So You’re on a Convention Panel: 5 Things You Should Remember

Last weekend I was given the privilege of being a guest author at a writing convention. It was fun. I met a lot of people and caught up with several friends in the writing community. I spent some time on a few panels and watched some others. One thing that struck me was a common theme that I’ve noticed at a lot of conventions lately, and that’s that many people don’t quite know how to act on a panel.  It was a minority of panelists that missed the memo or never received it. I’d say 1 in 6. Unfortunately, when most panels have 5-6 members, that means that most panels had at least 1 member who wasn’t versed in proper panel etiquette. So allow me to explain a few things to remember in case you find yourself at a convention as a guest speaker/panelist.


1:  Be Approachable – Many people attend conventions to spend time with fandom and meet some of its movers and shakers. If you’re a panelist or speaker that means you fall into the category of Mover or Shaker. Congratulations. People will want to meet you, and chances are high that you want people to know you, like you, and hopefully buy your book.  Connecting with fans at conventions is easy. They’re literally all around you. So mingle. Be approachable.

I often describe working a convention as a 48 Hour Job Interview. You’re here to impress. If you’re like me and have a “resting bitch face” remember to keep it in check.  I can’t help it if my neutral face looks like I’m considering murder. I’m not (usually). And I don’t want that moment when someone works up the nerve to say hello to me to be dashed because I look angry. So I smile. I smile a lot. By the weekend’s end my face hurts. 

So smile.  Keep yourself in approachable places where fans and potential fans might see you and talk to you. Try to be aware of where you are so that it’s easy as possible for people to meet you and hopefully like you enough to buy your book.


2:  Arrive On Time – When it comes time for your panel or presentation, you need to be on time. Remember, you’re working this convention and Panel-Time is Go-Time. Show up before the panel starts. Get set up, maybe chat with people in the audience. People are depending on you: the Convention, the Guests, the Other Panelists. Don’t make them wait. Don’t show up three minutes in with lame excuses and interrupting someone else’s introduction because they eventually had to start without you.

Once again, this convention weekend is a job interview. You wouldn’t show up late to a job interview, would you?


3: End On Time – This might be jumping ahead, but while we’re on the subject of your panel/presentation’s time-slot, you need to end it on time.  I know that the schedule block shows you there for an hour, but it’s wrong.  You have 50 minutes. At 45 minutes you need to be wrapping it up, maybe take that “One Last Question.” At 50 minutes you need to thank everyone for coming and dismiss. At 55 minutes you need to be out of the room for the next panelists using the room to have time to set up and for your co-panelists and audience to run off to the restrooms and then maybe to another panel/presentation.

It’s extremely rude to hog the room for a wide variety of reasons. But one of the most important is that if your panel runs late, you risk the serious potential of throwing the carefully oiled machine of con-scheduling completely off track. If you force the panel or presentation behind you to start 5 minutes late because they couldn’t setup in time or because they had to awkwardly ask you to move a conversation outside, then they now run the high risk of running late, as well.  Not just for your room, but your other panelists and the guests will be arriving late to their next panels. A domino-effect can happen and no one wants that. So, watch the clock and end ten minutes before the next panel begins. This isn’t a request.


4:  Share the Stage – If you’re giving a 1-person presentation, then awesome. Have fun. But if you’re on a multi-person panel, then remember that every single person up there is not only another convention guest, but also a Mover and Shaker like you. Be aware if you’re talking too much. Let everyone speak. Try not to speak more than everyone.  Many people in the audience came to see your co-panelists. They’re not here to see you, but this is your chance to make a good impression and win them over. So don’t be remembered as the jerk who hogged the stage and didn’t let anyone else speak.  Interact with your co-panelists, have a dialogue, endear yourself to your co-panelists and the audience.

For the love of God, don’t steamroll your co-panelists. Trust me, no one is impressed and it doesn’t look as cool as you think it does. Be polite. The people on stage are your partners and co-workers. Be a good partner. 

If you’re a bad partner, trust me, all the other Movers and Shakers are going to hear about it, and that might hurt your chances of a convention invite in the future.


5: Your Time On The Panel Is Not The Time to Self-Promote – This might come as a shock to you, but unless the panel is clearly described as being about you and about your book, then it’s not. Most panels are over a wider topic in the genre, the fandom, or the industry. You were brought in as a panelist or speaker on this subject because of your knowledge and expertise. And while yes, you may think that this is the perfect time to plug your book every 3 seconds, it’s actually not. This is where you need to address your vast expertise on the topic and not yourself. 

For example: I was recently on a panel about Fantastic Setting. While I have written a fantastic setting or two, I never once mentioned my own work. I spoke about Edgar Rice Burroughs, Clive Barker, William Gibson, Anne Rice, Mark Twain, and Scott Lynch. I explained what made them good and what we can learn from them. After it was done, I met fans who liked what I had to say, complimented my knowledge and analysis of the subject, and I even sold a couple books. Had I instead used my time on stage to lay out my own books, people would have zoned out and stopped listening because that’s not why they were there.

