Guest Post: Chris Baca — Self-Publishing Marketing

Five Things I learned from self-publishing that apply to marketing in general.

By: Chris Baca

I’ve learned a lot from publishing my first short story myself. Of course, I’ve dealt with trying to drive traffic to my site, seeking ‘likes’ and ‘retweets’ and more. I’ve also had to contend with every aspect of publishing, from editing to formatting, to marketing, and beyond. My experiences in these roles have given me an interesting new insight into the world of marketing. I’ve learned a few things I’d like to share with those just starting their project. Although, I think even those who’ve been in the game for a while or haven’t been as successful as they wanted would benefit from this knowledge as well. Just remember as you read this list, a lot of us have been guilty of one or more of the things on this list at one time or another, so don’t feel bad. Learn to recognize the things that are harmful to the business that is you so you can market more effectively in the future. I’ll use a lot of references and analogies that have to do with publishing an e book, so I apologize, but that’s where most of my marketing effort has been expended. In other words, it’s what I’m good at.

1. It’s very easy to become a spammer

Ok, so you’ve already published, or are about to publish your first indie e book. Or perhaps you’ve started selling your knit crafts on Etsie. Whatever your adventure is, I’m sure you’re very excited about it and eager to spread the word. Just don’t let that eagerness go overboard. You can quickly become an annoyance to people on social networking these days if you post a link to your blog or site. People have learned to tune out spammers like this quick. Think about when you meet someone in public (if you’re actually interested in speaking to them, that is. If you’re not interested in speaking to your fans, then none of my advice can help you). You try to find common interests and relate to each other from a place of similar experiences. If you were to see someone at the supermarket with a paperback book in their cart for example, would you immediately say to them, “I see you like to read. Would you like to buy my newest science fiction novel also?” as you proceed to slap them in the face with your book until their nose bleeds and they lose consciousness.

In social networking, as well as in real life, you must develop bonds with people. Try to establish connections with your followers and the communities that hold interests similar to yours. If you join their discussion, people will be able to find out more about you, and determine if they like you and your product. It’s been shown that if people like you or your message, not only are they more likely to buy from you, but they’re more likely to tell their friends about your product as well. Besides, you may be pleasantly surprised at what you learn from your followers as well!

I have to be honest with you, I’ve been guilty of this myself. It’s just so easy to want to release your pent up energy and excitement after having birthed your creation upon the world, that it’s almost impossible not to. So I foresee that this problem won’t end anytime soon, especially with all the neat and nifty (not to mention FREE) analysis and optimization tools that exist.

One danger with this that I feel needs mentioning exists solely because of the easy ability to track so many different and varied statistics for little or no charge. This can create a tendency to post on social media links to your blog or website or whatever, and obsessively check to see how many page views or likes that you’ve gotten. I like to call it, ‘scoring points’. This quickly becomes a dangerous game where you risk alienating your fan base and friends by overloading them with your pitch. You’re generally treating them as a statistic for your meat grinder and not as a person.

All that being said, if you just engage in social media like you would any interaction with real people, you’ll get better results for your product. This is because these are real people on the other side of your monitor. We tend to forget that when we converse online. If all else fails and you suspect you may still be annoying your fellow social networking folks, you can always take a break! Step back from the computer/tablet/smartphone/etc. for a while and relax. Play some games, or make a snack perhaps. This is what I do whenever I think I’ve been spending too much energy on marketing, and it helps a lot. I encourage you to experiment with different ways of breaking away from marketing and getting back to what you do best: creating!

2. Stop marketing to your fellow authors (or your competition, in other markets)

This is sort of related to the first entry, but this particular marketing is not only spammy, it harms your fellow writers. Think about it; how much do you do in your average day? That’s just as much as your fellow entrepreneur has to get done as well. Unless your product is designed in some way to assist him (such as a book about self-publishing to assist writers) then there is no need to market it to him. To put it simply, he or she is not your target audience. Your efforts would be much better spent finding people who can relate to your product or message. This way you can be sure that you are maximizing the potential outcome of your campaigns and (hopefully) increasing response to and awareness of your product.

