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Sunday, 20 September 2015

Things I learned from Rothfuss

Pat Rothfuss is a good guy.

He's undoubtedly a generous and socially conscious person, as evidenced by Worldbuilders, the charity he founded which raises money for Heifer International every year, and which most recently matched donations to aid Syrian refugees. But while generosity and social conscience can be assessed by a person's deeds, to be good is a personal judgement of the beholder.

So, my assessment of Pat Rothfuss as a good guy is my very personal opinion, born out of two hours spent in his company, with my son and four hundred other people in the spectacular Last Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles. It is certainly a biased opinion, as I've loved Pat's books, laughed at his podcasts, and discussed in detail his D&D character's penchant for chandeliers with my son.

But bias is just a theoretical inclination until personal evidence can be gathered in support of a story. And in two hours with Pat Rothfuss, these are the things I learned:

1. His sense of humor is inclusive. No one is a target, and everyone can find something true in the laughter. It's a little like I imagine the writers' rooms on Sherlock and West Wing were, with fiercely quick wit that keeps a person on their toes, and makes you feel smarter by association.

2. He appreciates people. It was hot in that bookstore, with four hundred sweaty fans, some of whom, like my son and I, had been there for hours before the event began. Pat acknowledged the front row people for their endurance, and signed their books first. When he spoke, he connected with the audience, made eye contact, held it, listened carefully, and saw people. And despite the heat, despite the crowd, and despite the lateness of the hour, when it was time to sign books, he was all in.

3. He understands people. Before the event began, he suggested we think about questions we might want to ask, then made sure cards were handed out to anyone who may not be comfortable asking their question out loud. That's understanding the introverts. Later, when it was time to line up for the book signing, he asked the group to let the parents with kids cut the line so they could get home. His fans are real people with real lives, and he gets it.

4. He is generous with his stories. He warned us that Q&A was a misnomer in his case - questions could be asked, but in return he'd likely tell a story that might have a little something to do with the question, but maybe not. His stories were honest pieces of his life and his experience - often funny, and always authentic. He shared his historic lack of game with women, and how nervous he gets when he talks to Neil Gaiman. He shared, and people connected with him.

5. He has opinions and he's honest. Questions about a writer's process and writer's block were asked, and Pat didn't pull punches. Writer's block doesn't exist, he said. Plumbers don't get plumber's block - they get up, and they go to work. If they have a broken leg, they do what they need to fix it, and then they go back to work. Writers might have something that needs fixing emotionally, and since they write with their brains, it's a valid thing. But there's no such thing as writer's block. If you're a writer, you write. That's your work, so you do it.

My twelve-year-old son had a question about Pat's advice to a first-time Dungeons and Dragons game master, which he wrote down on a slip of paper and signed. Throughout the evening, Pat occasionally pulled a slip of paper to find a question (not about his beard) to answer. The first question he pulled was my son's, and Pat answered it directly to Connor, complete with a personal anecdote, a practical guide, and a piece of advice about letting other players be game master too. It makes them better players, he said, and it's more fun for everyone. I could feel Connor smiling with his whole body because Pat had acknowledged him in a way that made him feel seen, heard, and understood.

It was an wonderful evening for both of us. My son's first signed book carries with it the memory of a funny, generous, honest man who appreciated his question, and really got him. And as we floated out of The Last Bookstore with our personalized books, and our giddy memories, Connor turned to me and said. "Mom, Pat Rothfuss is a really good guy."

Friday, 18 September 2015

Kindle Unlimited

So I did this today. Putting books two and three of my series into Kindle Unlimited was approximately as terrifying as writing book one had been. Which sounds totally ridiculous, because why would a marketing plan that targets readers be terrifying? Or, for that matter, why would writing a book about a free-running tagger (I fall in slow motion, according to my husband) who time travels to Jack the Ripper's London (haven't been there because - you know, we've moved on) be scary? Well, except for the part that I COULD SUCK AND NO ONE WOULD READ IT.

Since then, of course, a couple of people have told me Marking Time doesn't suck. And those people actually went on to buy Tempting Fate and Changing Nature, and apparently those don't suck either. But, writing the books is hard enough. Marketing them is its own monster under the bed, only able to be faced with one part luck, one part research, and three parts kind people who like to read time travel books.

The research I've done into KU, especially since they changed the payout system for borrows to a per-page rate, has been compelling, and much, much wiser people than I (Hugh Howey's blog post on the subject is excellent) have written extensively on the subject. But then, a couple of weeks ago, my lovely friend, Penny Reid and I were talking about the Yukon (my summer) and babies (her life) and raising kids to be decent, interesting human beings (a universal challenge), and she brought up KU.

"You should put your books in KU," she said, during a very rare pause in the conversation. "They're really long, so the money could work in your favor when people borrow them, and everything in my research has shown that Amazon promotes KU books, especially the new releases, more than wider releases."

I'm paraphrasing, of course, because I think my brain stopped on the I-should-put-my-books in KU part. But one thing to know about Penny is that when she researches something, she's not kidding. That woman's statistical brain is phenomenal and utterly intimidating, and all I can say is thank God we're friends, because her books are awesome, and I get to benefit from her love of numbers.

"But," I argued, (to Penny, on the phone) "my first book is free, and if I put it in KU it can't stay free." For anyone who doesn't already know how to make an e-book perma-free, it's all about Amazon's commitment to being the lowest-priced game in town, so even though they don't offer the option to make a book free, other outlets do. Then Amazon has to price-match your free book in order to keep their low-price promise to customers.

The conversation went back and forth about whether readers would discover the first book when they saw books two and three in KU, and if it even mattered. But always in the back of my mind was the fear that everything would fall apart, people would stop downloading the books, sales would fall off, and ... well, you know, cats and dogs would start living together and life as I know it would cease to exist.

Or, three months could pass (the commitment to exclusivity in KU) and I could change my mind.

So, because I'm a writer, I just wrote a whole blog post full of fears and concerns, with some dialogue, and honest self-doubt sprinkled in for good measure. If I were just cutting to the chase, like I finally did today, I'd say this:

Dear Readers,
I've put Tempting Fate and Changing Nature into KU. The paperbacks are still available anywhere, but for the e-books, readers will have to download the kindle app to read them. I plan to release Waging War in KU before my three months for the other books are up, hopefully capitalizing on the increased exposure Amazon gives to KU new releases. If you read on a Nook or a Kobo device, I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience, and I'll be offering several paperback giveaways at release time on Facebook. The jury is still out on whether I'll ever put Marking Time in KU, because free is free, and, well, people like free so they still find it.

Oh, and thank you for your patience with Waging War. That's the subject of a whole other blog post that I don't yet have the courage to write, but I promise, it's coming.
Warmest Regards,