13 Do’s and Don’ts for Writers’ Conferences

Welcome to Scarlet Thread Sunday, when I throw out a thread of something I’ve learned in the labyrinth of life.

I recently attended my third DFW Writer’s Conference. If you ever get a chance to go, I recommend it. Great information, great people. I’ve reflected on my many wonderful (and a few otherwise) experiences and want to offer some do’s and don’ts for writers’ conferences.

To conference planners

Do offer a variety of writing craft, traditional publishing, and indie publishing classes. Conferences attract writers all along the writing journey. Some are multi-published authors, others are working through their first manuscript, and everything in between. Offer a wide array of craft and business information to address the diversity of attendees.

Do host panels. Some favorites at my three DFW Cons have been the panels of experts on everything from social media to publishing options to forensics. The much-touted Gong Show is a regular feature: A panel of agents critiques anonymous first pages and/or query letters, and their feedback is invaluable in helping writers recognize a good story or pitch. Panels can provide wisdom from several sources, and how often can you get that many experts in a room to answer writers’ questions?

Kristen Lamb (one of my favorite panel experts) & Me
Kristen Lamb (one of my favorite panel people) & Me

Don’t ignore the self-pubbers. At my first conference only three years ago, agents were saying that self-publishing your own books was a kiss of death. My, how things have changed! Still, however, conferences can focus so heavily on the traditional route to publication that self-pubbers don’t feel welcome. The writer community should be about producing good books, and there is more than one way to skin that cat.

Do give conference goers a map and clear signs. I get lost easily. I am not alone.

Don’t invite pompous authors to give speeches about how much money they make. Look, author: Unless you’re willing to throw out currency during your presentation, this subject is best discussed with your agent, publisher, accountant, and loved ones. Maybe your mama is proud of your ridiculously large book advances, but conference attendees want to hear about your writing, not your bank account.

Do provide good snacks and beverages. Having a morning or afternoon pick-me-up can help attention levels. Starches and sugars should be balanced with fresh fruit. I was a bit disappointed that DFWCon did not provide free soda this year, but caffeine is my own addiction and the conference shouldn’t be expected to enable me. Water, coffee, and orange juice were fine.

To conference attendees

Do start conversations with other writers. Many writers are introverts and would rather have a root canal than introduce themselves to a stranger. But your fellow conference goers are not really strangers…because they get you. They too are excited about fictional worlds and make-believe characters and pretty words and plot twists and cover art and so forth. You’ll meet wonderful people by simply asking someone nearby, “What do you write?” Moreover, I’ve learned as much from talking to other writers as I have in classes.

Don’t monopolize class time with a specific question that only applies to you. Here’s the scenario: During Q&A, someone describes their particular plot or writing journey and asks for individualized advice. Now if your situation is a sampling of a larger issue that affects writers, fine. But if you’re looking for one-on-one coaching, wait until class has ended and approach the presenter. Most presenters are willing to spend a few minutes with you.

Do practice your pitch. Even if you’re not formally pitching to an agent or editor, you should be able to state your hook in a sentence or two or three. You may get asked by a fellow writer or agent what you’re working on, and being able to succinctly relate your story is good practice for querying or the book blurb.

Don’t fart loudly during a conference class. Actually, I felt sympathy for the person in one of my classes who did that. Maybe it was the Tex-Mex food we’d had for lunch.

Do bring a camera, even if it’s on your cell phone. You won’t want to miss shots like this.

Jess Witkins & Jenny Hansen in "Handerpants"
Jess Witkins & Jenny Hansen in “Handerpants”

Don’t sweat meeting book agents or famous authors. I’ve found them to be very approachable. As long as you’re authentic and courteous, you’re fine. No stalking, of course. (For heaven’s sake, please don’t follow them into the bathroom!) But agents and authors come to conferences to share information and hang out with writers. You’re a writer, so hang out.

Do print business cards. You can get them cheap at VistaPrint. No, you probably won’t go through all 250 cards that came with your order, but I’ve traded business cards with other authors and it’s helpful to refer to them later. Two things I include on my business card–recommended by agents when I researched–are a face photo, so that people can match your name with your face, and book titles/summaries, in case you want potential agents or readers to be hooked by what you write.

My Business Card
Front & Back of My Business Card

That’s it! As for how DFWCon went for me, I learned quite a bit, have three agents I need to query, and enjoyed meeting up with friends for the weekend whom I chat with online throughout the year.

ROW80 Update

Reading

Writing/Editing

  • Finish writing GOOD & GUILTY, YA mystery. 
  • Complete first round of edits of GOOD & GUILTY. Based on advice from a DFWCon class, I’m letting G&G sit for a bit. Instead, I edited 7 scenes from my middle-grade novel, THE YEAR OF FIRSTS.
  • Write one short story.
  • Edit two short stories–one needs a final polish, the other a full edit.

Additional Goals

  • Prepare for and attend DFW Conference in May.
  • Prepare for and attend Immersion Master Class with Margie Lawson in June. Details are coming soon.

What are your do’s and don’ts for conferences? And how was your week?

