What Makes a Workshop Proposal Stand Out?

Volunteering for the workshop proposal selection committee offers a rare opportunity to see all the workshop and panel proposals that are submitted for consideration to Colorado Gold. For the past several years, I have served on this committee, and now in my second year as conference chair, I'd like to share some of what I've learned.  When you are exposed to hundreds of proposals over the course of months, it becomes easy to spot the standouts.

A lot of consideration and planning goes into the selection process on the part of the committee and then by the conference chair. Our goal is to ensure we are providing the widest range of classes to suit writers at every level of their career from beginning writers to published authors. As publishing continues to evolve, so will the types of workshops and panels at Colorado Gold.

During the proposal selection process, the committee focuses on the proposed topic as well as the proposal itself. Knowing that your proposal will be one among many, it's worth your time to make sure it showcases your workshop in the best possible way. When putting your proposal together for submission, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is your topic specific, fresh, and unique? The selection committee will always seek proposals on writing craft basics, best practices, how to, and industry standards, but if your proposal comes off as run-of-the-mill during the proposal process, what does that say about your class? There are many ways to talk about outlining, character development, queries, marketing, and publishing as a whole, but if your topic feels stale, it simply won't stand out.
  • Is your topic relevant to the industry's current climate? Publishing is changing at a rapid pace, and authors are savvy to what's going on. If you've presented on this topic before, how have you updated your class to keep it fresh?
  • Is your topic positive in nature? One of the goals of Colorado Gold is to pump up our attendees and fill them with the knowledge and information they need to face their writing with a fresh attitude and renewed excitement. A workshop or class that is geared toward the negative or focuses solely on what-not-to-do will have the opposite effect and is less likely to be selected.
  • Have you taught before? It's perfectly fine if this is your first proposal and your first time teaching. We welcome fresh talent! But make sure you share your credentials so the committee can see that you're the perfect person to teach a class on your proposed topic. Also, be sure to include enough content in your description and outline so it's clear you know your subject and you're prepared to teach the material. This goes for experienced presenters who are teaching a new course for the first time.
  • Are you submitting a proposal for a discussion panel? How do you plan to engage the audience? How do you plan to moderate the discussion? Have you listed all of the speakers? What topics will you discuss that will provide insights to attendees they can use? Is your topic so broad it lacks clarity? So narrow as to limit its appeal? Is your panel audience-focused? A panel heavy with self-promotion won't appeal to attendees who are looking for usable knowledge to apply to their own writing careers.
  • Does your proposal indicate concrete knowledge or skills?  What do you plan to share with your audience that they can take away and apply to their writing? Be detailed so that the committee can understand what attendees will learn in your workshop or panel.
  • Does your proposal clearly state your audience?  Is it for Beginner, Intermediate, Professional level writers? For everyone? Is it for published or pre-published writers? If it's geared toward already-published writers, does the content pertain to traditionally published, indie, or both? Does the content of your outline match the expected track level?
  • Is your outline detailed enough without being too detailed? This is important! If you submit an outline for your two-hour workshop that contains a handful of five bullet points and no supporting detail, it will seem as though you don't have enough content to fill your time slot. Conversely, if your outline for your one-hour workshop is fifteen pages single-spaced, it will seem as though you might not have a firm grasp on your subject matter or enough time to present all the material. Find a balance that allows you to show what you'll cover, how it will flow, how long it will take, and what attendees will take away.
  • Is your outline well organized?  A well-planned outline is easy to spot. It shows the main topic, the sub-topics in the order you plan to present them, and shares a bit of the direction your class will take. An organized outline indicates a solid grasp of subject knowledge and information flow, which results in a class that your audience will be glad they chose.
  • Have you proofread your proposal and provided all the information requested? This might seem like a no-brainer but think about it. Just like a resume, your proposal represents you during this process. Typos and errors reflect poorly on your proposal. You want to give the selection committee every reason to choose yours over another proposal. Do yourself a favor and submit your best possible proposal.
  • What are we looking for? If you have something that you think will be of interest to the attendees at RMFW Colorado Gold, we invite you to submit your proposals regardless of topic. Based on feedback from our conference attendee surveys, attendees have requested workshops and panels on the following subjects:

Writing Craft

  • Character Development, Character Arcs
  • How to Write a Beginning
  • Plotting Stories and Series
  • Genre-specific Tropes: Dos and Don'ts
  • Pacing
  • Writing Diversity: Other Cultures, Other Abilities, LGBTQ
  • Specialized Knowledge for Writers: Military, Battle, Police, Forensics, Weapons, Foreign Culture, Sex, History, etc.

