Anne Bishop

Matt Vancil
Jim Kling
  • Background
    • JK: Quit day job in 1992 to go to grad school. In 1995, decide he didn’t want to complete PhD in chemistry, eventually decided to science writing internship. Then went on to do freelance, and has done it ever since.
    • MV: Screenwriter and filmmaker. Have a day job, but it’s a writing job. Got that as a result of a string of other writing. First time he’s had a consistent gig.
    • AB: Author of multiple series. Pretty much a full-time writer. Working on 18th novel, but still have a day job, two jobs a week. 
  • What is the writing life like?
    • JK: 
      • Currently have home office. Had an outside office, but stop using it. 
      • I don’t get dressed or shower until noon. Doesn’t keep regular hours.
      • Had a regular job briefly, hated the regular hours. Would rather work when he wanted to in order to be happy and healthy.
      • Deadlines dictate when he needs to get certain work done.
    • MV: 
      • Required to have bit of structure because of the company he works for.
      • To work at home, he prefers a place that quiet, cool, and calm.
      • But at work, he’s forced into an environment that loud and chaotic.
        • because of this, he’s abandoned the idea of structure, and just embraced the chaotic nature of the work.
      • On his own work, its about a routine: an outline and a quota. Because at the end of a day of work, the last thing he wants to do is write.
    • AB:
      • I like structure. I treat it as a job I have 5 days a week.
      • I don’t get dressed for the office.
      • I throw on clothes, make coffee, and as soon as my brain is engaged and start working.
      • The less time between waking and getting to the keyboard the better.
      • The less input, less sensory, the better.
      • I set a weekly word count equal to 1,500 words a day. This is what is needed to make the deadlines for the size of the novels I write.
      • I sit down from 8:30 in the morning until about 1:30.
      • At that point, it’s time to meet the day. Get cleaned up, and tend to all the other stuff. Nobody gets time in the writing slot except for the characters.
  • MV: The development is actual work too: sometimes its not just typing characters into a keyboard. It’s deep thinking about motivation before you’re ready to put words on the page.
  • AB: No matter what the process is, you have to be willing to produce the end product.
    • JK: You have to be willing to deal with the self-doubt. As a hobbyist, there’s no external pressure. If you never send off the novel, the editor doesn’t even know. But if you’re self-employed, you have to finish it and send it off, because you need it for the check, even if you’re worried that its a piece of shit.
  • AB: Know your writing style. Are you a sprinter or a marathoner? All of these are valid ways to get to the end-goal. But know what it right for you.
  • How do you deal with writing time vs. all the other things you can do?
    • MV: Ultimately it’s about holding yourself to a quota. And what helps you make that quota is an outline. Problems in Act 3 are almost always due to problems in Act 1 that weren’t resolved because there was no outline. Also, give yourself permission to suck. 
    • AB: There’s a difference between 10 minutes of minesweeper to rest your brain and an hour of minesweeper to avoid writing.
  • Q: If you get blocked somewhere in the first draft, do you ever go back and edit as a way of making some progress?
    • AB: I do what I call musings. I open up another file, and just start typing about what I think the problems might be, what the characters might be thinking about. Sometimes this is like warming up after you’ve had an injury: you have to get the muscle warmed up.
      • Give yourself an ultimatum to do the chore you hate the most or write a 100 words. I guarantee that you’d rather write 100 words than to scrub the kitchen floor.
  • Before you quit your day job, what do you need to get from your writing?
    • AB: I’ve gradually decreased my hours at my day job down to two mornings. This has been very good to be able to gradually decrease.
      • If you hope to quit your day job and pay your mortgage and feed your kids, you should be writing under contract long before you give up your day job.
      • Don’t give up the day until your fiction is earning enough to pay all of your bills for a year.
      • Ideally you need to not only pay bills, but also put aside money for emergencies, savings, etc.
      • Agents will say you should have ten books in print before you consider it…
    • MV: It’s better to have a job and work some minimal hours than to simply quit. Determine how many hours a day you need to write, and then try to find a job that will support it.
      • You have to be prepared that this is a long haul… I went to a film school and they beat into your head that you’d need to do this for at least five years before you’d be able to make money at it.
      • Embrace any job that helps you further your goals: e.g. a tech writing job that gets you access to publishers.
    • JK: It’s hard to do this and it requires some luck. But it also requires being willing to embrace a different lifestyle. If you want to drive a new car, have new clothes, eat your meals out… then don’t quit your day job.
      • There are some, but not very many.
      • Be willing to scale back the lifestyle.
      • AB: Leave lean.
    • MV: If you’re writing you are probably doing it because you love it. Be prepared that at some time it’ll feel like a job, and you’ll hate it. Remember why you started doing it.
  • Q: What’s a likely amount of money to make?
    • AB: First advances are lucky to be $5,000, except for an exceptional few. And that comes in 3 payments over about 3 years, so it’s not a lot of money. 
      • If you have 10 books in print, then royalties will start to add up, but it’s still a live lean lifestyle.
    • JK: I have a second income in the form of my wife who works.
  • How do you force yourself to get dressed and leave the house? How do you avoid feeling isolated?
    • AB: Why do I want to leave the house?
    • JK: It is isolating, and sometimes it bothers me, and sometimes it doesn’t.
      • I go out and meet with other writers every other week.
      • I get sick of being at home and go out.
      • My dogs force me to take them out.
  • Q: You’ve talked about the income, what about the expenses particular to writing?
    • AB: You need a computer, paper, electricity and time. The expense of writing is not great except that it is time.
    • MV: One cost is that you’ll have a scary credit history if you don’t have a steady income. 
    • AB: Self-employment tax: the other 7.5% you need to pay into social security.
    • MV: Keep very clear records of your sources of income. I have 8 sources of income.
    • JK: Deduct everything you can.
  • Q: How does it work between writing and film-making?
    • MV: Over the last two years, I didn’t have a day job. When I had a film, I could film it. Now I have to negotiate the time off work from a job I want to keep.

