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DetCon1 is Coming Fast!

If you follow me on on Facebook and Twitter, you no doubt have heard me mention DetCon1.  You may have even gathered that I am pretty excited about this.  And, it is just over two weeks away!

What is DetCon1?

The simple answer is the DetCon1 is the North American Science Fiction Convention (NASFiC).  But for those, like I used to be, who are not sure what that means, let me clarify.  WorldCon, to me, is the grand daddy of all Science Fiction conventions.  Well, when WorldCon is going to be outside North America (this year it is in London), there is also a NASFiC.

This year, DetCon1 is being held in Detroit at the Marriott Renaissance Center from July 17-20th.  If you have not thought about going, it is not too late. I strongly encourage any author, publisher, or fan of Science Fiction to attend.

Why should I go?

Last year I finally made it to my first convention. I went to Lone Star Con 3, last year’s WorldCon. I figured I’d go big or go home.  And let me tell you, I was not disappointed. I walked away with a wealth of knowledge for my writing, my business, and my reading list.  It was an entire weekend of fun and it cost me almost nothing.  A small membership fee (way less than $100), hotel and a flight.  But the things I learned made it all worth it.

Anyway, I made up my mind that I was going to go to every WorldCon I could attend.  There are two reasons this is a good idea.  First, it makes me get away once a year.  Second, WorldCon always moves around.  Thus making it a great way to see new places.  I really loved San Antonio, and I would never have thought to go there if it wasn’t for the WorldCon.

Well, as I mentioned above, this year it is in London.  And my move to Washington made it just financially impossible to go.  But even if you are going to London this year, you should also go to Detroit.  The conventions are at different times, just so those that can attend both have that ability.

But here is why you should go:

Panels: DetCon1 will have four days full of panels.  What are panels? A group, typically 2-6 people, discuss a assigned topic for about an hour.  The topics at DetCon1 are very vast. They range from Literary to Scientific, Music and Art, and on and on.  You get to hear experts, novices, publishers, artists, doctors, and other qualified individuals discuss these topics and offer their advice.  Sometimes, if time permits, you even get to ask a few questions. And many panelists are willing to talk to you after the panel, if their schedule permits.

I went to so many panels at WorldCon. And one thing I knew I wanted to do was to speak on a panel. Why? Well, like this blog, I like to help people, and I do that with my ideas and thoughts.  Panels are a great way for me to share those.  And, I applied to be a panelist at DetCon1 and they said yes! (more on that soon).

Workshops:  Where panels are more of a one way communication, a lot like a lecture, workshops are more of a two way street.  You work with others to develop a certain skill or item.  There are a number of these and they vary in type and style.  While you learn a ton of stuff from panels, you practice a lot in Workshops.  These are often intense periods since time is limited. But I love the fast learning method.

Film Festival:  I wish I had known about these earlier when I was at Lone Star Con, because I missed some good ones. Film Festivals show short films made by talented folks. The one I attended showed ten different short films in about an hour and half.  They were amazing!  This is a great way to take a break from the hustle of the convention and see some excellent media art.

Art Show: I could have gone broke at the Lone Star Con art show. And Detroit has some awesome artists.  The Artist guest of honor is one of my favorites, John Picacio.  My hope is to get a chance to meet him and maybe (finances permitting) pick up something of his.  But even if you can only look, I can assure you you will fall in love with the art at the convention.

Kids Programs: This year I am going alone. But last year I went with my whole family and the Kids programming was a life saver for my young kids.  DetCon1’s programming appears to be the same way.  Kids can only take so much adult stuff before they go nuts. Kids programming is built just for them and includes a number of crafts.

Dealers: Merchants of as much variety as you can imagine come to the convention to show and sell their stuff.  Of course you won’t leave without a book or two, but there are also shirts, comics, patches, jewelry, and other great things to buy. I don’t know what dealers will be at DetCon1, but my wallet is already opening.

Also, I discovered some great writers by browsing the Dealer room. The books are excellent and I wound up grabbing a few new names because that was the point. To experience something new.

So much more: Exhibits, Parties, Masquerade, Gaming, and so much more.  DetCon1 is certain to have some great exhibits to check out.   I missed the Masquerade at Lone Star, so I hope to attend this one (but I have a busy schedule already).  I also missed out on a lot of parties last time. I didn’t find out about them until late Saturday. So I hope that I can attend a lot more this time.

So you see, there are more than enough reasons to to go to DetCon1.  You can register online for the full four days for just $75 for adults, $25 for kids (4 and under are free!).  So if you can get to Detroit, you see the value is there.  Not sure if you want to register online, you can do so at the door too.  They also have one day memberships that vary in price based on the day.  So please, go check it out!

I almost forgot the biggest reason you all should go!

