SFWA opens doors to small press- and self-published authors

The voting has ended in January, with the striking count of 6:1, in favor of admitting small press- and self-published authors as full members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). These coveted memberships have previously been open only to traditionally published authors with sales to a particular and rather small list of book and magazine publishers.

By the new rules, the list is far more open, and anyone can be considered for membership with one very big stipulation: this person has to earn $3000 or more per single title within a 12 month period. From what I know, this number is fairly steep for most small presses and self-published authors. Still, this is a huge step in the recognition of the current publishing trends.

I have seen many discussions about the exclusiveness of SFWA. Unlike the Romance Writers of America, who accept everyone interested in the genre and willing to pay the membership fee, SFWA membership has been considered a badge of honor by some, and a controversy by others. I know that I was happy to earn my full membership last year when my novels came out from Angry Robot. I also know authors who made a professional sale but chose not to join. And, I cannot help questioning the wisdom of excluding so many potential members from the pool.

SFWA’s value, to me, is primarily in its networking options, even though, being somewhat Internet-challenged, I have not even scratched the surface of what this organization can offer to its members. I guess for a professional network there could be an advantage in exclusivity and in making sure that the people you mingle with represent the top of the field. But this culture of exclusivity also has a flip side, and, in my observation, tends to create an informal rank structure even among the members themselves. At the same time, RWA, to my knowledge, does very well without imposing any restrictions, and I know RWA has been very supportive to all members and great in helping new authors achieve professional publications.

By my calculation, the new SFWA membership rule would benefit less than 1% of self-published authors and very few small presses that could not qualify their authors for membership before. To earn $3000 from a small press, one must sell at least 3,000 print books or a similar number of e-books priced at $2.99 or more within 12 months. Cut the number in half for self publications. To my knowledge, while some authors do earn as much, and more, over time, very few authors outside traditional publishing can report this kind of yearly sales. My prediction is that, based on these estimates, we will see very few people joining SFWA as a part of this change — but in the end, time will tell. I, for one, am happy that this is at least a step in the right direction.

And yes, here is the official text of the announcement. Yay!

http://www.sfwa.org/2015/02/sfwa-welcomes-self-published-small-press-authors/

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Highlights of my 2014 writing life

2014 has been a roller, coaster with so many ups and downs that now that it’s over I cannot help feeling exhausted.

Here are some of the good moments in the year:

First and foremost, the launch of my “Majat Code” series by Angry Robot Books. Yay!

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Despite the many setbacks, including, the initial release of the “Blades of the Old Empire” with a missing key chapter, followed by my editor, Lee Harris, leaving Angry Robot and accepting a job at Tor.com, and finally by the sale of Angry Robot itself to a brand new owner, this has been a thrilling and happy event. And, despite the setbacks, the books have been selling well, and “The Guild of Assassins” had to be reprinted three weeks after publication. Thanks to all my readers and fans!

Another one of my 2014 highlights I couldn’t help feeling excited about (and should have blogged about a long time ago, actually) is summarized in these photos:

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Me. Next to Michael Swanwick. Sharing a panel with Michael, Tom Purdom, and Bernie Mozjes at 2014 Philcon. Yes, sitting next to my favorite author on stage.

The panel revolved around the question of whether science fiction writing could be literary (the consensus, reached by the panelists in the first minute of the hour: Yes, it can. Panel over). After which Bernie and I had a chance to sit back, relax, and listen to Tom’s and Michael’s thoughts.

This was lots of fun. And, I have to say, these are the moments I love the most in attending writers’ conventions — meeting new and established authors face to face and having a chance to chat with them informally about books, writing, and anything at all.

By the Chinese calendar, 2014 has been the year of the Horse. My year. I am told that these are always difficult, if one believes such things. So, I am hoping for an even better 2015. Definitely, one of my New Year resolutions is to do more blogging.

 

 

 

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MISTRESS OF THE SOLSTICE podcast!

This story in itself is amazing. At the 2014 World Fantasy Convention earlier in November, I attended a book release party held by my friend Sally Wiener Grotta for her new novel “Winter Boy”. It was held opposite the art show reception, which means there was actually a possibility to talk to people in the room without having to squeeze through dense crowds.

