Friday, April 24, 2015

10 Tips for Attending a Writers’ Conference In 2015

Whether you’re new to the writing industry or have already authored several books, writer’s conferences are a great way to educate yourself on the up and coming trends of the writing industry, craft and technique tips, networking with other writers, meeting with agents, editors, and publishers. The list could go on and on. Attending just one writer’s conference could make the difference between being an unpublished writer and a published writer.

General Information
Conferences run anywhere from one to five days. They generally include workshop classes, manuscript make-overs, critiques, agent pitches, and book signings. Register early as classes tend to fill up quickly. Most conferences offer an early bird discount. You’ll also want to schedule appointments for critiques and pitches when you register so you have the best chance at meeting with your top picks. Some conferences will let you sign up for critiques on the opening day, if time and room allows.

Make your hotel arrangements as soon as possible, too. Most conferences will hold a block of rooms for attendees at discounted rates. Big conferences tend to sell out long before the conference begins. Some meals are provided, but sometimes not all. Getting a room with a fridge and a microwave will help you save on extra expenses.

The Craft of Writing
Writing conferences are filled with speakers, published authors, editors, agents, and publishers who want to teach you how to become a better writer. The only way you can learn from their expertise is to be where they are, and that’s at writing conferences. Classes abound from the basics of grammar to creating page-turning plots. All genres are discussed from traditional writing and publishing, to freelance writing for magazines, to screen-writing plays or movies, and of course, online.

Connecting With Other Writers
Writing conferences give you the opportunity to meet other writers. Writers tend to be introverts who love the peace, quiet, and privacy of their own homes where they can lock themselves up in their office and tap out words on a keyboard for hours at a time. Only other writers can understand the writer's mind. Who else can you compare rejection letters with? Only other writers can appreciate how tumultuous the writing process is.

Research, Research, Research
It's all right to be choosy when it comes to picking the best conference for your needs. Know who the speakers are and what they’ll be teaching. Study the genres in which they’ll present. If you write poetry, but the conference faculty doesn't include any poets, that conference won't be beneficial to you. Do you have a manuscript ready to present to an agent? Make sure there's an agent present for you to pitch.

Networking is one of the main reasons to attend writer’s conferences. This is your opportunity to surround yourself with like-minded people. Writers who are informed and educated on how things work in this industry have a better chance at getting published. Peel your introvert-clothing off and open up. Most conferences have a reception or two for participants to mingle and get to know each other.

Pitch Your Book Idea
Editors and literary agents attend conferences looking for their next best-selling author. Check out the websites of the many conferences offered to see which editors and agents will be attending. If you don't live in a metropolis filled with big publishing companies, pitching agents at conferences could put you on the fast-track to getting your work published. Most pitches last 3-10 minutes so make sure you’re prepared. Do not bring your manuscript to the conference. If an agent is interested, they will ask you to send it to them.

A word of advice, never approach an agent or editor in the bathroom in reference to your book. Don’t laugh, it’s happened.

Tax Deductions
If you’re still having doubts on whether to attend a writers’ conference, know that you can claim your expenses on your taxes. The conference fee, airfare, rental car, hotel, meals not provided by the conference, and even your mileage are deductible.

What to Bring
You’ll want to take lots of notes so bring plenty of pencils, pens, paper, even your laptop. A small tape recorder is recommended as sometimes in taking notes we can miss things. If you’re published, some conferences allow you to bring and sell your books.

Bring comfortable shoes. You’ll do a lot of walking getting from one class to another. But when you meet with an agent or editor make sure you aren't too casual. You only get one chance to make a good impression. Bring your camera—there will be published authors in attendance! Not to mention the new friends you’ll make. Bring business cards. This will help people remember who you are when the conference is over. Make sure it includes your name, email, phone number, and website.

Thank You
Once you return home from the writer’s conference, send a thank you note to every editor, agent, and publisher you had the opportunity to speak with. Send a thank you to those who provided you with a manuscript evaluation and/or critique.

Writer’s conferences are a great way to put yourself on the right track to getting your work accepted and eventually published. For a list of conferences, check out Shaw Guides or Newpages

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Ten Ways to Tighten Your Writing & Hook the Reader

Screen Shot 2013-03-15 at 9.40.52 AM
Image via CellarDoorFilms W.A.N.A. Commons 

This article is re-blogged in its entirety from:

When I used to edit for a living, I earned the moniker The Death Star because I can be a tad ruthless with prose. Today I hope to teach you guys to be a bit ruthless as well. Before we get started, I do have a quick favor to ask. Some of you may know that I practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu so I’ve taken on our dojo’s blog to see if we can try out new and fun content and am using the moniker Dojo Diva.

