Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Denvention 3 = Walk-a-con

I had a wonderful time, overall, and made several new acquaintances, learned a great deal and brainstormed some new screenwriting ideas. The overall theme of most conversations I was in was MARKETING -- promotion, advertising, blurb writing, pitching, salesmanship.

I arrived Tuesday Aug 5th. Jean was late in due to thunderstorms. We crashed that night and picked up our badges and program participant materials on Wednesday. That took an hour and a half. Some program participants stuck in the pre-registration "get your badge here" line, which you had to go through before getting your final panel schedule, were late to their panels because of this.

We were told there were hotspots for Internet access in the area, but until Thursday, I had no Internet access. We finally decided (Jean Lorrah and Torun Almer and I) to split the cost of a T-Mobile temporary account to get Torun's notebook online.

T-Mobile has a grand reputation. We thought the monetary expense would be the only expense. Instead, in order to complete and maintain the T-Mobile connection, Torun spent several hours over 4 or 5 days on her cell phone on tech support with T-Mobile, and it was a struggle. But we were able to file brief con reports and get a number of business emails attended to. Frankly, I don't recommend T-Mobile from hotels. The hotel access that was offered, though, was slower than T-Mobile. T-Mobile wasn't fast enough or enabled enough to allow sending a short video from Jean's camera or you might have had a video report. It was just a hassle all around.

Wednesday I attended a panel where Kristin Nelson was giving a slide presentation on how to write a cover blurb. Kristin is Linnea Sinclair's agent and it was marvelous to discover that Kristin is the bright, splendid, energetic and erudite person I'd expect for Linnea to choose as an agent. She really REALLY knows her business. Kristin used Linnea's covers as examples in her presentation.

Jean Lorrah took these notes (it was that kind of lecture you needed notes):

-----------------------------
The cover blurb (and the query letter, which ideally becomes the cover blurb) should be no more than nine sentences, but may be more than one paragraph. It should include these four elements and nothing more:

Catalyst

Backstory

Character

Inter-related Plot Elements

Any sentence that does not address one of those four elements should be removed.
------------------------

http://www.nelsonagency.com/ -- somewhere on there or a related URL there should be a FAQ page by Kristin with more details, but we can't seem to find it. Someone who knows the FAQ URL Kristin referred to, please drop a note on this blog.

At the end when Kristin Nelson opened the discussion to the audience, I interjected several comments to the audience full of writers about how reviewers use cover blurbs to extract a book from the avalanche of books publishers send us. And from the writer's point of view, in order to penetrate the reviewer's mind and be reviewed, it's best to write the cover blurb FIRST, then write the novel to fit it (which I've done on books of mine that got New York Times, Library Journal etc etc reviews). When I got home, I discovered Kristin had mentioned my comment in her blog.

http://pubrants.blogspot.com/

And that was mentioned in other blogs:

http://jennakrumlauf.blogspot.com/
http://www.lisashearin.com/blog.cfm

Thursday morning, Jean Lorrah and I opened the SFWA Suite -- made coffee and put out breakfast foods. A few dozen SFWA members (Science Fiction Writers of America -- see sfwa.org ) dropped by to tank up on coffee before their early panels. We met some people we hadn't known before and had catch-up conversations with old friends. The hours melted away!

Thursday afternoon I was on two panels that will remain memorable.

The first had an odd topic title about how large a galactic empire could be.

As I arrived for the panel, three fans with armloads of my books ambushed me for autographs. The program had me listed as doing autographs on Saturday, but the fans knew that wasn't going to happen because I don't do autographings on Saturday. I had put in a program change to a Sunday slot with Jean, but the daily newsletter hadn't published it yet. And they'd lugged all these books here. It had to be a mile or more from their hotel room.

There were 7 hotels scattered around the side of the convention center that was opposite where our convention space was. Even by Thursday it was clear we would spend more time walking than talking at this convention, and so it was. But my heart went out to those who carried so much extra weight so far in such thin air just to get my autograph.

So, sort of against the rules, I sat down at the panel table to sign autographs real-quick-like because the panel was starting. (usually you autograph after a panel)

In fact, the moderator came over and wanted me to leave because the next panel was about to start -- then I said but I'm on the next panel, not the previous one, and she laughed as everyone else took their places and found their name cards.

