Tag Archives: Colorado Gold

The Colorado Gold Contest for Unpublished Novelists

noimageYou’ve been working hard on your manuscript–writing, revising, self-editing, then rewriting after your critique group reviews your efforts. Now you have your first finished novel. What should you do next?

For over thirty years, the Colorado Gold contest for unpublished writers has given aspiring novelists the chance to get their work in front of an acquiring agent or editor while also providing feedback and encouragement for the craft of writing.

Writers enter the first 20 pages of a manuscript plus a 3 to 4 page synopsis in one of six categories. Two judges from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers will evaluate and score each entry. The top five submissions scoring 130 points or more in each category will make the finals and will then be judged by one of the agents or editors attending the Colorado Gold Conference.

One winner will be named in each category. Winners receive $100 and a certificate. The remaining finalists receive $30 and a certificate. Winners will be announced at the Colorado Gold Writers Conference awards banquet September 6th, 2014, at the Westin Hotel in Westminster, Colorado.

The 2014 Contest Categories are:

Action/Thriller
Mainstream
Mystery/Suspense
Romance
Speculative Fiction
Young Adult

The contest final judges have been announced. You’ll find those names on the website as well (the link is at the end of this post).

Contest Dates:

The contest is open now for submissions.
Closes June 1, 2014, 11:59 PM MST.

Entry Fee:

$30 per entry or $55 per entry to receive a critique from one of the first two judges.

By now, I’m sure you’re chomping at the bit to know how to enter. First you head over the RMFW Website and check out the Contest Page. That’s where you’ll find the links to the 2014 Official Rules and Entry Instructions.

Good luck!

J. Ellen Smith; Pioneer in Modern Times

By Liesa Malik

JEllenSmith“I’m so excited that people want to hear what I have to say,” said J. Ellen Smith, publisher and owner of the Champagne Book Group, as we talked together about our upcoming Colorado Gold conference and other writing thoughts.

Champagne Book Group publishes both electronically and in paperback formats, and Ellen will be coming from their offices in High River, near Calgary, Alberta to speak about the publishing process, meet new talented writers, and accept pitches at the Gold Pitch Sessions. She expressed a small concern, however, that writers use a professional attitude during the conference time.

“I’ve always prided myself on being approachable,” said Ellen, “but please treat us smaller publishers with the same courtesy as the large press. Don’t shove a book at me and demand that I read it.”

A few other signs that shout out “newbie writer” to Ellen include:

  • Submissions with a copyright symbol on them. “I don’t need to be told this work isn’t mine,” said Ellen. “Why copyright something that hasn’t even been edited yet?”
  • Interrupting. Getting interrupted, especially when Ellen and another editor are in conversation, is a real put-off. There are ways to find more appropriate opportunities during the few days we have together. She chuckled on this thought. “Once, at my very first conference, some woman followed me into the bathroom and kept shoving her manuscript under the door. I didn’t know what to do, so I kept shoving it back.”
  • Inebriation. “It’s a red flag to me when I see someone who has had a few too many.” Ellen says she understands that the conference is a celebration of writing and writers, but makes a point to remember that she’s out representing her business at these affairs, and wants to be prepared to conduct business with a clear head always.

Still, Ellen has sympathy for new authors and will be looking forward to meeting them. “As a guest, they like to work you to death at these conferences,” said Ellen, “but that’s okay. It’s an honor to be invited.”

She said if she sees 30 people in her pitch sessions, it’s likely she’ll ask for full reads from about five, sometimes a little more. Her role in these sessions is to help a person feel confident and get rid of their 3 x 5 cards. “‘Now,’ I say, ‘just tell me about your book.’ I want to see the passion of the author in the pitch.” She says that she knows the journey to publishing is difficult, having been a writer herself, and she’s anxious to find and encourage fresh new voices.

The path to publishing and publisher started for Ellen in her early school years, when she would write stories that she and a few friends would act out for others. “Skits and plays, really,” said Ellen. “As a little girl, I had a vivid imagination. My stories always had humor in them. It was fun to make our friends laugh.”

Later, Ellen became a nurse, but continued to write in her spare time. She had some success, but disappointment with contracts, quality of production, and publishing houses that were disappearing as fast as they went up, stole motivation from her.

One day at a coffee shop, Ellen’s friend, Penelope, said, “You’ve been complaining for years about this. Why don’t you get going and publish yourself?” They talked over the idea for a while, and Ellen continued to mull it over.

She found a small publisher in Calgary and apprenticed for a year with them, learning the ins and outs of the publishing business.

Finally, in December of 2004, with a website and $20 in the bank, Champagne Books started work. By April 2005, they were ready for a cyber-launch of their first four titles. “I totally believe in the old saying that you don’t run before you’re ready,” said Ellen. So, for six years, she kept working as a nurse as well as a publisher. The company grew and became a leader in e-book publishing.

Today, proudly loan and debt-free, Champagne Books has ten categories of e-book fiction posted and several more titles in printed form. The company believes that eBooks are the future of publishing, and Ellen and her team are ready to lead the way.

