The Fictorians

How do Conventions Choose Their Guests?

24 April 2014 | 1 Comment » | fictorians

A guest post by Randy McCharles.

Randy McCharles Capone NovelHave you ever wondered why some of your favorite authors appear frequently as convention guests while others are so scarce you sometimes wonder if they are even real people? Well, there are two main factors. The first one is simple. Some authors enjoy and see business benefits of convention appearances and make themselves available. Other do not. You almost have to kidnap them to make an appearance. The second factor is much trickier. Every convention is fairly unique in its goals and finances. The cost of bringing in guests is usually the most expensive line item in the budget, but even more important, each convention has a unique vision of the experience it wishes to provide its attendees. While there is no official breakdown, I have defined six conference models that provide different mixes of content for ‘craft’ (craft development opportunities for writers) VS ‘commercial’ (content readers enjoy such as meeting their favorite authors, hearing them speak, and getting autographs). Most literary events with guests will fall near one of these categories.


I use “Literary Festival” to describe events that are generally open market bookstores. Readers drop in for a fee of $0 (or near $0) to buy books from vendors and get them signed by authors. Many of these events bring in a few big name authors as a means of promoting the event and drawing more readers. The costs are paid for by selling the tables to vendors. Usually, guests do not provide presentations, though this has been an increasing phenomena. Often such presentations have a separate fee.

The “Trade Show” is similar to the Literary Festival in that it is mostly vendor tables, but they have a larger emphasis on guest presentations and panel discussions. While historically such trade shows deal solely with visual media (film and comics), they are increasingly including authors and books. Unlike Literary Festivals, these generally cost as much as $100 to attend.

The “Fan Convention” is fairly unique in that, unlike most other models, it is not run as a business. Instead, volunteers run it from the top down, with no paid staff. Guests also volunteer, having their travel and accommodations paid for, but generally donating their time, much of which is spent in presentations and panel discussion. Attending these events usually costs around $50.

The “Reader/Writer Festival” is an offshoot of the Fan Convention, or perhaps a return to what many Fan Conventions were in the 70′s. While today’s Fan Conventions often focus on visual media, including film, costuming, and anime, the Reader/Writer festival focuses on books and provides content for readers as well as writers. Like Fan Conventions, these are usually volunteer run, guests donate their time on presentations and panels, and attending costs around $50.

The “Writers Conference” is focused on craft development and is of little interest to non-writers. Guests do receive a substantial honorarium, but are also required to be successful instructors as well as successful writers. They generally offer some books sales and autographs that are open to the public. Cost of attending is in the several hundred dollar range.

The “Writers Workshop” is a more participatory version of the Writers Conference, usually much smaller, and requires attendees to work like university students. The guest instructors, as well, must work like university instructors. Cost of attending is generally much higher than a Writers Conference, and many workshops vet their attendees.

You may have noticed a correlation between guest honorariums and cost of attending. As I mentioned earlier, the cost of bringing in guests is usually the most expensive cost for any convention. Those that offer higher honorariums must find the funds somewhere, usually by charging their attendees a higher ticket price. Conversely, those that offer their guests higher honorariums usually also demand more from their guests, which brings me back to guest availability.

The business of authors is not attending conventions. It is writing books. Taking time out of your writing schedule to attend a convention as a guest is time not spent writing. Some authors do not wish to lose this writing time. Some are willing to sell their time. However, not all convention models can afford to buy it. eg. If Fan Conventions began providing high honorariums like Writers Conferences, they would cost more to attend ($75 instead of $50) and have to make other changes. That price tag doesn’t work for their model and can lead to bankruptcy. Fan Conventions exist, however, because many authors opt to volunteer their time, either as pay-it-forward for help they received earlier in their careers, as part of their brand marketing, or as simply an opportunity to meet their readers. Often all three.

Some authors do make attending conventions part of their business. Especially if teaching craft becomes part of their brand. Many authors love to teach craft. Some even write books about it. You will find such authors as guests at Writers Workshops, Writers Conferences, and Reader/Writer festivals.

So picture yourself as an organizer for a convention. It doesn’t matter which model you choose. You have a guest budget. It may be $5,000 (a small Fan Convention) or $50,000 (A large Writer’s Conference). What kind of guests do you need? Best-selling authors to autograph books? Authors who are not shy and love to talk with their readers? Authors who can give great presentations on craft development? Authors who can help writers with their manuscripts? All of the above? How much can you afford to spend on guest travel? Can you bring someone from the UK or Australia to North America? Or must you limit yourself to $500 flights? Can you afford to bring in your guest’s spouse? (Double the airfare.) Sticking with a budget is tricky, especially when a wide range of factors can impact the cost of bringing in any particular guest.