I understand the desire to link the topic to your own book because obviously the audience is interested in this topic and therefore might like your book, but please resist. You were selected for the panel because of your expertise that allowed you to write this book. This is where you need to let that expertise shine. If you impress your audience with your vast knowledge on the topic, then they are more likely to buy your book than if you just tell them you wrote a book.  Panels last about 50 minutes. You get about 30 seconds during your panelist intro to say “I wrote a book”, and then the rest of the panel is about your expertise. After the panel or between panels you can self-promo to your heart’s content. That’s why you’re here. Your knowledge that you and add to the panel itself is why the convention invited you and that is NOT the time to talk about you and your book. This is paying your dues to the convention for inviting you. It’s NOT a sale-pitch.

But what if someone asks a direct question about my book?” you ask.

Good question. In the event someone asks about your book or how you handled a topic in your book, you have been given audience permission to discuss it. This is not free-reign. This is a 30-second window. Answer the question and then move it off of yourself. Maybe even bounce the question on a co-panelist to see how they addressed the issue in their own work. 

EXCEPTION: Like with writing, every rule has an exception. If you speak about a mistake you made in your book and how you learned from it, then feel free to mention it if it relates to the topic and as long as you are sure that you’re not twisting it into a “clever sales-pitch” of “Buy my Book”. Trust me, the audience and your co-panelists can tell the difference.


So now you know. As long as you can stick to these five simple rules, you’ll have a lot of fun at the convention and might find yourself invited to even more. 

Let’s Chat About Impostor Syndrome

Last weekend I was honored with serving as a Guest Speaker at the DFW Writers’ Conference. It was my second year to do so and it went spectacularly well. In addition to participating on several panels, I taught a class on writing fight scenes (more on that in a second), and gave one-on-one critiques/consultations with authors.

It actually surprised me that I had two authors (well, three because one was a writing duo) actually pay a good deal of their hard-earned money to have me offer my opinion of their work. The week before the conference I was emailed ten pages from each of their novels to review. Now, I’ve been in workshops for many years. I’ve given hundreds of such reviews, but those were workshops with numerous members and offering a wide-range of opinions, not one-on-one paid consultations. Horrified that I’d disappoint them, I pored over those pages, marking every single item that I thought would be helpful. And yes, I found many things that I could help them on, and feel that I did as good a job as I could, but the entire time I was thinking, “Why me? There’s a million better authors out there. Real authors.”  

Real Authors.

In the end, the consultations went better than I could have hoped.  Both gave me sincere thanks for all of the critical and helpful advice. I don’t doubt their sincerity one bit. I wish all the best for them.  But even then, while they were clutching their pages, slathered with my red ink and notes, and thanking me for all my help, there was still a little voice in the back of my head screaming “Fraud!


I sold my first story in 2006. My debut novel released three years ago and my sixth book will be coming out later this year. Two of my audio books were Audie Award finalists, I’ve sold thousands of books, I have actual fans that reach out to me, yet that little nagging bastard of a voice still wont shut up.

In 2016, when I was asked to speak at that DFWcon, several of the local presenters got together to work on our presentations. Tex Thompson (who is one of the coolest people, and quite possibly an actual living angel) organized it, and during our first meeting she asked if we had any concerns. I sat silent, afraid to say what it was. Then Dantzel Cherry raised her hand and said, “I’m just going to address the elephant in the room: Impostor Syndrome.”

That was the first time I’d heard the term Impostor Syndrome, but I knew exactly what it was. I knew who it was. It’s the name of that asshole voice screaming in the back of my head any time anyone called me an author. Not only did I know that voice, but I’d thought I was the only person who even heard it. Everyone else was a real author or a real editor. I was a fraud, a fluke, some idiot that had just gotten lucky and fooled my way into their company. Tex (who I can’t stress enough is fucking awesome) assured us that we all deserved to be there. She must have seen the doubt in my eyes because she looked straight at me and gave me an assuring nod.

It helped. It helped having a name for that voice. Soon I discovered how many of us have that voice – way more than I’d have imagined.

While at this years’s conference I was talking to a few of the authors and one mentioned self-doubt. They were referring it in relation to self-doubt being an obstacle that must be overcome in order to finish and sell your story (which is very true). I warned that self-doubt never goes away after they’re published. It just morphs into Impostor Syndrome. One author laughed and said they couldn’t wait until then because those of us with Impostor Syndrome have at least been published. I couldn’t argue. Hopefully they’ll become one of those authors that sells their novel and never once questions if they’re frauds.

Sunday afternoon came time for my writing fight scenes class. It was in the last schedule bracket for the conference. I’d assumed that few people would show. It had been a long weekend and a lot of people would be heading out and going home. Why would they stay for some 15th rate author like me?

I admit a moment of terror when I walked in ten minutes early to setup my laptop and this very large room was already full of people with more filing in every second. I’ve done this presentation before. I have it down and I think it’s pretty good (or at least entertaining. I even give a bad Keanu Reeves impersonation during it). But I’d never given it for this many people, and many of those faces in the crowd were real authors, active members of the writing community, people who I’d somehow slimed my way into their company and was referred to as their peer. After a brief technical difficulty in getting my ancient laptop to work on the projector, I began what would be the final presentation and many people’s final memory of the conference.

It went amazingly well.

Better than I could have imagined. Not only did no one stand up in the middle of my class and scream, “You don’t know shit!” but it ended with a lot of applause, and people rushing up to thank me. It was incredible.

After 20 minutes of shaking hands, I strolled out of the room for Tex to tell me all the praises she’d heard about my class. It felt good. It felt incredible.

