Invest in your Writing Career

If you didn’t attend the 2017 Annual Education Event last month in Golden, take a moment to kick yourself. Really.

The event was nearly sold out, and if not for a last minute storm that came through it would have been a tight fit to get everyone in, and for good reason. With a morning panel of published author, editor and agent, a small publisher speaking at lunch, and a panel of self-publishing experts in the afternoon, the full range of publishing options was well represented. We had lively Q&A sessions, specific information on what works and doesn’t straight from the editor and agent, and step-by-step instructions and timelines on self-publishing. It’s rare to have this many experts all in one place and those of us who braved the weather were well rewarded.

I often hear writers say they don’t go to workshops or conferences, or join groups like RMFW because they “can’t afford it.” I say if you want to be a published author, either traditionally or self, you can’t afford not to. Often new writers finish a story and think that because they got to “the end” it’s ready to go, only to be heartbroken when they can’t get an agent or publisher interested, or their 150,000 word tome sits on the Amazon shelf and doesn’t sell a single copy.

Attending education events can prevent heartache, and heartburn, by getting you to the place where you’re ready to submit or self-publish. It allows you to network with other writers, hook up with critique groups, and hear how other authors have overcome problems with their books. Big events like Colorado Gold have dozens of workshops that let you focus on areas you might be weak in, or you don’t know about.

Going it alone, trying to save a few bucks, will cost you in the long run. Cut back on a latte or two each month, watch network movies instead of paying for on-demand, have a yard sale and dedicate the profits to paying for a conference, or find some other non-critical habit you can cut back on and SPEND THE MONEY ON YOUR WRITING CAREER, if you actually want a career. RMFW costs $45 annually, and anyone who has attended a workshop that I moderated has heard me say it’s the best $45 you’ll ever spend. Most of our workshops are free. Conference has scholarships, volunteer opportunities, and low cost on-line classes. Genre-specific groups like Sisters in Crime or RWA offer the same things.

I know many writers, including me, don’t have unlimited funds to pay for attending events and classes, travel, software, cover art, etc. But as the adage says, fail to plan and you plan to fail. Set a budget of money you can allocate. Just $10 a month gets you a RMFW membership and you still have more than half of it left over for an on-line class or two. If you can manage $50 per bi-monthly payroll, you’ll have more than enough to attend a major conference each year, plus membership fees for a couple groups. We all have stuff we don’t need – put it on Craig’s List and stash the proceeds in your writing fund. You don’t have to shortchange your family or let bills go unpaid to support your writing habit, you just have to make a plan and stick to it.

It’s time to think about Colorado Gold in September. You still have time to register, but from what I’ve heard they will probably sell out. If you can’t swing Gold, at least get your plan in place going forward. Get the education you need to produce the best possible book you can, and WRITE ON!

 

How Busy is Too Busy?

For writers, and most other people, this is an individual question. How many things you work into your schedule, and how much time you choose to spend not writing, is predicated by your life and will never be like anyone else’s.

If you’re like Corrine O’Flynn, the coordinator for the Colorado Gold Conference, you must be working in your sleep in order to put together that massive, amazing event, take care of kids in all kinds of activities, work, keep up with social media, write…I’m tired just thinking about it.

For me, I hit that wall a lot earlier. The RMFW Annual Event with Traditional, Indie, and Self Publishing tracks, is coming up on the 29th (like, right now!) and I’ve been working a lot on it over the last couple of months. My day job has been very busy for the past year, even though everyone keeps saying it will slow down. My husband has been gone more than home lately for his job, leaving me to manage some of the things that are out of my comfort zone. I’m writing this at 4:00 a.m. on a Saturday, because I woke up at 2:00 and realized how many things are not done that need to be.

Did you notice that I didn’t mention anything about writing in that last paragraph? I did, and that’s the problem. It’s been all work and no write and it’s making Terri a very grumpy girl. I’m looking at the weather and know that it’s time to get the garden ready, massacre the already-prolific weeds, and generally get the yard in shape before it gets out of control, so I find myself looking at this tunnel of yuck when I want to be looking at my WIP.

