Hugos and Nebulas and Campbell’s, Oh My!

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All the cool kids are doing one of these award eligibility posts, so here goes. It’s officially nomination season for the Hugo Awards. If you are a member of MidAmericon II, or were a member of WorldCon last year, you should be receiving a PIN soon to cast your ballots for the nomination round.

My two-year clock has started ticking on the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and THE ARK is eligible for the Hugo Award in long form fiction.

TheArk final cover

THE ARK is also eligible for the Nebula Award in the novel category, for any of you SFWA folks out there.

I’m not saying you should vote for me, but I am saying that I’m paying the NSA to track all of your internet activity over the next few months, (cheaper than you’d think, they’re in a budget crunch). So, vote early, vote often, vote Tomlinson!

Sarah Palin is a Cancer

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If you haven’t heard, Sarah Palin’s eldest son has been arrested on charges of domestic violence and possession of a firearm while intoxicated.

Mrs. Palin claims that her son’s behavior is directly related to PTSD resulting from his time fighting in Iraq. Her son may very well be suffering from PTSD linked to his tours of duty. I’m more than happy to take her at her word on that point. And if so, I sympathize with his struggle. I have several close friends who are either fighting that battle now, or have had to overcome it in the past. I would never trivialize or make fun of someone struggling with PTSD. Ever.

However, PTSD is not an excuse for domestic violence, especially involving a firearm. He should be getting help.

Of course, the help he requires, and the help tens of thousands of other service members in his position require, would be more accessible if someone stopped blocking VA funding and expansion every single time it came up for a vote.

That someone is undeniably the Republican party, to which Mrs. Palin belongs and, for some unfathomable reason, still retains a significant platform and influence within.

So, does she take this opportunity to use her voice to bring pressure to bear on the people within her party that are standing in the way of expanding mental health services for her son and fellow war-fighters like him?

Do we even have to ask at this point?

Of course not. Instead of actually tackling a problem, accepting some accountability, and recognizing the real-world consequences of her party’s policies, she twists this incident and shamelessly manipulates it into a opportunity to launch another broadside of baseless, bloviating, bullshit against the sitting CnC.

This is beyond spin, beyond propaganda. It is what happens when you strip a pandering opportunist down to nothing but their naked political ambition.

As always, there is no recognition of the downstream damage of their policies. The GOP’s war on vets has made her son into an unstable, violent young man facing the potential for jail time. Their war on women’s right to choose, comprehensive sex ed, and access to contraceptives has left her eldest daughter unwed with two children from different fathers. Her home state was burning through the summer, and thawing through the winter as a sacrifice on the altar of the Republican war on climate change science.

Her family is a shining advertisement for the corruption and abject failure of Republican policies.

So who does she blame? The only people trying to help her.

Pathetic? You betcha.

State of ConFusion

It’s late January, it’s 4 degrees out, and I’m just pleased as punch to be driving six hours to visit Detroit Michigan this weekend.

“What?” you cry. “Are you mad? Are you suffering from hypothermia? Are you about to rip your clothes off and run out into the wilderness to die?”

No, fair traveler, I’m excited about going to the biggest little con in the country. ConFusion starts Friday, and for the fourth year in a row, I’ll be getting drunk with some of the best sci-fi and fantasy authors in the country. But for the first time, I’ll legitimately be one of them!

So, this weekend, I’ll be shamelessly and relentlessly promoting my début novel and begging for blurbs on the second one participating in some great programming alongside a ton of other super-talented entertaining people, and also Bradley Beaulieu.

This is my favorite small convention, with the highest ratio of industry professionals to attendees of any gathering I’ve ever seen. It’s cheap, it’s close, and it’s well-lubricated. And it gives me something to look forward to in the dead of winter.

