My day chock full of books began with me oversleeping, which is really nothing new. One of my biggest regrets last year was missing two or three panel sessions, so I was determined not to make that same mistake. This is an amazing and FREE chance to geek out about books, learn some things, and meet (or spy on, let's be honest) some authors; I would be an idiot to skip out.
The first panel I attended this morning was called, "Creating a Successful Blog", and it was moderated by Shauna James Ahern (Gluten Free Girl), Bill Kenower (Author Magazine), and Tara Austen Weaver (Tea and Cookies). The only one I was familiar with before the discussion was Kenower, and that was from one of the most awkward events I've ever had the, er, opportunity to attend.*
One of the most interesting aspects of the blogging panel was that I realized how absolutely different every type of blog is. As a book blogger, very little of our readership and traffic is driven by images. Of course, making graphs, drawing pictures, Catie's lovely drawings for our features, those types of things occasionally bring people in, but food/fashion/wedding, etc.-type bloggers? It seems like blogging for those arenas is a completely different animal...one that I am happy to just leave in its cage. Both food bloggers on the panel spoke about the importance of Pinterest and taking good photographs but I have no interest in photography and I quit Pinterest on behalf of the blog a few months back because I am paranoid about copyright infringement. (side note: I do know several book bloggers who take amazing photos)
Weaver said that she jotted down four things she wished someone told her before she started blogging: (1) the aforementioned "be passionate about what you write/write about what you have a passion for"; (2) post with regularity (whether readers will be consistently visiting depends on their expectations of your new content); (3) pick a name early on in the alphabet for blogrolls and such (READVENTURER FAIL!); and (4) reach out to the community. She said that regular writing can be a bit weird after blogging because you find that you can't just hyperlink to additional sources all the time, you have to actually explain or change up what you are writing to accommodate. Kenower noted that a blog shouldn't be about you, it should be about things that happen to you that someone else, somewhere might find useful.
Other tidbits of advice that were doled out in the blogging panel were that if you are starting a blog, consider doing it for two months or so before telling anyone about it. You'll be able to see what it is like generating content and whether you like the feel of it. Don't be afraid to take breaks once in a while; everyone gets tired of blogging sometimes. If you go back to your early posts and you don't cringe, you're doing it wrong. Weaver said that would indicate that you haven't evolved as a writer at all. She quoted who she thought was Mary Oliver but who the magicians of Google inform me is Annie Dillard: “You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment.”
The entire time I was in this panel, I was just thinking about how happy I am with our blog. The panelists talked about having copyeditors look over your work, printing out your work, reading it to others, having their parents comment on errors. I was just smiling at my good fortune because I know that after I go to bed tonight on the west coast (best coast), one of my two cobloggers will wake up on the east coast, come and read through this post, edit it, and post it. So thanks, ladies.
And now, a list of tasks I wish I had a robot to do for me:
1. Cooking my breakfast before I wake up (I don't want to have to re-set up my Pee-Wee's Big Adventure Rube Goldberg machine every morning.)
3. Stand behind me and make a throat-clearing noise anytime I go to reddit or try to leave the room while I attempt to finish this blog post. (Okay, most blog posts)
4. Same, for when I start making lists of things like this instead of finishing recaps.
5. Take the recycling and garbage bins down the driveway on garbage day.
6. Collect all the clogs in the world and just deliver them to me so I can pile them up like Scrooge McDuck's gold and unrealistically swim through them to make me happy.
7. Braid my hair all sorts of crazy ways that I've never been able to figure out how to do despite watching Youtube tutorials. (also, to cut perfect swoopy bangs)
8. To go to YA writers conferences and walk around casually reminding people to sew up their world building.
9. To complete all the mindless tasks in video games that earn gold but take lots and lots of time with minimal exertion.
9b. To paint my nails perfectly, with no mess on the sides on my left hand.
10. Also, the robot could also be a hat.
This panel was more of a discussion between the two men and the science nerd vibe was strong, in the very best way possible. They talked about so many things that a bullet list is probably in order. (this is also due to my 7 pages of notes from this panel and the fun I just had writing the robot list)
- Wilson talked about how he finds consistency to be very important in sci fi writing. Characters can't explain everything--they often do not have the personal scientific knowledge--so they better not be talking about things they know nothing about.
- People who work on/with robots seem to have tons of fun.
