Do Not Skip the Panels

I could just leave it at the title, but seriously. If you go to a con, whether as an attendee or as a pro, don’t avoid panels. Programming exists for actual logical reasons.

  • To help you connect with people making work you love.
  • To provide you with information you might not know.
  • To expose you to the work of people you don’t know.
  • To explore things you’re intrigued about.

Panels are an opportunity to pick up new information, meet people, find out what many of your friends look like in person, and feed your imagination. With luck, you also pick up new professional information. When many of us were starting out as writers and editors or artists, or whatever role(s) we inhabit in publishing, lots of folks starting out devoured panels. Made the effort to meet people and introduce themselves. Raised hands even when anxiously awaiting some sort of verbal tongue lashing just for asking a question. When new to our craft, we put out incredible effort to build our skills and our networks.

I see a number of folks I know, myself included, not always carrying that same energy to cons further down the line in their careers. Cons lose all sense of joy, fun, mystery or appeal. They become a daunting chore, full of travel and meetings and an abundance of stress. You don’t have to try to approach cons again with a sense of childlike glee or even the flavor of newcomer’s terror. But getting more out of cons starts with something simple, like hitting some panels. Though the beginner panels may seem less interesting to you now, even panels for new writers and editors can be worth going to. So many problems we have in our careers are about that phase of our work, but some of them are eternal. Communication, getting past anxiety, becoming better at tracking our tax info.

You might not feel like you need a panel on getting out of a slush pile, but practical intro panels may hold information you never got the chance to learn. The people running those panels? Fellow publishing professionals, who are either in your peer group, or likely great people to meet if you’re unfamiliar. Attending those panels? It’s possible those bright, sometimes anxious faces are future writers, editors, agents and art directors. We’re a social industry, and it doesn’t hurt to mix with people at every phase of their career path, as well as yours. New friends, co-workers and audience members are inside those panel room doors. Information you don’t know yet is behind that long table, lined with microphones. We’re not wasting time if we go to panels, we’re spending our time in pursuit of new knowledge and experience, things we can’t grow our careers or our lives without. So don’t skip the panels, and consider being on some in the future. Whole new worlds might open for you if you open that conference room door.

Nailing it: Using Pinterest as a Writer

Shanna Germain is a leximaven of the highest order, exploring her love of the written word through a multitude of formats and style. She also claims the titles of (in no particular order): girl, gamer geek, wanderluster, flower picker, tire kicker, knife licker, she-devil, vorpal blonde and Schrödinger’s brat. Her website is www.shannagermain.com and you really should check out her pinterest boards.


I’ve always used images as inspiration for my writing. For my first novel, I cut pictures out of magazines and collaged them together. For my second novel, I made DeviantArt pages. Eventually, I copy and pasted images into Scrivener.

Now, I’ve thrown all of that out the window for Pinterest. It gathers all of my images in one place. I can quickly pin them and forget them, at least until I’m ready to use them for a new piece of fiction. But more than that, Pinterest does something wholly new—it allows me to share my inspirations with collaborators, colleagues and even readers.

The way I use Pinterest is divided into three different (but often overlapping) elements:

  1. Inspiration
  2. Collaboration
  3. Promotion

 

Inspiration

When I started using Pinterest, it was all about “Ooh, shiny,” which I think is typical for most people. I was just adding images that inspired me in some way – potential characters or settings, ideas for plots. I thought it was all for me. But then other authors and artists (and even readers) liked the pins, or shared them on their own boards. Thus, inspiration suddenly became collaborative. As a solitary writer, this was pretty awesome.

 

Collaboration

An interesting feature of Pinterest is shared boards, where you can invite any number of people to pin to a single board. I’ve used shared boards to collaborate on at least two projects. For the first, Geek Love, we used a number of shared boards that allowed all of the members of the team to pin images. Thus, our inspiration boards quickly grew, all the while giving future readers (and our Kickstarter backers) a glimpse into both our planning process and our geekiness.

For Numenera, a tabletop roleplaying game that I’m working on, we have a private board of inspirational images just for our artists. Because the game is early in development, we’re not ready to share the images with the world yet, but it means that our artists can easily view and comment on the board.

Word of caution: Be careful inviting people to shared boards without asking; I get dozens of invites a week to shared boards that I have no interest in, from people I don’t know, which can be grumpy making.

 

Promotion

A lot of promotion on Pinterest seems to happen almost accidentally when you’re using it for inspiration and collaboration, but there are definitely ways to facilitate it. Here are some of my favorites:

Share Secrets: Create boards for your characters, your setting and anything else that inspired you (these are often the same boards as my inspiration boards, so they serve a dual purpose). Readers love to see behind the scenes and to get a glimpse into the writer’s mind. Be sure to tell them about the project. I use board titles like Novel: Published and Novel: Currently Writing so readers can see what I’m working on now and what they can purchase.