I’ll be there. I applied to be a participant this year, and was so honored when the programming staff selected me as one of their participants.  I am even more honored by how many panels they have have assigned me to.  So it would be great if a few of my fans, and fans of Plasma Frequency could come out and see me.

Please note, the below list of panels is not final. Although the programming staff say it is “done” (their quotes, not mine), these things are always subject to change.  You’ll want to check the program when you check in.

Of course when I am not on a panel I will be attending them, and also I will be around looking at all there is to see.

So here is where they have me scheduled (*again subject to change so check the final program).

THURSDAY (17th)

The Very First Thing: Story Titles

Description: How do writers choose story titles? What makes a good title? Who gets to decide what the title will be? And which comes first, the story or the title?

My thoughts: I am lousy at titles, and I have had to adapt to that failing. So I hope to get a chance to discuss how I break down my title block and finally put a title on my stories.

Time: 7pm in the Nicolet A Room*

FRIDAY (18th)

Iron Author Detroit – Late Night Edition

Description: Watch four authors compete for the title of Iron Author Detroit! Witness their efforts at turning the Mystery Ingredient Word into an SF/F short story in five minutes or less. Judge the resulting tales through the magic of the Audience Applause-O-Meter. Who will reign supreme?

My thoughts: I am the Moderator or Emcee for this one. I am excited about this one too. I love short fiction, which is why I publish them. So, getting to see four authors write a story in five minutes or less… oh man this is going to be great.

Time: 10pm in the Nicolet B Room*

SATURDAY (19th)

What am I Looking For?

Description:  Agents and editors talk about the sorts of projects that interest them individually and answer general publishing questions.

My Thoughts:  I am so honored and so excited for this panel. Obviously I will be representing Plasma Frequency on this panel. But,as of right now the other panelists are Diana Pho of Tor books, Kate Baker and Neil Clarke of Clarkesworld, and Sam Morgan who is an Agent.  Now, Clarkesworld has always been a publication I have admired and has been what I aspired for by opening Plasma Frequency.  So to sit on a panel with Neil Clarke and Kate Baker. Man, I really hope they are there and that aspect doesn’t change. However, I am also excited to represent the semi-pro market on this panel. This is a good one to attend if you’ve wanted to know what it is we are publishing and why.

Time: 1pm in the Mackinac East room*

+/- a Shirt: Starting a Business

Description: How to lose your shirt (or maybe get rich) in starting a business.

My Thoughts: This one wasn’t on my initial itinerary, but I am glad they added me. Plasma Spyglass, my company, is my second business. So I am excited to talk about what I learned from my first failure, and what I know from Plasma Spyglass to be successful.

Time: 3:00pm in the Ambassador Salon 1*

Reading: Flores/Haynes/O’Riordan

Description: Richard Flores IV, Michael Haynes, and Daniel O’Riordan read from their work.

My Thoughts: Of all the items on my list, this one I am the most nervous about.  I don’t know which novel I will read from, but I am leaning towards my most recent one, Broken Trust.  Readings are a great way to hear a book in the author’s voice. That was how I discovered the Split Worlds Series by Emma Newman.

Time: 6pm in the Joliet A room*

SUNDAY (20th)

Hobbies as Research

Description: The best way to write about something is by attempting to do it. But the problem with doing this is that it can be easy to let the research take over the story. How do we balance the story with the fun factoids and tidbits we learn while doing things we plan to incorporate into our novels? How does doing it ourselves lend authenticity and credibility to the story?

My Thoughts:  This is a subject about balance. Obviously research is a big part of writing. But knowing what parts to share and what to leave out is a difficult thing.  This will be a great knowledge builder for new and experienced writers.

Time: 11:00am in the Mackinac East room*

*Remember these are the times and rooms as they are scheduled today. DetCon1 can change these, so please check your programs. And please come see me.

 

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Shame on You Duotrope

oh_no_you_di_int_retro_housewife_b_w_tshirt-d23504043240443180228y9d_325For well over a year, perhaps closer to a year and a half I have been very openly supportive of Duotrope.  They have offered a great service that was 100% free for users, and all they asked in return was for donations to help keep the site running.  Unfortunately, according to Duotrope, only 10% of the users donate.  As a result they feel compelled to begin charging users a subscription fee for use of their services starting January 1st.

As a business owner, I understand needing to cover your expenses.  I can’t even blame them if they want to make a profit (though they have never said they want to do this), but I can blame them for a lot of bad business choices they are making by passing this cost on to users.  Especially at the crazy price of $50 a year.

It is my prediction that this move will ultimately lead to the downfall for Duotrope.  Not because of this choice to charge, but because of how they have implemented it.  I don’t think they really have given much thought to this.  Recently they posted on Facebook that they did consider this for some time, but this has all the markings of a hastily made decision rather than a carefully thought out one.

