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.)



Charles Gramlich said...

I think invited anthos put the editors in a position where they almost always will buy what they ask for, but I've known a number of cases where they still ask for rewrites or changes.

Angie said...

Charles -- sure, there'll probably still be edits, some more extensive than others, and a story might turn out to be unsuitable for whatever reason. [nod] One or two panelists said that they've gotten stories, even from the invited pros, that just don't work with the theme. But yeah, it's a much surer way to getgood stories than to just open up your mailbox to everyone with a word processing program. :)

The editors on the panel all agreed that you get a certain number of drop-outs, even dealing with previously published professionals. They all invited more people than they expected to need -- IIRC, experience varied between an extra third and twice as many -- because a surprisingly large number of writers will promise a story and then either deliver something you can't use, flake out, or just drop off the face of the planet.

I've heard other writers, either in person or blogging, say that someone who can write a good, usable, on-theme story very quickly might have multiple stories in a book, under various names, because of drop-outs. I imagine one can make some nice money from anthologies if one gets a reputation for writing good, usable, on-theme stories within a few days or a week. :)


Suzan Harden said...

Definitely agree with you on having some more advanced panels at a (or any) con. I hat being in the weird place of knowing too much for the 101 panels and not knowing enough to be a panelist.

You should definitely submit a proposal for a future panel! Is there soemthing you see a need for?

Angie said...

Suzan -- SF cons don't work that way. The convention invites guests, and then comes up with a list of panels they want to have and figures out whom to put on which. Sometimes they ask guests to suggest panels, and indicate whether they'd like to be on them or whether they just think it's a cool idea, but that's not universal.

The first trick is getting invited. I've worked a lot of conventions, and have heard enough programming people speak with great impatience or sarcasm about folks who are pushy about wanting to be guests (which comes with a free membership at most conventions) that I've never felt comfortable suggesting myself. :P

I'm going to be at the GayRomLit conference in New Orleans in October as a writer, but that event doesn't have any panels. [wry smile] But a woman I've known for a long time is in charge of guests for BayCon next year, and she told me at the last con that I'd get a guest invite this time, so I'll be doing some panels at BayCon in May. I'm looking forward to that very much, and I'll definitely be blogging about the experience afterward. :)


Suzan Harden said...

See? I learned something new.

I'm used to other situations where proposals are accepted by the organization committee, who then decides which ones would appeal to the most attendees. I made an assumption that others did things in a similar fashion. Bad Suzan!

Angie said...

Suzan -- it was a perfectly valid assumption if you're used to professional conferences. :) And there are times when I've thought it would've been a good thing for SF cons (or at least the one I was working at the time) to try that model, because inviting a bunch of guests and then scrambling to fit them all into programming you came up with later is a major pain in the butt. :P

The idea is that the con can attract members, in part, by advertising a huge list of guests. Then the trick is to put them into situations where paying attendees can see/hear/interact with them. Writers can do autographing sessions and readings, which are relatively easy to schedule. Artists can do demos, although that takes a bit more on the logistical side to set up. Attending artists usually have work in the Art Show, though, so attendees can appreciate them that way. Filker (SFish music) guests perform at concerts held in the evening. Editors and scientists and costumers and publishers and and famous fans and anyone else who gets roped in pretty much has to be fit onto a panel to get any exposure at all, though, and of course the writers and artists and such need to be on panels too.

It's really a nightmare, which is why I'll never work program scheduling again, but the idea is to put as many guests as possible within reach -- or at least sight and hearing -- of the attendees as possible. Seeing the guests is more important than hearing a panel on Topic X. I think that's the primary difference between SF cons and professional conferences, which I've also worked.