I just got back from attending the World Fantasy Convention for the first time. World Fantasy 2012 was in Toronto, luckily for me. It was a pretty awesome experience — the hotel was packed with top-notch SF/fantasy/horror writers and publishing types, the room parties spilled out into the hallway, the dealers’ room was like a giant SF/F/H bookstore.
And…we got bags of free books to take home. I heard rumours that some bags contained the latest books from Mercedes Lackey and Tanya Huff, but didn’t see any myself. I did score a copy of The Lives We Lost by Megan Crewe (YA dystopian, the sequel to The Way We Fall). Pretty pleased, since it won’t be in stores until February!
I’m not blogging just to brag, though. I also went to some great panels, and I wanted to share some of the highlights…
First, a quick note on what makes a good panel. Once you’ve been to several literary conventions, you start to see the same topics repeat. So to me, a good panel is one that covers the basics quickly, then delves deeper. It’s the difference between a 101-level course and a 201- or 301-level. (That’s first-year university vs. second or third year.)
This week’s post will focus on the “business of publishing” side: two panels on e-publishing and editing. If you guys are interested, I’ll write more later about other panels I saw: urban fantasy, diversity in YA, maps in fantasy, and the relationship of reality and realism to SF&F writing.
Oh Brave New (E-Publishing) World
There’s been a lot written about e-publishing and self-publishing, so I’m not going to rehash the talking points that everyone’s seen. Panelists: Gordon Van Gelder, Neil Clarke, Mark Leslie, Betsy Mitchell, Robert Runté, and a gentleman whose name isn’t in my program. Opinions from the panel:
- Readers will pay for convenience — for example, you might put up a free story in HTML but charge for an epub or print copy (like Clarkesworld Magazine).
- Readers will also pay for quality, especially if they get burned by too many 99-cent ebooks. They won’t pay paperback prices, though.
- Small presses still have a place. They have the ability to create a very targeted brand/imprint where readers know exactly what they’re getting (like buying everything Author X puts out because you know it’ll be good). Offering books in print still lends the appearance of legitimacy.
- Self-publishers now have the ability to “crowdsource” their editing — they can make changes on the fly based on reader feedback. So formal reviewers and editors are being pushed out.
- Cover design, editing, and book design (of the insides) are still important. Readers don’t necessarily know a lot about these things, but they’ll know when something’s “off”.
- To that end, it’s important to hire good people to do these things. Neil Clarke advises against Smashwords because it’s an automated process, not done by hand.
- Panel agrees that among the big ebookstores, Apple is too much trouble to work with.
Useful websites mentioned:
- Bookview Cafe, an authors’ cooperative, publisher, and bookstore (featuring some pretty big names who have branched out from traditional publishing)
- The Book Designer, a website and blog full of advice for self-publishers
- Bibliocrunch, a place to find and hire professional cover designers, editors, formatters, etc.
- Elance, same as Bibliocrunch but not targeted at writers and books
- Weightless Books, an indie ebookstore that sells DRM-free ebooks (other such places not mentioned in the panel: Wizard’s Tower Books and of course Baen Ebooks)
Call Yourself An Editor?
Along similar lines, this was a panel on the role and future of editing. Panelists: Jack Dann, Ellen Datlow, Gordon Van Gelder, Ann VanderMeer, Robert Runté, and again I’m missing someone. Opinions from the panel:
- The role of an editor, broadly speaking, is to mediate between the writer and the audience, to draw out the core of the story. (This is for developmental or substantive editing, not copy editing or line editing. Think “big picture” vs. “grammar and word usage”.)
- Traditional publishing isn’t set up to foster and develop writers over several books anymore.
- One reason for this is Bookscan — an author’s sales numbers are out there for all publishers to see (and Bookscan has blind spots, so the numbers aren’t necessarily accurate), so the pressure to perform is greater.
- Editors used to have more latitude to guide writers, but they’ve been loaded with increasingly broad responsibilities.
- Editors are also being squeezed by the ubiquity of cheap ebooks.
- This squeezing of editors also means the quality of editing in traditional publishing is going down.
- Another role for editors was to curate anthologies, but those aren’t selling as much anymore, especially if they’re not themed anthologies.
- Small publishers now sometimes take on the task of developing writers, who then (hope to) move on to the big publishers.
Your turn. We’ve all heard a lot about these topics. Does anything I’ve reported surprise you? Have you been to a genre convention? What’s your definition of a good panel?