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>I Hope You’ll Dance

Into every beginner writer’s life, at some point, a little convention must fall.
I confess I’m a very bad person to talk about this because I never attended a convention until after I sold my first book. However, for the record, if I had to do it over again, I would have started attending conventions about… oh, fifteen years sooner, right after I finished the first novel. Do I think it would have made a big difference? Oh, heck yeah. I think I might well have broken in back in the eighties instead of 2000.

Though conventions are waning some in importance – there are now authors’ forums and agents’ forums and editors’ forums and online meeting places and other ways to make contact with the professionals – there is still very little that can beat meeting someone face to face. If you made a good impression on an editor or agent, they’re more likely to be straight forward with you and tell you why they’re rejecting the novel, for instance, or even give you an opportunity to rewrite. So, instead of “Dear Author, thank you, but–” the letter will read “Dear Agnes, I find the concept of your novel intriguing, but you lost me when you got to the part with the alien sex. I know, you’re a very nice woman and I think you’re holding back too much. Perhaps you can rewrite it and send back.”

Now this sort of thing is not going to happen – usually – after a single meeting – unless you shared some special bonding time, like, getting stuck in the rain with not a cab in sight and having to walk six miles back to the hotel, or something like that. It will take two, three, sometimes five conventions of meeting casually before the professional will remember your name and/or consider you a friend or at least a friendly acquaintance.

It’s also not going to help if you barge in to where an agent is talking to her client, or an editor is surrounded by friends and start pitching your novel. Remember in many ways publishing is stuck in the nineteenth century. There is an etiquette and a way to do things.

So, without further ado, a rudimentary convention primer:

1 – which con should I attend? Well, most of us always attend our local cons (defined as our hometown and within about three hours drive) anyway. Yes, you should do that even before you’re published. It will get you known to the local fandom which is an invaluable help when you’re pushing your first book.

Unless your local con is IN NYC or at least within reach by bus or train of NYC, you won’t have many professional editors attend. If you’re lucky, there will be one or two under editors. If you’re really lucky, they will have the ability to purchase your stuff. More likely there will be a round dozen small press and micro press editors. Yes, I know what I said about sometimes this being the best way to break in, but unless you have time to INVESTIGATE the house’s reputation, don’t. Just don’t. – the exception to this is Toni Weisskopf who does a lot of cons in the South. If you can and Toni is the editor you wish to meet, then your local con might do fine.

As for trying to buddy it up with the authors’ GOH… well… there are limits to what an author can do for you. This doesn’t mean it’s nothing at all. Published authors can mentor you and teach you tricks of the trade. They can introduce you to their agent/editor. They can tell you how things stand in the industry. But unless your best buddy is Rowling or Meyers, a writer cannot give you immediate entry into the profession.

Also, two caveats. As one of the authors who does mentor, we get a LOT of touches. And a lot of the people who try to buddy it up to a published writer are, let’s face it, flakes. Another number of them you get the distinct impression only like you because you’re published. It doesn’t even have anything to do with liking your books. If you friend someone to use them, you’re morally questionable. Sooner or later the writer will figure this out. After a while, heck, we get a sense for who is using us. So… For published writers, I’d do what I do – though I started after being published – go to cons attended by authors whose work you genuinely like. Approach them at signing. Talk to them as people, not as demi-gods (most of us aren’t.) Treat them as you’d treat anyone else you like and would like to be friends with. If something develops, great. If not, let it go. No one likes an obsessive stalker.

Frankly, if you’re a beginner, serious about breaking in, I’d recommend one of the larger cons like Worldcon or World Fantasy (I’d live off the mega cons, like Dragoncon and Comicon until you are fairly well published. You just get lost.) Alternately a writers’ conference if there’s one in your area and you like the guests.

2 – Plan ahead
Did you think you were going to the con for the panels, foolish child? No. Oh, surely, if there’s a panel with an author you adore; if you want to know your prospective editor/agent think about electronic publishing or something like that. But if you lay down your notes and go in and spend the whole time listening to panels, you’ve wasted your money.

So, you know who your quarry is. Plan. The plan can be as simple as “want to meet x” or as convoluted as “want to try to find out the secret party where you’re allowed to pitch.” (Answer, there isn’t one. And if there were, you wouldn’t be invited. Heck, most of them I wouldn’t be invited) For your first con, content yourself with “want to meet/exchange a few words with….” and then a list.