Let’s say you’ve identified the perfect guests. Are they available? Do they receive 100 guest invitations a year and can only accept 2? Do they even do conventions? Is your convention on their radar?

I’ve been organizing conventions since 2001. I’ve worked on a local fan convention, a regional fan convention (Westercon), an international writers convention (World Fantasy), and currently chair the When Words Collide Readers/Writers festival. After 13 years it is still difficult to identify the perfect guest — someone who delivers on the convention’s vision, is affordable and, most important, is available. It usually takes nine months to secure five guests. Sound like fun? Well, it is, actually. And you do get to meet a lot of really interesting authors.

As a final note I’ll list a few reasons why authors I’ve invited in the past have turned down the invitation (all perfectly valid, especially if they travel a lot):

  1. Air travel is a pain. I only travel to conventions that have a direct flight from my city.
  2. Air travel is a pain. I only travel business class. (This was from the UK and severely broke the budget)
  3. I won’t leave the country. (This was from the US invited to Canada).
  4. I don’t do conventions that time of year; I spend it with my family.
  5. I am already booked that weekend.

There have also been some success stories:

  1. Someone who doesn’t fly came to Calgary by train. From Texas!
  2. Someone who is very busy was finally available after being invited 4 years in a row.
  3. Many authors who are very busy had the stars align and were able to accept their invitation within days of receiving it.

All that said, having inviting innumerable guests to conventions over the years, I have a long list of people I would love to see as guests at some point. I often travel to distant conventions to see them. There is a wealth of terrific authors out there. Reading their books is a pleasure. Meeting them in person, doubly so.

BTW Two aliens walk into a bar and spot their favorite author sitting at a table having a drink. One alien turns to the other and says, “I wonder if she traveled as far to get here as we did?”

RandyMcCharlesRandy McCharles Bio:Randy McCharles is an award-winning author of speculative short fiction, and was included in Year’s Best Fantasy 9. In January 2014, he left his day job to write full time and focus his attention on novel length works. When not making up tall tales, Randy organizes literary events, including chairing the When Words Collide Festival for Readers and Writers. You can find out more about Randy on his web site:

Take Me to Your Weeder

23 April 2014 | No Comments » | fictorians

A guest post by Shelley Reddy.

Passages_Shelley Reddy

Two aliens walked into a library, and approached the front desk. “Hewwo, Wibrary Wand. Take us to your Weeder.”

I love that libraries are offering new ways for people to encounter stories and content. The library district where I work offers four online libraries, free music downloads, video streaming, language learning programs, virtual magazines, and over 300 free online classes –including courses on writing and publishing. Furthermore, the branches host workshops, e-publication seminars, author visits, as well as other programs. Those are a lot of opportunities for writers to improve their skills or connect with readers.

As a book lover and writer myself, I feel supremely lucky to be in such an environment. However, I’ve found that there are two great challenges to working in a public library.

  • I will never read all the stories that are out there –nor even all the great stories.
  • Libraries do not have enough room on the shelves or in the budgets for all the material which is being released into the world.

While the first is frustrating fact of life, the second creates a fundamental problem for libraries and their staff.

Like any reader, library staffs love stories, engaging characters, and the way writers spin worlds from varying combinations of a mere twenty six letters. We firmly believe that there is a book for every reader, and a reader for every book. The archivist in us treasures the ability to preserve the stories and match their authors with readers. However, when the books keep coming in and circulation slumps, the books sit, waiting like the residents of the Island of Misfit Toys.

Eight months ago, we had this problem in our large-print section. The books – built up over years of healthy budgets- were so numerous, and packed so tightly together, that it was nearly impossible to pull a title off the shelf. Many popular items were on the lowest shelves, forcing our most elderly patrons to bend or kneel to find them. The shelves themselves were located in the darkest portion of the building –which hadn’t been a problem when half-empty shelving allowed sunlight to filter through. We didn’t have a way to showcase the amazing titles and authors in our collection. For our readers, the wonderful adventures they wanted to experience were lost –buried amongst the blurred, shadowed mass of text and color.

Something had to change. In library land, we call the process of choosing what not to keep “weeding”, and it is a battle for the soul as much as for inches of clear territory. If you ever had holes seared into your jeans in an Arizona July while crouched on burning gravel engaging in tug-of-war with mutant dandelion roots that may well survive nuclear holocaust and overtake the planet… you understand. For the beginning library professional, weeding is an alien, uncomfortable process. The Archivist in our soul battles with the Grim Reaper’s devotion to the big picture.

