Tag Archives: the writing life

Friendly Author Mutates Into Envious Villain – Film at Eleven

By Aaron Ritchey

So, in a story, you have the hero with a flaw who overcomes their flaw to beat the villain and win the day. Hurray! We all love a good story arc because it gives us hope—deliriously flawed creatures that we are.

Let’s flash back, oh, I don’t know, five years. I was a writer full of envy. I couldn’t go into bookstores because all the names and all the covers reminded me that I had so far to go and I probably would never get there. While other people had. At conferences, I met those successful people and my jealousy raged! I withdrew to my underground lair to seethe in isolation.

Yet I soldiered on. I was the heroic writer. I practiced celebrating the victories of my writer friends. I went to book stores and enjoyed the hunt. I overcame my jealousy.

Five years later, I am published. I have books out in the world. And my envy was dead. I had slain the dragon. Or if this was Disney, I had engineered the demise of the villain without doing anything blatantly violent. Like shanking them for instance. You don’t see a lot of Disney villains getting shanked nowadays.

Victorious! My envy was gone!

Then, something happened to me that people hate in stories. I went backwards. I began to compare my career with other writers. I began to look on Amazon, not for books, but for other people’s rankings. Were their rankings better than mine?

Slowly, the envy demon slid back into my soul, like this was season thirteen of Supernatural and once again, either Sam or Dean was all secretly evil and stuff. I hated. I loathed. I envied.

They say a rising tide raises all ships, that the success of one writer nurtures the success of others. I didn’t care about that. I wanted to torpedo their ships, watch their decks sprout fire, and then laugh as the black water sucked ‘em down.

So yeah, no character arc for me.

Then I picked up Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One (Amazon ranking is 620 with over 4,000 reviews). I started listening to the audio book; Wil Wheaton does the narration, and man, that book is JOYFUL! Mr. Cline breaks the “rules” left and right: he has long pages of exposition, he doesn’t have an inciting incident for like fifty pages, and then he zaps the tension right when he could’ve put on the screws. So yeah, I can pick it apart, I can get envious, but do you know what?

The book won’t let me. Because there is JOY in the pages. He wrote the story he wanted the way he wanted; he throws in 80s references in his supposedly young adult novel that even I don’t get, and I was a teenager right smack dab in the frickin’ 80s. In the end, the book is so very wonderful. I don’t want it to end. My life is better, richer, because Ernest Cline wrote Ready Player One.

Where does this leave my envy? In tatters. Yes, I can envy him and his success, but that doesn’t feel right because though I want to hate him, I can’t. I can only celebrate his story.

Loving Ernest Cline’s book to loving my own stuff might seem like a big leap, but it’s not.

The wonder of being an author is that I get to write books I love. I get to choose the kinds of characters I like, put in the story twists that always shock me, and have tears, lots of tears and emotion.

This is the reality of being human versus being a character in a story. Being human means I will always cycle around to envy; I’m just built that way. However, getting unstuck from envy, or despair, or resentment, or any of the other emotions gets easier the more I write and the more I do all that authorly stuff I need to do to be successful.

The morass of self-pity gets shallower each time I find myself trudging through the well-trudged mud.

Like playing a video game. That Cyberdemon from Doom was hard to kill the first time, and even the second, and even third, but the more I played, the easier it got.

Ready Player One.

On Productivity

By Mark Stevens

I did the math so you don’t have to.

25 + 38 + 18 + 52 = 133.

???????????????????????????????Left to right—Sue Grafton, Charlaine Harris, Sara Paretsky, J.A. Jance.

They are on the panel, dubbed “A Conversation Among Authors.”

It should be called “A Conversation Among Crank Monsters.”

I mean, holy cow that’s a lot of books represented up there and the 133 doesn’t include short stories, non-fiction and other books and anthologies the four have helped edit.

I’m at Bouchercon in Long Beach at the Convention Center. It’s 3 p.m. on Friday afternoon (Nov. 14) and the huge room is filling up well before the start time. The room buzzes with a rock concert vibe. Bouchercon has a special energy (this was my first) in part because the whole place is teeming with both writers and readers.

???????????????????????????????So at the panel, the fan fest flavor is in full effect. The room takes a few minutes to settle down. People are standing to take pictures as this quartet of mystery masters take their seats on the panel and start taking questions from moderator Clare Toohey.

As a writer in the crowd, I wonder:

Is it all about volume?

I know the answer:

Of course not.

The quality has to be there, too. Right?

