Saturday, July 6, 2013

Convention Etiquette for Fans, Pros AND Exhibitors! REVISED FOR 2013

Nerd prom San Diego Comic-Con International is fast approaching and that means it's time for me to update and re-post my tips on con etiquette for the masses. Likewise, with the very real and legitimate concerns being voiced lately on rampant harassment at cons, it seems prudent to repost this again.

July 17th is SDCCI Preview Night, basically a nice way of opening up the floor to exhibitors, pros, and the press for a less-crowded few hours of exploring the floor. But on July 18th the con opens its doors to the general public, setting loose about 150,000 rabid pop culture fans with disposable income.

Hidden among those 150,000 fans are a handful of folks who don't understand the rules of  convention etiquette, and their behavior can make it difficult for exhibitors to do their jobs. Because let's not forget: the people you see manning those booths are actually working, whether for a large company like DC Comics or simply for themselves, like the intrepid folks you'll meet in Artists' Alley.

So here are a few basic rules of thumb for con etiquette for fans, pro guests AND exhibitors. Feel free to pass these along to anyone you know who may be attending SDCCI for the very first time!

If you are attending as a fan: 
  • Don't assume that anything at an exhibitor's booth is for the taking and don't take anything without asking. Most exhibitors are actually selling product, which means you have to pay for it.  
  • Say thank you! If an exhibitor offers you something for free (aka, SWAG!), whether it's a book, t-shirt, or drawing, take a moment to actively engage that exhibitor, listen to his or her product pitch and say thank you. You'd be surprised how far a thank you will go.  
  • Don't hover around the booths on Sunday morning, asking if the exhibitors will be giving away leftover product at the end of the day. It's tacky and annoying. Most exhibitors actually DO give away a lot of product at the end of the con, particularly if the alternative is to ship it a great distance. However, they're more likely to offer something to you if you've been by the booth previously and engaged them in genuine conversation about a book, product, etc... (See above re saying thank you!) You may even want to hit up some of the smaller booths that are understaffed and offer to bring the booth workers coffee or soda; trust me when I say they'll appreciate it and remember you later. 
  • Don't be a booth groupie. What's a booth groupie? A booth groupie is a fan who comes by an exhibitor's booth several times in the course of a day in the hopes of scoring additional swag. Don't be this person.
  • Let the celebrity guests pee in peace. I mean, really, do I need to say anything more about this rule? I think not.
If you are attending as a pro or as an aspiring pro:   
  • If you are a writer or an artist, don't try to pitch your work to the booth staff. There's a time and a place for that, and an enormous pop culture convention is not that place. (Again, see above re engaging exhibitors in genuine conversation.) If in the course of a conversation with a booth worker you happen to mention that you are a manga creator or a novelist, and then the person to whom you are speaking asks to see your work, THIS IS TOTALLY OKAY! 
  • If you are a writer or an artist, don't try to pitch your work to the celebrity guests and attending pros. Trust me when I say that the people standing in line behind you waiting to meet their favorite artist or writer will NOT appreciate your whipping out your screenplay/portfolio/manuscript, and it will make the guest feel awkward as hell when they have to say no to your request. 
  • If you are a writer or an artist who has been asked to do a signing in an exhibitor's booth, arrive on time, be gracious with the fans who come to meet you and then leave the booth when the signing is over. I know it's tempting to hang out with the exhibitors afterward or to treat their booth as your own private resting spot on the floor, but really, don't do this. The booths are small, the exhibitors have work to do and you will be in the way. Some of the exhibitors will be too polite to say this to you, so I'm saying it for them: Don't be a diva.
If you are attending as an exhibitor:
  • Be a good booth-neighbor! If you're an exhibitor holding an event with a popular personality, or you are giving away or selling a show special that is likely to draw a huge line, make sure you're not blocking access to your neighbor's booths. Also, if you're near a booth that seems really understaffed, offer to send one of your people over to spell them for a bathroom break. You'd be surprised how many small companies exhibit with just one employee!
The following rules apply to EVERYONE attending a con: 
  • DO NOT hit on the booth staff! Especially if they are female staff members! This may seem like common sense, but I've been to too many pop culture cons where some of my female colleagues were made to feel extremely uncomfortable by the persistent unwanted attentions of a fan or an attending professional. It's never cool to make someone feel uncomfortable. And if you find yourself the recipient of unwanted sexual advances, let someone in security know ASAP. 
  • No means NO. Period. This shouldn't need a lot of explanation but apparently there are still entitled idiots in the world who don't grasp the meaning of a simple two-letter word.
  • A special note about cosplay and cosplayers: lot of the attendees at big pop culture cons engage in elaborate cosplay and they're extraordinarily proud of their costume crafting skills. However, understand that someone wearing a costume is NOT THE SAME THING as that person giving you consent to touch them, no matter how cool or how provocative you may feel the costume is. Additionally, if you would like to have your photo taken with a cosplayer, ask them first and don't put your arm around them or touch the costume unless you have gotten verbal consent. Remember that some of them may have spent weeks or months preparing that costume; please don't paw at it!
