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World Fantasy Convention Brighton 2013 – Grab Bag #2

I’m back stateside,but that won’t stop me from sharing more nuggets of awesome from WFC 2013 in Brighton. For context, I’ll group them by panel and in the bearded one’s case, by author.

The first three are from Patrick Rothfuss in a panel on world building:

1. The spectrum of world building authors runs from set designers to model train set builders. Hollywood set designs looks great from the front, but once you move around the side, they are just propped up plywood that’s been painted. Model train builders on the other hand will create insane amounts of detail.

2. Rothfuss has to self-apply the brakes to keep himself from discussing currencies in great detail in his books … and even in the halls of cons.

3. The vulgarity of a culture reveals a lot about that culture. What is considered taboo? What is considered a curse word?

Two more from the world building panel for which I don’t have attributions:

4. Clark’s third law (“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”) has a corollary: Any sufficiently reliable magic system is a scientific technology.

5. “Mozart the Barbarian” – a term for an unintentional cultural reference in a fictional world that pierces the immersive bubble of the reader.

Five from the “are agent’s still necessary” panel (staffed entirely by agents, by the way):

6. One younger agent’s submissions by the numbers: 50-80 submissions a week, 90% are instant “no’s.” In the last week she received one manuscript that the author purported was dictated  by a ghost and another that the submitter claimed was written by God. She was a little concerned about the potential for smiting if she rejected the latter. Potential haunting seemed less of a concern.

7. One very famous Scottish writer wrote 6 novels over 14 years before his first novel was published.

8. One well known, very selective agent said that his placement rate was still only 75%. Before he became as selective, the rate was closer to 30-50%. He also said that pretty much everything he placed was also rejected by at least one editor.

9. The last book that was submitted to each UK publisher to get an offer from each UK publisher was some book called A Game of Thrones.

10. One agent said she represented almost the full spectrum of books, pretty much everything except diet books – because they were absolutely immoral.

One from the panel on editing anthologies:

11. Most editors do not like to do open submissions for themed anthologies for two related reasons –

  1. They have difficulty going through the 1,000’s of submissions, and
  2. They do not want all of those rejected stories written to their theme flooding other magazines (that may publish quicker) and diluting the market for their themed anthology.

Two from a panel about whether epic fantasy is played out (titled “Is Elvish Dead?”):

12. Lord of the Rings is “one book with extra bits of cardboard” – attributed by a panel member to Jo Walton.

13. Steampunk is a mass-consumer-goods, urbanized society’s nostalgia for the bespoke and handmade just as Tolkein’s fantasy was a newly industrialized and urbanized society’s nostalgia for natural green spaces.

Five from the panel on making a living writing short stories:

14. On why short stories are better than novels: short stories are like Faberge eggs, wonderfully detailed and beautiful. We love Faberge eggs, but we wouldn’t want a Faberge room.

15. The two factors that led most panelists to think one could not make a living writing only short stories were (1) having children and (2) needing healthcare/insurance. They thought that if one didn’t mind living with a subsistence level income, not having a family, and rolling the dice on never needing serious healthcare, it might be possible to survive just writing short stories.

16. One panelist pointed out that if you were going to do it, you would need to collect stories into eBooks and effectively build a self-published backlist. (Essentially what Dean Wesley Smith ran the numbers on in this blog post.)

17. One panelist once traded a contributor copy (all he had been paid) for a haircut.

18. Another panelist eventually made the most money off a story that initially seemed stuck in a nightmare. The story didn’t sell at first. Then when it finally sold to a smaller market, that market experienced an editorial coup and was returned by the new editors. Finally, it was published by a nonpaying market. THEN it was reprinted in the Year’s Best, bought by Pseudopod, and optioned for three years in Hollywood.

Three from the panel on writing the second novel:

19. “Always write your best work next.”

20. On Norway – “A nation obsessed with skis can’t be up to anything good.”

21. One author puts in random unexplained happenings in early novels in series. Then he figures out later how to weave them into the rest of the series after the fact.

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Self Publishing Podcast

Johnny, Sean, and Dave over at The Self Publishing Podcast were gracious enough to have me on their most recent podcast. The video is available on YouTube. I join in around the 10:40 mark. We talked about a number of legal issues, ranging from how writers obtain copyright, whether to register your copyright and why, the use of and concern over trademarks as they relate to what writers do, the right way to structure a collaboration with an eye toward potential legal problems, etc.

I’ll post a link to the their blog post covering this particular cast when it goes live.

[9/19/13] And here is their blog post!

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Listen to this: Self-Publishing Podcast – Killing the Sacred Cows

Episode 71 of the Self-Publishing Podcast features Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch, talking about the new world of publishing. It’s always worth your time to listen to what Dean and Kris have to say.

From the SPP website:

We spoke to two very well-known names in indie publishing (which they refer to as “the new world of publishing,” Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. I’ve been wanting to talk to Kris and Dean for a while and we’ve gotten a lot of listener requests about it, so finally Mark from Kobo (poor guy, we’ll never be able to call him by his full name because he’s forever “Mark from Kobo”) made the introduction.

It might be worth checking out the YouTube video for this episode to watch Sean’s antics as he vehemently agrees with 99% of what they say, going so far as to make hugging and other gestures the whole time.

SPP is Johnny B Truant, Sean Platt and Dave Wright. If you are new to SPP, it is worth your time to dig through their old episodes.

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Nathan Fillion, Advances, and Hybrid Publishing

So what does Nathan Fillion have to do with hybrid publishing and conflicts between publishers and authors over unmet deadlines? Read on, browncoats.