Once I got home, and still riding the high from the response I’d received, I posted my experience on my Facebook wall.

See that reply?  That’s a sincere congratulations. That’s someone complimenting me.

Do you see my response? That’s me downplaying it. I even added a smiley. But that’s not what I wanted to say. What I wanted to say was the echo of that little gremlin of a voice. “Don’t call me famous.”

Even while strutting on Cloud 9, happy as I can be at a job well done, I can’t even for a second pretend that I’m something that I’m not. I’m an author – an obscure one at best. That’s simple fact. I’m hoping to fix that.

But one thing with Impostor Syndrome, even if the stars align and I find myself in a position where I’m no longer obscure, will I accept that? Will that gremlin ever go away?

I don’t know. But like that wise author said when I warned them of the gremlin’s existence, I can’t wait to find out.

So in case you’re wondering why I’d post a blog lamenting about my own demons after what was by all accounts a triumph, the reason is simple. This is for all those authors who still wonder if they’re good enough. This is for all of you who downplay everything you do and lie in bed wondering when someone will figure out that you don’t belong.

You’re not alone.

Just keep telling that voice to shut up.







Guest Blogs

It’s been quiet on my blog, but I’ve been busy chatting it up on other blogs.

So for anyone that has missed my current blog-storm, you can find them here.

At Beauty in Ruins, you can read about how I came up with some of the unique monsters I used for Dämoren, Hounacier, and the Screamers in Ibenus. I also confess me deep fear of jellyfish.

At The Quillery, I discuss the different genre styles I use between each Valducan novel in order to keep the series fresh.

I paid a visit to RisingShadow where I explained how I try to avoid the dreaded Aquaman Trope and Eigen Plots. 

Finally, I’m at author Timothy C. Ward‘s site discussing the different layers in storytelling and how summing up a novel’s plot, especially one in an ongoing series, is pretty difficult to pull off in only 1-2 sentences.

I have several more guest blogs on the way, including a few podcast interviews, so I’ll post those up once they go live. In the meantime, I hope everyone enjoys my rambling thoughts and enjoys Ibenus.


A Tale of Three Review Platforms or: Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Audible

We all know that reviews are important for authors. If you didn’t know that, then allow me to tell you that reviews are important for authors. For many new and lesser-known authors (like me) they can be the lifeline to new readers and to sales.  That means that authors spend way more time than they should worrying about and analyzing reviews.  There’s many platforms that people use to rate and review books, but three of them (at least for me) stand head and shoulders above the rest.  So today I’m going to discuss the Big Three sites as well as their strengths and weaknesses.


No big surprise there. Amazon is the largest bookseller in the world and for most indy and self-published authors is the main platform used to sell their books. Amazon reviews are critical for authors there.  Amazon uses the classic 5-star system and requires that every rating be accompanies by a written review. These can range from page-long in-depth reviews, to short “It Sucked” or “Great Book”.  Obviously some are more helpful than others. Amazon also requires that each review have a title, which some reviewers find a bit stressful trying to come up with something “punchy”.

Currently, my debut novel Dämoren has 121 Amazon reviews.

Amazon flags reviews from people that purchased the book on Amazon with a nifty “Amazon Verified Purchase” tag next to them.  These are great for potential readers to assess if the reviews are from actual customers.  However, since Amazon still permits non-verified purchased reviews, it allows professional reviewers that receives ARCs (Advanced Reviewer Copies) to leave their opinions as well.

However, the Amazon review system is very lacking.  The ratings/reviews do not allow a person to easily gauge the reason for the rating.  If they are rating it poorly because of the shopping experience versus the book itself, the rating is lumped in with all the others, either raising or lowering the total average accordingly. It also doesn’t differentiate which version is being rated (Kindle, hardback, audio, etc.) which means that someone rating it based off of an audio performance they did or didn’t like, or a buggy Kindle version, skews the overall rating.  Another thing that I’ve noticed is that if a title is purchased off of Audible (an Amazon company) a review on Amazon does not get the “Verified Purchase” tag, even if the sale was directly linked through Amazon.


Again, no big surprise. Goodreads is a massive and highly popular database for readers to find and rate books.  Readers are not forced to leave written reviews as to why they like or disliked a book, so it allows more people to simply leave a 1-5 star rating and move on.  Also, it doesn’t differentiate whether the book was purchased new, used, borrowed, or pirated.  This allows a much wider snapshot of reader demographics.

While Goodreads still uses the simple 5-star system, it is considered by many to be the main judge of a book’s popularity.  I’ve been told that a book is considered “obscure” by many readers until it breaks the 5,000 rating mark. Some readers will delay even looking at a book until it meets their personal minimum number of ratings.

Dämoren has 654 Goodreads ratings.

You can easily see that while the number of ratings is much higher than on Amazon , because Goodreads doesn’t require users to leave a written review for each rating, then number of reviews (a.k.a. What I liked and didn’t like) is lower. 79 vs 121.

Users can break it down to which version of the book they read, however the user interface to select editions is poor at best and most Goodreads users don’t bother.  But at least there is the option. Users are also not forced to title their reviews. Reviews are a simple blank box to write in with zero prompts.


I’m a massive audio book fan. Over 90% of my reading now is audio and Audible has been great platform for me to find and purchase audio books. With the ease of streaming and downloading, audio books have evolved from the giant folders of tapes or CD’s that contained a highly abridged version that we once knew.  In fact, abridged audio books are almost non-existent now. All of this has opened the fastest growing market of readers, and amazingly they’re almost completely independent from conventional readers.

