Archive for the ‘Featured’ Category

Fan Art Contest!

I’m not going to lie: I’m kind of a sucker for art and gratification, in equal measure.  For that reason, it’s been a long-standing tradition of mine to announce fan art contests periodically.

And since The City Stained Red will be debuting soon, now seemed like a perfect time TO DO EXACTLY THAT.

RULES:

1. Submit a visual representation (illustration, cosplay, whatever you feel) of your favorite part from The Aeons’ Gate series or anything else I’ve worked on

2. Send it to me via the Contact Form here.

3. Make sure it gets in before Thanksgiving of 2014!

4. Eat your vegetables.

5. That’s it!

PRIZES:

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Runner Up Prizes: All entrants will receive Four (4) (IV) signed bookplates!  You can stick ‘em in your books and that will be my signature!  You could ostensibly have something by Hemingway signed by me!  I don’t judge.

Second Place Prizes (3): Four Bookplates and a signed copy of Flesh and Blood, Steel and Gold, the comic prelude to The City Stained Red as illustrated by the fabulous Ashley Cope.

First Place (1): A signed ARC of The City Stained Red, a copy of the comic and four bookplates!  Hooray!

GRAND PRIZE: Everything you see above and A SCENTED CANDLE!  IT’LL SMELL GREAT.  JESUS CHRIST, YOU WANT IT.

Ideally, the deadline to this will be Thanksgiving 2014, but I’m pretty lenient.  If you’ve got something brilliant that needs more time, just pop it in the email around then.  I’m sure I’ll find it and reward you handsomely.

This is one of my favorite things to do.  I love that my readers are always intensely creative and I love that I can resonate enough with them to inspire them to NEW HEIGHTS of majesty.  I eagerly look forward to what you guys can come up with.

Now, go forth and rock my sensibilities.

New York Comicon 2014!

I swear to heebus, I meant to have this up earlier, but a fearsome bout of pancreatitis kept me out of action.

But now that I’m all cleared up, I can tell you that SAM SYKES WILL BE AT NEW YORK COMIC CON!

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oh jesus I was not prepared for this eventuality please god tell me where I can find Sam Sykes

I have one panel while I’m there!

Playing With Magic

Friday 10/10/14

1:15-2:00 PM

Location: 1A01

Magic is central to fantasy, whether it takes place in our world or on one completely foreign.  How does using magic affect storytelling?

Speakers: AM Dellamonica, Ilona Andrews, Gordon Andrews, Kim Harrison, George Hagel, Sam Sykes

But, if you can’t make it to that panel, you might be able to find me at the Hachette Book Group Booth, which is Booth #2218!

good lord that sounds amazing please go on tell me what else is happening

If you come to the Hachette Book Group booth and ask for one, my excellent publicists will be happy to give you a copy of Flesh and Blood, Steel and Gold, my new comic and excerpt of the upcoming The City Stained Red!

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HOORAY!

BUT WAIT!  THERE’S EVEN MORE!

 

If you can’t make NYCC, but are in the area (or if you just can’t get enough Sam Sykes), please attend the Coffee With Authors post-NYCC event starring Myke Cole, Peter V. Brett, Robin Hobb, Simon R. Green, Naomi Novik and ME!

Robin has a good rundown of the event on her blog here and there’s another good one at Suvudu, but here are the basics.

  • To attend: send an RSVP email to DelRey@randomhouse.com with the subject line RSVP!
  • The event is at Random House, 1745 Broadway, New York NY 10019
  • Show up any time between 11 am and 1 pm
  • Free Books, FREE BOOKS, FREE BOOKS
  • COME AND GET FREEEEEEE BOOOOOKS

OKAY, THAT’S IT CAN YOU HANDLE IT

YES I CAN HANDLE IT SAM SYKES

GOOD SEE YOU THERE

Sexy Destroyers of the Future

Featured image used with permission by Aerlyn’s Costumes and Designs!

So, if you’re at all into comics, you’ve probably seen this.

Denise Dorman, wife of Dave Dorman, recently illuminated a problem that’s been talked about for ages and has now been coming to a head: Comicon doesn’t seem to be about comics anymore.  She goes on to list a number of artists, none of whom have made any money from attending several shows, and then attempts to explain exactly what might be the cause of that.

Her explanations are a bit…hm.

I have slowly come realize that in this selfie-obsessed, Instagram Era, cosplay is the new focus of these conventions–seeing and being seen, like some giant masquerade party. Conventions are no longer shows about commerce, product launches, and celebrating the people who created this genre in the first place. I’ve seen it first-hand – the uber-famous artist who traveled all of the way from Japan, sitting at Comic-Con, drawing as no one even paid attention to him, while the cosplayers held up floor traffic and fans surround the cosplayers–rather than the famed industry household name – to pose for selfies.

