Sue Lange


My life since joining has been, well, non-existent. Of course I exaggerate. I’m still breathing. I have a pulse. I am still here. But sheesh, talk about hectic. I’ve always had too much to do and too many ideas to try, but life with Book View Café (BVC) is over the top busy.


It all started with the SF-FFW bunch. This Yahoo group consists of published science fiction and fantasy authors of the female persuasion. I don’t know who started it or when, but by the time I jumped on board it was a happy, thriving community. SF-FFW is helpful with the business side of publishing, not how to get published, but what to do once you are. The membership includes a heady list of who’s who in the genre. Not sure how I got there, but there I was, keeping my mouth shut and picking up nuggets of information from the big girls.


One day Sarah Zettel got to talking about Cory Doctorow’s philosophy of giving away a portion of your work in e-form via the Internet. The thinking being you’d boost awareness of your work and subsequently increase your readership. Apparently lots of authors were starting to do this and their hardcopy sales were skyrocketing into six figures.


As happens on the Internet, ideas and panic were spreading rapidly. We’d all been hearing about these radical new models that would be arising from the ashes of the soon-to-be-collapsing publishing empire. We were frightened and thought we’d better jump on the new paradigm before it became the old paradigm and pretty much useless. We didn’t know how to go about it, but we wanted on that wagon.


Fortunately, Sarah figured it out. She’s an amazing woman, Sarah Zettel is. First she whipped a bunch of us (21 of us, Ursula K. Le Guin included, to be exact) into signing up. Then she went in search of a programmer to put together a site for us to explore this new and rapidly aging paradigm.


Somewhere along the way, and here’s the nutty part, she got me to agree to do PR. I think at one point I might have grumpily mumbled something about the project not being worth two hoots if we didn’t have a radical marketing machine. She picked up on my mutterings and immediately volunteered me to invent the machine.


Sarah is not a dragon lady who beats her subjects into submission. She is also not Vanna White, coquettish and getting things done by sheer looks alone. She is neither politically aggressive Hilary nor sexily provocative Linda Carter. She might be Wonder Woman, though, the way she ropes people in. All I know is that she’s gotten a bunch of finicky, ego-centric, crabby, and self-doubting keyboard peckers (i.e. writers) to agree to not only give away a ton of work without immediate compensation, but to also participate tirelessly in all types of promotional activities.


In addition to caring for and feeding our website, BVC members’ online efforts include group chats, Internet SF cons, Twitter fic contests, and any oddball Internet experience that comes down the pike. Sarah also prods us into getting together out in the real world at cons and so forth to promote our site, our projects, and ourselves.


Think about that. Nowhere in the civilized world do writers get together to do anything besides get drunk and complain about their publishers, yet here we are enthusiastically scheduling ourselves for group stuff.


Since Sarah’s leadership style does not include coercion, bribery, berating, or nagging, how does she get us to do so much? I think her secret is that she’s doing twice as much work as anyone else. And she happily takes the blame when things go awry, like when the site crashes or goes wonky. Whatever it is, her formula is working because she’s gotten us all to do a whole lot of work for our little thing,


It’s been hectic and sometimes even traumatic, but it’s also been exhilarating. We received a lot of attention right from the starting gate and have been growing since then. Our blog gets around 7000 hits a month. That’s a lot of people to keep happy with writerly (i.e. witty in a profound way) mutterings. Many, many sites consist of a blog and a blog only. Our blog is a sideshow. An afterthought. In spite of its second class citizenshipness in the world of BVC, our blog hosts at least one, and as many as three, new posts a day.


When we opened shop in November of last year, we were already a couple of months behind schedule. Not really surprising because we had a huge hurdle just in the initial site design. Erica, our programmer had to take an out of the box software package and turn it into our “box.” I won’t bore you with the details mostly because I’m not privy to them. Suffice it to say our site had to have the capability for each author to put up new stuff on a regular basis, prescheduled for the most part, but also live immediately if the author preferred it that way. It had to have several different types of user registrations. It had to have a blog, a private forum, separate sections for each author, and a front page accessible to all. Each author’s section had to have multiple functionalities based on what the authors wanted to do with their space. Most fiction on the site is free, but some really good stuff is for sale. The site had to have extremely complicated capabilities, but because authors are simple people, it had to be simple to use.


These types of things are not available for cheap and we have no budget. To get the thing started, we all chipped in a small amount of money to pay for the site and Erica did the rest. Needless to say our project is evolving as we speak. We continue to find things to improve the site, and as the Internet evolves we remain in our panic-stricken mode with Erica scrambling to keep us up to date and on top of the game.


In addition to the underlying genius-power Erica provides, the strength of our project lies in our numbers as well as the collective talents of those numbers. Each of us knows something about some area of web publishing or promotion.


We’ve got experts who know Internet protocol lingo and can interpret for the rest of us. We have editors for our newsletter and production people to do the layout. We have an artist who works well with images and text on the web. She makes sure our pages are pretty and have a consistent look. Not an easy thing to do considering we’re all playing around with our offerings, experimenting and tweaking behind her back.


We have our social media queens who make sure our blog, Twitter, and Facebook accounts are fed regularly.


We’ll be hosting podcasts soon; we’ve just volunteered one of our members to start recording interviews. She’ll be starting up her duties in the near future. Stay tuned.


Other members cover the ad hoc bases: designing flyers, watching the Internet for trends and tools, booking members at cons and events, or just general organizing and cheering. Cheering is a big part of what makes us work. Can’t say enough about the cheering.


And then there are those of us that are helping the BVC name by simply being fabulous. Some of us get on the NY Times bestseller list. Some of us win Nebulas and other awards.


So that leaves me. My job is to spread the BVC gospel and write tell-alls like this piece for Arthur. Assigning me the job of PR whip may be the one mistake Sarah has made in her short and checkered BVC career. I don’t mind spreading the gospel, especially about things I truly believe in, but I just can’t help telling the truth.


And the truth is, this is a wild and hairy venture, but also very time consuming. No surprise there. Everything that works on the Internet is time-consuming as we’re all hustling to figure it out. And there is not always a big payback. Sure some people somewhere make a living blogging, but not many. Most everything on the Internet is free. It’s real hard to get people to pay for anything.


But we’re learning. We’ve just started offering for pay content. And Brenda Clough reports that she has made enough money to buy a crab cake lunch. Her goal is the lobster dinner. That’s her benchmark for when BVC has become a viable venture for her.


I’m not sure what my benchmark is. I don’t have any premium content so I don’t know how to measure my success. A certain number of Twitter followers? An increase in sales of my print books? Who knows. I’m not even sure I care at this point. After spending ten or so years trying to figure out how the Internet will bring in readers if I “just have a presence there,” it is nice to work on an entity that does in fact do that for me.


And it’s only been six months. Think what a year will bring.


Drop by and sign up for the newsletter. Check out our blog and join in the next time you see us at a con or hosting a chat. And don’t hesitate to tell us what you like or don’t like about BVC. Erica is breathlessly waiting for her next big redesign assignment.