Speculation: A Convention-Centric Self-Publishing Group

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my linktr.ee)

I attended Fanime this year and spoke on self-publishing.  I was overjoyed at the happiness people showed, the excellent covid precautions, and my own decreasing hypochondria in the face of large events.  I was also thrilled to have an insight I’d like to share with you, my audience.

As I have for I think at least seven or eight years, I hosted a Self-Publishing panel.  Though I had to do it solo due to the “crew” facing a number of life changes, I was quite pleased with it, and had a fantastic crowd.  At the end, I noted it would be great to see some of them again.

Then it struck me – conventions like Fanime that host many creatives should have their own self-publishing group operating outside of the con, like any other self-publishing group.

Imagine something operating like a typical writer/artist/publisher meetup.  People who already love the convention come together over their projects.  The support given ensures not just successful launches of books/comics/game, but also further builds the social structure of con attendees.  In turn when the convention rolls around, the group can speak on their successes, recruit new members – and maybe just get tables in the dealer’s room and artist alley.

Let me speculate on how this could operate:

  • It should focus on the convention, staff, and attendees.  I can see it expanding under some conditions, but should at least start that way.
  • It should have both virtual and in person meetings.  This way you build local connections but include out-of-towners.
  • It would probably be best official or semi-official as part of a convention.  It might have to evolve into that.
  • It should focus on getting works out.  Get people getting results.
  • It should work to integrate with the convention to run panels and events.

In time such an event could expand.  It could be based around several conventions in an area, or sister conventions further apart.  There could be several groups, based at other conventions, that team up at conventions.  More, tight, productive relationships would evolve – and we’d see some great stuff!

Now I wish I’d actually collected email addresses at the panel – I got stupid and forgot.  But maybe online or next year I can try that.

So I’d like to ask you dear reader, what do you think?  Drop me a line!

Steven Savage

Let’s Write That CRAP

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my linktr.ee)

Serdar and I often discuss the way writing is improved by drawing on anything but writing.  I’d like to share a recent insight I had regarding using graphic design and writing.

Graphic arts are a hobby of mine – and vital for my writing career so I can make the kind of covers I want.  I’ve been putting more time into my skills because they are fun, because of my writing, and because it’s also useful in my career.  One of the best sources is The Non-Designer’s Design Book by creator Robin Williams, which I returned to as a refresher.

Williams sums up good design in the enjoyably shameless CRAP acronym.  Anything from book covers to business cards has four traits – Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity.  These traits of good visual design made me wonder – do they apply to good writing?

Let’s explore.


Good graphic design means that there are stark differences that stand out.  The similar should be similar, and the different should be very different.

When it comes to writing, contrast is very important.  Fiction requires us to know the differences among characters, places, and things – in fact to feel them viscerally.  Non-fiction needs to be bundled up in a way where you get distinct information – a muddle isn’t going to let you find what you need.

A surprising amount of writing is making sure things aren’t the same.  Like, say, these sections . . .


Good visual elements – colors, shapes, and so on – have to repeat in graphic design.  A book cover should have the same fonts for different text (unless you’re using that for contrast).  A good logo might use lines of the same thickness.

Writing also requires repetition.  Fiction requires restating certain things so the reader “gets” them – like a character’s personal habits or traits.  Non-fiction can require everything from similarly formatted timelines to repetitive elements like exercises or summaries of each chapter.  Examine your own writing, and you might find some things you think of as repeating aren’t boring, but are a good idea.

Writing is repetitious.  Hey, notice how these sections are also repeating a format . . .


Good graphic design has elements that align with other elements, giving them a kind of connection.  Business cards don’t place text willy-nilly, but are carefully aligned with each other for ease of reading.  Take a look at good movie posters and notice how titles, taglines, cast information, etc. usually have alignment that makes them visually pleasing.

