How To Find Quality Self-Published Books

Self-publishing is here to stay, and has become a viable option for writers. However, even with the stigma that used to hang over self-publishing fading, now readers have a new set of problems. The first of which is sorting through hundreds of thousands of books being self-publish every year. (Some reports say over 400,000 in 2012 alone.) Let’s face it, even with many of those books are produced by writers with an eye for quality, hiring editors and making sure to put out a product they can be proud of, the quality of many self-published books is iffy at best. I’ll be the first person to suggest to someone, just because you CAN self-publish a book, doesn’t mean you SHOULD self-publish a book.

One of the most frequent questions I get while at conventions, whether on panels or just hanging out at the parties, is, “How can I tell if a self-published book is going to be worth the money.” It’s a valid question, one that I’ve worked at finding a definitive answer to. Well, I’m just one guy, and while trying to puzzle out something like a “sound bite” that I can rattle off when people ask me that, I thought I’d ask some of my writer and fannish pals what they think.

So, mission firmly in mind, I sent out the following question: “Can you give one piece of advice on how the discerning reader can pick out good quality self-published works from the quantity?” I think the responses are pretty interesting. (And see how many of them couldn’t keep it to one piece of advice.)


Christopher J. Garcia, Hugo Award winning writer/editor of The Drink Tank:

Three ways – first, look to the product. If it’s well-produced, if it’s got a solid cover image, if it LOOKS well-done, that’s a start. Few self-published works I’ve enjoyed have ever been slap-dash in production.

Second, Goodreads. If I can find works by the author on Goodreads, and if they’re not all comments on how awful they are, even if most of the reviews are middling, I use that as a sign of potential quality.

Finally, it’s all about the Author. Search, find their blog, their posts somewhere, anything. If THAT material is worth reading, it’s a very high likelihood that the rest of their stuff shall be readable too.


Steve Drew, moderator and community manager at /r/fantasy on Reddit:

My own personal reading habits are built from my own experience reading authors I enjoy, author recommendations, and recommendations from the r/Fantasy community. In the past, it was a bit pot-luck – buying a book based on the cover kind of crap. With the advent of the internet, I can find good books through recommendations from people I trust. (Typically blurbs from authors I enjoy and/or reviews.)

I read VERY few independent books – sticking more frequently to those that are published and tried-and-true. That’s based on me being a slower reader compared to most in this genre. I don’t have time for wading through books on my own.

I have heard from authors that their presence on r/Fantasy has led to sales. Some direct sales c/o their AMA or Writer of The Day presence. More from their long-term presence on the site. That certainly helps to differentiate.


Rachel Thompson, bestselling author of A Walk in the Snark, Mancode Exposed, and Broken Pieces:

Amazon, B&N, iBooks etc., all offer free samples of books. Read the sample or download it to your smartphone, laptop, or tablet (remember, all online bookstores have free reading apps; so for example, no Kindle is required to read Kindle eBooks, just the free app). As readers, we should be able to form an opinion on the quality of the book based on that sample.

Many authors will also give editing credit (just under the title), so that gives a reader information that the book has indeed been professionally edited.


Michael J Sullivan, bestselling author of the Riyria Revelations:

My Riyria Revelations were self-published before being picked up by the fantasy imprint of a big-five publisher (Orbit: fantasy imprint of Hachette Book Group), so I read quite a few self-published titles as I like to keep up on who is doing well and recommend books I like. It’s my way of giving back. I have a large waiting list (tbr pile) and the ones I have read are, with very few exceptions, well suited to my tastes. My preferred reading material is epic fantasy so I’m going to use links for that genre – but Amazon has all kinds of list for all kinds of reading preferences.

  1. I check the Amazon’s Kindle Epic Bestseller’s List and skip past the “big names” like Rothfuss, Sanderson, Martin. (A lower price is also a pretty good indication, although not always) that a book is self-published. From there I can also click on the Epic Top Rated List. Titles that are on both are usually a good bet because they have been highly rated and sell well.
  2. I use the “Look inside the book” or download a sample copy and if the writing intrigues me, I hit “buy.”

And that’s pretty much all there is to it. I’m actually surprised when people say they have problems finding any “good” self-published books as I never have had any difficulty doing it the way I do.


Ian C. Esselmont: writes in the Malazan World with his long-time friend Steven Erikson:

I guess that what I would say is that it all comes down to that first page and first paragraph/opening. If authority is seen, or ‘felt’ in that first section, then to my mind, that’s where you catch, or lose, your scanning, hurried, reader.


