Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Tag: Jane Fancher

Notes from MisCon 27, Part 9

(To see all my posts on MisCon, including last year’s notes, go here.)

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.

Panel title: Writing the Opposite Gender
Panel members: Carol Berg, C.J. Cherryh, Jane Fancher, J.A. Pitts
Panel description: What do you do if you’re a female writing from a male’s perspective? Or the other way around? How do you make it convincing?

CB: I’ve been asked why I write men and if it is hard. I observe men and it depends on the character in a situation. What made you decide to do it?

JAP: I’ve been raised by a single mom. There were no men in my life until I was twelve or thirteen. So I gravitate towards women.

CB: Writing what you know can be boring. The challenge of writing is to write about people who are different.

JF: Some stories dictate a male character. For abused children, the media focused on girls so I wanted to focus on males. For siblings, if they’re all the same gender, there’s more dynamics and more rivalry. It can also explore more territory and viewpoints.

CJC: Writing guys is artistically pleasing. They have physical strength. Women grow up to figure out how to solve problems. Things are often too heavy and out of reach for them because they are made for men.

CB: Part of the reason why I write men is that it fulfills our desire to do things that we couldn’t do and experience adventure. My approach was to write the point of view of a blind man. The problem is to how to make it visual to the reader. You set yourself a challenge to write a different point of view. What do you have to do to make it real when you write it?

JAP: We need more strong women characters. I look for what is the same. We don’t know everything. I go for the emotional content. Why would someone do something different?

JF: Any character has parameters. There are differences in physiological and psychological characteristics between men and women. Otherwise, there are only very few ways males and females are different.

CJC: There’s a degree of power and how they find ways around problems. A character with a job is not gender specific.

CB: They’re all individual. We have to know a lot about the character.

JF: I feel bothered that some people say that they can tell if a male or female is writing something.

CB: Are there particular difficulties in writing the opposite gender?

JAP: I know I come from white male privilege. So I have to research assumptions and check with other people. Media is geared towards white men. You need to be open-minded, try a different point of view that is not the societal driving force.

CB: There are many ways to write a strong female character without clubbing people over the head.

JAP: You don’t write male characters with breasts.

CJC: There are biological, physiological differences, though. A woman wouldn’t force a door open with her shoulders. Using her hips would be better.

CB: Is there difficulty in writing men?

CJC: In literature, men are written in such a way that they still function even when they would be dead in reality. They have the notion that they are a tank.

JF: I don’t have a problem writing them. It’s more about the situation. I’m comfortable with the male mindset. However, I don’t like writers who write males as females with penises.

CB: How do you avoid writing a man who is just a woman? You should pay attention to what they observe. What do they look at? For example, a nobleman and a farmer would not see the same thing.

JF: Conan the Barbarian would not care who your tailor is.

CB: Differences also come from what world and society you created.

JF: Environment influences character.

CJC: I dislike people always attributing deception to women. People are a constellation of social and physical attributes.

JF: And if people create a deceptive man, they also make him effeminate.

Q: In societal situations, what about age and mentors?

CB: Yes, that’s part of their upbringing.

CJC: When you write a world, understand its “geology”. How did they get there?

CB: But don’t necessarily write it on the page.

JF: Know a lot of the background stuff. It’s like peeling an onion. But I don’t plan it. I just have parameters.

Q: What about writing characters in alternate shapes? Like non-human characters?

JAP: Find the commonalities. What makes the character sympathetic to the reader? Highlight those qualities. Make all the characters distinct, with distinct needs, wants, goals, and emotions.

CB: I’ve written a character with two souls. So ask yourself the hard questions. How would that individual react? How to reconcile the body and mind? How would that feel?

CJC: I’ve had a character in a horse’s body. So what does the character see?

JF: Find a unique answer. The more you experience, the more options you have for the answer. The answers are limited to your experience.

Q: How do you separate societal stereotypes with reality?

CB: Hard work.

JF: I pick and choose.

JAP: I do the research and have the characters acknowledge those stereotypes.

Notes from MisCon 27, Part 8

(To see all my posts on MisCon, including last year’s notes, go here.)

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.

