Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

How to Support Authors Whose Work You Love: Pre-Orders

When you like certain authors’ work, there are three key things you should do to support them: Pre-order their books, post online reviews, and promote them through word-of-mouth.

Word-of-mouth praise for authors’ work is the greatest gift readers can bestow. Reviews rarely lead to sales. Praise often does.

Online reviews of books are vital to authors. It takes 25+ reviews to trigger beneficial effects from most retail sites’ algorithms. The most important thing to remember when leaving reviews of a work you’ve read is to be truthful, thorough, and fair.

That brings me to pre-orders. Online pre-orders are critical to the success of many books. I know some fans resist them. Don’t.

Waiting for a series to finish before you decide to buy it is a good way to guarantee that your favorite authors will get pushed off the shelves. It serves to kill new series before they get started.

Publishers and retailers use online pre-orders to gauge public interest in new books. This determines how they treat those books. Strong pre-orders for a book can inspire a retailer to increase its print order. It can propel a book onto bestseller lists.

When a publisher sees that a book has garnered strong support from pre-orders, it might invest more in its marketing.

Pre-orders help readers, too. Many online retailers guarantee pre-order prices, so you can lock in the best price.

So, if you love books, or like the work of a certain author, be sure to pre-order their books. It matters quite a bit.

FYI, The Midnight Front, Book 1 of my Dark Arts series coming January 30, 2018, from Tor Books, is currently available for pre-order in the format of your choice—hardcover, paperback, eBook, or digital audio. I’m just sayin’.

Also, if you’re an author who has a new book coming out in the next five to six months, and if that work is now available for pre-order in at least one format, please feel free to post links to your pre-order pages in the comments below!

#SFWApro

Helpful Mr. Bear — a blast from my childhood

On a recent visit north to see my family, Kara and I returned with a box of my childhood books given to us by my parents, who were clearing out their house in preparation for a big move south.

The books are all vintage children’s story books of the 1960s and 1970s. Some were originally mine, some were passed down to me from my brother. The reason Kara and I took the books is to make a gift of them to her younger sister, who just gave birth to identical twin boys.

While flipping through the yellowed tomes, I found myself smiling as I saw old favorites from childhood: The Monster at the End of This Book; One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish; Puff the Magic Dragon.

Then I saw that my wife had set aside one book that she said I needed to look at: Helpful Mr. Bear, written by Chizuko Kuratomi and illustrated by Kozo Kakimoto.

It’s the story of a big friendly bear who gets lonely on his mountain, and so he goes down to the bunny town to bring gifts to the bunnies. Hijinks ensue.

It would seem that the key elements of my adult psyche were imprinted far earlier than even I had ever realized.

Farewell, Mister Puck, Greatest Cat of All Time

Today has been a day of mourning here at Chez Mack-Bain. We had to say good-bye to our beloved feline friend Mister Puck. We got to spend just over twelve years of our lives with him, and in that time we came to love him more than we can express.

Puck as a kitten on our dining tableHe was born in early November of 2004, and we adopted him on March 6, 2005. It had been a case of love at first sight. Kara spotted him, a shivering orange-and-white fluff, across a crowded room at the Union Square Petco. She knew the moment she saw him that he was the kitten for her, and for us. I wasn’t so sure, but her passion for him persuaded me.

He had come to us slightly feral and terrified. When we first got him home, all he wanted to do was hide. To get him to eat, Kara had to feed him bits of wet cat food from her fingertips.

Puck as a kitten in his towerIn time he learned to be less scared, but he was always a clumsy thing, and small for his age, probably due to a period of malnutrition during a crucial early growth phase. His rear feet were absurdly pigeon-toed, and as a result he wobbled when he walked, and when he ran he sometimes hopped like a bunny. He was perpetually skittish, terrified of his own shadow, and a neurotic creature of habit.

Though he never really warmed up to strangers (with only a few rare exceptions), he soon came to be very affectionate with me and Kara. He would lounge behind our heads when we sat on the sofa; hip-check our heads as he strolled along from one end of the sofa to the other; flump against me in the mornings (or afternoons, when he felt I had slept in too long); cuddle up against Kara as she went to sleep at night. He loved his spot under the sofa, atop his kitty tower by the window, under the bed in my office, and on top of our radiator in the winters.

Puck asleep and awkward in his tower.Aside from some plaque on his teeth, his last physical had turned up nothing out of the ordinary. So we were concerned when his behavior changed abruptly after the holidays this year. He became asocial, choosing to hide from even us, and his appetite deteriorated. As a lifelong companion of cats, I knew these were bad signs.

