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BayCon - San Francisco Bay Area science fiction & fantasy convention

I have two panels at BayCon this year, which will be held from May 27-30 at the San Mateo Marriott San Francisco Airport (this is a change of hotel from the previous years).

BayCon Guests of Honor

Writer Guest of Honor: David Gerrold

Artist Guest of Honor: Chris Butler, F.R.A.S

Fan Guest of Honor: Anastasia Hunter

Toastmasters: Library Bards

BayCon Charity

BayCon’s charity this year is SETI Institute.

My BayCon Schedule

I’m on two panels, one on Saturday and one on Sunday.

The good, The Bad, And The WTF of Cover Art
Saturday, May 28 2:30 pm, Connect 1
Forget judging the book by its cover, sometimes you can’t even identify it. Our panelists discuss highs and lows and just plain weird in the world of cover art.

WordPress
Sunday, May 29 11:30 am, Connect 1
Methods for making the most creative and effective use of WordPress.

Programming Schedule

The full programming schedule is available here.

Originally published at deirdre.net. You can comment here or there.

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BayCon—san francisco bay area science fiction & fantasy convention

I may make it to BayCon tomorrow, but I might not, so I thought I’d go over some of the panels I was on while everything was still fresh.

Friday’s Panels

Writing Handicapped Characters

There was a lot of great discussion about various handicaps though, with the panelists in question, we had more discussion of physical handicaps than mental issues.

From the audience, Sunil Patel mentioned several interesting anthologies. He also said that Kaleidoscope, a diverse anthology, was one of his favorites from last year. (I have a copy, I haven’t read it yet.)

A book I mentioned was Sarina Bowen’s The Year We Fell Down, a romance novel featuring two handicapped characters: one for the year, one for good.

She expected to start Harkness College as a varsity ice hockey player. But a serious accident means that Corey Callahan will start school in a wheelchair instead.

Across the hall, in the other handicapped-accessible dorm room, lives the too-delicious-to-be real Adam Hartley, another would-be hockey star with his leg broken in two places. He’s way out of Corey’s league.

Also, he’s taken.

What worked for me about this book is that Corey deals with her situation: it’s her new normal, and the book does not “cure” her. When things are difficult for her, she figures it out.

Invertebrates are Cool

We had some great panelists for this, including someone who had a background in parasitology and another with a background in marine biology. We tended toward discussing cephalopods because, let’s face it, they’re cool.

Cliff Winnig managed to make me completely lose it in a fit of laughter twice, which was awesome fun. He’s earned his title of “Invetebrate punster.”

I’d meant to bring my copy of Cephalopod Behavior, but forgot to. Probably just as well because it appears to be out of print and now selling for insane amounts of money, and I would miss it if it were to disappear like an octopus.

Saturday’s Panels

Book Covers that Sell Books

If I hadn’t just wiped my iPad, I’d have had a before and after of a cover I redid with me. Here’s the after cover. It uses a free photo, and a couple of other layers. Because this was a print book, I also did a back cover using another free photo.

The panel focused on books that would be print books, but many book covers these days are for things that will never be in printed form, e.g., short stories. For these, you really do need to both communicate genre and not lose your shirt $-wise in the process, and there’s simply no way you can afford to spend hundreds of dollars on a cover for that kind of work.

For A Sword Called Rhonda, I went the same route panelist AE Marling mentioned and found an artist on DeviantArt. A render will almost always sell less well than a high-quality illustration or a photograph, but it’s still an option—and, in most genres, it’ll typically still sell better than something with no person on the cover. I also thought this particular rendering fit the image I had of the character almost perfectly. The artist wanted to do the typography too, which—you get the deal you can, right? So the type is one weight lighter than I’d have used/preferred, but it works fine in a thumbnail.

For The Duchess’s Dress, I knew this would never be a huge seller, so I cobbled together a cover from bits I had and spent $0 on the cover. As Joel Friedlander said, “The elements are right, but they add up to a very weak ebook cover.” Which is fair. The formal symmetry takes away from the energy it might have had. On the other hand, it’s sold some copies (and I’ve made a profit), so that’s a win. It does more or less what it needs to do.

So here are some resources mentioned:

  1. AE Marling and I both referred to Deviant Art, which is a great place to find someone to do cover art for you (or adapt an existing work into a cover). I will say that one of the key problems in finding suitable art: most art isn’t structured well for a cover. It needs to have more headroom so the title can go above, or, alternatively, a less complex middle. You can also put the title at the bottom, but that’s often less effective. Regardless, a piece that’s designed to stand alone is often not going to be suitable for having a big blob o’ text over it.
  2. I referred to Deposit Photos, my preferred stock photo vendor. When I say “photo,” though, they don’t just sell photos. There are also some superb illustrations and renderings. (The problem is finding them.) If you are going to do a lot of covers, then having a plan is a great idea, and sometimes you can find discount plans available.

