Writing

ConQuesT 47 Wrap-Up

2016-05-27 11.48.41-2Sadly, ConQuesT 47 was not as successful as I had hoped. Last minute staff shake-ups, last year’s harassment scandal, plus the close proximity of Planet ComicCon and Mid-America Con II/WorldCon resulted in a fraction of the expected attendance. There was also a noticeable breakdown in communications between the con staff and the vendors (like a surprise 2-hour extension to Dealer Hall hours while we were packing up for the night on Saturday).

I sold between 14% and 25% of what I did last year, and that’s with two new titles at the show this year. The gulf in uncertainty is due to not being able to correlate several Kindle sales with Con activity (i.e. They could be coincidental).

I had high hopes for the first con of the season for VFF Publishing. Such a massive disappointment is difficult to deal with when you invest that much time and money into something that ends up being less than was promised.

I’ll stop short of saying the convention was abysmal, however. I felt the panels I was on went well, despite the reduced attendance. I would be reluctant to return as a vendor, but I might consider returning as a program participant/panelist. I made a few good connections, as well. The Undergophers did a great job in the gaming area. If I return next year without the commitments of the Dealer Hall, I will definitely spend more time in the gaming area and maybe even run some games.

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A Spin on Urban Fantasy

A discussion in my Tuesday evening writers’ group inspired me to think about my own Urban Fantasy world I’ve been developing for a couple of years now (here and there).

At first, I thought it would basically be our own world, but with magic, cryptids, lycanthropes, etc. But that pretty much describes most Dresden/Supernatural/Anita Blake-type Urban Fantasy (except, perhaps my desire to have a greater emphasis on cryptids–I was going to have a main informant be an Appalachian bigfoot named Bob who LOVED reality TV and cheap beer).

So, I started thinking of ways I could make it more unique, something I hadn’t seen before. What if, I made my Urban Fantasy setting a far future version of the fantasy world I’m already writing in?

I’ve already got magic-powered cannons, lights in nobles’ houses powered by magic, and minor clockwork technology. Two thousand years in the future, what sort of tech could industrious engineers have invented?

Teleportation circles I introduce in Salvation (that’s book three of Scars of the Sundering, so there’s a free preview for you!) would shrink the world, especially decades hence after the secret to creating new one was uncovered. A planet-wide network of these could cause rapid globalization. Since I establish in Salvation that only a certain species can activate the teleportation circles, they would obviously become the gatekeepers of global transport. There would be many people who would want an alternative, so magic-powered vehicles could be developed that wouldn’t rely on these people.

My big concern is part of the appeal of Urban Fantasy seems to be the fantastic applied to our modern world. If I apply our modern amenities to a fantastic world, would that strip away the appeal? Or would it create something intriguing that readers would enjoy?

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2016: The Year Ahead

So what can you look forward to in 2016?

Most of my time, at least, in the first half of the year, will be devoted to revising and publishing Scars of the Sundering, books 2 and 3: Lament and Salvation. My goal is to have Lament finish for a debut at ConQuesT in Kansas City over Memorial Day and Salvation finished to debut at Gen Con in August.

Finishing and turning in “Burble’s Big Day” will take part of my time in the first quarter, as well.

I plan to write a second World of Calliome short story in 2016, though I don’t know which characters it will feature at this point.

The big project for 2016, as if publishing two full-length novels wasn’t big enough, will be to write the first draft of the next Zack Jackson novel, Zack Jackson & The Secret of Venus. I’ve been developing bits of plot over the last several months and I expect sometime after Lament‘s completion, I’ll kick development into high gear.

2015 threw me a lot of curve balls which affected many of my plans. Malediction was supposed to debut at ConQuesT and I barely finished it in time for Gen Con. I wanted to have all three Scars of the Sundering novels finished by Gen Con so I could start Zack Jackson 4 in 2015.

Obviously that didn’t happen. Here’s hoping 2016 is a little more cooperative, ’cause I don’t have time for nonsense!

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2015 Year in Review

I know, I know: I’m two weeks into 2016 already, so this is a little late. Better late than never, right?

So, what did I accomplish in 2015? I released the first novel of a new fantasy trilogy. Scars of the Sundering, book 1: Malediction sold out at Gen Con. I finished the first drafts for the other two books in the trilogy, as well, Lament and Salvation.

I also wrote (and revised & submitted) a Star Trek short story for the Strange New Worlds contest run by Archway Publishing. If my story, “The Terror Paradox,” is not selected for publication, I will make it available for free here and on my Facebook page.

