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?
Five Rivers author, Susan Bohnet, reading from My Life as a Troll at WWC.
Highlights for me of 2015 edition were:
Robert Sawyer presentation: I've always made a point of getting to Rob's sessions and have heard him many times at various conventions over the years, but every time he manages to deliver something completely new and insightful. This time he talked about lessons learned over his 25 year career, and aside from some wonderful anecdotes, he drew out a half dozen extremely useful morals for any writer, including:
He had more to say, but those were the highlights for me personally.
- 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 Powell reading from Hawk at Random Readings session.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre Director of Kobo's Writing Life program: Again, I always seek out his sessions because he has access to current insider data on publishing trends. Where the rest of us try to guess what's hot, he can tell you down to the nickel (or yen, or Euro) what's selling and what's not; how different price points affect sales; whether "free first in series" promotions work; where books sell—with the very clear message that we have to stop just looking to the US in a global market; and so on. I also greatly appreciate his honesty in weighing out the relative benefits of traditional/smallpress/self-publishing, and similarly, the relative merits of Kobo/Kindle/Amazon etc. But really, it you're going to self-publish, Kobo's Writing Life is the place to start. (I had known of Lefebvre before Kobo recruited him, and I said to anyone who would listen, that was the smartest hiring decision ever made by any corporation. A writer and booknerd of the first order, he is on the authors' side, and as a former Chapters manager and former manager of the McMaster University bookstore, the guy understands authors, booksellers and consumers better than anyone else in the country –including 'Heather'. When I finally met him in person at an early WWC, I discovered he is also a really great guy.)
Marie brought cookies!
Five Rivers Book Launch: Marie Powell's Hawk and Nowick Gray's Hunter's Daughter. I had ten copies of Nowick's book, and a bunch of other recent 5R titles, but only 3 copies of Marie's Hawk made it to the conference. Disappointed, but at least we had a copy to hold up and one for a photo-op of "first copy sold". Attendance was down from last year, but not unexpected given that the new WWC venue allowed for several additional streams of programming with which launches had to compete. I understand the other publishers had a similar decline in launch attendance. We might want to move to a different format for next year. But we can hardly fault WWC for being too interesting....
5R Book Launch: Robert Runté (left); Nowick Gray (center); Marie Powell (right)
Meeting Jill Cabrera, Five Rivers Social Media / Promotions staffer, in person. In this day and age of virtual corporations, we have staff members in four different cities, so pretty great to actually spend time at same event. Jill came down from Edmonton to help out with the 5R book launch and other 5R promotions.
Similarly, great to welcome Kim Greyson to 5R editorial team. Kim is taking over editing of the PM of Canada series. I met Kim at a previous WWC, and through those conversations realized he was perfect candidate for our new editor position. Kim has previously been a first reader for authors such as Dave Duncan as long as I have, and done some freelance editing for Tor.
Seeing Sandra Kusturi and Brett Savory from CZP press again and getting to have breakfast with them and CZP author GMB Chomichuk. I bought Chomichuk's graphic novel, and he kindly drew original cartoon on the flyleaf of his interpretation of CZP logoguy. Sooo coooool!
Photo by Brett Savory
I was on the publishers panel along with Mark Lefebvre (who moderated), Sally Harding (this year's editor guest of honour and super agent!), and Romance acquisitions editor,Danielle Rayner, from the Southern California. Nice diverse group there, but best moment for me was when Stacey Kondla spoke up from the audience to challenge something I had said. I love it when I learn something new, and clearly what I 'knew' was out-of-date. (In my defence, everything any of us knows about publishing is out of date by the time we say it a second time, so, yeah: why one needs to attend WWC to stay current.) But such a collegial environment,
I did two bluepencil café sessions and was impressed by overall quality of what I was seeing. Told two of those attending to send me manuscripts if they were interested, they were that good. My experience has been that the quality of writing of those attending WWC improves every year, either because in attracting more out-of-province writers, those tend to be more experienced writers; or because, the regular attendees are getting to be better writers thanks to what they're learning at WWC.
I sat on the Early Bird Live Action Slush session, wherein authors anonymously submit first page of a story/novel, and a reader (in this case the fabulous voice of author Edward Willett) reads out the page while the panel of editors listens. Each editor then raises their hand when they would have stopped reading because the number of problems had reached critical mass to move the manuscript to the 'reject' pile. The reader stops reading when 3 of the 4 hands goes up. (Sort of like the gong show if you're old enough to remember that.) Of course, the object is for one's page to get through with no hands up, at which point author has option of claiming ownership and taking a bow. The point of the panel, of course, is to show authors common mistakes they're making and the sorts of things that drive editors crazy; but also to see that what one editor hates, the next might be fine with (so pick carefully to whom you are submitting your manuscripts.) Was slightly embarrassed that one of the manuscripts I trashed turned out to be by one of my own author's, but it was okay because she was aware this new piece had problems, was hoping panel could articulate what that might be. (I can see the problem, but am at a loss how to fix it. Sometimes writers come up with issues I'm not good enough to fix because they are, frankly, challenging themselves to reach a level above my own ability. Which is why you want a press with more than one editor....Lorina is the one who edits this author.)
Had a pitch session. Five minutes is too short to really make a decision, so have asked these be lengthened to 12 minutes in future; Randy said he may give publishers the choice in future of 12 or 5 minute format, since others have expressed preference for 5 minutes. Again, high quality pitches, with me asking to see several manuscripts. Several others who had been on the waiting list and not made the session pitched to me in the hallway to same effect.
Attended several readings, particularly of new writers so I can monitor who is being published by whom, and to scout possible authors I might want to work with. Really love the 15 minute "random readings" session, because cram a lot of newly published writers into 3 hour slot.
I love WWC because I get a lot of work done there. In addition to the 15 or so pitches from authors, I sought out five other authors and asked for them to pitch. (I had asked to see a sixth, but stupidly forgot to hit 'send', so found my email still sitting there that evening when I got back to my room—wondered why she hadn't responded.) I look to get four to five book deals out of the weekend, plus some tentative discussions about setting up an audiobook cooperative; plus talking to two of my authors about how their books were coming; plus sitting down with the coeditors of an anthology to which I've submitted to talk about the changes they wanted to my story; and taking to two other editors about my submitting to their respective magazine/anthology. So yeah, very productive weekend. I calculate that I get about six months worth of deals/work every WWC. And that's all on top of how much I enjoy the conference personally.
Five River's author, Candas Jane Dorsey, was at WWC, but everyone was focused on her too cute dog.
Five Rivers author, Susan MacGregor, at When Words Collide 2015.
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.