Sunday, 23 September 2012

Can*Con 2012

I took a few days off from posting to attend Can*Con 2012, a science-fiction convention in Ottawa, Ontario with a heavy lean towards producing works of science-fiction (and speculative fiction, fantasy, horror, etc.). Since this is a writing blog, I’ll give you some details on what you can get out of conventions as a writer.
This convention is well worth attending! I can only tell my part, but with three rooms booked with panel after panel all day, I can at best see a third of the Convention. What a third it was!
Can*Con gathered some 200 fans, writers, editors, artists, scientists, and media folk involved with or interested in science-fiction. In attending, you not only get to rub shoulders with veterans of the field, they will happily give you advice, encouragement and guidance related to various panel topics.
Conventions often involve writer’s workshops, which are great, though there were sadly none this year. However, a pitch session in which writers have 5 minutes to present their novel projects to a panel and receive feedback on how to perfect their pitch was my personal highlight of the weekend. The editors at ChiZine and the wonderfully direct and helpful Violette Malan made up the panel. I wish I’d had a completed or near-completed project to pitch instead of the short story idea I had to whip out from the back of my brain, but the experience was still insightful and confidence-building. I’ll be ready next year.
Through a variety of panels I learned there are several times more markets to sell short fiction and novels than I had previously known. Fans and writers are very eager to share what they know, and there is a real community feeling that everyone wants everyone else to succeed as much as they want to succeed themselves. Not all markets pay, but many of those still have material you can read online for free.  Reading from each of these teaches you what that particular set of editors looks for in a story, which matters, because the main reason editors buy or publish stories is that they like them, and what they like varies from editor to editor. So does the allowed story length! In the order they were mentioned to me over the weekend, consider ‘reading’ or submitting stories to: Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Pseudopod, Escape Artist, Podcastle, EscapePod, AE SCIFI, Ideomancer, Clarke’s World, Lightspeed, Nightmare, Strange Horizons, Tor, Drabblecast, Starship Sofa, Asimov’s, Analog, Fantasy And Science-Fiction Magazine, Abyss & Apex, OnSpec, Angry Robot, Science Fiction World (China!), ChiZine, Imaginarium, and the many anthologies published by individual authors and small presses such as Tesseracts, or new release Blood and Water, many of which are advertised on Ralan or Duotrope. Phew!
Panels on the business end of writing were fascinating. Consistent advice is that you should learn about contracts, dollars and cents, tax codes, agencies, differences between countries, creator’s rights; in effect, the entire business of writing and publishing, since one way or the other it will affect you somehow. Several resources recommended and panned by those who’ve tried them.
On a panel about self-publishing, the irrepressible Melissa Yuan-Innes reminded me why I always had a yearning for self-publishing in my heart, and vigourous assent from sci-fi humorist Ira Nayman, Gaelic  fantasy writer S.M. Carriere, and comic book self-publisher Tara Tallen reinforced the feeling.
Doing this year-long (formerly 6 months) analysis of the Wheel of Time, I can’t help analyzing any writing I read, or in this case hear, as several writers read fascinating excerpts of their books. Some have strong dialogue, some have spot-on humour, some pull you gently along. Noting the presence or absence of several of the techniques I’ve identified in this blog was rewarding. Not that there is anything wrong with each of these particular writer’s works, I’m just happy that my brain seems trained to do this analysis on its own, picking out spots I would have substituted a word, reinforced the theme, or simply appreciated the perfection of a well-crafted paragraph.
It’s also immense fun meeting people whose dreams mirror yours so well, you can easily fall into meaningful conversation with someone you met moments ago. Can’t help smiling when you talk with Pam, Derek, Paul, Violette, Tim, Jean-Louis, Hayden, Kate, Sonia, Liz, Ira, Emily, Becky, Brett, Brian, and a host of others on panels, in the audience, or behind the scenes.
In summary, conventions are opportunities to learn more about your craft, make contacts for future publication, make friends who share your goals, gain confidence, and be inspired. If you have a local writing convention, attend it. If you can make it to Ottawa next September for Can*Con and the 33rd Canadian science fiction convention with the Aurora Awards, do it. It promises to be an even better experience for writers.
Writing Lessons: Ask questions. Listen well to the answers.

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