Author Business & Professional Level

  • Marketing & PR
  • Networking: How-to, Strategies, New Avenues, What's Coming
  • Managing Financials, Taxes, Accounting, Best Practices
  • Contracts for Traditional and Indie Published Authors, Dos and Don'ts
  • Author Events, Public Speaking, Book Signings, Best Practices
  • Industry Insights for Traditional and Indie Publishing
  • Indie Publishing, What it Entails, How to Manage, DIY versus Hiring a Team
  • Social Media Management for Authors
  • Book Formatting
  • Book Reviews, How to Get Them
  • Audiobook Production, Options, How To
  • Cover Design
  • Discoverability
  • Author Platform, Building an Audience, How Tos, Options
  • Author Websites, DIY, How To, Options
  • Readers: Where to Find Them
  • Writing as a Career

This list is by no means complete, but hopefully, it triggers ideas and provides some insights about the kinds of things we're hearing from our conference goers about what they want to see. Proposal Submissions opened January 1 and will close at midnight on April 1Keep an eye on the conference page, your email, and the RMFW home page for details about Colorado Gold.

We look forward to receiving your proposals and building another fabulous conference for you!

Rocky Mountain Writer #69


Suzie Brooks  & Literary Wanderlust

The first episode of 2017 begins with the second installment of Writer's Rehab. This quick session with Natasha Watts deals with sprucing up your vocabulary.

Following Natasha, the guest is Suzie Brooks, who launched the independent publishing house Literary Wanderlust three short years ago.

Suzie talks the submission and scouting process, how she works with writers on everything from editing to marketing, and what it’s like to head up a small team of talented staffers working to produce quality books.

Since 2009, Suzie has served on the board of directors for RMFW. She holds a master’s degree in publishing from George Washington University and has many years of editorial experience.

Suzie Brooks

Intro music by Moby Gratis

Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

Intro music by Moby Gratis
Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com

Should We Continue the Getting to Know You (GTKY) Posts?

I would love to continue the Getting to Know You (GTKY) blog posts if we get enough volunteers. Here's one example of a member who was featured in the September 30, 2016 GTKY post:

Janet Lane

Website: http://janetlane.net/
Blog: https://janetlane.wordpress.com/ and RMFW Blog
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/janetlaneauthor
Twitter: https://twitter.com/janetlaneauthor
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15418008.Janet_Lane

2016_Janet Lane1. We know the who (that's you), so will you give us the what, why, when, where, and how you write?

I write "History, made passionate in medieval England," aka historical romance and women's fiction. It's my passion because I firmly believe that "Amor vincit omnia" -- Love conquers all. I love exploring relationships and making the impossible, possible through my characters. My favorite reviews mention that my writing transports them to my story worlds and makes them care for my characters. I write from my home office at an elevation of 8,300 ft. in Morrison, frequently crashing my husband's home office (better view), and wherever my MacPro and I travel.

2. What is one fun thing few RMFW members know about you?

I directed my community's annual musical production for 22 years, and I ran away from home at 6, 12, and 14. Oh, and my husband, John, and I were married at the Renaissance Festival.

3. What is your most favorite non-writing activity, the one that gives you the greatest joy?

Must I choose one? I love to ski, spend time with my family and new grandson, and play tennis. And I love good treasure finds at estate sales and consignment stores.

 

We also have openings for guest bloggers throughout the year, so consider volunteering for one of those spots as well. Submission guidelines for guest bloggers can be found on the website.

Contact me at blog@rmfw.org and I'll email you the instructions for the GTKY posts.

You must be a Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers member to participate in these opportunities, but it doesn't matter if you're published or unpublished, a long-time member or brand new to the organization. We want you to have a chance to introduce yourself to the membership and get acquainted with other members.

