Contributed by Wulf Moon
Day Three of the Writers of the Future Workshop began with David Farland (Runelords) leading a discussion on marketing. He recalled his own experience years ago when he went through the workshop and read L Ron Hubbard’s article entitled “The Manuscript Factory.” The article contained pointed advice to aspiring authors to recognize that they are a factory, and the stories they produce are their product. For a factory to succeed, it must produce decent quality product, and it must have consistent production levels. Farland said thinking of his manuscripts as products was a foreign idea to him, but an essential idea for a new author to wrap their mind around. Farland said: “The point is, if you want to make a living as a writer, you have to produce.”
Farland said that from the view of New York publishers, you’re either a proven author or an unproven author. He said you might think you’ve established that you’re in the “proven” category by having ten sales to Weird Tales, but all you’ve proven is that you have a fan of one editor. Farland said: “But if you get published by four or five editors, other editors will say, ‘Okay, you’re being published in several magazines. Yeah, you’re one to watch.’” In speaking of the level of recognition the Contest provides for winning writers with editors, he said: “When you win Writers of the Future, you’ve gotten the nod. You’re already ahead of the game.”
Farland summed up the priority Contest winners need to have at this point in their writing careers: “Much of what you need to do now is to write and to keep sending your work out to be published.”
On income from novels, Farland listed many examples of how a novel might surprise a writer by paying off in many unique ways. Several examples of the potential diversity of results included audio rights, indie sales, and foreign sales. Farland cited his own results with his bestseller Runelords and how it earned him foreign rights from sixteen or seventeen countries. He recalled opening one envelope on Christmas day and finding a $100,000 check inside from Runelords’ sales in Japan. Farland added: “If you unleash your power—unleash your books upon the world—you don’t know where or when it’s going to pay off.”
Indie publishing was also discussed. Farland stated most indie writers don’t know how to effectively promote their own books, but there are several advantages unique to indie publishing that the Contest winners should take note of. First, while traditional publishers release one book a year for an author, indie allows writers to release books on their own schedule, at any rate they choose. If a writer has written a series of novels, they can release them thirty days apart. The advantage? Amazon maintains a Hot New Release list, and avid readers follow it. A boost of a novel’s sales on that list can help it get moved to their bestsellers’ list, boosting visibility, and sales.
Tim Powers (On Stranger Tides) spoke about getting your manuscript edited—which his publisher provides—and that his main objection to self-publishing on Kindle is you don’t get an editor to help you put forth your best work possible. “I know if I were to do my own editing,” Powers said, “I would be honor-bound to hire the very best editor I could find. My books are that important to me.”
Farland, who is himself a developmental editor, talked about the rates charged by professional freelance editors and why it’s a good idea to hire one. He also noted that some high-level writing groups include successful writers—some even have New York Times bestsellers—who know how to help you get your manuscript publishable. Powers added that he does want outside input on his manuscript, even with the editing services provided by his traditional publisher. He said: “When I get a book as perfect as I can make it, I do want eyes on it other than my own. I then have my wife read it because she’s widely read, but not a writer. I don’t want a writer to tell me what to fix, because they’re going to tell me how they would have written it.”
The morning wrapped up with counsel on getting an agent. Even if a newer writer could get representation by a top-level agent, those agents are too busy representing authors that generate most of the agent’s income. They don’t have the incentive to focus on promoting new, unproven writers. “You want an agent that doesn’t represent top writers like Neil Gaiman,” Tim Powers said. “The agent makes more money with that famous author, so he won’t have the time to represent you.”
Key questions to ask before signing with an agent were listed:
• How much money does the agent want?
• Talk to the agent’s clients. Are they satisfied with the agent?
• How do you separate if you no longer wish to use their services? Is it easy to be released?
Advice was given on how a new writer could find an agent at the start of their career. One of the best ways listed was to attend key writing conventions, especially those with industry award ceremonies. Publishers will send editors to these events to hold publisher parties. When the editor returns, the publisher will ask if the editor met any promising new authors. But how does a new writer gain access to these private, unpublicized parties at conventions? Workshop members were encouraged to find group tables at the bar where writers, editors, and agents socialize (this is known as “bar con”). Simply join the group, and in the course of the discussion, ask a good author where the publishing party is being held.
