Discovery and Discoverability

Discovery and Discoverability

This year has been, for me, one of both discovery and discoverability. Columbus had his 1492. I had 2016, and the year isn’t even over yet!

Interesting that I should write this the morning after returning from Columbus, Ohio, where I read, autographed and participated in a R. A. Lafferty panel at World Fantasy Convention 2016. The trip odometer on my ten-year-old Toyota turned over another thousand miles as I arrived back home in Rockford, Illinois. During the past five years since Gretta’s tragic untimely death, I have traveled more than a hundred thousand miles promoting myself, my new writing, meeting new people, and renewing old friendships. Is it any wonder I feel a little like Brian Keene on his current farewell tour or Richard Collier in Richard Matheson’s Bid Time Return?

Life has often been likened to a journey, and I suppose there is a passing resemblance. We, in the fiction business, send our heroes on impossible quests that involve actual or metaphorical journeys of discovery. Writers, like readers and protagonists, must journey from here to there in order to discover who and what they really are.

Here are some the important things I discovered about myself this year: I kill people for a living, I can never remember a pitch or an elevator speech when an agent or editor asks me what I’m excited about now, and I have lots of wonderful friends and acquaintances who actually do remember me despite all of my faults and foibles (or perhaps because of them).

Every writer needs a label (as, according to publishers and librarians, does every published book), and mine is “I kill people for a living.” I forgot to mention that I kill people for a living when Darrell Schweitzer asked me to introduce myself to the large audience at the Ray Lafferty panel during WFC. I mumbled something about being first and foremost a reader (as was Lafferty), a shy guy who doesn’t know how to promote himself at an SFF convention. I should have, instead, captured the audience’s attention by mentioning that I kill people for a living. I didn’t, and I regret it.

We live and learn. Don’t we?

Likewise, when an editor asked me in an elevator what I was working on now, I should not have mumbled “I never talk about works in progress because talking depletes the energy I reserve for my writing.” What a missed opportunity! I should have had a pitch prepared so the editor, before leaving the elevator, would have asked to see the completed manuscript. Does it do any good to kick myself after the fact?

But I was heartened by good friends who remembered my name and my characters from my stories which were published alongside theirs in anthologies or magazines or from panels we had been on together at Worldcons or Windycons or previous World Fantasy Cons. I got to spend some quality time discussing the business of writing with well-known authors I respect. What more can one ask for?

And a few friends even showed up to hear me read from Winds and Light, two of my supernatural fantasies in the Winds-Cycle.

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Just as valuable an experience, however, was the road from here to there and back again. I wrote in my mind an entire short story due next January for an anthology, worked out the next two chapters in my current WIP, and saw locations and scenery I want to describe in future novels. I drove the same I-70 Jack Maguire and Amanda Miller drove in my novel Executive Function to get from St. Louis to Washington, DC.

Now I am back at my keyboard and putting those experiences into words.

During the past five years since Gretta died, I have seen much of the country I never had the chance to see before. Oh, sure, I traveled a lot when I was a soldier. Even then I was a writer at heart and noted people and places for future fictionalizing. But looking at everything through the eyes of a working writer is different. You are on the hero’s journey of discovery.

Noting how tired and exhausted—yet exhilarated—I looked and we both felt, Stephen Vessels asked me in the smoking room at WFC as I prepared to depart for home: “So, was it worth it?” Stephen and I attended Thrillerfest in NYC, MidAmericon2 in Kansas City, and World Fantasy Convention in Columbus this year on book promotion tours and kept bumping into each other. We took time out of our busy writing schedules to promote ourselves and our books, spent our own hard-earned money, and traveled thousands of miles. Was it worth it? Was it necessary? Did it sell books?

