CoNZealand – The Virtual WorldCon

This week has been a bit frantic.

Every summer, the science-fiction and fantasy community gathers, anywhere in the world. This year? The site was supposed to be New Zealand — going where no WorldCon has gone before.

While the slogan still works, I didn’t get to go see Hobbiton, or fly for a day and a half. Instead, I get to meet and visit with all those fans online.

As the WorldCon staff helped out that Virtual Balticon I worked on Memorial Day weekend, I wanted to pay them back for their help.

I got in a bit over my head.

I’ve been helping train the panelists with zoom, I created a Virtual Tour demo that I’ve been running daily during the convention, and since the day the convention started (at least in my timezone), I’ve trained up over 10 new zoom hosts to help with staffing.

And of course, keeping an eye on the Discord and helping where I can. There were a lot of issues logging in, so helping people get started was a Herculean task that the staff deserves a whole bag of cookies for helping everyone they could through that rather messy process.

Not to mention, before I got on staff, I’d signed up to be a panelist. For the first day of the convention, I was on two panels: What To Expect When You’re Ready To Query and How To Establish a Social Media Presence.

Only one thing — in honor of the convention hosts, everything’s in New Zealand time!

So, that first panel with 3 other lovely panelists was at 9pm EDT, with a rather frazzled Morgan moderating, and I think it went quite well. My next panel? Was at 23:00 NZT — or 7am! I don’t get up that early for WORK.

So, I went to bed shortly after midnight, and eventually wound down enough to sleep, then rolled out of bed when my alarm went off.

Only to find that all of my other panelists had had to withdraw. So? It ended up being a 30-minute monologue before I opened to questions. This was a panel I had proposed, and I think we all know I can talk for a while. Thus, I opened up my outline from my A Starter’s Guide To Establishing a Social Media Presence (For Fiction Writers). While I know I’m far from an expert, I can definitely get you started. And? It seemed to be very well received, with some great questions.

Then, I went back to bed.

Today’s been busy, but fewer fires.


How’s your week been going? How’s your writing going?

Morgan’s Quick Virtual Balticon Round-Up

I learned this weekend that it’s a LOT harder to attend ALL-THE-PANELS when you’re trying to moderate the Discord and monitor all the social media.

I took notes at a few panels, but for most of the ones I hit, I’ll probably want to watch the recording once the closed-captioning is adhered and it’s up on youtube.

A longer post to come, but for my own tracking purposes, these are the panels I managed to make it to: 13 panels/presentations, 1 show, 2 readings, was on 3 panels, and ran tech for 1 panel.

I definitely hit a wall halfway through Sunday.

FRIDAY

6pm Writing For Themed Anthologies
7pm Bad Book Covers
9pm This Kaiju Life LIVE

SATURDAY

10am You Can’t Shop at Target in Middle Earth
11am Readings: DeCandido and Martell
12pm Tips for Writing Combat
2pm Kingdom of Warrior Women: The Dahomey Kingdom and its Amazons
5pm Dealing With Literary Rejection – I WAS A PANELIST!
7pm Science Fiction Has Always Been Political
8pm Making Painful Edits
9pm Readings: Kimmel and Ventralla

SUNDAY

10am Beta-Reading Propositions, What Are You In For? – I WAS A PANELIST!
12pm What’s This About A Social Media Presence – I WAS THE MODERATOR – my first time
1pm Dinosaurs: The Update (90 min)
3pm Momentum for writers
4pm How to Self-Edit That Lousy First Draft
NAP
8pm Choosing Your Perspective
9pm Body Disposal – A Primer for Writers

MONDAY

11am Ran tech for Reference Like An Artist
1pm Novel, Novella, or Short Story


If you managed to hit any of Virtual Balticon, let me know which panels/presentations YOU enjoyed!

I’ll be back again on Thursday with a more in-depth view.

What Cons Are Looking For In Panelists

So, you’ve published a book and now you’ve got to market yourself. You’ve done the Facebook ads and giveaways.

Now? You’re supposed to do book fairs and conventions and stuff.

However, before you just go blast-emailing every convention and book fair within driving distance, you should know that there’s a wrong way, and a right way to do this. While some shows just want your money and are happy to give you a table, many conventions are a little pickier.

Know Who You’re Talking To

If you’re reaching out to a convention, make sure you’ve done your research.

If it’s a larger convention, you should be asking about being there about the time they’re wrapping up the previous year’s show. The smaller the show is, the closer to the convention you should be reaching out, but 6 months out isn’t uncommon.

Make sure you know which year the convention is. Don’t ask about being on CoolCon 12 when the convention is celebrating their 20th year.

Make sure the convention is on-brand for you — the right genre, the right age group.

Once you’ve emailed the convention and someone’s replied… Use Their Name. That’s your contact!

Respect The Convention’s Process

Everyone does things their own way. The convention you’re applying to has likely done this before, and has a way that they know works for them.

Every con does things differently. That doesn’t mean they’re wrong.

