World Fantasy 2017 ~ Stealth Version

by Christina Lay

LoST Command Central

 

This November I had the interesting experience of attending the World Fantasy convention in San Antonio as a vendor. This is the first time I’ve attended WF, and my first time as a vendor, so there was a lot to learn before I even set foot in the convention hotel foyer. Luckily, a chair behind a table in the dealers’ room is an excellent vantage point. True, I missed 99.9% of the programming, but I did get to watch all 900 attendees walk by and was able to speak to quite a few.

Preparing to present the new series of Labyrinth of Souls novels from ShadowSpinners Press  at a large convention like WF was daunting and there were about a hundred and one details to figure out as I stumbled along. It would have been helpful to have attended WF before so I could have observed how things worked. For instance, I had no idea I could sign up the Labyrinth of Souls authors for a reading. Luckily, Stephen Vessels new all about such matters and arranged a reading for us on the fly. And I didn’t find out there was a hospitality suite serving free lunch until Elizabeth Engstrom stopped by and filled me in. I also didn’t know that just by virtue of having books at the convention I was signed up to participate in the big author signing. Good thing Nina Kiriki Hoffman was there to sit beside me and lure people close with her sweet smile and multi-colored pens. I also thought that sitting behind a table for eight hours a day, four days in a row wouldn’t be much different from the day job. Wrong! Someone has to be there just in case- heaven forbid- someone wants to buy a book. I was doubly blessed to have Matt Lowes and Pam Herber there to relieve me and make sure I didn’t pass out from a lack of hot coffee. So the first and most important lesson I learned is this: have friends who know stuff. I was extremely lucky in this respect. If you’re on own at WF or any big con, be sure to make friends (aka future minions) fast.

Me and Nina at the Author signing.

While all the introverts in the room shudder over the idea of mingling with a herd of strangers, I’ll point out that being a vendor was a very handy thing for me; introvert extraordinaire. I had a place to be and a reason for being there. Nothing like a wall of books to sit behind to 1. Give you an instant topic of conversation and 2. Make you look like have a clue. Although I could not totally avoid the dreaded “small talk with strangers awkward whirlpool of death”, I did find it much easier to interact with the people who stopped by and showed interest in the books.  I even got to pretend to be nonchalant when Terry Brooks came over and looked at our books because I was busy processing a payment! So much better than standing there with an idiotic grin and a bad case of brain freeze.

Naturally there were just enough last minute gremlin-in-the-works type issues to keep me anxious and hyperventilating up to and through the first day. For instance, as we rushed to get the fifth book published and shipped to San Antonio, the printer inexplicably rejected the cover file was  over and over. Eventually they shrugged and said, “yeah, it was our mistake, but we don’t know why.” Nice to know, but not helpful as you end up paying for expedited shipping without having seen a proof and then waiting at the table for the last-second, unseen books to arrive. Second most important lesson, never leave things to the last minute. The last minute being…say…three months before you think you actually need the things.

Other issues/ opportunities that might come up: using the Paypal app on your sure-to-be-surly-and-uncooperative new cell phone, getting a sales permit and forgetting to collect sales tax in Texas, the timing of shipping hundreds of books to a hotel at the same time as 900 other people, negotiating the underground labyrinthine world of a convention hotel, figuring out how to have your corporeal self and fifty books in two places at once, and so on.

So mine was a sort of behind the table, tucked in a corner view of World Fantasy. I got the impression that it was it a pretty awesome con for those attending as readers and writers. I met a lot of interesting folks, heard about some great speakers and panels, sold some books, was given a pile of books, received a lot of compliments for the look and concept of the series and generally had a good time. Was it worth the time, expense and serial headaches? Definitely. The third important thing I learned was that the World of Fantasy is in good shape, and I’m very proud to be a contributing part of it.

 

 

How Do I Pitch MY Genre? by Eric Witchey

Cover_BullsLabyrinth_Text_AllCentaur

How Do I Pitch My Genre? by Eric Witchey

After teaching a class, volunteering to help Timberline Review sell subscriptions, and signing my newly launched novel at this year’s Willamette Writer’s Conference, I was walking along a hallway minding my own business and wondering if I could get back to my room to take a nap before I had to face another room full of 100 people. A personable guy said hi and caught my attention. He was a volunteer gate keeper outside the pitch and critique room where aspirants bring their hearts and souls for fine tuning before presenting them in ten minute chunks to agents and editors looking for commodities from which to make a living. Making eye contact, I became aware of my surroundings and realized that the room was understaffed and several people were waiting for a chance to get what might be critical advice. So, I volunteered to take a few pitches and help hone them.

