The excitement is building. The thrill of discovery hanging in the air. It’s getting closer every day.
The 21st Annual South Carolina Writers’ Workshop Conference is less than four weeks away.
I’m getting excited. I can’t wait to meet our attendees. And I can’t wait for you to meet our outstanding faculty members.
We’re enthusiastic about our silent auction; did you see Kim Hyclak’s post from this past Saturday? Scroll down and check that out. There are a few terrific trips on the menu of items for this year. I hope to win one of those great getaways, so get ready for a little competition if you plan to bid. Let’s not forget to mention our faculty member’s post-conference critiques up for auction. How can you beat a top agent or editor reviewing your work and offering insight?
As you start packing your bags and planning your schedule, I have a few additional reminders to help you get the most out of your weekend.
1) Bring your questions. But try to avoid being too specific: “I’m writing a suspense, romantic epic poem and my main character May is waiting tables in Abilene, Texas, and encounters her brother Roy who died twenty years ago? What should I have her do next? Should she tell him about their mother’s kidney transplant? Or should Roy tip her big before he leaves since he finally won Powerball?”
2) Prepare ahead of time. You don’t have to read everything by or about every faculty member or review every website they’re mentioned on. I’ve mentioned this before, but I once met a conference attendee who read at least one chapter of a book by every published faculty member. I thought it was a great idea and have employed that technique ever since.
3) Practice your elevator pitch, just in case you get that frightening question we all dread but secretly can’t wait to be asked: So, what is your book about? You’ll hear it a lot over the weekend; hopefully you’ll have a great answer.
4) And have fun. Conference weekend always goes by so quickly that I never know where the time went. Relax, enjoy meeting some new friends and have a great time. The conference is always a fun and we really want you to enjoy yourself.
See you in October!
SCWW needs representation on the Board from every area of our state. Steve Gordy, Chapter Liaison, has emailed all chapter leaders and asked that each chapter nominate at least one qualified member to run. I followed up that email with an application to share with those members who are interested. If you are an unaffiliated member, please email me for an application and send completed apps by October 31 to email@example.com. Here are some pertinent facts to keep in mind as you consider service on the Board of Directors.
There are six required Saturday meetings/year, about three or three-and-a-half hours in duration. Only two excused absences/year are permitted.
Each board member is expected to be a committee chair or committee member.
This is a working board. Be prepared to follow through on your commitments on your own between meetings.
Each chair has its own SCWW email account. Please monitor it closely.
Please respond to all email and phone calls pertaining to SCWW within 48 hours.
I will be returning as president again next year; we have a secretary, Quill editor, and Petigru Review editor. We'll be looking for a treasurer, membership chair, chapter liaison, grants chair, contests chair, vice president, conference committee members. If any of these positions interests you in particular, I suggest you email the board member who holds that spot now and ask them about their responsibilities and time obligation. (See the latest Quill or www.myscwww.org for board members and their email addresses.
If you have any questions, email or call me -- 802-738-9062. I look forward to working with you.
Remember our annual general membership meeting at the conference. I'm excited to see familiar faces and make new fiends.
Three Oaks, TN: Three Oaks is a mountaintop retreat atop the Cumberland Plateau, near Sewanee, TN. It's situated in a hundred-acre wood of streams, meadows, forest trails and peace. It sleeps 2 in the queen-sized bed in the bedroom; 2 more in the pull-out bed in the great room. Three Oaks is perfect for a writer's private retreat or an intimate get-away for a couple. Offer is 5 days to be used within the year. Visit Three Oaks to see what else this cozy guest house has to offer.
The Lazy Spring Ranch, WY: The Lazy Spring Ranch is located in Shell, WY, a delightful community of 50 at the western base of the Big Horn Mountains. The house is 4200 ft. above sea level, surrounded by a working cattle ranch and majestic mountains. The house has 6 bedrooms and can sleep up to 12 or 14. The Lazy Spring Ranch is a perfect spot for a writers' workshop or mini-conference or a family get-away. The offer is for 5 days in September 2012. Visit Lazy Spring Ranch to see what else the mountains have to offer.
The Hilton Myrtle Beach Resort: 2 nights at the beautiful resort where the SCWW Annual Conference is held. Enjoy the beach, the pool, fine dining and golf.
Arcadian Shores Golf Club, associated with The Hilton Myrtle Beach Resort - a round of golf for 4
Faculty Critiques are in! I don't have their pics, but you can visit SCWW for those and the kind of work our faculty is looking for.