From Victim to Hero:
Joss Whedon’s characters
Scott Allie (editor in chief, Dark Horse Comics), Rhiannon Louve, Kara Helgren, Anna Snyder, Todd McCaffrey
·      Q: How do you feel about Joss’s portrayal of River, in terms of her presentation as a victim?
o   AS: These are things that are done to her, from an outside presence. She doesn’t have a choice. She had no participation in her victimization. By the end of the series, her programming is something that is not externally triggered, but she embraces and uses.
o   RL: There is being the victim of a crime vs. a victim mentality. Joss’s characters are victims of crime who do not embrace a victim mentality, but instead rise up and fight.
o   K: Ophelia (Hamlet) was used as a pawn by everybody, and essentially had no control over that. Shakespeare implied that she saw drowning as a way out. By comparison, River saw another way out.
·      Q: Joss took a lot of heat for Dollhouse. Characters were so victimized: treated as pawns and prostitutes and were traumatized.
o   AS: Echo had some free agency. She signed on the dotted line so they could do those things to her. It complicates the notion of victimized. Women who are in abusive relationships, there is a transitional periods, on their way out, they sometimes go back. They are choosing to go back into a victim. They need to own their situation.
·      Q: Was Joss glorifying victimization by making a whole cast of victims?
o   RL: I didn’t feel that way. I felt empowered by the show. He explored philosophical sexual ideas that were ahead of their time.
§  AS: Joss has been exploring prostitution throughout his shows.
§  K: Showing people freely talking about sexual themes: people are not always comfortable with this. Sex is a part of life, a basic need of human beings. Some people just felt this was an exploitation. It was calling attention to the victimization that does happen. We don’t see these things, we try not to think about them, but they are happening all the time. And that’s hard for people to swallow.
·      Q: Inarra
o   AS: They are in control of their client base, their money, they have political power. It’s clearly not victimization.
o   TM:
o   RL: It’s hard to have a character that is traditionally feminine and still powerful. And that’s what Inarra is.
o   K: She is in control. She’s a sex worker, but she’s not a victim. River is the victim – because she has things done to her that she doesn’t want. The companion guilt is very wealthy and powerful. She knows how to fight. She’s able and capable. Whereas River is victimized to such an extent that she doesn’t even know how to control herself.
·      Q: Regarding Dollhouse: even if it could be done, could it be done ethically? Is there anything that can be done without victimization if people are desperate to sign that control?
o   RL: This is what makes Adele such an interesting character. First you think she’s the villain, and then you don’t. Adele is at the center of how the LA dollhouse was run.
o   K: Adele will get shit done, if it needs to be done, but she has a caring nature to the dolls.
o   Audience: The dolls in the LA dollhouse were still treated as human beings, while the Washington dollhouse treated them only as tools.
·      Q: Where does Echo become a hero?
o   RL: She starts out as either a hero or a terrorist. She’s back into a corner, and she’s coerced. Her personality starts to carry over from personality to personality.
§  SA: Is this what makes her a hero?
o   K: When she’s in her terrorist days, she’s Caroline, not Echo. As Echo, she starts picking up pieces of other personalities she’s had programmed into her.
·      SA: Dollhouse explores identity, without answering anything. We can all make different conclusions.
·      SA: We see female characters put in a victim role. They are put through some kind of horrible sexual ringer, to rise up from the ashes. Is it exploitive? Is it emotionally honest? (talking about Tomb Raider game)
o   TM: It’s a default state for a male writer to say that if I am going to put a female character through the ringer, it’s going to be through rape. But there are other tools. There are things that can make you lose your will to live faster.
o   K: Originally the backstory was that she lost her father. Now this is being retconed. It’s a shorthand for something more complicated. And it trivialized the event.
o   RL: Bringing it back to River, there’s nothing about sexual victimization. It’s not about sex. It’s a female character, and she’s rising up from her oppressors, and it’s nothing about sex.
§  Even if you don’t go to a story about rape, it’s about being married against their will.
§  Even things that are written now, for children, have that trope.
o   K: Using either rape or forcing to marry: you’re taking free agency away from a woman.
o   RL: forcing to marry is something that is still happening in the world today.
·      Talk of playing to strength. There’s victimization, but then how do you deal with that.
·      Women are victimized by taking away their free agency (e.g. control over their body, their mind, their relationships), and that almost never happens to men.
o   It’s the shorthand for a female character.
o   A male protagonist is usually more complex.
·      SA: Choice being taken away from the protagonist is a common trope.  But that’s not always true: Ripley in Alien. Linda Hamilton in Terminator. On the other hand, you have Catniss in Hunger Games, where everyone is essentially a slave.
o   Gender is not an issue in the story of Catniss. It’s not about a young women rising above, it’s about a person rising above.
o    SA: All genre fiction is about taking support structure away from the protagonist.
o   AS: But female and male characters are treated different. You don’t see nearly as many kidnapped male characters (unless they are children). You don’t see men sexually victimized. The method of removing choice and agency is different. A wider range for male characters vs. female characters.