I see this a LOT on Twitter. I am followed by other writers and bloggers constantly. Many of them are following thousands of people, and it makes me wonder about the relevancy of their tweet stream. How can you possibly get any consistent conversations going with such a glut of information coming at you? Try to watch who you follow if you use Twitter. Some people will even use the tactic of following you to get you to follow them. They then promptly unfollow you and hope you keep following them.

When you do this, you’re only wasting your efforts. If you had to convince someone to agree to be bombarded with your message under false pretenses, they’re probably not going to buy anything from you. Again, you’ve just treated that person as another number and not as a person.

3. Cheap Ads Are Too Good To Be True

The area I have the most experience with this is Facebook ads. They make their ads seem nearly infallible, showing you how many thousands of people you will reach before you post the ad. If you’re just starting your Facebook company page, this can be frustrating. If you just want to send the ad to your friends and their friends, you may find that even at the five dollar level it isn’t worth it. It won’t reach very many people. In fact, I tried this early on and Facebook told me it would reach 3,800 of eleven people. That one made me laugh. Alternatively, you can choose keywords and demographics to market to. I selected an age range of 18-25 years old, with keywords like ‘science fiction’ and ‘alternate universe’ when promoting my e book. I got the number of views promised (almost 4,000 views) but no click through or engagement whatsoever.

What I’m getting at is this: in our day and age, most people are nearly completely immune to advertisements. They’ve been conditioned to know what to look for, and it’s a simple matter for them to ignore, avoid, and obfuscate attempts at being sold to. This is why it’s so important for you to find out where your target audience is already conversing, and join them there. Find people to talk to on social networking, message boards, communities, etc.

I originally underestimated the usefulness of Google+. But then I started using the communities and found how easy it was to keep track of the most important conversations. The Communities on Google+ allow you to easily join a group of like-minded people and quickly join their conversation. I particularly love that it gives you the option to turn on and off notifications for posts in particular communities. This helps you to remember to get involved in your industry and engage your customers. If you don’t respond to them or give them a reason to continue to engage with you, they’ll soon spend there time elsewhere on the internet.

With so many options for communication, and the instant gratification that the internet has brought us, people are quick to flee boring or useless sites. If your site or product can’t satisfy them with entertainment or information or something else useful, then you’ll lose them. You can also push people away by being lazy in your response time. People don’t like to feel like you’re too big or too important to respond to them. Once they’ve migrated on, it’s not likely that they’ll look back either.

4. Wait Until You Have A Product

Particularly when you’re considering running promotions or contests. I was hung up on when I could publish my story because I was running a contest to title the story. Whoever had the best title would win a free e book once it was published. I expected there to be a big response, but at first there was almost total apathy. As a result, I was forced to delay the publishing of my book by over two weeks.

It’s OK to run promos to get likes on your Facebook page, however. Something like that doesn’t limit your ability to produce, and doesn’t obligate you to do anything beyond marketing. In fact, I have a running promo on my Facebook page like this, and once we reach the goal I’m giving away free e books to three random followers.

I’ve heard this referred to as creating urgency in the mind of your customer. Basically, you want to make your promotions sound exciting, and make them limited offers. Things like the first twenty to comment on a blog post get a free sample, or giving your followers incentive to help you hit milestones are great examples of marketing. Just make sure you’re not tying your own hands with the promotion.

That’s really all there is to this point, I just felt that it was really important to mention. I thought my promo for the free e book was going to make my blog take off. The fact that it didn’t, and subsequently delayed my originally intended schedule, greatly frustrated me. I hope by listing this here, other artists and entrepreneurs can avoid making my mistakes.

5. Don’t Settle For One Market

This is basically like the old saying, “Don’t put all of your eggs into one basket.” I say this because Amazon requires exclusivity in order for you to get the best benefits as an indie publisher. Their KDP Select program gives you greater visibility, but at the cost of forgoing any other market in which you could place your book. This just seems like a bad idea to me. Granted, the exclusivity provision lifts after three months, but that’s three months in which you could be making sales with other publishers at the same time. That’s why I published with Amazon (NOT in the KDP Select program, however) AND Smashwords, to ensure greater distribution. This ensures that I not only get more visibility to potential customers, but my customers can choose what kind of device they want to view my work on. They aren’t restricted from reading my story because of the device they use.

