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

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 impact on 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, one can significantly improve his/her 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 this, 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 this activity, 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 a memo 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 of being difficult.

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.

Writing An Author Bio That Will Knock The Editor’s Socks Off!

By Dorothy Thompson

Never been published? Here are some suggestions on how to write that author’s bio that is sure to achieve success!

You have just finished your masterpiece and are about to send it off to that magical world, The Land Of The Publishing Industry. You have done your homework and have edited it with a fine-tooth comb. Now what?

You must prepare an author bio to knock the editor’s socks off. Your manuscript cannot stand alone. Along with an impressive cover letter and query, your manuscript must include an author bio. As an already established author, you have probably saved your bio in a file, updating it as you go. As an unpublished author, it is hard to know the exact way to go about doing this. I will show you the tricks of the trade to send off an impressive bio, even if you have never been published before.

Always Write In Third Person

To begin your bio, always remember to write in the third person. Many professional authors know that this is the correct way to write your bio. This makes it more presentable to the publisher. It also allows your readers to distance themselves and not be intimidated.

Your Opening Sentence

This is where you sell yourself to the editor. Your opening line is your introduction, the first thing the editor notices. This line can make you or break you. I start out by stating, “Dorothy Thompson is a freelancer, online journal editor, e-book author.” State your name and who you are. Never mention your personal life, just your professional titles. If you write, “Hi! I’m Jane Doe and a housewife from Minneapolis,” you are already looked upon as an unprofessional. No editor wants to hear this. They simply do not care.

No credentials? No problem. There are ways for even a first-time writer to wing it. Let’s say you have written a poem about your dog that perhaps saved a drowning boy’s life. First of all, you are already a freelancer because you are sending this article to a publisher. Second, you are a poet because this is a poem. Now, you can say, “Jane Doe is a freelance writer and poet.” Sounds better, doesn’t it?

Join Writing Or Critique Groups

Are you a member of a writing group, online or otherwise? If not, join today! This is very important for a first-time writer with no bylines. An editor will take notice if you are a member of a writing or critique group as this tells them you have an interest in perfecting your craft. There are several places online to find a writing group. One good place to look is Yahoo!. Go to Yahoo Groups at http://www.groups.yahoo.com and look for Entertainment & Arts. Look under “books,” then “Writing.” Peruse the groups, as there are over a thousand groups listed here. Join as many as you want. Be careful about the amount of groups you sign up for, for it will take up much of your email space.

Writing Organizations

Another plus in an editor’s eyes is your affiliation with writers’ organizations. Where to find them? One way is to go to one of your writer’s groups and ask. Many writers in these groups are already associated with several organizations and they can give you advice on which ones to join. Another way to find out is to put “writer organizations” in search. I went to Yahoo and put “writer organizations” in the search box, and this is what I found: at the time of this writing, Yahoo included 23 categories and 298 websites for writer organizations. They included:

Most have yearly fees, so be prepared for that. This should not defray you. One particular writers’ organization I know is so well respected by editors and publishers that having that in your bio is almost all you need for an instant passport to publication.

Conclusion

As an unpublished author, you have to always remember that you are your own product. You have to sell yourself. By following the above suggestions, I can guarantee you will come up with an author bio that will knock the editor’s socks off and increase your chances of becoming a published author.

Dorothy Thompson 2001

Dorothy Thompson is a freelance writer, children’s ebook author, and editor of The Writer’s Life. She writes for many online publications, as well as AuthorsDen and Stories.com. Her children’s ebook, No More Gooseberry Pie! is published by Writers-Exchange E-Publishing. Her latest project is a soul mate anthology she is compiling that will be published next year.

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.

The Business-Savvy Writer

By Jodi Brandon

For most of the year, I think of myself as a writer. As I calculate my estimated tax payments and meet with my accountant, though, I am reminded that what I really am is a businesswoman. Most writers, I assume, are like me: more interested in—not to mention better at—the craft of writing (the creative aspect) yet forced to tackle the business elements of writing (namely, marketing, promotion, and advertising; growing your business; and taxes). Writing is, after all, a business. As is the case in any industry, the competition is stiff. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent (February 2001) findings show that about 9.4 percent of all American workers are either self-employed, temporary, or contract workers. In other words, there are quite a few of us out there vying for the freelance jobs that are available. All the more reason to be business-savvy about your writing career.

