Interview: Jacey Bedford


Jacey Bedford

interviewed by Carl Slaughter

Jacey Bedford uses the Milford Method for workshopping/critiquing. She uses Diabolical Plots’ Submissions Grinder for submitting. Her debut novel is 171,000 words, so she apparently doesn’t suffer from writer’s block. She has been participating in workshopping/critiquing 20 years. She is one of the organizers of the Northwrite SF Writers’ Group and the Milford SF Writers Conference. She is represented by Maass agent Amy Boggs, who was also interviewed by Diabolical Plots. She has signed a 3 book contract with DAW and Empire of Dust is out this month.
You’ve done a lot of workshopping and critiquing. First, what’s the difference between workshopping and critiquing? Is a writers conference synonymous with a writers workshop? What are the advantages and disadvantages of workshopping? What should you expect and not expect from worshopping. What are the advantages and disadvantages of critiquing? What should you expect and not expect from critiquing?

I’ve been part of various critique groups over the last twenty years, both face to face and by email, and I’m also one of the organisers of the Northwrite SF Writers’ Group and the Milford SF Writers Conference which is a week long event where writers take chunks of their works in progress or complete short stories for both critiquing and workshopping. In Milford terms workshopping just means a general discussion where fellow writers will make suggestions and dissect ideas, sometimes in macro terms, sometimes micro. This usually goes above and beyond what you would probably get in a normal critique session and usually evolves throughout the week. When you have fifteen writers kettled together deep discussions are often the result. (Though, of course there are workshops which are more like courses where there is a leader or moderator and writing exercises may be involved. I haven’t taken part in any of those, so I’m not qualified to talk about them.)

At Milford each writer submits (in advance) up to 15,000 words in one or two pieces. The week is organised to include reading/writing time (mornings), formal critique time (afternoons) and social time (evenings). There are no teachers and no students. At Milford every writer is equal, whether they have a string of published novels or a single short story sale. The critique sessions use what has become known as the Milford Method which is now used in many other writers’ groups. (Just Google Milford Method and see how many hits you get.) Basically each participant, in rotation, spends up to four minutes (timed) giving their critique of the work at hand. No interruption, whether by the author or anyone else, is allowed during this stage of the proceedings. After everyone has spoken the author gets an uninterrupted right of reply and then this is followed by a more general discussion which is often continued over a good glass of red in the library after dinner.


Is Milford a workshop? A conference? A critique session? The short answer is: all of the above and more. It’s called a conference because historically that’s what James Blish called it when he brought it over from the USA to the UK in 1972 – way before my time. Should it really be called a conference? Is it a conference? I haven’t a clue, but it’s the name we inherited.

Before Milford I was part of a small email critique group which we called RECOG. There were ten of us and we took turns to submit a piece of up to 10,000 words in rotation. So there would be a piece to critique every ten to fourteen days and your own turn would come round every eight to ten weeks. The critiques from participants tended to vary from macro critiques to detailed line edits. Very occasionally if someone was having a plot problem there would be a request for ‘plot-noodling’ in which ideas would be exchanged. We were truly international with writers from the UK, USA, New Zealand and Finland, so there was no face-to-face interaction at all.

Writing is a solitary experience, so writers’ groups are great because apart from the obvious advantages of getting a second (third, fourth, fifth etc.) opinion on your work, the transmission of information, expertise and enthusiasm is vital. It’s easy to get too close to your own work so you lose track of the big picture. Someone else can often pick out what’s wrong, or tell you what’s right. Of course if you have nine other writers’ opinions you may get some conflicting ideas. At the end of the day it’s still your book and where it goes is your responsibility.

Setting up your own writing group is an option if there isn’t a suitable one nearby, but you might want to try critiquing by joining an online group like Critters first to see if it’s for you. Beware some local writing groups that exist just to read their work aloud and pat each other on the back. Some people get into creative writing as a form of therapy or for social reasons (which is all very valid if that’s what you want) but if you are working towards publication, you need a serious group of like-minded writers who are going to inspire each other to greater efforts. It helps if it’s genre specific if that’s where your writing ambitions are.
What about your own experience. What was your writing life like before and after workshopping and critiquing?

I’ve always written. My first novel attempt was at the age of fifteen. I managed six chapters, typed out very slowly on an ancient Imperial 66. Until the advent of the internet I was a secret writer, amassing many unread manuscripts, mostly in longhand. As soon as I got online, back in the 1990s, I was lucky to find two usenet newsgroups, misc.writing and rec.arts.sf.composition. They were not critique groups, but offered discussions about the writing process and delivered important information about the nuts and bolts of welding words together.

Critique groups are not just important for the critique you get, of course, but also for the critiques you give. You get to read a lot of work by other writers, some much more experienced than you, and some much less. You see mistakes and critique them (thoroughly and constructively, but also sensitively) and learn not to make the same mistakes yourself. Whether online or face to face, you need to be able to commit to a critique group. It can be hard work, but very rewarding.
Your debut novel has just come out. DAW is a very distinguished publisher. How did you break into that market? Did you go through an agent, did you meet the editor at a convention, did you do some networking, or did you just submit through the slushpile?

I’d had an agent, whom I liked a lot, but who made the decision to cease her agency business, so while I was looking for another agent I sent a manuscript to DAW, but with an introduction from another DAW author (met at Milford). It was kind of a slushpile thing, but because I had an introduction I was able to land it directly on Sheila Gilbert’s desk. Sheila Gilbert and Betsy Wollheim are the two managing editors and the leading lights of DAW. Though DAW is now part of the Penguin Group it still feels like a family firm, and, of course, Betsy is the daughter of Donald A Wollheim, the founder. It’s a fabulous publisher to work with. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Sheila and Betsy at both the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton in 2013 and Worldcon in London in 2014, which was marvellous because normally we’re on opposite sides of the Atlantic.
What kind of feedback did you get from Sheila Gilbert? What was it about “Empire of Dust” or your writing that appealed to her? What’s it like working with her? You signed a 3 book contract. Will they be a trilogy? What’s the timeframe for the release of the next 2 books?