Finally, I wrote a World of Calliome short story, “Burble’s Big Day,” for inclusion in an anthology to be sold at Gen Con as a joint effort by many of the Author’s Avenue authors. I still need to revise that one, though.

Besides writing, I purchased new character art for several character from the World of Calliome and Zack Jackson novels:

Kale Windsinger

Kale

Delilah

Delilah

Jenny DuBois

Jenny DuBois

Mungus

Mungus

Gisella the Golden Slayer

Gisella the Golden Slayer

Qaliah

Qaliah

The last two, you’ll meet in Scars of the Sundering: Lament. I also got a Kickstarter reward from Stan!: cartoon art of Ryll Bob who made his debut in Zack Jackson & The Cytherean Academy.

Ryll Bob

Ryll Bob

I learned a lot about attending conventions in 2015, mostly what works and what is cost effective. There’s a balance to strike between attendance & housing costs and how much one can sell. Gen Con, for example, can be profitable for me if I don’t have housing costs (ConQuesT, too, for that matter). I don’t have a choice for the latter convention, but I live close enough to downtown Indianapolis that I might be able to wrangle the logistics for a daily commute to Gen Con. Smaller shows, like the Annual Christmas Gift & Hobby Show, come down to knowing your audience. I didn’t have horrible sales at that show, but the table rental price was far too high for the quality of facilities and I lost money. In contrast, a Christmas Bazaar at a local church had a much lower cost ($35 for a table) and I made money, despite a fraction of the sales.

Finally, once again I placed 3rd in Nuvo’s Reader’s Choice Best of Indy in the Best Local Author category. While it’s difficult to compete with someone who has as large a fan base as John Green, I will point out that I am the ONLY fantasy/science-fiction genre author who made the list.

I count that as a win!

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NaNoWriMo – Week 5 (sort of)

The fifth Sunday! Tomorrow is the last day of NaNoWriMo! If you’ve been hitting your goals, you’ll cruise past 50,000 words tomorrow and you’re darn close today. Heck, if you push yourself, you could be finished today.

If you’ve been writing like a fiend, then you’re probably thinking “Thank goodness!” Maybe you’ve hit your goal for the month already and you’re thinking “I’m finished! This is my day of rest and tomorrow, too!”

Sure, you deserve it. If you plan on doing nothing with your manuscript because NaNoWriMo is just a fun bit of mental exercise, then go have an adult beverage of your choice, if it’s legal, and celebrate.

If you’re planning on trying to sell that manuscript, your work has just begun. For one, a 50,000 word novel is a HARD sell in most genres if you plan on looking for an agent. If you’re going the route of the Author/Publisher, 50,000 is a good length for a quick, light read. Regardless, you’re going to need to edit, revise, and proofread the heck out of it before you even think about charging money for it.

mungusMungus* says: “Don’t even think about charging money for people to read a NaNoWriMo First Draft.”

See, Mungus feels the integrity of an artist’s work is important. When you foist an unedited manuscript (and when I say edited, I mean someone other that you has gone over it with a fine-tooth comb; every writer auto-corrects in their head when they read their own work) upon an unsuspecting public, you do yourself and all independent authors a disservice. People will judge all of us on the actions of the worst of us.

So don’t do it. It will make Mungus angry. You won’t like him when he’s angry.

Anyway, that’s not very peppery. That’s serious. Be of good cheer; the end of NaNoWriMo is upon us and soon it will be Christmas (if you celebrate something else, I wish you cheer and good time during your preferred holiday!)! If you’re finished, take December off, believe me, that manuscript will still be there in January.

If you’re going to power through into December and keep writing because 50,000 words in November just isn’t long enough, well, good for you. I’ve done it many times myself. Don’t forget to stop and sip the eggnog every once in a while, though. You’ve done a great job getting through 50,000 words in a month.

Congratulations!

*Mungus is a character in my Zack Jackson novels. He’s an Ersidian and doesn’t like to be compared to a teddy bear, no matter how apt that comparison might be at times.

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NaNoWriMo Week 4!

This is it: the beginning of NaNoWriMo week 4. I know I’m a day late; I was busy writing!
Only 8 days left! If you’re going by strict word count, you should have reached 36,674 words yesterday. But you know, if you are behind, you can still make it. If you’ve only written 5,000 words as of yesterday, you can make it up by writing 5,000 words a day for the rest of the month (including today). Granted, that’s pretty time-consuming, but it’s possible.