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Stuffed Bears, Gongs, and Handerpants…Must Be a Writers’ Conference

Today I am in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for the DFW Writers’ Conference. For today’s Scarlet Thread Sunday, I am stringing my thread through the labyrinth of a conference center as I learn writing craft, publishing, and how crazy my writer friends are when you let a bunch of us occupy the same city.

Here’s just a peek at my weekend so far.

Stuffed Bears. I went with several WANA friends (connected through Kristen Lamb’s We Are Not Alone social media web) to dinner at a genuine Texas barbecue joint. Angelo’s in Fort Worth had delicious BBQ, animal heads all over the wall, and three stuffed bears inside. We stuffed our stomachs first, then took some pics.

Kristen Lamb & Me
Kristen Lamb & Me..in our super-cool Flash & Wonder Woman tees
Ingrid Schaffenburg, Donna Newton & Me
Cowboy-boot-clad writers Ingrid Schaffenburg, Donna Newton & Me
Jess Witkins and Julie Glover with a stuffed bear
With Jess Witkins..and a Bear

Gongs. Gongs are a big part of the DFW Writers’ Conference tradition. On Sunday, they will host their regular Gong Show, which features a panel of agents who listen to query letters and bang a miniature gong when they lose interest. When three gongs sound, the letter reader stops, and the agents explain what made them stop. It’s very useful information to all conference attendees, and the letters are anonymous so no submitting writer feels on-the-spot.

But there’s also the large gong that sounds at the pitch sessions. DFW Con registration includes an appointment to speak with an agent about your finished manuscript. I was first in line–literally, with the earliest appointment available on the first day of the conference. I chatted with the delightful agent for the allotted ten minutes, and then someone banged the gong and conversation time was over. If it’s been successful, you leave the room with a request for pages…and the gong still ringing in your ears. (Yes, my meeting was successful.)

HanderpantsHanderpants. Jenny Hansen, of More Cowbell blog fame, recently posted about a product called “Handerpants.” These are fingerless gloves made from whitey-tighty material. I remembered reading the post and thinking, Who in the world would buy those? Well, now I know.

Because Gloria Richard went online shopping, and the result below speaks for itself.

Handerpants over battery candle
“Glowing Handerpants”–our new table centerpiece

Writers’ Conference. In between the shenanigans, I’ve been soaking up knowledge and wisdom from authors at various stages of the journey. I hope to post in the future about what information I gained from this conference. But suffice it to say that I am an advocate of workshops and conferences. You can gain both practical tips for your writing and inspiration to keep going.

Speaking of inspiration, here’s how last week went with my goals.

ROW80 Update

Reading

Writing/Editing

  • Finish writing GOOD & GUILTY, YA mystery. 
  • Complete first round of edits of GOOD & GUILTY. Paused to get ready for conference.
  • Write one short story.
  • Edit two short stories–one needs a final polish, the other a full edit. No further progress this week.

Additional Goals

  • Exercise twice a week. Twice! Walking.
  • Prepare for and attend DFW Conference in May. I’m here! Count this done.
  • Prepare for and attend Immersion Master Class with Margie Lawson in June.

What interesting memories do you have from writers’ conferences? Do you have a favorite conference? And how did your week go?

British Invasion: Donna Newton Chats about English

Jess Witkins, Me & Donna Newton
at DFW Writers’ Conference

At the DFW Writers’ Conference back in May, I had the pleasure of hanging out with two fabulous Brits, Nigel Blackwell and Donna Newton. Over the weekend, a few phrases they used had to be translated into American English. As George Bernard Shaw asserted, “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.” In a previous post, I pointed out some British words that we Americans don’t often recognize.

But today it is my pleasure to welcome Donna Newton to my blog to help us clear up a few British slang words and phrases that we Yanks don’t have a clue about.

Julie: Welcome, Donna! This blog idea occurred to me after you offered to let another conference goer “bung his bags” in your hotel room. After hanging out with romance authors all weekend, some of us wondered what on earth that could possibly mean. What does it actually mean to “bung your bags”? 

Donna: LOL. ‘Bung your bags’ means exactly what it says…. To bung (put) your bags in my hotel room. Looking at it now, I can see how it made me look like a dominatrix mistress. 

Julie: Keeping in mind that this is PG-13 kind of place, I have noticed that body parts are not always called the same thing in England. What should we know before we travel to England and put our feet in our mouth? (Feet and mouth are the same there, right?)

Donna: The term is ‘foot in mouth’ and we’re not talking about the cow disease. Okay, body parts. Arms and legs are the same regardless of what side of the Atlantic we live. I think you guys call a ‘bum’ a ‘tush’? In fact, what we call a ‘bum bag’, you call a ‘fanny pack’, which is funny because a ‘fanny’ to us Brits is a ‘mooey’ (front bum to put it politely). 🙂

Julie: Another interesting phrase you introduced me to was “pissed as fart.” Around here, “pissed” means angry, but what does that phrase mean in England? And do y’all have any other colorful words or phrases for that state of being? 

Donna: Ah, yes. ‘Pissed as a fart’. 

Somehow, angry as a fart doesn’t sound quite right. Do farts get angry? 

Well, in the UK pissed means drunk and fart means… er, fart. I’m not quite sure why we all think of ourselves as stale body air when we’re drunk, but hey-ho. ‘Pissed as a fart’ means you are really, really drunk. 

