Category: Opinion

What’s “Bestseller” Really Mean?

Many writers have the goal of having a best-selling book. After all, that would be the ultimate sign of writing success, right?

Or maybe not.

There are different definitions for “best-selling” on different platforms. Many lists exist that determine what sells the best: USA Today, New York Times, and Amazon are the ones most often referred to in author biographies.
If a book is a bestseller, that means its sales must be watched and compared to other books. That’s why the list it bestseller list it appears on matters in actual significance.

Amazon

Amazon is unique among these three lists in that it is an actual book distributor.
Therefore, the sales of these books aren’t tracked anywhere but on Amazon’s site. And while Amazon is certainly a large book distributor, it isn’t the only outlet for book sales.
Another thing about Amazon is that it has hundreds (maybe even thousands) of sub-categories for its books. This is great if you’re looking for a book about starting a monkey ranch, but it can also be misleading in the case of a “best-seller” tag.
What do I mean?
I’ve seen books in very specific categories sell one copy and since they were the only book sold in that category that day, the book gets the orange “best-seller” banner from Amazon.
The author begins to claim they are a best-selling author (because they are) but what does that really mean?
Shouldn’t a best-selling author have hundred, thousands or millions of books out in readers hands? Certainly if I made dozens of crochet cases for tablets and only sold one of them (which is actually true), can I claim this is the best-selling product I’ve ever made?
After all, it’s the ONLY thing I’ve crocheted that I’ve ever sold. So in one sense, the statement is true.
But it’s misleading.
Fair warning: someone who is an Amazon Best-selling Author may not have actually sold a ton of books. (Caveat: Amazon does have a list of best-selling books that includes ALL the books. The day I wrote this, most of the books in the top ten on that list were also on one or both of the other lists. The number one book was also number one on BOTH of the other lists.)
Since learning this, I give much less credence to that label when it’s claimed by authors. It sounds impressive and prestigious, but it doesn’t always mean a book sold tons of copies.

USA Today

This is a list I’ve seen many of my indie author friends strive to make. And many of them have attained the status.
So, how do you make this list? Is it more prestigious than Amazon’s list?
This is a weekly list (as opposed to one that’s updated hourly like Amazon’s) that ranks titles selling well in both print and electronic formats. The sales numbers are collected from a variety of outlets: bookstore chains (like Barnes & Noble), independent bookstores, mass merchandisers (think WalMart or Target) and online retailers (including Amazon). See the complete list of sellers and the actual definition at USA Today’s site.

The list does NOT subdivide out according to category. This means the list will include nonfiction, romance, fantasy and memoir, along with any other genre that sold in substantial quantity.


For example, the week I wrote this (January 12), the number one seller was in current affairs, number two and three in genre fiction, number four in business and number five in youth.
A couple of my author friends hit the #89 slot with a boxed set including twenty-six fantasy/science-fiction novellas. They marketed hard in order to hit this list so they authors would be able to claim the status as “USA Today Best-selling Author.”

As amazing as this title is, in this case, I don’t think it means as much as it does for those authors who hit the list with a stand-alone title. Before everyone batters me in the comments, let me explain.

I pre-ordered the collection (and pre-orders are important if you want a book to hit a top spot because all those sales count on the day the book releases). I did so to read one specific story by an author I adore.
Eventually, I did finish a few of the other stories, but there were plenty that didn’t fit my reading preferences. And some of the writing wasn’t all that great (in my opinion). But every one of those twenty-six authors is now a best-selling author. Even if NO ONE reads the story they contributed to the collection.
This is the reason I say attaining the bestseller label in this way might not mean much. So, again, I don’t pay that close of attention to author’s who claim this title. (Sorry, that makes me sound like a book snob, which I’m not. I hardly ever go to the bestseller list for book recommendations.)

New York Times

The New York Times publishes “authoritatively ranked lists of books sold in the United states, sorted by format and genre.”
As you can see, this means the books are ranked in genre (so all the self-help books will compete against other self-help books) and format. This means that the numbers of hardback, paperback and digital formats aren’t considered together.
That makes this list more concise than USA Today’s but not as narrow as Amazon’s. Which means it is more difficult to leverage yourself onto the list.

