Posts Tagged ‘writers conferences’

PPWC Session Wrap-up, Part 2

I always wonder if you can piecemeal PPWC. There’s always notes about what to do if you’re missing a meal (and if you’re at the conference for the whole weekend, why would you? It’s included in the price and the food is really good) which always makes me think maybe you could just come for, say, Saturday, but I don’t know if that’s an actual thing.

(I believe, if you’ve won the writing contest, you can come for just the banquet Saturday night, but I am also unsure about that.)

(I wonder about these things, but not enough to do any actual research.)

Let’s dive into the sessions from Saturday.

(I got up early and worked out before breakfast/conference, and later walked in on my sister talking to my mom on the phone. She was telling Mom about me working out like it was the strangest thing she’d ever seen.)

Eight Weeks to a Novel (Becky Clark)

Like Friday morning, Saturday morning ended up a bit themed, and in this case it was time/project management. This isn’t really an area where I am deficient, but it is a subject I like to talk about and see how other people do things. In this case, Becky spends a week making a massive outline/synopsis (which she sends out to betas to get feedback on plot and whatnot because it’s that complete) and then spends the next several weeks writing and editing. Some neat organizational ideas which I will probably try out.

Agile Project Management for Writers (David R. Slayton)

Ironically, the example he used was also an eight-week novel, which I found hilarious but probably no one else did, because normal people probably didn’t go to two time/project management sessions in a row. This method made my engineering side very happy, but from a basic standpoint was also very similar to other writing management processes I’ve seen before. I enjoyed it. I do need to get in touch with the presenter and ask some questions (mostly about throwaway things on the slides which caught my interest, or something he said, and not about the actual subject matter of the presentation).

Constructing the Great Action Scene (M.H. Boroson)

M.H. Boroson wrote the bestselling historical fantasy novel The Girl with Ghost Eyes, which I have not had the opportunity to read but understand is awesome. This panel was also pretty awesome. We talked about the basics of action scenes (which are not just fights), broke them down into their components, and went through examples so we could see the basics put together. My other favorite panel aside from Stant’s on Friday.

And then we had lunch, which was a massive roast beef sandwich. With a pickle. Kevin Hearne (Iron Druid series) was the keynote speaker.

Query 1-on-1

Sometime between the last time I went to PPWC (2012) and now, they’ve switched from your straight pitch session (where you would memorize a verbal pitch and get to pitch an agent/editor) to the query 1-on-1 format. You bring your query letter, agent/editor reads it and gives you feedback, and may ask for more materials if they’re interested. I met with Mike Braff, who is an acquisitions editor at Del Rey (at the very odd time of 2:24 PM). He asked some questions about the main character and said I should focus more on her character arc and the twist of the story in the query. He also said it wasn’t really his thing, alas, though I kind of suspected that there wouldn’t be enough explosions based on some of his recently edited books (The Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown, Sleeping Giants by Slyvain Neuvel) and my sister went to an editor panel earlier and later told me he’s pretty much only looking at scifi right now. So, in retrospect, I probably should have signed up for someone else.

Serious about Series (Kevin Hearne, Gregg Taylor, Carol Berg, Tess Gerritsen, Jennie Marts)

I’ve found that the panel sessions can sometimes be less helpful than the one or two presenter ones, and I think it’s because they’re not really planned out in advance. I mean, I assume, but I don’t know, but from what I understand the moderator has normally come up with questions in advance and then the panel answers them. I mostly learned about various authors’ planning processes, which is interesting, but not necessarily helpful.

Building Better Beginnings (Todd Fahnestock/Chris Mandeville)

This was a good panel! Chris and Todd focused a little bit on what your story needs at the beginning and how long you have to hook a reader/agent/editor, but we spent most of the time going over the beginnings of published books and looking at what worked and what didn’t, and also did an example where we took a bad beginning and made it better.

Dinner Saturday night is the awards banquet, which is supposed to be dressy but I had a wardrobe malfunction (speaking of which, has anyone had a piece of clothing that started smelling after you washed it for the first time?) and so was under-dressed. Tess Gerritsen was the keynote speaker (and I learned that Rizzoli and Iles is a book series, woo) and shared rather a lot of disturbing things, which is why, I guess, that I don’t write thrillers. I mean, she was awesome, but D:

Dessert was not as good as Friday night, alas.

My sister and I hit BarCon now that we’d done our Read & Critiques and Query 1-on-1s and no longer had anything to stress out about, but it turns out that we are actually terrible at networking aside from people we already know. And then I had a crisis of purpose (which, from talking to people since PPWC ended, seems to be common at writers’ conferences) and had to go to bed.

