Thursday, April 24, 2014

Ten Great Things from my Salt Lake Comic Con FanXperience

Last week I attended the Salt Lake ComicCon FanXperience and it was awesome. I've had a little time to recover and reflect now, and in the ways of internet lists, and as a journal entry for my life, here are ten great things from my FanX experience.

1 - I Survived
    Yes this is hyperbole, but not as much as it sounds. I did not go into the three day event well. The day before the convention, I had lunch with my friends and they poisoned me somehow. I’m not sure how it was done, or if it was one of them or all of them, but that night, the one before the convention, I got violently sick. My body was racked with pain, my guts knotted themselves into epileptic worms, my temp shot up, I exuded more sweat than usual and didn’t sleep a wink. It was not an auspicious start.
    But like that was going to stop me from going.
    I gave up solid food for coffee and Imodium and fasted for days in the hopes that I wouldn’t have to spend my time at Comic Con in the bathroom wondering which end to aim where. That, lots of pills, and the fact that I have a pretty good calorie reserve around my middle, did the trick and kept me running. Even so the sweats hit me like a summer squall about ever three hours, alternating hot and cold which delighted the unsupervised dodge-ball playing monkeys in my stomach who took each new storm as an excuse to restart the game.
    Also on the day before the con, I should ad, I slammed my hand against a steel girder while running up stairs. I’m clumsy with dirty glasses and not used to running. Or stairs. Or hands apparently. I got a big goose egg and a bug tender ringed bruise that’ll come into play later.
    Sick and tired, hungry, sweaty and sore, I went to FanX unsure if I'd make it. I did (obviously) and challenged as I was, it was one of the best experiences of my life.

2 - Family
My Teemo
"Seething Ball of Rage"
    I was accompanied to the convention by my sons. Miraculously enough FanX was held over spring break for my youngest and my eldest doesn’t need sleep before finals. Therefore, I got to experience the color and clamor with my boys. Together we picked out cultural reference we shared and I learned about the new ones I missed while educating them about the old. We bonded. It was awesome.
    I should say that I wasn’t the only one there bonding with family. This is Utah. We have families and the planners know this and took advantage of it in the best possible ways.  There was a side “Kid-Con” going on, with RC robots, dancing, legos and plenty of Star Wars. Memories to last a lifetime were being handed out for the taking. The next generation of fans were being brought into the fold with excited grins, contagious laughter and more than a few Elsas in ice blue gowns and braids.

3 - The Crowds
    There is such an energy at a convention like ComicCon FanX that if you haven’t been to one, it’s difficult to describe. I heard it was particularly acute in Salt Lake because we’ve been starved for such an event for so long.
The coolest fans!
    Comic Cons are celebrations of "fringe" popular culture. They are parties. They are love-fests for those particular tastes we’re often too embarrassed to admit to. But not at the Con. At the con, we rejoice in the imaginative and far out. We get close to our heroes and icons, movie stars and Bat-Mobiles. We’re swamped with memorabilia that takes us back to our childhood or last Sunday’s episode all the while surrounded by 100,000 of like-minded people all doing the same thing. Everyone’s on a similar wavelength, enjoying the experience, happy to be there, gladdened by the crowds of similarly enlightened strangers who they recognize as their friends.
    I didn’t need to eat those days at the con - I was fueled by the overwhelming surplus of positive energy from the crowds.

4 - The Panels
    I got to sit on six panels during the con and they were all great fun. I got to share what little insight I’ve gleaned from my experiences as a writer and social critic. I got to hang out with great people and make new friends. To tell the truth, I got a lot more than I gave. I picked up so much good advice about writing and horror, genres, marketing and storytelling. I'd have gone to the panels anyway. Having such a great seat was, well, freakin' great.
     In celebration, I gave away bunches of books. I handed out cards, shook hands, glowed with shared energy. I may have made a few fans, but I know I made a lot of friends.

Me in good company!