Mind you, there’s actually plenty of help for this kind of thing. The conference ran pitch practice sessions before the conference. They ran pitch practice sessions at the conference. Most of the people pitching had practiced with friends, family, and crit groups. And, as a last chance for final revision and preparation, the conference had a pitch practice room, into which I walked.

I sat down, and the kind people at the conference showed four nervous writers my way—one at a time. I had fifteen minutes to help each.

The four writers had been coached to provide half-page synoptic summaries of their books, and each showed up with pages that did that. The idea, as I understood it, was to give a sense of genre, of character, of content, and of market potential.

Well, that list seems pretty obvious to most people. After all, a science fiction adventure isn’t the same as a historical romance, right?

Wrong.

What was not so obvious is that these people were terrified and clinging to every bit of advice they had ever been given in the hope that it would touch the hearts of jaded professionals and give up a result that would change the writers’ lives and let them connect their hearts through their words to the world.

Can you say, “TERRIFIED?”

One had a fantasy romance. One had a historical novel. One had a non-fiction book on how to talk to kids about sex. One had a cryptobiography. All had decent concepts that could fly in the market. Mind you, I hadn’t read the stories themselves. I only had access to a few pages of pitches and the problems the writers had encountered in trying to sell their stories.

So, we got to work.

In three of the four cases, I realized I didn’t have much to add to the long-form pitches the writers had honed. However, I did have the communication consultant skills and personal experience of 25 years of freelance work. So, I gave all three exactly the same thing.

Emotion.

Twenty years ago, in 1996, I pitched my first novel—a novel that later sold in Poland, but that’s another story. While practicing with my good friend Gail McNally (no, not the actress), I was proud of what I had done and of the fact that I had memorized my pitches cold. Gail listened kindly—eyes closed, nodding, pinching her nose. When I was done, she said, “That might work if you put the emotion in.”

Huh? Obviously, she had missed something because I knew it was a brilliant pitch. After all, I had read about pitching. I had talked to other people. I had carefully crafted my pitch. I had a 30 second pitch, a three-minute pitch, a full page pitch, a five-page synoptic outline, and a full synoptic outline. I was freaking loaded for literary bear.

What the hell does emotion have to do with selling the product?

So, long story short, I lost the argument and rewrote it all with an emphasis on character emotional change.

My first time pitch nailed an editor and let me choose between several interested agents.

Why? I now know it was because stories are not about things or events. Stories are about how people change emotionally and psychologically. Things and events only facilitate the changes.

Yes…. The things and events have to be “interesting and unique,” but they are only truly interesting in that they are connected to emotional change.

So, I helped each one of my three fiction charges fashion a one- or two-line pitch that captured the three Cs:

Character, Conflict, and Change.

You could say it is really only two Cs because Character is really made up of an emotional/psychological state, and Change is really just the character as they appear after they change because of the conflict. So, really, it’s just Character, Conflict, and Character, but that’s a bit confusing and doesn’t really sound right in a culture that likes to think in threes.

Essentially, we put our heads together and came up with statements like:

Soul and psyche torn down to nothing by the murder of her family, outcast 1940’s gay homemaker Millicent Monroe faces insurgent Nazis in the Iowa farmlands and consequently discovers deep connection to the community, land, and country that persecuted her.

Okay, that’s not really one of them, but maybe I’ll write that book. We’ll see.

Anyway, three of the four walked away with a similar statement and some communication consulting advice about how to speak, how to make eye contact, when to pause, and how to manage the transition to their larger already prepared pitch.

One, however, didn’t. That one makes the other three all the more interesting. The fourth person had career as a sex education lecturer, consultant, and therapist. She had a values-neutral book about how to talk to kids about sex. Her problem was also emotion, but it wasn’t the emotion of the book and characters. Her problem was that every time she pitched the book, people’s “sex stuff” came up and interfered with their ability to see the product she offered. Her problem was that she needed to disarm her audience’s emotions in order to allow them to look at her work.

That was interesting, so we worked the same problem from the opposite direction and provided her with language that identified her platform and established a context in which the content created result for the readers who bought the book. We brainstormed keywords that would frame the conversation in terms of platform, product, and market. I also recommended that she add an additional agent I knew to her pitch list.

Results?

Over the following couple of days, one-by-one, each of the four sought me out to share their excitement and success. Each one hit—and not just once. They all got requests from every agent and editor they pitched. All of them.

Why?