When Sheila emailed to say she’d like to buy my manuscript I was gobsmacked (surprised/delighted/elated). She asked when she could call me and I said NOW! The phone rang almost before I’d hit send on the email. The manuscript Sheila bought was my magic pirate adventure, which – as I’m sure you’ve guessed – is not the first book that’s been published.

Sheila bought Winterwood and then asked that wonderful question: What else have you got? She liked the idea of science fiction as well as fantasy so I sent her Empire of Dust – at that point a finished novel but only 123,000 words long (actually cut back to that on the advice of a previous agent). In the meantime I’d accepted an offer of agency representation from Amy Boggs at Donald Maas, so the actual negotiations went to Amy at this point. The next thing I knew Amy called me with DAW’s offer of a three book deal for Empire of Dust, a sequel (as yet unwritten) and Winterwood. It turned out that DAW’s publication schedule meant that there was a gap for the space opera in November 2014, so Sheila decided that would be the first one out. The sequel, Crossways, which is at the editing stage, is scheduled for August 2015 and Winterwood (which may yet have a title change) will be published in 2016.

I hope to be able to write more in my psi-tech universe. It has the potential to be a series rather than a trilogy. Of course, I have other novel projects on the go, too.

Sheila is a hands-on editor, but rather than getting a manuscript back from her covered in blue pencil, I get extensive and detailed phone calls or a face to face meeting over breakfast at a convention. When Sheila talks I listen (and scribble notes like mad) because she’s vastly experienced. She quickly spots where my character and worldbuilding holes are and gives me the opportunity to fill them without being prescriptive. If anything DAW tends to like long books, so Sheila is keen to encourage relevant detail. I ended up adding in a lot of what I’d cut out to please my previous agent and Empire of Dust grew from 123,000 words to 171,000 words between submission and publication.
What themes do you address in Empire of Dust?

The broad theme is trust and betrayal, but there are lots of strands which include corporate over-growth, colonialism, personal freedom, and of course it’s all told via a very personal story because themes affect characters. Megacorporations, more powerful than any individual planetary government, even that of Earth, are racing each other to establish colonies and gobble up resources, using as their agents psi-techs, humans implanted with telepath technology, who are bound to the megacorps – if they want to retain their sanity. Empire of Dust is the story of what happens when two psi-techs from rival megacorps (Cara Carlinni and Reska (Ben) Benjamin) both fall foul of their respective bosses and hook up. What happens next turns into a galaxy-spanning manhunt and endangers a new colony. It’s fast-paced with a twisty plot. I had a whale of a time writing it.
Are you treating us to any short stories anywhere?

I don’t write many short stories because writing novels takes up pretty much all of my writing time, but I do have a few published recently. My story, “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Panda”, came out in Nature Magazine in 2011 and was also done as a podcast and republished in the Futures 2 anthology in August 2014. Then it was translated into Galician for the Spanish magazine Nova Fantasia, and has been bought for the online publication, Buzzy Mag for 2015. I’ve just sold a short ghost story, “Last Train”, to Grievous Angel, again for publication in 2015, and I have a short-short story, “Root and Branch”, out in the September 2014 issue of Albedo One, the Irish SF magazine. There’s a list of story publications on my website including some upcoming ones. I can particularly recommend the anthology River, edited by Alma Alexander, which contains my story, Floodlust.

I used to be very bad at sending out my short stories. I would send out a batch and then gradually they would come back in with rejection slips (or sometimes sell, of course) and then they’d sit on my hard drive where they weren’t any use at all until the next time I worked up enthusiasm to submit them all again. My Milford buddy, Deborah Walker, has a motto which is ‘Submit until your fingers bleed.’ She’s inspired me to make sure that as soon as a story is rejected by one magazine or anthology I send it out to another, so my stories are always out there looking for a home. Unsurprisingly I’ve actually sold a lot more stories since I started following Deb’s advice. It’s the writer equivalent of ‘If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.’ I use the Submission Grinder at Diabolical Plots to research suitable markets and track submissions and then I back it up with my own database to I know exactly where all my stories have been. I’ve just sent Crossways off to my editor, so I have a few weeks before I get the editorial comments back. Maybe it’s time to write a couple of short stories. Watch this spaceâ€

Twitter: @jaceybedford



Book buy links: Kindle edition

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The Book Depository


Carl_eagleCarl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he has traveled the globe as an ESL teacher in 17 countries on 3 continents, collecting souvenir paintings from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Egypt, as well as dresses from Egypt, and masks from Kenya, along the way. He spends a ridiculous amount of time and an alarming amount of money in bookstores. He has a large ESL book review website, an exhaustive FAQ about teaching English in China, and a collection of 75 English language newspapers from 15 countries.

Interview: Betsy Wollheim

625529_576885235658092_918951020_nBetsy Wollheim has an advantage unique in speculative fiction book publishing. She is owner, editor, and publisher of DAW and it is a private company. She recently won her first Hugo for Best Editor. She tells Diabolical Plots what she wants and doesn’t want from authors.


CARL SLAUGHTER: DAW has been described as a place to pursue a career, not just to get published. What happens at DAW that makes authors want to call it their home?