I posted about how hard it is to begin and the fears that can ever keep us from starting. The way others try to stop us from doing anything remarkable. I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories, so I hope you will stop by and get the discussion going.

Click the word “Comments” and a box should appear. This is new, so working out the kinks. If you don’t appear, I may just need to approve you.

To prime the pump, so to speak, anyone who comments on the new blog will be drawn for a separate contest to win 20 pages of Death Star Treatment (rigorous edit from ME). This means a lot higher chances of winning. Also, the first ten commenters get double entries.

Been bragging about you guys, so I really hope to see you there!

Moving on…

Time is our enemy. Most people don’t have enough. This is why our writing must be tight, direct and hook early. Modern audiences have the attention span of a toddler hopped up on Pop Rocks and Mountain Dew. We can’t afford to let them drift.

Drift=Bad juju

I’ve edited countless books, many from new authors. I see a lot of the same errors, and this is to give you a basic guide of what to look for in your writing. Be your own Death Star. Blast away this weak writing so that once you do hire an editor, it won’t cost nearly as much because the editor won’t spend precious time (charged often by the hour) to note or remove these basic offenses.

I love doing my 20-page contest, namely because I act as an intermediary. When I run across excellent writing I do try to connect it with an agent who might be interested (with the author’s permission, of course). Yet, many of the samples I get are infested with these basic oopses that tell me the writer is not yet ready.

So I hope you can use these tips as a guide to reveal the pearl that is your story.

Tip #1—Use Other Senses. BTW, Sight is the Weakest

A lot of writers (new ones especially) rely on a lot of description regarding what a character sees, and while this isn’t, per se, wrong it can be overdone. Also, of all the senses, sight is one of the weakest, thus it lacks the power to pull your reader into deep POV (point of view).

***Just know I am riffing off these examples. Some people love detail, others love minimalism so I am not doing anything other than providing quick illustrations. Ultimately, tailor these suggestions to your particular voice.

Smells are very powerful. In fact, it is the most powerful of ALL the senses.

Jane stopped short. She stared at the blackened walls and peeling paint that testified to the fire that took twenty young lives.

Okay, pretty good. But maybe try this.

Jane stopped short. The sickening sweet of cooked flesh stole her breath. It was all that remained of twenty young lives extinguished in flames.

Taste is also very powerful.

Fifi tucked and rolled as she dove out of her captor’s van. The ground came up hard, harder than she expected.

Not bad, but maybe try…

Fifi’s face met the ground, hard. At first, all she noticed was the bitterness of grass mixed with sand that crunched against her teeth. A moment later? The taste of old copper pennies gushed into her mouth, making her gag. Blood.

Try to use a combination of all of the senses to close the psychic distance. To rely solely on what a character sees will keep the reader at a distance. It will make her a mere observer and not a participant. Also, y’all might have noticed novels are pretty long so adding in other senses will broaden your emotional palette.

Tip #2 Don’t Coach the Reader

When we are new, we tend to think through stage direction, and that’s fine, but it doesn’t mean it should end up on the page. Readers aren’t dumb, so we don’t need all the details.

He raised his hand and struck her across the cheek.

Um, duh. We know he raised his hand to strike her. Otherwise, that would be a serious trick. Jedi mind powers, maybe?

He struck her across the cheek. Hard. Stars exploded in her vision.

We don’t need the character to step up on the curb or reach for the door handle. If a character makes it from one room to another, we fill in the missing (and boring) details. We also don’t need cues for emotion.

Tip #3 Don’t State the Obvious

She slammed the door and cursed in anger.

Unless this character has spacial issues and Tourette’s? We know she’s angry. We don’t “need” the “in anger” part. We’re sharp. We get it. Really.

Tip #4 Can We Have a Name, Please?

This can happen a lot when the writer is using first-person. We go two, three or ten pages and still don’t know the main character’s NAME.

Tip #5 Don’t Introduce Too Many Characters Too Quickly

This is the opposite of the last problem—too many names. I can’t tell you how many writing samples I’ve received that make this mistake. If you have ten named characters by page one? I’m done. In life, we can’t keep up with that many names all at once, and when reading, that doesn’t change.

