Monday, October 28, 2013

Kickstarter: My Experience

Today we welcome Joshua B. Palmatier, prolific author and founding editor of Zombies Need Brains LLC.  Joshua has written a great post for us about his experience with crowd funding for his new small press.

A professor of mathematics at SUNY College at Oneonta, Joshua Palmatier has published five books with DAW—the “Throne of Amenkor” series (The Skewed Throne, The Cracked Throne, The Vacant Throne), and the “Well of Sorrows” series (Well of Sorrows, Leaves of Flame) under the pseudonym Benjamin Tate. A new series began in July 2014 with the novel Shattering the Ley. Joshua has also published numerous short stories—“Mastihooba” in Close Encounters of the Urban Kind and “Tears of Blood” in Beauty Has Her Way (both edited by Jennifer Brozek), and “The River” in River (edited by Alma Alexander). With Patricia Bray, he has edited two anthologies (After Hours: Tales from the Ur-Bar and The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity). Recently, he has become the founder/owner of a new small press called Zombies Need Brains LLC, whose first anthology—Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs Aliens—will be released in May 2014.

You can visit Joshua at and, or at You can also find him on Facebook under Joshua B. Palmatier and on Twitter at @bentateauthor.

Kickstarter: My Experience

I recently ran a Kickstarter that had two goals: generate funds in order to put together a new SF&F anthology called CLOCWORK UNIVERSE: STEAMPUNK vs ALIENS and to start a new small press called Zombies Need Brains LLC.
I think that Kickstarter offers a viable alternative for the writer in the current publishing market. Essentially, it provides another option for getting an author’s work to the public. In my case, I wanted to continue co-editing anthologies with Patricia Bray. However, the major publishers were no longer interested in this type of anthology (except in rare cases) and even though we approached some small presses, no one else seemed willing to take the chance. Ten years ago, that would have meant the project was dead in the water.
Not so with Kickstarter in the picture. It gave me a platform to launch a new small press AND at the same time see if readers were interested in a particular anthology idea. Kickstarter is a final option, if all other avenues for getting a book published have failed. It has the additional advantage that it can be used to judge the viability of project ideas—if readers are interested, they’ll fund the project; if not, then the Kickstarter fails. You are essentially “test-marketing” a book idea, something that big publishers haven’t been able to do . . . ever. They risk that an idea will capture the reader’s imagination with every book they produce. That risk is nullified with Kickstarter.
I used Kickstarter to test-market an idea. Readers are essentially preordering the books they are interested in. If there are enough preorders, then the anthology or novel will be produced; if not, then I simply move on to the next idea. This alleviates most, if not all, of the risk on my part, as a publisher, while still giving the readers what they want. I’m surprised that others haven’t caught on to this advantage. (Actually, I’m seeing more and more anthologies and book projects being proposed on Kickstarter, so people are catching on now.)
I also see additional advantages for authors in Kickstarter. An author whose series has been dropped after a few books can potentially get the funding to finish off the series on their own by running a Kickstarter. Novels that have been turned down by every publisher, big or small, can perhaps find enough interest on Kickstarter to be self-published. And a writer’s backstock—books that are currently out of print—may also find a new audience through Kickstarter.
But there is a downside. In order to successfully run a Kickstarter, it requires a lot of time, work, and energy. It’s exciting, yes, but also extremely stressful. There will be little time to do anything much EXCEPT run the Kickstarter while it’s in progress, and there is significant planning far in advance and additional work afterwards. Any writer thinking to use Kickstarter needs to weigh the advantages and disadvantages ahead of time, and decide whether it’s worth it, or if they should just spend that energy and time writing something new instead.
Here are a few pointers for those of you who may be considering running a Kickstarter of your own:
  • Research: Make certain you research ALL expenses for your project well before you run the Kickstarter, and THEN add in a buffer for unexpected expenses. This should be the base fund necessary for the Kickstarter to succeed.

  • Set-up: Relying on your friends and followers on your social networks will only get you so far. Set up well beforehand some guest posts, articles, press releases, etc., to get the word about the Kickstarter spread BEYOND your own networks.

  • Rewards: Spend time figuring out exactly what your reward levels will be well in advance. (I did this, but even so, if I run another Kickstarter, I’ll do something totally different.)

  • Time: Plan on doing NOTHING but the Kickstarter in the first week and last week of its run. It will consume your life.

  • The Lull: There WILL be a lull in funding/interest in your Kickstarter in the middle two weeks. In the set-up phase mentioned above, try to plan some of the posts during these weeks, to nullify the lull as much as possible.

  • Thank the backers: You should always thank the backers with either the updates or personal messages. I sent personal messages to each backer, and the response from them was phenomenal. Yes, personal messages take up time, but it’s worth it.

  • Exhaust all other options first: The Kickstarter will be an emotional rollercoaster, whether it’s successful or not. Don’t put yourself through that anguish unless it’s the only option.

  • Have fun: That all said, have fun while the Kickstarter is going on. If you aren’t having fun, then it isn’t worth it. (I’d say the same of writing in general.)

