Superstars Week, Day 2: Top Benefits of the Superstars Seminar

Today, Day Two of Superstars Week, three more Fictorians share some of the top benefits the Superstars Writing Seminar provided to us.

* * *

Frank Morin: Superstars was a landmark event in my writing career. I came to Superstars thinking I knew what it meant to be a writer. I left knowing what it takes to succeed.

The presenters shared so much knowledge in such a short time, it’s hard to understand until you’re there. Of all the brilliant advice, here’s what I found most useful:

1. Volume matters, particularly in today’s market. One book per year is minimum. No longer can a writer slave over a manuscript for years before it’s ready for release. Just like everything else in our world, the pace is faster than ever. Competition is fierce and readers’ attention spans are short. They have too many other options available. They won’t wait for years. Kevin J Anderson said early in his career, he was querying with over 30 separate pieces simultaneously.

2. Contracts. This is business. Publishers, and even some agents, are not your friends. The only person who is really looking out for your interests is you. Learn about contracts, ask questions, and don’t sign anything you don’t fully understand.

3. The economics of publishing. We got a glimpse at the economics involved from both the authors and publishers points of view. It was eye opening. I had never realized publishers generally lose money on an author’s first book. A publisher is making an investment, hoping to reap a return on that investment through future books by that author as their fan base grows. That helped explain why most new authors get very little for a first novel. Understanding how the industry works allows us to approach it as professionals, with correct expectations.

* * *

Ann Cooney: Superstars was wonderful because now I’m able to manage my career with confidence and approach it with professionalism rather than naive timidity.

Superstars showed me where the bar sits to be a professional writer. For example, if you’re serious about writing, WRITE! A novel a year is the minimum output. So, that first year after Superstars I wrote two novels to complete the trilogy I had started. Last year I researched and wrote another novel. This year, my new research complete, I expect to complete one, possibly two novels for a series. So now when I talk to publishers and editors, I have a product line which show I’m serious because I have more than a one-time dream I’m selling.

Before Superstars I found the idea of talking with anyone in the industry intimidating because I felt so naive. And I was. Now, with some understanding how things operate, it’s easier talk to publishers, editors and successful authors in a time when the industry is changing so much.

When I saw how much the superstar authors give back to the writing community I was inspired to do more than I had been. I’m a short story contest judge. I’m editing an anthology. I help other aspiring writers and support writing groups. The neat thing is that the more I give, the more I learn and grow and my network of resources and contacts are always expanding.

In short, the greatest thing about Superstars is that I have great role models who have not only inspired me but have shared what it takes to make it in this industry. And for that, I’ll always be grateful. Thanks!

* * *

Jason Michelsen: I can’t recommend the Superstars Writing Seminar enough. Even after going through two different writing programs at the undergrad and graduate levels in college, there were so many things left untaught during my education about the business side of the industry. I suppose it is a school’s job merely to teach its students how to write better, but, as I learned at the
seminar, there is so much more to being a writer than just writing.

For one thing, we never discussed contracts in school, and if you ever want to get paid as a writer, knowing about contracts is important. The lecture by Eric Flint on contracts was invaluable. Granted, there are a lot of writers out there who may not read their contracts carefully and leave all negotiating up to their agents, but I for one want to know exactly what’s in my contract should I ever be lucky enough to get published through traditional means.

Getting published through traditional means typically requires an agent, something else that was never discussed when I was in school but is covered at length during this seminar. It’s true that just about every author has their own unique story about how they acquired their agent, but the Superstars Writing Seminar prepares you for what you need to do when you’re ready to go to market with your finished manuscript.

Knowing a little about the market doesn’t hurt either. Okay, knowing a lot about the market is ideal: what kinds of books are selling, what publishing houses publish the types of books you write, what you might expect to make as a mid-list author or national bestseller, etc.

Sure, discussing salary might be jumping the gun a bit for most seminar attendees, but that’s the beauty of the Superstars Writing Seminar. Not only do you get access to a wealth of knowledge about the publishing industry, you also get access to some of the most prolific writers producing speculative fiction today. So if you go, hang out with the authors during breaks, ask them questions, network and make connections with your fellow attendees. You’ll be glad you did!

See you in April at Superstars!

Superstars Week, Day 1: Changed Trajectories

Evan Braun: Back in the winter of 2010, I was absolutely nowhere. I thought of myself as a “writer,” but I was stalled with several unfinished projects and low ambition. The publishing world seemed impenetrable. I didn’t belong to any writing groups. I didn’t have a critique partner. Really, I had almost no writer friends at all, and I had never thought to venture to a convention or seminar.

