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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: ITW

Author Kristen Lamb, social media authors, author platform, social media writers
Old School Meets New School

As many of you know, last week I was blessed enough to get to present at Thrillerfest, which is a conference held by the International Thriller Writers in the heart of New York City. What a blast and a WONDERFUL conference! If you ever get an opportunity to go, take it. Yet, now that I’m home, I feel compelled to share my observations and make the most of my $5000 investment. Why can’t you guys benefit, too, right?

Now that I have been to NY, talked to people and observed things first-hand, I feel I am in a better position to make an accurate analysis, so here are the five mistakes that I feel are killing traditional publishing.

Mistake #1—Fear

When I first arrived, there was almost a palpable feeling of dread, doom and gloom. I felt like agents, editors and even writers were refusing to acknowledge the pink elephant in the room. Why? Because they were afraid of it.

The paradigm is changing and the world is going digital. No matter how many times we click the ruby slippers and chant There’s nothing like paper. People will always want paper it isn’t going to change a darn thing. The only thing this self-soothing will do is waste time while the windows of opportunity close.

When I attended the Craft Fest luncheon, the keynote was Jaime Raab, Senior Vice President & Publisher, Grand Central Publishing (Hachette). She began her speech with something akin to, “I know all of you are wanting to hear me talk about the changes in publishing but…” and then she went off to talk about all her favorite books over the course of her publishing career and why she thought they were game-changers.

And I was like WTH?

It was a lovely speech, but the troops are battered and broken and searching for a reason to fight for the cause. If you know they need to hear something about the changes in publishing, then by gum give it to them. I felt like the troops needed the Churchill speech. The Germans are coming. Give us something!

But, no.

Instead, we had a nice nostalgic speech that offered little to ease the fear. And I am not meaning any disrespect, but I feel this fear factor is a big part of the problem. The leadership is afraid and that is filtering into decisions. Fear is a lousy place to make strategy. When we find ourselves defending, the battle is already lost.

But you know what? Good thing I am too dumb to be afraid.

The first thing I announced on my panel was that it is an AMAZING time to be a writer. It is a BRILLIANT time to be a publisher, even a TRADITIONAL PUBLISHER! But here is the thing. We have to change. We have to grow and growing sucks and sometimes is painful as hell but it is necessary because if we aren’t growing we are DYING. 

We cannot build a 21st century future with 18th century tools. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself! Fight! Win!

We MUST face where we are weak, because if we don’t, we are vulnerable. Ignoring a thing doesn’t change a thing. The truth will set us free and if the truth is that we are being short-sighted and wasteful, then we need to FACE that so we can FIX it. Fear wastes time and energy.

After the social media panel there was a noticeable shift. People were smiling, they were hopeful. WANA (We Are Not Alone) is a wonderful plan that is fun, easy and has sold hundreds of thousands of books. Maybe WANA it isn’t THE plan, but it is at least A plan. WANA works for all kinds of writers and all types of publishers and it frees up time to do ALL the meaningful work. Best of all, WANAs don’t know fear. We only know hope, and that automatically places us in a position of strength.

Mistake #2—Paper is Married to Petroleum DOOM

Raab continued to assert that “readers would always want paper” yet I will show exactly why this assertion is dead wrong. Let’s indulge in a little Economics 101.

The reason that readers will not always want paper books is that paper books are what is known as an elastic good. Elastic goods cannot fluctuate too far in price before people just decide to do without or change products.

For instance, coffee is elastic. We are all sad when Jamaica is hit by hurricane and loses much of its Blue Mountain Coffee bean crops, but we are simply unwilling to pay $15 for a cup of coffee. We all have a ceiling before we just do without Blue Mountain Coffee.

Elasticity is even more of a problem when there is a ready supply of easy substitutes. For instance, if Blue Mountain Coffee was the only source of caffeine on the planet, maybe we would keep demanding even as the price increased (inelastic), but it isn’t. It is too easy to buy a pound of Folgers instead.

