Anyway, I didn't do much thinking before I decided to apply, but here's some questions I wish I'd asked myself before I applied:
1. Are you ready? OK, this is maybe the hardest one to answer, but you should certainly have a real grasp of basic grammar (and execute it too), and should understand the basics of storytelling: how to structure a story, what makes a character seem real, what makes a satisfying plot, what is style and voice, etc. You should be able to write a story developing these elements, though probably not perfectly (hell, who can?), but you should be able to recognize where your problems are, even though you probably don't know how to fix them, at least not most of the time.
2. Do you have a good idea of who you are as a writer? This can be really problematic if you don't have a good sense of who you are as a writer - you might be overly influenced by crits and try to please everyone or lose confidence in your writing style because others have a flashier one or why shiny super tech SF and you think your magic realism suddenly looks shabby. So if you aren't grounded pretty well in who you'd like to be, you might not be ready for Clarion.
3. Have you ever done a critique? If not, hie thee off to one of the many fine workshops and learn how. You will get a hell a lot more out of it if you have the basics of analyzing a story down, and what better to assess where you really are writing wise than objective feedback from strangers? I'm partial to the online writing workshop, others have had success with places like critters and zoetrope. Online workshops are great for those of us who live in the sticks or simply not near a robust SF community. They are also great because you get your feedback in writing, and you can run off and pout and do whatever you need to, until you get a handle on the fact that the comments reallyare meant to help and your precious may be flawed (though if you are like me, I'm my own worst critic *grin*) Anyway, it's a great way to get your feet wet.
4. Have you ever done a face to face workshop? OK this is something I hadn't done before I applied, or before I was accepted. But I did do one before I went, and I'm really glad I did. Even though I was pretty confident of my critiquing skills, it's a whole nother thing to look the author in the eye and present your comments in a way that is concise, insightful, helpful, and considerate. It's really easy to ramble or to spend endless time going over line edits that the author can easily look over on his own. It's also really different receiving critiques, especially when your story is flawed and people need to tell you. It may take you a few times to get in practice of being able to recieve hard critiques, and they will surely come while you are at clarion.
5. Is Clarion or Odyssey or some other program right for you? Well Clarion and Oddyssey are both pretty much boot camps, designed to create months or years of progress in a few weeks. Odyssey is quite a bit more structured, with lectures, and assignments, and because Jeanne Cavelos is always the main instructor, I imagine the experience is far more consistent from year to year. (And I wouldn't be concerned by the snafu that went on this year -in a high stress environment there are bound to be anomalies like that) The Clarions are quite a bit more free form, where the rotating instructors make the experience different, yet similar every year. (The inaugeral Clarion South hasn't happened yet, so I won't comment on the experience there) Additionally you have the small campus town environment vs the urban environment to choose from. But there are also lots of MFA Creative Writing programs to choose from if you want something longer and more structured (there are far too many to count.) If you aren't a very genre-y genre writer, MFA programs might be a better bet, because there won't be those genre readings and expectations. In the end it was the instructor list at Clarion East that made it my top choice. Lots of folk I thought were writing really interesting things, people I wanted to know and learn things from. So, the fact that I'd rather spend six weeks in Seattle didn't play much into my decision when all was said and done. I strongly recommend you read stuff by all the instructors (from both Clarions) before you make your decision. I got the most our of the weeks where I felt my writing was in real sympathy of style and content with the instructor. I also really liked the dual instructors Clarion East has for the final two weeks of Clarion - I think it helps to really pull the experience together better, at least for me. (One last note, if you aren't a very genre-y genre writer, MFA programs might be a better bet, because there won't be those genre readings and expectations)
6. Have you done the math? OK - if you are thinking about applying for Clarion and it's still a year away, noow is the time to sit down and work the finances. Clarion East was approximately $2000 in tuition, fees, housing and mandatory food allowance. Clarion West looked to be a little more expensive at around $2400. Travel and additional food were variable (not to mention all the books you could buy). I did get a modest scholarship to Clarion, and my total costs (not counting books) ran just around $2000. Everyone in my class was given a scholarship of varying size, some folks would not have been able to attend without them. I'll be frank that I was making a pretty good income as an engineer, so neither the lost income (though I was actually laid off before attending) nor the costs were a huge concern to me. But the father out you think, the easier it is for you to make those arrangements, get a second job, or simply squirrel away $25 a week.