“It won an award,” the Archivist begs. “It changed the way we view prosaic noun development.”

“No one’s read it in twelve years. There’s more dust on it than King Tut’s tomb. Let it go.”

“But it won the Nobel! The movie was adored by critics, and it’s only eleven months until the Oscars. It could be in a display…”

“The movie came out five years ago, the critics were the only ones to embrace it, and you have two copies that haven’t been touched. Let it go.”

And -unless we want to appear on a future spin-off of Hoarders- the Archivist usually must acquiesce. In time, we learn to merge those different personalities –Archivist, Entertainer, Promoter, Reaper, Teacher- into one vision and one voice. Even so, each time I go out to the shelves, I am girding myself for battle -with the collection, and with myself.

As hard as weeding can be, however, I’ve found it to be one of the most essential skills a librarian –and a writer- can possess. The ability to step back and take a look at the larger picture, analyze the weakest points, and either strengthen those struggling elements or –if necessary- remove them, is essential to presenting a stronger, more tailored and unified whole.

In writing, extraneous characters appear from the ether and run off with the plot just when the action is building. We are introduced to a mass of characters that all have similar, strange names, forcing us to stop in the middle of the climactic battle and ask “Wait… Is Oleo the alien prince, or Ollea? Or Olyvan?” We struggle to find the critical message of the piece amongst the bright, bubbling, endless –and ultimately circular- analysis of the main character’s daughter’s friend’s shoes.

We all have scenes and sentences we love. We birth them, shelter them, dote on them and sing their accomplishments to the world. Sometimes, however, as the story grows and changes, that scene or character or bit of dialogue that we love just doesn’t work the way we expect. It drags the pacing, weakens our characters, and provides irreconcilable plot challenges. We scold it, shift it, stare at it in consternation, and wonder why it just won’t play with the rest of the group.

Sometimes, as hard as it can be, we must accept those story elements for what they are and stop trying to force them into our vision of how we want them to sing in our magnum opus. Adopt the eyes of the alien –the outsider, the foreigner, the expert critic. Look at your creation and analyze what does and doesn’t work. Ask yourself why it isn’t working. Then change it.

In the library, we recently overhauled our struggling collection. We removed the underperforming, the damaged, and the extraneous. We reorganized the structure so readers didn’t have to stand on their heads to identify the gems. Amazing stories and characters created by wonderful authors now had space in which to shine. Our readers loved it. Yours will, too.

In the library, and in my own writing, the weeding process continues. There may be a mutant dandelion or two, but fortunately I work in a library. I’m sure there’s a cookbook around here with a recipe for dandelion stew…

Two aliens walked into a library… it sounds like the start of an interesting journey.

Shelley Reddy picShelley Reddy Bio:
Like many authors, Shelley Reddy has been a bibliophile and library lover since a young age. A paraprofessional with the Queen Creek library in Arizona, she currently is working on her next book.

Book Reviewing in the Trenches

22 April 2014 | No Comments » | fictorians

A guest post by Ann Cummins.

Red Ant HouseTwo aliens walked into a bar.

Well, that’s not quite right. They were New Yorkers just beginning to mutate. One was a writer, the other a tailor. The bar was crowded. It was karaoke night.

The writer was miffed. Had a bad week. It wasn’t his writing. His writing was great. First novel done and sold, review copies out; there would be royalties, he was sure.

But he’d spent the week trying to track down some fool tailor, who was never in his shop. The writer was getting married. This tailor was supposed to be the best, and the writer wanted the guy to sew him a wedding shirt. But the dang tailor was MIA, which made the writer’s skin crawl. He liked people to be where they said they’d be when they were supposed to be there.

The tailor, his skin was crawling, too. Some sub-species writer had flamed him on Yelp. For ever-so-long, the tailor had enjoyed a 5-star rating. “I’ll pan him on Amazon,” the tailor groused. “Just wait ‘til his book comes out.”

The writer’s day was getting worse. There were so many people between him and the microphone. He needed to vent. He wanted an audience. In frustration, he shouted to the room in general: “I’ll yelp him again. I’ll give five-stars to his competitors.”

“Who?” the room shouted back. So the writer told the story, and the tailor, he listened.

Blood in his eye, he could barely see the abomination that was calling himself a writer. “You!” he shouted.

The writer stared in horror at the needle-fingered couturier.