Or we can even buy black tea or Monster drinks. We can take ginseng, guarana, and all kinds of other Chinese herbs to wire us for the day. While caffeine is inelastic (meaning if there was only one source we would continue to pay), Blue Mountain Coffee is NOT.

Artificial hips and superconductors? Inelastic. Paper books? Very ELASTIC.

We will only pay so much for paper books before we just go download the e-book, and this is a HUGE problem for traditional publishing. Why? Because paper books are married to petroleum. As the price in oil increases, so do costs.

Books need to be manufactured, then shipped. I worked in the paper industry and believe me, paper books are seriously heavy, which means they burn a lot of fuel to ship. They also burn a lot of fuel to return then pulp due to waste. Anyone who has ever had to move gets what I am taking about here.

This grossly inefficient consignment model worked so long as readers had no other options. Yet, now with e-readers, e-books, indies and POD publishing? The game has changed.

Books were always elastic, but they are even more elastic now that there are other options. What the publishers are failing to understand is that as petroleum continues to rise in price, their profit margin gets thinner and thinner.

If NY doesn’t change? They will go bankrupt simply because the margin will fully disappear, then their costs will surpass what readers are willing to pay for a paper book. If big rig trucks ran off sunshine or happy thoughts, this might not be as critical of a problem as it is.

NY MUST make the change to digital, as many titles as possible before petroleum bankrupts the industry for good. Yes, some books will need to be paper, but POD technology can step in to fill that gap, minimize the waste, and drop costs so traditional publishers can increase margin.

The competition has not lashed their product to barrels of petroleum. The indies are not hobbled by waste, shipping costs and limited shelf space, and this is why they can pay their authors so much BETTER. Writers might not be great at math, but we aren’t that bad. It is only a matter of time before the Big Six will hemorrhage talent, probably the mid-list first as the demand for mass market paperbacks contracts. 

Traditional publishers! Get those costs down so you can pay your people better. You can’t keep using a handful of mega authors to float the business. In the new paradigm, there is no reason to lose so much money. There are all kinds of creative and profitable solutions to make all authors profitable.

If this is a race, NY, you are riding a horse but trying to beat a Ferrarri. Help me help you!

Mistake #3—Reliance on Outdated Gimmicky Marketing Tactics

For those of you who know the WANA way, we abhor gimmick. Gimmicks worked in the old paradigm before the Internet and social media, but now? We have a much more sophisticated audience that demands authenticity. We don’t like being fooled either.

Tweeting as a character or interviewing yourself pretending to be your characters is, in my opinion, not the best use of time. Sure it might be fun for our devoted fans, but for new people who don’t yet know our books, it can seriously tick them off when they figure out they have been duped.

True story.

I was on Twitter and happened to see one author talk to a NYTBSA who I’d never heard of. So I followed and loved his tweets. Then I spotted him interacting with someone from the CIA. I thought that was really cool so I started following this other person and asking questions thinking I was talking to someone from the CIA. When I realized I had been talking to a character from one of this author’s books, I was mortified, then livid and then I unfollowed.

Play head games at your own risk.

Let’s use some logic. How many people are going to care about an interview from an imaginary character from an author they don’t know and out of a book they’ve never read? There is far better content that actually stands a chance of going viral.

Interviews don’t generally go viral unless they are with a super famous person who then does something very embarrassing (Tom Cruise and the couch thing on Oprah) or dies (Steve Jobs). Interviews with imaginary people? Probably not going to go viral.

A lot of people feel the gimmick is a tool so people will pay attention to our marketing, but thing is, gimmicks don’t work and marketing and advertising don’t work, either. All of it is just busy work that gives us the illusion we are doing something meaningful.

My impression from Thrillerfest?

I felt that the traditional publishers had far too much reliance on these tactics, which is likely why my sixty-one year old mother has a better Klout score. If no one is paying attention to what we post or spreading what we post, then we are doing something wrong.