Amber Scott, bestselling author of the Moon Magick Series:

In a bookstore, we browse, pick up a title, page through it and decide based on the impression we get. With ebooks, I see samples as a great way to do the same. Shop, sample, buy. Reviews can be bought and there’s a whole slew of authors with numbers in the thousands who did just that–purchased reviews. Ads are just that, advertisements paying for our attention. What it comes down to is taste. If my books are your taste, you’ll know by page one.


Hugh Howey: author Silo Saga, being Wool, Shift, and Dust, as well as the Molly Fyde books and I, Zombie:

I think the challenge for readers is similar to what is has always been: finding a book they’ll enjoy among the legions of books they won’t enjoy. Grabbing a random book out of a bookstore rarely works either. Most shoppers stick to an author they know or a book a friend recommended. When they do browse, they usually head to their favorite genre, check the cover art for the mood of the story, read the blurb, and then sample the first page.

Online shoppers should do the same. Filter for the genre you want, look for a professional cover, see if the blurb is well-written, and then read the free sample. One of the advantages here is that the indie author probably wrote the blurb, so if that is clunky or has mistakes, you can often move on to the next book. With the free online samples, there is so much to browse. It’s one of the reasons I think there’s never been a better time to be a reader.


Howard Taylor: writer and artist of the web comic Schlock Mercenary, also contributer to the Hugo Award winning audio podcast, Writing Excuses.


A good writer who pays close attention to the craft, and who has a solid feedback loop of alpha readers, beta readers, and copy editors, is going to get more than just the writing right. Why? Because they pay attention! In that vein, I totally judge books by their covers.

First: does the cover suit the genre? How does it stack up against mass-market books in this same space? A cover that fits the genre is a good sign that the author knows the space they’re working in.

Second: How is the back-cover copy (or the “description” on Amazon)? Does it grab you? Descriptions like these are some of the most difficult things to write, and they must be edited, polished, refined, then ground to powder rebuilt molecule by molecule. Strong back-cover copy is a good sign that the author is really committed to getting this whole thing right.

Third (this isn’t the cover, but it’s close): Has it been blurbed or reviewed by anybody you know? Ultimately your best guide to a good book is reading it and deciding for yourself whether it’s a good book. Since life’s too short for that, what are other people saying about the book? I’ll take a friend’s recommendation over a random five-star review any day. And to that end, if you read a book and love it, don’t be afraid to say so.


Damon Stone, producer and game designer for Fantasy Flight Games, including the Game of Thrones trading card game, Call of Chthulu card game, and Netrunner:

When I’m looking into buying self-published works I look for a number of different things but there are three main things I consider…

1) Has it been recommended to me by someone I know and trust? Personal endorsement is still the strongest factor in what I read and when I read it.

2) Are any pages made available, or chapter excerpt from the book. Nothing tells you as much about how an author writes, than the authors writing. 😉

3) Does the site I’m making my purchases from show what other books were purchased, viewed, or reviewed by people who have purchased or reviewed the work I’m considering? If someone is a fan of GRRM and Steven Erikson , or Steven Brust and Glen Cook, or Patrick Rothfuss and Neil Gaiman and viewed this work favorably, I have an idea of what I may find.


Lisa Rodgers, agent with the JABberwocky Literary Agency:

That’s actually a very interesting question that, in my opinion, doesn’t really have a “one true answer.” There are a number of variables that a “discerning reader” probably already knows to look at in order to “appraise” the quality of a book (whether it’s self or traditionally published), including cover art, book description, and reviews. Given all of that, I think personal recommendations from people whose reading tastes you trust would be my piece of advice.  I think it’s especially important for self-published work, since there is so much out there and their discoverability isn’t limited to physical shelf space.


Michael R. Underwood, author of Geekomancy and the forthcoming Celebromancy and North American Sales & Marketing Manager for Angry Robot Books:

For me, the way to find excellent self-published books is to take recommendations from indie writers. I think indie SF/F writers are going to know best what the good indie SF/F books are, because they’re going to show up together in discussions, recommendation engines, and likely in social situations – indie authors are great about trading both business and craft tips, so they’re going to know who the exemplars in their community are at any given point.


Bill Waters, writer for about all things geek/pop culture related:

Over the last several years the publishing world (in games as well as books) has been completely turned on its head. Now it’s no longer a question about if an individual can be published, there’s any number of self-publishing routes available to individuals. However, it should be noted that even in the days of classic publishing, there was no lack of utterly terrible content out there. Now the challenge is that of discovery, among the white noise of all of the Appstore on mobile devices, in the Amazon Kindle store, and all of the other outlets available, each new publication is a speck among the masses. People go towards things that they know – those can be bestseller lists, reviews from professional critics (as well as from casual bloggers). Individual readers will now find information portals (podcasts, blogs, news feeds, etc) that resonates with that particular person’s tastes and they’ll use that as their primary channel for recommendations. That way their level of effort is reduced from a constant thrash of published titles to identifying a few reliable sources that they can use as the filter to the noise.


