Doomscrolling enabler. Image from Senokulvitre.

I mentioned elsewhere that for several years, I had difficulty doing creative work. But last fall, in the depth of the pandemic, I started being able to write again. But why? I think I finally have an answer.

During the pandemic, I found myself suffering from crippling anxiety. Trying to fall asleep at night, I would find myself on the hamster wheel of doom, where thinking about one stressful thing would lead to another. And another. And another. And eventually back to the first one. When this happened, I would become so disturbed, I would look at my phone for manga (but too frequently doomscrolling) and then, after a bit, try again. But it didn’t really help. Eventually, I started plotting a fantasy story in my head. And this, I found, was safe.

Thinking about a fantasy let me escape from my otherwise dark and panicked thoughts. And that’s still how I’m using it today. Charm was just published. But now I’ve written the sequel Favor. And I’m starting to plot out Charm 3 (which does not yet have a working title). Safe. Saaaaaafe.

When The Third Time’s the Charm was selected by Water Dragon Publishing, I was invited to suggest ideas for cover art. My initial response was to suggest some of the most iconic scenes in the story. But when I saw the first draft of the cover art, I came to understand better how the covers were put together by compositing stock photo artwork.

We had several rounds of revisions. I saw the first draft and made some comments. Another draft was much closer but had a few elements I thought could be improved upon. But the artist had also come up with a second conception for a cover.

It’s got similar elements, but a completely different kind of feel. It has less dynamic range — it’s almost monochromatic — with a more “modern” font. After some back-and-forth, we agreed that, although it was interesting and had its own merits, it probably wasn’t as eye-catching as the original. So we went with the original.

One thing I realize, as I look at both covers, is how little world building I’ve done as yet. I’ve just finished the rough draft of the sequel and I keep realizing decisions I’ve made (or haven’t made) about the structure of the world. In the cover we selected, for example, is a very long single span bridge. Would such a bridge exist in the world? Mmmmaybe. Maybe not. Each new discovery I make through my writing gives me a tiny burst of pleasure and excitement.

In the alternate, I don’t know what that curved thing is on the back cover. It’s pretty cool, I guess. But what is it doing up there in the clouds? I guess now we’ll never know.

One of my reviewers wrote me to say, “I do really hope you write more stories in your world, because I look forward to finding more out about it.” I look forward to finding out more too.

The Third Time’s the Charm Support Graphic

In my previous post about publishing with Water Dragon I mentioned the “support, encouragement, and advice” that authors get with publicity. About a week before the release of the story, I got a link to download some graphics. The folder included the electronic, print, and trade covers plus versions of the cover art carefully composed and resized for my desktop (as “wallpaper”); for my website; and for header graphics for Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Creating these kinds of graphics are not necessarily difficult for me. I created my own covers for my self-published books. (And I’m rather proud of the covers I created.) But that stuff all takes time and, without access to the the original files, it wouldn’t be feasible to create re-composed versions at all. But, in the end, it’s just one fewer thing I need to do myself: I can just use them and spend more time publicizing. (Or writing!)

In point of fact, authors frequently don’t get consulted about their cover art at all. Nancy Wood wrote about how discouraging it was to get a horrible cover when working with a different publisher and how the magic of a compelling cover can make all the difference. Look at that cover! I mean… just look at it.

For my cover, with Water Dragon and the amazing artist Niki Lenhart, we went through about three iterations. The first design was similar to the final design, but I had some suggestions about the nature of the ship that was presented. In the second, I noticed a few additional details to correct. But I was also presented with an alternative design to consider. I liked it — and it was compelling in a certain way — but jointly, with the editor, we decided that the original design was more eye-catching. Then I got one last chance to see it before we pulled the trigger and approved it.

In addition, authors also receive postcards and business cards to support their publicity efforts. The postcards can be used to provide a “signed” version of the digital edition. But, for a story that only sells for $0.99, sending a postcard for $0.40 postage doesn’t make much economic sense. And business cards are more useful during times when people are actually meeting face to face. (I guess I could hold one up to my Zoom camera…)

In addition to material support, Water Dragon and the supportive community of writers working with them have had a wealth of ideas and advice for how to get the word out about one’s writing. It’s provided almost a template for how to get set up to publicize effectively — and to share information about events that might provide opportunities to offer a reading or get books in front of people.