Kung Fu vs. Wire Fu
Are your fight scenes realistic? Do they work on the page?
Steve Perry, Kamila Miller, Dave Smeds, Blake Hutchins, Steven Barnes
Orycon 34 — 2012
·      DS: The first thing, when doing an action scene, is to get intensely into the viewpoint of my character. How is the fight seeming to them. What are the threats to them. See it from the viewpoint of the expert. In doing this, it makes it accessible, regardless of whether the reader is familiar with the combat or not.
o   I know unarmed combat, but mostly I write about armed combat. There’s some cross over in terms of what people are aware about in fighting, but the techniques are different.
·      SP: I go for wire fu. Real fighting is boring. Someone gets hit, and you don’t know what happened. You want to write for it to be entertaining.
·      KM: I try to pull in the point of view really tight. In the beginning, I tried to do it like a movie: choreographed. But for writing, what’s important is the impact on the character.
·      SB: every fight has its own story arc. Look at Sylvester Stallone: every fight is a 3-act story.
·      BH: When I write a fight scene, I start with grounding in the sense. That makes it exciting. What is the scene meant to show? It is real jeopardy, or show competence?
o   What does it feel like to feel outclassed?
o   What does it feel like to be hit?
o   What does it feel like to be tricked.
·      SB:
o   Fight scenes are like sex scenes. There’s a lot going on, but what’s important is what it reveals about a character. A character should not come out as the same person.
o   I start by asking myself who is this person at the start, and who they are at the end. Either they change, or they learn something about themselves, or they reveal something about themselves.
·      Pet peeves?
o   KM: The dude who wades through the battlefield hacking and slaying.
o   DS: Karate kid: where you take someone with almost no training, and they can beat people who have been training for years.
o   SP: Tom Cruise. A 5’8” guy can’t play Jack Reacher, who is 6’5”.
o   SB: In PG and PG-13 movies, when people are fighting other people far more capable. There should be ripping eyes and going for the groin.
·      What do you love?
o   SB: The fight scene in From Russia with Love in the train cabin.
o   SB: Peter O’Donnell wrote the best fight scenes ever.
§  He’s put people in a situation they could not possible win.
§  Then convince you they have to win.
§  Modesty Blaze books
o   You find the people who do know this stuff. You have the scenes express something: somebody’s loyalty, their tolerance for pain, the lengths they will go to.
·      Get the original episodes of the Green Hornet with Bruce Lee. He’s genuinely good. The last few seasons are the best because they bought up people he could really fight against.
·      Guilty Pleasures:
o   SP: Green Arrow on CW: the kids aren’t watching this, so they just go wild. “kill them all”
o   SB: Wild, wild west