  3. Tony Todaro talked about using 99 Designs for book covers, and I talked a bit about the other side of the coin: designing covers for 99 Designs clients. More about that in this contest where I was a runner up. For 99 Designs, see also this post and comments and this post, especially the comments.

  4. Lousy Book Covers. Much as I like this site and its hate for bad book covers, I don’t think it’s actually particularly useful for someone who wants to make something better than what they have. With just a little bit more knowledge and/or care, many bad covers could be made to actually work. I’ve been meaning to get a more constructive site started, but the last few weeks have been horrible.

And here are some not mentioned:

  1. A lot of the lower-to-middle-end cover designers have pre-made covers. If that fits your taste/budget/design sense, then by all means consider them. Here are two: Patty Jensen, who does a lot of renderings; and Adrijus G., who specializes in action and adventure.
  2. Joel Friedlander has a monthly contest for people to submit their indie designed covers. Here’s last month’s. (I love the use of Borges Lettering’s Desire on Damon Za’s cover for Genevieve McKay’s The Opposite of Living).) Highly recommend reading this post series for a master class in book cover design. Even if you’re not a designer, it’ll help you commission better work. It’s also a great way to find indie cover designers.

The Hugo tug-of-war: Diversity of opinion among Worldcon voters

This panel went really well, and I’m glad that Kate Secor had some details that I hadn’t researched. Also thanks to James Stanley Daugherty for moderating and Amy Sterling Casil for her contributions.

My general feelings:

  1. Excluding the arguments about politics, there are other underlying points: certain houses are nominated—and not just for Hugo awards—more frequently, and certain popular authors are never nominated. I’ve looked at what I have been reading and realized that, over the last few years, I’ve been reading fewer books from Daw, Del Rey, and Baen. My personal commitment going forward is to read at least one first author per quarter from each major SF house, and two other books per quarter (all of the above from the current year’s catalog).
    Not everything popular is good enough, so I don’t think that it’s ever going to be the case that the most popular writers get nominated with any consistency. You’re far more likely to see a breakout book on the ballot.
  2. The more that is done at this year’s meeting to “fix” things, it will become an outrage escalator, and I believe that would be counterproductive long term. While I think the 4 of 6 proposal (and a couple of others) have merit, what I’d actually like to see is more people nominating. Specifically, more people who realize you can’t read the entire field, so nominate what you have read and what you think is worthy.

Nothing that “fixes” nominations will change the fact that there are far fewer nominators than members, and far fewer nominators than voters.

Categorizing Your Books: YA versus NA

First: I want to fangirl about being on a panel with Amber Benson. She’s marvelous.

NA, or New Adult, is a relatively recent category focusing on stories about people in the 18-25 age group. It is my catnip.

In addition to the target age group, I think one of the things New Adult appeals to are those people whose lives have had upheavals and suddenly they can start over. I was 37 and had been married five months when I found myself suddenly widowed. Over the next couple of years, I found that I didn’t relate to people who were my own age group. At that point, I could have gone anywhere, done anything, and had few constraints upon my life.

I found that who I most related to in that time were people who were 19 or 20, because I was having problems typical of that age group even though I wasn’t that age.

Probably because of that, I’ve never stopped bonding with fiction about the college era in people’s lives, when people leave the nest, go off and make some big mistakes (or fail to make big mistakes and regret not trying).

One book I mentioned is one of my favorites so far this year, Sarina Bowen’s The Shameless Hour. Somewhat spoilery discussion follows: Bella’s had a very hookup oriented shameless sex life, but she stays too long at a frat party and gets rufied. Thankfully, she doesn’t get raped, but the humiliation stunt and the infamy that follows really haunts her. This is a kind of book that really is NA and can’t be YA.

That said, I’m not convinced NA is as useful a marketing category in science fiction and fantasy as it is in other genres. I also made the point that a lot of NA heroes (and occasionally heroines) have far more real kinds of jobs than many other segments of the romance genre, though I will admit that a lot more of them are artistic or sporty.

