Holiday Sale!

Hey everybody! It's almost Thanksgiving here in the US, and that means the ol' infamous shopping week - including Cyber Monday and Black Friday. To make things a little easier for you book-present-givers this holiday season, some of my author friends and I have put an assortment of our books on sale for the next week or two.

These are all signed (except for the ebooks, obviously) and coming straight from the author, meaning they take home an extra cut and have a little more money in their pockets for the holidays. I hope you'll take a look!

  1. Brad Beaulieu - The Lays of Anuskaya and 12 Kings in Sharakhai
  2. Brian McClellan - The Powder Mage novels and novellas.
  3. Jason Hough - The Dire Earth Trilogy and Zero World.
  4. Michael J Sullivan - The Riyria books and Hollow World.
  5. Wesley Chu - The Tao Trilogy and Timesalvager (25% off with coupon code "DABLIGHTDAY")

Here are my own books I've put specifically on sale, so you don't have to sort through them:

In the Field Marshal's Shadow

As many of you know, I've written a number of pieces of short fiction in the Powder Mage Universe over the last couple of years. Due to popular demand, I've turned the novellas into small, collectible hardcovers for those of you who prefer print books. I've never done the same with the short stories, however, because they're just too small to print.

Now, though, I've taken the five short stories so far and collected them all into one, 44,000 word collection. These include Hope's End, The Girl of Hrusch Avenue, The Face in the Window, Return to Honor, and the never-before-printed Green-Eyed Vipers. Happy days, it's big enough to print - and you can pre-order the hardcover now!

You can now pick up In the Field Marshal's Shadow at all the usual places:



Why Writing Groups Are Awesome - And I Don't Use Them

This is the latest of my essays about being an author, brought to you by my Patreon page.

One of the most common questions I get from amateur writers is "how do I know whether my writing is any good?" It's a great question because, in my experience, writers tend to fall into one of two camps when it comes to self-evaluation; either nothing they produce is ever good enough, or they think they are the second coming of Tolkien. Even if they're right one way or the other, it's always good to get some outside perspective on this sort of thing. But you're going to exhaust the goodwill of your friends and family pretty quickly if you're frequently asking them to read your work-in-progress.

This is where writing groups come in. It's a fairly straight-forward concept; you and a group of peers get together and critique each other's writing. The reciprocal nature of it means that not only do you have people telling you whether your writing is worth pursuing, but you also get experience on the critical side of things that might aid you in your own writing.

Creating/joining a writing group, especially in this age of online communication, is really easy. It might be a good idea to start with real-life friends that share your interests or, if that's not an option, to check with your local library to see if they host a weekly group that might be looking for a new member. A writing class at your local college will probably force you into writing groups; a lot of people I know still use the same group they met through class decades ago.

If you're more comfortable with the ease and not-having-to-talk-to-people-face-to-face of the internet, there are tons of forums and websites dedicated to this type of thing, where you're going to have a much easier time finding people who write in your same genre. The impersonal nature of an online group might get you better, more honest critiques, but it might land you with a couple of trolls too, so beware.

Once you're settled in, you'll have to set rules (or abide by those of an existing group), which include frequency of meetings, weekly word limit, negative vs positive feedback ratio—all the stuff that comes with organizing a new group of people. Be warned that it can end up as an enormous headache. I said that getting a writing group is really easy. Getting the right writing group is difficult as hell.

I'm going to take a moment and stress just how important writing groups are. I learned huge amounts from my writing groups through college—I learned how to give and take criticism, and how to be realistic about my own failings as a writer and how to make myself better. There was also the confidence boost that came with it. A big part of why I'm a full-time author today is that I took a writing class when I was seventeen, and a cute girl told me I was the best writer in the class of twenty or so kids—and then everyone else agreed with her. That may sound stupid, but increments of positive reinforcement like that over the years kept me going, helping me believe I was actually good at something.

Now I'm going to tell you why I can't particularly stand writing groups. Keep in mind this is my own personal experience—mileage will vary.

As I've alluded, there are a lot of problems that come with a writing group. Egos are a big one. Even the most open-minded, introspective people will get prickly when you're dissecting their baby. If someone says they can handle constructive criticism, spend ten minutes telling them how terrible their dialogue is and see if you're still friends. Now imagine doing the same with strangers who may be vain, overprotective, or just looking for the confidence boost without the criticism. It gets real old, real quick.

