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Launch Pad Pics, and a Lot of Catching Up

My photos from the 2016 Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop are finally processed and posted over on Flickr.

It was a wonderful week, both for the amount of space-related knowledge we covered, and for the wonderful people I got to meet and hang out with. Special thanks to our instructors Mike Brotherton, Jim Verley, and Christian Ready. Thanks also to SFWA, who helped to fund this year’s workshop.

The only downside to the week-long workshop was that the rest of the universe kept on going, meaning there was a lot of stuff on the To Do List when I got back. In addition to unpacking and trying to catch up on sleep and all that, there was…

A short story due at the end of the month
Preparation for the MSU Young Author Conference this weekend, where I’m one of the writers in residenceX Shopping for a refrigerator, since ours died the day before I came home
X A radio interview in preparation for a writing workshop at Kazoo Books later this summer
A week’s worth of email to catch up on
Revising the middle grade novel
Finishing the first draft of the SF novel
Replacing the bedroom ceiling fan that died right before the workshop

So…yeah. Between all that, plus the obnoxious mood swing that always hits after a really good convention or event or vacation, I’m still working on stabilizing my reentry.

I’m sure I’ll have more to chat about soon, both about Launch Pad and about the world in general. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with the core theme of this year’s workshop:

“Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.” -Douglas Adams

Back from Launch Pad, and a New Essay

I got back from the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop at about 2 in the morning yesterday. (Huge thanks to my father for driving out to Detroit to pick me up after Delta stuck me with no less than four flight delays, effectively ruining any shot at my connecting flight.)

I’ve got a ton of pictures to process. Not to mention a ton of work to do, and a ton of sleep to catch up on … not necessarily in that order. But here’s one I’m particularly fond of. We were up at the observatory, and someone had an app telling you when the International Space Station would be passing overhead.

ISS over Laramie, Wyoming

That streak on the left is the ISS. It’s the first time I’ve seen it (at least that I’ve known what it was).

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Another thing that happened while I was away was the release of The Usual Path, a collection of essays edited by Shannon Page, about how authors “broke in” to publication. You can pick it up at Amazon, B&N, Indiebound, and the rest of the usual suspects. My contribution is called “The Goblin’s Curse,” and talks about the rather messy process of selling Goblin Quest to a major publisher.

The Usual Path Cover

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That’s it for now. More to come, including pictures and talking about the Launch Pad experience, once I’ve battled the To Do List back a bit.

SF/F Being Awesome: Con or Bust

In 2009, a LiveJournal post called “The Wild Unicorn Herd Check-in” in the Deadbrowalking community asked people who “identify as a POC/nonwhite person and … read or watch scifi or fantasy” to check in. There are more than 1000 comments on that post. And yet, I still run into people who believe people of color aren’t into science fiction and fantasy.

Looking at those 1000+ comments, it seems less that PoC don’t like SF/F, and more like the SF/F community as a whole has been less than welcoming to fans of color.

Con or Bust LogoIt’s one thing to say we want our community to be more welcoming and inclusive. It’s another to do something about it. Enter Con or Bust, an organization dedicated to helping people of color to attend science fiction and fantasy conventions. I spoke with Kate Nepveu, the secretary and treasurer of Con or Bust.

“Con or Bust was born out of RaceFail ’09, when some people of color I knew said, ‘We should help each other attend WisCon, so we can meet in person and be awesome together.’ I volunteered to organize a fundraiser in the fannish tradition of online LiveJournal auctions (such as livelongnmarry) because WisCon wasn’t in the cards for me that year, meaning there was no conflict of interest, and because I’d recently run a small-scale private fundraiser and so thought I could handle the work. We were doing this on extremely short notice — I announced the fundraiser on March 10, and WisCon is at the end of May — but we managed to raise enough money to send nine people, or everyone who’d requested assistance, to WisCon.

In late 2009, the Carl Brandon Society began acting as Con or Bust’s fiscal agent. That lasted through early 2016, when Con or Bust became a separate tax-exempt not-for-profit corporation.

