Custom USB drives!

March 15, 2018

Writers have to do much of their own marketing work, and the most effective marketers show up at conventions armed with more than just business cards, bookmarks, and postcards. I’ve seen all kinds of interesting swag ideas, from pens (pretty commonplace) and custom pins, to T-shirts and even hairbrushes branded with the author’s website or book info.

I’ve been a long-time fan of using flash drives. Although they’re more expensive than a pen, they’re generally cheaper than a custom T-shirt and they are useful so readers will hang on to them and keep them around – same ideas as the bookmarks, but less disposable.

Flash drives are a game-changer for e-books at conventions. Sure, you can sell an ebook and email the files to the reader, but handing over a physical drive (which they can also use for other purposes) makes it far more appealing. And especially so with audio books, which are huge files, often too large to burn onto a single CD. In most modern cars, one can plug the drive into a USB slot and start listening. Likewise, they make much cooler giveaway items than merely emailing the winner the book files.

In the past I used regular boring flash drives I picked up in bulk, but while they were practical, they didn’t serve the additional purpose of being cool convention swag. I’ve been wanting to step up my game, so when the opportunity came along to team up with and test-drive their custom-made flash drives, I jumped at the chance.

They offer a wide range of wholesale drives, and I briefly considered this business-card like tab, perfect for displaying a particular book cover, but ultimately I settled on this adorable wooden drive designed to look like a book, and here’s how they came out:

I used the steampunk smiley from the H. G. Wells, Secret Agent book cover on one side, and my website on the back. And look: plenty of room for a signature! This neatly gets around the whole “you can’t sign ebooks” dilemma, and it’s nicer than just signing a postcard.

I’m going to be using these as giveaways as I launch The Golem of Deneb Seven collection later this month, as well as a part of backer rewards for the UFO7 kickstarter. What other cool uses are there that I may not be thinking of? Please share your ideas in the comments!




My Heliosphere 2018 Schedule

March 6, 2018


I’ll be at Heliosphere in Terrytown, NY this Friday and Saturday. I’ll be arriving around 2pm on Friday. Here’s where you can find me:


Solicited Advice: Editors Share their Thoughts

5pm – 6:15pm, Ballroom 4

Humorous SF

9:30pm – 10:45pm, Ballroom 2


Autograph Session (with Laura Antoniou, Keith DeCandido, Hilty Silverman, Susan Hanniford Crowley, and Carol Gyzander)

1pm – 1:45pm, Grand North, outside Ballrooms 1 & 2

Space Opera Across Mediums

2:30pm – 3:45pm, Ballroom 4

Reading (with Mike Ventrella, Hildy Silverman, and Carol Gyzander)

5:30pm – 6:45pm, Ballroom 2

See my schedule at the Heliosphere website.




Where is the UFO7 Kickstarter?

March 5, 2018


Several folks have reached out to me this week to ask why this year’s UFO Kickstarter campaign has not been launched. In the past several years I ran the campaign in March and followed it with an open submission window in April. First of all, thank you for the concern! Please do not worry, UFO7 will be published on schedule and we’ll open to submissions on April 1 as promised. However, I’ve decided to run the campaign after the submissions close, probably starting around mid-May this year. There are several reasons for this:


  • Late last year I ran a (much smaller) campaign to fund my second collection, The Golem of Deneb Seven and Other Stories. While I doubt many people would mind, I still feel somewhat uncomfortable asking friends and fans for more money before I deliver that book. Golem should be ready in about a month, but not in time for an early March campaign.
  • Running a crowdfunding campaign is really hard work, and I hope that some additional signal boosting from 20+ authors will make reaching our goal a bit easier. To be clear, no one is expected to help promote the campaign. This will be purely voluntary.
  • Due to various other projects and business obligations, this March is an especially tough month for me to run the campaign in.


This is a bit of a risk for me. I will accept stories and pay ten cents per word, just like last years, assuming the campaign will fund. If it does not, I will pay everyone out of my own pocket. I may look for ways to lower the upfront costs a bit (such as printing the anthology via Print on Demand instead of an offset run) but none of those measures will jeopardize the quality of the stories, the layout, and all the other things you might care about as a reader. At the end of the day, I feel reasonably confident that there are enough people out there who want to read the books and for the series to continue and that the campaign will fund.

In any case, you have a month or so to get those stories ready. My team and I can’t wait to get reading!




March Update

March 1, 2018


I find that I haven’t been updating the blog as often as I should, partly because I’ve been very busy and partly because I’ve used social media to post about the new sales and reprint publications. That is rather unfair to folks who read this blog, so I am going to recap the recent publications here (copying them shamelessly from my own mailing list.)