  • Be nice to the show organizers, the volunteers, the show managers and the convention center staff (electricians, carpenters, etc.). These folks are all there to help make the show run smoothly, they have your best interests at heart and I know from experience that they'll do everything they can to fix whatever might go wrong as long as you treat them with respect.
  • Be gracious about letting those attendees using wheelchairs/canes/crutches move to the front of the line. This applies whether you're waiting to use the bathroom, waiting in line for food or waiting to get something signed at a booth. Also, most exhibitors have an unofficial policy of letting disabled fans or fans who may need a little extra help move to the front of the line at their booth; this actually expedites the process for everyone and keeps the line moving quickly.
  • Consider letting those with exhibitor badges cut ahead of you in bathroom and food lines. Most of the time the people working booths have limited time to relieve themselves and grab something to eat (which they usually have to wolf down behind the booth while they're working); they'll appreciate the kindness. 
  • When walking the convention floor, remember to pay attention to what is happening below your eye level. It's all too easy to accidentally trample a child, a small person or someone in a wheelchair if you aren't paying attention to where you're walking or how fast you're moving. Try to get in the habit of looking slightly downward as you walk; it helps!
A special note for parents attending with children:
  • If you're bringing kids, keep an eye on them and don't let them run loose on the floor. Far too many people bring young children to these conventions and assume that the con staff (or booth staff) will act as babysitters for your kids. That's YOUR job, not theirs. The convention floor is a big place, there are a LOT of booths selling objects that are potentially dangerous to kids (knives, swords, etc) and there are any number of ways a child could get hurt or lost if you aren't paying close attention. Additionally, many of the exhibitors have valuable items on display; if your child breaks something, you'll be obligated to make restitution to that exhibitor.
  • While the con organizers are happy to have you bring your children, please bear in mind that this is an event geared primarily toward adults. This means that there will be a number of booths displaying risqué materials (or in some cases, actual helf-nekkid human beings). By tradition, the final day of most pop culture conventions is designated as Kids Day, with events and programming targeted to younger fans. Additionally, most booth exhibitors take the time to cover up potentially offensive materials on this day. If you're really concerned about protecting the younger members of your family, wait to bring them until Kids Day.  
A special note for book dealers:
  • If you insist on dragging your entire collection of books for a particular writer/artist so you can have them signed? Well, my first piece of advice here is simply: DON'T. Seriously. The guests have tight time slots for signings, and your holding up the line because you have all 472 different editions of someone's book in every languages and format that ever existed and YOU SIMPLY MUST HAVE THEM ALL SIGNED NOW DAMMIT?! Incredibly rude, dude. The guest, the other attendees in line and the very annoyed media escort/guest handler all know you're doing it only to resell the items and make a boatload of extra cash. And worse, it's cash that the guest certainly isn't going to see a dime of, BY THE WAY. But if you absolutely insist on bringing all of your books to be signed, may I suggest that you do these two simple things so as to make it easier on everyone and show your gratitude to the guest for his or her time? A.) Purchase a copy of whatever the writer/creator has for sale at that particular event and B.) be gracious and let the line manager know that you would be happy to move to the end of the line to have your books signed. Okay?
Although I'm using San Diego Comic-Con International as my example in this post, the truth is that you should apply these etiquette suggestions equally to all conventions, trade shows and conferences you attend.

Okay, everyone clear on the rules? AWESOME! Now go out there and have some fun! 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Writing in a Vacuum: Why Community is Essential to Writers

One piece of advice that most writers get at the beginning of their careers is this: Don’t write in a vacuum.

What does it mean to write in a vacuum? It means that you never share your work with anyone, or if you do, it’s just with a close friend, spouse, or family member, someone who’s either not qualified to give you honest and useful feedback, or won’t for fear of hurting your feelings.

Why is writing in a vacuum bad for your professional growth as a writer? Because writing in a vacuum means that you’re likely to develop a biased opinion of your own work whether or not that opinion is warranted. Writing in a vacuum means you won’t learn to accept constructive criticism gracefully, something you'll need to do if you ever want to work as a professional writer. Most of all, writing in a vacuum means that you aren’t benefiting from being part of the larger writing community, where people share the same journey, the same questions, the same fears, the same hopes. Being part of a writing community helps you develop networking skills and allows you to step outside your own head once in a while, to see your work through different sets of eyes. And being part of a writing community will help you become a better writer.