Melissa Jeglinski, agent, 25 pages to be submitted in November
Eddie Schneider, agent, (2) 50-75 pages + 1 page synopsis
Jon Sternfeld, agent, 50 pages
Stephanie Sun, agent, query + 1st three chapters
Jessica Regel, agent, 50 pages
Stephen Barr, agent, 75 pages
Sarah LaPolla, agent, query + 1st chapter
Toni Plummer, editor, 30 pages
James Frenkel, editor, 50 pages
David Coe, author, 50 pages
Photos Paintings Prints and Posters and Home Decor
And of course Books! Over 200 books will fill baskets, bags, boxes . . . and whatever else we can find, to satisfy every reader's interest.
So come support the 2011 Silent Auction. The money generated by the auction provides needed funds to help SCWW provide Chapter workshops, the High School Writing Competition, the Carrie McCray Memorial Literary Awards and next year's conference.
See you at the beach!
Conference Faculty Member
One of the workshops I’ll be giving during October’s SCWW conference will be on structuring story arc and pacing your novel -- the official title is “Writing Isn’t a Race: Pacing and Story Arc.” Obviously, I’m not going to cover exactly the same material in this post, because that would leave us with nothing to do in October but sit around and stare at one another. And after the first hour or so, that can get kind of weird.
But in preparation for discussing the nuts and bolts of story arc, I thought it might be helpful to define a couple of terms. I write fantasy, and like so many in my genre, much of my work is serialized. I have written two trilogies and a five book sequence. Most recently, I have written the first two books of a new historical fantasy series, and am now working of the first books of at least three other series. Part of this is the market -- in fantasy and science fiction, mystery and romance, young adult and middle reader, series are all the rage. The market is looking not just for a single book, but for the next money-making franchise. And while all of us want to be true to our creativity and write the best books we can, we also have to look at this as a business.
This is not to say that you can’t get published writing a stand-alone novel, or that you have to write a series in order to survive in the current climate. But any writer -- whether an established professional or an aspiring author still looking for that first big sale -- needs to understand where his or her work fits in the market. The answer to the question “What are editors and publishers looking for?” depends on what sort of book you’re writing. Actually, more to the point of this post, it depends on what kind of series you’re writing.
Let’s define some terms. In my genre, we call every multi-book sequence a series. But as you’ll soon see, not all “series” are created equal. Specifically, we need to distinguish between two terms: “true series” and “extended story arc.”
A true series is a sequence of connected books with recurring characters, in which each narrative pretty much stands on its own but has ramifications for the next book (or for previous ones if the author goes back and writes a prequel or two). A perfect example of this would be the Harry Dresden books by Jim Butcher. For those of you not familiar with the Dresden books, this is an urban fantasy series featuring a wizard who is also a private eye. Each book has its own mystery, its own plot, its own set of unique characters. But there are also recurring characters, chief among them Harry himself, his sidekick, and his love interest. And the subplots that revolve around these recurring characters run like threads through all the books. There are other examples, for those of you who haven’t read Butcher’s books. C.E. Murphy’s Joanne Walker series fits the definition, as do Faith Hunter’s bestselling Skinwalker novels. If you’re looking for an example from another medium, think of a TV show like BONES. Again, there are recurring characters and subplots, but each episode works on its own. A viewer could watch on any given night, and get the gist of what’s going on. The books I’m writing now, including my historical fantasy series, The Thieftaker Chronicles, which I’m writing under the name D.B. Jackson (the first book, THIEFTAKER, will be released in May 2012) are true series.
An extended story arc, which is what many big-name fantasists write -- George R.R. Martin, Terry Goodkind, Robert Jordan -- is quite different. The phrase “extended story arc” basically means that you're telling one epic-length tale (usually with several related sub-plots) over the course of several books. Not only do characters recur in these volumes, but they are working toward the same basic goal throughout the sequence. Ironically, the extended story arc became popular in fantasy after the publication of J.R.R. Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS, which came out in three volumes. I say ironically, because LOTR is not a true story arc. It was originally written and intended as a single work, but was split into three volumes for marketing purposes. For this reason, the three books don’t hold together well as single volumes: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING has no satisfying ending; THE RETURN OF THE KING has no effective opening; and the middle volume, THE TWO TOWERS, has neither. But while the severity of these problems is somewhat unique to LOTR, nearly all extended story-arcs suffer from similar issues to some small degree. Since the overarching conflict is not resolved until the final volume, it can be difficult, although not impossible, to make each book truly stand alone. On the other hand, because each volume is actually part of a single larger story, the books are far more interdependent, and many readers love this aspect of the form. Again, if you’re looking for a pop culture equivalent, think of a daytime soap opera, or my daughters’ current prime-time favorite, PRETTY LITTLE LIARS. A viewer could try to watch an episode mid-season, but chances are he or she would be somewhat lost. Similarly, with extended story arcs, it can be hard to pick up readers mid-arc. Extended story arcs are what I wrote for my first three series, and they have been a staple of fantasy for several decades.