This may sound like me being a stuffy old man and believe me, it is. But it's more than just me not having the patience to deal with the people. I quickly found after school (and sometimes during it) that people in my writing groups were not on my level. Not in a skill way, though sometimes that was the case, but in a "I want to make this a career" way. That's not a bad thing, of course—you can have whatever ambitions you want with your writing, large or small—but it meant I was coming to group each week with 10K words of prose, constantly editing and devouring feedback, while they'd bring in a tenth that and understandably didn't want to have to slog through all of mine.

I also don't like the repetitiveness. Someone (including me) would get critiques on a chapter, rewrite it, and (again understandably) want to see if they'd done a better job, so resubmit for the next week. Everyone would have to read the same chapter, rewritten, four or five times and then a month has passed and what do you have? A single chapter. That speed works for some people, but I can't handle moving along that slowly.

Thing is, whether they want to admit it or not, people don't always come to writing groups for the reason you'd assume (to get better). They come for the social aspect, for an echo chamber, to get out of the house on a Tuesday night; sometimes just to find something new to read. And that's all fine. But you have to be honest with each other so no one has false expectations and that doesn't happen very often because human nature.

I'll reiterate, writing groups were immensely useful to me. I met awesome authors and good friends—people I still keep in touch with today—through my writing groups in Brandon Sanderson's class and OSC's Literary Bootcamp. But I eventually dropped writing groups all together. They weren't, at the end of the day, worth my time.

Hopefully that doesn't sound too arrogant. Writing groups are important because of the outside feedback they provide and thankfully I've been able to find that elsewhere. Since college my wife has been my first reader on everything, so she could tell me whether or not I was going to embarrass myself submitting to an agent or editor. And now that I'm a reasonably established author, I have a fanbase and professional friends I can ask for beta-reads even before my agent or editor sees a piece.

Don't get me wrong; the right writing group may still come along some day. I don't have experience working with a long-term, pro or semi-pro writing group, where everyone has serious writing credentials and a career at stake. Given the chance to join one of those I may very well change my mind about the "worth my time" thing. Or maybe I wouldn't. I'm a bit of a fuddy-duddy.

At the end of the day, most people don't have the benefit of an established fanbase, a professional editor, or someone literally in-house who can tell them to fix a chapter or work on their dialogue. Despite the misgivings about writing groups I mentioned above, I still think they're an absolute necessity for newer writers. You need some kind of outside input if you ever want to get better. That means dealing with egos, trolls, and even your own social anxiety to get it. But it's worth it. No one ever gets better without being told what they're doing wrong.

Fan Art Contest II

It's time for a new Powder Mage fan art contest! The last one was a huge success, and I'm looking forward to seeing what you guys put together this time.

The rules are simple:

  • Produce a piece of visual media (painting, photoshop rendering, drawing, photos of cosplay, whatever) that has something to do with the Powder Mage Universe, whether it be the books or the short fiction.
  • Send it to me as an Imgur link, or somewhere you've posted it on social media, via email to brian (at) brianmcclellan (dot) com. Put the words POWDER MAGE ART CONTEST in the subject line. Please be sure to include a mailing address so I don't have to chase you down later if you win. Your address will not be used for any other purpose.
  • You have four weeks from today to enter (until the 18th of November). Afterwards, I will have selected my favorite pieces and inform the winners. Winners will be announced on my website.
  • By entering you've agreed to let me show off your art via social media and my website. YOU RETAIN ALL RIGHTS TO THE SUBMITTED WORK.
  • Multiple entries are allowed!
  • The contest is open internationally.


  1. Grand Prize: two artists will be awarded with a silver powder mage keg pin from Badali Jewelry.
  2. Four runners-up will be awarded with signed hardcovers of Promise of Blood.
  3. I reserve the right to award no prizes (say, if the only entry is a hand-drawn stick figure with a gun or some other good reason). You can check out the entries from last year here.

Thanks for reading everyone, and have at it!

Powder Mage Jewelry

For those of you who follow me on Facebook and Twitter, I've been teasing this for a few months now. For those of you that don't: earlier this summer I signed an agreement with the awesome Badali Jewelry to make officially licensed Powder Mage merchandise! Badali creates jewelry for some of my favorite creative properties, including Lord of the Rings, The Dresden Files, Mistborn, Stormlight Archives, Kingkiller Chronicle, and much, much more.

