Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Writing Conferences

The Romance Writers of America conference is being held this week in Dallas, Texas. Unfortunately, I can't attend this year. Or maybe that's a good thing because conferences often depress me. However, my problems aside, I really encourage anyone who wants to be a writer to attend conferences. Particularly if the conference has seminars or classes that can help you improve your writing. Assuming you are open new ideas and don't believe that your writing is so good there is no way it can be improved.

Yeah. Right.

Be aware, however, that conferences can be a bit depressing if your confidence is fragile. When you see all the authors out there and start to realize how great some of them are, and you go back and read your stuff, you may begin to have doubts. You may think you're the worst writer on the planet and will never sell. Or that what you've sold is total dreck.

So you need to prepare to have your confidence shattered and continue writing anyway. Because everything, and I mean everything, can be improved upon. You can learn. If you put enough sweat into it, learn from your mistakes, remain open to new ideas, and don't let the rejections get to you, you may eventually get published. Of course, there are no guarantees.

And even when you're published, you should be aware that you must continue to learn and perfect your craft. Because there is always the second contract you have to earn.

One of the biggest fallacies I see when I talk to writers who attend conferences is the profound belief that what they just heard in class doesn't apply to them. Some writers attend the workshops with an open mind, ready to learn, tempered by the notion that their own writing does not suffer from whatever weaknesses or problems are under discussions. Or worse, they say, "Yes, I understand completely about overuse of adjectives and adverbs. But I have a very lush writing style and that is just my style. So it would be foolish of me to change it—it is perfect the way it is. But other writers should really pay attention to the advice from that class."

Sigh. All styles can be refined. All styles can be improved. Even the most lush, sensuous style can suffer from overwriting and the way too excessive use of adjectives and adverbs. Or infelicitous comparisons, similes, and descriptions.


And I can't help it, I've got to use Gil Mayo's observation from The Gil Mayo Mysteries on BBC America, about a shampoo called, Maximum Infinity. As he put it: infinity is, by definition, infinite. You can't modify it and make it more, or less, infinite. I don't think that's exactly what he said, but you get the gist of it. And translated into my words: unless you are writing something for some humorous effect, don't be a jerk about it. Watch your modifiers. Understand what the language you are using actually means.

Oh, and if you haven't seen The Gil Mayo Mysteries on BBC American—go watch iti! It's a brilliant show! Of course now that I've discovered it and have become a huge fan, it will probably be canceled. All the shows I like are canceled almost immediately. Just like all the stocks I buy immediately crash and never recover.

Anyway, The Gil Mayo Mysteries is the ONLY show I actually watch on television—not having time to actually watch television on a regular basis. Other than the occasional: Absolutely Fabulous, of course.

So, I adore Alistair McGowan as Gil Mayo and the absolutely brilliant new actor Huw Rhys as DI Kite. Huw Rhys has the most expressive face—he is a joy to watch. He can say more by just rolling his eyes than most other actors can convey in an entire speech. Of course McGowan is perfect as the deadpan, precise Gil Mayo. God, I love to watch those two. This show is fantastic. It is so funny and I even love the small bit before the show begins when the BBC recommends that American viewers may wish to use their close captioning feature because of the accents…What a riot. I always start the DVD recorder a little early to catch that part.

And yes, Huw Rhys is from Wales and has a achingly beautiful accent, but I can't say as I've needed the close captioning feature yet. J I just wish they would have some decent pictures on the BBC America site for the cast. The one group shot has a pretty appalling picture of poor Mr. Rhys.

And lest we forget the women: I'm totally jealous of Jessica Oyelowo as the character of Alex. She is truly gorgeous. Not to mention that her outfits are fabulous and in some odd way remind me of the creations by my favorite costume designer, Edith Head. Sometimes I really wish that well-tailored, good looking dresses that look good on an actual female body with curves would come back into style. It's so rare to see well-constructed clothing with flare. Maybe that's one of the reasons the character of Alex looks so good—she often wears "costumes" that in fact look well-made and good on a woman.

There is something tragically missing from today's gowns—they just lack style. They look good on hangers. They look good draped over a stick figure. But none of them really look well made or good on an actual woman with an actual woman's body. And the more "high fashion" they are, the worse they look. Some just frankly look like someone took a bolt of expensive fabric, basted a few seams along strange-and-wacky bias lines and threw it over the poor, starved woman. Too bad. They just look like an anorexic pile of expensive fabric remnants.

Anyway, this has absolutely nothing to do with writing or conferences.


Back to writing conferences…

Strangely enough, I tend to disagree with the conventional wisdom about what is useful about conferences. A lot of people go "to make contacts in the industry".



Frankly, I don't think that is very useful until you have actually sold your book. If you have, then you need to go to conferences to meet the people who will put your book into bookstores and libraries.

If you haven't published, here's the thing: you can chat up as many agents and editors as you want, but your book is only going to be contracted by one of them if the story and writing are good enough. Your book will essentially sell itself if it is good enough. Until it is that good, you are wasting your time. No one is going to buy anything you write no matter how many drinks you buy for them or how friendly you are.

The only exception is if you are some sort of celebrity. Then your celebrity status may sell your first book for you. After that, if it doesn't do well, you're back to the old "is the story and writing strong enough?"

So, I totally don't believe in the value of networking until you are a published author. Then you need to cast your net about you to pick up contracts in the industry such as librarians and booksellers who may acquire your masterpiece, and nose around editors to see what the trends are, who is buying what, and so on for your next project.

Then, with tears in your eyes, you ask: What about the opportunity to pitch your book to a lucky agent or editor?

What about it? It's frankly a waste of good adrenalin and nervous tension. Because they are still going to read what you submit to them. And if it isn't good enough, it's rejected. They're aren't going to buy it because they met you face-to-face at the conference.

And here's the real secret: if your book is good enough to buy, they will buy it—even out of the slush pile! So you are no better off and if you have a tendency to ramble (the way I do—see above digression) then you are actually better off not pitching in that venue.

Perfect your pitch/query. With the help of a query vetting group, I've reached the point where 99% of my queries net a request for a partial.

When you reach that point, then just send the query letter. If they ask for a partial, send the partial. If it's good enough, they'll ask for the rest of the manuscript. If they like it, they'll buy it. That's the process. Pitching in person just makes you insanely nervous and crazy and for no good reason because you still have to go through exactly that same process. You may possibly get to send your completed manuscript first instead of the partial, but again, if it isn't good enough, all that will net you is a quicker rejection.

So you can be a cool, calm, rational person and send a query to start the process, or you can be a sweaty, tongue-tied person who pitched face-to-face. Both authors end up in the same queue. Naturally, if you prefer to make contacts and pitch face-to-face, then have at it. I'm just saying if this is not your preferred style and you are shy—don't worry about it. In the long run, it's your writing and your story that matter.

And that's it. It's your writing and your story that matter. Not buying rounds in the hotel bar for all the editors at the RWA conference.

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