BETSY WOLLHEIM: DAW is a family business, we don’t publish by committee, and we consider our authors part of our publishing family. As a small company, we can’t compete in the “who will pay me the highest advance this time around” game. Not to say that we can’t or don’t pay large, competitive advances, we do, but they tend to be to authors who are loyal to our company. Sheila and I work too hard and care too much to publish authors who change publishing houses with each book or series. We want to know that our work will pay off in years to come for both the company and our authors. We’re in it for the long run and we want our authors to be also.


CS: You’ve described Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name on the Wind as the most brilliant first fantasy novel you’ve seen in 30 years. What is it about The Name on the Wind that distinguishes it from other first time fantasy novels?

BW: Prefer not to answer this question, if you don’t mind. After 40 years, you just know when you find something that is extraordinary.


CS: Are there any subgenres you are specifically looking for, any you definitely don’t accept, any you like but get too much of, any you like but don’t get enough of?

BW: I look for gripping writing, not specific subgenres. For me, it’s about the quality of writing.


CS: How many novel manuscripts submissions do you receive per year? How many of those submitted manuscripts do you buy? How many novels a year do you publish by first time novelists?

BW: Many, many, many submissions–electronic and paper. I don’t count them for sanity reasons. I *hope* to find many new novelists. I’m always happy when I find someone new–the more new good writers the better, I would publish a new author every month if I found one worthy. Most submissions have sub-par, not professional level writing, unfortunately.


CS: Do you read every manuscript or use slush readers?

BW: My staff pre-sifts the slush–I have far too much work, and unfortunately no clone.


CS: Are you hands on with revision? How extensive and how long is the revision process?

BW: How extensive depends on the novel and the author. Rewrites can take years, or not be needed at all and everything in between. Yes, I’m hands on.


CS: How far are you willing to go with a diamond in the rough, whether that diamond be the author or the story?

BW: As far as I need to. When I find a diamond in the rough, I will do whatever it takes if I feel that someone has the potential. I put Pat Rothfuss in the #1 New York Times slot with his second published novel.


CS: Do you meet with would-be novelists at conventions? How do you prefer to be approached? Verbal pitch, written pitch, sample chapters, full manuscript? Do you quiz the author about the story? Give them a yes or no answer on the spot or get back with them?

BW: I’ve always thought that “pitches” belong in Hollywood. To publish a novel, the editor has to have the entire thing. If a person has talent and willingness, any problematic aspect can be changed, but if a person can’t maintain for the length of a novel, he or she is not a novelist. Anyone can come up with a pitch. Show me the entire book. Anything else is useless. No, I would never meet with a “would-be” novelist. If you haven’t actually completed a full length work, you have no right to call yourself a novelist! The only “pitches” I consider are from my already published authors–they can sell me a book or a series with one sentence!


CS: What are the most frequent questions you receive from writers at conventions/workshops?

BW: What are you looking for? To which I respond: “professional quality writing.”


CS: Advice to aspiring writers?

BW: Join a writer’s group. Don’t be defensive about criticism. Don’t try to write like someone else. Write from inside you.


Carl_eagleCarl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he has traveled the globe as an ESL teacher in 17 countries on 3 continents, collecting souvenir paintings from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Egypt, as well as dresses from Egypt, and masks from Kenya, along the way. He spends a ridiculous amount of time and an alarming amount of money in bookstores. He has a large ESL book review website, an exhaustive FAQ about teaching English in China, and a collection of 75 English language newspapers from 15 countries.

Laura Resnick on Cover Art

MisCookLaura Resnick has authored 6 fantasy-detective-comedy novels (the Esther Diamond series from Daw), 3 fantasy novels (the Silerian trilogy from Tor), 15 romance novels (from Silhouette), many short stories (mostly in DAW anthologies), several essays on print and screen fiction, and “Rejection, Romance, and Royalties: The Wacky World of a Working Writer.”

She won the Campbell award for best writer and was a finalist for the Rita award. She won the Romantic Times Magazine award 3 times. She writes “The Mad Scribbler,” a monthly opinion column for Nink. For the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America’s bulletin, she wrote a quarterly opinion column, “The Filthy Pro.” She wrote a monthly column, “The Comely Curmedgeon,” for Nink. She has served as member of the board of directors, president elect, and president of Novelists, Inc.

Laura Resnick has done extensive research, including interviews with authors and art directors, on how cover art is developed and how it has a drastic affect on sales and careers. Her current artist, for the Esther Diamond series, is Dan Dos Santos, a 5 time Hugo nominee and Chesley winner.

In this interview with Diabolical Plots‘ Carl Slaughter, she provides the inside story on cover art.


CARL SLAUGHTER: You’ve done extensive research on how cover art affects sales figures and author careers. Give us some examples of cover art that tanked sales and delayed careers and some examples of how cover art moved a book off the shelf and fast tracked a career.

Laura Resnick 1LAURA RESNICK: An editor once cited Barbara Michaels aka Elizabeth Peters to me as an example of a writer whose career was held back for years by bad covers. Peters died last year (peacefully at home, at the age of 85) after a career which included many New York Times bestselling novels. But that success came some 20 years and many well-reviewed books into her career, and there was a noticeable shift in packaging that accompanied her well-deserved success. For years, publishers were giving her muddy, generic covers that conveyed nothing of the tone of her books, and she developed her audience strictly on her own merits via word-of-mouth, with no help at all from her dreadful packaging. Then if you look at the packaging she started getting around the mid-1990s, you can see a definite shift in quality of the covers, which accompanied her rising sales. In particular, the eventual packaging of her Amelia Peabody series (the early books, poorly packaged, were also repackaged with the new look) was a winner, and the series was commercially very successful for years (she was working on another Amelia Peabody book when she died).

