Monday, July 4, 2011

Could SFR by the NBT and How Might We Get There?

The Grand Ball that is RWA Nationals has come and gone and what a fantastic time it was! Though Sharon Lynn Fisher and I had high hopes for bringing home a Golden Heart win for SFR, it was not to be. This year. We, as a community, need to keep fighting the good fight. The industry is changing dramatically and each new day brings opportunity for our subgenre.

I did a lot of mulling and brainstorming in the last week, and I have a few things I’d like to put on the table.

One of the mottos for the SFR Brigade/SFR Community is: "Conquering the Universe...One Story at a Time." I think that applies to the Publishing Universe as well, and possibly we should adopt it as a battle cry rather than just a motto.

During my pitch sessions--one with a well known agent who accepts SFR and one with a senior editor from a publishing house that accepts both SFR and SF--they asked if I had any questions for them. Oh, yes I did. I wanted their input on SFR: Did they think it was increasing in popularity, decreasing in popularity or staying about the same?

Their response (averaged and paraphrased) was that it's difficult to tell in the current lackluster market, however there is a bit of a buzz about SFR and with the waning interest in vampire romance the industry seems to be searching for a missile lock on what will be "the next big thing." They hinted that if the stars aligned just so, that "next big thing" might possibly be SFR.

My take? I think SFR may have a shot at that coveted "NBT" title and there's a few things we can do as a community to help get us there:

1. Step up our efforts as a community to raise the visibility of SFR and find greater numbers of potential readers.

I'm convinced "The audience is out there." The reading public is now made up of at least three generations who grew up on Star Trek, Star Wars, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica and Avatar and that translates to millions who have an interest in SF/SFR. Can we find new ways to reach out to our potential audience?  We may need to attack this objective from several different angles. While at Nationals, several Brigaders kicked around the idea of developing a SFR workshop for next year's Nationals and/or the RT Booklovers Convention. Should we found a companion community to the SFR Brigade for readers? Coordinate our efforts to attend the big cons? Work on joint book signing tours? Brainstorm a way for digital authors to do book signings? Hey, we're SFR authors. Innovation is our middle name.

2. Support our own subgenre by promoting SFR books.

The Brigade is approaching a membership of 200. If we were all to promote the SFR books we love, we'd create a huge impact. How do we do that? Write reviews and author interviews for our blogs, rate and review books on Amazon and Goodreads and other book-centered sites, tag, tag, tag!, and chime in on reader site discussions about good books to read. If we each devote an hour or so a week to advancing the subgenre, we're helping create a bigger market for our work.

3. Back a breakout SFR novel.

A huge-selling SFR novel could do wonders to open the doors for our subgenre. Recently, we've had a few books garner brilliant reviews and RT Top Picks, but if they don't have the sales to back that up, we've lost a launch window opportunity. It's not economically viable to personally buy 20 copies of your favorite SFR title, but what if you can convince 20 other people to purchase? This goes back to #2. Invest a bit of time to promote your subgenre--review, rate, blog, and discuss great SFR.

4. Work to establish SFR as a separate contest category from Paranormal.

I know this doesn't sound like a significant strategy point, but I believe it is. As long as SFR is pitted against Fantasy and Paranormal, it will struggle in contests against (currently) much more marketable subgenres. Often agent and/or editor judges are chosen for their interest in general Paranormal which doesn't necessarily included SFR, so our subgenre is sometimes a longshot to place well in the final round or be requested by the judge. If we, as a community, start with the smaller contests and convince them we'll submit X number of manuscripts if they break out a separate SFR/Futuristic/Steampunk/Apocalyptic category, they might take us seriously. This could also entail having to help locate a final judge who's an editor or agent, and that's where our published authors could help with their connections.

5. Pitch and query those SFR manuscripts.

The more editors and agents hear about imaginative stories with complex world-building and compelling characters, the more receptive they'll become to the idea of selling or publishing SFR, and the more likely they'll be to find that one "big story" they're all looking for.

This year we had three SFR manuscripts in the Golden Heart finals and one SFR novel that finaled in two RITA categories--ENEMY WITHIN by Marcella Burnard. That's progress! Here's a couple of other exciting tidbits:

--Popular author Zoe Archer has published a SFR titled COLLISION COURSE.

