I recently went on the Sail to Success Workshop Cruise. It was a fascinating experience, one I would recommend to any author looking to improve their game. I have to admit that I was, through good fortune, well ahead of most of the other writers at the workshop, but I still learned a lot, as well as having the doors to some new opportunities opened. I first heard of this cruise through my friend Kevin J Anderson at Superstars, when I asked him if there were any other workshop/seminars he could recommend. I signed up for it on the internet while still in Colorado, and was disappointed when it was cancelled due to lack of participation. I signed up for it again this year, and fortunately they had enough sign ups this year to actually schedule the cruise. I would definitely put it up there with Superstars both in the quality of the faculty and the depth of the material covered. And the level of exhaustion afterwards.
I was hoping that Toni Weisskopf would be aboard, but she had to cancel. It was important to me to get some of my work in front of a Baen editor, and Toni is also the publisher. Fortunately Senior Editor Jim Mintz was able to take her place, and we were able to get two manuscript reviews from Baen, as well as one from Hugo Award Winner Nancy Kress. It was an expensive workshop, partially due to being a cruise, but also factoring in travel and the hotel in Miami the night before to make sure nothing came up to derail those travel plans. And pet care, both sitting for the cats and kenneling for the dog. I couldn’t have afforded the workshop prior to becoming a full time author, but then again, I couldn’t afford Superstars or Dragon Con either. It is an investment, and if I had known some of the things I know now about publishing, I would have come up with the money somehow. But more on that later.
On the day before the cruise I got up and started getting everything together, only to discover that my passport, the location of which I had known for over a year until that morning, was missing. Panic ensued, until I found it where I had placed it so it would be easy to find. Still got off in time and drove the almost eight hours to Miami. I chose a hotel, the Holiday Inn, that was close to the Port of Miami, just in case I got lost the next day. It was actually easy to get to the port the next day, and in less than an hour I was on the Norwegian Sky. Not the largest cruise liner in the world, merely greater the displacement of the Titanic. There was a wait for the staterooms to be ready, but they were serving lunch, so all was well. I finally got into my room, which was small but comfortable enough, and had its own balcony. An hour later the alert for an abandon ship drill sounded. I stumbled out of the bed and found the life preserver, then looked into the hall to find that no one was responding to the alert. I put the life preserver back in my room and went down to deck 6, where the lifeboats were stored, to find absolutely nothing going on. I went back to my room, just in time to hear the intercom blaring that there was indeed a drill, and I headed back to the assembly area, where people started coming in slowly over time. At least I knew I would be one of the first on a lifeboat if it had been real.
The ship sailed at 5 PM, and I sat first on my balcony, taking in the sights of Miami, then headed up to the buffet and ate on the stern deck to see some more of the city. Miami is a pretty city, with modern buildings and lots of lights. Unfortunately, a lot of those lights were from massive waves of traffic. No thanks. I’ll keep Tallahassee or smaller cities to live in. We cruised through the channel between Miami and Miami Beach and soon turned out to sea. The first night the seas were a little rough. It had been raining most of the day in Miami, and the weather in the Bahamas was supposed to be the same. Weather is not something they could promise. Walking the ship that night was almost like being drunk, as it pitched in seas that really didn’t seem that high, not compared to the North Sea that I had travelled across in a ferry while in the Army. Still, it was another experience, and I was constantly observing everything aboard the ship, filing away information that I might be able to use in future stories, such as the size of the staterooms and bathrooms, or of the entertainment facilities. Things I would consider useful to know when designing a spaceship.
That evening at 6:30 PM the workshop started with registration and introductions. We were introduced to the faculty and the other eleven people who were attending. One student I had met at Jody Lynn Nye’s workshop at Dragon Con 2013, and again at Liberty Con 2014. Two others had been attendees of Superstars. The faculty included Eric Flint, one of Baen’s lead authors, and also a regular at Superstars. Nancy Kress is a multiple Hugo winner, and her late husband Charles Sheffield was one of my first online mentors when I started writing. Mike Resnick is the all-time award winner in science fiction (though he also told the story of being the all-time loser of Hugos, with five wins and thirty-two losses). Jim Mintz is a senior editor at Baen books, and I had met him at Dragon Con 2013 and talked with him at several Dragon and Liberty Cons. Eleanor Wood is the senior agent at Spectrum Literary, and represents Mike Resnick. Author Jack Skillingstead rounded out the faculty, which gives six instructors to twelve students. I don’t know if that is the cutoff or if they had more space, but because of the critiques given by Nancy and Jim, I doubt they could have had too many more added to the class. Shahid Mahmud is the publisher of Arc Manor, which put on the workshop. After introductions they jumped right into classes on the publishing business and character building.
We broke up at 9:30 PM. I went to the stateroom of one of Mike’s friends, and stayed there talking with the friend, his wife, and Eleanor Wood. Back to my room at midnight, I crawled into bed, waking up at 8:00 to the sights and sounds of the ship tying up to the dock in Freeport. Freeport docks are actually a little distance from the town, and since we only had the morning free, I just visited the tourist traps next to the docks. Living in Florida most of my life, you would have thought I would have visited one of our closest neighbors before this, but I finally stepped ashore in this country and added it to my list.
Classes started that day at 1:30 PM, with part one of the manuscript critiques by Nancy. She went alphabetically, and I was first up, which is really the best position to be in, since you don’t have to worry about it from then on. I was asked to sit on the indie publishing panel at 4, something else to add to my resume’ when approaching conventions. We broke two hours for dinner, then we had the first manuscript technique with Jim. He didn’t’ go alphabetically, yet I still went first, go figure. But after that I had no stressors about that part of the workshop. After the critique session were two classes on working with magazines and getting through the magazine slush pile. This is where I found out I had been doing it all wrong. Part of the process is getting to know editors and publishers by attending conventions and workshops. I didn’t start doing this until I was already selling online, so it worked out for me, but it would have been nice to know earlier. Now it is information I can use to push on to the next level. We broke at eleven, and I was again very tired, and crawled off to my room to wind down, then into bed.
Next up: Part 2, Nassau.