Too many names will confuse us and muddle who the protagonist is. We get lost, so we’re frustrated and we put the book down…or toss it across the room.

Tip #6 Limit Naming Too Much Anything at Once

This can happen in science fiction and fantasy because we are world-building. Just remember that if we name characters, places, prophesies, weapons, technology, dragons, creatures, ships, robots etc. it can overwhelm the reader. Stories are about people and if the people get lost because of the world-building, that is problematic.

Jezebel gripped the Kum-Rah in her bleeding hands. Panting, she stopped just short of the Uf-Tah’s altar. Tomorrow the Gil-Had would sacrifice another Fluff-Tun.

I’m being a tad silly here, but maybe try something like…

Jezebel gripped her sword in her bleeding hands. Panting, she stopped short of the ornate altar. Tomorrow the Gil-Had would sacrifice another member of her family.

We still get some world-building without our heads exploding trying to keep up with names and figure out who is who and what is what. Later, as the story progresses, we can learn that the bad guys are the Uf-Tah, the henchmen are the Gil-Had and the victims are the Fluff-Tah. We can eventually learn the names of particular weapons.

Tip #7 Give Us an “Idea” of Who a Character Is and What He/She Looks Like

Don’t feel the need to bog us down too much, but by page one, we should know at least some basics about a character. Few things get weirder than reading about a character for five or ten pages and then realizing they are another race or gender.

Whaaaa??? He’s a black dude?

Tip #8 Strive to Give Us a Sense of Time and Place

Again, a few details are helpful to orient us where we are. Whether it is the smell of horse manure, the rattling of carriages or the whir of computers, we need to get grounded quickly to become part of the world and fall into that fictive dream.

Tip #9 No Secret Agents

We are introduced to who we assume is the protagonist. Unless something cues us otherwise, we assume he/she is alone. When another character suddenly starts talking?


Also, tell us who this person is in relation to the character. Yes, you (the writer) know who this character is, but we don’t.

Gertrude awoke with a start. Her alarm clock hadn’t gone off, and panic gripped her. This was her first day at the new job, and being late could get her fired before she even started. She nearly fell as she scrambled out of the bed sheets and bolted for the coffee maker.

“I thought you’d be gone by now,” Ted said as he watered his Bonsai trees.

“Me, too. Hey, why didn’t you come wake me up?”

Okay, who is Ted? Brother? Husband? Boyfriend? Friendly home invader? We need to know. Maybe not right away but at least on the same page or pretty close to it.

I see this all the time. A name, some dialogue but no introduction, so no sense of who that character is. We are book-readers not mind-readers.

Tip #10 Tighten the Prose

The biggest red flag to me as an editor is an infestation of the word “was.” This is a major indicator of weak writing and passive voice. If a writer does this on page one? Fairly safe to assume the trend will continue.

Do a Was Hunt. See too many of those buggers together? Time to kill.

It was barely dawn and Lulu was sitting on the couch. She was waiting for her father who was already hours late. This was unusual for him. He was always punctual. A crack that was deafening made her scream and moments later the door was kicked in by the police who barked orders for her to get down on the floor.


Predawn light spilled into the room where Lulu sat, waiting for her father to be home. He was never late. Ever. A deafening crack made her scream. Police kicked in the door and ordered her to the floor.

There are a lot of other ways to tighten the writing, but these are common offenders and a great start. We all do this no matter how many books we write. It’s why we need revision. We can spot this stuff and clean it up and make it presentable for the public.

What are some of your pet peeves? What loses you as a reader? Do these tips help? Do you see maybe some of your own bad habits? Btw, I did ALL of these at one time, so we are all friends :D .
I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Also, for more help on how to use characters to ratchet anxiety to the nerve-shreding level, I am offering my Understanding the Antagonist Class on April 18th and YES, it is recorded in case you miss or need to listen again because this class is jammed with information.

I LOVE teaching this simply because our antagonists are pivotal for writing a story (series) readers can’t put down. Yet, too often we fail to harness characters for max effect. I look forward to seeing you there! I also offer the Gold level for one-on-one. Maybe you’ve hit a dead end. Your story is so confusing you need a GPS and a team of sherpas to find the original idea. Instead of wasting time with misguided revisions, I can help you triage your WIP and WHIP it into fighting form :D .

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Final Thoughts on AWP 2015 in Minneapolis

I had anticipated a survey of some sort following the AWP15 Conference, but so far nothing has arrived in my inbox. Over the past few days I've had a lot of time to reflect on the conference and my thoughts and feelings from what I personally experienced.

