My point of view, Tips, Writer's life, Writing

Level Thinking – Things I learned at When Words Collide

I’m fortunate to have attended all four When Words Collide. This is a genre writers conference, held each August in Calgary, Alberta. If you’re a writer, and there is any chance you’ll be in Calgary 2015 August 14 to 16, I urge you to sign up for the WWC newsletter  and consider attending.

Here are six things I didn’t know before I attended this year’s conference

Branding develops a consistent image that links us, as human beings, to our books

“A brand positions an author so that she is unique. Our brand must be a subset of our personal self that best relates to our fiction.” ~ Kate Larking,  fiction marketing expert

Brand wasn’t new to me. I developed a brand several years ago. Here’s my core message.

Strong women enjoy adventure, but everything comes at a price. The past overtakes everyone, but it doesn’t have to overwhelm everyone. Transformation comes through courage, strength, and honourable relationships; healing comes through reflection and honesty. There’s strength in adventure and adventure in strength. To those who fight for it, life has a flavor the protected never know.

The real eye-opener was realizing that I haven’t taken full advantage of that brand in what I include on my web site. I need far, far more links and material about adventurous women there. That’s going to guide my next web site renovation.

It’s no longer a question if to self-publish, but when

Knowing how to self-publish has become as essential a tool in our writers’ workbox as being able to create characters, plot, and use serial commas correctly. Everyone from first-time published writers, to writers multi-published by large, traditional houses said that self-publishing is now a part of every writer’s career path.

Word length no longer matters

This is directly tied to self-publishing. Word counts were artificial limits imposed by the needs of producing books of such and such a size and so many pages in order to fit printing presses. Because of self-publication and the multiplicity of devices now available, both the short story and the novella are making come-backs, as well as forms that we don’t have names for yet.

What we publish between books is as important as the books themselves

Appetite for content is insatiable. Readers are no longer content with even a book a year. They expect short stories, novellas, character interviews, and additional material to be published on the author’s web site. We have to feed the pipeline constantly.

Time lines for traditionally published books to be successful have become impossibly, unbelievably short

“Most new books from traditional publishers are released on Tuesdays. Because gathering on-line of statistics is instantaneous, authors now have 48 hours for their books to be successful. If sales numbers aren’t good by the end of Thursday, there won’t be a contract for a second book.” ~ Dr. Robert Runté, teacher and editor

“Book sales for traditional publishers are so much more front-loaded now. You hear about a book that interests you. A couple of weeks later you tell your mom about it. A couple of  months later she goes looking for a copy to give you for the holidays. She’s likely to discover that it’s no longer in stores. Bottom line, if you see a book you think you might like, buy it. Right then.” ~ Ian Alexander Martin, publisher

“Kindle tracks not only what books are sold, but what books readers read or don’t finish. A book’s sales may be high, but if the percentage actually read is low or the percentage not finished is high, that book is dead.” ~ Hayden Trenholm, writer, playwright, and managing editor

New resources

Next Tuesday, August 26, I continue Write the Novel with a look at secondary and tertiary plots. Hope to see you then.

Writer's life

Level Thinking: The Convention Agenda

Start with several hundred people, each of whom has a separate agenda. Subject many of them to security checks, crowded airplanes, bad food, and crossing through customs. Know as a certainty that some of them have come to the convention even though they are not feeling well, have had to have a pet put down, their car is in the shop after an accident, a family member was just diagnosed with a serious illness, or their agent told them on Friday that their publisher is dropping them.

Combine them in unfamiliar surroundings for three days, with more activities going on than they could do in three weeks. Add alcohol, hotel food, and freezing air conditioning. Tell them to have a good time.

Strangely enough, most people do.

Welcome to the world of writing conventions

Writing conventions come in two varieties

  • A fan convention is a mix of the people who do (writers, actors, producers, agents, book sellers), people who want to do (aspiring writers, actors, etc.) and people who enjoy (fans). Some of the program is about writing, and there are lots of other events.
  • A writing convention (often called a workshop) is a serious writing week/weekend. The focus is writing, writing, and more writing.

One kind is not better than the other, only different. It’s a good idea to check out which kind you’re going to ahead of time. Conventions have web sites and a quick stroll through there will give us what kinds of activities are scheduled.