All total, Con or Bust has raised almost $90,000 and helped fans of color attend conventions 329 times.

This year’s auction is going on through June 5, at 4 p.m. Eastern. According to their spreadsheet, the auction has more than 170 items up for bidding. This includes autographed books, critiques, clothes, art prints, character naming rights for various stories, and more. The spreadsheet includes direct links to each auction item, or you can look at the 2016 auction tags.

Requests for assistance are being accepted through the end of the day on Monday, June 6.

 

Goblin: Keep Being Awesome!!!

Do you have a suggestion for a SF/F group, individual, or event to be featured on the blog for general awesomeness? Email me at jchines -at- sff.net, or through my Contact Form.

The Week in Pictures

If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you’ve probably already seen these.

Over the weekend, I did what felt like my first “real” photoshoot with my son, hoping to get some pictures to update the several-years-old studio pics currently hanging in our hallway. It was hot and the sun was brighter than I would have liked, but we spent between a half-hour and an hour shooting more than 150 pictures. Here are some of my favorites.

Sitting Picnic Table (BW) Superman! By the WallSitting (BW) By the Fountain

What’s Wrong With Inkitt’s “Publishing Contest” – A Partial List

Earlier this month, I received the following Tweet:

Inkitt Tweet

Well, I do like publishing novels, so I decided to check these folks out. Follow along as we talk about some of the potential pitfalls– Oh, who am I kidding. This thing has enough traps to make Admiral Akbar hoarse.

ETA: It looks like they also Tweet-spam as @great_backstrip. Great Backstrip? I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean, but it sounds like a really bad idea for styling back hair or something.

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1. Who’s running this thing?

I eventually found the web page with their staffing information, with Ali Albazaz listed as the founder and CEO of Inkitt. Clicking on Albazaz’s link brings up … a chapter of his book. According to his Facebook page, Albazaz studied … computer science. There’s really not a lot of information on this guy, and you know what’s noticeably missing? Any experience whatsoever with publishing.

There’s even less info on cofounder Linda Gavin, though I dug up that she’d studied design and technology. Her website lists her as a graphic artist. It’s a good skillset to have, but again, no actual publishing experience.

2. Then who decides what books to publish?

Well, the Inkitt website says, “Who are we or any editor in the world to judge whether your book is worth publishing?”

Nathan Fillion - Head Shake Gif

I get the sense they don’t actually know what an editor does … or that publishing is a business.

Their model is to instead crowdsource the selection process. If readers like your story, their “artificially intelligent algorithms” will detect that, and Inkitt will offer you a publishing deal.

3. Wait, how do they know if readers like the story before it’s published?

Oh, that’s easy: they publish it.

Let me say that again. They publish your novel. If you browse the different genres, you’ll see complete novels, along with works-in-progress.

In other words, their model is to electronically publish your book, see if people like it, and then offer to … um … publish your book.

That's Not How This Works

I refer you back to point #1, wherein I talked about wanting to work with people who actually know how publishing works, or even what the word “publish” means. This is one of the reasons why.

4. Then what are they talking about when they talk about offering people publishing deals?

From the publishing page of their site, they:

  • Design a cover for your book and edit your manuscript.
  • Pitch your book to A-list publishers like Penguin Random House and Harper Collins and–

Wait, what? They design a book cover before pitching your manuscript? That’s … do they realize publishers commission their own artists and do their own cover art? You submit the manuscript to publishers, not– Oh, forget it. Where was I?

  • If the publishers don’t buy your book, they publish it yourself.

The site says their first published work is the Sky Riders series by Erin Swan.

You know what I can’t find on Amazon.com? Anything by Erin Swan. They claim to have published Swan’s book, and it’s not even on Amazon? Google finds nothing except the Inkitt page for Swan’s work. You know, the page where they already published her book, just like they published everyone else’s who submitted to them?

Han Solo gif - Whatever

ETA: See this comment and my response for a little more on Erin Swan’s books.

