Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway - Various things from Minicon weekend [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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Various things from Minicon weekend [Apr. 22nd, 2014|10:17 am]
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First, I am pleased to say that my essay, “The Apple and the Castle,” will be appearing as one of the supplemental materials in the book, The Reader: The War for the Oaks. Get yours through the Kickstarter if you’re interested in gorgeous photos or me talking about what makes for a lasting fantasy classic, especially in the handling of setting.


Other good stuff happened besides me selling an essay. I was on a map panel that went pretty well, I thought, despite everyone on the panel being pro-map. (Panels often have a little extra frisson if the panelists disagree a bit more.) I want to particularly point out that while three of us writer panelists were traditionally published at one length or another, the two who were self-published-only were models of how self-published authors should conduct themselves on convention panels. They confined their remarks about their own books to the relevant and interesting, and they talked about other people’s work in on-topic ways, just as a good panelist ought. Later in the convention I encountered both of them, and one didn’t try to sell his book to me at all, while the other did–at a launch party I attended of my own free will, knowing that it was a launch party. Going to a launch party expecting someone not to be trying to talk up their book would just be dumb; that’s what they’re for. So as a result, I came away from it with warm positive feelings about both self-published authors, while I have no idea about the contents of their books, and I’m going to link them both here: Ozgur Sahin and Blake Hausladen. Well done, guys; that’s how to do it right. If this is what the rise of the self-published author brings programming at future cons, it’s going to be awesome. (I expect that this is not actually the case and self-published authors are as much a mixed bag as traditionally published authors. Ah well; at least I had a good panel.)


The middle-grade panel was less focused than the map panel, but several good names got discussed–Mer, everybody likes you–and our surprise last panelist got through her first panel ever without too much difficulty. (She was 14. First panels ever are hard.)


Alec’s and my reading went beautifully–not a huge crowd, but not a tiny one either, especially given that it was scheduled over the dinner hour. Timprov was a hero of the revolution in bringing us hot soup so that we were fortified before the reading.


A question came up in conversation at the book launch party, and I wanted to address it here, and that was: why don’t I post reviews of the books I get sent for review but do not finish? The dual entity known as James S. A. Corey was on Twitter just yesterday saying, “Writers: if people are bashing your work online, rejoice. It means someone has noticed it exists,” and I think that was the basic premise of the writer asking why I don’t post negative reviews: that negative press is still better for the smaller writer than no press. This is probably true. An individual post saying, “I stopped reading this on page one due to clunky prose,” or, “Rape scene chapter one, quit reading,” would still bring at least some attention to the book, and not everybody has the same taste in prose or the same distaste for chapter one rape scenes that I do.


However. I do not get paid for my reviews. My time is valuable, and my time is my own. Any time that I spend on writing reviews is my choice, and I don’t choose to spend that on books that didn’t hold my attention to the end. I am not long on time and energy. I would rather spend that time on my own writing, or on reading something else, or on staring at the birch tree outside my office window and willing the leaves on it to bud out, or on making my godson brownies, or…yeah. Things. “How long could it take?” Oh trust me. I bounce off a lot of books. It could take quite some time. Adding in discussion with people in the comments section, especially if those people want to try to talk me into reading a little further? It could really take quite some time.


Reviewers are good for writers, but reviewers do not exist to be good for writers. Reviewers are good for readers, but reviewers do not even exist to be good for readers. It is awfully nice that people send me free books to review. I am grateful. But what they are buying with the free book is the chance at my attention, and if they can’t hold my attention, they don’t get my time in the form of my reading or in the form of my review. Even if it would be useful to someone else.




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Comments:
[User Picture]From: rubel
2014-04-23 06:07 am (UTC)

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Thanks for the shout out! I figure you heard the same info the audience did, so why would I try to peddle my book at you? Terra Incognita was probably the best panel I participated in, so thanks for that (to both you and Blake). I thanked the moderator too, because he has done a good job with his panels, and a good moderator is really underrated on panels.

Edited at 2014-04-23 06:08 am (UTC)
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-04-23 11:02 am (UTC)

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Aheh. See, it was the fact that the audience didn't have to hear "in MY book WHICH IS AVAILABLE FROM THE FOLLOWING FINE RETAILERS" twenty gazillion times without context or actual interesting information that got me on your side in the first place. Sure, I heard the same info the audience did. And then the audience didn't have to hear it again until they were ready to puke.

Seriously, some people do this so badly. Not just in the self-published category, either--the canonical bad example is the author who sits behind a pyramid of their books on a panel and turns every question to themselves. Sometimes you just want to turn to an author on a panel and say, "Have you read a book by someone who is not yourself? Ever? A short story, even? Have you, perhaps, watched a movie? No? Come on, people, work with me here."
[User Picture]From: rubel
2014-04-23 02:41 pm (UTC)

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Ah yes, one of the panelists at Marscon had a problem with doing that. It's about as dignified as passing around a collection plate, but at least that would take less time. I hoped that was more of an anomaly than anything--I haven't run into it too much yet (okay, with one exception last weekend).