We brought him to the vet in early January of 2017; the first visit turned up nothing amiss. His blood work was perfect, all tests of his organ function were optimal. His weight was down a little, but there were no warning signs for diabetes or hyperthyroidism, or anything else. We were baffled, but thought maybe he had just gone through a blue funk of some sort.

A couple of weeks later, while petting Puck’s face, Kara felt a hard mass under the skin on the left side of his throat. We immediately took him back to the vet, and this time we insisted on x-rays, which revealed a tumor-like mass. The doctor took a sample for biopsy. The plan was, if the tumor was benign, just an annoying fatty tumor, we would surgically excise it. That threatened to be an expensive process, but I was prepared to pay the cost. “Let’s go to work,” I told the doctors.

Puck in a WindowA few days later they had the biopsy results. It was a malignant squamous cell carcinoma, and it was not just in his throat but attached to his jugular vein, which meant it was both inoperable and imminently terminal. There was nothing we could do but try to make him comfortable for as long as we were able.

We soldiered on, in denial, for the last two and half months. I was especially heartbroken at this news because Puck was only 12 and in good health otherwise; we should have had years more time with him. Adding insult to the injury, this type of cancer was the same thing that had taken my beloved Ripley six and half years earlier.

Puck's Box (exterior)A few days ago I noticed that Puck’s tumor had broken through the surface of his skin, bringing with it the putrid reek of infection. Puck had reached a point where he could no longer open his mouth to eat or drink. That meant I could no longer give him medicine. There was nothing more that we could do for him. From that point forward, his quality of life could only decline, his discomfort could only increase — and through it all he would be starving but unable to eat. The point at which I finally knew for certain it was time to contact the doctors was when Puck emerged from under the sofa late one night, looked up at me, and tried to cry — but couldn’t open his mouth to let out his cry.

His longtime veterinarian kindly agreed to make a house call today, on his day off, a day when his office is normally closed, to ease Puck off this mortal coil. I visited their office yesterday to fill out all the papers and pay all the fees. When that was done, I bought some supplies and brought them home to prepare for our final good-byes with our beloved golden prince.

Puck's Box (interior) Flowers for Puck Puck's Burial ShroudI remembered that when we had to put Ripley to sleep, I hadn’t realized the doctors would need something in which to put my cat after it was done, so that they could take her away for cremation. We ended up wrapping her in an old pet fleece, because it was all we could find on short notice. I wasn’t going to let that happen to Mister Puck.

To allow him to make his final exit with dignity and beauty, I emptied the box that had brought the copies of my latest book. I used some shiny metallic-silver gift wrapping paper to decorated the outside of the box, and all its top flaps. Two and half jumbo bags of cotton balls formed the cushion in the bottom of the box and a pillow; a pair of somber-colored but tasteful pashmina shawls from a discount store provided the box’s lining and Mister Puck’s shroud. Last but not least, I bought some fresh flowers and pre-cut their stems to fit inside the box.

When I had finished all these preparations, I broke down and cried for a while.

Today, the doctors came to the house at roughly 2pm. They gave Puck a mild sedative so that we could spend some time with him without him being terrified. They gave me and Kara a generous period of time alone with Puck, and when we said we were ready, they delivered his final injection while we held and soothed him. After the doctor pronounced that Puck had passed, Kara and I wrapped our furry little man in his shroud, and then we lowered him into the box. I arranged the flowers on top of him, to tell whoever might open the box, “This beast was loved.” And then I taped it closed, to preserve Puck’s privacy, which I know he would’ve wanted.

The rest of today has been a surreal blur. This is a pain Kara and I will feel acutely for some time.

Mister Puck, you were the best of all cats, and we gave you the best possible life that we could. All we ever wanted was for you to be happy, comfortable, and healthy. I wish you hadn’t left us so soon, but these things are rarely if ever up to us.

Requiescat in pace, beloved cat.

Mister Puck
November 4, 2004 – March 26, 2017

Mister Puck

Pros: I Seek Your Convention Advice

This is a request for advice from my fellow authors and other publishing industry professionals, particularly those who attend a fair number of conventions.

I am pondering my convention schedule for 2017. There are some shows I attend every year — Farpoint (February, Baltimore); Shore Leave (July, Baltimore); New York Comic Con (October) — but I am looking to reach new communities of potential readers and to expand my professional network.