In order to ride up escalator into the echelon of dependable writers with large audiences and sizable contracts, the quality has to be there also.

Right?

I’m going to come out and say that none of these four are exactly my cup of mystery or suspense prose. I tend to like my stories darker than Grafton and Jance produce (from what I know, at least) and Harris (most famous for all the paranormal themes that ended up in the True Blood television series.). I have read—and liked—a few of the Paretsky novels featuring V.I. Warshawski.

But even the least productive of these four has written 18 novels! That’s a mountain of words and writing experience. They are certainly testament to the number one tip you here for up-and-coming writers: keep writing.

More writing is more practice. Practice makes you better. Etc.

If Grafton pulled up stakes after A is for Alibi was first published in 1982, would she be here?

I think we know the answer.

J.A. Jance? What a career. Prolific and clearly imaginative—she juggles a multitude of series and even a quick glance through her works and you think, what would it take to keep up that kind of sheer productivity and storytelling energy for the course of 52 books?

Jance didn’t even get published until she was 41, if my math is accurate. She was born in 1944 and didn’t get published until 1985, according to Wikipedia.

So maybe it’s quality and productivity. Readers (the audience) clearly enjoy having a whole shelf full of books to explore once they latch onto a writer.

So as the hour-long panel drew to a close, the moderator gave audience members a chance to pose a few questions. One asked: “what would you do differently?”

Well, what would you do differently if you were a rock star mystery writer who could sign books all day and still not sign enough to keep the fans happy?

I loved the answer given by Charlaine Harris: “Take more risks.”

Yeah, that’s it. Keep writing and take more risks.

As good a recipe as any I can conjure up.

Kudos to the four writers for long and healthy writing careers: even if it’s not your precise shade of darkness, an inspiration for sure.

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

Mark StevensMark Stevens is the monthly programs coordinator for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan.

Book three in the series, Trapline, was published by Midnight Ink in November 2014

Just Right?

By Pamela Nowak

So what is it that makes a writing group just right?

As a current member of four different writers’ organizations and a former member of others, I’ve discovered each has its unique flavor and that I get something different from each one of them.

One of the groups I belong to provides broad industry support. It is a large organization, genre-specific, national in scope, and focuses primarily on the business of writing. Development of craft and marketing tools are offered as well. There is a monthly publication for members, multiple on-line loops/list-serves targeted to specific information sharing, and local chapters. A national conference is held annually but it is costly and so many people attend it that it feels impersonal. It is what I think of as my professional organization. But it is not a writing family.

I joined another group at the suggestion of a writer friend. This is a smaller group, regional in nature, also with an annual conference. I am a member but have little involvement in the group.

Another of my groups exists to promote women writers. It is small, represents multiple genres in both fiction and non-fiction, and has traditionally focused on member networking. There is an annual conference, a loop/list-serve, a Facebook page, and opportunities for promotion in an annual catalog of publications. I’ve made some good friends among the membership and make efforts to support fellow members but I often don’t feel a daily connection to the group.

Nor do I with the various list-serves/loops that I belong to. They assist me in gathering knowledge about particular topics and connect me to others who as seeking the same information, but they are not nurturing and I know almost none of the other “members” personally.

In RMFW, however, I have a completely different bond. In my early years of membership, I relied on this group to guide my craft development. I found educational opportunities abundant and critique groups invaluable. Classes, newsletters, conferences all allowed me to grow as a writer. Early on, this was the organization that I most identified with. Friendships grew within critique groups, then with those I met at conference, and I have discovered some of my closest friendships within RMFW. Once I began volunteering, I discovered an even deeper link to the group and fellow members. For me, RMFW is a family.

But there must be something that makes each one of these groups different–something which makes one appeal more than another.

Logically, a group that represents a single genre or gender group or region should be more of a family. A small group should have a closer membership than a larger group. But that’s not necessarily the case. Each group has its own character and each of us looks for something special within a group. Some of us may love the genre-association of a large national group or the social-focus of a networking group or a gender-based organization. Fellow members of the same groups I belong to may feel very differently about them. I have friends who claim one or another of them as their “family” while I do not.

So, I guess that means there really is no answer to my question.

A writing group is just right when it’s just right.

Here’s hoping each and every one of you has found the right group!

Different Voices Create a Beautiful Blog

By Patricia Stoltey

I feel like someone pulled me through a knothole backwards.

I took a little time off last week and went to visit family in Illinois. And I went unplugged for five days. The five days was great. Now I’m suffering the consequences.

