Conflux 6 report #1 – Arrival

So, I’ve made the short (by Australian standards) drive to Canberra for Conflux 6. I’ve mentioned previously all the bits and pieces that I’ll be doing here. Here’s the run-down again if you’re interested.

I’m staying at the Marque Hotel, which is where the Con is being held. Look, here’s my room:


Not too shabby really. I was pleased to see it had a balcony. Until I saw the balcony.


That’s a view left and right from the room. Isn’t Canberra beautiful? I think my view is the roof of a carpark, but I’ve yet to investigate that.

One thing I noticed on the way in was that there’s a sort of scribbled sign on the door. It’s supposed to indicate that beds, drinks and food are available here:


To me it just says monsters, drinks and food are available here. Maybe it’s because I’m at a spec fic convention, but can you see that too? How about now:


It’s even drooling nasty slime.

Anyway, I’ve paid for the hideously expensive wireless access here, so expect as many Conflux 6 updates as I can muster the energy for. It could be many, it could be very, very few. I’ll try to tweet about it regularly too, so follow me on @AlanBaxter.


International Blasphemy Day

I write about magic and monsters and demons and all that stuff. I love the fantasy, horror and sci fi genre and the ideas it plays with. I’m happy to admit that there’s an awful lot out there that we can’t understand and all kinds of things happening that defy rational explanation. I don’t mind if people believe in some kind of higher power, magic or guiding force in the universe. There’s no proof for it, but there’s no proof against it either. In my opinion the only intellectually defensible position on these issues is agnosticism – we simply don’t know for sure, so having any kind of absolute fixed belief is stubborness at least and willful ignorance at worst.

So with that in mind, any kind of organised religion pisses me off. To claim that you have all the answers, the ultimate truths and so on is just bollocks as far as I’m concerned. How does this relate to writing and words (am I going off on a tangent rant here?) No, watch me segue:

The Bible, the Koran and books like them (books, see!) are some of the most abused sets of words in the world, used for all kinds of things contrary to the things they claim to teach. And they’re clearly the work of men, revised, edited, translated and rewritten with agenda time and time again. To claim they are anything like the absolute word of any god is mental.

If those books give you succour and help you to organise yourself into a functioning, moral person, that’s fine. We certainly don’t need them to be morally upstanding, but whatever floats your boat. Claim that it’s the word of any god or try to convince me that people that don’t believe it are going to some kind of hell (that they don’t believe in, incidentally) and you go straight to my shitlist. As mythologies for exploring the human condition I have no problem with them. Why is the Koran considered a religion while the Prose Edda is considered a fantasy? Something to think about.

Anyway, with those thoughts in mind, today I’m celebrating International Blasphemy Day. You can read all about it here at my friend Michael’s blog. For my part, I want to share today’s Jesus & Mo cartoon. (Jesus & Mo is one of my favourite web-comics. Check it out here.)



Reviews, word of mouth and Super Users – Part 2

Ever wondered how you’re going to get your erotic werewolf scifi mysteries noticed by readers? Following yesterday’s guest post here by MCM about how to make reviews work for writers, today MCM picks up where he left off and talks about how to make use of the long tail and work your way up through niche reviewers. You can find the article on the Novelr website here.


Reviews, word of mouth and Super Users – Guest post by MCM

Today I’m pleased to present a guest post by MCM. This post explores the difficulties in building a fan base through word of mouth, and talks about how reviewers can help us with that.

Recently, I’ve had some conversations with very smart people about the future of publishing, specifically about how readers and writers can connect directly and make old-style functions like reviewers obsolete. It’s a great notion with dangerous consequences, and if you’re game, I’ll explain why.

Here’s the thing: the internet breaks down barriers and actively enhances communication between people. In the old days, it was impractical for an author to chat with their fans; today, it’s downright pedestrian. The old notion of “word of mouth” expanded beyond your neighbourhood and now covers the globe. Tell your five best friends about your new book, and they’ll tell their five best friends, and eventually you take over the world. It is, theoretically, pure unbridled exponential growth (at least until you run out of people to tell). This is the way of the future.