However, be prepared. You’ll wander into the lobby and someone you met while checking in (and whose name you don’t know, but you shared a pretty funny joke about sparkly vamps) will say “Hey, we’re going to dinner. Wanna come?” and next thing you know you’ll be sitting at a table with three executive editors and four A list agents. Can happened. Has happened to me. Remain flexible and open at the con, and remember you’re there to see and be seen. Like a debutant of old, nothing is going to happen if you sit by the wall and refuse all offers to dance. And if the editors you made contact with are not the ones you planned, it might still be the making of your career.

The exception to the panel thing is RWA nationals. The panels are often tremendously informative and even I learned tons of stuff, after ten years in the business.

3- There’s a time and a place

So there are you are at the dining table, with all these agents and editors. CAN you avoid blurting out, “you know, I have this novel about intelligent butterflies”? Sure you can. Unless you want to have everyone give you the cold shoulder and never talk to you again.

The table conversation will likely be a) gossip about people you don’t know. Say nothing about that. b) gossip about bestsellers. NEVER say anything bad about people who are way ahead of you. c) and more likely – or at least part of it – harmless anecdotes about where they live, their pets or their kids. This you can join into. Yeah, I know you’re a species of troglodyte. Pretend you are your most outgoing character. Be charming. Be sweet. DO NOT be overbearing.

It is possible that during the conversation, an editor or agent will ask, “So, you said when you were writing, you mistook your cat for a hat. Do you write science fiction.” This is the time to blush and say “Science fiction, fantasy, a bit of horror. Romance with purple aliens….” whatever you do write. THEN if the editor asks what you are working on at the time, you may give her/him an elevator pitch. More on that later.

The point is that people you have fun with will remember you and think of you pleasantly. You don’t need to be on all the time and you should never be pushy.

Sitting there in utter, stony silence and/or hiding under the table are also highly discouraged.

4 – Grab the opportunity by the short hairs.
The time will come – trust me – when an editor or an agent will ask you “So, what are you working on?” It might be the first time you meet them. or it might be at your third/fourth dinner with them.
It will help of course, at this point, if you have looked at trades and websites on line and know what these people publish. Say your opus is a magnificent YA or a mystery, pitching it at Toni for Baen is probably going to leave both of you cold. (Unless it’s a borderline thing.) We’ll assume you’re smart enough to do this.
When the professional asks what you’re working on, be ready with an elevator pitch – so called because these conversations sometimes happen as you bump into an editor in the elevator. And the pitch has to be short enough to grab the editor between the two floors.
Usually these are done in short-hand. Two movies. Or a standby of the field and a movie. So you might say – for my current between hands work – It’s Friday meets the Lives of Others, but with a really positive spin. (Cut me some slack, this is off the top of my head.)

“But my book ISN’T anything like…” Yeah, well, my book isn’t anything like those above either. Fortunately I’m a published author and I can say “It’s a lot like DST but a little darker, about 300 years in the future and the love angle involves a spy and a female secret agent.” But if I had to do an elevator pitch, I could also say “It’s Brave New World meets Revolt in 2100, with a romance thrown in.”

Just find the most likely thing and use it. Preferably use two movies that are intriguing or which don’t seem to make sense together. “The Graduate. In Space. On Skates.” Keep it short. Try not to use movies that tanked. For instance, “My book is just like Movie no one heard of but better” won’t get you any benes.”

If you’re lucky – my luck with it is about fifty fifty – the person you’re pitching to will say, “Oooh. I just saw this movie about skaters in space. Tell me more.”

This is when you have a little prepared thing. Keep it to a paragraph or two. “Spaceman Shorty has just finished his training at the academy, but no one wants to hire him. He’s hanging around his father’s house, falls back into his skating hobby from childhood, gets involved with an older null grav skater. This is when he finds out she’s really a spy bent on killing the king of Skate city. And to make things worse, he falls in love with her daughter.”

If you’re really lucky, the agent/editor will say, “Wow, tell me more.” Or even better, will slip you her business card and say, “Send me an outline and the first three chapters.”

(I hope you’re not foolish enough to pitch something you don’t have at least that much for. Which brings us to three caveats:)

a) Watch for signs of eye-glaze/disinterest. It happens to all of us. If the editor turns away and starts talking to someone else, DO NOT GO ON. If the eyes glaze DO NOT GO ON.

b) Tell the truth. If the editor/agent says “send me the book” DO NOT say “okay” if all you have is the first three chapters. You’re not going to finish writing it in a week! Instead, say “Well, it’s not finished, but I have the first three chapters and an outline.”

c) When you get home, follow through. You might take a month or so – hey, I know I do a final typo hunt – but then SEND it in.

