Nancy Knight (read last years’ Daily Dragon interview with Knight here), author, partner in BelleBooks Publishing, and director of the Dragon*Con Writer’s Track, moderated the “First Ladies of Fantasy” panel on Sunday 10AM in Regency VI-VII (Hy). The other authors on the panel were Mercedes Lackey, Laurell K. Hamilton, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, and Sherrilyn Kenyon.
Even though a lot of the questions that Knight asked the panelists were focused on their own writing and publishing journey, the answers often veered into advice for other authors (especially new and aspiring) about the job of writing and the realities of the rapidly shifting publishing world. Lackey said the landscape has changed sufficiently from even two years ago that if you have tried and failed to get a traditional publisher’s attention, consider ePublishing your work. When Hamilton asked if this counts as “previously published,” which many publishing houses won’t consider, Lackey assured the audience that this is not the case any longer. These days, if you ePublish and “market the hell” out of your work to generate a substantial readership, traditional publishers will sit up and take notice. The publishers may offer to pull your piece from the Internet, re-work it and release it in a traditional print format.
However, all the panelists agreed that first-time authors have it rough. Hamilton said publishers don’t have the budget to market first-time novels and don’t really care. When she finally got Nightseer, her first novel, accepted for publication, the publisher held onto the manuscript for four years, almost long enough for the rights to revert back to her, before releasing it. Hamilton recommends new writers try to go the traditional publishing route if possible, before ePublishing, but to be prepared for rejections. She gets tired of hearing aspiring authors say, “I can’t deal with the rejection,” and recommended that people, “Suck it up…editors are not rejecting you, they’re rejecting words on paper.” She said that Guilty Pleasures was rejected 200 times before it sold.
Kenyon agreed, saying, “Don’t ask me about pregnancy or publishing, I’ll scare you off of both.” She related how after having six books become bestsellers, she received 150 rejections for her next title. Kenyon originally wrote military science fiction under male pseudonyms, because that was the only way to break in, and fans at signings were always surprised that she was female. Yarbro recalled the publishing climate for women when she first started writing over 35 years ago was “chilly.” Women writers started getting a slightly better reception after Anne McCaffrey won her first Hugo award, although apparently male writers of the time thought her success was a fluke. In the 1980s, things started to loosen up some, but women writers were still strongly encouraged to write in the romance genre, rather than science fiction or horror.
Hamilton said, “You’d think things have changed a lot since the 1960s in regards to women in publishing.” But after her third Anita Blake novel was published, someone took her aside and said that even though they loved her books if she were writing straight mystery, she wouldn’t be published. Publishers still shy away from stories with strong female protagonists written by women if they contain a lot of sex and violence. “Men are allowed to be violent and sexual, but women are not.” Hamilton described her shock that even today she has women in their 20s approach her to tell her that until they read her books, they didn’t know that sex could be pleasurable. “I thought we’d made more progress,” said Hamilton.
Hamilton noted another way ePublishing and social media have changed the world of publishing is that editors and publishers can no longer protect their writers from negative feedback from readers and critics. Authors are now immediately and personally reachable through Twitter and Facebook accounts. Yarbro said, “What’s hitting the market the hardest are the evangelicals who think you shouldn’t write things they think are evil—if you don’t like them and don’t want them, don’t read them.”
Between the need to withstand multiple rejections, the publisher’s inability or lack of interest in promoting new authors, and the instant feedback from readers, Hamilton said, “You have to be tough to do this job, or they’ll crush your soul, if you let them.”
But Kenyon says, “There’s a way around every obstacle.”