So, what are they making for me? Well, we've got a bunch of cool ideas in the works, but the first piece debuted a couple weeks ago at Salt Lake Comic Con. You can now get your hands on a silver Powder Keg Pin, like those carried by Taniel, Vlora, and the rest of Field Marshal Tamas's powder cabal.

photo by Hillarie Billy Gowers

photo by Hillarie Billy Gowers

This was actually a pretty cool process. I've been wanting to create one of these pins since Promise of Blood came out, and I've been getting requests for them for almost as long. So at each convention I'd eye the jewelry tables and pick up cards, and try to budget to have something commissioned.

At Phoenix Comicon in 2014, Kevin Hearne was kind enough to introduce me to Badali, whose work I had already come to admire. We chatted, I expressed interest, and left it at that. Then, at the following Salt Lake Comic Con, I was able to go take a tour of their facilities in Layton, Utah where I met Paul Badali, the head jeweler. They made it clear that they only take on work by authors whose books they enjoy, and so I sent them a box of books and crossed my fingers.

I didn't hear anything for almost six months. I didn't want to be a bother, and I was pretty busy, so I stayed mum about it. Then the 2015 Phoenix Comicon rolled around. I casually sidled up to the Badali booth, resolved to commission a pin if they weren't interested in outright licensing.

Janelle Badali spotted me and came around the table, gave me a big hug, and immediately asked if they could license Powder Mage jewelry. Yay! It worked out!

I couldn't be more thrilled with the results of the first piece. You can now order pins directly from me and (within a few weeks) from the Badali store.

Earning Out

Yesterday, I got an email from my agent telling me that The Powder Mage Trilogy had earned out it's advance. This is fantastic. This is like, holy crap freaking awesome, and I'll tell you why. Warning: I'll be patting myself on the back a bit here.

TL;DR: I'm awesome, my fans are awesome, my publisher is awesome. Everyone is awesome. Except you. You know who you are. Oh, and money.

So, why is earning out my advance a big deal? It basically means that I'm no longer living on "fronted" money. An advance is just that; an advance against royalties. Authors don't see any money beyond their advance check until they've earned enough via their royalties (I broke down how much money an author actually makes off each sale here) to "pay back" the publisher their advance money (in quotes because if you don't earn out you won't actually have to pay that money back, unlike the music industry). The rule of thumb thrown around the publishing industry is that only about 20% of books earn out.

The Powder Mage Trilogy is, for accounting purposes, viewed as a single book. So I wouldn't earn any extra money from it until all three books, together, have made enough money to cover the whole advance (as opposed to counting each book against a third of the advance). It also sold for six figures, which in itself is pretty rare for a debut series.

Now, the series is earning out on the royalty statement for the first half of 2015. As far as I can tell from my own spreadsheets, it earned out about three weeks after The Autumn Republic hit shelves, which was just a little less than two years after Promise of Blood. The powder mage books are not bestsellers by any means, but to have this happen means they've sold at a solid, consistent pace for those two years.

There are too many people to thank for making this happen - from my publisher, editor, and agent on the business side, down to the readers who recommend my stuff to their friends and family. However a handful of people, including my old writing professor Brandon Sanderson, fellow fantasy authors Brent Weeks and Peter V. Brett, and my favorite online webcomic Howard Tayler, have been particularly loud about their support of me and my books, lending their immense platforms to help get the word out, and for that I'll be forever in their debt.

Earning out on the trilogy means that I'm now, in my own small part, helping pay the bills at Orbit, which is a point of pride for me. It also means that from now on, I'll get a check every six month, hopefully for the rest of my life. Each check will be a little smaller, dwindling over the years, but for now it's enough to let me keep writing full time.

Which is a good thing, because I have no other useful talents.

Thanks guys. You're all great. Keep reading.

UNBOUND Cover and ARCs

Hey guys, Grim Oak Press now has a cover for the UNBOUND anthology. Check this out:

For those that don't know, UNBOUND is by the same people who did UNFETTERED, and has an equally-huge list of mega-SFF authors (you can see that list here). It's also going to contain a brand new Powder Mage short story about a young Sergeant Tamas in the Gurlish Wars. UNBOUND will be out in December and you can pre-order it either from me (with my story signed) or direct from Grim Oak Press.

But here's something else neat. ARCs (advanced review copies) are normally available only to vendors and reviewers. Because Grim Oak is a small press that works with big authors, they do this special thing where they sell hardcover ARCs to regular readers that just can't wait to get their hands on these stories. Only 250 will be printed, and you can order one from Grim Oak here.

