Concerning Conferences: A noob’s thoughts on time, worth, and industry

It's our honor to introduce new victim blogger, Josh Dorne, who you might've met at the Colorado Gold.

Take it away, Josh....

Let's pretend, for one second, that I know what I'm talking about. For our current intents and purposes, it doesn't matter. I mean, come on! This is the Internet. But as of this writing I've only just attended my second ever writing conference: Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer's, Colorado Gold 2016. So let's just say I've got some learning to do. That being said here's my perspective on writing conferences from the view point of a relative newcomer. At thirty-eight years old, I'm a bit late to the party. But regardless if you're younger, older, or simply just prefer words to things like real-life social interaction, a writer/author should always be moving forward in his or her writing career. Yes. It's a career. Maybe even a life choice...possibly an ill-advised one. But if you're reading this it's probably too late for you, so let's get started.

Is a writing conference worth your time?

Short answer...yes. Or no. Possibly, maybe. In the grand scheme, a weekend (as most conferences tend to last) is not a significant period of time. And if you're new or struggling (like me) in this highly competative industry where thousands of books are self published each day, and the traditionally published duke it out Thunderdome style, this is something you should consider including in your publishing/writing journey. Why? The answer's simple: Networking. A content loaded word that strikes fear into the hearts of men, women,  and whatever gender I might be by the time this posting is done. But something to remember: Everyone you meet at a conference is in a similar boat to you. Not only are conversations extremely easy to start, i.e. "What do you write?" "Are you published?" But the contacts and the people you meet are, in themselves, worth the price of admission. In my first conference alone I met two great people (and many more besides) whom I hope will be in my life and share my publishing/writing journey for many years to come.

Is a writing conference worth the money?

This question is more difficult, as is putting a price on things that are subjective depending on your position in life. Nothing can be promised inside of a conference. An agent connection or book deal cannot be guaranteed, nor should you expect one. The main things you can expect to get out of a conference are three-fold: connections (with other writers, agents, and editors), learning (such as how to write a bestseller, or the 3 Act plot structure), and experience (pitching, querying, and writering). I don't know about you, but before my first conference, not only did I have no idea how to query, but the thought of it sent my hizzie into a complete and total tizzie...because I'm hip, and with it.

So, is a conference worth it or not?

The answer to this is ultimately going to be up to you. Different people will take different things from the same experience. But if like me you're new to writing, new to publishing, or just need a new perspective from which to chase this elusive career choice, then for me the answer is yes. If you're expecting a miracle, or to be discovered and become the next JK Rowling, then it's possible that your expectation might need a slight (or drastic) adjustment. But if you want the opportunity to learn from people directly involved in the industry, speak to successful authors who've gone through what is currently keeping you up nights, and meet some cool people in the exact same boat you're in and possibly make some friends who you'll have for years to come? Then take the plunge and register for a conference near you today! You might only regret it a little bit. And that's nothing if not the dream.

Get out of jail–er, writer’s block–card

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To escape writer's block, douse the raging fears and critical inner voice, and find a route to fresh thinking. For me, that route has been to write to my friend, Pam, and explain what's blocking my writing.

How my BFF helps me escape writer's block

Dear Pam,

Here I am again, writing to you because of writer’s block.

Have I ever told you what magic it is, tapping your powers to unblock my thoughts and words?

When I have overwhelming doubts about my writing, the blank page stares at me. The curser blinks, taunting me, and I can’t move forward.

What works for me every time is to start writing to you, just as if we were on the phone, only on paper. I know I can joke with you, confess my fears and stumble along, and something happens. It’s like the doubts and fears vanish. My pen and paper melt away and I am in tune with my novel.

It’s been a long, successful escape for me, spanning decades.

It started in high school during study hall. I’d be procrastinating, avoiding work on an essay or report, unable to decide on a theme or position despite the looming deadline. In lieu of disaster, I stumbled upon this method of turning to you, and you have never failed me.

Let me count the ways you have helped me.

 #1. Reassurance.

Dear Pam, I have discovered fiction, and am so excited I’m paralyzed. I’m writing my first novel. It’s a time travel. I know the setting is England, but I can’t decide on which time period I’d like to visit. What makes me think I can write a novel? Okay, let me show you some time periods I've considered, and why...

 #2. Making decisions.