This is how I met Laurel Anne Hill. We chatted, and the conversation eventually drifted to my books. I had a copy of “Mistress of the Solstice” in my purse, and after Laurel told me she is interested in Russian folklore-based literature, I showed it to her. She opened the book and started reading.

To my amazement, she kept on, beyond the polite first glance one expects on such occasions. When she finally looked up at me, she was smiling.

“I love your prose,” she said. “This first chapter, it just asks to be read out loud. I am going to do a podcast for you!”

I was thrilled. I never had a podcast of my work, and certainly never expected such a reaction to my book from a stranger I just met. To be honest, I half-expected this conversation to be forgotten as soon as I left the room. But only a few days after WFC Laurel contacted me about the pronounciation guides — and then, to my amazement and delight, with a link to the podcast.

Laurel’s reading is beautiful. And there is more, her foreword and afterword, her use of Slavic music in the background. It is lovingly made, with great attention to details, and I enjoyed listening to it very much. I hope you do too:

http://laurelannehill.libsyn.com/-mistress-of-the-solstice-by-anna-kashina-a-reading-by-laurel-anne-hill

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Why do you want to be an author?

I recently attended a meeting of my writing group, which includes a range of authors, from beginners to successful ones. These meetings tend to shift into the format when the beginners ask questions and the established authors share their opinions and experiences. Many of those revolve around a few common topics: “how to overcome my anxiety and actually start my first-ever writing project”, “how to deal with the writer’s block”, and — naturally — “how do I get my work published”.

At this recent meeting, the discussion touched up on another subject: “why do we write in the first place?” or “why do you want to be an author?”. The answers to that ranged, but one piece of information, coming from the established authors in the group, caught my attention. If you write for the purpose of being successful, you are setting yourself up for constant disappointment. In terms of external rewards, a writer’s life never gets easier. First, you struggle with finishing a publishable piece. Then, you struggle with publishing it. After it is published the anxiety starts on whether you will be successful. And then… it just goes on. “So, I got on the New York Times bestsellers list and stayed there for 8 weeks! Yay! But… why 12 weeks? Why not six months?… Will my next book get there? Will it stay as long? Will it sell better than the first?…”

In the end, this discussion reinforced what I have known about myself for a very long time. Yes, sure, I do want to be successful. Probably not as successful as Stephen King or J. K. Rowling, when your whole lifestyle must change to match this success. My measure of success is to be certain every book I write will get published (which means that every previous book should sell enough copies to make this worthwhile). But… this is only a small part of it.

I would never have wanted to be a writer if I did not enjoy the writing itself, more than anything else. In the end, I write for myself, and when I immerse myself in the book I am working on, I am not thinking of success, or of what will become it it once it is finished. My major reward is when the book works exactly as I want it to be. When my prose starts singing on the page, when the characters come alive, when the pictures become dimensional and everything mixes in just the right proportions, I experience a joy that cannot compare to anything else. This is the reason I will never stop writing. This is also the reason why I cannot purposely write something that fits into any external frame. Yes, I do care about the readers’ opinions, I do suffer when I see negative or hostile reviews, and I do get depressed if the sales are not as high as I hoped. But in a bigger sense all these things are secondary.

I love writing (and reading) secondary world fantasy, but even within the genre I am very picky. In addition to loving good stories and good worlds, I am also restrictive to certain things. I cannot take excessive gore or violence. I don’t like depressive themes and massive deaths, especially those of main characters. I read to lose myself in a better reality than my own. All this inevitably seeps into my writing as I try to recreate all my favorite things in my own work.I tried many times to follow the trends and write an urban fantasy (when those were “the thing” a few years ago) or a post-apocalyptic dystopian fantasy, or at least a traditional fantasy with a large measure of gore, despair, and violence. It did not work. All these are just not my things. In the end I am happy in the knowledge that I write what I love. For any author, it could not (should not?) be any other way.

 

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Books for all ages

I think of myself as an ageless reader. I love classical children’s books, as well as some of the books written strictly for adults. In fact, in these brackets, age labels always throw me off. I would not consciously pick up a book that is marked “young adult”, and I don’t browse in those sections of the bookstores, yet whenever I accidentally get my hands on one of such books, I usually like them.

Through all these experiences I’ve grown to dislike the age labels. I am perfectly capable of picking up a book and deciding for myself if it is written for my age level or not. I also am the reader who has devoured Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy at the age of fourteen and enjoyed Harry Potter books at the age of thirty. Age boundaries are very personal, and for me they are not necessary at all.

