DragonCon held Labor Day weekend in Atlanta was more than a visual smorgasbord for SciFi enthusiasts as their favorite characters took over four downtown hotels. For writers, it offered some exciting opportunities to hear from the best genre writers in science fiction and fantasy.
On Sunday I checked out a session, “NYT Bestsellers Tell it All,” on how to help boost your book to the NYT Bestsellers List. The panelists are all bestselling authors, who talked candidly about their writing journeys. None of them struck gold immediately, and all of them shared stories of battling their own inner critics that got in the way of their success. “Perfection is an unattainable goal” was a message that was loud and clear to this writer.
Star Wars Jedi Academy Triology Author Kevin Anderson: Prolific and Connected
Kevin Anderson, who gained fame writing for X-Files and as a co-author of the Dune prequels, penned the Star Wars Jedi Academy trilogy that was the three top-selling science fiction novels of 1994 and the bestselling SF anthologies of all time. He noted that all the featured panelists are prolific writers who interact with the fans at book signings and other events.
“We still work a lot, are fans and write like crazy.” He criticized his profession’s tendency to turn on bestselling authors such as Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight series, and Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code. “I want to stand up for these authors because they are pleasing a lot of readers,” he says (way to go, Kevin!).
Anderson himself has more than 11 million books in print worldwide but considers Lonesome Dove, the 1985 Pulitzer Prize-winning western novel written by Larry McMurtry, his all-time favorite read. The best writer’s advice he ever received was from Dean Koontz who told him that the first million words you write “is all practice and if you get paid while you’re practicing then great. But, don’t expect that you really know how to be a writer until you’ve written a million words, which is about 10 novels or so. I’ve written about 10 novels and I’m still learning.”
Anita Blake Series Author Laurell K. Hamilton’s Advice: Don’t Give Up
Laurell K. Hamilton, the NYT bestselling author of Meredith Gentry novels and the acclaimed Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter Series novels, says her Anita Blake novels were rejected 200 times by editors in the late 1980s, when she was told repeatedly that the vampire genre was dead. Publishing houses liked her book but didn’t know how to market it, she said until finally Penguin/Putnam Books picked it up.
“I am living proof, folks, don’t be discouraged. If you believe in what you are doing, keep doing it,” says Hamilton, who learned she cracked the top 50 book list on USA Today not from her agent her publisher, but from another editor who had earlier rejected her work.
Hamilton recalls attending a writer’s workshop at a smaller science fiction convention where she brought in a short story and short fantasy novel. “The (workshop) didn’t make me a better writer but at the end of the weekend I was a better editor of my stuff,” she recalled. “Sometimes it is not that you aren’t good at writing; sometimes it’s that you are not good at seeing what’s good in your writing and that comes with practice. That short story I edited after that workshop was the first thing that sold for me. Her advice is simple: “don’t be overly critical of your work; take out as much as you can and send it out, knowing what markets you are sending it out to, and keep sending it out.”
Panelist Jim Butcher, author of The Dresden Files, a fantasy/mystery series-turned SciFi TV program about a private investigator and wizard in Chicago, said it took nine years before his first novel was published. He offers some great organization advice for the beginning novelist on his blog site (see: Putting it All Together.”)
Sherrilyn Kenyon Overcomes Vampire Rejection to Find Dark-Hunter Following
Paranormal writing pioneer Sherrilyn Kenyon, a NYT bestselling author of The Dark-Hunters series (among others), has claimed the coveted #1 spot 12 times in the last two years. She recalls how no editors or publishers wanted to publish a vampire book – she took their feedback and altered her characters into “daimons.” She also created guardians of humanity in the form of Dark-Hunters and hasn’t looked back since.
Kenyon, who has eight brothers, says she lives in fear of her family coming to book signings. Her favorite authors are British science, horror and fantasy writer Tanith Lee and David Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers series of military SF stories and novels.
Jonathan Maberry Shares Two Books that Changed His Life
Jonathan Maberry, a NYT bestselling and multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning author of both non-fiction and fiction, recalls at age 14 reading two books that changed his life – the 1954 novel by Richard Matheson, I am Legend, which was later made into a film starting Will Smith, and Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked this Way Comes, about the harrowing experience of two 13-year-old boys when a nightmarish traveling carnival comes to their town.
“Those books did more for me than any writing class,” says Maberry, whose first published book was a college textbook on martial arts who later moved into writing about the occult and paranormal. Maberry’s account of his first NYT bestseller was particularly entertaining – it happened after being tapped to write the novelization of The Wolfman to coincide with the movie’s re-release in 2010.
“I got a call out of nowhere from someone at Universal who told me they were remaking The Wolfman and would I be interested in adapting it into a novel,” recalled Maberry, who was very professional on the call but inside was “doing the stupid dance.” Maberry wrote the book having never seen the movie. He said that the script didn’t have a lot of detail and the studio told him to “write a novel.’ He did, and the book got better press than the movie.
Memorable Advice: Pay it Forward
Maberry says he received great advice from writer David Morrell, author of 28 novels, a few years ago when he said, “Writing is about art but publishing is about business. If you are going to get anywhere…become a businessman who writes. That was great advice and it genuinely helped my career.” In the same conversation, he told him to always pay it forward by helping every other writer you can find even if they are just taking up a pencil for the first time “because the industry needs more good books.”