After I submit this blog, I plan to drag out my calendar and start scheduling myself – you know, that thing where you put stuff on your calendar today so you can move or delete it tomorrow when you realize life got in the way again. But at least I’m going to try, because Colorado Gold is coming up and I want to submit for the contest, I just found out I’ll be presenting again this year, and I really, really want to have at least one story submitted to the Anthology. Not to mention I need to enter all the edits I made on the hard copy of my most recent Bad Carma manuscript.

If any of you have found the magic bullet (not you Corrine – you must have cheated and got a clone or two made of you!) that allows you to keep on task for your writing, and get everything else you need to get done, please shoot me with it. I’m sure there are lots of you out there who are like me. What do you do to help keep on track?

Hope to see you all in Golden on the 29th, but no matter where you are, Write On!

What is it worth to you to be published?

Is it worth a Saturday and about $75? Is it worth having great food, sitting amidst lots of excited (and exciting) writers, and listening to interesting, informative, amazing presentations?

If it’s not, then you should stop reading now. And maybe think about how badly you really want to be published. Because on April 29, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers will be holding the Annual Education Event in Golden, at the Table Mountain Inn. The website has more info, but here’s why Pub-Con (catchy, right?) is such a fantastic opportunity:

We start with breakfast. Always a good sign.

The morning session has an Editor whose publishing house was just purchased by Simon and Schuster, the Owner/Agent of a multi-agent literary agency, and a multi-traditionally published author. This panel will give you tons of information, stuff you REALLY need to know, about getting traditionally published. The before, the during, and the after. The dos and the don’ts. The whys and the why nots.

Then we have lunch. Another good sign. And even better, we have an Editor-in-Chief of a small Denver-based publishing house to talk about the different publishing options out there and how you can determine what might be best for you.

 The afternoon session will include a multi-self-published author, a best-selling author who started a publishing house and works with self-publishers, and a graphic designer who specializes in book cover design. They will give you as much information as you’ll be able to absorb on the process of self-publishing. They’ll help dispel notions of how hard, or easy, it is and you’ll have the advantage of knowing the mistakes they made and shortcuts they found, to save you from yourself. And we all need that, right?

So, is it worth $75 give or take? Can you give up 8 hours of your precious time? Only you can decide, but if you want that WIP to see the light of day, this might be the best time and money you can spend to make that happen.

I hope to see you there. Here’s the link to the page on RMFW site: http://rmfw.org/pubcon/ . Seating is limited and I do expect to sell out with this kind of presentation lineup.

In the meantime, Write On! and get your WIP done. You’ll want to take lots of notes at Pub-Con so you can get that puppy published!

 

To everything there is a reason. A time to write, a time to…not

I just got back from a retreat with a group of great writers in a creepy old hotel. There were times when I would have sworn I was the only one there, despite there being at least twelve other people in a twelve-room hotel. It was that quiet, because I couldn’t hear all the other keyboards clicking from where I was.

Why do you care? Okay, you might not, but you should. Because what I’m going to tell you is important. At least it is to me. Anyway, the thing is, what I really mean…yeah, maybe I have been listening to Sirius too much.

Four and a half days just writing. 35,000 words on the page for my newest Bad Carma book. Three meals a day in the companionship of great writers. Reading to/listening with - a bunch of fabulous writers. That’s what I got to enjoy at the retreat.

Not everyone can take four days off, even with a Monday holiday. It doesn’t have to be four days. But for me, it can’t be fifteen spare minutes. I know the butt in chair thing says you should write every spare moment every day. But I can’t. I’m a binge writer. I need to stay focused and when I do, I can write like crazy (35,000 words!). I have to be able to re-read my last couple of chapters, decide or know where I’m going from there and have no interruptions while I blast may way through the story.

If you’re like me, the guilt of not using all those tiny fifteen minute moments to write keeps worming itself way into your subconscious, and they shouldn’t. We don’t all write alike. Find the way that works best for you. For me, it’s at least four hours of clear time. No laundry, no cleaning, no food prep, no weeds calling my name. I can’t write when someone keeps asking me questions (sorry, dear, but I need you to shut the heck up!).

