by Mel Todd
Hi! Welcome to the annual meeting of the “We Write So We Don’t Have to Talk To People” association. Wow, so many of you came. I see three attendees! That has to be a record. It’s great you showed up as I have some wonderful tips for those of you (all of us) that fear talking to people. Because let’s be honest—People bite.
I see you nodding your heads in agreement, so let’s get to it.
Tip 1: You are playing a role.
Really, you are not John Doe office worker and sometime writer, you are J Doe—the awesome writer who creates worlds and guides destiny. You control the fate of millions and you are awesome. People already admire you because you are an author. They want to get to know you. J Doe is funny, creative, and always has their awesome X.
Tip 2: Have an X.
No, I don’t mean a literal X, though that would work too, but have a thing. Your thing can be a hat, a shirt, a wig, a prop. But have an X. It means that if you wear a bright purple rose pinned to your shirt, that is what people focus on and remember. It gives you something to play with, to talk about, and even better, it helps you become J Doe Writer Extraordinaire. Don’t be afraid to come up with a story about it, a history, a personality. I’ve seen armadillo purses, rhinestone hats, even ventriloquist dummies. If you have a cool X, people will think you are even cooler than you already are.
Tip 3: Ask Leading Questions
Look, some people LOVE to talk about themselves, most of us, not so much. So when someone is talking to you (especially at a con) ask them a leading question. In fact, make a list of questions ahead of time to ask. Here are some samples: What have you seen at the con so far? Omg, that is a great shirt/costume/hat. Where did you get it? How did you make it? What genre do you like to read? What is your favorite book? Note that some of these questions give you an intro to tell them about your book. Oh, remember to let them answer, don’t just rattle off all your questions.
I know, I know, selling yourself is hard, but remember they think you are J Doe awesome author! They want to know about your books, your stories, your worlds. Especially if you write a genre they already read. So put on J Doe’s award-winning smile and tell them about your book.
Tip 4: Practice Smiling
No, I don’t want you to become Gilderoy Lockhart. But many of us don’t know what our face feels like when you have a friendly smile on it. And when we are stressed or uncomfortable, our “forced” smile can look, well, a bit Joker like. And that isn’t a good look for awesome writer J Doe. Go stand in front of the mirror and let your inner J Doe out and smile. What does it feel like in your cheeks? How do your eyes crinkle? Where are your shoulders at? Knowing what it feels like for a friendly welcoming smile helps you get your face into that same position when J Doe is losing the battle to John Doe’s introverted ways.
Tip 5: And this is the best one and really one most of us use – Bring an Extrovert With You
Look—socializing is HARD. Or at least it is for us. But there exist these creatures called Extroverts that are extremely easy to attract. Lure one to your side (cookies, bacon, or booze usually works), then push them in front of you like a living shield. If they are a fan or another author, then let them talk about your books, tell the jokes, and you can just smile along. Yes, extrovert authors exist, but they are rare precious creatures. If you find one, brand them as yours, and keep them close. They may exhaust you, but they are well worth the effort. Then, with your extrovert as their focal point, everyone will love you because they are so personable. It works like magic.
That is all I have for you tonight. Please remember to take some cookies and tea. No, really, take the cookies. I bought out two Girl Scout Troops trying to get them to go away. See you next year, I hope.
Mel Todd has over 40 stories out and is planning on at least another twenty more. You can find her at www.badashpublishing.com. Remember to sign up for her newsletter and get a short story twice a month.
By Kyoko M.
When I was a kid, I was teased a lot for being an avid reader of books and comic books/graphic novels/manga. At the time, comic books, graphic novels, and manga were only for the nerdy and geeky crowd. It was a tough time, but as the decades passed, the world has since updated its perspective on the genres of science fiction and fantasy. The genres have moved into the mainstream spotlight, so it’s no longer the freaks and geeks that are enjoying them, but an entirely different, much bigger audience.
In my experience, we’ve had several works of fiction that helped move the sci-fi/fantasy (SFF) genres into mainstream attention. Back in the day, things like the Lost in Space series, Star Trek, and Star Wars were among the first science fiction titles to pique people’s interest. The success of Christopher Reeve as Superman also was one of the first breakthroughs for SFF in the mainstream. The eighties gave birth to an explosion of hybrid action science fiction like The Terminator, Back to the Future, and Tron. The additional success of the 1989 Batman starring Michael Keaton turned a huge corner for the subgenre of comic book movies. Blade, X-Men, and Spider-Man’s subsequent successes hinted that comic book movies could find success with mainstream audiences. The Lord of the Rings trilogy made huge money and liberated all the LOTR book nerds after years of waiting for another adaptation. Then a great deal of its progression came from the establishment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with its first entry, Iron Man (2008).
