New Conference: New Benefits

Professionals attend conferences. Since deciding to be a professional writer, I have attended three conferences in person and two online conferences. The new conference I’m attending this year offered some benefits the others didn’t.

I’ve been eyeing the Oregon Christian Writers’ Conference for a couple years, but in the past it didn’t meet my needs.

For one thing, I wasn’t focusing on writing exclusively for the Christian market. And I’m still not. But I do have two projects in a “sellable” state that fit this market.

For another thing, it seemed to be heavy on nonfiction the first time I looked into it. Nonfiction? That translates to “no fun.” Right?

Or not. This year, one of the manuscripts I’m pitching is nonfiction.

Why This Conference?

There are two large writer’s conferences in the Portland Metropolitan area each year. I’ll be writing a post comparing and contrasting these two events.

OCW is what I need at this point in my career.

Let’s talk about the women’s fiction manuscript I’ve been laboring over for a year. It has a slight Christian bent, and that could be accentuated if I found a publisher that wanted to market it in the Christian marketplace.

I’ve pitched this story to one editor that I hope to meet with at the conference. There are a few other editors that I hope to get an opportunity to pitch this novel to.

Then there’s the thing I’ve lovingly referred to as “the grief memoir” for the past three years. Not that I was even writing it until last year. And even then it was sporadic. This book sucks my emotions dry.

What else would you expect from a book about dealing with grief?

Two agencies look right for this project. Both of these agents prefer memoir-like writings and are looking for nonfiction. I pray I’ll meet with these women and they’ll see the gaping hole in the market that this book can fill.

At least one of these women also represents fiction writers. You know that’s the one I really want. And I want her to ask when she offers me a contract, “What else are you writing?”

This year, OCW meets my needs much better than WW ever did.

Included Benefits

One great thing about this conference is that the fee ($550) includes everything.

Okay, it doesn’t include a room at the hotel and breakfast. So maybe not everything. But it does include:

  • Personalized workshops where I will interact with the instructor
  • Two full meals each day
  • A bookstore where I can sell my own books
  • Free manuscript critiques
  • A 30-minute mentoring appointment
  • Three pre-conference pitches
  • Appointments for pitching projects during the conference
  • Classes on everything from indie publishing to writing a memoir to building your brand

It’s pretty amazing that so many things I paid extra for at the Willamette Writer’s Conference (WW) are included while the main fee isn’t that different.

Also, the organizers are so incredibly helpful. They’ve made themselves accessible via email. They created a Facebook group for first time conference attendees (where they posted everything from a packing list to critiques of pitches).

Expectations

Professionals should know what they’re getting when they attend a conference. What’s more? They should have expectations about what the take-away will be.

After all, this isn’t my employer shucking out the money from a multi-billion dollar budget. It’s me and my “I’ve yet to make a profit writing” business. Is this conference worth the time and money invested?

Well, if it meets these expectations, the answer will be yes.

As far as workshops:

  • I’ll learn new things about how to get published
  • My writing craft will improve
  • I’ll understand the nonfiction proposal process
  • The author of my daily class will help me form a plan for being a novelist

As far as networking:

  • I’ll meet published authors who are real, approachable and helpful
  • I’ll meet publishing professionals who want to connect with me
  • Other newer writers will interact with me
  • Perhaps they’ll be some like-minded authors who want to form a writing critique group

As far as career advancement:

  • Half the books I take to sell will sell
  • The agents I meet with will request pages
  • The editor I meet with will request pages
  • The mentor I meet will help me formulate a nonfiction proposal and writing schedule

So, really, I’m not expecting much for my $550. It should be easy-as-pie to get all these things.

Look for a post later this month detailing whether the Oregon Christian Writer’s Conference met or exceeded my expectations. (Notice I’m not giving it the option of NOT meeting them.)

Do you attend professional conferences? Why or why not?

Even in Writing it’s who you know

My youngest son, recent college graduate, swears he doesn’t have to apply for jobs. “It’s who you know, Mom.” In writing, I’ve discovered, this adage is also true.

