Off the Grid ... How it works

I will put a link to this post in the sidebar for future reference. This FAQ may change given the popularity (or lack thereof) of this series, my life, my writing commitments, etc.

The series will officially kick off in March 2016. A few people have already expressed an interest in writing for Off the Grid, or have pitched an idea to me. This is great, and I'm glad I've got so much excitement about the series.

I'm doing this because I know a lot of super authors who have received very little recognition for some really great series and stories. I've heard our online chatter called a feedback loop, and I can't think of a more appropriate description. When an author's work doesn't make it into that loop, then s/he is washed under the tide.

In order to combat the feedback loop, I'm giving authors, reviewers, and fans some space on my blog.

If you have a question that is not covered below, drop it in the comments, and I will incorporate it into the FAQ.


What is Off the Grid? Generally speaking in any given year, the SFF/horror community is filled with publications. As time goes on, the community tends to get into a feedback loop where only six or seven books are discussed. Off the Grid is my attempt to level the playing field a bit, but also to give folks a chance to discuss other forms of fiction such as novellas, novelettes, short stories, and poems.

When will it run? Off the Grid will run every Wednesday for as long as I have a post for that Wednesday slot, until I run out of time to manage it, or people lose interest, whichever of these things comes first.

What kind of works can we talk about? Stories should be traditionally published. If the story/poem is online (ie, Lightspeed, etc.), then provide the link and I will post the link along with your review. I will allocate one Wednesday a month to a self-published work. Since everything is shiny-new right now, we'll see how that goes.

What if I know the person whose story I'm writing about? Feedback loops online are usually perpetrated by big name authors who know one another and recommend one another's works to others. There is really nothing wrong with this as long you're talking about a quality story. With social media and the tight circles online, it's inevitable that we'll sometimes want to talk about a friend's book, or someone who is published by the same publisher. I suggest full disclosure in these circumstances.

Do I have to be an author or reviewer? For now, I'm going to say no. (Remember: shiny-new.) This is a community project, so I would like to invite the genre community to be involved. However, any submissions should use proper grammar should be pitched like any other submission.

Wait. I have to pitch my idea? Yes. This prevents overlap of two or three people writing about the same book, and also gives me time to look at the book in order to decide whether it's a good fit for the series. I have final say on all pitches, because it's my blog.

What kinds of stories can I talk about? The series will encompass: novels, novellas, novelettes, short stories, or poems. Keep it genre: science fiction, fantasy, horror, magical realism, etc.

Does the story have to be published in the current year? No. The item should be something that is getting very little online discussion and/or promotion; however if you've just discovered a previously published author and want to gush about one of their work(s) that garnered very little attention, then come and gush.

Does it have to be written in a specific format? Guest posts can be a formal review or a more lighthearted post about what you liked/disliked about the item, or why we should check out this particular author. I will ask that the post be at least 500 words.

If you want to contribute a guest post to Off the Grid, contact me. Tell me the name of the story and a little about yourself (if you have a blog, if you don't, if you are either traditionally published or self-published, because this will enable me to link back to your blog). In other words, pitch your idea to me, and I'll let you know if I have an opening.

Off the Grid ... a new series

I've been paying close attention to the recommended reading lists published by various organizations over the last few months, and I keep seeing the same names and works popping up over and over, especially in the novella and novel categories. This is probably because the authors of these lists are pulling their recommendations of items published within a certain timeframe.

And as I was ruminating over one of these lists this morning, it occurred to me that the titles were a very narrow sampling of good works published during the course of that year, especially since they matched every other list I'd seen. I read several books last year, some of which were published in 2015 and others that were published in previous years, and I don't always see them on "Best of" lists (and some of them are just as worthy as the current contenders).

So ... with all that said, I'd like to try something new. I want to start a series of blog posts called Off the Grid. These will be reviews or recommendations of works that are getting very little online attention.

Here are the criteria:

  • The series will encompass novels, novellas, novelettes, short stories, or poems;
  • Keep it genre: science fiction, fantasy, horror, magical realism ... any of the above and anything else that you think might fit;
  • Guest posts can be a formal review or a more lighthearted post about what you liked/disliked about the item, or why we should check out this particular author;
  • The item does not have to be published in the current year;
  • The item should be something that is getting very little online discussion and/or promotion; however ...
  • If you've just discovered a previously published author and want to gush about one of their work(s) that garnered very little attention, then come and gush;
  • Items should be traditionally published works; however ...
  • I will devote one month of posts to self-published works (month to be determined based on my writing commitments and my ability to schedule posts);
  • I will be writing posts, as well, but I also invite any authors or book reviewers who might want to contribute a guest post to contact me;
  • Other rules may be applied, depending on the popularity/interest or lack thereof, my schedule, etc., etc., etc. ...

So, what do you think? Interested?