Show Off: Create boards that show your book covers, fan art, author photos, publicity events and more. Make sure you provide links so that people can find your books and your website.

Be Searchable: Use keywords in your description that are likely to get searched, title and describe your boards in ways that are both interesting and informative, and include links to purchasing sites where appropriate. Don’t re-pin with someone else’s description (unless it’s perfect); make your own.  If you want more information, check out sites like Repinly, which look at pinning stats like popular categories and searches.

Be Social: Follow people whose pins or products you like. (Tip: Look into following libraries, museums and galleries—many have a Pinterest page, and they’re often full of great book and art pins). Comment, like, or otherwise engage with other pinners.

Be Time-Savvy: This might be the hardest one, oddly enough. It’s very easy to get lost in the shiny world of Pinterest. Once you start clicking and linking, you may never return. However, it’s important to visit regularly, because when you pin items, they go to the top of the general Pinterest page, which increases the chance that people will see you. My goal is to visit once or twice a day, pin a few things that I really love—and then go back to writing.

Share the Wealth: Create boards of books you love, covers that make you drool and anything else that you can think of to support other writers, artists and creative people. Give artists linkbacks or credit when you can.

Spread the Word: Use Pinterest widgets, such as the Pin It Button, which lets readers pin images or follow you directly from your website or blog. You can also post your pinned images to Facebook and other social media (but I would use this sparingly, because people can find it off-putting).

 

The Downside of Pinterest

Of course, Pinterest isn’t without its flaws:

  • There are some potentially serious copyright issues because most images are posted without permission from or credit to the creator. (Solution: include a link to the source or ask/credit the artist)
     
  • You can’t pin from Facebook. I have no idea why. (Solution: Download the image, then upload).
     
  • You can’t upload multiple images, as I discovered when I tried to upload all of my cover images (Solution: Sit there and do them one-by-one or pick only the best).
     
  • Pinterest’s terms of service are clearly written, but often poorly enforced. I’ve had pins removed for “nudity” because they showed someone’s stomach, while many explicit “adult” sites continue to thrive. (Solution: Read the TOS and post carefully, but expect surprises).
     
  • There is a new business Pinterest but it’s just out of the gate and it’s hard what the benefits are. (Solution: I’m trying it out. I’ll let you know).

 

Putting it All Together

If you’re just starting with Pinterest, now would be a good time to think about all of the above and ask yourself what your goal is. This will allow you to organize your boards in a way that’s most useful to you and to your followers (I organize mine in ways that are easiest for me to follow, and that are hopefully intuitive to readers. I use Inspiration: XX for general inspiration pictures; Novel: XX and Short Story: XX for novels I’ve written or am writing, and everything else has simple titles like Shanna Germain’s Books, How to Write, and Fan Art. Each board gets a short description as well).

If you’ve already started, but need to reorganize (the situation I found myself in), board titles and descriptions can be changed easily, and you can organize the boards (I put boards that are for promotion at the top, and more personal boards near the bottom).

Since its inception, Pinterest has grown in unexpected ways. It has already caught up with Twitter in terms of usage, especially among affluent women and hip urbanites. Whether you’re a beginning writer or already on your way, you can use Pinterest to your advantage by finding inspiration, collaboration, and a greater readership.

A Newbie Writer’s Take on Random House’s Hydra Imprint

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the new Random House eBook imprint. Scalzi outlined its awfulness, SFWA has declared Hydra not to be a qualifying market, Random house responded… the discussion is, shall we say, ongoing.

The thing that strikes me about this whole mess is that I feel what Hydra is offering is basically another flavor of vanity publishing.

When you’re just starting out as a writer and have no major publications under your belt and no real reputation, you get asked a lot if you’re planning on self-publishing. At least I’ve gotten that question a fair bit. And being the responsible over-researched writer that I am, I sought to understand the differences between being published by a publisher, large or small, and publishing your book on your own. I wanted to make the right decisions for myself and do what would make me the happiest in the long-term.

A lot of things go into making a book go from your finished draft to something people might want to buy. Editing, for one. All the editing. The editing for content and continuity, the copy edits. The book-formatting, making it go from a Word document to epub or whatever-all format you’re working in. Cover art. Advertising. Marketing. Promotion. It’s a lot of work.

Frankly, I just want to write stories. I’m not so naive as to think that I can simply throw manuscripts at the wall and eventually something will stick and then I can wash my hands of the whole thing. Increasingly, authors are taking on portions of the promotional work for their books. But by and large, publishers take on a fair bit of the heavy lifting of transforming a book from manuscript to bound pages on a shelf. And I’m kind of lazy, so I’m pretty stoked on the concept of having someone else do that work for me, while paying me for the right to distribute my work.