As with any part of my life, I seem to live on a roller coaster of emotions. Ups. Downs. Sharp, unexpected twists and turns. I had the joy of meeting Sue Silverman and getting her autograph, which was definitely the highlight for me. Writers, no matter how famous one may become, are still human and sometimes that's a good thing to remember.

The one thing that surprised me was the number of panels I attended that made me cry. Back in my hotel room, that is! A lot of emotional topics were discussed, but always in a positive tone. And even in a way of teaching those eager to learn.

AWP's Bookfair took on a new meaning for me. A meet market, a craft show, a flea market, or just crazyville! I felt horrible walking up and down the aisles and passing the friendly faces as they waited for someone to come talk to them. I didn't want to talk. I was in awe of the place. Almost everyone was hollering out, "Here, take one. It's free."

In the first hour and a half, my AWP bag was so heavily filled with swag that I had to go back to my hotel room to empty the bag before returning to the bookfair. I had to do this three times and only made it through half of the bookfair.

I bought too many books, one out of sympathy. The author was right there and volunteered to sign the book for me. How could I look into that face and tell them no? I couldn't. I swear a quarter of my bag was filled with just candy that I didn't need, but ate anyway!

The rest of my days were spent in panels or at the hotel because I found it cheaper to eat an $18 Caesar salad for lunch than to re-enter the bookfair whenever I wasn't in classes.

And with anything good, you know there's bound to be some bad. My biggest issue with the panels were the descriptions of what each class would be talking about. Admittedly, part of the problem was me. What I thought a panel was going to talk about, and what they actually talked about, were absolutely not what I had expected. Vague descriptions had people leaving the rooms over and over throughout each panel I attended, both the ones I got what I expected and those I didn't.

I couldn't help but wonder if those people were walking out because of the same reasons I would have had I not been sitting near the front. In one such class I assumed the panel would discuss more personal issues within truth writing, but it seemed the panelists were more interested in discussing the broader topics of their memoirs.

Memoirs are constantly being criticized as Me-moirs or misery-moirs, and therefore harder to get published. And yet writers like myself continue to write them. Not to bring focus on our lives or our own pain, but with hope that our stories will one day help someone else who's going through something similar. At least that's my hope.

In one of the panels I attended, all of the panelists had written at least one memoir so I was shocked when a woman asked a 'legal' question and not one of them could answer her. So I did. The question: Can I write about something a guy did years ago and now he's a big politician? I asked her, "Is the topic public knowledge?" No. Then the answer is no.

Just because you say something is true, that won't necessarily hold up in the law if you're sued by this person. In another post I will share what I've learned from two different intellectual property lawyers on this subject and more. This is one example where the truth will not set you free.

In closing, my husband asked me if I would ever go back to another AWP Conference. Immediately, I told him no. Never again! But as the days have passed, I can't deny the good I learned-and not just meeting Sue Silverman. If AWP is ever in Minneapolis again, yes, I will go. Or if I ever have a book published and want to sell it in the bookfair and speak on panels, again, yes, I will go.

How was your experience with AWP 15?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

AWP in Minneapolis 2015 Day 3

The Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference came to a close Saturday, April 11, 2015, but I'm still reeling from all the information I took in. As my husband likes to say, "I was drinking from the fire hose."

I sat in on three panels, all revolving around memoir and telling the truth in our stories. Since I write both Women's Fiction and Memoir, these were smart panels for me to attend. In a panel called Writing Into the World, Honor Moore said, "Where would the history be without those sharing their views?"

Take The Diary of Anne Frank for example. Where would our knowledge of what the Jews suffered be had she not written her personal experience? What if the others had also remained silent? How would we know the history that took place before we were born? Our stories will lend a hand to those who come after us.

"Make something beautiful out of your grief," Alysia Abbott said. Ask yourself what is the larger story that needs to be told. This can be said for memoir or writers of fiction.

Waiting outside a room for the next panel to begin, a gentleman asked me, "Why did you come to this
conference?" To see Sue Silverman! And I did, and I got her autograph on her book I Remember Terror Father Because I Remember You. As soon as the doors opened, I headed straight for the front row and dropped my bag on the chair. Sue signed my book and someone took our picture.

But what happened in that panel had me regretting the front row seat.