Themed Reading: Erotic SF/F/H

Initially, I was signed up to be on the Death panel at the same time. Just three days before the panel, I realized that had changed, and I needed to scramble and figure out what to read. One scene from a book I’m writing (New Adult SF) I wasn’t yet happy with (and a lot of my sex scenes aren’t in speculative fiction genres). I haven’t been writing on this book over the last few weeks because it has been dark and I have been trying to keep it from going darker.

The other was a short humor draft with a bad pun ending, and that’s what I wound up reading. (Always read your first drafts in public, especially erotica. It’s humbling.)

It turns out that I went last, and after a really dark fantasy piece, so the comic relief was well-timed.

Afterward

I haven’t talked about why I was dragging myself around on Saturday, but I wound up having some acid reflux late Friday night, and given GERD being related to of my mom’s cascade failure, that led to some understandable nightmares last night.

I got about two hours of sleep all told.

So, I was really dragging and was trying to make a call between taking a nap before the 8:30 A Shot Rang Out and going home.

When I found out that no one had been collecting the silly lines we’re supposed to end our turns with, Rick and I both realized that neither of us had the spoons to take care of that ourselves. (I could possibly have done the panel if I could get three solid hours of sleep, but not if I had to get less.) So I went home and immediately went to bed at 5:30 in the afternoon. My last thought was, “I should email Berry,” aka the other panelist, but I didn’t even manage to reach for my iPad before I fell asleep. I was just that tired.

Anyhow, I’m sorry I missed what’s almost always my favorite event at BayCon, and doubly sorry I had to miss the 12:30 am “Eye of Argon” reading that’s such a tradition. In fact, I didn’t wake up until well after that reading started.

Originally published at deirdre.net. You can comment here or there.

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BayCon—san francisco bay area science fiction & fantasy convention

BayCon’s coming up this weekend, Friday through Sunday in Santa Clara, California. This year’s theme is Women of Wonder…and the people who love and appreciate them.

Normally BayCon is four days; this year it’s three due to a hotel snafu. The con starts earlier on Friday (10 am) than usual and runs late on Sunday, with the final formal event being Seanan McGuire’s concert at 8:15 pm.

BayCon Guests of Honor

Seanan McGuire, writer guest of honor

Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, artist guest of honor

Amber Benson, toastmaster

Caradwen “Sabre” Braskat-Arellanes, fan guest of honor

The Winner Twins, young adult special guests

My Friday Panels

Handicapped Characters (Alameda at 1:30 PM)

There’s a lot more ‘there’ there than the wheelchair! How do you do it right? How do you find out what life is like for someone with a particular problem? How do you handle the messy bits otherwise known as reality without turning the reader off? How do you show what other kinds of courage might be needed by a handicapped hero or heroine?

Invertebrates are Cool on Friday at 4:30 PM in Ballroom A

Jellyfishes. Octopuses. Cephalopods. Invertebrates can be unexpectedly beautiful, surprisingly smart, or just weirdly intriguing. Find out why these panelists think that they are just plain cool.

I may also put in a good word for nudibranchs.

My Saturday Panels

Book Covers That Sell Books (Bayshore at 10:00 AM)

When you’re browsing at a bookstore, why do you pick up a particular book? When you’re on Amazon, do some suggested books seem to jump out at you more than others? The saying goes “you can’t judge a book by its cover,” but when it comes to impulse buying, that’s exactly what people do. With self-publishing becoming more common, writers need to know more about an area they previously left in the publisher’s hands. How does one make a cover that will stand out when it’s shelved alongside other books? How can one tell if a thumbnail version of the cover will look good on Amazon? Do shoppers judge the quality of the book by the quality of its cover design? The panelists discuss the design elements of a good book cover, and where to go to for help in designing one that will sell.

The Hugo tug-of-war: Diversity of opinion among Worldcon voters (Camino Real at 11:30 AM)

This year’s Hugo nominations certainly have fandom talking. Is this just another periodic “all fandom is plunged into war” outbreak, or are there serious systemic issues to address?

Categorizing Your Books: YA versus NA on Saturday at 1:00 PM in Alameda

The Young Adult Library Services Association of the American Library Association defines a young adult (YA) as someone between the ages of 12 and 18. Authors and readers of YA novels traditionally defined the genre as literature written for ages ranging from 16 up to 25, while Teen Fiction is for the ages of 10 to 15. In 2009, a new category entered the mix: New Adult (or “NA”) for literature with protagonists with ages ranging from 18 to 25. Is NA here to stay? If it is, where does that leave YA and Teen Fiction?

I’m a huge fan of the New Adult genre, though it does have some pitfalls.

Themed Reading: Erotic SF/F/H on Saturday at 4:00 PM in Alameda

Hear authors read from stories that blend erotica with speculative fiction. For ages 18 and above only, please.

