Kelly McCullough writes fantasy, science fiction, and books for kids of varying ages. He lives in Wisconsin with his physics professor wife and a small herd of cats. His novels include the WebMage and Fallen Blade series — Penguin/ACE, School for Sidekicks, Magic, Madness, & Mischief and the forthcoming Spirits, Spells, & Snark — Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan. His short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. He also dabbles in science fiction as science education with The Chronicles of the Wandering Star — part of an NSF-funded science curriculum — and the science comic Hanny & the Mystery of the Voorwerp, which he co-authored and co-edited — funding provided by NASA and the Hubble Space Telescope. Kelly on Twitter, Facebook, G+, ello

Screw That—Write What Rocks Your World

February 28, 2013 in Musings, Reblogging Project, Writing

Original Title: Write What You Know—Not

Every writer has heard writing truisms that drive them crazy.

“Write what you know” is one of mine. Like so many commandments it has a strong grain of truth in it – i.e. if you don’t have a clue about something, there’s a good chance you’ll make stupid mistakes when you talk about it. Prominent examples in fantasy and science fiction include: biological impossibilities, violations of elementary physics, and historical abominations like the juxtaposing of weapons that are just simply not technologically compatible a-la a katana and rapier duel – barring unusual circumstance that one’s going to end real quick with the katana wielder bleeding all over the place. Again, every writer is going to have their very own examples of this. Heck, I’ve made some of those mistakes myself-ask Lyda about the burial vault incident some time.

However, the big problem with “write what you know” is that if we all did that, there’d be a ton of books about sitting in front of a computer typing, with occasional trips to the bathroom and grocery store, and some especially exciting entries on going to science fiction conventions.

I mean, come on people, science fiction and fantasy are about writing what you think is cool, not what you know. I’ve never met a vampire or an elf. I’ve never killed anybody with a sword, though I have fenced. I’ve never ridden in a rocket ship. And yet I’ve written about all of those things, and I’ve even moved people by writing about them, or at least that’s what the email in my in-box suggests.

Write what rocks your world, and if you hear a truism that drives you crazy, stick your tongue out at it and keep moving.

So, go ahead, tell instead of showing once in a while, use a cliché, go wild! It’s only fiction, and if you’re not having fun maybe you should be doing something else. It’s not like we make the big bucks.

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog Aug 18, 2006 original comments may be found there. Reposted as part of the reblogging project )

Self Promotion, or How to Start an Argument Among Writers

February 27, 2013 in Reblogging Project, Writing

I’m going to recycle and expand some points I made in Swordsmith’s excellent publishing diary segment on agents over on Daily Kos because I think it’s a topic worth talking about, and because I know there are those who will disagree vehemently.

Swordsmith’s right that you’re mostly on your own as far as book promotion goes when your first getting started, though I’d like to say that my WebMage publicist at ACE, Maggie Kao, has been fabulous and very responsive. I will also note that there are definitely some self-promotion things that are worth doing. But in general I think most self-promotion is a bad use of a writer’s time. And that’s for three main reasons.

First, if you’re a good enough writer to get something published, you’re almost certainly a pretty damn good writer. This is for the simple reasons that the odds of success are lousy. That means you’ve got a highly specialized skill set for writing. So, one of the first things you have to ask yourself is: do you also have the skills for promotion? If not, you’re almost certainly better off investing the time and effort you’d spend on promotion in making your next book irresistible.

Second, with the print numbers of a typical big press book there’s really not a whole lot the author can do to make a significant dent in sales. Sure you can maybe move a few hundred copies by investing hours and hours in promotion, but a few hundred copies doesn’t really matter that much when the print run is 40,000 and no matter what your personal production level, those hours are valuable.

Third, if you do move ten thousand copies of your first book by your efforts alone, you’ve put yourself in a dangerous box. With the way sales are tracked now the last thing in the world that you want is to have your sales numbers moving down from book to book, and that means that with your second book you then have to move more than that ten thousand copies by your own efforts, and more still with each successive release. And, unless you can work some kind of magic, that means you have to put more and more effort into promotion with each release and that leaves you less and less time for writing, which is presumably why you started out doing this in the first place.

My basic rules for promotion are that it should involve no money, no time, and no effort. I’m willing to bend the rules a little for pure promotion’s sake, but not much. Some time, a little effort, a couple of bucks.

I will also bend them for things that I enjoy doing, like cons, readings, and interviews. I’m a social person and an escapee from the theater asylum. I like meeting new people and being out on stage. I would do these things even if I wasn’t writing, though the book sure helps get interviews. But that’s me.

If you’re a writer who doesn’t like those things, or if you’re not good at them, don’t feel guilty about keeping it to a minimum. Even if you do enjoy them, realize that it’s a trade off. Time spent on promotion is time spent not writing.

I would never say that a writer shouldn’t do any promotion, just that you have to be very careful about how much and in what way. As I said, I do signings, though not many, and readings, and a few conventions. And all of those things are more important for someone who is just getting started than an old pro.