The answer, of course, is still blowing in the wind. Was it worth it to meet fellow authors and readers in person? Yes. With so many titles being published these days, promotion is essential to discoverability. The more people who know your name and can place a face with the name, the more books you are likely to sell. That’s the theory anyway. But the reality is that the more books you write, the better you write, and the more people will want to read what you write. There is a direct relationship between quantity and quality, although it’s almost as easy to write lots of bad books as it is to write just one. What matters most, though, is what you’ve learned about the human condition that readers recognize as true in their own lives. If you are able to share your discoveries with others in a way that resonates with them, they will want to read more of what you write. It is really as simple as that. In the final analysis, it’s the writing that matters.

So next year I will stay home and write more. I was gratified when a Nebula and Hugo nominated writer I admire told people at his reading at Worldcon that Paul Dale Anderson is a fantastic writer and everyone should read Paul Dale Anderson’s books. I was thrilled when so many people showed up at my own readings at Stokercon and WFC. I was honored when readers asked me to sign copies of my novels for them.

But now it’s time to write. I have deadlines looming. I am happy to be home with my cats and my books and my computers where new works beg to be written.

I discovered a lot during my many travels and in my life’s journey from here to there and back again.

I invite you to discover me through my writings.

 

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Why Writers Need Swelled Heads

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World Horror Convention Stoker Banquet 2015

This morning I responded to requests for an updated bio. Those who know me understand my reluctance. I’m a shy guy who would much rather extol the accomplishments of others than my own.

“You? Shy?” I hear some people say. “I don’t believe it!”

“I am shy most of the time,” would be my truest answer. Both my father and mother were shy people who hid their accomplishments. I had no siblings, and I grew up in an environment where each of us was allowed to be a private person with our own private personal spaces. My parents were basically introverts, and so am I. Shy is my comfort zone.

That does not mean I’m always an introvert. Like all humans, my essential personalities tend to cycle in 90 to 120 minute intervals. I go from quiet, shy, and retiring to loud and boisterous literally at the blink of an eye. Read studies by Ernest L. Rossi or my 2003 States of Consciousness and Cognition (http://www.worldcat.org/title/states-of-consciousness-and-cognition-a-study-of-state-dependent-learning/oclc/55033686&referer=brief_results) if you doubt this normally happens to practically everyone almost every day. Has it ever happened to you? Probably.

I spent twenty years helping various hypnotherapy clients, many of them very successful high-achieving professionals, overcome what researchers call “The Impostor Syndrome.” Here is a brief description from Wikipedia: “Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. Some studies suggest that impostor syndrome is particularly common among high-achieving women,[2] while others indicate that men and women are equally affected.”

I possess two of the syndrome’s major symptoms: diligence and avoidance of displays of confidence.

What that means is, I believe I need to work harder than others to achieve success. And, no matter what I do, it’s never enough.

My parents, puritans to the core, taught me that blowing my own horn was sinful.

So imagine my reluctance to write my bio. Major trauma! I was conflicted to the max.

What I did was to wait 90 to 120 minutes. My biorhythms switched over. Then I wrote down the following facts:

Paul Dale Anderson is the author of The Instruments of Death series of police procedurals from Crossroad Press, the Winds Cycle of supernatural thrillers, and other genre novels and short stories.

Do I need to say anything more?

I could say I’m a panelist this year at Odyssey Con, StokerCon, Thrillerfest, MidAmericon2, Bouchercon, and World Fantasy Con. I could say my stories have appeared in major anthologies and genre magazines, and I have two published collections of short stories available and another in the works.

The reason I’m asking these questions is because others have asked me to supply bios. I have pitch sessions scheduled with several agents and editors who also want bios.

And because some readers have asked me to tell them more about myself. Like the Lone Ranger, I have hidden behind masks. Much of my early work was written under pseudonyms. I’m a private person who prefers to work behind the scenes rather than on stage. I’m not comfortable showing my face in public.

In short, I keep shooting myself in my own foot.

Intellectually, I realize I need to blow my own horn. If I don’t do it, who will?