Any pretending to be characters needs to be initiated by fans. Yes, there are loads of teenagers who love to role-play as Twilight characters. That is cute and fun. When we (authors) do it? Weird, and kinda creepy.

Mistake #4—Over-Fixation on Tools

There was an over-fixation, in my opinion, on tools. Yes, there are analytical tools that can tell us what time of day is best to tweet and what time of week is best to blog, and what time of month is best to run a promotion, but all I could think as people were talking about these tools was:

Are they tweeting or ovulating?

I know that IT geeks are fascinated with the idea of creating a program that can accurately predict human behavior, probably so they can get a date. But, thing is, they can’t predict human behavior. If we could accurately predict human behavior, then we have bigger problems than selling books and should start looking for the chip someone has implanted in our brains.

Yes, there is some predictability. I.e. Spamming people pisses them off. Talking to people and being kind and genuine generally is a good bet.

Beyond the fundamentals? There is no way to predict this stuff. People who love tools, in my experience, are people who want from others what they, themselves, are unwilling to give.

See, for Twitter and Facebook to work, to actually sell books SOMEONE must be present. When people use these tools to post for them, it is because they want the perks without the works. They want ME to actually be on Twitter/Facebook so I can click and then give them money, but they can’t be bothered to actually take time to be on Twitter talking to me.

Yeah, I’m all over that.

Tools RUIN social sites. RUIN THEM! When too many people start using these fancy tools to do stuff for them, the information becomes invisible. Also if no one is there to read and respond to the tweet because they are tired of talking to bots? Then Twitter is a giant waste of time that will not sell books because it is choking on automation. If people loved talking to machines, they’d call their credit card company, not log on to Twitter.

We don’t have to post a lot to be effective, and being real is the best plan. We can’t expect from others what we are unwilling to give. And yes, I know some of you have to work day jobs and can’t tweet during the day but pssst….Twitter and Facebook are GLOBAL. People in other time zones will see your posts.

Again, better uses of time. These tools are interesting, but if you work the WANA way, they you have a whole team of people helping you, so it matters less and less what time of day you post. And besides, I have enough to do without setting my watch for a quick roll in the sack while I’m fertile tweeting.

Mistake #5—Expecting Commerce Before Community

At Thrillerfest there were a couple new book sites introduced where readers could go and interact with their favorite authors. Um, didn’t we already have Goodreads? Now there are two more?

Don’t get me wrong, these are lovely sites and I think they have a lot to offer, but we are back all pitching to the same people, the same over saturated 8-10% of the population who defines themselves as “readers.”

There are hundreds of millions of people who will only read one or two books a year, but I have said this time and time again. Who cares if it is YOUR book? Every mega-success from Harry Potter to 50 Shades of Grey has come from mobilizing the fat part of the bell curve, the people who would not normally define themselves as “readers.” Traditional marketing and “reader sites” will not make our book the next Twilight or Hunger Games.

I am saying this as respectfully as possible, but traditional marketing has some lazy and uncreative people thinking this stuff up. We all want the magical site where we can find….readers. You know what? Back when I sold cardboard (corner board), I would have loved a site called www.LetMeComeToYouAndHandYouMoneyWithoutAnyWorkOnYourPart.com. That would have made my job WAY easier. Instead, I had to hit the pavement, look around and look for people who could be converted into buyers. 

For instance, we had to pay attention to the HUGE boxes being used to ship water heaters so we could step in and say, “Hey, I bet those giant boxes are really expensive. If you use four pieces of corner board, some wrap and strapping, not only could you fit more water heaters on a truck, but you could seriously cut your shipping costs and drastically improve your profit margin.”

We had to work for the sale, but NY? Let’s just put more “reader sites” together and then people will come and give us money.

Am I saying these sites aren’t great? No, they are lovely and shiny and pretty but they are not a substitute for creating a customer. We can’t have commerce before community. It’s like building a McDonald’s in the middle of a field and hoping people will show up to eat burgers. It makes more sense to wait until there is a thriving community and then build the McDonald’s. Then the McDonald’s is there to serve the community, not the community there to serve the shareholders of McDonald’s.