Dear Pam, On the advice of a literary agent who loves my writing but doesn’t represent my genre, I’m leaving the time travel genre to write a straight historical romance. I’m agonizing over dialogue. If I try to be accurate to the fifteenth century, only a few people will understand it. If I write with contractions will I be a laughingstock?

#3. Finding focus.

Dear Pam, I’m writing a contemporary women’s fiction novel loosely based on my mother’s trauma with Alzheimer’s. I’m scared, so scared I can’t plot the darned thing. What I’m sure of is …

 #4. Trusting my vision.

Dear Pam, my first book released! I’m writing about Gypsies, and rather than arm-candy, they are my protagonists. I want to make it a character-related series, but this second novel just sits there, frozen after the first chapter. I worry that the hero is too bigoted to be likable. Do you think it would be helpful if I...

 #5. Moving forward.

Dear Pam, I’m in the saggy middle and sinking fast. I’ve written myself into a corner, and I’m trying to find the way out. I can trash all I’ve written and start over. There has to be another option, though. Let me see. What if I…

You get the idea. I tell her my problem. Like a Dear Abby column, I lay it all out, crying on her shoulder, and in the process I discover my own answer. I have never sent any of these letters, but they always give me new ideas. It’s a simple strategy that works.

I’ve heard of other ways to break writer’s block that may also work for you. One friend of mine relies on showers to get the thoughts flowing. Works almost every time, she says.

Another has a special tea she brews and places on her desk with three lit candles.

Another walks in the park. Yet another meditates.

Many of my friends believe in the power of BIC (butt in chair), not budging until the words flow and if desperation sets in, writing stream of consciousness or drivel until ideas are nudged into motion.

Thank you for always being there, Pam.

And how about you? How do you escape writer’s block?

Denver, the Literary Capital of the West?

I’ve lived in four major cities beyond Denver during my life – Detroit, Tampa, Dallas and even London, England for a year.  Guess you could say I’ve been around the block a time or two. And in my experience, one of the things I’ve found to be unique and special about Denver is the vibrancy of the writing community here.  Over the past couple of years, therefore, I’ve toyed with the idea of how we might establish Denver as the Literary Capital of the West.

Whoa! Literary Capital? Can we truly think about this? 

As creative writers, I know we can. Let’s play that brainstorming game, “What if?” and see what happens . . .

What if Denver were the literary capital of the West?

If that happened, wouldn’t we then see an influx in great and world renowned authors living and visiting our area?  Jack Kerouac traveled here and wrote a significant portion of his “On the Road” based on life in Denver. Alan Ginsberg, also a leader in the Beat Generation of the ‘50s, established a school of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute in Boulder. We need more established authors to represent today’s writing superstars. People like Doris Kerns Goodwin might do an updated history of our wild west. Or Stephen King might come by to add to his “The Shining” with maybe a story or two about the haunting of Cheesman Park or the Denver Children’s Home. Or maybe with big name writers around, the level of our own local talent would continue to zoom ahead of the rest of the country. We have great authors at RMFW. Denver needs to support them and get the word out on them so they can sell more books, and make a living in this adventure.

And, what if our booksellers wanted to get involved?

I’m heading to the Mountains & Plains booksellers conference next week with some RMFW published authors where we’ll meet up to 250 booksellers interested in the books by us western-based authors.  Okay, so Portland, Oregon has Powell’s Books, but the Tattered cover is adding steam to their engine with some new owners we’re all excited about. We have a solid community of great independent booksellers and plenty of Barnes and Nobles to excite the reading public. What if we set our relationship with this group and created new markets for our books to be sold at?

If we were better formed as a publishing force, could we also contemplate encouraging big publishers to come west, or maybe create big publishers from the small and start-up organizations that already exist here? Could we evolve the face of publishing by working together on goals and needs to grow and fulfill demand for our work?

What would happen if we had more writing groups?

RMFW is huge. Over 700 members work in our critique groups, come to our annual conference or visit through our monthly programs. But RMFW is only one writing group in Colorado.  I have heard that there are more than 40 groups where writers constantly keep current and grow their writing skills and aspirations.  Think Pikes Peak, Lighthouse Writers, Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers, Sisters in Crime and many more.  Perhaps the question isn’t what if we had more writing groups, but what if all the writing groups came together at one huge event?

What if we had a Denver Lit Book Festival every few years?

