Tuesday, August 30, 2011

WorldCon Part 3

Another panel I went to was "Editing Anthologies." The panelists took a poll right at the beginning and discovered that about 2/3 of the audience (including me) were there because they were writers looking for insights on what editors were looking for. The other third was there because they were editing or planning to edit an anthology in the future. To that one third of the audience, the panel universally said, "Don't!" LOL!

This one pretty much went over familiar territory, except for some comments by Ellen Datlow, the only panelist who does invitation-only anthologies. The pattern I'm used to is that when an anthology reading period ends at a certain date, the editor sends firm NO responses during the period, but saves stories they'd like to use until after the deadline. Then, with a stack of good stories, they do their final selection and put together a TOC, then send "Sorry, not quite" rejections for the stories that didn't quite make it and contracts for the stories that did. This makes logical sense to me -- if you're doing a steampunk antho, you might get a really excellent story about pirate who attacks ships in his steam-powered mechanical squid, but then three weeks later get a seriously awesome story about a pirate who attacks AIRships in his flying mechanical squid. Wouldn't it have sucked to have bought the first one already? 'Cause both of those stories would really be too much steam-powered mechanical squiddage for one anthology, right? Or whatever.

Ms. Datlow buys stories as they come in, though. I was sort of o_O when she said that, although if she talks to all her invited authors about what they plan to write ahead of time, so she can head off any too-close duplication before the stories have been written then I guess I can see how that works. It was sort of startling, though -- something I didn't know about invite-only anthologies. I wonder if other editors doing anthos by invitation work the same way?

John Joseph Adams was there too -- he edited The Way of the Wizard, which I had on the antho listing for a few months. He said he did the book both ways, specifically inviting a group of writers to submit for it, and opening a handful of slots to be filled through open submission. He got about 900 slush-pile stories for the book, which... wow. [blinkblink] This is why pro-pay books are usually invite-only; there's no way the editor is going to make even a dollar an hour if they have to read through 900 slush pile submissions, especially if they only get half a dozen usable stories out of them. I knew the pro-pay anthos got a lot of submissions, but I had no idea the numbers were up that high. Unless that's an outlier -- and I don't think it is -- I'm exponentially more appreciative of the editors who do open up submissions to their pro-paying anthologies, or even books in the upper end of semipro.

One thing I learned at WorldCon this year is something about myself rather than about conventions, and that is that there are certain panels I just shouldn't go to anymore.

I went to a few panels that taught me more about myself this year than about the subject matter. I'll usually look through the program guide and mark panels on topics I'm interested in. Makes sense, right? But I've found over the last couple of years that I'm learning less and less at panels on topics I'm into, and thinking more and more about how I'd contribute to the conversation if I could. If I'm sitting there listening to what's going on, but most of the buzz in my head is about what I'd say, how I'd answer that question, how I disagree with that panelist or how this panelist here has an interesting approach but I did it differently, then I think it's safe to say I'm not getting much out of the panel.

At least I'm not one of those people in the audience who insists on actually verbalizing all these thoughts -- when someone on the panel has to tell an audience member to stuff a sock in it, however diplomatically they phrase the request, you know that's someone who shouldn't have come to hear that panel. Maybe these are panels I should be on, I don't know; it depends whether anyone else would think my running commentary was interesting. But either way, it's really not a productive use of my own time, aside from the frustration factor.

I think part of the problem is that most convention panels are at the 101 level. It's pretty rare to see Advanced Whatever in an SF con program book. Even when the general topic is something fairly technical, the presenters tend to feel like they should explain it all for the beginners anyway (which I greatly appreciate when I'm one of the beginners) and they might not get through all their planned material because they're backing and filling and answering questions. It's not like conventions could have prerequisites for panel attendance, but the (generous and inclusive) wish of the speakers to make sure everyone is following the conversation rather pins that conversation down to a beginner level. I'm not sure what can be done about this, or if anything should be. Maybe panel discussions all should be at the 101 level, and anyone interested in more can exercise their Google-fu and find advanced resources on their own?

At any rate, if I'm going to be sitting there wishing I could talk rather than actually learning anything new, I'm probably better off in another panel. I need to start asking myself, "Will I learn anything in that panel?" rather than "Am I interested in that panel topic?"

Of course, there are certain assumptions made about the audience as a whole. I went to Joan Slonczewski's panel "Microbial Madness: How I made Money off Biowarfare and other True Adventures" (which was excellent, BTW) and toward the beginning when she was explaining how microbes multiply, she said something like "One, two, four... you all get the math so I'll move on." One can generally assume that an SF fan audience does indeed get a certain level of math, at least conceptually. :)

(I highly recommend her fiction, by the way. She writes hard SF but from a biological point of view rather than the more traditional hardware/physics point of view. Great writer, with a fresh angle.)