So, why do publishers always market books in an age-specific way? I understand the need to categorize, directing the readers to the appropriate shelves (I guess I should just face it and go to the young adult section more often). I also understand the fact that some books, while suitable for a range of ages in terms of the story and the writing style, may have too much gore and sex to fit onto the young adult shelf. However, I tend to feel that such books rarely become the all-time classics, even if they do sometimes enjoy a period of commercial success. I do read those books from time to time, but I cannot help wondering if it would be better to have a separate shelf for those gory books (just like those shelves reserved for sexy books), and put the rest of the books into the same section marked as “books for all ages”? By the way, even the level of gore and sex appropriate for each age is a very personal decision, and I have seen ranges in those books as well, which makes such placement even more difficult.

For my own books, I feel that I am walking a fine boundary in terms of age-appropriate contents. I sometimes see reviewers comment on my books as young adult that have misleadingly sneaked into the adult marketing scheme. Obviously, these are isolated opinions, given the fact that by now three different publishers have chosen to publish and market my books as adult. But these comments keep me thinking: what makes us create this distinction? Is it the writing style? The level of emotional problems? Or perhaps the detail in which the author is willing to venture into the sex and gory themes?

I still don’t have the best answer, this is why my post contains so many question marks. Yes, there are emotional problems, and the complexity of politics, that probably would not be interesting to a young reader. However, in my observation, this level of complexity loses many adult readers too. And yes, there is a level of gore–and sex that I would not want a child in the early teens to read day to day. But, to me, none of these things seem defining enough. Many adults enjoy “Harry Potter”, and many young teenagers secretly devour “Fifty Shades of Grey”. Among these smeared boundaries, I cannot stop thinking that targeting books to age groups is a relic that was created for the convenience of advertising, and is bound to disappear sooner or later in our digital age.

So, in my virtual bookstore, books would be divided by themes rather than age levels. And everyone would be able to come in and make their own call.

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Speaking in passive aggressive: 5 innocent phrases that can turn a conversation into an argument

We tend to put a lot of significance into words spoken to us by others. At the same time, we often underestimate the importance of what comes out of our own mouths. Some very common responses can instantly alienate people you are talking to, while sounding perfectly harmless. Often these things lead to major recurring domestic fights, broken engagements, and soured friendships. Most of these things are triggered subconsciously, and evoke a subconscious response, turning the conversation the wrong way even before we realize it.

Here is my list of top 5 things never to say in a conversation, unless you want it to turn into an argument:

1. “What?”

Your friend just said a long sentence to you and you did not hear the last word clearly. An immediate–and quite natural–response is to say “What?”, so that the person would repeat the missing piece. However, this type of response is not only abrupt and jarring, it is inconsiderate. Your friend could not possibly know which exact word you missed, so you have just forced her to repeat the entire phrase, or more. Don’t be surprised if she sounds irritated the second time around, and if her next response triggers some irritation on your side. Things can quickly go downhill from here, without being intentional.

Instead, say something like this: “Sorry, I didn’t hear the last word. What was it?”

2. “You don’t understand.”

Chances are, if you feel compelled to say this, the person you are talking to is already aware of the misunderstanding. By saying this, you are reinforcing the fact that this person has failed considerably in this conversation. If you are talking to an insecure person, you will likely make him feel stupid and inadequate. Whatever the reaction, it will likely go far deeper than the topic of your conversation, and probably not in the direction you want it to.

Instead, consider skipping this phrase altogether, and just repeating the explanation–better yet, with some modifications so that the person might understand it this time around.

3. “Let me explain.”

Like the example above, but more subtle, this phrase is telling someone they must change their attitude and pay extra attention. It also suggests there is a long conversation coming, even if in your mind the ensuing explanation might take only one phrase. When used on the offensive, you are effectively telling this person: “She thinks I am stupid and need extra pointers to pay attention” or “Oh, no, she is going to be pushy and force me not just to listen but also to demonstrate full attention”. When used on the defensive, it means: “She is going to talk too long and I will have to drop everything and let it drag on.” Something like this is likely to make a person not want to listen, even if they felt compelled to just a moment ago.