Both lunged. One skittered spider-like, the other bull-dogged: Over shoulders and under legs, they tore through the crowd in a dead heat toward the stage, each desperate to get to that microphone first.

(For details on the non-fictional story, go to:


 I published a short story collection, Red Ant House, with Houghton Mifflin in 2003. I was lucky. They assigned me a publicist, who sent out many review copies, followed up, and as a result my book was widely reviewed.

It was my first book, and I didn’t have much name recognition. My editor suggested I start reviewing books. Get my name out there. So I contacted the wonderful Oscar Villalon, who, at the time, was Book Review Editor for the San Francisco Chronicle. Oscar gave me a shot. Actually, he assigned me a 250-word review for a 600+ page tedious historical novel. A challenge? Yes. But I guess I did OK, because for several years after that, Oscar assigned me books. I graduated to the 800-word review.

But then, the congenial world of writing and book reviewing morphed into what it is now: the free-for-all electronic media driven Tower of Babble (not that that’s a bad thing, but it’s definitely a new frontier). Newspaper sales dwindled. Editors slashed or eliminated their book review sections.

In 2007, I hit the trail, promoting my new book, Yellowcake. The scene on the street was depressing: vacant buildings where bookstores used to be; conferences where bug-eyed writers paid for a ten-minute shot at sweet-talking an agent. And where were all the readers? I, and many writers I know, gave readings to empty rooms in a few holdout bookstores. The only writers getting any attention were showboats emboldened to camp it up and draw blood if necessary. Whatever it took to get an audience.

I decided to go home: To do what I could to promote writing and reading in a civil environment at the grassroots level. I contacted my local NPR station in Flagstaff, Arizona, KNAU. We launched Southwest Book Reviews. I aimed to review books by small regional publishers that might not get the wide media attention big bucks publishers could buy.

So how does a writer get reviewed these days? My advice: Read. Work at the grassroots level to promote reading. Contact favorite magazines, radio stations, websites. You’d be surprised how many will say yes to a well-written review about books by favorite and new authors.

What goes around comes around. Writers who read and write intelligently about books inspire readers. Readers, we hope, get excited about books. We all fan the dying embers, and everybody wins.

AnndesertAnn Cummins is the author of a short story collection, Red Ant House (Mariner, 2003) and a novel, Yellowcake (Houghton Mifflin, 2007), a San Francisco Chronicle notable book and Best of Kirkus. Her stories have appeared in The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, and elsewhere and have been anthologized in a variety of series including The Best American Short Stories, The Prentice Hall Anthology of Women’s Literature, Best of McSweeney’s, and The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories. A 2002 recipient of a Lannan Foundation Literary Fellowship, she’s a graduate of Johns Hopkins University and the University of Arizona writing programs. She’s on the fiction faculty at Northern Arizona University and the Queens University low-residency program in Charlotte, North Carolina.

A Tale of Two Book Babes

21 April 2014 | 1 Comment » | fictorians

A guest post by Heidi Berthiaume and Victoria Morris.

Book Babe, as defined by James A. Owen, “Someone whose primary reason for being at a signing/event is to help the author; to make sure they have the tools they need, that they’re hydrated, and generally, everything necessary to ‘clear their path’ to do their best for the readers at the event. Someone for whom I, and other authors with similar helpful people, are extremely, extremely grateful.”

Heidi’s Story: On April 16, 2011, I read an ebook that changed my life, Drawing Out The Dragons by James A. Owen. It resonated with me in a way that very few books, especially non-fiction books, ever had. I wanted to find out more about the man who had written that book. What I found, was an author of comics and a young adult fantasy series, an illustrator of self-described “bonkers” detail, and a true individual of integrity.

I also found someone whose online presence could use a lot of help.

Drawing on over a decade of information architecture and usability expertise, I wrote up some thoughts (eight pages, single spaced, because I go bonkers on details as well) and emailed them to James. I wanted in some small way to help him as he had helped me with his book. He replied that my document was “some very good work” and that I now had his “attention.”

Since that initial conversation, I’ve become an administrator for his public Facebook page and Imaginarium Geographica website, built the initial version of his James A Owen website, advised on his first Kickstarter campaign, helped run his second Kickstarter campaign, created graphics for use in the promotion and marketing of his books, and earned the nickname “Design Department,” a reference to a scene from one of James’ favorite movies, Tucker.

Not a lot of what I do for James has to do with writing, but those things have everything to do with a relationship of trust and because of that trust, I’ve had conversations and advice and access to people involved in the publishing industry that are invaluable to me as a new writer. All of which are bonus—I did not approach James with the thought “knowing him would be good for my writing career.” I offered my expertise and services and he found them of value. So much so he wrote the foreword for my non-fiction book, the Kickstarter Companion.

