Keyan’s Blog

The Mystery Nest Demystified

The other day, in Seattle, I saw a woven nest hanging in a bare tree. It wasn’t very high off the ground, but probably when the tree was in leaf, the nest would be well hidden.

It was quite large, and I wondered what kind of bird made it. Had it been in India, I’d have suspected some kind of weaver bird. But in Seattle? My usually reliable Google-fu failed me. So I posted the picture on Facebook.

One of my FB friends came back with a prompt reply: Bushtit. (Thanks, Rebecca!)

That’s these cute little birds, about 3.5 inches long.

Bushtit in Glen Canyon, San Francisco. (c) Janet Kessler
Bushtit – Copyright Janet Kessler

(Click on the photo to go to more bushtit photos by urban wildlife photographer Janet Kessler – and the context for this photograph.)

Skagit Valley at Tulip Time

A few years ago, someone took me to Skagit Valley, Washington State, at tulip time. (It’s usually the whole month of April – though this year they think it will continue into the first week of May, 2018).  Last Saturday, I took someone else to Roozengaarde, one of the two major flower farms in the valley. It was spectacular.

We chose Roozengaarde over Tulip Town (next time!) for two reasons – it’s open later, upto 7 pm compared to 5pm for Tulip Town; and it has a brilliant display garden. They mix different types of tulips in every color.
Tulip bed in Roozengaarde display garden 2018

Then we walked around the fields – each one planted in a different color. That’s where they get the bulbs you can order from their catalog for Fall delivery. They appear in bands of color.

It was overcast, even drizzly on Saturday, which made for dramatic skies.

The paths were *so* muddy, it was one step at a time – especially the paths that were not graveled. They’re like clay slip (emphasis on “slip”).

The kids were having a great time, though. One dad was trying to be careful not to get his toddler’s feet wet. Kid stared thoughtfully at a puddle, and stomped in it. Then she did it again. He scooped her up, but unless he was going to carry her the whole way, that kid had many puddles in her future. Overheard from another little girl: “I’m mudskating!”

There were visitors from all over, especially from Asia. (I guess Europeans can find tulip fields closer home!)

The most unusual flower I saw was a  giant orange variety of tulips.

I didn’t think they were very pretty, but they were certainly dramatic. That boot is in the picture for a size comparison!

Revived my Archived Blog

Like many other writers, I killed my LiveJournal when it went into Russian hands and had terms and conditions in Russian. Unlike many other writers, I didn’t move my archive to Dreamwidth – and of course regretted it. Today, LiveJournal sent me a message allowing me to revive my acount. So I did, and set up an account on Dreamwidth, and brought my archive over. I had posts starting from 2007, including all my posts about Clarion.

So here’s the link for the Dreamwidth archive. I still need to fix the internal links, many of which link to LiveJournal. But at least all those entries still exist.

Ten Things That Changed in Ten Years – The Speculative Fiction World

Ten things that I’ve noticed have changed in the last ten years:

1. Nearly every major market now accepts electronic submissions. (The Big Three were paper-only until just a few years ago, prompting this essay by John Scalzi in 2009.)

2. It’s so easy now to write and submit (in a physical sense) that there are thousands of writers out there. For short-story magazines, an acceptance rate of under 1%  is not unusual. (It used to be much higher.) Most magazines now have “reading periods” or “submission windows” during which they accept story submissions, so that they’re not deluged continually and have a chance to clear the backlog.

3. The converse of that is, even if you’re a good writer, rejections are usually a lot more common than acceptances, even with semi-pro magazines. (The Science Fiction Writers of America uses 6 cents/ word as a cut-off for “professional” rates. Below that is “semi-pro”, token payments, or “for the love” meaning no payment at all.

4. With a low cost-barrier to entry for an on-line magazine, there are a lot of small markets. Many of which are single-person efforts. Some of them evaporate quickly, others survive for years and get quite well-known.

5. For novels, Amazon has been a complete game-changer. The stigma against self-publishing has evaporated, with Amazon and e-publishing being a possible route to success. (Self-publishing short story singles except tied into a novel series is mostly pointless.)

6. With the advent of successful e-publishing of novels, the series cycle is much tighter. The conventional wisdom used to be that you should aim for one novel a year in a series, because that’s what publishers want. Now, according to successful self-published novelist Annie Bellet, you ideally want one a month. Or hold off until you have six books ready to go, so you benefit from reader momentum.