As panelists were being seated, a woman came up to me from the audience -- and I didn't get her name, but I remember her face. She said I'd analyzed one of her short stories at a previous convention and she'd done what I said had to be done to the story -- and had just a few days ago SOLD the story, her first sale. I told her to tell the audience what she'd told me, and she did. BIG CHEER!!!! I'm so bummed that I didn't write her name and the story title and publisher down so I could be sure everyone reads her story! (I do remember I liked it!) This may be Linnea-Sinclair-the-next-generation!

Most of the people in the audience were writers, so I ended up sketching a formula for how to use this question about the size of a galactic empire in WorldBuilding.

First we talked about TIME -- how long does it take to get information and/or goods from one end of the Empire to another? Any political structure is limited in size not by geography but transit time. I cited Ursula LeGuin's LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS and the ansible technology.

Then we talked about MOTIVE. Why would anyone want a political organization that big? Why would any species (humans included) want or need to organize on such a scale. In all fiction, the key to plausibility is MOTIVE. In this case it has to be the motives of the non-humans (based in their biology) and the motives of humans based on the usual plus unusual circumstances.
The list of motives I have scribbled down here are:

a) PROFIT $$$ and otherwise, sometimes emotional

b) KNOWLEDGE and/or DATA (I was thinking of but did not mention Robert J. Sawyer's novel ROLLBACK which postulates aliens trying to get into touch with Earth by sending their own genetic code to Earth so we can create a breeding circle of members of their species. I later sat beside Sawyer at the con's autographing session but forgot to mention that!)

c) CURIOSITY -- just because you want to know what's on the other side

d) RELIGION -- maybe to convert everyone, or maybe because your religion says you must go see what's out there.

e) Uniting against an external threat -- maybe you need to organize the neighborhood against an extra-galactic threat. Maybe it's not a threat but you think it is.

f) ART -- often the first trade a newly discovered people engage in is "native art".

g) EXCESS POPULATION -- maybe finding colonizable planets and offloading criminals or just plain huge numbers of people is the motivation. Some mathematicians have shown you can't export excess population.

h) everything we haven't thought of -- those ideas make the BEST galactic novels

And then we discussed how such a galactic sprawl of a political unit might be governed, and why writers default to the "Empire" or central-control model. I mentioned the place of background in an artistic composition such as a novel, and we talked about sociological SF a bit.

It's amazing how fast an hour goes!

The second intensely memorable panel was on whether Star Trek has made a difference in our modern world. Well, I doubt anyone here has an answer to that other than "yes" which ends the panel in one word. However the four or five panelists raced on and on talking and talking about all the various contributions that one bit of fiction has made to our modern way of life.

Rick Sternbach (Star Trek art director) was on the panel, as was Roberta Rogow (Star Trek fan writer turned pro). And I was seated next to Marc Zicree whose Star Trek: New Voyages episode WORLD ENOUGH AND TIME was up for a Hugo. I have known Marc for at least twenty years, since he started in the TV business. He really deserved that Hugo but didn't win. (this time)

Marc kept saying things that were on the tip of my tongue and it was delightful to feel how someone currently working (hard and fast) in the thick of things in Hollywood sees and understands the forces shaping what I call the "Fiction Delivery System" in very much the same way that I do. That lends me a feeling of confidence in the future.

Marc Zicree is one of the leaders -- will be one of the most powerful leaders in Hollywood. It's not just that he can do so much. It's that he understands what he's doing and can teach it, as can (and does) Blake Snyder with his SAVE THE CAT! series on screenwriting.

Jean Lorrah said that she and her collaborator, Lois Wickstrom had taken Marc's telephone seminar on how to pitch a screenplay and it had made a big difference in how their ideas were treated by various studios.

Friday we toured the Dealer's Room. Well, no, we entered the Dealer's Room to shop.

But we got caught in conversations here and there -- one Dealer had none of our books shelved with "Authors at this Convention" -- but a few of them over in "Autographed Copies". Then we ran into a new publisher from Canada who had some classic volumes displayed, new editions of oh, I can't remember, I think Dracula, Frankenstein, etc. Our kind of stuff.

I don't have his card or his name written down, but I remember a long conversation in which we explained some of our more harrowing experiences with publishers and the kinds of writing we do. Rarely do writers have the chance to discuss publishing in depth with someone who is "a publisher" -- rather than an editor who works for a publisher. The running of a publishing business lends an entirely different perspective. This particular conversation gave me more material for my concept of "the fiction delivery system" as it is functioning today. Things are still in flux, and our times are "interesting" so I will remember this rambling conversation for a while.

