19 May

I traveled to Bermuda to launch ‘The Stories We Tell: The Bermuda Anthology of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror

Back in late September of 2014 I was the Writer in Residence for the island of Bermuda, where I taught a 3 week long science fiction and fantasy workshop for island writers. Dr. Kim Dismont-Robinson, Folklife Office from the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs invited me to head this up, and it was one of those amazing life moments. I got to bring together both my Caribbean roots and experience and my genre writing credentials all together. It was like ‘this is the moment I’ve been waiting for!’

Out of that project came a follow-up discussion, would we be able to create an anthology of Bermuda speculative fiction out of the writers we had, plus an open call?

I thought we had enough talent and agreed to the project, and we’ve been working on it in the background throughout 2015 and 2016.

On Tuesday, I flew out to Bermuda to formally launch ‘The Stories We Tell’ for the island of Bermuda.

When I left, my little palm in my basement office had just died due to spider mites:

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So I enjoyed camping out next to the palms near my room at the Grotto Bay hotel in Bermuda:

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My room faced northish, so I got both sunrise and sunset from my balcony. I woke up each morning just drenched in sunlight. I live off sunlight, so it was welcomed. I was up each morning for a swim and wrote nearly a thousand words of fresh fiction each morning. The sunlight cleansed me off some weariness and post-winter blues I was still struggling to shake.

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Wednesday morning I met ‘The Captain,’ a local radio personality, and talked about the important of Bermuda voices in genre and about the book launch. He shared a quick island ghost tale from his childhood, which was perfect:

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Kim, who noted how much I loved Graham Foster‘s artwork, which we used a great deal of to illustrate the stories in the book, took me to Bermuda College library so I could visit the Brian Burland Centre (Burland was a Bermudan writer who became rediscovered by the island in the 2000s, just before he passed) and see the mural he did for that.

I also spent a lot of time looking over Burland’s poster board outline for one of his books, which was amazingly cool from a process standpoint, I might write a whole other post about that.

On Thursday we had the actual launch, but before that I visited Prospero’s Cave, an underground cave right near my hotel room. Just a few hundred feet away.

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Sketchy looking entrance. Then you squeeze through these rocks:

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And bam, you are here:

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and from above a bit:

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I’d explored it the day before, but I came back on Thursday to swim it. The water was brisk, Bermuda is at the same longitude as North Carolina and out in the middle of the Atlantic. The water is still cold out there right now. But I got this snap of me jumping in and swimming right back out:

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The book launch, Thursday night, was great. It was held in the National Gallery, with the Hon. Nandi Outerbridge JP, MP, Minister of Social Development giving opening remarks, and then I gave a few notes about how the anthology came to be and how honored I was to be a part of bringing these voices together. Here we are before opening doors, getting sound and video set up:

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Many of the writers were there, and for many it was their first published story. Reading here is Nikki Bowers. Her story opens the anthology:

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and here is Damien Wilson, who also has a story in Karen Lord’s anthology of Caribbean SF ‘New Worlds, Old Ways.’

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The anthology is ‘The Stories We Tell’ and here is the cover:

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And here is the table of contents:

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The launch was successful. I got to have a last dinner with the director of the department: Heather, Kim (Folklife director) and her husband Jay (we bonded of Seagulls, small outboard engines, air cooled), Veney who runs many things behind the scenes and worked hard to make sure I got to my hotel room and settled in well and got where I needed to go, and the Minister. It was sad to say goodbye to everyone after great conversation.

So the question everyone on twitter has asked is ‘how do I get a copy?’

Good question!

Right now the book is for sale at bookstores (and in the libraries) in Bermuda, so if you’re passing through look for it. There are some conversations about how to make it available elsewhere, so I’ll pass that on when I can. Distribution throughout and around the Caribbean is complicated with books, it’s something being worked on.

So now I’m packed up. I’ve had one last swim in the ocean (it’s still very cold here, out in the middle of the Atlantic, but I wanted the salt water in my hair), and I’m waiting for a taxi to take me back to the airport and back home.

I return curiously refreshed, excited about these stories, excited about telling more of my own, having gotten more writing done here sitting on my balcony looking at the ocean and enjoying soaking up sun like the little lizards that were scampering about underfoot.