Not that I agree my son should sit around waiting for someone from his “network” to offer him a job, but I see that in the world – made much smaller by technology – people tend to “know someone” who would be “perfect” for that position.

That doesn’t mean you can sit back idly. Someone searching for employment should pursue the online application process and follow up an interview with a thank you email. Or in the writing world – send out perfected queries and submit to contests and anthologies.

Along with all that, you should reach out to other people in the business. Here are the ways I’ve done this – AND the byproduct for my “career.”

Following Blogs

I started my own blog as a college assignment four years ago. Since then, it has left the “free” WordPress site and migrated to my author website. It still doesn’t generate as much traffic as I need for my “discoverability.”

However, networking isn’t about people following MY blog. It’s about me following them. And I don’t do it just so I can ask for favors later (ugh! Using people: still out of fashion in this new era).

I follow writer advice blogs: Kristen Lamb, Jami Gold and Writer’s Helping Writers. I follow blogs of other indie authors: J. Keller Ford and Jennifer M. Eaton. I read their posts, comment when I have something to add, and share their content when I find it unusually valuable.

How has this network helped me?

Kristen Lamb critiqued a piece of flash fiction for me – just because she understood a new writer’s struggle to find good advice. I won a partial developmental edit from Jami Gold that took a story I was proud of to a deeper level.

The truth is, I have found helpful advice on these blogs and connected with the women behind these blogs in ways I never expected.

Connecting on Social Media

I am a late bloomer. I came to Facebook when it was no longer the edgy, fashionable thing to do.

The only reason I even signed up for Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest was because I trusted Social Media Jedi Kristen Lamb. If you’re trying to build an author platform, I highly recommend her book Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital Age.

It was on Facebook that I met J. Keller Ford (and began to follow her blog). She published a few short stories. I followed her publishers’ pages and shared interesting posts.

Thanks to my connection with J. Keller Ford, I found the submissions page to Roane Publishing, where my first short story was accepted to an anthology.

If I hadn’t been following her, I never would have discovered this small New York publishing company. Further, she is the one who shared her online critique group with me.

In fact, once I become a best-selling author, Jenny and I are taking a tour of castles in Germany. We’ve never met face-to-face, but I owe her a good deal in the scope of my confidence as a writer.

Joining a Critique Group

I’m leery of critique groups because I’ve been a member of a few. I wrote critiques like crazy. Read everyone’s stuff and offered advice about everything from word choice to character arc. In return?

“Too much telling. Show more.” No examples. Or they gave me a rewritten passage that was nearly identical and doesn’t feel any more like showing than what I wrote.

However, after I helped J. Keller Ford with an opening to her second novel in a three-book deal (I know! Crazy that a published author thought I had anything to offer her manuscript), she recommended me to a critique group in Scribophile.

It was here that I was offered some advice by Jennifer M. Eaton. When I rewrote my short story using her feedback, it was accepted to a short story anthology by a larger independent press.

Additionally, I meet monthly with a local group of writers. Several of them are independently published. We are regularly encouraged by a local published author (sci-fi novels and short stories).

We don’t do formal critiques. At first, I wasn’t sure about that. Everyone is welcome to read for five minutes and request specific feedback. Then we use various writing prompts to free write and share that writing for the second hour of the meeting.

This group helped me streamline the opening of the first short story I had published. One of the writing prompts helped me generate the opening for another short story I submitted. (It wasn’t accepted, but it turned into a marketable story.)

Paying it Forward

I’ve met with a local author a few times. Mostly, he has offered me advice about my next steps. I have hopes that he may help me with synopsis writing or perfecting queries in the future.

Other writers helped him, and he believes in paying that kindness forward. Without the encouragement (and introduction to an editor and agent) he received, he believes he would still be a moonlight writer. Rather than an award-winning short story author with a five book deal from Tor.

He’s the one who connected me with another local writer. She’s a humorist pursuing nonfiction writing. Now.

I invited her to Willamette Writer’s Conference last year because I didn’t want to go alone. Since then, she’s critiqued opening pages for me and offered me advice when I bounced ideas off her. She constructively criticized my website, helping me identify how to make it cleaner and easier to navigate.