This applies to all of marketing. You want to give your customers the freedom of choice. Don’t limit the way you interact with them. Don’t limit the way they interact with you. If your industry warrants, make your product available in many formats, and let your customers know about each one. When a person sees the thought that went into making your products available to them, they will appreciate it. Nothing frustrates someone quicker than being amped up about a particular product only to be told they can’t use it. It’s like if I told you about an awesome new video game that came out and got you excited about it, only to tell you it’s exclusive to the Playstation 4, and you own an Xbox. Talk about a let down.

So remember, treat people on the Internet like you should: like people. Help your fellow entrepreneurs by sharing your experiences with them and discussing what works and what doesn’t. Don’t just bombard them with sales pitches. Be wary of ads that seem to good to be true, because they probably are. Just because you got 10,000 people to look at your page doesn’t mean a single one of them wanted to stick around. Develop and release your product or service first, and then run your competitions and marketing campaigns. Finally, never settle for exclusivity in marketing, engagement, or distribution, and beware those that ask for it.

Chris Baca is a 25 year old father and husband. He lives with his loving wife Audrey, and his amazing and intelligent daughter Ella in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Chris is the author of the recently published, “Day In & Day Out” This e book can be purchased at Smashwords here:, or at Amazon here:

Reading Now: Chuck Wendig

chuck_wendig_blackbirdsI normally post when I start reading a book. Sometimes, I do the post a day or three after I actually start. That was a mistake this time. I figured I’d have plenty of time to put up a post regarding Chuck Wendig‘s novel, Blackbirds.

I was wrong.

It took me all of three days to tear through the first novel about Miaram Black. I read on my lunch breaks, a little after work, and some during times when I should have been working on side projects. The book was not short by any measure. It weighs in at 384 pages, so I really busted my average pages per day on this one!

Here’s why:

Miriam is an endlessly fascinating character. Hell, all of the characters are so rich and deep and personal and raw and distinct that it’s impossible to get confused as to who is doing/saying what. The book itself is raw (definitely rated ‘R’), but in a somehow deeply insightful manner. I’m so incredibly happy I picked up this book. I’m also immensely overjoyed that there are two more books in this series. I’m already a decent amount through Mockingbird as I type this, and the story of this horribly broken young woman continues to fascinate me. I’m eager to find out what kind of pure Hell Chuck has in store for Miriam.

chuck_wendig_mockingbirdI’ll let you know what I think of Mockingbird when I get it done. It might not go as fast as Blackbirds… but it might! I just don’t know at this moment.

Thanks for writing these stories, Chuck!

PS: When I realized the book was written in present tense (a fairly quick realization), and that he scene/time jumps all over the place (took me a while to get this), I didn’t care. Normally, just one of these factors in a book will destroy my enjoyment of it and I’ll put it down. With two of them going on… I didn’t care. These two approaches at telling Miriam’s story worked so incredibly well. Again, I just didn’t care that I disliked these two technical bits. The story and characters hammered through my soul, psyche, and mind to the point that I was drawn along the fun house ride regardless of if I wanted to or not.

Five More Tips for Making a Conference Great

I’ve been thinking about my first post that contained five tips for making the most of a conference. I jotted down a few notes on adding five more tips, and I wanted to share them with you here.