Brandon Sanderson, bestselling author of Mistborn, Way of Kings and the Hugo Award winning novella Soul of the Empire:

This is a tough question because the question of how do you pick out a non-self-published book, I mean it’s gotta be the same criteria, right? I don’t think the reader should worry so much about the source of the book as the content of the book. And how do you find out about books you’re going to enjoy? By function of what we do, you have to trust something. Either it’s going to be the blurb or the packaging, or hopefully you’ve had a friend read the book and recommend it to you.

I think that this is kind of a much smaller issue than a lot of people seem to be making it. Readers have always had way more to read than they have time to read, and finding the good stuff has always been kind of the quest of the reader, and I think most of us are pretty good at it and know what works for us. So I don’t know that it should matter between self-published and non-self-published. Use the same instincts.

Well, it seems like the more things change, the more things stay the same. If you’re looking for something new to read, don’t look so much at whether the book is published by an author or by a big publishing house; you’re going to get varying experiences with both. No matter where the book is coming from, just use the same process you’ve always used, no matter what that process is, to determine whether you try a new book or writer. If that process has worked to find good books in the past, it’s probably going keep working to find you good books in the future.

Happy reading!

#FlashFictionFriday – Two Pickpockets by M. Todd Gallowglas

What do you want this time?  Didn’t I tell you not to bother me again tonight?  I’ve tucked you in, kissed you, and even brought you a glass of juice.  What else could there be?  You want a story?  Why do you think I should tell you a story?  Well, your mother isn’t here, and she and I do things differently.  Now to bed with you.

A what?  Under where?  How did you get an idea like that?  Your mother told you. I should have known!  Look, boy, there are no goblins, pooka, or boggarts under your bed.  Now that we’ve settled that argument, you can go to sleep.  They wouldn’t be under your bed because it’s too small for them.  Besides, why would they bother with a skinny little boy like you?

Very well, if I tell you a story, will you promise to go to sleep?  Promise me. That’s very good.  Now promise again, and let me see your fingers.  Good, now if you go back on your word I’ll never believe you after.

Many years ago…

What do you mean I’m not doing it right?  I told you:  I do things differently than your mother.  Fine!  I’ll do it the right way.

Once upon a time… Is that better?  Good…  there was a young man who made his profession as a pickpocket.  Yes, right here in Dublin.  Yes, he knew what would happen if they caught him.  I’m getting to that.

He was so great a pickpocket, he’d never been caught in all his days.  The skill with which he worked his hands was so grand, that when he walked down the street money seemed to leap out of people’s pockets and into his.  He was so rich, he did not live on the street or in a shack like most thieves.  No, he lived in a great manor house, and never wanted for anything.

If you keep interrupting me, I’m going to stop telling this story and leave.  Yes, I know the goblins are still under there.  Yes, I know exactly what they’ll do to you.  No, your mother won’t miss you.  I’ll get a street urchin and dress him just like you. She’ll never know the difference.  Yes, I’m serious.  Now quiet, or I won’t finish.

One day the pickpocket, never you mind what his name was, was walking down the street when he noticed his belt felt a bit lighter than it had a moment before.  He looked down, and to his amazement, his purse was gone.  Yes, gone. Just like that!

He looked around and saw a gypsy girl counting the coins out of a purse that looked very much like his own.  That’s because it was his purse.  You’re a bright boy.  You don’t need me to explain everything to you.

Well, the pickpocket circled around and got in front of this gypsy girl and stopped her.  No, I don’t know what her name was either.  Why do you think I know these people?  It’s only a story, which I won’t finish if you keep pestering me with silly questions.

The pickpocket said to the gypsy, “That’s my purse you hold.”  When she tried to run, he stopped her and continued.  “I don’t want to take you to the constable or throw you in the stocks.  I can see that you’re at least as good a pick pocket as I.”  At that he held up his purse, which he had taken from her, unaware.  “I propose that we form a partnership between us, sweep through this city, and pick it clean.”

Being a gypsy, she saw the chance for wealth.  And, as well we know, gypsies are known for their love of any task that earns easy coin.  Her deep brown eyes sparkled with greedy delight and she accepted.  No.  Your mother’s eyes are green.  More like your grandmother’s.

Over the next few years they swept through Dublin.  Not a single man nor woman escaped the two thieves on their quest.  Soon they no longer lived in his manor house, but in a grand palace that was the envy of many kings and queens.  I believe that it still stands to this day.  No we can’t go see it tomorrow, maybe some day when you’re older.  I don’t know when that will be.  Now let me finish.