Friday night, one of the most skillful organizers of fans of Sime~Gen, Kaires, put together the Sime~Gen Party, which we combined with the Broaduniverse party and the EPIC party. The room was ultra tiny and taken up mostly by the huge king size bed (maybe it was a California King). I kept telling people who came in that this was a 3-fer party, and we got it all in because the room was a Tardis. Everyone knew exactly what I meant! I love fandom!

People flowed through the room constantly from 8PM to Midnight and Jean Lorrah and I kept explaining what Sime~Gen is or what it has to do with Broaduniverse and EPIC.

Short form:
"Broad Universe is an organization of professional women writers; EPIC is the organization of e-Book professionals; Sime~Gen is a series of novels by two women who also have e-books."

Our party got a nice mention in the evening edition of the daily newsletter of the Con. There were dozens and dozens of parties, most of them lavishly decorated and serving liquor (two attributes we did not have). But WE got mentioned along with our raffle of Sime~Gen novels.

Jean and I set ourselves the objective on Saturday of seeing the Art Show. We didn't make it.

I have no idea why. We were late getting up because we were out after mid-night at the Sime~Gen Party. We talked and talked that morning -- mostly plot, writing theory, and screenwriting ideas and techniques of MARKETING. Jean and her screenwriting collaborator Lois Wickstrom (who wasn't at Worldcon) have read SAVE THE CAT GOES TO THE MOVIES! by Blake Snyder, which gave us a paradigm in common to talk about. Market-market-market. It's a topic we really haven't spent much time on during our careers! We need to learn more about marketing.

Somehow it was 2PM or so before we got to the Colorado Convention Center top floor where the Art Show and Dealer's Room were located. And the Art Show closed on us so they could tear down for the Art Auction.

Jean was bound and determined to shop the Dealer's Room and said that she just had to do it without me because between her own getting caught in conversations and my getting caught in conversations there was no way we were going to do it together! She was right. We separated and both of us managed to see most of the Dealer's Room.

This re-confirmed my old saying that the mean-free-path of a pro at a con is about 15 feet.

Sunday, Jean and I did the convention autographing session. About 7 or 10 people sitting at a long table, each doing a 45 minute stint, but not all arriving or departing at the same time. Complicated.

People with books formed long lines, and sometimes a second segment of a line would hold back until the next writer swapped seats with the previous writer then flood forward. People who had more than 3 books to get signed had to go through the waiting line twice or more.

I was amazed that after the folks that ambushed me, and the other things I'd signed on the fly, there were still quite a few people who had read the program changes and arrived on time for my autograph slot. I signed only ONE copy of the Denvention III program book, so that will be a collector's item.

I keep thinking I've signed every copy of FACES OF SCIENCE FICTION ever printed -- and someone brings yet another copy! And I signed a pristine copy of STAR TREK LIVES! plus a first edition HOUSE OF ZEOR. The others are a blur because, as I noted above, somewhere in the middle of my signing stint, Robert J. Sawyer sat down next to me. I do love his books! That grabbed most of my attention.

After the autographing, there was a group of soft tissue massage professionals offering writers who autographed a free massage. I raced right over there and I got a massage from Patricia "Pat" J. Peterson, NCMT, who does Swedish, Polarity, Sports Massage as well as Cranialsacral Therapy -- boy, is she GOOD.

She apparently doesn't have a website and has all the clients she can handle. She's local to the Denver area. Email me if you need her phone number.

After that, I did another tour of the Dealer's Room. I stopped to look at some jewelry and the table next to that was from INTERZONE (the British magazine which carries science fiction and fantasy). I got to talking (well, I wasn't WALKING for a change) and gave them a copy of my newsletter. They insisted on giving me a copy of the magazine and I selected at random a 2006 edition. Then I went to meet Jean in the Green Room and set the magazine before her with the full back cover advertisement for a novel showing. "What do you think of this advertisement?"

As I said, the theme of all the convention for us, every conversation somehow, was marketing, promotion, advertising. Even a couple of email notes from Lois Wickstrom were about marketing, and believe me that's not the only topic Lois knows about! So it was fitting that the magazine I was given had this giant ad on the back with a single sentence in huge red letters on black, a bit of artwork at the top, the book cover at the bottom.