Repairs at the Beijing West Space Elevator” (Chinese translation only) at Futures Affairs Administration
Future Fragments, Six Seconds Long” (reprint) in Toasted Cake podcast
Parametrization of Complex Weather Patterns for Two Variables” (reprint) in Little Blue Marble 2017 anthology
Future Fragments, Six Seconds Long” (reprint) in Diabolical Plots: The Early Years anthology

And speaking of mailing list, I send out an email update once a month which also includes some exclusive content — usually a short story, but sometimes an article or a speech or another bit of writing that may be of interest. This month’s update included “Recall Notice,” a Lovecraftian humor short story that appeared in an anthology a bit over a year ago and isn’t available anywhere online at the moment. If you’d like to receive these updates, please subscribe here:




Why Anonymous Submissions Are a Bad Idea

January 6, 2018

The new year brings fresh opportunities and projects. New magazines and anthologies are being launched, and some of them are embracing anonymous submissions in what has become somewhat of a trend lately. “We want to democratize the submission process,” those editors and publishers say. “We want the new authors to stand a better chance against headliners. We want authors from historically disadvantaged groups and backgrounds to enjoy an equal playing field.” All of those are worthy goals. Problem is, anonymous submissions accomplish none of those things.

Once upon a time I, too, was a proponent of anonymous submissions, but that is no longer the case. When I started editing UFO anthologies, I used semi-anonymous submissions for several years. The reasons were generally good ones — to judge each story purely on its merit, and not to let the Big Names and shiny publication credits sway my readers one way or another… but the more experience I gained as an editor, the less I liked anonymous subs. My reasons sounded good but the logic behind them didn’t stand up to scrutiny. Every editor must make their own decisions on this, but here are just a few reasons why I’m glad to no longer use this system (from least to most important.)

1) I trust myself more.

Early on, I was worried that publication credits and other accolades might sway me as an editor, but I quickly discovered that none of that matters. The only thing that matters is the story. An amazing writer whose work I’m a huge fan of can write a story I won’t like and won’t publish, while someone with no impressive credits whose submissions I’ve been rejecting for years might craft a tale I instantly fall in love with. Moreover, I’m far more excited about submissions from brand-new, previously unpublished writers than from almost anybody else, because I want to be the one to discover the next big talent in our field. I suspect most editors worth their salt — whatever their position on anonymous subs — feel the same way.

2) Anonymous submissions do not truly level the playing field.

Many (though not all) of the stories from Really Big Names published in various magazines are solicited directly from the authors or their agents. Most of those magazines do not anonymize submissions. The ones that do, tend to be newer venues, still looking to make their mark, and authors seeking to be published there probably won’t compete with too many Big Name writers anyway.

3) Neopro writers don’t like them.

Some of the writers who actively submit their short fiction but are good enough to be at least a little picky about their venues tend to push venues that require them to reformat their document in any way further down their submission hierarchy. Creating an anonymous version of the story file doesn’t sound like a lot of work, and it isn’t, but when you’re shuffling a lot of submissions around you tend to want to just send the same file out until someone buys it. Venues that require anything non-standard may become overlooked or at least left for last, thus somewhat lowering their chances at acquiring a good story because other editors will get their chance at it first.

4) Anonymous submissions can actually disadvantage stories written by minorities, foreign authors, and especially translations.

There are certain liberties an author that belongs to a community might be able to take that another author probably shouldn’t. My copy editor once sent notes asking James Beamon to tone down the Ebonics spoken by a magical sword in one of his stories. James responded by e-mailing her a photo of himself. 🙂 There was at least one other time where my team (which is pretty diverse) pointed out a somewhat-insensitive use of a racial stereotype in a story that I might have missed as a reader, and that at least one of them wasn’t super comfortable with since in this case, the author’s background did not align with that culture/background. We discussed the situation at length and I made the author aware of the team’s findings. The author was able to make the necessary changes and we accepted the story.

When we read a story in a vacuum (as we do with an anonymous submission) we’re missing out on what might be important cultural context. A Native American author writing a Native American character should be trusted more with their portrayal of such a character than an author of another background. It doesn’t mean that someone else can’t write a great Native American character, but I feel that, if an author has a close personal relationship to something they’re writing about and wishes to let us know this in their cover letter, we should take this information into consideration when evaluating the story.

This is especially true of translations or stories written outside of the traditional Western culture. Russian stories, for example, tend not to open with a strong hook. The Russian writing style wasn’t influenced by Hemingway nearly as much as English writing has been. Most stories tend to take their time, immersing the reader in the setting of the story rather than dunking them into the tale in media res. So if I want to ever publish Russian translations that aren’t intentionally written to imitate an American story, I should probably know that I’m reading a translation and make certain allowances. I’m also willing to make allowances for how well the story flows before edits, if it’s a translation or a story by an author for whom English is a second language.

As an author, I have no problem with making anonymous submissions (beyond the minor inconvenience factor described above.) If an editor feels the system is helpful and works for them for any reason, that’s fine. But as an editor, I don’t foresee using them again in the future, and I encourage other editors to consider their reasons carefully before electing to utilize this method of reviewing submissions.



Pay what you want for HUMANITY 2.0 in January

January 3, 2018

Humanity 2.0 is the Phoenix Pick Book of the Month in January! That means you can pay whatever you want for it, or even snag it for free if you don’t want to subsidize my caffeine habit.  This promotion will only last for the month of January, so hurry up and take advantage of the offer!



The Cackle of Cthulhu Released!

January 2, 2018

It’s launch day for The Cackle of Cthulhu and it’s also the international science fiction day, which is rather fitting, isn’t it? You can grab the book from Amazon or most online and physical bookstores.  I’m really excited about this anthology and think it will appeal to anyone who enjoys the Unidentified Funny Objects anthologies.

You can try to win a free signed copy here, or just buy your own!