Here’s the bit that isn’t as obvious. These writers had been prepared by professionals to walk in and deliver fairly lengthy pitches that made use of the time available—ten minutes. Those pitches might have done fine by themselves without my help. However, agents and editors don’t take pitches in order to hear the story that takes a book-length manuscript to tell. The take pitches to filter the masses through sieve in order to find the writers who control character and story. If a writer truly controls the craft of presenting character and story, then the writer can state character, core conflict, and change succinctly.

Conversely, if a writer can state character, core conflict, and change succinctly, it is likely that they control craft well enough to deliver story. When a writer succinctly states the emotional core of character, the conflict that changes them, and the new emotional makeup of the character, agents and editors hear much more than is stated. The result is that they sit up, quite literally, and start to ask questions that can only be answered by reading the manuscript. So, the pitch creates a conversation that leads to a request for pages.

In the unique case of the non-fiction writer, the emotionally charged material wasn’t the problem. The problem was to help people see the product rather than let their emotional response to product become the primary experience of their encounter. It is really a mirror image of the same problem.

But it’s different for different genres, right?

Nope. Genre doesn’t matter on the heart and story level. Never has. Never will. Genre is marketing category. Yes, you don’t pitch space opera to a commercial woman’s fiction editor. Don’t be entirely daft. However, genre isn’t story. Genre is only a taxonomic label for expectations concerning things and events. Sometimes, genre influences the mix of techniques used for telling a story, but genre has nothing to do with heart and soul and hopes and dreams. The story comes from the writer’s heart and seeks to touch the reader’s heart. Pitching is about letting a potential buyer know that the writer understands heart and controls story craft well enough to deliver emotion to the reader.

-End-

The Joy of Deadlines

by Curtis C. Chen

When ShadowSpinners approached me about writing a guest blog post, I readily agreed—then asked for a deadline before I even suggested a topic. Because I love deadlines! No, I’m not crazy. Let me explain… Continue reading

Knowing It All

By Christina Lay

Grownups say the darnedest things. I’ve heard a lot of doozies in my time, but the one I’m thinking of today came from a fellow writer and literally made my jaw drop.

I was at the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland, Oregon several years ago and ran into an acquaintance. I asked her if she’d attended any interesting workshops yet and she said, and I quote, “Oh, I’m beyond all that. I know everything there is to know about writing.”

I’ll pause for bit to let that sink that in.

17smart-dog

 

Flash forward to Willamette Writers this year. This is an awesome conference with a mind-bending array of quality instructors and a schedule to make any writer drool. I will admit to a very vague feeling of “been there, done that” when looking over the craft offerings. In years past, I’ve been a craft junkie, always choosing the “How to Write Snappy Dialogue” options over anything to do with the business side of writing. However, this year I was attending with a different agenda, or agendas, to be precise.

For the first time, gathering information to help me make the current project better was not my primary objective. Instead, I had several new identities.

1. A published author looking to market my books

2. A first time publisher looking into the technical side of the business

3. A member of the Wordcrafters in Eugene board looking to spy glean information on how to run a conference by observing the well-oiled machine that is WWC

4. A grizzled veteran looking to meet up and commiserate with pals in the bar, or Burgerville, as it happened to turn out.

Of course I also snuck off to a few craft sessions to feed my always-thirsting-for-literary perfection side.

As I juggled my multiple personalities, scribbled copious notes and tried to keep my head from exploding with all the information I was gathering, I thought about that acquaintance who’d decided she had nothing more to learn. Maybe she’s right. Maybe she had achieved her creative pinnacle and was satisfied with her level of competence. I suppose that is possible. On some planet I have yet to visit.

Personally, I can’t comprehend the idea of ceasing to grow in any aspect of my chosen career. While I’ve attended more workshops and retreats than is healthy for any size pocket book, I still come away with several morsels or tidbits that breathe new life into my approach to storytelling. In addition to new views on craft, I get organization ideas, tips on research, clues on delving deeper, or sometimes inspiration and consolation, the greatest gifts of all for a writer.

My point here isn’t to point and laugh at those who can’t see beyond the publication of The Book (okay maybe just a little) but rather to encourage everyone, no matter what their field of endeavor, to be wary of self-satisfaction. If you truly feel you’ve crammed all the craft you can manage into your skull, perhaps it’s time to start giving back. Take a look at how else you might evolve and contribute. I have friends who teach, host open mike sessions, welcome writing groups into their homes, sit on boards of writing organizations, lead retreats, start up publishing ventures – I admire these people more than I can say and am eternally grateful for writers who know their stuff and yet keep on growing.

I often question my own sanity when I’m juggling all these new projects and challenges, but I have to say I’m never, ever bored. I’m pushing my comfort levels and tentatively experimenting with becoming an adult who has something to offer beyond a competently crafted book.

