Tips for Conference Goers, Especially First Timers — Part II

As promised, we’re back with more great advice for conference-goers from a few of your regular RMFW Blog contributors

Liesa Malik

1) Remember that all people at the conference are approachable, but it’s best to have a few questions to ask. Things like “what do you like best about writing?” or “where do you see your publishing career a year/five years from now?” are a start. Just be sure you’re interested in finding out the answers.

2) Go to the sessions. Yes you get a lot out of the networking, but many of the sessions are absolute gold for information and training in your writing life.

3) Buy CDs and books. The CDs are helpful reminders (and the keynotes are almost ALWAYS motivational) and the books are generally by people attending the conference. How better to support the people who are sharing their gifts with you?

Pamela Nowak

1. Workshop sessions are valuable to every attendee–we can all learn something–but select carefully. Read the descriptions and choose those aimed for your craft level and step-in-the process. If you’re a new writer, stick with the basics and concentrate on where you are in the process so you are not overwhelmed. Advanced writers should focus on advanced craft or marketing or writing life sessions to complement their social recharging.

2. Take advantage of the FULL conference experience. Boost your knowledge by attending sessions. Energize by socializing with other writers. Charge up your commitment to writing by setting new goals.

Katriena Knights

1. Don’t beat yourself up for not doing it “right.” There are many ways to take in a con experience. You can go to the same con five, six, ten years in a row and never follow the same pattern.

2. Don’t be afraid to take a break. In the past, I’ve spent so much time trying to do everything I thought was important that I wore myself down. If you end up flat on your back from exhaustion, con crud, or whatever, even what you’re able to take home from the con isn’t going to do you as much good as is could have if you listened to your brain and your body.

3. But…don’t be afraid to try anything and everything. Don’t limit yourself because you think an individual workshop might be “too hard” or “too basic,” or not in your genre or whatever. If it looks interesting, or if something’s just tweaking your brain about that event, go. There’s so much to choose from that I’ve been known to close my eyes and point at the program to decide where to go. OTOH, I’ve been to conferences where I picked through the program and created a throughline for myself, following a specific topic from presenter to presenter.

I guess my basic advice is honor yourself even if you feel like you’re wimping out, because you’re probably not, and don’t think because you didn’t do what you think you should that you didn’t get what you could have gotten out of the con. I have no idea if that makes sense, but I know I started enjoying this kind of thing a lot more when I started honoring my need to just get the hell away from everything and everybody from time to time.

Jeanne Stein

1. I think the most important piece of advice I can offer is don’t be afraid to approach an author you’ve read and liked and tell them how much you enjoy their books. That’s a great ice breaker. After an intro like that, every author I know would be more than willing to answer a few questions and perhaps share a tip or two about succeeding in this crazy business. And where to find the authors? If not on a panel, the bar is always a good place to start!!

Again, feel free to add your own conference tips in the comment section. And if you’re attending Colorado Gold for the first time, have a wonderful time.

Get BIG By Going Small – The Top Five Reasons To Publish With A Small Press

By Aaron Ritchey

So once again, I was talking to someone about writing and publishing. Why do I always get myself into these conversations?

Anyhow, we were talking big press, small press, and indie publishing.

Sidenote. I got chastised the other day by someone who said that indie publishing and self-publishing were two different things and that people would be upset if I mixed the two. Indie publishing, this person insisted, was for small independent presses versus the do-it-yourself (DIY) of self-publishing. Um, yeah, anyway, I like indie publishing and self-publishing being synonymous. And besides, most authors I know who have done it themselves start their own independent publishing company that publishes only them. But I digress…

A small press, as I see it, is someone who agrees to publish my book in return for a percentage of the sales.  Like a huge press, they handle editing and cover art and some marketing.  That last piece is critical, as we’ll see.

So my friend is almost done with her book and she has her sights set on the big press, the traditional contract, the literary agent. Which I completely understand. I’ve always fantasized that I’d be at a cocktail party, and I could use the words, “My agent says…”

More and more, I’m thinking the fantasies I have really don’t matter. Reality can’t compete with my imagination, so even when I get what I think I want, it never measures up.

