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Posts by Dorothy Grant

Anthology Workshop, two views

Kristine Kathryn Rusch & Dean Wesley Smith hold an Anthology workshop that I’ve been very curious about since I first heard of it, because it’s as practical as a genre writing class by Dave Farland (Wolverton) or Brandon Sanderson… instead of a giant critique group, it’s run by a panel of editors, one of whom is actually looking for stories for an anthology, and will buy from the stories written that week.

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Why should we look at the entire industry?

This question came up recently in comments – why should we, on MGC, report on what The Big 5 (4?) are doing, or on B&N?

1. There’s scope and scale. What business are we in? We’re in the entertainment business. We’re competing with every other entertainer out there for Joe Sixpack’s beer money – and for Jane Doe’s attention span when she wants something to take her mind off the fact that she’s in a waiting room. Read more

Well, that makes sense…

Recently, Nick Cole gave an interview on Geek Gab, touching on his launch strategy with his new series Jason Anspach – Galaxy’s Edge. They’re doing extremely well: Book one, released in June 2017, is still at 3200 in the kindle store, and the latest release (3 weeks ago) is at 787 in the kindle store.

Clearly, these guys are doing awesome! In the interview, they touched on several things that they’ve done to ensure that these books were a success. One really interesting thing was focusing on how to jump genres from their prior books, and getting their books recommended to genre fans in that new genre. Read more

Comfort Reads

It’s two weeks into the new year – the time when those of us who regularly went to the gym in December can now go back, as the tide of resolutionistas has receded. How are you doing on your resolutions, goals, and milestones? We’re not; we’re sick.

In our house, we’re about three weeks behind schedule. The Tiny Town Medical Outpost (Not just EMTs! We have a NP!) receptionist eyed my husband as he dragged in, and likely had not only his file and his copay pulled up before he got the window, but also the “and it’s ANOTHER flu patient who’s not getting better.” He dragged home, and I went the next day, and got mildly upbraided for not coming in at the same time so we could be seen together, as they’re swamped with folks catching bronchitis, pneumonia, and strep as secondary infections to go with the flu.

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Successful Author

What is your personal benchmark for success? How do you define it?

Larry Correia gave us his alphabetical list of author success (which is just about as off the wall, NSFW, and funny as you’d expect from the guy who came up with the Internet Arguing Checklist.)

Dean Wesley Smith, who’s been in this business for a few decades, has said that he knew a crusty old bookstore owner who figured you weren’t a “pro” until you had ten books out, as he’d seen far too many writers quit before they got that far. So the day Dean slapped that tenth published book on the table, the old gent acknowledged that he was “no longer a neo-pro.” Read more

Working in Another Author’s World

What’s the difference between fan fiction and anthologies or collaboration? Well, one is for free without the author’s express permission, and the other is for pay, with the author’s express permission or active help.

Seems simple, right up until John Ringo starts writing MHI fanfic, and turns it into a 3-book deal. Well, by the time they are officially, formally published, they’ve undergone a thorough edit by Larry to make sure all events stay true to canon, and some extra background checking to make sure all details are correct. So things get a little blurry, right?

(Fun fact: when you are friends with authors and they think you’re an expert on a subject, you’re likely to get random emails out of the blue about completely wild and wacky improbabilities. The best response is: “What is your character trying to accomplish in this scene?” Then you can figure out something slightly more connected to reality. Random questions include, but are not limited to, mass production of holy water, mass evacuation on a primitive planet by helicopter, skydiving from a Cessna 172…)

Then there are anthologies. They’re a chance to play in another author’s world, with permission, and for pay! But they’re also a lot harder than they look, for the following reasons.

1.Worldbuilding: You can’t necessarily invent your way out of a pinch. If your character is going off the map that prior journeys walked, or interacting with the plants and wildlife in depth when the series author at most gave a brief paragraph to describe the entire forest… That requires double-checking to make sure you’re not constraining the original author with your worldbuilding, or that they didn’t stick conflicting description in some other episode, novella, or book you didn’t notice.

2. Characters: Much as you love the main story’s hero and heroine, the author probably has a planned character arc for them. While it seems obvious that you can’t make major changes (marrying them, burying them, or other major life events), there may be other things coming up in future books you didn’t even know you’d have to work around.

3: Timeline: Sometimes, they can’t be in Tiajuana fighting zombie college coeds because they’re going to be in Paris fighting demon-infested anarchists. Or because the zombie plague is cured by then. Or the planet wasn’t founded yet. Or it was blown up by the last emperor.

So, how do you do this? Well, the easiest way is to set a story in another part of the world, with new characters, especially at a different time period. Or to take minor side characters, or barely-mentioned background characters, and tell their story. If you set it in the past, somewhere completely different in the present, or the far future, then it’s not likely to change the current main-series plotline.