As an ardent fan of cosplay, selfies and youth culture in general, I’m going to have to disagree with this.

And while it does come close–dangerously close, in fact–to being the sort of statement that is accompanied by a shaking cane and a number of directives toward kids about their placement relative to a lawn, I think it’d be foolish and disingenuous to write off her concerns as mere angry ranting.  Because, as she points out, she is hardly alone in the observation of this.

Many artists, I’ve learned, have found it harder and harder to justify going to Comicon.  While I’m certainly thrilled to see them there (I bought four prints from Todd Lockwood this year and felt pretty damn good about myself), I can’t support them all by myself.  It eventually becomes a cost-benefit analysis and a lot of people are finding the costs outweighing the benefits.

The question therefore becomes: are big cons, with all their media attention and all their giant populations, a viable source of income?

I can’t answer from an artist’s perspective.  Nor a comic writer’s perspective.

But I can tell you from an author’s perspective that the answer is a definite yes.

As people who are also trying to make a living from our own creative work, we have a similar problem and whenever we meet up at a convention, we always ask the question of whether it’s worth it or not and whether small, local conventions tend to be better than giant comicons for an author.  But we diverge shortly after that.

Unlike artists, an author’s takeaway from a convention might be intangible.  You certainly might sell some books at a convention (or, more likely, the bookseller will sell your books, which is still a big benefit to you), but the major takeaway is developing readers: making a positive enough impact to guarantee someone will be looking for your books every time a new one comes out.  That can be hard to gauge, of course; sometimes you see sales spike after a convention, sometimes it takes a long time to notice anything.  But, having attended a number of small cons and large cons, I have noticed something.

Fandom has split into two categories.

I’m very supportive of small cons.  I think they’re great.  I think people who run them are awesome and the people who enjoy them are tremendous.  But they don’t make a lot of business sense.  The crowds tend to know what they like and prefer to keep reading that, proving amazingly resistant to new authors.  Whenever I’m speaking on a panel, I can see the audience’s eyes glaze over as they wait for me to be done so they can ask a question of the author that they really came to see.  And that’s the downside of a small con: people are rarely there to see you, you just happen to be in the same space as other guests.  This can prove great, at times, and I’ve made a number of lifelong readers from small cons, but they’re hard to get to and difficult to justify.  There’s a big benefit to solidifying fans if you’re already a big name that they came to see, but if you’re a debut or newer author, it’s hard to get into.

Big cons, however, have a marked difference in tone.  People who come to a massive, mixed media con are open to just about anything.  You have gamers rubbing shoulders with art-lovers, comic geeks walking side-by-side along novel fans, tabletop roleplayers interacting with movie nerds, MMO players and, yes, even cosplayers.  All of these are potential readers and damn near all of them are open to the idea of new authors.  These cons are marked by a general enthusiasm for nerdiness and geekiness that’s easy to tap into if you know how.

And Jim Zub went into this in detail on twitter.

I agree with him wholly on this.  Unless you’ve got a big name to carry you, you can’t really rely on sitting down and expecting people to seek you out.  You need to make an impression on people.  You need to be open, thoughtful and, above all, enthusiastic.  You need to reflect the excitement that these potential fans are feeling.

Cosplay is just an extension of that enthusiasm–one that someone felt strongly enough about to go through the effort of making an entire costume for.  But it’s everywhere: people come to a big con to be shown something cool.  If you act as though you are that something, then things get easier.

It’s really not that different from social media, which darn near every publisher wants their authors on these days.  People want to come to see you, see you be glorious, see you be brilliant, see you be awesome.  They want to see your work, too, but as a costume is a statement about the cosplayer, so are you a statement about your work and you want to be able to reflect that.

Now, my hands kind of quivered when I typed that, because every time I make a statement that says “you need to be friendly and outgoing if you want to make it as a new author,” someone who identifies as a militant introvert will swoop in and scream “that’s not true!  You’re not doomed if you’re shy or reclusive!”

And that’s true.  You could have a lot of publisher support backing your newest book that negates the need for you to market yourself.  You could have one of those books that’s just lightning in a bottle and everyone inexplicably wants it.  You don’t need to be outgoing for these.

But considering how rare those are, you can’t bank on them.  And even if you’ve got them, you’d be screwing yourself if you weren’t also good with talking to people.

I know we’re all in love with the idea of the reclusive writerly genius, puffing cigarettes and drinking coffee as they type away on a typewriter, so deep in the throes of wordsmithing that the mail piles up and the goldfish is dead and the spouse has left because, damn it, the work is more important than people.  But times have changed.  I’ve got rent to pay, motherfuckers.

