Tag Archives: conventions

The Right Thing

I’ve written before on this blog about my experience attending conventions and seminars, but today I want to revisit that subject and take a different perspective. My previous posts have been about professionalism, about making contacts, meeting editors, etc. Today I want to look at the convention experience from the perspective of a fan.

Everyone who writes genre fiction is also a genre fiction fan. This is perhaps obvious! Last spring, the Fictorians devoted a whole month to discussing various bloggers’ inspirations for being a writer, and not surprisingly a large number of those posts ended up being about genre books, movies, and television shows. People who are caught up in the genre milieu are often the same ones who later become the most prodigious content creators.

Certainly some conventions are more for fans than they are for writers and other content creators (as Randy McCharles discussed here just a few days ago). The most recent con I went to was World Fantasy, which going by McCharles’ metrics is probably 95–100% craft, with just a fringe of commercial around the edges. This is a convention for writers to mingle with other writers. The number of con-goers is capped, so it never felt crowded; in fact, as I wandered the hotel hallways and worked my way from one panel to another I found myself coming upon the same faces over and over again. This is kind of wonderful, because you start to make friends and contacts almost without trying.

And some of those faces? They be famous faces.

WFC is a convention for writers, not hordes of screaming fans in Chewbacca costumes (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but as I mentioned earlier, the writers are fans, too. And as someone who wasn’t accustomed to sharing a table with the people who wrote the books I grew up with? Well, this was heaven.

If someone told me I’d sit across a table listening to L.E. Modesitt Jr. wax eloquent about the time he and his friend constructed a makeshift bomb as children and blew a hole in their family’s shed, I’d have told them to bugger off. I chatted on several occasions with Guy Gavriel Kay (and one of my friends who shall remain nameless—never mind, it’s this one—may or may not have stolen his swag bag of books after the con was over). In a very brief exchange, I met Robert J. Sawyer, with whom I later had the pleasure of becoming much more closely acquainted when he visited my city. I also got to meet two of my favorite writers of all time, the husband-and-wife duo of Gar and Judith Reeves-Stevens. I had been sitting just one row behind them during one of the panels; I have no idea what the panel was about, because I spent the whole time staring at the back of their heads like a serial killer. Fortunately, I kept it together when I finally approached them. They were ever so gracious to speak with me for a few minutes, even though they were obviously on their way to somewhere more important. And the crème de la crème? Me and several other Fictorian contributors had the unique opportunity to pick Brandon Sanderson’s brain in a small and exclusive two-hour Q&A session.

If I haven’t convinced you yet that cons are awesome, you’re beyond hope. Over the years since, I’ve been to a few different cons, and this experience has been mirrored several times. I’m so accustomed to meeting well-known writers now that I’ve started to view them as colleagues—much more experienced and successful colleagues, sure, but colleagues nonetheless.

I’m sure there are some authors who don’t have the time of day for their fans. I’ve heard horror stories, but I’ve never met them, which tells me they must be in the minority. Or at least, you’re less likely to bump into this kind of author at cons, because they have other places they’d rather be.

The authors I met were all polite and approachable. I never felt awkward around them. When we chatted, it wasn’t all about them; they asked me questions about myself as well. They seemed to enjoy connecting with the masses. And you know what? Meeting these authors only made me want to run home and buy as many books of theirs as I could find. The moral of the story is that being a good and decent human being is not only the right thing to do, it probably has some economic benefits as well.

So it turns out the authors whose jacket cover headshots I lovingly gazed at with hero worship as a preteen, and then as a teenager, and then as a young adult, and then embarrassingly even as a nearer-to-middle-age adult, are just people, not much different than I am. That right there infuses me with hope and optimism.

One day, if a fan ever comes up to me and wants my autograph, or even just wants to say hi, no matter how busy I am or what I’m doing, I’m going to smile in the memory of all these wonderful genre fiction luminaries who came before me and pay it forward. It’s the right thing to do.

The Five Pro-Tips of the Fan-Zone

The writing business is not an easy one. It’s long, lonely hours of producing material often followed by piles of rejection letters before we even get our shot. Even then, there is nothing guaranteed. It’s an enter at your own risk sort of business. Chances are you will not be made rich, nor famous, nor even influential. Why then do we even bother?

INCONCEIVABLEOne and all, we are here because we love stories. We were touched at some point in our lives by the words of another and were inspired to share our own thoughts and creativity with the world. Writers are born from fans. So then, it would be absolutely, utterly inconceivable that we, as authors, would cringe at any amount of fan attention. Honestly, it depends on the person. First and foremost, writers are people, and many of us are introverts. Interacting with people isn’t easy, so many authors create a mental space that I call the “fan-zone.”