1) Practice Your Pitch

If you’re going to be pitching your book to an agent or editor, then you need to know it inside and out. Depending on the conference, you only have a few minutes to “sell” the idea of your book to the person sitting on the other side of the table. They will have questions. You will have questions. Leave some time for those queries to flow across the table. As an example, my pitch takes roughly 70 seconds. That’s only a little over a minute, and I wrap it up by asking them what else they want to know about the book. Don’t get nervous about answering the questions. You’ve written the book. You know the book. It’s come from your soul, so you probably know it better than you own child. The questions are usually easy to answer. I’ve had a few people ask me if their manuscript needs to be completed before they pitch. I used to answer, “Yes, always,” but I’ve come to soften that stance a little. If you can finish the novel in a high quality manner in a professional period of time, then you can be close to done, but not quite done. If you can polish things off within a few weeks of the end of the conference, great. If you can send a full manuscript their way within a day or three of the agent/editor asking for it, all the better! Here are some resources from Linda Rohrbough and Delve Writing that may help. Check out the Delve Writing link sooner rather than later. It’s a class that happens very soon. What happens if you get a “Send It!” from the agent/editor? Well, I’ll cover that in the next day or two as it’s a large topic. It’s something you should be prepared for, so keep an eye out for that future post.

2) Plan Your Schedule

As soon as you can get your hands on the schedule of classes, look it over. Make plans. Combine the scant information in the schedule (the font can only get so small, and the boxes are only so large) with the expanded information in the conference program. Get the information online if you can. If not, get to the registration desk early. There will be lines. Plan on that. Once you’re through registration and have your hands on things, find a quiet corner to scour the schedule. Have a two different colored highlighters handy. Use one color (I usually use yellow) for the primary thing you want to go to. Use the other color (blue, for me) as a backup session in the same time slot. If you get to the primary and find all the seats taken or the doors already closed due to fire safety measures, hustles to your second pick. Near the end of the current session, quietly pull out your highlighter marked schedule and find out where your next #1 session is going to be. This will help guarantee that you’ll be one of the first in and will be able to pick a prime seat.

3) Don’t Bring Your Manuscript With You

There’s no need to have a copy of your manuscript with you. It doesn’t matter if it’s a copy on a thumb drive or a perfect-bound copy you had made at the local copy store. People interested in your novel will want you to contact them via their already established methods. Agents/Editors at a conference already have enough crap to haul back to their home. Many of them are from out of state and will be flying home. They don’t want to haul more paper back with them. “But a PDF on their laptop won’t make it heavier!” Yeah. I know. But that inadvertent virus on your thumb drive can destroy everything on their laptop. You don’t mean to do it. You might be the most cautious computer person in the world, but they don’t know that. They can’t risk their laptop (which is probably tied to their livelihood) when they already have an established manner for you to get your novel to them. Just bring a notebook and jot down how they want you to send it and follow the instructions.

4) Get A Room!

While looking at the published schedule, you might notice that things end between seven and nine in the evening. You think to yourself, “Self. I can just drive home after things and come back in the morning. Ah, the joys of sleeping in my own bed.” What you may not realize is that there are unofficial, after-hours events going on. Some of it happens at the public bar. Some of it happens in other attendees’ rooms/suites. Some of it may happen in a semi-official (or completely official) “con suite” where drinking, talking, networking, and other socializing goes on. These after-hours events can go until two, three, even four, in the morning. Wanna lose some vital sleep while driving home and back again? I think not. Getting a room for the night is a vital way to snag another hour or two of sleep that night. When you’re only getting three-to-five hours a night, losing two hours (or so) can be a direct path to coming down with ConCrud. No one wants that.

5) Attend BarCon

As I’ve said above, there are some after-hours events. Go. To. Them. Hang at the bar. Chill out (if invited) in someone’s suite where the party (and, sometimes, absinthe fountain) is at. While you’re in sessions, you’re learning. Your brain is being filled, but that social animal in you is being ignored. There’s hardly any time between the sessions to truly socialize and network. Meals are a great time to meet people, but you’re at a table with (at most) nine other people. You need to expand the chain of people you know (and that know you!) more than those nine people. Hitting BarCon is the way to go. The most powerful words to get someone’s time and rapt attention at a conference are, “Can I buy you a drink?” It’s not a cheesy pick up line. It’s a ice-breaker. It’s a door-opener. Maybe that door that opens is the one that will lead to a great leap forward in your writing career. You never know!

