Book Expo America! Next Week!

So you might have noticed the lack of scintillating posting this week. Or not. Anyways, the reason is that I’m furiously getting ready for Book Expo America, which is happening next week in New York.

If you aren’t familiar with the event, BEA is basically the biggest publishing trade fair in the States. It’s 3 days of packing out the heinous Javit’s Center and talking to publishers, bloggers, librarians and other professionals during the day, and making the rounds of publisher parties and bars in the evening.

New York and I have an…exciting history. Every time I go there, I end up with Stories To Tell*. More accurately, stories that make people who have stories to tell look at me and wonder how I haven’t died yet. Anyways, I’m hoping that this year is much better.

I’ll be there to run the SFWA table and hold signings with some amazing authors. Check out the schedule, and if you’ll be there, come and say hi!

1:30: James Sutter
2:00: Michael Martinez
2:30: Jeri Smith-Ready

3:30: Alethea Kontis
4:00 Laura Anne Gilman

11:00: Sarah Beth Durst
11:30: Shelly Reuben

1:30: Doug Molitor
2:00: Leanna Renee Hieber
2:30: Patrick Matthews

3:30: Jim Hines
4:00: Karen Heuler

12:00: SFWA Reading
1:00: Diana Gabaldon

Wish us luck!

*The current highlight** is the cabby who couldn’t figure out where I needed him to take me. We drove around the Bronx for about an hour, stopping to ask people at stoplights for directions. This is, by the way, at about 3am, after a day that started at 9am, included a convention day, an event, a dinner, drinking, Ray Bradbury’s death, a radio show ABOUT Ray Bradbury, and seeing Ground Zero for the first time.

I finally got in a yelling match with the driver and made him let me out on some random street. I called the guy I was dating, told him what was going on, and asked him to pull up Google Maps and get me back home. We had a very long talk about safety later…which is another common theme in my life.

**Followed closely by the time I had a connecting flight through Atlanta and our plane fishtailed on the icy runway.

You Will Fall Off the Horse: Professionalism vs. Artistic Expression and More

**Some warning for strong language**

It is hard to know what to say on the internet, how to balance honesty, personality and humor with respect, tact and professionalism. It’s challenging enough for most people, but creatives have an additional skill-level to maintain.

Most professionals have a business face and a personal face. They take one off at the end of the work day and put the other one on. Creatives seldom wear just one face. Our personalities are part of our brands, our business is an integral part of our life.

This can be wonderful, as it allows us a freedom and dimension of expression not often found in business or personal lives.

It is also sometimes deadly, when the two are not kept distinct enough.

Because, while we always wear both faces, they cannot be the same thing. We’re artists—from the project manager at the multi-national corporation to the editor/developer/author/artist who just produced a game all by themselves. We’re also business people, and that must come first if we are to succeed personally, and as an industry.

Balancing Art and Business and Life

The toughest part of the entire equation is the initial balance. Where do you draw the line between funny and offensive, between expressing yourself and being an ass? When does it stop being free speech and become bullying? How do you separate friendship and professional obligation? At what point do you stop shrugging off someone’s faults because they are your friend and admit that they are genuinely problematic?

That is something every creative individual will have to figure out for themselves. It isn’t an easy battle plan, it’s definitely going to hurt some feelings, and you’ll make some mistakes doing it, but you’ve got to establish those boundaries and expectations fairly early on.

Perhaps more importantly, you’ll have to let them grow and change along with you and your career. That requires constantly revisiting those standards.

If you’re part of a small company, that balance gets trickier. When it’s just you, there’s some leeway. When other people become involved, the mixture can become explosive. You’re not just looking out for your own welfare anymore, and you’re not just dealing with your own issues.

Suddenly you’re not just balancing a ball on your nose, you’re juggling half a dozen of them. What happens when you start dropping them?

Everyone Can Fail, Everyone Will Fail

There’s an old horseman’s saying: “If you ain’t been throwed, you ain’t rode”. Grammatical color aside, it’s true. Every time I get on a horse, I risk being thrown off, whether from a lack of attention, a mistake in communication, or something outside my control. It’s a calculated risk I take, but I do everything possible to make it a lower probability.