We might have books, authors, publishers, agents, professional story tellers, play writes, librarians, and more.  Wow! Can you imagine that?  We could have poetry slams, book readings, music and food—always good food. The blue bear at the convention center might become a great reading example if we hung a book inside the windows for him to read.

So What If we had more and better examples of readers?

8th-grade-reading-scores-coloradoMaybe we’d re-inspire the governor’s book club, give more support to Dom Testa’s “The Big Brain Club” or start our own programs for literacy in Colorado.  Did you know that only 38% of eighth graders tested in Colorado are reading at a proficient level?  We can do better. Maybe we writers and authors could team up with some of our terrific literacy programs and help make reading popular.  It’s good for the kids, it expands our marketplace, and it helps people live better lives.

Can you envision all of this?

What thoughts can you come up with when you ask, “What if Denver were the literary capital of the West?”

Open Letter to Robert J. Sawyer

Dear Robert J. Sawyer,

I wanted to talk to you at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Gold Conference this year, but I never made it over to you. So much excitement, intrigue, and chatting with my tribe. Since I couldn’t speak to you in person, I figured I’d write an open letter, saying now much I loved, loved, loved your talk on Saturday night.

Yeah, it wasn’t all fuzzy puppies and inspiration, but what you said blew me away. My mouth hung open the entire time, and I kept glancing over to see if the publishing industry was sending in shock troops to pull you down from the podium. You were a firebrand, and dang, I kept thinking, “He can’t be saying this stuff. Someone is going to stop him.”

But no one did because you were speaking the truth. Authors are either abused or ignored much of the time. We get paid pennies for our words, even at the professional rate, and we don’t get raises. Pennies a word, like it was the 1920s while agents went from 10% to 15% and publishers are having record years.

I am signing up with the Author’s Guild and I promise to do my part for the resistance.

Yet, the problems authors face are legion. Part of the problem lies with us scribblers ouselves. Maybe all of the problem lies with us.

In this day and age, anyone can write a book and publish a book. I find that amazing, exciting, and wonderful. I think there has never been a better time to be an artist because distribution has been solved. The internet has opened the world up and as artists, we have a platform we can use. Yes, it’s never been noisier and books have never faced the competition we face now.

For example…

Dude, I can watch Sword Art Online on my phone. I can play amazing video games with mind-melting graphics day and night. And TV has never been better. Jessica Jones, man, Jessica Jones.

When I was a new writer, I heard Andrea Brown, the literary agent, speak and she said I’ll hear that books are dead, the publishing industry is in trouble, and it’s the end of days every year for the rest of my life. I will hear that the book business is a goner until I die. So being an author has never, ever been easy. Never.

If all writers wrote books as a business, I think the entire industry would be different. We would be paid better and things would be more fair. However, not all writers write to make money. That, I think, is the crux of the problem.

Some write for status, and I talked about that in a blog post for RMFW last year. I love that post. Here is the link.

Some write books because they love them, and yeah, they publish them, but it’s not really to make money. Andrew Weir wrote The Martian on his blog because he loved hard science fiction. He never really wanted to publish it, but his fans insisted. And he hit it HUGE!

E.L. James wrote because she wanted a sexier Twilight. And she hit it HUGE! And she admits she is not a writer. She just got stupidly lucky.

So what are we to do?

People will always want to read books. Books are magical, and you can’t get the same experience with movies, TV, or video games. Reading is a unique experience.

You are totally right in saying we need to unionize and demand to be treated fair. Whether we can all be loud enough to change the industry, well, I just don’t know.

For me, I am going to write and I am going to publish and I hope to transition to full-time writer at some point, but I have a day job. Like I said, I’m with you. We shall storm the gates of hell.

I’m a hybrid author, I have some Indie stuff, I have some small press stuff, and I’m looking to break into the big game to use their marketing arm, though I’m doubtful about that action working out.

It’s funny, any power I have as a writer comes from readers. Look at what Taylor Swift did with iTunes because she had the clout of her fan base. She forced their hand. I think really successful writers can do the same.

I have a series with Kevin J. Anderson’s WordFire Press, and working with the WFP team has been great (the contracts are extremely author friendly). We are a coalition of independent authors who support each other, and what we do at sci-fi/fantasy conventions has proved very effective in selling books. I feel very lucky.

