The WorldCon 2006 Report: Saturday, August 26

Saturday, August 26, 2006
10:00 am
Mistakes Writers Make
Paying so-called agents a fee to represent them? Calling agents and editors every day to see how they like their novel? That ain't the half of it. Come hear established writers and editors give you a heads up on things you should know better than.
Panelists: Beth Meacham, Mary A. Turzillo, Jean-Noel Bassior, Jaime Levine
This panel was focused not on writing mistakes authors make, but mistakes that writers makes trying to break into the field.
There is no special "magic word" or "secret sign" that will get you published in the field.
A lot of people just wrap up their manuscript and just address it to "Editor". You really need a dynamite cover letter. "Be a letter, not a package."
Do your homework to make sure you are submitting your work to the right place. It speaks well of you and ensures that you will hit the right target.
Query letters are not enough for agents and publishers to tell whether you can craft a story or structure a novel. Check the publisher's web site (or other sources) for submission guidelines. Other sources are available, but the most reliable is the Literary Marketplace (LMP).
It is recommended that writers start out with short fiction, as it is easier to deal with from a craft and rejection standpoint for the starting writers. Establishing yourself in that field helps your reputation and helps creates confidence in your work.
Get details like editor's names (and gender) correct. Editors are looking for reasons to reject your manuscript—don't give them any easy ones.
Publishing is very traditional: white paper, typewriter fonts, etc. Pay attention to the guidelines that the publishers have and stick to them. Be respectful of people's time and space. For example, don't follow an editor into the restroom and shove your manuscript under the stall at them.
Have someone else read your work before submitting your work to an editor—not your mother. Find a friend you can trust. If they give you painful feedback, this can be more valuable than anything, even if you don't want to hear it.
Look at your rejection letters and see whether it is just a form letter or has more information or feedback.
Never pay someone to represent you. Real agents make their money by representing you and selling your work.
If you are persistent, the odds are will get published. Once you finish a novel, submit it, and then move on to the next one. Persistence is the key.
There is a recent pool of agents who tend to be lazy who only want to represent people who have already starting shopping their work, have speaking engagements, etc. This is also more common in non-fiction because there needs to be some credibility in the author producing the work.
Don't sign up with an agent who won't share their client list or won't tell you how they plan to manage your book.
For a writer, money is supposed to come in, not go out. You don't need an agent until you have a contract to buy your book.
Most writers in this field have broken in by starting with short fiction. An agent or editor might see your work and contact you to see if you are interested in writing a longer work.
The SF & F field is somewhat unique from other genres. The rules for other genres (and vice-versa) don't necessary apply.
Writers expect to make a lot of money. Do not expect to make money as a writer. The average income for a writer in the U.S. is $5,000. The worst thing that can happen to a good writer is to have personal responsibilities that they cannot support with only a writing income. Keep your day job.
Don't use funny-colored paper, funny fonts, or include illiterate cover letters. You want your prose to stand out, not the formatting of your work.
Always send the first three sequential chapters (approximately 50 pages). (Note: 34 pages for a chapter is too long.)
There are very few good workshops for writing novels. Most, like Clarion, are focused on short stories.
Structure and plot are the engines of a book.
No one will look out for you as much as you will. Feel free to ask educated questions of your agent and editor (and friends) to keep yourself informed.
A huge amount of responsibility for promoting your work falls on you. Your agent and editor have other clients, so have limited time (and funds) to do so. You all have the same goal, but different priorities.
Don't burn bridges. The publishing field is very small. Authors change houses, editors change jobs, etc. Don't get a reputation of being someone difficult to deal with.
The money associated with a book is like a pie: a portion goes to actual production of the book, a portion is the profit to the publisher, and a portion goes to the author.
Most people are more talented than they realize because of years of people telling us what we can't do and what we've done wrong. Remember that they are rejecting your work, not you.
One of the biggest mistakes a writer can make after selling their first book is writing a bad second book. Some writers can spend years finishing and polishing their first book and then have only six months to complete their second one.

