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!)

On Research

Writing is make-believe, plucking characters and settings from your head and dropping them onto the paper like Rorschach blots, hoping the reader will see a coherent image. But if you want to write something convincing, your story has to be rooted in reality. And if it’s a reality you know nothing about, there’s only one thing to do about it—research.

Oh, hey. I’ve got this, you say. Pull up Wikipedia, copy and paste, and voila.

Not. So. Fast.

The internet is a wonderful thing and it makes research easy, but according to Merriam Webster, the definition of research is: careful study that is done to find and report new knowledge about something.

Careful study.

That implies a little more than copy and paste, doesn’t it?

This isn’t to say that you can’t use the net, but you have to be willing to dig deeper than the first link you find, to pick through the mounds of information and find the good stuff, the right stuff.

(Did you know that the first seven astronauts did their survival training in the Nevada desert? Before I wrote this post, I didn’t. Thanks to some research, I now know that those seven astronauts were left for four days with a spacecraft mockup, a parachute, and a survival scenario. Pretty cool, eh? And yes, I got that information from the net; however, I’m pretty confident I can trust www.nasa.gov.)

If you want to write a story about a cellist and you know nothing more than the music the instrument makes is so beautiful it makes you cry, you better do research because you can bet that at least one person who might read that story will know more and will spot your errors a mile away. That isn’t to say you need to root everything in truth. Maybe your cello is a space cello with magical wormhole properties. In that case, you have a little more leeway, but still, you can research how instruments are played in space and wormhole theory. At least I hope you would.

But research isn’t just to make that one reader smile and nod and say yes, this author got it right. If you’re writing a story about a cello, why wouldn’t you do research? Why wouldn’t you want to know the lowest note a cello can play? (Two octaves below middle C.) Why wouldn’t you want to know that when Yo-Yo Ma plays, his instruments of choice are a 1733 Montagnana cello from Venice and a 1712 Davidoff Stradivarius? Even if you’re not a fan of the cello, you have to admit that a musician using a 300-year old instrument is pretty damn interesting.

You might spend days researching, slipping from one rabbit hole to another, picking up bits and pieces of information along the way. And maybe you won’t use those things in your story. Maybe you won’t even finish your story.

That isn’t the point.

Better to do the research and not need it than leave your story full of holes you should’ve filled. You owe it to yourself; you owe it to your readers; you owe it to your story.

The Future, Man

I originally posted this as a FB status, but it seemed to hit a note and I wanted to explore and expand on it.

The other day, I read an article about how anything resembling the Enterprise was many years in the future, and for some reason, it’s been bothering me ever since.

History is full of people saying, “Yeah, haha, that can’t happen for another HUNDRED YEARS!”, usually with the result that this impossible tech shows up within the next couple of years. And that was in the beginning of the technological revolution.

For all of our social ills, our scientific problems, and our problematic governments, we’re in an age where we have possibly more potential than ever before. We have people like Elon Musk and even James Cameron, who have big dreams and the money and connections to make it happen. There are pieces of technology that haven’t been utilized to their fullest, and a huge crop, worldwide, of brilliant people looking to build a new piece of the future. The Internet makes it possible for big dreamers to find support networks, resources, and outlets. We have calls for Martian settlers, tests for anti-grav technology, and biotechnology that would make the SF writers of twenty (TWENTY!) years ago green with envy. And they aren’t claims or projects by crackpots, but by leading scientists and entrepreneurs.

Moreover, we have writers–of novels, movies, games, nonfiction–who are positing and contemplating the technical and social aspects of these new developments, creating an incredibly rich environment of possibilities. I believe that one of the biggest aspects of any new development is the understanding of its effect on the world and its users, and with the so-called ‘soft sciences’ like psychology, sociology, and family sciences slowly gaining recognition and respect, there’s a wider outlet for those examinations than ever.

Dr. Michio Kaku’s “Physics of the Future” talks about how futurist predictions are almost always wrong because they look at the trajectory that things are on at the time, and project that into the future, when, in fact, progress happens in leaps and bounds, plateauing for a while and then springing forward with huge strides.

I know I’ve complained in the past that it seemed like SF’s push and imagination had sort of stalled out and gotten left behind, but in the last couple of years, it seems like that is a hurdle that’s been overcome. This is particularly noticeable in short stories, where the industry is seeing an absolute burst of highly-talented authors. (A lot of those award-winners are heading into novel-length fiction now, and I look forward to seeing what they will add to that field.)

It may be that something like the Enterprise is 30 or 50 or 100 years in our future, but I think we have reached a point where we have to be careful in claiming that anything is too impossible, or too far in our future, because announcements are made weekly about new things once only found in SF.

Besides, isn’t it our job to bring the future right to our doorstep?