A Writer-centric View of SpoCon 2012, Part 1

by syaffolee

In the panel transcriptions, I’m mostly paraphrasing what the panelists said. If there are any errors, they’re mine and mine alone. For any corrections, just drop me a note.

For those of you who have no idea what this SpoCon thing is, it’s a science fiction and fantasy convention that takes place in Spokane, Washington every year. This is my third year coming to the event, and I have to say that although there are some things about sf/f geek culture that puzzles me greatly, I always have an interesting time (in the good sense) and an informative experience. The con itself has improved greatly from year to year so I’m definitely looking forward to next year, even if I do have to drive four hours to get to it.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it to any of the Friday panels as I had work, but I did make it on Saturday, so I guess that’s something. I was partially planning on live tweeting this thing, but it didn’t work out since the wi-fi didn’t work in the conference room. So instead, I’m putting up some panel (paraphrased) transcripts. So here we go with the first panel of the morning: Dos & Don’ts of ePublishing. (AQ is an audience question.)


(left to right: panel moderator Kristy Carey, Muffy Morrigan, Fallon Jones, Maggie Bonham, Jane Fancher, and C.J. Cherryh)

AQ: What are the common hassles and wrong ideas people have about epublishing?

MM: One misconception is that if you’re doing e-pub or small indie you can’t make it anywhere else. Big houses have become exclusive, but there are amazing authors who are going into e-pub. The misconception is that it’s crap if it’s e-pub. Big publishers are not taking chances on people who aren’t multi-million sellers. Even Tor and other similar imprints do this because they’re owned by the big presses. They’re focused now on Jim Butcher-esque things. No one wants to take a chance on it because they want a guaranteed hit.

AQ: If you go with a small and independent publisher, what are the best ways to market your book and get it out there?

FJ: It’s similar to a large publisher. They say they will take care of you, but you need to do things yourself. Get someone to help you with the graphics. You can get students at colleges to design website and do graphics.

MM: Be aware of social media because you need to be on there for a certain amount of time to push yourself. Be willing to love your book to put it out there and say this all the time. I’ve been able to get free advertising in fan fiction. Hit the cons. Be willing to look at people and tell them that you’re amazing and do it every time. Ignore bad reviews. Some people troll Amazon for indie authors to give bad reviews. You can tweet all the time at SpoCon, but don’t always tweet specifically about your book. Intersperse little adventures so your audience will want to share your adventures. I tweeted about a trip and picked up 350 new followers. Social media is evil so you need to set up time to do it. Rob Thurman had a rant on LiveJournal about self marketing even though she’s published by Roc.

AQ: For social media, how do you build audience in the first place if you’re starting at zero and have no audience?

FJ: Go on to websites with authors similar to you and get involved with conversations. Print out flyers and hand them out to people. Make yourself into a human being to become a character they’re interested in.

MM: Also take an interest in other areas. I looked up the Anglo-Saxon history hashtag and started following people. Look at followers of celebrities. Eventually people will follow you. Follow people who have same interests but are not just writers. Soon they will be retweeting your stuff.

AQ: How do you get from ebooks to print? Do you guys deal with print?

Panel: Yes.

FJ: If you can make a lot of sales in e-books, you can try small publishers like Lulu, FastPencil, and CreateSpace. If you already have a following, e-books are cheaper and you can interact more. You can use print books for signings.

MM: CreateSpace is great resource because you get on Amazon. Amazon is 80% of sales. Most are Kindle sales because they’re cheaper. One or two people like hard copy, but more likely you bring them to conventions to sign. There’s a disparity in cost between e-books and print. You need to find a designer and editor, but it will walk you through that, especially CreateSpace (depending on how much you spend). They do distribute internationally without paying more.

MB: But they do charge although not a lot. You have to get an ISBN for various outlets. There’s a lot of crap in self-pub, indie, and e-pub. Even if you put your book out, if it has a crappy cover, is not edited properly, and not good story, you will fall into the wayside with all the other crap. If you’re self publishing, you need to pay for a real editor. Don’t go with package deal like CreateSpace because they will put your book out. What kind of editing for will you get for a hundred dollars for thousand words? Most professional editors charge $5000. Covers done by themselves are crap.

MM: DeviantART is a good resource. I had an artist come from there to do some books. They are affordable. Private message the artist and most will say yes. People will judge books by their covers. Daw put up bright orange covers for Contagion and I thought: Is this what they came out with? Many beta readers for fan fiction are also professional editors.

MB: You should have line editing done or you will look unprofessional. Look around for artists. You can also license art. If you go with a publisher, remember that money flows to the author. A publisher should not charge you upfront for your work. They may take the cost out from royalties, but that’s different story. In my company distribution costs are taken from royalties, but the authors didn’t have to pay for it. If you have to pay, it’s a vanity press or self-pub.

FJ: If you pay them for a “reading”, it’s reading not critiquing.

MM: Line editing is when you check for things like proper comma and break usage. One example: peal vs. peel. If you do it yourself, be aware that you need to pay for art and editing. Professional editing is worth its weight in gold. Or you can ask a friend who is English teacher. Don’t be afraid to go through your manuscript again yourself with a red pen. Ask for references for the editor. If they don’t have references, don’t go for them.

MB: They need references and credentials.

MM: Artists are different because you can look at it. If at a small press, ask them who their editor is. If there are four typos on the first page, people won’t read to the second page.

FJ: Get a flat fee. You don’t want them to charge more and more and hold your book ransom.

MB: Compared to a small press, for a big publisher authors get somewhere around 8%-11% net.