Joining a writing workshop or class is a great way to prevent yourself from writing in a vacuum. And if you live in a major metropolitan area, it’s usually fairly easy to find or start a small critique group of your own. MeetUp and Facebook are two excellent tools for helping you find local writers who share your particular passions. Writers’ conferences are another smart way to meet and network with large groups of writers, with the added bonus that conferences also offer educational panels and workshops where you can meet with industry professionals and ask questions.

But even if you don’t live in a metropolitan area or can’t afford to attend a writers’ conference, you can still build a community for yourself in one of the myriad writers’ forums, critique groups, and writing workshops that have recently emerged online.

If you write genre fiction, you may want to consider joining Book Country, the online writing workshop I manage for Penguin. We’ve put together a pretty friendly online space focused on the needs of science fiction, fantasy, romance, mystery, and thriller writers, with a place to upload and critique your work as well as participate in discussions with other members. (And it's free! Woot!) Two other great communities for genre fiction writers include the Critters Workshop (also free!) and the wonderful Online Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror (the first and the original online writing workshop, and a bargain at $49 a year). All three communities operate in slightly different ways, but they have one important thing in common: they're safe spaces for aspiring genre fiction writers to get genuinely helpful feedback on their work and build a network of other writers.

If genre fiction isn’t your thing, perhaps one of these other excellent writing communities will work for you instead.
  • Focused more on literary fiction, poetry or memoir? Try the Speakeasy Message Forum at Poets & Writers.
  • Writing for younger readers? Try Wattpad or Figment, both huge and thriving communities catering primarily (but not exclusively) to younger readers and writers.
  • Looking for less of a workshop space and more of a general writing conversation? Try Absolute Write or Backspace, two great discussion boards for writers.

Or you can simply Google the words "online writing community" and explore the gazillion choices that pop up; because the truth is that no matter what it is you write, there’s a writing community out there just waiting to welcome you.

(PS: Feel free to add links to your own favorite writing communities and conferences - virtual or real! - in the comments thread below. When I get enough good ones, I'll incorporate them into the post above. Cheers!)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Come say hello to me at New York ComicCon!

If you're headed to New York ComicCon next weekend, swing by the Book Country booth (#2028) to say hi and grab some swag (like the awesome Nerd Alert button that Totoro is modeling up top there)! You can also meet my Book Country comrades Danielle and Molly, as well as a boatload of my NAL/Berkley editorial colleagues, who'll be working the booth with us. We've also hornswoggled urban fantasy writer Anton Strout into booth duty. (What can I say? I outweigh him by A LOT.)

Booth schedule and Awesome Swag details posted here.

I'm also moderating an amazing ComicCon panel on Sunday, October 16th; if you're an urban fantasy or paranormal romance fan, please do drop in to meet these amazing writers! Details of the panel below:
Date: Sunday, October 16th
Time: 2:30 pm to 3:30 PM
Room: 1A23
Panel: "We're No Angels: The Leading Ladies of SF/F"
Panelists: Patricia Briggs, Alison Goodman, Kim Harrison, Jeaniene Frost, Marjorie M. Liu, Sabrina Benulis and Kristen Painter. (Can you believe this line-up???)
Lastly, Anton Strout interviewed me recently for his FANTABULOUS new weekly podcast, The Once & Future Podcast. We talk about ComicCon, Book Country, growing up a genre reader, the publishing industry and my irrational fear of gelatinous foods. (DON'T JUDGE.) Click here to listen (or, ya know, MOCK ME).

Anyway, I hope to see a lot of you there. This last year has been kind of a whirlwind of crazy and awesome and temporary baldness and new frontiers for me, and I feel like I've been a little out of touch with all my nerdy peeps. Time to rectify that, yeah?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

When we remember that Tuesday...
Here is New York: A Democracy of Photographs

The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now; in the sounds of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest editions.

All dwellers in cities must live with the stubborn fact of annihilation; in New York the fact is somewhat more concentrated because of the concentration of the city itself, and because, of all targets, New York has a certain clear priority. In the mind of whatever perverted dreamer might loose the lightning, New York must hold a steady, irresistible charm.
-- E.B. White, Here is New York (1948)

Shortly after the awful events of what some of us now simply call "that Tuesday," a small gallery on Prince Street in SoHo opened up its doors and began to invite ordinary New Yorkers to contribute their photographic memories of that day. What first began as a small community art project soon blossomed into an amazing historical document of one of the worst days in American history, a physical - and virtual - library of images captured by ordinary people on an extraordinary day.

