The WorldCon 2006 Report: Friday, August 25

Saturday, August 26, 2006
10:00 am
Getting Started Writing SF – Part II
Going from amateur to professional writer is a big step. How do you get started? In Part I, new writers gave you their advice. Today in Part II, editors and established writers give you theirs. Compare these expert's answers with those of Thursday's panel.
Panelists: Keith R.A. DeCandido, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Tim Powers, Ashley Grayson, Stephen Leigh
(Note: I had originally intended to mark who said what, but the discussion starting moving along so quickly that I couldn't keep up and take notes at the same time.)
"Leave out the parts the readers skip over."
Before you attempt any craft, you must master the tools. You only become a powerful fighter when you no longer think of the name of the techniques you use.
In the first few pages, the writer will reveal that they are unprepared to write . . .
"Writing is only half the job. The other half is getting it out there and marketing it."
Seek out a good critique group, because you need the feedback.
You have become the sole proprietor and sole employee of a small business—and you need to treat it that way.
"You are responsible for your own career."
Some writers prefer a writing group of just one or two people. The problem with larger groups is that you tend to get conflicting opinions. (But if the majority of them tell you that a certain section sucks, it probably does.) It was recommended that not all your early readers be writers. Writers will tend to tell you how they would have written it, as opposed as readers who will tell you whether it's something they would read.
Ideally, your writers group should have people who have actually published. At minimum, they should at least be submitting on a regular basis. Writing groups can provide a terrific support organization—they can also be a destructive force, so be careful.
Three ways to get published:
  1. Make a duplicate key. Pick your genre, pick your sub-genre, read in it. Shmoosh with editors and publishers and see what they want. Slide in on a current trend, keeping in mind that the trend could be over by the time your book sees print.
  2. Ride the coattails of someone who has already broken in. There are some dangers. With media tie-ins, they usually look for someone who has already broken in.
  3. Throw a brick through the window, gather what you can, and run. Be bold, be beautiful, be big. Make it a big concept and write it well.
  • You can be published without breaking in. You rent a storefront and pay people to do all the editing and cover work and then sell the books yourself (self-publishing). A point of rule is: Money should flow toward the writer.
  • Read the guidelines. Follow the guidelines. Don't do anything that makes an agent or editor think that you can’t follow even simple instructions.
  • To succeed in this business, you need to be writing constantly. You have to constantly hone your craft.
  • Prepare your manuscript so that it looks professional.
  • First thing you need to do is get an agent. Without a track record, you can't choose from all the agents. You don't want to be limited to which agents you can select.
  • This field does look at unsolicited books. Once you have a contract, agents are much more willing to represent you.
  • Find out who else the agent represents.
  • Publishing has gotten really mean and really nasty. It used to be gentlemanly. One publishing house has contracts that allow them to own your name, which means you cannot publish under that name for six months after they have published your last book.
  • The new generation of publishers does not offer advances and takes all rights to your book and 50% of sub-rights.
  • Anyone making a significant income (> $50,000/year in advances or royalties) should consult a lawyer and incorporate themselves.
  • You can always say "No", as there are other markets out there.
  • Everything in the contract is negotiable—up to a point, even after it's been signed.
  • Let your agent be the "bad guy".
  • The editor is the friendly face for the publisher, but he is an employee of the big, mean company.
  • Publishers have no loyalty to you, so feel free to jump ship if you need to.
  • Keep your cover letter short and to the point. Just one really good paragraph is sufficient—and even preferable.
Writing is actually work.

11:30 am
The Physics of Superheroes
Is there anything believable about Superman's powers? Batman's abilities? How can you explain what superheroes do?
Panelists: James Hay, Courtney Willis, David D. Levine, Tom Galloway, Kevin Andrew Murphy
Interesting note: Connie Willis' husband teaches physics in Colorado.
Favorite physics violations:
  • Superman who gets his powers from the yellow sun, but loses them when exposed to red sun radiation.
  • Superman catches the flying helicopter by one strut and is doesn't rip off.
  • Square-cube law where giants don't collapse under their own weight or where the mass comes from when they suddenly grow (like the Hulk)
  • "X-ray" vision that becomes laser eyes and heat vision. Telescopic and microscopic vision.
  • Kryptonite was invented during the "Superman" radio series because the voice actor needed a week off.
  • Gwen Stacy's death in "Spider-man" is almost correct. (Deceleration trauma)
  • Super-speed doesn’t account for air friction or what would happen to the tread on his boots.
  • Readers are typically willing to grant authors one conceit for the sake of the character or story.
  • How is it that when characters are resurrected, it's always to the age they were before?
  • How does spinach have such as impact on Popeye? Is it a serious iron deficiency?
  • Larry Niven, for example, violates physics with the stasis field, but then explores the implications of that violation (i.e. the variable sword).
  • Iron Man's suit is theoretically possible—with the issue of providing enough power and making the components compact enough.
  • One problem with opening a small door of physics violations, is that people begin wondering why it can’t be used to solve another similar problem (like the transporter on Star Trek).
  • For The Flash to get to ¼ the speed of light, he would have consume several trillion cheeseburgers in order to acquire enough energy to accomplish the feat.
  • Magneto lifts people not by the iron in their blood (because iron in that valent form is not magnetic), but by the water in their body (scientifically proven).
  • Kitty Pryde can travel through walls using a technique called "quantum tunneling", using quantum probability to increase her chances of being on the other side of the wall.
  • Why do so many heroes fly with their hands out in front? (and no, it's not just style!): 1) helps to break the air velocity, 2) protection from things in their path.
  • You cannot change your direction in mid-leap, even if the Hulk does it all the time.

