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World Fantasy Convention 2012 Round-Up

Last week, the World Fantasy Convention (“WFC”) was held in Toronto, Canada.  For all of you who may not know, WFC is a convention for fantasy and science fiction writers, artists, agents, editors and other professionals. The four day conference has seminars/panels on craft issues.  There’s a dealer’s room for hard-to-find, and rare books, and an art show. The price of admission includes a swag bag full of free books, and use of the convention suite. There’s also lots of time for networking, including nightly parties often hosted by publishers, and a closing banquet.

Four of the Fictorians (Evan Braun, Ace Jordyn, Nancy DiMauro, and Frank Morin, from left to right in the photo) attended this year. Evan asked us to share our thoughts about the conference with you. So, here they are:

Nancy: I attended my first WFC last year, and through the introduction by fellow Fictorian Colette Vernon met Celina Summers the head editor at the newly formed Musa Publishing. WFC opened doors for me that I never knew were there. I knew I wanted to attend this year’s WFC to connect with friends, further my writing career, and help others do the same. Why did you attend?

Ace: I wanted to see writer friends from all over the world, and WFC makes connecting with friends easy. It’s also a great place to meet new people from writers, editors, agents and publishers.

Frank: I attended for two main reasons. First, to meet with my agent, John Richard Parker from ZENO, in person. He’s based in London, so this was a rare opportunity. Second, I feel it’s vitally important to interact, socialize, and network with other industry professionals. WFC is a great venue to do that.

Nancy:  What was the best thing about this year’s WFC?

Ace: Shanghai Steam, an anthology I co-edited, was launched at the con. The anthology authors had a blast at the autograph signing session and readings at the launch. It’s wonderful to see the excitement, and feel the energy of so much creative pride.

Frank: At my first WFC two years ago, I didn’t know what to expect. Luckily, I connected with several other new authors. We spent the conference looking for and talking with agents and editors we wanted to talk with. This year, I still focused on networking and meeting new people. For me, it was deeply rewarding to mentor newer authors at this WFC  and continue to learn from more experienced professionals.

Nancy:  The best thing about WFC is the conversations I had with people. I spent hours talking with editors and writers, both well established and new. Brandon Sanderson met with the attending Superstars Writing Seminars alumni, which most of the Fictorians are. Brandon spent about two and a half hours with us. We talked about his outlining technique, working on the Wheel of Time, talking to and working with agents and editors, dealing with deadlines, book tours, writing, Writing Excuses, and so much more.

There were so many great things that I’d be hard pressed to single out anything “bad” about the experience. If I had to though, I’d say that there never is enough time, and the hotel NEVER staffs the bar right. Even though the Con officially lasts 4 days, those days fly.  There’s so much to do. The Con runs from 8am when the Con Suite opens until 4-ish am, when the last party goer has returned to his room.  A lot happens unofficially at the bar, and you can find people there at all hours. Despite being warned that there will be anywhere from 50 to 100 people at the bar at any given time, the hotel never has enough staff. When they can finally get you your drink (whether spirited or not), tip well as those few staff members are working hard.

Ace:  All the activity means that my least favorite thing is the lack of sleep. There’s so much to do. So many people to see and meet. It’s electric and the conversations go long into the night.

Frank: For me, it’s the travel distance.

Nancy:  One of the reasons I love WFC is you can accomplish more there than you can in two years outside WFC.  What was the most useful thing about it for you?

Frank: This is tied closely back to question about the best WFC-related thing – the connections we make. WFC is a wonderful place to network and interact with professionals representing all aspects of writing, including other authors, agents, editors, and publishers. The first several years of writing, I didn’t attend conventions. I wish I had. There are so many benefits to rubbing shoulders with others in the same business. People at WFC have consistently proven their willingness to share their knowledge, mentor newcomers, and provide opportunities.

Ace: Getting my finger on the pulse of what direction the industry is moving not only with writing trends but on the publishing environment.

Nancy:  Next year’s WFC will be in Brighton, England. Other than buy your membership now since it will likely sell out, any tips for those attending future WFCs?

Ann: Relax and enjoy yourself. Have fun. Talk. Attend panels, readings and parties; not only do you learn lots; you never know who you’ll meet.

Frank: Get to know the hospitality suite. It’s a great place to mingle, and to eat. This year’s hospitality suite (or con suite as it’s often known) was well stocked with surprisingly good food. I made some good contacts there and met a lot of people.

Put yourself out there. Most people were very outgoing and eager to talk with others. I saw a few who seemed to be lingering on the fringes, and managed to draw a couple of them into conversations. They were new authors with few connections, who felt a little lost. Many of us authors are introverted people, but we have to set that aside at conferences and take the initiative to meet people. The connections are invaluable. Once you have a base group of friends and acquaintances, it makes it that much easier to reach out even further.