On cons and business and accessibility

After a Twitter discussion about cons and the need for authors to attend, because writers are business people and conventions are where business connections are established, I said something about accessibility for the hearing impaired and silence ensued. It's this magic thing that I can do--like a mike drop--it's amazing except when it isn't.

Don't get me wrong: cons are great to make business connections if you know someone who can introduce to someone important, but don't go to a con thinking you're going to be accepted into every clique. It doesn't work that way, because we're humans, and we don't always click with every person we meet.

I know that some of you think this is my first time through this dog and pony show, but I was attending cons back in the eighties. My hearing was better then, and I had my own circle of friends who helped introduce me to others in the business.

I've seen editors, agents, or well-known authors tense up with the oh-god-i-don't-know-this-person flinch. It's slight. Barely a twitch before their professional face slides back into place, but it's there along with the "save me" arrangements made with a friend (for example: If I'm talking to someone and they start to bore me, I'll raise my drink twice in rapid succession, and then you come and engage me in conversation.)

I know these things, because in those days, I went to cons and hung with the popular kids. Then I decided that drinking was more important than writing, and then I almost died, and so I had to stop drinking, but even through all of that, I didn't forget cons. So when I decided that I wanted to write again, I knew it meant going to cons without that buffer of friends I'd had in the beginning. I also knew I wanted to do things differently.

Now I'm back with a different name, but the games at cons don't seem to have changed very much. Barcon is mentioned often, and the parties are very much the same. Hanging out is great, because that is how we make business connections--in the hopes, that is, that the person we were talking to the night before didn't get so plastered they had a blackout and forgot all that terrific bonding.

My hearing, which has never been good, is now almost nonexistent, so barcon (due to low lighting and loud music) is really a waste of time for me. I can't read lips in the dark, and I do need a certain amount of sound to comprehend speech. Hearing people are usually patient for a few minutes, but soon it's kind of a pain in the ass for them to keep me in the loop of rapid fire conversation, so I usually fall back and just watch.

And trust me: if you think it's a pain in the ass for you, you should try being me.

But! You say, because I know you will. There are panels!

Right. During the day, I try the panels, because if I can get some good information, at least my money is well spent. But the panels don't have assistive listening devices and the microphone spews sound all over a room with poor acoustics. No seats are saved for the hearing impaired near the front, or the dias is so high, I'm looking up everyone's noses, which places lip-reading out of reach. If I can't hear, then the panels are useless to me, too.

So let's look at this from a business perspective, since we are talking about cons strictly from a business sense, and the return on my investment (ROI): I have spent anywhere from $200 - $2,000 to attend an event. I made precious few business contacts at barcon (see above), and the panels gave me no useful information, because the con didn't have accessibility for the hearing impaired. I have lost a weekend that I could have spent writing, which would eventually give me a return.

Based on those factors, cons are a bad business investment for me unless I have an advance, or I'm making enough in royalties to cover the cost. Cons are like exposure, except instead of just time, I am also forking over money for registration, lodging, and food.

For most authors, cons are a loss on the profit/loss margins. Other writers, either through their book sales, their publishers' promotional efforts, or other means entirely, are wealthy enough to take the hit, but they, too, usually go into the red on cons.

When are cons a good investment for the author?

When I have a new release in print. If my publisher can get me on some panels, my time isn't completely wasted. Even with a new release, if I can't get on a panel (or two or three if I'm traveling out of state), then due to my hearing and the lack of accessibility, the ROI isn't sufficient to cover the cost of going.

A con is also a good investment if it is close to home and the registration fee is within reason. I don't mind paying $25-$30 to drive over to the next city and attend a nearby con. That way, I get to meet new people, drop a few bookmarks and business cards for a small investment.

Cons should be fun--a positive experience--for the attendees. If you, the author, are miserable at one, for whatever reason, then the fans will pick up on that. Remember I said I wanted to do things differently? I made a conscious decision that this time around, there would be no signals. If a fan or an aspiring author wanted to talk, I would give them as much time as I had. If you suffer from social anxiety issues--and many people do--you might want to reconsider whether or not this is the best way for you to enter the business.

A lot of authors will tell you how they broke into publishing. The stories are as varied as the genres. Some did manage to get contracts by going to cons and talking to people. I didn't.

I have yet to lay eyes on my agent in person. We met online, I queried her, and we have spoken by phone several times, but we did not meet at a con. As a matter of fact, Marlene rejected my first novel, and accepted me as her client based on a later work.

Likewise, I have never met David Pomerico in person. He rejected not one, but TWO of my novels before he offered me a contract with Harper Voyager for my Los Nefilim series. He liked my story and thought it was a marketable idea, and that makes me feel good. I have always wanted to be judged on the most important thing to me: the quality of my work.

So I just want you to know that you can get an agent and a contract without going to cons. Being an author is a business, but you have to tailor your business to your means. Always evaluate what other authors are doing, but know that not all techniques are feasible for all authors.