7. People are always trying to game sales algorithms, and the owners of those algorithms are always fighting the games. This means the rules continually shift, and non-gamers can get caught in the cross-fire.

8. In traditional publishing, just selling a book doesn’t mean you’ve made it. Publishers are more and more impatient with books that don’t take off. They may cancel a series that’s selling, just not as well as they’d hoped.

9. TV possibilities may exist even for short stories, and definitely exists for novels series.

10. Podcasts are no longer a marginal medium, and are increasingly interesting.

Anyone with further thoughts – your comments?

“Chicken Monster Motel” in Monstrosities Anthology

My story, Chicken Monster Motel, is being published in the Monstrosities Anthology… and it’s got cover art! (Thank you, Juli and Keely!)

I love the table of contents – those titles! I’m so looking forward to reading the other stories. It’s coming out in March 2018, and you can preorder it on Amazon now if you want. (When I looked, it was priced at about $5 for the e-book.)



Chicken Monster Motel by Keyan Bowes
Five Billion Pounds of Soul by Larry Hodges
Sacrifice Needed, Alcohol Provided by Carl R. Jennings
#Notalltigers by Mark Pantoja
The Doomsday Machine Retires by Ray Daley
Alien TV Shows Are Bad for Your Eyes by Brian Trent
Got Them Wash Day Blues by James Dorr
This Tyrant Crown by Liam Hogan
The Great Mall by Salinda Tyson
Skywalker by Jennifer R. Povey
Eaten by Ville Meriläinen
Into Xibalba by Sita C. Romero
The Emerald Mirage by Martin M. Clark
TidBits by Sharon Diane King
The Catacombs of Constitutional History by Julia August

Grins & Gurgles (Flash Humor)
New Shoes by Robert Bagnall
Kismet by Barry Charman
They Saw Me Coming by Russell Hemmell
Bigger and Better Things by Joseph Sidari

Plus a special reprint by Edward Bryant.

Spotted in the Wild!

One of the joys of getting involved with the Science Fiction and Fantasy writing community is spotting books and stories by people I know. For instance:

Here’s what I saw at our lovely local bookstore. It’s a new book by Rati Mehrotra, and I’m eager to read it.

And in the same bookstore, there was Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017… and I knew about half the authors.

Including my Clarionmate, Nick Wolven.


I am feeling very much in the middle of the writing world, and proud to know all these amazing people!

“Picnic, with Xels” in Third Flatiron Best of 2017

My story, Picnic, with Xels, has been reprinted in Third Flatiron’s Best of 2017 anthology. It’s currently available only as an ebook, right HERE. (If anyone would like to review the antho for Goodreads or Amazon, now would be an excellent time.)

This story was first published in their Kurt Vonnegut Tribute Anthology, Cat’s Breakfast. Then, out of the blue, they asked if they could reprint it for the year-end anthology. I was, of course, delighted!

The Columbia River Gorge, Serendipity and Fire

The weekend before the eclipse, August 19th and 20th, we stayed in Portland for a short getaway. We didn’t have any fixed plans, but browsing yielded a big draw: The Multnomah Falls, and the Columbia River Gorge. It’s amazing to me that there are these beautiful places I’m hardly aware of… and this sounded wonderful.

We didn’t know then that it was just in time – that only a few days later, fire would roll over the whole area we visited.

What we were concerned about that day was crowds. Multnomah Falls is notoriously busy, especially on weekends, especially the day before the eclipse when many eclipse-tourists would be in town. Like us. We were right; by the time we got there, the exist to the Falls was blocked because there were too many cars in the parking lot.

Instead, we drove on to the Bonneville Dam. It was very impressive. The gush of white water threw up a mist over the river.

Linking my video from Facebook: Rushing waters at Bonneville Dam

The visitor center had a fish ladder with migrating fish

Also lampreys, which I’d read about frequently but have not seen before. But we missed seeing the ancient sturgeon, Herman. (Fortunately, he’s survived the fire, so I hope to see him another time.)

After Bonneville Dam, we kept going, absorbed in the river vistas on our left and steep tree-clad hills on our right.


At Mitchell Point, we made a stop to look at the view. The information sign had an interesting, rather poignant story about what used to be there – a beautifully designed tunnel, destroyed when the new highway was built, and a roadhouse that eventually closed down and faded away.

We climbed a trail into green woods, but not too far. We wanted to see more of the river gorge.