Where did the success of SFF with mainstream audiences come from? I believe that the reason SFF is now a precious commodity with everyone watching it came from the productions being helmed by very passionate people who found a way to condense decades of fiction into 90-minute films or into bite-sized chunks for television series. SFF has seen a similar boom in YA book series like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Percy Jackson, which were also adapted into films for mass consumption. Adapting to the modern culture where you can deliver the information quickly and in an engaging manner is likely the reason that mainstream audiences realized the potential of SFF for entertainment.
For example, the pre-Avengers (2012) films Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America all did well at the box office, but they didn’t hit critical mass until the Avengers. Why? Because Marvel found a way to tie all their stories together in a neat little package that didn’t require you to have seen all the solo films to understand Avengers. Seeing the other films would add more context and hit more emotional beats, but the film found a way to let everyone join in on the fun with no prerequisites.
We now have plenty of streaming channels full to burst with SFF works. All I can say is it’s a great time to be a fan of SFF.
By Sarah J. Sover
Whenever a new member joins the online JordanCon community, there’s inevitably a slew of comments saying “Welcome home.” For those unfamiliar with the convention scene, it might seem odd or downright off-putting. How can a science fiction and fantasy convention be a home?
Fans, artists, and writers in the speculative realms are frequently misfits in society at large. We were the geeks and weirdos in school—the drama kids, the nerd herd, the trench coat clad boy who binged Anime, the quiet girl who scribbled poems and accidentally set a paper tablecloth on fire at that one school event. Through the years, I’ve worn dozens of hats and been involved with many communities—I promise, I never burned any of them down! I joined and even headed writer’s clubs, animal rescue groups, swing dance communities, and more. Sure, I made a couple friends in each of those spaces, but no matter how much time I spent and how much of myself I gave, I never felt like I truly fit in. When I spoke, people would look at me like I just disembarked my spacecraft.
I discovered JordanCon when my best friend, Sara Bond, and I met Jason Denzel at WorldCon 2016. As soon as he discovered that we were both SFF writers from Atlanta, he insisted we check it out. That first year, I was anxious and awkward, but that’s pretty standard for me. I built up my nerve enough to enter the slush event hosted by the writer’s track. Traffic was abysmal that morning, so I was late, and I sloshed my coffee all over the table and myself. Sara gave me a funny look when I sat down.
“Do I smell rum?” she whispered.
I think I told her to shut up, to which she laughed and responded with some calming words.
The moderator read the first pages of my work in progress, Fairy Godmurder, to a panel of editors, who were instructed to raise their hands at the point in which they would stop reading if they were truly evaluating a slush pile. The team Sanderson editors raised their hands at some point during my pages, but the indie press editors listened all the way through. Afterwards, they all discussed their rationale. I’ll never forget the moment John Hartness turned to an editor who hated my “black suit molasses” phrase and said “Haven’t you ever read any noir?” He went on to say that he would request more pages. It was the first time my writing had received validation from an industry professional. Years later, I signed a three-book contract with John for that series, but I’ll save that story for another time.
The following year, my debut novel, the weird and wacky Double-Crossing the Bridge, released, I was accepted into the inaugural JordanCon Anthology, and I appeared as a guest. I was so nervous, I posted on social media that in order to get a ribbon from me, you had to bleat like a goat. It worked like a charm! Every time I walked through the lobby, I was welcomed with goat calls. My anxiety gave way to laughter, and I felt truly accepted. I’ve been attending as a guest ever since.
I’m still nervous on panels. I spent so long being called weird, random, nerd, and a slew of other things, I’m not sure I’ll ever fully get used to people embracing that side of me, and it doesn’t help that adrenaline surges zap facts out of my brain. But at JordanCon, when I say things that would make the general population look at me like I’m wearing a human-skin suit, people nod along. They laugh at my stupid jokes. They seek me out after to continue the conversation, to peek at the doodles on my notes, or to compliment my take on a topic. My weirdness is not only accepted, it’s celebrated.
I hope, like me, you feel like you belong at JordanCon. Those things that bring you joy—your love of fantasy, gaming, geek culture, tiaras, the spacecraft you flew in on, that one esoteric topic you think nobody else cares about—we want to celebrate those things with you. By the time it’s all over, you’ll be back online asking if it’s April yet, and when you see the newbies posting about how they’re excited to attend their first JordanCon, you’ll be excited to post “Welcome home!”
Sarah J. Sover is the author of the Fractured Fae Series from Falstaff Books, which currently includes Fairy Godmurder and the forthcoming Faed to Black. Sarah also wrote the comedic fantasy Double-Crossing the Bridge, and she is a contributor to both Putting the Fact in Fantasy and Writer’s Digest Magazine. She’s had a love affair with JordanCon since 2017. Find her everywhere at linktr.ee/SarahJ.Sover.