I know other people can pick up and write in short time frames. I read about them all the time. But I need to write like I need to write, and so do you. It’s important that you decide what that way is so you aren’t making excuses for not writing. If you need long blocks of time, how can you get them? Do you enjoy writing in coffee shops? Go there on a weekend. Do you need quiet? Can you reserve a space at the library? Do you have a friend with a nice sunroom they’d let you borrow when they’re out of town?

I have a friend with a VRBO house (she rents it out by the day, like AirBnB, only the whole house). I hope to talk a few writer friends into renting the 5 bedroom house for some long weekends to write. No chores. No husband. Hopefully no phones. But lots of comfy space with peace and quiet, snacks, writers to talk with during meals. And words on the paper. Lots and lots of words. Oh, and by the way, I didn’t get the most words – that was Cindi Myers. So it’s not just me. There are more of us out there than you hear about.

So find your method. If it’s fifteen minutes waiting to pick your kids up, great. If it’s twelve hours straight on a Saturday sitting in a corner of a quiet coffee shop or senior center, peachy. Just make the effort. Make those words happen. Seriously, just Write On!

 

Knowing What You Don’t Know (or Not Knowing What You Do Know)

Putting together the Western Slope workshops has allowed me to meet a lot of new writers. Just this last weekend we had two dozen writers attend, and nearly all of them were new faces. It’s amazing to know how many writers are around me when before I joined RMFW I thought I was the lone stranger in these parts.

I’ve been writing for almost 4 decades (I started in the womb, of course). My first manuscript was partially hand-written, partially typed, some “wheelwriter” (part typewriter/part computer), and eventually I had to type the whole thing into my first PC. It took me nearly 25 years to write “the end.” By that time I’d raised two kids, worked at several different jobs, bought a business, and gone through a lot of LIFE.

When I finished that manuscript I was so excited! I immediately printed it out, typed up my letter to the publisher, boxed it up (yeah, that was before the days of e-mail, you young whipper-snappers!) and sent it to Avon because they published Kathleen Woodiwiss and my book was really similar to her style of writing. (I can hear you laughing – that’s not very polite!).

It didn’t take long to get my first rejection letter. But about that time I also stumbled on RWA (Romance Writers of America) and joined them even though the annual rate was pretty steep for someone in my financial condition. I started getting their magazine, which I devoured. After the first paragraph of the first article I was already cringing from the realization that I had no idea what I was doing writing a book.

Yes, I could write a story. I had interesting characters. I had excitement. And, of course, romance. But I also had POV issues all over the place (mainly because I’d never hear of point of view and when I got contest notes back that said I had POV problems I still had no idea what they were talking about). It wasn’t until one poor judge took pity on me and highlighted the different POVs that I actually figured out what they were talking about (again, this is before I could Google the answer - you younger writers have no idea how lucky you are!).

Over the years I joined RMFW, entered contests, joined a critique group, went to conferences and workshops, read books on writing, followed blogs – whatever I could find that would teach me to know what I didn’t know. And learned a ton about writing. I’ve set that original manuscript aside, although I think some day it WILL see the light of day. I wrote a book that a small publisher picked up and went through four rounds of edits, learning more about what I didn’t know. I’ve written several more manuscripts and have seen my contest scores increase, but never been #1 with a bullet.

Now I understand that there are a lot of things about writing that I don’t know, and a lot of things about writing that I do know. Most of all I know I’ll keep learning more as I go along. My manuscripts are better. I believe I’ll publish again. I know I’ll make more mistakes. I just sent a query letter to an agent that had me waking up in the middle of the night and saying, out loud, “Did I really write that sentence like I think I did, and if so, WHY!!!!!” (by the way, yes I did, and it resulted in the by-then-expected rejection).

So learn. Listen. Read. Attend. Critique. AND WRITE ON! See you at Gold or one of the workshops or at the bookstore or library.

And Merry Christmas/Happy New Year!