My Audible edition, which was released four months after the other editions, currently has 667 rating.

You’ll notice that unlike Amazon and Goodreads, Audible uses three tiers to rate a book, breaking it down to Overall, Story, and Performance. This gives potential customers an immediate way to gauge if the book might be right for them.  Furthermore, in order to rate a book, it MUST be a purchase from Audible. That means that 100% of the ratings are from paying customers.

Like with Goodreads, Audible does not require users to leave a review, which encourages more people to rate a book. However, unlike the other platforms, Audible provides optional prompts to encourage reviewers. Prompts include: “What made the experience of reading _X_ the most enjoyable?” “What did you like best about the story?” “What about the narrator’s performance did you like?” and “Who was your favorite character and why?”  Of course many reviewers skip the questions, but because Audible tries to encourage reviews, they’re very helpful for people to explain why they liked or didn’t like a book instead simply stating “I loved it”.

Because Audible is very good at not only encouraging reviews, but also good in using reviews to recommend new books to customers, more customers are using Audible than the other two platforms.  So even though my Audible edition has been around for less time than the other versions, it has more ratings on Audible than it has on Goodreads (which theoretically should have the most because Goodreads includes all platforms and has had four months longer to accumulate ratings).

Here are some other examples of novels with more Audible ratings than Goodreads and Amazon.

ROS The Rules of Supervillainy: The Supervillany Saga Volume 1

Written by: C.T. Phipps

Amazon Ratings:  86

Goodreads Ratings:  763

Audible Ratings:  1,471





NoSuchThing No Such Thing as Werewolves: Deathless Book 1

Written by: Chris Fox

Amazon Ratings:  202

Goodreads Ratings:  413

Audible Ratings:  660





DoD The Dragons of Dorcastle: The Pillars of Reality Book 1

Written by:  Jack Campbell

Amazon Ratings:  88

Goodreads Ratings:  1,652

Audible Ratings:  4,714




Of course this isn’t always the case. Most novels appear to follow the classic trend of more Goodreads ratings than any other type. So as they say, “Results may vary.”

Even then, self or indy published authors should strongly consider releasing Audible editions of their books in order to find a completely new niche of potential readers.


Endings: Setups Versus Cliffhangers


In the past year I’ve had multiple unfortunate experiences of reading a good book only to have it end in a Cliffhanger.  For me, it yanks the enjoyment of a wonderful story out from under my feet and leaves me feeling rather cheated. I hate Cliffhangers.

No, not this Cliffhanger

I’ve read reviews and chatted on Reddit and learned that while I’m hardly the only one, I discovered that there’s a whole lotta confusion as to what “Cliffhanger” means. I’ve even been accused of using one at the end of Mountain of Daggers. Some people confuse a Cliffhanger with a Setup.

A Setup is when a story is complete, the narrative is wrapped, and while the problems might not be over for the heroes, the reader or audience can leave there and still feel a sense of closure.  A great example would be 2002’s Resident Evil.

In it, our heroes have escaped the Hive, closing the plot narrative, but then Alice awakens to a city overrun with zombies.  The closing shot is our hero, severely under-dressed, holding a shotgun, and ready to face-down what comes next.


While the movie might end with the audience screaming, “Oh my God! I want more!” it does not end with them requiring to know the very next thing that happens to Alice in the 30 seconds following the fade to black. We leave the theater knowing that while her initial adventure is done, there are more to come.

For me, that’s the essential definition of a Cliffhanger. “Do We Need To See What Happens In The Next 30 Seconds?“. If the answer is Yes, then you have a Cliffhanger.

Cliffhangers came from the old serial shorts that played in theaters. Every episode would end with the hero in some hopeless bind, such as sinking in quicksand, falling from an airplane, and most obviously, hanging from a cliff.  The gag was used to leave viewers in suspense and make them feel obligated to come to the next movie to see how the hero makes it out.

The 1960’s Batman also used Cliffhangers to end the first half of each two-episode adventure. Leaving the audience with the line, “Tune in Tomorrow!  Same Bat-Time! Same Bat-Channel!”

“Oh no! How will they escape? I’d better tune in tomorrow.”

Aside from being a cheap ploy, the key for an effective Cliffhanger is that they are not endings.  They’re chapter breaks.  Ending a chapter with a Cliffhanger is perfectly fine.  I don’t need to wait long to get to the rest, and I’m not required to buy another ticket or book to find out.  Authors that coax me into buying a standard-sized book, only to pull a surprise Cliffhanger at the end, leaving the plot unresolved and forcing me to buy the next book, make me feel cheated. 

“But what about a series?” you ask.

Well I’m glad you asked, because I have an answer for that, too.

First, the fantasy obsession of taking a massive epic tale and breaking it into multiple parts at seemingly random points is attributed to Lord of the Rings.  However, Lord of the Rings was never intended to be a trilogy.  Tolkien’s publisher was daunted by the costs and commercial appeal of a single enormous book so they chopped it up.  Even then, readers were not forced to wait years between installments.  The entire series was published between July 1954 with Fellowship of the Ring, and October 1955 with Return of the King.  There was no waiting presidential terms between installments.  Authors that hold a story ransom and extort readers by forcing them to keep buying books are not following Tolkien’s tradition.