12:30 – 3:00 pm
Dealer's Room
Stopped for lunch (turkey and provolone on a croissant) and a coffee Frappucino. Afterward, I prowled the Dealer's Room for the first time. Aw, sigh . . . so many books, so many books!
Just like in 2002, I was drawn to a booth by a new author. This time is was Rebecca Rowe. She was sitting at Edge booth and I immediately bought her book and she signed it immediately. I had seen her book, Forbidden Cargo, advertised in Locus, and had considered purchasing it, so here was the perfect excuse. (Oh, have I mentioned my book addiction?)
I was already to be done when I was informed that was another author was there as well and about to leave for a panel: K. A. (Adrian) Bedford So, I bought all three of his books and got them signed. (I had seen him on the "Getting Started Writing SF – Part I" panel yesterday as well, so it was particularly nice to meet him in person.) He comes from Australia and was completely charming and wonderful to talk to.
Cruising around, I checked out most of the exhibits and looked at many, many more books. I bought Elizabeth Bear's and the new "Dune" book so I'd have them for the signings later this afternoon.
Four signed books in about an hour—not a bad afternoon's catch!

3:00 pm
Autographing: Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
I met Kevin Anderson twice at the 2002 WorldCon. He was congenial as always, but pressed for time due to a fairly long line at his and Brian's signing. Kevin always amazes me at his sheer volume of work—but then he does write for a living, as a job, so I guess it really does make sense!
It was the first time I had met Brian Herbert in person and he seemed very personable and willing to take the extra time to personalize my books. It was equally possible that he was relieved that I only had two books that I wanted to get signed.
I am apparently an amateur when it comes to book signing events at conventions. Several people both ahead and behind me in line had boxes of books to be signed. I remarked to the fellow ahead of me that the next time I'd remember to bring my luggage to the Con and he replied, "You're new at this, aren't you?". I told him, "No, not really." What I didn't say was, "Just not obsessive." But next time, I will bring something on wheels.

4:00 pm
Autographing: Elizabeth Bear
Elizabeth Bear was absolutely charming and seemed genuinely interested in talking to each person who approached her (despite the grumblings from the man two spots behind me in line). She's a fairly new writer, and I always like to try to meet those in particular because: 1) they tend to have shorter lines, 2) I like to support new writers in the hopes that the karma will repay itself someday when I'm sitting on the other side of that table, and 3) they tend to be very open about discussing their work. It makes for a very enjoyable and informative conversation. And, you never know, she might be very successful someday and those kinds of connections never hurt.

5:30 pm
The Business of Writing
Inside you there's a hundred stories, crying to get out. Characters who need to be brought to life. But you still need to eat and pay the rent. What do you have to know and do (besides how to write).
Panelists: Gay Haldeman, Rebecca Moesta, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Eleanor Wood, Kevin J. Anderson
The "mousetraps" in almost every book contract. Hold onto whatever rights you can (not applicable to media tie-in books). Ideally, get an agent to negotiate the contract for you. Even if you don't have an agent when you get the contract, find one afterward. It's actually easier to get an agent if you already have a contract.
Agents are looking at it as a long-term relationship, not just for the first book. Hire an agent rather than a lawyer. Lawyers tend to complicate things and are more expensive. Even if you don't have an agent when offered the contract, reply by saying, "Thank you. I will have my agent contact you." Otherwise, by agreeing to anything, you limit what your agent can do.
Once you receive your first contract, you are now the sole proprietor of a small business and you need to act accordingly.
An advance is "an advance against royalties" that you might receive once your book is being sold. The advance is not necessarily paid in one lump sum, but might be spread out over the various milestones of the publication process. Don't spend it all at once because bills still need to be paid and taxes taken out (and your agent gets their 15%). Taxes should be paid quarterly.
Most accountants prefer not to let you deduct writing expenses until you have made a sale. In the past, you could show a loss for a maximum of three years. (It seems as though there has been a change that for artists, the term can be indefinite.) Significant fluctuations in income can trigger an audit from the IRS.
Incorporating helps in terms of finances and credit because you are no longer just a writer, but an employee of a company with a regular paycheck.
Publishers will dedicate more money to a book they believe will sell, but "more" is relative. That does not guarantee better sales for a writer.
When you receive your advance, don't change your lifestyle—make it last. Unless you have multiple projects with a steady stream of royalty and advance checks coming in, you can't count on when the next one will come in.
It's possible that because of the length of time the process can take, you might finish and be ready to deliver a book before the contract is signed. This is dangerous unless you are established and also feel the publisher will pay you.
The contract will/should specify when the rights revert back to the author. It is usually when the book goes out of print. When that happens, the author should make a formal request just to be sure. (Some publishers, like Bantam, have "print on demand" imprints that allow them to claim that books are never out of print.)
Some writers do not plan for the "next book". If a book is well-received, a publisher might ask, "Can you deliver the next one in six months?" (Say, "Yes", even if you don't know.)
Royalty statements from publishers tend to be confusing and not particularly helpful. You can ask for a more detailed accounting of sales and returns, but it might not help.
Romance writers are required to do their own publicity. Don't ask a science fiction writer on how to do it—they ask romance writers and then use their ideas!
You are responsible for your own career. Your publisher isn't; your agent isn't. You are. It's not as important to anyone else other than you.
The best promotion you can do for your book is to write the next book. A good web site can help you; a bad one can hurt you. Don't spend any more time than necessary on things that are not the writing.
  1. Oh my gosh, Steven, these are fantastic! Thanks for doing the legwork!

    Now... what are you going to *do* with all this great publishing info, hm???

    Love n Rockets,

    ~~Your Editor