In the end, we authors do have power. Yeah, Amazon doesn’t have our best interest at heart, but having your own website and selling directly to the customer has never been easier. If I can get enough of a fan base, my options become greater.

So for me, it goes back to writing what I love, playing the game, and continuing the march forward. Staying open and aware to all of the possibilities.

But dang, what a wonderful keynote you made. Moving, shocking, and in the end, I did find it inspiring.

We are a beleaguered group of feisty heroes, marching against an army we have no chance of defeating. We are children of a grand legacy of artists, who have always been out numbered.

And yet, we will soldier on.

Because that is what we do.

Sincerely,

Aaron Michael Ritchey

 

After the Conference: Dealing with the Sea of Gloom

The Post Conference Sea of Gloom should be on a map, located somewhere off the shores of the State of Despair. It should have  its own psychiatric diagnostic code. It should be included in the manual of All the Things Writers Need to Know. (By the way - why has nobody written this reference book yet?)

But nobody really talks about the post conference slump.

What you hear about writer conferences is all glowing and wonderful. Come hang out with other writers! Learn new skills! Get inspired!

And this happens. Boy howdy, does it happen. For a few days we are swimming in a writing sea where everybody speaks the language of books. By the last day, we are ready to take on the world. Nothing is going to stop us. Nothing can get in the way. We are WRITERS! What do we do? WE WRITE! We are going to go home and take the world by storm!!

And then we get home.

Our families are overjoyed to see us and we are overjoyed to see them. Home is good. It's wonderful to sleep in our own beds and even to eat familiar foods. But there's a downside. Everybody needs something from us. Groceries need to be bought, houses need cleaning, meals need preparing. Kids and pets and loved ones might seem extra demanding. Friends make noises of interest when we spill over with all of the exciting things that happened at the con, but quickly glaze over.

We go back to work and the familiar old boring routine sucks us in.

At this point, some of us get caught in the undertow that pulls us out into the Sea of Gloom. All of the goals that seemed so possible and exciting at the conference now seem distant and unrealistic. That agent you pitched to - the one you're sure is your soulmate and destined to guide your career forever - doesn't respond when you send in the manuscript pages she requested. You log into Facebook to discover that a bunch of your new BFF writer pals are off having fun at yet another conference while you're stuck at work. One of them announces that she just signed with your soulmate agent, who still hasn't commented on the pages you sent. Some other author has a brand new book deal and yet another has hit the bestseller list.

You try to get back to work on your manuscript only to find it impossibly full of flaws and now you're all kinds of embarrassed that you ever dared to show it to anybody. Life stretches out before you, bleak, empty, and dull. All of your dreams wither up and die.

Sound familiar?

Maybe you've only dipped your toes in a Puddle of Gloom. Or maybe the gloom thing doesn't hit you at all.  This is wonderful, and I am happy to know there are such emotionally healthy, well-adjusted writers out there in the world.

For the rest of us, I have some thoughts to offer.

1 This reaction is actually normal.

Any mountaintop experience is likely to be followed by a plunge into the valley of shadow, or at least a return to the level plain. We can't live on the heights forever.

2. Introverts are drained by exposure to people.

Most writers - not all - are introverts. This doesn't mean we don't like people, it means we get our energy from alone time. Hanging out with other people (even awesome, exciting writer people) drains our energy. During a conference we are adrenaline-charged and fired by passion, and often don't notice that we've expended our energy supply and are running on fumes. There is a cost for this, and sooner or later we have to pay the bill.

3. We need time to process

There is no possible way to intellectually process everything that happens at a con. Too much happens too fast. Information, relationships, ideas, and opportunities pepper us at warp speed and we're only able to grasp a small percentage with our conscious brain. The subconscious, though, is hard at work on what we've missed. It will spend weeks processing, cataloguing, filing, and storing, feeding us little bits and pieces at random (and usually inconvenient) moments. This, again, requires some of that energy we don't currently have because it was depleted by all of that peopling we did.

So what do we do? How do we swim out of the Sea of Gloom? 