My To Do list is so long I’m as jumpy as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. I wake up in the middle of the night, thinking of something I forgot to add to the list.

Because I was out of town, the young lady who helps me keep the house from looking like a total disaster couldn’t come, so when my critique group met at my house last night, they had to wade through the clutter and pretend not to notice the dust.

Thank goodness they had no reason to look in my refrigerator or freezer. The ice cream has whiskers and there are unidentified things in containers and plastic bags that might have developed teeth and claws.

I’ve already read all that stuff from the time management gurus. They might as well try to teach me how to milk ducks.

Okay, so those colorful little phrases about knotholes, cats, whiskers, and ducks are not mine. They were swiped from my paternal grandmother who had a fun way of describing her world. That’s her voice, not mine.

That’s where I’m at today. Stealing words from my grandmother because we should have had a guest blogger in this slot.

Instead, you have me.

And that leads me to the point of this whole post.

The Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers blog has a team of regular contributors, each with his or her own point of view and unique voice. We also leave dates open each month so we can host RMFW members who want to make a guest appearance to talk about a pet topic, promote a new book, or share writing life experiences. It’s another way we can introduce members to each other (and to the world) between conferences and workshops. That variety of voices blends in a beautiful chorus that describes our organization and our writing lives better than any one writer could.

Starting in January 2015, we’ll have quite a few of those guest spots to fill (two in January and more in February and beyond). If you’d like to be a guest, contact me at patriciastoltey (at) yahoo.com or Julie Kazimer at jkazimer (at) msn.com.

Plan ahead, because we try to fill the calendar a month or two in advance.

You don’t want us feeling like that long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs, do you?

Free Your Writing Soul, and Write Better as a Result

By Tina Ann Forkner

My debut novel released in 2008 from a legacy publisher. Sounds like a dream come true, doesn’t it? And it was, for a while. When my next novel came out in 2009, it looked to some people like I was on the publishing journey every aspiring writer wanted. When 2010 came and went and I didn’t have a contract, I didn’t worry too much. I was tired, and besides, plenty of writers have gone a few years between books and it didn’t hurt their careers. Maybe 2011 would be my year, but that year came and went too.

Forkner_Waking Up Joy2012 and 2013 were years of several near misses, a few promising projects that fell through before a contract could ever be signed, and several all-out rejections. And now here we are in 2014 and Waking Up Joy has finally released. Yes, that’s five years from my last book, people. Five. So why did it take so long?

The answer is complex, but soon after my second novel was published, the book world was doing somersaults in the midst of huge economic and technological change. Somewhere in the middle of all the publishing craziness when my early novels were releasing, I lost sight of what mattered most. With publishers’ budgets shrinking, I needed to work harder to let people know about my books and it was no longer about writing.

All the pressure made me feel as if blog posts, tweets, and status updates were the keys to selling my books, and I didn’t like it. I felt as if I were toting a box of my books around on my back hollering to anyone who might be listening, “Here, buy my book! PLEASE!” I felt pathetic. I felt fake. I felt like a fraud, but I did it because a lot of people had invested time in my book. I wanted to be a good author, but when multi-published authors like myself were no longer guaranteed publishing contracts, I felt discarded and hurt by the industry. Not knowing when publication would come again, I asked myself why I was still busting my backside for no pay while I had bills to pay and my family stood outside my office door asking if I could come out and play.

I wanted to play again, so I decided to stop taking the pursuit of publication so personally, and I slowed down. Fortunately, I had a great agent who believed in the book I was writing and I knew he would continue to shop my proposals. In the meantime, I had three beautiful kids I’d shown off at both of my book launch parties who were growing up faster than the book industry was changing, and I decided to focus on what meant the most to me. I wrote, of course, but I did so at my own pace. I kept a half-hearted online presence, just in case I ever got published again, but overall, I laid low. Let me tell you, scaling back for a while was the best decision I ever made.

Slowing down might sound like a career killer to some writers, and sometimes I wondered if it would be, but I was willing to risk it for my own sanity, and for my family. It’s not as if I didn’t write during the breaks I took (I took more than one). I did, but on the days I opened my manuscript to revise and fine tune my story, I wrote slower and better. Sometimes, I didn’t write novels at all, and those were the times I gave to my family, to myself, and to my soul. I also went back to work, which I highly recommend for all writers. It’s good to get away from your desk to be around human beings, and I don’t have to tell any of you, there’s nothing like getting paid.