Enthusiasm Refill

The festive holiday season fills us with excitement, hope, cheer, enthusiasm, optimism. For several months we have something to look forward to. For many of us it is the excitement to see family and friends we haven't seen is a long time, for others it's seeing what Père Noël left for us under the Christmas tree, and for still others, like me, it's the anticipation of watching loved ones open presents we chose and wrapped just for them.

Inevitably after the holiday season there is a period of blahs, the unavoidable doldrums as we look ahead to what can't help to be mundane pursuits after the bright tinsel and blinking lights of such a heart-warming and lighthearted time. The lingering hangover from New Years Eve doesn't help.

Santa WritesHere's a perfect way to reignite your enthusiasm: write. Whenever I write, even when I have to force myself to sit down and put fingertips to keys, whenever I allow myself to be transported into the world I'm creating in my own stories, my spirits are always lifted, my heart lightened, my mind liberated.

It's safe to say the time-constraints of the season have necessitated that many (most?) of us have had to neglect our writing, even if only for a couple of weeks or so. This is the perfect time to get back to it. It's therapeutic, it's fun, and it's productive.

And it will keep at bay the post-holiday blahs.

What’s the Scoop on Colorado Gold 2017?

Every bit of information available so far about this year's Colorado Gold Conference can be found on the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers website, conference page.

Conference dates: September 8-10, 2017
The location: Renaissance Hotel, Denver, Colorado

Want to submit a workshop proposal? Start here!

Want to know who the keynote speakers and visiting agents and editors will be or learn all about the conference fees? Hop back to the conference page.

You've probably already heard Diana Gabaldon has graciously accepted the invitation to attend as a keynote speaker. That's enough incentive right there to register as soon as registration opens on May 1st.

There's a Conference Facebook page where you'll find timely announcements and connect with other potential conference-goers.

More information coming soon. Don't forget about those workshop proposals...you can submit between now and March 31st.

 

Details, Details

Go find a copy of Lucia Berlin’s short story collection, A Manual for Cleaning Women.

Find “Point of View” within.

(Actually, okay, read the whole book or maybe one short story a week for as long as it takes. The title story is a masterpiece of humor and narration.)

But “Point of View” is a short story about writing, empathy, perspective, and the use of detail.

It’s like Lucia Berlin saying, "hey, here’s how it’s done."

“Point of View” has many layers to it and is a bit of genius, I would suggest, because of how effortlessly Lucia Berlin makes her point. It’s a short story in which nothing happens. The point of view is a writer. I don’t think we believe the narrator is Lucia Berlin herself. Might be, might not. The writer is writing about a woman named Henrietta and nothing much happens to Henrietta, either.

Joyce Carol Oates (New York Journal of Books, March 2016) has called “Point of View” Berlin’s “most complexly imagined short story.”

But “Point of View” is also a short story that is a note to writers about the power of detail. In fact, the main character comes right out and says that her story about Henrietta would be quite boring on the page but with the use of “intricate detail” she will “make this woman so believable you can’t help but feel for her.”

From “Point of View:”

“Most writers use props and scenery from their own lives. For example, my Henrietta eats her meager little dinner every night on a blue place mat, using exquisite heavy Italian stainless cutlery. An odd detail, inconsistent, it may seem, with this woman who cuts out coupons for Brawny towels, but it engages the reader’s curiosity. At least, I hope it will.”

The first-person “writer” of the story goes on to give examples of the details she uses from “her” life (the narrator) to bring her character, Henrietta, to life.

There’s a tug to these details. We care because the writer cares about Henrietta, has given her three dimensions through details and then slips into her point of view with attitude about her surroundings, too (even when she’s doing almost nothing).

“She lies in bed, sipping Sleepytime tea. She wishes she had her old electric blanket with the switch Lo-Med-Hot. The new blanket was advertised as the Intelligent Electric Blanket. The blanket knows it isn’t cold so it doesn’t get hot. She wishes it would get hot, comforting. It’s too smart for its own good! She laughs out loud. The sound is startling in the little room.”

You can almost feel Lucia Berlin breathing life into the story.

Through detail.

No brilliant new point here. There’s nothing you don’t already know, that the little objects and colors and stuff of your story add up, that your characters are reacting to the objects and colors and stuff of their lives all the time, that bringing the world of your characters to life will, in turn, deliver your character to your readers.