One other thing I do and I would urge any writer to do is I stop whenever I’m passing a book store that’s likely to have my stuff so I can make connections with the clerks and offer to sign stock. Likewise when I’m traveling which I do a fair bit for other reasons, I make sure to locate and visit book stores in the area.

All that said, there are, of course, going to be exceptions to this rule, instances where self-promotion made the difference in someone’s career, but it’s something to think about very carefully.

One my own personal mentors, Dean Wesley Smith does a much better job of arguing the case for how to balance things than I do, and some of that is at his blog which has tons of writing info. Unfortunately, more of it is in my head from past conversations and that’s why I wrote this, to put it out where others could see and maybe make use of it.

On the original posting of this (see below for details) my fellow Wyrdsmith Lyda Morehouse/Tate Hallaway posted a comment saying that she’d like to see my take on this point in three years. It’s seven years on now, and I still feel pretty much the same way—I still don’t buy into the idea that more self promotion does a whole lot of good. I do  have to note that changes in publishing mean that my mention of a 40k print run is now very much on the high end of things.

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog Aug 08, 2006. Reposted as part of the reblogging project )

Update: adding links to the original posts with comments, mine, Lyda Morehouse’s response, my response to Lyda’s response, Eleanor Arnason riffing off the discussion, likewise Naomi Kritzer adding a bit.

 

Big Boys Do Cry

February 27, 2013 in About Kelly, Musings, Reblogging Project, Speaking Up

This is one of those things guys aren’t supposed to talk about, which is, I think, a good reason to talk about it. I cry easily. Always have. Sacrifice scene in a book? I bawl. Poignant story on the news. Bawl. That’s under normal circumstances.

In the last 12 months, I’ve said a final goodbye to one of my oldest friends, a beloved aunt, and two of the finest dogs it’s ever been my pleasure to associate with. I’ve also had my most successful year ever in terms of my career and ability to produce art that I’m proud of. It’s been a huge emotional roller coaster, and it’s a rare day where I don’t at least tear up a touch and go rough throated.

My point? That that’s fine. Crying has been a safety valve and a solace. I miss those I love that I have lost, and the tears are honest tribute. It’s part of saying goodbye to Mike and Lee, and to Cabal and Moonbear.

(Originally posted to Facebook Feb 12, 2013. Reposted as part of the reblogging project)

Reblogging Project

February 27, 2013 in Reblogging Project

Most of my blogging happened on blogger before I had much of publishing or social media presence. In the interest of getting all of my better non-ficiton pieces in one place on my own site, I’m going to start reblogging from there and from Facebook and other places I’ve parked things over the years.

Friday Cat Blogging

February 23, 2013 in Friday Cat Blogging

Hey girl…

Don’t even go there.

Are you two going to fight?

Y’all do whatever you have to. Ima be over here melting…and loving it.

This is a most excellent vintage, but the presentation is lacking.

Hey, where’s my Dixie cup?

Snow-Motion Science

February 19, 2013 in About Kelly, Pets and other friends, Silly

First, this awesomeness is a thing:

KellySnoBall

Now, let me explain. This weekend my friend Kyle Cassidy was in town for the 50th birthday of another friend, the Fabulous Lorraine Garland. Kyle is a fantastic professional photographer and always up for doing cool and silly stuff involving pictures. I’ve been wanting to get him together with my photographer/geologist friend and frequent co-conspiritor Matt Kuchta for ages. I figured this was a perfect time, and since both of them had been hoping to meet at some point too, it was a low risk, low effort plan.

With some back and forth on twitter it was decided to go with high speed video madness rather than straight up photography—Matt and another friend, Todd Zimmerman, both work in my wife’s physics department and have been doing some amazing work with an incredible high-speed video camera that the department bought for the doing of SCIENCE. Kyle’s really liked what he’s seen on that front and wanted to check out the cool toy. Add in another friend, Dill Hero, husband of yet another friend, Joan of Dark—both also up for Fablor’s birthday—some quick thinking, and Castle Gaiman as a backdrop and you get SCIENCE + ART + SILLINESS with Matt and Todd behind the camera, and Kyle, Dill, and me in front of it.

The end result is Snow-Motion Science*


(click on space above if video doesn’t appear immediately)

*Linked for those who can’t see the embedded video.

Friday Cat Blogging

February 16, 2013 in Friday Cat Blogging

Isabelle, the prequel.

Likewise, Jordan, part I

Isabelle 2.0 sits with Jordan 1.0

Jordan 2.5 (there’s at least the much of her)

Wait, is that a camera? Is this my good side? Why is the sky darker in…is that my tail?

I had a plan, but then I frightened myself into forgetting it.

I am trying to kill fish with my mind. But there are no fish, and that makes me angry.

Thumb-monkeys brought me a heat. Finally!

My butt feels sooooooo good!