Tag Archives: fiestacon 09

What’s that they told you about a book & a cover?

Often at conventions themes start to reoccur across panels. It’s a product of common participants and topics that are closely related. At FiestaCon I’d say one of those themes was the pitfalls of being desperate to publish. And sometimes it’s hard not to be desperate.

I’m not a gambler. If you give me $5 and tell me you’ll give me double or nothing if five blue cars pass by my window in the next five minutes, I’ll take the fiver and have a nice lunch at Taco Bell. I’m low risk all the way. Except when it comes to my chosen career. Writing is a somewhere between roulette and a long con. You can jimmy your odds, but you have to be very patient to make it pay off. I’ve been working with varying degrees of intensity for over ten years now. While my first novel is being published in September, the last five years have been dedicated to a multi-book project. It’s a great project, a beautiful project, but I have no *guarantee* that I’ll get paid for the last five years of work. How many people would work for five years on the belief that one day they’ll get paid? Of course, money’s not the only thing. Let’s say you’re a lawyer. You have a degree in law, but you only sit at home and argue cases hypothetically. In the eyes of others, how much respect would you be given as a professional? While most writers contend that they write for themselves, publication is the next step to being considered a professional.

Again and again at FiestaCon, authors were warned against being desperate to publish. Don’t pay to have you book published, or “marketed,” or edited. If you’ve managed to catch an editor’s eye, be prepared to walk if the editorial changes are not within your view of your book. Because, it’s your name on the cover. And despite the old adage, the cover matters. The cover is the first communication that the author has with the reader. Ironically, the cover is possibly the thing the author has the least influence in choosing.

Which brings me, round about, to two articles that went around my corner of the internet this past week:

Ain’t That a Shame | Justine Larbalestier
What happens when you love your publisher, but they’ve saddled you with a cover that is totally misleading? We’re not just talking details being wrong, we’re talking a cover that could produce a complete misreading of your book. How do you take your novel and “walk” then?

And then there’s this:
Adventures in Book Marketing with Simon Kernick’s DEADLINE
Having someone else’s name on novels for marketing purposes isn’t new. There’s the blurb. There’s the “Presents”. There’s writing within another author’s universe. But this takes it to a whole new level. This is someone else’s name on half your cover. Regardless of whether it’s misleading or how much better sales are going to be, I’m not sure I’d feel right about that. Kernick isn’t a new author. Would it be different if he were?

FiestaCon Day #3 (& #4)

First panel was “DYI Media Promotion.” I’m somewhat online savvy, but having points reiterated is good. Lots of ideas on what I should improve. I probably should look more closely at Dreamwidth and “professionalizing” my journal/blog, despite my own love of hearing what fellow writers are having for lunch (encouraged by my own such posts). But you see, that’s where I have a problem with promotion, especially online promotion. Again and again, I’ve heard that you should be yourself. The caveat? Be yourself–unless you’re kind of boring. Most likely, I’ll be posting more on this issue now that I have something to promote aside from me.

At this point, Eric and I went home for a three hour break.  I’m no good socially. After Friday, I was beat.  We had lunch, played a little EQ2, and then headed back for a 2pm panel called:

Authors vs Editors! This talk was originally scheduled to be given by GoH Stanley Schmidt alone.  Since the brothers Kollin were hanging out after their panel, they…inserted…themselves and were joined by author and editor David Boop. While I’m interested in Schmidt’s original talk (available in print), the panel turned out pretty well. The take-home message of this one: It’s likely that the editor of your work has more experience and might have good ideas on how to improve your manuscript; in the end, it’s your name on the cover and you have to be willing to walk away if you and the editor can’t compromise.  Between this panel and Friday’s Writers Beware panel, it seems that one of the biggest pitfalls of publishing for a writer is becoming desperate.

The last panel’s title was “How to get an Editor Interested” and consisted of Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Beth Meacham, all editor from Tor Books. Short answer: have a really good book. This sort of panel is alternatingly energizing and demoralizing. I believe we have good books, but man, the odds are still high.  I can’t but believe in Ricard Laymon’s moto: Persist Prevail!

Day 4: After getting home at 4:30pm on Saturday, the thought of more panels, more *people*, set my teeth on edge. I haven’t quite figured out the right balance when attending conventions. I want to go to every panel and totally fill my schedule and wring value out of every minute. But I just…can’t. We stayed home Sunday and relaxed and recharged. I think we got our money’s worth. I’m full of ideas, things that need doing, and it’s good to get out there and connect a little with “the scene.”

Last impressions of FeistaCon / WesterCon 62:
~ Great chairs.
~ I’m really sorry I didn’t get to attend the Avram Davidson panel with John Hertz. It was scheduled across from cross-genre detectives and I felt that was probably more appropriate for me.
~ The late 20s & 30s age group seemed under-represented.  Where is everyone my age???
~ Having a bad memory for faces really sucks in these situations.

FiestaCon Day #2 (part 2)

Panel #4 on Friday was on cross-genre detectives. I was looking forward to this panel as well. Most of what I write is, at heart, mysteries. There are so many sub-genres to the mystery genre, that crossing into another is not that hard. In many ways, mystery is a specific type of story that can be divorced from the setting. Much of what the panel went over was how to create a good serial detective: foreshadowing and threads in earlier books, a good occasionally-reoccurring villain, and of course an interesting main character that isn’t all-competent.

The last panel we attended on Friday was Writers Beware with Patrick and Teresa Neilsen Hayden, based on the Writer Beware website. Not much that I haven’t heard before, but I did get to thinking about search engines. It used to be the case that if you googled “literary agent,” the top result was a scam agency. How’s it going now? I wondered, and how well does Bing do?