Sunday sometime next week! Also, I will have a guest post for you, probably on Tuesday. It is about ten degrees warmer than it is supposed to be, Squiders, and I think I shall go take a walk.

PPWC Session Wrap-up, Part 1

Good morning, Squiders. I’m back from PPWC, and now that I’ve gotten some sleep, I am vaguely functional again.

I’ve gone to PPWC before, and I’ve done conference write-ups after the fact for all of them, so I thought I’d do something different than just retread the same ground again and talk specifically about the sessions I attended throughout the weekend so those of you who haven’t been to a writers’ conference before can get an idea about the sort of things offered.

The sessions offered this year seemed to be mostly craft or marketing. There were less genre-specific sessions than I’ve seen in the past.

(Disclaimer: What’s offered will vary conference by conference, year by year, presenter by presenter. So you may find that your local conference works slightly differently.)

PPWC has 15 sessions over three days (6 on Friday, 6 on Saturday, 3 on Sunday), plus an optional add-on Thursday session that involves more in-depth workshops (I never get to go to Thursday because alas, responsibilities. Also it is an extra $90). There are also occasionally some extra add-ons within in the conference itself, such as this year’s Write Drunk, Edit Sober program.

So, let’s dive into Friday, shall we?

Unforgettable Characters (Carol Berg)

Friday morning, for some reason, I picked all character craft sessions. Carol Berg is a bestselling fantasy author, and this panel was well-presented and did an excellent job of breaking down what different level of characters need to do and what you, as an author, need to know about said characters. She also tied characterization into plot and talked some about how to actually introduce and use characters from a technical standpoint.

Using Setting to Reveal Character (Laura DiSilverio)

I also considered going to a panel called Finding Your Inner Extrovert about learning to communicate face to face about your book but my sister convinced me this one would be more beneficial. I’m not sure that’s true. Laura DiSilverio is a mystery writer whom I’ve taken mystery-specific classes with at previous PPWCs. Laura broke down the topic into two different subtopics–using setting to reveal things about characters based on their choices for their own environment and to reveal things about characters based on what they notice in an environment. Good information, little bogged down in audience participation (since some people didn’t seem to be following the topic so well).

Bringing Characters to Life on the Page (Stant Litore)

I know Stant from MileHiCon, so, hey, it was nice to see a familiar face. This session was excellent. Stant used a series of exercises to help explain how to add emotion into your story without being obvious about it and did a fantastic job of tying emotion to characterization. He had a lot of examples to show how this works. I was so impressed I went and bought his book, Write Characters. This was probably my favorite session of the whole conference.

And then we had lunch! I don’t remember what it was. Oh, salad.

Read and Critique with Carol Berg

So, after lunch, I had my first two pages read and critique, which they had in a room on the second floor. That was a bit harrowing because the elevators were slow and there were a lot of people going places at any point in time, and I hadn’t found the secret staircase yet. My sister and I were up til 2:30 the night before working on our first two pages (I cut out almost 1000 words from the very beginning of chapter one). So there were eight of us, Carol, and the moderator (who was timing how long each person had). In turn, everyone read their two pages out loud while Carol took notes, and then Carol would give us her feedback. She was very good about it–always started with what was good about the sample before going into the issues. (She told me later that the R&Cs make her nervous before it’s hard to think that fast.) I’m not sure, in the end, that it was that useful unless, of course, you’re on your final, polished pages and want to make sure they’re hook-y enough. The guy next to me had an awesome opening that I totally dug, though (and I told him so later, but that’s another time), and Carol was very nice.

(Oh, and she was actually very complimentary about my pages, and complimented my description, which if you guys have been around here for awhile, you know is a weak point of mine, so woot.)

Seducing the Reader: 4 Essential Elements of an Opening (Darynda Jones)

Darynda Jones was one of the keynote speakers, and she actually has 5 essential elements but never got around to changing the title of the class. Also, my Friday panels are very telling about what I’m feeling weak in craftwise lately. Darynda laid out the elements in a way that made sense, and she also provided examples, which I am always for. (I’m a kinetic learner.) She also recommended some writing books, most of which I have heard of before (and one of which I’ve read and own, but it’s probably been a decade since I read it, so maybe I should do so again).