First, let’s talk fiction writing.  Good plotlines need to have elements aligned so you can tell a story, and many fiction stories have a kind of symmetry.  Some authors carefully size chapters and scenes so they’re about the right size to keep pace and keep reader interest.  I’m sure if you write fiction you know that sensation of seeing it in your head – and a good story has alignment of many elements.

In non-fiction, writing also requires alignment.  You have to put information in the right order of a chapter so people learn the right lessons.  Chapters need to align, going in the right order to lead people through what you want to teach them.  These alignments may also repeat, as our friend repetition appears.

You’ll see this post has (mostly) aligned sections.  This one went a bit longer, but let’s call that Contrast . . .


The CRAP acronym’s final lesson is Proximity, a simple but oft forgot lesson of good design – related elements should be close together.  A business card probably has a person’s title right under their name.  A book with many authors probably lists the author’s names together as, well, they’re the authors.  Proximity says “this is related.”

Of course in writing proximity matters as you usually put related stuff next to each other.  A plot has scenes happen in a kind of order – even if you’re pulling a Rashomon and people have to guess the order themselves.  Non-fiction obviously groups similar things as that’s how you inform people.  As a writer, you’re probably using Proximity without even thinking about it.

And we see proximity here, in, of course, these sections along with opening and closing.

Looking back on that fun little analysis, I think it was a worthwhile metaphor to explore.  Taking CRAP and seeing what it might tell us about writing helped me think about both design and writing.  All from picking up a book from my past to refresh some lessons.

So what kind of metaphors are in your life that might help your writing?  Let me challenge you to find one and write about it – and share it with me.

Steven Savage

AI: Same As We Never Admitted It Was

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my linktr.ee)

(I’d like to discuss Large Language Models and their relatives – the content generation systems often called AI.  I will refer to them as “AI” in quotes because they may be artificial, but they aren’t intelligent.)

Fears of “AI” damaging human society are rampant as of this writing in May of 2023.  Sure, AI-generated Pizza commercials seem creepily humorous, but code-generated news sites are raking in ad sales and there are semi-laughable but disturbing political ads.  “AI” seems to be a fad, a threat, and a joke at the same time.

But behind it all, even the laughs, is the fear that this stuff is going to clog our cultures with bullshit.  Let me note that bullshit has haunted human society for ages.

Disinformation has been with us since the first criminal lied about their whereabouts.  It has existed in propaganda and prose, skeevy gurus and political theater.  Humans have been generating falsehoods for thousands of years without computer help – we can just do it faster.

Hell, the reason “AI” is such a threat is that humans have a long history of deception and the skills to use it.  We got really good doing this, and now we’ve got a new tool.

So why is it so hard for people to admit that the threat of “AI” exists because of, well, history?

Perhaps some people are idealists.  To admit AI is a threat is to admit that there are cracks and flaws in society where propaganda and lies can slither in and split us apart.  Once you admit that you have to acknowledge this has always been happening, and many institutions and individuals today have been happily propagandizing for decades.

Or perhaps people really wanted to believe that the internet was the Great Solution to ignorance, as opposed to a giant collection of stuff that got half-bought out by corporations.  The internet was never going to “save” us, whatever that means.  It was just a tool, and we could have used it better.  “AI” isn’t going to ruin it – it’ll just be another profit-generating tool for our money-obsessed megacorporate system, and that will ruin things.

Maybe a lot of media figures and pundits don’t want to admit how much of their jobs are propaganda-like, which is why they’re easily replaced with “AI.”  It’s a little hard to admit how much of what you do is just lying and dissembling period.  It’s worse when a bunch of code may take away your job of spreading advertising and propaganda.

Until we admit that the vulnerabilities society has to “AI” are there because of issues that have been with us for a while, we’re not going to deal with them.  Sure we’ll see some sensationalistic articles and overblown ranting, but we won’t deal with the real issues.

Come to think of it, someone could probably program “AI” to critique “AI” and clean up as a sensationalist pundit.  Now that’s a doomsday scenario.

Steven Savage