Conversely, I’ve pointed her toward some of the writing resources that have helped me improve. I’ve asked her questions when she threw ideas toward me that set her on paths that have led her to paying work.

More importantly, I have another creative mind to jabber with about all the things no normal person wants to hear about. She celebrates my successes and kicks me out of my funk when things aren’t going well in my writing world.

In the end, networking isn’t just about WHO you know, it’s about how you reciprocate the good will with people you meet. In our ever-connected-to-the-Internet age, most of these people may live across the country – or across the world – but that just means your network can reach further than ever.

So, go ahead: network with other writers, editors, publishers and readers. Someday, they might drop your name in just the right place at the perfect moment.

What are so other ways writers network? Do you have recommendations for enlarging our circle of writing acquaintances?

Be Careful what you wish for: Manuscript Critique Part Two

Willamette-Writers2Last week, I talked about my meeting with author Alex Hughes at the Willamette Writer’s Conference. It left me crushed and questioning my calling to the young adult fantasy genre.

This wasn’t the first, last, or only critique of my manuscript. I’ve mentioned my wonderful beta readers before. They gave me something similar to a critique.

Of course, none of these people have anything on my friend and fellow writer, Becky Bean. We attended the writing conference together and she volunteered to take a look at the first fifty pages of my novel before I sent it to the agent.

When the email including the critiqued pages begins like this: “Love the story, love the setting, love the way you play with the absence of words, rather than overstating it.”

Every writer’s dream, right? She lulled me into believing I’d finally found a true believer. After all, what could she possibly say to negate all the “love” she just spilled on me?

“The story’s kick-ass – the exact thing I would have devoured in high school.” It sounds like another compliment of the highest order, right?

Top three pages - the other 18 look just as lovely
Top three pages – the other 18 look just as lovely

Or not. Don’t get me wrong, I believe Becky believes all these things about my story. She also knows that pumping me up with lots of happiness isn’t going to improve my story. And I appreciate her for being strong when she sliced the story apart.

Reasons we need other people to read our stories:

  • We know the background and what we’re trying to say. We think we put the important bits into words on the page. Readers can read it and be totally lost. Someone has to find where missing information keeps the reader from suspending disbelief.
  • The character is shouting inside our mind. We’re transcribing the conversation. Sometimes we miss a few essential phrases. Someone needs to tell us when something makes no sense or seems out of place.
  • We know what will happen next. We need to foreshadow the important events, at least in subtle ways. Someone must tell us when something came “out of the blue” and fell flat.
  • Our setting is as clear in our mind as our kitchen is to our eyes. We’ve heard we shouldn’t over-describe, so we include only the barest essentials. Sometimes we leave out something the reader needs to fully visualize the scene.
  • Our description or introspection or exposition can go too far. Or it can fall short of making our message clear. Someone needs to tell us when things are overdone or unclear.

I wouldn’t suggest handing your manuscript to someone whose writing you didn’t know and respect. After all, if they can’t formulate a decent story, how can they help you?

Becky’s writing voice is authentic and her style is hilarious. She’s an avid reader of fantasy. In addition to all that, I know she wants to help me get my work published.

Did I agree with everything she said? Let me answer that this way: Do I agree with anyone on the planet 100 percent of the time? No. There’s your answer.

When the things she said lined up with the first critique, I had to consider them. I didn’t want to make some of the changes. It wasn’t true to my original idea. So, do I let it ride and risk the rejection letter? Or do I stop my whining and buckle in for the long haul?

What’s your experience with having people you know critique your writing? Do you feel a stranger has enough distance to do a better job?

Writer’s Conference Reflections

Willamette-Writers2A puff of chocolaty goodness wafts by me when I open the door into the conference area. My mouth waters. Stillness underlies the hum of excited voices.

This is my first writing conference. Professionals attend conferences to network and build skills in their area of expertise. I may be pre-published, but I am a professional writer. Time to break out of my writing solace and enter the business world.

Women outnumber men. The largest demographic seems to be the over 55 crowd. This statistic gives me pause. Did they wait to pursue their dream until life settled down?