5 – That’s it. With a few random caveats thrown in.
a) Don’t drink if you can’t hold your liquor. Heck, even if you can. You might just think you can. And drinking will loosen your tongue. don’t.
b) If you’re there as a pro or a wanna be pro, wear appropriate clothes. Yeah, that really cool steam punk jacket and skirt is fine (at least if it’s decorous) and you can’t go wrong with business casual. Not torn clothes, dirty jeans, etc. though. Authors usually dress one level above fans at any given con.
c) leave your politics and religion at the door. No, not even if you wish to violently endorse what the publisher is saying. Well, not unless you and the publisher are already on friendly terms. At any rate, do not go on about it to the public at large. Why would you want to alienate half of your potential fans?
d) If asking questions/giving answers to panelists don’t start with “in my novel” if your novel is unpublished. No, trust me, seriously. Ninety nine percent of these novels are wretched and, for reasons unknown to me, set in medieval Japan.
e) Just as with the liquor, watch yourself with the sex, okay? It’s okay to be flirty, but it’s not okay to be flirty in professional situations. And watch yourself with staying up past your sell by date. The good parties are late at night, but some of us become slap-happy late at night.

f) Do not hang out in parties where nothing is happening, unless the party itself is fun. Otherwise move on, it’s a chance to meet your targets.

g) if you’re going to one of the big cons, wear comfortable shoes. Most convention halls, etc. are enormous. You’ll walk a lot.

Any questions? Comments? Suggestions?

>Warning Whinge Post.

>Time poor writer cries foul.

I want more ‘me’ time.

I used to be a stay at home mother of 6 who also volunteered for state and national arts organisations. I set up a national writing competition, a national workshop and I helped on a national award among many other things. During this time, I had around 30 kid’s books published and a fantasy trilogy.

I used to think when all the kids get to school I’ll have more time. Only by then the eldest ones started coming out the other end of the school system. They had part time jobs and studied part time I spent all my time running them around to things.

I used to think when some of the kids leave home (this has only happened in the last 6 months) I’ll have more time. But I’m teaching part time (during marking weeks it is full) and we’re renovating our house. And three of the 6 kids are still at home with the others dropping by, so I’m still running people around to things.

I’ve edited my three KRK books in the first few months of this year (that’s three levels of edits on three books over 100K at the same time). And I’ve written a new book which I’m madly trying to do an edit on before the end of the month to send off to my ROR colleagues so they can give me feedback on it. (And I’ll read their books in August and give them feedback before World Con in September).

I LOVE writing. But trying to get this book finished has been a really hard slog. The joy of writing hasn’t been there, except on odd ocassions. One night I couldn’t sleep, got up at three am and wrote until 6am when I had to start marshalling kids for work and school. Those three hours were heaven. No interruption.

I think it is the lack of mental space in my head to mull over character and plot and let things gell organically. I really miss that private space in my head.

Here I am, home from work, writing my blog post, trying to juggle work family and writing, and wondering if I can squeeze in an hour or two on the book. I just want to write.

Is anyone else tempted to run away and join a monastery to get some ‘me’ time for their writing?

>After the gold-rush…

>By the way, dear readers – we’ve put up a twitter/facebook access bar. If you think what a contributor writes is worth reading – please use it. This site’s success has an effect on the future of all of us (even our want-to-be-writer readers).

I’ve finished my current book, so a rather long post: an exercise in economic comparison and predictiveness.

“There’s gold in them thar hills…” And the old coot gets trampled in the rush. After a while he gets up and heads very sensibly in the other direction.

Oh yes… it’s the dream-chase, and sometimes it wise to step back and look at those dream chases and work out… just who did get rich (or successful) and who actually made them rich.

Is it miners? Staking a claim and striking it rich… it happens. In the first two weeks. After that the incidence slows and eventually the only finds of mining riches come from very large companies. Oh, individual miners find the gold nugget/ diamond but the claim is owned by the company. The finder may get a generous reward, but it’s the company that gets rich.

And the of course just after the miners comes the traders, offering all you may need from floosies to flop-houses. At a price naturally. They’re giving their chance of getting rich to serve you! Oddly they get rich, and the miner just goes right on dreaming and getting nowhere. Actually, quite a lot of the money going to the middlemen is from elsewhere and not the little gold they find, anyway. The miners and their other, previous jobs, are subsidising the middlemen.