By October K Santerelli
Building a positive relationship with your writing can make all the difference in helping someone with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Autism Spectrum Condition/Disorder (ASC/D). I’m no stranger to the “rules” authors post about, swearing they’re the secrets to success. Whenever I can’t meet those expectations because of my ADHD, I feel bad. Eventually, I had to take a long hard look at what I was trying to do, and give myself—and now you—permission to try something else entirely.
What are the top three “writing rules” worth breaking?
Don’t. Write when the mood strikes, and build a routine that can help get you in the mood. Trick your brain into “work mode.” Put on your shoes. Light a candle. Put on the same playlist every time. After a while, it’ll be like a light switch. When you light that candle, your brain will find writing easier.
If those don’t work? Don’t force it. When you try to force yourself to create and fail, you start to build up negative self-talk, doubts, resentment—a whole host of nasty feelings. Some days just won’t be writing days, and that’s fine. A lot of authors don’t write every day (even if we all say we do).
I still try every day. I sit down, open the document, and stare at it. Some days, nothing happens. Some days I write a lot.
- “Write 1000 words or more every day!”
If you find yourself struggling, 1000 words can suddenly seem like Mount Everest. Try incremental goals instead. My first goal is one sentence. Then one paragraph. 100 words. 250 words, 500… and all of a sudden 1000 words isn’t that hard anymore. The hard part is getting started. Once I have that first sentence, I usually write more.
If I don’t? I pat myself on the back for that little bit. It really helps to celebrate every success. If you only write one sentence, you still wrote. Circle back to it later and you might write another one, and that’ll be two sentences more than you had before.
- “Sit down and block out x hours every day just for writing.”
I’ve found that the best way to keep my brain productive is to tell it there’s a very immediate deadline. It’s called “sprints.” Writing sprints are where you write in 15-30 minute chunks. Set a timer, start writing, and just see what happens. Once that time is up, take a break. Do a chore, get a snack, check social media.
By setting that arbitrary shorter deadline, my brain can see an end. It will work harder and focus better because it knows we only have to do it for a little bit. It also helps me get started. The little kick of adrenaline from a timer is a really good way to overcome that ever-famous executive dysfunction.
Good luck, and happy writing.
Biography: October K Santerelli is a fantasy author and LGBTQ+ sensitivity reader from Denver, Colorado. His works span several genres and forms of media. He writes novels, short stories, and comics. Being LGBTQ+ has allowed him to edit and sensitivity read for indie and traditional authors alike. Visit octoberksanterelli.com for more. Check out City of Day
By Kevin Pettway
Writing humor into your book can make an already difficult task even harder. Like running one of those races where you have to jump over the little gate-thingies only instead of shoes you’re wearing hot dogs on your feet? I don’t know sports.
That book is hard enough to sit down and write as is, so why put more obstacles in your own way? Is writing not hard enough already?
So why do it to yourself? What’s the point of telling a grand epic tale of heroism and sacrifice and terrifying evil that you also have to put funny bits in? You don’t really need all that, do you?
Well, no. But…
Part 1: Increasing Reader Buy-In
Let’s say I want to write about an ancient evil lord who fell from the heavens and wants to take over the world with his vast army of animalistic fighters from a giant scorched nation of completely unfarmable land, and his magic jewelry that only looks special when you stick your hand in a lit fireplace. This story is gonna be grim, and sweeping, and it’s gonna have all sorts of twists and turns and inspiring characters and intriguing landscapes. Hidden kings and otherwise useless characters with hairy feet.
Hm. This is sounding good. Don’t steal my idea.
So, maybe it’s just okay. Not, y’know, great or immortal or anything, but it’s fine. So how do I increase my reader’s buy-in? What do readers like?
(Before you answer, let’s pretend you didn’t read the name of this blog.)
Part 2: What (Some) Readers Want
They like a touch of humor. You don’t have to write the funniest book in all fantasy like I did (your milage may vary, jokes in the mirror are closer than they appear), but making a reader laugh somewhere in the first chapter is a good idea for two big reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of your writing.
First and less important, people like to laugh. It can be an unexpected gift and it makes you look clever. Give your reader a chuckle without breaking your tension and you’ve just raised the bar on your whole book. Steak is fantastic, but it’s not a whole meal. You want some potatoes or something green on that plate too.
Not kale. Never kale. A funny veggie. Maybe peas.
The second and more important reason has to do with walls. Every reader opens a book with walls in place. It isn’t that they don’t want to be entertained, they do, or that they want to have wasted those sixteen bucks on a book that isn’t any good, they don’t. It’s just that life teaches all of us to approach new situations, like a novel, with our eyes open and our guard up. We can’t help but be wary, and most of us have been burned more than once.