5 - The Floor
   Remember when going to the mall was fun? I'd forgotten until I got down among the acres of vendor booths at FanX. What a fantastic dreamscape of art and memorabilia, books and toys that was. So wonderful. And then to make things even more unbelievable, along the back wall where the crowds were paricularly electric, there are booths of celebrities. I won’t go through the list, but I should mention that most of Star Trek TNG was there including Patrick Stewart. Oh, and Nathan Fillian, Captain Hammer himself all under our same roof shaking hands, taking pictures, signing autographs and hanging out.

6 - Karl Urban
    Karl Urban is so handsome I’d kiss him. He’s been in many of the recent science fiction movies that I think really matter, Star Trek reboot, Riddick and Dredd.
    Here's my story: I was on my way to a panel when I saw Karl heading the other way in the same corridor. He had security with him. Security all wore red shirts by the way. Knowing not to mess with the celebs, I simply took a step back and bowed my head and hands in a Wayne’s World “I’m not Worthy” posture. He smiled and shook my hand.
    It was my bruised hand (told you I’d get back to that). Pained as it was, I  shook his and relished in the pain. It was like I was given special nerve endings for that weekend just so Karl Urban could squeeze them and cement the moment.
    It was cool. A brush with fame, a moment of my life where it intersected with his. It hurt, a little, but still, it was cool.

7 - The Train
    I rode the Utah Transit Authority Trax to the convention hall. It was my first encounter with modern transport in Utah and I was  impressed. Effective, timely and so much less hassle than having a car downtown. Not only am I a Comic Con fan, I’m now a Trax fan. Go Mass Transit! Save the City! I understand the convention helped UTA set a new ridership record. I was there.

8 - Cosplay
    Comic Con is a party where the best guests come in costume. I don’t care where you spent your Halloween, the masquerade party FanX put it to shame. There’s "people watching" and then there’s "Cosplay watching." We are geeks and nerds, fans of the extreme persuasion and among us, you may see Master Chief and Ursula in the same room. Star Fleet red-shirts and rebel brown-coats mingling with Imperial Stormtroopers and Transformers. Some costumes were good, some were great, some will take your breath away and make you wonder if they stole it. You can wander for hours in the halls of a con like this gawking and watching. Every costume-filled hallway is a quiz of cool - Airbenders and Elves, Doctors, Oods and Cybermen all getting along. What a place.

9 - Edward James Olmos and my question
    When I was in graduate school I studied BladeRunner with an eye toward making it the cornerstone of a thesis. I never had to write that thesis, but the movie is as much a part of my education as algebra.
    (SPOILERS) Back before the director’s cut and the 5-Disc DVD and Blu-Ray editions, I cottoned onto the possibility that Deckard, the Harrison Ford character was a Replicant. In the first voice-overed version of the film, most of the clues were taken out. But not all. Sensing the possibility, I felt like I’d found treasure and the movie exploded with new meaning and power.
    Then the discs came out and the question was shown to be central and my insight proven right (insofar as it was a question). Decades after the film's initial release Ridley Scott admitted not only to the possibility but even to the reality that Deckard was in fact a Nexus Six.  But what I wanted to know is if at the time of filming Scott had let the cast in on that possibility.
    Enter Edward James Olmos, one of the coolest actors on the planet and BladeRunner alumni. As Gaff in the film, way back when, he was the other detective, a quiet but surly, origami-folding streetwise character that is the crux to the whole twist.

    Enter Edward James Olmos at Salt Lake ComicCon FanXperience.
    I attended Olmos’s huge ballroom panel and stood in line to ask him the question, to find out if Gaff knew - or, more to the point, if Edward James Olmos knew, if Ridley Scott had mentioned the possibility to him and thus pull a racist portrayal out of the actor.
    I didn’t get to ask my question. But I did get to stand under the screen a few yards away and thoroughly enjoyed his talk.
    I tried him at his table after the panel and couldn’t get to him before my panel began. But the next day, just as he’s setting up I caught him. I shook his hand, got a fantastic signed picture and got the answer that has troubled me for decades.
    No. No one on the set had the slightest inkling that Deckard was/could be a replicant. They thought they were just making a new kind of detective noir while a racing against a looming director’s strike in Hollywood.
    Thus is the genius of Ridley Scott and the power of film.

