Ad Astra 2015 day 3: Making a living isn’t just for the cream of the crop anymore

Here we are, finally, on day 3!

Saturday evening, I attended the Edge book launch event for Jane Ann McLachlan and Aviva Bel’Harold and then on Sunday morning, I got to sit between Charles de Lint (eeeee!) and then president of SF Canada, Peter Halasz at the Guest of Honour Brunch.

EDGE Launch

Jane Ann McLachlan and Aviva Bel’Howard at the EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy launch event

All that to say that there are only three sessions left to report on (including today’s). So we are almost at the end of Ad Astra 2015.

Also, as we’ve hit a new day, I thought it might be handy to reiterate my disclaimer:

These posts are composed of my notes. Often, because of the scheduling, I enter sessions after they’re already in progress. I write by hand, so as I’m writing what I believe to be a salient point, I may miss the next one. I do my best to catch as much as I can, but things will be missed. Also, if, in my haste I recorded something incorrectly, please don’t be shy about coming forward and letting me know. I will correct all errors post-hasty once informed of them.

Panellists: Gail Z. Martin and Mary MacVoy

GZM: Publishers pay twice per year. You have no idea what your royalties might be. When sales trickle off, multiple streams of income is a wise approach.

MM: Multiple streams on income could include traditional publishing, epublishing or self-publishing, Wattpad, crowd funding, Patreon, etc. You have to educate yourself on how each potential stream works.

GZM: Athena’s Daughters was the most successful literary Kickstarter at the time. Be aware, though, that 75% of all literary Kickstarters fail.

Q: How do you grow your following?

GZM: Your current discoverability/sales for your current work will be based on how successful your last novel was. Crowd funding is a way to identify your audience/readers before you have a project out. Kickstarter will not allow charities anymore. Indie-gogo will, however. Go fund me and Patreon might be options, too.

MM: Crowd funding is just one element of building your audience.

GZM: Do you have a newsletter? Do you have YouTube videos? Do you podcast? Can you teach a class? Building an audience is largely about what you can offer.

Q: What advice do you have about working with small or indie publishers?

MM: It’s an option to explore. Some small publishers have excellent marketing and PR packages. Confidence is key when approaching a small publisher.

GZM: Different streams will compensate for each other.

MM: People are looking for an experience. Make sure your audience leaves with a piece of you. Check out the rules of your various social media periodically. They change and you don’t want to run afoul.

GZM: Facebook and Twitter are essentials. Talk about what you’re doing. Build relationships. Don’t spam.

And we got the nod that it was time to clear out for the next panel.

Next week: Fairy tales!

Have an awesome weekend and we’ll catch up with you on Tipsday.

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Ad Astra 2015 day 2: Cutting contracts and shaking hands

The business basics of writing

Panellists: Greg Wilson, Monica Pacheco, Gail Z. Martin, Leah Bobet

Cutting Contracts Panel

Q: Do I need an agent?

LB: First, you have to ask yourself what you want. What will your career look like?

MP: If you want a Big 5 publishing deal, film rights, foreign rights, etc., you need an agent.

GZM: Can you do your own taxes or do you have an accountant? An agent has specialized knowledge that’s critical in the publishing industry. Their 15% commission is well worth it.

LB: I have to clarify my response: if you want to self-publish, no, you don’t need an agent. If you focus on short fiction, you don’t need an agent.

MP: Short fiction is excluded in publishing contracts.

GW: The stuff that used to be done by acquisition editors in the publishing houses has shifted to agents. There are many ways to achieve the same result. Having an agent can free up more time to write.

GZM: I don’t need an agent for short fiction, but if I notice something hinky with the contract, I can run it by my agent. He gets paid if I get paid, so he’s invested in my success.

LB: Agents aren’t interchangeable. It’s like a marriage. Fortunately, break-ups are rarely acrimonious.

MP: Your agent is also a buffer between you and the editor, you and marketing, etc.

GZM: My agent can play the bad cop.

MP: There’s an imbalance of power.

GW: A bad agent can be worse than no agent at all. You have to believe in what you do. Get the right agent for you.

GZM: I recommend the Guide to Literary Agents.

LB: Don’t take the boiler plate! [Mel’s note: a boiler plate is a standardized contract that frequently offers the worst possible terms for the author.] When it comes to long form contracts, it depends on the publisher, the genre, and the specific rights asked for.

MP: An agent will get a different boiler plate as a starting point for negotiation. Sub-rights depend on whether the agency has a strong film/foreign rights department.

GW: Also look out for audio rights and gaming rights.