My take on the market right now is that extended story arcs are less viable than they used to be, even in fantasy, where they are so deeply rooted in the literary tradition. Publishers are wary of them when they're proposed by young authors, and they’re only slightly more receptive to them when they’re proposed by established writers. Why? Because they demand a contractual commitment of several books. If I go to an editor with an idea for a four-book extended story arc, that editor knows that she has to buy all four books or none of them. There’s no middle ground. Her publishing house can’t publish two of them and then stop if the books don’t sell well, at least not without really ticking off those readers who bought the first two books. A true series, on the other hand, gives publishers far more leeway. I can still go to that editor with a proposal for four books, but in this case each book stands alone. The editor can buy two books and see how they do before committing to two more.
I would never tell an aspiring author to write to “the market,” whatever that means. The fact is that the market is far too fluid, and book turnarounds are far too slow. Cannibalistic Troll Erotica might be all the rage right now, but who’s to say it still will be in a year, when your great new take on CTE is ready for publication? Instead, I tell aspiring writers that they need to write the books they’ve imagined, the books that they care about. Creativity is too fickle to be taken for granted. Write the book that’s inside you; follow the characters who are speaking to you.
That said, though, you should also understand that some projects are going to be easier sales than others. If you have a three or five book extended story arc burning a hole in your chest, by all means, write it. But if you can write a true series instead, that is going to be the more viable project from a commercial standpoint. Generally speaking, publishers are far less willing to offer contracts for several books at a time than they were a decade ago. That means less security for writers. Yet it can also present opportunities. Conceiving a project that can be marketed one or two books at a time might well make you a safer bet for a publisher. And in these difficult times, that might be exactly the advantage you need to break through.
In October, we’ll discuss the pacing and structure of your projects. In the meantime, think about story arcs and serialization, and figure out which one is best suited to your current work.
The first year I went to the conference I had written about 65 pages of my novel. It was nowhere near ready to sell, but I met with an agent who gave me invaluable recommendations on developing my main character and testing my voice. She told me where I had a good hold on my content and where my plot was weak. I started attending a SCWW critique group and received invaluable guidance. The second year with the same manuscript in tow and 300 pages into it, I met with an agent and did a pitch. I honestly got more from the pitch than the agent this go round. She told me flat out that my plot wasn’t marketable and what I’d have to do to develop it. “Dig deeper,” she said over and over again. “Dig deeper into your plot.” I went home, came back year three with the same manuscript, all three agents recommendations incorporated and sold the book.
I have already received in return every penny I ever put into an SCWW Conference. I think it all depends on what you’re expecting from the agents when you come to the conference. Are you expecting to sell a book or hoping to get professional insight into your strengths and weaknesses. I certainly got what I wanted out of it.
I encourage people to attend the conference and take advantage of the expertise that is all around you. Speaking first hand, it’s not just among the agents. You can gain tremendous insight from your fellow writers who are climbing similar mountain trails, some on the path ahead of you and some just beginning. Reach out and lend a helping hand. Listen and learn.
Conference Faculty Member
Literary agents are lucky folk.
In fact, I’d say we’re spoiled. It’s our responsibility to march around, shouting into the air, telling anyone who’s willing to listen (writers, mostly) what it is that we want (Military history? Illustrated memoir? History of the armoire?), and then those listeners and writers try over and over again to give it to us.
And the questions come up especially often in shouting distance of a conference…“What are you looking for? What do you want?”
Luckily, part of me knows the answer to that question.
I know that I want memoirs from people whose voices aren’t exactly what you’d expect from their stories…humor from the downtrodden, humility from the lopsidedly gifted, etc. Weird books by and about weird people who come from places that onlyseem normal (please allow me to shamelessly plug my client Jared Dillian’s upcoming memoir of bipolar disorder on the Lehman Brothers trading floor, the wicked and wonderfulStreet Freak).
I know that I’m a sucker for unrequited love…in life, yes (alas!), but also in between the covers of a book, and I know that I’d thank my lucky stars if I could find a contemporary young adult novel with zero paranormal activity and oodles of longing, my own littlePaper Town(s).
I know that I want author/illustrators who think (or perhaps understand!?) that less is more when it comes to picture book texts and illustrations (check out Press Here if you like excellence!)
