1. What is your very first step in the rewriting process?
-- look at the book as a whole and see what I can delete wholesale. Characters, scenes, locations, what can I chop out?
-- read it out loud.
2. Writing artificial intelligence and computers as characters.
-- recognize that they are not people, but are designed to interface with people. Anthropomorphize them, but remember that they are not people.
3. Tactful promotion. How to get nominated for a Hugo or a Nebula?
-- Tell people what you have that is eligible.
-- Make sure you know what the community norms are for self-promotion.
-- Tell people that you are eligible for another nomination.
-- Be helpful. Talk about the way you wrote it.
4. Holding out. Should a career-minded author take the first publishing offer, or not?
-- Get an agent, and work with them.
-- Google the publisher, find out what authors they have, and talk to those authors.
-- Do you like what they are saying about your book and what they are going to do for it? Do you like the editor and think your book will be better because you are working with them?
5. Author's notebooks. Are novels usually built fully in writing notebooks?
-- My non-digital brain. I dump everything in there. One of the tasks is to transfer nondigital items into the digital arena.
-- Physical notebooks may be an older style. My phone is my notebook. Got a great idea? Type it into my phone, and text or email it to myself.
-- I write in a notebook when I don't have a computer available.
6. What methods or criteria do you use to test the coolness and viability of a story premise?
-- Tell it to my writing group and friends.
-- Make up thumbnail sketches, pitches or concepts, and ask my agent, "Which one do you think you can sell."
-- If the idea is so exciting that I would rather write than sleep, I know I'm on to something.
7. Which genres outside the ones you write in most often do you read most often?
-- Mystery. Historical fiction. Fantasy. Superhero comics. Nonfiction.
What is a great book in that genre to try?
-- Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. The Last Kingdom. Mistborn. Planet Hulk. A History of Warfare OR Guns, Germs, and Steel.
[Mary] Season eight, episode 23.
[Brandon] This is Writing Excuses, Micro-Casting.
[Howard] 15 minutes long.
[Mary] Because you're in a hurry.
[Dan] And we're not that smart.
[Brandon] I'm Brandon.
[Dan] I'm Dan.
[Mary] I'm Mary.
[Howard] I'm Howard.
[Brandon] Also, we are joined by Eric once again. Eric Patten, thank you for being here.
[Eric] Thank you for having me.
[Brandon] First question comes. What is your very first step in the rewriting process? Let's assume you've finished your first draft, put the end on it, and sat back in a chair. Now what?
[Dan] My first step is to look at the book as a whole and see what I can kick out altogether. Entire characters, entire scenes, entire locations. Like huge, high-level stuff. What can I just delete wholesale from this book?
[Mary] I read it out loud.
[Brandon] That's a good one. I've done that before.
[Brandon] Next question. Writing artificial intelligence and computers as characters. Mary?
[Mary] [laughter] Recognizing that they are not people, but are designed to interface with people. I anthropomorphize them. Although I have to... When I am doing, I have to remind myself constantly that they are not people. That the anthropomorphizing is just to make them comfortable for the people that they are [interacting with?]
[Howard] I anthro...
[Brandon] Hey, you do this too!
[Howard] I anthropomorphize them to the point that they are anthro, that they're furries.
[Brandon] Yes, some of them are.
[Howard] Some of them are.
[Brandon] They're space panda... er, space koalas.
[Howard] Space koala. Some of the most tricky parts for me to write are when an AI is mulling something over, is conversing with itself. I'll just spawn another avatar and have the two of them argue.
[Mary] I do that, too.
[Brandon] Tactful promotion. How to get nominated for a Hugo or a Nebula?
[Dan] There's the Larry Correia method.
[Brandon] What's that?
[Dan] The Larry Correia method is that he has a massive platform of people who are not Hugo voters. He just tells them to go by voting memberships in support.
[Brandon] Does he really?
[Dan] Yes. I... Well, no. I should say he was going to this year, and then he missed the voting deadline.
[Howard] I think tactful was one of the keywords there, wasn't it?
