WriteOnCon 2018

WriteOnCon is a three-day online children’s book conference for writers and illustrators of picture books, middle grade, young adult, and even new adult. It was founded in 2010, and has become an annual event. This year the WriteOnCon online conference takes place on Friday, February 9th through Sunday, February 11th, 2018. You can see the full 2018 WriteOnCon schedule and the list of speakers.

The WriteOnCon keynote addresses and the critique forums are free and open to anyone who registers on the WriteOnCon site. There’s a sliding scale registration fee ranging from $5.00 for General Admission, which gives you access to all the blog posts and material that speakers have put together (over 100 entries!), until a week after the conference ends. At the opposite end of the scale, the $15.00 Extended Admission includes access to posts and the live events, and you retain access to the website for a month after the conference ends. The various options for admission and registration for WriteOnCon are here.

The free forums are open now, with options for various kinds of crit and feedback. There’s also a free mail list. I’ve watched WriteOnCon grow and it gets better and better every year. The fact that WriteOnCon is entirely online, and the paid registration options for viewing the content later make it possible to participate even if you’re a working parent. There’s a WriteOnCon thread on Absolute Write if you’re curious about past conferences. Members are already excited about this year’s event.

While You Wait: A Writing Prompt Contest!

While you wait for AW’s forums to return after their spiffy upgrade, here’s a contest you can participate in right here.

Come up with a writing prompt that your fellow AWers can work on while they wait for the Forums/AW Water Cooler to be back after the upgrade.

Keep in mind that we have all kinds of writers at AW, our members write fiction of every conceivable sort, screen plays, poetry, and non fiction, ranging from how-tos, to biography, history, memoir . . . you name it, we have writers who write it, so keep that in mind when you’re creating your prompts.

We will select the best writing prompt entered as a comment to this post, and judged by the Absolute Write mods.

The winner of the best prompt will receive a hardcover or ebook (winner’s choice) The Library at Mount Char, a novel from Penguin Random’s Crown coming out June 15, 2015 by our very own  Scott Hawkins.

The Library at Mount Char is Scott Hawkins’ first novel. Kirkus Reviews called it “A spellbinding story of world-altering power and revenge from debut novelist Hawkins.”

You can read more about The Library At Mount Char here.

Start entering your best writing prompts (no more than 3 entries per person please) in a Comment below. We’ll be moderating comments, but will do that as quickly as possible, so those of you following along can actually start writing in response to any prompt that appeals.

We will close entries on Monday, May 11, 2015 at 9 AM Seattle time.

We’ll have a special thread on AW for prompt-inspired writing.

What’s Your Novel About?

By Marilyn Henderson

You have finished your novel and are attending a writers’ conference hoping to get an agent or editor to read your manuscript. You work your way through the crowd with your gaze focused at name-tag level. Suddenly you spot a gold-bordered tag reserved for editors. Heart pounding, you approach and introduce yourself and say you have just finished your novel.

The editor smiles and replies, “What’s your novel about?”

Suddenly the moment of truth is at hand. This woman knows why you’re here. The conference brochure described the reception as the place where writers could meet editors and agents. This is when you make your pitch.

Now’s your chance to convince this editor to ask you to send her your manuscript. So how do you answer her question?

Just as she had her question ready, you need to have your answer prepared. If you’re a savvy writer, you began working on your plot statement as soon as you signed up for the conference.

What’s a plot statement?

A plot statement is the hook you need to make your storyline sound like a winner so the editor asks to read the manuscript. In screen play writing this is called a pitch.

Just as she got right to the point in talking with you, she expects you to get right to the point by telling her what your novel is about. She doesn’t want a long rambling dissertation about the characters, background or details of who does what in the plot. She wants you to capture her interest by making the book sound too exciting to pass up.

Any book she recommends the publisher buy must be one she can convince others in the publishing house will sell. Publishers are in business to make money, and she hopes to find a winner among the writers at this conference.

Like a query letter, your plot statement or pitch is a selling tool. It’s time to forget all those great enthusiastic descriptions of your story you envision on the cover of your published novel.

Cover copy is written to entice the reader to buy the book. It tells exciting details of the story to entice the reader to want to read more. A plot statement is written to excite the editor enough to think the story will sell. Pitching is how you sell your novel.

The editor at that conference wants to know if the book will sell and make money for the publishing company.

How do you tell what the story is about without telling the story?

Don’t think about the story, think about the original idea that developed into your plot. What about that idea made you decide it could become a novel? What excited you enough to spend months working on it?