Monday, October 21, 2013

What to take on a wild ride through the weird...

Hello folks! Mark here for a quick post. This year I had the chance to revise my teaching schedule by turning what had been a one trimester (twelve week) elective into two different trimester classes offered once per year. Over the years my Sci Fi Lit course has grown popular with my non-traditional, non-honors track students who were looking for a way to meet their junior-senior year reading course requirement. I wrote the class originally to give those students an alternative to the American/World Lit sequence and to allow myself a chance to teach some of my favorite genre stories.

I have had a nice run. When Jackson's LOTR films came out, I managed to scam a COUNTY-wide field trip for a special early showing of each movie. I took eight hundred kids, from about 12 schools to the theater for three years straight for a five buck thrill. I still get emails from kids who went with me, some of them from other schools, remembering the experience and wondering if I was going to try and pull off another coup for the Hobbit films. Sadly, those days are over, but one of the by-products of those times have been full classes every spring. Yes, I do use the LOTR films in my class.  In fact I use quite a few films, novels and short stories in the class. That is one of the cool things about our genre: when done right, or at least energetically, our stuff translates nicely to film.

I teach the class with the view that most of my students are reluctant or non-readers. Many of them are, however, pretty decent visual learners. Whereas some may see "watching the movie" as a cop-out, in my Sci Fi class I use film to introduce as many of the great stories as I can in addition to the assigned readings. I take my group as deeply into the literary qualities of those film-stories as I can. So far, the results have been favorable. So favorable that, as I mentioned above, I now have to schedule and plan for two classes. I had seniors who took the class as seniors asking for another offering. Hence, Fantasy Lit's creation this year. I like it because I get most of the honors kids for three years, but lose most of the rest after their sophomore year. At times I feel like I lose touch with the pulse of the regular dealing with the divas and their college bound attitudes and expectations. The class is structured just enough for sanity, and I get the satisfaction of taking kids on a semi-wild ride through the weird.

I have only twelve weeks for this course, so I needed to make some decisions on what to read, what I could afford to buy, and how difficult to make the readings. Long just doesn't work in this case. I tried reading Dune the first year I taught Sci Fi. Nope. Had more success with the mini-series spaced with selected chapters. Anyway, I knew I had to find about 8 weeks of material to add to what I have used from Fantasy in the past. My term will consist of a short fiction unit with stories from Cherryh, Tolkien, LeGuin, McCaffery, McKillip, and some of the bits I can glean and pc from my old copies of Lin Carter's Year's Best Fantasy--loved some of those old stories. Again, I'm limited by ability, time and a conservative base. For novels, I intend to read A Wizard of Earthsea, a detailed synopsis of Tombs of Atuan and all of The Farthest Shore. I love the other books in Ursula's sequence. They are on heavy rotation with the interested set after we do the units. I'm adding McKillip's The Forgotten Beasts of Eld and adding back The Hobbit. We are going on a full on excursion to Middle Earth this year. I'm even planning on using the fan films Searching for Gollum and Born of Hope  in addition to several stand alones that I use for various archetype studies. Anyone here remember the cartoon 9, Watership Down?, The Iron Giant, and the campy but still fun Willow?

What I'm getting at with this rambling piece of self-congratulations is a question: If you were blessed with the chance to teach a course like Sci Fi lit or Fantasy lit, what would you use? What would be your rationale for your choices? As you can probably surmise, I'm a bit on the side of the old tried and true with my tastes. Would you make different choices? Let me know what you think.

Monday, October 14, 2013

In Defense of Sansa Stark

Today on Heroines of Fantasy, we have a special guest--my daughter, Jamie. She came late to Game of Thrones fervor, but she caught it bad. Her Game of Threads posts on Jezebel's sister site, The Powder Room, are a regular feature during the show's airing season. Jezebel's main page is often the site of her snark, but today--she has agreed to grace us with her fabulous presence.
(I might be a little biased, being her mother and all.)

In keeping with Heroines of Fantasy's mission to keep female characters real, viable, and plentiful, Jamie gives us her defense of Sansa Stark. ~Terri-Lynne DeFino

Before in this article you’re embroiled,
And through each sentence you’ve toiled--
If you still yet aspire
To read A Song of Ice and Fire
Don’t read this! The books will be spoiled!

Seriously guys. If you haven’t read the books yet…

*waits patiently for the door to close* Are they gone? Okay fabulous.

I love Sansa Stark.

Yes. That Sansa Stark. Saccharine, dewy-eyed, froo froo, mean to Tyrion, misguided Sansa Stark. Know that scene in Beauty and the Beast when Gaston shows the townsfolk the image of the roaring Beast in the mirror, and they all get their pitchforks, and Belle is all “No! You don’t understand! He’s my friend!”? That’s how I feel among a lot of Game of Thrones fans when I try to defend Sansa. But, ever the optimist (like Sansa, y’all!), I’m going to do so here, at the request of Mama Bogwitch. In the interest of avoiding “tl;dr”s in the comments, I’ll keep it to a few quick points.

Complaint: Sansa is so girly! Ugh! She’s such a little priss! She always has to be such a perfect lady! Give me Arya any day!