In my own case, my Esther Diamond series had a disastrous launch with (among other problems) a hideously inappropriate cover from Luna Books. Esther Diamond is a comedic urban fantasy series. To give you some idea of how off-target that cover for book #1, Disappearing Nightly, was: The year that book was released, I held that cover up for an audience at a workshop on book covers and packaging, and I asked them what kind of book they thought this cover was for. The two audience members who got the most agreement form everyone else? One thought it was a 1970s showbiz memoir, and the other thought it was a thriller about a hooker. When no one looking at an Esther Diamond cover can tell that it’s (1) urban fantasy, (2) comedy, or (3) a series, that represents a very serious cover problem. The book tanked and Luna dumped me (and so did my fourth literary agent,don’t even get me started on agents). Fortunately, DAW Books was willing to take a chance on book #2 of this badly mishandled series. They packaged it wonderfully, revived the series, subsequently acquired and repackaged book #1, we’re about to release book #7, and I’m contracted through at least book #10,of a series that crashed and got dumped after one book because of disastrous packaging at its previous house.

I think Charlaine Harris (author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels, aka the “Trueblood” series) is an example of someone who got a boost from good packaging. Harris was a longtime midlist career writer who developed the idea for the Sookie Stackhouse novels in an attempt to use her strengths as a writer to achieve the commercial success which had so far eluded her. (Obviously, she succeeded, becoming a #1 hardcover NYT bestseller with this series.) Ace Books launched the first book in the series, Dead Until Dark, with a very distinctive cover. I remember picking up that book years ago because of the cover (which was impressive packaging, since I don’t read vampire novels). Harris was doing good work on a very commercial project, but the distinctive packaging really helped that series stand out early on.


CARL: Who makes decisions about cover art and who should be making those decisions?

PolterheistLAURA: At large publishing conglomerates (ex. Hachette, HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, MacMillan, and Simon & Schuster), too often the people making decisions about packaging are unfamiliar with the book or the author’s work,and therefore also unfamiliar with the author’s audience, who are the people the cover needs to attract. I have even been told anecdotes by wearily amused art directors about book covers being directed by senior people in the corporate hierarchy who don’t read books and who have no art or design background whatsoever, but who, for one reason or another, want cover control. To give just one example of how truly absurd the process can get, one art director at a major house told me that for a year or two, most of that company’s major releases had red covers because the Chief Financial Officer’s girlfriend liked red, and he wanted to make her happy.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, depending on just how small a small press is, art direction may be in the hands of one person who is also editor, marketer, publisher, and business manager. This can go well if that person is brilliant at art direction,and badly if he’s not.
Ideally, what you want in your cover artist/illustrator, designer, and/or art director are people who know art and design, know the book or the author’s work, and understand what look attracts the author’s audience. Art directors and cover artists have told me that the more people that get involved in the process, the harder it is to come out of the maelstrom with a good cover. It’s a basic “too many cooks spoil the broth” issue,especially if most of those people don’t know the book and don’t know design.

Which is not to say, however, that no one else’s input is ever valuable. One senior editor who was directing her own imprint, for example, told me about an instance where someone on the publisher’s sales force contacted her to object to a cover, and his advice was probably career-saving for the author (he had good reason to believe that a major retail chain would refuse to carry that cover, and so the package was rethought). On the other hand, the same editor also had numerous incidents of sales reps emphatically offering cover advice on the basis of what would appeal to them,rather than (and in direct opposition to) what would appeal to the audience whom the books in her imprint were aimed at.


CS: Are art directors qualified to make decisions about marketing? Are authors qualified to make decisions about art?

DN Cover DAWLR: Well, “marketing” is a broad term, involving a lot of areas unrelated to the book cover. It is, in essence, the question of how to get lots of people who are likely to enjoy the book to pick it up in the first place.

For the past few decades, book covers (and everything else in the publishing process) tended to be aimed at middlemen,distributors and retailers,rather than at readers. Booksellers, distributors, and head buyers for the major chains are publishers’ customers (particularly big conglomerate publishers). So decisions about manuscript acquisition and cover design have tended to be made with those type of businesses in mind. eBooks and internet shopping are now affecting this process by eliminating some of those layers and elevating the importance of the reader’s reaction to a book cover. Additionally, covers online have to catch the reader’s eye in a much smaller format (thumbnail size, rather than physical book size), which is also affecting design decisions. So the cover world, like the entire book world, is in flux these days.

That said, an art director can package a book brilliantly if she’s a brilliant art director for books, and she can only do a mediocre or poor job if she’s mediocre or poor at packaging books. Additionally, any art director is packaging a lot of books every year, on a tight schedule,and no one is brilliant all the time, for every book, especially when she has limited time to work on it; this is why even companies with mostly good covers nonetheless release some frogs-and-dogs every year.

Authors have typically been omitted from participation in the traditional book cover process at most publishing houses. This is an example of the dismissive contempt that most publishers exercise toward writers, who are usually treated as something between a tedious encumbrance and a mutant sewer rat.

Admittedly, in some cases. omitting the author from the cover process is understandable. There are authors who fixate on irrelevancies (the heroine’s hairstyle isn’t right; the hero is too muscular; the dragon doesn’t really look like that; etc.) or who have One Sole Idea for the cover and are angry at any deviation from it (even if the idea is unworkable or just plain bad).

A book cover is supposed to be an effective advertisement for your book, not a perfectly detailed representation of a scene exactly as it appeared in the author’s head. An author can only be productive in the cover process if she understands that and acts accordingly.

That said, the function of the book cover is to attract the author’s audience (her existing readers and readers who’ll like her work if they can be convinced to pick up and open the book),and who knows the author’s audience better than the author herself, for goodness sake? She is the person who is attracting that audience with her stories, book after book,not some random bystander who has no idea what her audience is interested in! She probably also is her audience, since most writers are writing books they’d like to read.