Ann Hood stood and told the audience about the days before her young daughter died. I fought with everything within me to not get up and run out of the room. In 2012, I lost my sixteen-year-old daughter Michaela to a treatable fungus called Histoplasmosis. You can read Michaela's story here if you so choose.

As soon as the panel was over, I didn't run out or run up to Sue Silverman. Instead, I walked over to Ann. Her memoir about her daughter is called Comfort. I've already purchased it and am waiting for it's delivery. "Memoir has two characters on the page. The girl you were, and the woman you are," Ann said during her speech. No matter how old you are in your written story, there's always going to be the you before and during the trauma and the you after the trauma.

Write your stories, your truths, your insights, but always remember to keep the reader in mind. You aren't just writing for yourself, but for a world who needs your story at any given time. You never know what's going on with that person who's sitting in the front row of your panel.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

AWP in Minneapolis 2015 Day 2, Part 2

Making my way through row after row in the Bookfair the day before, I purchased two books by authors I didn't know but were sitting in front of me saying, "I'm the author. If you buy a copy, I'll sign the book for you." How could I say no. I couldn't. There's no worse feeling than sympathy buying. And I did feel guilty. Guilty that I didn't know the author. Guilty that I didn't have the guts to turn him/her down. Guilty that I knew if I have a book to sell someday, that author could be me. So the best recourse going forward was to avoid, avoid, avoid.

I sat in on a panel called Other People's Privacy: Secondary Characters in Non-Fiction. Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, we all draw our characters from real, living, breathing people. Even though some of those real characters may have died, they at one time did live. In fiction, we can paste a disclaimer in the front of the book saying our characters are a figment of our imagination and bare no resemblance to real life people. But that's not entirely true.

Sitting in the front row of one class was a woman with orange and blue hair. I don't know her, but someday she may become a character in my book just based on her looks.

But what do you do when you are writing about real people?

I've written a memoir about a two-year period in my life in which very real people are very vivid characters. "Other people's privacy is sacrificed for art," Debra Monroe said. "However, there are no pure villains and there are no pure heroes." In other words, we must give our antagonists empathetic and sympathetic qualities.

Just as in real life, we see in the news murders, rapes, abuse, etc. Rarely do the reporters share personal facts. Take the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that happened December 14, 2012, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot and killed twenty children and six adults. What he did was horrible, indeed, but while I disagreed with his method, I understood his anger. He felt his mother cared more for the kids she taught at school than she did for him.

There are no pure villains.

I haven't villainized my antagonist in my memoir, but I have, to a point, in my novel. In the ending chapters I round my character off and show their heart, but after attending this panel, I will go back into the story and share those endearing qualities earlier.

The second panel I attended was Secrets, Shame, and Memoir: Women Writers on What it Takes to Tell the Truth about our Lives. And shame was the bull's eye of conversation. As a woman who survived childhood, shame has followed me into adulthood. I want to tell my stories, some days. Others, I think, "Who will care?"

'They say' you have to write with the reader in mind. This is true, but I also think it's important that you write with you in mind. That doesn't mean hold back. In fact, I mean just the opposite. Grab those reins and take yourself for a ride and hold on tight 'cuz it's gonna get bumpy. Linda Joy Myers with the National Association of Memoir Writers says the first draft is for you. Write everything down. Then you can go back and change things.

I agree with this on the most part. I say write everything down and during the editing process only prune what needs pruning. Leave your shame and denial on the page. Leave your heart and your tears on the page. Leave your courage and bravery on the page.

Shame is what keeps us quiet. Tell your stories without shame, but with courage and acceptance. Give yourself permission to tell your truths.

Day two at AWP hit home in ways I hadn't expected, but my writing, whether fiction or non-fiction, will be better because of the panels I attended. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

AWP in Minneapolis 2015 Day 2, Part 1

The first panel I plan to attend today is at noon. So with the opportunity to sleep in a bit, why am I up at 7:25am? Probably because I was in bed by 10:00pm. But that's just a guess.

For the past hour I've been reflecting on the two panels I sat in on yesterday. The first, More Than Luck: How Publishers Select Literary Manuscripts. The panelists were poet Ann Filemyr, Publisher/editor for Mammoth Press Denise Low, and Red Mountain Press's Publisher/editor Susan Gardner. Ann and Denise were published by Susan Gardner and all three women are great friends.

As a small press, Susan's company only publishes four to five books a year. She's not looking at making a profit, but instead wishes to build relationships with her authors and works hands-on until the vision becomes the book. Red Mountain receives over one thousand queries a year, and Susan reads every single one of them.