At Hood River, we decided to turn back – and then we came, serendipitously,  upon the absolutely charming Columbia Gorge Hotel and stopped for coffee.

It’s a historic and charming hotel sitting between a brilliant garden and a glorious river.

We sat on the patio for coffee and a snack, enjoying the view and the flowers.

Driving back, we had to decide between crossing to the other side of the river, or retracing our steps.


We decided not to cross, because I hoped that by the time we got there, the Multnomah Falls would be accessible. And they were! Still quite crowded, but no more than Yosemite in summer, for instance.


It was altogether delightful, and we thought we’d come back. It’s easy from Seattle.


Only two weeks later, I was horrified to learn of the Eagle Creek fire engulfing the very area we’d visited, roaring through all that beauty and threatening the Multnomah Falls. As I write this, it sounds like it’s been saved. Thank you, firefighters!


Solar Eclipse in Oregon

Like maybe a million (or a few million!) people on August 21, 2017, we made our pilgrimage into the path of the totality.  It was a long road, even though we only came from Seattle. We drove down to Portland, and spent the night there on the previous Saturday and Sunday.

Heeding all the traffic advisories, we started early from Portland on Monday. By 5 a.m. we were checked out and on our way. To our surprise, it was a smooth run aside from a couple of minor bottlenecks,. We even had time for breakfast at a diner that announced it opened at 6 a.m. The place was packed with eclipse watchers, probably headed into Salem.

We, instead, decided to go to the small town of Aumsville. By 7 a.m. we had checked the place out, and settled into a small park with a few other eclipsians. The park was perfect. There were picnic tables, a pretty creek running along the bottom, trees to cast the crescent-shaped shadows, and a clear view of the sun. We’d come armed with cardboard eclipse glasses, as well as binoculars with taped-on filters.


Enough others had come to make it a fun group event, but not so many that it was overwhelming. People had the cardboard glasses, but also light-boxes like this one to throw an image of the eclipsing sun onto a sheet of paper.

The eclipse started, and I got some pictures.

Trellising my fingers yielded crescent shapes as the spaces acted like a pinhole.

And here’s what the sun looked like:

I’ve seen solar eclipses before – several partial ones, and one very brief totality in India in the 1990s. This was different. It lasted long enough to register what I was seeing with my naked eye. It looked like a black sun, floating in a pinkish corona, just hanging there like a completely alien and awe-inspiring object.

And then, too quickly, the moon moved on and the “diamond ring” appeared. I put my eclipse glasses back on, and watched as the moon slid down across the sun.

After the eclipse, we made our way back to Seattle, stopping along the way and hoping to avoid the traffic. It didn’t matter. All roads were clogged. The traffic advisories didn’t cover the departures, and everyone was leaving in the same 2-3 hours.

We got back to Seattle after 2 a.m.

But what an amazing experience!

Giant House Spiders are Real

A few days ago, I read about the Giant House Spider on Facebook. It sounded mythical,  like jackalopes and the Pacific Tree Octopus. Because Giant, Spider, and House in conjunction don’t work well for a lot of people.  But when I googled it, I found they actually do exist. (Sorry, arachnophobes: Giant House Spiders weren’t invented by RL Stine.)

Yesterday, I saw something black scuttling across the living room floor. My first thought was, cockroach. Because I’ve seen lots of cockroaches, but only in Asia. Closer inspection revealed a Giant House Spider. I was pleased to recognize it.

So I whipped out my trusty spider catcher – an 8-oz clear plastic cup and a piece of card – stalked the spider, captured it, and returned it to the wild. Here’s the pic. (The spider-catcher is labeled so it can sit on the desk and not get thrown out by mistake.)

“Picnic, with Xels” in Cat’s Breakfast Anthology from Third Flatiron

A new anthology from Third Flatiron Publishing – it’s called Cat’s Breakfast: Kurt Vonnegut tribute. It’s available on Amazon as an e-book, and a print edition is planned.

It includes my story,  Picnic, with Xels.


I’m thrilled to see it published. This is one of my early stories, and a favorite of mine for many reasons both writing-related and personal.

I was just counting up my short stories and poems published. This is the 26th. Thanks, Clarion!

[Edited to Add: They did bring out the print version, and it rocks! Each story has a little graphic accompanying it.]