There are authors who don’t want to be involved in the cover process (though they are increasingly rare). But any author who wants to be involved should be given that chance (and at most publishing houses, is still not allowed that opportunity), because she understands her audience better than anyone else in the publishing process.


CS: How can an author get involved in the art process and ensure their books get good covers – or at least don’t get bad covers – without alienating relationships at the publisher?

UnsympMagLR: Not alienating relationships at the publishing house is a matter of professionalism in all things, not just covers. And, frankly, I’ve worked with a couple of publishers in the past which are so unprofessional and so contemptuous of authors that there’s really no way to get anything done without alienating them. (Also, in retrospect, I don’t regret the instances where I alienated publishing staff in order to protect my books. I regret the few instances where I foolishly backed off on protecting my books in order to try to preserve relationships with publishers; this turned out to be the wrong decision in every instance. When a book is handled badly, sales suffer, and so the relationship is destroyed anyhow,because publishers publish for money, not love, friendship, loyalty, or honor.)

In terms of the cover process, some general practical tips for writers: Inform your editor at the start (and with occasional reminders along the way) that you want to be involved in the cover process. (If you’ve done this before, present examples, so that they can see you actually wind up with good covers when you’re involved.)

Present a shortlist of cover artists (3-6) as suggestions for your cover art; and ask the editor who the publisher is thinking of. Try to establish a dialogue about who will do the cover, because getting the right artist will eliminate a lot of potential problems.

If they’re going to bypass art and go strictly with design (or design and stock photos), then present a package (ex. 4-8) of sample covers that convey the sort of style/tone you think would suit your book, and ask their opinion, feedback, or counter suggestions. They may ignore you but, again, work on establishing a dialogue, on presenting yourself as someone who should be kept in the loop and with whom ideas should be discussed.

Ask to see the artist’s sketches (and you should probably ask fairly often, if it’s a house or editor likely to omit you) or the designer’s early concepts. This is crucial, because this is the stage at which you’ve got the best chance of having your input included,while they’re planning the thing. (Too many writers just wait until they see the final cover and then object; this is way too late to voice an opinion, folks. It’s like saying after the house is built that you’d like the kitchen to be in front, not in back; at that late date, everyone’s just going to ignore you.)

After sketches or concept have been approved, ask to see the preliminary art (an artist will usually do some minor revisions to the art, as requested) or near-final design, which is another stage at which you can make suggestions.

Always be constructive and make suggestions. Just complaining and telling them what you don’t like doesn’t give anyone in the process anything to work with.

If there’s an artist, give him an e-file or Pinterest link (early on, before sketches) with lots of images. Artists are visual people, so don’t bore him with tons of text, show him visuals. I provide cover artists with all sorts of images that represent the “look” of my books, a visual portrayal of the world that’s inside my head, imagery that’s related to the text, pictures and covers that convey the tone I think would suit my cover, etc. For example, for the cover of Unsympathetic Magic, I sent artist Dan Dos Santos loads of images from my research on Vodou; for The Misfortune Cookie, I sent him the photos I’d taken on my research trips to Chinatown and copies of the Chinese calligraphy I’d been researching for the book. If you don’t have direct connection to the artist, then pass this material to him through your editor,and follow up to make sure the editor gave it to him.

Always remember, the final cover is a done deal. If that’s the first time you’re looking at it, it’s too late to change anything. So get into the process early. (However, if you hate the final cover so much you want to kill yourself, then make some design suggestions; they won’t change art at that late date, but they might change design, which is an easier fix. Might, I say.)


CS: Can authors afford to commission their own art? Should they? Can they find free cover art on the Internet, and if so, should they use it?

VamparazziLR: Authors are doing this in the self-publishing world,and in many cases, very effectively and successfully. In the traditional publishing world, though, you don’t want to do this. One, your publisher won’t go along with it; two, why on earth would you sign a contract that funnels the majority of the income to a publisher if they aren’t going to pay for the packaging? If you want to do the packaging yourself, then self-publish. (For some examples of great self-published covers, check out some awards sites for “best of” indie and self-published cover art.)


CS: “The original cover art for your romance novels has lovers in passionate embrace. Later covers have a large heart shape and no people or people silhouetted. Why the big change?”
LR: The romance market changed a lot over time, and is still evolving,as all book markets do. The covers of couples passionately embracing (in which the woman is usually half-naked and the man is mostly shirtless) was a trademark look for the genre that was largely developed by an artist named Pino (an Italian immigrant, classically trained artist, and lovely man who passed away a couple of years ago) and Kensington Books (founded by the late Walter Zacharius). The half-naked babes on the covers were popular with the truckers and jobbers who stocked a lot of the wire-rack outlets where mass market paperbacks where sold 30 years ago, and it was a new, glamorous look that became very successful. However, by the 1990s, cloth covers for these books were very popular with readers, many of whom were uncomfortable being teased or smirked at for reading novels with these prurient covers, and the look was becoming less popular. Meanwhile, the superstore phenomenon (ex. Barnes & Noble) was coming to dominate bookselling, and romance novels needed shelf space in those stores as shopping/buying habits changed among readers. A more “bookstore-ish” look became desirable. So publishers gradually started experimenting with romantic looking covers that still visually identified the genre of the book, but without a semi-clad couple actually fornicating right there on the cover.

Some years after that, though, erotica became a big market. And then ebooks came along, and no one actually sees the cover of the book you’re reading on your e-tablet. These are two factors that have led to a portion of the market moving back toward more sexual covers,while other writers and subgenres in romance have adopted more mainstream looks, images that wouldn’t have appeared on a “romance novel” 20 years ago (ex. A beach chair by the ocean; a cafÃ’ table; two hands clasped; etc.) So the whole look of the genre keeps changing as the market continues evolving.


