Okay, so for those who don’t know me, I’m not the fainting type. I have a sturdy constitution, I never throw up. I’m rarely sick. I have a high pain threshold too – I break bones and don’t know it; I needed no drugs to give birth to either of my children (no, not even gas&air). I’ve never fainted before in my life. No, it took Kate Forsyth to do that!
Kate Forsyth is the internationally bestselling author of more than twenty books for adults & children, including Bitter Greens, The Gypsy Crown, The Puzzle Ring and the Witches of Eileanan series. She’s also a lovely person who always has time for fans and fellow writers. So I was very happy to support her back by attending the launch of her latest novel The Wild Girl on Friday evening. I was excited too because that afternoon I had typed the final words to my next novel Quiet Blue. Possibly that had something to do with what happened an hour or so into the launch… I fainted!
Nausea, shortness-of-breath in a stuffy room and blurred vision preceded a brief faint on the stairs (luckily I fell backwards!). Of course the first thing I did when I got home was to write about the experience (you never know when a future character might faint). It was all highly disorientating but also kinda interesting.
Needless to say I got an early night, ready for the next day and my highlight of the month: the NSW Writers’ Centre’s sold-out Speculative Fiction Festival, organised by the lovely Kate Forsyth herself.
Talk about talent… the festival was so brimming with it I should really have been overcome and fainted again!
The first panel of the day had Dirk Strasser (Aurealis Magazine) chatting to internationally bestselling Aussie authors Ian Irvine and Juliet Marillier. Ian talked about how much the speculative fiction landscape has changed since he started writing. Twenty years ago, Australia imported most of its speculative fiction from overseas and rarely took a chance on Australian authors. Now both Juliet and Ian sell all over the world.
Juliet and Ian were both concerned about the ‘noise’ in the publishing these days, given that anyone can publish an ebook. “Authors don’t have an independent view of the quality of their books,” said Ian, whose publisher provides him with approximately 100hours of editorial support per book.
When it came to offering unpublished authors some advice, Juliet said to be original, work hard, concentrate on polishing your manuscript and write from the heart. Ian said to write a great story with characters you know.
The second panel of the day was also about the changing publishing landscape, but from a publishers’ perspective with Russell B Farr (Ticonderoga Press), Zoe Walton (Random House), Joel Naoum (Momentum) and Dionne Lister (self-published). While everyone agreed it was difficult to predict the next five years, both Dionne and Joel said it would most likely feature a combination of traditional publishing and ebooks.
Zoe and Joel agreed with Russell that publishing is in an experimental stage right now, with the Momentum imprint itself being an experiment aimed at publishing established mid-listers and new authors likely to do well in the digital market. Dionne said that one of the advantages to being self-published is that she can react immediately to what’s working in the digital market and what’s not. She can look at statistics and change prices, whereas bigger publishers might not have time to do that.
Panels followed on epic fantasy, gothic tales for teens, the horror of ‘weird’ fiction, fairy tales, short stories and more – all full of bestselling and award-winning authors of speculative fiction.
In every panel, there was something for everyone. For example, no one likes change or stuff they can’t control, and that’s the crux of horror writing said Robert Hood in the weird fiction panel. “Horror is about change and mortality,” he said, “and our fear of that change.”
There was good news for writers in the short stories panel. According to Dirk Strasser (Aurealis Magazine) and Cat Sparks (Cosmos Magazine), we’re on the verge of a short story boom, mainly because short stories are such a good fit with epublication, as well as our busy modern age.
- Read broadly (Angela)
- Your first draft should never be your last (Angela)
- Go straight into your action – the key is crisis choice and consequence (Angela)
- Don’t rush when polishing your writing (Lisa)
- Flense your story of extra words and infodumps (Lisa)
- Keep it short – few characters, focus on them (Lisa)
- Use beta readers (Angela & Lisa)
Dirk said that when buying stories he looked for drama and focus: “every scene should be focussed on moving the character forward … Also, what’s at stake? If nothing’s at stake, there’s no drama.” Cat said she looked for stories that didn’t bore her: “people going somewhere and doing some stuff is not a short story … Short stories should be more than the sum of their parts.”
Almost every author at the festival encouraged writers to keep going. One of Angela’s short stories was rejected fifteen times before being published. One of Lisa’s stories was rejected multiple times before being accepted at Clarkesworld. Ian Irvine did twenty-one drafts of his first novel before it was published! The overall focus of the festival was on producing quality, and promoting only that.
For anyone after advice on how to promote yourself as an author online, don’t forget the awesome seminar coming up at the NSW Writers’ Centre this May… Social Media for Writers is an evening session (6.30pm-9.30pm) on Wednesday 1st May and I can recommend the seminar wholeheartedly because I’m teaching it! Book here – only, please don’t be disappointed if I don’t faint!
F0r more photos of the 2013 Speculative Fiction Festival, see Cat Sparks’ Flickr photostream here.