Part of the challenge I face in planning my 2017 con schedule is that my budget is limited, and most of the events that interest me are costly to attend. Committing to expenses such as these requires me to plan far in advance in order to keep costs under control.

Another factor that complicates my decision-making process is that, as of this writing, I still don’t know if my original novel The Midnight Front will be published next year or not. If it is coming out next year, expanding my schedule to cons I’ve not visited before could be useful. If it’s not coming out in 2017, I might be spending a lot of time and money for no reason.

Some of the shows I am considering adding to my schedule are:


ConFusion (Detroit, January) — I’ve applied for Professional Guest status, but I don’t know yet if I’ll be accepted, or what considerations they’ll offer me if they do.

SFWA Nebula Conference (Pittsburgh, May) — I know this draws a lot of high-profile fellow authors and other industry pros, but if I’m not nominated for a Nebula, is it really worth the cost of attending?

Phoenix Comic Con (Memorial Day Weekend) — This event seems to draw a fair number of high-profile SF/F author guests.

ReaderCon — I know I won’t be considered for programming at this event; I’d go to this just to attend panels and socialize. But some peers have told me that I’d most likely be snubbed by the majority of attendees because of my extensive work for Star Trek.

Comic-Con Int’l. (San Diego, July) — A big show, tons of noise, hard as hell to get noticed even for a moment. But if I knew I would have a new book out in the fall, and possibly ARCs to promote at the show, this could be worth the trouble.

GenCon Writers Symposium (Indianapolis, August) — I *really* want to be part of this, but the hotel situation is kind of a nightmare. As in, San Diego Comic-Con bad. But again, if I knew I’d have ARCs to peddle…

DragonCon 2017 (Atlanta, Labor Day Weekend) — I’ve applied for Pro Guest status, but I don’t know yet if I’ll be accepted, or what considerations will be offered by the con.

World Fantasy Con 2017 (San Antonio, November) — After all the brouhaha surrounding this year’s WFC, I wonder if I should even bother signing up for next year’s show. I know it’ll be run by different people than this year’s show, but I worry that WFC’s problems are instutional at this point.


So, what say you, fellow pros? Which, if any, of these shows would you recommend I consider spending my very limited time and money to attend?

My Life in Star Trek

star-trek-store-367Today marks 50 years since Star Trek‘s first public airing on American broadcast television, with the episode “The Man Trap,” written by George Clayton Johnson. The series has had a long and sometimes tumultuous history, but along the way it has inspired countless lives with its vision of a future in which humanity learned to overcome its differences to build a civilization dedicated to peace and scientific curiosity.

I grew up watching the original series in syndicated reruns. By the time I was 7 or 8 years old, I think I had seen every episode at least twice.

star-trek-the-motion-picture-poster-artIn 1977, along with the rest of my generation, I was swept up in the marvels of Star Wars, but after I experienced the wonder of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, with its vision of humanity’s thirst for knowledge and self-improvement first coming home to haunt them, then proving to be their salvation, I knew that I would be a Star Trek fan for life. Star Wars had better glitz, but Star Trek had intelligence and soul. It had compassion.

In 1987, when I was leaving home to enroll at NYU Film School, Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted. My parents taped it for me while I was away at college, and I binge-watched it when I came home on holiday and summer breaks. I don’t know how I first heard about the show’s “open door spec script” program, which started during its second season. What I recall is spending a summer between semesters laboring away on my first attempt at a Star Trek spec script.

I never did break out of the slush pile at TNG. And for a few years after I graduated from NYU, I fared no better at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

That all changed in 1994, when my friend Glenn Hauman introduced me to John J. Ordover, who was then an editor acquiring Star Trek fiction for Simon & Schuster.

I had requested the meeting because I thought that selling a Star Trek novel might be easier than selling a Star Trek script (it wasn’t; and it was harder work, to boot). But after I discovered my “brilliant” novel idea violated every single one of the S&S writers’ guidelines for Star Trek fiction, I threw my manuscript away. I might also have burned it. This led to me and John becoming friends (because I had chosen not to waste his time).

John had an open line to pitch stories to DS9 and Star Trek: Voyager, but he had little to no experience in scriptwriting — a format in which I had a degree. So we teamed up.