One night as they feasted on a great supper, the Gypsy girl looked up.  “We should marry,” she said to the pickpocket.  “If you and I were to wed, we might sire a whole race of pickpockets.  Our children will sweep through all lands, and know the riches of the world.”

Since the pickpocket was a stout young man, and she was a pretty young lady, he agreed.  Soon after, they were married.  About a year later she gave birth to a handsome baby boy.

What?  Where do babies come from?  Boy, that is another story for another day.  A day when you are much older.  I’ll tell you that the next time you mother goes to visit her sister, which won’t be for a very long time if I have any say in the matter.  Are you going to let me finish?  Good!

When the mid wife handed the child over, the happy couple looked at their new son.  Upon first glance, they saw the grandest child ever born in Ireland.  Then they saw a problem with the boy.  His right arm was paralyzed up against his chest.  They didn’t know why, and neither did the midwife.  All they knew was, his right hand was balled into a fist, and his arm could not be pried from his body.

What do you think they did about it?  They were rich.  What do most rich people do when they get injured or sick?  That’s right.  They seek out a healer, and that’s what the pickpocket and the gypsy did.  The two of them gathered their massive fortune and traveled all throughout the lands seeking a healer or surgeon to aid their child.  Yes, they loved him so much they were willing to pay a thousand surgeon’s prices.

I do love you that much.  Unfortunately, we haven’t got that much money.  Quiet now, or I’ll spend some money to find a healer to cure you of your voice.

For a year they traveled, but to no avail.  Not one of these men of medicine could tell them of a way to aid their son.  Finally, with little hope they returned to Dublin.  There was only one man they had not seen: Magnus Maxwell, Surgeon and healer unparalleled.  Yes, the same Magnus Maxwell that comes for supper every so often.

After many tests Magnus, like all the others, could not tell what ailed the boy.  He did, however; notice that the child watched his every move with keen eyes.  Magnus then brought forth his gold pocket-watch, and waved it before the child’s eyes.  Yes, like the watch I have.

As the watch waved, a bit of sunlight caught it, and the boy smiled a great, beaming smile as only an innocent babe can.

Then a miracle happened.  The boy’s arm started to reach toward the pocket watch.  His arm moved slowly, ever so slowly.  Because he’d never used the arm before, the muscles strained.  A moment later, the child could almost just barely touch the watch.  As the boy opened his fingers to take it, the midwife’s gold ring fell from his grasp.

Where did the ring come from?  You’re a bright boy.  I’m sure you can figure it out for yourself.  No I won’t just tell you.  Now, you’ve been tucked in, kissed good night, had your juice, and heard a story.  I don’t want to hear any more about the goblins or boggarts.  Good night to you, boy.

Good night.

#FlashFictionFriday — Mr. FIXIT by Christopher Kellen

“Excuse me. My designation is FIXIT-4. I am unable to complete a routine maintenance task without human input. Would you kindly assist me?”

The human ignored it. They always did.

Its task was simple enough, but FIXIT-4’s programming did not include the proper configuration for the system’s central processor. Without the proper input, the system would not function correctly, and so it was unable to bring it back online.

Clearly its task was a low priority, but FIXIT-4 was required to continue speaking with every human that it encountered until someone granted it the assistance that it needed in order to complete it.

As it shuffled through the corridors, it paid special attention to each of the maintenance tasks that it came across. It re-routed the flow from the engine core while it repaired a conduit which had stopped transmitting power. It re-soldered the connections between one of the computer terminals and its input device, ensuring that the terminal would continue to function un-interrupted. No one noticed or acknowledged its careful work.

It was some hours later before it came upon another human.

“Excuse me,” FIXIT-4 began again, as it had so many times before. “My designation is FIXIT-4. I am unable to complete a routine maintenance task without human input. Would you kindly assist me?”

Once again, as always, the human ignored it.

FIXIT-4 moved on again. There was no reason to ask twice. If its request was not acknowledged on the first try, he was under no obligation to make his request to the same human a second time, though the possibility of an exemption did exist. Eventually, its programming assured him, someone would respond and allow it to bring the system back online.

It was not permitted to stop all other functions in order to seek an answer to its query. It activated backups and repaired crucial ductwork in corridor 7A. The cargo lift on deck nine had been acting up, and it recalibrated the sensors so that they would provide the correct amount of antigravity when activated. Its tasks continued to roll in, transmitted to him by the central maintenance system, and it performed them, one by one, without complaint.

Normally, the tasks would have been ordered by importance via input from the central computer, but it had been some time since FIXIT-4 had received a prioritization order. It checked its internal chronometer. Thirty-one million, five hundred and sixty eight thousand, four hundred and twenty nine seconds had passed since its last prioritization order. Before that, they had come in average intervals of five-point-seven-nine seconds.