Now, other terms. Let me think. Okay. I do have a funny story that happened to me a year or so ago. I was storm chasing with a group of Americans. Now, I must just explain that when you go storm chasing you are advised to go to the toilet whenever the chasing vehicle stops – you never know when it will stop again! So, gas stop = toilet break. Every time we pulled into a gas station and chasers got out to visit the loo, I’d say, “I’ll see if I can squeeze one out’. I repeated this phrase four or five times a day from Monday thru Thursday. Finally one of the girls asked what I meant. I explained that ‘squeeze one out’ simply means to go a wee wee (or tiddle). I then find out that to you Americans, ‘squeeze one out’ means going ‘number two’. I was horrified to think they thought I was doing number twos five times a day for a full four days. That I had one hell of a diarrhea spruge, no doubt. 

There is also the comment “you couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery”, which basically means you are crap at organising. 🙂

Julie: A few streets from where I live are neighbors with two donkeys in their yard. Sometimes I can hear them braying (the donkeys, not the neighbors) in the morning. What was that phrase you used that included the word “donkey”? And what does it mean?

Donna: Donkey? Oh, you’ve got me thinking now. We say ‘Donkey’s Ass’, meaning you are a fool, but I don’t really use that one. That’s all I can think of.

Oh, was it ‘Donkey’s years’? I use that term all the time. It means absolute ages. Like, “I was twenty-one donkey’s years ago.” 🙂

Julie: What about foods? Where do we Americans go astray with British terms for common foods?

Donna: Ha ha. Oh, this has caused many problems. In the U.S. if we ask a waitress for chips, we get crisps when we really wanted fries.

Your crisps are potato chips.

Jam is Jelly.

Jelly is Jello.

I once asked for a buttered roll. Nobody knew what I was talking about. I explained that it was like the cheese and tomato roll they sold… only without the cheese and tomato in it. That really confused them.

My husband once tried to order a cheese and tomato pizza. Now us Brits pronounce tomato as ‘t’muto’. You guys pronounce it ‘to-mado’. The poor girl on the end of the phone just could not grip what we were asking for until hubby put on a really exaggerated American accent. We got our pizza. 🙂

Julie: What about you? Did you find us Americans to be confusing at times? What phrase or phrases did we use that struck you as odd?

Donna: There isn’t much, really. I think we have had American films and TV for so long in our lives, we just know what you guys are saying. We do have to be careful when talking about cigarettes. In Britain, they are called ‘fags’ for short. We got quite a few looks when my friend once said, “I’m going outside to have a quick fag.”

Julie: Finally…you came to Texas and did some shootin’ while here. Rumor has it that you are a great shot. What does a British lady yell when she hits her target?

Donna aims, fires & hits her target.

Donna: “&@#%! Did I just do that?” I guess I have just lost the title ‘lady’.

I was amazed at how well I shot. Piper took me out on Kristen’s ranch this year – the second time I had ever held a gun. I did okay that time, too. She’s nicknamed me the ‘Spawn of Doc Holliday’.

[For evidence, head to Donna’s blog post about the week’s adventures HERE.]

Julie: What else, Donna?!!! Is there anything else I should include?

Donna: Here are some Cockney rhyming slang terms used in London. They were born donkey’s years ( 🙂 ) ago, but are still used today.

Apple and Pears = Stairs
Dog and Bone = Phone
Jam Jar = Car
Rub-a-dub-dub = Pub
Quid = One Pound
Score = Twenty Pounds
Nifty = Fifty Pounds
Ton = One Hundred Pounds
Adam and Eve it = Believe it
Trouble and Strife = Wife
Ruby Murray = Curry
Hank Marvin = Starving

Julie: Hope all is well in the UK. I’d love to cross the Atlantic and spend some time in my ancestors’ homeland someday. Cheers and all that good stuff!

Donna: Thanks so much for this, Julie. I really enjoyed it. I take these terms for granted so it is funny to see you guys so confused when we use them.

And, it would be so cool for you to come to London. I can show you around!

Donna Newton

Born in Essex, Donna has enjoyed writing stories from the moment she could construct letters into words.

After a varied, and sometimes extremely adventurous job career, which included OK! Magazine and Essex Police, she returned to her first love and embarked on a writing career. With publishing credits writing freelances and commissioned magazine articles, she has now turned her attention, and imagination, to what she is best at – story telling.

She is the wife of one husband, the mother of two children, and counts her laptop among her loyal group of friends. A self confessed adrenaline junkie, when time permits she craves energy fuelled sports that include storm chasing and anything else considered ‘dangerous’.

She proudly boasts finishing the 2010 London Marathon, although will not divulge where she was placed or the time she finished it in.

She teaches with WANA International, is currently plotting her third novel, and is co-writing one of many TV projects with fellow writer Natalie Duggan.

What I Learned in DFW and #ROW80

NYT Bestseller James Rollins & Me

If you did not attend the DFW Writers’ Conference, you may be tired of hearing those of us who did talking about how AWESOME it was. Rather than go on and on about how everything is bigger and better in Texas, even writers’ conferences 😉 , how about some general take-aways?