Second, it’s my opinion that a series with Cliffhanger endings is perfectly fine, providing it follows two simple rules:

  1. That the first book be effectively a stand-alone.  That way, readers have a moment once the dust has settled to decide if they want to keep going.  Some might say, “I’m good with this,” and simply walk away, happy that they had resolution. Or they might say, “Holy shit that was awesome! What happens next? Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” Either way, they get to decide.
  2. That each installment has a beginning, middle, and end.  While some stories might take multiple volumes to tell, there are still sub-stories within the larger plot. As long as the heroes have an obstacle and resolve the obstacle within the covers of the book, even if the much larger problem is unresolved, then that is perfectly fine.

Waste LandsA good example of this is the Dark Tower Series.  Readers can enjoy the first book, The Gunslinger, and be perfectly happy. Yes it ends with a setup, but the story is complete.  The Gunslinger chased the Man in Black across the desert and then caught him.  You can end there.  However, readers that continue the series will enjoy several self-contained adventures along the way, even experiencing the massive cliffhanger ending at the end of The Waste Lands.  That book is the only one that ends on a cliffhanger because the heroes are in an active moment of peril in the last sentence.  However, even then, the story still has a beginning, middle, and end (They enter the waste lands, they leave the waste lands.)

MistbornTrilogyEven though I say that there is a specific time that a Cliffhanger between series installments is acceptable, a Setup is much, much nicer.  Harry Potter is a perfect example of a series that follows these rules, choosing a setup, versus a cliffhanger. A reader can enjoy Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone and leave there being perfectly happy. The readers that do keep going with the series are treated to small, self-contained stories that occur while the larger narrative is unfolding. Another favorite of mine in the Mistborn Series, which follows the same rules.

People that claim books like The Well of Ascension, The Republic of Thieves, or Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince end on cliffhangers are completely wrong.  Yes, readers are invested in the story and are desperate to see what happens next, but in none of those stories is our hero in a hopeless situation that might kill them in the next 30 seconds. This need to know is the product of great writing and storytelling, while a Cliffhanger is merely a cheap trick used to make up for a lack of great writing.







So You Want To Be An Editor

Recently, I was joking about how I want a 1920/30’s movie about some paranormal or occultish investigators, similar to a Call of Cthulhu game.  I threw out the title ‘Fedoras, Flappers, Tommyguns, and Tentacles’ and said that might actually make a good title for an anthology.  It was mentioned that I should make that anthology and instantly my mood changed from a joking “What if” to a very serious “Oh, hell no.”

Being an editor is a lot of work. And by that I mean, BEING AN EDITOR IS A METRIC SHITTON OF HARD WORK.

It can be fun to imagine what titles or collections you might produce if you were in charge of some press, but it’s a huge responsibility that I am more than happy to let better suited people handle.  Just to be clear, when I say “Editor,” I’m not just referring to the basic line-editor that many people imagine.  I’m referring to the Grand Poobah Editor-in-Chief that for most publications means that they are Line-Editor, Layout Supervisor, Publicist, Author Relations, Payroll, and a dozen other duties all rolled into one.


Pictured:  Standard Editor

The cost and ease of e-publishing and print on demand has given many people the opportunity to don the Editor Hat and try their hand at it.  For many, this is good. For many others, this is a terrible idea.

I’ve worked with several editors in my limited time in the industry. I’ve worked with award-winning veterans and I’ve worked with first-time newbies.  Strangely, the experiences with them are the opposite of what you might expect.  But with all of those experiences, let me break down what a would-be editor needs to understand before they take that step.


Thanks to the Internet, making a call for submissions will get you a lot of exposure and many authors will send you their work.  How many, you ask.  About 300.  That’s for the first one, before the real word gets out, and then you can expect many times that during each submission period.


This is why some publications are only open for submissions for like 4 weeks a year.  In that window they get enough to allow them to spend the next 48 weeks reading.  For the would-be-editor, this means that if you make a call for submissions, don’t do the classic, “We close for subs on this date, and expect a release within the next 30 days,” because that ain’t happenin’.  You will be flooded with submissions to read and that’s before we even get to the part where you edit them.


Yeah, I said it.  I’m an author and I know my kind.  I like to think that I’m pretty chill with my editors, but I’ve spoken to enough editors and heard enough horror stories to know that there’s a whole lotta drama with authors.

Jack Shining

Pictured:  Standard Author

Evidently, many authors will hostilely resist any changes to their work.  I understand the, “This story is my art and you can’t change it,” mentality, but here’s the deal: An editor edits.  That’s what they do.  That’s why the job is called Editor.

An editor not only wants each story to be the best that they can be (They are running a business and great stories are good for business) but they want to keep the readers’ attention and keep the story going at a good flow.  They make suggestions and those suggestions should be good.  Still, a lot of authors evidently go shit-house-mad when an editor comes back with, “There are some changes I’d like to suggest.”  The thing is, they’re suggestions from someone who is looking at the story from the outside and knows the industry.  This should be considered sage advice, and not worthy of vile contempt.

One of the reasons that authors should put previous writing credits on their cover letters isn’t just to brag that someone other than their mom thought that they were good, it’s a way to say, “Hey, I’m cool.  I understand how this goes. I’ve worked with editors before. I’m not as likely to go crazy on you.”