Today’s Marketing for Yesterday’s Author (KL Cooper)

Marketing! I figured I should probably go to some marketing panels, but I think I only hit two all weekend. Ah, well, priorities and whatnot. I think my sister hit more and she doesn’t even have any books out, har har. I probably should have gone to the Putting Clever Twists on Common Tropes panel. A lot of basic marketing info, most of which I already knew, though she did offer specific services to use for some things, so that’s helpful, and she did mention a few things that I’d not heard before and will need to look into.

Friday night was dinner (excellent chicken for me, and chocolate pie for dessert) as well as the costumes, which we wore to dinner and then had a contest for afterwards. My Rainbow Brite costume was well received, though apparently people who were fans of Rainbow Brite still didn’t recognize my sister as the evil princess (her costume was really awesome in the end). Alas. We sat with Carol Berg, who, as I mentioned above, is a lovely person and I like her quite a bit. My table tried to nominate me for the contest but I threw one of my sister’s friends, dressed as Anne of Green Gables, under the bus instead and successfully lured most of the table with me. Oh, and the key note speaker for the meal (we’ll have one for every subsequent meal) was Darynda Jones.

After dinner, which went quite late–9:30 or something?–we went and worked on finalizing our query letters and then ran out to FedEx to print them around 10:30. PPWC has BarCon, which is essentially where everyone hangs out in the bar after dinner on Friday and Saturday nights and “networks,” but we were so tired by the time we got back to the hotel that we just hung out in our room and then crashed.

So, that’s Friday. I hope it’s of interest to you guys! Let me know what you think.

And Now For Something Completely Different

We’re about a week away from PPWC (oh God, I just realized that and I am not ready! ::flails about::), so on top of the writing and the getting ready for pitching and whatnot, I’ve also been working on my costume.

I believe they either started the costume dinner tradition five years ago (which is the last time I went, if you remember) or maybe they only do it every five years (on the 5/10 anniversaries), but one night everyone is encouraged to dress up according to the theme. Not sure what it was last time. I was eight months pregnant so I went as Mother Earth, but my sister and friend went as Capital people from the Hunger Games.

This year is Heroes and Villains, so my sister called me up to ask me if we should do Murky and Lurky from Rainbow Brite (which was a cartoon show from my childhood that my sister and I both remember fondly). They’re both villains, and we ran into issues with who would be who, and eventually settled on me doing Rainbow Brite and her being the evil princess from the Star Stealer movie. (You look at that princess and you know exactly what era that movie is from.)

In the olden days, I would have made as accurate a costume as I could manage, but I don’t have time for that anymore (especially since I didn’t realize there was a costume dinner until my sister called), so what I’ve done is bought a white sleeveless dress and dyed it blue (more on that in a moment), and have ordered rainbow socks and arm warmers, which should get here today.

And then I will need to make a rainbow belt and get a purple ribbon for my hair, and probably hunt down a purple facepainting crayon. I’ve seen people typically wear red converses with Rainbow Brite costumes, but I don’t have red shoes (I can buy a pair for $20 at my local Payless) and am not sure I can be bothered.

Tuesday I went up to my mother’s to dye the dress (my kitchen is currently MIA) which proved to be a bit more work than expected. (Also, my fingers are still slightly blue on one hand.) I bought supplies from Dharma Trading, which is a lovely company that specializes in dyes and things to dye (I suspect their target consumers are artists that dye large amounts of things to sell) and specifically got what looked like their least complicated dye (pour in water, put in clothing, stir for a while), but the powder was a bit messy and a single grain made an awful lot of dye.

The color is perfect, though, I did notice a small hole in the back of the dress. Oh well. Beggars can’t be choosers and all that.

It’s been kind of fun to work on something creative that isn’t writing, even if it’s just making a mess of my mother’s kitchen and ordering stuff off of Amazon.

I wonder how my sister’s costume is coming along.

What have you been up to lately, Squiders? Any fun projects?

A Poll, a Conference, and an Update

Can you believe it’s April, squiders? And, yes, I realize that we are halfway through April, which almost makes it worse.

At the end of April, I am going to be attending Pike’s Peak Writers Conference (henceforth PPWC). This is my third time going, but it’s been five years since I last went. (My mother and sister went last year, and when they renewed for this year, they bought me a registration too. Really hard to say no to a free conference.) I probably talked about it here on the blog back in the day.

(I checked. I did.)

Part of me is really excited. I stopped going partially because it is expensive (almost $400 for the conference alone) and because I’ve spent the last several years working on indie projects (such as Shards, which came out in 2013, and City of Hope and Ruin, which came out last May, as well as ton of really fun anthologies). I am trying a few projects traditionally again this year, so the timing works out.