This is why it is critical for us (writers) to build community first. If we have a community of support, then these sites with goodies and interviews and all that jazz will work better. I spent two years building the idea of WANA before we built WANATribe. By the time I launched WANATribe, it just made the experience of being a WANA even better. It allowed you guys to interact in new and fun ways.

But what if I had started off with WANATribe? It would have been me taking not giving.

Is NY DOOMED?

So after all of this, is traditional publishing doomed? I say it can have a bright future, but the people in charge have to start listening to people who are doing publishing (and social media) better. I know there is probably some pride involved, but get over it. Yes, you rocked publishing for over a century, but now? Not so much. You have a lot to learn.

The thing is, e-book sales are not a Zero Sum Game. Joe Konrath made a brilliant point about this in a recent blog:

Ebook sales aren’t a zero sum game. A sale of one ebook doesn’t preclude the sale of another, because this is a burgeoning global market with hundreds of new customers introduced daily, and people naturally horde more than they need. 

Let’s say there are currently 100 million ebook readers, and 1 million ebook titles on Amazon. In ten years, there will be billions of ebook readers (following the path of mp3s). But there won’t be a corresponding 100 million ebook titles available–there aren’t that many people writing ebooks, and never will be.

What this means is that traditional publishing can remain if they are willing to change and listen to people who are doing things right in the digital paradigm. Books are not so cost-prohibitive that people cannot buy more than one. I know a lot of us in the indie world have offered to help NY, but we can’t do this for them. The Big Six have a lot to offer and many of us hate to see that go away. We do hold a respect for what they do and they have a lot of talent.

With the explosion of smart phones, tablets and e-readers, this could be a Golden Age for publishing, but the Big Six cannot embrace their future while clinging to the past.

What are your thoughts? Opinions? Ideas? What have you observed? Do you think the Big Six can survive or should they be parted out to the indies? Do you think the mid-list is next to defect? I don’t mind any opinion, so long as it is respectful.

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of July, 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. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

***Changing the contest.

It is a lot of work to pick the winners each week. Not that you guys aren’t totally worth it, but with the launch of WANA International and WANATribe I need to streamline. So I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners will now have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of July I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.

 

For the past several weeks we have been exploring structure and why it is important. If you haven’t yet read the prior posts, I advise you do because each post builds on the previous lesson. All lessons are geared to making you guys master plotters. Write cleaner and faster. I know a lot of you are chomping at the bit right now to get writing. All in due time. Today we are going to talk genre and why it is important to pick one.

Understanding what genre you are writing will help guide you when it comes to plotting your novel. How? Each genre has its own set of general rules and expectations. Think of this like stocking your cabinet with spices. If you like to cook Mexican food, then you will want to have a lot of cumin, chili powder and paprika on hand. Like cooking Italian food? Then basil and oregano are staple spices. In cooking we can break rules … but only to a certain point. We can add flavors of other cultures into our dish, but must be wary that if we deviate too far from expectations, or add too many competing flavors, we will have a culinary disaster. Writing is much the same. We must choose a genre, but then can feel free to add flavors of other genres into our work.

Ten years ago, when I first got this brilliant idea to start writing fiction, I didn’t do any planning. I knew zip nada about the craft, and, frankly, was too stupid to know I was that dumb. To make matters worse, I tried to write a novel that everyone would love. It was a romantic-thriller-mystery-comedic-memoir that would appeal to all ages, both men and women and even their pets and houseplants. I am here to help you learn from my mistakes.

I believe there are three kinds of writers. One type of writer is the Born Genre Author. This type of writer knows the genre he wants to write from day one. He is a born horror author or fantasy author, or whatever. This type does not start on a horror novel and then suddenly start thinking that YA is more his stride…or maybe sci-fi…or literary fiction. This author’s laser-focus is a tremendous asset, but tunnel-vision can get him in trouble. The greatest weakness I see with this type of writer is that they often don’t read outside their genre and so their work can lack that je ne sais quoi that makes their writing stand apart from others in their genre. Of course, this is easily remedied if this type of author can make a conscious effort to diversify.