Everyone is a stranger and yet, strangely, invisible camaraderie pulls us together. The thread of love for words or creating worlds or setting our imagination free knits the crowd into something amazing.

Gawking like a foreigner, I locate the priority one item on my list. It’s just to the right of the main entrance. Yes, the ladies’ restroom. Who can concentrate on anything when the bladder screams like a crowded rollercoaster?

Highlights from the weekend will be covered in this post. Over the next several weeks, I will embellish on certain points that impacted me the most.

Sessions

The planners organized things according to different segments of writing. On the “TV Guide” schedule of events, categories like “literature,” “genre fiction,” “nonfiction” and “business of writing” head the colorful columns. It’s not surprising that most of my choices come from the literature column.

StoryEnginewebConveniently, that will keep me in the same conference classroom for the entire morning. It’s the room where the amazing Larry Brooks expounded his structural genius. (I found out he grew up in Portland, OR, and went to high school with Sam Eliott – of the Dodge voice track.)

Most of the sessions ask us to participate, which gave them a workshop feel. Write the definition of a premise. List the words you know you overuse in your writing. Things that help attendees ingest the information and immediately apply it to their writing.

Presenters ranged from authors to agents, from editors to social media gurus. Each one shared their expertise and opened themselves to questions about their topic. Some of them even rubbed elbows with the masses after the session.

Panels

The first session I attended was a panel of three agents. For an entire hour, those in the audience could ask any question burning in their minds. To say it was an eye-opening introduction to the writing world might be understating things.

Agents might respond to my query in eight weeks. After I send them the full manuscript, it could be another two to three months before I get the phone call offering representation. Or the rejection letter.

Say I sign with Ms. Ideal Agent. I have a contract. But not a publishing contract. It might take as many as 18 months for my advocate to find the perfect publisher for my novel. 18 months? That’s crazy!

After I get a real contract from a publisher, it could be another 18 months before my book makes the shelves of the Barnes & Noble at the mall. Talk about a LONG process. No wonder so many people are independently or self-publishing.

I’m hardly a mathmetician but that looks like almost three and a half years from original query to holding a published novel in my hand. That’s the math if my first querying attempt nets a manuscript request which leads to agent love. So that whole five year timeline from finished to published makes more sense now.

No wonder people are self publishing books on Amazon like there’s no tomorrow. Five years is more tomorrows than some people have to invest in a writing dream.

Critiques

For an additional fee, writers could submit twenty pages of their manuscript and a short synopsis to an agent, editor or author of their choice. This had to be done six weeks before the conference for best results. Some people walked in with a manuscript to get a critique on the spot, but since the windows for meetings were ten to fifteen minutes, I doubt it could have been in-depth.

I surfed the conference webpage to find someone who wrote or represented my genre. The closest I could find was a writer of adult urban fantasy. I booked her and whipped out a synopsis (which I felt clueless about producing) and submitted the pages.

I was her last appointment for the afternoon because she was presenting a class on hour later. We spent more than 30 minutes discussing my manuscript weaknesses. It was well worth the money spent.

More on this process later.

Pitches

Isn’t being discovered the reason pre-published writers attend conferences? Based on the number of attendees presenting to three or more agents or editors, the answer must be yes.

Fortunately, I attended a session taught by the agent to whom I presented my work. My pitch seemed to already meet her guidelines. It pays off to spend hours researching.

Pitch sessions lasted ten minutes (which is a long time in the real world of pitching ideas). The group of authors entered the room and shuffled to the round table where their industry professional sat waiting.

A surreal process really. More specific details about my own pitching experience in a future post.

Attending this conference opened my eyes to many things about my chosen path:

  • It is packed with thousands of others hoping for the same outcome
  • It takes fortitude to stay the course in the face of rejections
  • I don’t know as much about the craft of writing as I thought
  • The business of writing? I know nothing, Jon Snow.

At this juncture, I intend to attend this conference (or another local one) next year. I hope to network more at that future event. I may need to take a class: “How introverts network with other introverts.”

Is there a specific aspect of the conference you would like me to share information about? Have you attended a conference? What advice do you have to help me build networking skills?