Interview With Literary Agent Margaret Bail

MargaretBail

Margaret Bail, Inklings Literary

I recently had the good fortune of chatting with literary agent Margaret Bail (@MKDB) of Inklings Literary. She’ll be one of the agents attending the 2014 Colorado Gold Conference.

KD: How and when did you become a literary agent?

MB: I’ve been an agent for a couple of years, now. I started out by doing an internship with an agency and when that was over, I signed on with another agency as a junior agent and started the learning process. I ended up at Inklings because I’d met Michelle and Jamie during my internship (they were interns too), and when they opened Inklings and Michelle invited me to join them, I jumped at the chance.

KD: What fiction genres are you looking for this year? Is there anything special you’d love to see?

MB: I’m always looking for romance in all subgenres except Christian/inspirational. I also like science fiction, fantasy (though I’m really picky about this genre), historical fiction, western, mystery, thriller.

I’d like to see a fresh take on cozy mystery; a time travel romance; a good epic fantasy that doesn’t include a dozen (or even half dozen) points of view, or names I can’t pronounce, or every mythical creature ever imagined, or magic (think Dark Tower, which admittedly has a few of those elements but is so awesome it doesn’t matter).

KD: Is it harder these days to place authors/novels with the larger publishers? How does the increase in smaller and/or regional publishers, especially those who also take unagented submissions, impact your job?

MB: I don’t know if it’s harder per se to place with larger publishers, but the increase in mid-sized and small publishers, especially digital-only presses, means that advances from larger publishers are lower, and often publishers will acquire to their digital imprint before or rather than print imprints because there’s less cost and risk involved. They can offer even lower advances, and in many cases no advance at all, for digital-only or digital-first acquisitions.

As far as my job is concerned, this means often I’ll receive offers for digital-only with no advance when what we really wanted was print. However, were it not for their digital imprint, the publisher may have rejected outright, so at least the digital imprint gets an author’s foot in the door and gets them a publishing credit.

I don’t think that publishers who take unagented submissions affect my job at all. Generally, those publishers have laxer guidelines (than the larger publishers) as far as the quality of the work they accept and publish, so often they end up taking work I would have rejected, so it saves me the time of going through those queries. I know that sounds insensitive, maybe even brutal, but that’s the truth of it for most agents.

KD: Has the increase in self-published books had an effect on your agency? If so, what?

MB: With regard to self-published books, publishing companies are wary about taking those on unless they’ve had phenomenal sales. Once something is published – even self-published – it’s ALREADY BEEN PUBLISHED, so a publisher doesn’t want it unless they can make oodles of cash off something that’s really taken off.

This affects our agency because authors don’t understand that publishing requires infinite patience. If you self-publish and your sales are bleak, or not what you expected, and then you go back to querying agents in hope of still going the traditional publishing route, you’re crippled yourself with the self-publishing. Most agents won’t touch a self-published book unless it’s had outstanding sales, which doesn’t happen often. I get many, many, many queries from authors who have self-published, but are still querying agents. I can’t sell those books, so I have to reject.

KD: What gets you excited in a query letter? What makes you hit the delete button?

MB: Excited:  Concise, well organized, outstanding voice, great story and characters.

Delete: If you don’t follow submission guidelines; if you attach information instead of pasting it into the email; if the query letter is long, rambling, incoherent; if you’re querying a genre I don’t represent; if you spend paragraphs tooting your own horn and then the writing is atrocious; an incomplete manuscript; work that isn’t fully edited and polished.

KD: Writers are often advised to have a web presence before even selling their first manuscript. Of the following web and social media opportunities, which do you consider most important for the debut author: a website, a blog, Twitter, Facebook, or Goodreads? Are there any others you recommend to your authors?

MB: “Platform” is more important for non-fiction than fiction, but a “presence” is always valuable. However, I don’t think that having an active web presence is absolutely necessary for fiction authors. I’ve sold authors who barely have any presence at all. In my opinion that whole presence thing is over-hyped for fiction. But that’s just my opinion. Other agents will likely tell you otherwise.

KD: How closely do you work with the authors you represent? Are you editorially involved, or do you prefer only to handle the business side of things?

MB: I work very closely with my authors. I tend to be laid back and casual, and end up developing great working relationships with my clients. Communication is very important to me.

As far as editing, I try to take on work that requires as little editing as possible because I just don’t have oodles of time to be an editor. It’s the author’s job to do all that before they query. That being said, I do a thorough developmental and copyedit for everything I take on. I probably do more than I should, actually, but the English professor in me just can’t help it.  And I have taken on a couple of projects that needed significant work, but were so outstanding I couldn’t turn them away. I try to stay away from those, though, because they’re so time consuming.

KD: If a manuscript piques your interest, what’s your next step? How often do you request revisions on a manuscript you want to represent? Do you offer representation before or after revisions are made?