Which brings me to a study done the economics of crack selling gangs in Chicago. Oddly , yes the two have a lot in common… You see: Selling drugs must be a way to get rich…

Except its not. Turns out that the gang-foot-soldiers are earning… around $3.50 an hour, and it was twice as likely you’ll be killed as it was for a soldier in Iraq at the height of the insurgency. For which they got… About the same as at the time they could get for flipping burgers at MickeyD. And, um, it turned out that quite a few of them were moonlighting at MickeyD…

Of course the higher tiers of gang hierarchy do get rich. Well, in the middle not really rich. They do as well as an engineer… and the top end got VERY rich.

So: why are they doing this…? It’s quite simple really. They hope to get to the top. And once this was possible. If you got in with the first bunch. Turns out just like the gold-rush miner, the time to get rich and move up in the hierarchy was 30-40 years back, and this is what people still believe may happen (and um, the upper parts of hierarchy, who hand down their power and mantle and money… to… not one of the foot soldiers – go to some length to foster the dream). The crack-selling gang members are living on dreams (and not quite in the way you might expect).

This obviously has parallels in many industries, including our own.

Along with Gutenberg we had gold rush. And then again I suppose with the cheap paperback. And then again with the Internet and social networking (Cory Doctrow and Charlie Stross being good examples of early adopters). And on each occasion the equation worked very similarly. The miners/writers who got in quickly and were hardworking and lucky too were successful. The chances were not great, but they were a lot better than they became (where moonlighting at MickeyD also became a necessary survival strategy). Like the gold mining industry, or the crack-selling one… it’s not that very large amounts of money (as measure of success) don’t come into the business, it’s just that most writers don’t end up getting it. In actual fact, just like the parallels, many of them are subsidising the industry by working for less than they can live on.

We’re in the middle of a new paradigm shift right now. A new prose-spectre just rode into town on a swayback mule with a few bags of ‘ooooH! Shiny!’ in the shape of e-books and net-distribution.

And the new gold rush is on. A few people like Baen Books got in early, staked a claim and have a ‘mining company’ working the new reef. The rest of the traditional publishers — the Anglo Americans and Billitons of the publishing world — see the new reef and the possibility that their dominance may be lost and are trying to decide what to do. They have started by trying to block or at least slow the access of other middlemen. In the meanwhile new entrants are pouring in to scene. Soon the market is (as Amanda pointed out) going to be very full of hopeful self-pubs, and small houses/co-ops.

Some of these are going to be much better than others. Some of these will be running slush disasters. Some will be typo central. Others will be ‘good story needed editing’.

And a handful will be the new leaders of the writing world, really there on merit, loved by readers, unique, fresh and wonderful. Um. And selling books and making pots of money And other miners… authors, with experience and skill but who have always been the ‘workers’ making a living – possibly by cross-subsidising their publisher by working at MickeyD – will arrive from the old companies to try and do the same.

And this gentlefolk, is when the fur really starts to fly. Because… their present employers are effectively middlemen. They used to do lots of the jobs in the middle but these days they do one very powerfully: they gate-keep access to retail space – or in crack-gang comparison, they control access to the turf and you’re not gonna sell anything much without them.

The turf just got a lot bigger. And there is a _lot_ of bad sh*t going to be sold… Which was fine when THEY were selling it, because it was the only stuff to be had. A few companies had carved out a reputation (brand) for ‘their’ stuff being good, but mostly publishers relied on not their reputation, but their ‘dealer’/authors reputations. The author couldn’t go anywhere but to the territory of rival publisher — where the deal was pretty much the same. The author was, to a large extent, dependent on the publisher for quality control (and promotion, and size of turf he was allowed to operate in) – although of course he did have some control over how good it was to start with. These publishers didn’t bother with brands. They had a stable of trademarks (authors names) they controlled. You don’t search Amazon for a Harper Collins or Warner Aspect or Bloomsbury book. You search the Author’s name. Most readers don’t know who the publisher was anymore than a jewellery buyer knows her gold ring was made from gold ore dug up by Newmont. Of course the exception proves the rule – Baen established themselves as BRAND that did quality trademarks. And promoted the brand along with the trademarks… which means in the new expanded turf, where anyone can play, their brand has value and recognition. Harper Collins has, for example, to readers, far less – but HC has deep pockets and a stable of relatively captive well-known trademarks.