These are the weekly best sellers lists:

  • Fiction combined print & e-book fiction, hardcover fiction, paperback trade fiction
  • Nonfiction combined print & e-Book nonfiction, hardcover, paperpace, advice, how-to & miscellaneous
  • Children’s Middle Grade Hardcover, Picture books, series, Young Adult hardcover (meaning the paperback and e-Book sales don’t even count for authors making this list.)

To compare this with USA Today, on January 12, the number one book in combined print & ebook fiction was #2 on USA Today’s list. The number 2 book in this category was only #23 on the USA Today list, while number three was also in that slot on USA Today. The book at number four was ranked #8 by USA Today.
In case you’re wondering, the book in the top slot on USA Today was number one in both combined and hardcover nonfiction on The New York Times list.
Since it is obviously more difficult to make this list, does that mean it’s more prestigious? I wouldn’t say that, but then I’m not someone who follows these lists.
I will say that my best-selling author goal is linked to The New York Times, though. And I don’t plan to “leverage” sales to make this list. I want to get there organically.
Will that make it more meaningful? To me, yes, but who knows if the average reader will even care?
After all, is Sharon Hughson, multi-genre author any different than Sharon Hughson, NYT Best-selling author? In my mind, I’m the same person, writing in the same style, either way.
Is one of these seen as more prestigious or more famous or more salable? I guess that depends on if the reader cares about such things.
Me? If I like your writing, I don’t care if no one else has ever heard of you. I will buy and read your books. I will give them four or five-star ratings on Amazon and Goodreads, and I’ll recommend them to every reader I know.

What’s your opinion about the title of best-selling author? What makes a “bestseller” in your mind?

Three Reasons I Avoid Writing Book Reviews

I read tons of books. And I enjoy reading them. Even if I don’t end up liking the book all that much, reading has the potential to make me a better writer of stories.
And even though I track all my books on Goodreads, I’ve stopped writing reviews for many of the books I read. At times, I don’t even give them a rating.
And, no, this isn’t just because I didn’t finish them. I don’t even add those ones to my “READ” shelf. I have a special shelf for them: “Abandoned.” And it used to be a lonely place, but not so much any more.
If you don’t finish a book, you have no business reviewing it. Or giving it a rating. I’m sorry, folks, but you shouldn’t even say why you couldn’t get through it.
Reviews are for finishers. Why? Because the story could have turned around. Maybe it was a slow starter. Plenty of books that went on to become blockbuster movies were a drag to begin reading. Nope, I’m not naming names here, but I’m sure you know who you are *winks*
Many of the books I read are advance copies meant for the sole purpose of garnering a review on release day. And sometimes I’ll bet the authors who asked this “favor” from me wish they wouldn’t have.
Because if you’ve read my reviews, you know I can be harsh. Some people have commented that my four-star reviews sound like they’re for two-star books.

I’m honest with my criticism.

I’ll be the first to announce that reading preference is all subjective. A reader’s idea of what makes a book wonderful is also subjective…to the criteria their enjoyment is based upon.

My criteria are few:

  1. A well-structured story (that isn’t predictable)
  2. Characters I can relate to and root for
  3. An obvious story problem with a clear resolution
  4. A dynamic main character (meaning this person CHANGES over the course of the story)

Sure, if you can make me laugh AND cry, you’ll get bonus points, but that won’t keep me from overlooking a lack of any of the above items.

In recent months, the number of books I’ve finished reading but haven’t written reviews for has increased. Here are the reasons for that:

ONE: SOMETHING IN THE STORY AWOKE MY BIASES

Yes, I just admitted I have biases. I’m sorry folks, but everyone does. Even if you consider yourself the most accepting and non-judgmental person on the planet, you have biases.
It’s impossible not to form them. If you disagree with this, let’s have a reasonable discussion about it in the comment section. (But don’t be surprised if I call out your biases when they appear in your commentary…because they will.)
For example, a recent book by an author whose stories I adore didn’t earn a review from me. The story line endorsed something that I am opposed to.
However, her writing was fine. The story met the other qualifications for being great. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to write an honest review without mentioning this thing that burrowed under my skin like a ravenous scarab.
So, I rated the book but didn’t write a review.
And I didn’t mention the reason anywhere.
In fact, I’m still not really telling anyone which book it was or what the THING was.

