Talking About Fireside Fiction’s #BlackSpecFic Reports, Part 1 of 2

sound-1283826_1920A few days ago Steven Barnes, Maurice Broaddus, Tananarive Due, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Tonya Liburd, and Nisi Shawl were kind enough to let me record their conversation about Fireside Fiction’s reports on blacks in speculative fiction. The discussion centered specifically on what SFWA can learn from the report in order to improve/expand existing efforts as well as things it should or shouldn’t be doing.
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SFWA and Independent Writers, Part Four: What Lies Down the Road

2017 Nebula conference swag bags assembled and awaiting distribution.

2017 Nebula conference swag bags assembled and awaiting distribution.

This is the final part of a four part series. In this part, I’ll talk about plans down the road and make some predictions for what SFWA will witness over the next few years. Overall, I think it’s going to be nothing but positives and that SFWA will continue its tradition of helping authors.

The series so far:

  1. Part one describes the organization and its history.
  2. Part two talks about the decision to admit independent and small press published writers.
  3. Part three talks about what happened when the independents were first admitted.

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Pitches and Synopses Workshop: Some Highlights

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SFWA and Independent Writers, Part Three: Launches and Lurches

This third of a four part series about the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s decision to admit independently published writers talks about the first wave of independent members and SFWA’s efforts to add value for those members. Here is Part One: History of the Organization and Part Two: Bringing in the Indies.

The doors opened on March 1, 2015 and SFWA Executive Director Kate Baker was standing by to process and admit our new folksSwinging the Doors Open to Independent Writers

The doors opened on March 1, 2015 and SFWA Executive Director Kate Baker was standing by to process and admit our new folks. This gave us a chance to observe the new criteria that the Board had been working on for so long in action with a mind for what sort of refinements might be necessary further on down the line in order to make SFWA even more welcoming to independent and small press writers.

I was glad we’d prepped the message boards. The new forums were immediately put to use and introductions made, with plenty of delighted welcomes. There was – in my perception – no contention, only enthusiasm.

Here’s a videocast M.C.A. Hogarth did aimed at indie writers evaluating whether or not to try SFWA:

Some statistics for the number-minded:

  • We admitted twelve new members in that first wave, and there’s been a steady influx since. At the same time, existing members that had independent published experience felt more empowered to step forward and share their knowledge.
  • According to the recent membership survey, 14.10% of the current membership identifies as indie, with another 37.57% considering themselves hybrid.
  • Only a small percentage (less than 5%) derives more than 50% of their income from crowdfunding.

All My Expectations of Indie SFWA Members Confirmed
As I and others had argued repeatedly, the change did not result in an influx of unqualified, affluent hobbyists trying to buy their way into SFWA, and we could, finally, put that particular straw man to rest and play taps while other straw folk were being assembled in the background.

As you can see by the numbers, it wasn’t a massive surge, but a solid number. For some people it was part of a lifelong dream. For others, it was a cautious exploration of just what SFWA had to offer them. More than anything else, these were pragmatic, working writers. In a thread on the discussion boards, people began to share their sales number in a revelatory and instructive way that emphasized what a smart move for SFWA this had been. I still inist one of the smartest moves that happened during my time with the board.

I kept meeting new members at cons, to my pleasure and delight. We began to offer more SFWA-focused programming at conventions, such as a panel about What SFWA Offers at GenCon, Norwescon, the Nebulas (that was a no-brainer), and others.

Unexpected Results from the Indie Wave

  • We found we’d done something groundbreaking without realizing it: become the first organization to allow crowdfunded projects to qualify. The question of net versus had been a subject of much discussion during the Board’s conversation, to the point where the overall category was in jeopardy, so I was happy to discover pushing to keep it alive had been useful.
  • Rarely did people have to combine sales in order to prove they’d hit the 3k in one year mark. Instead it was usually a question of “Do you want my sales from Amazon or Kobo? (or something else).
  • A delightful surge of volunteers and new energy should have been expected, but it took me by surprise nonetheless.

New Members Benefits — And Vice Versa
With that surge in volunteer energy came a lot of new stuff, primarily driven by Vice President Maggie Hogarth. People entered wanting to not just to connect with other members but to add their energy to the organization and help it grow to meet their needs.