CS: I was captivated by the cover art for your Esther Diamond series. Particularly the cover of “Misfortune Cookie.” So exciting, so intriguing, so dramatic, so vivid. It looks a puzzle with pieces for the reader put together. I count at least 4 hands sticking out of that giant fortune cookie. And Esther is portrayed as being perpetually on the move as she solves the case. The cover of “Unsympathetic Magic” is also particularly eye catching. So who is your cover artist? Because, if I don’t succeed as a writer, I could always kidnap them and make a fortune selling their art!

DopplegangsterLR: The Esther Diamond covers are illustrated by the brilliant Dan Dos Santos. He’s a Chesley Award winner, a five-time Hugo Award nominee, and has won or been nominated for numerous other awards for his art. He’s also prolific, so you’ve probably seen his art on numerous other book covers.

DAW Books publishes the Esther Diamond series, and they’ve been terrific about including me in the cover process. We discussed artists early on, and Dan was top pick for each of us. He’s extremely creative with cover images, very imaginative, and he captures a perfect combination of menace, comedy, and sexiness in these covers. I typically review the cover sketches and the preliminary art with the publisher, and we develop a consensus on the feedback that my editor gives him. Dan also communicates directly with me about various specifics or questions. So the cover process for the Esther Diamond novels is a pleasure for me, rather than an exercise in helplessness and frustration, and the results have been consistently excellent.


CS: “Book #7 in the Esther Diamond series, “Abracadaver,” comes out in November. Any more lined up? Will you continue the series indefinitely?”

LR: There are three more unwritten Esther Diamond novels under contract at this time, and I hope to do many more after that. (I’m currently tearing my hair out trying to come up with a title for book #8.)


CS: Any advice to aspiring writers?

RRRLR: The market and the book/publishing world have changed a great deal during the years I’ve been writing professionally, yet I find that the two most common mistakes that aspiring writers make have not changed at all: not writing enough and not educating themselves about the business. And so my advice hasn’t changed, either. It’s still:

1. Write a lot. Practice your craft. Keep writing. And write still more after that. This is a craft, not divinely-inspired magic. It requires practice. Genius does not automatically flow forth from your muse-blessed fingertips. If you don’t expect to play a sonata perfectly the first time you ever sit down at a piano, then why would you expect to write an excellent story or novel the first time you sit down to write one? Talent is wildly romanticized and overrated, and the unglamorous qualities of plain old hard work and perseverance are perpetually underrated.

2. Educate yourself about the writing/publishing business and keep educating yourself. This is a competitive profession and a complex industry. You need to treat it as such if you want to succeed.





First Book Friday: Laura Resnick








Carl_eagleCarl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he has traveled the globe as an ESL teacher in 17 countries on 3 continents, collecting souvenir paintings from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Egypt, as well as dresses from Egypt, and masks from Kenya, along the way. He spends a ridiculous amount of time and an alarming amount of money in bookstores. He has a large ESL book review website, an exhaustive FAQ about teaching English in China, and a collection of 75 English language newspapers from 15 countries.

Review: Throne of the Crescent Moon

written by David Steffen

This is the last of my reviews of works nominated for a 2013 Hugo Award. When the voting deadline came around, I was about halfway through reading this book, so I finished it up and wrote the review when I found the time. Throne of the Crescent Moon is the first novel by Saladin Ahmed, published by DAW books. You may recognize his name from his previous poem and short story sales. He’s been nominated for the John W. Campbell award, and his name has been appearing more frequently over the past few years.

Throne of the Crescent Moon is an epic fantasy story focused mainly around the ghul hunter Adoulla Makhslood and his assistant Raseed bas Raseed. Adoulla is the last member of his profession left in the world, with his stainless white kaftan that represents his profession. He’s not what you might expect from the job title, though, a fat and grumpy old man who’d like nothing better than to retire, drink tea, and rekindle a lost love who was driven away by his work. But if he retired, there would be no ghul hunters to oppose those who would raise monstrous ghuls from the elements to gain power in the world. Raseed bas Raseed is a young and lightning-fast dervish, a holy warrior who is a deadly fighter, but who is often unprepared for the hars realities of the world and who often finds himself and others failing to meet his lofty standards. Adoulla has hunted many ghuls over his decades of work, and Raseed has gained some experience alongside Adoulla, but now they are facing a new threat more dire than any that either of them have ever faced before, more dire than they thought possible. It will take all of their best efforts and great assistance from their friends to see them successfully through this trial. The fate of the world as they know it depends upon them.

Apart from any other aspects of the book, Throne of the Crescent Moon is notable among so many other epic fantasies in that the central cultures in this story are based around Middle Eastern cultures, setting it apart from the Euro-centric fantasy worldbuilding that has been the standard for a long time. That’s great; anything that encourages more creativity and variety in speculative fiction is a wonderful thing, though in my opinion. I understand why some have expressed great excitement about the book because of its roots being different than what we’re used to. Personally, that’s not what I focus on. I want a good story, period. Happily, this was also a good story, with good writing, and good characters, and doesn’t rely on its different roots to be its only redeeming factor. It is not a crutch, only one aspect of a good book, and I’m happy to see that.

The main party of the book, totaling five people in all, is a varied and interesting group who each get their own POV sections within the story (though Adoulla and Raseed are clearly the focus). There are at least four different magic systems at work among the group, suggesting a very diverse magical world, which helps keep all the characters vital, and makes the world more interesting. The story takes place in a time of political unrest as the Falcon Prince urges the citizens to overthrow the Kalif who rules the city. This political situation ties makes the city feel like a much more real place.

