Tuesday, 15 October 2013

WRI: CanCon 2013, Day 3

CanCon is the Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature. For more information, see my Day 1 posting. You can also see what happened on Day 2.


Started at 10am, I went to the "Creativity in Fandom" panel featuring Errol Elumir, Debs Linden (both from Debs & Errol), and Chadwick Ginther. Chad's a novelist, but remarked on having soundtracks for his story as he wrote. Here's a chain I found interesting (if I interpreted it right): Errol met Debs through NaNoWriMo in 2006. Debs dragged him into FAWM, which is where people from this Con learned about them, and of course I learned about CanCon through Debs & Errol. Networking has scope.

A couple of the main points: "Creativity" is seen a a buzzword, something you shouldn't use, which is a shame. You should also try to be creative in different mediums - for example, Errol is part of a band, creates for a webcomic, and participates in Novel Writing month. One of the best ways to encourage creativity (he says) is to completely remove the filters, and if you've ever met Errol, this is certainly his philosophy. (He was even in a cast after jumping out of a tree.)

I think Errol spotted my camera

You should make sure you FINISH your creative projects. Otherwise you create a habit of NOT finishing. Perfectionism was raised (Debs and I can relate), an audience member pointing out that per- from the latin is "thoroughly" and -fect from the latin is "to make complete". So something is perfect when you feel it is thoroughly complete. To some extent, "Novels are never finished. They are abandoned", meaning you could keep tweaking forever. But they should at least be "finished" in the sense of being "complete".

There was a metaphor for driving at night. As you're doing something creative, you can only see so far ahead, the ending may not be known. Or it may be known, but you find you have to rewrite it, even alter your outline as you go. Goals can change (both in a story and in the act of writing). Sometimes posting goals (a Monthly blog post) can help make you accountable. The collaborative aspect was raised too, and whether you lose something in the chain of "first readers", "editors", "publishers" when you do self-publishing.

Aside: A parable of clay pots was mentioned from a book Errol had read (which Debs mentioned on Friday in "Song Writing 101", though Errol had a different answer this time). Two groups were created. One was told to make a single, perfect clay pot; the other to create as many pots as possible. In the end, the second group had many mediocre pots but some great ones, while the first group was still trying to design "perfection". (In Friday's version, the second group had included one pot which was deemed to be even more perfect than the single pot of the first group. Debs says Errol told the story that way once, and I don't disbelieve her.)

Books mentioned included "Creative Flow" by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and "Animation: From Script to Screen" by Shamus Culhane. A few additional remarks: People think they can't draw because they stopped in Grade 2, so their drawings are at that level. Pick up from there, and keep going. Quote from Debs: "The act of practicing may be more important than the final result." Notably, the audience for this panel seemed to be more of the younger attendees.

From there, at 11am I went to "Marketing for Writers 201" (the 101 panel was on Friday - I missed it), which was done by Linda Poitevin. She had a set of powerpoint slides describing "Blog Tours". Effectively a book tour online: traveling the internet, doing guest posts, getting your name and the name of your book out there prior to and during release. We're at the point where Virtual Tour Organizers are becoming a thing.

It's a tour using a serial bus

Linda said the first time she did 6 weeks at five posts per week and found that was too much. Second time, 4 weeks at 3-4 posts was more manageable. In terms of blogs to choose, ideally ones with similar books; research their policy and find out the NAME of the person running it. Numbers matter (check the followers widget) and Comments matter (actual readers versus just followers).

Make sure to keep each post ORIGINAL - people will follow you on your tour, and they don't want to keep reading the same thing. Talk about anything, inspiration for your ideas, character interviews, let your voice from the books shine through. Get these things done IN ADVANCE, and know the longer you drag a tour out, the less momentum you build.

Create an event page on your website, to make it easy to find you. You should have a static page in addition to your own blog. Create a banner/bumper, which can go on your tour sites before your post goes up. The name of your books may be a good tagline. Note mistakes happen, and people who run blogs may have unexpected emergencies, so send a reminder email at least a week before your "stop" there.

Make sure to read comments on those sites, not just for the couple days following, but check back on weekends. Follow up! Consider prize giveaways (like a copy of your book), either at each site, or a grand prize at the end. "RaffleCopter.com" can help run this, and maybe you want to give extra tickets/entries to people who tweet/post about your book. Make sure you're following up here.

Alternatively, you can have an organizer do all of this - you lose some of the personal interaction with the bloggers, but it saves you time and stress. Know that a Pro marketing company isn't necessarily better, you want someone who is professional, and examples of past tours can show whether you'll be in synch. You may also not have "veto" power on sites that are chosen.

By the way, have you checked out my math web serial?

That was just the FIRST part of the session, Linda then continued with a discussion about Social Marketing. Again, a static website is needed, but maintaining a blog will keep you fresh in search engines. Choose your post TITLES carefully, that's how they find you (things like 'Characters' and 'World Building' are key terms). It doesn't all need to be about writing. The point is to draw people in through your interests; some will become readers, some won't, others may later. Be yourself, but don't overshare. Consider both a personal and professional Facebook page, for instance.

Social media itself is about networking and establishing relationships, NOT about selling books. You can use "BufferApp.com" to manage your accounts, including scheduling up to 10 tweets for free. Thus you can tweet out posts even if you're at your day job - or writing. You can't write if you spend your entire day on social media! Things don't happen as fast on Facebook, in that you won't get buried as quickly, but similarly engagement is slower.