MB: If something piques my interest and it needs very little editing, I’ll just offer representation. If it’s something I like but needs some work, I’ll ask for revisions. I don’t do that often, and if I do I wait to read the revisions before (and if) I offer representation. Just because an agent asks for a revision, doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get an offer to represent, though.

KD: When reading the beginning pages of a manuscript, what’s an immediate turn off? Consequently, what gets you excited about those first few pages?

MB: Immediate turn offs to me are:

1. Badly copyedited writing – word clutter, passive or incomplete sentences, grammar/spelling/punctuation issues.
2. Cliché openings like characters waking up, descriptions of weather, long exposition, back story, flashbacks, etc.
3. I really don’t like prologues and I don’t even read them. In pre-published work I’ve found that 99% of prologues are unnecessary.

Immediate turns offs don’t mean I stop reading immediately, but often they end up meaning rejections.

What gets me excited in first few pages:

1. Strong voice which is, admittedly, difficult to define.

2. Action with necessary exposition/back story woven in sparsely.

3. Clean, concise writing.

4. Clear setup of the story and characters.

KD: What are your thoughts on the current market for fantasy romance and paranormal romance? What areas of this genre do you think editors consider over done?

MB: Unfortunately both urban fantasy and paranormal romance are really glutted markets right now, and editors at big houses aren’t buying those genres as furiously as they were not so long ago. Stories in these genres now need to be very unique and stand out against everything else in the genre. Frankly, I’m sick to death of vampires and werewolves. I don’t know that anything new can be said about them anymore.

I think there’s still room in the market for both genres, but there’s got to be really unique angles and/or twists on it.

KD: What are your thoughts on New Adult? It’s very hot right now. Do you think it’s a fading trend like chick-lit was? 

MB: I think NA is definitely hot and on the upswing. It started out as what Michelle (my co-agent at Inklings) calls “college f**k fiction” meaning that it was just stories about college girls getting laid. But it’s developing into a genre similar to YA in that it’s all about people in this age group finding themselves, learning how to live in an adult world, and dealing with adult issues, and it’s spreading into all genres. Personally, I don’t like the college student stories, but I would like to see NA stories in any genre that deal with people that age. I don’t think it’s fading at all, and I don’t think it will.

In fact, I just talked to an editor not too long ago at St. Martins who said that although paranormal is kind of dying now, she sees NA paranormal as a growing market, which kind of ties both your questions together!

KD: How often do you communicate with your clients?

MB: Like I said earlier, I’m very laid back and often end up chatting with clients frequently either by email or social media.

KD: What do you do for fun when you’re not working? Any unusual hobbies?

MB: Not working? There are people who actually do that????

KD: What advice would you like to give authors who plan to pitch their novel to you at Colorado Gold?

MB: Relax.

Make sure the novel is complete and polished – then polish it some more. Get help if you need it, but not from your mom/brother/uncle/cousin/BFF.

Be sure it’s a genre I represent!

Relax some more – I’m a person just like you, and I write, too, so I know how you feel.

I hate the term “elevator pitch” but be able to describe the essence of your story in a few short sentences.

Relax and enjoy yourself!

Thanks so much, Margaret! We’re all very excited to see you at conference in September. Counting the days!

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

Karen Duvall

Karen Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series in 2011 and 2012, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013. She released a romantic suspense novel, Desert Guardian, that she published herself in June of 2013.

Meet Kerri Buckley, Carina Press Editor

As part of our series to introduce everyone to our Colorado Gold Conference guests, I caught Carina Press editor Kerri Buckley for an informal chat.

Jeffe: Hi Kerri! Thanks for being here on the RMFW blog today!

Kerri: And thanks so much for having me. I’m getting so excited for the conference!

Jeffe: So are we!

Jeffe: I know that you’re an editor at Carina Press, but what IS your job exactly?

Kerri: Heh. You won’t be able to see it in the log of this conversation, but there was just a loooong pause on my end.

Jeffe: lol

Kerri: So I am an in-house editor at Carina Press—the first one, under Editorial Director Angela James. This means that I acquire and edit books for the Carina Press line. I work across genres and average 2-3 titles a month, publication-wise. That’s my primary role. Beyond that, because I am in-house, I also do things like sit on the acquisition board where we review and evaluate projects. I work with marketing, publicity, sub rights, PR, and production on a daily basis. I write a lot of back cover copy. All to build our authors, position them correctly, and keep growing the line!

Jeffe: And, though you’re newish to Carina, you’re not new to the industry, right?

Kerri: Correct. I’ve been in publishing for what seems like forever, lol. I started as an intern at The Feminist Press (@CUNY) when I was in college and then was accepted into Random House‘s Associates Program when I graduated—that’s like a post-grad year in publishing. (But they pay you!) From there, I became an editorial assistant at Bantam Dell and stayed at Random House, in one imprint or another, for the next 8 years. I joined Carina in May of 2013.

So, full disclosureI took what I call “a sabbatical” from publishing after those 8 years at Random House. I wrote copy, I traveled a lot, I dabbled in some other industries. But I knew it wasn’t right. I knew I needed to come back to books…eventually.

