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26 March 2008



First review I've seen of my only panel.

I tried to get some brief recommendations in the newsletter, but they didn't take them.

In 11 words:

http://www.websnark.com/ English Lit graduate writes great critical reviews of webcomics and RPG.

http://www.gunnerkrigg.com/ Gaiman:"semi-gothic funny-sweet school story with mysteries and robots"

http://www.drmcninja.com/ Surreal tales of Ninja/Doctor fighting: pirates, raptors, McDonald, family, etc.

If you post what sort of thing you like over at http://community.livejournal.com/snarkoleptics/ I'm sure you'll get a flood of recommendations.


Thank you, David! And tsk, tsk to whoever made the decision not to add some of your recommendations to the programme.


I wrote a few recs down for the dead dog newsletter but then they couldn't print it as the hotel had closed the business centre!
But there's still the Souvenir (ie Programme book) to come - you could write to Mark Young and suggest a list of recommendations be included? I heard a LOT of people saying they wanted one. (I felt quite pleased as the panel was originally my idea :)


Happy to write in and suggest - seems like such an obvious idea (and a fun one too!). Hope the generic email on Orbital site feedback page will get the message through.

John Jarrold

I apologise that the 'So You Want to be an SF Writer' panel didn't open out. I think you're right, we did very much make it a 'route into publishing' panel. If you see that again, make the point from the audience! I think we tried to respond to all the questions we were asked.



John, your point is on the money: I could have made a comment during the panel. My excuse is, that "So you want to be an SF writer" was the first panel I attended this Eastercon and I was still warming up on the throw-in-comments-from-audience front.

A kind of a poor excuse, I realise. ;)

Vincent Docherty

Hi - you asked about Thomas.
His website is: http://www.oldeheuvelt.com/

John Jarrold

Since I've been asked to take part in very similar panels over the twenty years I've been involved in publishing, I'm sure it'll come around again! Be ready!!! And yes, Thomas is a good guy. We sat down and had a chat, early Saturday morning.


John, that sounds like a challenge! I'll be scouring the LX and Odyssey programmes, looking for Mr Jarrold. :)

Here's a thought - what would happen if there really WAS a mock X-factor for wannabe SF writers at a con? You kept referring to yourself as "the bad guy"... now who would that be in the x-factor context?

John Jarrold

Put it this way: as I said, I've turned down over 3,000 people who submitted material. And every editor and agent could say the same. Most people can't write well enough to be commercially published. And new authors have to measure themselves against newer writers, not long-term bestsellers. Oh, and don't pick a book from a newer writer that you like less than their others and say 'I think I'm better than this book'. Doesn't work that way. Are you at least as good as the debut novels of writers who have broken through (in commercial terms, not just with good reviews) in your genre in the last half-dozen years? That's the comparison new novelists have to face when they are being considered by agents and editors - all of whom are also looking for that special something that has no template. The 'Wow' factor. And, because publishing is subjective, every professional editor and agent may see that in different books. As an editor, I took on many books that others turned down and vice versa. Not easy. Nor should it be.


Most people can't cross the commercial boundary regardless of the field they aspire to be successful in. It's a fact of saturated markets, cost-cutting and the fickle tastes of general public. You have to be able to know your target audience, your competitors AND have that extra special something that sets you apart. It's no wonder people often refer to "being in the right place at the right time" as that extra element when recounting their success stories!

There has been an avalanche of "can you make it in X job" TV shows in the last couple of years, but in all seriousness, I'm not sure how well the media tart/X-factor approach would work for aspiring writers (I do hope you read my previous comments addressed to you in the tongue-in-cheek spirit they were intended!). It might be difficult to dramatise manuscript crit sessions. With or without the bad wigs and out of tune singing.

I guess for many would-be-writers, there is an element of culture shock in moving from hobbyist to wannabe professional. Suddenly it becomes a fiercely competitive job.

On the other hand; the degree of culture shock must depend on who the would-be-writer is and on their professional background. One of the most fascinating panels I attended in this con was "Don't give up the day job", where the contrast between what one could call old-school route writers and the former RAF pilot/now YA author Mark Robson was noticeable.

John Jarrold

Yes, you have to deal with matters as they are, not as they were ten or twenty years ago - and there are far more routes into publication now, as we said on that panel. But like most agents, I'm not interested in seeing short fiction, only novels...which is one of the major changes since the 70s, say, when most authors still started by writing magazine stories and led up to novel publication.

And writing for your own pleasure - or that of your friends and family - is a great thing. But it has nothing to do with writing for commercial publication.


I'd often wondered how writers who felt more comfortable with novel-length ideas managed to break in at all if the only respected/valid route was via short fiction.

Now, as you said in the panel "[SNIP]...one of the major changes since the 70s, say, when most authors still started by writing magazine stories and led up to novel publication." - things have changed and the question has turned on its head.

Both formats have their own challenges, but in a way it's more frightening to commit to a novel-sized project without really knowing whether you're any good or not. (Most creative people are rubbish at evaluating their own work! I should know...).

The thing about a good writing group is that they'll give honest feedback and some kind of moral support when a new writer is still unpublished and agent-less. It was indeed lovely to see the "join a writing group" recommendation come out of the panel ;)

Dave Gullen

I think short story writing is a very good way to sharpen your writing skills. There are still many magazines out there and although it might not count much towards paying the mortgage a short story sale is very satisfying. I also think that in terms of plot, character, narrative and so on, a chapter in a book should be similar to short story - self contained in some ways but also referring to the wider world. So in that sense short stories are good practice too. I'd rather write a set of short stories, some of which are no damned good, than write a novel and realise its hopeless apart from the last couple of chapters.
I was never totally happy with my first novel, though it did get close (Virgin Worlds shortlisted it before they imploded) because over the time it took to write my writing was changing a lot. Many short, and not so short, stories later novel #2 feels excitingly better.
I know I would not have done anything near as much without the T Party, for the reasons Pia mentions and more, Million Monkeys (www.millionmonkeys.org.uk) would never have started without it, and the sheer pleasure of regular contact with other writers is great too.
I wish I'd been able to get to more panels this Eastercon but could only make Sunday & Monday. I'm already booked into 2009 for the full event though.


Dave, I've never really thought of chapters as "little short stories" - that's a really nice way of putting it. Thank you for your insightful comment.

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