TWO: THE AUTHOR IS MY FRIEND

Okay, this is a tough one to admit. I’d love to say that I’m only friends with authors whose work I love and adore.
Alas, no.
Sometimes they are writing too far on the edge and I can’t buy into their fantasy world. They haven’t done the work to make me suspend my disbelief.
If I truly dislike the story or find the writing subpar, I might not even give a rating to the book.
In either case, I always contact the author directly if I’m giving anything less than four stars to their book. Because…I don’t want my “negative” review to affect their sales.
I’m an author, too. I might have been a reader first, but the business part of me understands that my opinion could sway people. And they might have enjoyed the story.
Who am I to keep people from reading something they might enjoy? Especially if the fact they bought it would help a friend of mine further their writing dream?
But…I’m not going to fib either. I’m not going to claim something is amazing when I growled about it.

THREE: THERE’S NOTHING REMARKABLE TO SAY

This is the one that I’ve decided is most prevalent for me (even though I’ve listed it third). Sometimes, I really like the book. It made me smile, laugh or tear up.

But when I finish, there’s nothing that stands out about it.

You can be sure it won’t get FIVE STARS in this case. But if I’m feeling warm and fuzzy, I’ll probably give it four stars. After all, all that means is that “I liked it” (on Amazon) and “I really liked it” (on Goodreads).
But if there’s nothing to SAY, why would I write a review?
If I give it a rating but not a review, you can most likely put it in this category. Unless the rating is three stars or less. And I really try NOT to give anything less than three stars.
Do you write book reviews? If not, why not? If so, what are your criteria?

What Does it MEAN to Change?

It’s week three of the Year of Metamorphosis and I’m not seeing a butterfly moment yet. In fact, my caterpillar’s looking a little lost. Where’s my change?
What does it even MEAN to change?
The dictionary says change means to make the form, nature, content, future course, etc., of (something) different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone.
In that case, there are a few little changes.
Like the colors I use on my website. And a few nifty social media templates I can use to “create” a new brand.
But who wants a little change? If that’s all I was looking for, I certainly wouldn’t have chosen the gold nugget “metamorphosis” for my annual theme.
I probably wouldn’t have even settled for the twenty-dollar transformation. We all know what that word brings to my fantasy-inspired thinking.

Image from comicbook.com

The thing is change happens a little bit at a time. Like erosion. The water runs down the side of the mountain. A decade later, it causes a crack. A century later the face of the mountain looks totally different.

But we don’t want erosion. We want an explosion.

But do we really? You want someone setting dynamite off in your life?
Backpedaling now, are you? I know I am. I’ve had a few explosions and I’ll beg for erosion. Even if it tries my patience.

Define Little

Small. Tiny. Minute. Unnoticeable.
It’s like that first five pounds you struggle to take off when you’ve got twenty-five to lose. It takes weeks to convince your body to give it up. You’ve worked out. You’ve stopped eating everything that tastes good (if it tastes good, it’s either bad for you or fattening).


And no one notices.

Even the mirror doesn’t see it.
You start questioning the scale. Did I really lose any weight?
But then you pull on that pair of shorts you couldn’t squeeze into last summer. And they button. No, they aren’t loose or even comfortable, but they’re zipped up.
It might be small and unremarkable, but it’s a start.
Change that is slow and steady will likely be long-lasting.

Define Big

Huge. Gigantic. Enormous. Monumental. Noteworthy.
In the weight loss scenario above, will twenty pounds be a BIG loss? Sure. You’re only five pounds short of the goal. You’re 4/5 done.
It’s time to celebrate. But probably not with a slice of New York Cheesecake and chocolate sauce. Better to go shopping for a new outfit.
However, if you’ve got to lose one hundred pounds, the twenty pounds doesn’t seem so big any more.
But why not? It’s still a chunk of lard gone from your frame. Why not celebrate it?
Why do we have to weight the importance based on percent of change or distance from the finish line? Let’s celebrate every step in the right direction.
Celebration is a mindset. Accentuate the positive.


