Search This Blog

Friday, May 22, 2015

Myths about the Writing Life (ConCarolinas 2014 Writing Panel Notes)

Myths About the Writing Life
Tamsin L. Silver, Misty Massey, Claudette Marco, Jim Bernheimer, A.J. Hartley, Roy Mauritsen, James R. Tuck
Moderator: Faith Hunter

Myths of the writer’s life (read aloud)
1. My solid gold hummer doesn’t spit money
2. Royalty checks are big
3. People always want to write your books
4. No revisions
5. No day job
6. You need a big publisher
7. Once you write in one genre you can only write in that genre
8. All you need is an agent
9. A book deal equals fame
10. You need to write chapters in linear sequence
11. A great-selling novel equals an automatic movie deal
12. Just about getting your first book out, and it’s all gravy after book 1
13. Publicity and marketing people at your publishers ensure your book gets read
14. Book sales are counted in hundreds of thousands

Myth: Publicity and marketing people at your publisher ensure your book gets read.
AJ: People assume that if you’re with a major publisher that marketing budgets are divided equally between authors. The person with the higher advance gets the higher budget. Unless you’re one of a very small percentage within that house, there is virtually no publicity or support.
TS: Her publisher told her promotion was her job, and didn’t help after a year, so she pulled her book.
RM: Went for a smaller press because he wanted more control.
MM: Not only did the PR people not do anything, they weren’t clear on what she should do.
FH: PR is the lowest position in publishing. New authors are often taken care of by inexperienced PR staff. Best to get a PR firm to help you learn. Online ads and referrals are best. If you don’t know how to do your own PR then you lose out.
JB: (mostly self published) Marketing time will eat into your writing time if you’re not careful. Be prepared to part with money to get noticed.
CM: (self published) Successful at conventions. Blog tours didn’t help much. Being at conventions, especially speaking on panels, helped her make connections.
AJ: Twitter blew up when Richard Armitage read his Hamlet book. Made it hard to keep up, have a dayjob, and write.

Myth: You need a big publisher to sell your work.
TS: Self-published, at book 5, and someone who works at Vampire loved her books and asked her to write a new online vampire show, so began work on Skye of the Damned, learned how to produce a show, and as  a result the cross promotion led to more book sales. Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know. If you don’t know it, you can learn it.
FH: The learning curve never stops.
MM: Releasing a book of short stories on her own featuring Mad Kestrel because there has been a long gap in releasing books 1 and 2.
CM: All the marketing is on you if you are self-published. Used CreateSpace as publishing venue so that she could put more money into editing, cover art, etc.
JB: You don’t even need the brick and mortar stores, either. Self-publishing – Create Space, Lightning Source. Create Space is more print on demand. Lightning Source will send you the bill for returned books put in brick and mortar stores.
RM: Brick and mortar stores are fighting, competing with other books. Prefers to take books to convention regardless of small press or large. Works in graphic design and now designs covers for other writers. Likes having more control with a smaller press.
FH: Brick and mortar stores are going away is what we’re hearing. But?
AJ: There’s a myth going around that b and m stores are going away. It’s hard to make a real living without a big pub and books in physical stores. Doesn’t have the skills or time for publicity and marketing his books, so he wants the big press to promote him. It comes down to what you want to achieve. Grocery money? Being out there, sharing stories? Self pub. Consistently 50K a year or more, very difficult to do that as a self-published author. Traditional publishing is not dying. Some of those who self pub should not be putting their work out. The initial myth that you need a traditional pub to get your book out is not true. The new myth that we can also load up to Amazon and make a fortune is also untrue.
FH: The myth that you can quit your dayjob is also untrue. She just quit her dayjob, decades in. Hit bestseller list, hired a PR firm, and the firm let her down, didn’t get much attention from publisher until they noticed her books stayed on the extended list. Hired her own PR firm.
AJ: The NYT list is calculated based on numbers of copies shipped from warehouses to stores, while the USA Today list is based on number of sales. Also, Booklist and many others have their own lists.
FH: Making the bestseller list did not translate to more PR when she hit the bestseller list the first time, but then eventually did.

Audience Question: What’s more important, print and e-book sales or hardcover?
FH: Mass markets don’t make much per book. Print and e-book sales
JB: Has been self-publishing, and the most he’s ever made in one year is 22K. Nice supplemental money is great, but don’t quit your dayjob.
FH: But until you hit a bestseller list, you’ll be lucky to make even 20K in traditional publishing. The first book selling for a million to a pub is very rare.
JT: There’s no money in publishing. This isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. Don’t do this for the money, do it for yourself.
AJ: Those who make the most money are hybrids, selling out of print backlist via self-publishing, and also selling traditional work.
FH: Publishers aren’t letting go of the print rights like they used to. An agent helps to keep it. If you go for a traditional press, have an agent.
JT: If you don’t have an agent, demand things out of your contract. Have a lawyer look after it. A contract lawyer can help too.