The initial spark usually stirs your curiosity or an emotional reaction. You may want to know who, what, when, where or how such a thing might happen. You may wonder what would happen if one of the people involved took a different turn or made a different decision. The idea may have infuriated you, driven you to tears or scared you enough to check the locks on your doors and windows. In other words, it stirred an emotional reaction. Now your pitch must do that to the editor.

The How-to’s of Plot Statements and Pitching

A pitch is a statement that conveys the main storyline in a way that impacts the editor emotionally so she wants to read the manuscript. You write it after your novel is finished because you don’t know everything that happens until then. You need to look at the story as a whole in order to recognize the most important and emotionally charged highlights of the storyline.

Six Do’s and Don’ts for Writing a Plot Statement and Pitching

  • Write it in only one sentence
  • Write in the present tense
  • Write in the active voice
  • Don’t give details of the plot
  • Don’t use characters’ names
  • Choose words that evoke an emotional response

The rules are easy, but don’t make the mistake of thinking you can toss off the plot statement for your novel in a few minutes. I have challenged numerous writers to do a plot statement, and none have succeeded quickly. The plot statement is a key part of pitching. Most writers need a considerable amount of time and help. One writer sent an excellent one, along with the admission it had taken him three weeks and fifteen tries.

Once you do one well, it’s easier to repeat your success

One picture is worth a thousand words. The old adage holds true for plot statements. Paint a word picture that makes your listener form his own mental images that cause him to feel angry or sad or nervous.

Examples of this appear every day in our daily newspapers. Can you read an account of a nursing home fire in which four patients died without feeling sad or angry at the people or circumstances that led to the fire? Can you read a story about a child being abducted without heart-felt gratitude that your little boy is safe and sound asleep in his bed?

Our emotional responses to other people’s troubles develop out of our fears and concerns for our own and our family’s safety and well being.

This is true for editors just as it is for you and me. Editors react to the emotional appeal of a pitch; the plot statement is a key part.

How Emotion in a Plot Statement Works

Let’s look at a plot statement that worked and why it did. The example is a plot statement for a woman-in-jeopardy suspense novel:

“A recently widowed young mother brings her sick three-year-old home from nursery school during a devastating Southern California storm and discovers they are not alone in the house.’

I had chosen woman-in-jeopardy as the subgenre for the novel because it is one of the biggest sellers in the mystery and suspense field. Most readers and editors of these books are women. For those reasons, I aimed my plot statement at emotions women can relate to and understand.

A recently widowed young mother is a sympathetic, vulnerable heroine. Even if the editor hasn’t experienced those problems personally, she can’t help but feel sadness at this woman’s plight.

Then I add a sick child, something every parent and non-parent can relate to and worry about.

With the main character hitting these two emotional buttons, I add a setting that hits another one: “a devastating Southern California storm.” Newspapers and television have brought the horror of flooded homes and collapsing hillsides in California into living rooms across the nation. We shudder at the thought of the unpredictable destruction and losses or give earnest thanks that we don’t live in an area where they occur.

And finally I hint at the menace to come: she discovers they are not alone in the house. An unknown person invading her home plays on the fears of every woman.

Every story element included in the plot statement is an emotional trigger. Together, they create a dark mood of danger and suspense. And more important, they make the editor curious about how the story will evolve and work out.

I admit I didn’t come up with the plot statement on the first try. I didn’t count how many bad starts I had or how many refinements I made once I had a passable draft, but it took me several days to reach this one. The early ones suffered from my trying to tell too much, especially about the intruder. Eventually I realized that the less I told about him, the more sinister he became, and the more “fear” he roused.

The descriptive words in the statement also were chosen for the effect they helped produce. A “recently widowed young mother” has a “sick” child. The storm is “devastating.” These add to the dark mood that enhances a suspense novel.

This statement tells the basic storyline without any details of the action or characters. At the same time, it pushes three emotional buttons for the editor:

  • Compassion (widowed mother and sick child)
  • Worry (the storm)
  • Terror (the intruder in house)

The editor knows these emotional triggers sell books, so she may be willing to read the manuscript to see if the story delivers on its promise. The plot statement did what it was supposed to do.

If you have finished your novel, start working on your plot statement now so you’ll be ready when that editor or agent you meet says, “What’s your novel about?”

FOGcon!

Guest Post by Lynn Alden Kendall

Writing speculative fiction—fantasy, alternate history, and science fiction—entails imagining a world as well as a story. Perhaps that’s why SF/F writers and readers attend conventions like FOGcon: to immerse themselves in the world of speculative fiction.