I also return with an amazing gift from the people who worked so hard to put all this together, a Graham Foster painting of my own:

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Now to navigate that through airports and customs back to Ohio!

07 Apr

Six Things I Learned in My First Month of Using Patreon

Last month at this time I launched a new experiment, a Patreon. What’s Patreon? Think of it like a subscription service to an artist. Some artists just post a Patreon that let us support something they’re already publicly doing, like videos on a YouTube channel. You sign up for a certain amount a month and you get the pleasure of knowing you’re helping them usher something cool into the world. I really like The Nerdwriter‘s videos, and he uses that model:

Other Patreons use more of a ‘subscriber’ model where you get access to content otherwise not available, which is what I’m doing.

Now that I’m a month into using one, here are some things I think have jumped out at me.

1) Conversion rates for paid art are low

I launched my Patreon by first pinging my newsletter of almost 1,000 people who have indicated they’re interested in hearing about upcoming fiction of mine. That created an initial surge of 17 patrons, with maybe some more coming in on the second day when I announced the link to twitter.

I have over 9,500 followers on twitter, which is where the bulk of the growing has happened since. The Patreon is currently at 94 subscribers.

Conversion rates for art are super low because money is a finite resource and it’s one thing to have people following you, but another to make the ask. For example, here’s an article about a band with 1,000,000 Spotify streams that shows their royalties as $4,955. They made $0.004891 per stream.

Sometimes you see frustrated artists online point out that they sell thousands of books/CDs/projects, when they have tens of thousands of followers. But that’s actually a super high conversion rate. And thinking that people following us online are the prime consumers is often a blind that doesn’t represent reality.

When I set out to launch the Patreon I had no idea what the conversion rate would be. I knew that my lowest Kickstarter, another form of crowdfunding, had 170 backers, and my best had 270. When I did a poll on twitter 6 months ago over 250 people indicated an interest in a Patreon, so I had some hope that between 150-250 would eventually end up on the Patreon. But how long would it take for word to filter out, or for people to jump on, I didn’t know. Kickstarter has a definite time limit, and Patreon doesn’t. The urgency isn’t as strong usually.

2) Asking for a monthly amount is a bigger ask than a one time project

Speaking of Kickstarter, my most successful Kickstarter was a $12,500 ($1,000 came in after the Kickstarter closed), 192 backer, total for my novel The Apocalypse Ocean. That’s kind of similar to thinking of a $1,000 a month Patreon, were I to do one novel a year and one Kickstarter a year.

But for the Patreon I launched we have half the number of backers so far. It’s a tougher ask to ask someone of their hard-earned money to commit to a subscription as opposed to a one time payment for a project. Which makes total sense.

That being said, at $550 a month for short fiction the Patreon is pretty close to matching the income of doing a single short story collection via Kickstarter (my last Kickstarter was a $7,000 Kickstarter for Xenowealth: A Collection). It’s wild that 100 subscribers are in for getting a short story a month.

However, writing is a wildly variable income stream. I’ve been super, super lucky to make over half my needed income from writing every year for the last ten years. But I can never predict when checks will arrive, when deals will strike, or royalties pay out. Royalties are paid out every six months. Contracts can take six months to fourteen months to pay out. I could strike a million dollar book deal tomorrow, and still run out of money in nine months if it takes twelve for the contract to get negotiated and a check to be cut. While Patreon is a harder ask, getting a monthly check for art is worth strapping velcro to myself and jumping against a felt wall for. Having predictable income is something of a brass ring.

3) I needed to not worry about failure

Rejection is hard. Jim Hines just wrote about the fact that even at this stage in his career he still gets rejections. I still do. But that rejection is private, between the editor, my agent and me. I have almost a thousand to date in my career.

But a crowdfunding project is very, very public. The first time I did a Kickstarter a few people reached out to me, worrying about whether I’d hit the amount I set. Failure in public, if the Kickstarter didn’t fund, would be a tough hit.

Setting up a Patreon is something similar. You’re going to reveal to the world how much support and interest there is out there for what you’re doing. Then there are your own expectations. You look at other Patreons, you wondered where you’ll fit within the rankings.

