I have finally gotten around to writing a post about three marketing sessions I attended at Aussiecon4. My first attempt got lost on a click on my mouse and since then I have been busy. Well, busy for me.
The three sessions I attended were enlightening. They emphasised how hard it is to get published, but after you’ve been researching publishing for a while and joined a few writing groups you already know it’s darn near impossible, so what more can be said to put me off. What’s that, I have to sell your soul? Sorry I’m an atheist.
Anyway, by the time I get my novels ready to be published, ebooks will have drastically changed the publishing industry. So much so, that many of the people who spoke at these sessions will be working in other industries.
What we Publish.
This session featured editors from the three big US science fiction publishers. Patrick Neilsen Hayden from Tor, Ginjer Buchanan from Ace, and Toni Weisskopf from Baen. Alex Adsett, a publishing consultant, was the fourth member of the panel. Tor works with Pan Macmillan in Australia.
There was some playful (?) tension between Patrick and Ginjer during the session.
They started by talking about book formats in the US. Trade paperbacks are only sold to bookselling specialists in the US. Supermarkets only sell mass market paperbacks.
Baen is increasingly using the tradepaperback as the original book for an author. But they also use ebooks, hardcovers and mass market. Ace doesn’t do original ebooks.
For the customer who can’t wait for the release of the next book from an author, Baen has started to sell ebook review copies at a premium price.
Ace and Tor said that military science fiction is a big sub-genre at the moment, especially around father’s day.
They said the third novel from an author can prove to be the hardest to get published. If their first novel doesn’t set the world on fire, which the vast majority don’t, a publisher who believes in an author may still take a chance on a second novel, but if that doesn’t sell, then it is very unlikely that an author will get a third chance.
Ace said it was very hard for an Australian to get an agent in the US. Agents want to be able to meet with their clients, and send them on book tours etc.
Be warned, Baen said that if you are unagented and get accepted by a publisher, and then go out and get an agent who attempts negotiate the contract, they won’t be very happy.
Fantasy outsells science fiction 2:1 in the US. I would have expected fantasy to outsell science fiction by a lot more. I think it would in Australia.
I heard about the book depository for the first time. Alex said it is the new Amazon because its books and delivery charges are much cheaper. From what I have been reading on sites like Goodreads, it certainly seems to be taking off in Australia. Does Amazon care enough about the small Australian market to even fight back?
I left the session thinking that US science fiction editors did appear human.
To Market: How to sell your Short Stories.
The legendary science fiction author and editor Robert Silverberg created a bit of tension with Canadian novelist Cory Doctorow on this panel. Chirpy novelist David D Levine, Australian novelist Angela Slater and Leslie (did not catch her surname and it was not listed on the program) were also present.
The panels started by telling us how they first got their short stories published.
Robert Silverberg said that a famous writer moved in next door who turned out to be Harlan Ellison. He introduced him to the editors of his magazine and said Silverberg was a great writer. Silverberg sold two stories and they all lived happily ever after. He said he made himself useful. If they needed 75,000 words by Tuesday he did it.
Cory Doctorow started sending off stories when he 16, he sent them to fanzines and didn’t get paid anything for them. He then sold a couple of short stories to minor magazines. He went to Clarion (a reoccurring theme) and conventions. He said he didn’t think it made his writing any better, but personal contacts helped. He worked as a columnist for a magazine who published his first professional story after seven years as a columnist. He kept on pressing for them to publish his stories and was turned down time and time again before they finally said yes.
David D Levine broke into the industry in 2001. He became a technical writer straight out of college. He didn’t write fiction because it was too much like work. Fourteen years later he decided he wanted to so, he went to Clarion. He sold some stories and entered competitions like Writers of the Future, which he thought was excellent publicity.
Angela Slater had a really supportive supervisor while she was studying for a masters in writing. She stressed you should be polite to everyone, because you never know who you’re going to be working with. She was approached by Tantalus to republish some of her stories as a collection.
Leslie met her collaborator on eBay, Mike Preswick? She bought one of his books, and said she hadn’t read any of his short stories. He said we can’t have that and sent her some of his stories. She critiqued them and sent them back to him. She said maybe she could do that herself and they collaborated, and they sold that story. Then she wrote a couple of her own and sold those to Asimov and Analog. Now all of her stories are pre-sold. She’s a Campbell nominee. She’s only been writing for two years. Her first story was written in October 2008 and published in November.
David said personal contacts are not necessary. But he had only been getting rejection letters from Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine and then he met the editor, who recognized his name from those submissions and had been watching his work get better, and was just waiting for one of his stories to be good enough to buy. He had actually been rooting for him.
David asked whether an online presence was important for the other writers.
Angela said her agent told her to set up a blog and a website, because people were looking for her.
Leslie said she didn’t have much of an online presence, no website, but she had written a couple of articles, one recently about being a writer for the past year.
David has had a blog since before there was a word for it. He has a Livejournal blog, and says there are a lot of writers who talk about the craft on Livejournal.
Cory Doctorow has a big online presence from Boing Boing.
Robert is not on Facebook or Twitter. He has a website that is maintained for him.
Robert then asked if they though it was possible to make a living selling short stories.
Cory said no because they still only pay 3-4 cents a word. Sometimes there are cases where he is offered $4 a word, but a lot of those were solicitations, and in order to keep getting those, he would have to keep up with the ones he had been offered. Even if he could keep up, he couldn’t live off that.
Angela said that even if you submit a short story to an anthology, the best you’re going to get is $50 and a copy of the anthology.
David said for unsolicited stories, check out Ralan.com.
What I got from this session is that once your writing reaches an acceptable level, it is who you know that is going to get your short story published, but don’t expect to make any money out of it.
The Future of Short Fiction
A small panel for this session as two members failed to turn up. Cory Doctorow did though. By now he might have been thinking he had a stalker because I had seen him in four sessions. His enthusiastic performance over those panels had me buying one his books, he had even gone to the trouble of signing all of the books in the dealer’s room. I saw him scrambling under a table to find boxes of them to sign. The other panellist, was Australian short story writer and fiction editor of Borderlands magazine, Stephen Dedman. He muttered something about having a hangover, I think.
Cory felt that the short story format was ideal for the web. People did not have the discipline to read long novels on computers as they were constantly multitasking from one application to another.
Stephen thought the web would be the salvation of the short story. It would allow a short story to be the length it needed to be, not restricted by submission guidelines in paper magazines. I have often thought that the novella may become a more accepted form as an ebook.
Cory hoped that publishers would try to make the physical edition of anthologies/novels more beautiful, so people would want to own it, rather then downloading an electronic file.
Cory said no one has ever made money from selling short stories, and the future will be no different.
Cory said podcasting of stories is one growing market. He recommends escape pod, a website that passes the hat around to get money. It has 20,000 listeners and buys reprints.
They agreed with an audience member that short story writing is all about making a name for an author, not about making money.
Cory thought http://www.anthologybuilder.com/welcome.php was a good idea, where you can create your own anthology for $14.95 from a selection of stories and get it sent to you.
Cory has monetised typos on an ebook collection, you point out typos, he will fix it, and include a note in ebook referring to you.
This session was on Monday afternoon, so I think the panellists and audience were a bit Aussieconed out by this stage.
But I have not finished yet. I still have posts to make on: the future of publishing; the future in general; and editing.