FOGcon is a book-oriented SF/F convention held every March at the Walnut Creek Marriott near San Francisco. Organized and run by writers and fans of SF/F, FOGcon is an intimate, not-for-profit event that offers members a weekend of readings, panel discussions, writers’ workshops, and opportunities to mingle. Each year we choose a different theme and invite guests whose writing exemplifies the best work on that topic.

This year’s convention runs from March 8 – 10, and the theme is Law, Order, and Crime. The Honored Guests are Terry Bisson, Susan R. Matthews, and the late Anthony Boucher. (That’s right; in addition to honoring living writers, we always have an Honored Ghost.) The con is always held the weekend of the second Sunday in March—time-change weekend.

FOGcon, now in its third year, has already earned a reputation as a fascinating event where creative people gather. Last year, acclaimed author Nalo Hopkinson led a workshop where people uncovered their cultural secrets by playing games. We have hosted writing exercises with an instructor, meetups for people of color and for people on social media, and an annual participatory group world-building exercise. There is also a dealers’ room where you can buy books, jewelry, art prints—even get a massage.

The San Francisco Bay Area has been a mecca for writers since the days of Mark Twain, and FOGcon draws on the rich local culture of SF/F writers. As a community-led, book-focused convention, FOGcon resembles a salon where you can meet and mingle with other writers at every level of achievement from beginner to Nebula winner. You can discuss craft with professionals and learn from fans what works for them and what doesn’t. If you’re a new writer, FOGcon is an ideal place for your first dip into the speculative fiction pool.

Come to FOGcon if you want to:

  • Spend a weekend with knowledgeable readers and award-winning SF/F writers, engaging in passionate conversation about the books and ideas you love.
  • Take part in lively, informative panel discussions on the topics that interest you most, from fresh ideas about future societies to practical advice on the craft of writing and editing.
  • Stretch your authorial muscles by participating in world-building exercises and a 75-minute writing workout.
  • Learn from experts about copyright issues, effective ways to plan your writing, how to build suspense, and creating sympathetic protagonists on the wrong side of the law.
  • Listen to readings of new work by top writers in the field.

And those are just the official events—FOGcon offers plenty of informal fun as well, from spontaneous discussions (and plenty of free food) in the hospitality suite to karaoke, a game room, and meetups for people with special interests. Membership costs are less than a hundred dollars for the weekend, very low compared to commercial conventions. Moreover, our hotel offers free parking, a swimming pool, a good restaurant, a newly upgraded fitness center, and a free shuttle to downtown Walnut Creek, all for a superb convention rate.

Walnut Creek, east of San Francisco, is a charming small city distinguished by its superb restaurants (from cafes to sushi to four-star dining), excellent shopping, and a convenient location. If you’re interested in exploring wild California, Mount Diablo is just a few minutes away by car. A convenient commuter train just 10 minutes’ walk from the hotel can take you into San Francisco, one of the world’s most beautiful cities and an international center for food, arts, and culture.

Getting to the con is easy. You can drive to Walnut Creek—the hotel offers free parking—or fly into SFO or Oakland and take the BART train to Walnut Creek. (Yes, the hotel has a free shuttle from the Walnut Creek BART station.) Fly in on Thursday night and be part of the fun from the beginning.

Lynn Alden Kendall
http://www.lynnkendall.com

The greatest thing in the world is the Alphabet
as all knowledge is contained therein
except the wisdom of putting it together
from an old German bookplate

Thrillerfest 2013!

Dive Into The World of Thrillers at THRILLERFEST

Guest Post, by Alma Katsu 

If you write commercial fiction and are looking for a great writing conference, I recommend you check out the International Thriller Writers (ITW) annual event, ThrillerFest. It’s a four-day extravaganza held every year in early July in New York City, close to the publishing industry to ensure participation by editors and agents as well as lots of published authors. If you’re looking for a way to become part of the mystery and thriller genre, you might find that this is the conference you’ve been waiting for.

There are two things that most writers want when they’re at the pre-publication stage: advice on how to make their stories better, and opportunities to meet the editors and literary agents who will make their dreams come true. Craftfest and Agentfest, part of Thrillerfest, are designed to fill those needs.

At Craftfest, you’ll attend sessions on the craft of writing commercial fiction, taught by bestselling authors and some of the top editors in the field. There aren’t many conferences where you’ll learn about dramatic structure or characterization from Lee Child, John Sandford, Steve Berry, or acclaimed agent Donald Maass. While the line-up of presenters changes from year to year  at Craftfest, you’ll find that every instructor at is of the same high caliber.