Transformation vs. Metamorphosis

Transformation: the semi truck into a giant, alien robot who will kick butt on the bad guys.
The semi truck is bad news in its own way. If we want to take out the speedster in the Porsche, the semi will do the job. So, a transformation keeps many things the same, but changes enough to make it noticeable.
But a metamorphosis, that’s something altogether more amazing. It’s hard to see the caterpillar when the butterfly bats those gorgeous wings in your face.
Sure, if you go to a molecular and cellular level, you’ll see they’re basically the same thing. But no one walks around with a microscope in their pocket.

Metamorphosis is a huge change, a life-altering transformation.

The caterpillar crawled but the butterfly soars. A life on the other side of metamorphic revision is more dissimilar than similar.


So, maybe I’m not shooting for a metamorphosis this year (except in the way I think…more on that later). Maybe all I want is to transform my brand so my audience can find me.
It will still be my fifty-year-old body once I get it firmed into a certain weight and fitness range. And it probably won’t look much different on the outside, but I hope it will FEEL more healthy and alive on the inside.
One step at a time, I’m making these changes. Because that’s the only way real change happens.
How would you define change? What are you hoping to change this year?

Shake Up that Routine

Let’s face it, we all like our routine. Even those people who share they decide at the “spur of the moment” brush their teeth in the same pattern every day. We are creatures of habit, and in order to embrace metamorphosis, our routine needs to be upended, thrown in the dryer, sent on three rounds of a roller coaster, and get capsized.
Research shows that one way to keep your brain sharp (and those of us in mid-life know the mind is the first thing to slip) is to make slight changes to your daily habits. Maybe you take a different route to the grocery store than usual. Or you try a new store altogether.
Something about the thought it takes to deviate from the regular daily pattern keeps the electricity charging through your brain. That’s all it takes to keep it engaged enough that it won’t conveniently forget where you hid that anniversary gift so your spouse wouldn’t find it. (Don’t worry. You’ll find it in a few years, and it will be a happy reunion.)
I started my path to metamorphosis a little early. The day after my last birthday, I cleared my schedule so I could take my car to the dealer for application of the protective package they worked hard to sell us.
Here’s all the ways this little “detour” shook up my daily routine:

  1. I had to get dressed and “presentable” a full half-hour earlier than I would for any substitute teaching job (I missed this one by five or six minutes)
  2. I had to navigate big-city traffic on unfamiliar roads between my husband’s office and the dealership
  3. First time driving into the fancy auto-door service bays, filling out paperwork and driving off in a loaner car (a smaller and not as technologically advanced version of my car)
  4. Pack up my “office” and work in the Hillsboro Public Library
  5. Eat lunch with my husband

And there were more. In fact, it turned into a L-O-O-N-G day away from home. From 7am to 8:45pm. Believe me, my cats were NOT impressed.
Neither was I as my stomached tightened when the traffic closed around me. Or when my computer battery flashed low and I was scouting for a power outlet in an unfamiliar environment.

My stomach rebelled at more non-home-cooked food.

My brain cells? They were firing like an Independence Day fireworks barge. Sparks were flying. Old neural pathways were zapped while new neural highways settled into place.
In fact, I sense enough of a shake up that I can return to my daily routine for six to eight weeks without harm to my aging gray matter. (This is NOT research-based information. More like wishful thinking.)
This single day may have been an earthquake in my world of happy routines, but it didn’t hurt me. I managed to edit pages in the quiet of the library. My internal navigation system didn’t lead me into mighty detours.


Did I change into a butterfly-like creature of Portland traffic? Not hardly. After all, change is a process, not a single epic event.
What can you do to shake up your daily routine? Have you tried this will less-than-happy results?

Why Resistance to Change is Futile

Warning: in this post you will see a TON of cliches thrown around. It’s because I’m trying to make a point about facing life changes. The Borg in me knows “Resistance is Futile,” but still I resist.

Change is inevitable. Change is constant.

Words slung around with verve.

How ironic. Change means “to make different from what would be if left alone,” and constant means “not changing or varying; uniform; regular; invariable.” Although in this case the third definition for constant is more fitting: “regularly recurrent; continual.”

In other words, things are always changing.

But we often resist change.


If we have to change, then we want to snap our fingers and be changed. But it doesn’t work that way. It’s a process. It’s a journey.
In fact, life is the progressive change of an infant through adulthood. If considered in that way, we wouldn’t want to remain an infant forever. Some people are stuck in such a state and they’re deemed disabled.
Meaning, if you can’t change then you’re hindered at living.
The process of living is the pathway of change. A baby learns to eat and walk. It grows and can soon run and talk. The first few years are filled with rapid growth and change.

