Tuesday, July 22, 2014

ComicCon for writers

There's lots of classes for writers at ComicCon.  Some are awesome. Some are disappointing.  Some are thinly veiled kickstarter campaigns.  And there's a lot overlap, in both subject and schedule, so how do you choose?

Of course the most important things to check out are your favorite pop culture idols.  That's what this pilgrimage is all about.  And the masquerade.  You'll want to see it.  It's quite a show.  But if you have large patches of time, here are my recommendations based on past shows.

Things not to be missed at ComicCon if you are a writer.

Anything called something like "What's new at [publisher]" - These are raffles where they hand out copies of upcoming releases before you can buy them, but that's not why.  The audience is the best and most vocal focus group anywhere  See which titles get the loudest screams.  Find out what plot summery get people humming.  Learn what the people sitting next to you would give their first-born to win. 

Comic Book Law School - It's not just for comics.  I highly recommend this for all writers, but it's an absolute MUST if you are thinking of selfpublishing.  Real lawyers and law professors teach all about copyright law, merchandizing laws, intellectual property laws, contract negotiations, public domain, nastygram letters to cease and desist. etc...  Find out the difference between parody and satire.  (Hint one will get you sued.  The other will not.  Ok, that's only a hint at how important the correct answer is.)  Just because you have an airtight case doesn't mean you'll win, and if you don't have a case, you're in big trouble.  Think your book on Smashwords is too small to show up on the radar?  Think again.  They talk about publishers racking up $85,000 in court costs to recoup $5,000.  Why?  If they let one smallfry steal, they have to let everyone steal.  It's best to know the law so you can stay out of the courtroom altogether.

Classic festival of Animation - "Huh?" you say.  "What does that have to do with writing?"  Simple.  The crowd gets to vote on what they get to see.  Remember how agents are always telling us you need to grab the reader in the first five pages.  You'll see that in action here.   Nothing will get the audience booing faster than a slow setup.  Come here and study the stuff that gets them cheering.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

San Diego Comic Con 2014

Only two short weeks until Comic Con.  I start getting excited about it in July...of the year before.  If you don't know what Comic Con is, or do know and don't care, consider yourself lucky since it's devilishly hard to get into.   Nine million try to get tickets, 120,000+ succeed. People who knock Comic Con by calling it things like "Geek Pilgrimage", "Nerd Prom", or "Nerdapoloosa" are trying to make it sound uncool so that they won't have to fight you to get tickets. 

(Either that, or it's sour grapes because they are trapped the whole time in a 6x9 booth, stampeded by every form of humanity, listening to everyone walk by marvel at how nice the cast of Game of Thrones are when you get to meet them up close.)

I'm lucky.  I'm enough of an industry insider to get a golden ticket, but not so much that I'm stuck working the aforementioned booth. If you're lucky too, and have never been, here are some tips to get the most of your trip:

  • If you absolutely HAVE to see something, get there at least two hours before it begins.  Especially if the line starts *outside*.  If you're at the end of a zigzagging structure, they might as well have a sign like the ones at Disneyland saying "The wait from this point is approximately one hour."  Heaven help you if you have to go through two zigzagging structures.  I got stung because I had two hours to kill so I figured I'd catch the cast of Sherlock.  (I didn't get in, but then again, they weren't there either, so I just checked out the clips they sent on YouTube like everyone else.)

  • Most of the rooms have drinking water, but food here is really expensive for what you get.  If you want a good deal you'll have to leave the nearby vicinity, but that's easier said than done.  The swarm of people around the convention center extends for blocks.  I plan on bringing meal replacement bars.

  • The seats are really uncomfortable.  If this might be a problem for you, do what I do:
    1. Go to Target, Costco, Wal-Mart, etc... and buy a memory foam seat cushion.  You know, about two inches thick and sold in a pack of two. (You might bring both, the back isn't any more comfortable than the seat.)
    2. Bring it with you.
    3. When you arrive, you'll get a HUGE bag for swag, more than big enough to smuggle out Peter Dinkledge, if you so desire.  Toss your cushion in and wear the bag like a backpack.  This give you the added bonus of acting as a bit of padded armor for you and your swag in the crush of the lucky 120,000+
    4. At the start of event, pull the cushion from your bag and have a seat.  Trust me, nobody will even notice.  This is Comic Con.  I guarantee the seat cushion won't be the most eye-catching thing in the room.