MM: That’s about 49 cents a book. The dream for huge advances is gone. Now start at ground zero with small press. At a small press you’ll get a person. But at a big press, if you call them you get an answering machine saying: “Dial 1 if you’re an author, dial 2 if you’re an editor, and if you’re author looking for royalties, please hang up and try again.”

MB: My authors have my home phone number. We have 50% royalties for all authors after costs taken out. We share profits with authors and artists. If you do e-pub, be aware that there are cuts being taken out and what you get is very important at the end. You need to know how much it costs to do it professionally if you do on your own. People who do well in e-pub – it’s different than a year ago. Once we did 99 cent books and got a huge following. Now the market is flooded with 99 cent books so people are more weary because of spammers.

AQ: In a case years ago, one guy wrote a thesis in grad school. His thesis was published in a compilation in an anthology. Then he found out that someone else is published his work on amazon and he didn’t get any of the profits. But then the pubs got in trouble because the DOD said the material couldn’t be published.

MM: There’s one evil site, MegaUpload, where we had to look all the time to make sure our stuff isn’t illegally there. Now MegaUpload is gone.

AQ: How can you protect yourself?

MB: It’s very hard. If someone violates copyright, you can go to the ip/service provider and see who owns the site. You can send an e-mail to get it taken off. The problem is if it’s in a foreign country that doesn’t respect this, you’re pretty much screwed and can’t do anything. But if there are copyright laws in the country, you can.

AQ: Do you register a copyright or just put it on there?

MB: You don’t have to register.

MM: There’s an inherent copyright. But can get registered for $35 at copyright.org. They also have copyright for in progress works.

AQ: It’s inherently copyrighted, but to get damages you need to register.

Panel: The poor man’s copyright is to mail it to yourself.

AQ: But that doesn’t work any more.

MM: Make sure you brand yourself. That is, registering domain names, e-mails in your name, LiveJournal set up, etc.

FJ: For a pen name, choose something nobody else has, especially in media marketing. On Facebook, you’re not a real person if a celebrity has the same name as you.

MM: Once you write as a brand person, always use it. Stay away from political conversations because people will latch onto your name. Only do charitable stuff. Otherwise things may come back to haunt you. Be aware of what you’re saying, sharing, retweeting, following. You are technically a public person.

FJ: Don’t turn fans away. If you detest someone, don’t say it in public.

MB: I’ve noticed that there are authors that turn people off and will talk a lot about politics and say a lot of snarky things on the web. If you say you hate person x, tell that to other people who like person x, how do you think that makes them feel?

JF: I hate people without opinions. I used to be afraid to offend the gay community with my writing, but anything worth writing, you will have opinion and you will offend someone. I fundamentally agree. But your readership will be people who have opinions and will care. If you have no opinions, then people won’t read it. It’s getting so PC in this country. It’s very good advice but don’t follow it over a cliff.

CJC: Pick your fights. Don’t get into somebody else’s bargain brawl. Do put your opinions in books so you can develop a persona so people know what to expect.

JF: Are you a publisher or author? Harlan Ellison is controversial and people like to talk about being insulted by him, but he’s respected.

CJC: Make sure the people you offend are people you are wanting to offend.

FJ: You need to reflect on what you write or people will be turned off.

MM: It’s part of branding your writing persona and public persona. It’s different from what you are at home. You need to be aware of creating the personality.

JF: I’m not GBLT but a humanist. I was worried about how my gay characters are perceived. It was not branding which is a problem in marketing. The GBLT crowd is pissed off at romance that put out under the GBLT name because it is more like hetero romance but just with a penis instead of a vagina. There are difficult aspects of e-book publishing. There’s no editorial backing, there’s a glut on market, and a need for a legitimate sieve. What is a well written and well edited book?

MB: Why recommend that if you’re not willing to pay for production of e-book? Maybe go into small press or alternative press.

JF: But some are worse in small press.

MB: But there’s also bad stuff in large press.

MM: I have read a Roc book where in one chapter a car is totaled, but two chapters later, characters are in that car. It needed continuity editing. All books will have errors. There are three sites dedicated to errata in Patrick O’Brian’s books. The nice thing about e-publishing is that you can upload corrections . But there are no book without errors.

MB: It depends on the small press. If the press hires outside editors, it’s a good sign they care about the book. One author hired a major press editor for his work. What was interesting was that he found out that no difference from the small press editors.

JF: Make sure you’re dealing with legitimate editors. If you don’t getting rejection letters, they’re not editing properly.

CJC: One problem is that books are getting out but no one is reading them. The only defense for a writer is to memorize the dictionary.

MB: It’s important to note that Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, etc. have their own processor.

JF: But they also have good explanation about printing out a Word document to turn out a generic book. It just formats. There’s no editing.

AQ: In the process of doing revision on a manuscript, at what stage do you go forward to publishing?

CJC: If you need to change a period, you need to change it all formats.

JF: If you take it as far as you can, then give it to the editor. Have a person you trust who will read critically and give you feedback. A good beta reader that you’re not paying. Get feedback from a raw reader to put the comments into effect. Then give to an editor for feedback.

CJC: Also educate yourself. Do you know when to place period, italics, and typesetting conventions? You can save yourself a bundle if you change your typing style. Type neat.

MB: Critique groups are useful. They give feedback.

JF: Patty Briggs uses them for years.

CJC: If you feel brutalized after a critique, maybe it’s the wrong writer’s group.

* * *

Stay tuned for Part 2 which is about writing the middle parts of a story.