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DragonCon 2011

September 7th, 2011

After three days of awesomeness in Atlanta, I must declare that DragonCon is the best scifi/fantasy/costume party on the planet.

The Pyr Books booth was bigger than last year, and many of the authors spent significant time there. And rather than feeling lost in the shuffle, it felt like coming home to my second family. We had fun selling each other’s books, kidding each other, and getting sloshed together.

There are a lot of people I need to thank for the great time I had.

First off, thanks to Lou Anders, editor and art director at Pyr Books, who convinced me to come again this year. Over the past couple years, Lou has become a good friend. Hanging out with him is a special experience.

Big thanks to the Pyr staff—Jill, Rene, Lynn, and Gabrielle—for kicking ass and taking names (Money-takers!). When you work with your publishing staff in a professional setting, you expect them to be knowledgeable and helpful, but you don’t expect to get choked up saying goodbye. A year is too long to wait to see you good people again.

My fellow authors who helped to man the Pyr booth, including Sam Sykes, Andrew Mayer, Erin Hoffman, Ari Marmell, Susan and Clay Griffith, and James Enge. This is a special bunch of people. I encourage you to buy everything they write.

Joshua Bilmes at the JABberwocky Literary Agency for helping me get a professional invite to the convention. It made me feel like a minor celebrity.

The fans. For me, there are things more thrilling than to meet someone who has read (and hopefully, enjoyed) my books. You guys are the best.

Some very cool things happened to me this convention. First, we sold out of copies of my Shadow’s Son, and also Sam’s Tome of the Undergates and Andrew’s The Falling Machine.

Second, I had drinks with Brent Weeks, the best-selling author and widely-acknowledged king of fantasy assassin fiction. And when he told me that he’d read my book (and liked it!), I was floored. Then he came to the booth the next day with his lovely wife and bought a copy of Shadow’s Lure. As you might imagine, my hand was shaking a little as I signed it for him. Let it be shouted wide and far that Mr. Weeks is a Class Act of the first order.

Then I got an invite to the exclusive reading of Susan and Clay’s The Greyfriar by none other than James Marsters, who played Spike on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Not only did James give a terrific reading, he signed a copy of the sequel book, The Rift Walker, for my wife. And I almost got him to call Jenny on a cell phone, which would have blown her frigging mind, but he had to run to a dinner engagement after the signing. Oh well. It was still pretty cool to shake his hand and chat for a moment.

If that wasn’t enough, I met Laurell K. Hamilton, author of the Anita Blake series, and her husband. Got to hang out at their booth a little and swap stories. Both are very nice people, and I know Jenny will treasure the book they signed for her.

The last night of the con was a little surreal. As some of the staff and authors at Pyr got dinner, and then sat in the bar drinking, there was a feeling among us that we didn’t want this experience to end. Like it had all gone by too fast. Finally, too tired to stay awake, we stumbled back to our hotel rooms, and I prepared myself to re-enter the real world.

If you ever get the chance, go see DragonCon at least once. If you’re like me, you’ll be hooked by the costumes and celebrities, by the dealers’ rooms filled to capacity with all sorts of scifi/fantasy paraphernalia, and by the great people you’ll meet. My only regret was not being able to take my wife along. Maybe next year.

Meet Lou Anders

May 6th, 2011

Lou Anders is both the Editorial Director and the Art Director for Pyr Books, which means he’s a god in the fantasy world. (Or at least a demigod.) It also means he’s busier than any one person has a right to be, so we’re very honored that he took the time to sit down and answer some tough questions from Yours Truly.

Tell us a little about yourself. How did you become the Editorial Director at Pyr Books, and what exactly do you do?

Well, my background was in theatre (London and Chicago), journalism and screenwriting (Los Angeles), and dot com startups (San Francisco), before I started working in 2001 as a freelance anthologist. In 2004, Prometheus Books hired me to help them build a science fiction and fantasy list and here, seven years later this March, we are. As to what I do—that’s a complex question and a long answer. As Editorial Director, I’m both acquisition’s editor and art director, and sort of a “buck stops here” on a lot of other aspects of book production. I would try to summarize by saying I select all manuscripts (with the aid of my editorial assistant and slush reader), edit the manuscripts (but we also have excellent copyeditors), select which artist to put on the cover (we have magnificent artists), art direct said artists (again), determine which of our three in house designers will do the design (we have three wonderful designers), oversee/art direct the design, oversee the interior layout (also a wonderful person), work with the (wonderful) people in production, publicity, sales & marketing, etc… in the creation and promotion of the book. I also travel about seven or eight times a year speaking about our line at conventions, to libraries, etc… I wear about a half dozen different hats, but that is not to diminish the efforts of the score and a half or more people at the parent company that work on every Pyr title. But basically, I mostly push emails back and forth between departments while trying to carve out a few precious minutes at the close of each workday to actually, you know, read.