Conventions are a lot like Clarion: they're great if you can afford to attend, but you don't need them, especially if they're not accessible to you.

I have a few tips for any concoms that might want to expand accessibility for the hearing impaired:

  • Check out the SFWA's Accessibility Checklist (it's a great place to start);
  • Have a line on your registration form that asks if an attendee has special needs. This way, you can assess what, if any, special needs are going to require your attention;
  • Have an accessibility subcommittee, or a member responsible for accessibility on your concom;
  • If you have an ASL interpreter, that is a marvelous thing, but don't assume all hearing impaired people understand ASL;
  • Most hotels have assisted listening devices available. Check with your host hotel about availability and cost. It will be impossible to have an assistive listening device in every panel. Small meeting rooms that seat twenty-five or less won't need an assistive listening device, but a large room that requires a microphone will.
  • Not all hearing impaired people benefit from assistive listening devices. Place seating for hearing impaired people to the right and/or left of the podium. When you place seating for the hearing impaired directly in front of the podium, the microphone often blocks the speaker's mouth.
  • Check out CART or Real-Time Captioning. CART stands for Communication Access Real-time Translation. The service might not be financially feasible for your con, but if you have a large number of hearing impaired people attending, it might pay off.
  • Ask presenters who are using PowerPoint to design their presentation with the hearing impaired in mind. This is easily done by adding pertinent information into the slide.

Ask around. I'm sure there are other concoms who have handled these issues, and they might have some advice and contacts for you, too.

For me it's a business decision, and accessibility for the hearing impaired is one of my major criteria in terms of which cons I sign up for, and which ones I avoid. I am more likely to spend extra money to attend a con in the midwest, which is accessible to me, rather than attend a nearby con, which is not.

David Bowie's Black Star shining

David Bowie's death hit me hard, much harder than it should have. I wanted to wait a bit before talking about him, because I wasn't sure why I felt so gutshot when I saw that he'd died. After all, I wasn't really a fan of his music.

Rather than follow his career, Bowie seemed to follow me, strange as that may sound. I remember his Ziggy Stardust days, but I was too young and unworldly to understand Bowie's sly digs at the music industry ... and the fans.

Whereas Frank Zappa was loud and in your face with his disdain, Bowie was more subtle. He was always there, like a shadow in my peripheral vision, mocking us and our music with sly winks and nudges. The reason he never came off as offensive is because he seemed to be laughing with us, not at us.

He seemed to be saying: It's all spectacle--flash and glam--I am here to entertain you with music disguised as your dreams, and if I can poke a little fun ... well ... all the better for you and for me ... Let's dance.

The mockery ended when it came to his music. Even though his style never appealed to me, I never doubted Bowie was an artist of the finest nature. He knew how to mix sound and visuals to stimulate our senses. And somehow, throughout all the small asides and quips, he seemed to make his music seem to be about us, but I don't think that was the case at all.

His music was about him. He simply spoke so eloquently, we wanted to make his words into our own.

Bowie, like all artists, used his music and visual styles to explore the world around him. He was exceptionally perceptive, even as a young man, of people and our many foibles. One thing I'm sure he learned early, is that all people are narcissistic to a certain degree. We respond to books, music, and films, that seem to speak to us about us.

Like Bowie, we are always looking for reflections of ourselves in the world.

It's weird, or maybe not so much, but the first Bowie song I remember was "Space Oddity"--about fame and a man who was dying in space. The final Bowie song that remains lodged in my heart is "Lazarus," which is Bowie, examining his own death creeping up on him as he tries to finish the the things that have meaning.

If anyone could come full circle so powerfully, it would be Bowie.

And while he might have been saying goodbye to us with Black Star, I think that is us once more making his music about us. He articulated the moments that had meaning, and we took them for our own.

Not selfishly, mind you.

Bowie offered them to us, like all poets do, freely, and we gobbled the songs and the lyrics, thinking they would never end. And in manys they won't.

Bowie's star might be black, but it will continue to shine, and I am glad, because we need artists to inspire us--both in life and in death.

Award eligibility and a new blog post at SF Signal

I know it's been quiet here, but last week, I received the edits for the last Los Nefilim novella, The Second Death. I was busy polishing the manuscript, and wrapping up the story.

It appears as if we are going to experience severe weather this weekend, so I did want to jot off a quick post in case we lose power (a common occurrence in these parts).

The most fabulous Mia said I should do an award eligibility post, so here it is:

Fiction published in 2015 (2 novellas):

In Midnight's Silence: Los Nefilim, Part 1

Without Light or Guide: Los Nefilim, Part 2

Non-Fiction published in 2015:

Is It Grimdark, or Is It Horror?

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Romance

I also have a brand new blog post, which is now live, at SF Signal's marvelous Special Needs in Strange Worlds about Abandoned Children in fiction.

So there it is: where I've been and what I'm doing. I'll have more for you when the skies clear.