Among them:

  • The New Release Newsletter. Taken from the description: “The newsletter goes out every two months, and feature science fiction and fantasy new back-list re-releases from SFWA members, including books, stories, games, and other creations.” (SFWA members can sign up for it here. Releases that are announced should be from the month before or the month after the newsletter goes out.) That newsletter goes out to close to 1000 subscribers and has an above-average open rate.
  • The Partners Program has been more successful in some areas than others, but overall it’s tried to build connections with industry contacts. Particularly successful ones include BookBub, HumbleBundle, Kickstarter, Kobo, and Storybundle. Today we launch one of the results of that, the second Storybundle we’ve done, this time the SFWA Fantasy Bundle (that link will go live Wednesday morning!). The Sci-Fi bundle earlier this year netted each of its writers a nice chunk of money, around $900, along with the curator’s payment, an equivalent amount which I donated to SFWA, as I’ll do again with this one. Next year our Self-Publishing Committee will take over running this program, and there will be three bundles altogether.
  • The Netgalley Program was a long long time coming and something I don’t know would have happened without Maggie lending her voice to insist this was something useful for our members, but it’s now something people frequently ask me about. I stole the idea from Broad Universe, which was to buy a membership that our members could use for individual books for a substantially cheaper cost than getting such a membership on their own. Here’s how to use it to promote a book.
  • The SFWA Star Project was a cool effort (and remains one) but it’s been a bit of an uneven project. Originally proposed by Rob Balder, it used a small budget to promote and support worthy crowd-funded projects. Material rewards gained by supporting a Kickstarter go to SFWA’s fundraisers to be used there.
  • Expanded Nebula Programming was a natural outgrowth of the new energy, and programming tried to bring in both partners that year as well as create programming aimed at the new members. One lesson learned that first year was that the usual basic level stuff was not what people wanted, but rather in-depth looks at specific aspects of the industry and how to use SFWA’s services to the most benefit. Another was that we needed to figure out a new bookstore policy in order to accommodate everyone.

Nebula programming for the indies would be an issue both that year and the following one, with many indies feeling they were unrepresented and saying so on the discussion forums. The second year seemed to me to be partly an issue of perception and bad framing rather than actual lack: while many of the panels were aimed at indies as well as hybrid and trad pubbers, they were not marked as being of interest to indies. To my mind, they have progressed significantly each year: for me last year’s highlights included the mentoring program, the chance to hear experts talking about their wide range of expertise in office, and the fact that we managed to give everyone, including the indies, a way to have their books for sale there at the events. (Thank you Sean Wallace!)

Many existing services were already there for the new members such as the Featured Book/Artist program, the Nebula Awards, and appearances at events such as WorldCon, the Baltimore Book Festival, GenCon, and others. Other new things were applicable to all sides, such as the SFWA Speakers Bureau, introduced in early 2016 or the emerging Grants Program. I tried to make sure that indies were represented on the SFWA Recommended Reading List, and continue to do so, as do a number of other people.

All in all – things were swell, and continue to be so.

Next time, in Part Four (the final one) — what does the future hold in store? Includes talking about data from the recent SFWA member survey as well as revelation of at least one cool project designed to help people reading novels for all yearly awards, including the Nebulas, Hugos, Dragon, World Fantasy, among others. *cue mysterious music and exit*


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Media Consumed in September

IMG_4106I was on the road for most of September. That photo’s taken in the elevator of the Flatiron Building while I was in NYC, but other places I stayed included Dallas, Texas and Pocatello, Idaho. (More on that to come!) Here’s what I read in September, according to my notes, which always seem to leave out some stuff. Bolded indicates a particularly notable read.

Alex P. Berg. Red Hot Steele.
Jillian Blake. Antisocial.
Ramsey Campbell. The Parasite.
Jessica Cluess A Shadow Bright and Burning.
George Alec Effinger. Heroics.
Justin Evans. The White Devil.
Rumer Godden. Black Narcissus. Interesting because I’d been thinking about omniscient POV, which this book uses.
Joe Hill. The Fireman.
Tami Hoag. Cold Cold Heart,
Aaron James. Assholes* A Theory. Some useful stuff on dealing with bad-faith actors.
Stephen King and Owen King. Gwendy’s Button Box.
Stephen King. End of Watch.
Mur Lafferty. Six Wakes.
Carrie Ann Noble. The Gold Son.
Dan Padavona. Crawlspace.
Sarah Porter. Vassa in the Night.
Susan Kaye Quinn. Third Daughter. Enjoyable steampunk romance with an Indian-flavored milieu.
Ron Ripley. Berkley Street.
Jon Ronson. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. Fascinating read about social media and publicity gone awry.
Sherwood Smith. Inda, The Fox, King’s Shield, and Treason’s Shore.
Wendy Corsi Staub. Lullaby and Good Night.
Steven Rasnic Tem. Deadfall Hotel.