Anyway, I suggested to my friend that if she can’t get into one of the big houses she should try a small press. To which she said, “Why should I? I can do all that myself.”

And that is very true. Indie pub, DIY, you go, girl.

However, I have gone with small presses for all my books so far and here are the top five benefits of going with a small press:

  1. I have at least one other person in the world besides myself that likes the project, that has volunteered to spend their precious life’s minutes on my work. That not only is a confidence booster, but it also gives me some street cred. I can’t talk about my agent at the cocktail party, but I can talk about my editor, my publisher, my cover artist, blah, blah, blah.
  2. I have at least one other person in the world (generally more) who are talking about my book, promoting my book, giving my book out to others, and generally donning the fur coat and platform shoes to pimp my book. This is also huge. Word-of-mouth sells books. The more mouths wording, the more books sold.
  3. I don’t have to do all the editing myself. Yes, I have editors at my small presses, but I also have a freelance copy editor I pay for that all important final polish. You can’t have too many eyes looking at a book and yes, small presses will do editing, but I would also have a friend or three pore over the manuscript looking for typos. In this day and age, editing is everything.
  4. I don’t have to do all the cover art stuff myself. Now I like DEVIANTART.COM as much as the next guy, but I didn’t get into the book writing business to do cover art. I’m not good at it. I don’t have an eye for it. And getting help is wonderful. Be warned, however, some small presses are better at cover art than others. Before you sign up, look at the covers and take stock. In this day and age, cover art is everything.
  5. Lastly, I like working with a team of people that have skin in the game. Yes, I can hire editors and cover artists for my book, but once I write them their check, they are done. With small presses, the people I work with make money when the book sells so they have a vested interest in putting out quality books and making them shine. On my own, it’s all up to me. And it’s a lonely old world.

So that is my pitch for small presses. I have a few I adore–some I’ve worked with, others not yet.  Here’s a quick list: WordFire Press (and I don’t imagine they’ll be small for long), Entangled (also on the rise), Courtney Literary (Hi, Deb!), Desert Breeze Publishing (Hi, Gail!), and last but not least, Staccato Publishing, home of my third novel, Elizabeth’s Midnight.

Of course there are others.

Do your research! Don’t go into the game unaware. Just like everything else, shop around, talk to authors at that press, and know what the press does and doesn’t do. There are websites and author pages that will give small presses a yeah or a nay. Again, be careful.

Above all, write your book, polish it, and then get your book in front of readers BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY! Big, small, or indie, just get ‘r done.

Tips for Conference Goers, Especially First Timers — Part I

A few of your regular RMFW Blog contributors have submitted their best advice for an enjoyable and educational conference experience. These suggestions work for any conference, of course, but will be especially meaningful for those who plan to attend the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference September 5-7 at the Westin in Westminster.

Feel free to add your own tips in the comment section.

Kerry Schafer

1. Talking to writers at a conference is easier than talking to “normal” people, because you can drop the small talk. If you don’t know what to say, just ask, “So what are you writing?” Even shy writers are generally happy to start telling you about their latest project, and this helps to break the ice.

2. Have a business card or bookmark you can pass out with your name, email address, and social media contacts. This allows people you connect with at the con to find you again later. You can get inexpensive business cards at Moo.com or Vistaprint, or even make some yourself and print them on cardstock. Definitely worth the time.

3. Agents and editors are people. They don’t like to be spammed any more than you do, but they are looking for the next wonderful book and it might just be yours. Treat them with respect and let your enthusiasm shine through.

Kevin Paul Tracy

1. Don’t necessarily attend all the same workshops/classes as all your friends. Split up, then come together later and share notes.

2. The hospitality suite is great, but explore, there are all sorts of impromptu gatherings all over the place all weekend.

3. Listen more than you speak. You’ll overhear so much more that way and learn all sorts of interesting things.

4. Don’t go to bed early – stay up past your bed time. Some of the best conversations come after 1am and everyone is well lubricated.

5. When you make a new friend, get their “deets” right away, so you can stay in touch. You will forget later.

Robin D. Owens

1. There is no “one true way” to do things. What the seminar speaker is telling you works for him/her. Take what works for YOU from the workshop and use that.