So, if you’re reading this and you know for a fact you don’t need a break, then that’s great. We are all on a different mile of this writing journey. But if you think you’re burning out and publication has become more important than the beautiful act of writing, or worse, more important than your personal well-being, then you might consider scaling back. Personally, it has worked for me.

It’s funny how when I slowed down and focused on the act of writing instead of on the frenzy of publication, the writing flow came back. Now that I’m releasing a new book, I’m back in the race, so to speak, but this time it’s not really a race, and I’m ready.

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

Tina Ann ForknerTina Ann Forkner is a Women’s Fiction writer and the author of the new novel Waking Up Joy from Tule Publishing Group. She is also the author of Rose House and Ruby Among Us from Random House. Tina’s new book is set in Oklahoma where she was raised, but she makes her home in Cheyenne, Wyoming where she is a substitute teacher and lives with her husband, three teenagers, and two spoiled dogs.

Learn more about Tina and her novels at her website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

The Easy Button

By Terri Benson

Benson_Unsinkable finalMy day job includes coaching start-up businesses at a Business Incubator, and as a writer, I counsel people who want to write. Recently one of my clients opened the meeting with “I’ve started on a book. What I need is advice on how to find an editor who will give me a big enough advance that I can work full time on finishing the book.”

I so badly wanted to hand him that big red button that says “EASY” on it and have him give it a whack. You know, the one we hit to find the greatest story ever written, most savvy agent, or big publishing house editor who is floored by our writing. The one that ensures we have a huge marketing machine selling the heck out of our books, royalty checks pouring in, and a personal assistant who schedules our blog tours, book signings, workshop presentations, and makes sure we have time for a mani/pedi.

I got news for you, and for him. There ain’t no easy button.

We all know this, of course. But it doesn’t stop us from wishing we could just write, and have the rest of the icky work done by someone else. Not going to happen, folks.

Instead of wasting your time wishing away the unfun stuff, embrace it (this would sound so much better coming from an inspirational speaker). Because we have to write, it’s in our blood. If we want to publish (assuming most of us do), we have to finish our work and get it into the hands of someone who can make that happen. If it’s not a traditional publisher or Indie publisher, it’s us/our hands. Never before has the concept of “DIY Publishing” been so open. It’s not seen as “vanity” anymore. Big, well-known writers are self-publishing, and unknown writers are making some substantial royalty checks doing it.

So, in the absence of an easy button, here’s the scoop:

  1.  Write a great book (good isn’t good enough); use contests, critique groups and beta readers to get feedback on your writing – and listen to what they say!
  2. As you are writing (not after the fact), put together a marketing plan – know who will read your book, where it would go in a store, the cover it needs; write a great back cover blurb; brainstorm writers/reviewers who could review for you.
  3.  Set a timeline for finishing the book, edits, having it read by critique groups and/or beta readers and/or professional editors; have all the details covered BEFORE the book is ready to publish, not once you think it is.
  4.  Get a cover done – check out the local talent; you don’t have to pay huge fees to get a great cover (don’t do it yourself unless you really can).
  5.  For traditional publishing or an agent, list your top 10 choices, and stalk the heck out of them – follow them on twitter, subscribe to their newsletters/blogs/websites, get your submission in PERFECT condition, read every article you can on query letters, FOLLOW THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES, put on your big girl panties (or boxers, whatever) and send the sucker out. If you never send it, you can’t blame anyone but yourself for never being published. Be ready for the rejection letters and read every word they send you, because you can learn from them. Writers are so close to what we write that sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees; kill your darlings and make the book better – then do #5 all over again.
  6.  If you don’t feel the need to go traditional, and you’re positively sure your book is ready to see the light of day, get your manuscript correctly formatted and get it posted.
  7.  Then (better yet, while) doing #6, refer to #2, and market your book and yourself in every conceivable way possible. There are millions of books and writers out there – if you want to sell your book, you need to stand out.
  8. And do all this while you’re working on your next book. And attending conferences and workshops to hone your skill and learn new and different marketing ploys. And dealing with your other life – the one where you have to work a day (or night) job, that includes family, friends, mortgages, crashing computers, and your mother-in-law calling to mention she noticed your house wasn’t very clean and asking if you’ve been sick.

No, there’s no easy button. But hey, it’s not like you picked an easy job, either.

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

Terri Benson1As a life-long writer, Terri Benson has one published novel, award winning short stories, and over a hundred articles – many award winning – in local and regional magazines and on-line e-zines. She has been a member of RMFW and Western Slope events are hosted by her employer, she also belongs to RWA. Benson currently promotes Western Slope events for the RMFW Publicity Committee, pelts RMFW with articles for the newsletter, and randomly blogs.