I’ve been watching DC’s Legends and am halfway through Season 2 so far.

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Media Consumed in August

I had plenty of travel time in August, so yay for reading. My primary focus this month was to read as many of the Dragon Award nominees as I could before voting, but there were a number I just didn’t get to or did not finish. I had read some before, luckily, and am particularly pulling for D.B. Butler’s Witchy Eye, which I loved.

Works that are bolded are ones I found particularly outstanding or otherwise remarkable and would recommend.

Robert Aickman, Cold Hand in Mine
Peter S. Beagle: Summerlong

Betsy Cornwall: Mechanica. I wanted to like steampunk Cinderella, but it didn’t feel very new.
Nathan Crowder: Ride Like the Devil (lots of fun for fellow Seattleites)
Pippa DaCosta, The Heartstone Thief
Robert Dugoni: The Trapped Girl (could have done without the complaints about the various restrictions the legal system places on police officers)
Patrick Edwards: Space Tripping
A.W. Exley: Ella the Slayer (I really did not expect to like Cinderella + zombies).
Kate Elliott: Court of Fives, The Poisoned Blade
Ruthanna Emrys: Winter Tide. If you like Lovecraft novels, you need this one.
Carrie Fisher: The Princess Diarist
Eric Flint: 1636: The Ottoman Onslaught
Amy S. Foster: The Rift Uprising
Theodora Goss: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter FABULOUS and is the 19th century equivalent of Cat Valente’s The Refrigerator Monologues)
Brian Guthrie: Rise
Renee Carter Hall: Huntress (loved this, but book is structured in a frustrating way)
Elizabeth Hand: Aestival Tide, Icarus Ascending
Faith Hunter: Blood of the Earth
Shirley Jackson: Let Me Tell You: New Stories, Essays, and Other Writings. Not enough writing on craft, but what there is, is solid.
Dennis Lehane: Prayers for Rain
Alison Littlewood, The Hidden People
Gabrielle Matheiu: The Falcon Flies Alone. Modern melodrama that pulls from all over the place in a way that is unexpected.
Robert McCammon: Gone South. McCammon is the frickin’ BEST at this sort of novel. Delicious.
Brian Niemeier, The Secret Kings
Richard Paonelli: Escaping Infinity
Lucian Randolph: The God in the Clear Rock (has my vote for most attention paid to a point of view character’s breasts in a book)
Delia Sherman: The Porcelain Dove (very pretty, but the structure makes it feel as though the book evaporates away just as you hit the end)
Shayne Silvers: Beast Masters
Dale Ivan Smith: Empowered: Agent
Safari Spell: Long Live Dead Reckless
Arkadi and Boris Strugatski: The Dead Mountaineer’s Inn
Anne Tyler: A Spool of Blue Thread
R.R. Virdi: Dangerous Ways
Martha Wells: The Edge of the World

Stuff I’m Watching: Big Brother (yes that’s my guilty pleasure and I don’t know which I loathe more, Josh or Paul), The Defenders, Orphan Black Season 5, Rick and Morty. Watched BRILLO BOX (3¢ OFF), which was an intriguing documentary if you have any interest in Warhol. Also Extraordinary: The Stan Romanek Story, which I thought was pretty silly.

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SFWA and Independent Writers, Part Two: Bringing in the Indies

In part one of this series, I talked about the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writes of America (SFWA) prior to the move to bring in the independent writers. This section will discuss the decision and the process, as well as some of the reactions. My sources in putting all of this together are my own faulty memory, my personal notes, and the Internet. The discussion of the indie admission took place in a number of venues, including e-mails, blog articles and comments, social media, and the SFWA discussion forums. In drawing on the latter, I have tried to ensure that I did not violate their confidentiality rules, quoting only with permission.