If you are submitting your manuscript to a small press, keep in mind that when choosing their titles for the year, they are very selective. All three women said to read the books they publish before submitting yours. Know what types of books they publish. What themes. What aesthetics. You don't want to waste your time anymore than you want to waste theirs. Read their website. Don't just skim over the submission guidelines. Really get to know their work.

Later that afternoon I sat on the floor outside of Auditorium B, waiting for What We Hate: Editorial Dos and Don'ts. The panelists were Emerson Blake, Cheston Knapp, Patrick Thomas, Carolyn Kueblier, and Jordan Bass. Within minutes I was surrounded by a colorful sea of loiters also waiting to attend this panel. We were all at least thirty minutes early.

The doors finally opened and I squeezed myself into a second row seat. Tight seating is an understatement. The room continued to to fill to the point of people holding up walls and people holding down the floor. Yes, they were sitting on the floor. Wow! It's almost sad to know that we really wanted to know why editors rejected our work. Their work, I guess, since I have yet to start the querying process.

But on the positive side, we writers wanted to know what mistakes we should avoid.

Milkweed's Editor Patrick Thomas says he feels guilty (He was raised Catholic) that he can't reply to everyone. Many writers complain over the 'no response means no' attitude that agents, editors, and publishers have turned to over the past several years.

As a writer who's done her homework, I understand this, but I still don't like it. To me, it's all about respect. I'd rather have a form rejection than to hear nothing at all. But, that's the way it is and we just have to accept that truth.

What Patrick hates even more, is writers who don't read Milkweed's books or follow their guidelines. Opening a query letter, he wants to see writers explain why their manuscript fits his press and where it belongs in the current market. Above all, he loves reading writers.

Cheston Knapp is the editor for Tin House. Ok, I just have to get this out there. For those of you who watch NCIS: LA, does Cheston look like Deeks or what??? 
I wanted to rush up to him, snap a picture, and tell everyone I met Deeks at AWP in Minneapolis! Who knew he was a writer, and an editor, too.

Cheston also feels the guilt of not being able to answer every email. "There's too much to do and too little time." Language is a sea of words and as writers we are plunging into that sea. A sea that already exists. So how can we grasp everyday words and make them our own vision.

Tin House wants your vision. Dig deeper into your widest senses. Look at your words the way an editor would. Are you satisfied? If not, it's not ready for publishing. Keep working at your words until they sing.

True story for one of the editors. She sent a personal rejection to someone, who then blasted her words all over social media. Needless to say, it got back to her. Don't do this. If someone takes the time to write you a personal note, even if it doesn't feel right to you, file it away. Don't put it 'out there' for the world to see.

The world of publishing is smaller than that small town you may have grown up in where everyone knows everything within minutes.

My final thoughts: Do your homework before submitting. Don't send your first, second, or third draft. Read your work out loud and have someone else read it, too. An extra pair of eyes are a requirement, not a suggestion.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

AWP in Minneapolis 2015 Day 1, Part 2

I'm sitting at my computer and reminiscing over the day's events and I have to say, "I'm tired!" Oh, my gosh, AWP is beyond neurotic. And for someone who's never been normal a single day in my life, that's telling.

I followed the advice of a fellow attendee and hit the Bookfair first thing this morning. 9:00am. The best suggestion is to start at one end and work your way to the other. In each row, walk down one side and back up the other side. You just can't do both sides at the same time. Well, I can't.

By 10:30am, my cute little fashion boots were killing my feet and my AWP bag was loaded. I'm pretty sure I was leaning a little to the left. Add the purse on top of that, and I was definitely leaning. Left. Right. Somewhere in between. To make things worse, I'd only made it through the seven hundreds.

I rescued myself and walked the block and a half back to the Millennium. The boots were kicked off and traded for those comfortable shoes everyone had recommended pre-AWP. So glad I thought to bring a pair. I don't know how all those other women are walking around in heels. Guess I'm too hold to care about how I look, compared to how I feel. It's an age thing.

Wearing my new attire, I headed back to the Bookfair. I successively made my way down the aisles to the fourteen hundreds before I had to call it quits for the day. I had two afternoon panels I wanted to listen to, and I was thankful for a chair to sit on. And I swear it was the most comfortable thing I'd ever sat on.