The gallery space soon began to draw crowds and groups of people queued up for hours to get inside to look at the photos. It was almost as though it became a necessary pilgrimage; to see what others had seen, to be able to compare the experiences of these strangers with the events that had shaken your own world, to compare, to confirm that yes - this thing really had happened.

And the mixture of the people who stood on line was just as amazing. German tourists standing next to dust-covered firefighters who were using their precious free time to witness this unusual grassroots outreach, before turning around and climbing back atop the pile of rubble twelve blocks to the south. Weary Red Cross workers on their way to pick up supplies. Groups of young children with their teachers. A band of Buddhist nuns who stood and prayed outside the gallery for hours. Actors. Stock-brokers. Janitors. Chefs. Homeless men and women. All standing together to witness one another's memories.

The exhibit ran through the beginning of 2002. The gallery began printing and selling the photos, donating all proceeds to the Children's Aid Society. By Christmas Eve, the gallery had sold more than 30,000 prints. A book was produced. Eventually a comprehensive website was created, where every photograph was archived and made available to the public. A video archive of oral histories joined the photographic archive online. The original exhibit toured the United States for nearly a year.

And it grew and grew and grew.

This project - called Here is New York: A Democracy of Photographs - is still available online in its entirety.

As we prepare to mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I implore you:


It is raw.

It is unforgiving.

And it is, frankly, one of the greatest visual arguments against ever making war on other human beings that I have ever seen.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

All new & revised: On word counts and novel length

DISCLAIMER: This post was written in 2008, and revised in 2010. The publishing industry has changed drastically in that time, and word counts aren't nearly as rigid nor as important as they once were, especially for writers who are now producing e-original content. Additionally, novellas are now routinely being published by larger publishers, whereas in 2008 they were not. So if you are using this very old post, please bear in mind that at best, these are suggestions only, and suggestions from 2008 at that.

Also, I am no longer an agent and haven't been for many years. Please do not write to me asking me for guidance or suggestions on your writing.

Something I saw a lot in queries as an agent were word counts that exceeded 100k. Often, a manuscript exceeded this by a considerable amount: I've seen word counts of 140k, 160k and one writer actually told me about a YA manuscript he'd written that was 188k.

Somewhere out there a myth developed - especially amongst science fiction and fantasy writers - that a higher word count was better. Writers see big fat fantasies on the shelf and think that they have to write a book just as hefty to get published. And sometimes a writer just writes a long book because they aren't yet a very good writer. Good writers learn how to pare a manuscript down to its most essential elements, carving away the word count fat that marks so many beginning writers. And the fact of the matter is, most of those "big fat fantasy" books you see on the shelf actually only have a word count of about 100k to 120k.

The exceptions are usually authors who've already had an established track record of sales with previous - shorter - books, like George R.R. Martin. And, yes, once in a great while you will see an incredibly long debut novel. But the writing has to be absolutely stellar; knock-down, drag-out, kick-you-in-the-teeth amazing. (A good example is Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian, which clocks in at just about 240,000 words.)

And I should also point out here that the longer a successful writer has been with a publishing house and the more actual dollars that author brings to the house (and the bigger that author's advances get), the more clout that author may have regarding being able to keep his or her novel intact, without taking advantage of the editorial guidance being offered. And that is never a good thing for the book. Editors exist for a damned good reason, and no author is ever such a fabulous writer that a good editor can't find things to make better in his or her manuscript.

There was a time about ten or so years ago when bigger word counts were the norm and not the exception. Like everything, the book industry goes through trends. But these days, editors of adult fiction - even editors of epic fantasy - squirm a little when presented with a manuscript that runs over 110k words. Books with a higher page count cost more to physically produce, resulting in a higher per-book manufacturing cost, meaning even more copies will need to be sold to make the estimated P&L work.

Publishers want to make money; bookstores want to make money. Do the math.

When you search around the Internet for information on word counts, you get a lot of conflicting information, some of it just plain wrong, and often this information is coming from sources that would appear reputable to a writer who didn't know any better. One article I read last week that was posted online at a major writing magazine actually insists that the average novel (non-genre) is 150,000 words. I have no idea where the writer of the article got his or her information, but that's simply untrue. An average novel length is between 80k and 100k, again, depending upon the genre.

