Sci-Fi Agents: Where are they gathering?

A few days ago, I posted a message on the Fantasy & Science Fiction Writers Facebook page.

Does anyone know about a writers’ conference that focuses on sci-fi and/or fantasy? I’m going to Thrillerfest in a few days to pitch my sci-fi book but I feel like it is the wrong venue.

The response I got was varied, interesting and in some cases disheartening. I’d like to share some with you and my thoughts on them.

The First Group of Responses

Many people focused on the “sci-fi” and “con” aspect and started posting multiple suggestions of purely fan-oriented conventions for that. As you know, I like entertainment cons as much as the next person, but it is not where I would go, pitch in hand, to search for an agent. First of all, to my knowledge, agents don’t have a reason to go as a professional to a general sci-fi/fantasy con. If they go, I would assume it is because they go for the love of the spirit of sci-fi and don’t want to be pestered with newbie writers. Like others enjoying the genre, they might just want to dress up, see some panels, and sing some filk.

Metropolis girl

I’d love to cosplay this character.

The years (and it has been many years ago) that I’ve attended these conference, you couldn’t tell who a publisher, agent, artist, or writer was unless they were on a panel or in the Dealers’ room. It is not like they wear giant neon signs, arrows swaying over their heads, or even halos. Therefore, if they are there, how does a writer find them? Once the writer finds the agent, how do they go about “discussing” anything without seeming to be obnoxious? These are the things I worry about because I’ve very shy at crowded conventions.

On the other hand, when they go to organized writers’ conferences, they know they are going to be hit up with pitches. It is just another day on the job for them. When the same conference has a pitch fest, the event becomes a golden opportunity for writers to approach them in an organized safe way. This is best for both. Agents don’t want to be chased into the bathroom (as one person on the Facebook page related) or have their dinner interrupted with an overzealous author. At the same time, those authors that respect boundaries might have difficulty knowing when it is proper to approach an agent. I’m shy, generally speaking. At a pitch event, I can bring it on. When I’m standing in line for drinks at a conference break, I can’t. I honestly think the agent wants a break by then. So I try to abide by the rules of polite society and common sense, but that begs the question of when to approach them in a nonorganized way at a sci-fi convention.

The Second Group of Responses

I got some good recommendations for possible general writing conferences, most of which I already knew about.

  • Pikes Peak Writers Conference: This is a very good regional conference and I enjoyed the one time I went. It wasn’t too pricey (as conferences go) but only had around six agents (can’t remember actual number) of which only four might be interested in my work. For all the cost of the registration fee, hotel, air flight, and more. I spent a lot of money to meet these folks.
  • Thrillerfest (which I’m attending next week): This is a pricey national conference. The event is huge with lots of opportunities for learning, socializing, and pitching. I’ve gone four times before. I feel like I get good “bang for my buck” at larger, national conferences like this and the Writers’ Digest ones.
  • Push to Publish: I’ve never been but it was recommended to me.
  • Philia Writer’s Conference: I’ve never been but it was recommended to me.
  • Writing Excuses week long cruise: I’ve never been. I researched it and it talked about a lot of famous authors, over three hundred attendees… and one agent. As much as it would be fun, it is not a good option, in my opinion, for meeting multiple agents.

K. Tempest Bradford, who is a media critic and writing instructor, stated that I should concentrate on the conventions that have a high percentage of agents/editors who won’t mind doing a little side business. Again, how would I know about these people unless they literally have signs on them? She recommended these general sci-fi cons. I only know about the one that I commented on.

Third Group of Responses

This was the disheartening group because it seemed filled with bitterness. I’ll paraphrase it as “Pitch fests aren’t worth it. The agencies only send their newest, crappy agents, most agents hate these events, etcetera.” I have no idea what agents think about these pitch fests. I’ve been to several in California, Colorado, and New York City and the professionals been wonderfully kind to me. I always walk away with at least three or more requests for pages. The bigger the event, the more requests I get.