The Black Tide Rising anthology contained a lot of stories elsewhere, like Kacey Ezell’s story of cheerleaders and the team moms coming back from a competition when the outbreak hit. The Rogue One movie was spun out of the line “Many Bothans died to give us these plans.”

And then there’s Freehold: Forged in Blood.

Mad Mike opened up his world with the instructions that the story had to be tied to the sword that Kendra receives and uses in the original Freehold novel. This meant people could pick stories from the far distant past in Japan all the way to the far future, well beyond Kendra’s current timeline. He also picked the general time that he wanted each author to write – picking a guy who’s good at Japanese history for the sword’s origin story, picking my husband, who knows vicious predators and wild places to write one set in Grainne’s founding, and so on.

(To paraphrase Mad Mike, “Who do I know that’s dealt with combat vets, guns, and extremely vicious predators with no fear of men? Peter!”)

This was an interesting story for Peter to write, because it was set prior to any of Mike’s Current books in the series… but at the same time, he still had to read the series again on order to pick up the geography, geology, flora and fauna of the world, the arrangement of the solar system, the hints of what was founded where, when, and by whom.

Once he’d written the basic story, he sent it in to Mad Mike for a continuity & editing pass, and started in on typo-hunting as well as line-editing. Given he’s used to working with alpha & beta readers who come back with “your orbital math isn’t quite right here” and “this squad should be able to ambush that one at this point” and so on, it wasn’t that different to get back “this region actually has this and that as major predators and the biome is a little more like this…”, but it was new and amusing to get “and you’ll have to change this due to a book I haven’t written yet actually introducing this other thing instead.”

Still, after a couple passes, both authors were happy, and the story fit in very well with the rest of the anthology. Mad Mike has a good hand with the editing – in fact, one of the refrains in the reviews is that the stories work together so well that it reads like a novel, instead of an anthology. (This is a good thing!)

Here’s a snippet of Peter’s story:

After supper they watched with interest as Tom cleaned his sword, the first opportunity he’d had to do so since his field gear had been released from the secure baggage compartment before they disembarked. He drew a small wooden box from his pack and from it took three squares of paper, a little cloth ball on a short stick, and a bottle of oil. He wiped the sword with a sheet of paper, then dabbed it with the cloth ball up and down both sides of the patterned blade, leaving a faint trace of powder at each spot. This he spread carefully across the blade using a second sheet of paper.

“What’s that?” David asked.

“The paper’s called nuguigami. It’s soft, made of rice pulp for cleaning traditional Japanese swords with their folded-steel blades. In the old days, the powder in the silk ball would have been the residue from sharpening stones. Nowadays it’s a synthetic equivalent. It cleans and polishes the blade. This”—he nodded to the small bottle—“is choji oil—also synthetic; you can’t get the real stuff anymore. It keeps the steel in perfect condition.”

“Seems like you have to go to an awful lot of trouble. Wouldn’t a modern battle steel blade like Mika’s be easier to maintain?”

“Yes, but it wouldn’t have the history this one has.” Tom brushed off the last of the powder, placed a few drops of oil up and down the blade, then took the third sheet of paper and began to spread them. “My father asked an expert about it. He said it’s similar to museum specimens that are over five hundred years old. My grandfather came by it back on Sulawan.”

“I guess that makes it pretty special,” David said wistfully.

“It does to me. I hope I have a kid one day who’ll join the Army and inherit it from me.”

“And if none of your kids do?”

Tom shrugged. “Then I guess I’ll have to find a soldier worthy of it, who’ll agree to carry on the tradition in his own family when the time comes. This is a piece of history. It’s too important to be given to just anybody.”

At 0320 the next morning, Tom was jolted out of a sound sleep by a yell of alarm and a coughing, rasping snarl, seeming to come from right next to his shelter. Three shots sounded, rapid fire, and the snarl changed to a scream as something big and heavy slammed into the thin plasfiber wall, buckling it. As Tom and Mika frantically tried to get out of their sleeping bags, four razor-sharp claws slashed at the wall, tearing it open. A brindled head thrust through the gap.

Only halfway out of his sleeping bag, adrenaline coursing through his body, Tom grabbed the sword from next to his field cot. His left hand pulled the scabbard as his right tugged at the hilt. Flinging the scabbard away, he slashed one-handed at the head as it lunged toward him, jaws open to display a vicious set of teeth, its rank breath like a slap in the face. His blade cut right into the open mouth, severing part of the tongue and carving into the back of the jaw as he sliced across. The creature yowled in pain and tried to bite down on the blade as its mouth spouted blood, but the muscles and tendons that opened and closed its jaws were no longer working properly. More shots sounded from outside. Its body jerked and twitched as they struck home. It tried to back out through the tear in the wall, but Tom rolled onto his knees and thrust his sword two-handed up through the roof of its still-open mouth. With a final shudder, the beast collapsed.