Here is why I say “Shame on You, Duotrope.”

You didn’t consult your users for their thoughts:

The users are the life blood of a service such as Duotrope.  You need their submission stats to get the information other users come to your site to gather.  And you spit in their face by not even offering a simple survey of your users to see what options they would prefer to keep the site running.  Ads on the website, subscriptions fees, multilevel publication listings, and much more are all options that could have been put on a survey to see what your users would prefer.  It would have also given us more time to prepare for the idea of Duotrope charging.

You gave us no time to get acquainted to this idea:

The first announcements came December 1st.  Giving us one month to be prepared for this idea.  Past posts on Facebook gave no hints to this plan.  There was nothing in the newsletters to prepare us.  You sprung this on us with one month’s notice.  This is where the above idea would have benefited us all.  If you had told us three months ago that donations were down and in order to keep the site up, Duotrope was considering other options to make money.  Then if you offered a survey for user ideas, we would have known something like this was coming.

You’ll become another service trying to take advantage of writers:

Let’s face it.  Duotrope offers little more than you can already track yourself.  After all the most valuable feature to the writer, is the submission tracker.  To be honest, all you have to do is make an excel spreadsheet to do that.  I admit that the response stats, acceptance rates, and “Top Market” lists are fun.  But you really don’t need any of that information to be an author.  And if you want to find markets, Google works for free.  Ralan.com is also free.  And all the writer’s groups you are in are also free.  They can tell you about markets.  The main appeal of Duotrope was that is was convenient and free.

Writer’s don’t make a lot of money.  Lets put this is perspective here.  $50 a year means selling 5,000 words a year at one cent per word.  Not to bad, if you are a good writer.  But if you are like me, who has a lot of other projects going on at one time.  I don’t always get 5,000 words sold in short stories each year.  And considering the bulk of Duotrope’s listings don’t pay anything, there is not much chance of making any money on your $50 investment.

This puts Duotrope right in line with other rip off services, such as markets that charge you to submit to them.  There is no value in the $50 a year you will spend.  You get nothing of real value from it that isn’t free elsewhere. They are doing nothing more than tricking you into paying for something you can get for free.  That is the definition of a scam.

There are better ways to make money:

There are a lot of better ways, but they take work.  I admit that charging users is the simplest and easiest answer to their funding problem.  But there are ways that are better for their users and Duotrope in the long run.  This includes selling advertising space on their website, charging markets to list on their site, and multilevel listings.  I like the multilevel listing and website ads options best.  As the owner of a publishing company, I would gladly spend a little extra to be a “featured listing” on Duotrope.  I’d pay $50 a year to do that or even $100 a year depending on what I got for the money.  As a writer, I’d pay to have my book get an ad on the website.  The traffic I am sure Duotrope currently generates would make advertising with them a worthwhile investment.

I’m sure that if they really put their minds to it, they would find these would make far better choices than charging users.

They won’t make anymore money from this:

The reasoning behind this choice was to make enough money to run the website.  The problem is that simply won’t happen.  Read the comments on the Facebook announcements.  You will see that most of those that say they will pay, say they already donated anyway. Many say they donated more than $50 a year.  I suspect that 10% of users that donate, will likely stay the same.  That is, I think only 10% of the current users will subscribe.  And if many of them donated more that $50 a year, then Duotrope will actually lose money from this.  Even if 15% of current users subscribe, they won’t make that much more than the donations.  And by the time they reverse the decision and try something else, the damage will be done.

Statistics will no longer be reliable:

If the number of users decreases by even just 50%, the statistics they collect will be damaged significantly.  I suspect the users will decrease by 90% or more.  This will destroy the integrity of the Duotrope’s statistics.  So even if you plan to subscribe because you like the stats, you won’t get what your think your paying for.

Currently Duotrope.com represent around 30% of the actual submission to Plasma Frequency.  And that is high.  Other editors are reporting that Duotrope’s stats are only reflective of 10% of their submissions.  Imagine how much lower this is going to drop when Duotrope’s user pool shrinks by 90%.

This will change what Duotrope is all about:

Duotrope has been free for seven years.  For seven years Duotrope has been about helping writers find markets for their writing.  Duotrope now wants to be about making money.  Don’t let them fool you into thinking that $50 a year goes to running the site.  Because it doesn’t cost a lot to run a website.  I run two of them right now. Let’s look at this by using costs from Go Daddy:

Domain name: $14.99 a year, unlimited disk space hosting is $179.88 per year.  Now, assuming they build their own website (and they now have the templates all in place for every new listing).  That is all the real cost associated with running this site.  $194.87 per year, if they didn’t take advantage of any of Go Daddy’s regular sales.