And it’s not just the editing where authors can go nuts.  You can expect about a million, “Hey, did you get my submission?” and “Hey, did you read my submission yet?” and “Hey, I haven’t heard back, is this email address correct?” and “Why haven’t you read my submission yet when I know you have it?” emails.  If the project gets delayed because life happened, or your slush pile is bigger than expected, or whatever else, expect the number of, “Hey, when is it coming out?” emails to exponentially explode.

Helpful Hint:  Publicly post dates and changes where authors can see them.  It might suck to admit a delay, but in the long run it will calm the masses and allow less time responding to check-in emails and more time for editing.

Speaking of Editing….


I’m going to keep names out of this, but about 2 minutes of research on my site will tell you if you just really need to know who I’m talking about.  My very first sale was to a well-known magazine with a highly regarded editor.  He was the first to take the risk on me and I’ll always be grateful for that.  He was also a terrible editor.

My first story was accepted August of 2005.  I was told it might be a while before it hits print.  That is 100% of the information I had, and if I had known the truth, I’d still have accepted it because it was my first sale and a huge one at that.  The time between acceptance and print was two and a half years.  After thirty months of waiting, my story was printed February 2008.  During that entire time I received exactly zero edit requests and my story was printed with no changes from the one I submitted.  That year, the same editor was nominated for a Best Editor award.

My second story was picked up by an editor going by the handle Crystalwizard (and yes I’m going to use her name because she is freakin’ awesome and deserves to have more people talk about her).  She was editor for Flashing Swords, a very unknown magazine.  She picked up The Porvov Switch and within a couple months sent me the first round of edit requests.  My manuscript was so red that, “looked like it was bleeding,” barley gives it justice.  I quickly made the changes and sent it back.  The next day she sent me Round 2 that was just as marked up as Round 1.  Then came Round 3, followed by Round 4.  Each time she meticulously went through that story and tore it to hell and together we built it back better than it had ever been.  By the time it was done, we had a great story.

Crystalwizard and I worked on several more stories and each time she threw it through the grinder.  Yes, we disagreed. Yes, she was usually right.  Yes, it was exactly what I wanted an editor to do.  She is a badass and treated her small obscure magazine with the passion and detail that you’d expect from any large house publisher.

Anyone serious about editing needs to do that.  It’s not just typos.  It’s the whole package.  You need to make sure everything is crystal clear, check for overusing words, passive voice, unrealistic physics, continuity, and everything else a story needs.  If you can’t edit, don’t be an editor.


There are some scam publishers that think anthologies are great because they know that the friends and family of each author will pick up about 5-6 copies.  You publish 10 authors per anthology and you just guaranteed 50-60 sales.  Bam! Free marketing, right?



Self Promote“You know what has two thumbs and just released the best book ever?  This guy!”

An editor must promote that work more than everyone else combined.  They need to send copies out to reviewers.  They need to blast social media. And if they have the budget, they should buy some ad space where they think it will be the most effective.  Simply expecting your authors to do the promotion for you is lazy and outright inexcusable.  If you want to sell more books, make more money, win that award, and quit your day job and became an industry rock-star, you’re going to need to go out there and work it.  You’ll have to give books away.  You’ll have to spend money, time, and energy on getting people to notice it.  The publishing house is your show.  The authors are merely guest stars. Their careers will grow without you.  So you need to promote yourself and your publishing house more than all of them.


Publishing books, even ebooks, is really expensive.  You have to spend a lot of time and you have to get some sweet art (Helpful Hint: Don’t ever cheap out on the art).  This has led a lot of startup presses to pay their authors with “exposure”.

I’ll be honest, if your sales pitch to me includes the word exposure, I’m going to walk away.  No shit there’s exposure.  That part is assumed.  Any press will give me exposure.  No, if you want to be in the business you gotta make it a business and pay your talent.  As you grow, increase your rates.  Make your goal to be one of those publishers on the SFWA Qualifying Market List.  If you, as an editor, want exposure for your press, that list is a serious spotlight.  Make getting on that list your goal.

Also, promising to pay your authors and actually paying your authors should not be separate things.  Remember that award-winning and well-respected editor I was telling you about?  Two months after my story hit print (32 months after he accepted it) I had to send an email asking when I would get paid.  He apologized and sent me my money.  All was forgiven, but the mere fact that I had to remind him to pay me was unnecessarily awkward and unprofessional.  I might have even forgotten about that as some 1-time fluke if it wasn’t for the fact that I never got edit requests.  As an editor you not only have to pay your authors, but you have to instigate it.


So you think that you can spend a couple years busting your butt reading slush, handling authors, line-editing, promoting, and keeping your bookkeeping straight before you make enough cash and reputation that you can just pay people for that and then just live the high life collecting Hugos and teaching workshops?  Guess again. 

I’ve spent enough time with editors to know that the job constantly changes and while some parts will get much better, it will never get easy.  The industry changes. Drama happens.  The market slumps. A million factors will happen and the editor must stay on top of it or fail. It’s a full-time job. It always will be.

So once again, while I think the world needs ‘Fedoras, Flappers, Tommyguns, and Tentacles’ I’m not the man to make it happen.  I’m very grateful that there are people who can look at the job of Editor, knowing everything it entails, and think, “Oh yeah, I can totally own that shit,” because that isn’t me.