--At least two other 2011 Golden Heart finalists are also working on SFR manuscripts, including one who entered a previously shelved manuscript and "finished in the top third."

I think the environment is primed for SFR to make its move in the publishing world, but it will take a community effort to get us there.

What say you? Do you think the five-part plan will be effective? Do you have other ideas for things we can do as a community to promote SFR?

42 comments:

  1. I just inde-published the first in a series that I labeled sci-fi romance. So far I've sent a few requests without attachment to review sites and one politely declined based on the genre of sci-fi. I wondered if she'd have reacted differently if I had labeled Splintered Energy as Earth based SFR. I do know I prefer character oriented reads instead of techno ones.
    But yes, I plan to do my best to push my series as romance and science blended, along with suspence and that hopefully makes for a mix of genres with appeal to a wide audience.

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  2. the idea of developing a SFR workshop for next year's Nationals and/or the RT Booklovers Convention. Should we found a companion community to the SFR Brigade for readers? Coordinate our efforts to attend the big cons? Work on joint book signing tours? Brainstorm a way for digital authors to do book signings?

    All of the above. An RWA workshop would increase visibility for the genre to other writers and industry professionals. A presence somehow at the Literacy Signing would increase visibility to both industry people and readers. Since many SFR writers are e-pubbed, we need an alternate way to participate. I've wondered about a specially designed e-device cover that readers could buy (which would go to the charity) and then e-book author could sign it. In conjunction, maybe ebook publishers could give away codes to download books for that event similarly to the cards Samhain was giving out.

    Work to establish SFR as a separate contest category from Paranormal.

    I love Paranormals, but I really don't think spaceships and ray guns should be in the same category with vampires and werewolves.

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  3. Arlene, I think "Earth-based SF with Romantic Elements" just may be the ticket for SPLINTERED ENERGY, especially with some of the more-romance focused review sites.

    Keep fighting the good fight. I know SE will find it's audience. I told several people about your novel at conference and all seemed intrigued.

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  4. Wonderfully encouraging post, Laurie. I also talked to an agent who welcomes SFR submissions. With several YA writers I discussed YA SFR.

    I'm behind the contest category break-out. Having been the chapter member to propose and advertise a YA category in our Reveal Your Inner Vixen Contest, I know a few well-placed loop ads generate the entrants. They increased in subsequent years. There should certainly be enough entrants to run the category with steampunk included.

    Speaking of which, another corner of promo might be the link of Steampunk origins in science fiction. I will get to work on that promised article.

    Looking forward to more discussion on what we can do!

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  5. Wow, Laurie. First of all, bad luck on the not winning - but you were so close!!!!!!!! You've thought this through carefully and I think you're absolutely right - whether what you've suggested will come to fruition is another matter. It DOES require concerted effort and that's where the difficulty lies. I think it's hard to persuade writers to put energy into joint efforts like this but I agree that until something like a sci fi niche is accepted as equal to paranormal, inspirational etc - it will be hard to break the image of sci fi rom as a lacklustre sub genre. I wish I understood why it isn't as popular. It has everything going for it, and you're right - with Star Trek, Avatar etc - you'd think people would be queueing up - oops lining up to buy stories like that.
    So waffle over - yes I agree, the time is right- we need to act.

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  6. Thanks, Lisa. Several of us were talking workshop and I agree it would really bring some recognition to SFR. The trick is our approach. We should talk more. I'd love this to be a group project with several volunteers assisting in addition to a panel of speakers.

    And we'll work on those other "all of the aboves" too.

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  7. Laurel, it was great brainstorming with you and other Brigaders at Nationals. I'm so enthused about your article. What a great idea.

    We should talk more. Maybe a Yahoo loop?

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  8. Barbara, it does have everything going for it, doesn't it? I think we just need to find a way to communicate that to readers and fans. Maybe that's what we should strive for.

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  9. Anyone want to start a SFR FB group for tossing around ideas? I find the FB groups the easiest to use.

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  10. Okay my duh, we HAVE a group on FB. Maybe we need to use it a little more?

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  11. I had a *duh* moment there, too, Jenn. That it an excellent suggestion.