The solution, of course, is to hire a publicist. Does anyone know a good publicist who works cheap?

Meanwhile, I guess I’ll have to limp along as best I can.

I’ll need to be diligent and work harder. And I’ll need to develop a swelled head so I can act confident when I appear in public.

And that brings me to the theme of this short tale: Why writers need swelled heads.

There are simply too many books out there for readers to choose which to buy without some guarantee they won’t waste their time and money on trash. Readers want to know in advance what else the author has done and if that work proved successful. Someone has to introduce the writer to the reader and tell the reader good things about the writer.

In today’s marketplace, that someone is often the writer himself or herself.

Publishers have reduced the money they spend on publicity in order to maximize profits. These days, writers have to arrange and pay for their own book tours, including attendance at conventions and bookstore signings. Midlist authors like me aren’t considered worth the investment.

How can I convince them otherwise? Write a blockbuster best-seller that earns millions and gets made into a major motion picture.

Do I have the confidence and diligence to make that happen?

I’ll have a chance to find out next week when I pitch proposals to agents, editors, and film-makers at StokerCon. I’ll have another chance in July when I pitch at Pitchfest during Thrillerfest in NYC.

So, please excuse me if I seen to have developed a swelled head. I’ll need it if I want to overcome my impostor syndrome and become the best-selling author I want to be and think I can be.

Wish me and my swelled head luck. We’ll both  need it.

Kin and Kindred

It’s Easter. Like many people, I have fond memories of family gatherings for dinner on Easter and Thanksgiving, exchanging presents on Christmas Day, family outdoor cookouts on the Fourth of July or Labor Day, celebratory drinks on New Year’s Eve, or devouring chocolate cake on someone’s birthday. Most of those original family members are gone now, victims of old age or disease. Those few remaining are scattered to the four winds.

This Easter I’m connected, not by birth blood but by spilled blood, to an exciting extended family of friends.

I feel blessed to be part of a vibrant community of crime writers and horror writers who are indeed like family to me. I’ve been active in the Science Fiction and Fantasy communities since leaving active military service in the 1970s, and I’ve been a member of HWA since its inception. I’ve recently rejoined the Mystery Writers of America. I look forward to re-connecting in person with my writer friends at annual conventions. We stay connected during the rest of the year via Facebook, e-mails, and by reading stories and novels written by our family of friends. But now it’s time to get up close and personal.

April may be the cruelest month, but April is also the beginning of the busy convention season. I begin with panels and signings at Odyssey Con in Madison, Wisconsin, Midwest Mystery Writers readings in Chicago, Stokercon in Las Vegas, and I get to return to Madison for Wiscon on Memorial Day. Printers Row weekend is in Chicago in June. I go east to New York City for Thrillerfest in July, then west to MidwesternconII, the World Science Fiction Convention, in Kansas City during August. September sees me in New Orleans for Bouchercon, October is World Fantasy Con in Columbus, Ohio, and November is Windycon in Chicago. In between, I’m scheduled to do signings at bookstores and teach a class in the history of science fiction and fantasy at Rock Valley College. Each of these events is an opportunity not only to sell novels, but a time to meet and greet new and old friends. It is such friends that make life worth living.

Venturing out of the safety of my comfortable cocoon can be scary. Each year I’m reborn as an older version of myself. But the child that is within me emerges, and I’m at home with readers and writers who are more like me than most of my own family. My parents and grandparents were readers. So, too, is my daughter. My wife Gretta was a reader, and my ex-wife Teddie is still a reader of thrillers. Elizabeth Flygare is a reader and writer, though she prefers character-driven mainstream literature to thrillers and SF. But I boldly seek out new readers to welcome into my family because I love to share what I read and write, and I love to learn what others are reading and writing. It’s that love of the written word that connects us and unites us. It’s the spilled blood on the page that binds us.

It is written that the spilled blood of the only-begotten son of God redeems us, but it is the spilled blood of man that scares the be-Jesus out of us.