Criminal Minds – Notes from Orycon 2016

I found my bunch of Orycon 2016 notes the other day, and  thought some were worth writing up. This panel particularly impressed me, since the panelists (Matt Bellet, Bart Kemper, SD Perry) brought some very interesting experience and insights. Matt has worked in rehabilitating young offenders on parole; Bart Kemper, an officer in the Army Reserves who served in Iraq and Afghanistan (and is also an engineer with current Secret Security clearance with the DoD); and SD Perry, who writes horror and dark fiction and therefore researches this stuff constantly.


Is there such a thing as a “Criminal Mind”?

  • SD Perry: Yes, there are brain differences. Psychopaths show reduced frontal lobe activity, no emotional reaction to danger words, and increased amygdala activity. However, ordinary people can also be criminals through anger and self-righteousness. There’s sociopathy.
  • Matt: Yes. Some people have brains that work differently. Others are “typical” but do things that are criminal because of their circumstances.
  • Bart: Not all criminals are psychopaths nor are all psychopaths criminal.
  • SD Perry: Yes – some psychopathic traits can help careers. They’re over-represented among surgeons, CEOs, media journalists for example. Our society values people without empathy. They avoid criminal acts through rational decisions.
  • Bart: Killing people is acceptable depending on the circumstances – if the people are on the other side. It’s the difference between being a soldier, who kills people vs a murderer who needlessly kills people. Killing can be justifiable, but other crimes like rape may not be. The death penalty for rape is rational because there’s no justification for rape.
  • Question: What about women killing their abusers?
  • Bart: Most murders are personal.
  • Matt: I told my guys that I will talk about what’s legal and illegal, but not about right and wrong. It’s not my job to look at the ethics of the situation.
  • SD Perry: Psychopaths don’t think of right and wrong. They consider everything only in relation to themselves. Rehab also has to be different. It’s also true with narcissism – everything is about them. Difficult to treat them. There’s the Dark Triad: Psychopathy, Narcissism, Machiavellianism. Together with Sadism. Goes into the “Criminal Personality,” causes Criminal thinking errors.
  • Someone said something about Death Squads and Torture. “You lose part of your soul.”

Question: What about naked craziness? (I think the reference was to people on the street who act really weird and dangerous, but not sure.)

  • Matt: Drug addiction, rule-breaking, mental illness, drawing attention – these account for some of those behaviors.
  • SD: There’s a thin line between sanity and not-sane.
  • Bart: Criminals aren’t stupid. Smart people can deceive themselves.
  • Matt: Criminals are not only the hero of their own story, they’re also the victim.
  • SD: Psychopaths will lie.
  • Matt: They know what you want to hear.

Question: Is the internet causing psychopaths?

Psychopaths are born, not made. But people can relate to them: for instance, John Wick (violent action movie hero) was a sympathetic person.

Question: There was some study in the 1920s which found there was no psychological difference between police and criminals?

Bart: A manipulative personality can be used to manipulate people in good ways. E.g. a coach, or a criminal rehabilitator.

SD: Any job that offers power will draw psychopaths. E.g. Police. Surgeons. CEOs. Don’t have moustache-twirling bad guys as your villains.

Matt cited the Milgram studies. He noted that people who hadn’t completed high school wouldn’t press the button (to apparently torture the “victim” of the experiment). High School is where you learn to obey authority.

Bart: Countering the stupid authority requires ethics training. “Question every order.” Military reward people who revealed the Abu Ghraib incident, and prosecuted the bad guys.


That’s all I have in my notes. Really liked the session. I think I learned a lot. I was reminded of it recently when I read the Atlantic Monthly article, When Your Child is a Psychopath,   which notes that 80% of psychopaths are not criminal, and also this article: Life as a Nonviolent Psychopath.


Old Typewriters and a Ray Bradbury Tribute

I was at San Francisco Airport yesterday, and came upon this tiny exhibit of old typewriters in Terminal 2. (Of course, I thought of Mary Robinette Kowal, who collects them.)

It was quite charming – a whole range of old typewriters. I’d liked to have spent more time there looking at them all, but with only a few minutes before I had to head for my Gate, I just took a few pictures.

But the most interesting thing to me was the display of typewriters belonging to well-known authors. Orson Wells. Tennessee Williams. Hemingway. [Edited to add: I got an email from Steve Soboroff, who said they came from his famous collection.]

And perhaps the best of all: Ray Bradbury.

Reminded me of the tribute video by Rachel Bloom as well as all the lovely stories of his I’ve read over the years.