    I think we'd need one or two (or more) Frequent-FB Brigaders to help keep it active. Would you be interested in being our FB Wing Commander?

    Our Twitter Squadron Wing Leader, Sara Brookes (congrats again on the PRISM win, Sara) set up Twitter so all our posts go up on Twitter. Maybe that's possible with FB, too? Anyone know?

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  12. Those of us with blogs could also work on a spread the word/champion the genre campaign. I know a lot of us already do, but reminding readers that SFR has been around forever, and they already read and love some of it, is one of my favorite post topics. ;)

    Frances

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  13. Separating SFR from paranormal and fantasy would be the biggest breakthrough moment in my opinion. Even though I also love paranormal and fantasy genres, right now SFR is like the weird sibling that doesn't quite fit in with the rest of the "family".

    The readers interested in science and future concepts will never take us completely serious if we're grouped with vampires and ghosts.

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  14. Throwing out some ideas:
    1. What if SFRB ran a contest? I'm not a contest-lover myself, but they do garner great interest in some circles. We could break up entries into categories such as Steampunk, Speculative, Hard SF, Futuristic, etc. IF we could get judges that mattered to writers and IF the grand prize was desirable, I would bet numerous SF-wanna-bes would come out of the closet. So many people I talked to this weekend at RWA were writing SF and didn't know it.
    2. Growing up as a SF fan-girl who lived for any tidbit of romance in a SF or fantasy novel, I nearly DIED when I found SFR. There has to be girls like that hiding in the SF community today. We just have to find them. Cross-advertising and promotion at SF conferences could help in that endeavor.
    3. In the same vein, we need to find fans online. We need to find a way to use FB, twitter and even this website to offer things that fans want, particularly access to the authors. Contests, reviews, dissemination of inside information through any and all online means could bring fans to SFR books.
    4. LOVE the idea of a SFR panel! Go, guys, go! And how about a SFR panel at a well-attended SF convention? For instance, here in Albuquerque, we have Bubonicon in August. It's very writing-oriented (as opposed to straight fan-based SF) and relatively small but extremely well-attended (Diana Gabaldon and George R. R. Martin come nearly every year). A SFR panel there could generate the interest of potential SFR writers and readers.
    Just ideas. Yet know that I am willing to help any way I can!

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  15. I love the contest idea! And would be very interested in hosting more SFR authors on the blog.

    I recently contracted a water-world SFR to Lyrical and have a sequel in the works, plus another SFR almost ready to sub. It seems editors are buying SFR, that is an excellent thing!

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  16. I definitely agree that we need to be separate from the paranormal and fantasy genres.
    And fingers crossed that SFR really IS the NBT!

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  17. Yes Laurie, I'll see what I can do with the FB group. Whoever has admin privileges needs to make me an admin there. I think the Brigade FB group is under the old group format which is going extinct, so we need to update that.

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  18. Contest would be awesome, though a HUGE undertaking. I think we are up for the challenge though. If we make it all online like FF&P's On the Far Side Contest it would be easier but we'd need to make sure a big crew of people would be willing to judge. Maybe run a pole on the FB page to see who is interested so we can decide by category, whether to do a publish/ unpublished contest ect.

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  19. I'd been thinking (hoping) for the past year or two that SFR is going to be the next big thing. As others have said, I think a SFR contest that seperates us from paranormal would definitely be a turning point.
    I always thought Firfly was a bit before its time, and wonder had Joss Whedon put it out there now, would the same thing have happened to him? With the Stargate empire coming to an end after the cancellation of SGUniverse, I think the way is open for a really great SF TV show to come along and blow eveyone away, which in turn will only bolster SFR. It definitely seems the stars are aligning!

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  20. I'm having really great results with my trailer contest for The Nasty Vamp. I've pasted in the contest to give you an idea. My last book trailer got 54 hits in a year's time. This one has gotten 470 hits in two months time. A really big jump.

    Watch the trailer for The Nasty Vamp and answer one simple question. What does our heroine want for her 21st birthday? Up for grabs is a genuine, authentic Navajo Indian necklace I bought at Monument Valley. Click on the link below, answer the question correctly and you're put in the drawing. Simple, huh?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TrI2eRVIOe8

    So, maybe start running some fun contests, generate some buzz.