If you’re going to be around, here’s where and when you can find me. Come say hello:

Saturday 10:00:00 AM The Fiction of Political SFF

Most “political” science fiction doesn’t really deal with politics, it deals with the setting out of ideologies. In other words, it tells stories that have little to do with running a government. The result is a debate of ideas where the political is described by greed and corruption, but never the merely bureaucratic. Why are these tropes recycled time and again? How can politics be approached in a more authentic way and remain compelling?

Kameron Hurley, Patrick Tomlinson, Justin Landon (M), Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone

Saturday 1:00:00 PM Food Science in Science Fiction

Agriculture and terraforming in extreme environments or small domes. Sustainable food production in space station environments. What’s Martian taters, precious?

Patrick Tomlinson, Julie Lesnik, Elizabeth Shack, Daniel Dugan (M)

Saturday 3:00:00 PM Gettin’ Punny With It

Piers Anthony and Adam Roberts can’t help themselves. And neither can these panelists. Come watch these punsters compete against one another for the title of ConFusion Punmaster, while discussing whether or not the pun can be used without irony.

Patrick Tomlinson (M), Cherie Priest, Delilah S. Dawson, Dave Robison, Sunil Patel

Saturday 4:00:00 PM Power Armor and Rail Guns: The Science of Future Wars

Military technology in science fiction settings: Who wore the powersuit better?

David Klecha (M), Dr. Phil Kaldon, Patrick Tomlinson, Matt Pearson

Saturday 5:00:00 PM Autograph Session 2

Writers, Beware Randos Bearing Reviews

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Hello! Today, we’re going to talk about book reviews and ratings, and how not to get them. You’ll have to ask someone else how to get them, because I honestly have no idea. Anyway, here we go.

Maybe you’re a debut author just getting their ankles wet in the publishing industry pool for the first time. Maybe you’ve recently learned that reviews on sites like Amazon and Goodreads are critically important to the success of your project. Maybe you’ve been politely reminding your friends and fans of this little factoid every so often on social media, yet still the numbers aren’t moving. Maybe you’re starting to freak out a little bit and wonder if this is how it all ends as you imagine the sounds of doors slamming shut all around you…

Or maybe I’m just projecting. But, even if I am, once your first book is out there in the wild, you’re going to draw the attention of more than just new fans. There’s a whole cottage industry out there that tries to prey on the desperation and naiveté of writers unfamiliar with the ins and outs of the publishing world. This happens at every stage of a writer’s development. Vanity presses offering to print your book for the low price of $10 a copy. Unscrupulous ‘agents’ charging  far above the standard 15-20% commission. Whole publishing houses holding onto rights they aren’t using. The number of scams have filled entire blogs.

Relatively new to the scene are ‘services’ offering to help authors address the modern problem of internet reviews and ratings, in exchange for cash. Recently, I was sent my first such offer as a comment posted right here on my website. It appears here in full. I was going to xxxx out the names and addresses, but decided, fuck them:

Hello,

I saw your ebook on Amazon. From the synopsis it looks like a high quality ebook. If you are looking for some real promotion and exposure for your book, I have a few offers for you. My book promotion packages are extremely affordable and can be customized to your book. Email me at bhisakh@labaonchov.33mail.com if you are interested. )

You can also contact me through my website:
http://votemyreviews.xyz/contact.html

Some of the ways I can help you are (ANY one of the following services you purchase will cost you 10 USD, discounts are available if you purchase more than one service at a time):

a) I can post 1 honest, detailed, insightful and helpful review on your book. This review will highlight all the positive aspects of your book and enlighten your future readers regarding the real essence and worth of your book. The book review is written by an avid book reader and Native English speaker so you can be assured of quality.

b) I can promote your book on social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, etc). You get 100% targeted traffic from book readers located in English speaking countries

c) I can promote your book on 10 high quality websites EXCLUSIVELY devoted to promoting free kindle books – on Kindle free days. I can also promote your book if it is on Kindle countdown promotion (please note that it is up to each site’s owner to decide whether to list your book or not. If your book listing is approved, it will be shown ONLY during the promotion period).