So: I don’t see business-as-usual trad-pubs being threatened by self-pubs or trying to stop them much. I don’t see them willing or able to really build brands (that’s hard expensive work) What I DO see is them getting very aggressive about ‘keeping their trademarks’ ie. their established authors. You see, these authors have a reputation to trade under already. If they fulfil their last contract, and go to Kindle… or a Co-op – they have an audience buying from electronic booksellers and possibly from their own web-sites. And it doesn’t take a degree in higher math to work out that even if e-books (which sell mostly online, and not in the exclusive access turf) sell 1/3 of the volume of their traditional paper sales, but they earn 70% (or 60% less the cost of editing, proof and cover) as opposed to 10% (if they’re lucky) they’re going to double their income. And what’s more they’ll have CONTROL of quality, which means a lot to us. Actually, as I work it out, break even point is 16.5% of present volume. Depending on who you believe – that’s either next year, or four at the most.

So: If you’re unpublished… now is probably the time to get in. Quality is only going to get worse, you need your audience established soon before the slush flood puts them off. And make sure it is edited, proofed and has a quality cover. If you are published and have an audience: I think you will find restrictive clauses in contracts wanting your name in perpetuity. Don’t do it. Don’t sign these sort of deals – not unless they put up your share of e-books 50% + of retail. In the meanwhile do your best to establish either your own brand or join a co-op. Otherwise… your situation will remain as is, or get worse

Otherwise, if you just want to do well financially it’s probably a good time to start a publishing venture, or co-op or offer proof reading. Remember who did well out of the Gold-rush.

OK – am I out of my tree again?

>What do you think?

>This week has been one with little writing but a lot of plotting and planning as my son and I attacked the outside sprinkler system, started refinishing the kitchen chairs and I spent the day rearranging furniture yesterday. Which means it’s been a productive week in a lot of different ways, not the least of which has been creatively. I’m one of those writers who, when stuck, seems to be able to clear the logjam through mindless, muscle-numbing labor.

But all the time working outside gave me time to think about the state of the publishing industry and some of the blogs I’ve read lately. Maybe folks in the industry are doing the same thing because con season is now in full swing. Maybe it’s because Amazon’s new payment scheme goes into effect in just a few days. Whatever the cause, the blogs are alive with thoughts about where publishing is going, whether or not the public is ready for the “inevitable” flood of self-published authors and what the next big thing is going to be.

Before getting into the heart of my post this morning, I just have to share this. I’ve made no secret of my dislike of sparkly vampires and emo werewolves. I’m a traditionalist at heart when it comes to ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night. So, imagine my glee to read that Stephanie Meyer, she of the Twilight series, is tired of vampires. All kidding aside, I have to applaud her desire “not to write it badly”. So she is waiting until she can be excited about the story again. While she does, will someone please step in and write some non-sparkly vamps for YA and adults? Please?????

Laura Miller has a wonderful article that asks if the public is ready for the influx of self-published books that are already hitting the online stores:

One thing is true: Aspiring authors have never had more or better options for self-publishing the manuscripts currently gathering dust in their desk drawers or sleeping in seldom-visited corners of their hard drives. Writers can upload their works to services run by Amazon, Apple and (soon) Barnes and Noble, transforming them into e-books that are instantly available in high-profile online stores. Or they can post them on services like, or and coax reviews from other hopeful users. If a writer prefers an old-fashioned printed copy of his or her opus, then all of these companies (and many others) would be more than happy to provide print-on-demand services, producing one hard copy at a time whenever one is needed.

“Digital self-publishing is creating a powerful new niche in books that’s threatening the traditional industry,” a recent Wall Street Journal report proclaimed. “Self-published books suddenly are able to thrive by circumventing the establishment.” To “circumvent” means, of course, to find a way around, and what’s waiting behind all those naysaying editors and agents, the self-publishing authors tell themselves, are millions of potential readers, who’ll simply love our books! The reign of the detested gatekeepers has ended!

She goes on to point out that what the public will find itself faced with is a huge slush pile. Freed from the need to find and agent and go through the submission process, there are fewer checks and balances on quality of craft and quality of formatting. What this will mean, in the long run, is still up in the air, in my opinion (and I’ll have more on this below). In the meantime, it really is a situation of buyer beware and be aware when purchasing an e-book if you don’t check to see who the “publisher” happens to be.