Nomenclature has varied, but when I refer to independently published writers, that is the same group that others have used self-published, self-pubbed, indie, and other terms to describe. Self-publishing has been conflated with vanity publishing in the past; I believe them two distinct things.

Beginning to Recognize Independently Published Works

As far as I can tell, the question of whether people should be able to qualify for membership with independently published sales was first brought to the board by Vice President Mary Robinette Kowal in 2009. Discussion focused on a couple of points: how to translate the SFWA requirements for professional writers into ones using self-published material and whether or not the gatekeeping done by traditional publishing represented a quality bar. I’m framing that last badly, primarily because I don’t agree with it, but I can understand why, depending on their relationship with traditional publishing, someone might be invested in that view. That discussion moved on, but the question of indies had been raised and would continue to be something discussed at board and business meetings, with increasing support for allowing indies in on the part of some Board members.
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Cat’s Schedule at GenCon 2017

10 AM Story Craft: Where Do You Begin Your Story?
12 PM Writing 101: Careers – What a Writing Career Looks Like

Lunch plans
5 PM Business of Writing: Handling Problem People — From Divas to Needy Fans to Harassers
7 PM Writer’s Craft: Using Tension to Drive the Narrative
8 PM Gaming with SFWAns!

1 PM Business of Writing: Using Social Media
5 PM Writer’s Craft: How to Revise Right

I’m in walking distance of the convention this time, huzzah!

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SFWA and Independent Writers, Part One: History of the Organization

graphic of membership benefitsAs part of a Twitter conversation, one of my favorite gamewriters, Ken St. Andre, suggested I write up something about SFWA and independent writers that goes into enough detail that people can understand why — or why not — they might want to join. This is part one of a multi-part series that will talk about some of the history behind the decision, and in this first part I want to talk about the organization prior to admitting independent writers. Part two will discuss how SFWA came to change membership criteria in order to make it possible for people to qualify for membership with indie sales in 2016, and some of the changes made as part of planning for that expansion. Part three will focus on how SFWA has changed in the intervening time, while part four will look at what I see as the changes that will continue as we move forward over the next decade. In all of this, I’m trying to provide something of an insider’s look that may or may not be useful, but certainly will be full of many words.
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Summing Up July 2017

IMG_3725Over halfway through the year, and here’s some of the happenings for July.

Online I taught workshops on Story Fundamentals, Flash Fiction, Writing Steampunk & Weird Western, Moving from Idea to Draft, and Editing 101. I’ll announce September and October classes next week. I also got a chance to teach at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference mid-month, which was terrific.

I wrote short stories “Say Yes,” “A House Alone,” and “Another Selkie Story,” all of which were posted for Patreon supporters. (You can see a pictorial version of my July Patreon here.) As always, I’ve got a crop that I’m working on: highlights include a story about a woman who buys a magical talking mask only to find she doesn’t agree with what it’s saying. I also worked on urban fantasy Brazen, about a magic-wielding post apocalyptic hellion.

Videogames I’ve been playing are Stardew Valley and Dream Daddy. Curse whoever introduced me to them. In RPG news, my Star Wars RPG game managed a session. You’ll be glad to know my prophet/conwoman continues to talk her way out of things successfully but the rest of the party didn’t want to take her suggestion of throwing a mysterious crate out a fifth-floor window in order to discover the contents.

I continue using Habitica, which I blogged about here. I have a follow-up post in the works.

SFWA work included working with the Galaktika settlement, answering a bunch of e-mails, a multiplicity of video calls, and nudging a couple of projects along.

Books I read included the following. I’ve bolded the ones I particularly enjoyed:
Karen Abott, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War
R.S. Belcher, The Brotherhood of the Wheel
Mike Caro, Caro’s Book of Poker Tells
Ramsey Campbell, Demons by Daylight
Tori Curtis, Eelgrass
Laurell K. Hamilton, Crimson Blood
Elizabeth Hand, Winterlong
Georgette Heyer, The Grand Sophy
Alice Hoffman, The Probable Future
Michael M. Jones (editor), Scheherezade’s Facade
Damon Knight, The Futurians
Tanith Lee, Red as Blood
Gabriel Squalia, Viscera
Glynn Stewart, Starship’s Mage
R J Theodore, Flotsam

Kentaro Toyama – Geek Heresy

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