Metabolism and Personality

I am a morning person? 7 AM breakfast meeting? Fine with me. Back-to-back morning workshops. I’m up for it. But by 3 PM, I start to fade and by 5 PM, that’s it. I’ve had it for the day. As much as I’d love to, I’m not going to the radio drama that starts at 10 PM.

Can you go for long stretches at top speed and collapse afterwards, or do you need some quiet, down time every hour or so? Does meeting new people give you an energy rush or absolutely terrify you? It’s important to answer questions like this before we arrive at the convention.

Whatever we’re like at home, we’ll be doubly so at a convention. Plus, at a convention, there is always the temptation to cram in as much as we can. After all, we’ve spent a lot of money to get here. We need to make it worthwhile. Right?

Wrong. The best way to enjoy a convention, and profit from it, is to stay as close to our normal rhythms as possible.

Try to get two real meals (not sandwiches and chips) every day and five hours of sleep a night. Reversing these don’t work; that is, trying for five meals and two hours of sleep will not keep us going.

Eat as though we’re in training, because we are. Sure, treat ourselves, whether it be a sticky dessert or a bit of alcohol, but also keep doing that vegetable-fruit-whole grain thing.

Hotels and convention centers are notoriously dry. Drink water. So have some coffee, tea, juice, etc., but remember water, water, water.

When we get our convention program, sit down and divide the program into three lists: absolutely must do, would really like to do, and everything else. Work our eating and sleeping schedule around the absolutely must do things, with a few really like to do things thrown in. Let everything else go. If we get to something else, fine; if we don’t, fine.

Aim for a few up-close and personal contacts. We might talk to someone sitting in an alcove or to the other six people at our banquet table. We don’t have to force ourselves to be gregarious when you aren’t.

Look for opportunities to spend time with individuals and small groups. Smile at someone eating alone and ask if we can join them. Check our the hospitality rooms. Be a volunteer. Volunteering gives us a chance to see and be seen behind the scenes.

We’re there to network, to get our names out for future reference. Give out business cards; collect all the business cards we can. When we get home, send everyone e-cards or e-mails, saying we enjoyed meeting them.

Bathrooms and hero worship

Give the gal (or guy) a break. Just because I’ve spotted my absolutely favorite author of all times, or the agent I would die, just die, to have as my very own, I will not accost them in the bathroom, or the elevator, or break into the dinner conversation they are having with a publisher, or invite myself along to the private dinner they are having with friends.

But I will take note of  what they’re wearing, so I can spot them later on. When they’re not otherwise engaged, I’ll go up and introduce myself. Really. To anyone. If it’s done politely, it’s okay.

I once introduced myself to a writer who had just been given a major award. I totally blanked on the name of her latest book, which I admitted that to her. She winked and said, “I can’t remember the names of my books, either.” Then we had a lovely conversation.

Strut our stuff

We are on display. Yes, us, whether we’re pre-published, or have one book out, or are working on book twenty. People will remember us.

A few conventions have a dress code. Most don’t. Wear nice casual or nice dressy, depending on the tone of the convention. Jeans and sweatshirts are out, but also dress to be comfortable. It’s part of that being in training thing. If we are great-looking, but uncomfortable, by the end of the day, we’ll be in a terrible mood.

Smile. A few hours of volunteering to help at the convention will not only endear you to the convention organizers, but you’ll also have a great time. Smile. Say nice things about other writers. Smile. Well, you should have the idea by now.

Dealing with rejection: The free world does not hang in the balance. You are only writing a book. ~Sue Grafton, mystery writer.

My paraphrase about conventions on what Ms. Grafton said is, “It’s only one convention.” If this turns out to be the worst convention you’ve ever attended in your entire life, take a deep breath, cry if it helps, and keep going. There will be another convention soon. If it’s been the best convention you’ve ever attended, celebrate, and don’t forget to write an e-mail to the organizers telling them that when you get home.

For mystery writers or fans, here’s a list of the conventions coming up in 2014. Same after the location means it’s held in the same place each year; moves means the convention location changes each year. Some conventions remain in the same state, but change cities in that state.

This isn’t a mystery convention, but it has an extra-special place in my heart. Story Circle Network’s Stories From the Heart Convention, Austin, Texas (same, happens every two years), will be held April 11 to 13. This gathering is devoted to women’s journaling, memoirs, family histories, life writing, and so on. SCN is  for Women with Stories to Tell.

At this same spot, next Tuesday, March 4, I begin a series of four Writing the Novel blogs on character development. Hope to see you here.