Panel title: Snarking Up Your Characters
Panel members: Carol Berg, Jim Butcher, Jane Fancher, Diana Pharaoh Francis
Panel description: Who would Malcolm Reynolds, Harry Dresden, and Tyrion Lannister be without their snark? Join us to learn what it means to be snarky, how to add snark to your characters, and how to write perfect one-liners.

Q: Should we define snark before we talk about it?

DPF: No.

JB: Snark at the core is irreverent humor and observation. It’s a deflection.

JF: The deflection is a facade between them and the world.

JB: If it’s insightful, then it’s wit.

CB: When I think of something irreverent, I think teenage boys. It indicates a deep insecurity in the character although they don’t necessarily know it. They think they’re witty, but it’s a comment on themselves.

DPF: When we tend to filter, it’s tact. Snark strips away the tact.

JF: With a touch of humor.

DPF: When you can’t say anything deep about emotional things, snarky interaction may be used. It gives you a feel that there’s something under the surface. It helps form bonds without opening up emotionally.

JF: It could be used to stop an argument.

CB: It can be used as a relief valve.

Q: In dark situations, do you use gallows humor? What is the line for too much snark?

JF: The line is different for different readers. Some think there’s too much snark and some not enough. You need balance.

CB: Any one note character can drive people crazy. You can’t define a character by snark (or any one characteristic). It’s unreal.

JB: And becomes unfun.

DPF: I’m irritated with too much snark in tense situations, like life or death situations.

JF: You have to prove that there’s more to the character than just snark.

JB: Too much snark lowers its value and undermines the drama. For example, in Jurassic Park 3, everyone becomes snarky.

Q: It seems like more male characters are snarky. Is that inherent?

JF: No.

DPF: There are lots of good female snarky characters.

JF: Some examples: Ivanova from Babylon 5, Buffy, the Bitch Queens.

DPF: With snark, there’s a fine line between mean (which makes a character unlikeable) and funny.

JF: You’re not going to please everybody. Some people never like snark.

Q: Is it a requirement to have snark in urban fantasy as compared to science fiction?

JF: I have snarky characters in my science fiction story. Buffy was the original character in urban fantasy who became popular. That set the tone.

CB: I write fantasy, but I have snarky characters to spice it up. Snark prods the serious hero.

JF: Otherwise it’s just grim.

CB: It brings humor.

DPF: I had a character who couldn’t use his hands but needed to go to the bathroom. However, everyone around him doesn’t like him. This had potential for snark and humor.

JF: It’s the embarrassment factor. Snark helps you get over it.

DPF: It helps diffuse embarrassment.

JF: Hopefully there’s at least some characters to lighten up the mood.

JB: How do you get to the point of being comfortable writing snarky characters so that the reader understands it? I practiced a lot in conversation with my son.

CB: Or pretend to be a 14-year-old girl with her boyfriend.

DPF: Comedians are a great source for snark. They give truthful observations in a snarky way. It’s painful, but you know exactly what they mean.

JF: I practiced snark with my brothers and sisters.

CB: Get inside the head of your character. Snark may come naturally with a totally different character. Practice writing the situation.

JF: I don’t consciously write it. I know the character, the set up, and the tension.

Q: There are cultural differences in what is funny and what is dry wit. Is being snarky an American thing?

JF: It’s situational. It’s a euphemism for something else. You need to set up the scene.

Q: When characters come up against authority, can they diffuse it by being snarky or does that sometimes sets off a fuse?

JF: Snarky comments will trigger something. It depends on the situation.

Q: When people react to snark, is this cultural or can you go where no man dares to go? For instance, the fool can snark to the king, but no one else can.

JF: The function of the fool in court was to tell the truth. He was the original stand up comedian. He’s part of the Jungian archetypes. If it becomes too serious, look at the balance of types of characters. You need variety.

Q: In a situation where you have a noble character, how do you create snark?

JB: How can you create snark without that character? The noble character as the target is just as important. You need someone to be the straight guy. Otherwise there’s no contrast. Never underestimate the power of the straight guy. Humor can also come from reversals.

JF: When it finally comes, have a good zinger.

JB: Or a one liner at the end.

Q: Who are your favorite snarky characters?

JB: House

JF: What he said.

CB: Same.

DPF: The characters in Firefly.

JF: Spike in Buffy.

Q: Do you use snark or wit? How do you use it to push the plot?

DPF: I don’t care as long as it works.