Reading Lucia Berlin will give you a jolt of inspiration. Your own life has ample material from which to draw, as “Point of View” suggests. All of Berlin’s story are quasi-autobiographical. Some, apparently, not so quasi. The detail is right there around us every day. We just have to see it. And write it down.

A full review of A Manual for Cleaning Women is here.

++

Details? On a side note (and very much related), the late Gary Reilly’s The Detachment was #2 on a list by Westword's Alan Prendergast for holiday gift suggestions among local writers. The novel is 154,000 words long. It is, if you read it, 154,000 words of documentary-level detail turned into a brilliant narrative piece of fiction.

Here’s what Prendergast wrote. Note the last two words.

2. The Detachment, Gary Reilly
Veterans who enjoy fact-based military fiction should take to Gary Reilly’s The Detachment (Running Meter Press), the second installment of his Vietnam-era novels featuring Private Palmer. Published posthumously last winter, the book is reminiscent of James Jones’s work—a look at the tedium and gut-checking that plagues an MP who, while not part of the frontline troops, still feels keenly the absurdity and madness of an unwinnable war. We’ve written about Reilly’s semi-comic “Asphalt Warrior” series of novels about a Denver cabbie, but the Vietnam work is of a different order: sober, poignant and harrowingly detailed.

The RMFW Spotlight is on LS Hawker

Our monthly feature, The RMFW Spotlight, is intended to provide members of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers with more information about our board members as well as featured volunteers. This month we’re pleased to present LS Hawker.

2016_ls-hawker1. Hi Lisa! Tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

I'm the new PAL Coordinator. RMFW has been instrumental in my success as an author and I want to help other writers realize the same success.

2. What is your current WIP or most recent publication, and where can we buy a book, if available?

My newest suspense novel END OF THE ROAD comes out January 31 from HarperCollins Witness Impulse. You can buy it at any online retailer.

3. We've all heard of bucket lists -- you know, those life-wish lists of experiences, dreams or goals we want to accomplish -- what's one of yours?

One that I'm going to realize next summer is to witness a total solar eclipse. Ever since I read Annie Dillard's description in Teaching a Stone to Talk, it's been an obsession.

4. Most writers have an Achilles heel with their writing. Confess, what's yours?

As with most areas of my life, I'm a binge writer. I don't write every day. But I'll write up to sixteen hours at a stretch when I'm on deadline. I wish it could be different, but I've come accept that it's part of my process.

5. What do you love most about the writing life?

I love traveling, speaking, reading, dreaming — but most of all, I love that I get to write for a living.

6. Now that you have a little writing experience, what advice would you go back and give yourself as a beginning writer?

Don't rely on your "talent." Work your ass off learning your craft. Don't wait until you're in your forties, for the love of God.

2016_desk-ls-hawker7. What does your desk look like?

It's an electric adjustable desk so I can sit or stand, with two large monitors. What item must be on your desk? Coffee or bourbon, depending on the time of day, and a quote from Calvin Coolidge about persistence. Do you have any personal, fun items you keep on it? A pair of wax lips, a rhinestone tiara, and Story Cubes.

8. What book are you currently reading (or what was the last one you read)?

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Thanks Lisa!

You can learn more about LS Hawker at her website, blog, and on Facebook and Twitter.

Writerly Resolutions for 2017 – ADD YOURS

Normally I am not one to partake of new year resolutions. Mostly cuz I hate to fail at them.

That losing 10 pounds one has really added up since my first resolution twenty years ago...But let's not focus on my jiggly thighs. Of course, now you can't get that visual out of your head (you're welcome!)

I do like one kind of resolution though - WRITERLY ONES. 

So as much as 2016 sucked for some people, and brought joy for others, I'm glad to see 2017. It holds promise of words, words, and more words. Book births. Some book deaths, usually termed, OUT OF PRINT. Also the idea of ideas. The realities of agents, editors, publishers, marketing, promo. Wins. Losses. Queries. Decisions. Questions. And RMFW!

And best of all reading a mass of great books by RMFW writers.

With resolutions in mind, here are a few of my writerly resolutions for 2017:

I vow to finish more than 3 manuscripts this year. Mind you, probably not good ones, but still...