There are typically over 50 agents at Agentfest to take your pitches. You can see some of the agents who’ve attended in the past here: if you’re looking to pitch to the top agents representing mystery, thriller and suspense, this is where you’ll find them all in one place. And if you’ve never pitched before, don’t worry, there’s a workshop beforehand to teach you the ropes.

At Thrillerfest, you’ll get two days of multiple tracks of panels and spotlight interviews with the biggest names in the field, all designed to teach you about the business of writing commercial fiction. You’ll find panels with some of the most respected editors from the Big Six Publishers: Neil Nyren, senior vice-president and publisher of Putnam, and Mark Tavani, senior editor at Ballantine Books, have been speakers in past years. There are also workshops on related subjects—everything from martial arts to the espionage business—taught by experts.

One of the best things about Thrillerfest is that you get the opportunity to network with authors of all levels of experience—from long-time bestsellers to novices. At my first Thrillerfest, imagine my surprise when I was joined at breakfast by Erica Spindler and Heather Graham! That’s one of the most amazing things about Thrillerfest: everyone is approachable and open.

And while the opportunity to meet big name authors in your genre is a pretty compelling reason to attend, an even better one is that at Thrillerfest you have the chance to meet writers just like you who will likely go on to be your ally in the industry throughout your career—and I can attest to that myself. I met legal thriller writer Allison Leotta when we sat next to each other on stage for the 2011 Debut Author class and today we’re best buds, calling each other for advice and appearing at events together.

As a matter of fact, that’s why I volunteered to write this guest post for ITW: I’ve gotten a lot from Thrillerfest over the years and I wanted to give something back by spreading the word. If you’ve been looking for a writer’s conference that will open doors for you, you might want to read about a few of Thrillerfest’s success stories:

  • Boyd Morrison, author of THE ROSWELL CONSPIRACY, THE CATALYST, ROGUE WAVE and THE VAULT (Pocket Books)

Are you ready to find out more? Click on the links above to go to the Thrillerfest website; you’ll find everything you need. And if you come to Thrillerfest in July, make sure to look for me and say hello!

Alma Katsu is the author of THE TAKER and THE RECKONING, paranormal thrillers published by Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster. THE TAKER was an ALA Top Ten Debut Novel of 2011 and has rights that have been sold in 15 languages. 

Looking for a 2013 Writing Workshop?

I just got this press release, so I thought I’d pass it along to all of you.

ODYSSEY WRITING WORKSHOP ANNOUNCES ITS 18th SUMMER SESSION

About Odyssey
Since its founding in 1996, Odyssey has become one of the most respected workshops in the fantasy, science fiction, and horror writing community. Odyssey is for developing writers whose work is approaching publication quality and for published writers who want to improve their work. The six-week workshop combines advanced lectures, exercises, extensive writing, and in-depth feedback on student manuscripts. Top authors, editors, and agents have served as guest lecturers, including George R. R. Martin, Harlan Ellison, Jane Yolen, Terry Brooks, Robert J. Sawyer, Ben Bova, Nancy Kress, Elizabeth Hand, Jeff VanderMeer, Donald Maass, Sheila Williams, Shawna McCarthy, Carrie Vaughn, and Dan Simmons. Fifty-eight percent of Odyssey graduates go on to professional publication.

The program is held every summer on Saint Anselm College‘s beautiful campus in Manchester, NH. Saint Anselm is one of the finest liberal arts colleges in the country, dedicated to excellence in education, and its campus provides a peaceful setting and state-of-the-art facilities for Odyssey students. College credit is available upon request.

Jeanne Cavelos, Odyssey’s director and primary instructor, is a best-selling author and a former senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing, where she won the World Fantasy Award for her work. As an editor, Cavelos gained a reputation for discovering and nurturing new writers. She provides students with detailed, concrete, constructive critiques of their work. Cavelos said, “I’ve worked with many different writers, and I know that each writer thinks and works differently. We limit attendance at Odyssey to sixteen, so I can become deeply familiar with the work of each student and provide assessments of strengths and weaknesses. I work individually with each student, helping each to find the best writing process for him, suggesting specific tools to target weaknesses, and charting progress over the six weeks.” Her critiques average over 1,200 words, and her handwritten line edits on manuscripts are extensive.