1:00 pm
Harlan Ellison Tells Us
Possibly the genre's best writer/raconteur/critic tells us what he thinks.
Okay, I am an unabashed Harlan Ellison fan from way, way back. In my book collection, I probably have the largest number of books signed by him.
I am not even going to try to encapsulate this session. Suffice it to say that Harlan Ellison can not be easily described, only experienced. (That, and I was too busy laughing and enjoying myself to take notes.)
For those familiar with Harlan, he did tell the "dead gopher" story again, with a new set of interjected anecdotes. Most the rest was his usual, as he put it, "rapier wit" and pointed observations.

2:30 pm
Promoting Your Book & Yourself
What can you do to help push your new book? Get your friends to turn the book "cover out" in bookstores? Get your face in Locus? Do book signings at Bookstar help? Will any of it do any good?
Panelists: Mike Shepherd Moscoe, James Patrick Kelly, Lee Martindale, Eleanor Wood (Spectrum Literary Agency), Jaime Levine
There is a big difference between self-publicizing to your readers and fans, and self-publicizing to your publishing house.
Any author who doesn't have a web site is missing a huge opportunity. It is a source of information for people who want to learn more about them and their work. It is a useful tool for getting people to book signings. It also a way to provide "free samples" of your work to draw readers in.
If you are going to do a book signing, you need to talk to the book publisher (specifically your publicist). The author might not know all the in's and out's of doing a signing.
Show appreciation when someone does something good for you, whether it be our editor or publicist or sales force.
Speaking to people—at conventions, panels, groups, libraries—is a good way to meet your readers, other writers, and other professionals.
Sometimes authors can set up events themselves, but it depends on the willingness of the publishing house.
One writer ironed on covers of his book on t-shirts and canvas bags. He made buttons to hand out at conventions (not quite so successful due to technical problems with the glue). He includes his e-mail address on his books so readers can write to him and so he can tell them when his new books come out. He finds that bookmarks with the cover of his new book on it can be effective. He inserts them into not only his own book, but also books by authors who might have similar readers.
He buys books at cost and then sells them to booksellers at conventions at 40% off to make sure they are available for sale. Don't compete with the bookstores—cooperate with them.
Write your first book so that you can sell it to anyone who buys later books. Don't push only the first book in the trilogy, not the later ones.
Write each book so that it can stand alone reasonably in a reader's hand.
When you sell the book, you have almost always written a proposal or treatment (synopsis). Be prepared to see if you can create a more saleable treatment (100 words) for your book that can be used to market it. This tends to be easier after you've finished writing the book, as you now know how it ends.
The best publicity money is that which buys you shelf space in the chain stores, particularly in the "New Books" stands.
Book signings in stores don't necessarily have the results many writers think they do. If they store buys a lot of your books and few people show up, everyone down the line loses time and money.
Be nice to the booksellers, not pushy or frantic. It's about making friends and creating relationships.
One of the best ways to publicize yourself is to write the next book.
Local newspapers are a good source of publicity for your first book. Later books are publicity-worthy if they have a slant that might make them newsworthy. Ideally, for interviews, they prefer to keep to the subject of the book, not a discussion of the book itself.
Even publishers don't completely understand what will make a book successful. There have been many books that have received fantastic reviews, but then not sold.
There is a difference between "publicity" and "promotion". Publicity is about selling the book. Promotion is about generating interest in the book and the author.
If you're trying to cross over to a new genre, keep in mind that the audiences and how they buy might be very different. The safest way to approach it is as if you are completely starting over.

3:30 pm
Dealer's Room
I spent a brief time in the Dealer's Room this afternoon and, lo and behold, bought nothing! No books, no nothing! It wasn't that there weren't things that I wanted to buy, but I kept thinking back to both the bookshelf and box full of unread books at home. If I had planned to attend an autographing, I almost certainly would have bought something. Oh well, I figured I filled my quota yesterday!