Be sure to follow this year’s directions, for this convention:

  • Give them what they ask for
  • When they ask for it
  • In the format they ask for

The easier you are for the convention to work with, the more eager they’ll be next time you ask to come back — or maybe, next time, they’ll do the asking.

Have Something Unique To Offer

There are tons of debut novelists out there. And sure, you can give a reading, but if you’re not big enough to be a draw, that’s not really adding value to the convention.

The best way to get them to accept your offer to panel is to offer something they don’t already have.

Do you have…

  • A large following?
  • A unique specialty — history, knowledge about cutting edge technology, or a career as a detective?
  • Experience with a niche subject that is popular this year
  • A great storyteller?
  • An experienced moderator is often a huge draw
  • Basically: can you speak confidently on a panel for something that is going to bring in a large crowd?

Be A Good Speaker

Now, you don’t have to be an amazing and dynamic speaker to get on a panel, (although it helps). Conventions know that the only way to become a great panelist is to be on panels.

But, there are some speaking skills that are gonna go far toward getting you asked to come back.

  • Have clear and concise answers — you don’t want to confuse the audience or waste panel time
  • Be courteous to the other panelists — don’t talk over them, don’t insult them
  • Don’t relate everything back to your book — we know you’re there to get name recognition and to sell your book. But it’s heavy-handed and makes you sound like a one-trick-pony. You’re more than just your book. If you’re interesting, the audience will be interested in what you write.
  • Be passionate about the subject — excitement can be contagious, as can boredom (with rote, polite answers).

Now, these are just tips to be a good panelist. Being a great panelist? That’s the subject for another post.


And sometimes? Even if you do everything right? The con still won’t be able to offer you a place on a panel. Maybe they’re full. Maybe you don’t fit with their branding. Maybe, you need to expand your skills so you can fill a niche they’d like a fresh take on.

It’s hard to put yourself out there.

Writing is typically a solo activity, usually attracting people who like being alone. Marketing one’s work is often the opposite of what we like to do — our face is our brand, and our books are our children.

And now? We’re supposed to put a monetary value on something we’ve poured our hearts and souls into and convince people to read it and judge it online.

If anyone finds an easier way, let me know!


Good luck marketing yourself and getting on conventions. Hopefully, they’re still around and kicking when group activities are back on the table.

Any other tips I’ve missed?

Everything You Need To Know About Convention Panels

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you probably know that I share a lot of notes from “panels”.

If you’ve never been to a convention, you may be unfamiliar with panels. If you’ve only been to corporate/work conventions, you might look at them as torturous boredom. Or, at the very least, strictly educational.

At their most basic: panels are simply several people, sitting at table, facing an audience, sharing their thoughts on a subject.

Typically, these individuals are what’s referred to in the DC metro area at least as “SMEs” – subject-matter experts.

And, quite often, these panels have one of the panelists acting as a moderator. A good moderator asks the panel questions, makes sure everyone on the panel is heard, tries to keep any debate lively without getting too personal, accepts the questions from the audience, and does their best to help with crowd control.

A typical con panel is 50 minutes, with the first 30-40 minutes being for the panelists to talk amongst themselves about the subject, and the last 10-20 minutes being for Q&A. With a brief introduction at the beginning, and a minute or so for closing thoughts and self-promotion at the end.

Now, panels aren’t the only things to attend at a convention, there are workshops, dances, book-readings, concerts, parties, and more. In fact, before I got so involved in my writing journey, I had attended a bunch of conventions and maybe 2 panels. These days? It’s a weird weekend if I attend fewer than 20.

Never fear, you can be a writer or a fan without ever attending a convention. Although, that’s partially why I like to share my notes, so that those who can’t, or don’t attend panels still have access to the nuggets of information I try to glean from the experts.

But, should you ever attend a convention, I want to set you up for success — so you’re seen as an excellent audience member and not someone to avoid.

4 Things Not To Do During The Q&A Period

  1. “This is more of a statement than a question…”

    If you attend panels, if you’re on panels, you will hear this phrase. A LOT.

    I know that there are plenty of bright, intelligent people in the audience, I know many of them would have made excellent panelists themselves, and many ARE actually on other panels. BUT. Unless you are on this panel, this is neither the time, nor the place to insert your own opinion on the subject.

    Save it for twitter. Or facebook. Or your friends — after the panel. You will not impress the panelists, you will not impress the audience. You will, however, trigger a massive eye roll, and a lot of tuning out.
  2. Providing tons of background for your question

    Especially in writing panels and gaming panels, audience members will want to provide background for precisely why they’re asking this question, in the hopes that they will get a tailormade answer. And because they’re just plain excited about their world and their story and… everything.

    It’s fine to give a little context, but no more than 20 seconds. I’ve listened to audience members who took up to 5 minutes to get to the question portion of their statement. Most moderators aren’t going to let you get that far.

    When you take that long, you’re taking time away from the panelists answers, and keeping other people from asking their questions. (And sometimes? It comes across like you’re stealing the time to market your own stuff, which is exceedingly rude.) If you know you have trouble getting to your question within 30 seconds, work with a friend in advance to rephrase until you can. Or, take it off-line, talk to them after the panel or at their table.