Myth: Once you get that first book published, you’re set.
FH: This is more for the traditionally-published folk, but how hard is it if you haven’t been traditionally published to keep publishing?
CM: It is difficult, and conventions take money, but does get the satisfaction of putting book out there and interest in writing to work. Tried to find an agent, and some were interested, but eventually it didn’t work out. Liked finding her own editor, connecting that with story, finding own cover artist, etc. Not much money, but she has the satisfaction of living out her dream.
FH: Even for traditionally published it can take a lot. Hotel rooms at a con, meals, flights, etc, are not typically comped.
MM: Eight years after Mad Kestrel, finally got invited to a con that comped a hotel room.
RM: Being able to share a story, create something, that’s the satisfying aspect for him.
FH: We all do this because we love to do this.
TS: I can’t not write. As an artist, this is extremely fulfilling. Remembers that she is not writing for anyone but herself.  It’s always better to write for you, not for the people around her
FH: It sucks having to write something just to pay the bills.
AJ: there is a downside to quitting your dayjob. You become a slave to the market. There’s a freedom to knowing that the sales of your next novel don’t determine whether you get to keep your house.
MM: Most people do not have the discipline to treat it as a job in your own home. Most people are writing in their home and when you’re in your home the brain is telling you to do all the things, the chores, the laundry, and Facebook, etc. You have to be super disciplined to not have a day job and write in your home.
Me: Three times I’ve taken a week off just to focus on writing, and three times the week has been filled.
FH: There are no benefits for those who quit their dayjobs.

Myth: You’ll be able to write at conventions.
JT: I’m too busy drinking with friends.
TS: I go out to eat and drink with friends.
JB: Maybe a bit but cons are an opportunity pit.
AJ: Used to bring his laptop. *snort*
RM: Cons are an opportunity to not write, to make connections.
TS: It’s important to talk about writing, so you have so much more energy when you get back to that
FH: The networking that happens at cons happens at the bar. You can do this even as a recovering alcoholic.

Audience Question: How do you write at home without social media?
FH: Rewards herself: she can only check FB after she finishes every page, if she wants.
JT: No internet in his office. Researches things later. “Research” turns into time spent on FB.
CM: Sets goals, takes breaks.
TS: Easy to sit and write.

Audience Question: Advice on finding cover artist if you’ve self-publised a book?
RM: You can find a lot of great artists through Deviant Art.
JT: If you buy a sketch from a cover artist, you can’t use it for a book cover. There’s a big contract involved first.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Stealing the Spotlight: When Sidekicks Take Over (ConCarolinas 2014 Writing Panel Notes)

Stealing the Spotlight: When Sidekicks Take Over
Chris A. Jackson, James R. Tuck, Michael G. Williams, Thomas Monaghan
Moderator: Edward McKeown
Thoughts about sidekicks:
- TM: Side characters that become pivotal, going from a name drop to a character that orchestrates the story’s end; it’s surprising how the small characters can change the story
- EM: The person who changes the most is often the secondary character (e.g. Spock from Star Trek, Watson)
- CJ: You can have more than one protagonist!
- MW: The moment the secondary character starts to take over: When they start behaving like the main characters of their own stories.
- TM: We’re more risky with our secondary and tertiary characters and we get to explore more of their dark side, and that makes them lively and brings them to the forefront.
- CJ: Also, if they’re secondary characters, they can more easily be killed, which adds tension.
- TM: The characters can take you for a ride. Backstory can be added for colour, then revisited as a critical issue later in the story.
- JT: It’s easy to overdo secondary characters.
- CJ: But you can add depth to the character without overwhelming.
- JT: Then it’s not backstory, it’s what’s happened in the past that has made that character become the person they are.
- CJ: It can be hard when the side story enrichens the story, but at the cost of way too much wordcount.
- EM: Secondary characters can go on to other adventures that are fairly incredible.
- MW: Secondary characters can be waiting to be used, in their own stories.
- TM: One incredible example is Vir from Babylon 5, going from a buffoon to the emperor of the Centauri republic.
- EM: Delenn also moved the entire series.
- JT: By the end of Buffy, everyone else is more important than her. She doesn’t change much.
- EM: Spike’s change on Buffy.
- CJ: Sec characters enrich the story. Take that. Ride that pony all the way to the barn. Just be aware of word count.
- MW: If a character entertains him, then he’ll go with it because he’s enjoying it.
- Audience comment: Monroe on Grimm, Regina from Once Upon a Time.

Audience Question: Spike’s arc was supposed to be static in the second season. What do you do when a character gets such overwhelming support that you keep him on?
- EM: That’s called Conan Doyle syndrome.
- TM: The characters tell him when he’s done.
- CJ: If his fanbase will pay him for more of that sec character, then he’ll write it, if that story is worthy of telling.
- TM: That’s the secret: the story has to be worth telling.
- CJ: Has a respect for his fans: he wouldn’t tell it if they didn’t think it was worth telling.
- MW: When a few say they want more, he doesn’t put much stock in it, but when lots say they do, then he puts way more.