Interview at the RoundTable Podcast

RTPThe fine folks over at the RoundTable Podcast interviewed me for their “20 Minutes With…” series.  We discuss pulp fantasy, conflict characters, Dungeons & Dragons, travel, Star Trek, and much more.  I had a lot of fun talking the craft and shooting the breeze with co-hosts Dave Robison and Alasdair Stuart. 

You can check the podcast HERE.  Don’t be fooled by the 20 minutes name. We run for 44 minutes and I could have enjoyed chatting with them for hours longer.

Next week I’ll be back for a writing workshop episode.




The Love For Unlikely Names

Hello My name is

A few weeks back I was lurking around on a fantasy forum and reading a post about Hounacier’s release.  One commenter stated that while he liked the concept of the story, he hated the name Matt Hollis. They went on to state that Matt Hollis would be the name of a garbage man or some office worker, and that they just couldn’t believe that a badass demon hunter would have such a blasé name.

My response was a simple eye-roll without comment.  Can’t please everyone, right?  However, the idea that our badass heroes are expected…nay…REQUIRED to have equally badass names stuck with me.  I mean, how many heroes have sweet, sweet names?

As an author, the task of choosing the perfect name for a character can be very stressful. I mean, we get to name them anything and we want it to be something that fits them.  We want a name that potential readers will see and instantly think, “Badass.”

 While the first names can be real short and basic, like something from a Dashiell Hammett crime novel – Jack, Nick, Sam, or Frank – sometimes they can also have some of those end of the alphabet letters, such as Xavier, Zane, or Vince.  Those are all real names. I’ve known someone named each of those. But the real kicker is in the last name.  A perfect last name is usually a word with a double meaning – Cross, Knight, Steele, Reaper, Fury, Cage, Thorn, Castle, Crow.  Colors are also good – Grey, Black, Scarlet, even White (But as Steve Buscemi will tell you, Pink just isn’t as cool.)

Fictional characters aren’t the only ones with cool names.  Many actors change their names to something more punchy (Did you really think his name was Nick Cage? Did you not read the formula above?).  And not just Hollywood actors either, porn stars have some spectacularly unlikely names. 

Personally for me, I don’t like names like that.  They feel fake. They feel forced or just full of themselves.  I think of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves when Robin asks Azeem if he gave himself that name.  Of better yet, the scene in Mystery Men when Monica asks what Mister Furious’ real name is.

Mystery Men Roy

 I write fantasy. My goal is to make you believe on some level that magic, monsters, and convenient circumstances are all perfectly believable.  Suspension of Disbelief is a finite resource, and I’d rather not waste it by giving my characters names that are only slightly more likely than the fantastical things that they do.  (At least Harry Dresden has a perfectly good in-story reason for his name).  My biggest goal when naming Matt, Allan, Luiza, or any of my other characters*, was that they were believable.  My second goal was the names weren’t already taken by some real-life celebrity or ruthless criminal that I wasn’t aware of.

I’d always thought that unlikely names were acceptable only for comic book or James Bond characters. Evidently I was wrong.  To each their own.

 So, what’s your favorite unlikely character name? 


*Except Malcolm…I named him after my favorite space cowboy, I totally admit it.


Guest Blogs and Events

With two book releases in a single month, everything has been busy.  However, I’ve found the time to write several guest blogs concerning my new books as well as my thoughts on the genre.

At RisingShadow I have, Pulp Heroes: Why We Love Them.  I discuss how pulp heroes are not just some forgotten heroes of a bygone era and why they appeal to us (hint: I talk about James Bond).

SF Signal hosted , Sword and Sorcery: A More Intimate Fantasy, where I explain why I think Sword & Sorcery is a much more fun and relatable genre than Epic Fantasy.

Over at The Quillery, I shared, So We Saved The World…Now What?. There I discuss how sequels needlessly have to up the stakes in every installment and why I rebelled against that in Hounacier by simply changing them. 

At Singular Points I have, Story Inspirations: The History and Hidden Places of New Orleans.  Here I share the story of how I hadn’t planned to write Hounacier as Book 2 until a trip to New Orleans completely changed my mind.

Check them out.  If you like them, or have anything to add, please leave a comment.  I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts.

Ragnarok Publications is hosting a Facebook Release event on Monday March 21st 8-10EDT.  We’ll have some guest authors (Cat Rambo, Kenny Soward, Jaym Gates, Tim Marquitz, and Lincoln Crisler), give away some free books (I’ll be giving out an Audible version of Damoren and a Black Raven pendant), and have ourselves a good time.  Come by. Laugh with us. Score free stuff.

Finally, for anyone in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, I’ll be speaking at the Tarrant County College Trinity River Campus on April 16th at 2:00.

That’s all for now.

Why I Turned Down a Publishing Contract (and so should you)

In August of 2005, I received my first story acceptance. I remember it very clearly. My hands shook as I typed back a clumsy reply email, then the elation of success, kissing my wife, and the first celebratory toast. It was a monumental day, and in many ways, even more exhilarating than the larger sales since then.

Having a story accepted feels good. It should. An editor has sloshed though hundreds, if not thousands, of prospects and chosen YOU.