We know you read a lot of manuscripts. What makes a story stand out to you? And what does it feel like when you find a book you want to publish?

People think that reading submissions is reading a sea of unpublishable dreck. But what it actually means is reading a sea of work that is “just okay.” And therefore just as unpublishable. That final yard between okay and “unputdownable” is the longest one. It’s the hardest to quantify or explain, but it’s that quality, which you know the instant you are in it, that makes a manuscript stand out for me. Very often, I’ll be reading something and when my wife asks about it and I start to reply, she’ll hear the lack of enthusiasm in my voice before I do and say, “Put it down; you don’t like it. Move on.” It’s the manuscripts that have me leaping out of my chair to hound her with that I offer on, the ones that excite me and won’t let me sit still. Basically, I acquire the manuscripts that thrill me, which answers the second part of your question – thrilling! Seriously, when I discover a new author, or read a new manuscript from an established pro, I cannot shut up about it.

What is your “perfect” query letter? Any insider tips for our readers?

Don’t put too much stock in query letters. I’ve bought several manuscripts now whose query letters were laughably bad (and had prepared me to expect an equally bad manuscript). I only take agented manuscripts (and our slush reader’s submission guidelines are posted on the contact form of our website, but I’d say that my preferred query is an email (not a snail mail) from an agent (not an author) that summarizes the book in a paragraph or two and does NOT include the manuscript if I haven’t asked for it. After seven years, I have a pretty good idea what works and doesn’t work for us, so I can tell from a query whether I’m interested and save us both time. All this being said, I do remember one query that simply said something to the effect of “I loved Joe Abercrombie and I write similar fantasy to him.” But, alas, that trick only works once! (But it is the reason we established guidelines for unagented submissions. Thanks, Jon.)

Glad to be of service. What is your perspective on rejections? What can writers learn from them?

Sadly, I don’t have time to give feedback when I pass, so there isn’t really anything to be learned directly from me in a rejection. However, I’d say the first thing to bear in mind is that all books are not for all people, and thus, not for all editors. If an editor, or an agent for that matter, passes on a book, that only means it isn’t for them, not that it isn’t a good book or that it might not appeal to a different reader. Now, if rejections are starting to pile up over and over, it might be worth asking yourself why and addressing that.

Those who follow your social media sites might know that you’re also a writer. Does that change how you approach editing another writer’s work?

Well, Lou the fiction writer isn’t yet a working professional, unlike Lou the editor and Lou the former journalist. I’d say that it’s the reverse—that editing for over a half decade has radically improved my writing.

How do you approach matching artists and artwork with a book?

This is very much something that arises from my gut. I start to see the cover in my mind before I am halfway through a book. In fact, visualizing the cover is one of the things that I look for as a sign to myself that I am interested in a manuscript. It’s rare for me to get to the end of a manuscript and not already have the illustrator in mind. I think I’m privileged to be both editor and art director and to be able to bring a knowledge of the manuscript to bear on the cover, which is something some art directors don’t have the luxury of doing, just due to time and publication constraints. But working with the artists is one of the most rewarding aspects of this job.

With the recent rise of e-books and online publishing, where do you think the industry is heading in the next five years?

I think “death of publishing” reports are grossly exaggerated while the predictions about the demise of print books may be conservative. In other words, I think that ebooks are accelerating beyond even the wildest predictions and could easily be the dominant (not sole) form of book in five years, but that it will still be publishers who are producing and selling 80% – 90% or more of the commercially successful content in the ebook world. As with any time of change, there are going to be a lot of shakeups and a lot of opportunities. But ebooks are a pain in the butt to produce – or rather, ebooks are a pain in the butt to produce well, and a recent survey found that less than 2% of the book buying public sighted social media as the way in which they made title selections. So I think there is still going to be a role for publishing to play, not just as in being arbiters of taste (though that’s a very important job), but in terms of the actual production and marketing of books, whether they are print or electronic.

I want to thank Lou again for spending some time with us. I hope it’s been enlightening. Those who want to hear of Lou’s thoughts can follow the blog on the Pyr Books website.

Letting It Breathe

May 4th, 2011

Well, now that the first draft for Shadow’s Master (Book 3 in the Shadow Saga) is done, I’m going to set it aside for a couple weeks. I’d like to say a solid month, but I can never let a manuscript go for that long.

In the meantime, I’m going to be messing pain relief around with other projects. I’ve been kicking around a short story idea about the incident(s) that led Caim into the assassination profession.

Stay tuned for a very special interview with Lou Anders, Editorial Director for Pyr Books. Coming soon!

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