The instructors advised the workshop that if you meet an editor at the party, tell them you are a new writer, and give them a one-line pitch on your completed manuscript. The editor will either say they’ve already done that, or they’ll say they’re looking for that and will give you their card or email. This gets you past the restriction at most major publishing houses that say they do not take unsolicited manuscripts. Then you can send it to them and wait patiently for a response. If you get a contract, take it to an agent. It’s guaranteed money for an agent at this point, and it takes little time for them to look the contract over. Many new writers have made their first sales and obtained their agents in this manner. How do you shop for an agent? David Farland recommended researching sales records to find agents with respectable sales in www.publishersmarketplace.com.
The following afternoon session was short. This, because workshop members were about to be turned loose to create their 24-hour stories. Where writers formerly were sent into the streets of Hollywood to interview a stranger to enhance their stories, this year for safety’s sake, the writers were instructed to interview their assigned writing partners. Tim Powers jokingly said: “We may have been wrong about that. If so, we apologize.” Hobbies, funniest moments, most embarrassing moments, their greatest fear—all of these topics were questions to explore.
David Farland dismissed the class by saying: “There’s really only one sin in writing: don’t bore the editor, don’t bore the reader.” And they’re off!
Illustrator workshop, Day 2: Art as a Business
Contributed by Kary English
Cloudy Los Angeles skies could not dampen the spirits of the illustrators as Contest administrator Joni Labaqui led the artists down Hollywood’s Walk of Fame for a tour of the historic Author Services building. The artists’ destination was the building’s fourth floor, where the L. Ron Hubbard Library houses Hubbard’s works alongside artwork, books, and short stories from the careers of past contest winners. With its rich woodwork, leather, and velvet upholstery, the library oozes old Hollywood elegance.
While aspiring sci-fi and fantasy writers tend to be familiar with Hubbard’s prolific writing career, his work is often new to the illustrators. They were treated to a short documentary introducing them to the man whose life work included the Contest he founded to help discover the next generation of talented, creative professionals.
Back at the Roosevelt Hotel, Coordinating Judge Echo Chernik kicked off the illustrators’ workshop with a brief introduction. Echo started her career doing black and white illustrations for role-playing games. Her first corporate piece was produced for a Lance Armstrong event, and she later moved into advertising art while developing her signature, art nouveau-inspired style. Echo’s career spans thirty years and includes a gallery located in Bellingham, WA. She has worked on projects for Celestial Seasonings, multiple opera companies, Shadowrun, and she designed the Tak boards for a Patrick Rothfuss project.
Moving on to the business side of art, Echo talked to the illustrators about the importance of professionalism and business practices, about the nitty-gritty of being able to make a living doing what they love. Chernik started with a discussion of different paths to an art career—commercial art, fine art, popular arts and crafts, and art-related trades such as animation, architecture, fashion, and industrial design. She then covered topics such as business cards, crowd-funding, agents, how to find clients, and how to negotiate contracts.
Creative Director Lazarus Chernik rounded out the afternoon via Zoom with a presentation on portfolios. Lazarus spoke to the illustrators about which images to put in their portfolios and how to group them, how a website differs from a physical portfolio, what a portfolio review entails, and how to talk to a prospective client about their portfolio.
After dinner, the illustrators returned to the workshop for a special presentation by illustrator Bea Jackson. Jackson is a two-time New York Times bestseller known for her children’s books Parker Looks Up and Hair Like Mine. Jackson introduced herself and told the story of how art and determination took her from a background of hardship growing up to her current position as an award-winning illustrator.
With introductions out of the way, Jackson walked the illustrators through her individual process as a digital artist, from ideas to sketches, from comps and layouts to the tools she uses to make art-making more convenient, to the finished piece. Jackson rounded out the evening by taking questions about her work, her tools, and her techniques.
Tomorrow’s workshop will cover more business aspects of illustration and will feature an artist’s salon along with the “big reveal,” where the contest’s writer winners get their first chance to see the artwork created for each of their stories.
Wulf Moon wrote his first science fiction story when he was fifteen. It won the national Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and led to his first professional sale in Science World.
Since then, Moon has won more than forty awards in writing. These include: Star Trek: Strange New Worlds 2; Critters Readers’ Choice Awards for Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Story of 2018, Best SF&F Short Story of 2019, Best Nonfiction Article of 2019, Best Author of 2019, Best Writers’ Workshop of 2019; and the Writers of the Future Contest, Volume 35.
Kary English is a Writers of the Future winner whose work has been nominated for the Hugo and Campbell awards. She grew up in the snowy Midwest where she read book after book in a warm corner behind a recliner chair. Today, Kary still spends most of her time with her head in the clouds and her nose in a book. Her fiction has appeared in Galaxy’s Edge, The Grantville Gazette, Daily Science Fiction, Far Fetched Fables, the Hugo-winning podcast StarShipSofa, and L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 31.