  1. Be kind to yourself.  Simple acceptance of the fact that you are an introverted human being who has been immersed in an intense sea of emotion and human contact carries you a long way toward shore. Tell yourself this is a normal reaction and that it won't last forever.
  2. Rest. Take a little time to recharge your physical batteries. Take care of your exhausted body by feeding it good food, getting some extra rest, drinking lots of water and indulging in gentle exercise. If you can manage time in nature, do this. If you're a city person, find some trees, the more the better. (I dare you to hug a tree, while you're at it. You're a writer. Everybody already knows you're weird.)
  3. Refill. Nurture your emotional self. Take a couple of days off writing and read a fantastic book. Resist the urge to compare your writing; just read for pleasure. Consider a brief Social Media break. Breathe. Do Yoga. Pet the cats or the dogs or the llamas, whatever type of friendly animal happens to be available. Hug a child. Listen to music. Do a non-writing craft. Draw pictures. Color in an adult coloring book, or a child's coloring book for that matter.
  4. Catalogue. Get out a journal and start making sense of your experience. If you're a logical sort, make lists of what you learned, what you plan to do, and how you plan to do it. If you're more freewheeling, do some daily free writing to help clear some of the backlog.
  5. Visualize. After you've taken a couple of days (or a week) to rest and recover, it's time to dive back in. Find five minutes of quiet and solitude where you won't be interrupted. Close your eyes. Take three deep breaths. Now, think back to the moment at the conference when you felt most inspired and motivated and excited. Recall how that felt. Draw on the physical sensations you experienced. Remember the thoughts that skipped through your head. Tap that motivation, that sense of possibility and hope and let it fill you to the brim.
  6. Go forth and do all the things. Pick a goal, break it into concrete tasks over which you have control, and run for the gold.

The Evolution of a Writer

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At Bouchercon 2016

2016 has been the year of the question: What kind of writer do you want to be?

It’s something I’ve been trying to figure out for years. When I was young, I loved writing stories. Then in Middle School, I wrote a column for the school paper, The Ram Page, and decided I wanted to be a journalist. I studied Journalism in college, and started writing columns and articles for a regional paper. Then six years post college, two years post marriage, I found myself writing stories again. It didn’t take long for me to figure out I had a lot to learn.

With very limited options, I signed up for an Institute of Children’s Novel Writing class, sent off my money, received my course instructions, read the first chapter of the workbook, wrote a chapter, sent it to my instructor, repeat. She (or he—I never knew) read my work, critiqued the pages, sent it back with suggestions and instructions, repeat. By the end of the class I had a YA novella that was totally unpublishable.

Then I met Maggie Osborne. She was speaking at the local library, was well-published and willing to teach. Under her tutelage, I wrote a Harlequin Intrigue that was totally unpublishable. A few years later, my husband and I were moving back to the Front Range and she introduced me to Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. That was in 1988. Since then I have been part of the RMFW family, made a number of lifelong friends, found my voice and a support system that has sustained me through the good and the bad of publishing.

In the summer of 1998, I was offered a three book contract for my Birdwatcher’s Mysteries. Then, with the first book in the series scheduled for release, the second book turned in and three more books on contract to write, life threw me a few curve balls. One required I spend two months in Israel in the Fall of 1999 while one of my daughters received medical treatment for an auto-immune disorder; the other required a prolonged battle against breast cancer (ultimately successful) that delayed the fulfillment of my contracts in a timely fashion.

It turned out serendipitous. In Israel, I came up with the idea for DARK WATERS (published in Sept 2015), while the battle against cancer meant I was late turning in manuscripts in the Birdwatcher’s Mystery series, impacting the momentum of sales. While my editor was supportive and understanding, the publisher viewed it smart business to cut their losses and chose not to renew my contract. I was devastated. BUT being out of contract meant I could focus on writing DARK WATERS.

It was a joy to have the time I used to have to write books. I could write at my own pace, ruminate over story, research to my heart’s content and polish my prose to perfection. Fast forward, I now have two publishers—one for the thrillers and one for the Birdwatcher’s Mystery series. DARK WATERS is out, Book #6 in the Birdwatcher’s Mystery series is out, and I’m midway through my editor’s revisions on RED SKY, scheduled for June 2017. AND yet I’m once more facing decisions.

Writing two books last year was hard. So, do I write Book #7 in the Birdwatcher's Mystery series or work on another thriller? Do I sign new contracts or take the Tony Hillerman approach, write a complete book nomatter how long it takes, polishing until I'm satisfied, and then try and sell it? Or do I sign a new contract with my traditional publisher, opt to go Indy, or quit and take up traveling full time?