When you approach an author at a convention or some other event, they will be continuously evaluating everyone around them to decide if they will be shelved in one of three categories. First, is this someone with whom I can do business (agents, editors, publishers, etc)? Second, is this a person who will not expect anything from me other than normal social interactions (fellow writers or non-fans)? Finally, is this person a fan, a person for whom I will need to project my authorial persona? This split-second categorization will help determine how they interact with you.

The fan-zone is not a bad place to be, in fact, many authors love interacting with fans. For me, talking about writing and stories with people is one of the best parts of being a writer. Through trial and error and a bit of advice given to me by good friends, I have come up with a list of pro-tips that I try to hold to while interacting with authors.

Pro-Tip #1: Be a fan in MODERATION

You don’t want to be this guy. Seriously, just don’t.


There is no better way to put your favorite author on the defensive than to come off as too eager or demanding. Please, show your appreciation for their work and talent, but also be aware of how you appear to the other person. If a perfect stranger were to approach you the way you are about to approach your favorite author, would you want to talk to them?

Pro-Tip #2: Be CONSIDERATE of the author’s commitments

Authors typically have a large number of demands on our time and attention. Aside from our personal lives, we have deadlines and our own projects to work on. When at conventions, we’ll typically have a schedule of things that need to be accomplished or places we need to be. The better known the author, the more extreme this becomes. Please keep this in mind when approaching your favorite author. If you chat with them for a few minutes and things seem to be going well, feel free to offer to buy them a cup of coffee or lunch. If they turn you down, it’s probably not personal.

Pro-Tip #3: Read the SOCIAL QUES and respond appropriately

Non-verbal ques are essential to any interaction and are a large part of what allows the social contract to function. Is the author settling into a more comfortable position while leaning forward to engage you? Perhaps they are interested in a more lengthy interaction. Do they seem to be backing up or turning their body away from you? The conversation is likely over. Are they looking to the next person in line at a signing? Chances are that they have spent all the time they can with you and need to move on. Social ques are highly individual and situational, so you’ll have to use your best judgment to figure out what is being said.

Pro-Tip #4: Respect the author’s PRIVACY

Unless you are planning on using the facilities yourself, don’t ever follow an author/agent/editor/person into the bathroom. Even then, it’s something to be avoided. Though inappropriate and unnecessary, it is a tactic that is still attempted none the less. Read blogs or articles online from editors and agents and they seem to universally agree: the bathroom is neither the time nor place to pitch your next great manuscript. The same thing applies to waiting in ambush outside the door. In general, it’s a bad first impression. If the person you are trying to talk to makes a move towards some place where they should have the reasonable expectation of privacy, the conversation is done.

Pro-Tip #5: Authors are PEOPLE TOO

As fans, we create this pedestal upon which we settle our favorite authors. We want them to be kind and charming, to share their experience and love of their characters and stories with us. Truth is, writers are people too. However, writers are people too. We get tired, hungry and cranky. Conventions and signings are business trips for us. We are continuously working for the space of a few hours or maybe even up to a week. The unfortunate truth is that some writers are just arrogant jerks. Be prepared for your favorite author to be human. Be a person to them, not just a fan, and things will likely go better.

Superstars Writing Seminar – worth attending again

SuperstarsSuperstars Writing Seminar will be held February 6–8 in Colorado Springs, CO.  It is the premier seminar on the business of writing, period.  I attended the first seminar, held in 2010 in Pasadena, CA, and I’m eagerly anticipating attending again this year.

I’m not the only alumni of the seminar to sign up for another year, and honestly I would have loved to have gone last year.  This Fictorians group was formed from alumni of the Superstars seminar, and members have begun publishing and making their mark as writers.  In the near future, we’ll only see that trend increasing, thanks in part to knowledge gained through Superstars.

You may ask yourself why we’re so eager to spend the hundreds of dollars required to invest in another seminar when we learned so much the last time we went.

It’s precisely because we learned so much last time.

This seminar is different than any other writer’s seminar I know of.  It’s taught by bestselling authors, top editors, and publishers, but more than that what makes this seminar stand apart is the content.  This is a crash course in the business of writing, where successful writing professionals share what they do and how they manage their career.  For writers who are serious about their writing career, be they newbie authors who have yet to complete their first novel, or published writers looking to reach the next level, this seminar imparts a wealth of information that I have not found anywhere else.

You can view a high level description of the curriculum here which includes contracts, agents, indie publishing, traditional publishing, intellectual properties, and much more.