If a big publisher does pick up the book, Inkitt will take 15%. This is the same percentage charged by most reputable agents, except that most agents actually know how publishing works and how to submit a manuscript.

If Inkitt published it themselves? You get 50% of their net earnings on the book.

To be fair, 50% is a bigger percentage than you’re likely to get from the major publishers. On the other hand, the major publishers will actually, you know, make your book available to buy.

Alternately, you could take a few minutes to toss your work up on Amazon yourself, and start earning 70% of the cover price.

5. What’s the difference between their normal “publication” process and this contest?

According to the guidelines, the contest winner gets a publishing offer from Inkitt, but also receives — I am not making this up — “a custom Inkitt coffee mug and a custom Inkitt notepad.”

Loki Facepalm

I raised these concerns and asked questions on Twitter. Two weeks later, I got a single response.

That’s it. Nothing about their publishing experience. Nothing about why you can’t find their “published” novel for sale anywhere. But hey, at least authors keep all rights!

All rights … including first English language rights? You know, that thing publishers like to buy, the right to be the first ones to publish a book in the English language. That thing Inkitt already did.

6.Wait, did they seriously do a fanfic contest as well?

Looks that way, doesn’t it. One of their genres is Fandom, which looks to be essentially fanfiction. Which just means “fanfiction” is one more concept Inkitt doesn’t really understand.

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Look, I don’t think Albazaz and Gavin and the rest of the Inkitt crew are actively evil. If this is intended as a scam, it’s an incredibly poor one. It feels more like a vanity press, but a mangled one. Like one of those superhero mix and match books, only there was a misprint, and you ended up with two sets of legs, and Mister Fantastic’s head is coming out of the Hulk’s butt.

They don’t understand publishing, they don’t know what an editor’s job is, they don’t have a grasp on the legalities of fanfiction and licensed properties, and they don’t seem to know how to publish or sell a book. What they do have a pretty good grasp on is spamming folks on Twitter. Which is why I decided to write this little rant. Because they’re spamming a lot of people, some of whom might not recognize just how many red flags Inkitt is waving about.

If you’re interested, the wonderful folks at Writer Beware also did a write-up on Inkitt last month. Their write-up does note a press release claiming Tor Books bought Erin Swan’s book Bright Star, and that Inkitt was involved in making this happen. But Writer Beware hasn’t gotten independent confirmation. If so, good for Swan! Though I’d be very interested in knowing what kind of contract Inkitt and Swan negotiated. Particularly since Bright Star is still available in its entirety on the Inkitt website…

ETA: It sounds like Swan’s sale to Tor was announced in Publisher’s Marketplace earlier this month, which I’ll take as confirmation.

SF/F Being Awesome: Norwescon Fundraising

Norwescon is an annual convention in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

I spoke (okay, emailed) Kathy Bond, the chair of Norwescon 38, 39, and 40, who talked a bit about the fundraising and charity work the convention does.

In 2016 alone, Norwescon donated:

Let’s look at just one of those items. From the Northwest Harvest website, “Northwest Harvest can feed a family of three a nutritious meal for just 67 cents.” That means the convention paid for more than 3700 of those three-person meals.

Where does the money come from? Short answer: from fandom. From the hard work of convention volunteers, and the generosity of attendees. Kathy explains in more detail:

“For, the scholarships and sponsorships, the money came from our general fund. After 40 years, Norwescon has been lucky to build up a cash reserve that we’re able to re-deploy. For Northwest Harvest, we raise funds by soliciting donations when people buy their memberships, selling a specific charity ribbon at the convention, and with a Charity Auction on the last day of the convention. The food is done through a combination of food drive and donating the con suite leftovers.”

That is some impressive fundraising and generosity.

Goblin: Keep Being Awesome!!!

Do you have a recommendation for a person or group in the SF/F community who deserves a shout-out for doing generous, awesome, and generally wonderful work? Let me know!

Jim C. Hines