Odyssey class time is split between workshopping sessions and lectures. An advanced, comprehensive curriculum covers the elements of fiction writing in depth. While feedback reveals the weaknesses in students’ manuscripts, lectures teach the tools and techniques necessary to strengthen them.

The workshop runs from June 10 to July 19, 2013. Class meets for four hours in the morning, five days a week. Students spend about eight hours more per day writing and critiquing each other’s work. Prospective students, aged eighteen and up, apply from all over the world. The early action application deadline is JANUARY 31, and the regular admission deadline is APRIL 8. Tuition is $1,920, and housing is $790 for a double room in a campus apartment and $1,580 for a single room.

This year, Odyssey graduate Sara King is sponsoring the Parasite Publications Character Awards to provide financial assistance to three character-based writers wishing to attend. The Parasite Publications Character Awards, three scholarships in the amounts of $1,920 (full tuition), $500, and $300, will be awarded to the three members of the incoming class who are deemed extraordinarily strong character writers, creating powerful, emotional characters that grab the reader and don’t let go.

Meet Our 2013 Writer-in-Residence
Odyssey’s 2013 writer-in-residence, Nancy Holder, is an award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of adult, young adult, middle grade, and early reader work, both fiction and nonfiction. She has sold approximately 80 novels and 200 short stories, comic books, and essays in various genres. She has taught creative writing classes at the University of California at San Diego, the Maui Writers Retreat and Conference, and other conferences and colleges, and has been on the faculty of the Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing for seven years.

Other Guest Lecturers
Lecturers for the 2013 workshop include some of the best teachers in the field: award-winning authors Holly Black, Patricia Bray, Adam-Troy Castro, and Jack Ketchum; and the two-time Hugo Award-winning editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine, Sheila Williams.

Odyssey Graduates
Graduates of the Odyssey Writing Workshop have been published in the top fiction magazines and by the top book publishers in the field. Their stories have appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Analog, Asimov’s, Realms of Fantasy, Weird Tales, Lightspeed, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, and Clarkesworld. Some of the recent novels published by Odyssey graduates are Kitty Steals the Show by Carrie Vaughn, published by Tor Books; Lies & Omens: A Shadows Inquiries Novel by Lyn Benedict, published by Ace Books; Spellcrossed by Barbara Ashford, published by DAW; Silver by Rhiannon Held, published by Tor Books; and Clean: A Mindspace Investigations Novel by Alex Hughes, published by Roc Books.

Comments from the Class of 2012
“I learned more in six weeks at Odyssey than I did in three years in an MFA program.” – Jessie Robie

“Jeanne is the most thorough and hard-working instructor I’ve ever met. Odyssey has changed me as a writer. I can’t imagine a finer education or experience.” – James Khan

“I was afraid Odyssey would change my writing and take away what made it mine and unique, but I was so wrong. At Odyssey, I developed a sense of control over those gut feelings I used to have—when I sensed something was off but just could not figure out what it was. . . . Odyssey is like a writer paradise. You might not want to change when you get here, but you will. Later, you won’t want to leave, but when you do, you leave with a purpose.” – Jessica May Lin

Other Odyssey Resources and Services
The Odyssey Web site, www.odysseyworkshop.org, offers many resources for writers, including online classes, a critique service, free podcasts, writing and publishing tips, and a monthly blog. Those interested in applying to the workshop should visit the Web site, phone (603) 673-6234, or e-mail jcavelos@sff.net.

Writers’ Conferences: Are They All They Should Be?

By Jessica McCurdy-Crooks

What is a Writers’ Conference?

This is a gathering of writers, whether amateur or professional, discussing a particular subject or general information about writing, selling a novel, articles or even poetry or fiction readings. There are as many different types of writers’ conferences as there are different types of writers, such as Christian Writers’ Conference, fiction writers’ conferences, conferences for people who write for children — you get the picture. Whether or not they are useful depends on a number of factors. Perceptions and expectations are the deciding factor as to whether or not they are worthwhile. If you attend a conference expecting to sell your novel or get a major contract, then be prepared for some disappointment. Very few attendees at conferences end up selling a story.

Who attends These Conferences?

Attendees vary, from beginners to seasoned, many-time published writers. This coming together of people from such widely different writing backgrounds and experiences can add to the benefits to be derived from attending such a gathering.

Writers’ conference attendees fall into two main groups: students and teachers. Sometimes the lines between both can become blurred. A fellow writer noted that apart from teachers, students fall into three distinct groups, namely:

  • Professionals who are seeking further networking opportunities
  • Serious writers who have not yet been published
  • Those who want to ‘feel’ like writers

Preparation

What to Wear?