10 - Organization
    Last year’s Salt Lake ComicCon blew the doors off. It was so popular that people had to be turned away on Saturday. People who’d gotten in couldn’t re-enter due to the Fire Marshal's concerns. It was the surprise event of geekdom. In its first try, Salt Lake ComicCon became the third biggest con in the country. Check out these stats.

It was so big that the producers decided to make it twice a year. Bold move considering the expense and work needed and the novelty of the event in the city. Would fans come again to both FanX in the April and ComicCon in September?
    I was one of the people who’d been turned away on that Saturday. I watched to see if the same crowds and confusion that beset the last one repeated at this one.
    I saw the crowds but none of the confusion. The planners of FanX did their job well. Everything was smooth and crisp. Lines were managed. Food was managed. Panels, events, parties  - everything came off so smoothly that I heard not a single word of complaint from the hundreds of people I talked to. The proof of a successful organizing effort is in its invisibility. The mechanisms should just work and no one notices. Thus it was. The volunteers and paid staff were excited and helpful, professional and effective, handy but invisible. I'm sure there were crises, fire needing to be put out, but it was all done before I could smell the smoke.
    I can only imagine how much work went into it the process before I got there. I saw some of the activity behind the curtains and can only marvel at the whole enterprise’s smoothness.
    Well done folks. You’ve raised the bar and set a firm foundation for an enduring event. Class act all around. A safe place for grown-ups to be children and for children to play. Thanks. Well done. Well done indeed.

I’ll see you in September for the next one!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

An Out of Body Experience – League of Utah Writers Spring Workshop

Last Saturday I had the awesome opportunity to teach two classes at the League of Utah Writer’s Spring Workshop.

I taught two classes, such trivial and throwaway literary subjects as Symbolism and Foreshadowing. Yeah. No pressure.

I spent months working on my presentations. No joke. I was nervous and the only way to tackle nervousness is by action. Oh, boy did I act. I built a slide presentaiton, learned and relearned and then edited and re-edited and cut and pasted and edited again years of post graduate critical thinking and cobwebs into something like a presentation that writers could get something from to help their writing.

And of course the batteries to my remote died seconds before I went on.

Emily Younker, this year’s president of the League of Utah Writers, stepped up and pushed the little arrow keys on my computer so I didn’t have to wing it with a soft shoe and questionable memories of what I was doing. Thanks Emily.

Once the technology was wrangled, and the people sat down and looked up at me, I went into the zone. I spoke for hours and I’ll be damned if I can remember any of it now, except in theory, which I’d practiced and thought about for months. I was possessed and displaced. I functioned and made jokes and explained what I needed to, spread the DNA of my writing theory, but it was done by proxy as I was somewhere else. In a zone.

All in all I think I did alright. They were classes and not workshops. I did all the talking and my audience listened, occasionally nodded and seemed to like what I was saying. I think. I don’t remember it exactly, but I am pretty sure that no one threw vegetables. A couple of people did walk out though. Strange I remember that. I’m having them traced now. Watch the papers for mysterious deaths in the coming weeks.

My feedback was positive and I’ve been offered more time at the Fall conference. Three classes then. So it’s all good. Another trip to the zone in September. See you there. Or not. Even if you’re there. may or may not repeat these subjects then so I have at least one new one to start worrying about now. Yes. I’ll start worrying about it now. Or soon anyway. First, I’ll worry about this weekend.

I’ll be at Salt Lake Comic Con FanX the next few days. I’m not presenting, but I do get a seat on a couple of panels. I’m stoked. I’m up against William Shatner for one of them, so I’m not getting my hopes up, but we’ll see. I’ll slide into a zone and let you know what happens.

If you're around, check out my events page and let's hook up.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Dr. Stuart's Heart

This all happened so quickly that I’ve neglected to officially announce the release of my new book.