The seminar in 2010 was a career-changing experience for me.  I arrived as an eager, wannabe writer with lots of enthusiasm and one manuscript completed.  I left even more energized and armed with the knowledge I needed to move into the next stage of my career as a writer.  Given the constantly moving target which is publishing these days, the specifics of what is taught each year is adjusted accordingly, so I expect this year’s content to be different from what I saw just four years ago.

What I learned four years ago is still fresh in my mind.  Some favorite memories include Brandon Sanderson relating how he landed his first agent; Kevin J. Anderson’s popcorn theory; Eric Flint’s detailed discussion of contracts; and the discussion of how prolific an author really needs to be to succeed.

On top of the top-rate content, this seminar provides other fantastic benefits.  Not only did we form the Fictorians from alumni of the seminars, but the instructors have remained available and engaged with the group.  We have a private Facebook group where we can all post questions and comments and get advice or feedback from each other and from the instructors.  The networking benefits of the seminar are proving an invaluable long-term benefit.

This year I approach the seminar from a slightly different point.  I have four novels completed, with four more in various stages of outlining, one novel e-published and an agent working on deals with others.  This time I have different needs, and I fully expect to gain the knowledge I need to make even greater strides forward in my career.

So is Superstars worth attending again?


If you’ve never heard of Superstars, check it out.  I guarantee it’s worth the investment.


When Words Collide: A Must-go-to Festival for Readers and Writers

When Words Collide is one of my favorite events. It’s a dynamic, cross genre (science fiction, fantasy, romance, crime, literary, young adult, horror, urban fantasy, horrors and more), readers and writers festival. There is a variety of panels ranging from homicide, criminal psychology, taxes, play writing, transhumanism, writing dirty scenes, adapting the novel to script, indie versus traditional publishing to name a few. Coffee clutches along with readings and key note addresses provide great opportunities to hear your favorite authors. Previous years have seen guests such as Patricia Briggs (fantasy and urban fantasy), Michael Cassutt (TV/Film Scriptwriter and Sci Fi), Barbara Fradkin (Mystery), David B. Coe/D.B. Jackson (Fantasy, historical fantasy), Adrienne Kerr (Editor Penguin Canada), Kevin J. Anderson (Science Fiction), Anthony Bidulka (Mystery) and Rachel Caine (Cross-genre). I spoke with festival Chair, Randy McCharles about the event.

WWC is billed as a festival for readers and writers, not a conference. Why is this?
Writers conferences provide content for writers, usually those still learning the basics of the business. More established authors as well as editors and agents are the speakers, and 100% of the content is structured to help new writers enter the game. Readers festivals are mostly opportunities for readers to purchase books and have them signed by the authors, as well as listen to a number of authors read and perhaps speak on discussion panels. When Words Collide is relatively unique in that it addresses both these demographics and provides content for more advanced writers as well. One of the most enjoyable things over all three years was meeting new and interesting people, many of whom I continue to associate with throughout the year. The festival is, after all, a social event where readers and writers gather to meet like-minded people and discuss their interests.

Why a readers and writers conference?What will readers get from it?
When we started When Words Collide, we had no idea who would be interested in attending, but desired to be as inclusive as possible. As it turned out. Everyone was interested. For the first 3 years we collected registration demographics, which indicate that 50% of attendees classify themselves as readers. When we put together each year’s program, we work to include quality content for beginning writers, established writers, and for readers. Some of the reader content includes readings by festival guests and attending authors, an autograph session, a merchants area for popular and hard to find books, and nonstop panels discussions by authors and avid readers on topics of interest to readers. Many readers are also interested in the writing process and attend presentations and discussion geared for writers, especially if authors they enjoy are speaking.

Who are the guest speakers for 2014?
Our editor guest is Mark Leslie, Director of Self-Publishing & Author Relations at Kobo Canada. Kobo is a major player in Canada’s publishing community and Mark has vast expertise in the area of how to be published both traditionally and through self-publishing. We also have four big name authors. Diana Gabaldon is an award-winning author of Historical Fiction whose Outlander series is currently being made into a TV series. Jacqueline Guest is an international award-winner of Young Adult and Historical Fiction. D. J. McIntosh is the author of the internationally bestselling Mesopotamian Trilogy mystery. Brandon Sanderson is a bestselling author of Epic Fantasy, for his own work as well as the final three books of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.

Tell us about the pre-festival workshops you’ve added this year.
We have several workshops ranging from 3 hours to 1 day. The workshops offer a deeper look at the subject matter by masters in their fields and are a great compliment to the more relaxed, shorter events during the festival. More information can be found online.