JF: I don’t worry about the definitions.

DPF: Wit is sharp, insightful humor. It contrasts what they’re saying with what’s happening.

JB: I go for the cheap laughs.

JF: I try to make that work.

CB: Use it if there’s a purpose to it.

DPF: Suppose there’s a truth that has to be given but the character doesn’t want to listen. Then you can deliver it in a humorous way so that they can hear it and be more willing to hear it.

Q: Different people have different lines for differentiating snark and wit.

JF: Yes, but there’s a continuum. Oscar Wilde was witty by being snarky.

JB: So, what’s everyone’s advice for writing snark?

DPF: Let it all hang out.

CB: Think of the character first and who they are.

JF: When writing dialog, let the conversation flow. Then edit brilliantly.

JB: I think beginning writers hold too much in. Don’t do it. Push things over the top. Practice doing it.

JF: And don’t be afraid.

Notes from MisCon 27, Part 1

(To see all my posts on MisCon, including last year’s notes, go here.)

I wasn’t sure whether or not I would have been able to make MisCon this year, but happily I was able to see some of the panels. And yes, I took some notes. I managed to lose my pen at the second panel I attended on Saturday (if you were sitting next to me and were irritated that I was rummaging through my bag like mad for a writing utensil, sorry!), but I was fortunate enough to bump into a friend and bum a pen from her.

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.

Panel title: Authors, Readers, and Social Media
Panel members: C.J. Cherryh, Jane Fancher, J.A. Pitts, Peter Wacks
Panel description: Let’s discuss social media. What can it do for writers? Readers? What do you expect from your favorite authors on social media? How do new writers learn the best ways to take advantage of social media? Will this trend continue or do you see something new coming along?

JAP: Publishers don’t do marketing. You have to do your own marketing.

JF: Social media has allowed me to meet some of my most supportive fans. The publishers haven’t ever done marketing for me. So you have to do anything you can. The Internet is one way.

Q: What would you prefer–a blog with a few die-hard fans or silence? Sometimes it can become a popularity contest.

JF: If you have a lot of “friends”, sales can go through the roof. It is a popularity contest so in some cases it doesn’t matter if you publish crap.

Q: I’ve posted an average review of a book and the author’s rabid fans down-voted my review to oblivion. It was an average book, so I was open to trying the author’s other books. But the fan base ran me off.

CJC: I’ve seen that operate and it’s not pretty. It also depends on the writing. A certain type of writing will attract a certain type of reader. If it becomes self-exclusive and waterproof, it will seal out any other viewpoint. I don’t like flame wars so I try to avoid politics, religion, etc.

JF: On Amazon, writers can’t post reviews.

JAP: Actually, I’ve been able to post on Amazon. Amazon doesn’t apply it consistently.

PW: If you have a hard core fan base, you should try to shape them. Have them run a Twitter or Tumblr account for you.

JAP: It’s not how many fans you have but who likes your books. You write books to garner more fans.

Q: Do you have a fan page to talk to other fans?

CJC: I have a blog, but I don’t go into the discussion to stifle them. Otherwise if I do say anything, it will become canon and it makes it harder to converse.

PW: Find friends to recruit to help you grow.

CJC: But you have to be careful who you choose. Choose someone who is polite, sensible, good-hearted, and knows what they’re doing.

Q: What’s your impression of the Amazon/Kindle issue?

CJC: I wrote a book on the care of fish and put it on Amazon because my SF base is too small. I haven’t put out my SF stuff because they change the rules all the time. For some projects it’s good. But you still need to get someone to edit your stuff.

JF: I use Amazon to sell my backlist. The worst thing that could happen is if you self-publish a book that is rife with errors. You’ll never live down that reputation if you don’t edit. And don’t rely on your own editing.

JAP: Amazon just bought Goodreads. Which means you can by stuff in people’s recommendations on Goodreads. Reviews will be bleeding from Goodreads to Amazon.

Q: With community building and interacting with the community, have you had any gaffes?

JAP: If it’s on the internet, it’s public. With Facebook, they change policies all the time so what was once private could suddenly become public. Be careful what you post. I post because people seem to like it. And it’s a powerful tool because you can reach people all over the country.

JF: I’m extremely open on my blog. It’s about honesty. My books are about honesty, so if you like me then you might like my books.