Then there are your own internal expectations to manage. I’ll be honest and open here, I was hoping to get to $1,000 in the first month because my big goal is the $1,500 before the year’s end (when I run out of savings) that I want to replace the freelance income that vaporized in January. I looked at Kickstarters and polls and thought $1,000 was attainable. While I’m sure people may compare my Patreon to others, or make judgements, I tend not to care what people think but am harder on myself trying to get to goals I set up for myself. I’ve learned to not worry about others but pay attention to my road. But missing my own expectations was still a pain.

But getting to 55% of a goal is strong progress. I’m over halfway to my own internal goal. I’m starting something new to me, so I’m learning a lot. I’m an egg again, and that means there’s work to be done ahead. Just because I was doing well at the novel career game doesn’t mean I automatically am given a platter on this crowdfunding thing.

4) Profile matters

Since I got knocked back on the health front in 2008 I feel like I’ve been playing catch up, or just struggling to stay afloat with my career. It may not look like that from the outside, but from 2009-2012 I had limited energy. I had to split that between writing, freelancing for money, and being a father. To get the writing done, I pulled back from being a part of the general community. I twitter, but not as frequently as others. I even took a four month sabbatical from social media to finish the last novel. I don’t interact as much as I would like. I certainly backed way off the daily blogging that had become a huge traffic item for me.

When I’m in survival mode I tend to go quiet and focus on the work in front of me.

As a result of that, it is a hard sell to come out of the cold and announce that you’re twittering again, blogging, and trying to engage and ‘oh yeah, there’s a new Crowdfunding project.’ I’ve also fallen away from the habit of being open, partially because my problems are problems some people would like to have (oh, you make half your family’s income writing novels and the other half freelancing, but want to shift that ratio more toward writing, boo hoo. Your novels haven’t sold quite as much as you’d like: boo hoo. etc). I’m easing back in, but as I said, I’ve been in survival mode now for almost seven years and focused just on the writing and less on the public sphere that I used to dwell in.

(As a complete aside, part of that reason is a conversation I had with Jay Lake, where we talked about how being open about sicknesses had caused us to lose projects. In my case it was a high value three book possibility that an editor told me I was being considered for but some of my conversation on the blog about having a heart defect meant I was passed over. Since then I’ve been utterly gutted about the idea of losing projects and harming my family due to that and my old instinct to share has been dulled, I’m trying to get it back, though.)

I’ve given some speeches on how I think there’s a three-legged stool to make a crowdfunding campaign work. That is a leg of having a strong social media presence and profile. A leg of haven proven that you can deliver on the project and have delivered in the past. And lastly, a leg of a project that is compelling in and of itself.

I knew I was going in one-legged. What I mainly had was proof that I could deliver (I write). I knew that the inherent project idea “I’m going to write a story a month” was old, as others were already doing it. And I knew that my profile was a bit weak of late.

5) I needed to offer something to $1 backers

One of the ways I think I failed at the start was not offering more to $1 and $2 backers. I looked at a lot of Patreons, and a lot of them offer the stories for $1 a month. Other Patreons don’t offer anything at $1.

I decided to offer a once a week ‘5 Things Monday’ blog post for $1. For $2, behind the scenes of what I’m working on. Then, the meat of the sandwich was the $5, story once a month level. But sign ups for the $1 a month level of the Patreon were pretty anemic compared to others doing the ‘everyone gets a story.’

I adjusted the Patreon so that $1 backers knew they would get all the stories as a collection at the end of the year as long as it was over $750 a month. So the basic value proposition for a $1 backer is that for $12 you get a short story collection, once a year at the end of the year. For a $2 backer, they get a story every quarter, and then the collection at the end of the year.

6) I am in it for the long haul

The mental model I’ve had for projects like this is one month of frantic activity, and then fulfilling it down the road a bit. There was a binary result, either I reached the amount needed for the Kickstarter to fund, or I didn’t.

With the Patreon, after the first ten days of patrons jumping on board, the Patreon remained essentially flat. For the next two weeks it remained flat, with even a slight dip in the middle. Not gonna lie, if you refer back to the ‘don’t be afraid to fail in public’ point, this was a moment where I started to wonder if I had, in fact, failed in public:

One of the things about the Patreon is that, while the extra money is nice, I’ve been careful not to set up too much extra so that I don’t end up working far, far harder for the money there than if I was freelancing. I can’t afford for the Patreon to take all my writing time away and then end up not working on novels. This has to be a thing that helps my career, not slows it down. I’m making an initial investment, hoping that it will get to $1,000 to $1,500 or more so that I can work more, and harder, on novels. If it remained stuck at $500 I’d have to shut it down and walk away.