- Bear talked about speculative stories in sci fi publications like Astounding/Analog and how you can basically make a Nerd Map for where nerds are concentrated in the country. (government research facilities, for example. )
- Bear is working on the origin story for Halo 4 and how the Halo world is based on Larry Niven's Ringworld and incorporates elements of Heinlein, Haldeman, and Iain Banks. He said that in the sci fi world, it is natural to rip each other off. Movies rip off sci fi books and sci fi authors are inspired by movies and other writers. He said Arthur Clarke once said that the important thing to remember is that you must add something of your own in. Bear sent Clarke one of his books that was heavily inspired by Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama and Clarke was blown away by where Bear went with the story.
- They continued to discuss video games and how the world building is just off-the-charts in some games and that it has to be deep and cohesive. In several instances, these games sell millions of copies and that's rarely true for a book. Similarly, Wilson talked about how writing for video games is probably the most demoralizing job in the world because of the lack of control is even lower than writing for television or movies. An entire story can just be tossed aside because the artists couldn't make an element look as cool or the game developers scratch an entire environment.
- Wilson wrote a screenplay for a remake of an 80s movie called Cherry 2000. Basically, it's about a man who falls in love with a robot. Also, he has a talking cherry tattoo. He said the studio executive he pitched it to just said it was weird and Wilson joked about how there really isn't a comeback for an accusation of weirdness, but those are the things that stick.
- An audience member asked about the balance of male/female sci fi authors and Bear talked about how it is a pretty great balance, actually. He cited the popularity of Andre Norton, Anne McCaffrey, Ursula K. LeGuin and talked about how probably 70% of editors are female and that he's worked with women throughout his career in the publishing world.
- In response to another audience question about the best entry point to sci fi publication, the authors talked about getting published in magazines but to also investigate the possibilities of doing Amazon shorts and/or self-publishing.
- Evidently the authors of the Mongoliad have all sorts of fun when they get together to plot the series. Bear said they swordfight, eat muffins, and then plot in their clubhouse:)
- Wilson talked about getting cred in the industry, both in publishing and in the movie industry and how anyone should think about why they are the best person to be writing a book. What do you know about? What are your degrees in? (Though that doesn't matter, as they talked about. Bear was an English major who mostly talked to scientists and does tons of research on his own.) They also said that being a science fiction writer is awesome because if you have a question about something science-related, you can just call up whoever it is that is an expert in that area at their university and just chat with them (or geek out) about the possibilities of x or y.
- A question from the audience about sci fi romance elicited recommendations (from Bear, Wilson, and other audience members) to check out Catherine Asaro, Nancy Kress, Seanan McGuire, Charlie J. Anders, Cat Valente, and Ann Aguirre.
- A conversation arose about the publishing world's views on sci fi and Bear told a crazy story about how sci fi was outselling other titles at a publishing house in the 70s/80s and they dropped one or more sci fi authors rather than the chance they might become known as primarily a sci fi publisher. (Whaaaat? A corporation saying no to profit?)
- Does everyone reading this realize that Blade Runner is set in 2019? That's less than 7 years from now. Get ready.
- Even though a lot of non-sci fi readers think that genre is all about techie things, Bear and Wilson (and hopefully everyone!) believe that it's more about story and characters.
- Wilson said that he doesn't believe that the goal of science fiction writing is predicting the future. Rather, the goal is probably just to caution readers of what could happen or what could result if some particular event, invention, etc. happens.
- One of the last talking points was about branding inventions in sci fi and how many words are incorporated into our lexicon that came from science fiction. Wilson talked about something called GameFace from the aforementioned Cherry 2000 which was makeup you could put on to hide your facial structure from roving facial recognition robots. Awesome idea, eh?
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In the afternoon, I went to see a panel entitled "What's All the Fuss About Middle Readers?" with Peg Kehret, Lynne Brunelle, and Katherine Schlick Noe. I don't read a ton of middle grade fiction but some of my absolute favorites are from that genre -- everything by Gary D. Schmidt and A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness come readily to mind. The first thing that blew my mind was the fact that both Kehret and Brunelle have written over forty books. (Noe is a debut author. Her first book is Something to Hold.) Each author took her turn speaking about her background and books and I learned wonderful tidbits including the fact that Brunelle used to write for Bill Nye the Science Guy (badass), and that Kehret first started writing by publishing a newspaper about the dogs in her neighborhood which she would sell to her neighbors for a dime. (she said it quickly went the way of the dodo when the neighbors realized that an overwhelming amount of page space was spent on one particular dog. *cough*)
Kehret spoke about how she is inspired to write a book by explaining how a book she wrote about tsunamis came about after she saw tsunami warning signs and escape routes in Oregon. She wrote the entire book and when she turned it in, her publisher made her take tsunami out of the title because they thought the word was too hard for children. However, directly after Escaping the Giant Wave came out, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami hit and everyone knew the word. She said her inspiration just comes from all the things around her and that she often just picks up small stories or fun facts from the people and places around her and works them into the story.