Annual Marketing Assessment

January is the beginning of tax preparation season and it’s an excellent time for authors to review marketing strategies. All authors wear multiple hats: writer, editor, reviser and rewriter, marketing and publicity manager, accountant, cook, and chief bottle washer. Like the CEOS of Fortune five-hundred firms, even authors who hire others to do the grunt work of accounting and marketing should—-must—-periodically assess what works and what doesn’t. And then direct appropriate changes.

As a writer, I’m an individual proprietor who files a Schedule C with my 1040. I’m a fiercely independent person who prefers to do things myself. I’ve owned several corporations over the years and corporations and LLCs are fine ways of avoiding responsibility for those so inclined. I have closed all of my corporations and now only own two individual proprietorships. One is under my own name and the other is a DBA.

My marketing strategy for 2015 and 2016 included attendance at the World Horror Convention, the World Science Fiction Convention, the World Fantasy Convention, Wiscon, Windycon, Odyssey Con, the Nebula Awards, Bouchercon, Stokercon, and Thrillerfest. Conventions offer opportunities to appear on panels, autographings, and readings. My name got listed on the attending members page of convention websites. My name was included on programs. I got to personally meet and greet other fiction professionals, including authors, agents, editors, and publishers. Such networking is absolutely essential for writers, and I plan to remain an active professional member of SFWA, HWA, MWA, ITW, and Authors Guild. Those memberships are worth their weight in gold.

I paid for a table at 2015 World Horror Convention and ads in the WHC program. I won’t do that again because there’s no evidence the dealer’s table or those ads generated sales sufficient to cover costs.

Likewise, print ads and website ads provided exposure but generated few sales.

Amazon and Good Reads giveaways also provided exposure, but no additional reviews of the giveaway titles.

Readings and signings at bookstores, colleges, and cafes sold a few books. The exposure value was minimal considering the travel time involved. I’ll be more selective in the future.

2016 results are speculative at this point, but I’m hoping for an accumulative effect. I’m going all-out in 2016, appearing at conventions, doing panels, signings, and readings. I plan to cut back significantly on 2017 appearances. I need to spend the time writing rather than traveling. Besides, my tired old body is wearing out and my knees can’t stand the strain of standing in lines at airports, walking around convention hotels, or carrying luggage.

Believe it or not, what provides the greatest exposure and sells the most books is staying at home where I can write. Social media, such as Facebook and blog posts, keep my name and face in front of the public. Each new publication credit adds to my fan following. And the more books I write, the more my earlier books sell. Staying at home is a win-win for me.

Writing book reviews is a mixed bag. I get free books to read and keep, and I get to evaluate what others are doing that works or doesn’t work. Similarly, appearing on awards juries is time-consuming but allows me to evaluate what makes a story award-worthy. Since I can do both from home, I’ll keep doing both for the foreseeable future.

I’ve only just begun my marketing review. More revelations await. A rebranding and repackaging may be indicated. I’ll let you know more when I know more.

To Be Coninued

Family Matters

News of David G. Hartwell’s death reminds me of how close a family writers, editors, and readers of science fiction and fantasy often are. WorldCons are family reunions where we pick up conversations precisely where we left off the last time we met. Award banquets are family feasts where we converse at the table over rubber chicken instead of turkey. Is it any wonder that for half a century I have chosen to attend conventions scheduled during holidays (Wiscon on Memorial Day weekend, Worldcon over Labor Day, Windycon on Columbus Day, Chambanacon over Thanksgiving, World Fantasy Con over Halloween) rather than dine at home with blood relatives?

So many of my extended family have recently passed on: Gretta M. Anderson, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Fredrick Pohl, A. J. Budrys, Jon Arfstrom, Ken Hunt, Jack Williamson, Jerry Williamson, Robert Bloch, David B. Silva, Richard Laymon, Tom Piccirilli, George Clayton Johnson, Poul Anderson, and now David G. Hartwell. Their works remain, and the memories of conversations and correspondences endure. But there is a final period at the end the sentence and no “To Be Continued” at the bottom of the last page.