Another type of author is like I used to be (and still have to fight). Meet The Dabbler. We love everything and have a hard time making up our minds. We love all kinds of writing, but this lack of focus can hurt our platform and spread us too thinly to be effective. Dabblers also are bad about making the mistake of trying to write a book that is all genres and what they end up with is an unpalatable mess. On the flip-side, though. Dabblers who can finally choose a genre usually are very innovative creatures because they have the knack and ability to draw flavors of other genres into their writing. The trick is getting them to pay attention and focus long enough.

Then there is the third kind of writer, The Profiteer. These writers are in the business for all the wrong reasons, and, because of that, usually never end up finishing, let alone publishing. They are writing for the money and fame and often are genre-hos. They keep a finger in the wind searching for what is currently hot. Vampires? Chick-lit? Whatever is flying off shelves, that is The Profiteer’s  new love. Of course what this writer doesn’t understand is that by the time they finish the novel, land an agent and that book makes it to print, the trends will have changed. But most Profiteers fall by the wayside, so that’s all I will say about them.

Just as nailing the log-line is vital for plotting, we also must be able to classify what genre our novel will be in. Now, understand that some genres are fairly close. Think Mexican Food and Tex Mex. An agent at a later date might, for business reasons, decide to slot a Women’s Fiction into Romance.  Yet, you likely will NEVER see an agent slot a literary fiction as a thriller. They are too different. That is like trying to put enchiladas on the menu at a French restaurant.

Part of why I stress picking a genre is that genres have rules and standards. For example, I had a student drop out of my Warrior Writer Boot Camp because I told her that her hero could not be the Big Boss Troublemaker (main antagonist) in her romance novel. I advised her that the hero could be an antagonistic force, but that she had to choose another person to be the BBT. Why? Because the genre of romance has rules, and guy and gal MUST come together at the end and live happily ever after. This cannot happen if the heroine defeats the hero.  Great love stories generally do not involve the hero being beaten up by a girl. I didn’t make the rules, but I can help a writer understand those rules and thereby increase his/her chances of publication success.

Understanding your genre will help immensely when it comes to plotting. It will also help you get an idea of the word count specific to that genre. I am going to attempt to give a very basic overview of the most popular genres. Please understand that all of these break down into subcategories, but I have provided links to help you learn more so this blog wasn’t 10,000 words long.

Mystery—often begins with the crime as the inciting incident (murder, theft, etc.), and the plot involves the protagonist uncovering the party responsible by the end. The crime has already happened and thus your goal in plotting is to drive toward the Big Boss Battle—the unveiling of the real culprit. Mysteries have a lot more leeway to develop characters simply because, if you choose, they can be slower in pacing because the crime has already happened. Mysteries run roughly  75-100,000 words. Mysteries on the cozy side that are often in a series commonly are shorter. 60,000-ish. I’d recommend that you consult the Mystery Writers of America of more information.

Thriller/Suspense—generally involve trying to stop some bad thing from happening at the end. Thrillers have broad consequences if the protagonist fails—I.e. the terrorists will launch a nuclear weapon and destroy Washington D.C. Suspense novels have smaller/more intimate consequences. I.e. The serial killer will keep butchering young blonde co-eds. It is easy to see how thriller, suspense and mystery are kissing cousins and keep company. The key here is that there is a ticking clock and some disastrous event will happen if the protagonist fails.

So when plotting, all actions are geared to prevention of the horrible thing at the end. Thrillers can run 90-100,000 words (loosely) and sometimes a little longer. Why? Because some thrillers need to do world-building. Most of us have never been on a nuclear sub, so Tom Clancy had to recreate it for us in The Hunt for Red October (Clancy invented a sub-class of thriller known as the techno-thriller).