And if that growth doesn’t occur, parents are quick to consult a specialist. They need to fix it. It would be horrible to get stuck in a formative stage.
But when an older person is faced with change, the tables turn.

“It’s always been this way.”
“It’s worked this way for years, so why change now.”
“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

Bring on the cliches. As many of them exist indicating humanity’s resistance to change as those encouraging growth.

“People don’t resist change. They resist being changed.” Peter M. Senge

Let’s analyze this saying in reference to Empty Nest Syndrome.

It isn’t that we don’t want our children to grow up into responsible adults that live on their own. It’s that we want to remain attached to them, an important part of their life.
We are still parents but our ROLE is being changed. And we don’t get to say how it will change. That’s up to our children.
Moving to an empty nest is one of the changes I faced in recent years. But it certainly wasn’t the hardest one.
It became easier to accept when I focused on what I was gaining rather than what I was losing. Sure, the kids were moving out and wouldn’t be around as much, relying on me as much. But that meant we had a guest room and I could redecorate it. It meant cooking less and less mess to clean up. Suddenly, I only had to consult one other person’s schedule before making plans.
Plenty of changes are forced on us. We lose a loved one, and you can bet we didn’t choose that. We know resistance is futile, but still we drag our feet about entering the valley of grief. We hold memories close, revel in the pity of loss.
And we can stay there a long time. It’s up to us to stop resisting, to get moving forward, to go through the process.

Remember, change is a process.

And, yes, I’m going somewhere with this post. In fact, writing and re-reading it was part of my process for evaluating 2017 and brainstorming words for my 2018 theme.

You’ll have to come back next year to see the end results.

What’s the biggest change you’ve faced? Did you resist it? Why or why not?

Lessons from a Parking Lot

It’s going on 6:00 pm. I’ve got a date in a room with a dozen other writers for something called Late Night Write, a specific brand of National Novel Writing Month torture. And I promised them chocolate.

Fred Meyer is only a couple blocks from my house. On the way to the next town over where the librarian who is also the organizer of the write-ins reserved a room at the library after closing hours. I’ll stop by the store, rush into the Christmas candy section, snag a bag of Hershey’s Miniatures (something for everybody in there) and be on my way in a snap.

Or not.

Instead, everyone will choose to drive down the row where I parked. The man next to me will pull out at the same time I stick my vehicle in reverse without so much as a glance behind him. Good thing the guy in the pickup truck was respectfully waiting for me.

The armored vehicle is parked along the curb across from the exit from my row. All traffic is squished into a single line.
Here are the things I learned that night:

  • Trucks pulling trailers should not squeeze by in a single lane
  • There are polite drivers who will let you into the congested stream of unmoving traffic
  • Plenty of drivers are myopic. Watch out for them because they don’t see anyone else
  • The traffic flow from the gas pumps stymies the regular pattern
  • If someone lets you in, you need to pay it forward and let someone in
  • If you let too many someones in, the seemingly-polite driver who showed you favor might morph into a Gremlin who lays on the horn
  • People don’t walk and talk on the cell phone at the same time very effectively if it requires dodging a snaking snarl of slow-moving vehicles

All in all, I’ve determined that unless there is an emergency, I won’t be returning to Fred Meyer or any other grocery store with a gas station in its parking lot on a Friday in the vicinity of 6:00pm.

On a positive note, it gave me something fresh to write about when I got to the room powered by creative energy.

What lessons have you learned from a parking lot?

Sometimes Blue is just Blue

Subbing in a high school language arts classroom recently, my thoughts turned toward symbolism in literature. And the fact that I don’t use it heavily in my own writing made me ponder a few things.

For those of you whose stint with literature in high school isn’t as recent as mine, let me refresh your memory.

The teacher would stop the reading of a story, play or novel and stare over the tops of reading glasses and ask, “Why was the room blue?”

Most of the time, I’m guessing the author made the room blue because they liked blue. Or maybe it reminded them of their character’s eyes or the bright orbs of the husky next door.

“Because the woman’s getting depressed.” This from the geeky person who always raised her hand when the teacher asked a question. (Hermione Granger or even me back in the day.)