2. Sometimes you have to hear a concept several times or phrased in different ways before it sinks in and is useful for you.

3. Stop when you get overwhelmed.

Susan Spann

1. Set specific, and reachable, personal goals. When I go to a conference, I try to meet (and remember) three new people every day. I used to feel shy about approaching strangers and introducing myself, but that became much easier when I replaced “Meet lots of people” with “Meet three new authors every day of the conference.” I usually end up meeting many more, but focusing on initiating three conversations made the goal more personal and reachable.

Jeffe Kennedy

Don’t over-schedule in advance, particularly regarding panels and workshops. Leave room to talk to people and go to panels and workshops as the opportunities arise. Connecting with other people is the one part of the conference you won’t be able to replicate some other way.

Please come back on Friday for Part II of Tips for Conference Goers, Especially First Timers, featuring Liesa Malik, Pam Nowak, and Katriena Knights, and Jeanne Stein.

Oh, the People You’ll Meet

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

It’s conference time. In less than two weeks I’ll be joining a mess of fellow RMFW writers for the annual Colorado Gold Conference. Over the next week, you’ll get plenty of conference tips and how-to’s on this blog. Read them. Learn from others mistakes and triumphs. And most of all have a great time.

Today’s blog isn’t about conference going, but rather about the people you’ll meet along your publishing journey. The first conference I went to was in 2007. At these things you’ll meet plenty of other writers in very similar circumstances and places in their journey to publication. A bonus hardly anyone thinks about when faced with big-time agents and editors and the possibility of publication.

Don’t make the same mistake.

Yes, it is exciting and terrifying to meet with the gatekeepers who might hold your fate in their manicured hands. But these aren’t the most important people at a conference. Your fellow writers are. These are the people who will support your career in its various forms. These are the people who will provide reviews, blurbs, advice, and buy your books. These are the people you can call at 2am when you’re trapped in a scene or realized you killed off the wrong character 20 chapters ago.

In my 7 years attending RMFW’s conference, I’ve come to know a lot of my fellow writers. Some with publishing deals that make me want to stab them with my desert fork (which is why the hotel often serves desert with a spoon) and others just starting out who think I’m cool because my books are in print (these one’s quickly realize their mistake, but I usually have them captured by spoon point by then).

Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to see the people I started out with (in roughly the same place in our journeys) achieved great things. I look forward to hearing their stories or knowing, if you try hard enough and don’t give up, you can be a working writer.

To those of you attending your first conference, welcome. And please make sure to stop me and say hello. I want to know your story. I want to feel your excitement. I want to suck it from your bone marrow like a vampire (which is the best way to stay in the industry).

For those of you who I’ve met before, thank you for sharing your stories, and being a part of what makes the CO Gold Conference fun.

Looking forward to seeing everyone!

If you have a moment, please friend me on facebook or visit my website at www.jakazimer.com.

Sharing What You Know and Making Some Dough

By Katriena Knights

As writers, we often find ourselves focusing on our writing as our sole source of income. While this is understandable, it can also prevent us from seeing other opportunities to add income streams, have some fun, and help other aspiring writers—or even other folks—while we’re at it.

If you’ve been writing long enough to have experienced some success, then you undoubtedly know some things you could pass on to other people who are trying to break into the business or who just want to improve their skills. You probably have other skills, too, that you could share with others. So why not teach a class?

There are many venues where you can teach, whether you want to strut your knowledge in front of a live audience or prefer to hide behind your computer screen. Some are specifically aimed at writers, while others offer classes of all kinds. Some pay after your teaching session, while others allow you to put a class online and earn a cut of the cost each time a student purchases it. Some don’t pay at all, but might serve as a good practice field before you jump into paying venues.

Places you may—or may not—have thought about for presenting classes include:

  • Your local library
  • Your local rec center
  • Chamber of Commerce meetings
  • Local writers’ groups
  • Community colleges
  • Conferences

Some online locations include:

  • Savvy Authors
  • Udemy
  • Our own RMFW
  • Online writers’ groups
  • Online conferences

And one of our RMFW members has even posted a series on how to get a job teaching classes on cruise ships. Of course, nobody is interested in getting a free cruise to the Bahamas or whatever, so your mileage may vary.