I've been on discussion groups where the focus is for authors to self-promote, and it's rather like picturing a deserted train station wallpapered with ads, where the only viewers of ads are the other ads. It reminds me of how protests typically happen now--all the protesters get shunted to the area where they won't be too much of a bother, and they can all impotently stand there and agree with each other, convinced that they are effecting change.

If you're a writer, presumably you have something to say. So if you're and author on a panel, start saying it, rather than spending the time trying to convince everyone that you have something to say.

Note: I was gratified to see that The Only Fantasy World Map You'll Ever Need came up, because I was going to mention it if no one else did.
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-04-23 03:13 pm (UTC)

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If you're a writer, presumably you have something to say.

Well, one would like to hope, and yet....

Seriously, I think that one of the best things a writer can do is to be thoughtful and generous about their influences. Talking about who is doing things well as well as who is doing things poorly: it leaves people with a positive taste in their mouths, it places you in an intellectual community, it broadens the discussion, it increases the likelihood that the audience members will have something to connect your comments to (or will have more than one book to go seek out after the panel!), etc. etc. etc.

And a map like The Only Fantasy World Map You'll Ever Need was great because it let us talk about general genre pitfalls without having to get really negative about individuals by name, which...okay, sometimes criticism by name is healthy and good. But has its serious drawbacks: sometimes you're talking about a book that has terrible geography but an emotional core that got someone through a tough time or etc. So one does try to be careful and sparing with that kind of discussion, especially at a less specialist con like Minicon.
[User Picture]From: rubel
2014-04-23 04:27 pm (UTC)

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Yes, it is part of building a bridge to your audience. You need materials for that bridge; you can't just make it out of yourself. You have to know where you're building to and where the solid ground is on their side so you can build on it.

You engage no one when no one else's life touches yours. In order to influence, you have to let yourself be influenced, because that wall works both ways, as walls always do.

And yes, criticism has its place, but sometimes we go too far with it. It is good to be able to appreciate the different qualities of even things you dislike, because no gaps were ever bridged by defensive exclusion. I think readers like to see an author who doesn't feel so threatened by flaws that they can't appreciate coexisting virtues. In addition to all of the other positive things that "bridging ability" says about an author, it speaks directly to the author's versatility and potential depth and scope as an artist.
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-04-23 05:04 pm (UTC)

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I think one of the things that ends up backfiring for some writers here is the focus on originality. Yes, you definitely want to show people how your work is not just a clone of x or y. But when I hear people complaining that "no one" is doing this or that or the other thing...and I can immediately, off the top of my head, name a dozen writers who are...that makes me roll my eyes that they're trying to claim something they can't support, rather than making me impressed at how great they are. And the really unfortunate part is that quite often the aspect of their writing that they're talking about might well be appealing if they weren't trying to shut out the other people who are doing it too.

I mean, granted, there are some things I'm really not seeing a lot of. There are lots of gaps out there to be filled. But it's often not those people bragging on their originality.

Celebrities are the worst at this. They write a children's book and then go on talk shows to say that they just couldn't find any good children's books that, like, retold fairy tales! And I think, "Because you don't think of children's book writing as any kind of community. Because you wrote a children's book and do not know the name Jane Yolen."
[User Picture]From: rubel
2014-04-23 05:24 pm (UTC)

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I don't read as much as most authors (I am a slow reader, and I do a lot of other things), so I'd feel VERY uncomfortable saying "no one is doing what I do." But beyond that, my first thought when I hear someone say that (about ANYTHING) is that they put too much stock in being different. It stirs up that thing in my head where I hear ghosts of narcissists past saying all the usual satirical phrases on a loop:

"I want to be different just like everyone else!"
"I am a beautiful and unique snowflake."
"Studying what I love gave me more refined tools to hate it."
Or practically anything Morrissey ever said about The Smiths when he was part of them.

I figure no one is doing exactly what I'm doing, but that should be as obvious as it is inherent and no one needs to say it.

But maybe after my sequel is done and I get moving on my book on narcissism (I intend to call it The Narcissist to English Dictionary, but don't spread that around too much yet), I'll include some stuff on that.
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-04-23 05:29 pm (UTC)

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Princess Snowflake Specialpants endorses this message.
[User Picture]From: rubel
2014-04-23 05:42 pm (UTC)

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Thus was your Halloween costume born.
From: diatryma
2014-04-24 12:32 pm (UTC)

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I do my booklog mostly to talk about books with people. Usually, I finish books; it's pretty rare that I don't because a) words in front of me, b) maybe it will get better? and c) I start composing booklog snark pretty early. Not a lot has made it into the booklog because I'm often tired and not many people respond, but you know, booklog. It exists.

And someday I'll do all the data analysis I've planned. Someday.
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-04-24 01:39 pm (UTC)

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And see, I don't want to talk about books with people when the conversation would be, "Ugh, I hated this on page three and stopped." I like talking about the books I finished even when I found them flawed or outright didn't like them. I just don't enjoy the other bit, so I don't do it.

I do keep records of what I've started and not finished, though.