    Gail

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  21. Jenn, you now have the helm on the SFRb FB group. Feel free to update as needed and thanks for lending your ideas to the cause. Thanks for your enthusiasm. I think the FB could be an excellent facet of getting the word out.

    A contest would be wonderful! We posed this idea before, but didn't have enough response to conduct one. Hopefully that's changed now!

    My local chapter has a contest that allows unpublished and published in a different genre to enter. I love that idea, because being an Historical or Romantic Suspense author does not necessarily make a SFR author.

    I agree, reaching out to SFR fans is also key. Possibly we could start with a Goodreads ambassador (or three) who serves as mutual informer between the Goodreads SFR group and the SFR Brigade, ala Hey Goodreads, there's a new SFR being promoted on the Brigade. Hey, SFR Brigade, Goodreads' book of the month is __________________.

    Gail's idea of doing fun contests would be worth looking into. We could also do different types of contests, like cover contests, trailer contests, etc. Maybe schedule one day a week, or twice a month, as contest day?

    I'm also hearing some agreement we should pursue breaking away from Paranormal/Fantasy, starting with contests and working other angles from there.

    I'll get a poll up later this week to gauge how many Brigagers are activately entering contests and if they'd support contests that split off SFR/Futuristic/ Steampunk/Apocalyptic/NearFuture (etc.)

    Other thoughts or ideas?

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  22. Laurie, great post and thanks for all of your efforts. I salute everyone who went to nationals because that’s a big investment, both financially and time-wise.

    I agree it’s very important to maintain as much momentum as we can, especially since this is a long-term commitment type of deal.

    Once my daughter enters kindergarten in September, I’m hoping I’ll be able to work on my blog and related SFR community endeavors on a full-time basis. Let’s hope the economy gods look upon me in favor, LOL!

    Arlene, fwiw, I posted a list of SFR-friendly review sites at The Galaxy Express. Of course, that doesn’t mean they will review everything they receive, but it’s a place to start (and please do check their guidelines as the post has been up a while).

    I wouldn’t be surprised if authors had to target three times as many reviewers to get at least a handful of reviews.

    @Laurie@Lisa: Re: workshops/panels: While I won’t be able to attend any conferences in the near future, I’d be happy to help behind the scenes by providing resources or helping to develop a few with those authors who are interested in submitting proposals.

    I’ve got lots of stuff we can tailor for presentations. One on SFR covers alone would be a big draw.

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  23. Re: communicating the appeal of SFR to potential fans:

    In light of the many conversations happening about women authors in SF (and their marginalization), I’ve been giving this particular topic much thought.

    While the marginalization happens for a variety of reasons, one of the biggest IMHO lies in the cultural belief—held by both men *and* women—that women can’t do math or science, let alone be interested in the subjects.

    Hogwash, of course, but such ingrained beliefs become an obstacle when trying to share one’s enthusiasm about SFR with readers who fear they won’t “get it” despite the fact that they are totally capable of doing so (never mind the fact that most stories include highly accessible scientific concepts).

    Therefore, my thought it this: We are not just talking about communicating the appeal of SFR here. We are talking about re-framing SFR—and by extension, SF—for readers who think the subgenre doesn’t have anything to offer them.

    I’m assuming, of course, that such potential readers will already be predisposed in some way to liking SFR (e.g., they like action-adventure stories, romantic suspense, paranormal/fantasy romance, AVATAR/STAR WARS/STAR TREK, comic books, etc.).

    We are asking readers to put aside pre-conceived notions about SF in general, and take a second look at how SFR has tailored many of the same elements to their interests.

    Lisa Paitz Spindler’s message in her recent Parallel Universe post at TGE post really nails this:

    “Science fiction offers its own “sense of wonder,” but that zero-G feeling that so many SF fans love is the very thing that freaks out others. They need another way to relate to the story. For instance, new quantum physics theories claim there are ten dimensions in space-time. What could this mean for me, right now, in my living room on planet Earth?”

    In light of that last sentence, how can we answer that question for potential readers? How can we empower them? How can we structure our message so that the accessibility of SFR not only shines through, but also generates strong appeal?

