WEEK THREE: An Interview with Dave Doering
I always look forward to the Utah-based convention LTUE (Life, the Universe, & Everything) as it's one of the best places (locally) for me to network and connect with other authors, agents, editors, and publishers. You would be surprised at how many movers and shakers attend this event.
I have gained great friendships and forged bonds that have strengthened my drive and determination in my writing career. At this LTUE, I made the decision to meet with various professionals within the industry, pull them aside, and ask them five specific questions in five minutes. Most of these interviews sparked lengthy conversation beyond what I could have hoped for.
These men and women have shared with me their insights and experiences, their stories and their bits of advice. For aspiring authors, fans, and fellow literary community members, I'll share with you each of these thirteen interviews in the space of thirteen weeks.
Dave: It’s funny, in many other genres there’s an uppityness to the authors and they want to be seen as authorities. They are not approachable, not willing to share (with the community). What you find in Science Fiction and Fantasy is that they are extremely liberal in their desire to share because they believe—unlike when I grew up in New York, where if I want a piece of the pie I would have to take it from you—that here we can just make a bigger pie! And remember, the demand for content is insatiable!
Rafael: Right, there is no set pie size for the Science Fiction and Fantasy community.
Dave: Yes, and the fact is, is that there have been plenty of movies and books that you finish and you want the sequel right then.
Rafael: And to talk of the community of writers in the genre, I love it as a whole because of the general togetherness. You see that clearly at LTUE, at professional workshops like the Superstars Writing Seminar, and I’ve seen it at Fyrecon. Many writers in the genre are willing to help each other grow. But to ask you a more personal question, if there was one primary reason for why you got into the genre of Sci-Fi and Fantasy, what would that be?
Dave: Well to go back to the beginning, it was because I pulled from the library shelves an illustrated copy of Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea when I was in third grade and the librarian said, “I’m sorry young man, but that is too big of a book for you.” So I became stubborn and I was determined to read that book in third grade. The second reason was later on when I was more grown-up, I had the opportunity to take a class from Orson Scott Card at BYU. Unfortunately Scott decided to pursue his doctorate and so couldn’t teach, but the teacher who did do it, Dr. Marion K. Smith, who we affectionally called “Doc Smith” gave us just the right balance of encouragement but left you wanting more. We had three or four other people in that class, that when the class was done we wanted more, and so I remember having one of the members of the class saying look, there’s some of us getting together to create a writing group. It was that group that was the starting seed for the BYU magazine The Leading Edge and then that led to creating LTUE.
Rafael: Well through these years of being in the industry and meeting many professionals, who do you think is the better judge of writing talent: agents, editors, other authors, or readers?
Dave: I would have to say the readers because your agent and editor may or may not reflect the audience you want to talk to. For example, if you have an older editor, they may be decades away from the YA audience you want to address and may be totally unfamiliar with what their audience wants and would find appealing. Obviously, all of those groups can give input though. There’s value in having an editor talk about your writing style. When I met George Scithers at a dinner party (He was the founding editor of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine (1977-82), and grew it to the largest circulation in the field in its day while he was editor, and following that was the editor of Amazing Stories until 1986. He won the Hugo for Best Editor in 1978 and 1980) I asked him, “you know, you get hundreds of manuscripts a week. How many of those can you reject due to technical blunders?” And sitting there, he waved his piece of chicken at me and said “Dave, not technical blunders!” George looked at technical as being the mechanics of a story. What he wanted to point out was that three-quarters of manuscripts would get immediately rejected because they were written on crayon or…
Rafael: Typed up using Comic Sans.
Dave: Yeah! He said (George) “Or having a page turned upside-down in the manuscript—deliberately—in order to see if I’ve read it. It’s so juvenile that right away I can get rid of that because this guy is not a professional. I don’t have time to teach him the basics.” So those are the things an editor can help with, even advising on the basics of how to submit your work! Dave Farland—Dave Wolverton—is a master of that. When he won the Writer’s of the Future grand prize, he was ready when he met publishers with three completed novels and outlines for two more series! You may have only one shot in front of an editor. They’ve got to know that you’re in it for the long term. But in the end it’s still up to your readers. Sad to say, but you can have plenty of readers and still be atrocious in your mechanics.
Rafael: So to sell your works to these readers, what would you say is the best (current) marketing strategy for indie and trad. pub. writers—if you are one that believes in a specific answer for that?
Dave: Well I tell you, we have a problem because writers tend to be iconoclastic—they’re loners and you’re asking them to be social, which doesn’t quite work. It's hard. But now because we have the ability to distribute our works more so than any other time in history, we have an opportunity. But what you have to do, is you have to look at these potential “friends” (readers) and give them an easy on-ramp to find you, engage with you, and to learn about you. You have to be out participating, whether that’s Twitter, Instagram, a blog, or Facebook—someplace where you can start to build a community—and then you gotta write a lot. You gotta have stuff to share, so you can prime the pump so to speak, and so that you can get feedback from people, about how closely you are hitting your target. If possible, find an effective writing group to work with.
Rafael: So what has been the most difficult challenge for you personally in your career in this industry?
Dave: First is jump in and trying something. Best example I had was I met Gary Kurtz, the producer of Star Wars at a convention in Baltimore. There was several of us that won an opportunity to sit down and talk to him one-on-one which was brilliant. Well I’m walking across campus and I see Mr. Kurtz walking toward me and I’m thinking, well the building is in the other direction, maybe he’s lost—but he’s Gary Kurtz, lofty god from Mount Olympus! I can’t say anything to him! He knows what he is doing!
Rafael: But you did talk to him?
Dave: You see where this is going (laughs). He was lost. He never found the building, never had the meeting, and it would have taken me only a second (and would not have been hard) for me to say, “Excuse me Mr. Kurtz, are you lost? Are you looking for the building?” And he would have said, “Yes I am, can you show me the way?” I could have taken him there. Now I would have had something priceless. I could have had three or four exclusive minutes with the guy, where he is highly disposed to me, because I saved him from an embarrassing situation.
Rafael: You would have had a personal connection.
Dave: It could have led into something! All I had to do was open my mouth and say something—and I didn’t. From then on, I realized I had to say something—if you have a legitimate reason.
Rafael: You should never be afraid to approach people, even if you get shot down.
Dave: Here’s the opposite, if he would have said (Kurtz) “Get out of here, you get nothing from me!” Well guess what, who would want to spend another second with someone like that? With an ego that big? I was shy, and I had to overcome it. Talk to authors, ask authors questions. The other challenge, of course, is the money problem with the arts. Particularly in Utah—we’re grossly underfunded, but we’ve managed to pay our bills.
Rafael: That’s sad to hear as we have so many Fantasy authors generating from Utah.
Dave: We’ve got four of the top five Fantasy authors in the world from Utah.
Rafael: It must be the water we’re drinking.
"It's never boring with Dave Doering!" - A famous quote, probably
Dave Doering is the founder of Life, the Universe, and Everything, a writer and creator conference based in Provo, Utah. He also started the Leading Edge magazine at his alma mater Brigham Young University. It is one of the oldest student-run publications in the US. His successful career as a business and technical writer stems from his work as editor on the Leading Edge. He has always been willing to talk to me and other authors and has been an influential member of the writing world. Thanks Dave!
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If I'm not writing, I must be dead.