I really don’t have anything bad to say about the book. In the end, I ended up voting for John Scalzi’s Redshirts over this one, but only because that one felt entirely novel in a way that book plots rarely do, because of its strange metafiction format. Despite the Middle Eastern inspired setting in this book, I didn’t feel it made the story into a category of its own–we’re still talking warriors and magicians facing off against monsters–it’s a change in scenery and culture, but not really of format. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but that’s the primary reason why it didn’t garner my primary vote this year.

I would recommend the book to anyone who likes epic fantasy. Well done, Mr. Ahmed.

My Hugo Ballot 2013

written by David Steffen

I’ve spent the last several months reviewing award nominees. I decided to take it one step further and post the final decisions that I plan to post to my Hugo ballot with explanations (where I deem them necessary) about why I voted the way I did. I encourage anyone reading this to post discussion in the comments about how they voted, why I am wrong in my choices, etc.

What makes this more interesting is that the Hugo Awards use an instant runoff voting system. You rank your changes from 1-x, and can also set a number to the “No Award” category. You can find all the nitty gritty details at the Hugo Page explaining votes. I like the system a lot, much more than just a simple single-cast vote, because if your primary vote is for the least popular story, your other preferences still count for something.

If you are a nominee, keep in mind that I am just judging these based on my own preferences and, though I aim to not make my reviews mean, if you don’t want to hear my honest opinion of your work than you might want to skip this article.

For a full list of the nominees, see the original announcement on the Hugo site.


Best Novel

1. Redshirts, John Scalzi (Tor; Gollancz)
2. Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed (DAW; Gollancz ’13)

Reasoning: I’ve only had time to read one book and a partial so far. I finished Redshirts and reviewed it here–I enjoyed it quite well, though there were some parts I didn’t like it was huge amounts of fun. I’ve started Throne of the Crescent Moon but haven’t finished it yet. Throne of the Crescent Moon is a solid book so far, but even though it has the strength of being set in a non-European based fantasy world, it still lacks the novelty that Redshirts has for me.


Best Novella

1. The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson (Tachyon Publications)
2. After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress (Tachyon Publications)
3. San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats by Mira Grant (Orbit)
4. The Stars Do Not Lie by Jay Lake (Asimov’s, Oct-Nov 2012)
5. No Award

Reasoning: The only story that I disliked enough to prefer no award was “On a Red Station, Drifting” by Aliette de Bodard. See my Novella Hugo 2013 Review for more detail.


Best Novelette

1. In Sea-Salt Tears by Seanan McGuire (Self-published)
2. The Boy Who Cast No Shadow by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Postscripts: Unfit For Eden, PS Publications)
3. Rat-Catcher by Seanan McGuire (A Fantasy Medley 2, Subterranean)
4. The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi by Pat Cadigan (Edge of Infinity, Solaris)
5. No Award

Reasoning: The only story that I disliked enough to prefer no award was “Fade to White” by Catherynne M. Valente. See my Novelette Hugo 2013 Review for more detail.


Best Short Story

1. Immersion by Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld, June 2012)

2. Mono No Aware by Ken Liu (The Future is Japanese, VIZ Media LLC)

3. No Award

Reasoning: The only story that I disliked enough to prefer no award was “Mantis Wives” by Kij Johnson. See my Short Story Hugo 2013 Review for more detail.


Best Graphic Story

1. Locke & Key, Vol. 5: Clockworks, Joe Hill, art by Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)

2. Schlock Mercenary: Random Access Memorabilia Howard Tayler, colors by Travis Walton (Hypernode Media)

3. Saga, Volume One, Brian K. Vaughn, art by Fiona Staples (Image)

4. No Award

Reasoning: See my Graphic Story Hugo 2013 Review for more detail.


Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

1. The Cabin in the Woods
2. The Avengers
3. The Hunger Games
4. Looper
5. The Hobbit

Reasoning: See my Dramatic Presentation, Long Form Hugo 2013 Review for more detail. I didn’t regret the time spent on any of the movies, so I gave them all a rank.


Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

1. Game of Thrones, “Blackwater”, Written by George R.R. Martin, Directed by Neil Marshall. Created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (HBO)

Reasoning: I’ve never seen an episode of Dr. Who (gasp!), so I can’t comment on the show in any way. I’ve only ever seen the pilot episode of Fringe, which did not inspire me to watch further even though I was excited about the show from the trailers. But my wife and I are avid watchers of the Game of Thrones series. The show is really solid throughout, great writing, casting, special effects, set design, costume design, everything is really stellar. And this episode was an especially awesome episode of a major battle, with great tension and great action all around. Even if I had been familiar with any of the other nominees, it likely would’ve come on top.

I don’t have anything against any of the other four winning the award, so I’m not casting a “No Award” vote for this category. I’m sure that one of the Dr. Who episodes will win anyway.


Best Editor, Short Form

1. Neil Clarke
Neil does great work at Clarkesworld, and I look forward to every episode of Clarkesworld. I tend to have a bit of a polar reaction to Clarkesworld stories. I either love them or don’t get them at all. But when I love them, the stories are well worth listening to the others to get to. Also, as a writer, I appreciate Clarkesworld’s lightning-fast response times.

2. John Joseph Adams
I enjoy listening to the Lightspeed podcast as well. I tend to have a polar reaction to Lightspeed stories as well, and a similar appreciation for lightning-fast response times, and it was hard to decide which to rank higher. He and Neil are ranked close enough in my mind that it’s almost a toss-up between the two and I just gave Neil the edge because he’s been a head editor longer. It’s for cases like this that I really appreciate the instant runoff voting.