Many of these places have websites where you can find a place to apply to teach a class. Some online places, like Udemy, allow you to upload your own classes and determine your own pricing. Most will have to approve your class before it goes live, though.

To propose a class, you’ll usually have to provide a general synopsis, a more detailed outline, a biography, and a list of your credentials, including other classes you’ve taught before. If you’re interested in pursuing this type of work, taking some extra time with your proposals will help give you the best possible chance to have your workshop chosen.

And don’t limit yourself to writing workshops. If you’re looking into your local library, take an inventory of your skills and see what you might be able to contribute. Branch out! Most writers have a wide variety of skills, so don’t forget about them. Our local Chamber of Commerce offers a monthly program discussing business skills like how to make effective presentations—many writers could provide a workshop on writing white pages or ad copy that would probably be well received in this venue. Use your imagination—get out a piece of paper and start brainstorming on what you might be able to offer for an individual venue. And after you’ve given a workshop a few times, you might consider converting your materials into an ebook, thus providing another source of income after you’ve taught people “live.”

Now that I’ve given you some ideas about how to spread your wings into teaching, I’d like to indulge in a moment of Blatant Self-Promotion. I’ll be teaching How to Write Memorable and Meaningful Sex Scenes at Savvy Authors starting tomorrow. They’re still taking registrations, so if you’re interested, drop by savvyauthors.com.

In the immortal words of Bartles & Jaymes (does anybody remember those commercials?) “Thank yew for yer support.”

 

Hachette vs. Amazon—Do We All Lose?

By Liesa Malik

Personal Note: It has been several years (decades) since I last worked on news copy, and my journalism background is very rusty. Therefore, I have to admit to writing this with bias, and let you know that any opinions expressed here are mine as an individual and do not reflect an official stance by RMFW or its members . . .

Whether you love it or hate it, big business is here to stay, and stay involved with our lives. This is the story of two giants in the publishing industry and how we as authors might be involved.

BREAKING NEWS . . .

In May 2014, the New York Times broke a news story sure to rock the publishing industry. Hachette Book Group, fresh off an anti-trust lawsuit by the government, was the first of five major publishing houses required to re-negotiate pricing issues surrounding the ebook business. And talks weren’t going well.

On the surface, the lines of this dispute were clearly drawn and easy to form opinions over. Hachette, as the publisher, would set prices for ebooks in a similar fashion to pricing for hardcover books. Some ebooks would be offered for sale at $12.99 up to nearly $20. Most of these ebooks were authored by some of the biggest names in the industry – James Patterson, Malcom Gladwell, Stephen Colbert, Douglas Preston, and more—and demand for these books would easily cover the prices asked.

On the other hand, Amazon wanted the books priced at no more than $9.99. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon has a standing phrase, “your margin is my opportunity.” His focus is to bring the lowest price to everything Amazon distributes to the consumer. And that includes books.

Some problems here:

  1. The publishers claim the right to price their own products (often developed with hefty advances, public relations campaigns, and the costly editorial superiority of large publishing houses). If Amazon is allowed to price the books at below cost, the big houses could soon be in financial trouble.
  2. Amazon called foul over that thinking. In a printed statement the company said, “With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out-of-stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market—e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can be and should be less expensive.”
  3. The Wall Street Journal weighed in on the pricing dilemma even before this latest dispute arose. In an April 2012 article, WSJ reporters wrote “publishers feared that $9.99 would cement consumer price expectations and make it difficult to charge more (for books) in the future.” That fear drove competitors into an alliance between the five major publishers (Hachette, Harper Collins, MacMillan Publishing, Penguin Random House and Simon and Schuster) and Apple computer, in which a new sales model would allow higher pricing to exist across the board. That’s when Amazon complained and the government stepped in. The publishers and Apple ended up with millions of dollars of restitution to pay, and the demand that new negotiations take place.