What it says on the tin.

A Shot Rang Out on Saturday at 8:30 PM in Alameda

…and bounced down the hallway, through the door, and out of the world. Come see hilarious, impromptu storytelling. Back as always by popular demand.

If the masquerade/variety show starts on time, then this is likely to start after the variety show ends.

(Note: I was originally also on one Sunday panel, but, given recent events, said I wanted to be taken off as I wasn’t feeling it.)

Hope to see you there.

If you’re going, what are you looking forward to? Full schedule can be found here.

My Next Convention

After BayCon, the next convention Rick and I will be attending is Westercon 68 in San Diego, California, July 2-5. I’ll be volunteering as site selection administrator for the 2017 Westercon.

Originally published at deirdre.net. You can comment here or there.

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There was a time when I was so starved for any writing advice, I’d take whatever crap would fall in. Granted, I was a Scientologist at the time, so you could say I was particularly primed for not only sources of bad advice, but also the unquestioned acceptance of same.

Over the years, I found that my brain became so constrained by all the bullshit I’d accepted that I found it impossible to write at all. I was bound by the red tape.

If You Want to Sell a Novel, Sell Short Stories First

Look, having any kind of respectable publishing credits helps. No question.

But not all novelists can write short. Even if they can write short, they may be nowhere near as good a short story writer as they are a novelist.

So here’s my revised answer to that: Write short stories because you want to. Submit them because you want to.

If they don’t speak to you, there are plenty of other, better ways to spend that time.

You’re Never Going to Make a Lot of Money as a Short Story Writer

I heard this last weekend. Verbatim.

Do I believe it’s true? No, I do not. Edward D. Hoch made a living as a short story writer.

Do I believe the odds are against you?

Sure, if you insist on thinking of it in terms of odds, which I don’t think is helpful.

Rather, I prefer to think of it this way: if you want to make a lot of money as a short story writer, you’d likely need to have a large number of relatively uncomplicated (in the sense that it’s a “short story” idea rather than a “novel” idea) ideas that you can write and polish to professional levels.

I know me: I have a smaller number of ideas but they’re more complex, and thus I’m a novella or novel kind of writer.

There’s also the issue that how much you make from short fiction depends on what venues are available for you to sell it, including film and television. Excluding self publishing at the moment, I’d argue that novella length has new life in the digital first markets.

Case in point:

We both have short stories and novellas, which frequently don’t make it into print except in collections or magazines. Those collections and magazines tend to pay token amounts if at all — contributor’s copies are common — whereas I’ve made over $8,000 from a novella published in 2011. Aleks and I co-wrote a short story that was released last year and has made each of us just under $2,000.

(Quoted from here.)

I’d say that most people would think $8,000 was “a lot of money.” Somewhat fewer would consider $4,000 ($2,000 x 2 writers) “a lot of money.”

But $10,000? For two pieces of short fiction? That’s a lot of money.

Ahh, but she writes male/male romance, you say.

I say that’s not the point. The point is that this construction, “You’re never going to make a lot of money as a short story writer,” assumes things one cannot possibly know about me and my future. It’s a prediction that my future will suck because someone else’s past (e.g., the speaker’s) has sucked.

Besides, Clive Barker did pretty well with this one novella. There are other examples, too.

Rather, it’s more helpful to know what kind of writer you are and whether or not that road would be easier or harder for you. If you’ve got a background writing short non-fiction, then writing short fiction may be easier for you.

Just because it’s a hard road isn’t a reason not to do it. A hard road is still a path, just a difficult one.

There are plenty of kinds of writing, if writing is what you want to do. If it’s not, there are plenty of things to do in almost any field. I really wish I’d understood this early on, because I felt roles were far more rigid when I was in high school. Maybe that was my mistake.

You Should Write in Third Person Because It’s Easier to Sell

To which I respond: my favorite novel’s in second person.

You’re four hours into your shift, decompressing from two weeks of working nights supervising clean-up after drunken fights on Lothian Road and domestics in Craiglockhart. Daylight work on the other side of the capital city comes as a big relief, bringing with it business of a different, and mostly less violent, sort. This morning you dealt with: two shoplifting call-outs, getting your team to chase up a bunch of littering offences, a couple of community liaison visits, and you’re due down the station in two hours to record your testimony for the plead-by-email hearing on a serial B&E case you’ve been working on. You’re also baby-sitting Bob—probationary constable Robert Lockhart—who is ever so slightly fresh out of police college and about as probationary as a very probationary thing indeed. So it’s not like you’re not busy or anything, but at least it’s low-stress stuff for the most part.