I’ve even secured choice assignments–an acquisitions editor at Del Rey for my pitch assignment, and Carol Berg (!!!) for my read and critique.

But I’m also not in a great place confidence-wise at the moment. While I am finally getting somewhere on my rewrite (approximately 35K in at the moment) it’s quite obvious to me that this isn’t the final draft. I’m still worried about pacing in the first part (now that I’m past the inciting incident, it seems to be fine) and the first chapter is just a mess all around.

And I feel like I’m being overly critical of my basic sentence structure, which makes flow hard, and what if there’s not enough description still, and…

Oy. You get the point.

At the end of March/April I considered switching projects before PPWC. My options were:

  1. Pitch my YA paranormal that I’m finalizing submission stuff for. The novel is polished, the stuff is mostly ready, I could in theory start querying agents any day now. But I would have had to switch my requests for agents, etc., and that late in the game I was not likely to end up with anyone who was the right genre.
  2. Switch to my space dinosaur space adventure story. It’s at about 54K, the draft thus far is very clean, and the approximately 30K left is easy to get done in a month. Plus, no switching on agents, etc. But I would have lost several days to project switching, and there were no guarantees that I wouldn’t have run into issues with the last part of the draft and still would have ended up at PPWC with an unusable manuscript.
  3. Stay with the rewrite.

Which is what I did, because basically I’m not going to be ready no matter what. And here we go, come hell or high water.

I have been thrown into a bit of a panic re: Carol Berg. My first thought was “Oh God that is a lot more major of an author than I expected to be participating in this” and my second was “Oh God my first chapter should be burnt in a fire.” Having thought about it rationally-ish for a few days now, this could be a really good opportunity to get some help on something that has been giving me a lot of trouble. But it could also be an opportunity for me to make a giant fool of myself. Time will tell, I suppose!

Anyway. I’m going to keep the rest of the consistency topics for the book, so it’s time to figure out what we should move onto there.

As such, here is our favorite poll, yet again:

The weather’s been lovely here lately, squiders. I hope you have good plans for the weekend and that things are going well for you.

An Alternative to Writers Conferences

meant to tell you guys that if getting to a writers conference isn’t doable, either from a money standpoint or because of a scheduling issue, or if you’d like to get an idea of what a writing panel might be like to see if they’re useful or not, you should check out your local nerd convention.

Scifi/fantasy and comic conventions often have some writing panels, since several have authors as guests. The guests tend to skew toward science fiction, fantasy, and horror authors, but it depends on the convention and the year.

These can be very hit or miss. I have gone to some truly terrible and useless panels on things that sounded interesting, like publishing or networking. I have been to some that gave me a lot of good information. Some of these panels are aimed at local resources, which can be good for helping you find writing groups and other help in your general area. Others are more industry-based or genre-based than craft-based, which can be good for beginning writers or people interested in seeing where the market seems to be going.

Author and writing panels at comic/scifi cons are generally culled from the authors and publishers attending the conference, so bigger conventions are probably going to have bigger/more experienced people than smaller ones. It does depend, though. Kevin J. Anderson is a local author, and he tends to hit all our cons, even though I would consider him a “bigger” speculative fiction author. You may have big name authors near you that like to do the same. You can check your con’s website and schedule to see who’s coming. Look at both the guest list and the vendors.

Some places specifically have scifi/fantasy literary conventions. These are, of course, a little more specialized, so in theory the panels might be more relevant. But it still depends on who’s going to be there. And that’s not to say that a smaller name author can’t have a ton of useful information to share, or that a big name author won’t be completely useless. As you become aware of your local author community, you’ll learn who’s a good bet.

It also somewhat depends on how the convention is run. In some cases, panelists submit their own panels to con staff. The panelists typically prepare for these, so you get more coherent information. At other cons, guests or vendors may show up to discover they have been assigned to panels they were previously unaware of. At least one con I know of, you just tell the panel person you’re interested in doing panels, but you don’t know which ones (or when) until you arrive.

So if writers conferences aren’t going to work for you for whatever reason, give your local cons a look too. They’re cheaper, you might learn something, and, if nothing else, you can network with local authors.

Are Writing Conferences Worth It?

It seems like a lot of people have been living somewhat vicariously through my writing conference experience. I am one of only a few of my writing friends who have ever been to one.

That part’s not rocket science. Writing conferences are expensive. It’s hard to justify spending so much money all at once. Well, maybe not if you’re a millionaire. And if you are, we should be friends. Yeeees.