And my ego could take the hit. After being in and out of the ER in 2009 and having tasting some near death experience I know for a fact that there are worse things than screwing up in public, or failing. I can fall flat on my face here. But, I was starting to wonder if I needed to shut it down and open negotiations with a couple leads for more freelance work.

However, after that slow period, growth started up again and we’re getting close to 100 patrons on the project. So I’m realizing this isn’t a one month and I see where things are. I’ve seen some Patreons hit the amounts people need in a month, but that isn’t going to be my path.

Judging by the growth I’ve seen in mine, it looks like it’ll take 12-24 months to see if I can get to the point I’m aiming for. Whether I’ll run out of money before then, or if it will grow enough that the money lasts long enough, I have no idea. This experiment is going to take at least nine months to play out for me, when the lines cross.

But that means taking a nine month view. I said in the beginning when I first launched the Patreon it felt like jumping off a cliff, doing something new. I’m still committed to falling for another nine months and not focusing so hard on the week.

Because if the growth of the last week continues out that long, I might look back at this and be ever so grateful to myself for taking this big, public risk.

Enjoy this? You can support more like it for as little as $1 on:

11 Mar

Check out the Cover for Halo: Envoy, Latest Halo Book Launching in April

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The new cover came out not many days ago on a panel at Emerald City Comic Con for my next novel. It’s a Halo novel that I’ve been working on for over a year, and I hope any one who enjoys the video game will check it out. I’m digging the new look of the artwork.

Halo: Envoy gives us the return of Gray Team, the team of Spartans I fleshed out more fully in Halo: The Cole Protocol. It also explores the world of Carrow, which I first showcased in the long short story Oasis in Halo: Fractures.

It’s been a great deal of fun to return to the Halo universe for these two projects and I hope everyone enjoys the craziness that ensued. The book will be out April 25th, which is now almost a month away.

Here is the summary:

It has been six years since the end of the Covenant War…and yet on the planet Carrow, a world on the edge of the Joint Occupation Zone, a decisive new battle suddenly erupts. Human colonists and the alien Sangheili have already been living a tension-filled co-existence in this place, with Unified Earth Government envoy Melody Azikiwe attempting to broker a lasting peace between their two species. But as civil war now engulfs the Sangheili settlers, Melody must act on an additional covert assignment courtesy of the Office of Naval Intelligence: find a way to free the SPARTAN-IIs known as Gray Team, held in stasis since the end of the war by a cunning Elite fleetmaster consumed with vengeance. And none can anticipate the ongoing violence leading to the discovery of an even greater, unstoppable threat—one hidden for eons below the surface of the planet….

18 Jan

Toy Planes, my short story, is now a short comic online!

My short story Toy Planes is one of my more well received short stories at readings (particularly in the islands).

Pablo Defendini has done an amazing job of turning it into a short comic online. It’s fully responsive and serves as a testbed for demonstrating how to do fully responsive comics online that Pablo put together. It’s also a fantastic rendition of Toy Planes in graphic form. Please check it out at www.toy-planes.com.

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08 Nov

Bridging Infinity (which includes short story written by me and Karen Lord) is now available!

Earlier this year Karen Lord and I wrote a short story together (here’s where I documented the process of doing that). I’m psyched to say that you can now buy this anthology.

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The latest volume in the Hugo award-winning Infinity Project series, showcasing all-original hard science fiction stories from the leading voices in genre fiction.

Sense of wonder is the lifeblood of science fiction. When we encounter something on a truly staggering scale – metal spheres wrapped around stars, planets rebuilt and repurposed, landscapes transformed, starships bigger than worlds – we react viscerally. Fear, reverence, admiration – how else are we to react to something so grand?

Bridging Infinity puts humanity at the heart of these vast undertakings – as builder, as engineer, as adventurer – reimagining and rebuilding the world, the solar system, and even the entire universe.