The important thing to remember about NaNoWriMo is that it’s a way to help develop the discipline to write every day. Write 2,000 words! Write 200! It doesn’t matter, just get something down. Sure, there are people who use November to crank out a complete story as quickly as possible, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you’ve written something every day and keep doing that even past November, then you’re doing it right.

And if you fail to write 50,000 words in November? So what? The second year I tried NaNoWriMo, I barely got 22,000 words before life got in the way and wrecked my momentum. I keep promising myself I’ll get back to that story someday…

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NaNoWriMo Week 3

We’re at the mid-point of NaNoWriMo 2015 now. Did you know there are five Sundays in November this year? That’s five Week Beginnings to crank out words.

I can hear some of you now: Five weeks to fail.

No, no, no. It’s not about failing or succeeding. It’s about writing something. Anything. If you’re stuck, create an author-insertion character and rant at length about how sucky your productivity is, then kill them in the next scene. I guarantee you that can get you through a day’s worth of writing quota. You can always edit that part out later.

In fact, if you’re really focused on this whole “I MUST WRITE 50,000 WORDS IN 30 DAYS” thing, then creating quick, non-sequitor scenes using existing characters or new characters can really boost your word count. What you write for NaNoWriMo doesn’t have to be formatted perfectly or even make sense in the context of your story, because the point of NaNoWriMo is not to write, edit, and polish an entire novel in 30 days (that’s madness!), it’s to JUST WRITE.

If you’re serious about this writing thing, use November as a way to build habits. Particularly, the habit of writing. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t write everyday, at least, I don’t wright my fiction every day. In fact, I often write in bursts: a bunch of words one week, then nothing for weeks on end, then a month solid of words, words, words. But here’s the secret to that bit of advice: all writing helps you improve, regardless of whether or not its germain to the story you’re composing. You can’t be a writer unless you write. You can’t be an painter if you don’t paint. You can’t be an author if you don’t auth.

Okay, it breaks down a bit there since “auth” isn’t actually a word.

OR IS IT? I’m a writer, I just made it up! Shakespeare got away with it. Of course, who knows, back in the day, he probably had people chastise him for making up words.

“Verily, Shakespeare. Thou canst not just make up words as thy whims see fit.”

“Forsooth, piss off, naysayer.”

Now look at him. We use words made up by Shakespeare all the time: arouse, compromise, frugal, gust, obscene, panders, obsequiously, zany, bump, green-eyed, torture, etc. (from shakespeare-online.com … maybe they’re lyin’). Who knows? Maybe YOU could be the next Shakespeare.

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NaNoWriMo – Week 2

So, how is your NaNoWriMo going?

Well? Poorly? Some where in between?

There’s still time. It’s only week 2.

Maybe you’re panicking. Maybe you didn’t write ANYTHING during week one because that pesky thing called “Real Life” got in the way. That’s okay, it happens.

You still have time.

The fact of the matter is, 50,000 words can be cranked out in a MUCH shorter period of time than 30 days. Now, that doesn’t mean they’re QUALITY words. I’ve seen people who claim to have completed NaNoWriMo by day two (probably, there’s people who say they’ve done it on day one).

Just remember one thing: if you don’t complete your 50,000 words by the end of the month, you still have more words written than you did when the month began. Even if you wrote one sentence, that’s more than most people write for creative purposes in a year.

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NaNoWriMo2015 – It begins! An Indie Author/Publisher’s perspective

It’s that time again! NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. Some authors believe it’s a waste of time; nothing good can come out of 1,667 words a day for 30 days. Some authors think it’s great: it builds discipline, it’s fun, you’re writing, creating!

If you want to participate in NaNoWriMo, go for it! If you don’t, that’s fine too, just don’t crap on other people’s fun. Also, since we turn back our clocks today, you can have an extra hour to write!

Personally, I have no problem with a first draft written in thirty days. Everyone writes at their own pace, after all, and I have seen authors decry the concept of doing 50,000 words in thirty days and in the next breath claim to average 2,000-3,000 words a day (that’s 60,000-90,000 words in a month, folks… more than enough to “win” NaNoWriMo).

I do have a problem with people writing a first draft in thirty days, calling it “done,” and trying to sell it to an unsuspecting public. Unedited work from independent authors gives all indie authors a bad name.