I proudly present:

A lifetime trying. A lifetime reaching, pressing the boundaries between the worlds. A lifetime spent longing for what was lost. Dr. Randy Stuart weathered the years and learned the ways but even his all-consuming love could not facilitate his needs until a brilliant graduate student supplied him with a vessel.
Dr. Stuart's Heart is a Beatrysel short. It is a standalone story and can be accessed and enjoyed without context to the novel it's related to, but if you know Beatrysel, you'll be so much more informed.

Hopefully, after reading Dr. Stuart's Heart, new fans will be find their way into the strange and Magickal world of Beatrysel. Current lovers of the story will gain new insight into the Magus' child, her history, creation and cost.
Dr. Stuart’s heart is more than a short story and less than a novella, which is shorter than a novel. It is a “novelette” at 7,500 words — 44 pages.

Dr. Stuart's Heart, along with Beatrysel is available now on Amazon as a Paperback and for Kindle from Omnium Gatherum Media.

Check it out. Drop me a review.

Welcome to the circle.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Book Trailers Part 5 - Dénouement

Today, Droogs, we're going to wrap up my long strange trip into Book Trailers with some observations from insiders and, of course, I get the last word. It's my Blog Mansion. Do they pay the electrical bills? The dolphin chow bill? Chase my free-range scorpions back to their corral every Sunday before Church? No. I do. So I get the last word.

I started this little escapade a while ago and chose a bunch of book trailers from my friends and the YouTube machine and pondered their significance and effectiveness. At the time, I thought it would be easier if I broke them down into categories depending upon their approach. I came up with five categories and have looked at them each in turn. Here's the list with links so you can go back and see for yourself:

Today, we're going to let the celluloid dust settle and think about the most important facet of book trailers - their effectiveness and use.

I didn't get in to talk to anyone in the Big 5 about this. God knows I've been trying to assualt their ivory towers for years. I'm almost to the point were I could get arrested at Random House, but that's about it. Instead, I talked to the bloggers, sloggers and soldiers in the trenches, publishers and publicists who're doing the work with small presses where the budgets are realistic and publicity is hard won.

I bring you two publicists and two publisher/authors who also both just happen to have works noticed by the gods of the Bram Stoker Award® this year. Let's hear what they have to say.

Publicist Beverly Bambury Publicity

There is an unfortunate lack of hard data about book trailers. From what I've gathered in my time promoting books and through my own research, if a trailer doesn't go viral (at least on a modest scale) it has no discernible effect on book sales. Now, if you can put a really nice one together you may be able to get blog posts announcing your book and including the trailer--as opposed to typical guest blogging--so it's not that book trailers have no use at all, but given how resource-heavy they are to do well (either with time or money) there is a really good chance it's not going to be an effective use of your resources to do one.

Timothy Ferriss gives some interesting information and resources on virality here, but even this information is skewed in the sense he was already famous when he made this trailer, so Lisa A. New-Author is not as likely to get the same number of views and shares as Ferriss. This doesn't mean it can't happen, but we're talking lottery odds here. There are so many trailers, and many of them are at least decent. Some are good. But with signal-to-noise being a problem, there's never any guarantee. other resource to share, Helen and Laura Marshall started a series of blog posts about book trailers. Their initial post discussing book trailers in general as well as the numerous problems surrounding them is good, but perhaps the best part is when they break it down into trailer types. Unfortunately they've only gotten to the first one so far, what they call the Character Trailer, but that's well worth a read for fiction writers.

Thinking about this as rationally as possible: you probably shouldn't spend money or time on a book trailer--unless you have plenty of whichever one it is you need. If you have plenty of money, you can pay people who know what they're doing. And when I say this, I mean get proof. Have them show you videos they've produced that have had a good reach. If you have lots of time, you can learn how to create your own trailer; although, this still takes money in getting the right program if you don't already have one which can be hundreds of dollars.

In other words, do it if you can do it right, and if not, spend your time and money on what you can do best.