Agent Lucienne Diver has an excellent post this week on “The Next Big Thing“. As writers, we are always trying to figure out market trends, what the public likes and doesn’t like, what is getting bookstore placement and that always elusive critter — what does the editor want to see. “Deciding what to focus your attention on is a necessary part of the business, and one of the reasons it’s good to have an agent on your side to brainstorm and do career planning with you. However, you need to keep in mind two things: 1) where your strengths lie and 2) you never know when family sagas will come back into vogue. . . The point is, if a saga, or a thriller, or a science fiction extravaganza is where your heart lies, if it’s where your strengths lie…not just based on your opinion, but those of critique partners or professionals around you…you should go for it.” (the family saga was her example of what a client might be wanting to write.)

According to Ms. Diver, you should write what calls to you because if you, as the writer, aren’t engaged by the story, there’s a pretty good chance the reader won’t be either. Remember, the books on the shelves right now were bought months, even years ago. She suggests reading the trade magazines to see what is selling now. Check out the post for a list of several very good magazines to watch for market trends. The caveat she throws out is, “I’m not saying that you should be deaf to the markets, either. If you’re writing within a genre, it’s important to know what’s intrinsic to that genre. . . It’s important to have an awareness of which market you intend to be your primary. Publishers can only put one thing on the spine, which helps bookstores decide where the books should be shelved and readers decide whether your book suits their tastes. Books that are not quite one thing or another pose a bit of a problem. There can be quite a bit of genre blending, but in the end, it’s the focus of your novel…is it saving the world or getting the girl, for instance…that decides it.

So, back to how this all fits together. There are authors bemoaning the advent of more and more venues where people can go to self-publish that book they haven’t been able to get out through traditional means. There are others, like Ms. Miller, wondering if the public is ready to delve into the slush pile that will result from the influx of self-publishing options in this digital age. I’m not sure how the dust will settle. What I do know is the readers on the Kindle boards are starting to demand that Amazon put in place some sort of editorial minimum for anything published on the Kindle. Amazon has been known to pull e-books if there are too many complaints about poor formatting. To be included in the “premium” catalog at Smashwords, there are certain formatting requirements that must be met. Other e-book outlets such as Fictionwise require a minimum number of previously published books or a publisher or author with a minimum number of authors or pen names AND at least 10 books (iirc) to be offered through Fictionwise for inclusion in their catalog.

What does this mean? It means that some sites are requiring some minimum level of quality control already. I have a feeling we are going to see sites like Amazon, Barnes & Noble and others slowly requiring editorial minimums as well. But what I really think we’ll see is the level of proof-reading will improve over time. Why this and not editorial requirements? Two reasons. First, for whatever reason, it seems easier to pick up on the oddly formatted paragraph or page, the misspellings, etc., in an e-book than in the paper copy. Or maybe it’s that we are less forgiving in an electronic format because it is easier — and cheaper — to make the correction digitally than in recalling hard copy books, reprinting and redistributing them. The second reason is, in my opinion at least, one of the reasons the print book is suffering now and why so many e-book readers are willing to try small press and self-published e-books. There are too many books on the shelves now that aren’t entertaining, aren’t well-written and — and this is what is inexcusable, in my opinion — aren’t well edited.

Will we, as readers, have to wade through a bunch of slush in our quest for good books? Sure we will. But we do that now. E-books have an advantage here. Most e-tailers allow you to download a sample of a book before you buy it. It may be a few pages or even a few chapters. That’s more than enough to know if you like a writer’s style and if the plot is going to grab you. All I know is that I’ve discovered a number of authors I’d never have read by checking out the freebies offered for the Kindle and by downloading samples of authors recommended by other readers on the kindle boards. As readers, we’re going to have to educate ourselves to what is out there and the best way to decide who and what we want to read without wasting too much money. As writer, we’re going to have to educate ourselves on the best way to reach and keep our readers.

I’m actually excited about the changes in the industry. Will there still be a need for agents and editors? Absolutely. They are, as we’ve said in the past, the gatekeepers. However, there is room in the industry for those authors who publish through small presses and who even self-publish. What do you think?

>And the winners are….

>Sorry to be so late with this.

For the first paragraph, a couple of general comments, first. Most of you went waaaayyyy beyond one paragraph. Also, a couple of them were very good except for a tendency to ricochet between present and past tenses.

Among those who disqualified themselves through length but whom I wish to mention as very, very good are Brendan and Behind The Pyramids. Among the verb tense disqualify the best was Ori’s.