So You Want to Be a Writer
Richard A Lovett, Amber D. Sistla, Karen Azinger, Ken Scholes
Orycon 34 — 2012
·      AS:
o   My writing time is so precious that when I drop my kid off at daycare, I don’t even leave the building: I sit down outside the door, and start writing.
·      KS:
o   The most important thing I can do is write.
o   At a book signing, I can sell maybe 3 or 4 books
o   At a con, I can sell maybe 4 books
o   So the most important thing I can do is write.
o   When a book comes out, people will read it, and they’ll publicize it.
·      RL:
o   If it’s sunny, I’m looking for things to do during the day. And then I’ll write at night.
o   C.S. Lewis always wrote in the morning, and then went for a walk in the afternoon.
o   6 hours of writing in a day is a hard drive.
§  KS:            I consider 3 to be good.
·      Q: Do you have agents? How important are they?
o   KS:
§  For my NY stuff, I have an agent. They have boilerplate contracts with all the publishing houses. I reap the benefits of what Jim Butcher has been able to get, because we have the same agent.
§  For my short stories and small press stuff, I do it myself.
§  Don’t get tangled up in writers. You have to practice your craft until you have a publisher ready material.
o   RL:
§  For my non-fiction work, I don’t have agents. Usually publishers approach me. Would they get me a better deal? Maybe. Would it be 15% better? Maybe not.
·      Q: How much time do you spend writing vs. rewriting
o   KS: Much more writing, but I’m notorious for really good first drafts, perhaps from so much time spent on short stories.
o   KA: I tend to take about nine months to write the manuscript. Then I give it to my alpha readers (about nine people). I wait to hear from them. Then I take their comments into consideration, and doing a global edit. I tighten it up, increase the tension, kick everything up a notch. “they passed the building”, goes to “they passed the thatched-roof cottage”. Then it goes to my editor, and identifies copyediting, but also, for example, asked me to focus on three chapters that needed rework.
o   AS: With novels, because they are so long, if I am a third of the way through, and I see a problem, e.g. that something needs foreshadowing, I don’t make the change then. I just make a note. Then later, I can go through and do all the notes in one pass.
·      Q: What do you like most?
o   KA:
§  Holding the book in my hand
§  Having people read it
o   KS:
§  I won an award in France last year, and this year they’re asking to fly me out there. That’s exciting.
§  Whether I get a letter from a fan or win an award, it’s feels good.
o   RL:
§  Being able to do what I like to do. I can pick the assignments I want to do. If its fun, it’s worth writing about.
·      Q: What’s your least favorite thing?
o   KS:
§  I don’t like flying.
§  I get tired of seeing the same thing over and over ahead. Like having to read galley proofs.
§  Colleagues can get snarky.
o   KA:
§  When I am doing the global edit, I get tired of working on it.
§  When I get feedback, and someone says “this doesn’t work”. Sometimes I know how to fix, and that feels good. Other times, I don’t know, and I hate that.
o   AS:
§  Rejections.
o   RL:
§  Lede panic.
·      Q: What if it’s not the right length?
o   RL: I write it to the length it needs to be, and then I edit it to the length required.
o   KA: Even more than word length, it’s got to be really good. If it is really good, they’ll help you get it to the right length.
o   RL: Don’t pad. It really sucks.
o   KS: My first novel was 130,000 words, and they bought it and wanted four more novels too.
o   KS: I start with the end in mind. I imagine a 130,000 word book, in a 3 act structure, and allocate out the word count. And I know early on whether I’m running hot or cold. It’s less wasteful than writing 200,000 words and then editing down to 130,000.
·      Q: Is there anything you wish you had known before choosing writing
o   AS: I just wish I had more time to do it. I wish I had started before I had kids.
§  Just do it now with whatever time you have.
o   RL:
§  In non-fiction, I would have learned what PAC journalism is like. It’s not fun, and I didn’t know. Publishers are sheep, and it’s really frustrating. They are trying to follow the trend. If you buck the trend, they don’t want it. If you follow the trend, it’s not the trend by the time you’re done.
o   KA:
§  Pitching. In the beginning you send your query letter out, and get a ton of rejections. Instead, go to a writing conference, and sign up for face to face pitches.
·      Write a pitch that focused on the main character, a different one that pitches the main problem, etc… Come up with five different pitches. Try them all. Watch their faces… you can tell when they are turned off. Switch to the second pitch. If necessary, the third pitch. What I found was that my fourth pitch was the most effective. I started with the fourth pitch for all of the successive pitch sessions, and I used it with my query letters.
o    KS:
§  If I did anything differently, I wouldn’t be who I am now and where I am now.
§  In the last five years, I got a five book contract, and gone full time as a writer, and lost eight members of my family, and gained two members.
§  What’s important in writing? There’s no secret handshakes, no magic bullets. You can go to cons, and you can meet people, but unless you have a novel, and a good novel, nothing else matters. Producing work doesn’t just yield you a finished work, it makes you a better writer.
·      Q: Choosing indie publishing?
o   AS: You’ve got all the jobs. Even if you farm it out to other people, you are in charge of it. There’s no money coming in during the very beginning. (as opposed to getting an advance.)
o   Annie Bellet: Don’t choose. Do both.
o   KS: I haven’t done indie publishing yet, but I will. And I’ll use my contacts from traditional publishing (editors, cover designers) to get it done.
o   RL: I did my first work, and it was a collection of pieces previously vetted through Analog. Collections don’t usually make a lot of money, so there wasn’t much risk,
o   KA: I had a five book deal with a publisher. And they were awful. But I finally escaped. I would recommend doing it yourself.