I know that I want ghost stories where the writing’s haunted, too.
I know that I want a comic novel with a dreadfully serious plot.
But I also know that last week, after 25 years of doing everything in my power to avoid math (because my brain sucks at it), an article on Gawker about scientists allegedly disproving the possibility of time travel sent me on an entirely unanticipated math binge, which led me to the text of a lecture delivered by David Hilbert to the International Congress of Mathematicians at Paris in 1900 about the 23 most pressing mathematical problems facing the 20th century, and now I’m weirdly obsessed with finding a quirky math novel…maybe something about a kid who lines up his 23 most pressingreal life problems (the bully, the unattainable girl, the increasingly distant best friend, etc.) against the 23 most pressing mathematical problems that his University Professor parents are fixated on (the compatibility of arithmetical axioms, etc.), none of which our hero understands, but all of which he’ll try to compare hisown problems to in a search for parallels.
That’s a pretty specific craving, I realize, but my point is, up until a few days ago, I most definitely didn’t know that I wanted a novel with a bunch of math in it. But now I do, and the more I think about it, the more it seems to me that what Ireally want is something that I didn’t know I wanted. For instance, I tend to clam up pretty seriously around paranormal YA, but odds are there’s a writer out there who’s taken the exhausted genre and reinvented it in a thousand ways, and that’s what I want—a writer who takes enough risks in his or her writing to give readers what we didn’t know we wanted.
Seriously, though, no jokey middle grade novels where farts play a central role in the story. I will never realize that I wanted that.
This is the last entry in my series on Building a Solid Weekend. These blogs have not been meant as a strict curriculum for your conference experience. Rather, I hope I’ve provided you with some guidance on how to structure your time at the conference.
The sessions below are a combination of how to get your manuscript noticed and writing options you may not have considered.
For those of you who are looking for more choices in their writing life, this is for you. We have sessions on how what you already know might turn into a paying writing assignment.
If you’re ready to send your manuscript in to an editor or agent, we have some of the best in the industry to help guide your efforts at query letters as well as sessions on what editors and agents are looking for from new authors.
Above all, we're looking forward to seeing you in Myrtle Beach in October!
Branching Out – Something for every writer
Friday 9:00 –
(1) Know Your Audience: Writing Articles for Magazines, Newspapers and
Websites – Chuck Sambuchino
(2) The Business of Publishing – Jessica Regel
Friday 1:30 –
(1) Being An Expert Pays: Turning Your Expertise Into a Writing
Career – Matthew Frederick
(2) Avoid the Slush: Everything You Need to Know About Agents Before You
Write That Query Letter – Chuck Sambuchino
(3) Nuts and Bolts: Deadlines, Word Counts and Other Things That Drive Us Nuts and Make Us Want to Bolt – David B. Coe
Saturday 9:00 –
(1) Making it to Print (of Sorts): What Does It Take to Get a Review (And Other Media Attention)? – Bill Starr
(2) SLUSH FEST: Literary and Upmarket Fiction – Jon Sternfeld and Stephanie Sun
Saturday 10:30 –
(1) SLUSH FEST: Young Adult & Children’s Titles – Alyssa Henkin and Molly O’Neill
(2) From Employee to Expert: How to Turn Your Job Into a Book – Matthew Frederick
Saturday 1:30 –
(1) Running Away from Home for Profit: Learning the Tricks of Travel Writing – Bill Starr
(2) SLUSH FEST: Science Fiction and Fantasy – Eddie Schneider and James Frenkel
Saturday 3:00 –
(1) Imaginary Worlds: The Differences Agents Consider Between Young Adult and Adult Fiction – Sarah LaPolla
(2) What Editors Want: Professional Writing Practices – Chuck Sambuchino
(3) It’s All in Your Head: How to Get Across High Concepts in a Query – Jon Sterfeld
(4) SLUSH FEST: Mystery and Thriller – Sorche Fairbank and Toni Plummer
(5) I’m Published – Now What? – Bill Starr
Sunday 9:30 –
(1) Out of this World: An Inside Look & Tips of What It Takes to Get a Science Fiction or Fantasy Agent – Eddie Schneider
(2) SLUSH FEST: Romance and Women’s Fiction – Melissa Jeglinski and Jessica Regel
(3) SLUSH FEST: Memoir and Narrative Non-Fiction – Stephen Barr and Bernadette Baker-Baughman
(4) Panel: Agent Vs. Writer (Who’s An Editor) – Sorche Fairbank and Chuck Sambuchino
However, what has impressed me most is each one's accessibility - their willingness to put us at ease before we meet with them. Reaching out to us in these congenial ways should help us relax, be ourselves, and present our work and concepts to their best advantage. Think having a cup of coffee with a new friend as opposed to waiting for an appointment to have a root canal.