“Happily Ever After in Twelve Stained Glass Panels” in Expanded Horizons

My second Rumpelstiltskin story, “Happily Ever After in Twelve Stained Glass Panels” is on line at Expanded Horizons. It was first published in the Mosaics I anthology.

“Usually, the Queen rode alone to her hunting lodge deep in the forest. This afternoon, she’d brought her son King Rushken, recently come of age. Now she had to steel herself, resist the urge to turn back, to postpone.” (Read on)



My Norwescon 2017 Panel Notes: Advanced Self-Publishing

Advanced Self-Publishing (Tori Centanni (M), Annie Bellet, Mark Teppo, K. M. Alexander, Elliott Kay)

The discussion started with genre silos – writing books that are strictly within a genre, vs cross pollination. Also: If you write in more than one genre, should you consider different pen names?

Annie: It’s important for new writers to stay strictly within a genre, because of the way Amazon algorithms work. The most important element is the Recommendation engine, which will tend to recommend books similar to the ones a reader has already bought. The “also-boughts” are key: If people who bought your book also bought other books within the genre, then the also-boughts will give the correct signal. If you use the same name for two separate genres, you might get some cross-over readership – people who liked your Urban Fantasy may also enjoy your Adventure thriller series. But percentage-wise, most genres are separate readerships, and the result is the also-boughts get confused and give the wrong signals. So if you’re writing in two genres, at least use slightly different pen-names – like adding in an initial – to distinguish them. The Romance readers are more likely to cross into other genres than most other readerships.

Series are good for self-publishers; if readers like one book in the series, they buy all the others. The best thing you can do for your sales is to publish the next book in the series. It gives a boost to all the previous books.

How soon should you publish your next book?

For traditionally published books – about one a year was the conventional wisdom.

For self-published books, the ideal would be every 30 days (!) in the same series. If you can’t do 30, go for 60. If you can’t do 60, go for 90. If you’re a slower writer, then wait until you have at least 3 books in a series ready to go, and then release them once a month. This again comes from an Amazon algorithm. They have a 30-day “Hot New Release” list. If your next book comes out in time to get on the list *again* it will boost your series’ profile. They also have a 60-day list and a 90-day list.

Writing fast is important.  She said that when her pace of writing slowed, her income dropped every month. If you want to write faster, Annie recommends the book: “2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love” by Rachel Aaron.

What’s the difference between paper books and e-books?

For much of the readership – they’re two different things. People who buy paper books don’t always read e-books. But people who read e-books often read paper as well.

For a self-publisher, paper books aren’t worth the trouble. The pricing is hugely different – an e-book can be priced at 99 cents to maybe $7.99, while the paper book will be $15 or more. The margins are tiny. You don’t have the reach to get them into bookstores. That’s where the traditional publishers have a stranglehold on the channels. Annie said she makes more (per book) on a $3.99 e-book than on a $25 hardcover book. On Amazon, at any price above $2.99, you get to keep 60-70%.

Annie sold the paper rights to her “20-sided Sorceress” books to Saga, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. They called her when her series took off on Amazon, and asked if she was interested in a deal. She crunched some numbers, and said it would require an advance of around $2 million. There was complete silence from the other side. Then after a few minutes, they asked about print-only rights.

“That… would be a lot less,” Annie said. So she sold them the print rights (and, she says, immediately turned round and paid it to the Federal Government as tax!), and took down the print version of her books. They were selling only a few copies anyway.





My Norwescon 2017 Panel Notes: Running Your Author Business

Running Your Author Business  (Raven Oak (M), Tori Centanni, Annie Bellet, Jak Koke)

The panel emphasized that unless you were writing as a hobby with marginal expenditures and earnings, you need to run it as a business. Annie recommended watching “Shark Tank” to get the flavor of it.

Publishers are not employers. They can and will drop you and your books. You have to look after your own career.

If you’re self-publishing, you have to find and hire and co-ordinate with editors and cover artists. It’s your book when you write it, but once you publish it, it’s a product. Like hamburger. You want people to love your hamburger. Put on your publisher hat .


You can find a cover artist by looking at the covers you like, and contacting the artist. Or ask the author of the book who the artist is.

Annie: Very important to find an artist branded to your genre, who understands the tropes of your genre. If you’re a romance writer and you hate man-chests… well, that’s the branding for your genre. The cover must convey the flavor of the genre. (She related a story of going through 4 different covers for one of her books to get the right one. The first two weren’t too expensive, but the 3rd one cost $650. And it was a beautiful cover, just not right for the genre.)