And then I saw a post on Brandon Sanderson’s blog about an upcoming seminar he was teaching at: Superstars Writing Seminar. I had been following Brandon’s progress for some time, mostly due to his Wheel of Time connection, and I respected him as a writer. The other writers represented were no less respectable: Kevin J. Anderson, David Farland, Eric Flint, and Rebecca Moesta. The promise was that this seminar was different than all the others, that it would emphasize the business of writing over the craft of writing. Craft is important beyond measure, no question about it, but the business end of things is where so many up-and-comers trip and fall.

I’m from central Canada and the conference was in Pasadena, so attending was no small investment, and yet I made a split-second decision to take a gamble, hoping this would enliven my flagging writing career.

It did, and without hesitation I can chalk up most, if not all, of my growth since, both as a writer and as a professional, to that split-second decision. Not only have I finished writing several novels since then, but I’ve mapped out a half-dozen others and even published one with a small press.

The third annual Superstars Writing Seminar is coming up this April 30-May 2 in Las Vegas, and to help promote that event, several contributors here at the Fictorian Era decided to band together and do a week of posts about our Superstars experiences. You see, the Fictorian Era only exists because of Superstars. All of us came together at that fateful 2010 seminar. So, to pay homage to the event that brought us together and changed our collective course as writers, we ask you to consider Superstars.

* * *

Colette Vernon: I attended the 2010 Superstars Seminar in Pasadena. It exceeded all my expectations. Throughout the entire seminar, Kevin, Brandon, Dave, Rebecca, and Eric made themselves available for questions and sincerely did all they could to help us publishing wannabes. They didn’t run to their hotel rooms as I’ve noticed many other well-known writers do during conventions, but spent their time with us.

They brought in unexpected guest speakers, from Joni Labaqui with Writers of the Future to famous Hollywood script writers. Their presentations helped us understand the possibilities available through writing contests and film. They were as open, easy to talk to, and available for discussion as the writers hosting the seminar.

In the two blocks to the Authors Dinner and back I learned more than from any convention I’ve ever attended. One of the authors took time to discuss a recent partial request I’d received from an agent. He asked me questions about my manuscript and the agent, helping me analyze the situation for myself in order to make important decisions. On the way back, he answered specific craft questions, basically giving a twenty-minute, mini-writing class to our group. I believe the tips given in those few minutes jumped my writing ability to the next level.

Of course, I have to mention the connections I’ve made with my fellow Fictorians. Our friendships continued beyond the seminar into the eventual creation of this blog. Many of us have started getting our feet wet in the publishing world. I doubt I would have been remotely prepared for that experience without my attendance at Superstars. With the recent changes in publishing, I’m looking forward to learning more, and asking questions I wouldn’t have thought of two years ago, at the 2012 Las Vegas Superstars.

* * *

Matt Jones: I’ve been going to conventions for years. I’ve been to countless panels talking about every topic under the sun. Some have been interesting, others not so much. Sometimes they would touch on the chosen topic just to drastically change course and start discussing something off the wall, never to return to the original topic. These panels helped give me confidence to write, knowing that if these people could do it, why couldn’t I?

And then I attended the Superstars Writing Seminar, and I was treated to something completely different. At Superstars, you’re treated not as a wannabe writer, but as a professional who is ready to be an author. Instead of questioning your ability to come up with a story or an original thought on your own, they prepare you to take your manuscripts and get them published. It was an entirely new direction for me. It taught me how to deal with agents and publishers, the pros and cons of each. It even touched on self-publishing.

You’re taught the secrets of pitching your work, choosing the best agent, and getting the best deals on the contract. Best of all, they make you feel like you’re not just another author who is begging for scraps, hoping someone who walks by takes pity on you. You’re an author, and the world is waiting for your novel. Superstars is there to show you how to give it to them.

* * *

From now until Wednesday, come back to read more about the seminar and the specific ways it has helped each of us Fictorians-and, more importantly, how it can help you-take your fledgling career to the next level. Starting on Thursday, we’ll be hearing from a couple of the Superstars themselves in a pair of Q&A guest posts. You won’t want to miss what they have to say.

Self-consistency and Maintaining the Fourth Wall

When many, if not most, readers enter a fictional world, they want to stay there until they’re ready to leave. For us writers, that means having to avoid doing anything that pulls the reader out of our world. Failing in this task may make it difficult for a given reader to buy into our creation. They may set it down and move onto something else. If this happens, we’ve lost them.

Any aspect of storytelling is vulnerable to this. Someone breaking out of character, the introduction of a deus ex machina, and even poor handling of point-of-view are all good ways of infuriating readers, and rightly so: they are violations of an unspoken trust with our readers that the stories we are telling them are self-consistent.