Oh, and this illustrates what I've observed really well. I just found it:

Managing Editor Dark Moon Digest and Dark Eclipse
CFO/Layout, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing
Editor of Bram Stoker® Preliminary Balloted Bleed,
Author of Dual Harvest so I gave this some thought, on medication, and off (this weather is going to kill me). Honestly, I have never done a book trailer for any book I have written, edited or published. I have always wanted to, but never have had the extra five minutes to put one together. I think they can be effective, especially when trying to capture the younger generation. I know my daughter doesn't Google anything, she YouTube's it. So there is some merit there. As for any fast and hard conclusions, I have nothing to compare. So, you can take from this what you want, or throw me out the window. :)

Publisher/Editor Omnium Gatherum Media
Author of Bram Stoker® Nominated Candy House

Nothing discourages me from reading a book more than a bad book trailer. (Except maybe a poorly written book description) The second I see slides that don't fit the screen, stock transitions that come with free software and poorly chosen font that isn't lined up properly I feel fairly certain that the book it's advertising is going to be equally amateurish. a good book trailer requires a whole set of specialized skills that takes many years to master. It's reasonable to expect to pay as much or more for the book trailer as for the cover or editing. A couple of Omnium Gatherum authors have make excellent book trailers (see below). Not all authors are lucky enough to have skilled friends or family members who can do this for them.

I don't make book trailers for Omnium Gatherum books. I wish I could. I think it would be fun, but as a small publisher with limited advertising dollars it's not an expense I can justify. I think a good cover, a good book description and dedication to getting the word out on book blogs and social media is a better way to go.

Delphine Dodd by S.P. Miskowski (by SP Miskowski and Cory Herndon)

Hard Winter by Neil Davies (by Tony Longworth)

Head Publicist, Jolly Fish Press

(Kirk's views are his own and are not necessarily shared by Jolly Fish Press, its authors, editors and enslaved interns.)

Book trailers are fun. They're fun to produce, fun to write, and they can (sometimes) be fun for fans. But as a marketing material, book trailers are weak. I've only seen one "book trailer" that actually convinced me to buy the book (see below) and it's more of a promo video than a book trailer. trailers make sense. All it takes is footage that has already been produced, some tasteful cutting, and maybe a voice-over. Book trailers, on the other hand, have to be made from scratch. They quickly become expensive. And the truth is, even most well made book trailers rarely get more than a few thousand or hundred views. On a side note, can you imagine if a movie studio released part of the screenplay in order to promote their movie? It would very likely fail.

A marketing budget is usually better spent on other strategies. Most readers, including myself, will be more compelled to buy a book if you offer a sneak peak at the first chapter rather than book trailer.

I love book trailers, but I don't think they're effective.

Kirk's favorite Book Trailer:

Writer, Voyager, Damn Fine Human Being
Author of Bram Stoker® Preliminary Overlooked Beatrysel

Okay, here’s what I think of Book Trailers. I think I mentioned it before but I look at them like book signings - they get a little notice, are a lot of fun, but don’t sell books and are, by that metric, probably a waste of time. Since being an author is a business as well as an mental disorder, it’s probably a pretty important metric to use. a book is one thing, getting people to notice it is something else entirely (and don’t even get me started about getting people to actually read them). Anything you can do to get people to notice your book is a good thing. Period.

The book trailer trade off is the time and effort and energy involved in putting one together.

The dangers are that it’ is that it’ll backfire. It could, but not really. But if it sucks, don’t use it. If it’s too expensive, don’t buy it.

The reality is that a book trailer can be another tool in your kit. If it’s quality, you can find use for it somewhere, somehow. You can use them on blogs, at signings and talks and have it to email people with short attention spans who’ll probably never buy your book anyway but want to show you some support.

As terrible as it sounds, I think that most people who might stumble upon a book trailer on YouTube are not the kind of people who read. Anything. If you have a book trailer and post it to YouTube it will do no good unless you send people there. So it’s all about getting the word out, which is pretty much what you’re trying to do with your book as well. It’s another tool to do that. Best if they’d forego the video clip and read your masterpiece instead, but it might help.

It’s probably best to put your marketing money and effort elsewhere, but if you a little extra of both lying around, Book Trailers are cool. I want one. If someone offers to make me one, I’ll consider it.

Write on!