  • Adrienne Kerr (Penguin Canada) is returning for her 3rd year and will teach 2 1-day workshops on manuscript critiques.
  • Mark Leslie (Kobo Canada) is offering 2 half-day presentations: one on how authors can promote themselves and the other is on the pros and cons of traditional and indie publishing.
  • D. J. McIntosh has a workshop on how to get published based on her own overnight sensation experience. Jacqueline Guest is also teaching a workshop on producing and promoting your book.
  • Jack Whyte is returning to conduct the popular SIWC (Surrey International Writers Conference) master class workshop, Manuscript Strengths & Weaknesses.
  • Alberta Romance Writers Association has a workshop: Monochrome or Tapestry – Engineering your stories for texture and depth.
  • Brandon Sanderson had hoped to provide a pre-festival workshop, but his schedule won’t permit, so he is giving a 2 hour presentation as part of the weekend festival instead.

What are some of the features which set WWC apart from other conferences?
We have brought together several events:

  • The Blue Pencil is a short sit down with and editor or author (who does a lot of editing) to receive some feedback on a piece of your manuscript. The Pitch Session is where you pitch your novel idea to agents and editors. Alberta is not overflowing with agents, so we often have authors stand in who can still give excellent feedback on your pitch and possibly refer you to appropriate agents. We do have several acquisition editors at WWC and they do request manuscripts.
  • The Live Action Slush has grown very popular in recent years. It may have started at SIWC (Surrey International Writers Conference) as Writer Idol, but we changed the name to be more reflective of what it actually is. Essentially, members of the audience submit anonymous first pages to be read and listened to by a panel of editors. Editors raise their hand when they would have stopped reading and rejected the manuscript. The editors then comment on why they stopped. This is a great experience, not just for those who submit pages, but for the entire audience as a great insight into how books are rejected or selected by publishers. Many readers also enjoy these session. It is so popular that WWC holds several sessions focused on different genres.
  • The 50 Minute Workshops are also very popular. In 2014 we will run more than 40 of them. Essentially an instructor gives a presentation or hands-on workshop to a smaller audience (less than 30 people). These may be on any topic of interest to readers or writers.
  • Our Friday Keynotes are also unique. Most conferences have sessions with 1 keynote speaker, as do we. But we also have a 2 hour session where all of the festival guests speak for 15-20 minutes on any subject. The range and mix of profoundness is my favorite part of the festival.
  • One of the most enjoyable things is meeting new and interesting people, many of whom I continue to associate with throughout the year. The festival is, after all, a social event where readers and writers gather to meet like-minded people and discuss their interests.

Where and when is WWC happening?
When Words Collide is always on the second week of August. This year it’ll be held from August 8-10 at The Carriage House Inn in Calgary, Alberta.

How can you make all this happen with a registration fee of $60 at the door or $45 if people register before April 1st?
Attending 3 days at When Words Collide costs $40-$60 (depending on when memberships are purchased), making it a bargain for writers and affordable for readers. We limit invited speakers to 5 or 6, usually 1 editor and 4 or 5 authors working in a range of genres for whom we cover travel expenses and provide an honorarium. Last year we had 150 volunteer presenters (professionals, writers and readers). All organizers and staff are also volunteers some of whom work tirelessly on grant requests, which greatly subsidize our costs. The festival is very much a labor of love. We are always on the lookout for new presenters we may be unaware of, and encourage people to contact us. Unlike most events, we publish our schedule online as it is being developed so that attendees can see our progress throughout the year.

Is there anything else you’d like people to know?
If you are interested in reading or writing, be it literary or genre fiction, poetry, or even non-fiction, When Words Collide is the one event in Canada that you want to attend. We expect over 500 attendees in 2014 from across Canada and from the US. Each hour of the day has 10 different activities to choose from. You will meet authors, make new friends, and learn as much about literature in Canada as you like. You can even watch our schedule develop online through the year as invited guests and attending presenters confirm their activities. Links to information about previous years are also available.

Randy McCharlesRandy McCharles is active in Calgary, Alberta’s writing community with a focus on speculative fiction, usually of the dark and humorous variety. In 2009 he received Canada’s most prestigious award for speculative fiction, the Aurora Award, for the novella Ringing in the Changes in Okotoks, Alberta which appeared in Tesseracts 12 (Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing) and was also reprinted in Year’s Best Fantasy 9 (David Hartwell and Kathryn Kramer, ed). When not making up tall tales, Randy organizes literary events, including chairing the When Words Collide festival for Readers and Writers. Information on Randy’s published works can be found on his website.