CJC: Don’t put anything down that you won’t be willing to face in court. Be kind and circumspect. I wait twenty-four hours before I decide to post anything that I’ve written when angry. But if the fans are behaving badly, you should get on them.

JF: When I was on Compuserve, I once posted a comment on an author’s message board. The fans jumped on me and the author just fanned the flames.

JAP: Some people who do social media right are John Scalzi and Cory Doctorow.

JW: I’ve managed to avoid gaffes. But some really stupid things can be pushed and you have to wonder, why?

Q: Do you ever use social media as a focus group to help you write?

Entire panel: No.

CJC: I don’t use social media for my creative process. I would rather spin my own wheels. There will be loonies out there who would say that you stole their idea.

JF: Only a very special person could help me with the creative process.

PW: Fans don’t want to see how their ideas get written.

JAP: You could open yourself up to lawsuits. It might give me ideas for further research, though.

Q (Deby Fredericks): I do a podcast instead of self-publishing. But the only way I knew people were listening was when someone sent me a response that I posted the wrong link.

JF: We just want to know that someone is reading us. Just come and say, “Hi!” We have statistics to prove that someone is visiting the site.

Q: Tell writers that you enjoy their work.

Q: If I’m the only one to comment, am I being a nuisance?

Entire panel: No.

JF: It tells me that I’m not dead yet.

Q: I think people should only comment when they have something important to say. Otherwise it would devolve into YouTube comments.

JF: You could stop them, but then there are e-mails.

JAP: I once didn’t post for five days because I was really busy. But I got a fan comment wondering if I was okay.

CJC: There are a lot of regulars who visit but don’t necessarily comment. They always check the site to touch base with “family.”

Q: Authors seem to use social media in reverse compared to businesses.

PW: There’s no model for authors to use. Businesses use the broadcaster model. Authors, however, need to interact. The trick is to be honest in your communications. I have 17,000 fans, but I feel it’s a waste. I’ve managed to sell a book without help from social media.

JAP: It’s a time sink.

JF: E-books are convenient, but now they are hard to find among everything else out there.

Q: Someone can write a really insightful blog, but I feel “eh” about it. I would rather watch interviews. Have you done video podcasts?

JW: I’ve done videocasts (not necessarily interviews). With podcasts, once you mention an author, sales spike.

JAP: I have a hater on Twitter. But whenever this person rants about my books, I get a sales spike. I’ve done interview podcasts live. There’s Between the Sheets and Skiffy and Fanty. Someone in Norway once invited me to do a blog post on craft. Someone read that blog post and it led to an invitation to a conference. If you put it out there, assume that someone will read it.

Q: What’s the most important platform?

JAP: Anything you’re comfortable with.

A Writer-centric View of SpoCon 2012, Part 2

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.

Previous post: Part 1.


(Left to right: Rosemary Jones, Fallon Jones, Kaye Thornbrugh, Jane Fancher, and C.J. Cherryh)

Here’s the panel description for “Muddle in the Middle”: You’ve got a great beginning and know how the story ends, but that middle part is tricky! See how the professionals push through the hard parts. The pros on this panel were Rosemary Jones, Fallon Jones, Kaye Thornbrugh, Jane Fancher, and C.J. Cherryh. (AQ is an audience question.)

RJ: Most of the novels I did for Wizards of the Coast came from requested themes. I had nine months to write a book for a dungeon crawl. In another book I had to revisit a fantasy city and they wanted it in six months. For the e-serieal Neverwinter where there’s adventure and every section ends with a cliffhanger, I had to write the whole thing in eight weeks.

JF: At least you had the chance to make little cliffhanger sections. In a book, you do it at the end of each chapter. Arthur Conan Doyle also wrote it all before his serials were published.

RJ: I have a muddle in the middle all the time. If I have more time, I use it to fix the middle. I’m used to writing on a tight deadline.

JF: Is it different writing for the gaming industry? There is a gaming market is difference, especially for complexities of the story.

RJ: I usually get pulled in when they’re redoing it. Have a strong ouline. A solution for muddling through is to have a map.

FJ: Even if you don’t have a map, connect the dots to the end. If you have a character, set them on the path and walk them to the end.

AQ: What if the middle of the book is comprised of battle scenes?

