This week is a change of pace for me; I’m writing this week’s post from the 28th annual Life, the Universe and Everything symposium in Provo, Utah. Officially, I believe it’s the Marion K. “Doc” Smith Symposium on Science Fiction and Fantasy, but everybody here calls it LTUE, and so shall I. Besides, why miss a chance to throw in a good allusion?
Anyway, I can’t tell you if it’s going to be an overall success–it started today (Thursday) and I’ve attended two panels so far–but so far, it seems to be worth the money. It’s not as academic as I had suspected; instead, it seems to be a collection of genre authors who are determined to share their knoweldge and love of their respective genres with a pretty adoring group of folks. Granted, there are a bunch who are because their classes require them to be, but nobody seems too begrudging.
What I have enjoyed about the panels so far is the accessibility of the speakers. Nobody is exactly famous–the best-known names in attendance are L.E. Modesitt, Jr. and Brandon Sanderson, the gent picked to take over the Wheel of Time series from the late Robert Jordan–but all I’ve seen so far are experienced in the field, and are willing to distill their experiences down to the essence. It’s a pleasure to hear people who are invested and knowledgeable in genre work to discuss it and be willing to help light the way for the folks who may be coming up behind them.
One thing that has come through with clarity is the importance of knowing your market. It’s all well and good to write–and clearly, being the best writer you can be is the first and best priority–but the vagaries and tribulations of making the transition from writer to published writer aren’t often covered when writers and audiences come together, except in the most bone-headed “How do I get published?” way. The second panel I attended was called “Fantasy Without Magic,” and the authors discussed very cogently the problem of publisher taste vs. perceived audience vs. authorial vision, particularly in the case of cross-genre fiction. The discussion of “slipstream” fiction was quite illuminating, particularly for this writer, who hadn’t realized until that moment there was a name for what he was doing. What can I say? I’ve been busy.
In fact, while the rest of the panels are so far a mystery to me (I’m presently waiting for the “Mormons in Horror” panel to start; we are at BYU, after all), I suspect that what the other authors have to say will, in some way, revolve back to this very point, for a couple of different reasons. First of all, while writing is such a personal and sometimes mysterious process, seeking out publishers and finding out which ones to submit to is a process that can be explicated in fairly concrete terms. Telling people how to write or how to write better: not so much.
Perhaps more importantly, picking the right market for your work, or the right marketing, has gained in importance in recent years because markets have fragmented to a bewildering degree. The rise of e-media and the increased ability to get your hands on traditional media has created a number of specialty markets, small presses and increasingly Balkanized pools of reader audience. More and more, author and publisher success depends not necessarily on reaching a massive audience, but reaching the right one and targeting to them specifically. Thus, a broadside salvo approach to getting your work out there is less than effective, and getting into the right one from the beginning is far more important. The upside to this? If every book requires this targeting, writing outside your main genre doesn’t have to mean being pigeonholed or having success limited to one genre. The downside is that it’s far more work.
Anyway, this is where I’ll wind things up for the week. The next panel is about to start, and I’m fascinated to see what’s next. This soapbox is closed.