No one’s asking you to be eloquent, merely to be enthusiastic.  Believe in your work enough to make others want to also believe in it.  Believe that you are great and worth buying.  Believe that your audience wants to see you be great.  Believe that you are worth it.

You can work on the actual talking to people once you’ve got that down.

But for now, it’s my ardent belief that big cons are the best way to get noticed as a new author.  Sharing that enthusiasm, being excited about your own stuff, making that impression upon readers, is what it’s all about.

I dearly hope that the same can be said for artists, in the future.

UPDATE: Denise Dorman has clarified her views in an additional blog post, shifting blame to a “new breed of attendees.”

And while I continue to share her concerns, I remain opposed.  The “new breed” is the only way new authors can get any traction in this world.

Red Nooses in Tight Circles

This week is Banned Books Week, seven days in which we celebrate the essential freedom to read.  I’d never given it much thought before.  Not until my publisher at Orbit sent me an email and asked if there was anything I’d like to do for Banned Books Week.

I promise I had something more funny than this in mind.

I originally was going to see if I could convince some local police to take a picture with me, looking on impotently as I read a formerly banned book with savage glee.  When I realized that cops terrify me, I had planned to gather as many books as I could and make a fortress of freedom out of them.  When I realized how expensive that was going to be, I thought maybe I’d just take some selfies with banned books and call it a day.

I took only one.

bannedbooks

 

It wasn’t that great.

I had originally planned on just letting this week pass by with no particular contribution to me save that I was making a token effort toward the celebration.  It wasn’t as though Orbit had held a gun to my head, after all.  And there were other things to be doing: I need to finish The Mortal Tally (Book Two in Bring Down Heaven), I need to prepare for The City Stained Red’s eBook launch next month, I need to get ready for New York Comicon.  I was pretty content to take freedom for granted and not do much of anything.

Then I logged onto twitter.

As I tend to follow passionate people, I saw quite a bit of it on display.  Sometimes, that passion turned venomous: people screaming at each other, wishing death upon each other, trying their best to get each other to shut up, generally acting quite vicious.  Being the social opossum I am, I managed to steer clear of it, but as I figuratively lay on my back, feigning death and waiting for the scavengers to move on, I realized something.

I’m scared to death of censorship.

This is something of a blessing, however convoluted that may seem.  I’m certainly not immune to other tragedies such as being murdered, robbed, beaten or raped.  I could get into a car crash, be stabbed to death in an alley, develop an incurable disease.  I’m in a place in the world and the society that lives in it where I can usually live free of these worries.  Not everyone can.  So while these disasters might happen to me, they’re not likely to.

Is me being censored any more likely, then?

Maybe not.

I can’t imagine any religious groups getting angry at me and burning my book, despite that it’s full of demons (that’d kind of rock if they did, though).  Nor can I really foresee an event in which the American government would decide that my book is a threat to the nation and forbid it (again, this would only increase my allure).  It’s a little more likely that I’d say something that would anger someone and they’d start doing everything in their power to get me off the shelves, but that’s not likely to go further than twitter and it’d probably be forgotten the moment someone else said something worse.

So why am I so terrified of censorship if it’s not that likely to happen to me?

Because, put plainly, censorship hurts everyone.

It hurts the person whose art is stifled and whose expression is silenced, certainly.  But it also hurts the person who succumbed to their fear and sought its censure to begin with.  But most importantly, it hurts everyone: everyone who was refused the right to judge for themselves, everyone who was refused the right to have the discussion, everyone who was refused the right to agree or disagree, everyone who was instantly robbed of a voice.  A work, however abhorrent, is gone and we have lost the ability to speak because we embraced fear.

And fear is at the heart of everything.

I believe that all fiction, maybe all writing, is an exploration of which is the more powerful human emotion: love or fear.

Censorship is a triumph of fear over love.

This fear that spawns censorship takes a variety of shapes.  Many powerful people throughout history ear that a work might threaten someone’s influence or position in the world they live in and wanted it banned.  Many parents succumbed to the fear that a work might negatively influence or alter their children and wanted it banned.  Society at large lives with the constant fear that a work might introduce an idea that spurs someone to dangerous action and may ban something out of that.

But all these shapes of fear have a root cause: the fear of pain.

That is, after all, what the most common fear is, isn’t it?  And it’s hard to blame people for being afraid of pain.  None of us enjoy pain, be it mental or physical, and pain is never far from our thoughts.  We’re hardwired to want to avoid it at all costs.

It’s my personal belief that pain is necessary for growth.  Pain is what lets you know that things are happening.  And just as your bones ache as you grow taller or your muscles are sore after working out, an idea that causes you pain is an idea that you eventually learn your response to and grow as a person.