Simple choices? Not!

While writing is art, it’s also a business. We may love to write, to play with words, and create stories that captivate readers, but once we’re under contract, there are expectations. It becomes a job! So, do I want to work on deadline, do I want to make money, do I want to practice the art of writing, can I do all of the above? Do I want to keep writing to a theme, or branch out and write a different book, a different genre altogether?

As a new monthly blogger, I plan to tackle some of these questions, share some of my own insights, struggles and perspective. If any of you have a topic you’d like me to address, please send me an email.

Bouchercon in New Orleans 2016
Bouchercon in New Orleans 2016

Meanwhile, for me, September has been the month of conferences. First there was Colorado Gold (a great con), and now there’s Bouchercon. These are two very different conventions. Colorado Gold is a teaching conference where you can take writing classes, meet agents who may want to represent you, read for editors who may like your book. Bouchercon is a mystery fan conference designed to showcase mystery writers and introduce them to readers, where already established writers can meet with their agents and editors and attend publisher parties. This year at Bouchercon I was up for an Anthony Award for Best Crime Fiction Audiobook, a big award in the mystery community. I didn’t win. Hard! But “it’s an honor to be nominated.” In truth, I had several people tell me that “the win is in being nominated.” Maybe, but I thought winning meant walking away with the Anthony. One dear friend put it best, “It sucks not to win. I’ve been a loser seven times and it never gets easier.” She bought me a drink and made me laugh. But, while it may suck to lose, I'm counting my blessings. It’s much better to have lost to Louise Penny than Paula Hawkins.

The real “win” for me was the opportunity to sit on a panel with Lee Child. The Rogue Women Writers (a group of eight women writing international espionage and geopolitical thrillers, who blog at www.roguewomenwriters.com) were assigned a Friday afternoon slot with Lee moderating. For those who don’t read the genre, Lee Child is the #1 international thriller writer of the Jack Reacher novels. Now, I’m smart enough to know that nearly everyone in that room was there to see Lee, but still…what a thrill it was speaking to a standing-room only crowd. Thanks to all my RMFW friends who attended. A lot of you know how intimidating it is to sit in front of an audience and talk about yourself. Not only were you there to support me, but you Tweeted, Facebooked, shared photos, posted comments and took the time to tell me you thought the panel went well. FYI, I thought you all did well, too!! In my book, RMFW and the whole Rocky Mountain writers’ community rocks!

Take the First Step

14311444_1050223608424117_3014868071978910328_oTwo weekends ago, I was honored to be a presenter and panelist at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference. If you are new to writing, or unfamiliar with the conference arm of this organization, I would highly encourage you learn more, consider attending, or even offer up your time as a volunteer. It is a fantastic opportunity to meet other writers, learn craft, and pitch your books to a variety of agents and editors.

I first learned of RMFW in 2005. I had just relocated back to Colorado with my husband, our two babies, Beth and Matthew, and a few dozen pages of a novel I had started writing while pregnant with Beth. Back then, I wasn’t sure exactly what I was looking for, but I remember the Internet search in Excite (the old Google for those that either don’t know or remember):

Colorado Writing Clubs.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers was one of the first results to pop up.

I didn’t know what this organization was, but I scoured every word on that old site and discovered they hosted writer critique groups and that there was one in my area, the North side of Denver. They met at the now closed Borders Bookstore on 104th avenue.

I was terrified, but I reached out anyway. Certain that I would be told no, I wasn’t welcome, good enough, or experienced enough to join their ranks. But that didn’t happen. For a small yearly fee, I joined RMFW and was accepted into my first ever critique group. I had been an avid reader my whole life, absorbing and learning story without ever knowing it. But it was that day, the day I took that first step toward RMFW that my formal education in writing and publishing began.

csdp0hcuiaaianbWriting can be a solitary and lonely business. Most writers I know, myself included, prefer those hours alone in our heads with story. But because we are not entirely nonhuman, we also need to connect with others of our kind. Since that day in 2005, I have slowly built up a truly fantastic network of fellow writers who I am proud to also call friends. Most of those connections started and continue to flourish because of RMFW.

I was a presenter and panelist at this years conference, but I clearly remember eleven years ago being an outsider looking in. Take that step, connect with other writers. I can practically guarantee you won’t be sorry you did.