Am I going to argue that Sansa is kickass in the same way that Brienne, Dany, or Asha are kickass? Absolutely not. She’s certainly nothing at all like Arya, her plucky (and, if I’m being very honest, sort of stereotypical) sister. I’m not even going to argue that Sansa isn’t “girly.” She’s the definition of cisgender. But here’s my problem, and it very much frames the way I look at Sansa: why can’t we respect strength or intelligence in women unless it subverts gender norms? What does it say that we can only admire a character if their courage is in keeping with traditionally male modes of behavior? One of Sansa’s most oft-repeated refrains is “Courtesy is a lady’s armor.” I feel it is often dismissed by readers, or presented as further evidence that Sansa is only interested in being nice. Yet when Lord Varys flounces about all perfumed, pretty, and demure, hiding his true nature and cunning behind a flowery exterior, we praise his ability to use people’s assumptions to his advantage.

Complaint: It’s Sansa’s fault Ned is dead!

While I can’t say she didn’t have a part in the way things went down, she’s eleven. Know what I was doing at eleven? Collecting comic books trading cards and wearing macramé vests. Everyone is stupid when they’re eleven. Furthermore, do you know how many people conspired to get Ned imprisoned? Basically the whole small council, plus Cersei and her minions, plus the Gold Cloaks. Do you think all those people needed the complacency of a little girl to carry out their plot? Above and beyond all that, Joffrey went all wildcard on everyone and decided he wanted Ned executed. So Ned’s death is in no way on Sansa.
Complaint: Sansa just lets things happen to her! She’s passive!

After Ned dies and Sansa learns that “life is not a song,” Sansa—a sheltered lord’s daughter who has never spent time among the intrigues of court—is in over her head and she knows it. Rather than immediately leap to what would inevitably be an ill-conceived plot to escape her situation, she spends some time playing to her strengths (remember: courtesy is a lady’s armor) while she figures things out. What happens to her is not pretty, but she lives through all of it. I don’t think a character who went about things more aggressively could say the same.

Complaint: Sansa is so naïve! She trusts Littlefinger! I can’t like someone that stupid.

Oh of course not. You would never love a character like that.

(pic of Littlefinger with knife at Ned's throat removed. Many gifs and pics removed. We just won't go into that.)

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Needs of the Many

Whatever Spock's political orientation, no one can doubt
that he is a hero.
In the wake of certain political events in Washington D.C. this past week, author David Gerrold posted this image of Spock saying his last good-bye to Kirk on Facebook. It promptly made the rounds among politically aware and FB-connected trekkies.

Irrespective of arguments about Spock's political orientation, the reminder of his heroism in The Wrath of Khan got me thinking about heroism/heroinism in general, and especially how the ultimate sacrifice, my life in exchange for saving the lives of my companions, returns to us in many different forms in some of our favorite stories.

Of course, it does not always take delivery of the ultimate sacrifice in order to achieve a heroine's or hero's goals. Oftentimes, the resolute willingness to accept a challenge that might demand that sacrifice is enough. 

We have the classic story of Frodo and his burden of destroying the Ring, made all the more compelling by the fact that Frodo was one of a host of characters in LotR who were willing to sacrifice their lives in the effort to save Middle Earth from Sauron.

In Nemesis, Data saves Picard's life and the lives of all their crew,
but unlike Spock and Kirk, they don't get the opportunity to say good-bye.

A generation after Spock exposed himself to lethal radiation in order to save the crew of the Enterprise, Data would follow in his footsteps by rescuing his own crewmates at the cost of meeting certain doom during the explosive climax of Nemesis. 

In the last Harry Potter film, we were led to believe for a handful of compelling scenes that in order to kill Voldemort, Harry himself, who carried a part of Voldemort's spirit, would have to die. 

The denouement of Ender's Game is a disturbing
application of weighing the needs of the many
against the needs of the few.
We are but a month away from the premier of Ender's Game, the long-awaited film adaptation of Orson Scott Card's classic science fiction novel.  While Ender will not confront the decision to end his own life, as the pre-adolescent commander of an interstellar war fleet, he will grapple in a very real way with the inherent conflict that exists between the needs of the many and the needs of the few.

These are some of the most famous examples, though I'm sure you can come up with more -- and I hope you do! One thing they all have in common is the promise of resurrection.  Thanks to the Genesis Project, Spock was returned to us in the next Star Trek movie.  Frodo survives Mound Doom, and though he never returns to his former life, he is given an everlasting home among the elves.  A part of Data lives on in his less-developed but promising brother, B4.  And Harry, as we all know, didn't have to die after all.

Is the promise of resurrection somehow inherent to the trope of the ultimate sacrifice?  Are we so reluctant to kill our heroes and heroines that we must always find a way to grant them immortality?  Or is the possibility of resurrection simply a metaphor for the staying power of such formidable heroes and heroines in our memories and in our imaginations?

I'd love to hear what you think about ultimate sacrifice, resurrection, and the role both play in our favorite stories. 

- posted by Karin Rita Gastreich