So THANKS, Faculty Bloggers, for welcoming us into and preparing us for our critiques, pitches, and real-time queries. We look forward to meeting you too.
Conference Faculty Member
Whenever I am invited to a writers conference, a familiar internal dialog kicks in. Do I really want to travel again? Where to? Will being gone for three or four or five days put me too far behind?
I, and most agents, get far more requests and invitations for conferences than we could possibly manage in a given year. I have to choose carefully. The downside to attending conferences is that they take time away from the office, or from what little free, non-publishing time I have. Add to that the fact that flying has become more and more a hassle, especially now that we moved to New York’s Hudson Valley. And what about the cost to my signed authors? Am I giving up a weekend that could or should be spent helping them with their projects?
But the upside, oh, the upside. . . When I say yes to a conference, I know the rewards will be many. Still, a number of considerations factor into my decision to accept.
Location - A selfish reason, perhaps, but location matters. Coastal South Carolina in late October – perfect! Kudos to SCWW organizers for knowing just how tempting that sounds. I love nubby, cozy sweaters and suede boots, but I’m all too aware that it will only get colder and bleaker for the next four months. A bit of sunshine and warm breeze will be exactly what’s needed come late October.
Sometimes a conference invite appeals to me because it’s a chance to see one of my own authors. Because so much of book business is conducted over phone and email, it’s a rare treat to get to sit down with an author of ours to share food and drink, meet some of their family, toast to their continued success, and plan for the next, even better thing. While I don’t *yet* have a South Carolina writer on board, two of my authors will be at the conference with me. I also contacted my beloved Georgia authors right away to let them know I’d be attending SCWW.
The Faculty / Speaker Roster - One of the first things I look at is who else is attending. Of course I look for agent and editor friends and acquaintances, but I also look at the keynoter and authors who are presenting as well. Keep in mind, we agents have our rock stars too. In the past twelve months or so I got to hang with Alice Hoffman (swoon!) as she knitted something green and lovely for a gift; I learned from Chuck Palahniuk why one should never slice off the point of a wedge of Brie cheese (at least not while in France); and I, the fabulous Meg Tilley, and a handful of others exchanged our shoes and any shyness for a low Japanese table, chopsticks all around, and a heaping pile of sushi while in the Pacific Northwest. I have no doubt that MJ Rose and others at SCWW will also rock my world in some fine way.
Reputation - Nothing is worse for an agent than a poorly organized conference, and word of sub-par organization easily and quickly spreads among agents and editors. Before accepting a conference invite, I ask past attending faculty what they thought of the conference, from accommodation to schedule to quality of attendees to ease of travel to and from the local airport. SCWW’s stellar reputation won me over in an instant.
Number and Focus of Attendees - I know you’ve been waiting for it, so yes, agents who go to conferences are hoping to find new clients there, and the size and focus of the conference matters. I am no exception; I’m hoping and indeed looking for that next great connection with a potential new author. It doesn’t happen every conference or even every year, but those times it does, the magic can be is immediate. The book is right, timing is right, it’s near ready to go; I bond with the author instantly. However, more often than not, when I sign a conference author, it happens months or even years after the conference ends. Sometimes it is the same book they pitched, but substantially polished or reworked (hopefully you’ll leave the conference full of ideas and advice for needed edits), other times I sign on a completely different book altogether. Sometimes I hear from an author I didn’t meet directly; they were in the back of the room, learning, listening, and when finally ready, they contacted me. And occasionally it’s not an attendee I sign on, but a referral from an attendee. Conferences have long shelf-life benefits for everyone.
There is one more reason I accept conference invites, but it’s far more subjective, and rather internal. I take the time to go to conferences because people trump electrons or pieces of paper any day. I spend untold hours every month sending out rejections; during busier times it’s a Dear Author form rejection. With 8,000 - 10,000 queries a year, I often do not have time for anything else. So it’s incredibly humbling and gratifying to be reminded at conferences that behind all the story ideas, behind all the pitches, proposals, and book ideas, are people. Enthusiastic, talented, interesting people. It keeps the humanity in what I do, and even if I don’t find / sign a single attendee at a conference, I return to the office refreshed and recharged, having been witness to so much collective creative energy. I’m reminded that I wouldn’t have this awesome job if it weren’t for writers like you. So a heartfelt thanks to you all for showing up, for giving me a chance to help, to acquire, and to remember that people are at the heart of any story.
See you in the South!