“I don’t spend much of my time worrying about getting sued,” author Margaret Killjoy told fanfic writers concerned with copyright issues. Fanfic is “not wrong,” he said, “but it’s very much illegal” unless the original work is in the public domain.
But “at some place, ” Michele Lang said, “you have to graduate from fanfiction [...] and develop your own characters.”
Lang, the author of the Lady Lazarus series, along with Margaret Killjoy, author of What Lies Beneath the Clock Tower, advised writers seeking publication how to work toward that goal.
Killjoy starting publishing through the world of zines, while Lang began with ePublishing. Lang likes ePublishing for the immediate feedback she receives from readers and says the steady paycheck, while small, is preferable in some ways to what she would receive from a traditional publishing house.
Besides using zines or ePublishing, the authors suggested writers look at regional publishers and the small press. Self-publishing might be the path to take for poetry, but not for other genres in the long run.
With the mainstream buzz over Fifty Shades of Grey, it would seem that talk about smut would be less fraught with embarrassment, but as Killjoy explained, plenty of erotica and romance writers still use pen names. He said such authors should be able to publish “dirty stories” under their own names. This seems even more true given how large and lucrative the “romantica” genre has become.
Not all audience members were smut writers, and the advice given could be modified to fit more general needs. Killjoy explained that Steampunk Magazine provides “convoluted guidelines for fiction” to minimize lower quality submissions. Lang echoed that when submitting writing, “do what they ask. Show that you are reliable.” After all, she said, the writer should focus on “build[ing] a career, not just a book.”
Some of the mistakes budding writers make when submitting their work are wholly avoidable. Killjoy said work is likely to be rejected by Steampunk Magazine if it contains racism or sexism. He gave the example of the letter addressed to “Dear Sirs,” when all the names on the masthead were female.
After dealing with these obvious types of errors in thinking, writers were told “don’t be boring.” Sentence structure that lacks variation quickly sucks the life out of a piece of writing. Garbled writing would also earn someone a rejection.
Once published, then what?
There seems to be a divide over whether the author should worry about promotion — especially true for those self-publishing — or write her next book. Lang said she simply did not know which approach was more effective. One piece she wrote, which she thought was good but not anything special, has been very popular and she has done nothing to promote it. She did not even name it during the panel at ConnectiCon. But others that she did promote did not receive as much attention. Killjoy said the promotion-vs-write dilemma is a false dichotomy and that authors should do a bit of both.