Pick up the pacing and you can have a Mystery-Suspense. Think Silence of the Lambs. A murder happens at the beginning, and the goal is to uncover the identity of the serial killer Buffalo Bill (mystery), but what makes this mystery-suspense is the presence of a ticking clock. Not only is the body count rising the longer Buffalo Bill remains free, but a senator’s daughter is next on Bill’s butcher block.

When plotting, there will often be a crime (murder) at the beginning, but the plot involves a rising “body count” and a perpetrator who must be stopped before an even bigger crime can occur (Big Boss Battle). These stories are plot-driven. Characters often do not have enough down-time to make sweeping inner arc changes like in a literary piece.

Pick up the pacing and raise the stakes and you have a Mystery-Thriller. Think Killing Floor by Lee Childs. The book begins with a murder of two unidentified people at a warehouse, but if the killers are not found, what the killers are trying to cover up will have global consequences. And I am not telling you what those consequences are b/c it would ruin the book :D.

When plotting, again, there is often a crime at the beginning with rising stakes, and the protagonist must stop a world-changing event from happening (Big Boss Battle). The focus of your plot will be solving the mystery and stopping the bad guy.

For more information on this genre, consult the International Thriller Writers site.

Romance—Guy and girl have to end up together in the end is the only point I will make on this. Romance is all about making the reader believe that love is good and grand and still exists in this crazy world. The hero cannot be your main antagonist.  Romance, however, is very complex and I cannot do it justice in this short blurb. If you desire to write romance, I highly recommend you go to the Romance Writers of America site for more information and that you join a chapter near you immediately. This is one of the most amazing writing organizations around and a great investment in a successful romance-writing career.

Word count will depend on the type of romance you desire to write. Again, look to RWA for guidance.

Literary Fiction-is character driven. The importance is placed on the inner change, and the plot is the mechanism for driving that change. Literary fiction has more emphasis on prose, symbol and motif. The events that happen must drive an inner transformation.

Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Road is a good example. The world has been destroyed and only a few humans have survived. The question isn’t as much whether the man and the boy will survive as much as it is about how they will survive. Will they endure with their humanity in tact? Or will they resort to being animals? Thus, the goal in The Road is less about boy and man completing their journey to the ocean, and more about how they make it. Can they carry the torch of humanity?

When plotting for the literary fiction, one needs to consider plot-points for the inner changes occurring. There need to be cross-roads of choice. One choice ends the story. The character failed to change. The other path leads closer to the end. The darkest moment is when that character faces that inner weakness at its strongest, yet triumphs.

For instance, in The Road, there are multiple times the man and boy face literally starving to death. Will they resort to cannibalism as many other have? Or will they press on and hope? Word count can vary, but you should be safe with 60-85,000 words (The Road was technically a novella).

Fantasy and Science Fiction will involve some degree of world-building and extraordinary events, creatures, locations. In plotting, world-building is an essential additional step. How much world-building is necessary will depend on what sub-class of fantasy or sci-fi you’re writing. Word count will also be affected. The more world-building, the longer your book will be. Some books, especially in high-fantasy can run as long as 150,000 words and are often serialized.

Consult the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America for more information.

Horror—This is another genre that breaks down into many sub-classifications and runs the gambit. It can be as simple as a basic Monster in the House story where the protagonist’s main goal is SERE-Survive Evade, Rescue, and Escape. The protag has only one goal…survive. These books tend to be on the shorter side, roughly 60,000 words.

Horror, however can blend with fantasy and require all kinds of complex world-building. Clive Barker’s Hellraiser is a good example. Stephen King’s horror often relies heavily on the psychological and there is weighty focus on an inner change/arc. For instance, The Shining chronicles Jack’s descent into madness and how his family deals with his change and ultimately tries to escape the very literal Monster in the House.

Horror will most always involve a Monster in the House scenario. It is just that the definitions of “monster” and “house” are mutable. Word count is contingent upon what type of horror you are writing. Again, I recommend you consult the experts, so here is a link to the Horror Writers Association. The Dark Fiction Guild seemed to have a lot of helpful/fascinating links, so you might want to check them out too.