One way to start getting to know people is to attend other writing seminars or workshops. For example, there were 8-10 of us who were alumni of the Superstars Writing Seminars. Those events were excellent in and of themselves, but now provided a secondary benefit. We all came to WFC already having a large group of friends to socialize with, share advice with, and to help us maximize our WFC experience.

Nancy:  To build on what Frank was saying, the benefits of WFC or any seminar or convention might not be immediately obvious, but there are long-term benefits. Every relationship you maintain is one where you can help someone else’s writing career, and that person, in turn, can assist you. Just remember to pay it forward.

Speaking of which, any tips on how to approach editors/agents at WFC?

Frank: Remember, relationships come first. We all want to meet editors, agents, other authors, etc. They want to meet people too. Relationships open doors both ways. But before we can make that pitch, before an editor will do more than look for a way to excuse themselves at the first opportunity, we need to establish a connection. Be friendly, but not desperate. Ask them about their projects, what they’re interested in, what books they’ve been reading. Look for things you have in common that can help build that connection. If you’re successful, they’ll ask for a pitch or give you a card. If you’re not, they’ll slip away no matter how hard you try to chase them. DON”T CHASE THEM. This is a business, and we are successful when we act like professionals.

One thing I had not understood prior to my first WFC is that many agents don’t really want a full pitch, although some do, so be prepared! I butchered my first live pitch, but thankfully the agent took the time to explain why I was so awful. She wouldn’t have if I hadn’t made a solid connection first. For those agents who do not want a full pitch, they’ll give you their card. This is a good thing. It opens the door to then send them a query per whatever guidelines they have posted on their website, and reference that meeting at WFC in the query. My agent was one of several I queried after WFC in 2010.

Ace: My nervousness at meeting editors and agents disappeared when I realized I wanted to buy their services. Yes, getting my novels published is the ultimate goal but it’s important to me that I find an agent who will work hard for me, and a publisher who has access to the appropriate markets who will work with me to make us both successful. An attitude of selling means I know my product; I have questions I want to ask and so all that makes me less nervous. And yes, my pitches are all prepared.

Nancy:  I saw your pitch sheet. It was really impressive. If you have a story that’s looking for a home, it helps to be prepared because you never know when someone will ask what you are working on. Having a prepared pitch helps reduce the nervousness. And I can’t emphasis what Frank said enough. Make a connection first and be a professional and polished version of yourself. Be courteous. Manners matter.

Frank:  Also, if you are too nervous to approach an agent or editor, rely on your friends, or people you’ve made a connection with at the Con. Have another author you know introduce you to an agent or editor. Chances are someone helped that person out when she was getting started, so she’s happy to help you, just like you’ll be happy to do it for someone else down the road.

Nancy:  What do you know now that you wished you knew before attending WFC?

Ace: I think I’d make plans with writer friends to stay an extra day or two to either hang out or have some writing time together. The con generates great energy that’s worth hanging on to for as long as possible.

Frank:  I wish I had taken more time to research people I wanted to talk with. Work was very busy prior to WFC so I didn’t have enough time to do the research I needed. For example, I wanted to talk with a couple of editors, but I didn’t manage to learn the names of the other editors at the publisher. I had a productive time, but there were definitely opportunities missed due to lack of preparation.

Final thoughts from all of us:

For those who have not attended WFC, we can’t recommend it highly enough. The publishing industry is small, and, in some ways, getting smaller as it changes. It’s important to become known and make connections.  Unlike, say some of the conventions where people walk about in costumes, WFC is a primarily professional convention. People attending WFC are, generally, those in the industry who we, as writers, will do business with. Making connection with people at WFC may mean the difference between publishing or not since people want to do business with someone they know.

See you in Brighton next year!


World Fantasy Convention starts in less than a week. This year the focus is on urban fantasy and gothic fantasy. If you’ve never been to a convention, going to your first convention is almost a magical experience by itself. You’ll meet authors left and right that have been in your shoes. You’ll see editors and agents who are willing to give you advice and may tell you to send a copy of your new novel their way. And, if nothing else, you’ll have a great time. So, if you’ve never been to a convention before, let’s look at why you should go to the next one, and what you should do when you arrive.

As you finish a novel or two, you’ll want to start submitting them to publishing houses and editors. Usually this ends up with your work starting at the bottom of a slush pile and you waiting impatiently for someone to read, and hopefully pick up your novel. The other option is to meet these publishers and editors and if they like you and your pitch, they may ask you to send them your work. While it will still end up on the slush pile, this can get you put to the top.