My Seriously Overdrawn Bank Account

Courtesy of "The Atlantic"
Courtesy of "The Atlantic"

I am seriously overdrawn. And I have to think that many of you out there as well. No, I’m not talking about your real money bank account. I’m talking about your emotional bank account. The place where when things are going great, you’re making massive deposits, building up that rich volume of happy, fun, chipper, and all sorts of “good collateral.”

Also the place from which you make withdrawls in the form of fear, worry, anger and other “bad debt.” The election has been a serious draw on my emotional bank account. I’ve seen friends and family, people whom I love, respect, and want to be around, change into happiness-sucking, vitriolic, swearing, overbearing, bankrobbing….Whew, you get my drift, right?

I am so glad it’s over. I have absolutely no comment either way on how it went because my opinion is my own and no one else is going to change it. I also know that I’m not going to change anyone else’s. Which is how it should be.  According to Merriam-Webster, an opinion is: a belief, judgment, or way of thinking about something; what someone thinks about a particular thing. Period.

As writers we have a vast quantity of words we can use. We have big, honkin’ thesaurus’ sitting next to us. So let’s focus on kind words. Interesting words. Compelling words. Thrilling words. And maybe, for just a little while, put away the swear words. Whether you are happy or sad about how things went/will go, remember that this same thing happens every four years. And every four years approximately half the people out there are in your shoes, good or bad.

I hate being overdrawn. Especially when it’s because someone else wiped out my account. I keep that account for things like a call in the middle of the night about a family member. Funerals. A fight with my husband. The loss of a treasured pet. I NEED to have that cushion in my account so that I can keep my sanity when something bad happens, and can’t afford to waste it on what might happen, what someone thinks is going to happen, what the media tells me is going to happen. I am more than willing to expend some of that collateral on behalf of others outside my family and close friends, but I have to weigh how much I’m willing to give to someone else, especially someone who may not value that sacrifice and just want more.

Photo from Jocuri
Photo from Jocuri

So please, let’s all be friends. Try to make the best of everything, and work toward ensuring no one suffers from anything we can help alleviate. Give yourself time to recoup your losses in that account so that you aren’t too emotionally depleted to write, to enjoy, to be happy to wake up in the morning.  And remember all the millions of things for which you get to be thankful, since Thanksgiving is right around the corner.

And then, Write On!

The RMFW Spotlight is on Terri Benson, Education Chair and Western Slope Liaison

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 Terri Benson. You can also connect with Terri at her website.

2016_terri-benson1. Tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

I am the Education Chair and the Western Slope Liaison, and the western slope events take place where I work so I get the room ready and put together the press releases, etc. I initially stumbled into RMFW from a newspaper ad about a workshop and was so excited to find that there were actually people like me out in the world. I have gotten so much from the group, both in terms of camaraderie and education that I felt I needed to do whatever I could to give back.

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

I am currently working on a new series. It’s a female amateur sleuth who is also a classic car restorer. I’m having fun with the story, but finding I need to be a sneakier person to get enough “mystery” in there to qualify. I have one book out (paperback and ebook), an historical romance, titled An Unsinkable Love which is set half on the Titanic, and half in the New England garment factories.

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?

I want to travel the world for research – SEE the history that I love to write about. My bucket list would have that at the top, but then several hundred “sub-items” because there are so many places I want to go.

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

I get so involved with my characters that sometimes I lose track of what it is they’re actually supposed to be doing, as in the case of the Bad Carma character – solving a mystery instead of having fun restoring all those cool cars. And research. Lots and lots of interesting research often sidetracks me from putting words on paper.

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

I can be anyone and do anything I want. I have no limitations on what I can write (that’s not to say anyone will want to read some of it). It is so much fun to decide what I want to know about, and what I have to do to “become” it and how I can make a story from it.

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

Read more. Turn off the TV or go somewhere no one can find me and write (and hope my husband doesn’t divorce me).

2016_terri-benson-office7. What does your desk look like? What item must be on your desk? Do you have any personal, fun items you keep on it?