JF: That’s a different problem. Battle scenes are not muddle. But ask yourself, is the story about the battle or the effects before and after?

CJC: If you’re in a battle, you don’t think about it. It’s much blurrier. If you’re fighting for your life, it’s not formulated and clear. You’re not a robot. Instead you have the emotional impression of killed or be killed and getting out of there.

JF: Unless the tactics of battle are important to the story, don’t use it. I don’t work from a strict outline. I know where to end up but it’s not an assignment from point A to B. In the prequel I wrote, I knew the ending. The muddle from the middle can come from many things: wanting to explain too much or thinking that characters go certain events but the characters won’t do it. You may need to trick character earlier in the story to make them do what you want them to do. Or follow them to see if it’s a more interesting route. Everyone who writes a complex story has a muddle in the middle. Short stories can barrel through. Sometimes you need to go back to do a rolling rewrite to see where you’re going.

RJ: You have a trilogy with a middle book. How do you set up the middle book in trilogy?

CJC: I used to worry about it. In my Morgaine books, I found out that it was listed as series even though I didn’t intend to make it one. But I’m not one to turn down a presale. One thing I did was to change the environment. It’s the quick and dirty way to create a new problem. Or you could set up a solution at end of the first book which ends up as bigger problem in the second book. Recap in such a way that reader doesn’t feel lectured to. Sometimes I set up a forward to do that.

JF: The Foreigner books are written as sets of three. Do you know where it goes?

CJC: I know where it ends up but sometimes it surprises me.

AQ: I tend to repeat myself even in different setting. How do you avoid that?

CJC: That happens to all of us, so that’s why we have a beta reader. Take the best bits of each and see if you can blend it together and cut out repetitive scenes.

JF: Sometimes you may have five different intense view points. It may seem to be repeating, but it’s important for character development. Scenes need to do three different things.

CJC: There’s development point of view and world point of view.

RJ: If there’s something important that you need to set up, putting in clues and repeating them is important.

FJ: You can emphasize with different details that are constantly changing.

CJC: There’s a difference between repetition and themes. A piece of music has motifs on a theme. Music composition and writing have many things in common.

JF: It’s like John williams or Wagner. The whole idea of character development is to get deeper and deeper. There may be one level of understanding and next time something happens, there may be ramifications in a scene where you can learn more about character.

RJ: Up the emotional stakes of the scene. I tend to write in one point of view for the first draft for the journey. In the next drafts, I ask, are there other characters that wandering into story? In one story, I had a dog wandering, so I used the magician’s trick to distract reader so to expand the scene with the dog. In another scene, a character was caught by some hired goons and I fleshed them out.

FJ: You can do a lot of character development in the middle. You need a character who changes. It’s where your character is doing most growing while going from point A to point B.

CJC: Not all story structure is linear like A, B, C, D, E, F. It can be a set of nested brackets. If it’s a character driven story, you will have a huge mathematical equation with a statement inside and then various parensethesis inside that are nested. Open nested bracket and another one and let them run without closing many of them and opening more. Never end a chapter with total resolution of everything that happened.

AQ: Flowcharts and outlines tend to work well for some people and not well for others. I’ve tried envisioning encounters, various crises and how to fit them together.

JF: I have scenes that suggest themselves and no idea of the background of characters. When they suggested themselves then I wrote them. A story is jigsaw puzzle and how to fit them together. I have a general idea of where it’s heading, but I let the characters tell me about . However, in my prequel I found out why the characters did what they did in the subsequent books.

CJC: There are a hundred ways of writing and they’re all right. Methodology changes with each story. I violated own rule of writing in order for one story and wrote the big scene first and then figured out what I needed to write for it.

KT: I use outlines and bulleted lists to give myself something to work from. I need a map to keep on course. In my manuscript, I made a detailed list of the timeline. I start loose and then do detailed things which was tinkering.

CJC: I have a suggestion for people who have trouble with timelines: use old calendars. Then you know who is where and when. It’s easier to see things in that schematic.

FJ: Continuity is important, that’s why you have beta readers. Don’t limit yourself with your outline. In your writing, your characters become their own people.

RJ: During revision, you can go off the outline. You can have a character who is emotionally struck by x, so you can go back and do more with it.