I also promise to, and please hold me to this, be more social and active in my community, both writerly and other.

And finally, I will make a point to meet RMFW writers, find out who they are and what writing brings to them.

What about you?

If you could take a moment to add your resolution to the comments, we'd love to read them. 

 

An Imaginary Conversation by Liesa Malik

September 1843 – London, England

Hannah Brown knocked gently on her mistress’ parlor door as she opened it and peeped around, a slight smile hovering on her lips.

“He’s here, Miss Angela.” Hannah had been Miss Angela Burdett-Coutts’ governess, then paid companion for many years, and shared a sense of fun and generosity with her mistress. This afternoon would be a real treat with this special friend come a calling.

England’s richest woman, a mere slip of a girl in her mid-twenties, looked up from her knitting and returned Hannah’s smile. “Why, you must show him in then, Hannah. Oh! Do I look all right?” The young woman smoothed her dress and dark hair almost unconsciously. Hannah nodded her approval and went to fetch their visitor.

“Miss Angela, you look charming as always,” said her young gentleman caller. He bowed over her hand and twinkled into her face. “The autumn air suits you.”

“Nonsense, Charles. You flatter. But do sit, for I adore flatterers. Especially those who bring gossip and good news.” Angela winked, and patted the couch near her. Charles took his seat. Hannah went to fetch tea. “Now, how is our dear Catherine?”

“You mean Kate, my wife? She is well and sends her regards. She’s taking our Charlie for a walk and to the London zoo today, so you and I have our time to talk.”

“Ah. So all is well. Now, Charles, have you completed the quest I set you upon when we last met?”

“So quick to the point, as always, my dear. No on-dit from the court? No noise or famous turn-aways at Almack’s? Well then, I will be as pointed as you, and we shall not draw swords over the matter.”

Angela nodded. “Do proceed, Charles. I must know whether to invest my pounds in my scheme, and you are the only one who can help me decide. Are things as I heard they are in Saffron Hill? Is there hope, or is all lost?” She leaned in and let her perfume settle in the air between them.

“All I can say, my dear madam, is that I am very glad you chose to send me as your ambassador to our most deplorable slum, rather than approaching on your own.” He shook his head and gave a theatrical shudder. “I simply cannot imagine subjecting you to that squalor.”

Angela wrapped Charles on the wrist with her fan. “Oh please, Charles, you behave as if I were one of the China dolls on my shelf, and not your friend in all schemes, up to the pluck for anything. Besides, you tricked me into not going with you. So now you must pay the price by spending the afternoon with me and telling me all you saw. Every bit. Out with it now.”

Charles sighed, shook his head, and stood. “If you insist, dear madam and great friend.

“I went to Saffron Hill, just as you suggested. There I found the streets as narrow as two twigs bound together, and the air thick with soot, and smells worse than any I could describe. There was indeed, in this most obscure and squalid part of the Metropolis, a building open at night for the gratuitous instruction of all comers, children and adults, the Field Lane Ragged School. Oh, Angela, how you would have wept to see it. My recollections as a youth working in a blacking factory pale by comparison.”

Hannah brought in the tea, and the three companions continued their chat.

“Within the walls of the Ragged School, even the rats found it hard to make room for themselves. One could not distinguish between the downtrodden and the criminals, for everyone is treated with the same lack of care and concern. The girls can sit for a while in their room, pretending to absorb what the volunteer teachers have to share, but the boys are as wild as any creature known to man or God. They cannot be trusted with books or civilized supplies.”

“Is there no hope then, Charles? Would it be a useless venture to try to support this school, this area?”

“I think, truth be told, that there is hope. I saw a lad of no more than five or six there. Tiny creature with large eyes and a gentle air. He’s been working since he was three. Chimney sweep, I think. Rickets have him in their grasp. Poor boy’s bones are as fragile and bendable as a willow branch, but he spoke to me of all good things. For him alone, it would be worth your time and money to invest in projects to help the poor of Saffron Hill.

Tears sprang to Angela’s eyes. “Did you bring him out, Charles? Did you help him escape?”