More importantly, I know how to react when I fall. I know to protect my head, to roll, to go boneless, to suspend time and make sure that I’ve got various body parts untangled and am falling away from powerful hooves, to use hands and feet to steer my roll, and so on. I’ve acknowledged the possibility, double-checked all my gear, and planned for the worst.

Failure in other endeavors isn’t much different. You’ll fall. Get used to that idea. Accept it. Plan for it. Admit that you’re human, come up laughing and apologizing for scaring people. Be graceful and dignified so that even a nasty mistake can become a benefit.

But don’t set yourself up for it. Don’t become someone who falls off for the attention, because sooner or later, you’ll break your neck, and no one will be around to see it.

Censoring Is Not What You Might Think It Is and Assholes Are Not Awesome

Some people make a very viable persona out of outrageous behavior and a nasty attitude. I don’t need to name names here, they’re some of the most visible figures in the industry. Some of them are genuinely nice people, others appear nice while they quietly plan how to spin the situation to cast themselves as the victim.

Don’t do that. You’re throwing yourself off the horse now. See the last sentence above for why that’s a bad idea. Some people can get away with it. Those people are usually well-known, quite talented, and already established. But even they miss out sometimes. A newer author who makes the choice to present themselves this way will, most likely, wind up regretting it.

There’s another angle, too: don’t be the victim. Don’t post something offensive, call it a joke when someone gets offended, and then cry ‘censorship!’ when they don’t laugh it off with you.

“It’s a joke” does not absolve all your sins, and trying to hide behind that excuse just makes you a spineless dick.

If you have an opinion you want to state, make sure it’s backed up by knowledge and understanding. If you want to make a joke, make sure it doesn’t exist solely at the expense of or for the belittling of others. And if someone says ‘hey, that’s hurtful’, it’s not censorship. You might have fallen off the horse, and you’d damn well better acknowledge that and get up gracefully.

The internet has a long memory, and the long hours of BarCon are full of stories. Make sure the ones about you are good.

Tune in tomorrow for some tips on how to fall gracefully and manage a crisis.

Do Not Skip the Panels

I could just leave it at the title, but seriously. If you go to a con, whether as an attendee or as a pro, don’t avoid panels. Programming exists for actual logical reasons.

  • To help you connect with people making work you love.
  • To provide you with information you might not know.
  • To expose you to the work of people you don’t know.
  • To explore things you’re intrigued about.

Panels are an opportunity to pick up new information, meet people, find out what many of your friends look like in person, and feed your imagination. With luck, you also pick up new professional information. When many of us were starting out as writers and editors or artists, or whatever role(s) we inhabit in publishing, lots of folks starting out devoured panels. Made the effort to meet people and introduce themselves. Raised hands even when anxiously awaiting some sort of verbal tongue lashing just for asking a question. When new to our craft, we put out incredible effort to build our skills and our networks.

I see a number of folks I know, myself included, not always carrying that same energy to cons further down the line in their careers. Cons lose all sense of joy, fun, mystery or appeal. They become a daunting chore, full of travel and meetings and an abundance of stress. You don’t have to try to approach cons again with a sense of childlike glee or even the flavor of newcomer’s terror. But getting more out of cons starts with something simple, like hitting some panels. Though the beginner panels may seem less interesting to you now, even panels for new writers and editors can be worth going to. So many problems we have in our careers are about that phase of our work, but some of them are eternal. Communication, getting past anxiety, becoming better at tracking our tax info.

You might not feel like you need a panel on getting out of a slush pile, but practical intro panels may hold information you never got the chance to learn. The people running those panels? Fellow publishing professionals, who are either in your peer group, or likely great people to meet if you’re unfamiliar. Attending those panels? It’s possible those bright, sometimes anxious faces are future writers, editors, agents and art directors. We’re a social industry, and it doesn’t hurt to mix with people at every phase of their career path, as well as yours. New friends, co-workers and audience members are inside those panel room doors. Information you don’t know yet is behind that long table, lined with microphones. We’re not wasting time if we go to panels, we’re spending our time in pursuit of new knowledge and experience, things we can’t grow our careers or our lives without. So don’t skip the panels, and consider being on some in the future. Whole new worlds might open for you if you open that conference room door.

