The Conference Mystique Unveiled
There’s a warm spot in my heart for writing conferences. As a result of a ten-minute manuscript consult with an editor at the San Diego State University Writers Conference in 2010, I sold my first novel. Since then I’ve attended more writers’ conferences than I can count—Bouchercon, Thrillerfest, Left Coast Crime, Malice Domestic, Crime Bake, RWA, Fire & Ice, and the biennial California Crime Writers Conference.
I’ve travelled to new cities to meet mystery fans, and filled notebooks with tips on writing, marketing, publishing, and character development from seasoned panelists and speakers. I’ve bonded with my “conference buddy” and made dozens of writing friends from all over the world. My adventures provided me with an arsenal of information on how to “work” a conference, and taught me a few lessons along the way.
A lot of writers, especially newcomers, ask me how to get on a panel. There are no guarantees (unless you’re the hot-selling author of the day) but in my experience registering early is a good start to open a path to a seat on the stage. Why? Program planning begins anywhere from three months to a year before the conference date, and in most cases the majority of panelists are chosen from the registrant list. Why risk being the last to the party by signing up late?
Fan conferences like Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime attract influencers and early adopters. If you have a recent or upcoming book release, add a fan conference to your marketing plan and register early. Check off “yes” on the “Would you be on a panel?” question and—here’s Secret Tip #1--offer a panel idea in the Comments box, an idea unique to your expertise or fun for the audience. Rumor has it that programming people like getting new panel ideas. Fans love to be entertained. Writers like to showcase their new work. Triple-win.
Opinions vary on the moderator vs. panelist issue. Personally, I like to moderate. It introduces me to authors I haven’t read before, brands me to the audience, and creates panel camaraderie that often lasts beyond conference. There is an art to moderating—you should be comfortable being onstage with a microphone, be willing to prepare in advance by reading a work by each panelist, and have your list of questions ready. If you’re curious and gregarious, moderating can be a blast. Secret Tip #2--Programmers are always looking for moderators.
I’m always jazzed if I come home with a great writing tip I didn’t know before but, for most authors, conferences are for networking and image building. Be approachable. Dress to establish an image you want remembered. Don’t be afraid to be bold. Take a cue from Kelli Stanley (fedoras), Tammy Kaehler (racing car gear), Diane Vallere (fashion and costumes), Ellen Byron (Mardi Gras colors) and wear something that brands you to your books.
If dressing up isn’t your thing, give away tchotchkes connected to your writing platform. Bookmarks get lost in the sea of glossies at the swag table, but a pen, small mirror, rubber duck, spatula, bandage case, key chain, or ??? with your name and book or series title on it will travel far and make a lasting impression.
Most of all, conferences are for networking, getting away, and fun. Look for familiar faces in the lobby and at the bar, stop by the book signing tables, go to the publisher parties. Mingle, laugh, hand out your business card. Approach an agent, talk to editors and publishers, get to know your fellow authors. Show your support at the new author breakfasts and the go-rounds. Who knows? A conversation with the person seated next to you at a panel, at your luncheon or banquet table, or in the lobby may start a friendship that lasts your entire writing career. It happened to me.
Rochelle Staab, author of the Mind for Murder Mystery series, can be contacted via her website: www.rochellestaab.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter.
I probably won’t say anything here you haven’t heard before, but sometimes it’s good to hear the pep talk again, especially if you’re feeling discouraged.
I am, indeed, very goal-oriented. Even when I’m reading I always look ahead to see when the next chapter’s coming up. Earlier in my career I used to count pages when I wrote (not words as it was mostly screenplay writing then). But now that I’m focusing on prose, I still don’t specifically count pages or words. That said, I do like to see progress in terms of page count.
I’ve always had goals when it came to writing. Sometimes conscious, sometimes under the surface. But there nonetheless. I might not always achieve those goals, or not achieve them in the timetable I’d set, but it still helps to have specific goals, so you know how and where to focus your energies.
