Writer’s Idol

Ellen Smith, Cassiel Knight, and Peter Senftleben. Photo by Mark Stevens for RMFW. Used with permission.
J. Ellen Smith, Cassiel Knight, and Peter Senftleben.
Photo by Mark Stevens for RMFW. Used with permission.

My husband loves horror movies. I’m not sure why, but if I had to guess, I’d say it has something to do with the anticipation and the adrenaline, that delicious feeling of knowing something is about to happen, but having no idea exactly when it will come or how.

I don’t like horror movies, but I do understand the allure of that state of heightened awareness and tingly uncertainty. Maybe that’s why I submitted my pages to Writer’s Idol at the Colorado Gold conference.

Here’s how it works. You sit down in a conference room, nervously clutching two sweaty, printed pages from your manuscript. As three editors take their seats at the head table, the moderator (Angie Hodapp, in this case) works the room, accepting pages from the brave and foolhardy. She takes her stack back to the podium, where she shuffles them as she introduces the panel. She says she’ll read each excerpt aloud, and the editors will raise their hands when they reach a point where they would stop reading. She won’t stop until she hits the end of the two pages or all three hands are raised.

Your heart races. You think you might be sick.

The moderator clears her throat and begins reading:

The basement of Quigg Street brewery was haunted by a two-bit con artist named Nat Riley—at least, so claimed the Denver Ghost Walk pamphlet I’d stuffed in my bag at the start of the tour.

 

Gulp. That would be the first line of my manuscript, folks. I was first. First! At least it was over quickly. Although…not that quickly.

Our panel consisted of:

  • J. Ellen Smith, publisher at Champagne Book Group
  • Cassiel Knight, senior editor at Champagne Book Group
  • Peter Senftleben, associate editor at Kensington Books

I watched them like a hawk while my excerpt was being read. Who needs horror movies when you can sit in a room and watch an editor’s face as they listen to your manuscript being read aloud? I’m not gonna lie. It was terrifying. Also? Editors have really great poker faces.

In the end, they all made it through my two pages, and the feedback wasn’t as painful as I thought it would be. Okay, so they did use the word “overwritten,” but I took comfort that it was preceded by “maybe a little.” And yes, they did say that my protagonist wasn’t apparent enough in the excerpt, but they tempered by adding that they liked the voice. But even when the comments stung, they were incredibly useful. I left the panel knowing exactly how to improve my opening scene and, better, excited about doing so.

Here’s the thing about Writer’s Idol: it wasn’t just about hearing the comments on my pages. I stayed all the way through to the bitter end, listening to every excerpt and internalizing all the feedback. Maybe I didn’t make a certain mistake in this novel, or on those particular pages, but that’s no guarantee I wouldn’t make it in the next one or I didn’t already make it in chapter three or chapter eighteen.

In the end, the advice came down to one basic thing: write the story. The story is the good bits. It’s not the sitting-around part, or the describing-the-characters part, or the gawking-at-the-scenery part. If you want to keep a reader’s attention, skip the boring throat-clearing small talk. Write the story.

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Colorado Gold Nuggets, Writing Workshop Insights, Part II

Jessica Renheim, Margaret Bail, Elizabeth Copps, and Susan Brower. Photo by Mark Stevens for RMFW. Used with permission.
Jessica Renheim, Margaret Bail, Elizabeth Copps, and Susan Brower.
Photo by Mark Stevens for RMFW. Used with permission.

I’m back with a few more gems from the RMFW Colorado Gold conference. You can read Part I, with brief notes from the craft workshops I attended, here. Today is all about the publishing industry.

  • From “Everything You Wanted to Know About Publishing (Now’s Your Time to Ask),” with Peter Senftleben: Self-published authors looking to break into traditional publishing really need to have sold around 20,000 copies. That being said, platform isn’t all that important for fiction writers just starting out. That can be built after a book is under contract. Also, even large publishers are looking to digital-only releases, especially with new authors, to build an audience before moving to print.
  • From “Editor/Agent Panel,” with Lucienne Diver, Kerri Buckley, Shannon Hassan, and Raelene Gorlinsky: Writing momentum expectations vary a lot by genre. Romance readers often expect three or more books per year from their authors. Fantasy and science fiction readers might be content with one book a year. From a career-management perspective, if you can’t write more than one book a year, you shouldn’t be writing in more than one genre.
  • From “Editor/Agent Panel,” with Margaret Bail, Elizabeth Copps, Susan Brower, and Jessica Renheim: Jessica Renheim, the only editor on this panel, said, “I work for a lot of great authors.” I wrote it down, because I thought that “for” was telling, as a lot of authors, especially early on, feel like they’re working for agents and editors. The agents pointed that they aren’t just there to negotiate contracts, either. Their job is to help authors with general career management.