  • As long as you aren’t stalking or incredibly annoying, you can strike up conversations with agents because they are real people, at a conference to meet writers, and like talking about what they do (see Top 10 Things to Do at a Writers’ Conference). At the 2011 conference, I spoke to one agent — the one I had a pitch appointment with. This time, I walked away with six different agent names to send my work to after personal contact at the pitch session and agent/writer reception. So chat it up! What have you got to lose?
  • When you attend a conference, you are paying for it. Don’t feel obligated to attend a workshop you don’t need or to stay in one that wasn’t at all what you expected. I attended a class that was titled one thing and ended up being something else. (That was not common, by the way.) Ten minutes in, I gathered my stuff and left the room as quietly as possible. The teacher has no idea why someone leaves early — a pitch? a phone call from home? sickness? I wasn’t dissing her; the class simply wasn’t a topic I needed after all. I walked into a class next door and was SOOOO glad I did.
  • You can learn as much from chatting with other writers as you can get from the conference classes. I gleaned so much knowledge from conversations with Jenny Hansen, Donna Newton, Kristen Lamb, Tiffany A. White, Nigel Blackwell, David N. Walker, Jess Witkins, Kait Nolan, Jillian Dodd, Piper Bayard, and others that my brain was tingling with electricity by Saturday night. Asking others about their writing process, publishing plans, and life in general enlightened me in ways that made my trip to Big D well-worth all those hours and money.
  • No matter who you are, you can always learn more. It was marvelous to step into a workshop and see several published authors in the class as well. Taking notes. Learning more. Improving their craft.

What workshops did I attend? In case you’re interested, here’s a quick rundown: How to Pitch to an Agent (Rosemary Clement-Moore); The Changing Face of Publishing (an expert panel); Writing Love Scenes (Roni Loren – incredible); Anatomy of a Book Launch (Laurie McLean-agent, Kristen Lamb, Kait Nolan); Fast Draft (Candace Havens); Inside Publishing (Jill Marsal-agent); Revision Hell (Candace Havens); Writing Emotion (Lori Wilde); Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction (Laurie McLean-agent).

Bayard/Lamb 2012: Foxie with (literal) Moxie

Links to some FABULOUS posts about the conference from fellow speakers/attendees:

Social Media Jedi Kristen Lamb encourages writers to push themselves in The Comfort Zone is for Pets, Not Professionals.

Romance author Roni Loren summarizes what agents like and don’t like in queries and first pages with What Will Make an Agent Gong Your Pages.

Writer (and my awesome conference roommate!) Jess Witkins discusses lessons learned in Celebrating My Writing Slump.

Jenny Hansen reports progress on her conference goals and teases us about Fast Draft (thanks, Candace Havens) with Bestselling Authors, DFWcon, and the Flu…Oh My!

Donna Newton makes me kick myself in How to Hook an Agent…The ‘SOO’ Publishing Way. How has this Brit managed to shoot so much stuff when I (a born-and-bred Texan) have yet to meet my goal of firing a real gun?!!

Jess Witkins, Me & Donna Newton

I also posted on Friday about What’s Next? The Hybrid Author, which was partially culled from my conference experience.

(I guarantee I forgot someone else’s wonderful post; I may update this later.)

One last pic: Me & Tiffany White

Enough already. Here are my ROW80 goals and progress report!

  • Log 5,000 words per week on young adult novel, SHARING HUNTER. This should result in a completed first draft. DONE.
  • If first draft is finished, edit once through SHARING HUNTER. I started revising, using the notes from my class with editor Tiffany Lawson Inman and tips from Candace Havens’s Revision Hell workshop.
  • Work on pitch and synopsis for DFW Writers’ Conference (taking place May 19-20). Did it! Pitched. Need to send my queries.
  • If I get all of that done, edit through THE YEAR OF FIRSTS, my middle grade novel which is in second draft form and has been gathering dust for a few months. Waiting on 3 tasks above.
  • Read one writing craft book. My choice this round is Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. Took a break from this goal until after the DFW Writers’ Conference.
  • Read through March/April issue of The Writer’s Digest. I can’t find the March/April issue, so I started working through the issue that just arrived in the mail.
  • Take course from Tiffany Inman Lawson on 77 Secrets to Writing YA Fiction that Sells from the Margie Lawson Writers Academy. Slowly catching up!
  • Read 10 books keeping to my At-Least-3 Reading Challenge for 2012. On track. I have read six books so far: The Killer Inside Me; Getting Rid of Bradley; Graceling; The Man Who Was Thursday; The Heart-Shaped Box; One of Our Thursdays is Missing. Reading Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
  • Post ROW80 updates on Sundays. Keeping up.
  • Exercise three times a week — length of time to be determined. Skipped Zumba. May I count the four hours of helping with our church youth’s group car wash on Saturday? I know I burned some calories there.

So how’s your ROW80 week? Be sure to cheer on fellow writers HERE.

And if you are interested in attending the DFW Writers’ Conference in 2013, they are offering a super early-bird registration price of $225 (early-bird is $295) until June 1. The conference will be held May 4-5, 2013 at the Hurst Conference Center. I will be there!