AND! While I was gone? The landscape changed pretty dramatically. It was clear to me that digital was the place to be. It was an area I hadn’t really worked in before, but when I started to look around and see what was working, who was growing—I saw I needed to be in digital.

So that’s where I started, as I was looking and formulating a re-entry plan.

Jeffe: I love that – “a re-entry plan,” like you were out in orbit, returning to Earth.

Kerri: That Carina was hiring at that time was the luckiest thing that ever happened, actually. And that I loved their/our editorial? Fated? Mebbe.

Carina was the first digital-first line to come from a major house. They were AHEAD of the game and so already working when others were still sort of getting set up. I’m adventurous but I’m not crazy. I wanted to go with the winner.

Jeffe: What a great story!

So, why do you come to conferences like Colorado Gold?

Kerri: Personally? I love the atmosphere of cons. It’s like spending a few days among your truest people.

Professionally? Attending cons like Colorado Gold is a HUGE part of Carina’s business plan. It’s an opportunity to find brilliant new writers, a chance to explain who we are and what we do to an audience that’s interested. The author experience is #1 to us, and that experience often starts with an initial meeting—at a conference.

Jeffe: You really DO want to meet and talk to authors?

Kerri: Oh, I do. I actually love pitch sessions. Can’t get enough of them, seriously. It’s exhilarating for me. Kind of like speed dating. I’m always expecting the next pitch to be THE ONE.

Jeffe: Like falling in love?

Kerri: Exactly.

And there are always at least a few crushes.

But also in an informal setting…a lot happens at conferences. Wine is ingested. Ideas are shared. Introductions are made. It’s energizing!

Jeffe: We always hear the stories about the manuscript slid under the bathroom stall door – is that real?

Kerri: That has never happened to me. I kind of wish it had.

Jeffe: I’ve often wondered if that’s an urban myth.

Kerri: On the other hand, there are some VERY, VERY successful books that have come out of conferences.

Jeffe: In fact, Kat Latham who just got nominated for a RITA for her Carina book pitched at a conference.

Kerri: Sure did. Isn’t that exciting?

Jeffe: Very exciting—so happy for her and Eleri Stone, our other Carina RITA finalist! Okay, so be honest – because this is confusing for writers – how should people talk to you, outside of pitch sessions?

Kerri: It must be confusing!

Jeffe: Nobody wants to do the wrong and horrible thing, you know?

Kerri: Yes, for me PERSONALLY it is absolutely okay to come and chat outside of pitch sessions. I just ask that we stick to the general rules of society.

If I’m in the middle of a conversation…maybe wait until I’m done?

If I’m clearly running somewhere frantically (this happens a lot—watch out!) maybe try and catch me later?

Other than that, fair game. I’m a talker.

Jeffe: That’s great to know!

Kerri: Oh, I will offer a tip, actually.

Jeffe: We love tips!

Kerri: And this applies to cons in general. Having an “elevator pitch” about your book is enormously useful. Not a script—I don’t want to talk to a robot—but just a 2-3 minute nutshell description of what you’re working on, why it’s awesome, why you love it.

Jeffe: Often the advice is to memorize your pitch.

Kerri: For a formal pitch session, okay, that works, but for the on-the-fly convos? I don’t want to hear your pitch. You should have signed up for a pitch if you wanted to play that way. I want to *talk*—but also to understand pretty easily what you’re working on.

Jeffe: Fortunately talking about books is our favorite thing!

Kerri: me too!

Jeffe: The conference is six months away—what can writers be doing between now and then to prepare?

Kerri: Keep working on your WIPs, so you’ve got the best possible version in your mind that weekend.

Jeffe: Do they HAVE to be totally done by then?

Kerri: They do not. I will say that when we’re considering work by a new author, most of the time we will want to review a full manuscript. So we might talk about it in Colorado, but I’ll ask for you to hold off sending until you’ve got a full.

Jeffe: Do you ever give feedback in pitch sessions, about how the story might be improved?

Kerri: Yes, all the time. And I try to be nice about it.

Jeffe: I’m sure you are – I can’t imagine you being mean.

Kerri: Oh, I’m a softie. But I can imagine being on the other side of that table. Who wants to hear the editor lady say they got something wrong? No one. So generally what I’ll do is ask you a bunch of questions—why’d heroine do this? What’s hero’s motivation? HOW DOES IT END? And then I’ll throw out a few ideas.

Jeffe: Do you ever talk about a book being in a dead genre?

Kerri: Genre is a tough conversation to have. Although I’ll never say one is “dead”—just maybe… “not on the upswing right now.”

Everything in publishing is cyclical. Look at Romantic Suspense! It was “not on the upswing” for a couple years—now back with a vengeance. In fact, we’re looking for a series to build at Carina .

Jeffe: Very exciting news for the RS authors out there!

I know you have your wish list, as all the Carina editors do, but is there anything you’re really hoping someone will pitch?