The room my desk is in is also the “Christmas present” room, so right now it’s full of bags and boxes of shopping. When it’s usable, I have 4 bookcases full of (mostly read) books, binders of WIP and/or finished manuscripts and research, and a big wall calendar that was supposed to keep me on task and on schedule (but since I’m not in there writing….). I don’t keep much on my desk. I’m not a knick-knacky kind of person – I prefer to have my space pretty utilitarian.

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

I’m in the middle of a post-death Sidney Sheldon (written by another author) that a friend gave me, as well as a cozy mystery on my I-pad. I’m really terrible about book names and authors (unless I know the writer). I generally don’t worry so much about who wrote it, if it was a best seller, or that it had all 4 star reviews – it’s usually because the blurb sounds interesting, it’s a genre I like, or a writer I know or have met or who was recommended by someone at Gold/in RMFW. I like finding someone with a style I enjoy – I have a ton of Dick Francis novels because I really like the way he writes.

Thank you, Terri. One of the many services Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers performs for its members (and non-members as well) is education. Thank you for filling that important role of Education Chair and coordinating programs for the Western Slope.

If Only I Had One More Hour a Day…

too-busyI’ve been struggling to juggle a lot of things lately which is stressful enough, but now I’m being barraged with NaNoRiMo e-mails, vacation requests, and holiday planning schedules. After Colorado Gold I had three requests for chapters, one of which turned in to a request for a full read. What do you think I want to be doing? GETTING THOSE REQUESTS TAKEN CARE OF, of course. What am I doing? A whole lotta spinning my wheels.

I feel bad for neglecting my family because when I get home from work I need to edit, polish, revise, and revise more. Events that have been planned in the past, and which I normally would be excited about and enjoy, feel like a burden I can’t avoid.

Thinking about all the upcoming get-togethers, travel, and time-sucks that are the holidays, is beginning to give me hives.

Deep breath.

I know I’m not the only one with these problems. And having requests for chapters/full reads is absolutely fabulous, don’t get me wrong. I think the problem is when I read blogs or articles from writers out there with small children/sick family and a full time job but who still manage to volunteer with food banks or do other “save the world” things, AND write, I think I must be incredibly lazy or totally uncommitted to writing. They can get up at 3 in the morning to write, they write on lunch hours, they write into the wee hours of the night – so what’s wrong with me?

I just can’t do it. I’m tired when I get home, but I can manage a few hours a day a few days a week around dinner, laundry, ironing, vacuuming, and having an actual conversation with my husband. I already get up at 5:30 to be at work at 6:30. If I’m getting up earlier than that, it’s so I can work out (which I don’t have time for either, but that’s another rant).

I consider myself a professional writer. I’ve made money (not a lot) between my book (shameless plug: An Unsinkable Love, a Titanic Love Story) and articles in newspapers and magazines, and I work with deadlines. I write all day long as the Marketing Director where I work.

I’m asking/begging/pleading for comments from all of you out there in the world of writers: give the rest of us struggling to “git ‘er done” your methods for managing your writing while staying sane/married/out of jail, etc. I can’t be the only one who would appreciate this resource from our collective of writers.

So, my blog today is a public service request for ideas. Let me (and all the other readers) have them. If you relieve the guilt and/or exhaustion for even one writer, you will have done your good deed for the day/week/month/year. And we'll all Thank you as we continue to Write On!

On Being a Waffle

Yeah, that’s me. The human waffle. No, I’m not running for office, but I am trying to be Elastic Writer Girl and make my story fit all the different opinions I managed to attract at Colorado Gold.

waffleSee, I have this great story. Everyone I’ve talked to loves it. So of course I submit it for a Critique Roundtable, Pitch Coaching, Hook Your Book, professional editor discussion, and Pitch Sessions. Because, everyone loves it, right?

Hmmm. Not so much. My first indication that Houston has a problem is when I get in the Friday round table and the agent says they really don’t like the paranormal aspect of my mystery and suggest I “skirt around” that concept. Maybe just a hint of “unusual.” OK, that’s just one opinion, you know?

Then I have a pitch coaching and it’s a real struggle for my coach to come up with a concept that can be shoehorned into a short and snappy pitch. It gets done, while sort of downplaying the paranormal aspect. Hmmmm.