Howdy from Big D and #ROW80

Inspired by Kristen Lamb and Jenny Hansen, I’m vlogging from Dallas today, where I am attending the DFW Writers’ Conference. I have been blessed to meet some of the fabulous fellow writers who have been my cyberpals and encouragers for over a year now. Here’s a quick hello:

And now for the weekly ROW80 update:

  • Log 5,000 words per week on young adult novel, SHARING HUNTER. This should result in a completed first draft. I wrote 6,555 words on Monday and Tuesday and completed the first draft of SHARING HUNTER!
  • If first draft is finished, edit once through SHARING HUNTER. I’m waiting until I return from the DFW Writers’ Conference this weekend. While it’s tempting to try to get through an edit, I’d rather hold off that pressure and use my time to prepare for the conference.
  • Work on pitch and synopsis for DFW Writers’ Conference (taking place May 19-20). I pitched this weekend. I give this experience a thumbs-up.
  • If I get all of that done, edit through THE YEAR OF FIRSTS, my middle grade novel which is in second draft form and has been gathering dust for a few months. Waiting on 3 tasks above.
  • Read one writing craft book. My choice this round is Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. Took a break from this goal until after the DFW Writers’ Conference.
  • Read through March/April issue of The Writer’s Digest. Now I can’t even find the magazine. *facepalm*
  • Take course from Tiffany Inman Lawson on 77 Secrets to Writing YA Fiction that Sells from the Margie Lawson Writers Academy. Working on the second assignment and plan to hit this hard next week, as it will help with edits for SHARING HUNTER.
  • Read 10 books keeping to my At-Least-3 Reading Challenge for 2012. On track. I have read five books so far: The Killer Inside Me; Getting Rid of Bradley; Graceling; The Man Who Was Thursday; and The Heart-Shaped Box.
  • Post ROW80 updates on Sundays. Here I am!
  • Exercise three times a week — length of time to be determined. I went to Zumba twice this week, but one of those sessions was 1 1/2 hours instead of the usual 1 hour, so I feel pretty good about this.

I will check back with my fellow ROW80ers next week once the conference high dies down a bit. Y’all have a great week!

Top 10 Things to Do at a Writers’ Conference

Within a couple of hours of this post going up, I’ll be driving up to Dallas to attend the DFW Writers’ Conference. Talk about a Deep-Fried Friday for me. I expect this weekend to be better than a plate of beer-battered shrimp!

I attended last year and got my feet nice and wet at that conference. However, being the introvert I am, I approached the event as an information-gatherer and only talked to a few people. When I returned, I sent in my synopsis and chapters to the agent who requested them and received a lovely rejection letter.

But then I started this blog, began reading craft books, and connected with some fabulous writers. So this go-around, I am approaching the conference a little differently. Here are my Top 10 Things to Do at a Writers’ Conference (in no particular order):

1. Turn cyberfriends into real-life friends. You know that person you’ve traded tweets and blog comments and even emails with — dishing about the writer’s life and life in general? You might actually get to meet them! Thus far, you’ve imagined your friend as the 1×2-inch profile photo on their Twitter account. But your friend is not Flat Stanley: She is three-dimensional with a real-live voice! I for one am eager to finally meet in person great writer friends like Jenny Hansen, Tiffany A. White, Roni Loren, and many, many more.

2. Hang out with agents. Note that I didn’t say, “Convince an agent to rep my book.” Since my rookie experience, I have discovered that agents are real people. Of course I knew that before, but I care less this year whether they want my book. I simply want to get to know them. They are an interesting bunch of people who get to read for living, have their fingers on the pulse of book sales, and come to conferences to hang out with us writers. Why not make a few friends of agents? If we get along great and they like my book idea, oh yeah, I’ll send them a manuscript, pronto. But if they don’t, we can still have a drink and chat.

3. Hand out business cards. You’ve got 250 cards in that box, and there are only so many restaurants with that fish bowl where you leave your business card and they draw for a free lunch. You have to hand them out somewhere! What better place than a writers’ conference, where people might look at your card later and connect with you?

4. Be an author groupie. Last year, Sandra Brown was the keynote speaker at the DFW Writers’ Conference. This year, it’s James Rollins. Um, hello! These authors have a string of bestsellers and a truckload of wisdom about writing. Instead of spending their Saturday working on their next brilliant novel, bestselling authors often come to conferences to tell us what they’ve learned, sign books, pose for pictures, and converse with us future bestsellers. While we must remember not to stalk them, it’s okay to be a groupie of a great author. Squeee a bit when you see them, get your book autographed, and have your friend snap a picture of you leaning in close like you and James are best friends.

5. Trade pitches. Of course, you may be pitching your book to agents, and that’s wonderful. However, this is also an opportunity to bounce story ideas off people who love to hear them — other writers. Ask “What’s your book about?” and then listen. You’ll hear some amazing tales and get excited about what’s being written out there. You can also gauge interest in your own novel or in the way you’re pitching it based on others’ reactions, which can help you hone your story or presentation of it.

6. Get book recommendations. What to know what to read next? Ask writers what they loved. Peruse the book tables. Check out the titles from the authors who teach a class. After last year’s conference, I concluded that the much-touted Save the Cat by Blake Snyder had to be on my reading list, began reading Rosemary Clement-Moore’s Maggie Quinn, Girl vs. Evil series, and downloaded Kristen Lamb’s We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media.