So — now, the winner and the runners up. Email me at sahoyt – at- hotmail – dot – com for what your choice of my book is. The first place gets one of my books and Dragon’s Ring. The others get one of my books, excepting the Shakespeare trilogy AND the first of the musketeers’ mysteries (sorry, guys, but I’m down to two copies.)

First place — Synova, for your first entry. You really couldn’t improve on that!

Then Pam and Mike (for Mike’s last. The others were way too long)

Now, Rowena’s contest — the winners are fourth guy and Brendan. Please email her at rowena -at- corydaniells (dot) com with your snail mail.

>Me and my (Imaginary) Friends

> It struck me as strange the other day that some of the most successful novels and television series concentrate very strongly on relationships and friendships, yet the typical writer is very introverted – more of a lone wolf type character. So what’s happening here?

Are writers able to absorb all these things from others despite their lack of personal interaction and bring it forth in a convincing way (in a variety of mediums), or am I just outing myself as a social misfit, and most other writers have huge circles of friends?

I was re-reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone the other day – the first JK Rowling HP book. You know that old Harry – greatest wizard in the world – does not actually do a single magical spell in the whole book? It’s true. I checked. He does accidental magic at the beginning. He hops onto a broomstick and finds that he is an automatic natural at it. And there are vague references to him learning spells as part of his schoolwork, but you do not actually see him wave his wand and do a spell.

What you do see in the HP books is tons of stuff on relationships. A lot of time is spent on the building of relationships and the testing and proving of them. I think someone said once the HP books were like ‘Famous Five with magic’. It’s about the gang, not the magic – that is almost setting.

So, anyway. The portrayal of relationships and friendship is crucial to the success of fiction, and is a strong element in bestseller YA.

How can we, as lone wolf writers, learn to do this so well? Or are we just continuing our relationships with our imaginary friends from childhood into adulthood?

>Progress, of a sort

>Thursday through Sunday: Well, the last few days someone turned off the valve and slowed the information to a trickle. I’m not sure why – possibly it’s the day job ramping up again for the next phase of the Neverending Project (I seem to get a lot of these. I think someone ‘likes’ me). At any rate the most I’ve gotten in a few days is that Milord Alvar is quite willing to hold out as long as necessary until I get his name right. And Millie finds this very amusing.

The Evil Prince has yet to show himself, although I have the weird feeling that he’s there, he’s just still buried somewhere in my subconscious. Based on past experience, this probably means I’ll wake up one morning with him kibitzing with some of my other villains – all of whom are certifiably evil psycho bastards (so are most of my heroes – the difference is the heroes tend to fight it rather than revel in it). This does not reassure me at all – and anyone who knows what my villains are like will be cringing at the prospect.

Monday: So after days of silence, I get a major dump courtesy Subconscious Data Delivery – a service about as reliable as a two-bob watch – when I start drifting to sleep. It proceeds to haunt my dreams, and I’m still processing what emerged.

To start with “Seraph” is the royal family name – only it’s actually a corruption of a much older title that related to the ship that crashed on the planet in the first place. I have no idea what that title was, but it applied to the people who had been genetically engineered to have the Engineering gift – the rapport with machinery. There’s a vague sense that the gift was essential to keeping people alive initially, so those who had it became a kind of nobility during the time the accidental colony struggled to survive. It’s translated to a sense that it’s very wrong to have any kind of “useful” ability and not use it in the service of one’s people.

His Royal Horribleness is a little clearer: physically he could be Milord Alvar’s twin. They’re cousins through most of the branches of the family lines back to the common ancestors, although it never got closer than second or third cousin, I think. The royal family has full time geneologists keeping track of who is where in the accepted line of inheritance. It doesn’t help that they all tend to use the same given names – generally honoring particularly notable ancestors. Who, of course, are shared all over the family trees of the extended royal family. The Emperor is His Imperial Majesty Arthur James William Seraph, Twenty-Fifth of the Name, Forty-Second of the Dynasty, Lord of Eldarsund, Defender of the Holy, etc etc (the full list of titles goes on for half a page or thereabouts).

The Evil Prince is only “Royal”, not “Imperial” because he’s not confirmed as the heir, only presumed to be as the closest male line relative.He rejoices in a similar list of titles, most of them courtesy titles attached to being the heir presumptive. The names that matter are William James Albert Seraph. Milord Alvar shares all but one of them – his family name is William Arthur James Seraph. Without all the extraneous titles, he’s generally known as Will Seraph, Lord Alvar – or just Lord Alvar. I think he’s a little older than HRHorrible – no more than a year older.