Raven Oak does A/B splits to see which cover will work (for books from her micro-press).

Back cover blurb: Keep it short, but long enough to convey the tone. It should capture the character, setting, tone, and stakes.

Best marketing?

Annie: A new book. It boosts the sales of all your books. Besides that, good covers. Third, mailing lists.

Tori: Bookbub!

Jak: Blurbs and reviews. (Annie disagreed. Kirkus reviews had no effect on sales. The only one that mattered was Library Journal and that was hard to get into.)

Raven: Make friends with librarians, other contacts like Seattle Times, independent book sellers.

 Various income streams?

Tori: Amazon is the largest, Kobo if they do a promotion

Annie: Amazon dwarfs the rest. In one month, I made $31,000 on Amazon, $1500 on audio, $700 on Kobo and bits and pieces elsewhere. [I’m not completely sure I noted down the numbers correctly, but the point was that Amazon accounts for at least 80-85% of her income stream.]

Jak writes traditionally published books. Many have earned out. He also does freelance work for hire.

What about audio? When is a good time to do an audio book?

Someone (Raven? Jak?) said, ideal would be right away. Annie pointed out that making an audio book was expensive – it would cost $150 per hour or so just for a voice actor. She suggested waiting for Audible or one of its competitors to approach you. She has a audio contract with royalties.


Definitely get an accountant. Very well worth it.

Keep records meticulously, in real time. Record all your earning at the time in an Excel spreadsheet. The IRS recognizes income when it can reasonably be expected to arrive, not when you actually cash the check. A lot of expenses are deductible, including furnishings for a dedicated home office.

Don’t expect a 1099 will arrive. You may have to track it down. You’re responsible.

Is an LLC worth it?

Probably not. It’s state level, not federal level. It doesn’t make a difference on taxes. It only protects against liability, but not against libel/ slander/ copyright infringement – the things of most interest to authors. If you get sued, you would be better off using the money to hire a lawyer.  It’s only useful if you want to hire employees. If you’re big enough, you may want to form a corporation, but only when you’re really big.

What about Conventions? And what promotional material do you use?

Jak: I go to all affordable Cons within driving distance. For large Cons that are outside driving distance, I try to combine it with other stuff like visits to family. WorldCon is huge. I use business-card size cards of my book covers with contact information.

Annie: I go to Cons to hang out, meet other writers, and help others. I go to local Cons and WorldCon. I don’t sell a lot of books at Cons.

Tori: I go to local Cons, and now I’m the Track Lead at Norwescon. It’s for learning, meeting people. I carry business cards.

Raven: I go to all local cons, and a few outside. I booth. Sell books, make a connection with readers. When I’m at a Con, Con sales outsell online sales. (She also has “drop cards” that enable her to sell her ebooks at conventions to people not interested in buying print editions.)

Other forms of promotion? What about social media?

Annie: Have a mailing list and a monthly newsletter. Doesn’t really promote her books on social media.

Raven: I use Instagram. Pictures of our books photographed in interesting locations. It does boost sales.

General suggestion: Pick the social media you already love. You may or may not get much of a sales boost from it, so don’t do it if you hate it.




My Norwescon 2017 Panel Notes: Writing to Market

Writing to Market  (Tori Centanni (M), Annie Bellet, Marta Murvosh, Brenda Carre, Tegan Moore)

For me, this may have been the most interesting panel of the day. It nicely complemented the New Publishing panel I attended earlier.