The pain of loss is a reminder of how much you loved what you lost.  The pain of betrayal is a testament to your capacity to trust someone.  The pain you feel when someone else is hurting is the proof of your empathy and ability to love someone else more than yourself.  None of these things mean anything without the ability to feel pain, sometimes even the willingness to feel pain.

Ideas cause us pain.

They do everyday.

About a month ago, I put a hole in my wall.  I clenched my fist, swung it out and smashed a hole in the drywall just above my shoulder (don’t get any ideas about my ferocity; the drywall was very cheap).  The reason I did this was because I read something in an online forum that made me incredibly angry.  It was a vicious, hateful thing that made me genuinely upset.  It made me angry and I damaged my house.  I did this all the time when I was younger.  I do it much less these days and I was embarrassed to have done it this time.

I regret doing it.  I regret letting my emotions get out of control.  I regret giving into fear.  But I don’t regret feeling pain at it.  And I would have regretted taking actions to try and silence the statement.

But why, then, would I feel that way at such a terrible message?

I wouldn’t have been rid of that statement or the idea that caused it.  I wouldn’t have defeated it or banished it or come to terms with it and buried it.  I would have put it in a closet and waited for it to come back out some day.  I would have silenced it, knowing it could hurt me, and lived in fear of the day it would come back and hurt me again.  And each time, my ability to deal with it would be called into question.

Some may think I’m suggesting we never say anything bad, ever.  Some may think I’m suggesting we let hatred run wild and never confront it.  I think it’s plain to see that I’m not a fan of fear and as I believe all hatred descends from fear, I’m very much for confronting these sorts of things.  But the answer to that confrontation is freedom.

We have the freedom to confront ideas.  We have the freedom to criticize them.  We have the freedom to reject them and we have the freedom to dismiss them from our presence, if we must.  But we cannot justify using freedom to deny freedom.  We must let idiots speak.  We must let wounds bleed.  We must let the hatred and the agony and the panic in someone’s words make themselves known.  We do not always have to listen, but we cannot demand them be silent.

What we do, in its stead, is present a new idea.

We are writers.  Nothing is real to us until we put them into words on paper (or on a blank white screen, anyway).  This is how we confront our fears.  When we silence, when we censor, we give into those fears.  We devote ourselves to that fear, rather than to expression.

Censorship is a triumph of fear.  It is sometimes understandable why someone might give into that fear.  It is sometimes understandable that the exhilaration that comes from temporary release of fear and pain can be liberating.  It is sometimes understandable that people who feel powerless may find comfort in exerting some amount of control.

But these are fleeting.  And nothing compared to the lingering shadow of fear that will haunt us when these things we try to silence come back to us.  And they will.

I suppose this blog post is me confronting my own fear.  For in writing this, I am afraid.

I’m afraid of retribution for what I’m writing here.  I’m afraid of being ignored entirely and merely screaming into a void.  I’m afraid that these words will hurt someone else.  I’m afraid that someone will want to hurt me over these words.

But this, too, is a fear I could not live with.  This is a fear whose specter would always be at the corner of my eye and just over my shoulder, a constant reminder that I had given into it and it only had to wait until it could come back and test me again.  I would still be afraid, but I’d be safe.

And all it would cost me is just not writing.

Which is a fate unthinkable.

So I had to write this.

Do not give into fear.  Do not let it triumph.  Do not seek to censor and harm yourself.  Do not seek to silence and harm others.

Do your best.  Never stop writing.  Never stop thinking.

Read dangerously.

Happy Banned Books Week.

Ape Fight

If you’ve read this blog in at least a passing capacity, you probably know that I like supporting various art projects.  I’m a huge fan of artists and I love supporting them with linkage from this blog where I can.

If you’ve been reading this blog in the past few months, you’ll know that I recently pimped Marc Simonetti’s Coverama.  Marc, who did my French covers among other covers for well-known fantasy artists, did a collection of all his covers.

And if you’ve taken my advice, you’re probably getting one of your copies of Coverama right now.  Like I have.

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But if you didn’t, you missed out.  How badly did you miss out, you ask?

Well, you missed this.

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And what is that, you may ask?  Let’s take a closer look.

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Ape Fight.  Ape Fight!  APE FIGHT!  APE FIGHT!  APE FIGHT!

This is a scene from my fifth book, The Mortal Tally, coming out in 2015 featuring Lenk, Kataria and a shitton of apes.  Apes with shurken.  Apes with shuriken who are ridden by ape-men who throw spears.

Why did I write it?  Because it’s awesome.

Why did Marc draw it?  Same reason.

Why are we here?  All answers lead to Ape Fight.

