The first panel to get things going on Day 2 (Friday) of the World Horror Convention 2013 was “Anthologies: How to Get Your Story in Them” with another panel going on at the same time dedicated to characterization, called “Characters that Live and Breathe,” followed by a New Media presentation by the Media Guest of Honor, Amber Benson, known better to Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans as Tara Maclay, and more on the writing advice front with a panel called “If I Could Turn Back Time” about research and how not to bog readers down in every historical detail when writing stories that call for it.
Those lucky enough to score a spot also attended a workshop given by Matt Schwartz of Random House called “Marketing Yourself as an Author,” which I heard from those who attended was choc-full of great information from someone who really knows his stuff to say the least.
Artist Guest of Honor Glenn Chadbourne also had his interview at the same time as a zombie apocalypse panel, and for those who already couldn’t wait to find out more about next year’s World Horror, there was a luncheon party in the Iberville Suite dedicated to WHC2014, which will take place in Portland, Oregon.
I attended Editor Guest of Honor John Joseph Adams’s interview, conducted by Lisa Morton, who was very excited indeed to have the chance to interview such an interesting and accomplished editor. He discussed how he got his start in the biz, which was at F&SF Magazine under the stewardship of Gordon Van Gelder, which he attributed to being opinionated about films and not going with what was popular at the time.
Interestingly enough, he loves going to conventions even though he first thought they were strictly the territory of hardcore Star Trek fans, and he finds that paying attention to pop culture trends gives him success in anthology ideas to pitch, making them something of an easier sell to publishers, and he cited his upcoming Robot Uprisings anthology as an example (it coincides with a forthcoming Steven Spielberg film).
Also interestingly, he doesn’t categorize post-apocalyptic or dystopian material as depressing, which came as a bit of a surprise, but then again not really considering the amount of them he reads on a regular basis He also talked a bit about cover art and the selection process as well as editorial input, and Nightmare magazine, which he edits, also having amazing covers. Of course, he also talked about his editorial process and when he’s hands-on as well as what he tries to pass on to interns, and emphasized the importance of making free samples available, especially online.
Amber Benson had her Guest of Honor interview at the same time as a panel on “Selling Your Short Story” with Ellen Datlow, Norman Prentiss, John Joseph Adams, Simon McCaffrey, Tom Monteleone, and JG Faherty, which proved to be interesting, as well. There’s usually one of these at every convention (in fact, that can be said about many of the panels that regularly take place at cons), and I like to try to extract something new from each one I attend. In this case, the panelists emphasized the need to prevent a story from becoming too predictable, but also that predictability can be used well to take the reader down a path they think they know they’re going down only to do a swerve on them, but it takes time and practice to master this and only a few people can do it really well. Persistence pays off, but of course a workshop like Borderlands doesn’t hurt either
Next up was the panel moderated by yours truly, called “Social Media for Writers,” in which we discussed the ever-changing digital landscape and what authors can do to keep up, finding the right platform that works for them and ignoring the pressure to be on every single platform (pick a few and use them well as opposed to trying to be on every single one of them and not doing a good job), the importance of blogging and blog tours as promotional efforts shift increasingly from in-person bookstore signings (now mostly reserved for blockbuster authors, but also effective if done in niche bookstores or for local authors in some cases), and pointing out some general do’s and don’ts. I’ve been on panels before at conventions, but this was my first time moderating one, and I definitely felt a lot of pressure to make sure I prepared good questions that would interest the audience. We received some interesting questions at the end, as well.
Next up was another marketing panel, “Marketing Your Work,” which had Nanci Kalanta, David Morrell, Liz Gorinsky from Tor Books, Matt Schwartz from Random House, Christopher C. Payne from Journalstone, and Steven J. Scearce. They talked about book sales migrating online, and that focusing on author branding and platform was more de rigeur at Random House. Advertising can be effective, but doesn’t have the same effect that it used to, and for advertising to be effective, it needs to accompany other promotional efforts. Novelist David Morrell said he resisted Facebook for a long time because he didn’t know how to go beyond spreading the message to buy his books, which is what a lot of authors are stuck on, but he started seeing more success with using Facebook as something of a salon for discussions about films, other books, and fostering genuine debate. He also expressed something which I wholeheartedly agree with, which is a frustration with the fact that it seems so many authors are focusing 100 percent on marketing with very little devoted to their actual writing, and that a book has to be written well because even if the marketing efforts work and people buy it, if it’s a bad book or not worthwhile, people will indicate that in the reviews.
Liz from Tor emphasized the importance of not abandoning traditional marketing efforts altogether, and that bookstore placement and distribution was still very much a key part of the marketing chain. The panelists also encouraged novelists to be creative with finding a non-fiction tie-in to their book to promote to an audience who is interested in a topic that may not necessarily know about the novel. The key with good marketing is to build solid relationships with media, other authors, publicists, bloggers, reviewers, and of course, readers. An online identity can make or break an author, and if people have a perception that an author is unlikable, it can hurt their book sales. The panelists also cautioned that while other authors can be good allies and you can reach each other’s audiences with cross-promotional activities, it only works if the other author is genuine and not doing it “for the sake of it.”
Guest of Honor Caitlín R. Kiernan had her interview, as well, followed by a panel on “Ten Great Moments in Horror” which many people enjoyed. From 6 to 7pm there was an Artists’ Reception with a wine and cheese tasting, more readings interspersed throughout the day, and the Mass Signing kicked off at 7pm, going until 9pm, followed by the Dance Party that started at 9, in which people were encouraged to masquerade in costumes, as well as readings and an after-party in the Iberville Suite that went late into the night.
I set off on what was to be a voodoo tour with Haunted History but that turned into a ghost tour with some friends, and it was definitely an interesting and lively experience. At the end, we did get to chat a bit with the lady who runs the voodoo tour and asked her a few questions. I also got to experience a separate guided Cemetery/Voodoo tour a few days later, which was fascinating, so all was not lost