Blue often symbolizes depression. Which I totally don’t get because a blue sky can make me content and happy faster than just about anything else.

The Story

The two freshman classes were reading “The Scarlet Ibis” by James Hurst.

This story of two brothers is set in the 1910s. It’s narrated by the older brother, and chronicles the brothers’ journey to make the sick and invalid younger brother “just like all the normal boys” when he starts school.

The Symbol

You might guess from the title that the symbol is the ibis. What the heck is an ibis? Glad you joined the freshmen in asking such an important question. An ibis is a tropical bird.

However, if you look up different meanings for the color red or scarlet, you might see that it is often used to symbolize things: like blood, for example.

In the story, a scarlet ibis shows up in the tree outside of the boys’ home and drops to the ground: dead. The younger (invalid) brother is highly affected and decides to bury the bird. His mother warns him that to touch it would bring the death curse on himself. So he manipulates it with a rope.

This is foreshadowing, of course. And when the final image of the story in the younger brother bleeding from his nose beneath a red bush, it’s clear that the author used the bird and the color of its plumage as a symbol.

Sometimes the symbols are obvious. Other times they’re more obscure.

If they’re obscure, I tend to wonder if they are reader created rather than author intended.

After all, if I’m going to use symbolism, wouldn’t it be most effective if it was clear and plain?

Literary fiction is rife with symbolism. The genres I write? Not so much.

This reflection made me wonder if readers enjoyed the odd symbol now and again. Would they want the woman to be wearing a green shirt when she learned a new skill? Did they understand the plot and arcs better when symbols were used?

I can only speak for myself. A well-done symbol is fine, and even interesting or enlightening when it’s well-executed. Making the murderer wear black just because black is the color of death? Not so much.

There must be a point to it. A point other than using symbolism for the sake of symbolism.

Is symbolism important to you when you read? Does it add to your enjoyment? Does it add extra dimension to the story? Or is it something you pay very little attention to?

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LA LA LAND of Dreams

In my experience, watching award-winning films is a mixed bag. Some are masterpieces in every way and others leave a person shaking their head (UNFORGIVEN). So I had low expectations when I viewed LA LA LAND.

This is not a review of the movie. It’s a reflection of underlying themes in any work of art.

Appreciation of art is utterly subjective. I will throw my hands up at cubist paintings while another person is deeply moved. I’ll see paint splatters and psych evaluation ink dot images in some impressionistic works while others can easily envision what the artist intended.

So if I’ve already offended you because you loved UNFORGIVEN or hated AMADEUS (an old Academy winner that I especially enjoyed), I apologize. Not for my opinion but that you found it offensive because it was not offered up for that purpose.

The Story

This is a story about a girl who wants to be an actress and a boy who is an accomplished musician but has bottomed-out while seeking his dream (of owning a jazz club).

Girl meets boy when she hears him playing the piano at a restaurant when she’s walking by. (I loved that the tune of that song underwrote most of the music for the score. In my opinion, this is composition at its finest.) He’s just been fired for not sticking to the manager’s set list, so he blows by her with hardly a glance.

Later they meet up at a party and it’s the “boy and girl despise each other when they meet” trope in action. Neither of them are looking for love or a relationship and that’s when it blindsides you.

They support each other’s art, but they come to a crossroads where the choice seems to be “career/dream” or “relationship.” He has chosen a career and it isn’t fulfilling him, and her dream lets her down. They part with the assurance “I’ll always love you.”

Five years later, a “chance” meeting sends them spiraling down the path of  “what if.” And while it appears they have both “arrived” at their dream, neither of them appears happy.

My Takeaway

Dreams can only take you so far.

If you’ve followed me long, you know I’m a middle-aged woman who has only been pursuing her dreams for seven years, and single-mindedly for four years. I am a proponent for never giving up on dreams.

However, I wouldn’t give up my family or my husband if it meant that I had every dream I’ve imagined (best sellers, movie adaptations, million-dollar contracts, etc.)

To me, that is what happened in the movie. Especially for Sebastian. Mia moved on and found another man, had a daughter, although her reaction when she heard him play tells me it wasn’t all golden for her either.

In the “what if” scenario, both of them ended up in the same place–dreams fulfilled–but they were together.