That Moment When…

That moment when you finish writing a book.

That moment when you realize how much work is left to do.

That moment when you edit relentlessly, polishing every word until it shines.

That moment when you think it’s taking a long time but you know it’s worth taking a long time to do it.

That moment when that effort pays off.

That moment when you get to see it for yourself.

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That moment when you hold your Advanced Reader’s Copy, the first physical validation of your work.

That moment when you look at it and see yourself compared to some of your favorite authors.

And see some of your favorite authors saying nice things about you.

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That moment when you open it up.

That moment when you were a kid and spent a good half an hour studying the map at the start of a fantasy novel.

That moment when you get to do the same thing for your own book.

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That moment when you realize your ARC is out in the hands of all those authors you admire.

That moment when you realize it won’t work for everyone.

That moment when you realize it did work for someone.

That moment when you realize that someone is someone whose work you devoured and were left salivating for more.

That moment when that someone is Robin Hobb and she says some super awesome things about your book and you get really fuckin’ excited and holy shit this book is happening and it’s going to be great.

That moment.

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Choking on the Slurpee of Fantasy

There probably a dozen good reasons to hate Robert J. Bennett.

For one, he is an absolutely dreadful housemate, I’m told, insisting on performing morning calisthenics at 6 AM and livestreaming the events from a GoPro situated on the floor between his legs with the lens pointed up.  He has a lengthy list of academic credits, most of which involve the words “Why My Neighbors Are Mad At Me For Putting Something In Their Closet” somewhere in the title.  And we need not go into his brief entrepreneurial foray into the world of funeral clowns.

But if you had to narrow down one specific reason, it should probably be that he is brilliant and I hate that.

Doubtlessly, if you follow the link above, you’ll at some point delve into his blog.  You’ll find things there that are frightening in how intelligent they are (my favorite is this one on fandom).  His books, including the upcoming City of Stairs (which I highly recommend), are absolutely no different.  He remains the sole author I cannot leave in my bathroom because the specific way he works his prose and ideas demands more attention than I can divide between a poop and the throes of bodily egress.

Honestly, Robert is the author that will have shaped the stories we’ll be telling twenty years from now.  He’s that good.  Even when I disagree with him.

Such as when he wrote this post about genre labeling.

Now, neither the fact that I disagree with him nor the fact that he is brilliant are what cause me to loathe him in this particular instance.  Rather, it’s the fact that he has successfully made me feel very, very old.

I know that sounds like the opening to a rant in which I’ll chuckle about how different things used to be and, somewhere in there, throw a passive-aggressive and wholly alarming insinuation about how much “purer” the genre was back then, but rest assured that the idea of fading youth was just a passing fancy.  I only bring it up because I remember wholly feeling how Robert feels right now.

I don’t think any author sits down, cracks their knuckles and says: “Well, time to write something wholly derivative and entirely reminiscent of previous iterations and shovel that once-original shit down the gaping craw of a populace ready to consume.”  We all like to think we’re original geniuses.  That’s not to say that we aren’t–indeed, just by letting our own enthusiasm seep into our work, even our own iterations of the same ideas will be original.  But I think there comes a rather difficult point in every writer’s life where they sit down and think the same thought.

“Why aren’t people seeing what I’m seeing?”

When we first start out and someone asks us “what do we write?”  We describe ourselves and our work in vague, nebulous terms as we struggle to come to grips with what we might be and avoid calling ourselves something we might regret later.  As we move on, we become more confident in what we write and describe ourselves in more rigid terms.  Then a number of things happen: reviewers call us completely different things, readers call us completely different things, the people we had hoped would like us do not.  And then typical publishing career issues rear up: the economy changes, we don’t sell as well as we hoped, sometimes we don’t sell at all.  And all of this culminates in a moment of dread where we start asking ourselves question.

“Am I not what I thought I’d be?”  “Was I never what I thought I was?”  “Or am I just not very good at what I want to do?”

If this sounds overly specific, it’s because I went through this when my books came out.

liked to say I was writing chiefly character-driven drama featuring supernatural elements derived from a meeting of ancient world mythology and religious philosophical aspects.  When that got too long (and people seemed less interested), I started calling it in-depth character studies of people in a secondary world.  For a very long time, I tried to avoid calling myself “fantasy.”  I tried to avoid saying words like “sword fights,” “monsters,” “magic,” “banter,” “cursing,” “poop jokes.”  I said “character-driven,” “thoughtful studies,” “broken people,” “fantastic elements.”  All those things from both sentences are true, but the former had an element of joy that I felt afraid to acknowledge, lest it seem like I’m not a serious writer.