Dress codes vary as widely as these conferences do. For some semi-formal is fine; for most, however, the safe bet is “casual business.” Writer Del Stone is most comfortable in khaki slacks and a polo shirt; I find that a nice shirt and jeans normally go over well. There are dinners that might require that one be dressy, while at meetings something more casual can be worn. Workshops, on the other hand, allow for flexibility in dressing.

Some conferences will provide information on what to bring and wear, so it is a wise move to get brochures on the conferences you plan on attending.

What to Expect

Do keep your expectations realistic — don’t expect to come away as an award-winning writer. Your skill level as a writer will also impact on your experiences at a writers’ conference, especially if it is your first such foray. Marie Stone, a freelance writer from Oregon, noted that as a student, she “missed a lot because [she] was too busy being star-struck.” This happens to many first-timers, and even professionals are not above being dazzled by being in the same location as their heroes. However, try to remain focused on what is happening. How else will you learn?

Expect to work if you intend to get the most from attending. Work, work, work is the order of the day. Be prepared for this by taking along note pads, pencils, pens and other implements that you think you may need. Also, do not shy away from critique sessions — the feedback can help make your career.

Value / Networking Opportunities

The assertion that your expectations are the prime factor in determining “value received” is reiterated again and again by fellow writers, and even by speakers at such conferences. One professional writer, who also speaks at writers’ conferences, noted that “value for money” in terms of writers’ conferences is to some extent dependent on the attendee’s skill level as a writer, and his or her willingness to participate in class discussions.

Other factors that will effect what you take away with you from these gatherings include:

  • The opportunities that exist for networking with other writers, publishers, editors
  • How “good” the presenters are
  • How keen the students are, as this will make for interesting interactions in critique sessions, etc.

If you will be incurring major expenses, try to find people who have attended this particular conference before and get feedback from them. This can save you from disappointment and feeling that you have been cheated.

Additionally, writers can significantly improve their collection of writing resources from the many offerings on sale. In the final analysis, though, the true value is your own sense of accomplishment or satisfaction.

The most valuable reward is that of making contacts; these networking opportunities can be just the lead you need to break into a particular market. Do not believe that you only need these contacts with editors and publishers; other writers are just as important as contacts. Many writers have gotten work from being recommended to a publisher from writers they have met at conferences. How to network successfully takes skill and tact. Try to be attentive to what is being said, even if it is not what you want to hear. If you look beyond the words, something useful might be gleaned, or better yet, you can arrange to have further discussions with the speaker. You should leave a conference with e-mail contacts and business cards, but be sure to tell the people that you will be in touch. One last word of advice about networking: be polite — people will remember.

Should you Pitch your Work?

This is the most important question on the mind of most people planning on attending a conference for the first time. The opinions on this vary widely — some writers advise against pitching, while others emphatically say “yes, yes, yes.” Whether or not to pitch your idea or work will depend on the conference.

Those against feel that opportunities should be used to socialize, so that publishers will be able to associate your face with a name the next time you submit to them. This, they feel, can have a positive effect on the response to your query.

Writer Charles Pekow recommends that while it is possible to pitch one’s work, subtlety should be used. His words of wisdom are to, while socializing, “enquire as to their services, jobs and interests so that you will know if what you have to offer is what they need.”

Some conferences actually have time set aside for pitching, so if it is important to you, select conferences that offer this as part of the package. If in doubt, call to find out. Be prepared; as such, select your best work(s) and write and rehearse a pitch or query to give to the editors/publishers you plan to approach. Having your story/article well thought out will save you wasting both your own time and that of other people. It will also show your professionalism and commitment.

One final word of caution: do not give in to the urge to just approach editors and pitch your work — it can be a major turn-off and presents future obstacles to your landing work with that company. You do not want to build a reputation for being rude.

Conclusion

Those who get the most from attending writers’ conferences are those individuals who are serious about their craft, and as such are prepared for the conference and know their expectations before attending. One thing is sure — even if you do not get a solid lead to work, the networking opportunities to be resulting from attending are unparalleled.

Jessica McCurdy-Crooks trained as a librarian, but notes that “these days I provide this service only on a part-time basis. I started writing poetry as my first love, but started writing reviews on Jamaican hotels, restaurants, etc. for an online company and found that I actually enjoyed writing.”

What’s So Special About A Writers’ Conference?