Friday, August 26, 2011

WorldCon Part 2

Another panel I made it to was John Scalzi's "A Trip to the Creation Museum." I'd previously read Scalzi's blog post about the visit and had a great time reading it. I knew it'd be even more fun in a room full of like-minded folk, so I made sure to get there to hear it live -- I even managed to get a seat. :)

Scalzi explained in the panel how this came about. The Creation Museum (which is exactly what you think it is) was built within a reasonable distance of Scalzi's home, and someone asked if he was going to go. He explained exactly how unlikely it would ever be that he'd visit such a place, even under considerable duress. A bunch of people thought it'd be hilarious for him to go, though, so he finally made a deal -- he'd go if the people who thought it'd be hilarious raised $250, which he would donate to Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. He says on his blog:

As of 11:59 and 59 seconds (Pacific Time) last night, the "Drag Scalzi's Ass to the Creation Museum" donation drive raised $5,118.36. That's 256 times the admission price to Creation Museum, a multiple I find both amusing (from a dork point of view) and gratifying, since it means what tiny bit of income the creationists running the museum gain by having me pass through the door will be utterly swamped by the amount I'm going to send to Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Would that it worked that way for every admission to that place.

For those of you who were wondering, some statistics: The first milestone for this fundraiser, the $250 to get me to go at all, got passed within the first hour of posting the challenge. The $1000 mark got passed about 12 hours later. The $5,000 marker got passed last night sometime between 6 and 11pm, while I was out on a date with my wife, celebrating our anniversary. I'm particularly pleased about hitting the $5k mark. The least amount donated was $1; the most was $300. More than one person donated more than $250, usually with the notation "Ha! Now you HAVE to go!" Multiples and variations of $6.66 were amusingly common, although the $5 suggested amount was the amount most received.

The people at Americans United were reportedly delighted by the donation, if a bit bemused by the curiously specific amount. :)

The panel was indeed humorously awesome and I'm very glad I went. The visit report is funny too, scaled down a bit to take the solo experience into consideration. Highly recommended.

I went to another panel that I'm not going to name specifically, since I want to do a bit of constructive analysis, although I suppose anyone who gets ahold of the program book could figure out which one it was, since I have to give some detail to get my point across. :/

All right, fine, it was on world creation for writers, how to create a realistic world for your science fiction story. I've been to such panels before, and they've all gone pretty much the same way, which isn't a compliment. What tends to happen is that there are several scientist types on the panel, one or two who are into the astronomy and planet creation end of things, and one or two who are into the smaller scale geology and biology end. The logical thing to do is to start out with the creation of the star system and the planets, talking about dust clouds and star spectra and magnetic fields and galactic arms and gravity and such. You have to have all that before you can have any small scale geology, much less anything biological, so starting with the bigger picture makes sense.

The problem is that the panelists get used to the idea that the stars-and-planets people are doing all the talking at the beginning, and... they usually just keep on doing all the talking. One person in particular has been on every similar panel I've ever attended; this individual really likes to talk, to jump in, and even to interrupt. To give the person credit, they're a good speaker and know a lot about the subject and are very eager to share that knowledge, which is cool. But, as has often happened before, this person plus the other stars-and-planets person ended up doing about 85% of the talking. The biologist did about another 10-12%, and the geologist squeezed in whatever shards of speakage were left.

This isn't an ideal way to run a panel, and the moderator did nothing to get things under control.

Again, there was a lot of great info presented here, but it was frustrating to watch all the same. And judging by the look on the geologist's face through the last third or so of the panel, that person might well be thinking twice next time an invitation shows up to be on panels. Or maybe their lunch didn't agree with them. At any rate, they didn't seem to be having a great time.

I think (if anyone cares what I think) that in future it'd be better to split this panel into two. Let the stars-and-planets people have a panel all to themselves. They'll do a great job with it, and it'll end up being essentially the same panel they've given for however many years, without the bother of having to talk over and interrupt those other folks. Give the smaller-scale geologists and the biologists -- maybe add a botanist and an oceanographer to round things out -- their own panel, talking about smaller scale landforms, climates, biomes, and what sorts of life might develop under different conditions. That'd be at least as useful to SF writers as the stars-and-planets panel, and separating them out seems to be the only way to give the smaller scale planetbuilding speakers a chance to get more than five sentences in edgeways. Everyone wins.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I'm Back! WorldCon Part 1

WorldCon in Reno was a lot of fun, and one of the best run conventions I've attended. I've worked almost 50 conventions and conferences, so I can often spot problems from the front of the house. I didn't spot anything here; even the Masquerade and Hugo Ceremony both started within a few minutes of their scheduled times, which is pretty amazing. :) I got to hang with friends, went to more panels than I usually go to in half a dozen conventions, and generally had a great time.