THE PR WAR BEGINS

Soon after the break down this spring, Hachette and some of its authors began reporting on the semi-secret punishing tactics Amazon was using to drive down Hachette sales on Amazon. This is significant because Amazon owns 41% of all book sales and 61% of ebook sales in the U.S. The tactics being used were:

  • Slow delivery of book orders. Amazon claimed Hachette wasn’t sending books over on time, and Hachette claimed Amazon was holding them back from consumers.
  • Removal of “Buy Buttons” from some titles
  • No ability to pre-order expected releases
  • Competitive advertising on a Hachette author’s page that recommended different titles (by other publishers) at a better price.

These punitive actions were met by huge complaints in the press. Stephen Colbert even produced a questionable hand signal to the distribution giant. 

THE GLOVES COME OFF

As more and more authors found out about, and voiced concerns over, Amazon’s “bullying” tactics, Amazon tried offering to pay the authors 100% of its sales of their books while the price war continued.

“That was not a real offer,” said Douglas Preston (co-author with Lincoln Child of the Pendergrast series) “It was an attempt to divide authors from their publishers.”

Mr. Preston dove into the fray with a letter that quickly circulated among the famous and not-so-famous author community. “I wrote that letter hoping twelve brave souls would sign it. I’ve received over one thousand responses. The letter went viral,” said Mr. Preston.

On August 10th that same letter appeared as an advertisement in the NY Times and immediately faced tremendous support, and large skepticism.

Authors like Stephen King, Donna Tartt, and Philip Pullman “signed” and endorsed the letter, while Amazon called Mr. Preston “entitled” and “an opportunist.” The Amazon team was referring to the successful career Mr. Preston has built as an author, and hinted that personal greed was the reason Mr. Preston may have written his letter.

NOW IT’S OUR TURN

The above notes only nick the surface of the publishing world at work. Some other salient points to ponder include:

  • If Amazon succeeds in cowering Hachette, will it be able to use this battle to set up negotiations with the other major publishers to its advantage?
  • Are consumers right in their demands for the lowest possible price on books? Is there such a thing as a “free lunch” in publishing?
  • As authors, are we receiving a fair deal from publishers who have little to no cost in converting our paper and hard bound books to ebooks?
  • In the past, Amazon had a program called “The Gazelle Project” where small publishers were pressured out of existence with similar tactics. In a Hachette published book by Brad Stone, The Everything Store, Mr. Bezos is supposed to have set the tone by saying Amazon “should approach these small publishers the way a cheetah would pursue a sickly gazelle.” Since that became public knowledge, the program name has changed to the “Small Publishers Negotiation Program.”
  • While Amazon sells 50% or more of all books sold in the United States, those sales represent only about 7% of the giant distributor’s sales. Are the big five gazelles now?

I tried to reach representatives from the biggest two players in this situation. I was essentially told “no comment,” and given links to press releases and public letters.

Next month, I will write up interview notes from Mr. Preston–one man, one voice who has shown once again that there is power in words.  The question is, will those words stand up to legitimate, albeit, hardball tactics by Amazon?

“Negotiation” Is Not a Four-Letter Word

By Susan Spann

Today we continue the pre-conference #PubLaw prep for the contract negotiation workshop at Colorado Gold (which I’m team-teaching with Midnight Ink editor Terri Bischoff) with an unusual look at publishing contracts: one that doesn’t talk about contracts at all. 

(Note: You don’t have to go to Colorado Gold to benefit from the concepts we’re discussing here – so whether or not you’re attending the conference….read on.)

Today, we’re talking about negotiation.

Many people understand only the “Zero-Sum” approach to negotiation, which essentially boils down to “one person wins, and the other person loses.” Under a Zero-Sum philosophy, every negotiation (or contract) point I “win” is one that the other side “loses.” The idea, then, is to win as many points as possible, and force the other side to accept a “losing” position in the final deal.

Unfortunately, zero-sum doesn’t work very well for publishing contracts. The reason should be obvious. The more one side takes an “author vs. publisher” or “us vs. them” position in the negotiating process, the more difficult it becomes to set those differences aside and build a  business partnership once the deal is signed.

The Mutual Benefit Strategy offers a far more effective method of negotiation for publishing contracts — and not just because it lays the groundwork for a better relationship after the signing.

“Mutual Benefit Negotiation” is a strategy which focuses on finding not only a “meet in the middle” solution to contract disagreements, but actually finding a place where both sides are better off than they were before.