FIXIT-4 did not think that there was anything strange about the lapse in time. The order would arrive when it was transmitted from the central computer. Prioritization orders required human input, and as such, were beyond the scope of its duties.

After some time, there was only one task remaining on FIXIT-4’s list.

It crossed the entire ship from aft to bow. There was a human outside the Atmospheric Control station, but FIXIT-4 had already requested his assistance previously, and had been ignored.

It queried the maintenance computer. Request query exemption, one-time basis.

After thirty-three milliseconds, the response came back. Granted.

“Excuse me. My designation is FIXIT-4. I am unable to complete a routine maintenance task without human input. Would you kindly assist me?”

Still no answer. The human stared at FIXIT-4 with unblinking eyes.

FIXIT-4 waited patiently until the maintenance computer assigned it a new task, and moved on.

Some Thoughts On Reviews by /u/wifofoo

Genre Underground’s Note

(A version of this was originally posted on Reddit’s /r/fantasy by user /u/wifofoo. The Genre Underground requested a version to feature here, which the author very graciously offered to us, with our gratitude.)


I’m reading a book that I just don’t like so far. Ten chapters in and I’m really struggling to turn the page.

Now, the old me would have given up on this thing a long time ago. In fact, the old me would have wrapped it up in red paper and pawned it off as a Christmas present like a fruitcake or that label maker from Seinfeld.

Actually, I might still do that.

But, I’ll tell you what I won’t do. I won’t give this book a bad review. I won’t tell a friend to “save his money,” and I won’t vow to never read this author again.

You know why?

Well, there are two reasons:

1: I haven’t actually read the book, so… there’s that.

2: Other people REALLY enjoyed it.

You see, there’s this thing about art being subjective. Art is not about athing being good or bad. Well, it can be, but that’s up to the person experiencing it. (See? Subjective.)

And as I was reading the reviews for this book I don’t like, I started to grasp something that had never occurred to me before; this book isn’t bad… It’s just not for me.

I know this doesn’t sound like the epiphany I make it out to be, but I feel it deserves some recognition.

I mean, how many amazing stories get buried in a grave of one-star reviews by people who don’t understand them?

How many authors’ careers go stagnant because their audience isn’t being reached?

How many great books go unread because one or two people couldn’t appreciate them? And rather than say, “hey, this book wasn’t for me and here’s why…” those connoisseurs of story decided that this “atrocity” was totally and reprehensively bad and therefore should not exist? (Click here for emphatic fist pounding.)

Here’s a thought. How about the next time you write a review, don’t say something like, “it baaaaad. Me no likey. Dis author fat and stupid!!!..!” or “Dis book bad because I no like author’s political/personal opinionnnns!!”

Why not try something like, “Hey, this book is great for anyone who likes characters with dark pasts. There are plenty of solid action sequences, mostly with swordplay and some casting of spells. If you like creative magic systems and want something short, you might get into this book. Oh, and there is some graphic violence and language so be ready for that.”

Or, “I’m a huge fan of romance in fiction, and while this story does have a bit of romance here and there, it just doesn’t compare to my favorites (Twilight and Hunger Games). Still, if you like a good romp with a lot of creepy monsters and interesting locations, you might really like it.”

Or maybe, “After reading this book I discovered that the author opposes something very dear to me. For this reason, I will choose not to support the author financially despite the fact that I do enjoy his/her work.”

Look, I’m not saying to be dishonest, and I’m not saying to forego writing a review. I just want you to communicate in a way that’s beneficial to both readers and writers, be it positive, negative, or both.As someone who is reading your reviews, I want to know what the book’s strengths and weaknesses are. How does it compare to similar books? Does it end satisfactorily?

I’d also like to know where your interests lie. Saying you like romance is one thing, but saying you like Twilight romance is very different thansaying you like Wuthering Heights romance or Outlander romance.As for authors, give feedback that helps them be better authors. “The prose is okay, but a little heavy in places. There were many times while reading this book that I found myself skipping passages. I usually don’t mind longer narratives (Robert Jordan fan here!) but this one went a bit overboard.”Or, “I really wanted to like this. The idea is solid and very unique, but there were just too many technical errors. A think a good editor is in order for this author. Better luck next time!”

Your goal is not to end a career, here. Your goal is to inform.

Now, if you don’t mind, I have some reviews to attend to.

The Cheapskate’s Guide To SF/F Cons

(This post originally appeared at

Today’s guest post by Effie Seiberg goes through some handy tips on travelling to conventions on a tight budget. It would be easy to extrapolate some of these tips into general travel on a budget, too. Part of why I put out a call for this topic is that beginning in January I’ll be full-time freelance, and paradoxically, this means I’ll need to go to more conventions in a professional capacity. But. You know. With less income. So thanks again to Effie for all of her tips, and I’ll be seeing you around at as many conventions as I can manage in 2014.