So here we have two models: one model, where someone pays me to distribute my work, take a cut of the profits, and share a cut of the risk; and the other model, where I distribute my own work, keep all (most) of the profits, take on all of the risk.

But there was a third model out there, that people rarely talk about in a positive way. It’s a model where you pay a publisher to publish your book. The term for this is “Vanity Press” and I don’t think I’ve ever really heard anybody in the industry seriously discuss this as a good model for a career. It’s basically the worst of all worlds: You pay someone else to put your book together, and are expected to carry the burden of distribution. The vanity press has no real vested interest once the book is packaged. They have their money, they don’t need to work to sell your book.

Which, to me, sounds a lot like what Random House is offering with the Hydra imprint. Pay them to put your book together (not directly, of course, these fees will just come out of any money your book makes), and then you split the profits. Oh, and unlike self-publishing where you keep your copyright, and unlike traditional publishing where there are explicitly set periods on the copyright, Hydra keeps the rights forever. Meaning if your book takes off, you can’t scale up to a better deal. You the author take on the bulk of the risk and only keep a percentage of the reward. It’s a watered-down vanity press.

To be honest, even as a newbie like myself who would very much enjoy seeing her book available for other people to read someday, Hydra sounds like a bad deal. I feel like Random House believes that putting their imprint’s name on my book is a privilege for me and I should be happy to get it. It comes off to me as condescending and frankly we authors deserve far better.


EDIT: 03/12/2013 @ 3:30P Pacific

Well. The Internet moves fast, don’t it.

Shortly after my previous post about my thoughts on the Hydra contract, Writers Beware made a post on Hydra’s updated contract. And to be honest, it sounds like a pretty decent improvement. It makes me very optimistic that they were so willing to take on criticism and to respond in a respectable manner, and actually consider the problems with their contract. It also makes me happy that the backlash actually had some impact here. One of the concerns was that if something like this went unchallenged or unedited it could become the New Normal. Thankfully it looks like Random House listened.

The Strange in Your Past

One of my earliest memories is of rolly pollies (Armadillidiidae, pill bugs, etc.), the small bugs that roll up into balls when handled. I played with them often as a young kid, but there’s a particular event that stands out—my baby sister, laying in a crib on her back and wearing only a diaper, and me maybe three years old, putting a small handful of rolly pollies on her chest. There was no malice intended, at least none that I can recall now, but rather a desire to share these amazing things.

Some of my most accessed memories for writing are like this—not the extreme highs or lows (though I draw from those as well), but the weird, the strange in my past. These visceral experiences are often my most inspirational.

When I was twenty-three, I helped my step-father and older brother with a house renovation. The house was old, and probably had not been occupied for a few years. As I was the youngest, and possibly the most wiry at the time, I got the privilege of doing work in the attic. It was a small ranch-style, and the attic was one low space I crawled through, rafter by rafter. It was dirty, hot work, and I’m sure I hated it at the time. But I don’t remember it that way—instead, what always comes to mind is the dozens of mouse bones I found in there. Most were skulls only, but many were full skeletons. Each were bone-white, either extremely old or possibly baked away during the heat of summers past.

I collected many of the skeletons, and decorated the dashboard of my car with several of the skulls. Morbid, sure, but a great memory to tap into as a writer of fantasy, horror, and the weird.

In my younger years I was a bit of a pyro. I have many distinct memories of burning things—frozen hotdogs blackened to a crisp on the outside and still cold in the middle, stormtrooper figures melted into creative disfigurements, or setting a small fire at the edge of the school yard during recess (where I hid the burnt matches in the sandbox, and a few girls dug them up to turn me in). The strongest memory, though, was a small fire out in a field behind my house, nestled in this hollow of trees and wild growth. What we were burning was scavenged wood, underbrush, and leaves, and it grew to a pretty good size. We kept it under control, though, and when we left we made sure it was out. However, because of all the leaves we had burned, a great amount of smoke had built up, and it covered the entire field like a low-hanging fog, just a couple of feet off the ground. I can remember the surreal, serene feeling, the otherworldly nature of it all, even as sirens started growing in the distance.

Once, for work, I visited a cadaver lab at the Mayo Clinic. I was treated to a number of anatomical lessons regarding the heart from a surgeon who removed a few for this very purpose, straight out of a body, and right before my eyes. This happened the day before Thanksgiving (there’s a lot of parallels between what I saw there and what is typically on a table for Thanksgiving, but I’ll spare you).

These kinds of memories are formative. All memories are, really—from the excitement of travel to the mundane of the day to day—but the weird events occupy a special place in my heart. They’re personal experiences with odd little twists, and they’re just right to spark new ideas, or fill in a well-honed detail.