Her historic romance, An Unsinkable Love, a truly Titanic love story, is available from Amazon.

“Do you as an Amazon director approve of this policy of sanctioning books?”

By Liesa Malik

The first post on this topic was published on August 22 (Hachette vs. Amazon–Do We All Lose?) As before…any opinions expressed here are mine as an individual and do not reflect an official stance by RMFW or its members . . .

As the battle between Hachette and Amazon continues over the pricing and distribution of ebooks, Authors United took a second swipe at the on-line giant by publicly asking individual Amazon board members to reconsider the sanctions imposed on Hachette authors.

In May, Hachette and Amazon broke away from the bargaining table and took their disagreements public. While stories about the conflict started showing up in the press, Amazon apparently took out its wrath on individual authors who happen to be represented by publishing giant, Hachette Book Group. These authors, many of whom are household names, had things like competitive pop-up ads cover their author pages, delayed shipping of books, and removal of buy buttons from some of their titles.

I sat down with author Douglas Preston (co-author of the best-selling Pendergast thriller series, as well as several fiction and non-fictions works of his own) to talk about what authors may want from Amazon.

Photo credit: Christine Preston

Photo credit: Christine Preston

“We’re not taking sides in this dispute, but simply asking Amazon not to target authors,” said Mr. Preston. “Basically, there is a lot on the web misrepresenting our position, so this is a good opportunity to reinforce what we’re trying to say.”

The quiet and thoughtful writer said he decided to take action when he noticed his sales drop by 60% to 70%. “I wrote a letter hoping twelve brave authors would sign it. I’ve received over one thousand responses.” That’s how Authors United was formed.

The letter, an open missive to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, asked the online retail giant to curtail the harmful practices that were hurting individual authors. The letter went viral.

In response, Amazon started Readers United, with more verbiage to debate Mr. Preston’s assertions.

Then, in the week of September 14-20, Authors United decided to take the additional step of contacting each board member of Amazon. In part, the new letter reads:

“No group of authors as diverse or prominent as this has ever come together before in support of a single cause . . .”

“We are literary novelists, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, and poets; thriller writers and debut and midlist authors. We are science fiction and travel writers; historians and newspaper reporters; textbook authors and biographers and mystery writers. We have written many of your children’s favorite stories.”

“Collectively, we have sold more than a billion books. Amazon’s tactics have caused us profound anguish and outrage.”

Mr. Preston said, “This feels like betrayal. Amazon wants authors to put up author pages, which is mutually beneficial, but we help them sell our books by listing other authors we like, reviewing other author’s books, and occasionally writing blogs for them about books we like to read. We’re happy to do this because everyone benefits.”

Then Mr. Preston’s voice took on an edge. “To add gratuitous insult, when you go to my page and pull up one of my books, a big pop-up window emerges suggesting I might enjoy another book (not by a Hachette author) at a better price.”

Mr. Preston said that he’s always had warm feelings for Amazon, and is himself, a Prime Member of the on-line store. But with this conflict his feelings may be undergoing change. “They (Amazon) shouldn’t block sales or inconvenience customers. I can’t get my own book in less than a few weeks.”

Was the second letter effective? That remains to be seen, but last weekend (September 20th) an annual secret soiree held in New Mexico for big name authors and hosted by Amazon was missing some invitations—significantly, invitations to Hachette authors or those who have publicly shown support for Authors United.

I asked Mr. Preston in August if he could see a happy ending to the dispute. “What I hope,” said Mr. Preston, “is that we can create a healthy eco-system in publishing for Amazon, for Hachette, for authors to be able to support themselves and feed their families.

Side Note: Attempts to contact representatives for either Amazon or Hachette have been met with refusal and reference to public relations bulletins. While I will keep an eye on this situation, this ends my entries for the RMFW blog for a while.

Tips for Conference Goers, Especially First Timers — Part II

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

Liesa Malik

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

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

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

Pamela Nowak

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

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

Katriena Knights

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

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

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

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

Jeanne Stein

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

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

Tips for Conference Goers, Especially First Timers — Part I

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

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

Kerry Schafer

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

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

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

Kevin Paul Tracy

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

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

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

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

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

Robin D. Owens

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

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

3. Stop when you get overwhelmed.

Susan Spann

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

Jeffe Kennedy

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

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

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

By Carol Berg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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