And if you ever hear me say I know everything there is to know about writing, please dump a barrel of ice water over my head and point me back to this post.

Confessions of a Wannabe Writing Conference Groupie, By Cheryl Owen-Wilson

First confession—I’m pea green with envy, and live vicariously through writing friends who attend more conferences in one year than I’ve attended in my entire lifetime. Alas, I’m constrained by those evil twins known as time and money.

Second confession—I love people, especially those who write. They are my tribe. I know the general public perceives we writers as recluses; sitting in a dark, smoke-filled room, drink in one hand, our tortured soul in the other, bleeding words upon the page. Actually, now that I think about it—I was that person just yesterday.  But when I’m at a conference, I get to talk to real people, not just the one’s in my head.  It’s a nice change of pace for we non-introvert type, writers.

Third confession—I love playing dress-up. I was in heaven when I discovered, at some conferences I could dress all weekend as my favorite character, in the well-worn books sitting on my nightstand.  Just imagine my glee at not being looked at oddly when sporting a full on Steampunk costume, while a Wookie and I discussed the finer points of world building.

Fourth confession—I like free things and conferences have swag. From bookmarks, to clothe bags, to water bottles and candy. And best of all, at times you can even score free books signed by the authors.

Fifth confession—Let’s talk about those authors. I believe in the magic of absorbing good energy. So when I get to meet and soak up the fabulous juju of my favorite authors, I am filled to the brim and overflowing. Yes at these conferences, the people who are the movie stars in my life actually talk to me as an equal. They share their secrets and frustrations. As a result I leave revived and ready to conquer the next twenty thousand words head on.

Sixth confession—I’m not a marketing wiz, especially in the world of social media. I mean who knew tweeting was a marketing tool and not just the sound a bird makes. Marketing now takes up as much of an author’s time as the actual writing. Thus, I need all the short cuts I can learn from experts in the ever-evolving medium of social marketing.

Seventh confession—I don’t know everything there is to know about the craft of writing. Yes, I said it! I do however fear that the craft of writing is itself changing, at a rapid pace. Did you know the Global Language Monitor recently announced that the most used word of 2014 was not an actual word? It’s a heart emoji. Yes the short-cut symbol used in countless texts and messages as opposed to simply writing the words—I Love You. The second place winner was the symbol, #. I could go on and on, but I’ll stop there so I can plug the writing conference I’ll be attending next week. It’s a unique writing conference. How? The entire conference is dedicated solely to the craft of writing.

Check out their website and the award winning authors who will be in attendance. There’s still time to register- http://www.wordcraftersineugene.org

Final confession—This conference is being held in my home town and it will be populated by writers I’ve known since—well, since I first dared share a spooky story at a Ghostwriters Weekend Retreat. This retreat in its 25th year is also on the Wordcrafters website. Did I mention I love writing retreats also? Well perhaps I’ll save those confessions for another time.

Do you have confessions from attending writing conferences? Please do share and also where they are held and what unique qualities do they have?

Wordcrafters-postcard-for-web

The Joys and Perils of Writing Classes, Conferences, and Retreats

by Elizabeth Engstrom

Disclaimer: I have taught writing classes for more years than I care to claim, and am currently on the Board of Directors of Wordcrafters in Eugene. We hold writing classes, retreats, and conferences.

I love writing conferences, retreats, and classes. I love attending, I love teaching, I love networking. I love picking up that writing tip, that craft detail, that golden nugget that I never knew, or once knew but have forgotten. I love making new friends (introvert that I am) who are as socially inappropriate as I am, because being with a group of writers is where I can be comfortable being my weird self.

Susan Wiggs speaks at Wordcrafters 2014

Susan Wiggs speaks at Wordcrafters 2014

Before I was published for the first time, I became a member of a small “teacherless” writing group where we all taught each other and ourselves to write. When I was first published, I suddenly realized how little I knew, and went on a quest to find out more. I went to as many local, regional and national and international conferences that I could afford. When I became proficient enough and published well enough, I went to them because I was invited to be a presenter, but the best part was always sitting in the other sessions, taking notes, listening to those who had gone before, sucking up their wisdom and the droplets of truth that fell from their lips.

But there is an addiction lurking in there, at least for me. Staying in a hotel room in a new city, hanging in the restaurants and bars with my friends—old and new—sharing war stories of the publishing world, meeting people who could possibly further my career, finding new ways of promoting myself and my work… this is all great fun, but it does not put words on the page.

And really: Writers write.