Except it’s not as easy as it seems. Just because you tell your five best friends, it doesn’t mean all of them will like your writing enough to tell anyone else. There are lots of factors that play into the “infection rate”, but the end result is you may only get one of your friends to follow through. And then only one of their friends. And so on. It’s still exponential, just working on a lesser scale.

Word of Mouth (WOM) depends less on the potential pool of converts, and more on the accessible pool. There are billions of people on the planet, but you probably only know 0.000002% of them. Add in decay (meaning your WOM is not eternal… eventually, the lag in reading will affect the infection rate) and your growth is severely capped. If you have 135 friends at the start, in most cases you’ll end up with a total audience of 621 (note: all numbers are based on a rough systems model and are probably too high).

Next time around, you’ll have a base pool of 600 to work from, which helps a lot. But unless you’re willing to spend years and years building up an audience, straight WOM is not going to cut it.

This is where Super Users come in. They are, very simply, people with a lot of friends and influence. If they say “this book is awesome!” a larger percentage of their network will act on the promotion. You get a 1% infection rate, but they’ll score 10% or higher. Add that to their larger pool, and your growth will have much more potential. Switch from a gentle curve to a steep one, and you see the difference.

The other benefit of a steep curve is that the decay is postponed… someone, somewhere will always be finishing your book and telling their friends about it. It creates a constant state of critical mass, which also ups the infection rate. Think of it this way: nobody likes to be dancing alone, but if you’ve got a large pool of people all dancing together (even if some of them cycle out after every song), it looks like a party. You’re more likely to dance if that’s what everyone else is doing. Super users can find enough people to throw that party.

Super Users can take many forms online, but one important role to weblit is the reviewer. People are looking for advice on what to read, and reviewers read a lot of material. As a reviewer proves their merit, their social network grows, and so does their influence. Writers can expand their network with every new title, but reviewers can expand with every new posting.

The value for authors is that a single positive review by an established reviewer can give them access to thousands of eyeballs, not just hundreds. If you have no social network, a reviewer can give you one. If you already have a solid base, a reviewer can help you tap a different set of people, or at least add to your own influence.

To compare: if your book is reviewed by someone with a social network of 1,000, your total audience potential increases from 621 to 4,937. If their social network is 10,000, you’re looking at just shy of 82,350. Imagine someone with a million Twitter followers reviewing your book… you’re looking at 8,242,224 converts.

The trick for weblit reviewers is that, right now, very few of them have large followings. That’s something authors can help change, by supporting and promoting them. It may seem unappealing to put reviewers on a pedestal (especially since it reeks of gate keeping), but if you look at it objectively, a healthy weblit community depends on a healthy reviewer class.

The question of how to build a SMART reviewer class is something I’ll cover in a guest post on Novelr tomorrow. And yes, it’ll have more graphs. Yay!

MCM is the creator of the animated series RollBots as well as the author of several picture books for kids. His grown-up work includes the sci fi thriller “The Vector” and a crowdsourced mystery novel called “Fission Chips”. He has a background in programming and systems thinking, which is how he learned to make graphs. He lives in Victoria, BC, Canada with his wife and kids, and may be at least partially insane.

What are your experiences with word of mouth marketing? Do you trust all reviewers or no reviewers? Do you have particular places that you’ll go for reviews to help you decide on a purchase? Leave a comment.


Friday flash – Strange Death

This is another piece from the archives. I found this short story while looking for something else and thought I might rework it into a little #fridayflash piece. I hope you like it.


Strange Death

‘Remind me again why I don’t have a quiet office job,’ said Detective Hardy.

The constable beside him laughed, a short, bitter sound. He squinted up into the rain falling from the black, menacing sky then looked back down at the corpse lying in the alley. Watery blood ran from numerous gaping wounds, reflecting the streetlight. ‘The glamour?’