I suggest never to use this phrase, unless you are 100% sure you want a person to drop everything they are doing and pay extra attention. If you do, say something like this instead: “This is very important to me. Please listen.” By doing this, you are acknowledging that this may be more important to you than to the person you are talking to, and you are asking this person to bear with you and do something for your sake. Most people would feel good doing that–unless, of course, you are already arguing.

4. “I don’t know what you are talking about.”

If you are speaking the same language, chances are you do understand what this person is talking about, even if you may not have understood everything they just said. Sadly, this phrase has been far over-used in some action movies of the 1970s and 1980s, so for many people it readily pops to the tongue without even triggering a brain response. To the person you are talking to, this means: “I not only missed everything you just said, I also have no idea what is the topic of our conversation”, translated as: “we are not in the same plain of thought, so whatever you say about this is going to go right by me and I will make no effort to talk to you at all”; closely followed by: “go away, the conversation is over and I am not interested in anything you have to say.” You may not mean these things when you say it, but chances are it will subconsciously come through this way, quickly turning your partner’s attitude from friendly to hostile.

Instead, try saying something like this: “I am not sure I understand what you meant by <X>. Did you mean <A> or <B>?” Yes, it will be much more work for you to figure out this detailed response. But trust me, unless you really want the conversation to end right there, probably with hard feelings and longer term repercussions on both sides, it is worth it.

5. “How many times do I need to tell you this?”

Well, this one is probably obvious. Between the lines, it reads: “I already told this to you, more than once, and you are still too stupid to understand”. Saying something like this is bound to alienate a person right away.

Instead, it may be worth thinking: “if I said this so many times already and she still doesn’t do it my way, maybe she has her own reasons not to?” People have their differences, and they often don’t feel comfortable discussing them in detail. In some situations this is hard to accept, but there is nothing anyone can possibly do about it.

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Does any of this sound familiar? Do you have any other common phrases in your collection that tend to inadvertently trigger a wrong response?

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THE GUILD OF ASSASSINS blog tour wrap-up

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Thanks to everyone who participated in THE GUILD OF ASSASSINS blob tour by posting, commenting, and, of course, buying the books. There is still one more day left! The last post goes up tomorrow.

My special thanks go to Tasty Book Tours and the Angry Robot publicity team for organizing this. It has been a blast! And I feel that I could definitely get use to seeing my name in the media every day.

Click on the banner above of the full schedule from the Tasty Book Tours. In addition, I had some awesome posts at Chuck Wendig’s blog, AP Book Club, Mary Robinette Kowal’s “My Favorite Bit”, Angela Korra’ti’s “Boosting the Signal”, Tor.com’s Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe and others. Like I said, it has been a blast, most of it recapped in my recent blog posts.

Here is the list of the most recent posts:

Excerpt and giveaway at Ink on the Shelf: http://www.inkontheshelf.com/2014/08/the-guild-of-assassins-by-anna-kashina.html

Excerpt and giveaway at Romancing the Readers: http://romancingthereaders.blogspot.com/2014/08/excerpt-giveaway-guild-of-assassins-by.html#comment-form

Questions and answers with Angelia Almos: http://angeliaalmos.blogspot.com/2014/08/q-and-giveaway-guild-of-assassins-majat.html

An interview at Sarah’s Story Lines: http://redefiningperfect.com/get-to-know-author-anna-kashina/

A guest post on the ranks of the Majat Warriors at Kinky Vanilla Romance: http://kinkyvanillaromance.blogspot.com/2014/08/author-guest-post-by-guild-of.html

A post on Racing to Read: http://racingtoread.blogspot.com/2014/08/the-guild-of-assassins-blog-tour-promo.html#comment-form

An excerpt on Paranormal Romance and Beyond: http://www.ashlynnelaynne.blogspot.com/2014/08/tasty-book-tours-guild-of-assassins-by.html

A post and review coming up tomorrow at: http://twinsistersrockinreviews.blogspot.com/?zx=894e472eb0685aa5

Don’t forget about my author’s giveaway! If anyone would like to get a copy of my book (your choice), you can visit all these blog tour stops and leave comments, then write me back as a comment on one of my blog tour posts. I will keep this open until August 20, five days after the end of the blog tour.

And yes, if you can help spread the word about my new release and the Majat Code series, or better yet, post reviews at retail web sites, Goodreads, or other venues, you would also learn my eternal gratitude :-) This will be open any time.

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoy the books!

 

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