I have also met a LOT of established agents and CEOs of their companies, thus blowing away the “newest agent” comment. As far as that goes, I have absolutely no problem dealing with a new agent as long as we have good chemistry. I’m in it for the long haul and looking for a partner that will support me and also tell me when I’m wrong

In Conclusion

Ultimately, I was right. None of the science-fiction conventions appear to have the same setup as Thrillerfest, where they spend three days supporting writers and then two days celebrating fans. Although people on this Facebook page said they DO feel supported, the main gist of the advice was to go to mainstream writers’ conferences because “science fiction is different.” I disagree. Sci-fi is great with a huge body of supporters, writers, publishers, and agents. Yes, there are writing panels and workshops at places like Worldcon and the larger regional ones, but it stops there. So why can’t Worldcon have two days for writing and a pitch fest for those of us trying to become established authors? Why not support up and coming writers directly at some of the larger literary-oriented cons? It is the one way where we sci-fi people fall a little short of supporting our own.

Meanwhile I will be at Thrillerfest this week, pitching my feminist YA story about life for women in the Asteroid Belt where the Old West meets The Martian. Please wish me luck!

Happy writing!

Valerian: Visual Amazement Searching for a Plot

Early trailers of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets started more than six months ago and definitely grabbed my attention. However, the movie, much like Avatar, provided wondrous CGI graphics and failed in creating a good story. Good comic book movies and visually stunning sci-fi flicks abound this year, so it’s a terrible shame that Valerian failed so much.

The Good StuffImage result

The plot, such as it was, offered imaginative ideas, including connecting this tale to Earth’s history. The City of a Thousand Planets has the International Space Station at its core, building layer after layer upon it as first countries, then later aliens help expand the station, now named Alpha. It was one of the best parts of the movie.

Another creative idea was a tourist trap bazaar reachable only with an interdimensional helmet. The tourists arrive at an empty spot in the desert and see others wandering around aimlessly. Once the visitors put on helmets, they enter another dimension that is not only wall to wall dark buildings but also hundreds of stories high. The concept and visual execution of this was a lot of fun.

In addition, the writers made a creature that poops out multiple copies of whatever it last ate. Think of that in terms of diamonds. While in the helmet dimension, Valerian snatches this rare animal from a black-market trade while his partner, Laureline, watches outside the dimension. The action scene offers some comic action to an otherwise not great film.

The producers delivered on graphics as well, making the film well worth the big screen price. The various alien creatures are not rehashes of other movies. The ships and aliens were similar but original enough to engage the audience and fit the story well. Even Rihanna shows ups as a shape-changing hooker and gives an amusing performance to add levity to the situation.

The Bad Stuff

Many reviewers compared the movie to The Fifth Element  because of the comparable chaotic blitz of imagery that the movies share. Luc Besson is the director of both so it is his artistry that we see. However, Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich pulled off their romantic roles better. They created a synergy that pulled the audience into the story and made the love connection more believable.

In Valerian, Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne lacked chemistry. DeHaan seemed too young for the role of a seasoned military major although his acting was good. Delevingne’s Lauraline spent the whole time radiating barely controlled anger and ballsy determination, giving her no character depth. She wasn’t likeable so we didn’t care about the love story weaving in and mostly out of the story.

The plot also fails in terms of details. Most of the action occurs on a space station, albeit a huge, multi-tiered, multi-atmospheric station. Valerian (like Superman and Iron Man) acted like a human wrecking ball. He failed to use doors most of the time, preferring to blow through walls. Not an issue on Earth but why didn’t anyone worry about atmospheric breaches? In fact, in the run up to the big climax, the hero rams though multiple environments, contaminating each of them without any thought or retribution. In addition, why would a space station have an ocean large enough for dinosaur-sized underwater monsters? Visually exciting but stupid in concept.

Another glaring hole involved the most valuable creature in the galaxy, a “creator” (the diamond pooper), which is the last of its species. Early in the movie, Valerian and Lauraline retrieve it from a black marketer in another dimension. Lauraline, in an effort to keep it safe, then carries it into gunfights, radioactive zones, and an alien banquet hall where humans are a rare delicacy. The cute beastie was lucky to survive.

Overall, I’d give this Valerian, The City of a Thousand Planets a weak three stars, mostly based on its visual impact. I’m glad I saw it on the big screen but won’t shell out the $20+ to buy the Blu-ray. Hopefully like Avatar, this film will fade off into low quality sci-fi obscurity without any sequel.