At Hook Your Book I get one “I don’t really think this concept will work” and another, “Great concept, but you might need to play the paranormal down if you really want to sell this.” Double Hmmmm.

The professional editor thinks I need to consider going Fantasy with Mystery, but it’s really not a fantasy and I can’t make it so.

And then another agent at a pitch says she likes the concept but tried to sell something along the same lines and couldn’t get a bite. “Could you just have your character have a bad feeling instead of ‘knowing’ something?” She was very gracious and offered to read chapters and a synopsis either way, but warned me it might be a tough sell.

So there I am, taking my first several chapters and writing multiple versions to see how I can alter the story, and still be true to THE STORY. I’ve talked my dilemma over with a couple BFaW (Best Friend and Writer-types) and they laid it on the line: WRITE THE STORY I want to write and not what someone tells me it should be to be marketable.

Yeah. I know. But… Ouch.

So I said to myself, “Self, just get on with it and quit waffling.” Really. I did. Just like that. And so I did. Quit waffling. I decided that while I COULD write the story with intuition and “skirt” the paranormal I didn’t like it as much. It was too vanilla. So, damn it, I’m writing the story I started with. I hope to hell I’m a good enough writer that when they actually read it the editors/agents will be so in love with the characters and the concept that it won’t even occur to them that it might be a tough sell and they will be my champion with the powers-that-be who try to tell them the story doesn’t fit in the box.

pancake
So, as a Human Waffle turned to a fat, syrup-sucking pancake, I’m writing the damn story. Just as you should make your story YOUR story.

So, let’s get with it and Write ON!

Why I Entered the Colorado Gold Contest

I was thrilled to hear this week that I was a finalist in the Colorado Gold Writer’s contest, but why should you care? Well, if you are a multi-published author, you probably don’t, and shouldn’t. But if you’re a writer struggling to get your work in front of agents and/or editors, maybe you should.typewriter winner

Colorado Gold, and other contests like it, is a GREAT way for you to get your work exposed to acquiring editors and agents. They are also really good at making you hone your craft. And teach you to be careful with submission guidelines (I lost 2 of 5 points for submitting a DOCx file instead of DOC).

The score sheets and comments on the manuscript are really helpful for seeing if there is a consensus that something may need to be tweaked, and they make you look closer at your writing. I always have to read them, rant just a little, then re-read and determine which comments I have to (sometimes grudgingly) agree with.

I’ve entered several contests over the years, with my scores starting below 50 (out of 100) and gradually, as I improved my craft, rising until I’ve finaled in the last four I entered, with three different manuscripts. So far, always a bridesmaid, never a bride – but I have high hopes for Gold.

I’ve learned that not all judges are great, and some are truly fantastic. One judge became a mentor for me, reviewed my edited submission, and gave me a blurb for my novel (which, alas, hasn’t sold enough to prevent me from qualifying for Gold!). I’ve also learned to thank my judges, if I’m given a method for doing so, and to NEVER dis a judge. Reading is subjective. I can’t always explain why I love or hate a book, scene, or character, while others rave about them. Judges are human, and have likes and dislikes; one judge may give you very low scores, while two others are much higher. Those same judges might be sitting next to you at a conference or workshop. They won’t know whose pages they judged, but if you’re sitting there telling them about your story and how bad the judge was, trust me, they’ll remember. Likewise, if you talk about how much you learned about your writing from the judge’s scores and comments, they might just be willing to open a door that helps your career along.

My biggest challenge now is to make sure I put as much effort into the other 350 pages as I did those first 10 the judges saw. I’ve heard a lot of stories about editors and agents who can tell, to the word, how far into the manuscript the writer had polished for submitting to contests and critiques and then didn’t bother with the rest.

winner imageIf you didn’t submit, and you do qualify for the contest, consider it, or others, in the future. For the small price of admission you get new sets of eyes on your work, and get a feel for how you fit within your genre in relation to other writers. If you, like me, notice your scores are rising, it’s a great feeling to know that you are improving as a writer – plus the plaques look really pretty on the wall.

So, as always, I urge us all to Write On!