Writing with all your senses
Orycon 34
Annie Bellet, K.C. Ball, Adrian Phoenix
·      How to do it?
o   KB:
§  Pick one of the five senses that isn’t ordinarily used in writing, like taste or touch, and focus just on that sense. Do a 4-5 page writing experience.
§  Try to imagine having another sense. And write about it. Do it without referring to existing senses.
§  Flash fiction is a beautiful way to experiment with writing technique. Do a piece under 1,000 words in which I experiment with someone who only has one single, e.g. smell.
o   AB:
§  Use all five senses every two pages. Do it consciously. It takes what you as the writer see in your head, and communicates to the reader.
§  All sense is a character opinion: a chair feels differently depending on the character, e.g. too small, makes their back hurt, etc. Instead of saying the “air smells like coffee”, it could be “the irritating odor of coffee wouldn’t go away”.
·      KB: What’s wonderful about that is that it doesn’t just establish the scene, but it tells you something about the character too.
§  Making the bridge between character and sense is probably the biggest difference between being rejected and making sales.
o   AP:
§  Unique way to use sense: the taste of bile in his throat. The tang of fear.
·      Question: generic vs. specific
o   AB: You need to be specific: exactly what is the color of the sky. Has the coffee been sitting on the burner too long?
·      You have to dare, you have to go big. Don’t be timid.
·      We want to draw people in, make them feel that it is real, but at the same time, we don’t want to pull people out of the story by being too clever with words. When they are done, the reader should be saying what a great story, not what a great writer.
·      We have senses beyond the basic five:
o   E.g. we can sense gravity, which way is up.
o   We can sense where our limbs are, even when our eyes are closed.
o   We can sense infrared, e.g. you can tell where the sun is with your eyes closed.
o   You can tell compass direction by where the sun is.
·      Q: Particular writers that demonstrate this well.
o   AP: Stephen King
o   AB: Stephen King short story: old man reminiscing about being a young boy and talking about the sense of time, how a summer would stretch on forever. He didn’t use a paragraph break for three pages: he mirrored in writing what was going on.
o   KB: Stephen King is a master: he can take a very ordinary situation and turn it into a story. Tommy Knocker: he starts the chapter saying a character is going to die, then makes you fall in love, and praying he isn’t going to kill them, and then he does.
o   James Lee Burke
o   GRRM Game of Thrones
o   Sand Kings
o   With Morning Comes Mist Fall
o   Joe Hill, Stephen King’s son, is amazing when it comes to playing on senses.
·      Read writers who are widely read. Read out of your genre. Understand why people read them. Especially people with multiple books. Word of mouth and marketing may sell a first book, but it will never sell a second book unless the first is good.

Accounting for Writers and Artists
Orycon 34
(Note: Neither I nor the panelists are CPAs, lawyers, etc. Don’t consider this tax advice, etc.)

Edward Muller, John R. Gray III, John Hedtke, Richard A. Lovett
·      How does accounting impact your business?
o   JG: I hire an accountant once a year. He gives me a layout of what’s new and what I need to keep track.
§  I keep every possible receipt. I write on the back what they are for. I fill out every form with what fits into the categories, and the accountant figures out what can be used.
o   JH: Was a sole proprietor for years, doing it all myself. I tried a CPA a few times, but found I was still doing most of the work myself. It was going through all the spreadsheets and receipts. I have a big box, and I stick everything into that box. Periodically I sort it into folders.
o   RL: Does it himself. My system is receipts. I keep them, I stick down at my kitchen table. I have an old fashioned ledger paper. I do not put money into the bank or receipts into an envelope until I’ve put them into the ledger. I take the ledger sheet, and using a calculator, put it into schedule C. The one that causes me the greatest grief is mileage. I have a mileage counter in my car to keep track, the trick is to remember to do it.
o   EM: I write short science fiction, and sold it. I have a day job. My wife is a doctor. We use a CPA. Thermal print will fade, so write it down on paper.  I claim mine as hobby income. Then you have hobby expenses. A whole slew of rules on that.
o   JG: I don’t claim a whole office, because the rules are too strict. It’s too much of a nightmare.
o   RL: I claimed a home office, but it was somewhat easier to claim, because it was my sole source of income and sole place I worked.
o   JH: For a number of years I took a deduction for home office. I took a deduction for 25% of my home. A lot of money. But you don’t want to claim
·      For online expenses?
o   Put the email receipts into a folder.
o   Print the receipts.
·      Save all bank statements for at least three years in case you are audited.
·      If you have a business, you can take losses and apply it against other income.
o   You can do it 3 out of 5 years.
·      Travel for novelists for research…
o   Is the primary purpose business?
§  You can deduct as long as side trips are less than one third.
§  It’s got to be plausible.
o   It’s different for foreign travel.
o   Must document the travel purpose, the research you are going to do. More documentation is better.
·      Never volunteer anything in an audit. Find out why they are audited.
·      How do you know when you should start paying quarterly taxes?
o   They’ll tell you.
o   You are required to make estimated tax payments when you expect to pay more than $1,000.
o   If you do have to pay, then if you pay a quarter of previous year’s taxes each quarter, you are safe even if your income goes up.
·      Royalties are schedule C income, subject to social security taxes. But the IRS might try to tax you twice on this.