So You Want to Start a Blog

Amy Sundberg is a writer of science fiction, fantasy, and YA. Her short fiction has appeared in places such as Redstone Science Fiction and Daily Science Fiction. She blogs regularly at The Practical Free Spirit and is currently working on a book about social media strategy for fiction writers. She lives in California with her husband and a ridiculously cute little dog. You can follow her on twitter @amysundberg.

Maybe your agent (or editor, or writer’s group) has been pressuring you to start a blog, or maybe you’ve seen what other writers are doing with their blogs and become intrigued. Maybe you’re interested in building community or connecting with your readers in a closer way. Or maybe you already have a blog, but it collects dust most of the year or could use a reboot.

Here’s what you need to consider before getting started:

1. Commit. Decide up front on a period of time to really devote energy to getting your blog started. You won’t attract readers overnight, and if you’re revamping your blog, it takes time to feel comfortable with the change. It also can take time for you to find your own unique voice for the blog. I recommend committing to at least six months.

2. Assess your time and energy. Are you willing to devote the time and energy necessary to maintain a blog? Because if you absolutely hate the idea, you might be better off putting the majority of your online time into other social media platforms. Readers can tell if you’re dialing it in on a blog, at which point it might not be worth the time grudgingly invested.

3. Choose a platform. The two main blogging platforms right now are WordPress and Blogger. Many writers use because it can be incorporated directly into their author webpage. If you want to try blogging out and don’t already have a blog-enabled webpage, you can start out with and port all that content over to a future website that uses when and if you need something fancier. Blogger is a bit simpler to get started on, if you find the technical aspects of beginning a blog to be intimidating.

4. Decide on a schedule. How often are you going to post? It doesn’t have to be every day, but you need to think of an ideal posting schedule before you get started. Be ready to adapt that schedule if it doesn’t work with the rest of your life, but otherwise, make your best effort to stick with the plan. When starting a new blog, it is often better to post at least once per week; two to three times a week is fabulous. More than once a day can be a bit much for some readers. When you have an already established blog with a loyal audience, you can dial back the frequency.

5. Keep a balance between promotional content and the main focus of your blog. It’s fine if you want to use your blog to promote your work: letting people know about your published stories, upcoming novels, exciting reviews, guest posts elsewhere, and scheduled appearances. However, if you are only ever talking about you, you, you, and buy, buy, buy. that can be a real turn-off to prospective readers. So keep a careful eye on how much time you’re talking about promotion vs. how much time you’re running other content that will interest (and maybe even captivate) your readers.

6. Let people know about your blog. It is okay to promote your blog. Otherwise, how will people know to read it? Make sure you include an easy-to-locate place on your blog where people can sign up to receive your posts via email and via an RSS feed. Let your Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ followers know when you have a new post. You don’t want to be obnoxious about it and post the same link several times, but one time (or two times on Twitter–some people like to tweet their blog post once in the morning and once at night) is perfectly okay.

7. Decide on your content strategy. This is one of the most critical steps in blog creation. Think about who your desired audience is, and then figure out ways in which you can add value to their lives. If you already have an established fan base for your work, your strategy will be different than if you’re a new writer just starting out. You also want to think about how you can make your blog original, the blog that only you could possibly write. For example, many writer blogs out there have very similar and repetitive content about writing. It’s important to either find a niche for yourself within the writing blogs if your desired audience is other writers instead of readers (see Chuck Wendig‘s or Juliette Wade‘s blogs) or figure out what you can blog about that is not exclusively writing. (If you’re having trouble wrapping your head around this idea, here is a primer to get you started.) Finally you want to consider what you’re comfortable talking about, what you’d prefer to keep private, and what tone you’d like to set in terms of appropriate behavior in the comments section (or if you even want comments).

We’ve only just begun the conversation about blogging, and about content strategy in particular. Blogging does require a certain commitment of time, energy, and willingness to experiment. But at its best, it can be quite a fulfilling and impactful experience.