Part 3: Getting Past the Walls
Humor is the fastest way to slip underneath those walls and pull them down, so your reader can get on with the business of enjoying what you wrote. You can do this a lot of other ways too, and many authors do just fine for themselves without it, but a well-placed funny line is the most efficient means of engaging your reader’s emotions, and it’s a marvelous tool for a fast handful of character-building as well. In that respect humor is like any other tool in your belt. Drama, sympathy, inspiration, peas, you name it.
Part 4: How to Do It
How to write humor is probably the subject for an entirely different blog, but I’ll throw a few bones here. Specificity is good, such as drilling down to exactly what make, model, and year of metal bucket fell on your character’s head. Non sequiturs are always a hit. Lead the conversation inexorably in one direction and then at the last minute raspberry rainbow.
If you don’t think you’re funny there are a couple of options out there for you. The first and most obvious is to go back in time and have a terrible childhood. Honestly, good parents are just a death-knell if you want a career in humor. You can also work harder at it, which is like, ugh. I do both which is why I’m known for my… imaginative swearing as well as being married to a woman whose facial expression is stuck in permanent eyeroll.
You have no idea how hard it’s been to keep this clean.
I hope this has been helpful in some way to you, and if it wasn’t I invite you to lie to me about it when we meet at JordanCon this year. I am so excited about making new friends there and also I cry easily, so be kind.
I had a terrible childhood.
Kevin Pettway is the author of the Misplaced Mercenaries series, funny fantasy books full of adventure, friendship, inventive swearing, horrifying evil, noble-ish sacrifice, and more swearing. Upcoming is the Misplaced Adventures shared universe, with six new series all set in the same world and including five amazing new authors and one old cranky one. Available wherever fine books are sold… as well as, obviously, other kinds of books.
by Kelly Lynn Colby
After hitting send on your short story, that little piece of hard work gets tossed into the virtual slush pile along with a plethora of other stories from writers eager to see their name in print—and maybe even cash that check. We do need to eat.
I’m going to tell you a little secret. Editors have so many submissions to sift through they’re not searching for reasons to love a piece. They’ll reject as many as possible as quickly as possible so they can find the nuggets of treasure hidden among the rest. If you want to make it into the vault of awesomeness soon to be printed within a dust jacket, you’ve got to make it difficult for the editor to say no by avoiding the most common mistakes.
- Follow the Submission Guidelines
Carefully read the guidelines and follow them precisely. Writing might be an art, but submitting is a science. Check everything twice before hitting that send button. It’s super easy for an editor to reject a submission because the writer sent a .pdf file when a .doc was requested. Side Note: If they don’t specify how to format your manuscript, use this handy guide. You’ll look professional and the editor will appreciate the effort.
- Match the Publication’s Preferences
Every anthology or magazine has a specific flavor they prefer. It’s your job to mirror their tastes. If it’s a clean PG-13 publication, don’t send them erotica. If they like quick-moving plots, don’t send them a long diatribe about what you had for breakfast. The best way to familiarize yourself with their preferences is to read a sample of the stories they’ve published in the past.
- A Story Needs a Beginning, a Middle, and an End
This might seem like common sense, but I’ve personally rejected more stories than I can count that only describe a scene or leave off in the middle of the telling without any sort of satisfying ending. A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. That’s true whether it’s 100K words or 2000.
- One Character in One Pivotal Moment
This is a short story—sometimes even flash fiction—we’re talking about here. There isn’t a ton of space to speculate or dump a bunch of back story. Concentrate on one character during one pivotal moment in their life and bring us along for the ride. On a side note: name your characters. Few things will have me reject a story faster than if it starts with something like “the girl.” Nope. Next story.
- Reject Your First Two Ideas
You’d think we’re a big world and no one could come up with the same idea. But you’d be wrong. There is such a thing as zeitgeist and many writers can be tuned into certain frequencies that look remarkably the same when formulating a story for a themed call out. When an editor for an anthology is reading the same idea for the fifth time, it’s really easy to reject it so they can move on to something else. So don’t write the first thing that enters your mind. Think on it a bit until something truly awesome makes itself known. Then write that.
Hopefully, these tips will help you avoid common rookie mistakes when submitting to an anthology. There’s nothing like getting that acceptance letter.
If you want to know another secret, editors are just as happy to send them. Every letter means we were lucky enough to find a golden nugget that, for just a moment, warmed our cold little hearts and reminded us why we do this job. Because we love to read as much as you love to write.
Now that you have a few more tricks up your sleeve, slip on those muck boots and get to climbing.
As publisher and editorial director at Cursed Dragon Ship Publishing, Kelly Lynn Colby gets to combine her two favorite things—authors and reading—into a career full of mischief, adventure, and inspiration. She even finds the time to create some worlds of her own. To find out more about Kelly and her publishing company, check out https://curseddragonship.com.