[Brandon] I will say... Mary can speak on this probably pretty effectively, but I want to say from an outsider's perspective, never having been nominated, not having been on the SFWA board or anything like that, people have told me before that this has happened, that people have done it non-tactfully, and it's always backfired on them horribly.
[Mary] Basically, once you do that, that will pretty much be the only nomination you ever get. Unless you're John Scalzi. But who I...
[Howard] Hello, John.
[Mary] Hey, John.
[Brandon] John, we love you.
[Howard] Looking right at you.
[Mary] He knows this. But basically, you can tell people, "Hey, I have this work and it is eligible for consideration." But the moment you cross over into the "Please go vote for it," that's when you start to lose any sympathy. The thing that John does, which is... The reason he can get away with sometimes for silly things saying, "Go vote for me" is because he puts so much really good content on his site that he buys reader goodwill, and he's writing really good fiction to begin with. But there is some resentment. Like his... The April Fool's joke that he has on the Hugo ballot right now, there's resentment from that. If it weren't an April Fool's joke, I think there wouldn't be the resentment there, but because... I mean, if it were just comedy? But... There's... That is a difficult line. I actually have a blog post in which I talk about how to do this, which we can link to.
[Brandon] Let's do that.
[Howard] The process that you describe is exactly the same thing I do. The reason I do it is that I have seen Schlock Mercenary on ballots before where titles were not spelled right or where titles were wrong or ineligible works were there. There were enough votes... There were enough nominations, that if they'd all nominated the right thing, I would have ended up on the ballot. Same thing happened to Warren Ellis where he didn't make the ballot because people were nominating the wrong thing. So I just tell people, "Hey, this is what's eligible." That ensures that those who vote, and those who want to vote for me do so correctly.
[Dan] You need to be very careful about which community you're talking to. For example, the Stoker awards, even telling people that you're eligible is seen as a big faux pas and that will make them not like you. It's an incredibly hands-off community for some reason.
[Mary] But there is a hack for that. Which is to tell people that you are eligible for another work... For another nomination.
[Mary] I bring this up because I had to use this... When I was the vice president for Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, there was...
[Brandon] Which ended two days ago?
[Mary] Two days ago by the time we are recording this. I could not tell people that I was eligible for the Nebulas, because that is a clear conflict of interest, because there would be people who voted for me simply because I was the vice president and said I had an eligible work. So I made sure to time my Hugo...
[Mary] This is what... I'm eligible for the Hugo. I did not mention it the Nebula at any point, knowing full well that people were in fact reading for the Nebulas. The other tricks is to be helpful in your thing. Is to... As I said, I have a whole thing, whole very meta-thing on how to do this.
[Howard] When I plugged... When I plugged? When I shilled... I mean, when I announced what I had that was eligible, I also told people, "Hey, here are a lot of other things that are also eligible for the same award." Things that I liked, because I feel like that's very evenhanded and fair.
[Brandon] You multiple Hugo nominee people! We don't want to hear about it.
[Mary] Well, I mean...
[Dan] You're a multiple Hugo nominee...
[Brandon] Oh, wait. We do... [Writing excuses?]
[Howard] Mary and I are going to have rocket races...
[Mary] Here, let me put this into action for you.
[Brandon] You four time... Five-time Hugo nominees versus us two time... Sorry.
[Mary] So putting this in action. At the time this is recording, the voting is already underway. Knowing full well that when this comes out, Glamour in Glass is going to be eligible for things, I can talk about the ways that I would promote Glamour in Glass. One of the ways that I would do that is that I would say, "Hey, this is eligible." I would also talk about the way in which I wrote it. Then I would use an example of how that... As a way to teach people about Glamour in Glass. People will wind up linking to that, because it's helpful. In fact, right now, you guys are listening to me talking about my eligible book, because I'm being helpful.
[Howard] Oh, man, was so meta.
[Eric] I just want to know, what is this Hugo of which you speak?
[Dan] You be quiet, middle grade writer.
