On Picking Reader Brains for Fun & Profit
We’re now in finals week at IMSA, where I have the pleasure of teaching sf and creative writing courses and working with some of the most interesting students you’re likely to find. Finals week means a retreat to a predictable pattern: long hours of grading, calculating revisions, writing final term comments. Cleaning my office. Drinking tea. Eating at my desk. Wandering in circles gnashing my teeth. More tea.
One of the best things in that predictable end-of-term pattern is my students’ joint blog in Speculative Fiction Studies. For several years, I’ve tapped into the lifeblood of sf publishing — through Twitter, #MSWL, and a growing collaboration of sf publishing professionals — to get my students talking to the creators of the work they’ve been reading, interacting with and contributing back to the sf ecosystem.
This year, I was fortunate to have the cooperation of my agent, Bridget Smith; my editor at Pyr, Rene Sears; and writers Max Gladstone, Carmen Maria Machado, and Naomi Kritzer in furnishing questions for my students to ask. The general theme was, “If you could pick smart, teen readers’ brains, what would you want to know from them that would help you do your job better?” The students’ final assignment was a short essay in blog post form, responding to any of the five pros they chose. The posts went live this weekend, and are up for anyone to read and respond to here: SFS @ IMSA.
You should stop by, whether you are a reader of sf, a writer, an editor, or an agent. These students have a lot to share about what they hunger for in their fiction, from greater diversity in representation of body size and nonbinary identities to more thoughtful pairing of linguistic and narrative style with plot content. They’re picky. They’re insightful. They’re the rising generation of readers who will shape what flies off the shelves in the years to come — and what’s likely to sit there and languish, instead.