7. What about the time off from work or the child care? We had one stay at home dad in my class - I know he did some fairly fancy acrobatics, leaning on family and friends to find the dependable child care for his son over the six weeks. We also had one guy who telecommuted for several hours a day while there. Some folks plan job transitions around Clairion - I arranged to be laid off. The bigger lead time you give your job, the more likely a leave of absense can be arranged. But the sooner you think about it, the easier it is to arrange these kind of things. (yes, I know this sounds obvious, but its still stuff you want to think about, and really, I didn't think about half of it before I applied - I simply did it.)
8. Can you be away from your spouse and/or children for six weeks? This can be a real problem, especially for those at home. Planning in advance may allow you to scrape up the funds to arrange for a visit. But this is one of those questions you really need to ask yourself and answer honestly - is Clarion possibly going to fuck up my marriage, and if so, do I still want to go? (The answers may be yes and yes, but it'll be easier if you are prepared for the possibility of implosion)
9. What if you don'g get in? OK - this could be a very hard moment - lots of people don't get in the first time they apply. Lots of people may never get in. Not because they aren't good enough, but because it works out that way. Not getting in doesn't mean you suck. It just feels that way. And I know - I got wait listed at Clarion initially. And I cried and I moped and got lots of support from my friends. And then I pulled myself out of my funk and continued writing. Because well, with Clarion or without it, I'm a writer. Not that it wasn't a sucky week, because it was, but if you think getting rejected from Clarion is going to make you stop writing, crush your ego, or really simply hurt too much, then maybe you aren't ready to apply. The truth is that most people don't get it - there are simply more qualified applicants than spots. So you need to be prepared to apply next year or move on if need be. Clarion isn't the be all and end all path to success- plenty of folks have very successful careers without attending, so don't tie your ego up in the process.
10. What do you expect to get from Clarion? I talked at length about how if you go expecting a breakthrough, well expect to be disappointed. You may not even come out a better writer, at least seeming so at first. When you are pushing the boundaries of your writing, and focusing your attention on your weak areas, rather than resting on your strengths, then what you produce is likely going to be worse. For a while. But in the long term Clarion will make you a better writer. And that's what you should expect. You should also expect to make 15-20 great writer friends, meet 6 or 7 instructors and possibly many other writers and generally more about the SF community and have a good time.
11. Is Clarion the End or the Means to an End? Attending Clarion shouldn't be your goal, rather a way to achieve your writing goals. I'm not to going to dleve into this too much, but it gets back to what kind of writer are you? do you really want to be a pro? Clarion is a good experience, but it doesn't get you published - only good writing does that, and learning to write well doesn't end with clarion.
12 Can you stand to be around 15-20 people all day, every day? OK - this was a really hard one for me. Large groups of people for extended periods make me twitchy. Not so much a problem as just reminder to make sure you get adequate alone/downtime.
13. How bad do you want it? So in chat we periodically have someone who will say "gee i'd love to go to Clarion, but I could never afford/arrange to go" Well the truth is, almost everyone could arrange to go if they wanted it bad enough and planned far enough in advance. But the truth is, for some people there are more important things in life, and that's fine. Really good even. But you need to decide how much attending Clarion means to you, how much you want to give up. Sometimes the price simply isn't worth it.
So, if any point you said "fuck you I'm going" good on you, because frankly I did very little thinking before I applied. Sometimes you just know if you are ready and that you ought to go, so all the logic in the world means nothing. Because sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.
To find the style you like, he recommends you look around at other 'zines, McSweeny's, etc.
He suggests blocking out the magazine with just blocks first (before using type). Also leave more space at the bottom and make sure you leave an adequate gutter.
Contracts - Basically they use the author friendly contract from SFWA (with a few modifications) - not sure if this was for the books or the 'zine too.
Payments - They tend to sell either through subscriptions, at a table at cons, or through their website. Most of the money they collect is though PayPal (vice checks) - at around a 5:1 ratio. They have a very limited bookstore distribution -mostly on consignment.
Artwork - they don't pay for artwork (Kelly drew the artwork for the latest cover and Gavin modified it some via photoshop) It is possible to get art in trade for copies (especially in the comic book world)
One last suggestion - Gavin strongly suggested that you get more than one person involved in producing the 'zine - so when your enthusiasm flags, there will be someone there to buoy your spirits and vice versa.