By Linda Chiara

By nature writers tend to be solitary people. We spend hours alone in front of a computer or in libraries doing research. Oh, sure, sometimes we venture out into the real world and sit in a favorite coffee house sipping on a latte. But rather than truly interacting with others, we find ourselves eavesdropping on our fellow man, straining to hear a good conversation which we hope to be able to use in our work-in-progress novel.

However, more often than not, you’ll find us at home, alone.

By virtue of our profession (and on the plus side) we don’t have to cope with office politics, unless you count the rare situation when we must tread lightly and handle delicately the quirks of an unorthodox editor.

However, on the flip side of the coin, we are not privy to the helpful career news that is frequently discussed while standing around the office water cooler. Nor do we have much contact with other professionals who could help steer us in the right direction, or at least point us to a path that we had not considered before.

That’s where a good writers’ conference comes in. There are at least 1,000 writers’ conferences or seminars offered each year. (Check out http://writing.shawguides.com/ for information). Each and every one of them can provide you with something to help you in your quest to becoming a better, and more productive, writer.

Conferences work the same way for writers as they do for dentists or undertakers. They offer professionals a chance to meet with other professionals to exchange ideas and discuss trends within the industry. Plus they give us a chance to associate with people who share the same interests and who can help us propel our career forward. Attendees and guest speakers of conferences are not only writers; often they are editors, publishers and agents, as well. These professionals speak on panels that cover a particular aspect of writing. Some conferences even offer workshops that can truly motivate a writer. Plus the pros frequently make themselves available to answer specific questions and give writers some tips of the trade. That alone is often worth the price of admission.

And speaking of the cost of admission, there are writers’ conferences to suit almost any budget. Where some conferences can run in the thousands, once you include airfare and travel, there are often local conferences that are significantly less pricey and just as high in quality.

So if cost is an issue, why not attend the least expensive conference you can find to get you started? The first conference I attended was not really a good fit for me, but it was inexpensive and close to home. And yet, I can honestly say that it was worth it, because I made several professional contacts and came out with countless article ideas.

As far as time goes, be aware that conferences can last anywhere from several hours to a week or two. Find one that fits your time schedule.

It’s important to note, that after considering the cost and time element, a writer should try to find a conference that focuses on their genre. There are conferences that include such specialty writing as mystery, children’s, romance, inspirational, humor and horror, just to name a few.

What should you expect to get out of a writers’ conference? Be prepared to walk away with new contacts, new ideas, new markets and quite possibly, new friends.

Here are just a few tips to help you get through your first conference:

  • Wear tailored, casual clothing. Comfortable shoes are a must! You don’t need to dress up in designer duds, but leave the faded jeans and sloppy t-shirts at home.
  • Bring along business cards and writing supplies (although every conference I’ve ever attended has been very generous in supplying notepads, pens, and canvas carry-all bags to its attendees).
  • If you can swing it, go with a fellow writer/friend. For the past two years, I’ve attended a two day conference in New York City that was so jam packed with information, that there wasn’t enough time in the day to get it all in, let alone absorb the content. On my last trip, I coerced my friend Marlene to join me. We split up after breakfast and met for lunch, where we compared the notes we had taken for one another at different panel discussions.

The greatest thing about attending a conference is that they are, above everything else, inspirational. My friend Marlene is a gifted writer. However, she didn’t see herself that way, because her day job is secretarial work. As we rode home on the train after the conference was over, she became very introspective.

Finally, as we were pulling into the station, she said, “Thank you for bringing me. It opened my eyes. I used to think of myself as a secretary who writes. Because of this conference, I now realize I am a writer, who just happens to work as a secretary.”

That’s what a writers’ conference can do for you.

Linda Chiara’s work has been published in Reader’s Digest, The Christian Science Monitor, Woman’s Day, Family Circle, Boys Life, Ladies Home Journal, and Chicken Soup for The Teenage Soul on Love and Friendship. In addition, she writes frequently for parenting magazines around the nation, including Pittsburgh Parent, Western New York Family Magazine, Montana Parent, etc. You can find out more at Linda Chiara’s website.

Workshop Critiques: Four Ways To Convey Constructive Criticism

By Michele R. Bardsley

Writers who seek out critique workshops want to improve their writing. They must. Why else would they allow their works to be judged by other writers?

While writers who offer their manuscripts to the group must be mentally prepared to accept criticism, it is the group’s responsibility to make sure opinions are conveyed in a positive and encouraging manner. Yet is that always possible? Some manuscripts need a little fine-tuning, but others need a match and some kerosene. How can you, as a critique group member, impart constructive criticism to another writer?