  • If you want to see the masquerade costume contest Saturday night, you have to get a ticket. They run out quickly.  However, they have a live broadcast to a party at the sail pavilion with music, keepsakes, and food.  HOWEVER, the food is stuff like cupcakes and nachos.  And the show is hard to hear at times since you have the laughter from the big screen and the laughter of the pavilion.  If you want to see a show and dance the night away, go to the sail pavilion.  If you're there for the costume contest, get your ticket before they run out.
More tips for how to get the most out of Comic Con if you're a writer coming in the next post.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The secret life of the slush pile

Those who know me realize I'm no stranger to the query letter.  As an author I'm agented more than once, give advice, classes, etc...  I realize firsthand this can be a terrifying road, fraught with peril.

So when given a chance to screen query letters, I jumped at it.  After all, I can empathize with the person writing the query. I know how nerve-wracking it is put yourself out there like that, to set the story you've worked on for years and years up for rejection. To spot a typo about two seconds *after* you've hit send.  So I thought this was the chance to pay it forward.

Well, let's just say I'm going to have to pay it forward by explaining things from the other side.


1)  Getting my name wrong - Seriously, so many people spell my name wrong in real life (including my agents) this doesn't bother me.  Yes, it would be a show of respect to get my name right, but I understand you're nervous and scared, so I chalk it up to stress.

2)  Calling something a 'fiction novel' - Yes, if you have a Phd in querying you should know better, but not everyone reads blogs.  I'm far more annoyed by 'awesomesauce', but I wouldn't block someone just for that.

3)  A typo - Again, nerves.  If the author doesn't appear to have a decent grasp of the English language, that's a problem.  But one typo?  I think the first query letter I wrote had two and I still got requests.

4)  Telling me your family and friends love your writing - Not a red flag for me.  It actually gives me a warm fuzzy feeling.  It doesn't help, because of course your loved ones think you're a great writer.  I'd been more concerned if you told me they think you're a terrible writer.  (Don't laugh, some people do that)

5)  Comparing yourself to a blockbuster - it may get an eyeroll from me if the comparison is a stretch, but your work is being judged on its own merits.

Pretty easygoing, huh?  You'd think I greenlight quite a lot. 

Not even close.

Most query letters have problems far worse than the ones mentioned above. 


1)  Talking about yourself and not the novel - It's great that you quit writing to raise eight wonderful children and seeing your book in print is a lifelong dream, but agents and editors are not fairy godmothers.  They take good writing and find a home for it.  They need to know what it is you're trying to get published.

2)  Not following instructions - If an agent asks for 50 pages, send 50 pages.  If page 50 ends at an awkward place, you can send a little more or a little less.  But nobody is going to punish you for sending exactly 50 if they ask for 50.  However, if an agent asks for 50, don't send them 10, and don't send the whole thing, saying you think that would be better for everyone.  If the agents want to see 10 pages instead of 50, they'll ask for 10 pages.  Sending 10 when they ask for 50 is like getting an audition as a singer and announcing you're going to tapdance instead.  You're wasting everyone's time and showing them it's a mistake to give you a chance.  If you're going to start the relationship by following your own rules and nobody else's, how can she ever trust you to honor a contract?

3) Getting cute - Like coming up with a quirky bio or telling the story from the POV of a character.  Trouble is, the agent can't tell if you're joking or if you really think you're Zombie Napoleon.  Agents won't tell you this, but they receive a lot of hate mail and threats from people they've rejected. Some of these people are pretty unstable. Getting a wackadoodle query is like getting a love letter written in blood.  It's not cute or original, it's scary.

4)  Begging for pity - Nobody gets out of the slush pile because people feel sorry for them.  Really.  You want to get a book published because people have abused you your whole life?  People are going to abuse you even more when you have a book published.  Complete strangers are going to tell the world how much they hate your writing, and you have to sit there and take it.  Even if your pleas for pity are just false modesty or you're fishing for compliments, neither one is a good habit when trying to prove you are professional enough to enter into a business partnership. 

Basically, the query letter serves two purposes:

1)  To get me interested in your story.
2)  To prove you won't be a nightmare to work with.

That's it.  It's not to dazzle me with your talent and creativity.  That's what your pages are for.
Your ultimate goal is not to 'stand out'.  Trust me, don't do anything of the things I don't want to see, and you will stand out.  In a good way.