Brian's Salt Lake Comic Con Schedule

This week is Salt Lake Comic Con, and for the second year in a row I am delighted to be attending! The convention goes Thursday, Friday, Saturday (September 24th, 25th, 26th) and I'll be there all three days, signing books, going to panels, and just generally hanging out. You're most likely to find me at Badali Jewelry (booth 1023), the lovely people who are hosting me and selling my books and who will have a special new treat on sale for fans of the Powder Mage series. My full schedule is as follows:

Thursday, September 24th, 2PM: Writing Advice: The Good, the Bad & the Very Ugly room 151A

Thursday, September 24th, 4PM: Book signing at Badali Jewelry booth 1023

Friday, September 25th, 12PM: Character Development for Novels and Film room 255E

Friday, September 25th, 1PM: Book signing Shadow Mountain booth 1401

Friday, Sepember 25th, 6PM: Book signing at Badali Jewelry booth 1023

Saturday, September 26th, 6PM: Book signing at Badali Jewelry booth 1023

Saturday, September 26th, 8PM: The Military in Science Fiction and Fantasy room 253A


Help Me Donate My Books to Your Local Library!

TL;DR: I want to donate copies of Promise of Blood to libraries in the US. Follow the direction in bold below to contact me if your local library doesn't have a copy.

I'm a huge fan of libraries. My mom volunteered at our local library when I was a kid, and I spent several years of my life, for several hours on Wednesday nights, just roaming up and down the shelves for new books. As you can tell, that experience was a bit formative for me.

Since becoming an author, libraries have been very good to me. I've heard awesome things from librarians who get teenagers hooked on my books, and I had the joy of walking into my own local library immediately after Promise of Blood came out to find it sitting on the shelf through no effort of my own. I've even been invited to speak at several libraries, and those experiences have been overwhelmingly positive.

Every now and again, I get a message from someone bemoaning the fact that their local library doesn't have Promise of Blood. I always tell them to talk to the librarian in charge of acquisitions to see if they'll order it in, but I'm aware they have a large list of their own to work from so that doesn't always work. So here's what I'm going to do:

I've got 50 remaindered hardcovers of Promise of Blood. Remainders are basically overstock from my publisher that were sold in bulk. They got beat up a little bit in the warehouse, and they've got a remainder mark (a black dot on the side). Sold on Amazon they'd be described a "lightly used."

I'd like to donate these to your local library.

If your library is in the US and does not have a copy of Promise of Blood, let me know! I want to hear from either patrons or librarians, but librarians will know the details I need better. Send me an email at brian (at) brianmcclellan (dot) com with the header LIBRARY DONATION. Give me the name and address of the library, and (if you know) the name of the acquiring librarian. I'll send the books on my own dime, and even sign them to the collection of that library. If you're a big library, you can ask for two copies.

These books are freely given, and as long as they end up in the hands of a library I don't care what they do with them. Your libraries can put them in the collection or sell them in the next book sale to raise funds. So please, help me get these out!

Powder Mage RPG

Hey guys! I've mentioned from time to time on social media that I'm working on a Powder Mage pen and paper RPG with Alan Bahr. Alan is one of the brains behind the Planet Mercenary RPG (that had a wildly successful Kickstarter earlier this year) based on my favorite webcomic, Schlock Mercenary.

As Alan and I get into the more serious planning stages, we're hoping to hear from you guys what you'd like to see in a Powder Mage RPG. Are there particular game mechanics you'd enjoy? What parts of the universe do you want to immerse yourselves in?

Any thoughts would be welcome, either in the comments below or over on /r/powdermage!

Pre-orders for UNBOUND

Hey guys! I'm happy to announce that I'll have a new Powder Mage short story out this winter in the latest mega-anthology from editor Shawn Speakman. The short story "The Siege of Tilpur" will follow Sergeant Tamas as he risks everything to claw his way up the chain of command in the Gurlish desert. To date, it'll be the earliest of the Powder Mage stories chronologically.

Final cover will be illustrated by Todd Lockwood

The anthology itself will include a huge number of SFF authors, with stories short and long. People like Jim Butcher, Terry Brooks, Seanan Mcguire, Mark Lawrence, Anthony Ryan, Mary Robinette Kowal, and well over a dozen others. It's an immense privilege to be included among such awesome authors, many of which I'm delighted to be able to call my friends.

UNBOUND will be published in trade hardcover on December 1st, 2015. Here's your pre-order information:

Pre-order directly from me. I'll sign and date the first page of my own short story.