Even if you’re still not finished with your novel, conventions can be a great place to go for that little push. There is a common saying that says you should group yourself with people who are doing what you want to do. You can look pretty much everywhere and you’ll notice a trend of authors emerging into the publishing world in groups. You’ll have people that will push you to succeed while understanding the troubles you’re facing. Along these lines, conventions can act as a support group. For a couple days a year, you’ll be immersed into the middle of your peers and idols. You’ll hear about success and everyone will tell you that it can, and will, happen to you if you persevere.

If you’re still not convinced, Brandon Sanderson tells a story about when he was trying to get published. Brandon was taking a class with David Wolverton/Farland and David learned about the books Brandon had written. David told Brandon that he needed to make it to the next convention, even if it required selling everything he owned. Brandon listened to that advice, met his editor, and the rest is history.

So, you’ve made it to the convention that fits your work, now what? The best advice I can give you is to be social. The panels and talks are good and you should definitely attend the ones you find of interest, but the real magic usually happens outside the convention hall. Learn where the parties are happening and make an appearance. Hang out at the bar and introduce yourself. Be friendly and be ready to give that elevator pitch you’ve worked so hard on. Get business cards and email addresses. Start building up your circle of authors and industry professionals who know your name. It might give you the edge you need in the future.

If you have a novel ready to be published, you’ll want to do your homework before the convention and put on the dreaded marketers cap. Many conventions, such a world fantasy, have a list of who will be attending. If not, you should be following the publishers you want to submit to on twitter and facebook anyway, so you should have an idea of who is attending. Take this list and learn everything you can about the publishers and editors that you want to submit to. You should remember that they’re people as well, and like talking to people who appreciate their work. Ask them about the novels they’re currently working on, and how the last batch has done. Be friendly, and not pushy. If all goes well, they’ll reciprocate and ask what you’re working on.

Just remember to be friendly and listen to social cues. Being too pushy or problematic can hurt your chances as well. If the other person is in a hurry or trying to leave, wait for another opportunity. Talk to others in the group and make friends. Even if you don’t kick it off with your favorite editor, there are plenty of people around willing to talk to you and give you the push you need.

Genre Writing is Like Your Favorite Food

Last night I was in a group and had been discussing my book that is currently in edits and being beta-read.  One of my female friends and I began a private talk about reading preferences and she said, “Most romance novels are stupid.”  I write romance, but took no offense because people like what they like.  I get it.

As we discussed this topic further, my friend said the thing she didn’t like about romances was exactly what I like best about romances.  And what I think most people like best about whatever genre writing they read – that they know the formula, they like the formula and they want more of the formula.  Not saying that genre writing is boring or predictable.  I don’t think it is.  I think it’s more resonance and comfortableness.  It’s like your favorite food.  No matter how you change the method of cooking or the ingredients involved – a burger is a burger.  You know it, you like it, you want more of it.   It’s familiar and we like that.

That’s what genre writing is.  Any particular genre has it’s own conventions, things that must happen in order for it to qualify as being in that genre.   In romance, the hero and heroine have to have conflict they overcome in order to be together at the end.  They will be together at the end.  That’s non-negotiable.  No matter the bumpy road (and it needs to be a bumpy road) they must traverse, they also must end up at their destination of happy-ever-after together.   That makes me happy.  I can still get caught up in the bumpy road and feel their frustration and joy with them, but in the end I know it will all be OK and that works for  me.   I like the journey.

I have another friend, she doesn’t like romance writing either, who wants to know what happens after they get together.  She doesn’t want to know how they get together, she wants to know how they stay together for the long haul, the day in and day out.   I don’t care so much how they stay together, I don’t want to see them struggling with how to make time for each other, find romance despite having two point five kids and a mortgage.  This does make for many a great romantic-comedy movie though.  But me, I just want to see them get together after some trials and be left with the fantasy that all will be well – no matter what.

David Farland (aka Dave Wolverton), a SciFi / Fantasy writer (among so many other things he does brilliantly) says that we like genres for what they make us feel.  Fantasy brings us a sense of wonder, Mystery’Suspense gives us a thrill while we try to solve the problem.  Again – this is what makes it genre writing.

I like and read different genres and I know exactly what I’m getting when I start reading.  I know the conventions (or formula) that I can count on, but what I don’t know is the means by which I will travel this familiar road or the sights I will see as I go down it.  But I do know the destination and that’s where I want to end up.  Just watch what happens when a writer tries to not follow the rules of that genre.  It won’t be liked.  Many a reader will be angry in fact.