Kerri: Yes. I have a few updates to that wish list.

a) An Army Wives-style drama with *multiple* romantic arcs—Contemporary, please. I have been dying for this. b) Multicultural or PoC (Person of Color) New Adult.

c) I’m a total Eastern Europe nerd and I’ve been searching for THE Russian- or Polish-set novel for what seems like half my career. Could be mystery, could be contemporary, could be Romantic Suspense.

Jeffe: So, Carina is a Harlequin imprint—do the books have to be romance?

Kerri: No, they do not.

We publish mystery, crime, scifi, fantasy, action/adventure. We do not require genre fiction books such as mystery, science fiction, and fantasy to have romantic elements. We read, acquire and publish nonromance with no romantic elements, as well! If you have a mystery, science fiction or fantasy manuscript that has no romantic elements, we want to see it.

What we are not publishing, because there are other imprints at Harlequin who do, and because every imprint needs to have a focus: thrillers, horror, women’s fiction, faith-based or inspirational fiction, nonfiction.

Jeffe: Lots of opportunities for our fiction writers, it sounds like!

Kerri: Indeed.

Jeffe: Anything else you want people to know?

Kerri: I will add that mystery, in particular, is an area we are focusing on for growth in 2014-2015.

Jeffe: Any particular kind of mystery?

Kerri: Oh, everything from cozy/amateur sleuth to high-octane. Personally, I tend toward the offbeat. I like quirky PIs, cranky cops, wackadoo agents—character-driven mysteries, I suppose you could say.

Jeffe: Sounds great!

Kerri: I think so. It’s a fun hunt.

Thanks so much for taking the time to give folks a sneak-peek for the Colorado Gold Conference, Kerri! I’m sure everyone will be excited to meet and talk with you there.

Announcing the Judges for the Colorado Gold Writing Contest

There’s one more thing we don’t want you to miss about the Colorado Gold Writing Contest for unpublished novelists.

Announcing the 2014 Colorado Gold Final Judges!

Action/Thriller
Matt Martz, Editor, St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur

Mainstream
Peter Senftleben Associate Editor, Kensington Books

Mystery/Suspense
Terri Bischoff, Editor, Midnight Ink

Romance
Raelene Gorlinsky, Publisher, Ellora’s Cave Publishing Inc.

Speculative Fiction
Jessica Renheim, Associate Editor, Dutton / Penguin Group

Young Adult/Middle Grade
Shannon Hassan, Agent, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency

For more information on the contest and the link to submit your entry, go to the Contest Page (link is in the Toolbar at the top of website)

The Colorado Gold Writing Contest Opened for Submission on April 1st

Tomorrow we shine the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Spotlight on Chris Devlin, Contest Chair. She has a big job, and we aim to help her out a little by spreading the word about this outstanding opportunity for unpublished writers.

Laptop_writingYou’ve been working hard on your manuscript–writing, revising, self-editing, then rewriting after your critique group reviews your efforts. Now you have your first finished novel. What should you do next?

For over thirty years, the Colorado Gold contest for unpublished writers has given aspiring novelists the chance to get their work in front of an acquiring agent or editor while also providing feedback and encouragement for the craft of writing.

Writers enter the first 20 pages of a manuscript plus a 3 to 4 page synopsis in one of six categories. Two judges from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers will evaluate and score each entry. The top five submissions scoring 130 points or more in each category will make the finals and will then be judged by one of the agents or editors attending the Colorado Gold Conference.

One winner will be named in each category. Winners receive $100 and a certificate. The remaining finalists receive $30 and a certificate. Winners will be announced at the Colorado Gold Writers Conference awards banquet September 6th, 2014, at the Westin Hotel in Westminster, Colorado.

The 2014 Contest Categories are:

Action/Thriller
Mainstream
Mystery/Suspense
Romance
Speculative Fiction
Young Adult

The contest final judges have been announced. You’ll find those names on the website as well (the link is at the end of this post).

Contest Dates:

Opens April 1, 2014 at midnight.
Closes June 1, 2014, 11:59 PM MST.

Entry Fee:

$30 per entry or $55 per entry to receive a critique from one of the first two judges.

By now, I’m sure you’re chomping at the bit to know how to enter. First you head over the RMFW Website and check out the Contest Page. That’s where you’ll find the links to the 2014 Official Rules and Entry Instructions.

Good luck!

The Secret to Scoring a Tradtional Book Contract

By Shannon Baker

IMG_westernslopeI’ve got a new book coming out! This has been a dream of mine for a very long time. In fact, if the first novel I completed had been a baby, it would be able to drink in any state of the union now. If you’re here on the RMFW blog, it’s a pretty good bet you’ve got this dream, too.

This message is for everyone struggling to land a traditional publishing contract. I do know the world has turned and this isn’t the only road to publishing. I’m dabbling in indie publishing, too, which is a story for another day.

Congratulations! You’ve come to the right place and you’re doing exactly what you should be doing—along with writing every day. (Okay, I know successful writers who don’t actually write every day. But unless you know you are special, I’d recommend “touching the ball” every day.)