Other examples and discussion:
- CJ: Characters who keep getting their asses kicked and still win.
- TM: That’s what tertiary and secondary characters are for.
- JT: Works for Dresden because the effects carry over into the next book. Bad writing is when the hero/protagonist is completely unaffected in the next book.
- Audience comment: Hannibal Lecter – was originally a side character in Manhunter.
- MW: People willing to completely say their motivations out loud.
- JT: I normally have filters, but they go way down. (And boy do they come off at the con.)
- TM: A villain doing what is necessary, what he sees as necessary for his people, but is he genuinely evil, or just going to extreme measures to have a positive outcome?
- EM: Are the rebels always the good guys?
- JT: Lex Luthor sees Superman if anything goes wrong, if Superman decided to take over the world he could. Black Panther and Dr. Doom are the same but one is good and one is evil.
- MW: Sometimes the hero and villain are each other’s heroes and villains.  
- JT: All of the Firefly crew is their own protagonist.
- CJ: Fallible protagonist: Any time Mal screws up is when the side characters can step in
- MW: Each character in Firefly stands out and it works.
- MW: When a side character goes off and comes back changed or even damaged, and it affects a later story.
- EM: There’s a synergy – some characters who don’t seem to exist without the hero, the whole is greater than the parts (Kirk/Spock/McCoy, Sherlock/Watson, etc)
- TM: Characters pair up, work together as a team, and it helps develop them further. This helps to advance the story better.
- EM: When the main POV character teamed with extraordinary character, and the extraordinary character is more than main character, and the POV character is more normal.
- TM: Like the Dr. Who companion. Gives him a chance to explain, not just for the companion but for the audience.
- TM: Often the side character comes up with solutions to problems.

Audience Question: Are secondary/tertiary characters the ones making the world, or does the protagonist make the world?
- TM, CJ: Both
- JT: Secondary characters can show parts of the world to broaden the world and bring more perspective without going into too much detail.
- MW: In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, DS9 is a station, so there are a lot of walk-ons, which help make the world.

Audience Question: How do you prevent characters from other races/species from being token?
- EM: To some extent these characters are tokens. They are what they do. You could put in some characteristics that
- TM: Try to provide other characters from that same race, to give alternative views. Helps you paint a broader picture from both sides.
- CJ: Tertiary characters *are* setting. Keep them as real as you can without letting them take the story places you don’t want them to go. No one cares what colour the carpet is unless someone’s bleeding on it. No one cares about backstory unless it affects the story.
- TM: If they’re just that once
- EM: Cultures are easier to stereotype.
- JT: Write well. But also, these characters are not in their culture so they will react differently to what’s going on because it’s not where they’re form.
- MW: Cheesy trick: Have someone treat them like a token and see how they react.

Are sidekicks and main characters sometimes impossible without each other?
- EM: Xena and Gabrielle – better characters together than on their own.
- MW: Quark and Odo from Deep Space Nine. DS9 is the messy show.
- TM: Londo and Jakar in Babylon 5. Jakar’s journey through the show.
- JT: Captain America: The Winter Soldier is Black Widow’s movie just as much as Cap’s.

Audience Question: Ever had a beta reader or editor ask you to add or take away from a secondary character?
- CJ: Just kills the character who needs to go, has them die gloriously.
- EM: If they’re not worth the words, then demote the tertiary character who was secondary back to tertiary.

TM: What’s been your most disturbing experience with a character?
- (For him, flinching with a villain that revolted him. Had to kill that villain, go through the experience of killing him off, to be able to deal with him, the brothel breeding system the villain was involved in, and the dark things that happen that the society condones)
- EM: No one should extrapolate from writing to writer. But you have to identify with the bad guy to write the bad guy.
- CJ: Having to put yourself in the bad guy’s head. It’s clear what he’s doing and why he’s doing, but the means to the end that he has envisioned, getting into his head is hard but it needed to happen.
- MW: One villain had power to delete people from existence, and made for an unreliable narrator

- JT: When a side character goes off after the bad guy and gets hurt.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Stuff, revisited

So I haven't been as forthcoming with notes as I'd hoped this month. I have good reason. About two weeks ago, I received some news that the Stuff I've been dealing with is pretty much done with.

Which is a good thing, right?

Of course it is, but there's also a factor I've come to understand over the years: sometimes, when something so stressful, so life-affecting, finally goes away, its absence can take some adjustment. There is a grieving process, even when the news is good.

The other night a dear friend and writing comerade-in-arms told me something that I hadn't expected, even if I was aware on some levels of its deep truth: "It was badly affecting you." Hearing that from a person I deeply trusted, who I knew could understand Stuff's impact on my life and my writing, was powerful. I mean, sure, Don Rocko has been a wonderful, supportive husband (and I maintain that marriage is the ability to put up with each other's bullshit, and that we all have it, and in this past year and a half, I've certainly had a lot). But hearing it from a fellow writer and query-warrior, someone else who witnessed firsthand the impact Stuff was having on my life, was meaningful in a vital way.

And now it's over. And I am happy to move forward.

Next stop: ConCarolinas, which happens in two weeks! I hope to have more notes from last year to share on Monday.

And then maybe I can start to catch up?

Well ... baby steps. As much as I love sharing my notes, actually putting words on the page is *slightly* more important. #SorryNotSorry

Happy Friday, everyone!