Then the reviews started coming in.  I started hearing different words.  From people who liked me, I heard words like “epic fantasy,” “sword and sorcery,” “classic dungeon-delving,” “party-based.”  From people who didn’t like me, I heard words like “D&D,” “video game fiction,” “tie-in fiction but worse,” “blood-soaked goreporn,” “nihilistic grimness” (we didn’t have grimdark back then).

Genre titles and I hated them all, good and bad.  I wanted to resist them, lest I be tied down to one of them.  I didn’t want to be branded “the sword and sorcery” guy anymore than I wanted to be the “D&D but bad” guy.  I wanted to be me, Sam Sykes, and I wanted people to expend massive amounts of breath in describing what I did.

I have no idea if Robert went through or is going through the same thing.  But my experience runs counter to his claim that people want to know a genre first and then buy you.  In my experience, people will form their ideas about you and then put you in the genre that best allows them to embrace or dismiss you (check out this Penny Arcade strip to see what I mean).

Don’t get me wrong: the idea is super-alarming and, in a lot of cases, harmful.  You could probably find a lot of people out there who make the declaration that they don’t read urban fantasy and then find the Dresden Files and Iron Druid Chronicles on their shelves, but a distinct lack of women epic fantasy authors.

And don’t get me wrong, I hate the idea of “the genre” as an all-encompassing monolith or means of demarcating tribal lines.

But I don’t know if these are the faults of genres, specifically.

I used to, of course.  I would agonize over them, being called one thing or another as though that would put me on one side of the tribal line.  I wrote my book, Black Halo, from that perspective and it is, I feel, my weakest one.  It was a source of stress and sadness for me.

I function peculiarly in that I can reach a certain stress threshold and then simply…not care anymore.  My body seems to register that, if I get any more angry about a subject it’ll cause me some serious harm, and releases some chemical that makes it seem less important.  This eventually followed Black Halo’s publication and reception (which was not up to expectations).  And I went through a moment of zen.

I stopped stressing.  I started writing from a different place.  I wrote a book I loved.  And because I loved it, I wanted to put a lot of effort into it, because I was interested in it, because it caused me joy, because I was passionate about it in a way that I hadn’t been when I was dedicating my energies to worrying about how the book would be received.

These days, when people come up to me, I get a variety of different genres.

“Your book is the most epic thing I’ve ever read!”

“Your book really reminds me of the old Conan the Barbarian fantasy novels.”

“Your book is like a really fun D&D campaign!”

“Your book made me cry.”

My reaction to all of these is the same: “Awesome!”

Genres are, from a publisher’s standpoint, useful tools: they are ever-changing, they are shifted to match current moods and market trends.  We didn’t have “epic fantasy” as a classification several years ago and a few years from now, “grimdark” will probably be an actual marketing word.  It’s useless to fight against this.

But genres from a reader’s standpoint?  I appreciate those.  People will tell me a lot about what they thought about the book just by what genre they put me in.  Those who call me epic fantasy will tell me they liked the plot.  Those who call me sword and sorcery will tell me they liked the combat.  Those who call me D&D will tell me they liked the character interactions (and often the romance, if you can believe that).  Sometimes they won’t even use a genre.  Sometimes they’ll just call it “my book.”

That is a good moment.  When the work speaks for itself.  When your name becomes its own genre.

I do sympathize with Robert’s concerns, just as I don’t envy his problems.  Like I said, he’s a genius, and he’s going to have the problems all geniuses have of talking to people on a level where they can communicate effectively.  Genre, as a concept, may be more important to him than most because his books so clearly transcend genre.

And I do think there are issues in how we argue and categorize books.  Same Six Names Syndrome, anyone?

And maybe it’s just because I am feeling old, but I don’t think genre is that bad of a thing anymore.  I don’t think it’s worth it to split hairs over that.  When I’m on a panel and the moderator says “let’s begin by defining the genre,” I rarely bother to hide my groan and most of the other authors on my panel follow suit.  We’ve done this a lot.  We’ve discussed the intricacies to death.  We’ve fought bloody wars over what constitutes epic versus not-epic, high versus low, urban versus rural.  It’s a conflict that is never going to go away because genres, as a concept, are probably never going to go away.

I used to be more upset about this than I am now.  It used to bother me to be known as sword and sorcery over epic, epic over character-driven.  It used to bother me to be put in one genre or another.  But now?

I’m content to let the reader decide what is epic to them.

That’s just fine by me.

GenCon 2014!