Theme in Writing
Panel at Orycon 34 (2012) #orycon

Richard A. Lovett, Annie Bellet, Aimee C. Amodio, Wandy N. Wagner

·      Definitions of theme
o   Avoidance in plot drift
o   Underlying philosophy
·      What are the themes in Firefly
o   Brainstorm
§  Independence
§  Family
§  Space opera
§  Aftermath of war
§  Responsibility
o   Joss Whedon says…
§  Strong women
·      What is the difference between theme and plot?
o   AA: Theme is the philosophical subtext. Plot is what actually happens.
§  Firefly: What is right and wrong (Is it OK to steal medicine?)
o   AB: From an English Major perspective: Theme is about the philosophical underpinning.
§  In GRRM’s Song of Ice and Fire, the theme is about power, and what power does to people. What happens if you lose control of it?
o   RL: Setting is a place where you can work out their themes, e.g. Fantasy is a place to work out themes of power. Setting and theme can tie together, but they are separate.
·      Can you put a theme into something without intending to?
o   AB: Yes, I don’t think about theme as I write. I discover it afterwards. And it’s possible to go back and strengthen those themes.
·      How do you find your theme?
o   WW: When I’m about halfway through my first draft, I find myself asking ‘What’s really important?’ With one book, it was about relationship with nature. As I recognized theme, I used it going forward and went back and played it up.
o   AA: Usually not until I’ve put some distance between myself and the writing. While I am writing, I am too into the story part.
o   RL: I usually don’t know until I’m two thirds or more of the way through.
·      You’ve found a theme (e.g. responsibility), how do you use that information to improve your story?
o   AA: It’s got to end with it, and it’s got to telegraph it in the beginning.
o   WW: there’s a pattern with jokes: tell, tell, spin. It’s similar with theme: you must not overdo it. It should be just enough.
o   AB: If you’re too focused on theme, then you may not focus enough on the story. Also, none of my first readers read for theme, which makes it challenging to find issues with theme.
o   RL: Overdoing it is worse than underdoing it.
·      How many questions are too many themes?
o   AB: It depends on your work.
§  If you’re writing a 5,000 word short story, it should be very few.
§  Also, no more themes than you have points of view.
§  If you a 150,000 word novel, you can go big.
o   AA: Everything doesn’t have to be the main theme. Thinking back to Firefly, it doesn’t always have to be survival. It can also be family.
o   RL: If I could write a novel, I’d write it in first-person. I’d probably have more than one theme. But clutter is really dangerous. Beginning writers either clutter, or they beat it over the head, or they ignore it.
·      What is the difference between theme and moral?
o   Fables have a moral, but is that the same as a theme?
o   RL: It’s like philosophical discussion vs. philosophical conclusions.
o   GMMR explores what power does, but by the consequences he assigned to characters, he’s also making conclusions.
·      WW: A theme is what is inside a story and is shedding a light on an aspect of the human condition. 

First Novel: Paths To The Editor Desk
Bruce Taylor
Mary Hobson
Christina York
Gail Carriger
  • Gail Carriger
    • got picked up out of the slushpile
    • had an offer on hand
    • scrambled to find an agent
    • of two agents, got handed off to assistant in one case… went with the other.
    • of the other agent, she had many authors querying her with offers in hand and still turned some of them down
    • had choice of two publishing houses – one was big established house, one was small, but aggressive, social media savvy – ended up going with smaller publishing house
  • Christina York
    • Approached asked to do some erotic adventure… wrote it and sold it. very unusual.
    • since then, sold eight books, but none by regular submissions path.
    • Some books were work for hire: you don’t own the copyright, etc. This is true especially of tie-ins, e.g. star wars, star trek, etc.
    • Work for hire: some was flat fee, some was advance + royalties
    • Some under her name, some under other names.
    • Hot Waters: spies and sex story, written under pseudonym. Got reversion of rights, even though it was done as work for hire.
  • Bruce Taylor
    • first work
      • first thing he sold was a novella in 1992
      • sections of it sold, sections of it on his website
      • in 2000, then was discovered and sold it.
    • second work sold was written in 1980s… 
      • 25 years later he finally sold it.
      • as a result of a conversation at a con.
  • Mary Hobson
    • rather traditional route
    • wrote the book, then shopped it around to agents
    • ended up with ginger robins
    • went through several edits for ginger before ginger agreed to represent it
    • interested an editor at random house. editor got laid off, then transitioned to another editor who was about to leave on maternity. so there were many delays, but it was eventually published.
    • Q: it is common for an agent to take on an editors role?
      • Mary: it can be with some – they want to make the book sellable.
      • Gail: A YA pitch… agent wanted to see half the book. Agent asked to see 20% cut out. Because of the tone, asked for it to be dropped to middle-grade. Now the editor who has seen it wants 20% more and for it to be young-adult.
    • Q: How long did it take?
      • Mary: Finished book in 2002, started shopping it around. Did 2 or 3 rounds of edits before Ginger would take her on. They went on for 2 years before she took her on as a client. You send an edit to the agent, they take 6 months to get back to you, then you take 4 months to get the edit back to them.
      • Christina: New writers have ceded authority to agents. Sometimes authors have to just believe in their work. Agents are not always the expert. Lots of examples of agents asking for stuff, and then editors ask for the reverse. Or agents asking for edits, then not representing work.
  • Your first novel…
    • it shouldn’t be your only novel
    • it shouldn’t be consuming all your time
  • Q: As a starting novelist, do you should agents or publishers first?
    • Christina: who’s going to write you the check?
    • Gail: 
      • Go to preditors and editors first.
      • Agent
        • You can send out as many agent queries as you like.
        • On Mondays, she sends out 3 queries every Monday
        • Just keeping going with the agents
      • Publishers
        • It helps to meet editors at conventions
          • “Have you bought anything recently you’re excited about?”
          • If editors or agents or at a convention, they are clearly looking, as it takes time and energy.
        • Mary: Since there are so few publishers take unsolicited manuscripts, really invest in finding an agent.
        • Gail: look for a junior editor or assistant agent: because they are trying to make their career, they are out looking for stuff, they will champion for you.
    • Bruce: Do lots of research.
  • Mary: What about publishing online as a path to the editor’s desk?
    • Christina: I don’t look as it as a path to the editor’s desk, I see it as a path to the reader. My back book are now going online. It has worked for other people. For me, with my particular career, electronic publishing is a piece of the whole.
    • Gail: There is copyright stuff that goes on the moment you put your work online. Publishing houses want the first rights. So if you’ve given that up, you’d better be coming to the publisher with 60,000 readers.
      • Also, don’t put anything up unless you are having at least 5 people edit what you right. Because the first thing an editor does is Google you, and if they find your blog or personal site, and if what they find is less than great, than you really don’t want them to find it. Whatever you put up there better be stellar. And if all you’ve gotten is rejections, then probably it’s not stellar.
      • Resist it for a couple of years at least. Write at least several full length books. If those first works still look great, then maybe consider it. 
  • Novel length
    • Minimum length for a pro book is 70,000 words.
    • Get feedback from a group, there’s got to be more story to tell
    • Maybe there’s another point of view
    • Some smaller presses might consider it.
    • But you’ll never get a new york publisher to look at a 40k, 50k novel.
    • But you’ve got to be under 120,000 thousand, because they won’t look at a first novel.
    • 80,000 is the average for first novel.
  • Self-publishing…
    • No way, don’t do it.
    • It’s fine to do with your backlist once you have a name. but it’s very hard to rise above the noise.
    • But the royalties work out really well when you are already driving traffic.
  • Sometimes it is all timing…
    • Ken Scholes came in with a proposal for epic fantasy just as Robert Jordan died, and Tor had a hole in their publishing schedule. Ken Scholes is an excellent writer, and they had a strong need for epic fantasy, and it was a perfect match.
    • Don’t try to write to trends, because the trend now is not what will be trending in five years. Just write what you’re passionate about.