  1. What is writing to market?
    • Marta: Understanding the tropes of a genre and making sure you deliver what the readers want. (She writes to anthology calls to challenge herself, and considers that writing to market.)
    • Brenda, who is published in many short-story markets – both spec-fic and literary – writes to her passion, and less to the market. She’s also published several books.
    • Annie (who is a very successful self-publisher): Writing with reader expectations in mind.
    • Writing to market is not writing to trend. Writing to a fan-base is ultimately a more successful strategy than hooking on to the latest trend. Even if you can do it, you may not be able to repeat the performance.
    • Teagan writes mainly short fiction, and writes to anthology calls. Pacing in literary markets is slower than in spec fic markets.
    • Markets may be more liberal than people think.
    • Distinguish between writing to the reader and writing to the editor.
  2. So how do you achieve this “genre methadone”?
    • Marta: As a librarian, I look for “appeal factors.” When someone likes a book, I ask what they liked about it. For e.g.: Hunger Games. Some of the factors: Dystopian; Speaking truth to power; Love triangle; Action adventure; bows and arrows. Then I can recommend another book with the right appeal factor.
    • Annie listed all the things she loved about books she read, focused on the urban fantasy genre, and wrote a series (The Twenty-sided Sorceress) using that analysis.
  3. How do you study the market?
    • Annie: Read! Read extensively in the genre you want to write.
    • Brenda: Read widely, it can spark new ideas.  Markets change over time, especially Young Adult.
    • Teagan: This is even more true (changing markets) of short fiction markets.
  4. Marketing to readers vs marketing to editors
    • Annie: It’s easier to market to readers than to editors. Editors are jaded, and they have to read lots of manuscripts and get fatigued when the same tropes keep appearing. Readers don’t care, they like what they like.
    • Brenda: Also, editors are responsible to a committee. Readers only have to please themselves.
    • Annie: For commercial success, reverse-engineer your tastes to the market. There is no such thing as trash. You have to enjoy popular culture. Find out what will connect you to your market. Susan Kaye Quinn suggests starting out by writing fan fiction of genres you love.
    • Annie: Look at the sales of sequels to your novel. Ideally, it should be >50% of Book 1.
  5. Is there a market for everything? Can I just take what I like, and extrapolate?  Someone spoke about books written from the point of view of the bad guy. Does the protagonist have to be appealing? We go into a discussion about flawed heroes and anti-heroes.
    • Marta: The market may exist, but it may be small. Who in this room has read “The Best American Short Stories 2016”?  [ I look around, and maybe 2-3 people have raised their hands.] “Right? Not many. It’s an important book, edited by Junot Diaz, but it appeals to a small market.”
    • Annie: I think there’s a market for everything, but there may not be a market for everything we write. And your market may be too small to support you as a writer. (She also has trunk novels which will never get published.)
    • Marta: It may appeal to a different audience than intended. I get YA Romance that aren’t really YA. They don’t address the concerns of teenagers,  the characters don’t think like teenagers. They’re just cleaned up romance novels. But there’s a market for clean (i.e. no onscreen sex] romance, and so I direct them to adults who want clean romance.
  1. What are the biggest mistakes?
    • Annie: They want to write something no one has seen before. It’s difficult to do and even harder to market.
    • Brenda: Only getting the low-hanging fruit – duplicating the market.
    • Marta: Not understanding what the reader wants

NorWescon 2017 in Seattle

I’d given up blogging about the Cons I attended, until the recent LiveJournal kerfuffle made me realize that I really valued having those Con notes afterward. So I’m starting again.

I only heard about Norwescon last year, when writer friends rounded up a bunch of people for breakfast. Next year, I decided, I really must attend the Con as well. It’s large – around 3,500 people, and very much a ‘big tent’ Con with books, media and costuming. There are literally thousands of people milling around, many of them in quite fantastic costumes.

The registration lines were long, but once that was done,  I attended panels, made a round of the pretty awesome Dealer Room, visited the art show twice, and also got to the Masquerade (amazing) and the Rocky Horror Picture Show, which I’ve wanted to see for years.

It’s also a great Con for meeting people, if you set it up with them. (You *can* run into people, but with such a crowd, it’s easier with planning.) I’m lucky to be a member of Codex, a neo-pro writers group, and so I knew a few people there. I imagine it could be quite daunting for someone altogether new.

Overall, I attended a bunch of writing/ publishing panels, as well as a couple on other media (film, sound) and a few others that were new information/ experience. I am putting some of the panel notes into separate posts for easier access. And, of course, got to hang out with a great bunch of Codexians.  I really hope I can make it again next year.

Links to my Panel Notes from Self-publishing Panels:

  1. Panel: Navigating the New Publishing
  2. Panel: Advanced Self-Publishing
  3. Panel: Writing to Market
  4. Panel: Writing as a Business

Norwescon Film-making Workshop: Introduction (Daniel Kaufman (M), Ryan K. Johnson, Brian D. Oberquell, John Medlong)

Each year at Norwescon, the film team and a bunch of volunteers put together a short film over the weekend. It’s planned on Friday, shot on Saturday, and shown on Sunday. They showed us two films made in previous years They talked of how film-making was now very affordable, since the technology costs were very low and even excellent equipment could be rented at a reasonable price. Anyone could make a film – it was  a matter of learning (and the internet provided lots of information) and then, practice.