HRHorrible is straight out of Evil-Bastard-Central – which seems to be where my subconscious lands no matter what I do. Even in my lighter stuff there’s elements of it. Hell, Milord Alvar is just as much a product of Evil-Bastard-Central, only he chooses to control that aspect of his personality where HRHorrible doesn’t.

Millie is the catalyst. She’s the wild card that kicks off the whole sequence, and to some extent part of Milord Alvar’s redemption. Oh, and she’s the cause of the ending of book 1. She’s found one of HRHorrible’s ‘playhouses’ and – naturally – goes in there to free the women (in a permanent and lethal fashion if necessary. Yes, HRHorrible is that perverted. I’m not sure how I’m going to make that work without overdoing the ick or backing off too much from it). Milord Alvar finds out, and goes charging in to “rescue” her – not only does she not need rescuing, she ends up back-to-back with him fighting off MRMorrible’s henchmen. While the whole place is sinking into lava, since the only way Millie could get the slaves out was to disable the damping systems in the complex. Several of the henchmen find out what it’s like to become a carboniferous anomaly in a volcanic deposit.

Of course – as those of you who know how my mind works have probably already figured out – HRHorrible isn’t the main villain. I’m not sure who is, except that it’s someone who’s around in a minor role in book one, apparently something of a non-entity. I’m not sure Milord Alvar and Millie know who he is by the end of book one: only that he exists.

HRHorrible… think cold, arrogant, superior, convinced the rest of the world exists to serve him. Constantly looking for something to “entertain” him – and growing more depraved and decadent with each new amusement he contrives. Nucking futz, but in that kind of cold, rational, self-interested way that’s a hell of a lot more frightening than ranting and raving crazy. The only thing I’m sure about is that the Ultimate Nasty is worse. The Ultimate Nasty is convinced he’s doing the things he does for the Greater Good…

Religion. This is a religious society. I’m not sure they were terribly religious when they crashed on this world, but they sure as hell are now. Something about surviving by the grace of god and the quality of one’s mechanical expertise will do that. The general ethos is along the lines of God helps those who help themselves mixed with if God gave you the gift it’s a sin not to use it for society. Sorta-kinda-Christian based, although not really recognizable as such any more – although the hellfire and brimstone part is very familiar, since they live with it all the time. At some point the idea that they’re there to “redeem” their world crept in, so there’s a lot of social value attached to “improving” the land by siphoning energy off the everpresent volcanic substrata to power all manner of mechanisms, by speeding up the process of turning lava to productive soil (which in turn leads to a voracious demand for more improvable land and an outwards expansion of the Empire), and so forth. Think the words of “Jerusalem” – “And we will build a new Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land”: that’s their notion of Heaven. Greenery, pleasant climate, and real night and day. Most people believe God intends them to build it themselves.

Tuesday: Now I know why HRHorrible gets involved with all of this – it’s Millie. She’s seen too much, but while she was still a street brat it was too much trouble to track her down and eliminate her. Besides, who would ever listen to a street brat? If the information comes via Milord Alvar, it’s much more credible. Also, Alvar has the resources to dig up evidence that can’t be covered up: the pair of them are a risk to HRHorrible’s existence.

Ah. Yes, the little lightbulbs go on while I’m writing this. The ultimate Big Bad is someone in the Academy. He recognizes the threat Millie poses to HRHorrible and passes on the warning. I’m still not entirely sure what he recognizes, since to him one street brat is much the same as any other, but whatever it is Millie has no idea about it. It’s not appearance or her name… so it has to be something she says without realizing what the impact could be. Oh. (Cue little lightbulb again – I just love the way my subconscious works). Alvar wants to know why she’s so skittish with him. She tells him he looks just like the man who killed her mother (trust me, it’s not nearly that simple or clean). Big Bad hears the conversation – and since he knows what HRHorrible does for recreation, and is working his way towards greasy eminence, he naturally warns HRHorrible.

Wednesday: I need to find a new name for book 1. Twilight would be perfect if not for certain sparkly vampires, and this book does not have sparkly vampires. It doesn’t have vampires, period. Shadowlands is also out, courtesy a rather better book that’s also too well known. Since I suck at this kind of thing, any suggestions would be welcome.

Oh, and for those who might be wondering, no I’m not worried that anyone is going to steal my idea. I could hand this set of notes to a dozen people and ask only that the names change, and get a dozen totally different books – with everything from horror to hysterical comedy and all points between.