21 Sep

Anthology Halo Fractures is available, contains my Halo story ‘Oasis’

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Halo Fractures, which includes stories by me, Troy Denning, Matt Forbeck, Kelly Gay, Christie Golden, Kevin Grace, Morgan Lockhart, John Jackson Miller, Frank O’Connor, Brian Reed, James Swallow, and Joseph Staten, launched yesterday for sale.

Launch once more into galaxy-spanning conflict and legendary heroism…shards of an ever-expanding journey where human and alien alike find their finest hours in facing their greatest challenges. These scattered stories span untold millennia, from the age of the ancient custodial race known as the Forerunners…to the aftermath of the Covenant’s bloody war against humanity…and even the shocking events surrounding the resurrection of the mysterious Guardians. Halo: Fractures explores mythic tales of bravery and sacrifice that blaze brightly at the very heart of the Halo universe.

You can buy from all the usual locations. Like Indiebound, here’s an Amazon, or BN.

08 Sep

I’ll be a guest of the Reader Riot Book Festival in Florence, Alabama this April

I have a new event I’ve agreed to travel to:

I can’t wait to meet my readers in Alabama, as well as to talk about science fiction, futurism, and my work.

Florence-Lauderdale Public Library is excited to announce the first book festival in the Shoals, coming in Spring 2017!

The Reader Riot is a community-led book festival that will feature readings, signings, interactive events, screenings, and a few surprises. It will be a festival for all types of readers, whether your books of choice are mysteries, long-loved classics, science fiction, children’s and young adult literature, or graphic novels.

(Via Florence-Lauderdale Public Library.)

30 Jul

My short story Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance to appear in Cosmic Powers, a new John Joseph Adams anthology

I’m super psyched to be a part of this anthology that comes out early next year. The anthology was just announced at the B&N blog:

From the Golden Age to the modern day, from Lensmen, to Star Wars, to Guardians of the Galaxy, nothing has served as a more ready signifier of what science fiction can do as a genre than the space opera. Futuristic weapons and instellar warfare in fantastical, pan-galactic settings: it’s truly the stuff dreams are made of. Next April, Saga Press and accomplished editor John Joseph Adams will celebrate all the subgenre has to offer modern readers with Cosmic Powers: A Saga Anthology of Far-Away Galaxies, an collection of 17 brand-new space opera stories from a fascinating assortment of familiar and up-and-coming writers.

(Via Announcing Cosmic Powers, a Space Opera Anthology from John Joseph Adams and Saga Press — The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.)

Check out this amazing cover by Chris Foss:

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Even cooler, they have the full wrap around for people to see:

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My story in this, Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance, is a story I’ve wanted to write for almost six years. I’m so excited I had a chance to write it.

23 Jun

Ratcatcher a Best Science Fiction of the Year: Recommended Reading List

Neil Clarke at Clarkesworld posted a short list of 2015 short stories recommended for reading, and that included my short story Ratcatcher:

All of those stories are represented in the anthology, either as a reprints or in the recommended reading list at the end of the book. They were all great stories that deserve attention, so with my publisher’s permission, I share that list with you now:

(Via Best Science Fiction of the Year: Recommended Reading List – Neil Clarke.)

Rat catcher is the original story available in Xenowealth: A Collection.

Not bad for a story that Kickstarter backers helped usher into the world.

Thank you to both Neil and to everyone who helped Xenowealth: A Collection become real.

20 Jun

I’ll have a story in Fractures: Extraordinary Tales from the Halo Canon

This may have been dropped between the cracks as I was in the middle of another deadline when news dropped. But one of the more frequent questions I get is, is anything more Halo coming out from me? Well, I can reveal that on September 20th, I have a novelette coming out in a collection of Halo stories called Fractures:

Launch once more into galaxy-spanning conflict and legendary heroism…shards of an ever-expanding journey where human and alien alike find their finest hours in facing their greatest challenges. These scattered stories span untold millennia, from the age of the ancient custodial race known as the Forerunners…to the aftermath of the Covenant’s bloody war against humanity…and even the shocking events surrounding the resurrection of the mysterious Guardians. Halo: Fractures explores mythic tales of bravery and sacrifice that blaze brightly at the very heart of the Halo universe.

(Via Fractures: Extraordinary Tales from the Halo Canon: Various: 9781501140679: Amazon.com: Books.)

The short story I have in it will be called ‘Oasis.’

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