Lynne Brunelle used to write for Bill Nye the Science Guy, which sounds like such a cool job, doesn't it? She worked for a time (or perhaps still works) with children of varied learning styles. She's a firm believer that there's a book out there for every reader or if there isn't, there should be. (Schlick Noe also mentioned this point.) A very interesting conversation developed including some mothers and librarians in the audience about how amazing illustrated books are for visual learners and how much success people have had by giving middle readers graphic novels to help them grasp parts of a story and to bridge them to longer books. When a mother in the audience asked what she would recommend to her son who has a hard time with the reality of most middle reader books, Brunelle suggested trying historical fiction, which I thought was a great suggestion. Those stories are real in a sense, but very removed from the child reader of 2012.
Katherine Schlick Noe had a hard time writing her first and so far only novel. She said she had lots of memories but didn't know how to put them together and that the experience was like "walking backwards through the snow. You can see where you've been but not where you're going." Noe wrote her book, Something to Hold, about a young girl growing up as a non-Indian on a reservation, which is an experience she lived firsthand. Her advice to writers who want to explore children's/MG books is to join the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, the members of whom have shown her much support. Noe talked about how she is inspired by writers like Gary D. Schmidt (Huzzah!) and Deborah Wiles, particularly her book, Countdown. Children are always looking for that one book that they can identify with and love to bits and Noe spoke about how she'd love to have written that book for even one child.
Other advice from the middle grade authors included to always have the child solve the crime (Kehret), write what you want and let the publisher pigeonhole an age range on it (Kehret), hang out with kids the age of your protagonist and other characters (Brunelle), and if you know the story you want to write and are having trouble with the subplots or anything else, just write the story from beginning to end and come back to fill in everything later. Just aim for that first draft. The last topic discussed at this panel was what the authors thought of the idea of middle grade horror books. Kehret has written a few ghost stories and spoke about how she had one entitled "New Friend, True Friend" that was changed by the publisher to Deadly Stranger, which she thought was a bit scary and never would've picked. She thinks there is a difference between scary and horror in that in scary books there is a hint of violence but the violence never actually occurs. In horror, it does. Brunelle chimed in that she thinks there is such a thing as "safe scared" and that has to do with how removed a child is from the subject matter. A librarian in the audience brought up the popularity of Caroline Cooney and R.L. Stine and everyone agreed that some kids eat that genre up and go far beyond what many middle grade authors are comfortable writing for children but Kehret summed it up quite nicely that the goal is to make them readers however they can. That's it.
Where the presentation went wrong for me was in his advice to authors about where they should spend their time. McVeigh told the audience that for his money, he'd spend the time on Facebook and Google +. As someone who reads around 130-150 books a year, I can honestly tell you right this second that I have never gotten a book recommendation or even clicked through something on G+ and I don't know anyone who uses it regularly. I do click through on Facebook and I use it daily for the blog. However, if I were to give advice to authors, I'd tell them to spend more time on Twitter, post a giveaway up on Goodreads for exposure, engage as a reader on that site or on Amazon, and also use Facebook. I am happy that McVeigh explained about linking FB and Twitter accounts to auto-post, though. (I have gotten many, MANY recommendations from Twitter and I routinely click through links that friends/followers (even ones with whom I am not familiar) tweet) I hate it when authors are too promotional/salesy but there have been a few times when I interacted on Twitter with someone and then clicked through to find out they are an author and became more interested in their work. Success. The two most useful points McVeigh brought up from a blogging standpoint were the importance of backlinking and post titles. Google indexes post titles so it is important to title your posts using the keywords that people might search on Google for (or Bing, if you're one of "those people" (McVeigh is)), and backlinks also raise sites in Google's algorithms. Backlinking, which I'm kind of addicted to doing anyway, is when you talk about something in a post and then link out to another site. The more links out there to your site there are, the more legit you are in Google rankings (and I know Alexa takes these into account for site ranks as well) I find search engine optimization fascinating.
I'll be back tomorrow...or the next day to recap day two of the festival and my adventure to see Rachel Hartman at the Seattle Public Library! Were you at Northwest Bookfest? What'd you think? If you weren't, was this the longest blog post you've ever read?
* A multi-author book event where the bookstore employee had no idea how to interview, had nothing prepared, and the moderator was half hour late so the audience and authors just had a staredown of silence, no introductions were given, the bookstore events person asked a few questions but mostly talked about himself and then the moderator came and asked basically the same exact questions. Names left out to protect the hopefully embarrassed. I never did a recap because I was understandably not in a very good mood.