d) I offer a review ‘up-voting’ and ‘down-voting’ service. For existing reviews on Amazon, you can ask for a maximum of 30 up-votes or 30 down-votes, or a combination of up-votes and down-votes which doesn’t exceed 30. This is quite helpful if there are some positive reviews you want to be up-voted, or some negative reviews you want to be down-voted.

e) I can add 30 likes to your positive reviews on Goodreads. All likes come from unique accounts and multiple IPs.

f) I can add your book to 35 – 40 popular listopia lists by voting for them. All votes come from unique accounts and multiple IPs.

g) Do you have a free ebook in PDF format you want to share with the world? I can distribute your free PDF to 15 TOP QUALITY websites. These websites rank high in search engines and are considered to be authority sites for PDF sharing.

h) My BESTSELLER SO FAR: I will rate your book with as many stars you want on Goodreads, post 1 honest review, mark your book as ‘read’, become your fan and add your book to the listopia list of your choice.

Email me at bhisakh@labaonchov.33mail.com if you are interested. (SERIOUS buyers only, please. I am too busy to respond to tire kickers)

In addition, I can also create professional author trailers as well as video testimonial for your book. I can also write book blurbs, back cover matter etc., for your book or add an extra PUNCH to your existing blurb to make it more exciting.

I also offer beta reading, proofreading and writing services. Contact me for details.

Well, isn’t that all mighty generous of them? None of this is illegal, of course, it’s just exchanging a little money to get those handful of reviews your book needs to get over the hump. Invest in yourself. Gotta spend money to make money, right?

Wrong. Believe me, I understand how difficult and frustrating book promotion can be. However, whatever you do, DON’T FUCKING BUY REVIEWS! There are few greater sins in the industry. Careers have been destroyed by review-buying scandals. Reputations have been damaged by the mere accusation of review-buying. Outside of, IDK, fucking your editor’s spouse, there is no faster way to get unceremoniously black-balled from the industry than to get caught engaging in this unethical behavior.

And the odds that you will be caught are higher than ever. Amazon and Goodreads (which is now owned by AMZ, by the way) are taking great steps to identify bogus, or even biased reviews and ratings. Among other methods, advanced algorithms are being used to scour social media platforms and identify suspicious links between authors and their reviewers.

There was a brief time when my debut was up to around eighteen or twenty reviews, all five stars. Most debut authors would be thrilled with a perfect rating, but at the time, I tweeted ‘How many perfect 5 Star reviews before someone accuses you of buying them? Asking for a friend.’

I was only half kidding. I actually breathed a sigh of relief when the first four star came in and broke the streak. If you need any more proof of how seriously fake reviews are being taken, Goodreads actually contacted me directly via twitter about the above letter, offering to investigate it:

I’ll be forwarding it to them shortly. Don’t fall for these scams. Don’t throw your own reputation in the mud just because things aren’t moving as fast as you’d like. One slip-up could mean the end of your career.

And for God’s sake, read and review my book.

I Wasn’t a David Bowie Fan Until He Died

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I may be the only person today to admit that I wasn’t a huge David Bowie fan. Not that I disliked his work, I just never really sought it out. I’ve heard many of the songs, I’m sure. I’d seen him crop up throughout popular culture, as he seemed so good at doing. I enjoyed his cameo in Zoolander, and the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in Watchmen’s opening credits in front of Studio 54, where he seemed age-appropriate even decades later.

But today, reading through all of these tributes to his life and work from my friends is helping me come to grips with what we lost. The memories they’re sharing, and the explanations of how he directly influenced so many of my weird and wonderful peers is helping me understand him, and them, as the unique, irreplaceable people they are.

He helped make generations of misfits, freaks, and weirdos find the confidence they needed to embrace their inner selves and take pride in their differences instead of hiding them. Without knowing it until now, my life would have been so much more… bland… had he not given so many of my friends the courage to be themselves. By empowering them, he enriched us all.