It was so "professional" on the surface, and so out of step with all the marketing stuff we'd been hearing and talking about that I wanted to see if Jean saw what I saw. (Keep in mind it's British.)

Jean basically did agree, which is unusual, so you can pretty much depend on it being true. The ad was totally generic but so generic it seemed more confusing than projecting the message "You want to read this book!"

So as people came in for one last cup of coffee (there actually was some food left; the Greenroom staff did a splendid job!!!) and sat down at our table (which was next to the coffee) I kept showing them (all men, writers and editors) this advertisement and asking what they make of it.

Some thought it was horror genre, some thought it was vampire, some thought it was poorly done -- nobody said the ad made them want the book.

So some people left, new people came, and I kept showing this ad for evaluation. I think we sat there for over an hour discussing that advertisement and MARKETING -- wrapping up the convention on the same theme it had started with at Kristin Nelson's panel on Linnea Sinclair's cover copy.

None of those who passed through our discussion sited Kristin Nelson's rules for cover copy writing though the ad violated them all. No matter how long you've been in this business, there is always more and MORE to learn.

Some of my memories of this convention are encapsulated in bright light and detached from Time.

At one point, in the Green Room, we met a new writer, Fancis Hamit, who is self-publishing and promoting a historical novel titled The Shenandoah Spy about a woman (who really existed) who became an Army Captain at age 18 in 1862. We talked marketing.

At another point in the Green Room, we ran into Beverly A. Hale who recalled when Jean and I had helped her teach a course in composition by providing some marked-up manuscript pages proving that professional writers REWRITE. We have a testimonial from her to post on our writing school. ( http://www.simegen.com/school/ ) That of course, has everything to do with Marketing because to sell and get published you must rewrite to specifications and today those specifications are dictated more and more by the Marketing Department.

In the airport van on the way home, I found myself sitting behind Mike Shepherd who writes the KRIS LONGKNIFE series for Ace Books. I love those books and give them my top recommendation every time I review one. He told me his motive for writing about this very strong but very feminine character, Kris Longknife is so that his granddaughter will have a hero to relate to as she grows up.

I can't think of a more worthy motive for writing -- but I tell you, those books are SPLENDID. If you like Linnea Sinclair's stuff, read Mike Shepherd.

My husband and I got to the airport to discover that United Airlines had cancelled our flight and wanted to put us on a flight the NEXT DAY. But one of the United Employees who worked the alternate arrangements desk, a Mr. Doherty who said he had a relative at the WorldCon, went out of his way to find us two seats together on US Air that would get us home approximately at the same time that the United flight would -- but we had to change planes in Colorado Springs. He walked us to the front of the Security Line or we'd never have made that flight (which was loading as he was typing into his computer!).

So the next time you see someone with an employee badge walking someone through the line reserved for flight crews, don't be too upset by it, please. If we'd missed that hop to Colorado Springs, I wouldn't be home yet (THANK YOU MR. DOHERTY). And we had to do all the security things, including take our shoes off!

When we got to the US Air desk in Colorado Springs, we were told they had never heard of us, but apparently we got there before their computers could update the database because we were put on the flight, there were two seats together numbered as our boarding passes said, and we weren't boarded last on standby! THANK YOU MR. DOHERTY!!!

All in all, it was a wonderful 6 days, but now work is so badly backed up I don't know what to do first. Everything on my desk is top priority and there's only one me!

Jacqueline Lichtenberg
http://www.simegen.com/jl/

6 comments:

Kimber An said...

Wow, Jacqueline! What a report! Thanks.
;)

Heather said...

Great run-down! I felt like I was really there.

Margaret Carter said...

So what genre WAS that book in the ad?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg said...

Margaret:

I have no idea. Never seen the book. The real problem is that the ad didn't even make people CURIOUS to find the book!

Jacqueline Lichtenberg
http://www.slantedconcept.com

Jacqueline Lichtenberg said...

Kimber An & Heather:

Thank you for the input. Anyone here interested in talking about the nature of Comic Books or Graphic Novels?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg
http://www.simegen.com/jl/

Margaret Carter said...

The FAQ page on Kristin Nelson's site, which explains in detail what makes a good query letter, is reached through the "Submit a Manuscript" page. The FAQ link isn't clickable on her top page. It's clickable only from the submission procedure page.