Eventually, we must pause in this quest for writing knowledge, because truth be told, nothing will teach us to write like writing. And being edited by a professional editor. That is where the real learning takes place. Practice. If all we did was party with our friends, nothing would get written. We would very successfully avoid the empty page and think we were busy being writers.

And then, once published, there is a short window of time in which to promote that book. This also takes time away from the keyboard.

So over my long career of writing, editing, teaching, publishing, and helping give a leg up to those coming along behind me, I have formulated time-constraint advice for those within whom the fire of fiction burns:

  1. Go to as many local, regional, national, and international conferences as you can. Go to as many writing classes as you can, go on as many retreats as you can. Invest in this real-life education, which you will not get in a far more expensive MFA program. Go to some conventions, as they’re different and fun. Soak it up. Learn all you can. Have a concrete goal—written down—for every event you attend, and make sure you accomplish that goal.
  2. Stop after two years and put your butt in the chair and get some writing done.
  3. When your book comes out, set aside promotion time—six weeks, I say, and hit the road. Take advantage of every person you ever met at any of the conferences, workshops, retreats that you attended when you were learning (you got their email addresses, right?). You might revisit some of those conferences while you’re promoting, because promoting is a completely different skill set than writing. And again, you’ll learn a lot by talking with those who came before you.
  4. After your designated promotion time is up, go home, put your butt in your chair and write.
  5. As long as a book is in print, keep promoting yourself and your work, but go easy. This is no longer your main focus, and you can burn out your friends by talking about it. Most people don’t bombard you with the details of their working life. If you want to impress them, write another book.

My very first editor told me: “You take care of your writing and your career will take care of itself.” While there is much truth in that, it isn’t entirely my experience, as I care more for my career than anyone else does. But if I don’t take care of my writing, I don’t have a career at all.

So: Go. Learn. Enjoy. Network. Have fun.

And then go home and do the painful thing: Write your truth.

Writers Just Wanna Have Fun

By Cynthia Ray

Dorothy Parker quote

A writer died and was given the option of going to heaven or hell, and was shown each place. As the writer descended into the fiery pits of hell, she saw row upon row of writers chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they were repeatedly whipped with thorny lashes.

“Oh no,” said the writer. “Let me see heaven now.”

A few moments later, as she ascended into heaven, she saw rows of writers, chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they, too, were whipped with thorny lashes.

“Wait a minute,” said the writer. “This is just as bad as hell!”

“Oh no, it’s not,” replied an unseen voice. “Here, your work gets published.”

Aw, c’mon. Is writing really that bad?  YES. It is probably one of the most difficult things you will ever do.  Seriously, is writing that bad?  NO.  It is probably one of the most rewarding things you will ever do.

Obviously, we writers have a hard time telling heaven from hell.  An author friend of mine, Michael Maciel, says “One thing I’ve learned about writing is that you can’t wait until you’re in the mood. Writing is less about feeling and timing than it is about sheer force of will.”

Wait a minute. That doesn’t sound like much fun either. Force of will? We want to write. It’s what we were born for, so why do we have to FORCE ourselves to sit down in front of the computer and start tapping keys? Or, in the case of the Luddites among us, pick up pen and paper.

Writing a story is a lot like having a baby. The story gestates inside of you until it just has to come out. You look forward to cuddling that baby in your arms, but you sure as hell don’t look forward to enduring hours of painful contractions.

Writing this blog is like that for me. I dont worry about it until about two weeks before it is due; then  I begin to chew on topics, rejecting one after another, until there are one or two left that resonate with me. A few days before the deadline, I wake up on fire,  thinking “I have to write the blog, I have to write the blog. I have to write the blog.”  I pick a totally differnt topic and begin.

When I get halfway through, I dump the draft into the trash in disgust and start over.  Later, I am recovering that first draft from the trash and merging it with another idea. Reject. Re-write. Re-consider. And so it goes, until the 24 hour deadline looms over my head like a Kansas thundercloud.  Here is where my muse with the gun comes in.

Muse with a gun

At last, I press save and the freshly pressed blog is ready to post.   I feel a sense of elation. It’s done! Complete! Fini!  Or is it?

For me, setting a time to write everyday and sticking to it no matter what keeps me going. Like Michael says, you just sit down and write whether you feel like it or not.  It sets a pattern and provides a space in which it is easier to create. It might even turn out to be fun… you never know.  And it doesn’t have to be a lot of time. One of my writing heroes is a woman who wrote a novel during her lunch hours, and got it published.

When people ask us about writing, let’s say it’s easy.   Riiiiiiiiight.

Chainsaw

Cartoons printed with persmission from Jim Hines       http://www.jimchines.com/tag/comic/