Pre-order from Grim Oak Press.

A limited, leatherbound, signed and numbered edition will also be available from Grim Oak Press. It will be signed by every author (I believe this one takes several months to put together and ship, but I'm not sure).

Promise of Blood on Sale

Looks like the ebook of Promise of Blood has gone on sale for $2.99 in the US. I think this sale is supposed to be for a couple of weeks but I'm not 100% sure, so if you'd like to pick up a copy for yourself or as a gift, be sure to do so ASAP. Here's a list of the common places you can find it for that price!

Also looks like Amazon UK has it for £2.99!


Dissecting the Kindle Scout Contract

This is the eighth of my essays about being an author, brought to you by my Patreon page.

*Edit: It seems that Kindle Scout has been around for a while, but I can't really figure out when it started. Regardless, this is the first I heard of it, and Amazon is still billing it as "new."

Early this morning, I received an email from Amazon regarding their new publishing program called "Kindle Scout." Basically, they accept open submissions of unpublished material for this new program, offering you a chance to get paid an advance for something you were probably going to self-publish anyway.

Sensing danger, my writey senses began to tingle and I decided to take a closer look at the contract for their Kindle Press. I found that it has some good stuff, a bunch of bad stuff, and that I should generally do a point-by-point look at it in a public place. ie, here.

First, a disclaimer: I could be wrong about my interpretation of any of this data because I'm not a lawyer or an agent. I'm just an author trying to figure this stuff out for people like myself. Please let me know in the comments if I'm wildly wrong about something. I'm going to comment on the content of each of the bullet points as shown in their contract. You can follow along with my analysis by looking at the contract HERE.

Let's get started at the top:


These are all just basic submission guidelines that seem fairly familiar to anyone who's submitted a book or short story anywhere before. There's one big change: normally, you submit a self-polished draft of your work to a publisher for consideration. Kindle Scout, on the other hand, expect your to turn in a fully-copyedited manuscript as well as cover art. This means they're going to publish what you send them. No more, no less. They'll either accept it or reject it at face value, with no interest in helping you polish a good book or hooking you up with awesome cover art. In this way, you're basically self-publishing. Remember that properly copy-editing and providing cover art for a manuscript requires you to either be well-connected or spend several thousand dollars.

5. Rights You Grant to Us.

World rights always make me nervous because it means they reserve the right to sell stuff in other languages. I trust my agent to sell foreign rights better than my publisher (and I keep more money in the case of the former), and I certainly would not trust Amazon's relationships with foreign publishers based on their relationships with those in the US and UK. We'll look more at this a little later.

The "develop, license, sublicense" bit makes me super nervous. Does this mean movie deals, merchandising, etc? Huge red flag, and a good reason to have an agent look at this (which many self-pubbers don't have).

I also think it's interesting that they skip print edition rights.

6. Term; Reversion.
6.1 Term; Minimum Royalties. 

Amazon basically gives themselves five years to make you $25K before rights revert. Interesting way to handle the alternative to "out of print" clauses in traditional contracts.

6.2.1 Initial Publication.

A "we have to print this within a certain amount of time" clause is standard. Six months for Amazon seems long, because they literally just have to push a button to make it happen.

6.2.2 Withdrawal from Publication.

If Amazon isn't making you at least $500/year within the first two years, you can get your rights back early. This seems fair.

6.2.3 Digital Audio Rights.

Two years to put out an audio book seems an awfully long time to me.

6.2.4 Language Rights.

Giving themselves two years to unload foreign editions makes way more sense than two years to get an audiobook out.


Reversion legalese that an agent should look at.

7. Publication. 

This gives you 30 days to clean up your manuscript post-acceptance. Again, remember that this is all on you. They've clearly stated they won't edit or provide cover art or anything else a traditional publisher does to make the book more presentable. The "Other than changes or revisions we deem necessary for publication" clause makes me a bit nervous, because it's really vague.

8. Advance; Pricing; Royalties; Payment.
8.1 Advance.

Like a said before, $1500 is a tiny advance; the equivalent to what you'd probably get from a small press. The fact that they pay you within 30 days of acceptance is nice and can be compared to either on-signing or on-delivery payments with a traditional publisher. When I sign a contract with my publisher it takes around 3-4 months to get paid. When I turn in a book, it takes around 3-4 weeks to get paid.