    Because we’re not about selling them books necessarily—especially when it comes to developing relationships—rather, it’s about offering potential readers information and news that will benefit them.

    Incorporating such a philosophy—that SFR is accessible, exciting, and will enrich a reader’s world—into everything we do might make for a more streamlined approach, as well as help us articulate the overall message more clearly.

    And writing irresistible books can’t hurt either, LOL!

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  24. I'm on board for the panel/workshop any time.

    One of the options Heather (of TGE fame) and I had talked about at one point was a presence at comicbook cons - getting several authors (both e-pubbed and traditional) together at a table - doing a single panel there, trying to capture some of our fellow girl geeks.

    Getting RWA to separate SFR from paranormal - that's going to be a tough one. I have long wondered with the Golden Hearts and RITAs being about the 'best romance has to offer' whether a SFR can compete - most of us are a 50/50 blend of scifi and romance. When other paranormals can and do focus more strongly on the love story, it might be pretty tough for SFR to snag a top romance award. It can obviously be done - Linnea Sinclair has done it. :D Just thinking out loud...

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  25. One way to crack book blogging review sites is, when you approach them about a review, offer to do a guest blog post and/or giveaway as an alternative to a review. No question I've had problems getting reviews for my SFR in some places I always used to get reviews, but I can do guest blogs for the sites and talk about the genre. I've also worked on just interacting on lists and finally cracked one site with a review. Have no idea how it will turn out, but the book will get reviewed.

    Another thing to consider, getting reviewed by RT requires an investment in an ad. I've done group ads, but what if we coordinated SFR type ads to get our stuff all together? IOWFA does group ads Realms or Fantasy, or they did. But again, SFR was mixed up with paranormal, etc. We could look into group ads there. The new owner of the magazine is open to authors and we could see what kind of deal we'd get. Something to consider.

    Been out of town and heading out again in two days, but I'll give it some thought while I'm gone! Great to see activity on the blog again. It's been a bit dead! :-)

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  26. P.S. Comicpalooza is the comic con here in Houston. A friend and I are trying to get on the panel list next year. Also, the steampunk conventions are pretty open to authors, at least the ones pretty local here (AetherFest was very nice, though I haven't tried to get on a panel yet).

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  27. Some wonderful ideas and thoughts. I'll try to summarize the list in a follow-up post. Love the ideas of doing panels and focusing on making SFR more accessible to female readers.

    Great point about how readers don't think they'll "get" SFR, yet many were probably avid Star Trek or Star Wars fans, regularly use complex cell phones and other gadgetry, and have no problems "getting" the technology.

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  28. BTW, I put up a contest survey on our FB group.

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  29. I think since we are going all out with facebook we should also set up a facebook fan page for the brigade. We can run polls from there, authors can post links to their blog stops/ new releases and feature cover art.

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  30. Snagging those cross over fans at the Sci-fi cons is a fabulous idea. I do three local cons a year and have had a really good reception 'despite' my heavily romantic elements.
    This year at my favorite con they have invited me to do panels and attend as a pro.
    :) contact.
    I have always read sci-fi and yes, the romantic plotlines were the filling in the twinkie for me. Im quite certain that community is full of potential sfr fans.

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  31. And I've just signed a contract with Lyrical for my scifi rom too! Squeee!

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  32. Still mulling this entire topic over, but I have a few thoughts. I'd be up for a panel at RWA. At RT, there is a fairly large SFR presence with Linnea Sinclair's Intergalactic Bar & Grill party. But I'd also be up for a panel there!

    Carina Press SFR authors have been getting a presence started over at Contact Infinite Futures. (http://contactinfinitefutures.wordpress.com/) We're always up for guests posts.

    As for contests, I know that the FF&P chapter had to ask for more entries in the Futuristic category of the Prisms. I know the finalists this year were all fantastic, so I know they got responses, but that they had to ask worries me if we're discussing a contest for SFR by itself. That's just one instance, but I thought I'd bring it up as something to consider.

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  33. Re: Ella's point about the FF&P:

    Is it more effective for authors to invest money in the FF&P contest (because if memory serves, entrants must pay to become an RWA member first) which is probably the most high-profile contest for SF/F/P, or enter a variety of lower cost, lower profile contests?