Start With Positive Comments

No matter how badly written a manuscript is, there is always a little nugget of goodness nestled in it. Even if it’s only a word or phrase, point it out before expounding on the manuscript’s problems.

“Writers should convey criticism honestly, but with tact,” says Judy Snavely, an award-winning writer who recently finished her first novel. “I have experienced something very close to ridicule a time or two from my fellow writers. It’s unnecessary and unprofessional.”

Your choice of words can help or hinder a fellow writer. Blurting out, “This is awful,” is not helpful. In one classroom workshop I participated in, a beginning writer turned in 40 pages of his mainstream novel. I disliked the protagonist, the love scene offended me, and the writing was, well, awful. I found one beautifully written sentence that I complimented him on and then I picked one or two aspects—out of the hundreds I wanted to say—to tactfully criticize.

Positive comments cushion the forthcoming criticisms and the writer will probably be more receptive to your ideas. If you can’t find a single good thing about the work, do as your mother told you, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Use The Phrase “It’s Your Story.” Then Believe It

End your commentary with, “This is my opinion, but it’s your story.”

Using this phrase will reassure the writer that you’re trying to help him or her and it also reminds you not to try and change the story to fit your ideals. Always remember that you are trying to help the author first. As writers, we automatically think of additions or plots or twists, but we can’t impose our ideas. Unless a writer wants a brainstorming session, focus comments on your initial reactions to the work. Offer suggestions for changes–but only go into detail if asked.

Offer Your Ear, Not Your Pen

Unless you’re getting paid, be careful about offering editing services to group members. A writer can easily become dependent upon someone willing to line edit and critique a manuscript. For example, a writer in one of my critique groups relied heavily on members to fix her manuscript’s problems. We happily helped her by taking chapters home and spending hours on them instead of our own writing. Finally, we had to stop “helping” her and suggested she rewrite the chapters before bringing them to critique.

The purpose of a critique group is to help the writer improve. Critique members should learn from each other. If a writer is taking advantage of the group’s skills without infusing the knowledge into his or her writing, then the group’s effort is wasted.

A Writer Doesn’t Have To Listen

No matter how right you believe your comments are or how well you think you can help, the writer doesn’t have to listen to you. Writers should choose the information they feel will best help them. However, there are some members who refuse to listen to anyone. Just as the writer has the right not to listen, you have the right not to comment. If you feel your input is always ignored, then pass when your turn comes to critique.

A few years ago, I took a Novel I class. We were all novices, except for one gentleman who had completed two novels. He submitted his chapters for our approval, but we all had difficulty with his plot. He didn’t want to listen to our reactions, he only wanted to hear about his wonderful writing. No matter how we put our comments, he had an answer, a jibe or a blithe quip. Eventually, we gave up trying to help him. While giving critiques is sometimes a difficult task, it is usually worth the effort.

Think of a critique group as a flower bed. Seeds are planted, fertilizer is added (we are writers after all), and after a lot of sunshine and pruning, the writer grows. Nurturing a blossom is not the same as holding a wilting plant up with wires. Encourage growth, but if it doesn’t happen, concentrate on the writers who are blooming.

© Copyright by Michele R. Bardsley

New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author Michele Bardsley lives in Las Vegas with her husband and two children. Visit her at michelebardsley.com.

BlueCat Screenplay Competition

Hey, AWers! If you write screenplays, this may be for you.

From the Good People at BlueCat:

Submit your screenplay to BlueCat Screenplay Competition! This year’s submission deadline is November 15, 2011. For more information about BlueCat, please visit www.bluecatscreenplay.com/

ABOUT:
BlueCat is an international community that has been discovering and developing writers since 1998. Our Winners and Finalists have been signed by major talent agencies like UTA, CAA and WME, sold their work to studios like Warner Bros., Paramount and Universal, and won major awards at the Sundance, Berlin and Tribeca Film Festivals, all after being discovered by and winning BlueCat.

  • Each screenplay submitted to our competition receives two written analyses, each averaging 600 words of valuable insight.
  • All screenplays are eligible to be re-submitted after receiving notes.
  • Entries for our Final Deadline must be postmarked or received by November 15th, 2011.

BlueCat offers awards to our outstanding finalist and Grand Prizewinning entries. The winner of the 2012 competition will receive $10,000, and four finalists will each receive a $2,000 award.

For complete entry rules and details, an overview of our competition, please visit our website at www.bluecatscreenplay.com/

Questions/Comments: info@bluecatscreenplay.com