Here are my recaps of a few more panels: Post-Gay, Marketing Series, and Bonus/Free Content.
POST-GAY: When Characters Just Happen to be Gay
This was a powerhouse panel of fantastic queerfolk including:
HelenKay Dimon, filmmaker JC Calciano, Radclyffe, JA Rock, LA Witt, and Reesa Herberth, and moderated by Sarah Frantz Lyons.
The discussion had depth and pith, and I can’t really recapture the whole ebb and flow of it since I only wrote down a few notes and choice quotes, but the essential internal conflict the community as a whole seems to be struggling with is how to continue to represent queer characters and queer lives within this mainstream literary form without necessarily hewing to either the expected stereotypes and well-trod coming-out and/or tragic arcs, or making their queerness the central aspect of their story. Is it possible to have stories and novels where the characters just “happen to be queer”?
LA Witt: “If I write two gay characters in Seattle, fine, but if I put them in the Navy, there’s going to be push back in their lives. I can’t just ignore that.”
Radclyffe hit the nail on the head for me when she said, “There’s a difference between writing ‘about the queer experience’ and writing a genre work where queer characters appear.” From later: “A romance is not a polemic. But a romance does have to be a feel-good experience.”
Reesa Herberth had an interesting take on doing this within science fiction in particular: “I can write comfortably bisexual characters who just get to do stuff.” (Audience cheers at that point) “I get to play with just what’s the meanest thing I can do to these characters without friction over their sexuality being one.”
Sarah Frantz Lyons posed to the panel: “[In the past] we needed narratives that celebrated being queer, and now we celebrate being normal, the normality of being queer…?”
JA Rock: “Yes, but. I have a little problem with the idea, especially in film and TV, that the queer characters are ‘just like everyone else.’ To normalize by saying ‘look how much like heterosexuals the are!’ is kind of problematic.”
Reesa also pointed out, though, that she still tries to portray them AS QUEER even within a society where being queer is not a problem. “I try not to erase the queer identity of characters in science fictional worlds where queerness is accepted.”
There was much discussion of gay and lesbian experience in particular, but me being bisexual I noted in particular some of the points about bisexuality like LA Witt: “I have a lot of bisexual men in my books because nothing bothers me more than bi erasure.”
Radclyffe suggested to an audience member who was struggling with representing her bi characters, “Can you avoid the ‘bi choice’?” Both because it’s a cliche and because it makes the bisexuality of the character so central to the emotional arc for that character? (Radclyffe also had another bit of advice that struck me personally because, holy crap, I did this exact thing: “If you want a gay secondary character, don’t go for the cliche: the heroine has a gay neighbor who is her best friend. Instead give her a lesbian sister.” In MIND GAMES, my very first romance novel the heroine’s best friend is her gay downstairs neighbor. In SLOW SURRENDER, my most award-winning book, she has a lesbian sister. Whoa!)
As the discussion of bisexuality, and trans character cliches went on, I eventually spoke up to comment, “What I’m hearing is that we may be at a point where we can be ‘post-gay.’ But we’re not yet post-bisexual and we’re not yet post-trans.” It’s like we still have to go through a process of maturing the literature (and the society around it? readers, writers, and culture at large?) before we can get to that stage. And writing these post-________ narratives, though, is probably part of how we get there.
Brief shoutout to asexuality as underrepresented and facing these same issues, too.
Then there was a really fun rodeo-themed party at the hotel (we are in Texas) but then I got up this morning to go to:
MARKETING NEW, DIFFERENT, AND CONTINUING SERIES
with Deb Werksman of Sourcebooks, Alexandra Nicolajsep of Kensington, and the authors Rebecca Zanetti, Jennifer Estep, and Julia Ann Walker.
I was a little annoyed because after five minutes that was specific to series, the panel veered for a while into just giving general tips on how to start and maintain a social media presence, which wasn’t on topic. But I did end up picking up some good general tips and some that were specific to marketing. And really, I shouldn’t complain: when you get to hear from authors who are selling millions (yes, actual millions) of books, they usually do have something useful to say.
Among the things I noted:
-when a new book in a series goes up for pre-order, re-upload new versions of the old books in the series with the Preorder links in the back for each retailer
-when you write side stories, remember that everything else is back story
-WooBox – a giveaway app that sounded a little like Rafflecopter that sounded worth checking out
-Within a series, be consistent in heat level, tone, emotional intensity
-Warn for cliffhangers
-In YA the online marketing is more geared to adults, bc teens buy more paper books
-Don’t do any marketing for a book until it’s up for pre-order, then do movie style pre-marketing with teasers, excerpts, trailers, etc
-Charity anthologies and box sets can be a good marketing tool — i.e. where a bunch of authors get together and hit the NY Times or USA Today bestseller list? However: What tends to happen is at least one household name author tends to drive the book to the bestseller list. All the authors can then call themselves bestsellers, but there is some cynicism over the use of those “bestseller” labels as a result. “You hitched your wagon to the right star, but you are not the star.”-Deb Werksman
Final panel I caught before lunch, meetings, and receptions started was:
THE POWER OF EXTRA (AND SOMETIMES FREE!) CONTENT
Erica O’Rourke, Victoria Scott, Susan Dennard, Tessa Gratton, and Jennifer L. Armentrout all shared their tips and techniques for using free stuff — bonus scenes, extra stories, outtakes, and also swag. Nearly all of them are using Wattpad as a place to share their extra content. They also use their reader newsletters, password protected areas of their own blogs, etc, as ways to share free or bonus content.
Victoria Scott also mentioned that she sometimes offers freebies to book bloggers in particular, whether that is a sneak peek of an upcoming book that they can then publish, or a password to secret content that they can then pass on to others.
One caveat from Erica O’Rourke, “Making a secret page on my website seemed like the coolest idea at first, but it’s not an easy, intuitive way for my readers to find it.” Now she’d rather just have an easier way to get the content to readers.
A couple of the panelists stressed that sharing free content isn’t just about getting sales, it may be about building community. The loyal readers you are rewarding are the people who may become your street team or fan community.
Giving out free or bonus content is a good thing to do in the lull between books, too, as a way to keep your name out there and keep you on the radar.
One other caveat: publishing contracts may have a clause limiting how much you can give away for promo purposes, and if you SELL bonus content related to your series you may be violating the option clause of your contract. OTOH if you offered the content to the publisher than they turned it down, then you’re free to do with it as you like.
Now off to meet my editor and publicist, and the two receptions and a party! Whew, what a con RT is!