7. Show off your fashion sense. One of the most-often asked questions of conference planners is “What do I wear?” The answer is essentially “Whatever you want.” From my limited experience, it seems that writers run the gamut regarding personal presentation. You’ll find the business man in a suit; the pierced, tattooed biker girl with blue hair; and everything in between. Whatever brand is you, comb your closet and put together something that shows off your fashion sense. Then again, you might simply grab whatever’s comfortable and go with that.

8. Shop the tables. There will likely be product booths at the conference. See what goodies you can find. It might be a book, a t-shirt, a writing resource, or a trinket, but you might discover a treasure. Last year, I entered a contest to get a slogan put on a t-shirt. I was one of three winners, and my t-shirt idea was sold at the Penguin Promo table. That was kind of cool.

9. Make new friends. I started to write “make new connections,” but if you approach the conference as an opportunity to make friends, you will have more fun and be more fun. Of course, your friends are connections, so if you focus on engaging with people personally, they are likely to want to help you professionally. That said, even if they never recommend you to their publisher or agent, this is a chance to make friends. Much of our writing lives are spent alone with our notebooks or laptops, and conference time is an opportunity to hob-nob with people who “get” us.

10. Fill in your knowledge gaps. Wherever you are in your writing career, there is more to know. Last year, I focused on querying and synopsis writing, since I knew how to write and just wanted some help landing my book deal. (Stop giggling.) This year, I have a broader focus because I know where my knowledge gaps truly are and plan to fill them by taking workshops that address those areas. You are at this conference to learn something! Go forth and learn it.

So are you planning to attend any writing conferences this year? What are your reasons for going? What goals do you have in mind as you attend?

And will you be at DFW Con? Be sure to look for me there! I look exactly like my 1×2-inch profile photo. 😉

Tips for Talking Texan

It’s Amaze-ing Words Wednesday again! It’s also conference season, and many writers are busy preparing for their trip, classes, pitches, or table-dancing performance. Since we’ll have some non-Texans attending the DFW Writers’ Conference, I thought it was a good time to re-run a post from May of last year. In case you’ll be in the Lone Star State anytime soon, or you just want to decipher want the heck we’re all saying down here, here are my Tips for Talking Texan.

In a prior post, I said that I enjoy mimicking accents, though I am not fluent in any foreign languages.  But I should qualify that some people think my native tongue of Texan is a foreign language.  In fact, an ad for the Texas Tourism Bureau has had a slogan for years to promote travel to the Lone Star state:  “It’s like a whole other country.”

Now I don’t believe I have a strong drawl and, with concentration, I can eliminate it from my speech almost entirely.  But put me in a herd of fellow born-and-bred Texans or get me super-excited about something, and I twang like a dueling banjo.  If you’ve ever wondered what it takes to speak Texan, here are a few pointers from me:

1.  Take It Easy.  First of all, Hollywood totally overdoes it.  DO NOT try to sound like J.R. from Dallas.  If you do, you should get shot.

2.  Use Y’all.  The proper plural of “you” is “y’all.”  It’s the perfect contraction of “you” and “all,” which comes in handy when distinguishing a single Dallas Cowboy cheerleader from the whole scantily-clad cheer squad or one particular misbehaving child from the group of rambunctious hellions.

3.  Be polite.  Our language is infused with Southern courtesy and superfluous manners.  I was downright flummoxed by Senator Barbara Boxer getting her granny panties in a wad over a Brigadier General Michael Walsh calling her “ma’am.”  That’s a compliment and a sign of respect down here.  My children had better not say to some teacher, “Yeah”; they are expected to answer, “Yes, ma’am.”

This goes along with other seemingly over-the-top courtesies, like saying “Hi” or “Howdy” to people you don’t know (you can’t walk the Texas A&M campus without being greeted that way); having a store clerk invite you to “Come back” – meaning you should return to shop sometime in the future, not turn around because you’re being accused of shoplifting; and waving at drivers in other cars if they allow you to pull ahead or pass (okay, that’s not spoken language, but it is communication).

4.  Tex-Mex It.  Throw in words borrowed from Spanish.  Texas has, after all, been under Six Flags in its history – one-third of those being Spanish-speaking nations (Spain and Mexico).  We also have a wonderful population of citizens with Hispanic, or Latino if you prefer, heritage –many of whom are bilingual.  And we sure do like our Tex-Mex food.  (You would too!)  Try out a few like Spanish words like these:  “Everything” becomes “the whole enchilada.”  “Goodbye” is “Adios, muchachos.”  And “Stop parking on your lawn like a hillbilly!” becomes “Loco!”

5.  Channel your Inner Texan.  Mostly though, what you need to remember is to spread your mouth wide, add a syllable or two when there is a long vowel (“lamb” becomes “lā-ă-ĕmb”), and channel your inner Dixie Chick. 

Lyle Lovett, a native, has a great song called That’s Right, You’re Not from Texas, with the next lyrics being “but Texas wants you anyway.”  We’re happy to have anybody identify themselves with the Lone Star State, so take this opportunity to practice a down-south drawl and be an Honorary Texan for a spell. 

