21 May 2007

Robert Sawyer Seminar

All the editors here at Electric Spec attended a Robert Sawyer seminar on Saturday. I personally talked to several fun people and got to hang out with my critique group - the Boulder Speculative Fiction Writer’s Group - for a whole day. Yea!

He covered P.O.V. in a way that was interesting even to those of us who “get it,” but I found my interest piquing when he launched into the business of publishing and advice on how to “make it”. These tidbits are what I came away with, in no particular order:

1. It’s easiest to break into novel-writing by establishing yourself in the short story market. In other words, get some credits to include in that last paragraph in your query letter. This was exciting to me because I love reading and writing short stories, and I have a steadfast belief in the short form as a learning tool.
2. Keep submitting until you’ve exhausted the market. Sawyer submitted an award-winning short story seventeen times before it was accepted.
3. Every book must pass the 30 Second Editor’s Pitch Test. This test determines the commercial fate of your book. What will the editor tell their publishing house’s sales staff in 30 seconds on how to market and sell your book?
4. Write a “perfect review” for your own book (or short story, for that matter), and strive with every revision to earn that review. While we’re on revising, Sawyer’s answer to the question of when to stop revising is “when you’re only changing things, not making it better.”
5. The best books are thematically ambitious. Don’t write in the ODTAA style (“one damn thing after another”), but make every nuance speak to your theme.
6. According to Sawyer: Science Fiction sales are dropping, the market for Horror is nearly nonexistent, but Fantasy is on the rise. History has proven that publishing is not a cyclical market; once a genre is dead, it stays dead.
7. Magazine sales are dropping and they barely can pay their editors. For instance, the editors of Analog and Asimov’s can’t come to work on the same day because they share a desk. Fantasy and Science Fiction is run out of the editor’s garage.
8. Point of View test: does everything your character say stand up under cross-examination? How do they know what they know?
9. Sawyer recommends avoiding first person because it implies a central conceit and removes suspense because the character will live to tell the tale. It can be useful with difficult-to-like characters in that it can be confessional in tone.
10. Sawyer prefers third person because it implies the character will survive the scene, not necessarily the entire book. He likes close third because drama is added by not reporting what all the characters are thinking. (For the record, this editor prefers close third, except in cases where the voice is integral to the story.)
11. Fiction is the only medium in which the reader is able to become the person in the story, rather than just an observer.
12. Fiction is the one artistic endeavor in which the author/artist thinks their first work should be purchased. Most artists and actors and singers know their first efforts are learning experiences.

Everyone I spoke to was very glad they’d come. I found Sawyer to be encouraging, amusing, and knowledgeable, and I really enjoyed my day.

In other news, the new issue is shaping up nicely, due out at the end of the month. Thanks to one of my authors, Stuart, for helping me out with finding a picture for his story. I needed some professional guidance on selecting a proper guitar.

There, that should pique your interest. What's a guitar doing in a speculative fiction magazine? You'll just have to read to find out!

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