CONduit 2011 Report
CONduit, for me, was an interesting experience. For the longest time I have attended conventions solely as an attendee. I would sit in the panels and listen to the various professionals as they spoke about different topics, and mostly keep my mouth shut. I’ve learned a lot from conventions. This year, however, I went to CONduit in a completely different capacity. This time I was one of those guys on the panels sharing my wisdom (lol!) with the masses. I even was a moderator on two panels. I know, the program directors must have had a serious sense of humor.
So, I figured I would share my experiences on the panels. My impressions. What I learned. Nuggets of brilliance (usually not my own). You get the picture. The easy way to share my thoughts is to just go in order of panels I was on. Here we go:
Panel 1 – Self Promotion:
On the Panel: Michaelbrent Collings, Jaleta Clegg, Jess Smart Smiley, Tristi Pinkston, Larry Correia, Steve Diamond, Kevin Wasden
This was a fantastic panel. All 80 bajillion of us on the panel—OK, so there were only 7 of us, but still—were all from diverse backgrounds. I think diversity is super important on panels. It keeps things fresh, and it gives the audience the most information possible in the short amount of time you have—usually an hour. The audiences come to panels to be entertained and edified. It’s the job of the panelists to make sure that happens.
In the case of this panel, since so many of us came from different backgrounds we were able to cover a ton of ground. From being an author, to a graphic novelist, to an illustrator, to a reviewer (me), we hit it all. Some of the authors on the panel were self-published, and some were NYT Bestselling Authors. But no matter where we were coming from, we all had the same message: you have to help yourself. Self promotion is just that; promoting yourself. In an economy as crappy as ours, it’s important that new authors make a name for themselves on their own. Relying solely on the publishing company to do you marketing is a good way to suck and fail miserably. Michaelbrent Collins said that if you aren’t an expert on yourself yet, you better get there. Soon. How can you market your work if you can’t even market yourself? Wise words. That guy was a complete riot. It was also interesting to hear Larry Correia’s take since he has gone from self published to published with Baen to NYT Bestselling author. He put in the hard work, and I think he got that point across to the audience (and the panelists).
My own contributions to this panel involved telling the aspiring authors in the audience (not to mention the already established ones) that they needed to treat themselves like a grassroots band. Tour every blog online. Get every blog that reviews the stuff you write to review your novel and interview you. Guess where a lot of blogs get ideas of who to review and interview? That’s right, other blogs. Not to mention you need to go to conventions. Network with other authors and pros. You never know when those contacts will com in handy.
Panel 2 – How to Give Good Critiques and Receive Critiques Well:
On the Panel: Tristi Pinkston, LuAnn Staheli, Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury, Lesli Muir Lytle, Angie Lofthouse, Steve Diamond
Oh man. I got into a huge debate on this panel with Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury. Unfortunately she got held up prior to the panel and showed up late, so we had to start without her. The direction we were taking the panel without her was completely different from the direction she wanted to go with it.
It all started when she commented that a review of a novel is not a critique. Now I can see where she was coming from, but at the same time I couldn’t agree. I review books. My reviews are critiques. I explained that it was my opinion that a good/professional reviewer points out the perceived strengths and weaknesses of an authors work, and that if the author can look at this critique with an open mind they may learn something and be able to improve their future work. Kathleen disagreed, as is her right. I further explained my opinion by asking the authors in the audience and on the panel if I understood correctly that the goal of every writer was to improve with every novel. It was a rhetorical question, I know, but it made my point. Authors can learn just as much from a review as they can from a critique of their manuscript prior to publication. I even shared a few examples of authors who had personally emailed me to say so.
When the dust had settled (we both handled it professionally and had a good follow-up discussion after the panel), we moved on to discuss critiquing in a writing group setting. Having just sold a short story myself, I was eager to talk about this as well.
While we helped the audience quite a bit I think, I personally learned a lot about how to be a moderator from this panel. It was an awesome learning experience for me, and a much needed one since I was the moderator on my next panel.