[Eric] You're talking about Victor? Is that...
[Eric] Sorry. I'm middle grade. I don't know these things.
[Mary] Middle grade is eligible.
[Brandon] It's like getting one of those shiny medals on your cover, except instead you get a rocket ship.
[Eric] Oh, that's way cooler.
[Howard] A flying Caldecott?
[Brandon] Let's stop for our book of the week. Which we don't have one. It's okay. We'll put it in later.
[Dan] We do. Because we said earlier, we are going to use Red Storm Rising when we had a hole crop up. And here's our hole. Red Storm Rising is by Tom Clancy. It's one of his very earliest ones. It's his second or third book. It is the one that is most genre-ish because it's speculative. What would happen if World War III started in the late 80s or whenever it was that he wrote it? It's my favorite of his books. It goes through, in his classic technothriller, very detailed, very techie style of where the units are stationed and what kind of weapons they have and how that war would play out. It's really fun.
[Howard] Lots of POV juggling. It's very enjoyable.
[Dan] Especially if you are like me, if you kind of miss the Cold War, it's a great book to read.
[Brandon] Here's a great one...
[Howard] Audiblepodcast.com/excuse. You can start a free trial membership and listen to some classic Clancy.
[Brandon] Sorry. I was reading ahead to see what questions we should answer. I found one that made me excited for Eric to answer. I didn't mean to cut you off, though.
[Eric] I get to say something besides some stupid comment about Hugo? That's awesome.
[Brandon] Here is the question. Holding out. How should a career-minded author decide if he or she should take their first publishing offer, or not?
[Eric] How much money is it for? You want to give me a number like...
[Brandon] No, I want you to talk about why you decided to go with the offer you got. Was it your first offer? Did you hold out? If this person says they've got an offer from a small press, would you suggest they go with it or hold out for a New York publisher?
[Eric] Wow. That's a big question. I mean, the way that I did it is I got an agent first, and then I listened to what the agent told me to do. My agent... I trusted them. We worked together for a long time before we actually submitted. Once we submitted, it was out there for a week before we had an offer. We had a preempt from Simon & Schuster. They came in. It was a big enough offer, we had interest from some other publishers, but it was big enough that we just took it. That was kind of how it went for me.
[Brandon] What does the rest of the podcasters advise? Person's got an offer from a small press. Do they take it and try and establish a name for themselves? They're career minded, they say.
[Howard] I would... If it's a small press, I would Google the small press and find out who else is with them...
[Brandon] They say a legitimate small press.
[Howard] I'm not suggesting that it's not legitimate. I'm suggesting that you Google it, find out who else is with them, and go talk to those authors about their experiences.
[Mary] The other thing is that you can try to get an agent with...
[Brandon] With the small press offer. That's a good point.
[Mary] Who will advise you. There is a theory that says that the number at which you first publish will be the kind of where you sit. But there are plenty of examples where this is not true. The deciding factor for me, besides the "Oo, I have an offer!" is if you like what they're saying about your book and what they're going to do for it. If you like the editor and you think it will be a better book because of working with the editor, then that is worth a lot in and of itself.
[Brandon] Here's an interesting one. Author's notebooks. Are novels usually built fully in writing notebooks? Does anyone here use writing notebooks?
[Howard] I do.
[Brandon] Talk to us about your writing notebooks, Howard.
[Howard] It's my sketchbook, and it's got a mixture of plot notes. It's got outlines. It's got snippets of dialogue. And of course, it's got sketches. It's got sketches of people sitting in church. It's just full... It's my nondigital brain. I just dump everything in there. From time to time, I will write a task list in there, and one of the tasks is transfer nondigital items into the digital arena. Put this stuff into a word outline.
[Mary] I may not know what a writing notebook...