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, so in January I did the exact thing people tell you not to do: I quit the “real world” for a year to write. Writing full time is fantastic, but with no income coming in (and a professional need to go to cons) I had to be very strategic about which I went to, and how. The fear of starving and dying is a great one to promote some frugality, but I still managed to go to FogCon, BayCon, Westercon, WorldCon, and ConVolution. So, here are some tips on keeping the costs way down but still getting your con on.

1) Prioritize.

There are a million awesome cons, and you’ll need to balance how awesome they are with their costs. The most expensive parts are usually the plane tickets and the hotels, so if there are any close to you where one or both of those don’t apply, start there! I’m lucky enough to live nearish to where several local cons were held. I also added WorldCon as my one expensive con, just because it’s so big, has amazing people there, and has the Hugo awards.


2) Keep down the travel costs.

I live in San Francisco, where I’m lucky enough to have several local cons around me. FogCon was in Walnut Creek (an hour away), BayCon in San Jose (an hour away with no traffic, three years away with traffic), WesterCon in Sacramento (90 minutes away with no traffic, until the end of time with traffic), and ConVolution in Burlingame (20 minutes away).

  • Driving: If you can drive or take public transit to your con, it’s probably going to be cheaper than flying. Cons frequently have parking validation for whichever hotel they’re in. At ConVolution, a daily $33 parking pass turned into a daily $10 parking pass. Carpooling with other local buddies is good to split gas and parking costs.
  • Flying: Airfare: If you must fly, set up a fare alert for your route in advance on a site like, and wait a bit. It’ll tell you how the price of those tickets might be changing day by day, so you have an idea of what the cheapest flights really are. You can also use a site like to find cheap seats, but bear in mind that they don’t include some of the smaller, discount airlines like JetBlue or Southwest, so you’ll need to look those up separately.
  • Flying: Everything else: Airports are great ways to squeeze you of your hard-earned dimes. Bring a solid snack to help avoid the temptation of the tiny $7 bag of M&Ms, and pack everything into a carry-on to avoid baggage fees. You can do a whole week’s worth of stuff in a single carry-on, and I say this as a gal who likes her hair products. It takes a bit of tetris-ing, but it can be done.


3) Keep down the lodging costs.

This is the second large cost of any con, and is often the biggest. If you’re relatively close by, drive back and forth and avoid it altogether. Yes, it’s a pain to drive 90 minutes home when you’ve already gone to several parties, but you’ve just saved $170 by doing so. If you must use a hotel room, you have several options.

  • Find it cheap: the con will have a discounted rate at the preferred hotel. That’s great, but there may be even better deals nearby. For WorldCon, the con hotel was about 30% more expensive than the hotel I found, and my hotel was closer to the conference center where everything was held. Look on sites like and to see what’s around. You can also try for cheap rooms, but they’ll usually be a bit farther away from where the action is.
  • Split the costs: roomies are great! If you have a friend from a writing group, a fan board, a costuming club, or whatever, share a room to split the cost. As a bonus, you’ll have someone to talk to late at night.
  • Crashing in a room: your mileage may vary on this one. As a female I’m disinclined to do this unless I know the people very very well. But that said, if you do know people who have a room and don’t mind you crashing there, you can usually get a cot from the main desk (at Westercon it was $15/night) which you can roll into the room. If there isn’t room for one, you can DIY it by asking for a lot of extra pillows and blankets, and build up your own little nest in a corner. You’ll get weird looks at about the 5th extra pillow, but it’s worth it. Lay a line of pillows down to make a makeshift mattress, then a blanket on them to roughly keep them together, and then you plus a blanket and another pillow go on top of that.


3) Frugal food.

At a con, you’re running from place to place with barely any time to get anywhere, so scouting out a cheap place to eat isn’t always an option. Hotels know this, and charge exorbitant amounts for what is often really bad food (thanks, $6 coffee swill that’s been sitting in the bottom of the coffeemaker all night).