The Other Side of Fear

other_side_of_fearI friend of mine posted this image with a quote from Jack Canfield. For those of you that are somehow unable to read the quote, it goes, “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”

I couldn’t agree more.

I used to be afraid of almost everything important. I’m not talking about phobias or fears of “scary” things like snakes, spiders, scorpions, graves, darkness, heights or things like that.

I’m talking about fear of companionship, friendship, family, success, and giving over my heart to other people for them to do with as they wish. This fear paralyzed every relationship I had before they even started. The people I grew up with (mom, dad, grandparents, cousins, etc.) were already established in my heart. I had very little fear of them, but there was some. It was all on me, not them. They rarely gave me reason to be afraid, but I found reasons within myself to not want to be close to them. I couldn’t bring myself to trust them. Again, it was all on me.

Sometime in my sophomore year of high school, I met a wonderful girl a year ahead of me in high school. Her mother was our french teacher, and we shared that class together. She was always a friend to me. Early on in our relationship, I kept her at a distance. By this time in my life, my ability to do this was well-honed and sharp as a razor. I could easily cut someone out of my life without them even knowing what happened. Katie disarmed me with her kindness and warmth. My razor fell by the wayside and rusted so quickly, I didn’t realize it had done so. She brought me out of the iron casing I’d wrapped myself in. I was free of my protective, and restrictive, armor. I was vulnerable in the cold wastelands of high school.

This was not an overnight process. It wasn’t until I was near the end of my junior year (well over 20 months after Katie and I first met) that I peeked out the shell and found that happiness could be had. Sure, there was a chance to be hurt, but I had to take that risk. With it being the end of my junior year, I realized Katie was about to leave to go to college since she was about to graduate. Without her there to hold my hand in friendship and drag me through the painful birthing processes as I escaped the constriction of my armor, I felt lost.

I wanted to crawl back into my armor.

Then a girl I’d met through Katie called me out of the blue during summer vacation. She continued where Katie left off with kindness and friendly love. It wasn’t until years, perhaps decades, later that the glimmer of an idea popped into my head: Did Katie arrange to “hand me off” to Heather because they both knew I needed it? To this day, I’m not sure, but I like to think their secret conspiracy was for my betterment.

Heather introduced me to a whole slew of friends. I’d love to list them off here, but there are too many. I don’t want to do any of them the disservice of forgetting their names on my list of vital people that helped me grow strong after I cast off the internal supports of my distance from others.

During my senior year of high school, I made a decision. It was a hard one to make. I could still see my protective gear in the rear-view mirror of my past. It loomed in my shadow and demanded I return to its safety. My fragile, yet strengthening, psyche of what friendship meant wanted to flee to its protective coverings. I decided not to allow that to happen.

I turned my back on my past and swore to forge a new me.

I had moved past the barrier of fear that kept me from being the true man that I would eventually become.

The person you know today is nothing like the boy he was so many decades ago. The confidence I have in myself, the willingness to make friends, my drive to excel against all odds, and the compassion I have for others are due to the massive emotional efforts of Katie and Heather.

Almost everyone I’ve met since those distant days of high school has supported me and held me up.

The most important person in my life today that keeps me going on my path is my wife, Kimberly. It’s for you that I continue to strive to excel. It’s for our son that I want to make proud that I do what I do.

The point of all of this?

I’m certain you have fears as well. Again, I’m not talking about phobias or those strange things that go bump in the night. I’m talking about deeply internal fears of you build for yourself.

You can get past them. Perhaps not alone. Probably not alone. Find someone in your life you can trust and extend your hand. Ask for help. There are people out there willing to help you for as long as you need. It won’t be an overnight process, but you can do it. I know you can.

Work past your fears and get to what you want. Get to what you deserve.

Finished: Jim Butcher’s Cold Days

Cold_Days_HardcoverI finished reading Jim Butcher’s Cold Days this afternoon. I started this book way back in December of last year. Don’t let the time it took me to read the book suggest that the book was a slow read. I’ve just had lots of PPW stuff and personal stuff going on since that time. I honestly did not have much time/energy to get in as much reading time as I would have liked.