I have two more sessions that I haven’t covered in these brief notes, but I think both of those are worthy of their own dedicated posts, so stay tuned!

Colorado Gold Nuggets: Writing Workshop Insights, Part I

Before the Colorado Gold conference, RMFW offered a series of tips to get the most out of the experience. One suggestion that stood out to me was, “Attend the workshops.”

Apparently, for many people, going to conferences is all about the networking and socializing. I get it. Okay, I don’t really get it, but I’m willing to accept that it’s true. Me, though? I’m all about the workshops. I’ve always been way happier in a classroom than in a bar, and that’s probably never going to change.

I know I can’t be the only one, because just about every session I attended last weekend was packed to the gills. All in all, I sat in on eleven different workshops and panels, plus the three keynote speeches and my one-on-one pitch coaching session.

That’s a lot to take in over the course of three days, and it wouldn’t be fair to the presenters to regurgitate it all here, but I thought it would be fun to share just one or two nuggets from each session. I split my time between workshops on craft and those on the publishing industry, so I’ll post half my tidbits today and the other half tomorrow.

Ready? Let’s start with the craft workshops!

  • From “It’s Not What You Say: Body Language for Writers,” with Cassiel Knight: Only 7% of communication is conveyed with words. The rest comes from vocal tone/inflection and nonverbal body language. Surprisingly, the feet are the most honest part of the body. They’re furthest from our awareness and, thus, the least likely to be consciously controlled.
  • From “Dying to Be Here: Techniques of Murder and Mayhem,” with Mario Acevedo and Harriet Hamilton: You’re way, way more likely to be killed in a love triangle than by a pimp or prostitute. Also, poisonings are not nearly as common as Dame Agatha would have you believe.
  • From “Brain Sex,” with Jax Daniels: Men think linearly, women think holistically. This means that men are more likely to be plagued with tunnel vision, while women are more likely to be distracted by superfluous information. Writers can use this to create conflict between characters.
  • From “Deep-six the Stereotypes: Writing Characters from Another Culture,” with Rudy Ch. Garcia and Mario Acevedo: Brown does not equal brown, so try to find beta readers who closely match the profiles of characters you’re trying to write. You wouldn’t ask a Norwegian to confirm your characterization of a German, so don’t expect a Mexican to understand your Puerto Rican character.
  • From “From Here to There: An Alternative to Outlining,” with Carol Berg: You can write a tight and well-plotted story without knowing everything that happens before you start writing. The key is starting each scene with fleshed-out characters, a firm point of view, a starting point (here), and an ending destination (there).
  • From “The Joy of Writing Great Sex,” with Andrea Catalano: To write a great sex scene, craft it as if you’re writing to someone you want to seduce. Avoid shocking readers and taking them out of the story by writing to the expectations of your genre.

I know these tips are sort of all over the place, but that’s very much what it’s like to go from workshop to workshop at a conference. It’s a lot of information at once, all filed away to be sorted and integrated later. And there’s still more! Tomorrow, I’ll be back with some teasers from the industry panels I attended.

In the meantime, let me know what piqued your interest most in the comments!

11 Twitter Tips For Writing Conferences

11 Twitter Tips For Writing ConferencesMy people are the ones whose smartphones live in their hands, not their pockets. My people know usernames better than real names. My people have an innate sense of what will fit into 140 characters. My people put jokes in hashtags, because, somehow, they’re funnier that way. My people are the Twitter people.

At the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers conference this past weekend, I met a lot of my people. As is often the case, I also met a lot more people who spoke that oh-so-familiar refrain: I just don’t get Twitter.