Admittedly, it isn’t always possible to find a win-win solution to every problem. In some cases, only one side can have its way.

A good example is whether or not the contract includes both print and ebook rights. If the author wants to sell both, but the publisher offers ebook only–or, more commonly, the other way around–only one side can prevail and there really is no middle ground.

More commonly, however, there is a place where both sides can “win” and the contract terms can reach a mutually beneficial position.

For an example of this, let’s look at translation rights. They don’t have to be “all or nothing.” If a publisher has an in-house translator for Spanish, or French, or Italian, or regularly sells a lot of translation rights to certain countries, you may be able to negotiate to include only certain languages in your contract.

Another good example is special editions for people with disabilities. Most publishing contracts give the publisher the right to produce or license these editions (for example, Braille versions) with no royalties paid to the author. This is because, many times, the publisher “donates” the rights to these editions and/or licenses them free of charge. As an author, you shouldn’t want to deprive disabled people of the chance to experience your books. However, you don’t want to give out windfalls, either — so a compromise position is language which states the publisher can license these editions royalty-free, but that if the publisher does receive financial compensation for the license, that compensation is shared equally with the author. Win-win. The publisher keeps the right to get those editions on the market, and the author gets the right to share in any benefits that arise.

When you negotiate a publishing contract, be clever. Look at the publisher as a business-partner-to-be. That doesn’t mean you trust beyond what the publishing house deserves–or that you compromise in unreasonable ways. However, if you can offer creative solutions that leave both parties better off (or at least satisfied with the outcome) you can turn the contract negotiation from a hostile, zero-sum environment into an incubator for the (hopefully long-term) relationship to come. 

Again … this doesn’t mean roll over and show your belly. It means be smart, be creative, and be aware that sometimes the best solution to a problem is Option C – which, often, nobody thought about to begin with.

I hope to see you all at Colorado Gold!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Susan SpannSusan Spann is a California transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. She also writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was named a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. The second Shinobi Mystery, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, releases on July 15, 2014. When not writing or practicing law, Susan raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium. You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann).

The Sane Writer Goes To Conference

By Kerry Schafer

Most of us head off to writing conferences with enthusiasm and great expectations. We plan to learn, meet with like minded people, and get our creative batteries recharged. We expect to come home brimful of energy, all ready to conquer new and wonderful writing worlds.

But just maybe you’ve headed off to a writer’s conference in the past all full of hope and expectation, only to come home feeling like somebody sucked your soul out through your eyeholes and then used it for target practice.

If so, you’re not alone and there’s nothing wrong with you.

Writer’s conferences are big, busy, and supercharged with emotion, information, and expectation—exactly the sort of environment in which an extrovert thrives and grows. But most writers are introverts. We get recharged home alone in the quiet with a good book and maybe some good tunes on the playlist. Crowds drain and exhaust us.

So should you just keep your introverted little soul at home then, swilling coffee or booze and watching the cons all unfold through tweets and pictures and Facebook posts? Because this isn’t very good for sanity either.

Part of the problem is the fear of missing something that most of us still carry around from when we were little kids. If I take a nap right now, what am I going to miss? Maybe the ice cream man, or the Easter Bunny or a big purple dinosaur riding a tricycle down the middle of main street. And if we don’t nap then we get crabby and tired and if the dinosaur does show up we’re in the middle of an exhaustion induced tantrum at the time and miss him anyway.

Right? So I think conferences become much more manageable (and enjoyable) if we are able to give up on the idea of  experiencing everything and are able to focus in on one primary purpose.

There are a lot of possible options. Maybe you want to learn more about craft, or need to explore new strategies for marketing. Maybe you’re searching for an agent, or want to place a manuscript with an editor. Or your intention could simply be to network, have fun, or get as drunk as possible every night at the hotel bar.

Setting a primary purpose doesn’t mean you can’t involve yourself in other things. It does give you a focus, an ability to turn down the static and not be overwhelmed by trying to pay attention to All Of The Things. It means you can skip a session of classes and hang out in your room. Maybe even take a nap.

There are three steps to creating a mindful goal.