Setting is an aspect of storytelling which is particularly vulnerable to this kind of violation, especially in genres where setting is important, such as in fantasy, sci-fi, and historical fiction (by setting, I mean all things related to world-building, such as culture, dress, geography, the laws of physics or magic, etc.). Read enough reviews in any of those genres and you will see that one of the widest criticisms is that the author described some event that could not or would not have happened in that context, and thus the reader was pulled out of the story. There’s a good reason for why this can be such a problem for a writer: setting, by its very nature, consists of a vast number of interrelated concretes. Consider the difference between a character arc and a city, full of people, buildings, roads, belief systems, cultures, and so on, and you should see what I mean. It’s very possible (and necessary) to track the shape of a particular character’s arc, but far more complicated to track the goings-on of every person and thing in a city. There are many ways we can forget a detail that affects the story later on, and thus cause one of those reader-losing violations.

Of course, simply not knowing how an aspect of your world works can also do this. Many of our readers are smart enough to know that you can’t ride a horse at a gallop while swinging a fifty-pound sword for five hours straight. As most writers should by now know, doing some research solves most of these problems.

But there’s another related issue that can be a little subtler, and it relates purely to a world’s self-consistency. Unless you’re writing an alternate history or time travel yarn, your Imperial Roman soldier isn’t going to call his wife on his cell phone, since cell phones didn’t exist back then. An obvious example, but things get a little trickier when you’re writing in a purely secondary (or, purely imagined) world.

I once wrote an epic fantasy story in which one of my characters was exhausted, and was described as feeling as if he had just run a marathon. While it seemed pretty innocuous to me at the time, someone in my writing group couldn’t buy into it, because the word “marathon” is named for the run of Greek soldier Pheidippides during the Battle of Marathon. And since such an event never occurred in my world, he argued, how would the concept of a marathon in the normal sense even arise?

Hearing his criticism was a bit of a wake-up call for me, and now I sometimes find myself watching out for the same thing with books that I read (as much as I’d rather just sit back and enjoy them). Of course, in my hierarchy of priorities, I’m going to put a satisfying plot over catching myself using the word “marathon,” but I still keep an eye out for something like that slipping in. Whether or not you’re that meticulous about your world’s etymology, rest assured that some of your readers will be.

* For another interesting post on the topic of word choice, check out the earlier post by Mignon Fogarty, a.k.a. Grammar Girl, if you haven’t already.

The Leap Day: Let’s Pretend It Never Happened

It always baffles me that more people don’t get excited about Leap Day. It’s not a holiday. In fact, this year it’s just a typical Wednesday. The morning shows might make some casual reference to the calendar oddity, but apart from that it will go largely unremarked upon by the world at large. A much bigger deal will be made of Groundhog Day, which is pretty mind-blowing when you stop to think about it. (Yes, I’ll say it: Groundhog Day is ridiculous.)

Maybe I’m just overly intrigued by calendars in the same way that I’m overly intrigued by maps (I could stare at them for hours, flipping through a 50-State Rand McNally American Road Map like I flip through a hair-raising novel). I mean, think about it: it only happens once every four years!? This is like violating the laws of physics! Every day happens once a year, but for this one awesome exception…

Silence. Crickets.

See, not a lot of people get excited about this. We get really excited about Christmas, which happens annually, like almost everything else in the calendar year does. Shouldn’t Leap Day, by extrapolation, be four times as awesome as Christmas? As New Year’s? As your birthday? And of course, if your birthday happens to fall on Leap Day, that makes it extra anticipatory. Take a moment to raise a glass to all those extraordinary thirty-two-year-old eight-year-olds.

Who’s with me? No takers, huh?

The thing about Leap Day is that it almost doesn’t count as a real day, right? February 28 is the last day of February and March 1 is the first day of March, case closed, but every four years we briefly fall into the twilight zone of Leap Day. I think of it as a day to experiment, to take time to work on or achieve something that might very well fail spectacularly. If it does, well, we’ll pretend it never happened. Kind of like Leap Day itself.

So, shelve that work in progress! Churning out a 200,000-word fantasy doorstopper? Take some time to write a few pages of comic fluff. Be eclectic; try your hand at crafting a stage play. Eke out that Babylon 5 Londo/G’Kar slash fiction you’ve had on the backburner for ten-plus years. Channel your inner Louis C.K. and piece together a stand-up routine.

Remember: what happens on Leap Day stays on Leap Day.

As for me, I’m going put the final touches on my plans for that big quadrennial Leap Year party I’ve been hotly anticipating for the last 1,460 days and leap myself into oblivion.