    Caveat: People at merchandise tables are NOT your audience, they are trying to sell their own merchandise and it is incredibly rude to scare away potential sales by dominating their attention.
  3. Off-topic Questions

    The panelists are prepared to speak on the subject described in the program. The other audience members are there to hear the panelists talk about the subject described in the program.

    If you have a specific question, that is unrelated to the panel, ask it after the panel.
  4. Asking tons of questions

    If no one else is asking, feel free, but don’t monopolize the Q&A period. Ask one, then give other people a chance to ask theirs — they’re paying as much to attend as you are and deserve the chance just as much. Only, if no one else has questions, should you go for a second question.

All that said, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask for recommendations, or a panelist to speak more on something they hinted at.

For some shameless name dropping here, I once attended a panel with the ever-famous George RR Martin on it, and, once the panel opened to questions, I asked a question addressing what I *thought* the panel had said it was going to be on in the first place. (Martin complimented my question, but the moderator actually answered my question the best…)

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, if the Corona-virus permits, I’m actually signed up to be a panelist at three cons this spring and summer. Hopefully, I’ll be as good behind the table and I try to be in the audience.


Have you attended con panels? Are there any tips or tricks I missed?

Romantic Subplots

Some books are straight up romances, some have no romantic dealings at all, but for everything in between, they’ve probably got a romantic sub-plot (or two) simmering in the background.

At WorldCon2019, PRK, Kate Johnson, Darlene Marshall, and Elliot Kay shared their tips for creating a successful romantic subplot.

The Rules Of Romance

Romance might get a bad rap in some circles, but romance is what keeps publishing in business, and it’s the mother of all genres when you look at sales.

Romance novels come in all stripes and colors, but they have two things that unify them:

  1. The love story is central to the plot – i.e. the plot doesn’t work without the romance
  2. An optimistic ending – these days, it doesn’t have to be happily ever after, but it needs to be happy-for-now, or at least romantically satisfying

The typical plot of a Romance novel is predictable

  1. The romantic partners come together
  2. Something separates them
  3. They come together again
  4. There’s a black moment when we think all is lost
  5. Then, there’s the optimistic/happy ending!

We know the plot of a romance novel, what makes them enjoyable is the journey.

Common Tropes

There are certain tropes that some people love to see over and over again. While other tropes are things that have been done to death — or are only enjoyable when there’s a fresh twist.

Our panelists shared a few of their favorites

  1. Enemies to lovers/Friends to lovers – i.e. Shards of Honor by Lois Bujold
  2. Alpha male – but easy to over do
  3. Flipping gendered expectations
    • Note: This includes romances that aren’t heterosexual, or cis-gendered, or have more than two partners. – i.e. Starless by Jacqueline Carey, and KJ Charles’s work.
  4. Both main characters are out to get the same things,\ and keep bumping into each other.
  5. When the love interest redeems THEMSELVES, after seeing their flaws reflected back at them. i.e. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre

And least favorites:

  1. No communication. The romance just happens!
    • This leads to readers forming unhealthy expectations about their relationships!
    • Also! If the plot hinges on a misunderstanding that could be fixed with 3 minutes of conversation (that would be normal to do in this situation), it’s a bad plot.
  2. They’re only mean because they likes you
  3. Redeeming everyone
  4. She’s here to redeem HIM
  5. Killing her to provide motivation for the main character to grow

Writing Good Chemistry!

They didn’t give us too many tips. Just: if it’s fun for you (as a writer) and it works emotionally for you… it should be fine!

Chemistry can be sexual and/or romantic. In real life, asexual (Ace) people sometimes are interested in romance, even when they’re not interested in the X-rated stuff. So, characters can be written to reflect reality.

Communication and consent are key! When both characters are eager to take the next step, the relationship should blossom.

Suggested reading:

  1. Claire O’Dell’s Janet Watson Chronicles
  2. JD Robb’s In Death series
  3. Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens
  4. Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart A Doorway

The Romantic Subplot Doesn’t Have To Work Out

Even in romance novels, there can be secondary romances that don’t work out.

  1. Short term relationships
  2. Breakups, where it just didn’t work

Chick-lit has tons of this. You’ll see the main character with tons of bad — or at least not right for her — partners.

Speaking of other genres, these days, it can be tricky to tell if you’re reading a romance or not — especially when you wade into the urban fantasy and paranormal romance corner. Kate Johnson shared her secret trick for determining, just by the cover, which is which. The paranormal romance has a topless guy on the cover, while the urban fantasy has a tattooed chick on the cover.

When she told us that, I closed my eyes and pictured the books on my shelves, and burst out laughing. She’s got it right.

Closing Thoughts

If you want to write more diverse characters, read #ownvoices works, research, talk to people who can share their lived experiences (don’t make assumptions), and pay sensitivity readers!

Write the book you want to write, your tropes will dictate the marketing.