Hey, fellas! While a bunch of my loser friends are over at LonCon, I thought I’d get down in the trenches with the gaming men and women of our great world and attend GenCon.  Fortunately, they were nice enough to put me on the Writer’s Symposium track and I’ll be doing a few panels while I’m there! They are as such…

Thursday, 8 PM

Writer’s Craft: Epic Storylines

Room 243

Friday, 8 PM

Writer’s Craft: Character Backstory

Room 244

Saturday, 9 AM

Writer’s Life: Writer’s Toolbox

Room 245

I hope to see you there!

BUT WAIT!  THERE’S MORE!

At GenCon, I’ll be giving away free issues of my new comic: Gold and Steel, Flesh and Blood: A prelude to the novel THE CITY STAINED RED.

BrpTKzEIIAA7Y9l

This is a small comic prelude to my latest novel.  If you’d like one, just come up to me at some point and say: “I’VE GOT A REAL RED WAGON.”

Or just ask for one, IDK.

Colonels of Industry

I am not of the opinion that Traditionally Published Authors and Self-Published Authors are as chainmail and rust monsters (see what happened there?  That’s nerd cred, son).

Rather, I’m of the opinion that the line between the two is getting fuzzier every day.  Good kind of fuzzy, like a teddy bear someone would hand you after you watched your house burn down.  Short fiction is becoming an increasingly effective way to gateway new readers into a series, as Brian McClellan has noted, and one of the most profitable ways to market that short fiction is to put it out there on your own steam.  I predict that more and more authors of epic fantasy, a genre possessed of fans who cannot get enough worldbuilding, will be following this kind of model where auxiliary fiction will be produced of their own accord and put out there.

This is a good thing, in my perspective.  But with it comes a few challenges.

See, when you go with a publisher, you are not actually just getting someone to print your book.  You’re getting someone to edit it, format it, make it look nice, do cover art and, most importantly, market it.  When you strike out on your own, you’re doing all that by yourself.

I can’t tell you how to do most of that stuff, since my plan for getting cover art would be basically to beg Todd Lockwood and then maybe sacrifice a goat in his name in hopes of appeasing him.  But I like to think I know a little something about marketing and promoting yourself.

Viewers of this blog will remember that I’ve talked about this subject before.  The best way to market is to Be Honest, Be Unashamed, Be Enthusiastic, Be Involved and also Don’t Be Bitter, Don’t Be Dishonest, Don’t Be Spammy and Don’t Be Discouraged.  These are good foundations upon which to build further ideas of promotion.

So with that in mind, I’d like to talk about the idea of space.

It’s not typically something we think about on the internet, as this is more or less one massive conversation in which several billion people are involved in, all talking at once.  The idea of space in a conversation occurs to us pretty naturally in the real world where, if we were to see two people sitting by their own talking about the merits of Coke vs. Pepsi, you probably wouldn’t think to walk over there, sit down and offer your opinion.  On twitter, though, when two people are having that same conversation, people for some reason think nothing of butting in and saying “COKE IS POISON DON’T PUT THAT SHIT IN YOUR BODY YOU STUPID SKANK.”

To a degree, this is inevitable.  The internet, after all, is a terrible place.  And one of the main advantages of social media sites from a promotional perspective is that the access to the author is opened up.  People actually enjoy talking to the authors of their favorite works.  But again, let us consider the aspect of space.

You might love Joe Hill.  You might really like it if Joe Hill were at a convention that you could go to and go up to him and say: “Mr. Hill, I love your work.”  And you might really like it if Joe Hill replied: “Well, thank you, I’ll have a new book out next month and I will be happy to sign it for you.”  You might really like that whole thing.

If you were to wake up one morning, go to the bathroom, raise the toilet lid and find Joe Hill popping out of the bowl saying: “Hey, dude, I have a new book out only $19.99, act now and I’ll throw in a free shamwow.”  Well, you might not like that.

I bring this up only because I see this happening more often on twitter lately.

Out of nowhere, an author (usually self-published) will send me a tweet that has nothing to do with anything I have been talking about and slap me with a link to their book and a generic “buy it now” message.

Guys.  Don’t do this.

This is the equivalent of someone butting in on your conversation.  This is the equivalent of finding a Chinese takeout menu slid under your door.  This is the equivalent of waking up to find Joe Hill in your toilet.  None of those are pleasant things.

This falls under Don’t Be Spammy, but what I’ve never talked about before is that the concept of space goes both ways (hurr).

This isn’t the only talk about self-promotion gone awry you’ll see.  Talk to any author, any reader, they’ll tell you times they’ve been put off or alienated by an overly-aggressive author.  Hell, you can read any community website out there and probably hear something about how groan-inducing self-promotion is, how tacky, indulgent and terrible it is.

You could be forgiven for being for being paralyzed with fear from ever self-promoting again out of a blind terror of being judged.  But what all these horror stories fail to tell you is that, in addition to being tacky, indulgent and terrible, self-promotion is also extremely, extremely necessary.