I always thought that Jim must hate, I mean really hate, Harry because of all of the shit he puts the wizard through. This book is no exception. If you think that the previous 13 novels (and handful of short stories) were examples of how to amp up the stakes and beat up a character, then you have another thing coming. The pure hell that Butcher drives Harry Dresden through in Cold Days is nothing short of amazing.

Every time I thought things couldn’t get worse for Harry and his friends, they did. Right up until the final scene. Now I feel even more sorry for a different character than Harry. I won’t say who the character is to avoid spoilers. That character has already been put through the ringer (who hasn’t in the Dresdenverse?), and they have been dropped into the thick of things even more than I thought imagined.

When I saw what was coming to that character, I was in the lobby of my doctor’s office. I sat there mumbling and pleading with Jim, “No. No. Not them. Anyone but them. No. No. No! Don’t let it happen.” … and then it did.

Man, what a ride! As always, Jim has delivered. As always, I’m sad that the book has ended. As always, I can’t wait for the next book to hit the shelves!!!! Come on! Let’s see Skin Game already.

Well done, Jim. I tip my hat to you.

Five Tips for Making the Most of a Conference

Pikes Peak Writers recently hosting our second annual Write Your Heart Out Event, which is a free half-day showcase of what to expect at our annual Pikes Peak Writers Conference. Congrats to Shannon and her staff of volunteers for putting together a fantastic event!

I had prepared a series of interludes between the main speakers in which I was going to cover five tips for making the most of a conference. When we sat down to hash out speaker order, timings, and such, it turned out we were going to be over our allotted time for the event. My five tips was removed from the programming, so we didn’t go over.

So my humongous time and energy efforts don’t go to waste, I’m posting the tips here…. Okay… I can’t lie. My “humongous” efforts boil down to a single side of a 3×5 index card. :)

Here are the tips for you to use to get the most out of your conference experience:

1) Business Cards

PPWC has around 300 attendees, staff, and faculty movin’ and shakin’ through the rooms and hallways. You’re going to meet quite a few of them. You’re going to connect with some, and will want to maintain those connections long-term. Let’s assume you want to foster those long-term connections with a mere 15% of the people there, that’s about 60 people. In addition to meeting people, you’re going to sessions, meals, events, and BarCon in the after hours. That’s too much for your brain to take in and lock down tight. Everyone else is in the same boat. I don’t care how interesting and wonderful you are. If you don’t have something to hand to your new connections, they’re going to have a hard time remembering you in full detail.

To this end, you need business cards. Here are my rules for business cards.

  • Matte, white (or ecrue or eggshell or something like that) card stock. If it’s black or glossy, pens won’t work too well. If the other person wants to jot a mnemonic note, it’s impossible unless your base cardstock supports that.
  • Clear text with only the contact information you’re comfortable giving a stranger. I have web site, Facebook, Twitter, and email. My phone number is not on my business cards. If I want someone to have it, I write it on the back.
  • Be professional in the layout and imagery on the card. These are business cards after all.
  • An image/icon/logo/photo is fine, but remember to keep it simple. This will keep your costs down, and that “perfect” headshot of yours will look like crap scaled down to a small picture on the business card. Save your money and go with a logo/icon of something the recipient will remember.
  • Have a few in your wallet. Have even more in your briefcase/backpack/purse/messenger bag. Have even more in your luggage. Have even more in your room. You might run out of the “easy to grab” pile and will have to restock. I also stash a few in my Nook, my laptop case, and other vitals that I might lose track of during the conference. These “stashed cards” are invaluable at ensuring I have the best chance possible to have my item(s) returned to me.

2) Avoid ConCrud

ConCrud. Yeah. It’s real. You’re already taking vacation time to attend a conference. Don’t burn more of it while you recover from that mystery bug you picked up while shaking peoples’ hands. There’s lots of that going on, and with each handshake you up your chances of getting a bug. I’m not trying to scare you into a weird phobia of touching people. It’s just a fact you should be aware of. There are some things you can do to avoid ConCrud:

  • Hydrate — Water intake (especially at altitude) will help keep your immune system purring along smoothly.
  • Hand Sanitizer — A small bottle of this stuff can go a long way. Keep a stash of some spare bottles in your room or bag.
  • Wash Your Hands — I sometimes hit the bathroom just to wash my hands. I use lots of soap and get the water as hot as I can stand it.