Sooo . . . Rocky Mountain Gold Conference! Inner and Outer Validation. Friends.

I had a great conference, I hope you did, too! And I hope you got what you needed to progress with your work.

As one of the Honored Guiding Members, I was especially touched by the people who wrote something in my book, (I only reminded one, or maybe twenty, to do so). I speak for Chris Jorgensen and Sharon Mignerey in thanking the organization for making this particular conference so special for us.

I know that I will treasure the memory book. I'll be able to look at that wonderful volume and think that I have made friends, contributed to my writing community, and perhaps I've helped one or two writers along the way. That makes me proud.

No doubt I'll also take it out during the long, dark teatimes of my soul to help keep me going .

And since I mentioned outer validation, I have to repeat something I know, and that is: Outer validation is a drug, you need more of it, more often if you depend on it to keep you motivated.

Inner validation is what will continue to support you. My particular motivational saying is: I am doing the best I can with the resources I have. That works in past tense, too. I did the best I could with that writing, that book, with the resources I had.

Because all you, and I, can do is our best, right?

But that memory book will remind me, too, that I have friends who will stand me in good stead. During those dark moments when I need encouragement, I will remember that I can talk to my friends who will listen and help me.

And that's really what this community of writers, the conference is all about. Networking, yes; hoping to take another step up the ladder of a writing career, yes; but, for me, the bottom line is that I see people I may only see once a year. People I still consider my friends.

The conference, to me, is a place to reconnect with my friends who are no longer geographically close. To renew offers of support, to accept offers of support when I'm down.

That's really what we need each other for, to keep us going day-to-day, to talk to, to listen. About writing and about life.

And about our writing life. You need to brainstorm a plot? Sure, I'll help you. You're having a problem with this scene, whose point of view should it be in? I'll listen, I'll read.

That's what this Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers organization is for, support.

Thanks again, may your day go well, and may all your writing dreams come true,
Robin

A Few Words About Photo Copyrights

The topic of photo copyrights came up during several of my workshops at last weekend's Colorado Gold Conference (one of the best Writers' Conferences anywhere - and if you've never attended one, PLEASE join us next September, when the conference turns 35!). Authors often have a limited understanding of how copyright law applies to photographs - and sometimes don't realize that using photos pulled from the Internet without a license is copyright infringement unless the photograph is in the public domain (or the owner has released it for use by others).

In light of that, I thought I'd take a little time today to review the law of copyright as it applies to photographs (and their use online), and offer tips for protecting yourself and your work from claims that you've infringed a photo copyright.

Copyright attaches to photographs at the time of creation, and belongs to the photographer who shot the image (or, in some cases, the client who hired the photographer to create works for hire). You cannot use someone else's image without a license (or permission), unless the image is released for your intended use and/or has entered the public domain--and you must be able to prove that status.

In other words: you cannot simply pull someone else's photographs from the Internet and use them, even on a blog that earns no money. 

Also, you cannot assume a photograph is released for use or in the public domain because it appears on Pinterest or on someone else's blog or website. (Even sites that claim to offer copyright-released or licensed photos for free can carry some degree of risk, because if a troll uploads a copyrighted image without the author's permission, people who subsequently use that image may be subject to infringement claims. It's rare, but I've seen it happen, with expensive consequences.)

So what's an author to do?

Some authors subscribe to reliable paid photography services that give access to image libraries. For a fee (and, in some cases, for free on a more limited basis) authors can use the images in these libraries for book covers, blogs, and other creative endeavors. Some services work on a "pay as you go" basis, licensing individual images, while others allow authors to pay a monthly (or annual) fee for unlimited image use. Only subscribe to reputable sites, and when using free photo sites, make sure the operators actually check the source of the images they offer.

Some authors stick with images that have entered the public domain, either due to copyright expiration or a confirmed copyright release by the photographer or copyright owner. Once an image has entered the public domain, it's free to use and it isn't copyright infringement to use it for blogs, book covers, and other creative works. The U.S. Library of Congress has an extensive collection of images, many of which are in the public domain and thus completely free to download and use. (Here's a link to their Japanese collection - much of which is in the public domain.) 

When pulling images from any website, BEWARE. Some free image sites are legitimate, but others may contain stolen or copyright-infringing images uploaded accidentally (or, in rare cases, on purpose by devious individuals wanting to cause trouble). When in doubt, don't use the image. You will be legally liable for copyright infringement even if the infringement was accidental.