For those of you in the latter category, here’s the secret you don’t know. The people on Facebook are your mom and your best friend from high school and your great-aunt Mary and your break buddy from three jobs ago. The people on Twitter are your tribe.

Tweet: The people on FB are your mom & your best friend from high school. The people on Twitter are your tribe. http://ctt.ec/L1d9F+ @jhtatroeThe people on FB are your mom & your best friend from high school. The people on Twitter are your tribe.

If you’re not on Twitter already, a conference is actually a great time to start. It’s a ready-made community to ease you into the platform. Over the weekend, I jotted down some notes about how to get the most out of Twitter during a writing conference. Here are seven tips for conference attendees, and, as a bonus, four more for organizers and presenters.

Tips for Attendees

  1. Use the conference tag. Most conferences have one official hashtag to help attendees find each other and follow along. Put it at the end of every conference-related tweet you post, and search for it to find other conference-goers. (The hashtag for this year’s RMFW Colorado Gold conference was #RMFW2014.)
  2. Retweet and follow other attendees. As soon as you know the conference hashtag, start searching for it. Some users will begin using the tag early as they plan and prepare for the actual event. That’s a great time to begin following your fellow attendees and getting to know them, even before the conference starts. If someone posts something that resonates with you or that you think your followers will enjoy, retweet it. Continue following and retweeting other attendees once the conference gets underway. They will notice and appreciate it.
  3. Put your Twitter username on your badge. If it’s not on there already, write your Twitter username clearly on your badge. It will help others find and recognize you.
  4. Find the quotable quotes. When you’re in workshops or keynotes, listen for the speakers’ most direct, concise statements. If the quotes are funny or surprising, all the better. You’ll learn to recognize the gems that fit within the 140-character limit. Those are what you should be tweeting.
  5. Attribute speakers. When you quote someone, make sure you include their name or Twitter username in your quote. Give credit where credit is due.
  6. Tweet things that will be useful to people outside the conference. Twitter is great for getting to know people within a conference, but the majority of your followers probably aren’t fellow attendees. Try to keep your tweets interesting and informative, even for people who aren’t at the event with you. It’s better to share a nugget of wisdom from a great presenter than to tweet something like, “Super-awesome talk in the Cottonwood Room. Check it out!”
  7. Turn off your ringer. This is a given, right? No one wants to hear your key clicks or the notification bings from your retweets.

Tips for Organizers and Presenters

  1. Promote the conference hashtag. Put your conference hashtag on your website before the event. Put it on the front of your on-site booklets. Put it on a sign at registration. Don’t leave attendees confused about what hashtag to use. Help us help you promote.
  2. Print usernames on badges by default. Ask for Twitter info during registration and print usernames on badges. Twitter is the best tool out there right now for real-time discussion and interaction, so make it easy for us to use it!
  3. Offer your username at the start of presentations. When Twitter users share quotes from your workshops or speeches, they’re promoting you. Make sure you get the full benefit of that by providing your username up front. It’ll make it easier for you to look afterward to see what resonated with attendees. It’ll also make it easier for non-attendees to find out more about you.
  4. Assume smartphone users are engaged, not bored. Once upon a time, if people were fiddling with their phones during your speech, it meant they weren’t interested in what you were saying. That’s not true anymore. Sure, the person typing on their phone in the back row might be texting their friend about lunch, but it’s more likely they’re your biggest promoter. Don’t be offended when the phones come out during your presentation. At RMFW this weekend, I almost invariably saw the mad typing begin only after the most wonderful of lines.

Tweet: 11 Twitter Tips for Conference-Goers (and Organizers Too!) http://ctt.ec/a7_Z111 Twitter Tips for Conference-Goers (and Organizers Too!) from @jhtatroe

Have you ever tweeted a conference? Tell me about your experiences in the comments! Or, if you want, follow me on Twitter @jhtatroe.

True Confessions of an Introvert at a Writing Conference

True Confessions of an Introvert at a Writing ConferenceIf you happened to see a crazy woman driving an orange Subaru north on I-25 and bawling her eyes out yesterday, that was probably me.

The 2014 RMFW conference is over. I’ll be updating the blog every day this week to tell you about it, but it won’t be enough.

