Click Refresh, or 3 Things I Learned About Writing at a Sci-Fi Convention

Alabama Phoenix FestivalMy experiences this past weekend at the Alabama Phoenix Festival make me feel as if I’ve clicked the Refresh button on my life-browser. The Festival is essentially a pop culture convention, and featured tracks on anime, science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, costuming, Star Trek and Star Wars, and comics, just to name a few. One of the stronger tracks was on writing. Here’s a summary of what I learned.

1. Editors at publishing houses only read the first sentence. If they’re not gripped then, they pass on to the next. This information came to me from my dear friend Janica York Carter who attended a panel on “What Are Editors Looking For?” featuring Lou Anders of Pyr Publishing. Another editor on the panel said he’d read a bit further, but that still means you need to hook the reader right away. Anders said (paraphrasing), “I love books. I spend all my time with books. I wouldn’t be in this profession if I didn’t love books. So if you can’t hook ME right away, you need to try harder.”

2. Marketing is crucial. Think creatively about it. This advice I derived from a wonderful conversation with Teal Haviland, author of the newly released Inception. My friend Janica told me about her booth, and when I visited, I was immediately drawn by the gorgeous cover of her book. Even before I spoke with Ms. Haviland, I could tell she was doing so much right with her marketing. She had a professional cover, in contrast to many others around her whose covers screamed, “I did this myself and don’t know anything about fonts.” Her “booth”–actually a four-foot section of a long cloth-covered table–displayed her book, business cards and bookmarks in an attractive array. Behind the booth, on the wall, were two posters for her book, one of them an enlarged version of the cover. Ms. Haviland explained that when it’s busy, people passing by may not be able to see the top of the table, but they will see the posters. The interior of her book was beautifully laid out, with decorations in the footer beside the page number and inside covers–all done (I believe) at CreateSpace. She sells her books at science fiction and fantasy conventions, because that’s where the fans of her fantasy books are, and feels it’s important to ask to be put on panels, to raise awareness of her books. In the program schedule, I noted she was on 6 panels. Ms. Haviland said she also attends book festivals, as that’s where the readers are.

3. Networking is vital. The Alabama Phoenix Festival is a young convention, and still relatively small compared to something like Dragon*Con, but that’s a good thing. Since the crowds are smaller, you aren’t pressed to hurry through the authors alley or the vendors’ booths. You can stop and talk with authors who have experience in the areas you’re working on. You can chat with prominent editors and small press publishers and pick their brains (while seeing costumed zombies ready to eat yours). You can meet new and talented artists (like the incredibly multi-talented Afua Richardson, who designed the festival’s badge and program artwork). Such lovely people, all ready to help and eager to talk.

Comments? What have your experiences been? I’d love to read them. Post below.

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