Releasing his sword, Tom kicked off the sleeping bag and grabbed his carbine, lining it as he flicked off the safety; but the weapon wasn’t needed. The animal lay unmoving.

A shout came from outside. “Boss! You okay?” The voice was shrill, almost fearful.

Still shaken, Tom had to concentrate to keep his voice controlled and steady. “I’m all right. I’m coming out.”

He emerged to find his entire security detachment converging on the scene, carrying their weapons. One of the sentries on duty was waiting for him.

“I didn’t see it at all until it peered out from between your shelter and the next one, Boss. I reckon it musta snuck into camp behind the charging station, moving real quiet.” The guard nodded toward the serried ranks of capacitors from the construction vehicles’ power packs, being charged overnight by the camp’s mobile fusion microreactor. “I fired at it, but instead of running it turned and attacked your shelter.”

Tom nodded slowly, looking down at the dead animal in the beams of his team’s flashlights. He could see it was the same breed as the one that had snatched the body of the smaller predator that morning. “It nearly got me. Good shooting. I finished it with my sword.”

Read the rest, and stories by fellow MGC Jason Cordova, as well as Larry Correia, Tom Kratman, Michael Z Williamson, Kacey Ezell, and more by picking it up here on Amazon!

Reader Demographics via Emotional Beats

**This was posted in April, 2016 – I was going to do a piece on burnout, and preventing same, but the flu is sweeping through Day Job and we’re swamped. Unlike a lot of marketing advice, this is just as relevant as when it was first posted, and worth revisiting.**

If I were selling jewelry at a gaming con or ren faire, the easiest way to figure out my target audience is to note who’s attracted to the displays, and who of that segment has enough money to buy the merchandise. (There’s a secondary market of “attracted to the display, but can’t afford; clearly I need to find a piece that it’s their price range yet still profitable to sell!” But that’s a digression, not quite so applicable to ebooks.) For silver and semiprecious stones, that’s the $20-$80 price range for a good-sized gaming con, with a few pieces/sets up to $250 that may or may not move, but attract the customers to the booth.

The demographic is primarily women and gay men, though if a man walks by with a lady who glances at our booth, he’s the best kind of fair game. “Sir! I have a necklace for your lady that would go perfectly with… your credit card!” Generally, for silver and garnet, you’re looking at the college age, though any older gothy types are even better – they have more money, know what they like, and won’t hesitate to purchase it. We’re especially looking for the people who have similar tastes in jewelry on them. “Shiny things! We have sparkly, shiny things!”

(Okay, maybe that’s more “when I used to” than “if.”) Anyway, it’s pretty easy to suss out your demographic – if they’re not interested, they saunter off. If they are, they stick around for the pitch, or browse and buy. Selling ebooks blind through a vendor makes it a lot harder to figure out who your target market is, especially when you didn’t have one in mind when you started.

Who likes science fiction? Who likes entertaining stories? Who’s willing to put in time and money to getting good stories? Don’t limit yourself artificially here. If you check the demographics of Star Wars fans on Tumblr, you’re going to find demographics… that reflect Tumblr. If you check the demographics of science fiction fans at WorldCon, you’re going to skew old, literary, and heavily social justice compared to DragonCon… neither of which are the same as a ComicCon, and even that won’t reflect the general population that liked The Martian enough to go see it in the movie theater. Most statistics of reader populations are small and self-selecting, reflecting the pool from which they’re drawn. They tend to miss the vast majority of the buying public.

The Martian’s opening-week audience, who went to go see it based on trailers alone, was 54% male, 59% of whom were over 35 years old. Week 2 was 52% male, 72% over 25 years old. The preordered tickets for Star Wars: The Force Awakens were “primarily” male, between 18 and 49, with an average age of 34. Given the Martian’s domestic gross from film run was $228 Million, even if you assumed $20/ticket (it’s $9.50 locally), that’s still a heck of a lot of eyeballs. Neilsen Bookscan, which we know misses a lot of sales, was reporting 62,000 sales per week of The Martian (print format, ebook not included) after the film was released.

Granted, you don’t have a film directed by Ridley Scott backing your book. Nonetheless, you can see there’s a heck of an audience out there the publishers don’t tend to reach. Dream big!

So, you’re now nodding, and saying “Okay, so you’ve proven that men in the 18-49 range like science fiction if it promises to have a good story. And lots of women; 52-54 percent is barely a majority. How do I get any clearer than that?”

Well, now you get to do some research on your particular book. Go to your biggest market (probably Amazon), and start pulling up the first books in your also-boughts for one of your books. (Skip the other ones by you. That just proves that the readers like you, and buy more after one try.) Now, you’re going to break out for each of these some basic dissection.

As you go through the book, which emotional beats does the book contain, and in what proportion? Beats are: wonder, humor, adventure, horror, romance, mystery, and drama.