JF: A lot of the expansion of the novel happens in the middle phase. It’s where the causality is taking effect. It’s how it all gets there. Look for phrases that suggest you need to expand. In a short story, everything has to point to one thing. If something points to something else, you need to excise it. In a novel, it’s different. You have a little leeway.

CJC: You can envision the whole novel and then write it, but if it becomes irrelavant to current novel, it becomes a boggy swamp.

JF: There’s no tension.

CJC: Then kick the scene out. It’s like stone soup.

RJ: In a shared world with established history, I write in the cracks. I do lots of research for graveyards, spies, fencing.

JF: It’s like writing supports researching habits.

RJ: For looser stories, go for atmospheric. I envisioned a scene where a character had glass eyes. It started in the middle and then I needed to write the beginning and end to bracket. Doodle. Let yourself be creative.

JF: My first novel was like that. CJ said to outline, put characters in a room and see what happens. The scene that I started that day became the second section in the first book. I had started in middle and realized I was explaining too much so I needed to start earlier.

CJC: Show don’t tell.

JF: Don’t be afraid to be liquid. If it’s happening too fast in the end, split it into more books. I didn’t have three books until I looked at what happened and pulled out things from previous books. Let yourself go with the flow.

FJ: Don’t stay in one way. Writing is artistic, as long it’s as developed.

RJ: If you’re stuck, don’t be afraid to chuck it in the drawer for a while. Walk away from it. Sometimes I need to tell the publisher that I need to set it aside for a couple of days. And I start reorganizing laundry shelves. Or go off write something else.

AQ: Many aspiring writers get stuck and inspiration peters out. How do you prevent that?

KT: Add ninjas. It doesn’t have to be ninjas. Erin Morgenstern, the author of The Night Circus, posted about adding ninjas. When you have loose outlines and get bored, just throw something in and do something unexpected: a new setting, new characters, or sea monsters. Keep it fresh for yourself. If you’re bored, others are bored.

CJC: If it’s boring, you have to be very clever to let castor oil go down. Sometimes it may mean you have too many characters and need to get rid of them. If you draw a map before start story and there’s a desert in the middle, move the mountains or fold the map to get rid of it.

RJ: Teleportation was invented for a reason. When someone asked me how something got into a sealed room, I said: teleportation.

FJ: You have a relationship with the book. Step back if you get angry. It can get into the writing and a reader can tell.

CJC: If you’re too nice to do something, you’re in trouble. Play with multiple viewpoints. Not everything you see or told is reliable. If you take everything as gospel, you may be in trouble. What if your perception is wrong?

AQ: How do you stay motivated to keep writing?

JF: Junk food is great for writing but you get to this.

RJ: You can step away and then fall back in love with the character.

CJC: Science fiction uses a different set of muscles. There are “what if” questions.

JF: Now there are cell phones when you had communicators in Star Trek. When I was doing rewrites, it made things simple.

FJ: Always keep learning. If your fantasy novel has fencing and you don’t know fencing, learn about fencing. Read something else and see what’s missing. If you stop learning, you won’t have anything to teach reader.

AQ: How do you balance writing with your personal life?

JF: I live with my characters. Ever since we bought the house, we didn’t know we would also start a business. So now I don’t sleep.

FJ: If you don’t learn from relationships then you don’t know what to write. Watch people in coffee bars. Watch people who watch people. See the reactions on people’s faces.

RJ: I wrote a theater column in Seattle. I interviewed creators and do non-fiction writing. I see this writing as an opportunity to explore many things. Writing non-fiction helps to keep it fresh and gives new openings. Think about pacing. Most books open with a bang and the end is also explosive. It’s in the middle that you’re most likely to lose the reader. Exciting things also need to happen in the middle. Does the pace have tension?

CJC: Is it a roller coaster or just a gentle downhill? By the time you hit 40,000 words, you have left the beginning. By 80,000-90,000, you need to think to close it. By 100,000, then in 20,000 words you need to pull everything together. Everything is proportional. People expect a certain pace. If it feels like long middle, the pacing is off.

JF: I wrote a prequel which was 200,000 words and wondered if it was a decent return. I ended up with two books instead. I rethought where the roller coaster was. It lead from one book to another, because how big is that final glide?

* * *

Stay tuned for Part 3, a panel on how to create mystery in your work.

A Writer-centric View of SpoCon 2012, Part 1

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.