But I Thought It Was Perfect!
The pain and pleasure of giving and receiving critique
John C. Bunnell
Dave Smeds
Diana Rodgers
  • the distinctions between critiquing, reviewing, and editing a manuscript
    • reviews are written for readers: saying what’s good or bad about a given work
    • critiquing is saying how a novel could be better
    • one is a practical concern for a reader vs one is for a writer
  • there’s a difference between an editor and a peer critiquing a novel
    • be clear about who you are asking for a critique from, and what you are expecting back
  • in some groups, the critiquer is considered in be on the outside, and their role is not to suggest improvements or fixes, but to merely observe what works and and doesn’t work.
  • At what point is a work ready to be critiqued?
    • The sooner the better. 
      • after a certain point, an author has an investment in what he’s written. 
      • as it nears the end, making substantial edits requires uprooting so much that you lose good and bad.
      • the later it happens, the less potential for effect it can have.
  • Critiquing a short story or even a novella is relatively easy. Critiquing a novel is more challenging. You might get a chapter at a time over a long period of time, or you might get a big chunk: a quarter or a third of the book. Neither method worked all the time for all works. 
    • group size can have an effect as well: with a bigger group, it’s harder to critique a bigger work. sometimes you want to pick out a few people that would serve you well.
    • short stories are kind of the ideal for writer’s workshop.
      • you can get global feedback and use it: “i think the theme should be this, or I think this story should be about…”
    • for longer works, it’s harder to get and use global feedback.
  • Sometimes you look for particular kinds of feedback:
    • does this character behave in accordance with their motivations?
    • do i need to know if this is good? or do i need to know what’s wrong?
    • do i need copyediting help, or plot help?
    • the better you can articulate what you need, the better feedback you will get.
  • On the one hand you want the most relevant feedback, e.g. the hard science fiction writer will have weight than the fantasy writer when you’re writing science fiction. On the other hand, you can get some very useful feedback from beginning writers, which you might try to discount their feedback because they aren’t published. but frequently they have really good feedback, and they are really invested in the process.
  • Oral vs written
    • You get different kinds of feedback for each. Oral works for some issues, and written works better for others.
    • Techniques for oral: 
      • have written manuscript, so people can write critiques as the author is reading. 
      • have others read the dialogue, so the author can write notes

Although my day job is currently web strategy and analytics, I’ve recently finished my first science fiction novel. I’m at my first Orycon, a Portland, Oregon science fiction convention.
I just finished the Evolution of a Writing Career workshop led by authors Ken Scholes and J.A. Pitts.