I recently had a story accepted by an anthology. It was a small press, and the editor contacted me and asked for a Valducan story.  The anthology call stated that they paid their authors in “Exposure and royalties.” That was my first red flag.  However, I could look past that.  My personal goal is to release several Valducan short stories, each expanding the world is various ways, and then eventually compiling them together with some new materiel and releasing that.  In the meantime, it would be a fun story for my readers to enjoy.

The story was accepted, and a contract was sent to me.  What it contained was enough for me to turn down the offer. I never imagined that a day would come when I would refuse a contract. But it happened.  So for any aspiring authors or aspiring small-press editors, allow me to explain why I turned down a contract.

PAY: Exposure is not pay.  I’ve sold stories for laughably little, but even the smallest of the small press have paid me something.  Pro rates are 6 cents a word.  Most small presses can’t afford that, and I understand that.  1 cent a word is acceptable, even a flat $25 is acceptable. Paying the author is a symbolic act. Even if the publisher cannot afford to pay the professional rates, they must show the author confidence enough in their work to pay them something.  Paying with “exposure” had better be really damned exposing.  If my exposure will get me in the New York Times, I’d consider it. But if that exposure is merely that I get to say that I was in an obscure anthology that I have to point people toward so that they even know about it, then you’re not giving me exposure. I’m giving you exposure.

Editors: Pay your authors.  Authors: Your blood sweat and tears has made this story, demand some pay, any pay, even if it’s just $5.

E-BOOKS:  Love them or hate them, but ebooks are a big deal.  The anthology contract said that there would be ebooks.  However, I checked the other titles by the same publisher and they were only available on Lulu print on demand.  There was no Kindle, no Smashwords, no Nook, nothing.  Ebooks generate a lot of sales that and can be the lifeline for a small press.  Also, you know what Amazon and other retailers will do?  They’ll promote you.  If people buy the title, they recommend it to other people who bought similar titles.  They want people to buy your book because they also get money.  Not using these mediums only decreases your “exposure” and makes it worth even less.  This was a major reason that I said no, but wasn’t the biggest.

Editors: Embrace ebooks. Authors: Embrace ebooks.

CONTRIBUTOR COPY:  I’ve never encountered a publisher that refuses to give their authors a contributor copy.  But this one did.  If a publisher demands that an author pay to see their own work in writing, it means that the publisher is looking to profit off the authors and not readers.  With ebooks now, contributor copies are super cheap (like free), so refusing even an ebook copy to the authors is an incredible slap to the face.  Like pay, the editor giving a copy to each of their contributing authors means that the editor believes in the work enough that they intend on generating sales from people that aren’t just between the pages.  This is officially a vanity press.  I would have refused to sign the contract here if I hadn’t already.  But this still wasn’t the biggest issue.

ROYALTIES:  Royalties sound great don’t they? But let’s break down this royalty agreement.

The publisher will keep 100% of the profit from the first 65 book sales and the first 65 ebooks sales.  After that, they will pay out 60% of the profits evenly among the contributors.  Now, not having ebooks available to sell means that that field is $0.  So we’re left with paperbacks which are only available on Lulu and not on higher visibility sites like Amazon or Barnes and Noble.  So sales will be generated by authors promoting the book and sending people there (and also buying their own copy, since none will be provided).  The number of contributors is 20.  That’s a quick 20 sales right there.  Once we’ve hit the magic 65 sales, you as an author can receive 3% of the profit.  How many sales do you expect with this non-visibility? Will it be enough to reimburse you for the cost of buying and shipping you your own book?

In my opinion, I see that every author will buy a copy and can probably get friends and family to buy 2-3 more copies at $14 (which is the price of their other anthologies in print).  Once that’s all done, the publisher has recuperated all their costs off of the authors and not the readers.  This screamed “vanity press” scam to me.  Again, I would have refused here, but it wasn’t the biggest reason.

RIGHTS:  The anthology call said that rights to publish will return to the author after 6 months from publication.  I could agree to that.  But the contract that I received did not state that. In fact it didn’t mention anything about when rights would return to me.  This means that I could have this story forever tied to this publisher if they wanted to.  I would never ever sign this.  Still…it gets worse.

EDITS:  Editing is a rough job.  My favorite editor ever was Crystal Wizard from Flashing Swords (seriously, she is a badass editor).  Many people mistakenly think that an editor’s job is to correct typos and punctuation.  That’s a huge part of it. But what makes a book editor different than a line editor is much much more.  An editor cleans up.  They make sure the author is clear, keeps the pace, doesn’t overuse words, doesn’t info-dump, has continuity, and a dozen other jobs.  Being an editor is hard work.  That’s why editors win huge awards.  They’re not just spellcheckers.

This anthology required that I do my own edits beforehand, but will make changes to spelling errors without my consent.  I even asked about this and they confirmed that aside from obvious spelling errors that they wouldn’t edit it.

Authors: If you ever see this, run. Run far away. Editors: Be an editor or don’t pretend to be one.

This was the lynch pin.  This. Right. Here.  If you can’t edit, then you don’t deserve 40% of the profits. You don’t deserve to profit off of my work. I want an editor that can help me improve my work, not leech off of it.  This isn’t an editor. This is a parasite.

There was once a time when I was so desperate to see my name in print that I would have taken this. I would have considered this an important stepping stone in my career and I would have gladly offered my wrists so that that some wannabe editor could drink deeply from my veins.  Not anymore.

Authors: You can do better than this.

Editors: Be better than this.