My experience as an author at a local sci fi convention in 2014, where I'm never a guest.
I’m at my local con, which seems to mean always a fan never a panelist. So, fan I am and it is time to network, network, network. I went to the “So You Want to be a Writer” panel with Brenda Clough, Dina Leacock, who moderated, Will McIntosh, Michael Ventrella, and Allen Wold. Looking back, I think this may be the fourth time in four years coming to this particular session (or better yet, four published books later). You never know what you can learn and besides the panelists sharing Duotrope.com and Ralan.com, and Submission Grinder as places online to find markets for short stories and novels, was nice. I also learned of another market resource, Dark Market, which I’m going to have to check out. Then one panelist shared his launching an anthology and an agent called wanting to represent it, something highly atypical for an anthology. The theme sounded interesting, particularly since I’ve worked on a story that I wonder if might be a fit for it. Hmm, there's a thought… Then the panelists shared the important warnings against Publish America (which has changed its name to avoid further bad press), and Vanity Presses in general. Publishers pays authors and agents get a cut of the action, if they want you as the writer to pay for the services they provide, run. Writers Beware is a great place to learn whether agents and publishers are on the up-and-up or if there are issues authors should beware of.
Then a bit of advice I honestly didn’t like a number of the panelists offering: “Don’t self-publish.” Now there are lot of reasons for that advice, which ranged from publishers do a lot for you (editoring, coverart, basic book marketing and distribution, which someone self-publishing must be responsible for instead) to having a publisher puts a stamp of approval to your writing. The comment that 99 percent of self-published work belong in publishers slush piles infuriated me. Why? I’m a hybrid writer. Half the books in my series were published by two different publishers and half I have self-published. The self-published additional books in my series have helped the earlier works sales dramatically improve, which my publishers are appreciating.
When Allen Wold, who has been re-releasing his backlist of books and recently self-published Stroad’s Crossing, a fantasy horror novel, questioned that blanket admonition, the other panelists agreed that: for long published authors who never sold their ebook rights, self-publishing has added significantly to their income and helped their brand. Self-publishing also works best for the very prolific, who may be too prolific for traditional publishers. Self-publishing is often perfect for those writing non-fiction, since the market is so different. I agree with those points, but I also am seeing self-published authors not being looked down upon to the extent some of the panelists seemed to still feel made such works somehow suspect.
I also feel that some of us self-publishing may have skills at marketing, hiring copyeditors and cover artists, which other writers may not have an interest in mastering. We all have our strengths, though. I am one of those who is comfortable strategizing, networking, and hiring those who can help me make my books the best they can be… which may even create a book that rivals those of a traditional press. After releasing two books recently, I feel real pride in those self-published books, which is why I may have felt the sting of those words against self-publishing so keenly. I also think the world of publishing has changed, is truly evolving around is, and not all those more traditionally published on the panel may realize just how much. Then again, what is working for me as a hybrid writer, may not work from someone else. What’s important is a great story and a quality well-written book, true regardless of traditional New York publisher, small press, or self-published. Self-publishing definitely does not mean writers should use it as a short cut to avoid ever having a story rejected, skip working with a copyeditor, ignore book design, etc. It is likely true that a lot of folks, just like those who don’t understand that working with Vanity Presses and paying them to publish them and claim to market and edit their book is a good idea, either. “Get what you pay for” is not always true in this business, and believe me, writing is a business. I write because I can’t do otherwise, but I’m not giving up my day job, which pays the bills. In the long term, doing things the hard way, producing well-written, (hopefully what readers consider) well-crafted and wonderful stories, is what will bring me real fans.
After that session I went to dinner and happened to sit near the author with that anthology idea an agent was interested in and found a moment to ask a question about that upcoming anthology. I pitched one line about my story, which I’d published as flash fiction but was expanding, and he told me to email him about doing a story proposal. So, now I’ve got a homework assignment. Finish that short story with its great beginning and great ending and finish writing as great a middle, so I can write up that proposal for the anthology.
I attended “Abusing Authors” with the guest authors Paolo Bacigalupi and Holly Black (Spiderwick), Walter Hunt, who moderated, Annette Klause, Will McIntosh, and Bud Sparhawk. The audience had a Q&A with the authors. I particularly enjoyed the discussion of “Pantsers versus Plotters.” Bud Sparhawk explained he writes every moment he can, typically 35 stories a year, selling 4 in that period, in “pantser” mode, while other panelists, including the moderator, chimed in “plotter,” outlining every aspect of their plots. Holly Black burst out laughing during the chorus of opposing methods, saying she wishes she could just sit down and write, using either extreme. She believes most writers must outline and let the story unfold, but for her (and apparently Paolo based on his comments), writing a first draft is painful, subsequent drafts are where the story comes together properly.
I went to “Dressed for Success” with Lawrence Watt-Evans. L. Jagi Lamplighter, Diana Peterfreund, who moderated, Alan Smole, and Genevieve Valentine. The session was about how writers use clothing in their stories, which related in very interested ways to historical fiction. What I found as “food for thought” was the fact that height of fashion hand-sewn clothes worn by the wealthy in Europe were often passed down to those of lesser classes, until about ten or twenty years later, patched, those clothes would be worn by the very poor. In Roman times there were also laws regarding what colors people could wear, which were subject to fines. For example, Senators were allowed to wear purple, in stripes, the Emperor would wear solid purple.
I later saw Allen Wold in the Con Suite and had a wonderful chat before going to hear him do a reading from his new book, Stroad’s Crossing. He read the opening pages and explained the meaning of his coverart. So, if you like contemporary fantasy, horror, and romance, check out Stroad’s Crossing.
(First of three articles from Capclave.)
Author of the Highmage's Plight Series