I feel fortunate to have interacted with many great writers and artists over the years. I treasure their works and return to them often for inspiration. I am still the bright-eyed fanboy I was at age twelve.

However, this will likely be the last year I make the full convention circuit. Arthritis in my knees make it difficult to walk long distances at Worldcons. I plan to stay connected via Facebook and blog posts. But I’ll miss the face-to-face interactions with my friends and extended family.

So goodbye, David G. Hartwell. Thanks for talking sf with me at the 2005 Nebula Awards and at Worldcons and Wiscons. Thanks for the anthologies. Thanks for the novels you edited and the authors you introduced to the world. And thanks for the twelve-year-old’s smile you kept even into your seventies.

Happy 2016

2015 was a great year, and 2016 will be even better

My modest goals as a writer: Write and sell two novels and two short stories every year. I started that practice in 1982, and I completed two novels and ten short stories that year while working a full-time job as a hotel manager. I also served thirty days on active duty as a Chief Warrant Officer with the U. S. Army Reserve. I sold one of those two novels the following year, and the other novel sold in 1985. Four of the ten stories saw print by 1984, and the other six were gobbled up by small press magazines before 1990.

I continued writing two novels and ten short stories each year through 1994. I sold eight novels and fifty-six short stories during that twelve-year period. All eventually appeared in print.

Most went out of print before the start of the new Millennium, although several of my short stories continued to be reprinted in anthologies from Pinnacle or in translations appearing from foreign publishers in various European and Asian languages.

When I returned to writing fiction in 2012, I had the same goal: write two new novels and two new short stories each and every year. I completed Abandoned and Deviants in 2012, Winds and Darkness in 2013, Light, Icepick, and Spilled Milk in 2014,and Meat Cleaver, Axes to Grind, Running Out of Time, and Pinking Shears in 2015. I sold Abandoned and Deviants both in 2014 (Eldritch Press published Abandoned in March 2015 and Damnation Books still hasn’t set a definite pub date for Deviants). Crossroad Press brought out new digital editions of The Devil Made Me Do It, Claw Hammer, and Daddy’s Home in 2014, and they published Pickaxe, Icepick, Pinking Shears, Axes to Grind, Meat Cleaver, and Running Out of Time in 2015.

Three of my short stories appeared in print in 2015. “Dolls” was published in Weirdbook 31 in September, “After the Fall” was published in the Fall 2015 issue of The Horror Zine, and “Who Knows What Evil Lurks” was revised for the August 2015 issue of Pulp Adventures 18.

2015 was very good year.

2016 promises to be even better.

The Devil Mad Me Do It Again and Again, a new short fiction collection containing twenty stories previously-published in anthologies and magazines,  should be out by March.

I’m putting final revisions on Sledgehammer, the latest novel in my Instruments of Death series. Impossible is an sf thriller, part of my Under the Gun series. I’m working on sequels to Spilled Milk, Winds, and Daddy’s Home. Come Hell and High Water is a supernatural thriller about the End of Times. And Final Exam is an exciting forensic science novel with an aging female pathologist who is teamed with a retired detective to teach criminology at a State University. When faculty members become targeted by a serial killer, two over-the-hill sleuths and a handful of students must track down the killer before they become victims themselves.

I’m also experimenting with first-person present tense in short fiction.

2015 was a busy year for public appearances and autographing, and 2016 promises to be even busier. I’m already committed to attending MidAmericon II in KC, Thrillerfest in NYC, Bouchercon in New Orleans, Stokercon in Vegas, and Wiscon, World Fantasy Con, and Windycon in the Midwest.

I wish all of my friends and fans the world over a very Happy New Year. I look forward to seeing you in person in 2016.