GZM: Ebook rights are now a part of the non-negotiable rights a publisher can ask for. It will differ by house. A lot of authors are doing more hybrid work as their careers progress. Your contract determines what you can do (e.g. when rights revert to the author).

LB: Non-compete clauses are something to examine carefully. Looking at the big picture, publishing houses are figuring out how to proceed in the world of epublishing and publishing on demand (POD).

GW: Distribution wars can have an affect on your novel. When Amazon and Hachette were fighting it out, some authors lost out because their books were getting into the stores.

GZM: The sales of your current book will determine how many copies of your next book stores will order.

GW: Titans fight and the peons pay. I self-published and then I got a traditional deal. Publishing and writers are both more flexible. Hybrid will become the norm. You have to have more awareness of the “shape” of the industry.

MP: We used to search WattPad to find the next author. Now, established authors are publishing on WattPad.

LB: I’m interested to see if WattPad will be monetized.

GZM: How does free translate to readers (which translates to income)? Some people read a book a day. They can’t afford their book habit, but if they read and review, they become influencers.

GW: We now have multiple avenues to get our work out there. You can leverage multiple fan bases. The more each author is successful, the more all authors are successful. The rising tide floats all boats.

LB: YA rules are a little different. It’s flush with money. It’s a gold rush. I’m aware of my limits as a writer, though. 18 hour days on an ongoing basis would kill me. Publishing is built on interns. Books are great, but they’re not everything. You have a life outside of books. Your career is your choice.

GZM: Precarious is in the eye of the beholder. I have a life and I do work long days.

GW: Being a college professor is precarious. You have to learn how to work smarter, not harder.

LB: No one knows what the magic button is.

And that was time.

Next week: We move on to DAY 3 (!) and making a living as a writer.

Ad Astra 2015 day 1: The beldam, the hag, and the hedgewitch: Witches in popular culture

Panelists: Derek Newman-Stille, Kate Story, Karen Dales, and Gail Z. Martin

GZM: How has the trope of the witch been used in the past?

KS: In the European tradition, witches were evil. We have a countercultural fascination with them.

GZM: That might depend on your point of view.

KD: The roots of the word witch are from the Anglo Saxon wicce/wicca. It means wise. The vilification of witches came about as a result of the Inquisition and the malleum malificarum (the witches hammer). Disney’s portrayals of witches have cemented the pejorative image witches have.

GZM: Every village had a hedgewitch. Someone wise, who knew about herbs, could deliver a baby, and so forth.

KD: Hereditary witches are still around today.

DNS: In Greek and Roman times, the practitioners were mostly men. They used curse tablets and imported Egyptian and Jewish words.

KS: Nnedi Okorafor writes about witches in her young adult novels. In Nigeria, there are actual witch camps.

GZM: Voodoun and Hoodoo, though they started in similar ways, are very different traditions. Santeria, too, started with the mystification of Catholic saints and ritual.

KS: One of the lenses we’re looking through is the appeal of the witch to young people. It’s the attraction of the unseen, ghosts, supernatural abilities; it’s the longing to see and work with these things.

KD: Llewellyn publications has seen a massive uptake in sales of their informational magic books. In Toronto, we have four occult shops. Young women are attracted to wiccan practice thanks to shows like Charmed and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Willow). The attraction is the ability to have a personal relationship with the divine without an intermediary.

GZM: The young protagonist may not even know what’s happening to them.

DNS: There’s actually an organization called the Harry Potter Alliance and they are activists. They do good for a lot of different people in a lot of different situations.

GZM: In Bewitched, the curses the witches made were all to Hecate. The Kathryn Kurtz novel Lammas Night was based on true events.

KD: Sir Terry Pratchett went to the Pan-European Convention to conduct research for his novels.

GZM: Butcher’s Dresden was not an evil character, but, because he was taught by an unscrupulous master, he suffered repercussions for decades afterward.

DNS: We love delving into the darker aspects of the witch. Look at “Dark Willow” from Buffy, and Stephen King’s Carrie.

GZM: A character can find an ouija board and an old book and suddenly there are unforeseen consequences.

DNS: It plays into political conservatism. If you experiment, bad things will happen to you. Essentially, it’s fear of knowledge.

GZM: You have to take responsibility for your actions.

KD: In The Mummy, the characters are told not to read the book. She reads it anyway and releases the mummy.

KS: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Q: Do you find in fictional depictions that it’s the girls who are called to the dark side? Boys seem to get away with anything.

KD: Maybe the guys can handle it and the girls can’t? I’d argue that’s societal bias and not necessarily accurate.

GZM: Our culture is still struggling with women who have power. In reality, there are just as many foolish boys as there are foolish girls.