  • Three phases to making a film:
    • Pre-production (time to do the planning for the film and pull together all the elements needed);
    • Production, which is very time-sensitive because you’ve assembled the team and rented the equipment etc so it has to be done right then and there or it becomes too expensive.
    • Post-production, which is essentially the editing stage. A lot of things can be accomplished here.
  • People will tolerate poor video, but can’t stand poor sound. Make sure you get professional sound quality. Beware of copyright issues. (That made me remember the whole story of Sita Sings the Blues, where the maker thought the songs she used had aged out of copyright, not realizing that the studios had tied up all the rights for decades more.)
  • Pointers and tips:
    • You can get people to participate by asking for volunteers among your friends.
    • Feed your crew on-set – at least one hot meal, coffee, snacks. Especially when they’re volunteers! (Check if anyone is vegetarian, they may not mention it in advance. Also ask about allergies.)
    • During production – know what your role is and stay within that role even if you can do others. It’s not your job.
    • Especially when you start out, you don’t need to buy very high-end equipment. Also, rent! Glazer’s in Seattle treats a weekend as one day and only charges one day of rent.
    • For camera equipment, lenses are more important than cameras. “Latitude” (sensitivity to light from white to black, measured in “stops”) is as important as resolution. (8 1/2 is good enough, 13 1/2 is excellent).
    • Most times, the audience is more interested in the story than in the cinematography. No use shooting technically perfect shots that don’t advance the story.
    • Practice is more important than equipment quality.
  • Seattle’s grey overcast skies are wonderful for filming. You can brighten it up in post-production so it looks like summer in L.A.
    • (But to make Vancouver look like L.A., we bring in heaters to dry the pavement, and people scraping moss off the benches!)
    • The problem for Seattle is sound – crows and airplanes.
  • Special effects is not just blowing stuff up.

I’ll put panel notes on other panels in separate posts. I don’t want this thing to become 5,000 words long!

My Norwescon 2017 Panel Notes: Navigating the New Publishing

Navigating the New Publishing (Mark Teppo, Raven Oak, Shannon Page, Marc Gascoigne [Angry Robot])

I didn’t take notes, so all this is what I remember from the panel.

  1. Publishing, as we all know, is moving really fast as an industry. There are many options beside the traditional Big Publishing Houses. Small publishing houses like Tor and Angry Robot; micro presses that are even smaller, and often the work of a few individuals, maybe even one person; and, of course, self-publishing
  2. The big publishers have the best reach – they can get books into stores, they can get books reviewed in prestigious venues, they can promote your book in a big way. The question for most authors is, will they? The big publishers are notorious for concentrating their resources on the books they think will sell in millions of copies, and not doing very much for others. If your book is one of the left-behind ones, it may get hardly any promotion.
  3. The small publishers do better for new authors. They still have reach and a name in the market that provides an advantage. And with fewer authors, and especially, fewer big-name authors, they pay more attention to newcomers and new books.
  4. The micro-presses take it a step further in terms of personal attention and support for the author. They don’t have big budgets, but they are in your corner. You have a committed supporter who can take over many of the tasks writers don’t enjoy – the technical and business side of publishing and promotion. They can seldom afford to give advances.
  5. Self-publishing can work really well if you’re willing to make the effort and do the work. You start at a disadvantage without the reach, but the flip side is that you keep a much larger percentage of the sales, and you have complete creative control. You don’t have to hassle with trying to find a publisher willing to take your book. Some self-published authors have been very successful.
  6. Should you get an agent? It depends.  The panel had mixed views on agents as sellers of your book. If the agent has a really good list of contacts, it may be worth it. But it’s usually a lot of work to find an agent, and many writers discover that after all that trouble, it doesn’t work out. (I personally know several people who’ve parted company with their agents.)  If you’re willing to look at contracts really carefully and do your own negotiating, you make not need one. Shannon said she’d had an agent but they parted ways amicably. Mark said he has an agent whom he pays 15% for agented sales and 10% for sales that Mark negotiates, not so much for sales as for being there if something went wrong and needed fixing. Raven doesn’t have an agent, but has a lawyer who looks at the contracts. Tom, speaking for Angry Robot books, says that they don’t accept unagented submissions except for personal invitations (and he invited everyone in the room to send him manuscripts); it’s basically to keep the worst of the slush out.