FRIDAY - Getting out of Chicago was a nightmare thanks to a traffic accident that blocked all lanes of the expressway. Once we got down to Collinsville I found Howard Andrew Jones and explored the con with him. Chats hooked up with the Jones clan and they all went to St. Louis. Archon is seriously fun. It's more of aparty/costuming/dealer room type con than a literary con. The panels are not thickly attended, to say the least, but the cosplay fangirls are worth the gas money.
When everyone got re-unified Friday night we had a delicious dinner with Gary (of fossilrecords.net, an indy music purveyor) and his family at Porter's Steakhouse. Great wine and food (I had the surf & turf, their peppered tenderloin was mouth-wateringly good) and we went home with a piece of carrot cake the size of a football again.
SATURDAY - Chats went off with Jones clans to St. Louie again, Howard and I had panels. During a break we joined a game of Deadlands and I managed to get my character thrown in jail, which is just as well, as I had to get to a panel. We reunited for an abortive attempt at dinner -- all the surrounding restaurants were packed -- then finished our panels and went to the Masquerade. There were several Hollywood-quality costumes but my favorite segment had to be three people in oversized Otter costumes acting out "Camelotter" with King Otter, Gweniotter, and Sir Lancelotter. Good use of several memorable refrains from the musical!
Went to bed exhausted.
SUNDAY I went to an early panel on long series fiction writing (transcript below) and then did my own panel on, of all things, romance writing. I ended up acting as moderator. Then we attended the always-fun Greak Luke Ski concert (I bought his DVD, yes, Luke Ski has a DVD. It's great, as his name implies! Support my Wisconsin homeboy...). Then we drove home to some lonely cats.
Anyway, here's my transcript of the big series panel. I thought there was a lot of good stuff in it. I'm not a legal recorder but I type pretty fast, I tried to get anything in quotes as accurate as possible. I put questions in bold:
Writing the Big Series
Archon, Collinsville IL, Oct 9, 2006
LKH - Laurell K. Hamilton
GM - George R.R. Martin (moderating)
EM – Elizabeth Moon
During intros the authors just gave their experience in writing a long series.
LKH: "Never had a stand alone book idea in my life"
EM: Mix of stand alone and series
GM: Mostly stand alone until recent series
Did it get big on its own?
EM: Serrano books “later books cantilevered out over empty space” first intended to do 2-3. New character showed up and demanded her own books, extending the series.
LKH: Always intended for Anita Blake to be long series. Her books have gotten longer over the course of the series, her drafts average 400 to 1000 pages these days. Planned on longevity from the first. Mystery genre is more long-book friendly
Most authors slump in 5-8 in fantasy…
How do you avoid that?
LKH: “Gave myself enough toys” (guns mythology folklore) and let “series go in a direction I didn’t forsee” Meredith Gentry series is looking to be 15 books too.
“I’ll be writing these two series when my daughter gets out of college.” But writing a long series depends on sales. “Can’t plan for sales”
GM: "You can try to (plan for sales) but it always fails." Knew a writer that was going to pull together all the elements of a scientific-minded bestseller by reading nothing but bestsellers and combining elements from each into a perfectly written bestseller. As far as he knows, the writer is still working on the draft.
Martin noted three kinds of series
- Open ended, continuing adventures type. Series in a mystery style series can be open ended – rare in SF Fantasy
- Huge story that has to be broken into volumes. Tolkien wrote one long novel broken up in three books – publishing standards for length have changed. Calls his current series "One long story with beginning, middle, and end, if I live long enough to write it."
- Stand alone novel that becomes so successful that you’re pressured to write a sequel.
Weakest of the three are the “forced” sequel.
EM: Tends to write “One giant novel that refuses to fit within covers.”
Problem is writing a complete plot arc within the book that can satisfy readers.
GM: Wildcard books – open ended, sales started off high and declined. Trying to restart Wildcard series.
What are your sales patterns for your series?
EM: Growth, but lose people with each new series hand have to pick them up again and rebuild an audience. In between her stand alone pop up – sags initially again but seem to have legs.
LKH: "Each book has built." What really helps is if a publisher picks a book as a "hit" and supports it. Had a terrible time selling first Anita Blake, rejected by everyone.
1990 – “we don’t publish that – that’s not romance” too many different elements.
When it finally came out, there were 400 other vampire books came out that year alone. She was published in paperback original until book 9. Series built by word of mouth. Suspects 85-90% of her audience came from word of mouth.
"Big in parts of Europe where vampires were believed in longest."
GM: Question is giving a series time to build, and unfortunately that doesn’t exist – they’re cutting them off after 2-3 books…lots of series never completed.
Told it takes 5 novels for a detective to build. Some readers only start reading you after 4, they figure you're going to be around for a while if you get four books out.
LKH: Agrees. "Magic level" –4th is the big jump…Getting over the magic three. Readers are re-assured that characters they like are going to be around and build. "Readers like to know that you’re not going to vanish on them."
What are the challenges to writing a series or massivly long novel.
EM: Having a strong enough plot generator to carry a long plot with sufficient intrigue, sub-plot, levels – 7 to 8 levels going all at once. Characters – secondaries keep trying to take it over.
GM: "Can a character have too much personality?" (Doesn't think so)
EM: "Yes, because sometimes they have a different role." Has to sometimes restrict what her characters can do. “I don’t have room for you to do anything else.” A big challenge is that in a "long book, there’s room for a lot of interesting stuff to happen and keeping control of the main plot"
Recapping, or getting new readers up to date, how do handle it?