That other thing you should be doing? Getting informed and involved. You’re here reading about writing, learning what’s new, what people are publishing and reading, who the publishers are. That’s good. You need to understand your market and how it works. While remaining isolated and researching publishing might work for some people, I don’t think it’s enough for most of us.

There is no substitute for good writing and you must study your craft and practice it. I highly recommend peer critique. (Again, I know bestsellers—CJ Box, Joseph Finder—who never had critique partners. But most of us are regular folk and need help from our friends.)

There is something else you can do to get more involved. In my case this made a huge difference in my road to publication.

Volunteer.

Yeah, I know how it goes. We’re all busy. If you volunteer it takes time away from writing and improving your craft. That’s all very true.

Baker_Broken TrustI remember sitting at my first RMFW Colorado Gold conference watching this boisterous, supportive group of writers who had known each other for years. Most of them were published. One of the speakers gave full credit for her success to RMFW and pointed to a table of published writers, all of whom were volunteers in some aspect of RMFW. Every one of them.

But I lived in Nebraska. How could I volunteer from out of state? (Remember, this is before everything was online.) I kept returning and meeting more people every year but still felt like an outsider, shy and afraid to join in. Then my chance came. Someone suggested I volunteer to run the agent/editor pitch appointments. It was something I could do long distance. I jumped at the chance. The first year was a disaster. I didn’t notify the agents and editors of their schedule, assuming they knew they had appointments starting at 8 A.M. They didn’t. The next year was a little better. With the help of dedicated writer friends who volunteered beside me each year, we got better and better. I worked in that position for nine years. After that, I was registrar for three years, and now I serve as board treasurer.

Every single one of these positions has been purely selfish. In the truest Ayn Rand tradition, there is no altruism. I am not that good at meeting people. I am a terrible self-promoter. (For instance, I’ve had business cards printed for each of three books I’ve had published. I have never made it through handing out one box of 250.) But working with conference, I met so many people. While I got tongue-tied around the agents and editors, I felt comfortable joining groups of my writer friends and these Golden Guests would be part of the group. That made getting to know the professionals very easy. I even learned most of them are regular folks.

I didn’t parley volunteering into a book contract overnight. Some may argue volunteering had nothing to do with signing with Midnight Ink. I know otherwise. Because I’d met so many people through working at the agent/editor pitches and registration, I felt at home and comfortable at conference. I’d learned that editors and agents are real people. So when I had an opportunity to meet Midnight Ink editor, Terri Bischoff at conference, I didn’t pitch her my book. We spent time getting to know each other.

Terri didn’t acquire my book because we’d made a connection at the conference. But she read it with a more open mind than she might have. She also was willing to take on a book that needed an extensive rewrite and I don’t think she’d have done that if she hadn’t met me first. Or, if I’d missed my opportunity to get to know her because I was too nervous to talk to her.

So here are my bullets on getting that traditional contract:

  •  Write every day
  •  Read a lot
  •  Learn all you can about the publishing industry
  •  Get involved
  •  VOLUNTEER (especially with RMFW)

Roll call: Who’s going to join us in Denver in September for the Colorado Gold conference? What a line-up! Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords and William Kent Krueger, the amazingly wonderful mystery writer. Also, loads of Golden Guests (agents and editors).

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Shannon Baker writes the Nora Abbott Mystery Series, a fast-paced mix of murder, environmental issues and Hopi Indians published by Midnight Ink. Broken Trust, due March 2014, takes place in Boulder, CO. Tainted Mountain, the first in the series is set in Flagstaff, AZ and is a New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards finalist. She serves on the board of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and is a member of SinC and MWA. Visit Shannon at her website.

About Broken Trust:  Nora moves to Boulder and lands a job as an accountant at an environmental non-profit. But the trust is rife with deceit and corruption. Nearly half a million dollars is missing and one person has already been killed for knowing too much. Complicating matters are Nora’s uninvited visitors: her mother, Cole Huntsman, and a Hopi kachina that technically doesn’t exist. As the body count climbs, Nora races to stop a deadly plot to decimate one of the planet’s greatest natural resources.

Look What You Missed….and What You Can Still Sign Up For!

If you thought you could wait until the last minute and then sign up for Trai Cartwright’s screenwriting class, too bad. That class filled up in a hurry.

There’s lots more going on with Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, so peruse this list, follow the link if something looks interesting, and join others looking to learn and make contact (eye or virtual) with their fellow writers.

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First, there’s the online class that starts tomorrow. “Writing Meaningful and Memorable Sex Scenes” is presented by Katriena Knights. The two-week course starts Monday, March 3rd, and ends on Sunday, March 16th. Cost is $25 for members and $30 for non-members.

“There’s no question about it: sex sells, and the current romance market is thriving on more explicit content than ever before in the history of the genre. However, readers are discerning, and even the most daring content will fall flat if it isn’t integrated into the story on an emotional level and on a story level.”