During the panels, the one thing that surprised me the most was all the people sitting in the front row that stood up, gathered their belongings, and walked out ten, fifteen, twenty minutes into the talk. I felt really bad for the presenters. If you think a class, panel, reading, etc. isn't for you, sit in the back so you can sneak out quietly.

Tonight the Keynote Speaker is Karen Russel. I bought her book today because I'd read a review that said it would make me cry. Yes, I like emotional stories. Should be great, and I hear she's funny, too.

So all in all, it's been a good day. I got my exercise in, ate some new foods, bought three books, and to top it off, I got to watch people from warmer states watch a Minnesota snow fall. I stood off to the side and watched as they pointed and snapped pictures.

But then, there was one lady out there from Maine. She wasn't smiling or taking pictures or in standing in awe at the picturesque moment.

Until tomorrow...

AWP in Minneapolis 2015 Day 1, Part 1

I've waited five years for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) to come to Minneapolis, my home metropolis, and it's finally here! Somewhere between twelve and fourteen thousand people are expected to explode upon this great city's convention center.

I may live in the suburbs, but I'm staying at the Millennium Hotel, just a block away from all the excitement. No getting up in the wee hours to get ready. No traffic to fight driving back and forth. No mad rush to figure out where everything is and where I should be going.

Registration opened yesterday. I'd never been to the convention center before so in a way I felt like Mary Tyler Moore. "I'm an experienced woman. I've been around... Well, all right, I might not've been around, but I've been... nearby."

I typed my special appointed code into the kiosk and wa la, my name tag printed out. I officially became a single part of the thousands. I grabbed my AWP bag and lanyard and joined the others trying to find the classrooms, auditoriums, and of course, the Bookfair. Although there wasn't much to see. The empty rooms and hallways belied what I expect to become a stampede today.

Twitter is AWP's best friend. Anything you want to know, just punch in @awpwriter and #AWP15. It's the gold mine of sourced material. I've been told everything from make a plan and stick to it. Make a plan, but be prepared to change it. And, make a plan and do the exact opposite of it!

My program book is so thick, I'll have back pain just from carrying it around in my tote bag. Classes, readings, caucuses, etc. What's a girl to do? So I'm at my hotel last night having a smoke with another attendee and we do the beginners dance. Where're you from? Have you done AWP before? And of course, are you cold? Chit chat out of the way and we get down to business.

What's your schedule look like?

Well, I was planning to go to all these panels today, hit the bookfair tomorrow, and back to panels on Saturday. Well, my smoker buddy has a publisher buddy with her, and her advice is: Hit the bookfair on the first day. Why? Free Swag! If you're into the swag, then the first day is for you because most of it will be gone before day two even begins.

Oh, my gosh! I put my smoke out and practically run back to my room to recheck my schedule. Can I miss this panel or that one? What about this one? Whew!

My buddy's publisher's second piece of advice is to pick one thing to do in the morning, one thing to do in the afternoon, and one thing to do in the evening. "Because you can't do it all!" But what if I want to? "You can't do it all!" Unfortunately, this is true.

So I bid you adieu and I'm off to get breakfast, a morning smoke, and then let the rat races begin!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

AWP for the Newbie 2015

I’ve attended several writers’ conferences over the past few years, but never one as large as the Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference, or AWP as it’s more commonly known.

I first discovered AWP in 2010 and I’ve been anxiously waiting five years for the conference to come to my neck of the woods—Minneapolis. Now that it’s here, less than a week away, I’ve been reading everything I can to prepare myself for the massive crowds: Upwards of 12,000 people, 2,000 presenters, 550 readings, panels, and craft lectures, and 700 presses, journals, and literary organizations. That’s a whole lot of panic if you don’t do large spaces with an overwhelming amount of activity. Thankfully, that’s not me.

Or, at least I don’t think it’s me.

Guess I’ll find out next Thursday.

The largest conference I’ve attended is the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association in Seattle, which pulls in about 400 attendees. But no matter the size, conferences are a great place to educate yourself on the up and coming trends of the publishing industry, learn craft and technique tips, network with other writers, meet agents, editors, and publishers, and the list could go on. So, from an AWP newbie prospective, I’ve compiled some tips to help you, and me, prepare for the masses.

General Information

If you haven’t checked out the AWP schedule already, do that now. You’ll find a complete list of all the panels and readings that are on-site at the Minneapolis Convention Center. There are events taking place at nearby hotels, restaurants, bars, literary markets like Loft Literary Center, as well as independent book stores.