  • Bring your own: Yeah, I’m the person with granola bars and fruit in my bag. They don’t take up a lot of room, and you can quell your munchies quickly. If you’ve driven, you have a whole trunkful of space to put food to bring with. Nuts and granola bars have protein to keep you sated, fruits and veggies have fiber to fill you up, and most of them don’t need refrigeration. (Protip: do not leave your fruits in a very hot car all day. Apples might survive, but softer fruits like cherries will ferment and stink. I tell you this from experience.) Bring some cookies and such to share, too!
  • The con suite: The Secret Masters of Fandom at one point decided that cons should give out food, and hooray for them. Con suites usually have light snacks like fruits and veggies and cheeses and chips, plus coffee. They ask that you don’t just use the suite for your three squares a day, but you can wander in and grab what you need. Especially free coffee. Did I mention the coffee?
  • But everyone’s going to a restaurant: Yeah, sometimes this is what’s going to need to happen. If your favorite author invites you to join and you get starry-eyed at the mere mention of their name, you’re going. You can either go nuts and suck up the cost, or you can fill up on other food prior (your own, the con suite) and just order something light. You’ll still get to go, and a single appetizer won’t set you nearly as far back.
  • Drinks: This may be the hardest one on the list. You can of course bring your own, but then you’re that sad person drinking alone in their room. Most parties will just give you alcohol, so start with those and get your drink on. If you’re going to barcon (you know, where people have their own little con at the bar), you can always order a ginger ale instead, which is far cheaper. Especially since you still have your buzz from the parties.


4) The Dealer’s Room, the Art Show

Oh dear god, the dealer’s room. Where merchants specifically attuned to your needs and interests bring out their wares and spread them in front of you appealingly. And then the art show, where you find everything your walls have been missing. A few good ways to keep to your budget:

  • The “Little Luggage” Technique: Only buy what you can fit in your existing, tiny luggage. And you’re already squashing a fair amount of stuff into just a carry-on.
  • The “Cash Only” Technique: Set a budget in advance, and put it in cash in your wallet. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. No plastic.
  • The “Gifts Only” Technique: If you can justify it as a gift for someone, great. Nothing for you though. Those are too easy to justify. The enormous broadsword is awesome, but would your brother really appreciate it enough for you to spend the cash? Nah, he’s not that cultured.


5) Happy Tech

I don’t know about you, but I need my devices happy and healthy for a good con experience. I take my laptop for taking notes, my phone for following what’s going on on Twitter, and a veritable rat’s nest of cables.

  • Connectivity: The rule is that the nicer the hotel, the more they’ll charge for wifi. Different hotels will give you differing amounts of connectivity, but most will have free wifi in the lobby. Hang out there when you can, when you need your internet time. If you have an unlocked phone, or a plan with tethering, you can make internet happen through your phone instead (this is what I tend to use). Do be aware that if you’re going through your phone, you may need to pay attention to how much data you’re using. You don’t want to hit your limit and get throttled. And finally, you can avoid all of this if you go phone-only for everything and not even bother with a laptop or tablet. Unless you’re in a black hole or the bowels of the San Antonio Conference Center, a few bars will do the trick.
  • Power: Not exactly a frugal trick, but keeping your devices charged keeps them usable, which sometimes tells you when someone has an extra case of beer/cupcakes/whatever that they need help getting rid of. Bring a power strip, and you’ll be everyone’s new best friend.

So there you go. You can get pretty cheap with cons and still get to go to a bunch while avoiding the whole “starving and dying” thing. Have fun!

A Book Born of Dreams

The Genre Underground chose Dreamwielder by Garrett Calcaterra as our Book of the Week for November 4, 2013. To gain a better understanding for our readers, we asked the author about his inspirations and his influences.


GCalcaterra_headshot2Dreamwielder, my epic fantasy novel from Diversion Books, was literally born from a dream. My mother mentioned to me during a visit that she’d dreamt about a magical girl and she thought it would make a good story. As an author I get this all the time—people suggesting ideas for me to write, and trust me it’s not coming up with ideas that are the hard part, so I always politely decline—but since this was coming from the woman who had birthed and raised me, I figured I at least had to humor her. It turned out the dream she’d had was utterly fantastic.

In the dream, a young woman is sleeping in a castle and her parents are frantically beating at her chamber door, trying to wake her. When her eyes finally flutter open, the castle disappears to be replaced by a one-room hovel. That was it, all she’d dreamed, but it tapped into some sort of primal archetype that resonated with me, and that was the beginning of Dreamwielder.

It’s only fitting seeing as how it was my mother who first introduced me to Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, and as I got older to Anne McCaffrey and David Eddings and dozens of other fantasy authors I gobbled up. It was my mother who modeled for what a strong woman should be (and me being a male, how I should treat and respect women). So, while the story and characters stemmed from my own imagination, my mother was as much an influence on the story as all those fantasy authors I read growing up.

So, when diving into Dreamwielder, don’t be surprised to find that so many of the characters are strong females who challenge generic fantasy tropes, and that the subjugation of powerful women is a dominant theme in the book. Now don’t get me wrong! I’m not claiming to have turned the genre on its head—there’s plenty of classic fantasy action, and an epic final showdown between good and evil “that rockets to a thrilling and satisfying conclusion in the grand tradition” as the very gracious Misty Massey endorsed it on the book jacket. I’m simply paying my gratitude to those who influenced the writing of the book: Tolkien for his rich world, C.S. Lewis for his omniscient voice, McCaffrey for her strong female characters, Ursula Le Guin for her magic rooted in natural order, Tim Powers and James P. Blaylock for their industrial-steampunk backdrop, and last, but not least, my mother.