Picking a genre is actually quite liberating. Each genre has unique guideposts and expectations, and, once you gain a clear view of these, then plotting becomes far easier and much faster. You will understand the critical elements that must be in place—ticking clock, inner arc, world-building—before you begin. This will save loads of time not only in writing, but in revision. Think of the romance author who makes her hero the main antagonist (BBT). She will try to query, and, since she didn’t know the rules of her genre, will end up having to totally rewrite/trash her story.

Eventually, once you grow in your craft, you will be able to break rules and conventions. But, to break the rules we have to understand them first.

I have done my best to give you guys a general overview of the most popular genres and links to know more. If you have some resources or links that you’d like to add, please put them in the comments section. Also, for the sake of brevity, I didn’t address other genres, like YA or Western. If you have questions or advice, fire away! Any corrections? Additions? Questions? Concerns? Comments? I love hearing from you. What is the biggest hurdle you have to choosing a genre? Do you love your genre? Why? Any advice?

Make sure you tune in for Wednesday’s blog where I continue walking you through blogging for platform :D. What do we blog about to gain a fan base?

Happy writing!

Until next time….

Give yourself the gift of success for the coming year. My best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books! Enter to win a FREE copy. Check out Author Susan Bischoff’s blog.

Writing confereces offer tremendous opportunity. Get published. Meet agents. Socialize with other members of your profession. But are you getting your money’s worth? Here are some tips to help you get the most of your writing conference investment.

This week is an amazing time for me. I am on the downhill run, careening toward this year’s DFW Writers Workshop Conference in Grapevine, TX. Now, first of all, I gotta say that there is no better conference to go to. And I might be a teensy-weensy bit partial because I am teaching there, but it is true.  The DFW Writers Workshop is made up of some of the most passionate, professional creative people I have ever known, and I am deeply humbled to keep such company.

Some of you reading this may be going to this weekend’s conference. It sold out months ago. So, if you didn’t get in for this year’s conference, I strongly encourage you to go to the DFWWW website right away. We have an unbelievable keynote next year. I don’t know if I am allowed to say who it is yet, but I will give a little hint—58 NY Times best-sellers. So go sign up…NOW! Before it sells out just like 2010 conference did…only faster.

http://dfwwritersworkshop.org/2010/02/13/registration-opens-for-2011-dfw-writers-conference-save-your-spot-now/

But aside from offering amazing keynotes like Candace Havens, Bob Mayer, and this year’s Jodi Thomas, the DFWWW Conference offers a tremendous variety of breakout sessions designed to make us—writers—the best we can be.

Today, I am going to give tips for maximizing your time at a conference, whether you are attending this weekend’s DFWWW Conference or another. Face it, most conferences cost a pretty penny and many of us have to scrape and scrounge and sacrifice to pay our way. If we happen to be traveling to a conference then add even more costs for car rental, gas, plane fare, hotels, food, and on and on and on. This investment can easily run into the hundreds of dollars, and, if you are plan on attending the big RWA or ITW conferences, that price tag can easily soar into the thousands of dollars. Ack!

Hey, no worries. It is an investment. Often a BIG investment. Time to get the most out of it.

Three Tips to Maximize your Conference Time

1)      Agents and Editors Need You Too

Agents and editors are allies, not gods.

Yeah, sorry if I offended any agents or editors out there. We love you and need you and are so grateful you are on our side.

Most writing conferences, DFWWW included, go out of their way to provide a good selection of agents and editors to help attendees realize their dreams of publication success. Yet, time and again I see writers, especially new writers, walk around in a dazed panic, eyes dilated and skin pasty, totally scope-locked on the pitch session.

Maximize the time you have. Yes, pitch sessions are great, but they are only part of the conference experience. I recommend that you keep a healthy dose of perspective. Agents and editors need you just as much as you need them, probably more. Writers can get published without an agent, but agents (and editors) HAVE to have an author’s work to sell or they are on the breadline.