The Craft of Writing

The daily panels are filled with featured speakers, published authors, editors, agents, and publishers who are sharing their expertise to help you become a better writer. But the only way you can learn from them is if you are where they are. Panels abound from the basics of social media to making your characters a plot in themselves. All genres are discussed from traditional writing and publishing, to freelance writing for magazines, to screen-writing movies, the Internet, and everything in between.

Connecting With Other Writers

Writing conferences give you the opportunity to meet other writers. We writers tend to be introverts who love the peace, quiet, and privacy of our homes where we can lock ourselves up in our office and tap out words on a keyboard for hours at a time. Or maybe that’s just me. Anyway, only other writers can understand the writer's mind. Only other writers can appreciate the tumultuous writing process. Who else can we compare rejection letters with?

Research, Research, Research

Be picky when choosing the panels that best meet your current needs. Know who the speakers are and what they’ll be talking about. Study the genres and topics in which they’ll present. Remember those 12,000 people I mentioned earlier-get to your classroom early if you don’t want to sit on the floor or stand, holding up a wall. You can always plop your books down on a chair, and then use the bathroom or get something to drink.


Networking is one of the main reasons to attend any writers’ conference. This is your opportunity to surround yourself with like-minded people. Writers who are informed and educated on how things work in this industry have a better chance of getting published than those who don't. Strip your introvert-clothing off and open up your trench coat. Ok, just kidding there, but you get the point. Right? Mingle. Get to know one another. Make a best friend forever friend.

Pitch Your Book

Literary agents, editors, publishers, and magazines are looking for their next best-selling author and/or freelance writer. If someone were to ask you, “What’s your book about?” Can you tell them in a one sentence logline? If yes, you’re golden. If not, get to work on it now. Although there are no scheduled ‘meet the agent of your dreams’ meetings at AWP, that doesn’t mean someone won’t ask. Do NOT bring your manuscript to the conference. If an agent/editor/publisher is interested, they’ll ask you to send a sample. And never pitch your book in the bathroom! (You may laugh, but it’s been done.)

Tax Deductions

Did you know your conference fee, airfare, rental car, hotel, and meals are tax deductible? They are! Save those receipts.

What to Bring

You’ll want to take lots of notes so bring plenty of pens and paper. Maybe even your laptop. There’s free Wi-Fi in the Bookfair. As much as I love my stilettos, they’re staying home. Wear comfortable shoes as there will be a lot of walking from one class to another and one floor to another, but remember, you’re there to mingle with the upper class (Published authors and Professional Panelists) of writers. Dress for comfort (and bring a sweater just in case), but keep in mind, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Bring your camera-there will be famous authors in attendance! Not to mention the new friends you’ll make. Bring business cards to pass out; this will help people remember who you are when the conference is over. Make sure they include your name, website, email, and phone number.

Additional Advice

During the AWP conference many of us writers, like me, will be tweeting live. There will be an ‘informal’ meeting of the minds on Thursday from 3:00pm-3:30pm in the Bookfair on Scott James’ Stage One. If you’re planning to tweet live, one, please inform the panel so they don’t think you’re ignoring them or being rude. And two, put your phone on silent. You don’t want to disturb those around you. For those not live tweeting, you can still follow along by watching #AWP15.

I participated in today’s Ask AWP Twitter Tweets and learned that tomorrow we will receive an email from AWP with tips for preparing for the conference. Check your spam just in case you don’t see one. The Bookfair will have food and beverages and they take both credit cards and cash. Make sure you stay hydrated.

In regards to how much money you should plan to bring, one AWP advisor said this: “Think Casino-logic: Never bring more money than your prepared to lose. But with books, you always win.”

Plan your schedule, but allow yourself to deviate if you need/want to write, visit friends, sight see, or just seek some quiet time in the Emily Dickson Quiet Space.

If you’re looking for more tips or are curious about what to expect from experienced AWPers, I’ve compiled a list of links for you. Until then, I’ll see you all next week!

The Ultimate Guide to NotLetting the AWP Do You 

How To Do AWP 2015

Writers—Welcome to AWP 15 inthe Twin Cities

Entropy’s Guide to #AWP15

10 AWP 2015 Minneapolis TipsThat'll Help You Survive So You Don't Have A Literary Burnout In April

11,800 People Sharing in the Existential Agony of Writing

More AWP Links:

Off-site Gatherings

Author Signings