Word counts for different kinds of novels vary, but there is are general rules of thumb for fiction that a writer can use when trying to figure out just how long is too long. For the purposes of this post, I'm only talking about YA, middle-grade and adult fiction here. And bear in mind that there are always exceptions, but good general rules of thumb would be as follows:

middle grade fiction = Anywhere from 25k to 40k, with the average at 35k

YA fiction = For mainstream YA, anywhere from about 45k to 80k; paranormal YA or YA fantasy can occasionally run as high as 120k but editors would prefer to see them stay below 100k. The second or third in a particularly bestselling series can go even higher. But it shouldn't be word count for the sake of word count.

paranormal romance = 85k to 100k

romance = 85k to 100k

category romance = 55k to 75k

cozy mysteries = 65k to 90k

= 80k to 100k

= 80k to 100k (Keep in mind that almost no editors are buying Westerns these days.)

mysteries, thrillers and crime fiction
= A newer category of light paranormal mysteries and hobby mysteries clock in at about 75k to 90k. Historical mysteries and noir can be a bit shorter, at 80k to 100k. Most other mystery/thriller/crime fiction falls right around the 90k to 100k mark.

mainstream/commercial fiction/thrillers = Depending upon the kind of fiction, this can vary: chick lit runs anywhere from 80k word to 100k words; literary fiction can run as high as 120k but lately there's been a trend toward more spare and elegant literary novels as short as 65k. Anything under 50k is usually considered a novella, which isn't something agents or editors ever want to see unless the editor has commissioned a short story collection. (Agent Kristin Nelson has a good post about writers querying about manuscripts that are too short.)

science fiction & fantasy = Here's where most writers seem to have problems. Most editors I've spoken to recently at major SF/F houses want books that fall into the higher end of the adult fiction you see above; a few of them told me that 100k words is the ideal manuscript size for good space opera or fantasy. For a truly spectacular epic fantasy, some editors will consider manuscripts over 120k but it would have to be something extraordinary. I know at least one editor I know likes his fantasy big and fat and around 180k. But he doesn't buy a lot at that size; it has to be astounding. (Read: Doesn't need much editing.) And regardless of the size, an editor will expect the author to to be able to pare it down even further before publication. To make this all a little easier, I broke it down even further below:

---> hard sf = 90k to 110k
---> space opera = 90k to 120k
---> epic/high/traditional/historical fantasy = 90k to 120k
---> contemporary fantasy = 90k to 100k
---> romantic SF = 85k to 100k
---> urban fantasy = 90k to 100k
---> new weird = 85k to 110k
---> slipstream = 80k to 100k
---> comic fantasy = 80k to 100k
---> everything else = 90k to 100k
Editors will often make exceptions for sequels, by the way. Notice that the page count in both J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series and George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series gets progressively higher. But even authors who have been published for years and should know better will routinely turn in manuscripts that exceed the editor's requested length by 30k to 50k words, which inevitably means more work for that author because editors don't back down. If a contract calls for a book that is 100k words and you turn in one that is 130k, expect to go back and find a way to shave 30k words off that puppy before your manuscript is accepted.

Remember that part of the payout schedule of an author's advance often dangles on that one important word: acceptance.

I cannot stress highly enough that there are always exceptions to every rule, especially in SF/F. Jacqueline Carey and Peter F. Hamilton, among others, have proven this quite successfully. If an agent finds a truly outstanding book that runs in the 200k range (yes, it happens!), he or she may advise your cutting the manuscript into two books to make life easier for everyone. But for a debut novelist who is trying to catch the eye of an agent or editor for the first time? Err on the side of caution with your word count.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

In which I leave agenting for life with a flightless, aquatic bird in formal wear.

I can finally make this news public:

I'm leaving the great people at FinePrint Literary Management; my last official day as an agent will be this Friday, August 6th. I'll be moving back into a publishing position, and on Monday I'll be starting a new job at Penguin, working in an online capacity. (Details about the new position when I'm permitted to share.)

I'm sure that many of you will have questions. Please feel free to leave them in the comments field. I'm preparing a much longer post about this for later in the week, and I'll try to answer as many questions as I can in that post.


Monday, June 14, 2010

How I spent my (five day) summer vacation:

My five days in Washington State involved the following: cats, lumberjacks, cotton candy, snakes, swallows, bald eagles, aggressive ravens, double-buck saws, axes, log rolling, a friendly hog, ice cream, river wading, rock climbing, red wine, apple cider, meatloaf, halibut, wildflowers, strong coffee, giant black slugs, volunteer firemen, free-range mountain hounds, lunch with two writers, one lamentable attempt at using the Seattle public transportation system and - last but not least - one memorable lesson in teaching a 4-year old how to pee in the woods.

How was YOUR weekend?