Thanks all! I hope readers find in Dreamwielder even a small fraction of the enjoyment I’ve been on the receiving end of.


Thank you, Garrett. Readers, be sure to check out our Dreamwielder page for more information.

Author Interview: Hugh Howey

hughhoweyI met Hugh Howey at Chicon7 in Chicago in 2012 and again in at Lonestarcon3 in San Antonio this year. Being that I was on the fence between traditional publishing and self-publishing, I was intrigued by his story. He had already published the Molly Fyde series with some success, but found an audience with a short story called Wool. When that story caught reader interest, he expanded the story into a full length novel by the same name and then other stories in the same universe. What began as a self-published story has now been picked up in print form by a major publisher, though Hugh retains the ebook rights. You can catch him at He agreed to answer a few questions for our audience:


What was the source of the silo idea?

I’m sure it had multiple sources, but the main genesis of the world of Wool came from 24-hour news. I wondered what it does to us to have our view of the world filtered through such a negative lens. Does that impact our degree of optimism and hope? Are those who want to fight for a better world heroes? Or are they dangerous?


What research did you do for the Wool series?

The research came from my life experiences and all my reading, especially non-fiction. I drew from my time as a yacht captain, an engineer, a world traveler, a roofer, an electrician, and a student of history. As in the life I have lived, I probably got more wrong than I got right.


What similar stories do you have planned?

Most of the stories I have planned are vastly different. I want to write across all the genres. I want the process to remain fresh and exciting. I do have another post-apocalyptic series planned, but it takes place in a very distant future and leans a little more toward fantasy.


What is unique about your Molly Fyde stories that make them stand out for you?

I like to think of that series as Pixar in book form. There’s an adventure story for all ages on the surface, but astute readers will catch all the deeper meanings sprinkled throughout. I credit Swift’s GULLIVER’S TRAVELS for inspiring me to view storytelling in this way.


How do you feel about other authors writing in your silo world?

I’m flattered by it. I think it’s wild that I’ve written about a world and others want to join in. I see fan fiction as a form of literary jazz. Someone hears a new beat they like, and they want to riff off of it. They want to jump on stage and join in or perform their own rendition. I completely support this. My hope is that these writers will delight my readership and draw them over to their own works, introduce them to more great stories. I know writers who are making a decent wage from their fan fiction, and as someone who knows how difficult it is to get paid for your art, nothing makes me happier.


Thanks, Hugh, for your thoughts.



Top 5 Symptoms of NaNoWriMo Syndrome


They’re Heeeerrrrrreeee!

No, not the ghosts in your television, though perhaps an equally frightening group. It is, as many of you know, THAT time again. Time for the nanowrimo disciples to crawl from their dark, caffeine-infested burrows and go on their annual word-slinging rampage.

See what I mean? Does it look like she’s about to stab out his eyes with that pencil, or is it just me? This is their secret membership badge, and you can find them by it, if you know where to look. They might, however, try to cleverly disguise themselves to avoid detection. In that case, I’ll give you a few tips for ferreting out the culprits.

First, look here:

(Okay, that’s a little too easy)

Next, be on the alert for the following signs:

  1. An inexplicable twitchiness and general sense of excitement for no apparent reason.
  2. Flinching whenever you say the word, NOVEMBER
  3. Panicky scribbling on yellow pads of paper…upon further examination the scrawlings are a very complicated and poorly understood branch of mathematics known as: The Word Count Equation, or Literary Efficiency Theorem.
  4. Sporatic, maniacal laughter punctuated by fits of weeping.
  5. The sudden appearance of novelty items bearing the word: Author, Wordsmith, or “WINNER”

If you suspect that your friend or family member may in fact be suffering from Nanowrimo, there are a few, sure-fire tests:

  • Casually mention that you saw a plot bunny dart under the front porch and then watch carefully for their reaction.
  • Poke suspect with a fork. Do they immediately begin to scribble words on paper?
  • Paste a sign on the bathroom mirror that says, 2 more days til Nov. 1st. Wait.
  • Hide the coffee. If they produce more, hide that too.
  • Announce that you are going on vacation in November and they will be required to: watch your kids, do your job, keep the house clean or anything else that will take up large chunks of their time.
  • (wear protective clothing)

If any of the above cause severe agitation, aggression, depression, violence or a visible rash…you have one in your midst! Immediately rush to and join them.

There is no beating them.