3. Stanley Schmidt
I am often not a huge fan of Analog stories, often too nuts-and-bolts for me. But they’ve published some really great ones. I will immediately buy any issue with Juliette Wade in the pages, because her linguistics-based SF stories that have run there are among my favorites. There was a Wade story last year, too, a definite bonus. This was Stanley’s last year as editor so it would be neat to see him win, but I’d rather vote based on who I thought was the best rather than nominating for warm fuzzies about the guy who retired.

4. Sheila Williams
I don’t read Asimov’s very regularly, simply because they don’t have a podcast. I have read good stories in the issues that I’ve bought, so I’d have no complaints about her winning.

Reasoning: I’m not familiar with Jonathan Strahan one way or the other. I’m not going to cast a vote for him, but I’m also not casting a “No Award” either.


Best Professional Artist

1. Dan Dos Santos
Dan Dos Santos is awesome. I have a print of his depiction of Moiraine Damodred on my office wall. I love his other art as well, such as his Warbreaker cover. He just has a very skilled hand and great eye. I rarely enjoy others’ cover art as much as his. His character art in particular is really great–the examples in the Hugo packet are good ones, especially the baby-toting warrior woman, and the punk woman in the bathroom.

2. John Picacio
I picked for a large part because of the Hyperion cover with the elaborate mechanical monstrosity holding a human infant. His other covers are really good too.

3. Julie Dillon
I LOVE the “Afternoon Walk” image, with all the monsters being walked like dogs in the park.

4. Chris McGrath
I like the gritty style of these, almost like found photos of fantastical places.

5. Vincent Chong

Reasoning: They always say not to judge a book by its cover, but in this case I had to judge the artist by his cover. The only one I’m very familiar with is Dos Santos, so I had to judge based only on the samples. This was a hard category to pick favorites. I would not be disappointed for any of these five who won the award. But, I’ve gotta pick someone.



Best Semiprozine

1. Beneath Ceaseless Skies
2. Clarkesworld
3. Lightspeed
4. Apex
5. Strange Horizons

Reasoning: See my Semiprozine Hugo 2013 Review for more detail.


Best Fanzine

1. SF Signal

Reasoning: I’ve enjoyed going to SF Signal for various content for years, so I’ll happily give them my vote. The other four I am aware of, but have never read. I’m not using the “No Award” vote, because I don’t have anything against the other four.


Best Fancast

1. No Award
2. SF Squeecast
3. SF Signal Podcast
4. Galactic Suburbia Podcast
5. The Coode Street Podcast

Reasoning: This is the second year that the Best Fancast category has been running, and all five of last years nominees are nominated again. This makes me think that no one is actually listening to them and is just nominating past nominees as a habit. I think this may also have to do with confusion over the classification of podcasts who pay their authors, like Escape Pod, Pseudopod, Escape Pod, Drabblecast, and so on. By the word of the rules, these would all be considered Fancasts but many people might guess that they would be classified as Semiprozines. I asked the question of the Hugo committee long before the nomination period ended to clarify publicly the classification of these, but they never responded to me. This is hurting my favorite magazine’s chances of getting award nominations because anyone who wants to nominate them may be splitting across categories. I was very disappointed that the Hugo Committee didn’t respond to my question.

In large part to raise my small voice of protest about the Hugo Committee’s lack of clarification, I am choosing No Award as my primary vote. I would love to see a quality fiction podcast get award nominations, and maybe even win. No offense to the nonfiction podcasters who do good work, but if I wanted to listen to a conversation about SF I would just talk to someone about SF. It’s the stories that I’m here for. And if my favorite fiction podcasts aren’t allowed into the category, then I’m not interested in the category.

It also bothers me that StarShipSofa is the lone fiction podcast representative, because their constant over-self-promotion, Hugo vote begging, unfiltered content , lack of payment is just too many factors that bother me about them. And that’s even not including the aborted nonfiction project they had planned some years ago to supporting a plagiaristic audio adaptation–it was aborted when the moral problems were pointed out to Tony, but I felt that an editor shouldn’t need to have this pointed out to him. It may seem wrong to criticize a “fancast” nominee for unprofessional policies, but venues like Escape Pod and Toasted Cake have shown me that just because a podcast is staffed by volunteers in their spare time doesn’t mean that there have to be no standards.

So I’ve ranked the four nonfiction podcasts about StarShipSofa so that even if “No Award” gets eliminated as a possibility, I’ll be encouraging one of the others to get the award rather than StarShipSofa.


Best Fan Artist

1. Spring Schoenhuth
I love the jewelry designs of Schoenhuth, particularly the Robot Transformation, and the Four Electron Atoms designs. I don’t generally wear jewelry other than my wedding ring but those make me want to start.

2. Galen Dara
a really neat dreamlike style. I particularly like the Ghost River Red image. It feels like a story, and the vivid reds of the hero and the shadowy adversary are very eye catching and intriguing.

3. Brad W. Foster

4. Maurine Starkey

5. Steve Stiles

Reasoning: As with the Professional Artist category, I had to judge these by their samples and would not be disappointed if any particular one of these won, but again i have to choose.


The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (Not a Hugo)

1. Mur Lafferty

Reasoning: I confess that Mur is the only one whose stories I am familiar with, and I ran out of time to read the contributed works of the other authors. So, certainly no reason to use the No Award, but my lone vote is cast for Mur.



And that’s my take and my voting strategy on all of the categories where I picked up enough of the material to be able to cast votes. There are three categories that I didn’t touch at all: Best Fan Writer, Best Editor Long Form, and Best Related Work. In the In the Related Work category, I did not have time to read any of the nominees. In the Fan Writer and Editor Long Form, I am unfamiliar with these people’s work.

How did you vote? Care to share, drop a comment. I’ve enjoyed putting this together, and I think I’ll try to do the same series of articles again next year. Let me know if you enjoyed it, folks! Do you find it appealing to see how someone else spent his votes?