I don’t have (m)any illusions that my first short story will catch fire and take over the internet. But I have to admit that as a debut, this experience has been amazing: My story has been published on its own, with its own cover and identity, rather than part of a collection. It’s been a great trial run for writing a longer piece of fiction (and I have several in the pipeline). And Ive learned a huge amount about the process and established a foundation (blog, twitter feed, website, etc.) to support my writing going forward. Thanks, Water Dragon!

(PS: You too can submit to Dragon Gems!)

Water Dragon Publishing
Water Dragon Publishing: an imprint of Paper Angel Press

In the summer of 2021, I began making a dedicated effort to get speculative fiction stories published. As part of this effort, in August I attended Readercon 31. It was entirely virtual this year, due to the pandemic. I had only attended a face-to-face Readercon once in the Before Times. But I remembered it as a very chill and high quality event. Oh, there was the old white guy who kept railing about furries, but that just added to the character of the event. Still, I was quite excited.

It was fantastically well organized. The tech support team had put together an amazing system — slightly byzantine — that combined Discord, Zoom, and Youtube which was extremely effective at providing a seamless conference experience. I enjoyed the panel discussions and other scheduled events. But spent a lot of time just exploring who was there.

There was a “bookshop” section that had a few resellers (book stores), but also several publishers. A few, I’d heard of. But most were new to me. I anticipated meeting them and hearing more about how their publishing businesses worked. But I ended up being bit disappointed. Several of them seemed to have pre-stocked their Discord “channel” with a generic message or two. But most seemed unstaffed much of the time. I stopped by all of them several times, but didn’t have much success in connecting with any of them. Except one: Water Dragon Publishing.

I had never heard of Water Dragon Publishing before, but when I stopped in their channel, it was not only staffed, there were often two or three people there engaging in friendly banter. And they also had a series of scheduled events, with author Q&A sessions and also the possibility to pitch stories to their editorial team. I tried hanging out in several of the other Readercon “hang out” spaces — the “con-suite” or “hallway” or “the bar” and although they were OK, I pretty quickly started spending most of my time just lurking in the Water Dragon channel. By the end of Readercon, I had submitted a piece of short fiction to their “Dragon Gems” program and pitched my novella and was invited to submit it as well.

About a month later, I got a follow up email: my short story was accepted! Yay! Then the real work started. I got a list of comments from the reviewers, helpfully annotated with suggestions for addressing them. Plus a contract; social media policy; a project in a project management system with tasks, and subtasks, and deadlines; invitations to a Discord server and an instance of Slack, etc.

It’s been an adventure! This is my first publication of speculative fiction in English, so all of this is new to me. I’ve been learning a huge amount about the process and publication in general. I had this naive idea that you write a story, it gets accepted, and then you write another story. Instead, I’m approving cover art, identifying potential reviewers, writing biographies, and summaries. It’s been eye-opening to see what goes into publishing.

I have also been doing my due diligence with respect to Water Dragon Publishing. They’re an “imprint” of Paper Angel Press (as of Spring 2021). Paper Angel Press has been around for about 6 years. It’s a “small publisher” overseen by the managing editor, Steven Radecki. With this company, they’ve staked out a position bridging the divide between self-publishing and traditional publishing. If you’re self-publishing (Disclaimer: I have self-published four books.) then you’re doing everything, baby: cover design, page layout, editing, etc. Paper Angel does all of that, but doesn’t have the marketing power of a traditional publisher and so more of the burden of promoting books falls to the author — with lots of support, encouragement, and advice. Of course, traditional publishers have been pushing more and more of the promotion onto authors anyway. So the boundaries are a lot more diffuse than they used to be.

Finally, there is a lively community of folks involved in Water Dragon and Paper Angel. I’ve been invited to attend a virtual writing group with other authors and other events, including book launches, being interviewed for podcasts, virtual writing events, etc. The community has been incredibly supportive. But I must admit that we’re an odd assemblage of people of different ages with different backgrounds and from different walks of life. So I started joking with my family that, when I attend, I’m traveling to the Island of Misfit Toys. But, in this regard, I feel like I fit right in.

My first story, The Third Time’s the Charm, is being released on November 22, 2021 and is now available for pre-order! Just $0.99! It makes a great stocking stuffer, because who doesn’t like pirates and dirigibles and mayhem! Order it today!

Charm Front Cover

When an airship is hijacked by pirates, a young man with a secret loses his mentor … and his future.

After twice thwarting the pirates’ plans, he must finally come to terms with the pirate captain and decide whether to ally himself with him … or to confront a hostile future alone.

My first piece of speculative fiction, The Third Time’s the Charm, will be released by Water Dragon Publishing on Nov 22 and is now available for preorder!