Panel 3 – Building Your Audience
On the Panel: Steve Diamond, Karina Fabian, Carole Nelson Douglas
Not only was this my first convention as a program participant, it was also my first as a panel moderator. Originally Dave Wolverton was supposed to be on this panel as well, but he got sick and couldn’t come to the convention at all. This was a bummer since I was totally looking forward to having him on my panel. Yeah. I was freaking scared to death.
But you know what? This panel went VERY well. I tried to be the good moderator and guide the discussion rather than take it over (as I’m sure everyone has witnessed at some point). I was able to pull the audience into the discussion, and it was here that I was able to come up with an awesome bit of wisdom. In truth I thought it up the day before when chatting with an author (Amber Argyle), but I refined it in this panel. To build an audience, you have to have a relationship with your readers, not a one-night-stand. Building and maintaining an audience is a just like a personal relationship. It is built on kept promises, emotional growth, trust, and is an equal partnership. You want these readers to be loyal to you. You can’t have that level commitment with the readers if you don’t give a crap about them. One-night-stands are void of meaning. Do you really want that kind of sentiment with your readers? I know right? I was kinda pleased with myself for thinking it up. Every now and then I have a moment.
The panelists with me in this discussion were terrific. Carole Nelson Douglas completely old-school and awesome. Karina Fabian was more in the new way of thinking, and equally helpful to everyone. The great thing about them was how easy they made my job as a moderator. Class-acts the both of them.
Panel 4 – This Year in Film
On the Panel: Bryce Moore, Blake Casselman, Bob Defendi, Steve Diamond
I was asked to participate in this panel at the last minute by my good friend Bryce, who was on the panel. It was a completely low-key, loose, and fun discussion on how crappy the movies have been this year, and how badly we want the rest of the year to get better. We discussed the 3D hoax, movies that need more attention (Adjustment Bureau and Source Code), and how little care seems to be given to the writing in movies. Not much to tell here. It was fun, and I’m glad I ended up on it.
Panel 5 – Book Reviewing and Having Your Book Reviewed
On the Panel: Steve Diamond, Larry Correia, Jessica Day George, Julie Wright
This was my favorite panel. I’m not just saying this because it was my idea. The truth is that I was scared to death that it would completely suck. The opposite ended up being true. It was completely and utterly awesome. Both Jessica and Julie signed on to the panel late, but I can’t imagine it going even half as well without them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Larry and I could have held our own, but having Jessica and Julie there made the panel frakking terrific. The tone of the panel was fun, easy, and informative, and we all just seemed to naturally know when to move on to a new topic. That, my friends, is the mark of a good group working together.
The thing is, people in general have very little idea how much reviewers actually do. This goes even for authors. We discussed what a reviewers’ job is and why reviews are important. We talked about the dangers of being a reviewer and an author at the same time. We talked about how authors can get in touch with reviewers, and why they should. The authors at the table (essentially everyone but me haha!) talked about the worst reviews they’ve ever been given, and why those reviews frustrated them. I then talked about a few of my rules as a reviewer (a post will come later talking about reviewing the EBR way… it will be awesome).
If I was offered this panel to do again with these three, I would in a heartbeat. My only wish is that this panel had been on Saturday instead of Sunday. We would have packed the house on Saturday, and I think everyone on the panel agreed that the things we said could have helped a lot more people. But hey, there’s always CONduit next year…and WorldCon in Reno! Yeah, I’m trying to get a similar panel going there.
So there you have it, CONduit 2011 in a nutshell. And I didn’t even talk about all the great authors I met, or the epic L5R game both Nick and I were involved in on the Saturday night of the Con (I had the highest kill count I think… Larry was right there with me though).
I am one of those guys that questions the usefulness of a convention I have attended. Almost a buyer’s remorse type of thing. But in this case I can say it was easily worth every bit of time and money spent. Awesome.