Meanwhile, I enjoy hearing accents from all the regions of our union.  Where are you from?  Do you have a strong accent or not?  What are the particular idiosyncrasies of your area’s rendering of English?

Life’s a Beach and #ROW80

This photo of me was taken on Friday, and yes, that is the beach in the background! My best friend and I have an annual tradition of taking one day in the school year, dropping off our kids, and heading to Galveston for the day. We sit in camp chairs, read books, eat snacks, and chat. We also wade into the ocean, swim, jump waves, and chat. Then we go somewhere to change clothes, eat lunch, and chat. It’s a day I look forward to and enjoy every year. What a great tradition!

However, this relaxing mini-vacation will have to last me for a little while. I will be spending the next two weeks preparing for the DFW Writers’ Conference. My hope is to have a completed first draft of my young adult contemporary novel and be ready to pitch my cozy mystery. In order to accomplish those goals, I may need to cut back on blog reading and commenting, social media time, and reading other fiction. Trust me, I will catch up when I return from the conference.

In the meantime, here’s the report on my ROW80 goals:

  • Log 5,000 words per week on young adult novel, SHARING HUNTER. This should result in a completed first draft. 4313 for the week. I didn’t quite make my goal, but I well exceeded it the last two weeks and chose to use some of my writing time to get ahead on blogging.
  • If first draft is finished, edit once through SHARING HUNTER. Waiting on #1.
  • Work on pitch and synopsis for DFW Writers’ Conference (taking place May 20-22). Starting to delve into this one this week.
  • If I get all of that done, edit through THE YEAR OF FIRSTS, my middle grade novel which is in second draft form and has been gathering dust for a few months. Waiting on 3 tasks above.
  • Read one writing craft book. My choice this round is Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. I read a few more chapters, but I will be taking a break from this goal until after the DFW Writers’ Conference.
  • Read through March/April issue of The Writer’s Digest. Why can’t I get to this goal?!
  • Take course from Tiffany Inman Lawson on 77 Secrets to Writing YA Fiction that Sells from the Margie Lawson Writers Academy. The class began a couple of days ago, and I’m excited.
  • Read 10 books keeping to my At-Least-3 Reading Challenge for 2012. On track. Finishing THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY by G.K. Chesterton.
  • Post ROW80 updates on Sundays. Done.
  • Exercise three times a week — length of time to be determined. I went to Zumba on Tuesday and Thursday. Then I ran on the beach, about a mile or so, on Friday.

My word count was not nearly as good this week, but I spent Monday and Tuesday working on blog posts for three weeks in advance. Then on Wednesday, I steam-cleaned my carpet (which is beautiful). And then there was Friday with the day at the beach. So all in all, not a bad week!

How are my fellow writers doing with ROW80 or any other challenges, classes, or goals you have? Are you working toward any deadlines or just basking in your writing time? See the line-up of fabulous ROWers HERE.

And simply because I have the beach on my mind now, here’s a song from Blotto — a band I discovered from the cassette tape clearance bin at a record store when I was in college. My five-dollar find did not disappoint. Here’s I Want to Be a Lifeguard:

Jr High All Over Again?: #ROW80

An actual picture from my junior high

Here’s a status update I recently posted to my personal Facebook page, which received quite a lot of here-here’s:

I thought we left catty girl fights back in junior high. Now this week, I learned about Ann Romney (does she work? doesn’t she?) and Ashley Judd (no, not puffy pace!). I hereby announce that I don’t care whether you’re a working mom, a SAHM, a size 2, a size 16, a Democrat, a Republican, a hunter, a vegetarian, a cover model, or a puffer-fish. A woman’s role can be challenging, and hats off to you if you’re doing it well.

For that matter, a man’s role can be challenging. Life is challenging. As I age and grow, I learn more and more the importance of being a cheerleader to those around me. Life’s too short to judge others on the small stuff.

In the writing world, it looks like this: Work full-time, work part-time, or stay at home with your kids or your beloved hamsters. Take three years to write your first novel or churn out four books in a year. Write mystery, romance, or young adult dystopian horror sci-fi fantasy. Publish traditionally, small press, or independently. Those things aren’t the most important. Traits like character, compassion, and courage count. (And the ability to use alliteration when it seems appropriate.) That’s what makes you a worthwhile human being.

*steps off soap box*

Speaking of cheerleading, that’s one of the best things about ROW80! I love knowing that my ROW80 group is cheering me on. Specifically, I want to thank the #row80 and #teamsprinty writers for some great word sprints this week. Here’s how my week looked:

  • Log 5,000 words per week on young adult novel, SHARING HUNTER. This should result in a completed first draft. I wrote 4,966 words on SHARING HUNTER (oh so close). However, I did have a spark of a notion for a short story and wrote 758 words on it. That brings my writing total to 5,724. Still, I would rather have gotten my 5k in with the YA novel.
  • If first draft is finished, edit once through SHARING HUNTER.
  • Work on pitch and synopsis for DFW Writers’ Conference (taking place May 20-22). Not yet.
  • If I get all of that done, edit through THE YEAR OF FIRSTS, my middle grade novel which is in second draft form and has been gathering dust for a few months. Hopefully, I will be able to take a fresh perspective of what I wrote there and turn it into a beautiful book.
  • Read one writing craft book: Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. I made no progress on reading this craft book this week. Something about this one seems daunting — its size? its title? its labyrinth on the front? I need to suck it up and start reading.
  • Read through March/April issue of The Writer’s Digest. Reading articles here and there.
  • Take course from Tiffany Inman Lawson on 77 Secrets to Writing YA Fiction that Sells from the Margie Lawson Writers Academy. Happening in May!
  • Read 10 books keeping to my At-Least-3 Reading Challenge for 2012. Reading THE KILLER INSIDE ME by Jim Thompson. This is one of those not-my-usual-genre books — a crime suspense novel recommended by Catie Rhodes. It’s from the point of view of the murderer, so yeah . . . creepy.
  • Post ROW80 updates on Sundays. (Yes, I know that we are supposed to report twice weekly, but I have found that to be difficult. Moreover, that ends up giving me three posts from Wednesday-Friday, which is a bit much for my readers, I think. So I’m sticking to Sundays. Hope that’s okay with the Powers That Be.) I like this once a week schedule.
  • Exercise three times a week — length of time to be determined. I went to Zumba exactly once this week. The next time I could have gone, I had a dentist appointment instead. Want to know what I think of going to the dentist? Dental Discomfort. Room for improvement here!

So how has your week shaped up? And if you want to cheer on others, be sure to check out my fellow ROWers HERE.

Cool or Clueless? #ROW80 Update

I tell my kids I’m hip and cool. But they don’t believe it. And now I realize, why should they? Here’s a snippet of conversation my husband and I had last week:

Hubby:  [reading news on computer] So Justin Timberlake proposed to Jessica Biel.
Me:  Jessica Biel?
Hubby: Yeah.
Me:  Wait, who is she?
Hubby: You remember Flashdance?
Me:  Oh yeah, Jessica Biel. I remember her. Isn’t she a little old for him?
Hubby: Justin Timberlake’s not that young.
Me: Yes, he is . . . compared to her. What’s with all these older women going for younger guys?
Hubby:  [clicking around a little more online] Wait, she’s young. Apparently, Jessica Beals is the actress from Flashdance; this girl is Jessica Biel.
Me: Oh. [pause] Who’s Jessica Biel?

The former Mary Camden (7th Heaven) and 'N Sync lead singer

Celebrity-wise, I’m clueless. I don’t know who’s dating whom, married to whom, cheating on whom, or divorcing whom. I don’t know anything about Snooki, other than she’s from some show called Jersey Shore. I still haven’t figured out why the Kardashians are a big hit. And I have absolutely no idea how many children Brad and Angelina now have. (Do they?)

While I don’t keep up with the celebrity news, I did keep up last week with my novel in progress! I’ll count that as hip and cool in the writer club. Here’s how it went:

  • Finish editing Grace & Fire mystery novel and send to reader. Finished January 19.
  • Write 2,500 1,500 words per week on young adult novel, Sharing HunterI wrote five days last week, which was pretty dang wonderful. The #ROW80/ #teamsprinty word sprints were valuable — or invaluable, depending on how you look at it. All in all, I logged 9,281 words on my WIP! Yes, I trashed some of those, but I got several scenes written and can feel my story heating up.
  • Blog twice a week on Amaze-ing Words Wednesday and Deep-Fried Friday, and check-in with ROW80 updates twice a week. Posted Me, in One Word Only and ROW80 on Sunday and The Fun Encyclopedia: Alphabet Game on Wednesday and I Know I Should Follow Your Blog But… on Friday.
  • Comment on at least 10 15 blogs per week (not counting ROW80 update comments). I commented 31 times. Good gracious! I did visit several new places. I will likely be dropping this goal next round because I’m now in the habit of visiting blogs, both favorites and newbies, and commenting when I want.
  • Read one writing craft book. Finished On Writing by Stephen King. For those asking what I thought of On Writing, I didn’t get as much out of it as others have. Check out Lesann Berry’s post in which she invites you to share you favorite writing craft book.
  • Read five eight fiction books. I have read 10 fiction books, having recently finished Devilish by Maureen Johnson.
  • Exercise three times per week. Walk one mile three times per week. I walked 1.7 miles on Tuesday on 2 miles on Saturday. I didn’t get my three times in, but I did walk more than 3 miles.
  • Read through Writer’s Digest magazine issue. Finished.

Added goals for last week:

  • Research agents and select top choices for pitch session at the DFW Writers’ Conference. I did one pass through the list and eliminated those who definitely don’t match up. I still have plenty of research to do.
  • Write and enter a scene for Jenny Hansen’s More Cowbell Dirty Fighting Extravaganza. I sent my entry to Jenny on Friday with the subject line: “Look out, ninjas…I’m fighting dirty.” Regardless of what happens, it was an excellent exercise and fun to write. It made me write a lot more dialogue than I typically do in a scene.

We’re coming to the home stretch of ROW80! I’m already starting to think about how these goals will change for the next round. Hope to see you there too.

So how’s it going for you? Are you feeling cool or clueless with your ROW80 progress? Are you finishing strong? Let’s keep cheering each other on through the finish line; check out the fellow ROWers HERE.