Thank you, Ziggy Stardust, for breathing light into a million other stars.

When Writing and Comedy Collide

“So, are you an author, or a comic?”

It’s a question I’m asked surprisingly frequently, from both sides of my professional life. For anyone who hasn’t come across me yet, I’m both a sci-fi author as well as a stand-up comedian. For some reason, people looking in at my passions seem to believe they are unrelated, or even divergent pursuits.

And up to a point, I can understand their confusion. Writing is, for most, a very solitary occupation. We hole up in our little writing nests and crank out the day’s wordcount, usually isolated from the noise and bustle of other people. Our interactions with beta readers, agents, editors, and even our audience are often through the filters of email or social media, maybe the occasional phone or Skype call. Conventions and readings are where we actually have to interact directly with these fickle creatures called humans, and even then the dance is fairly scripted, and there’s almost always a table between us and them.

Comedy is different, to put it mildly. You’re standing in front of a room packed with paying customers, blinding lights in your eyes, holding a microphone, being judged on every word, every mannerism, every inflection of your voice, and every expression of your face. It’s all weighed and graded in real time. For many of my more private peers in writing, the experience would be nothing short of a waking nightmare.

My experience has been different. I’ve never considered myself to be primarily an author or a comic. Instead, I see myself as an entertainer who works in different mediums. Whether I’m writing jokes or writing novels, it’s all writing. The only difference is in how quickly I receive the feedback.

With comedy, the response is in real-time. Either people like you, trust you, and they’re laughing along with your jokes, or they aren’t. It is so immediate that I’m able to make adjustments during the performance on the fly to better tailor a set to the peculiarities and tastes of that audience, in that venue, on that night. Imagine being able to do that with a novel!

Critiques in writing are much, much slower, often spanning weeks or even months between the time you finish a draft and feedback returning from your betas, agent, editor, etc. From the perspective of a stage performer, that is a torturous, interminable length of time. An actor, musician, comic, etc, is accustomed to knowing the quality of the day’s work as soon as they’ve finished with it.

However, in both cases, you’re performing for an audience and trying to entertain them with your words and ideas. One is conducted live through the spoken (and sometimes shouted) word, while the other happens in a quiet bedroom, or on the subway, or at a café through the written word. But in either case, your ideas, transmitted through your words, create the experience for the audience.

There are other similarities too, ways the two forms can feed off one another. Writing novel-length works has taught me a great deal about researching topics, building depth, and recognizing nuance and subtle complexity. Writing books has taught me how to be a better storyteller, which makes my time onstage all the more engaging and compelling for the audience. Whenever you can dig down beyond just the superficial layers of a premise or topic, that’s where the best material waits to be mined.

At the same time, my time onstage is always limited, usually to between five and fifteen minutes, but sometimes as short as three or four. It’s within that narrow window that I have to pack as many premises and punchlines as possible to give the audience the most bang for their buck. In a well-crafted joke, every syllable has to carry its own weight, otherwise it’s the comedic equivalent of dead air and needs to go. Watch a touring, professional comic, and you’ll see someone who maximizes the impact of every word on their audience. As a result, I’ve learned brevity and the importance of conservation of words, which bleeds over directly into my long-form writing, where rewrites are often a painful process of hacking away at unnecessary words, paragraphs, and even chapters.

And it doesn’t stop there. My accumulated time public speaking has made me more aware of comedic and narrative flow, pacing, and the cadence and rhythm of conversation. I’m a better plotter, and especially a better writer of dialogue between characters than I otherwise would have been without my comedy experiences.

I’m not actually telling you to go out and start doing stand-up as a way to improve your writing. I rather like being the only little slice of overlap in this particular Venn diagram. However, what I am saying is fight against the human tendency to compartmentalize experiences. Find the links between your passions, think about how they overlap. You might be surprised how many different connections you can make, and how those connections start to reinforce and strengthen each other.

You may find yourself getting better at both of them.