Jim and I flew in on Tuesday, got our badges, and had the evening free to relax and check out the program schedule before things officially started on Wednesday. We stayed at the Atlantis, the main convention hotel, which is attached to the convention center with a (very very) long skyway. It was quite a hike from our room to the panels and such at the CC, but I was happy not to have to walk outside, where the temperatures were distinctly uncomfortable, especially for someone who's become acclimated to Seattle weather. Although in contrast with the heat outside, looking out the skyway windows we could see the hills above Reno, and one of them still had snow on it. O_O Wow. Reno itself is about four thousand feet up, so the top of that hill (which is probably a mountain, officially) is probably a mile up or close to it; that must be why the shaded slopes were still snowy. Still, it's an odd sight in the northern hemisphere in August, especially when one is wishing for more AC.

The first panel I attended was the most useful -- Mary Robinette Kowal, who's a puppeteer and voice actor as well as a writer, did a panel called "Giving an Effective Reading." It was opposite the Opening Ceremony, but it was a wonderful panel and I'm very glad I went. I thought I had a general idea of reading aloud -- I'd done it in school, after all, as I'm sure everyone has -- but I was still nervous about my ability to read my own work in front of an audience.

She started with story selection, looking at things like the number of characters, the way the language lends itself to interpretive reading, and making sure your selection is a complete whole, even if it's a chunk of some larger story. When she got into using the voice like an instrument, Ms. Kowal had us go through a number of exercises, demonstrating different aspects of voice, including things I'd never heard of or thought about, like the placement of your voice -- which part of your mouth resonates when you're speaking. This was very ?? when she first described it, but the results were cool.

The panel was less than an hour long so she sort of rushed through a number of topics, but she has a great collection of posts on reading aloud on her blog. Highly recommended for any writer who might want to read their work to an audience. Hint: Don't wait till the night before to click through the link. :)

That's a good wrap for now -- more next time. [wave]


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sorting Through More Submission Calls

Dear Editor,

If you want submissions from any writer who isn't a newbie him- or herself, you have to demonstrate that you know what you're doing, that you know how the business works, and that you know the customary nomenclature. Specifically, something like this:

By submitting the story to the [We'reAllNewbies] Publishing, the writer transfers all print and electronic publication rights to the [We'reAllNewbies] Publishing editorial team. If the work is not chosen for publication, at the time the author is informed of this, all rights revert to the author. If the work is chosen, the author may not republish the story in print or electronic format until one year after the date of publication of the full anthology.

you've guaranteed that I and likely many other writers will never submit anything to you, ever.

Look, the last line shows that your heart is (probably) in the right place, sort of. I'm pretty sure I know what you mean -- that if you choose Joe's story, you expect him to sign a contract granting you exclusive rights for a year, so he doesn't, say, post the story for free on his web site, making your anthology worth that little bit less to readers. I'm even willing to assume that you only mean to take English language rights, even though that's not what you're saying.

Because what you're saying is that as soon as Joe sends you his story, you own (not have an option on, but own) ALL print and electronic rights -- serial, anthology, e-book, webzine, arguably audio, everything -- immediately, in ALL languages, EVERYWHERE. Do your homework; the big kids don't play this way. Assuming this would even hold up in court, this is an outrageous rights grab that only a clueless newbie writer would submit to. And it's an outrageous rights grab that only a publisher who's a blatant predator or a clueless newbie would attempt.

I'm willing to be generous and bet you're just clueless. Making yourself look this clueless, though, when you're trying to get experienced writers to submit their work to you is a bad idea. Don't do it. Learn how things are done and what the customary practices are in this business, then ask people to trust you with their fiction and their money.

Unless of course you actually are a blatant predator and are hoping clueless newbies will fall for your trick.

[Just FYI, your antho theme looked interesting. I'm not touching it, though, nor am I linking to it.]


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Anthology Markets

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

July Stuff (and a bit of early August)

Writing: 7627 words -- 2 pts. [sigh]
Editing: 41,093 words -- 8 pts.
Submissions: 5 pts.
TOTAL: 15 pts.

Still want more writing, although what I did was all in the last two weeks, after I had enough focus to get back to it. If I could do twice that next month, I'd be pretty happy. [crossed fingers]

And I just want to note that it's pretty darned annoying to go over a WIP for like the fourth time and still be finding typos and glitches and WTF bits. [headdesk] I think they spawn on their own when I'm not looking.

Edging over into August stuff, I had my first root canal yesterday (Tuesday) and... it wasn't too bad. The doctor doing them is a root canal specialist; it's all he does, so it makes sense he'd be good at it. I spent most of the next twenty-four hours unconscious, which I did with the deep cleanings too; I'm blaming that on the drugs. Yay drugs!

My book A Hidden Magic is one of the Books of the Month over on the Goodreads M/M Romance group this month. It's basically an excuse for the group to read and discuss. You have to be a member of M/M Romance to join in, but if you're able I hope you'll come chat.

Also, today is my birthday, yay! I'm forty-eight, which is a pretty cool number -- even four times over. :D