DNS: Knowledge is still forbidden to women in many ways. In fiction, it’s often a traumatic event that triggers the emergence of power. It reflects institutionalized abuse.

GZM: In Norse culture, it’s okay for women to have power.

KD: In Celtic legends the king could only assume power—and keep it—by virtue of having ritualized sex with the goddess, or her representative.

KS: There’s a South African contemporary dancer who has recently revealed that he is from a long line of shaman. That’s how he channels his dance.

DNS: The curse tablets I mentioned earlier were meant to harness Cthonic powers (under the earth). England is a particularly rich source because they used lead tablets which were then rolled. These have lasted much longer that their stone equivalents. They were stabbed with nails to enact the curse.


And that was my short hand for what was a lively discussion of witches in various popular media 🙂

Ad Astra 2015 day 1: Deconstructing tropes

First, a disclaimer

These posts are composed of my notes. Often, because of the scheduling, I enter sessions after they’re already in progress. I write by hand, so as I’m writing what I believe to be a salient point, I may miss the next one. I do my best to catch as much as I can, but things will be missed. Also, if, in my haste I recorded something incorrectly, please don’t be shy about coming forward and letting me know. I will correct all errors post-hasty once informed of them.

We good?

Alrightie, then!

Panelists: Gail Z. Martin, Leah Bobet, Charlotte Ashley, K.W. Ramsey

KWR: What if you love genre, but hate tropes?

LB: Tropes are clichés. They’re mass produced. They’re widgets. Genre is more than just the tropes that are common to it. Genre is an assumed set of knowledge. This can include tropes, but it’s more enjoyable for most readers if the writer alludes to tropes rather than spelling them out in the same ways as other writers before them.

GZM: We have archetypes, the Hero’s Journey. That’s structure. To use a construction metaphor, not every house will be built the same way, even if the builders start out with exactly the same materials.

KWR: You have to understand the tropes to use them properly. When you understand what an FTL [faster than light] drive is, and the scientific problems attendant upon creating one, then you can use it well.

GZM: Butcher does that with Harry Dresden. He’s a wizard, and powerful, but he lives without any of the benefits you would think go with that power.

CA: Dresden is basically an import into urban fantasy of the hardboiled detective trope.

KWR: And there are writers who do this well. Firefly mixed science fiction and the tropes of the western. Defiance tried to do something similar, but they didn’t understand the tropes they were trying to use in enough depth to use them well. The writers behind Firefly were conscious of what they were doing and wrote around their tropes intentionally.

GZM: After the Civil War, people went west, not seeking adventure, but because they’d been on the losing side.

KWR: Defiance trots out their tropes too obviously: here’s the stagecoach episode, etc.

LB: A photocopy of a photocopy eventually fades to nothing. If we see the same tropes used similarly in story after story, they lose meaning.

GZM: If the writer wants to be successful, she has to bring something new to inform the trope and give it fresh life.

LB: We all read books for different reasons. Some readers want comfort and familiarity. For these readers, tropes are fine. Some readers want their minds blown.

CA: In that sense, Firefly does not subvert its tropes.

GZM: It’s not just the tropes, though. Characters can bring something fresh as well. Tropes alone will only get you so far.

CA: Comfort reading is like decor. Mind-blowing reading is deeper.

LB: The stories that meant something to us as children need to be reinvented for a modern audience.

GZM: Myth is bigger than the telling.

CA: Look at Diana Wynn Jones’s retelling of Tam Lin.

LB: The books that point out that “this is messed up” further the conversation. We need these conversations.

KWR: Literature is cyclical. It responds to what has gone before but also invites the next voice to the conversation. The pendulum is always swinging.

GZM: In the 50’s and the 60’s, the cold war was a huge trope in science fiction. Recent authors have brought that tropes forward successfully.

LB: There’s a genre fallacy that there should only be one conversation going on, though. For example, post-colonialism is not part of the SF conversation.

CA: A Stranger in the Laundry speaks to that.

[There was a short side-track into the Hugo’s controversy that I chose not to record.]

CA: Is Star Wars not a post-colonial narrative?

KWR: The Jedis are basically samurai. It all goes back to the Tokugawa gun law.

GZM: What about Carpe Demon? The protagonist is an everyday person. She has to get the kids to school, work, manage her household, and still fight demons.

LB: That’s just good writing. Rounded characters are the result of good writing. Kate Elliott is an underrated writer. Karen Addison’s The Goblin King is fabulous also.

And we were out of time.

Next week: You get a double shot. Science Fiction in YA from Ad Astra 2015 and my next chapter April update.