Agents and editors are human. GASP! Yep, their secret is out. They want and need good writing. Plain and simple. That is how they get PAID. Agents go to conferences because it is in their interests (just like you) to do so. Pitch sessions aren’t sudden death overtime. Agents know you are nervous and just as likely to throw up on your shoes as you are to be witty and charming…so relax. They will either see something in your idea, or they won’t. Ultimately, all depends on whether or not they like and believe they can sell your writing. Breathe, smile, enjoy and move on.

2)      Take Advantage of the Break-Out Sessions

Any professionally run conference will also offer a selection of classes to hone our skills as writers. Pitching to agents is great, but also make sure you take time to learn about plot, characterization, marketing, pitching, busting past writer’s block, etc. I have to say that DFWWW really shines when it comes to author training. One can count on published professionals like Candace Havens, Rosemary Clements-Moore, A. Lee Martinez and more to give top-notch presentations designed to make you the best you can be.

This might seem like a no-brainer, but I see far too many writers only taking advantage of a fraction of what they paid for.

Case in point…

Two years ago I attended a conference in Oklahoma. I was deeply disappointed at the behavior of some my fellow writers. Unless there was a session with an agent or editor, these individuals holed up in their hotel rooms (I might also mention that these were the same people who all could have used insight into fundamentals of the craft, such as plot, characterization, etc. Cuz, well, all of us can always learn more).

And when they walked away without so much as one request for a query, they believed they’d spend $400 for nothing. Well, in a way, they had.

Writers packed in rooms like sardines to listen to agents who looked all of 22 and still had that “shiny new agent smell,” but failed to attend the craft classes taught by a NY Times best-selling author.

Not that the agents didn’t have some great nuggets of information, but what might have been a better use of time? An hour with a girl who’d just fallen out of college and who’d been a NY agent all of a minute? Or a seasoned author with over 25 years in the publishing business and an impressive resume of best-selling novels?

3)      Network, Network, Network…then Network Some More

Writing can be a lonely business, and a profession that is often not taken seriously. I have worked as a professional writer for going on a decade and still have people say things like, “Oh, you’re a writer. How nice. Now what is your real job?” As Rodney Dangerfield used to say, “I get no respect.”

Most of us gut through day jobs and beg and barter with family to leave us alone so we can write. We know rejection, deeply and profoundly.  We are artists who suffer for our craft.

But, hey, no one said we had to suffer alone. Meet other writers. Make friends who know your plight and can share your burden. Network with published authors, editors, agents (even the ones who don’t have you scheduled for an official pitch session).

Agents change agencies. Editors change publishing houses. One day they may not give a whit about vampires or starships or women’s fiction, but who knows? What will they want in three years or five? These individuals will be far easier to approach if you’ve already established a modicum of rapport.

Friendships and acquaintances can open all sorts of doors. We as humans tend to defer to those we know, before we defer to a stranger. Just because we are writers doesn’t mean we do ALL kinds of writing. I got my start as a technical writer, but have gotten to the point that I prefer to take on other more creative assignments. So if a company calls me for a job and I can’t take it, guess who I call? Other writers I know who do that sort of writing. Whether it is opportunities to speak, present, teach, write, review, whatever, networking is key.

Also, odds are, you are not the greatest writer the world has ever known with zero room for any improvement (even if your mother thinks you are). Surround yourself by those who are better than you and you will be surprised how much you grow.

So remember.

1) Agents are on your side. They need you, so calm down.

2) Take advantage of classes to hone your skills in the craft and the business of writing. You paid for them!

3) Be social. Network, network, network. Writing conferences are like summer camp. You might be surprised the friendships you will make…friendships that will not be delivered to your hotel room with the triple-decker sundae you ordered because you passed out at your pitch session.

Relax and enjoy! Squeeze every cent of joy and growth out of the conference. And if you are going to be at DFWWW’s conference this weekend, say hello and come to my classes.

Happy writing. Until next time…