(For those of you who are wondering how much writing conferences cost, well, it’s in the multiple hundreds of dollars, not including hotel or airfare if it’s not in your home town.)

So, are they worth your time and money? The answer is: maybe.

1. Beginners
If you’re a beginner writer, I would tell you to save your money for later. The conference may have panels aimed at beginners, with explanations of how plot or characterization work, but I’ve found that until you’ve got at least a completed first draft under your belt, a lot of it goes over your head. Writing is the best teacher at this point, figuring out how your personal writing style works and where your problem spots are. Wait.

2. Intermediate
These are people who have a few books under their belts, perhaps have sold a short story or two. If this is you, you will probably find a conference helpful. You know where your weak spots are, so you can attend workshops aimed at helping those areas. Plus, if you’re getting ready to start submitting, you can learn how to write or have your queries and synopses critiqued.

3. Those Who Are Submitting
The single most-useful thing about a conference is it allows you to interact with agents, editors, and published authors, all of whom are willing to give you a hand. And, in the cases of editors and agents, listen to your pitches. It gives you the opportunity to either bypass the query process or, when you do query, maybe have made an impression before hand so the agent/editor kind of remembers who you are.

4. Published Authors
I am not traditionally published, so I cannot tell you if attending a writers’ conference (as an attendee, not a workshop-leader) is useful or not. I’m going to lean towards no – you already have an agent and/or editor, and they probably tell you where your weak spots are.

5. Indie Authors
I’m going to go on “depends” for this section. Self-publishing and indie publishing is generally becoming more accepted, so whether or not you run into militant traditional people varies. It is a good way to network, but it might be easier (and cheaper) to find a critique or writing group in your area. But if you’re looking to improve your writing craft, it’s probably worth it.

Your mileage may, of course, vary.

PPWC and Genre Panels

I seem to be having a bit of an issue getting back into the swing of things post-conference. Brain overload, perhaps? Anyway, my apologies for this entry being so late. Hopefully everything returns to normal tomorrow.

PPWC was a good time again. Learned a lot. As always, a lot of the things are things I already know, subconsciously, but it’s nice to have them pointed out on a level where I can realize what exactly I’m doing and why. And, of course, it’s always nice to spend time talking to everyone.

I will almost always choose to go to a craft workshop over a genre one, but I did manage three genre panels this weekend: a fantasy/paranormal one, a mystery one, and a science fiction one. Part of it is because I like to think I’m fairly well-versed in my genres of choice (see last year’s Subgenre Study series), and part of it is because a lot of the craft panels are applicable to a wider variety of stories. Adding conflict or emotion is just as important in a thriller as a romance as a fantasy.

I hate to say it, but I found the fantasy/paranormal one to be mostly useless. Part of the issue of being on top of things, I guess. But I did learn two things: 1) It is hard to sell a YA paranormal (or dystopia) currently, and 2) Epic/High fantasy is on the way back up. I followed up on the YA paranormal note with an agent later in the day, and she said that the issue is that publishers snatched a whole bunch up all at once and just don’t have any room in their lists for the genre for a few years. On the other hand, let me tell you how excited I am about epic fantasy making a come back. I’m sure we can thank George RR Martin for that fact, but GLEE.

The mystery one was lovely. I do not write mysteries (well, except that one time. We don’t talk about that time.) but I love reading them, especially cozies. (A cozy is where the “detective” is an other-wise normal person who, for whatever reason, finds themselves in the strange position of solving a crime.) But they were lovely, and the notes they gave about red herrings and misdirection will be useful for any genre, as long as you want a little bit of confusion. (And, you know, maybe I’ll give it another go sometime.)

The science fiction one was good, as well. Not just because the panelists got into a fight over the political structure of the Federation (“It’s a communist meritocracy!”), though I admit that sweetened the deal. It was nice and intimate, since 95% of the people at the conference were at Donald Maass’s world-building workshop. And I am not as up on science fiction as I am fantasy. It confirmed some things that I had suspected – such as the near impossibility of selling space-based science fiction (especially space opera) at the moment. The current scifi climate is focused on environmental thrillers and dystopias. Also, a publisher on the panel noted that it was a hard sell for any adult science fiction at the moment; almost everything coming out is YA or children’s.

So I guess I should hold off on that science fiction series I’ve been planning for a while longer.

Last year I came out of PPWC feeling energized and motivated – this year I feel mostly tired and a little discouraged. Not really sure why.