3) 3-2-1 Rule

You’re going to be running around like crazy as you meet new people, find old friends, attend wonderful sessions, and stay up way too late at the bar and the after-hours parties in the rooms. It’s a wonder you’ll get any sleep at all. Well, it’s vital for you to take care of yourself. Nothing sucks more than paying for three, four, or even five days of programming only to bonk hard on the next-to-last-day and spend the last day commiserating in your hotel room.

To this effect, I have my 3-2-1 rule. I really don’t remember where I picked this up from. If someone knows the origin of this rule, please let me know, and I’ll gladly give credit where credit is due.

Three hours of sleep per 24 hours — minimum. (Get more if you can.)

Two meals per 24 hours — minimum. (Guess what? PPWC provides these!)

One shower per 24 hours — minimum. (This last rule is not for your benefit! It’s for everyone else!)

4) Note Taking Devices

I take tons of notes at conferences. I’m “old school” in that I use pen and paper. At the 2012 PPWC, I was in an all-day session with Donald Maass as a speaker. I had a brand new gel pen, and a brand new spiral notebook. There were about 40 minutes left in his teaching for the day when my pen just stopped working. I don’t know if it jammed, gunked up, ran dry, or what. I didn’t care. What I cared about was capture as much of Donald’s brilliance as I could. I jammed my hand into my messenger bag and come up with a writing device…. A Big Fat Sharpie. Crud. Well, the last 8-9 pages of my notes from that day were written in Big Fat Sharpie. Hah! My point? Keep two writing devices immediately handy and plenty of paper. I actually recommend having two pens per day of the event already in your bag. If you don’t go through them all, then you have some spare pens for the next conference.

If you’re the type that has to take notes on an electronic device, don’t assume you’ll be able to plug it in. Actually, assume the opposite. Power cords are trip hazards. This means they are generally not allowed within the sessions. Make sure your laptop, tablet, phone, or whatever, has the battery oomph to last 3-4 hours with continual use.

5) Relax

Now for the most important rule. RELAX! You’re going to be running at an engine’s equivalent of “red line” for many days without much time to stop and breathe. Force yourself to skip a session. Maybe you chill in your room for 20 minutes and you get to BarCon late. That’s okay. Endurance racers don’t spring (or red line their engines) for the entire race. It’s a pacing thing. Find your comfortable pace and stick with it. If you find yourself dragging a little, take a small break. It’s okay to miss a session or two during a 3-4 day event. Maybe more if the event is 5-6 days in length. It’s okay to show up late to BarCon. You also don’t have to shutdown the bar and be the last to stumble to your room. Different people have different endurance capacities. Find yours, and stick to it. There’s no need for you to force yourself to keep up with someone that has those abnormally huge energy reserves.

I hope this post helps someone out there get more out of a conference!

If you have any tips of your own, drop them in the comments. I’d love to see what folks have to say.

One-Thousand, Eight Degrees

phobiasI’ve told the story of the night my arm was nearly amputated in a car wreck on a horrific autumn night in 1988 many times. I was encouraged by a few people to write the story down for others to learn from. About the same time I received this encouragement, there was an open call for Phobias: A Collection of True Stories. As fate declared that I must travel through a vast majority of my life with emotional, physical, and mental scars from that night, fate seemed to want me to share my story with others.

Well… that story is finally out in print. If you’re interested in what happened to me on that night, what it’s done to my body, mind, and soul, and how I’ve been dealing with it for the past 25+ years, you can check out the anthology. My story is entitled One-Thousand, Eighty Degrees, and can be found under my name. There are other stories about phobias and how the authors deal with them. It’s not a self-help guide by any means, but if you have a serious phobia, reading about how others came to theirs and what they do with them might help you get through the day with a little more security or solace.