The theme here was about choices and how one can alter everything–for better or worse.

A dream might have a price, but some prices are too high to pay. Each person must decide what the “upper limit” will be for them. Sadly, we might not realize how much we’ve lost until it’s too late to recover it.

A feeling of melancholy accompanied the end of this film. The dreams didn’t seem to bring as much joy to Mia and Seb as their time together. It was a reminder to count the cost, appreciate what you have and live each moment.

Have you seen LA LA LAND? What theme stood out to you? What emotion did the film leave with you?

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A Tale of Two Conferences: Comparison Ahead

Willamette Writer’s Conference and Oregon Christian Writer’s Conference are two local writer’s conferences. I attended Willamette Writers in 2014 and 2015. In 2015, I considered attending the OCW Conference instead, but I didn’t have much Christian nonfiction at the time, and that is what the majority of agents and editors were looking to buy.
In 2016, I didn’t attend the conference. I invested the money in an online Scrivener class, several online workshops and to hire a professional to help me find and streamline my brand.
This year, I had the God-given project weighing on me. I knew I wouldn’t get any peace until I consented to write the personal narrative heavy book on dealing with grief.
My brain reminded me about OCW Conference with one simple formula:

Nonfiction + Christian = What You’re Writing

Both conferences had value. Both helped me improve my craft and gain more confidence about my writing.

What’s The Same (Similar)

These two conferences are both for writers and publishing professionals. However, the sponsoring groups represent different segments of the author/publishing world.
Because OCW is an organization of and for Christian writers, the markets they speak to are limited to those publishers with the Christian Book Association. WW is a broader organization that would include Christian writers but not cater to them.
Many aspects were the same:

  • Pre-conference workshop with a publishing professional for an extra charge
  • Numerous sessions addressing various publishing topics
  • Agents and editors available to hear pitches
  • Advance manuscript critiquing services
  • Bookstore
  • Author book signings
  • An Awards program and ceremony

Let me mention that the pitches and critiques at WW Conference cost an additional fee. When I attended, it was $15 per pitching appointment and $40 for a manuscript critique.
The manuscript critique at WW Conference was more thorough and included a 15-minute appointment with the cirtiquer. The manuscript submission program at OCW Conference was presented more as a query and the responses didn’t include markup on every page, just an overview of what was good and what needed work. It might include a 15-minute appointment, at the critiquer’s discretion.

What’s Different

The biggest difference I noticed was the cost. The overall cost of these conferences is about the same. However, with OCW two lunches and two dinners are included in the price. All pitching appointments are also included. There is a $5 per submission handling fee for the manuscript submissions.
At WW, you pay additional for meals, or you plan to eat elsewhere.
Both of these include late night sessions, but I don’t recall feeling tempted to stay over at WW to attend the classes. Those sessions were exactly why I forked out $225 extra for a hotel room at OCW.
However, I sat with the OCW president during the awards dinner and found out a shocking truth. OCW doesn’t pass along the “sticker price” of the conference to conferees. If it did, it would be more expensive than WW.

Instead, they use the entrance fees from the writing contest to offset the difference.

Why would they do this? They don’t want to price the conference out of range for new or struggling writers.
I hope they appreciate it as much as I do. But still, it’s not good business sense. They could pull out the meals (make them extra) and that would make them break even.
The other big differences:

  • The friendliness of the attendees
  • The availability of presenters to answer questions and continue discussions after sessions
  • The 30-minute mentor appointment

Meeting with memoirist Bo Stern for thirty minutes was the second part of the conference that made all the emotional turmoil of rejections and introvert post-conference burnout endurable. She looked at my proposal. She answered every question I presented to her.
Most of all, she was compassionate when I broke down discussing the painful subject matter of my book.
I decided against pitching it to other agents because I knew I would break down again. I didn’t want any “pity requests.” Those would have raised my hopes further so they could be dashed more violently when the rejections came.
What other questions do you have about these two conferences? What else would you like to know about attending writer’s conferences?

My Overall Recommendation

I have to stay with my original assessment. Each conference is aimed at different audiences.
If you’re writing Christian nonfiction, OCW Conference is the place for you. There are workshops, mentors, editors and writers there to help you find your path to publication. If you have a book proposal, there are agents there who want you to pitch to them.
If you’re transitioning between genres, it’s best to look at the individual workshops being offered. Which ones will meet your current needs? Which ones offer information that crosses the boundaries between genres?