In March of 1995 we made our first pitches to the producers at DS9 and Voyager. Jeri Taylor bought a Voyager story from us on our first meeting, and a week later we made another sale to Ira Steven Behr at DS9.

mack_paramount_1995-08_crop
August 1995, outside Paramount Pictures. I was there with John Ordover for the break session on our first script assignment, at DS9.

It was never that easy again.

We pitched dozens, perhaps hundreds, of story ideas to both shows over the next few years, but we never replicated that early success. Frozen out of the television side of Star Trek, I got serious about my work for the print tie-ins. I started out reading slush manuscripts for the editors. Then I graduated to writing reference materials for other authors. Or writing emergency filler copy on manuscripts that came in short and late.

destiny_omni_2015_largeIn early 200o I was offered my first book contract by S&S, for The Starfleet Survival Guide. That led to further invitations, to write for the S.C.E. eBooks, and later for the paperback novels. Now, 16 years later, I’ve written more than two dozen Star Trek novels, and three of them have reached the New York Times bestsellers list. I’ve had the pleasure of writing for Star Trek comics, computer games, nonfiction, prose, and television.

Star Trek has been a part of my life for as long as I’ve been able to remember. Its vision of a future has helped to shape my view of the world and my respect for the maligned, the misunderstood, and the marginalized. I feel very honored to have been able to contribute, even if just in a small way, to this hopeful vision which has meant so much to me through the years. I hope Star Trek continues to live on and prosper for another 50 years and beyond, so that future generations can continue to boldly go toward a brighter, better, more accepting future for all thinking beings.

Star Trek Mission: NY Wrap-up

I had a heck of a great weekend at Star Trek Mission: NY.

star-trek-mission-new-york-logo-hi

On Thursday evening, the night before the show opened, I got to show my old NYC neighborhood to my friend Kirsten Beyer. We had dinner at the same Italian restaurant where my wife and I went on our first “official” date over 14 years ago, then we grabbed drinks at the Hourglass Tavern.

IMG_9092
Photo by John Van Citters, CBS Television Consumer Licensing

On Friday, I took part in the convention’s first scheduled panel, “The History and Future of Star Trek Novels,” with Kirsten, Michael Jan Friedman, Glenn Hauman, and editors Marco Palmieri, Margaret Clark, and Ed Schlesinger.

That night I had dinner with the generous and generally awesome John Van Citters, Kevin Dilmore, Sarah Gaydos of IDW Comics, comics writer Mike Johnson, Risa Kessler of CBS, and author Robb Pearlman at Glass House Tavern in NYC. Then I met up with Kirsten, and we followed Sarah and Mike to drinks with artist Declan Shalvey and a few of his fellow illustrators.

Saturday, I took part in the “Writing for Star Trek” panel with Glenn Hauman, Michael Jan Friedman, David Gerrold, Mike Johnson (scribe extraordinaire of the Star Trek comics), IMG_8247and Al Rivera, lead developer and story architect of Star Trek Online.

After that, Mike and I sat front row at the Star Trek: Discovery panel, where Kirsten announced that Mike would be spearheading the comics tie-in for DSC, and that for Simon & Schuster I would be writing the lead-off novel based on the series.

After the Discovery panel, I got to snag a photo backstage with Kirsten and Nicholas Meyer, the writer-director behind my two all-time favorite Star Trek films (among many other fine works), and I got the opportunity to tell him how much I’ve admired and respected his work.

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Photo by John Van Citters, CBS Television Consumer Licensing

Wrapping up my convention weekend, I brought Kirsten out to Queens for dinner with me and Kara at SugarFreak, a New Orleans-inspired restaurant that has been one of our favorite places since it first opened.

All in all, I would say I had a total blast at Star Trek Mission: NY, and I hope to do it again someday.

An Editor (long form) and a Hugo

When it comes to The Hugo Awards, the lion’s share of pre-Worldcon debate and discussion seems to focus on the nominees in the prose fiction categories. This is not one of those posts.

I’m writing this to tell you why TOR/Forge Books senior editor Marco Palmieri deserves your Hugo Award nomination in the category of Best Editor–Long Form.

Marco Palmieri, TOR Senior Editor (2015) for Best Editor Hugo

Full disclosure: Marco and I have been friends for many years, he has acquired books from me in the past, and I currently am working on a trilogy of original contemporary fantasy novels for him at Tor. That is not why I am writing this post. In fact, I suspect he would prefer I didn’t, because he is a modest man who prefers to let his authors be the stars. He would never campaign for an honor such as this—which, in my opinion, is just one of many reasons why he should receive it. (more…)