I hope you check out the book!


Yeah. That’s the same sound a little girl makes when she’s found out that her father bought her a pony for her eighth birthday.

It’s the same sound I made when I read this article on /..

You see, I was an avid player of Star Control 2 when it came out. I was deep in a funk. I was unemployed, was having some health issues, and generally not feeling well about my 19-year-old self. I decided I was going to go buy something to cheer me up. Unfortunately, I had no money because of the lack of a job. Fortunately, I had my grandfather’s credit card “for emergency use only.”

I considered this an emergency. I hit the mall. I was going to buy a little something to cheer me up. The first store I went into was Software Etc.. (Are those even still around?) I wandered the store looking for a game on the cheap. I didn’t want to upset my grandfather and have him yank the card from me for being extravagant.

I perused the selection for about 30 minutes before I came across Star Control II sitting on the shelf. I think the price-point was somewhere in the $40 area. I picked it up and compared it against the other 2-3 games I already had in my hands. I eventually settled on Star Control II for my purchase.

I was not disappointed.

My roommate at the time (Vince) loved the game as much as I did. We spent countless hours playing “Super Melee” against one another, and even more hours watching each other play the role-playing section of the game. He finished the role-playing portion before I did, but I wasn’t far behind him. I think I finished it about three days after he did. We had extensive notes, coordinates, save points, and general advice for each other.

The game pulled me out of my funk.

Fast forward more than a decade, and I come across this open source game called “The Ur-Quan Masters” in a software repository. I wasn’t looking for a game or anything. It just came across the alphabetical listing. I immediately forgot what I had been looking for and downloaded/installed the game. I hoped it was a clone or extension of Star Control II.

It was neither of those. It was the original Star Control II rebuilt as open source!

I let loose a “SQUEEEEEE” back then just like a did today.

I’ve been playing The Ur-Quan Masters ever since. I play it almost daily. I’ve beating the role-playing story line a few more times, but I get a vast amount of enjoyment out of the Super Melee that I play against the computer (on the hardest level, I might add.)

Seeing that there will be a new version of Star Control excites me to no end. I can’t wait for it to come out. I’ll back the Kickstarter! I’ll pre-order! I’ll buy it on Steam! Give me a way to get that game, and I’m all over it.

PS: Yes, I played Star Control III, but it sucked. I didn’t play it for long because of the clunky controls and crap game play. Shame on the makers of that game. They sullied the good name of a fine game.

PPS: Yes, my grandfather was upset with me for “wasting” $40 on a “worthless game.” I can see his point. I should have been trying to find a new job instead of dicking around with a game. Ah well. Wasted youth and all that.

2014 Resolution

This year, I’m going to take more control of things that lie within my grasp. For me, that means the writing, editing, and submitting prose.

To be more precise, this means writing/editing/polishing an average of one short story per month. My year-end tally might be a little higher than that, and I’m not going to say, “Welp. I wrote a short story this month, so I’m done until next month.” I’m hoping for a total of around 15 short stories, but we’ll see where things go from here. The minimum I’ll be happy with is one dozen new short stories sitting in my “writing” folder.

You’ll notice that I listed “submitting” as things I can control. (Hint: You can control this too!)

More details are needed on this front as well. For each story I get ready for publication, I’m going to send it out to at least three markets. Honestly, it’ll be more like ten markets (maybe more!), but the minimum I’ll accept out of my efforts is three submissions per story.

So… Doing a little math, I’ll be sending out at least thirty-six submissions this year. Honestly, it’ll be closer to 120 submissions, and might even be as high as 200.

Oh. I left out the part about “publish some short stories.” There’s something about that. I’m not in control of actual publication. I can just finish some damn good stories and put them in front of people. The rest will happen as it happens.

We’ll see how things go, and I’ll keep everyone updated on the progress.

PPW Blog: Writing From Your Future

Heya folks. I just wanted to drop a quick note that I have a new blog post up over at the Pikes Peak Writer’s Blog. It’s entitled “Writing From Your Future.” If that catches your eye, follow the link and check it out.