8.2 Pricing

Amazon choosing the price is totally normal for a publisher, but is a step back from Amazon's normal self-publishing contract where you choose it yourself. On one hand, they have all the data and experience. On the other hand, it's another bit of control you relinquish for such a tiny advance.

8.3 Royalties from Direct Sales.

Another loss from self-publishing is the 50% royalty rate for ebooks versus their 70% for normal self-publishers. Remember, you're losing that 20% in return for the advance and the vague weight of their marketing wing. 25% for audiobook is 5% more than what you'll currently get matching with a reader through their audio program (ACX).

A red flag here is the fact you won't get any royalties from promotional copies (which is standard), but I have no idea if this includes people who get free copies for having flagged your work during the initial Scout program. This is a huge deal for an author like myself with an established fanbase. If 1000 people see and flag the book then get it for free, will I lose all those sales from my biggest fans?

8.4 Share of Proceeds from Third Party Sublicenses.

This is a big sticking point for me, because you make foreign money off of royalties, rather than advances. In traditional publishing, either your agent (if you just sold a single set of rights, like English) or your publisher (if you sold World rights), will get you lump sums from foreign publishers. The ten foreign rights sales I've had of The Powder Mage Trilogy over the last three years have been a not-insignificant source of income for me.

50% of "sub-licensed formats" sounds to me like movies, comics, TV, merchandise. But again, you'd have to ask an agent about that stuff. Regardless, it's a big red flag. I recently agreed to license Powder Mage jewelry with Badali - something I did on my own, because I still had the rights, and which I won't have to share the profit from.

8.5 Royalty Reports and Payments.

Finally. Something awesome. Royalty statements every month, as well as payments made within sixty days of the statement. I get both statements and payments from Orbit every six months and it drives me a little nuts. One of the best things about self-publishing my short fiction is having a constant, tangible stream of income that gets delivered to my bank by the end of each month from Amazon, B&N, Kobo, etc.

8.6 Offset; Repayment.
8.7 Taxes.

This is all money stuff that you need to read through. Looks standard to me.

9. Copyright; Rights Protection.

Again, this looks standard but another good reason to have an agent.

10. Promotion.

This is a small paragraph but probably shouldn't be ignored. Amazon has vast reach, and the ability to put your work in front of millions of eyes on a daily basis, which is absolutely huge. The problem I have with it being so vague is that I don't know what, exactly, promotion means. Now, this is a normal state of affairs for any publisher that promises to promote your work, but in the case of Amazon you are intentionally giving up 20% royalty and control from self-publishing, or chance at a bigger advance from trad publishing, specifically in return for Amazon's ability to market the hell out of your book. The fact that it's so vague makes me nervous.

I'm also curious about you not being able to use their name without prior consent. Will they come after you for saying "My new book, The Fliberdyjibbet of Woompa Land" is out not exclusively from Amazon!"


The rest of the contract looks like standard legal stuff to me, but again, I'm not a lawyer or agent. It need to be looked over by someone with more experience.

To sum up, I'm not a huge fan of this contract. There's some great stuff here that I'd love all publishers to get on board with, like monthly royalty statements for all digital sales, but I'm not a fan of their purchasing World Rights when the average person has no idea if Amazon can even sell their books in other countries (lets remember that many of the publishing and bookselling businesses out there have blacklisted Amazon's publishing arm).

The contract itself is aimed at new authors, rather than established ones (which I'd kind of hoped for when I opened the email this morning, because I do like seeing Amazon light a fire under the old-fashioned nature of trad publishers). I feel like most agents would outright reject such a contract in it's current form. While it's not outright predatory, it leans just a bit too much in that direction for comfort.

Event - August 29th, 2015

For my Chicago friends out there, I'll be joining the awesome Wesley Chu at his local launch party for his new book Time Salvager on August 29th, 2015 from 6-9PM at the Geek Bar in Chicago, IL. Along with Wes I'll be signing books and hanging out playing games and having a drink or three. They'll have both of our books available for purchase, or bring your own! Hope to see you there!

Details on the event can be found here.

Attending a Convention as an Author: Panels

This is the seventh of my essays about being an author, brought to you by my Patreon page.

I recently had the pleasure to attend the Gen Con Writer's Symposium. Gen Con, as some of you might know, is one of the bigger tabletop gaming conventions out there, consisting of four days of just about anything involving board games, card games, pen & paper roleplaying games, and more. The Writer's Symposium is the little corner of Gen Con that focuses on writing—a fitting match because so many authors both play and work in the gaming community. It has paneling, presentations, author signings, meet-and-greets, and all sorts of other fun things for the participants. This was my second year of attendance and I highly recommend going for both readers and authors.