Second is very voicey, and it’s both a boon and a bane because of that.

Write in whatever viewpoint you feel happens to fit the story best, including second if you’re so inclined. If you’ve never tried it before, consider rewriting a scene in second person. See how it feels. Try the same scene in first and third emphasizing different viewpoint characters.

There’s no single right answer, but some genres are more frequently in one or the other.

I’ll give an example, though, of where I think first person really hurt the book.

Twilight.

Edward hovered over Bella at night in part because he was protecting her against rogue vampires that she didn’t know existed. Because the book was written in first person, it made Edward look more manipulative and controlling (and for worse reasons) than was actually true. because the book’s POV only showed things that Bella knew, and she didn’t know the whole story.

Read the partial of Midnight Sun (Twilight told from Edward’s POV) alongside Twilight. The two taken together, plus the movie, are a rare opportunity to learn from POV choices and mistakes.

So, if the motivations of another character are important to understanding the piece as sympathetically as possible, consider writing in third. Or, you know, some other POV that’s not a single first person POV.

That Odds Matter

I know a lot of heartbreaking stories in publishing. People having solicited manuscripts lost in piles in a publisher’s office for years. People having their novel abandoned when an editor goes on maternity leave and the replacement editor quits to go into the food business.

There are all kinds of narratives about publishing, and one of the ones I want to address is this: that there is such a thing as odds that determine whether or not you’ll sell a story or whether it’ll do well.

When I receive, say, 100 submissions for BayCon, the odds that I accept your story is not 1 in 100. I don’t roll any dice. Did you write the best story I received? Does your story mesh with my taste? Does it fit the theme better than other stories? (We don’t require that it fit the theme, but it doesn’t hurt.) That’s not a matter of odds.

More than half the time, I reject a story on the first page. I’m sure every writer did the best they could on their first page. Sometimes, it’s a matter of fit. I’ve said that the story we buy has to be family friendly, so “fuck” on the first (or any) page is a non-starter. And yes, I’ve rejected more than one story for exactly that reason.

It’s entirely random that I once, back in the Abyss & Apex days, received two short stories in a row with first sentences that had unintended flying trees. Yay misplaced modifiers. (Both of those were rejected on the first sentence.)

So you’ve survived the first page. Does your piece plunge immediately into backstory on page 2 or 3? That’s probably the single most common reason I reject stories on pages 2 or 3. And yes, this can be done right, and it so frequently isn’t. I’ve done it badly myself. Recently. (First draft, so there’s that.)

Let’s say I get to the end. More than half the time, I’ll still reject the story. Most frequently, it’s one of: the story you started isn’t the story you finished, or you didn’t nail the ending.

Another common failure is what I call the “this feels like a novel chapter” problem. I didn’t really understand this phrase until I saw it a few times as an editor. If you’ve raised more interesting questions/problems/plot points that are referred to in the narrative but don’t happen in the narrative present, it’ll feel like it’s a piece of a longer work. The only way I know of to fix one of these babies is to trim off the glittery parts that point out to other plot lines and story arcs until it feels like the story is resolved in the short form.

But selling a story? That’s not a matter of odds.

Let’s say the first page is solid and interesting, and pages 2 and 3 are strong enough to keep me going, and I finish the piece, and you have a great ending. You’ll likely wind up on the short list.

If anything in the process involves odds, then it’s what happens on the short list, because generally there are more pieces than there are slots we can publish. Since we’re picking newer writers, name isn’t a consideration. It’s just which stories the various people like the best. (I pick the short list, but that’s winnowed down by a small group.)

If I Had to Give Advice…

Three little things.

  1. Is this beginning actually the best entry point for your story for a reader? Not just where you started writing.

  2. Love your piece for what it is. Every piece has issues. Do what you can, then move on. I remember going over another author’s piece in a critique session. The author was worried about how it would be received because of a structure issue. I thought it was fabulous as it stood. It was later nominated for a major award, pretty much as I read it.

  3. Don’t overwork a piece in response to critiques. One of the death knells of an opening is often over-response to a critique like: “I wanted to know more about X in the beginning.” Then the writer edits it in, destroying the opening. Someone wants to know more about the character? Good. Read on.

Originally published at deirdre.net. You can comment here or there.

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Because I figure some people might have some last-minute questions, etc., submissions are now open until October 7th. It's just easier than trying to answer questions on a satellite uplink from the Arctic Ocean.

Guidelines are here.

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