1. Define for yourself what is your primary reason for attending this conference at this time. (Hint: this may be different for every con you go to)

Ask yourself, “If I get only one thing out of this conference, I want it to be _________.”

If you’re struggling with this, stop and make a list of All The Things you want to accomplish. Tell yourself you have to give one up. What will it be? Cut that one out. Repeat, until the primary goal is left.

2. Make sure your goal is something over which you have control. Look at your statement of purpose from step one and see if this is true. For example:

“At this con I will get an agent,” is a fabulous goal, but not one over which you have control. Your agent–the one who is out there looking for you–may not even be at the conference. Or maybe you’re not quite ready to meet her yet.

Consider modifying the goal to, “At this con I will focus on connecting with agents.

3. Tailor your conference experience toward this goal. If your purpose is the example above, then sign up for pitches. Go to the classes that teach pitching, or that talk about premise and synopsis. As other writers to help you practice.

Once you’re pursued your primary goal for the day, If you have the energy and the inclination to do other things, perfect. If not, also perfect. You’ll come home feeling like you accomplished what you set out to do. Sure, you’ll still be tired and might want to avoid people for awhile, but hopefully with your self and soul still intact.

Series or Standalone or The Problems of Estimating When You Don’t Outline

By Carol Berg

Carol Berg PhotoIn my published writing career, I’ve started six projects. Three of them, I intended to be standalone novels. Only one of those three stayed that way. One project I sold as a three book series and it turned out to be four. Clearly I’m not great at estimating.

My problem is that I am an organic story developer. I hate the word pantser, because to me that implies the writer doesn’t know where he or she is going. I always know where I need to start, and I always know where I’m going. My problem is, I don’t always know how many events or scenes or words it’s going to take me to get there. Nope, I don’t outline individual books or a series as a whole. I generate events and scenes as I write, because, for me, story ideas blossom as I get to know my characters and see what kind of challenges and personal interactions will drive them toward the climactic events that I want to happen.

Berg_ThreeCoversOne example: My novel Transformation was intended and sold as a standalone. I brought it to a very satisfactory ending. A true completion of the story is very important to me. Only, just about the time I sent the book off to my editor, I realized something critical about my demonic villains. The story I had told was only a piece of a much larger story arc that dealt with the identity of those demons and how that related to the identity of my hero’s people, their religion, and their single-minded pursuit of a war that took place in the physical landscape of human souls. That realization delighted me, but it also generated two additional novels that became the Books of the Rai-kirah. The single fantasy story became epic.

Three of my five “not-standalone” projects are this same kind of series. In these three series, the individual novels are separated by as little as a single day, or as many as four years. Each volume is a complete story in itself, but also a piece of a larger, continuing (epic!) story arc involving the same core of characters. Sometimes the books will have the same point of view character (like the Rai-kirah books) sometimes different ones (like the novels of the Collegia Magica).

I envisioned my Bridge of D’Arnath series as three books – and proposed and sold them on a three-page synopsis. The story centered around a disgraced noblewoman, a sorcerer/warrior who happened to have a displaced soul in his body, and the search for a kidnapped child – a child who had been brought up to believe he was evil. The third book ended when the boy was sixteen. But once I got there, the ending wasn’t right. Having sons myself, I knew that no kid, especially one who had undergone the traumatic childhood of this one, was “finished” at age sixteen. That’s where book four came from – Daughter of Ancients (NAL/Roc 2005) my first Colorado Book Award finalist. Oops!

Another project I mis-estimated was the novel Flesh and Spirit. I sold it as a standalone. But I also sold it on the basis of a single paragraph . When I was about halfway through writing it, I realized that there was no way this story would fit inside one book. I had to go back to my publisher and say, “You know this book I’m writing? It’s really two.” That is not a happy thing to say to a publisher. Fortunately, they liked it well enough to buy the second book! This became the Lighthouse Duet, a slightly different kind of epic series because it is really one big story split into two volumes. The resolution at the end of the first volume is really more of a turning point. Hey, I’m in good company. Lord of the Rings is really one big story split into three volumes, right?

