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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.

Chart

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: http://randymccharles.com

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.

Writing What You’re Not

14 April 2014 | No Comments » | Tristan Brand

Laja followed Verl into the human bar, slithering closer to him than was polite, as she feared getting left behind more than the breach in etiquette. Inside, her eyestalks recoiled from the harsh fluorescent light. As her eyes adjusted, she saw that the room was filled to the brim with the strange pasty-skinned creatures, crammed together eight to a table. So many sharing the same air! She ran a tentacle over her breathing apparatus, making sure it was secured. The human’s language, grunting linear syllabic expressions, made her ears hurt. Ugly / Stupid / Why are we here? she mind-sang to Verl, who, judging by the quivering of his own tentacles, was as horrified as she.

 

***

 

One of the great things about writing speculative fiction is we aren’t limited to telling stories only from a human’s perspective. Our characters can be dogs or dragons or golems or even aliens, like Laja and Verl from the passage above. Though often non-human characters play second-fiddle to a human protagonist, sometimes they take the stage themselves and we, as readers, can imagine what it might be like to walk (or slither) about as another species entirely.

Of course, writing from a non-human point of view presents its own set of challenges, as we writers are all too human (well, most of us, anyway.) Our experience is fundamentally different than that of a dog’s or a dragon’s. Still, this shouldn’t stop us – it’s not like all humans see the world the same. Writers must write characters of different genders, different ages, different cultures, and of different belief systems. Each time we have to stretch our imagination and try to understand the other. There’s no reason we can’t do the same for characters of different species.

I’ve always had a particular love for non-human characters. Aside from the fun of imagining what it might be like to have wings or a tail, they can add a lot to a story by giving us a radically different perspective on things we might find mundane. Take the passage about aliens at a bar from above. Most humans would find nothing odd about stepping into a crowded bar, but for a pair of aliens with totally different cultural and physical norms, the experience becomes a harrowing one. It gives us, as readers, an opportunity to imagine what we might look to beings who aren’t used to us or our behavior. I’ve found such shifts in perspective can lead to unexpected insights and add a great deal to a story.

The passage also demonstrates some of the techniques you can use in writing a non-human character. The physicality of the character is different. Laja doesn’t walk, she slithers. She doesn’t use her hands, she uses tentacles. She doesn’t have regular eyes but instead, eyestalks. Such details are critical in making her perspective believable.

There are key cultural differences too. Laja’s horror at how tightly the humans sit together, and her concern that following her companion too closely might be considered rude, show a fundamental difference in how she see’s personal space. Her reaction to their language and her own mind-song demonstrates major differences in communication and language.

There’s a trap here, where in our attempts to write a non-human character as believably as possible, we let the differences in their culture and physicality interfere with the story. I’m working on a novel right now from the perspective of a dog. A real dog probably spends an inordinate amount of time sorting through scents, but if I spent paragraph after paragraph simply describing what everything smelled like, no one would want to read past page two. It’s important to find the proper balance between keeping the perspective compelling and not letting it get in the way of the story.

One example of a very well done non-human point of view is Scriber from Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep. Scriber is part of a race called the Tines, wolf-like creatures that live in packs governed by hive-minds. One subplot of the novel follows Scriber as he tries to save the lives of two human children stranded on his planet. Vinge paints a vivid picture of the Tines’ world, as well as what it might be like to be a being that has control of multiple individual bodies.

For those interested in reading more novels that feature non-human perspectives, here are a few more examples I recommend checking out:

  • TenSoon, from Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy. TenSoon is a kandra, a being that can absorb a dead body of any other species and takes its form. In particular, I think Brandon does a wonderful job of creating a unique culture for the Kandra, who are bound by a contract that prevents them from doing violence.
  • Chet, from Dog On It by Spencer Quinn. A rare example from a non-speculative fiction genre, the novel is told from the point of view of Chet the dog, owned by a detective named Bernie.
  • Auron from Dragon Champion by E. E. Knight. As ubiquitous as dragons are in fantasy, novels where they get significant point-of-views seem rare. All of Knight’s novels in this series are told from the point of view of dragons born of the same clutch, who find themselves orphaned at a young age and forced to fend for themselves.