The work I do for James is unpaid in terms of dollars and paid in full in terms of attention, the true currency of our time.

Jim Rohn said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” I am very fortunate to be able to spend time with James A. Owen and am honored to be considered one of his Book Babes.

Vicky’s Story: I met James A. Owen twice. First; on September 15, 2006 when I walked into my local bookstore. There among the shelves, where I found peace in seeing all the books, one stood out like a lightning bolt in the night sky. HERE, THERE BE DRAGONS had just released. And that cover pulled at the artist in my soul immediately. And when I read that the illustrator was also the author, the secret I barely whispered to myself screamed in my head: an author who illustrates his own work. See, you CAN do it!

And then November 4, 2009. On this date, the release of the fourth book in that series by James. And he was touring near me. I arrived to find I was one of three people to visit the signing. Very nearly after I sat down, the two women ahead of me collected an excellent drawing of one of the dragons James illustrates. A wonderful gift he gives to lucky signing guests. He then turned to me and smiled, the one and only person not working at Barnes and Noble. And we spent three hours chatting, sharing art and in general, sneaky insider publishing lingo that frankly flew mostly over my head at the time. He let me peruse his thumbnail sketches which he turns into the main chapter illustrations. He signed and sketched in all of my four copies of his books. He said the words for me that in my amazed state, I forgot how to say. And he gave me a t-shirt, left over from the school visits earlier in the day. He asked if I wanted one of the big drawings too, and I never told him this, but I said no because it was lined paper. Seriously.

We friended on Facebook that night, and that three hour conversation inspired me to face and conquer the fear I was holding and I wrote the first draft of my first fantasy novel over the next three months.

Summer of 2010, James asked his Facebook family if anyone could help him do a project, and he’d trade art for it. I commented that I could help him. And he told everyone he owed me art anyway, so he was going to give it to me. Owed me art from that book signing…

And I was given the enormous honor of transcribing an audio of his school talk into a usable document that he would turn into the Book: DRAWING OUT THE DRAGONS. He had hoped to have this document within a week. I had it back to him in 18 hours.

Since then, I too have become administrator on his Facebook pages. I edited Heidi’s wonderful webpage and made sure the information created the most current bio instead of the one James had had in use for years.

I have edited several books for James. All of THE MEDITATIONS and more. But the ones that are cherished are the stories that were his first published novels. Because in those first drafts of the MYTHWORLD series, I learned so much as a writer myself. And I got to learn it, by reading and fixing my favorite author’s mistakes.

I’ve earned many nicknames from James over the years. Book Babe was the first. Apprentice and Caretaker are the Awesome ones. But Jane, in reference to Orson Scott Card’s character in SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD, is my favorite. I am the Jane James contacts when he needs something, anything, anywhere, online, in a book, in a quote. Whatever he needs, from wherever he is. Because I have always gotten things to him in a time that far exceeded his expectations. And thanks to Facebook, and a smartphone, I can do that in literally minutes. So he can post something, or add a piece in a presentation. And it’s exactly the thing he wanted.

Payment doesn’t come monetarily. It’s in things like, books 5-7 of that first series that introduced us, all were signed while I stood in his Studio Private office. Trust, time and the knowledge that should I ever need for anything, James would be there for me. Those are priceless gifts money can’t buy.

James created the Book Babe name in fun spirits, to acknowledge the book sellers, store workers and any one that gave him the care he needed to make every first impression for a fan as special as mine was. And I am honored to carry on that tradition with and for him. Helping him make each new fan just as happy.

HeidiBerthiaumeHeidi Berthiaume Bio: Heidi Berthiaume has a last name that is easier to say (berth-e-um) than spell. She writes books, has had a few short stories published, consults on Kickstarter projects and regarding information architecture for websites and applications. Any remaining time is spent on some kind of project such as creating fabric art, editing fan music videos, or spreading the word about her favorite authors and artists. Learn more about Heidi’s stuff at her website.

victoriaMorrisVictoria Morris Bio: Victoria lives on the edge of a mysty magical forest in the Pacific Northwest with one husband, two daughters, a big white dog and one huge resident bald eagle that likes to circle over her house when she brings in the groceries. A lifelong artist and not quite as long writer, Victoria is building a universe inside her head that has taken form in a six book fantasy series, with a middle grade trilogy on the side. While illustrating the world and all its characters is always on her mind, she draws portraits in her spare time to relax. Find out more here.

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