The top four results are the same between the Google and Bing: 2 directories, a Wikipedia entry, and Writer Beware. The rest of Google’s first page is mainly specific agencies, all of them good. Bing’s first page fairs well, though there are quite a few more links to directory sites. Unfortunately, the first “related search” on Bing is New York Literary Agents and the top link off of *that* page is The New York Literary Agency which is described on the Preditors & Editors site as “strongly not recommended. Also a Top Twenty worst according to Writer Beware.” Not so good.  It always pays to do your research, and to remember, as a writer, the only time you should be signing a check is when you’re signing the back of it.

FiestaCon Day #2 (part 1)

AKA: Oh-god-there’s-still-two-days-left.

We’ve been taking public transportation back and forth. It’s been working well, even when shuttle driver decides not to stop. The driver seems to have forgotten it’s flag service outside of ASU campus and school zones.

First panel yesterday was on building a new religion for your SF/fantasy world. It was one of the panels I was excited to see, but it didn’t deliver. The panelists were wrapped up in the trappings of religion instead of starting closer to the bottom. Postulated:  the notion that religion embodies what is significant in a society, and (a mention)  that type of religion is often influenced by environment. That latter is something Eric and I have already crewed over, and I think the former is only half correct.

Second panel: How are small presses surviving? The short answer is: they are and are probably in a better situation now than ever. Electronic formats are taking off, as is print-on-demand. This lowers the “price of entry” as it were and makes the small presses (and niche presses) more viable. The trick will be in developing icons of quality; probably done through the reputation of imprints. The discussion, while often tangential, did point out the following from TIME: Amazon.com, Digital Publishing and Jeff Bezos.

Exhausted from the moderator of panel #2, Eric and I had a two hour break and went to lunch at Phoenicia Cafe. Not realizing that it was a holiday weekend (starting on Friday), we tried to get into a computer lab on campus. No go. In the meantime, I got sunburned.

Panel three: Collaborative writing. The entirety of my professional writing career has been as a collaborator with Eric. Lucinda at the Window is the first novel I finished and the one with the least input from Eric, but I would have never written it without him. Since then, his input has only increased. This is not a bad thing, but for a long time I thought it was. Wasn’t a writer the solitary creature with the rich inner life that spills out on paper? Was I somehow deficient because I needed a collaborator? (Cognitively, I realize that it’s extremely difficult for one person to be good at the two main aspects of writing: the overview (plot) and the details.) So, sheep that I am, its nice to hear of authors that collaborate and believe that it might be the superior way of doing things. The panel included Eric Flint and Dani and Etyan Kollin, which would be worth sitting in on even if I weren’t a collaborative writer myself. Interesting note: on the heels of the last panel, Mr. Flint mentioned that ebook sales are not great. Also, since mass market paperback distribution has fallen out, publishers are sometimes more willing to go hardback for a new author than they have been in the past. While it might not sell as well, the profit margin is higher.

FiestaCon – Day #1

If I’m going to write up summaries, I should do so before I’m utterly sick of the con. And just like preparation for ultimate leagues, I will be sick of the con by Sunday.

FiestaCon / WesterCon 62 is being held at the Tempe Mission Palms downtown. This is the third con I’ve attended at that location. It’s a great venue for such things. It’s big, nice without being ultra swanky, and there’s plenty of room. It’s also about three miles from home, on the rail and shuttle lines, and surrounded by restaurants.

Programming didn’t start on Thursday until 3pm, but we skipped the first panel and had lunch/dinner at Chuckbox.

First panel was on science fiction movies: What are the good ones? What are the bad ones? What are not even science fiction anyway? (Or vice versa.) Much audience participation, led by Kevin Birnbaum who has a movie premiering Saturday.  My note from this panel was that should probably check out Primer.

Second panel that I wanted to attend was the discussion of Jekyll & Hyde.  Since Eric hadn’t read it, he skedaddled off to a panel on the subject of Titan, while I stayed where I was. The leader of the discussion, an older man, incredulously wearing a beany studded with pin-on buttons, came in and sat down.  This is John Hertz.  He’s one of those enthusiastic people who have an infectious love of whatever subject they’ve thrown themselves at.  After twenty minutes of me sitting at the back of the room paging through my program and Mr. Hertz reading at the head of the room, it became obvious that **I was the only person attending this discussion**.  Now, I had read the Stevenson, but there’s a difference between reading the text well enough to participate in a group discussion and reading it deeply enough to be able to talk one on one about it–with a man that was reading a Nabokov lecture on it. At very least, I would have taken notes. But Mr. Hertz and I chatted about it and those were the fastest 35-40 minutes of the night. I hope I didn’t sound too much like an illiterate fool.

Third panel was on the interplay between plot, characters, and science in science fiction.  I think the conclusion was that if you want to write a series, a long running series of related novels/stories that isn’t one on-going story, you need a great character.  Think Sherlock Holmes here.  Sometimes, in SF, the character is just a platform for the story–and that’s okay too, but it’s more difficult to base more than a book on that.  Also touched on was how abnormal short fiction is in the history of literature, yet seemigly the norm in SF. I’m not sure I buy that, but my mother was a novel reader, so that’s the take I’ve always had on SF.

Eric and I took an hour break and headed to MoJo Yogurt for dessert.

Last panel, for us, of the evening was on science fiction versus fantasy.  The age old question.  Is the relationship oppositional?  Are they simply cousins?  Are they they same with different trappings?  Does it really matter at all since they’re going to be shelved together anyway?  Obviously there is some difference since fantasy out-sells SF by a huge margin.  Why is that?  An intriguing theory put forth by Eric Flint is that there’s a historic gender bias.  SF hasn’t been female friendly.  Early SF had few/no female characters, despite scantily clad women on the covers, and was low on characterization.  Fantasy, in a way, has less history and of the two had become more female-friendly, fatter (bloated?) with characterization.  And women buy more books.