  • If you want to talk to professional writers without paying an exorbitant fee: OCW
  • You’re looking for a manuscript critique: OCW (unless your content is totally without Christian worldview)
  • You have general market fiction or nonfiction ready to shop to agents and editors: WW
  • You’d rather have short sessions on a variety of topics than a block of time devoted to a single thing: WW

Do you have specific questions about either conference? Have you attended either conference? If so, would you share your perspective on it?

 

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How Conferences Make you more Professional

Professionals attend conferences. One thing all conferences have in common is the availability of workshops so attendees can customize their experience.
Writing workshops will help you improve your craft , making your writing more publishable. Conference workshops can also enlighten you on the use and availability of helpful tools of the trade.
One of the things about the Oregon Christian Writer’s Conference that appealed to me were the number and quality of the writing workshops (which were included in the tuition). For several years, I’ve wanted to attend these smaller, interactive classes, but the additional fee for them at other conferences (or the stand-alone tuition) made it an either/or proposition.
I can either attend the workshop for a day (or a few hours) OR I can attend several days of sessions at the conference.

The variety of the conference sessions always won.

But at OCW Conference, I didn’t have to choose. An eight-hour workshop came with the regular tuition for the event. The only thing I had to choose was WHICH one of the workshops would benefit me most at this time in my career.

The Choices

OCW Conference organizers called these “coaching classes.” The instructor becomes a coach. Check out the popularity of coaches in every area—life coach, fitness coach, writing coach, nutrition coach—and you’ll understand the high appeal of this concept.
These were the nine coaching classes available at this year’s conference:

  • Weaving Spiritual Themes into Fiction
  • Children’s/Young Adult Critique (yes, you brought pages which were shared with the class and coach and picked apart)
  • Writing Historical Fiction for Contemporary Readers
  • Destined for Glory: Crafting Your Protagonist and His/Her Inner Journey
  • Get Published Fast: The Art to Writing Great Articles
  • Imaginative Fiction Critique Class (yes, more sharing your manuscript and getting feedback)
  • Telling Your Story with Authenticity and Empathy
  • A Novel Career: for both indie and traditional authors at every stage in the writing journey

With such an incredible selection, you can imagine my struggle in choosing only ONE.

I considered the critique classes but decided I have enough published authors reading my manuscripts in the beta stage that my time would be better spent on something else.


Since I chose to pursue the nonfiction path with all the one hour sessions, I decided against taking the coaching class. Although, after meeting with that coach in my mentor session, I know it would have been profitable for me.

My Workshop

In the end, I asked myself: “Why am I going to this conference this year?”

The answer was three-fold:

  • To pitch my Christian projects
  • To learn more about writing and selling nonfiction
  • To further my writing career through networking and accrued knowledge

Susan May Warren is the author of more than 50 fiction novels. She was the coach for the “A Novel Career” workshop, and because I respected her writing and knew she had a career writing novels, I decided to let her impart some of that knowledge on to me.

It was the right choice.

It will take me months to work through all the information she covered attempted to cover during our eight hours together. Thankfully, she emailed all her slides to class members, so I’ll be able to look back at her presentation rather than trying to make sense of my notes.
Along with talking us through finding our brand and forming a writing plan, she stopped to answer any questions we had. On the first day, she filled a white board with all the things we told her we wanted to learn about in the class.
She covered all those subjects, too. If not thoroughly, she included the information in the mailer to us.
It would have been worth $550 just to take her class. Although I’m a frugal-minded author since my writing paychecks have yet to cover my writing expenses, so I doubt I would have understood that in advance. So I would have passed.
This single coaching class made the time and money invested in the conference an epic win for me.
I pray my writing career bears witness to that claim in this next year.
Do you think networking or knowledge is more essential in business? What’s the best class you’ve ever taken?

Like reading this? You’re a click away from getting Hero Delivery, a bulletin with deals and new releases from Sharon Hughson.

Maybe you like romance or some of my other books. I’m sure there’s something worth reading on my page.

Already read one or more of my books? Please leave an honest review on your favorite site. A review is the same as the author discovering a gold nugget in the bottom of her washing machine.