously depending on the illustration project. (Even more tricky to explain is why an illustration that only took an afternoon to complete may be more successful than one that took several weeks). One of my art professors used to answer:  “40 years and three weeks” when people asked how long a painting took (the sum of his painting career to that point and whatever time the specific painting required), which was a witty nod to how much more than just hours goes into an art piece. But as a freelancer, knowing how long a project took is pretty important career information. So I’ve been working on that.

Usually I have several projects all going on at once. On rare moments it all comes together like this**, but often it feels more like this. Last year I started using  kanbanpad to help keep track of my progress on various illustrations. I had queues such as “Not Started” “Ideation” “In Progress” and “Finished”. Recently it’s become necessary to revise how I keep track of stuff in order to avoid over-committing myself: I now have a Google doc with a whole year laid out month by month listing jobs already committed to, so at a glance I know if I can take on another project this month or that month. Also I’ve also started using spreadsheets to detail each month even more closely: When a job is started, when it is finished, (how many hours it took). Even things like print sales, art shows entered, (blog posts written). This is pretty new, the methods still being tweaked, but I’m interested in seeing what trends may reveal themselves.

As the at-home parent, my work schedule fits around my son’s school schedule and between general household management needs. And those work hours are not all art making: I spend a lot of time reading through the stories I’ll be illustrating, prepping digital canvases, collecting and/or shooting reference images. Not to mention just “paperwork” type stuff: keeping financial records up to date, monitoring correspondence, posting recent work, promoting projects, occasionally revamping my websites. I recently spent several hours finally writing up my own artist/client contract for new clients and it took me an entire day to prepare art for shipping to an out-of-town show.

While I have not yet started keeping track of exactly how many hours a piece will take from start to finish, I do know that I can finish about 4-5 illustration jobs per month and still be sane and pleasant to live with. (Which is really good to know.) Here’s a few other things I’ve skimmed from the webs that apply to the topic at hand:

  • And this interview with creatives talking about their time management methods:

*thank you Paul Weimer for asking the question!
**thank you Bo Bolander for lovely herd dogs.
***thank you Remy Nakamura for pointing me to Scalzi’s article.