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. 😉

My Reluctant Conversion to Ebooks

 

Woman Reading Book by C. Coles Philip

I lament the loss of texture. With our touch screen world, it is becoming rarer and rarer to feel the push buttons of a telephone, an ATM, or a debit card machine; the click of a mouse rather than the flat touchpad that moves my cursor around this screen; and especially the rough or smooth pages of a yellow-paged novel.

Sitting on the beach yesterday, I considered how particular environments are best suited to having a paperback instead of an ebook reader in hand. And why was I thinking this? Because in spite of my woes about the computer screen/virtual world, I was reading from my husband’s nook and hoping that the salty air and sand wouldn’t damage my portable electronic.

I was considering the same question when I got home, settled into a hot bath to get all the sticky sand off my body, and read from my nook. One slip of my hand and splash! ereader ruined. But I was really careful.

So why am I reading ebooks instead of my preferred texture-rich novels? I have to admit that it’s convenient.

My aging eyes. Now that I’m old enough to require reading glasses, I have to hunt them down to open up a book and read the 9-point font that someone in the publishing world thought was legible. With an ebook reader, I simply click on Preferences, increase the font size, and voila! easy to read and no glasses needed.

Multiple books/one device. I can juggle two books at a time with one device. I do NOT read more than one fiction book at a time. (I get confused!) But I am often reading one fiction and one non-fiction simultaneously. In this case, I can carry around one book-sized device and go between Story Engineering by Larry Brooks and Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore with a few simple clicks.

Easy purchasing. My prior fiction purchases involved a trip to the bookstore (a favorite outing indeed) or an online purchase from Amazon.com and waiting a few days for my order to arrive. Now, however, if I don’t have time for a long browse in a bookstore or want to cater to my natural impatience, I can click, click, click on my nook and in mere moments the book appears on my screen, ready to read. Ebooks are often less expensive nowadays as well.

Change happens. I grew up in a family that was usually the first one on the street with a new gadget. We had a microwave very soon after they came out, even if it was the size of a small truck and cost the same as a Mediterrean cruise. But for myself, I’m usually in the middle — not the first one out, not the last one in. What I am not, though, is the person dragged kicking and screaming into modernity. You know, those people who just recently bought a cell phone or booted up their first computer. Like it or not, a lot of books are only available in ebook form and more and more authors and publishers are moving in that direction every day. So I have my nook, and I’m ready.

I suppose I can stroke a rough sponge, rub blank pieces of paper, or feel my legs right before I shave if I get an extreme desire for texture. I have a feeling I will be getting texture less and less from my fiction. Thankfully, the content is still enjoyable, no matter what the form of delivery.

(Note: I have extreme doubts about ebooks for children’s books, however. How do you present Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt or The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle in ebook form?)

Here are the fiction books I have recently read on my nook:

Making Waves by Tawna Fenske.  A quirky romance novel with corporate castoffs, a pirate mission, a beautiful stowaway, and a great Battleship game scene.  This is not my usual genre, but I enjoyed the book immensely.  Fenske’s protagonist is sassy, savvy, and sexy all the way through.

Forgive My Fins by Tera Lynn Childs.  A young mermaid lives with her aunt and attends “terraped” high school.  But her 18th birthday is looming, and she needs to find a mate so she can attain her rightful place as heir to an undersea kingdom.  She’s got her target in sight, but can she reel him in?  Childs has written a wonderful young adult novel with relatable characters and believable mermaid behaviors (loved all the fish references).  I will also be checking out her sequel entitled Fins Are Forever.

Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore.  I’m in the middle of this one, but so far it’s hard to put down.  A college-aged girl and her sister, both kitchen witches, housesit at their quirky aunt’s Texas ranch.  When some bones are uncovered at the neighboring ranch, they get more than the usual easygoing ghost.  If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I have truly enjoyed Rosemary’s books.  Her writing is right up my alley.

How do you feel about the switchover from traditional books to ebooks?  Do you own an ebook reader?  How do you like it?  Do you think moving to ebooks is a good trend overall?  How do you think that ebooks will affect readers, the publishing world, or authors?

Friday Fiction: The Power of Three

Among the mainstays in the world of fiction is the TRILOGY. As I cracked upon Mockingjay, the third book in the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, I wondered why a set of three is so common. 

 

It made me think how decorators are always saying that knick-knacks, vases, and other décor should come in sets of three because that is more appealing to the eye. There are the clichés that “Good things come in threes” or “Bad things come in threes,” depending on whether you are hearing it from an optimist or a pessimist. My own faith, Christianity, values the number three since God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit constitute the Trinity. More threes include the Three Musketeers, the Three Stooges,  three Charlie’s Angels, three branches of government, three parts of a nucleus, the three Chipmunks, three primary colors, Christopher Columbus’s three ships, and three judges on American Idol (that fourth one never worked). 

So are we just fascinated by threes, and thus the fictional trilogy seems the perfect length to tell a tale? After all, when we talk of a story having a beginning, a middle, and an end, that’s another three. 

Here are a few of the fiction trilogies I’ve read.  

Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien – The ultimate fantasy trilogy which set the standard for many that followed. The Fellowship of the Ring, Two Towers, and Return of the King relate the tale of a reluctant hobbit and his friends’ quest to overcome forces of evil in Middle-earth.

Maggie Quinn vs. Evil – Author Rosemary Clement-Moore calls this a series, but until she writes a fourth book (go right ahead, Rosemary!) I’m calling it a trilogy, which I read this year. Prom Dates from Hell, Hell Week, and Highway to Hell are the three so far, which deal with Maggie Quinn and her brushes with demons. 

Midnighters Trilogy – Written by Scott Westerfeld, this young adult trilogy consists of The Secret Hour, Touching Darkness, and Blue Noon. It’s a fascinating series about teenagers with supernatural abilities and evil lurking at midnight. 

Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis – Consisting of The Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength, this science fiction trilogy takes place in three planets of our solar system. Lewis had started a fourth, The Dark Tower, but he didn’t finish before his death in 1963. 

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – Okay, I know it’s not a trilogy, but it was originally intended to be. I did read Hitchhiker’s Guide, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, and Life, the Universe, and Everything. Adams still used the word trilogy, calling Mostly Harmless “the fifth book in the increasingly inaccurately named trilogy.” And I think that’s funny, so I’m keeping it on the trilogy list! 

There are several others that began as a trilogy (The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice), caught fire, and led to a slew of books in the series. It’s awfully tempting for an author to keep giving readers what they seem to want and are definitely willing to buy. (Check out this interesting article about “Trilogy Creep” –  the strange tendency of trilogies to expand and see more and more works added.) Mind you, I only read the first three of Rice’s vampire series and happily have no idea what happened after that; presumably more blood-sucking. 

What do you think of trilogies?  Why are they so popular?  What trilogies have you read?  Which ones would you recommend?