Here are my notes:

  • J.A. Pitts:
    • started writing when he was 13
    • writing short stories forever
      • “wow, that’s a great first chapter of a novel”
      • “you can’t have 9 plot lines in a short story”
    • started writing seriously in college. studied english. had to spend 10 years unlearning everything he studied.
    • got discouraged frequently: had to learn to get touch skin. if you aren’t getting rejections, you aren’t working hard enough.
    • if you want to be a professional writer, you write. that’s it. it’s a job. it’s not a hobby.
      • most people don’t think of their writing that way, and that’s a mistake.
      • if you want to make a living at it, you’ve got to treat it like a real job.
  • Ken
    • started telling stories when he was really young. 
    • started submitting stories when he was 14 years old.
    • came back to it, dabbling a little in 1996.
    • didn’t know there was writers groups, conventions, etc.
    • decided he didn’t like writers groups. they don’t work for him.
    • if you are wanting major distribution, then you generally want a publisher. even the exceptions (like eragon, which was self published)…in fact have traditional publishing working for them: both of his parents were editors, and were best friends of professional editors and publishers.
  • Beginner friendly markets
    • Use and
      • have both short story and novel markets
      • use (cost $20/month): has an email that comes out each week, and publishers and agents usually post their sales there. so if you want to see who is publishing and buying what, you can see it.
    • Never undersell yourself. Always start at the top. Always go down the list. If you start at the bottom, you will get sales faster, but you won’t get the reach.
    • There’s no such thing, because no market is really friendly.
    • “the smaller the market, the more egotistical the editor is.” – they want more edits, for almost no money.
    • Don’t stop: keep going through all the markets. You can get 30 rejections, just keep going.
  • e-publishing markets are OK if they pay you. 
    • orson scott card has an electronic distribution.
    • pays 25 cents a word.
  • Self-publishing
    • Avoid self-publishing at all costs.
    • you’ll get negative rejection from a lot of people in the business if you’re self published, and you’ll have to overcome that.
    • on the other hand, for established writers… when their old books are not reprinted by the publisher, then the rights revert to the author. they can resell to another publishers, or they can self-publish, which some writers are now doing.
    • maybe only if you’d already tried every market and no one accepted it, or if its older stuff that no one wants.
    • The other thing that happens is that if you finally sell your 3rd or 4th novel, they might say “do you have anything else i can buy?” at which point, having a bunch of previous, unsold manuscripts is a great resource.
    • If you are putting out a novel a year, then you have a good pipeline, 
  • Rights:
    • science-fiction/fantasy writers of america: professional organization. will help you if you are concerned about contract violations. 
    • Read everything carefully – don’t sell all world rights for a fixed price. “first world english”, whether you can resell it, etc. you always want to have to right to resell if possible, in case you get picked up by something else, something new.
  • What to do when the offer happens
    • dance
    • ken: by the time you are getting an offer from a new york publisher, you probably have an agent, and they will help advise you.
    • john: didn’t have an agent, got a call from an editor, and when he did, the editor asked “do you have an agent?” the answer was: “i’m close, let me get back to you.”  then scrambled to get an agent.
    • you don’t have to start with an agent, but you have to get an agent or a literary lawyer. the contracts run from 16 to 30 pages. you want someone who can really interpret that for you.
    • the agent gets 15% of your book deal forever. so they have a vested interested in getting you a good deal.
  • Finishing vs starting something new vs. continually revising
    • Your old material will never be as good as your new material. You will keep getting better and better. You can’t just relayer new stuff on top of old. Write it and finish it. Get it as good as you can. Then go out and market it. Don’t touch it again until you get a request from an editor to make a change.
    • Submit everything. Don’t worry that it’s not publishable. The longer you practice submitting stories to markets, the better you will get at it.
    • Editors don’t remember the bad stories. They remember you, and they remember that you are a consistent writers. Editors talk to each other. They root for you as writers. The more you submit, the more consistently, to more markets, the better and better chance you get.
  • Resubmitting…
    • if the editor asks you to make changes or suggests changes, then do resubmit.
    • if the editor for a market changes, then do resubmit.
    • if you did some rewrites for another market, you could do a query first.
    • It’s all about relationships and etiquette: you want them to have a good vibe about you.
  • Rewriting on request:
    • If you want to sell, do it.
    • They would love for you to be a best-seller. They are trying to make it be a better book.
  • Identity and Branding
    • Go get your domain name for your name.
    • One for your book, one for yourself, have a blog, have a twitter. 
    • Publishers have a limited amount of capital. The bigger folks gets more marketing dollars.
    • So decide… how important is it?
    • The first thing a publisher is going to do is google you.
    • Don’t let it interfere with writing time, but do treat it like a business. Schedule time to do a blog post a week.
  • read christopher moore: extremely funny writer, writes about vampires and horror, but marketed as mainstream.
  • World building (in fantasy novels)
    • You want it to be as smooth as possible.
    • If it’s rice, call it rice. If it looks like a horse, call it a horse.
  • 55K novel length
    • That’s fine for YA, which comes in around 60K, but it’s not enough for big world thrillers. But, there are some markets that might take it. Submit it, get feedback from editors and agents.
  • favorite books on writing
    • natalie goldberg… writing by the bones
    • ben bova, orson scott card… both have books
    • but best thing you can do it just read, read, read.
    • any book that sings to you is a good book to learn from.
    • zen and the art of writing by ray bradbury.
  • cover letters… they don’t need a love letter. only what your story is, and what relevance you experience have.
    • use a personal touch, especially if you run into an editor at a conference.
    • nice people are remembered better than people who aren’t.