    Obviously, if every author could afford to enter every contest, that increases the chances of SFR titles winning, but realistically, what is the better strategy--especially since FF&P was hurting for submissions?

    Is there a compelling reason to reinvent the contest wheel other than the fact that the FF&P is pricey?

    Re: Golden Heart/RITA: Has there ever been a time when "paranormal romance" wasn't a category? If so, why, how, and when did the creation of that category come about?

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  34. Unless they change it, an author does not need to be in RWA to enter. They also take ebook entries.

    I double checked. This past year, it cost $30 to enter for members, $35 for non-members,

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  35. @Ella Oh, okay--I was thinking of membership in FF&P; I forgot or got mixed up regarding the contest being available to non-members. Well, then that eliminates the financial obstacle.

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  36. Frances, I need to talk to you more about those cons. One is SpoCon if I remember right?

    Squeeeee, Pippa! Fantastic news.

    Thanks Ella and Heather for your input. I do think we should discuss that panel idea further!

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  37. What a fantastic discussion! I have the summer off work. I'm focusing on writing, blogging and publicity. So until I'm back to work full time...I'm up for whatever. How can I be most helpful?

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  38. Oh, Diane, let me count the ways. :)

    Would you be interested in getting involved in the workshop discussion, or workshop itself?

    Will you be attending any Cons or conferences where you could serve as a SFR ambassador?

    We could also use participation on our FB page and here on the blog.

    Thanks for your enthusiasm. This kind of positive energy is bound to gain SFR more recognition.

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  39. Re: panels/workshops: I'm happy to pull together info from my past blog posts or bullet points for panels--feel free to recycle info from TGE if it helps save time.

    Some panel ideas:

    SFR 101

    A presentation on the various settings used in SFR (i.e., the highlights of each one, core elements).

    Steampunk romance

    Marketing your (SFR) ebook

    SFR: Then Next Generation (with a panel of new/newer authors in the subgenre discussing where SFR came from and where it's going)

    Creating futuristic gadgets/weapons/inventions

    SFR covers--what do readers want? Panelists could solicit feedback from readers--make it interactive?

    Well, I better stop there or I'll be here all day, LOL!

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  40. Laurie - I'd be happy to help out with the Facebook page. if someone could give me admin privileges. I'll get in touch with Jenn Hart and collaborate on some plans to spruce it up a bit.

    I'm not much of a con goer, but I'd be happy to be part of the workshop planning team.

    I'd be happy to host any SFR writer on my blog or facilitate a guest post on Contact- Infinite Futures.

    I think we also need to reach out beyond our SFR-focused sites to SF and Romance blogs/sites.

    Let me know if there's anything else I can do.

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  41. Heather, thanks for your thoughts on the workshop. Some great ideas.

    Diane, I've given you admin status on FB. Thanks so much for helping out.

    Thanks for the offer to provide guest blog spots and facilitate guest posts on Infinite Futures (love that tag).

    I'll be sure to include you in the loop for the workshop discussions. :)

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  42. Sorry to chime in so late, but if anyone is still reading . . .
    As usual, Laurie, that active brain of yours is working overtime! My thoughts--1)We should definitely try to get in a workshop at RWA Nationals next year and cover the basics with a panel that includes published authors, sympathetic editors and agents, both digital and print, if we can get them. That would be the single highest-profile action we could take to further the cause.
    2)Those of us who regularly attend fan conventions (TREK, comics, etc.)can begin to use them as a platform for making a case for SFR. Many of us started out in fan fiction--we know there's an audience there. And don't forget the dealer rooms at these cons. You see and talk to everyone there. For a small fee, you can rent space to sell your books and yourself. They're a ready-made book-signing opportunity. 3)I LOVE the idea of working out some way for digital authors to participate in the Literacy Autographing event at RWA. Again, virtually everyone at the conference comes through that room and being visible there gives you a chance to be visible to the larger romance audience. 4)I think one annual SFRB writing contest would be a good idea. Start small, with just unpubbed manuscripts, and find a time of year when nothing major is competing with us for time. Keep the fee reasonable and try to use first-round judges who've done it before for their local chapters. For the final round, try to get editors/agents who actually like SFR. Then we could have the most popular contest around.

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