I could go on and on for hours talking about the Writer's Symposium, Gen Con, or just conventions in general because there is a ton of ground to cover (I've talked about them before). But this essay is going to focus specifically on one aspect of the convention-going author experience that tends to be pretty similar where ever you go—panels.

Not sure what a panel is? Go to youtube and type in something like "Comic Con Marvel Movie Announcement." You'll get a video of a group of actors sitting on a stage in front of a thousand screaming fans while they give out tantalizing details about their next movie. Have that image firmly in your mind? Good. Now scale it down a lot. Excellent. Scale it down some more. A leeeeeettle more. And now you have a good idea of what an author panel looks like at the average convention.

Unless the panel involves GRRM, Brandon Sanderson, or Pat Rothfuss. Then you can scale that image back up.

Author panels are not likely to be limited to the panelists talking about their next projects (unless the panel is run by a publisher, or does involve one of the aforementioned rockstar authors). Instead, it's probably going to be geared toward amateur authors. The panelists will discuss a particular topic like "Writing Action Scenes" or "Plot Design." They'll play a game of round robin, directed by the moderator, each panelist taking stabs at the topic from different angles until they run out of things to say or the moderator calls for questions from the audience. Panelists slip in anecdotes, or relate the topic from the perspective of their own works (both of which are fine in moderation), and just generally try to sound intelligent and interesting in the hopes that the attendees will run out of the room and straight to the bookstore to buy their stuff.

That last sentence may have sounded sarcastic or bratty. I didn't mean it as either. Authors are real people with limited time and we sign up for panels for a purpose; to support the convention, meet other pros we might not have otherwise, get a free ticket into said convention and maybe access to the green room (if they have one), or even just because we like hearing ourselves talk. But most of all (in my opinion), we're here to reach an audience.

Panels are a way for new or midlist authors to reach a small but dedicated group of book-buyers. As mentioned, the panels are often directed as amateur authors, who are almost always voracious readers and fans themselves, making this sort of thing a symbiotic relationship. "I'll impart my wisdom to you and you, even subconsciously, consider buying my books." I rarely sell enough books at a convention to pay for the trip, but never underestimate the value of making a fan out of a convention-goer.

The actual size of the audience varies. I've been on panels where there are more people on the panel than in the audience. I've also sat in front of 400 convention-goers (but one of my fellow panelists was Brandon Sanderson). As an author, you never really know what your audience is going to be like and you do the small ones in the hopes that you'll wind up on the big ones.

This is a good place to talk about pitfalls of paneling. Panels are, at best, an interesting hour where everyone, including the panelists themselves, learns something new. Jokes are told, time is shared, the moderator is on top of things. Yay for those panels! But panels can also be a rough time, and here are a few ways they can go down hill:

First, you might wind up on a panel with a talker. The talker will spend all their speaking time, as well as most of yours, droning on about something only tangentially related to the panel. They might cut you off to make their own interjections, or ignore the moderator when they try to go to questions from the audience. They'll rant about politics or sex, or just start telling stories about famous people they know. Talkers come in all ages, shapes, and sizes, but old men seem to be the worst of them. Nobody likes a talker.

Another type of talker is the person who has absolutely no qualifications and no wit or charm to cover up the fact. They're basically an audience member who signed up for programming and got put on a panel because the convention didn't check credentials or desperately needed to fill out the roster. This is, to be frank, super annoying, but it usually only happens at small conventions.

Second, you could end up with a crumby audience member, like the guy who answered his phone right as the panel began and talked loudly on it for the next several minutes, or the lady with the enormous hat that insists on sitting in the front row and puts everyone behind her in a bad mood. You'll also get audience members who are the aforementioned "talkers." The moderator will ask for questions, and instead of posing a question this person will start in on their own musings because they think they should have been on the panel, or they'll proceed to tell you the plot of their unfinished novel. Both of those will earn the lifelong hatred of everyone on the panel and probably the audience.

Third, you could just have a boring topic. These are topics that deal with very shallow questions or generally-understood aspects of writing that only take five minutes to answer. I was once on a panel where we had to go to audience questions after fifteen minutes because there was just nothing else to say on the topic. Now, a good slew of panelists will come up with something else to say, or lead the discussion into a related, more interesting topic, but sometimes you get a boring panel at 9AM with four attendees and look let's all just go get a muffin or something.