I always find the portrayal of authors in popular media interesting, particularly the ways in which that portrayal is so far detached from reality. This departure usually takes the form of showing authors as either instantly successful or as so rich that money loses all meaning to them (or both).  Bones is one example, although Dr. Brennan’s role as a rich author does not involve itself in the show that often. In one episode, her publisher buys her a new mercedes. You know – as a gift. Sure. Happens all the time.

I'm not above using Nathan  Fillion covered in kittens to get people to read my post.

I’m not above using Nathan Fillion covered in kittens to get people to read my post. More here: http://www.whosay.com/nathanfillion/photos/402260

Nathan Fillion’s character Richard Castle in the pseudoeponymous (epopseudonymous?) show Castle is another example. He throws money around without a thought, and he doesn’t seem to spend any time actually writing. I mean – supermodels, Italian sports cars, tons of free time – that’s been your experience with working as a writer too? Right?

But it’s not the money or lifestyle aspects of how Castle portrays authors that struck me while I was re-watching the pilot episode the other night (“Flowers for her Grave“). Instead, it was this dialogue exchange between Castle and his publisher/ex-wife:

Gina Griffin: What kind of idiot kills off his best-selling main character?

Richard Castle: Are you asking as my blood-sucking publisher, or as my blood-sucking ex-wife?

Gina Griffin: Oh, is that what you’re doing? Punishing me by killing the golden goose?

Richard Castle: Oh, come on. I may be petty and short-sighted, but I’m not *that* petty and short-sighted.

Gina Griffin: Really? Then why?

Richard Castle: Writing Derrick used to be fun. Now it’s like work.

Gina Griffin: Hmm. God forbid you should work. I mean, you could have retired him. You could have crippled him, you could have had him join the freaking circus. But no, you had to put a bullet through his head.

Richard Castle: Yeah. Real messy, too. Big exit wound. Don’t worry, Derrick Storm is not the golden goose here. I am. I wrote half a dozen best-sellers before him. What makes you think I’m going to stop now?

Gina Griffin: Oh, I don’t know. The fact the new book was due nine weeks ago.

Richard Castle: You can’t rush genius.

Gina Griffin: Genius, Richard? Try blockage. I heard you haven’t written in months.

Richard Castle: That’s ridiculous.

Gina Griffin: My sources are very reliable.

Richard Castle: Well, they’re wrong.

Gina Griffin: They’d better be. If I don’t have a new manuscript on my desk in the next three weeks, Black Pawn is prepared to demand the return of your advance.

Richard Castle: You wouldn’t dare.

Gina Griffin: Try me. Just try me.

Richard Castle: You know, I already returned that advance. I spent it divorcing you.

Stories of authors not meeting deadlines are legion. In fact, stories of authors missing deadlines by more years than you can count on one hand are not uncommon. Yet, what you don’t hear about is publishing companies suing authors for the return of their advances. That is what struck me as odd or out of place in the above-quoted scene.

(Yes, I realize she said “demand the return of” and not sue, but I’m trying to make a point here. And I’m perfectly willing to use Nathan Fillion to get your attention.)

Now, several possibilities might explain why you don’t hear about authors being sued for the return of their advances.

  1. Publishers don’t usually sue authors because it is bad for business. If the author still sells for you, then you don’t want to make them mad. If they aren’t selling for you, then they are likely what we in the law wrangling business call “judgment proof.” That is just a law wrangling way of saying you can’t get blood from a stone. So, if you aren’t going to get money back from the author, then any bad publicity you would get from the suit is more than enough to make you opt against suing.
  2. Publishers do sue, but no one talks about it because the publisher doesn’t want to turn off other authors or would-be authors and the author doesn’t want anyone to know they didn’t meet their deadline. In other words, both parties have strong incentives to keep it quiet.
  3. Publishers do sue, everyone knows about it, and Writer-in-Law is just clueless. Let me narrow that down: Writer-in-Law is clueless about publishers suing for the return of advances. I don’t want to leave that too open-ended, or we’d be here all night.

I’m pretty sure the answer is #1, with #2 perhaps playing a small role. But publishing and writing are such small worlds that you would think the stories would get out eventually even if both parties did not want it too.

So, how is it possible that this “reality” might change? What might cause publishers to start being more aggressive with authors who don’t meet deadlines? Well, that is what brings me to hybrid authors.

By “hybrid authors,” I mean authors who publish both through traditional publishers and through self-publishing channels. Being a hybrid author puts the author in a different relationship with a traditional publisher. An author who does not self-piublish, one who only publishes through traditional channels, is the “golden goose.” Publishing companies make money off the output produced by authors. However, a hybrid author is both a “golden goose” and a competitor; the hybrid author is a publisher as well as an author.

Now consider that fact in the context of the following hypothetical:

An author misses a deadline on a book for which a traditional publishing company has already paid the author an advance. So far, this is no different than any of the stories floating around about authors missing deadlines. But in addition to missing the deadline, this author also self-publishes a new book in a different series.

How is a publishing company supposed to feel about that? They’ve paid the author for a book. They haven’t gotten the book. Instead the author has self-published a book that will in their eyes compete with other books in the publisher’s line. So they’ve paid the author to compete with them.

Might that change their previously tolerant approach to deadlines?

At a recent writer’s conference, I heard one publishing attorney intimate that such a situation might change the attitude of publishers . . . to the point of pursuing legal action. He stopped himself as he started to say more about it. I suspect that he realized he was skirting the edge of client confidentiality requirements.

I’ve heard over and over again about how the hybrid approach is the new “diversification” for writing careers, and I can see how that makes sense in the quickly shifting publishing ecosystem. What I am suggesting is that we may also want to stop and think about how such an approach might alter the way publishers think and treat authors.

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