EM: "Try to avoid the Bobsy Twins syndrome."
"I usually put in less than the editor wants."
"There’s plenty of story in each book I don’t need to add more in the form of backstory."
"I’m always afraid of slowing things down, dragging it out, and annoying the reader who bought the previous book."
Can your books be read in any order?
LKH: Depends if the character changes or not. Some authors "don’t let their characters change." "Let secondary characters be interesting. You get to see them again." A good long series "builds because of character. Plots themselves stand alone, but the character builds on what came before."
Do readers object to change?
LKH: "Oh yes they do. 1-2% really hates it and they’re vocal."
Most like to see character grow and change. "Hard to hold big books in your head. Big books, you just can’t hold it all."
EM: Finishing one contract – plans are fluid. Wants to pick up different set of characters in same universe from two series put out by different publishers. "Still trying to join them together." One of her biggest that's hard to keep control of has two characters have fallen in love and 12 different POV characters.
GM: "Kill some." (big audience laugh)
Would you ever try an open-ended series?
EM: "I can’t write mysteries. Wish I could"
LKH: Plugs Anita Blake comic books. "Wonderful watching characters turn into a visual medium.”
Comes out Oct 18 – Guilty Pleasures is broken down into 6 episodes – 1st half, then 6 more for second half. Laughing Corpse and Circus of the Damned are also contracted.Adaptation by Stacy M. Ritchie. She'll be at Comic Con
GM (shudders): Comic con 130,00 fans – twice the size of Dragon Con.
Question from audience How important are titles?
GM: Titles are important. Loves creating titles. Loves Dance of Dragons just because of title but it keeps receding into distance.
Titles have become trademarks for mystery series.
LKH: With Anita they were “Business names. Guilty Pleasures is a strip club, Laughing Corpse a comedy club. Worked up until Lunatic Cafe. "Rawhead and Bloody Bones bar and Grill" didn't fly with publisher. Did not think that I’d have to come up with 15 businesses to title.
GM: LKH is getting down to vampire laundromats
EM: "Series titles that hold series together are nice. Euro publisher didn’t like Marque and Reprisal" Wanted to pick adventurous-sounding military titles.
Thinks they work best if you "Try to have the same number of syllables or a similar sound"
Last book I wanted Center Victorious and they shot it down.
GM: Titles need to be memorable. "Have some resonance and stick in you mind."
Audience Question – Restrictions on a title?
LKH: Yes couldn’t use Danse Macabre first time I wanted to use it because Stephen King had written a book with that title. Recently let her use it. "Partly it’s long enough and partly they like me now."
GM: My first novel was originally called After the Festival on abandoned galactic fair planet. Publisher hated it so they wanted After the Star Festiva, which he hated. Ended up with Dying of the Light. Have to be careful about lifting favorite quotes from Shakespeare or poems because other people quote them.
Question from a clearly sleep-deprived Howard Andrew Jones: What plot generators do you use?
EM: Can’t mechanically design a plot. What starts me on a plot is actually a character, someone who has a problem. "Things are sparked by book, by events in my life, by things I see on the news."
GM: There are software plot generators. They're not worth it.
Question from audience: Why are so many authors using self-publishing, like Lulu
LKH: Self-publishing is bad, authors need to get paid. “If you’ve tried everything else, every other avenue, then if you want it’s up to you. More and more people are giving up and just self-publishing too early." Everyone has a mental "plug of crap that you have to get out." Takes a while to hone your craft. There are people who have really good books but get really crappy contracts from people lower on the food chain because they took first thing that came along. Go through the rejection! "They’re not rejected you personally." Told rejection story where she got a call from an editor rejecting a short story on Thanksgiving Day.
2-3 publishers are way too few, keep sending it out. Self publishing is "like poisoned candy." Looks good but is just an attempt to get the little girl into the perverts van. Make a list of publishers for your MS and "Start at the top and work your way through."
GM: Don't self publish "if you aspire to a career as a writer. That being said there are new avenues online." Some people have had their books discovered in excerpts on their blogs like John Scalzi. But how many put their novels up for free and nobody has found them? You should still be submitting yourself.
LKH adds on self-promotion: "sad to say, self promotion is necessary. Once the real publisher buys it unless they decide you’re the next big thing they’ll just throw it out with no promotion whatsoever." Go to conventions, do panels, Sign copies in bookstores but be ready to have no one show.
GM: remembers times when the only the action he got at signings sometimes was directing a woman to the cookbooks.
EM: "I went to sign books in Waco mall, only met two people, a guy who talked to her about God and how he spoke to the person in dreams. Another woman who said she wouldn’t let her son read books written by women." With her first novel "Two books came out from same publisher in same month. Mine had no publicity." Other writer was a PR person and knew all sorts of publicty stuff, spent her advance money on publicity. "My book became a bestseller, hers went nowhere. Hers sold a lot of copies in the first few weeks but her second went down the tubes.” Publicity money doesn't always pay off.
GM: "Writers have done some legendary stuff to sell books, like showing up at warehouses with doughnuts." J Suzanne’s husband used industry contacts to find out who was reporting to NYT and bought, hired actresses to buy books on lunch hours to stand around and talk about the book while buying it.
LKH: "Get a web presence!" Your own website is a valuable tool. One thing that she did early on and having her own site where you announce stuff is very important. "I made Anita Blake business cards - “="Where the living raise the dead for a killing." Put titles on the back and put them out at cons. 2-3 every year for years. Go to cons and meet editors but "Don’t go up to editors and hand them things." (Unless of course they ask).