It’s one reason I shy away from calling my work “self-published.” It’s just not true. I have a publishing company (VFF Publishing) of which I am sole proprietor, and I do publish my own work, but I am hardly the only person who works on it. I hire (that means, I PAY) editors, designers, and artists. Each book I publish has at least three or four other paid contractors working on it behind the scenes and two or three volunteers (mostly Beta Readers). Each book is a team effort. For example, in the course of publishing Scars of the Sundering, Book 1: Malediction, I paid Laura K. Anderson for editing services, Lily Yang for cover art (and a few pieces of incidental art for marketing), Eric Hubbel for cover design, Anna Meyer for cartography, and I tried to pay Axel Löfving for heraldry, but he won’t send me an invoice.

The next book in the series will have a similar list of paid contractors. So, it’s not self-publishing in my mind. It’s certainly not fast. If I had wanted to publish my first draft, Malediction would have been released in September of 2014, rather than July 2015.

I am an independent Author/Publisher, and I participate in NaNoWriMo because I find it useful for focusing my energies on what I need to be writing. Frankly, I don’t want you to see what I produce during that time, because I NEED my editors and Beta Readers in order to make what I write better. It’s not cheap, but the results are worth it.

Of course, with all this rambling, I haven’t talked much about what my NaNoWriMo project is this year. As a working author, with projects I want to sell, I alter NaNoWriMo’s goals to fit my needs. I plan to write 50,000 words, but it won’t be a complete story. It will be the last half of the third novel in the Scars of the Sundering trilogy: Salvation.

I had about half of Salvation written when I had to stop to finish the production of Malediction so I could sell it at Gen Con. There was a lot of family drama around that time (some of which is still ongoing) and changes at my day job, so I never got finish my draft of that book (I didn’t stop writing, though; I had to re-write the opening of Scars of the Sundering: Lament, and I worked on a short story for an anthology that ultimately got canceled, and I wrote a World of Calliome short story for next year’s Gen Con Author’s Avenue anthology). Now that all that is out of the way, I can concentrate on finishing Salvation.

Truth be told, I needed the break. I needed to think about where the story was going and how I was going to end it while staying true to the themes I’d established in Malediction and Lament. I split up my cast of characters in Lament, and while I planned to reunite them by the end of Salvation, I had to figure out a way to do it that wasn’t contrived or forced. In the course of doing so, I came up with a resolution for the series that I think will surprise readers and defy expectations, yet still be satisfying.

So, write NaNoWriMo-ers. Write like the wind and create art! Create it for yourself, because YOU are the only person that matters when it comes to your art.

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Social Media Consolidation & Scars of the Sundering, book 2: Lament Update

For a while now, I’ve maintained two Twitter handles: @JediSoth and @hccummings. I started @hccummings with the idea that I should keep my writing separate from my gaming and personal life tweets. It seemed like a good idea at the time. The only problem was, keeping them separate meant I mostly tweeted from @hccummings when I was trying to drive sales. It was difficult to engage with my audience because to get everyone, I had to tweet from both accounts. People who followed both saw a lot of duplicate tweets.

So, this week I made the decision to go back to one Twitter handle. @JediSoth would seem to be the logical choice, since I had tens of thousands of tweets with that handle, but I chose to migrate who I followed from that handle to @hccummings, instead (a high-tech process of manually following everyone I wanted to migrate, a process that’s still on-going with some of the less-frequent Tweeters I follow).

I had a very practical reason for that decision: the new business cards I ordered have the @hccummings handle on them. As do my bookmarks. Also, I felt that if I want to be taken seriously as a writer, I should treat it seriously. My books are written by Hans Cummings, not JediSoth, so @hccummings is more recognizable as far as that goes. Fortunately, most of the people with whom I engaged on @JediSoth followed me over, for which I am very grateful. I’ve picked up some additional followers, as well, which is nice.

In other news, sales of Malediction have been relatively strong, and it already has two 5-star reviews on Amazon. I’ve been trying to finish up the new first chapter of book 2, Lament, a move necessitated when I changed the ending of Malediction. I’m finding it difficult to get back into the headspace of these characters at that point in their development. I was halfway through the manuscript for book 3, Salvation, when I stopped to publish the final version of Malediction. A lot has happened to Kale, Delilah, Pancras, and Edric in that time. My goal is to have the first draft of Lament finished by the end of the month and have it published by the end of Q1 2016. I also have a goal of finishing up the first draft of Salvation by the end of the year so I can get it published by Gen Con 2016.

Once I finish up Scars of the Sundering, I will work on Zack Jackson & the Secret of Venus. It’s been a long break since Zack Jackson & The Hives of Valtra, but I think the series will be better for it. I’ve not been idle, and I do have plans. You’ll just have to be patient!

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