[Brandon] I think that a writing notebook is one of these notebooks. I'm holding up one of the little leather bound ones that Mary gave me. Some writers carry around notebooks with them, and whenever an idea strikes them, they write it down in the notebook. There always scribbling on concepts. I think this is an older style writer thing. I have never actually used one of these physically. My writer's notebook quote unquote is my phone. Where if I come up with a great idea, I go and I type it in my phone, and I text or I email it to myself, or I save it in a file on there. Then on my computer, I have big lists of these. But these I pull out and build outlines out of and things. I never actually am writing very much in a notebook.
[Mary] I write in a notebook only when I don't have a computer available.
[Eric] What are these notebooks you speak of?
[Dan] You just shut up, Eric.
[Howard] Be nice to the guest, Dan.
[Eric] Yeah, Dan.
[Mary] It's a retro text.
[Eric] A retro... Oh, okay. I understand.
[Brandon] What methods and criteria do you use to test the coolness and viability of a story premise?
[Dan] I have lots of friends who read a lot of fiction. When I had my idea for my cloning story, I took it around to my friends and started... I told it to my writing group, I told it to some other people, and I realized after the fourth or fifth time this happened, I would give it to somebody and they would immediately start talking about it and all the ramifications and all the other ideas that it sparked. I realized, "Okay. This is a really awesome idea."
[Mary] I do basically the same thing. But with novels, I write down my... The thumbnail sketches, the pitches or concepts. Then I hand them to my agent and say, "Which one do you think you can sell?"
[Eric] I do that too. That's my method. I come up with a series of them...
[Howard] I give it the sleepy check. If I'm lying in bed and this idea has me so excited about it that I would rather write than sleep, I know I'm on to something.
[Dan] See, Mary's method seems very odd to me. I'm sure it works well for you. It would not work for me. Because I just write whatever I'm super excited about, and the agent is just out in the cold.
[Mary] I only give her ideas that I'm excited about. I just have so many.
[Dan] Well, there.
[Brandon] Take that, Daniel Wells. Now we know who's the talented Dan Wells brother.
[Dan] It's Mary.
[Brandon] Which genres outside the ones...
[Mary] Robinette Robinson.
[Brandon] That you write in most often do you read most often?
[Dan] Historical fiction.
[Brandon] What's that? Mystery?
[Dan] Historical fiction.
[Brandon] Historical fiction.
[Brandon] Fiction? General...
[Eric] Fantasy, actually.
[Brandon] Oh, fantasy. Okay.
[Howard] Superhero comics.
[Brandon] I would say nonfiction.
[Mary] I guess I was... Nonfiction, but I was sticking in the...
[Brandon] The second part of the question is, give them a suggestion of a great book in that genre for them to try. Go ahead and pick mystery.
[Mary] Yes. Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by I think it's Alan Bradley.
[Brandon] Okay. Dan?
[Dan] The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell.
[Brandon] I knew you were going to say Bernard Cornwell.
[Dan] I know. It's my favorite one.
[Brandon] But that's great. I need to read him.
[Dan] Yes you do.
[Eric] There's this series called Mistborn. I don't know if you've heard of it.
[Brandon] Yeah. The guy's a hack.
[Eric] It is Brandon Sanderson, I think his name is.
[Dan] I didn't like that one at all.
[Brandon] You're in that one, bucko.
[Eric] I've heard it's good.
[Mary] It's Braden. Braden Sanderson.
[Brandon] Braden Anderson. I think I was on CNN as Brian Anderson. Howard?
[Howard] Planet Hulk.
[Brandon] I'm going to say A History of Warfare that I mentioned last... Before. But I'm reading Guns, Germs, and Steel right now, and that's work... That's actually very helpful, too.
[Dan] I like that one.
[Mary] I'm surprised you're only just now reading that.
[Brandon] Everyone keeps talking about it all the time, and I was like picked it up three or four times and never gotten through it. Now I'm actually getting through it.
[Brandon] All right. Let's do a writing prompt. Howard?
[Howard] This actually came up earlier. Two words. Flying Caldecott.
[Brandon] Thank you, Eric, for joining us.
[Mary] That's a writing prompt?
[Eric] Thank you for having me.
[Brandon] This has been Writing Excuses. You're out of excuses, now go write.