1. Is your protagonist Male or female? How old are they?
2. Is there romance or romantic subplot in the book? What rough percentage of the book is dedicated to the romance?
2a. Are there explicit sex scenes? (female audience!)
3. On the action to introspection scale, what rough percentage of the book is action, and what percentage internal monologue and introspection?
3a. Is the protagonist whiny? (female audience!)
4. Is there a sidekick? Are they humorous? (kids and male audience!)
5. Is your antagonist nature itself, some faceless group entity / race / corporation, or a villain?
5b. If your antagonist is a villain, What is their age, sex, and occupation?
5c. Is it the cartoon standard of rich old white man or corporate man for evil corporation?
6. Is your scifi hard, cyberpunk, military, space opera, or steampunk? Is your fantasy urban fantasy?
6b. Does your urban fantasy have sexy monsters or ugly monsters that get killed?

People find it easiest to identify with someone like them.** Kids can identify with a protagonist up to about 27 years old, as long as they don’t become parents, but respond best to someone their age or slightly older. (A 14-year-old has been 10. She doesn’t want to be 10 again, but she may want to be 16, or 18.)

In general, statistical strokes:

Kids and Teens respond strongly to wonder, adventure, and humor. Teen girls to romance, teen boys to horror.

Women from Age 20-40 respond strongly to romance, humor, horror, mystery, and drama. (As they approach 40 and the hormone levels drop, mystery and drama statistically become stronger draws, and romance less.)

Men from 20-50 respond strongly to adventure, primarily, followed by wonder, drama, and mystery.

Military, active and vet, like military science fiction, and action/adventure, especially if it doesn’t have navel gazing or anti-military messages. They also tend to like hard(er) scifi, where the challenges against environment and entropy are clear.

Kids, even the ones still in college, respond strongly to coming-of-age, exploration of strange worlds and cultures, fitting in, etc. Parents are often absent or dead in stories, sometimes the restrictions that must be overcome.

Over time, the response shifts strongly and naturally to caring for loved ones, providing for a family, raising children, and makng a relationship stable and lasting. Now the fears are threats to children / family, to relationships / marriages, to jobs.

So look at your story, and the other stories your audience likes. Peter’s Laredo Trilogy books often lack romantic subplot, and by the other books his audience buys, that’s pretty normal for the target audience. This means they’re going to skew military and skew male, looking for adventure, wonder (cool new worlds! Starship battles!), drama (the ship is at stake! So is the empire!), and mystery.

Sabrina Chase’s The Scent of Metal, on the other hand, has adventure, wonder, and romance as its primary emotional beats. And it has kissing (sparks fly!) So her audience demographics is likely to skew much more heavily female than Peter’s books, though the military aspects will draw military of both sexes.

Dave Freer’s Changeling’s Island is a wide-audience-draw marketed as YA. The protagonist is a teen boy of unmentioned age, but there’s a girl sidekick that can provide somebody for preteen and early teen girls to empathize with. The parents are absent, but there’s the boy’s grandmother, and the girl’s parents, to provide adult points of view, with their own challenges and struggles when it comes to taking care of family, of neighbors, fitting in as an adult newcomer, remaining independent as your body fails you and the place you know changes (that’s a post-50 draw for men, post-40 draw for women). The kids’ POVs are heavy on wonder, adventure, mystery, and humor. The parental storylines have horror and drama interleaved in.

If you want more in-depth on this, check out Dave Farland’s Million Dollar Outlines. He has some pretty nifty demographics breakdown that can be applied to marketing, not just outlining.

One final note: all this analysis can be done in outlining, or post-writing, but it’s not prescriptive for how to write any single book, much less your book. Write the book that thrills you, that inspires you, that you love. If you write to a marketing formula, it’s at best formulaic, where if you write to emotion, it’ll have an emotional depth to attract and hold readers.

Wrapping this up now, as I’m crashing for the night. What beats and demographics do you find from one of your stories and its also-boughts?

** “Identify” is greatly abused by identity politics idiots. This does not means Honor Harrington’s audience is limited to heavyworlder-genetically modified female captains with treecats, for goodness’ sakes, nor do you have to be a dragon to enjoy Dog and Dragon. Common sense, please! This means that men tend to like reading stories about men, women about women. People in their 30’s will find more in common with protagonists in their 30’s, cat people with cats and cat-owning protagonists, dog owners with loyal dogs and their owners in the story. And children have a really, really tough time connecting with a character that’s a parent, as opposed to a character that’s a child. (Whod’a thunk most kids don’t see things from a parental point of view!) This is a broad statistical truth, not an ironclad always-in-every-case. (See: demographics of Harry Potter fans.) But that’s just the very start, and it’s far more important to keep reading the rest of this article about emotional beats than to skim until offended!