YouTube is bigger than blogs these days, but is a time investment. Making a book trailer might be a good idea. Instagram is huge with the younger crowd (they're looking to find a "Facebook" without adults) if that's your audience. Linda has a GoodReads page, but there's issues with trolls there; she recommends BookLikes.com. Google+ and Tumblr were also mentioned in passing.

Linda Poitevin has written a dark urban fantasy series, check out her website at that link, and find her on Twitter.


Pardon me as I autograph your face.
At noon, I went back to the Vendor's Room. This was not a large room, maybe a couple dozen tables. The "Alice hearts Welsh Zombies" folk talked to me, and you could get a Zombie artwork version of yourself... I'm not much of a zombie person, but if you are, check them out. There was also a table manned by a teacher in my board - Scott Barker - who had written "Shadows Over Sheradan". Another one featured a writer in a time travel anthology - Bruno Lombardi. And there was the interesting tale of "Galaxion", a webcomic that takes place in a parallel universe to it's first run in the 90s.

Those are the three tables that stuck with me, because they're the ones I went back to, to purchase from later. (I rarely like making snap decisions.) Incidentally, my procrastination shirt got some comments too. At this point, I took a half hour to get back to marking quizzes; I'd considered leaving, but Anne-Lise, my wife, was interested in seeing "The Mystery Plot Form" at 1pm.

Just before 1pm, an excited Debs came by my marking couch saying that "Kari won!!". It took a moment to process that this was the Aurora Award for Best Fan Filk (see the Concert portion of my post from yesterday). So yay! FYI, the Aurora Banquet had started at 11am. I'm now going to take a moment to highlight what might be my favourite of Kari Maaren's songs that I've heard: "Being Watson". It's clever! You should go listen to it now, it needs more views! I'll also give you: a list of the other Aurora Winners.

After this I swung by the Dealers to actually buy the books I referenced above, then met up with my wife at "The Mystery Plot Form", which featured Hayden Trenholm, Violette Malan, Tom Barlow, and (once the Awards were over) Robert J. Sawyer. One of the main differences in Mystery writing is that you have to write twice - once from the END back to the beginning, to create the "backbone", then again forwards. You "can't give red herrings unless you know the white herring".

Mystery Panel CanCon 2013

This doesn't mean you cannot change your mind, but if you don't know who committed the crime, you're making it harder on yourself. That said, you need to be careful not to unconsciously reveal clues through your dialogue choice, like referring to someone in a "sinister" way. The "Perfect Mystery" would be one where, just before the reveal, the reader realizes who it should be, and then they have those suspicions confirmed. You DON'T want the reader to "not understand" how it could be that person.

One of the best ways to do this is giving items "subtle weight" - a problem in film, where the camera has to keep pointing at things. The Jeremy Brett era of Sherlock Holmes had a neat trick of showing things in reflections or mirrors, so that a particular thing could then be seen indirectly. Agatha Christie books were also referenced.

The idea of a SERIES of mystery books was raised as an interesting problem. If you've read one Sue Grafton book, you've read them all - the main characters do not evolve much. This helps make mysteries a commercial success, as they can be read in any order (you see 'Read the NEWEST book by...' rather than 'Read the latest in the ongoing saga...') but it may sacrifice characterization. Some question of whether, now that you can download early volumes, this will change the genre. Travis McGee (by author John D. MacDonald) was mentioned as a set you can read out of order, but gets more nuanced when you go in order.

Ultimately, it can be tough to find adversaries that are as interesting as your main character. Columbo had an interesting way around that in starting with the adversary, showing how methodical and calculating they are, then bringing the protagonist in after the first act. There's also the question of the universe you're working in - what if the people have no notion of what a "serial killer" actually is? (The "necessity of the serial killer book" was also raised as an expectation for those in the genre.)

Regarding mixing science fiction and mystery - at it's heart, SciFi IS a mystery (what's going on? what caused it?) using scientific clues. If SciFi would solve things at the beginning, that can't be the core of the story. If you can do the mystery without the SciFi, you probably should. Make sure to follow the conventions you set out. It was jokingly said that CSI involves SciFi, because to get results that fast, they must have a time machine.

You only get the intersection. Union rules.
Robert J Sawyer had a good observation here. He said his first story was a Mystery/SciFi crossover, as he'd hoped to get the union of people who liked one genre or the other. Instead, he got the intersection - only people who liked both. He doesn't recommend starting out by writing in two genres; there's also the problem of people/publishers trying to decide where to file you. Robert also pointed out that you can't just do what the readers want - "If the audience had it's way, Bambi's mother would have lived".

At this point it was 2pm, and while there were still panels for a couple hours, I called it a day (yoga, plus a lot to do at home). I'm glad I went, I will probably return, it depends a bit on where my interests lie in a year's time. CanCon is certainly a good con if you don't like crowds, I think the most people that were ever in a room at once was 35 people. Maybe I'll even speak up and introduce myself more next time.

Thanks for getting this far! Spot anything particularly noteworthy, or want something expanded on? Drop me a note in the comments!


  1. Great review, btw! ^_^ Huzzah! I like reading about cons after wards.

    Oh, and Kari is awesome. ^_^

    1. Thank you! Stay tuned, as I always seem to post after Cons or PD that I attend. I guess it's a thing.

      And yes, yes she is.