Of course, one goal is always to write the best thing I can from all aspects of the writing. But that’s a given, so leaving the writing itself aside, the obvious early goals were to get recognition and get paid. I sent out a lot of stuff and got a lot of rejections. That created a lot of angst. I used to comfort myself with aphorisms about writing and rejection. Things like “Literature is an occupation in which you have to keep proving your talent to people who have none,” from Jules Renard.
Focus your energies. If you’re writing short stories, what magazines or anthologies are you aiming for? Read the publications you want to get into and write for those markets. What are their requirements? For example, what does Ellery Queen like? You need to fit their needs ’cause they’re sure not going to cater to you. Even if you get rejected, the experience of writing for a specific market will help you hone your writing skills. Do your research and carefully consider whether what you’re writing is appropriate for the market you plan to submit to. And if you do get rejected, submit that story somewhere else. The important thing is to get exposure for your writing. Everything builds on everything. With each publishing success you learn something new that you can apply to the next writing project.
If working on novels, do you want an agent, will you be happy as a mid-lister at one of the major publishers – because let’s face it, there’s few Dan Browns or Gillian Flynns. Or do you want to go for a small press or even the autonomy of self-publishing? Also, you might want to win or at least be nominated for certain awards or shoot for a certain amount of money (don’t hold your breath on that one) as additional goals. I’m not trying to shoot down anyone’s dreams, just being realistic, which is something we need to be. It’s okay to shoot for the moon, but realize there’s very few people who hit that goal the first time out, or even ever. Enjoy hitting the tree tops or mountain tops.
My friend Scott Adlerberg recently wrote a piece on whether or not agents are necessary today. You might want to check that out ( http://www.mwany.org/2016/04/how-hard-should-you-try-to-get-an-agent/ ). You might find that you want an agent, but you also might find that maybe you don’t.
The first thing I got paid for was a piece about John Lennon on the one-year anniversary of his death. It’s ironic that that would be my first paid writing because I’ve always been an unreconstructed Beatles fan. And in a different world it would have been great to have my first paid writing be for something on one of the Beatles. But in this world I wish it could have been for something other than about his death. So I was happy to get paid and sad that it was for a piece on that.
Over time, I’ve slowly been achieving my writing goals. Of course, I wanted to start at the top, selling to Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock, but reality was that I started small, selling to various smaller publications or even getting into some unpaid anthologies. But eventually I did reach those other goals – getting into the WGAw, Ellery Queen and one of the Akashic Noirs (St. Louis, coming out in August, 2016) and only just found out as I was writing this piece that Alfred Hitchcock has accepted a story. My first for them. Yea!
So, I figure if I live long enough I might achieve many of my goals and so might you. The key, as I’m sure you’ve heard before is don’t give up, be persistent, go back to the drawing board, don’t take criticism personally. Just go for it!
Learn More about Paul's Work or buy Vortex or his award winning novel, White Heat. Amazon
Working a weekday grind doesn’t render writing a novel impossible. It may slow it down and encourage superhuman juggling skills, but it is doable. The determined writer needs to carve out a schedule and stick to it. Determined writers are disciplined. Determined writers shrug off social gatherings and down time. Oh sure, slipping off the discipline wagon occurs and is allowed, but one learns quickly that the satisfaction of riding atop the wagon, and especially sitting in the driver’s seat, can be glorious.
I work weekdays, and a weekend now and then, at a job with little wiggle room to fit in the beloved writing. I run a legal non-profit that involves working with nearly 650 lawyers and judges. Sometimes, the day job is mentally grueling, and days dash by without a written word. But then there are the times where words overflow. So how to fit in writing time?
MURDER AND OTHER UNNATURAL DISASTERS
She swore she'd never turn into her P.I. father. But that was before she ran over the body.
"A smart caper with a heroine to match." - Kirkus Reviews
"...a delightful twisting maze complete with Hollywood film production, murder and mayhem, and sexy and quirky characters...." Kimberley Troutte, New York Times bestselling author