So back to my first friend and her ‘romance is stupid’ comment.  When she told me what she did like to read, I was amused because she just likes a different genre with different rules.  She didn’t even seem to realize that what she enjoys reading has the same results over and over too.  Different and yet the same.  I didn’t bother pointing that out.

Your thoughts?

Superstars Week, Day 4: Q&A with the Superstars, Part 1

Now for our last two days of Superstars Week: Q&A with Kevin J. Anderson and David Farland, two of the panelists participating in Superstars Seminar. The other regular participants are: Eric Flint, Rebecca Moesta, and Brandon Sanderson. For more info on the seminar, go to www.superstarswritingseminar.com.

Though they need no introduction, it felt like a requirement, so:

Kevin J. AndersonKevin J. Anderson is the author of more than one hundred novels, 47 of which have appeared on national or international bestseller lists. He has won or been nominated for numerous prestigious awards, including the Nebula Award, Bram Stoker Award, and New York Times Notable Book. By any measure, he is one of the most popular writers currently working in the science fiction genre.

David Farland

David Farland is an award-winning, New York Times bestselling author who has penned nearly fifty science fiction and fantasy novels for both adults and children. Along the way, he has also worked as the head judge for one of the world’s largest writing contests, as a creative writing instructor, as a videogame designer, as a screenwriter, and as a movie producer.

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Q: Who thought of the Superstars Seminar and why did you think it was a good idea?

Kevin J. Anderson: Rebecca and I had Dave, Brandon, and Eric come to stay at our house for a few days so we could have a “bestseller summit” — with the intention of benefiting *ourselves*.  We were all bestselling, well-established authors, and there just aren’t workshops to give practical, no-nonsense advice to Pros.  We learned a lot from one another in those few intensive days, and we realized that we had a lot of good information to share with other serious writers, who weren’t getting it anywhere else.  The first seminar, in Pasadena, we had two TV producers who wanted to come and sit in-Steven L Sears and Marc Scott Zicree-and they ended up being guest speakers.  The second year, in Salt Lake City, we had Sherrilyn Kenyon as our official guest speaker, but Tracy Hickman and Howard Tayler also came to attend, and they spoke as well.  For the next seminar, we have Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith, but we’ll probably have some other surprise guests, as well.

David Farland: This was Kevin Anderson’s idea.  Some of us professional writers had gathered to talk about the state of the industry.  Brandon and I were both giving advice–me through my Daily Kick and Brandon through his podcasts, and Kevin suggested that we create a writing workshop taught only by NYT bestsellers.  I’d never seen one like this in our field, but it certainly made good sense, especially when one hears that wanky advice often given out by new authors who, while they may mean well, just aren’t very well informed.

Kevin and I have been friends since at least 1990, and we often talk–either through email or in person.  I’d discovered Eric Flint through writers of the Future and helped him get published.  I’ve always loved Eric and respected his work.  And then I was Brandon’s writing instructor at BYU.  I later took him out on his first book-signing tours and helped him get his career started.  So we’re not just writers, but also we’re all friends.  Each of the authors brings his or her own experience and strengths to the table.

Q: How long do you intend to keep doing it?

Dave: Oh, I’ll die in 15 years or so.  I think I’ll retire shortly thereafter.

Kevin: It’s very time consuming and a lot of work, but we get plenty of rewards.  It all depends on whether we have enough attendees!

Q: What has been your most rewarding or favorite moment from the seminars so far? (We had to specify that they couldn’t use Tracy Hickman’s story during the 2011 seminar.)

Kevin: (Note that the Tracy Hickman story was not planned; he just asked if he could have the microphone for a few minutes.)  It’s very rewarding to see how many people from the first two Superstars have signed up again for later seminars — so, either it isn’t sinking in the first time around, or they feel it’s valuable.  I love watching the discussion groups on Facebook and keeping in contact with some of our attendees, to watch how their careers are taking off (much faster than mine ever did!)

Dave: That’s a hard one.  For me, the greatest reward is to meet the people at the seminar.  I’ve very much enjoyed getting to know several people from the workshop, though I hesitate to try to name them all, for fear that someone will be left out.  You see, as a writer, we don’t get to have much in the way of a social life.  So I really take delight in getting to meet you new authors.

Q: If a student is to take away only one piece of information from this seminar, what do you hope it will be?

Kevin: That being a professional writer is an actual job-a business-and you need to treat it as such. You can’t just be flaky and “artistic” and miss your deadlines.

Dave: Ah, for each one of you, it will be different.  One of you might need to learn to make writing a habit.  So that’s what I want you to take away.  One of you might need to learn how to run an auction.  If so, I want you to walk away with that.  One of you might just need to learn how to hope in the face of discouragement–and so you must gain that.

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Join us tomorrow for the rest of our question and answer session.