I love being a traditionally published author, but I’m also not Jonathan Franzen, so I don’t have the kind of massive marketing budget behind me that I can just toss my book out there and trust some combination of my publisher, Oprah and Jesus to make it a smash hit.  I have to self-promote.  I have to make people aware of my books.  I have to make my books sound like they’re worth buying.

And that’s where the concept of YOUR space, as an author, comes in.

A lot of social media is actually having conversations with all those several billion people.  It’s putting what you want to say out there and seeing who responds.  It’s hawking, advertising, handselling, promising, reassuring, apologizing and sometimes bribing with sloppy kisses.  Sometimes it feels like you’re talking to nobody in particular.  Sometimes it feels like no one is listening.  But it’s out there (and it’s out there forever), so you gotta make use of it.

Your twitter profile, your facebook page, your blog post, your website is where you go to make yourself known.  This is where you have links to buy shit, excerpts for people to read, pornography to peruse, whatever sells.  And you should definitely feel free to do that.  Say what you want, as loud as you want.  Scream it out into the ether.

Some people might complain about the self-promotion, but fuck them, that’s your space.

And this is where spaces collide.  If your promotion is entertaining, clever or funny, people will eventually come to you.  And when they do, if your space is adequately set up to let them see what you’ve got, they will probably partake of your delicious verbiage.

I should stress, though, that this is where the part about Being Honest and Being Enthusiastic comes into play.  The relationship of an author to their readers is peculiar; people prefer to think of you as a person or at least a very good story.  If your space is 100% advertisements, people will think you’re more a spambot broken free.  Remember to talk about stuff you like, stuff you’re doing, stuff you’re worried about, any stuff that isn’t just about selling your book or complaining about people not buying your book.

Readers coming to your space is great.  That’s how you get noticed.  You coming to readers’ space is different.  That can easily be alienating and weird.

Like, imagine if you were sitting in a living room with your friends, who were all Joe Hill fans, and talking about his latest book and your opinions on it.  Now, imagine that the toilet you had installed in your living room for some reason suddenly opens and between the lid and seat, Joe Hill’s glassy stare peers out from the darkness beneath, watching you eagerly for your opinion.

Pretty fucking weird, right?  That’s what going into a reader’s space is like.

But not all the time.

I’m a big fan of /r/fantasy for a lot of reasons, but one of them is that the authors and readers share a common space there.  It’s a very open, welcoming place for both people.  The rules are a bit more fluid there and it’s easier to talk to people.  But again, the rules of all self-promotion apply: Do Honesty, Enthusiasm and Unashamedness.  Don’t Spam, Bitter or Dishonest.

The internet is still kind of a fucked up place as far as socializing goes.  We’re still figuring out a lot of this.  But I think you’ll be much happier if you take these guidelines.

Mostly because your book will probably sell.

Which means you won’t die in poverty.

Hooray!

Tales of Punishment

A few things about me.

1) I’ve been a guest at Phoenix Comicon for four years now.  It is my favorite con, my home con, and I love it dearly enough to have spent a lot of effort contributing to it via lending my particular expertise to its panels and attendants.

2) I love Japanese television.  Not anime (or at least, not just anime), but all Japanese television.  Specifically, the Japanese game show.  Specifically specifically, the Japanese batsu (punishment) game show.  Specifically specifically specifically, the Japanese batsu game shows as performed by the comedy duo of Gaki no Tsukai Ya Arehende!!  A manzai team featuring one of my personal heroes, comedian and screenwriter, Hitoshi Matsumoto.

matsumoto

A Batsu Game is more or less exactly what it sounds like: people are given a task to complete and are punished if they fail it.  Gaki no Tsukai does one every year and it is always amazing.  Most of these challenges revolve around one challenge: do not laugh.  You can find an awesome example of it here.

3) Having spent all these years building up good will with the people of Phoenix Comicon, I thought it would be great to blow it all by requesting the privilege of paying homage to people (and specifically, a person) who have entertained me and deeply affected and inspired by own sense of humor by hosting a Batsu Game of my own.

Really, the stars aligned on this one as several people made a series of bad decisions.

First of all, the Phoenix Comicon literary track foolishly agreed to let me do it.

Secondly, I asked my friends Myke Cole, Aprilynne Pike, Chuck Wendig, John Scalzi, Delilah S. Dawson, Patrick Rothfuss and Leanna Renee Heiber to join.  They all foolishly agreed.

And finally, I requested that the whole thing be videotaped, that we could enjoy it again and again.  Thus, the Triforce of Terrible Decisions was completed.

And now I pass the savings on to you, the viewer.  Please watch the Author Batsu Game here.

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