Finally, there might be something wrong entirely out of your, or anyone else's, control. The AC in that room might be broken. There might be a wicked terrible smell. You might be next door to the convention's zombie maze, and constantly interrupted by real and electronic screams, shouting, music, etc. Best you can do in these situations is send someone to find the nearest con volunteer and hope something can be done.

Most of the worst panel pitfalls can be fixed or prevented by a good, strong moderator. The moderator is a third party assigned to the panel who, in theory, will do very little talking themselves and focus their attention on making the panel as smooth as possible. They'll introduce the panelists, pose questions, wrangle hecklers, shut down talkers, watch the clock, and give a closing statement. I'm a huge fan of the Myke Cole version of moderating, where he makes it clear to the audience and panelists ahead of time that he won't abide talkers and then follows through with that in a firm, polite way.

Because really, talkers are the worst.

My best panels have had the kind of ideal moderator I mentioned above. But in all honesty, a decent moderator just needs to foment discussion and watch the clock. So if you get an email from the con ahead of time asking you to moderate, or see an (M) next to your name in the programming, don't sweat it to much.

Let's say it's your first panel at your first convention. You're not a moderator and you feel good about the topic. What can you do to be a good panelist? Simple:

  • Don't drone.
  • Share the time.
  • Listen to the other panelists so you don't repeat what they said.
  • Ask to not be scheduled for a time when you'll be cranky (for me that's before 11AM).
  • Come prepared, either with a couple minutes of forethought on the topic or a notebook full of ideas, per your preference.
  • Be polite.
  • Pee and eat before a three-panel stretch.
  • Don't be afraid to let programming know you don't feel qualified for a certain panel.

Really, it's just a list of basic etiquette. My first panel was at a tiny but well-run convention in Detroit and my first book wasn't even out yet. I was terrified, my voice and hands shook, and I was sweating up a storm. There were eight people in the audience. It was, shall we say, anticlimactic, even to someone like me with a huge fear of public speaking. It was also great practice, and I'm happy to say I handle panels much better these days.

All-in-all, panels are a bit of a crap shoot but they can be enormously fun learning experiences that may even net you a group of new fans. They're a staple of the convention-going author's experience and if you go in prepared, you'll usually have a good time.

"Missed Brian at Gen Con" Sale

Hey guys! I'm back from Gen Con and recovering both physically and mentally. It was, again, a fantastic convention where I got to meet new and interesting people, hang out with friends, and shake hands with fans. I had an amazingly fun time.

I sold a bunch of books at Gen Con, which was very cool, but not only was I unable to sell my novellas there, but I'm also aware that not everyone can make it to Gen Con to get books signed. So: I'm having a sale from now until Sunday night (the 9th), in which you can get 25% off anything in my bookstore with the code GENCON2015. I'll also throw in some extra incentives.

  • Spend $9.99 or more (before applying the coupon) and get a free Audible code for Servant of the Crown.
  • Spend $100 and get free Audible codes for all six of my self-published powder mage stories.

Promise of Blood is a Kindle Daily Deal, July 19th

Just an FYI, Promise of Blood is a Kindle Daily Deal at $1.99. If you've been hoping to pick up the ebook for yourself or as a gift for a friend or family member, now is a perfect time!

So far, a couple other stores have price-matched the $1.99 price point. If you're a Nook reader you may want to check in with them later today to see if they've gotten on the ball.


Brian at Gen Con!

Two weeks from now, Gen Con in Indianapolis is going to be in full swing, and I'm going to be there for the Gen Con Writer's Symposium. I'll be hanging out talking to fans, attending panels, signing books, and will have books for sale at the Indy Reads Bookstore in the Exhibit Hall. You can check out the full Writer's Symposium schedule here, and find my specific schedule below:

Thursday, July 30th, 11AM: Book Signing in Author's Avenue in Exhibit Hall.

Thursday July 30th, 2PM: Defining Genres and Why it Matters room 244

Thursday July 30th, 3PM: Writing Action Scenes room 245

Friday July 31st, 11AM: Writing Dialogue and Dialogue Tags room 244

Friday July 31st, 12PM: Plot Design room 244

Friday July 31st, 2PM: Book Signing in Author's Avenue in Exhibit Hall.

Saturday August 1st, 12PM: Heroic Pairs room 245

Saturday August 1st, 2PM: Book Signing in Author's Avenue in Exhibit Hall.