What they (the owners of the site) want to be paid for is their time.  Does this make them evil?  No.  Business needs to make money.  And clearly Duotrope wants to be a business now.  That completely changes the dynamic of the site.  This will now be about paying for them to do the work required to run the site.  Something they already admit to doing part-time.  But if four users can pay the operating expenses of the site itself for one year, how much are the owners going to take in for their time?  A lot.

I don’t pretend to know all their costs.  And they refuse to tell us (see below).  Even when they did donations, it was just blind percentages.  There was no defined dollar amount to run Duotrope.  So now they plan to charge writers so they can make some money, rather than continue to be a valuable resource for writers.  Once again, this goes back to the fact that I feel they are simply trying to take advantage of writers.

Duotrope doesn’t care about the user:

This is the part that inflamed me the most.  They could care less about writers.  They’ve made that clear by everything above.  And they have practically said so.  The overwhelming majority of comments on Facebook are against this, yet they just continued to repeatedly post the same generic announcement. This morning they finally posted something more, and it angered me.  You can read the whole thing if you want, but I’ll just address what made me mad:

“The decision to become a paid service was not made lightly; many, if not all, of the suggestions mentioned on social media were considered, but in the end our current subscription model is what we determined to be the best compromise all-around. I know some of you want specifics on our numbers, our decision process, etc. While we understand your desire to know the inner workings of Duotrope, we are a private company, and our internal data is not public domain.”

Why can’t you share your operation costs with us?  User numbers?  The amount of money you are losing each month?  Is it because, as I showed above, the real costs are not all that much?  I think so.  Do they have to share this information with us?  No, they don’t.  Should they?  Considering the outcry from users, yes they should.  It is my opinion that they should give us some idea of why this has to be the way it is and why it has to happen in January.

“We knew going in that many of you would be terribly upset over the upcoming change. We are extremely sorry that this has caused you anger, sadness, and the like. However, the decision has been made, and while we are certainly not inflexible about adjusting to upcoming challenges, our subscription model needs to be allowed the opportunity to go into effect before it can be evaluated fairly. Time will tell what the future holds, but time will be allowed to pass before any changes, if any, are made to the way Duotrope plans to operated as of 2013.”

If many of your customers will be upset, and you know it, then it is not the right choice for your business.  The problem with putting something out there and evaluating it on the fly, is that the damage will be done.  If I leave, Duotrope, I won’t come back.  Even if they go back to free.  It took seven years to build Duotrope, they can destroy it in 30 days.

“This is the basic principle of quantity v. quality. As just one oversimplified example, many casual users (and we do mean many!) will report a new submission to a market and then never follow-up on it, leaving that entry as a sort of orphan in the overall data. That is the type of data problem we predict will be reduced significantly under the new model, increasing the accuracy of the statistics on listed markets. We know this is not specific enough for some of you, but we hope that over the many years Duotrope has offered its services for free we have managed to earn at least a little bit of your trust.”

When it comes to statistics you need quantity.  As I mentioned above.  A smaller statistical sample will not mean a better result. The writers that can afford this will be writers who are accepted more often than others.  Therefore the statistics will become skewed to only experienced writers who sell a lot.  Right now, it is reflective of a broad range of writers.

And don’t even get me started on trust.  We trusted you, and you are expecting us to keep trusting you.  Trust is a two-way street.  You want us to share money and trust you with it, but you don’t want to show us where the value is.  You won’t explain in depth why seven years of free service no longer works.  Trust me, I am a Nigerian Prince who wants to give you ten million dollars, just send me $5000 to facilitate the transfer of funds.  Come on.

“We have always known this decision meant parting ways with some of our users. If you will not be joining us, then we thank you for all the support, promotion and participation over the last seven years, and for helping grow Duotrope from an experiment into a mature company and service.”

A business that makes a choice knowing that users will likely leave, is making a foolish choice.  And thank you for acknowledging that you used us to grow your company into a money-making venture and then tossed us aside for the people who can pay you.

My summary:

Duotrope is moving in the wrong direction.  I can no longer recommend anyone use them.  They need to take a pause, listen to the users, and postpone this going paid idea.  They need to really evaluate the priorities of Duotrope and make choices that better follow the goals of the company.  But if the goals are to make money, at the expense of writers, which is exactly what this will be doing, I will want no part in this.  I still firmly believe that money should flow in the direction of the writer.  We writers already make so little, we don’t need this new scam sucking money from us.

Go to Duotrope, back up your data.  And track your submissions the old fashion way, with an excel spread sheet.  Then join the countless writers groups on Facebook, Twitter, and online to find new markets.  Go check out Ralan.com for market listings.  It may take a bit longer, but it will save you $50 a year you likely can’t afford to spend.

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