Katriena’s class is not focused on romantic novel sex or erotica. It’s all about the right use of sex scenes in all genres. Don’t be shy. You know you want to put a sex scene in your next book. Learn how and when it’s appropriate and not gratuitous. For more information about the class, visit the RMFW website. And if you want to pass information and go straight to registration, you can do that too.

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2014 Conference Proposals Reminder: RMFW’s conference chair is accepting workshop proposals for the 2014 Colorado Gold Conference through March 31, 2014.

Go to the Conference page on the RMFW website for suggestions to help you make your workshop stand out and the link to the proposal form. If you have any questions, email Susan Brooks at conference@rmfw.org

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March Program free for members and non-members: “Think You’re Ready for the Colorado Gold [Writer's Contest]“?

Presented by Chris Devlin on Saturday, March 15, 2:30 pm – 4:30 pm at the Belmar Public Library, 555 S. Allison Parkway, Lakewood, CO 80226.

“Making the finals in RMFW’s annual Colorado Gold Writing Contest is a great way to get your work in front of agents and editors. Many past winners and finalists have gone on to have their books published. Finaling in the well-respected Colorado Gold is also a clear badge of honor to help market and promote your work. Don’t miss this opportunity to spend an afternoon with contest chair Chris Devlin. Come learn what makes a good entry great, what catches a judge’s eye, and how to avoid common mistakes.”

For more information, head on back to the RMFW website and check out this program page.

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If you live within snowshoeing distance of the Western Slope, RMFW has a program for you as well. Presented by Cindi Myers, this workshop is called “Agents: Myths vs. Reality.

This event is free for members and non-members on Saturday, March 15, 8:30 A.M. – 1:00 P.M. at the Grand Junction Business Incubator, 2591 Legacy Way, Grand Junction, Colorado. Please RSVP to Vicki Law at vruchhoeft@bresnan.net.

Expanded continental breakfast will be served at 8:30 A.M. and the workshop will begin at 9:00 A.M. and end approximately noon. From noon to 1:00 P.M. is networking, socializing and clean-up.

“Do you need an agent in order to get published? What will an agent do for you? What can’t an agent do? How do you find a good agent? Do you really need an agent in today’s publishing world? Award-winning author Cindi Myers discusses the myths and realities of dealing with agents, how to find the best agent, and how you can get published without an agent. In this frank discussion, Cindi will share her experience and that of other multi-published authors, and answer your questions about working with agents.”

For more information and directions to the event location, hop back on over to the RMFW website to that program page.

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becomeamember01If you aren’t convinced by now that you need to become a member of this fast-growing and extremely prestigious writers’ organization, which you can do by going here, then take a look at the upcoming retreat in Golden, Colorado March 16-21 (flexible day registration open until March 15th) and some of honored guests for the September 5-7 Colorado Gold Conference in Westminster, Colorado.

Members get a fantastic newsletter, opportunities to guest star on the RMFW blog, and more.

Making the Long and Winding Road to Publication a Little Shorter with RMFW

by Mark Stevens, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers President

As she accepted the Writer of the Year plaque at Colorado Gold, Linda Joffe Hull talked about living and writing for a decade in the “purgatory of almost” before finding a publisher for one of her books.

As she will tell you, it was a long and winding road.

But Linda credits a certain organization (its initials are Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers) for the final break-through. As she talked about the two books she has launched in the last 12 months, she talked about the relationships she developed by taking an active role in the group.

Our group.

Yeah, yeah, yeah—for the last few weeks it’s been all Colorado Gold this and Colorado Gold that. (See paragraph #1 above.) It was three days of good times for us fiction nerds.

But RMFW is so much more than Colorado Gold and, I dare say, the tremendous variety of other events on the calendar offer an even better chance to develop relationships and make new friends who might have that one key introduction to an agent, an editor, a publisher. The conference can be, you know, intimidating. Fun, sure, but pressure too.

I’m not saying the conference isn’t cool, but now it’s another 12 months away (Sept. 5—7, 2014).

In the meantime, there are plenty of other chances to dive in and make friends—and develop your network—in a more casual setting. (And, in some cases, free.)

Check it out:

  • Later this month, a free two-hour workshop titled “Diving In: Character and Motivation” by Courtney Koschel. Location: Arvada Public Library, downtown Arvada. Date and time: Saturday, Oct. 26 at 1p.m. Courtney is the senior acquisitions editor for Month9Books. Senior. Acquisitions. Editor. Enough said.
  • Also this month, the experienced Trai Cartwight is offering a dirt-cheap online course called “Building a Better Book” that will help you demystify the process of novel building. It’s all about asking—and answering—key structural questions at the heart of every well-executed novel. Trai has roots in Hollywood, among other places. Get to know Trai and it’s one degree of separation between you and Stephen Spielberg. Or something like that.
  • Next month, there’s a free two-hour workshop titled “World Building: Don’t Let the Dream Collapse.” Location and times are still being finalized, but the program will be given by Colleen Oakes, author of the best-selling Elly in Bloom.
  • Also online soon, Sharon Mignerey (a true RMFW legend—she helped start our group about 30 years ago) is running a dialog workshop called “Let Your Characters Do the Talking.”
  • Also next month, over at our Grand Junction home away from home, best-selling author and RMFW stalwart Jeanne Stein is leading a day-long workshop titled “A Publishing Primer.” The first 20 people who register have the chance to pitch to Angie Hoddapp with Nelson Literary Agency and/or receive a two-page critique and 10-minute meeting with Warren Hammond, author of the KOP science fiction series. (Warren also won the Colorado Book Award this year!)