 

Writing Who You’re Not

11 April 2014 | No Comments » | mary

Two aliens walked into a bar. “Greetings, Earthling,” they said to the bartender. “Take us to your leader!”

That was the point where Dar’xyl threw the book across the room. “Human authors can’t write us worth scrap!”
#

While I was studying for my Master’s degree in English, I sat through several classroom arguments to the effect of, “This (male) author can’t write realistic female characters; this (female) author fetishizes gay men when she writes; this (Black) author shouldn’t write a book about Native Americans; no, wait, it’s okay when this Black author writes about Native Americans, but not when these White authors do.” I left these classes wondering if I dared ever write about anyone who came from a culture, ethnic origin, religion, sexual orientation or any background and experience different from my own.

If I only wrote characters rooted in my own personal experience, all the people in my stories would be female, white, under 40, Canadian, and of German, English or Jewish heritage. There would be no Asian people, no transgender people, no Muslim people, no elderly people, and no men. The setting would always be late-twentieth or early-twenty-first century, Planet Earth.

I wouldn’t want to write in this world. It’s got no relation to the world around me—it doesn’t feel real—and I’ve yet to think of a compelling and logical reason why it would be peopled only with characters whose experiences parallel my own. In order to write a realistic, compelling world, you’ll probably have to create at least a few characters whose experiences are rooted in backgrounds you don’t share (unless you’re writing about, for example, an isolated village in China where everyone is probably Chinese; or a colony where a plague has killed all the men; or another scenario where minimal diversity is a critical component of the setting).

On the other hand, it’s one thing to make your character a different faith, gender, age or ethnicity, but another thing to write such a person realistically. Oftentimes authors, sometimes unconsciously, fall into stereotypes when they try to write from a different point of view. Take some time to do some research and understand what experiences, attitudes, and cultural values might shape such a person’s thinking and worldview. Choose carefully what story you want to tell – is it a story best told by someone with personal experience? For example, I’m comfortable writing a story with a gay male lead, but I’m not comfortable writing a story about what it’s like to be a gay man in modern Canada.

Also understand that just because two characters come from the same religion/ethnic background/culture/etc., doesn’t mean their worldviews are going to be the same. Losing an arm, for example, will be a different experience for the rich person who buys a cutting-edge prosthetic limb than it will be for the poor thief who now has to make a living with just one hand. Being Black is going to be a different experience for the Black kid who’s the only Black person in her entire high school than it is for the Black kid who grows up surrounded by a community – and that community’s experience will differ depending on if it’s in 1990s Nova Scotia or 1960s Alabama. Being Christian can run the gamut from Mother Teresa to the Westboro Baptist Church, and so on.

The best weapon in the writer’s arsenal is the ability to imagine and empathize with another’s point of view. This was a challenge to me in a recent short story in which the main character is a religious leader, but his own belief is best described as agnostic. I was tired of – yes, a stereotype, in which every character who is a religious leader is always either highly devout, or else utterly corrupt. I wanted to create a character who wrestles with his faith, who tries to fulfill the duties of his job despite deep personal misgivings.

I’ve always been a strongly religious person, so I had to imagine: what experiences made this person an atheist in his youth? What experiences made him suspect that there might be a God after all? Why did he choose his current faith over all the others? Why is he still unsure that his God is real? Writing this character helped me imagine an experience different from any I’ve ever had myself.

This is one of the great powers of fiction: the ability to make the reader understand, empathize, and see the world through different eyes—to experience what it’s like to be someone else. Sometimes that “someone else” is a person of a different gender, ethnicity, faith, age…the list goes on. This power challenges the writer to provide a view that doesn’t simply reinforce cultural stereotypes. And even though the story might be fiction, the understanding of how that point of view feels from inside, can linger long after the story is over.

*If you’re curious – you can meet Shaman Pasharan, Sigil of the Silver Future, in the upcoming EDGE anthology Tesseracts 18: Wrestling with Gods, in a story entitled “Burnt Offerings.”

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