On my first day there, I sat down with a few writers in the hotel lobby and one of them looked at my “First Time Attendee” badge.

“Your head is going to explode,” she said. “You’re going to learn so much that your head will explode.”

After three days, my head, thankfully, remains intact, but I’m still trying to process the conference experience as a whole. If I had to describe it in one word, I’d say: overwhelming.

Tweet: If I had to describe the conference  in one word, I’d say: overwhelming. http://ctt.ec/vuhtd+If I had to describe the conference in one word, I’d say: overwhelming.

When I set foot in the Westin hotel on Friday, I’d met exactly one person there previously, and I’d spoken to her for a grand total of about ten minutes. I knew a few other attendees from Twitter but, for the most part, I was completely on my own. I’m a gamer who regularly attends gaming conventions, so I’m not unfamiliar with crowded conference center hallways filled with people I don’t know. I’m also not shy, so I’m perfectly okay with holding out my hand and introducing myself to whatever stranger is standing next to me.

But (and this is a big but), I’m also an introvert.

I can offer a smile and a handshake, but that gesture costs me something each time I do it. It’s an emotional drain, a pull of power from my battery, a draw from whatever internal well sustains me over the course of a day of human interaction.

Usually, when I go to a gaming convention—or any social event with a lot of strangers, really—I have a safety net. Not all interactions cost the same amount. There are some people I know so well that being with them doesn’t cost me anything at all. Spending time with them is like stopping at base in a game of tag. It’s a chance to feel safe while I catch my breath. It’s not that the running around part of tag isn’t fun. It’s just nice to know that going back to base is an option.

RMFW was organized in a way that made meeting people easy. Everyone I spoke to was friendly and kind. I’m glad I went. But I had no “base” at RMFW, and it was so much harder than I expected.

I’ve heard that some yoga practitioners find themselves crying spontaneously in the middle of a practice. No rhyme or reason to it, some internal wall just comes down and emotions flood out. Maybe that’s why I felt tears threatening as I walked out of the hotel yesterday afternoon. I wasn’t sad the conference was over or upset about the way it had gone. I simply had no walls left to hold anything in. The crying weren’t a good thing or a bad thing, it just was, and once it passed, I was completely emptied out.

I think it will be a few days before I’m filled up again, before I can “go forth and write.” That’s okay. Every internal resource I spent, I gained back in another form. In knowledge. In inspiration. In community. In Starwood Preferred Guest points.

Tweet: Every internal resource I spent, I gained back in another form. In knowledge. In inspiration. In community.Every internal resource I spent, I gained back in another form. In knowledge. In inspiration. In community.

Maybe more of the first three than that last one.

It was all worth it.

What To Pack For a Writers’ Conference

What To Pack For a Writing Conference

The real answer, of course, is I have no idea, but Colorado Gold starts tomorrow, so I’m figuring it out.

Here’s what’s in my bag:

  • Clothes, shoes, and toiletries. Dress code is business casual, so I have slacks and skirts, along with something to work out in, because I always have the best of intentions. I’m bringing heels and flats and running shoes. I have a whole suitcase to myself, so ALL THE SHOES.
  • Business cards. I love my new cards, which have both my personal info and my shop URL. If I’m going to be following Susan Spann’s Twitter challenge of meeting and remembering at least three new people a day, I’m going to need them.Writer Business Cards
  • A notebook and pens. I always have a notebook and pens, but these, specifically, are for note-taking during conference sessions.
  • The first chapter of my novel, printed out. I didn’t bring the whole novel, except on my laptop, but I thought it might be handy to have Chapter 1 in hard copy.
  • Books. Sure, it’s going to be a full weekend, but books.
  • My annotated schedule and session handouts. No wifi in the conference center and many of the sessions have digital-only handouts.
  • Healthy snacks. I started getting shipments from graze.com last week and they come in handy, single-serving packets, perfect for afternoon pick-me-ups.
  • Laptop. I’m kind of using it right now, but I’ll bring it.
  • Water bottle. Here in Colorado, we carry water bottles everywhere. It’s a thing.
  • Phone and earbuds. Always.

So…what have I forgotten? (Or just stay tuned next week for the inevitable “What I Wished I’d Packed For a Writers’ Conference.”)