Cool programs, great opportunities to improve your craft and, maybe give you a chance to get to know other writers, develop connections and work your way out of the “purgatory of almost.”
All the details are available at www.rmfw.org. You probably knew that.

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2013conference66Mark Stevens is the President of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan.

You can learn more about Mark and his novels at his website. He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

I Took Way Too Many Notes at the Colorado Gold Conference

By Patricia Stoltey

I felt obligated to stick to the same word count I suggested for the rest of our blog’s contributors and guests, but it was hard. I took so many notes, and I learned so much, that I still feel as though I fell off my diet and stuffed myself too full. Let’s see if the post will be lean enough if I give you the name of the session, the instructor’s name, and one thing I learned (all paraphrased). I’ll skip details about the guest speakers and just tell you they were all wonderful.

On Friday, I worked the registration table until 2:00 PM and then had to check into the hotel room, so I didn’t get to my first session until 3:00. That was Bill Konigsberg’s Seven Deadly Sins of Dialogue in Young-Adult Fiction.

First deadly sin: Overuse of slang

Agent Panel with Sally Harding, Natalie Lakosil, Kathleen Rushall, and Sarah Joy Freese.

One of the worst things an author can do in his query letter is not talk about his book. The format to follow is “The hook, the book, and the cook,” and all need to be brief.

In the Middle: Pluses and Minuses of Small Press Publishing, Katriena Knights

Contracts with small presses tend to be shorter in duration and often for only one format. This allows a book to have 2-3 good life cycles.

Denver Skyline from Our Conference Hotel Room Balcony

Denver Skyline from Our Conference Hotel Room Balcony

Saturday was an amazing day filled with difficult choices. Picking which workshop to attend was hard, and I often changed my mind at the last minute.

The Artist’s Way: Still Fresh, Robin Owens

When challenged to write pseudo-morning pages for ten minutes, I discovered some authors (Janet Lane, for instance) are very creative at 8:00 AM. I, however, was just grumpy and mostly scribbled on about needing another cup of coffee.

Why Would Librarians Buy Your Book—Or Not?, Mary Gilgannon and Alice Kober

The mini-synopsis (story blurb) on the back cover (and often included in book catalogues) is critical to librarian selection.

How to Art Direct Your Book’s Cover Design, Karen Duvall

The latest trend in covers is to use models in headless shots, or silhouettes, or from the back.

The Point of No Return: Crossing the Threshold from Traditionally Published to Self-Published, Jeff Shelby

The new exploding market is New Adult for young women age 18-25 with plenty of romance, sex, drama, and bad boys. Normal length: 65,000 words.

An Agent Reads the Slush Pile, Kristin Nelson and Sally Harding

Don’t do world building in a prologue. If you use a prologue, it should set up a question or establish a scene that will become important later in the story.

Who’s Your Narrator?, Ronald Malfi

Dialogue needs to reflect each character’s voice, even when the chapter or scene is not from that character’s POV.

The Hybrid Author, Karyn Marcus and Kristin Nelson

I learned all about the story of Hugh Howey who began by self-publishing and was later picked up by a major publisher for his compiled book, Wool. I’d never heard anything about this author before. The story is too long to tell here. Sorry about that.

Sunday morning I skipped the continental breakfast of fruit and pastries and joined friends in the restaurant for a real breakfast. The waitress forgot to bring my bacon. Can you believe that? Forgot to bring my bacon!

I attended the 8:00 AM session, still upset, but quickly settled in to enjoy The Road Map to a Successful E-Pub Career Shift, Cate Rowan

Cover art for e-books needs to pop when it’s displayed in thumbnail size (that’s where the online bookseller shows a line of books that were purchased at the same time as the search book).

I, You, Them: How Perspective Powers Your Story, Trai Cartwright

Holy cow! I still have new things to learn about Point of View. Do you know the difference between Third Close Dramatic and Third Close Limited? I had them confused. Sigh! I’m not going to try to explain them here. I’d probably get it wrong (even though I think I took really good notes).

And that’s my super-condensed version from twenty-seven 4 1/2” x 6 1/2” pages of notes. I could go on and on…

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPatricia Stoltey is the author of two amateur sleuth mysteries published by Five Star/Cengage in hardcover and Harlequin Worldwide mass market paperbacks. The Prairie Grass Murders and The Desert Hedge Murders are now available for Kindle and Nook. Her blog is known for featuring guest authors who write in a variety of genres.

She can be stalked on Facebook and Twitter.