Hardy echoed the constables humourless laugh. ‘So let’s see. Male caucasian, around twenty-five, fit looking. Multiple lacerations and bite marks. Throat torn out. Discovered by a wino. That cover it?’

The constable nodded. ‘The wino was in quite a state, shouting about a monster eating someone.’

Hardy raised an eyebrow, glancing to the end of the alley where the constable’s car was parked. The constable’s partner stood there with a bedraggled old man. The old man had his back to the alley, his shoulders visibly trembling. ‘He saw the attack?’

‘So he says. He turned into the alley and saw the monster. He screamed, the monster ran, he ran too. He found us right outside the alley. Those are some pretty massive bite marks.’ The constable sounded almost impressed.

Hardy nodded.

‘Even an German Shepherd wouldn’t have a mouth that big.’

Hardy sighed. ‘Well, let’s ask him some questions.’

As they walked Hardy looked at the constable. There was a broad cut down his right cheek, still leaking blood. The rain washed the blood pink over his collar. ‘What happened to you?’ Hardy asked, trying to light a cigarette without it getting wet.

The constable raised one hand to stroke the wound. He smiled at Hardy. ‘A little fracas earlier on. Nothing serious.’

Hardy shrugged. He let it go as they reached the constable’s partner and the trembling wino, terror still evident in the old man’s eyes. ‘Can you tell me exactly what you saw?’ he asked. He drew deeply on his cigarette.

‘I d-don’t know,’ the old man replied, his voice gravelly from years of drinking and smoking whatever he could find. He looked nervously at the constable. ‘I heard this growling and crunching and saw this beast! I screamed like a girl the second I saw it and… I musta made it jump, cuz it just bolted.’ He looked at the constable again, fear bright in his eyes.

Hardy glanced at the constable, who grinned at him. ‘What do you mean by beast?’ Hardy asked the wino.

The old man raised both hands. ‘Like a giant dog or a wolf, only it stood on two legs like a man.’

‘Sounds like a werewolf,’ the constable said with a smile. His partner chuckled quietly. The wino whimpered.

Hardy laughed. ‘A werewolf!’

The constable looked at him sharply. ‘You don’t believe in werewolves?’

‘Certainly not!’

‘So what else could have made bite marks that big?’

Hardy shrugged. ‘I have no idea, but it wasn’t a werewolf!’

The constable smiled, a disturbing twist to one side of his mouth. Hardy stared at him for a moment, then looked to his partner. The constable’s partner smiled softly and shrugged. He had dark eyes that glittered in the low light. ‘Did you call the homicide team?’ Hardy asked.

The beep of a car horn prevented the need for any answer as two more cars pulled up. Hardy went and spoke to the men that climbed from the cars, grimacing at the rain. He pointed down the alley. The men nodded. Hardy returned to the constables and their charge. ‘You better take him in.’

‘I don’t wanna go!’ the wino said quickly, eyes wild. His hands started trembling violently.

Hardy smiled. ‘Standard procedure. We got to get a proper statement from you.’

The constable squeezed the wino’s shoulder. ‘We’ll take good care of you.’ His smile was broad as he opened the back door of his car and helped the old man in. He and his partner got in the front and they drove slowly away. The old wino looked back as they went, his ashen face bright in the dark frame of the rear screen. Hardy ground out his cigarette in a puddle as he watched them go.

A homicide photographer paused as he passed Hardy. ‘Who were those two uniforms?’ he asked, gesturing after the car.

Hardy shrugged. ‘No idea. I’m on temp assignment in this district.’

The photographer stared after them. As they disappeared from sight he said, ‘I don’t recognise them.’ He set the flash on his camera and strolled on, leaving Hardy alone in the pouring rain. Hardy chuckled to himself as he walked to the street, using an unusually long fingernail to pick a small wad of red flesh from between his teeth.