Berg_DustandLightMy new series, the Sanctuary Duet is a parallel series to the Lighthouse books. I had the idea for Dust and Light (released just this month from NAL/ROC Books!) and wrote it up. Uh-oh, a paragraph! But I also wrote the first six chapters before I sent off the proposal. And this time, I told them it was going to be two books, even though I wasn’t sure the story was big enough. . . Indeed, when I reached the resolution mark of Dust and Light, there was an overarching mystery that had not yet been solved, and so I clobbered poor Lucian de Remini on the head and sailed into Book 2, Ash and Silver (NAL/Roc, August 2015). But I haven’t finished Ash and Silver yet, and there sure are lots of threads to resolve. Stay tuned…

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Carol Berg never expected to become an award-winning author. She chose to major in math at Rice University and computer science at the University of Colorado so she wouldn’t have to write papers, and ended up in a software engineering career. Now her fourteen epic fantasy novels have won national and international awards, including multiple Colorado Book Awards and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature. A starred review from Publishers Weekly uses words like captivating, impressive, and perceptive about her newest novel, Dust and Light. Learn more at http://www.carolberg.com

Oh, That Nasty Practice

As I pondered topics for today’s blog, my mind skipped past several ideas and latched on to a practice that seems to come very naturally to me: procrastination.

Ah, I see some nods of agreement out there. We all know this skill is one many writers have honed well. Deep down, we know there are a host of reasons for letting other tasks run roughshod over our writing.

Writing is difficult. When the Muse is with us, we can spend hours at the keyboard without being aware of the passage of time. But, much more often, we write and rewrite and rewrite again in futile attempts to keep the flow going and get the words just right. The funny thing is, the more we procrastinate, the harder it is. The routine of writing everyday actually makes the words flow easier. Once we get out of the habit, we defeat ourselves.

Many of us have sub-conscious fears. Fear of failure and fear of success seem to haunt a large percentage of writers. We are afraid what we write won’t be good enough, won’t satisfy our readers, won’t be accepted by our publishers. And if it is good enough, how will we maintain that level? We will have new expectations to meet, additional tasks, marketing.

Excuses abound. Family members need attention. The house needs cleaning. Other commitments can’t be ignored. We need to exercise. Groceries haven’t been purchased for a week. Noise is bothersome. The dog needs to be walked. A jigsaw puzzles calls for our focus. Email and social media and computer games clamor for priority. Our favorite TV program beckons. Our day jobs tire us out.

I think I have personally used every one of those excuses.

Now, I’m not saying we can’t prioritize and I refuse to say that “if you truly want to be a writer, you must make writing a priority.” I think those are personal decisions based on our personal situations. There was a time in my life when my family HAD to be my priority and the day job had to be built into the schedule. That didn’t lessen my desire to be a writer–it simply meant that I needed to adjust my goals and my routine to fit my life.

What I am saying is that “if you want to be a writer, you must learn to avoid procrastination like the plague.”

Wow.

I have the time, I have the space, I have a supportive man who takes routine tasks off of my shoulders. So why am I not writing every single day?

My personal excuse is “other commitments.” I find it difficult to say no and tend to over-extend myself in volunteering for committees and boards. It isn’t that I’m looking for other things to do. I care about the organizations I belong to and want to contribute my skills. There’s nothing wrong with that. The problem is that I have taken on so much that I had to shift those tasks into my writing time in order to honor them and now I’m in a negative habit of NOT writing.

I knew saying yes to those tasks would rob me of writing time but I still did so and I recognize it was in direct response to being asked to alter my story visions in order to satisfy mass market publishers who were nibbling at my manuscript as well as an attempt to rush an unfinished manuscript that just wasn’t flowing right. Once I realized that, I adjusted my publication goals and now have a new offer from Five Star Fiction. Two manuscripts await attention.

But I still have those multiple lingering volunteer jobs to finish up. Thankfully, many of them now almost completed—enough so that this morning, I made a commitment.

I will return to a DAILY writing ritual. Because I have upcoming travel that will disrupt routine, I will start this in September. I will use the upcoming RMFW Colorado Gold Conference to re-energize me and jumpstart this practice. I will not volunteer in multiple roles for multiple organizations and those volunteer tasks that I have yet to finish or agree to take on in the future will be regimented to a specified time slot each day—after my writing.

Anyone want to join me?