“No, Angela. For every little Timmy is like him. Poor chaps. How could I take one and not them all? Miss Hannah would have her hands full if I brought the wild boys all here.” The ladies smiled at Charles’ absurdity.

“There must be something we can do.” Angela wrung her hangs in desperation.

“I will write and post a report of what I saw,” replied Charles. “Surely, I can persuade the good people of London to care for our poor, and not accuse them. I think The Daily News could use this story."

"Perhaps, Charles. But I think there is a better way for you to reach Londoners. Do you think, my dear friend, you might write a story about the plight of Saffron Hill, in one of your fictions? I have heard that even our new queen, Victoria, reads your stories until midnight.”

“Bah,” said Charles. “That’s a humbug. But for you Angela, I will try. For you and for Tim, and for all who want to see England address the needs of the poor with something better than jails, workhouses, and ragged schools. England must see that we cannot leave a legacy of Want and Ignorance if our great empire is to survive. Yes. I think I shall.”

Good to his word, Charles Dickens began writing A Christmas Carol that month and had completed the story in six weeks. It was first published December 19, 1843.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good write.

The Greatest Blogpost Ever Posted

So this is going to be the last RMFW blog post that I’m doing for a bit. I told Patricia Stoltey and Julie Kazimer that I’m stepping down. I just can’t juggle it all.

So I promised Ms. Kazimer thatI would write the greatest blogpost ever. I thought about calling it “The Greatest Story Ever Told” but I think that might have been done already. Then I was going to call it “The Myth of Success” but that didn’t feel right, so then I was thinking “Go Into the Light, Carol Ann” but that would date me.

So whatever this last post is called, the point of it all is this: I am claiming success and I am making definite choices about what my goals are.

That’s been my problem for a decade now. I couldn’t make a choice when it came writing. I wanna write for the market. No, I wanna write the book of my heart. I want millions of fans and trillions of dollars and billions of groupies. Er, wait, trillions of fans, billions of groupies…no…anyway…

I am deciding that my main writing is goal is to only write books I’m proud of and publish them by any means necessary. And whatever happens, happens.

That’s what I’m choosing. But choosing is hard. Take me to a Vegas breakfast buffet with both donuts and waffles, and you’ll see me eat both. Dammit! But no, I’m learning, I have to choose.

I can’t work on five projects all at the same time. I can’t accept every opportunity to market my books. I am a limited resource. So I have to choose where my time goes. In 2017, I should have five more books on the market, three romances I wrote with Andrea K. Stein and two more books in The Juniper Wars Series. And that’s a lot right there. I can’t do more. I am being forced to choose.

And I’m choosing to drop some of my commitments to focus on finishing those projects.

And I’m choosing to think of myself as a successful writer.

It’s December, my friends, and darkness reigns. The days are short, the nights are long, but even before the Christós event of 0 A.D. (ish), human beings have celebrated the light in the middle of these long, cold days.

For my writing career, I thought the only light that counted, the only success, was a long day of blazing sunshine lighting up every corner of every continent. I thought that J.K. Rowling or James Patterson international success was the only light that mattered.

And so I counted myself as a failure.

But no more!

I have a flickering candle of a writing career, five flickering books lighting up my little corner of the world. I am truly proud of the five books I have published, and that is a success. And I’m celebrating that success.

And I think I’m finding the courage and contrariness needed to write a whole bunch more. I will light the world with candles, one uncertain flame at a time. I’m trying to go back to basics: to write what I love and to let go of expectations, and to do the work while enjoying the work.

And that is key…to do the work of writing while enjoying the work of writing.

Knowing that all the while, there are people who will not like my books, that will criticize how I use commas, or sniff at me because I am not traditionally published. Let ‘em. What other people think of me and my books is none of my business. That’s not my job.

My job is to write Aaron Michael Ritchey novels.

And so, I have to let go of a few things, but what a great achievement that is, that I’m busy enough that I have to choose what to work and and what to step way from.

But I am truly grateful to Patricia, Julie, and to everyone at RMFW. Without that mighty Colorado organization, my entire life would be different.

I’ll be back though, when I come up with something I just have to share with ya’ll.

Until then, come gather around. It’s dark, but we have light.

For that’s the great promise of Christmas, that there will always be light even if it’s just a single candle burning.