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The best solution of all is to create the images yourself. Most people have either a camera or (more commonly) a mobile device that includes a camera. When traveling, or even out and about near home, take photographs of everything from rocks to flowers to automobiles (be sure to blur any license plates you capture - or, better still, take photos where the license plate doesn't show).

 

I refer to this habit of taking photos of various objects and places as "shooting B roll" - and it's a habit every author and blogger should adopt.

In film and television, camera crews shoot a combination of "A roll" - the scenes involving the actors, hosts, or primary subjects of the film - and "B roll" - still and moving shots of background, interesting objects, and other items used in post-production to enhance the film, as well as for bumpers and introductory scenes.

By shooting your own B roll when you're out and about, you're establishing a photo library of images you own, which you can use for any and every purpose, from cover art to blogging and beyond.

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Need a mug for a post on your favorite morning beverage?

 

 

 

 

Done.

 

Don't limit your photographs to family functions, historical sites and lovely landscapes--though they're certainly useful too. 

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Start photographing that B-roll now. It won't take long to build a photo library all your own.

 

 

Like this bowl, you'll be glad you did.

Hello and Here’s to Romance

Hello from the high mountains of Colorado.

After what can’t be called a hiatus - because it was too long - I am back writing for the RMFW blog. Looking forward to it. When Patricia Stoltey asked me to write, I asked her if there was a topic she’d like me to explore. She replied that she’d like more posts on writing romance. Her wish is my command.

When I was a kid, I really didn’t love to read. I was captivated by television - maybe even addicted. That was back in the day before recorders (yes, campers, we did have color TV in those days) and I knew exactly what days and times my heroes would show up on the screen. Woe be unto anyone who interrupted. And, if my mom planned something different for me - EGADS!!! I’d have to wait and catch that episode on reruns.

Looking back, I realize that this obsessive TV watching was feeding the romance writer in me. Feeding my fascination with heroes.

Then, when I was in my late teens, I was introduced to romance - historical romance to be exact.

Kathleen Woodiwiss and Rosemary Rogers.

The Flame and the Flower, The Wolf and the Dove, Sweet Savage Love and Dark Fires.

8131425And I became a reader. I then married a military man and books kept me company in Germany during the long weeks when he was away.

I carried stories in my heart for years, wondering if I could actually write a novel, before finally making the leap. Whether you write romance, or sci-fi, or fantasy, or whatever you write - you know that feeling of taking a deep breath and beginning that first story.

Though some of my tastes in romance have changed, I still love going on the journey. Romance is a journey whose destination is pre-determined. To be classified as a romance there must be a happy ending. The hero and heroine must be together in some sort of committed relationship at the end of the book.

Romance readers demand it.

As an aside - this is why some of us rail at the categorization of Nicolas Sparks as a “romance” writer. Hello. No, Message in a Bottle is NOT a romance novel. It’s a love story. But - spoiler alert - a book in which the hero dies halfway through - not a romance.

Sorry for the digression.

And how committed are the readers of romance? Pretty darn committed.

Romance is the number one selling genre.

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According to Romance Writers of America, 84% of romance book buyers are women. (That’s surprising to me. Yet, I do have male readers of my military romance.) 64% of those readers read romance more than once a month, 35% buy romance more than once a month. And by and large, those readers have been reading romance for 10-20 years.

The top rated sub-genres in romance are:

Print: romantic suspense (53%); contemporary romance (41%); historical romance (34%); erotic romance (33%); New Adult (26%); paranormal romance (19%); Young Adult romance (18%); and Christian romance (17%).

E-book: romantic suspense (48%); contemporary romance (44%); erotic romance (42%); historical romance (33%); paranormal romance (30%); New Adult (26%); Young Adult romance (18%); and Christian romance (14%).

The reason I mentioned these statistics is to show that writing romance is not a whim. It very well might be a great business decision if you love the genre. Also I wanted to point out the wide variety of stories you can tell within the category.

Why do I write romance?

Because I believe in love. Love that overcomes obstacles. Love that, after all is said and done, wins the day. Love that binds two imperfect people together to face the world together.

I’ll be back next month and we’ll get into some of the requirements of the genre.

Until then, campers, BIC-HOK - Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard.

Jax