Sunday, May 8, 2011

Spring Conference - 2011

This past week, I attended the NCWN Spring Conference.  Unlike the Fall Conference last year, this was just a one-day affair.  It was only $99, and it provided an opportunity to meet Ed Schubert, the editor of Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show.

For me, it started with Ed's class, "Writing and Selling Science Fiction and Fantasy."  He provided useful information, some of which I've heard before, and some that was new.  Here are a few of his suggestions.
  • When you write a story, do you know what your character(s) want most?
  • Science fiction stories really need to have an element of science.
  • There are four kinds of SF stories: milieu, idea, character, event.  In longer stories, you will probably mix two of these together.
  • There's a saying that the 20th Century had the greatest writing about absolutely nothing.  That is, authors spent more time writing "pretty" words than they did telling a story.  Science fiction needs to be fun!
  • If you're trying to break into the short story business, shoot for 3000-5000 word stories.  Magazines will consider longer works, but they will compare it against other shorter works.  That is, a longer story needs to be three times better than two shorter stories combined.  Strive for elegant precision.
  • A story can contain one fortuitous coincidence to help the protagonist.  If you use more than that, the reader may not believe it.  You can however use as many unfortunate coincidences as you please.
  • Please--no more stories about being afraid to get on a transporter.  (I'll take his word on that!)
After Ed's class, we listened to Carole Boston Weatherford talking about poetry.  She read from her book Becoming Billie Holiday.  It was fun learning about the famous singer.

Then came lunch.  As part of the "Lunch with an Author" program, I got to spend more time with Ed.  In the informal setting, I was able to learn a few more things about him and what happens behind the scenes of publishing.  For starters, he has been active in Greensboro, participating in writers' groups.

We asked him about working for IMGS.  He doesn't see all the stories that are submitted.  First, a group of four assistant editors weed out the submissions.  Then it goes to Ed's desk.  He says that it reduces the number of stories he has to read.  You can look at some stories and reject them immediately, but since these are weeded out, Ed ends up spending more time reading each surviving submission.

The longer it takes to receive a response, the better your story is.  Both of the stories I submitted to them were rejected after 28 days, which is pretty short for them.  A "good length" for them is about 3 months.  This implies that my stories never made it to Ed's desk!

On a funnier note, Ed told of a friend who used a pen name to get his books off of the floor.  His last name starts with a "W" (or somewhere down there), so he would see his books sorted near the floor at the bookstore.  He changed his pen name to somewhere in the middle to get his books about eye level.  And I thought I was kidding when I wrote my post on Alphabetical Discrimination!  Ed turned to me, Mr. Windham, and said it's something I should consider.

After lunch came the faculty readings.  We heard poetry from Anjail Rashida Ahmad.  She has completely lost her sight and has overcome much.

David Halperin read from his new novel Journal of a UFO Investigator.  I was so enamored by his clever writing that I bought his book and asked him to sign it.  I'll review the book shortly.

Joseph Mills read some his poetry.  It was well-written, funny, and thought-provoking.

Finishing it up was Ed Schubert.  He read a humorous short story about becoming a ghost.

Next came the second workshop session.  I attended Carole Boston Weatherford's class, "Think Anyone Can Write a Children's Book?"  She had us do a couple of writing exercises.  She also discussed how the children's market works.

She broke the types of books into Picture Books (including Baby, Toddler, and early picture books), Easy Readers, Transition Books, Chapter Books, Middle Grade, and Young Adult.  Each type of book is looking for different types of submissions.  It's good to know what they're looking for before you submit.

I was glad to learn that you don't need to have an illustrator chosen when you submit a story.  In fact, the publishers prefer to choose the illustrator, unless an author and illustrator are related, or are two people who usually collaborate with each other.

From the writing exercises, I learned that I do have a child's voice.  I may yet produce my Cathalooma and Zabadaba stories.

I ended the day with the Publishers Panel.  We all discussed what publishers are looking for.  There were lots of fun questions.  Of course, I had to ask the first question: "How do we get published?"  That got a few laughs.  The answer: "Writing is the ultimate reward.  Write first, and then worry about getting published."

There was also an Open Mike session, but I had to leave and get ready for friends.

Throughout the whole day, I was a little more proactive in approaching people (compared with my shy performance at the Fall Conference last year).  I met another sci-fi guy, Kevin Courington (scroll down to see his bio).  He's about to finish his first novel.  He was very outgoing.  Kevin Watson was also there representing Press 53 (Winston-Salem publisher).  Daniel Zafren was also there representing Time Treasured Books.

It was an enjoyable conference, and well worth the money spent.

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