When Words Collide (Calgary) convention was once again wildly successful, with great programming, wonderful Guest of Honour speeches, and 650 wonderful-to-meet-and-talk-with attendees. Small enough convention to feel 'intimate', but large and diverse enough that one constantly learn new things. The cross-genre format of WWC leads to a lot of cross-pollination. (For example, the launch of Sleuth at WWC this year, a new mystery magazine from the people who have put out On Spec SF&F magazine for the last 25 years. Would that have happened if there hadn't been a WWC to bring those folks together?
Highlights for me of 2015 edition were:
- Don’t try to write for everyone; write for that narrow section of the market for which you are their favorite author. The example he gave was that every writer's workshop tells you to avoid 'info dump'. But Rob's fans love information, so info dumps in Rob's writing is not a mistake, something he and his editor missed, but a requirement. (Kind of a revelation for me. It's not a bug, it's a feature! Sorry for ever doubting you man!)
- Avoid Parawriting Activities. Rob gave several examples of how writers get so wrapped up in being writers--volunteering for writing organizations, giving talks on writing, tweeting out writerly tweets--that they forget to write. You're a writer when you're writing; everything else is distraction. [I'll add the industry standard here is that writers should schedule 10% of their time for community development to give back, and to develop the community of readers necessary to sustain the industry (e.g., school readings.) I don't think Rob was talking about that (since he does more to help new writers than most people I know) but was saying not to get carried away.]
- Closely related, stay off line. Okay to tweet when one has a new book release, but otherwise it is a trap. Good advice, but like dieting, difficult to follow.
- Sawyer has done 350 TV and 350 radio interviews so far (and he noted that it was interesting both media were neck and neck here.) What publishers look for is someone who can get "off the book-page coverage". Appearing on book review page is not that helpful because nobody is actually reading that page. So, to get off the bookpage onto the news, you need to write about the hot topics so can be interviewed about that topic every time it comes up. The strategy obviously works for Sawyer, not sure it would work for me. It also helps if you have some journalistic/media background and a good voice like Rob.
Marie brought cookies!
5R Book Launch: Robert Runté (left); Nowick Gray (center); Marie Powell (right)
Photo by Brett Savory
There were also the panels I hated to miss but had to, either because I was myself on a panel/giving a workshop, or because I didn't know how great it was going to be until after I heard other people rave. An example of the latter was workshop on "How to do a Chapters/Indigo book signing session" by Chapters manager, Stacey Kondla. Talk about useful!
Fail: Of course, not all panels out of a three day, 11 track program can be wonderful. I knew better than to attend a session entitled "Readability" (because fundamentally a wrong-headed concern) but colleagues that did were shocked and appalled by presentation based on rhetorical questions with predetermined (and largely wrong) answers, rather than, you know, actual data. Well, in a democracy everyone is welcome to their own opinions, so no criticism of the WWC programming here: I wouldn't want them to censor out this presenter just because I think she represents the forces of darkness. (Well, the forces of stupidity, but you get my point.) I do worry a bit that beginning authors will be taken in by such self-styled experts. My personal opinion is that dumbing down your writing will not increase sales, but on the contrary, means that editors like me will simply reject your work before it can see print. Pretty obvious to me that people who accept rules like "only five semicolons in a manuscript" end up doing vanity self-publishing. But, you know, your mileage may vary.
It raises a point that author Barb Geiger has made to me: if you go to craft fairs, it's not the crafters who make sales, it's the guys selling the beads to the hobbyists who rakes in the cash. I think we're seeing the same phenomenon in publishing these days. The people who are selling 20,000 copies of their self-published books are not the novelists, but the people writing books entitled, "How I Sold 20,000 of My Self-Published Book". You know?
So all in all, WWC was and is a fabulous convention I cannot praise too highly.
Robert Runté talking to WWC Board Member, Cliff Samuels, at Dead Dog party (i.e., after convention party, last night of festival.) Photo by Kirstin Morrell.