Marketing, Promotion, and Advertising

Sales are generated by marketing plans, promotion efforts, and advertising campaigns. Writers can’t think of these tasks as belonging exclusively to their publisher. Doing so hurts you where it counts: your royalty statement. You must consider your own marketing and promotion initiative. Ideally, your publisher would handle your project’s publicity efforts completely and effectively. Realistically, however, only a handful of books (think those of James Patterson, Anne Rice, and John Grisham, books that would probably sell themselves off the shelves anyway’go figure) are given the money for full-scale, knock ’em dead initiatives. Take what you can get from your publisher and supplement it as best you can. If you aren’t in a financial position to send yourself on a first-class, nationwide media tour, then consider a radio tour, which you can do from your home. (And remember that you can likely write off much of the expenses you accrue while promoting your work.)

Articles (and other shorter works) are a different story. Media tours, book signings, and such aren’t things you’ll be exposed to, but that doesn’t mean that marketing and promotion aren’t important to the work you do. You’ll likely be handling the work yourself (unless you outsource it yourself, that is). Send a press release to writing e-zines and magazines, which often list articles, books, etc. recently published. Use the clip as a way to promote you and your writing ability. (Better yet, use that clip to generate a new sale by way of a reprint.)

No matter what type of writer you are, your work warrants publicity’whether it’s generated by you or someone else. If it falls on your shoulders, then consider it a learning experience. Think of the media contacts you’ll make, the people you’ll meet, and the exposure your work will receive. That exposure will leave your readers waiting for your next piece of work, so the business side of your writing life really is important, isn’t it?

Growing Your Business

No writer is happy with the status quo. We’re constantly generating new ideas. Those ideas morph themselves into new markets. As a businessperson, think of those markets as potential clients. Put another way, then, writers are always looking for new clients to grow their business.

Growing and expanding a writing business is different from other types of businesses. You need to balance the creative aspect with the practical aspect. You need to take care of the tasks you’re already doing (sending out queries, attending workshops and conferences, researching markets, etc.) as well as some tasks that don’t seem all that appropriate to you as a writer at first glance. For example, join your local chamber of commerce or small-business association. You might not have much to say to these more “traditional” businesspeople at first, but you’ll soon find that you face many of the same challenges they do. Awkward? Perhaps. Anyone who’s ever moved knows how it feels to be the new kid in school, but you also know that the feeling passes. The same is true here. An added bonus is that you might get some clients that you never even knew existed from the contacts you make through business associations and organizations.

Taxes

Taxes are, without a doubt, the thorn in every writer’s side. They don’t have to be. (I swear!) If you don’t feel like or think of yourself as a businessperson, tax season will surely change your viewpoint. I try to look at the bright side: The more taxes I’m paying, the more I must be making, right? I realize it’s a small consolation, but it’s all I’ve got. Here are a few tips to tame the tax beast.

  • Get a good accountant. The money he or she will charge you is worth it. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got much more important things to keep track of than tax law—let alone the tax law changes each year. Not only that, he or she knows what you can and cannot deduct, what will and will not raise the IRS’s eyebrow, and so on. Try to find someone who specializes in or works regularly with freelancers (freelance writers in particular, if you can find someone).
  • Keep your receipts—all of them, from all year. As I just noted, your trusty accountant will tell you what you and cannot deduct, and the more backup you have for anything you do deduct, the safer you’ll be. After a couple years, you’ll get the hang of it. There are still occasions when my accountant surprises me with something that’s deductible, and I’m always happy to have the receipt. You can deduct just about anything—as long as you can prove that it’s “ordinary” and “necessary” to your business. These are the IRS’s key words here.
  • If you’re going to take a home-office deduction, make sure you read IRS publication #587 (Business Use of Your Home) to find out what the IRS allows and what it doesn’t. This deduction often raises a red flag in the eyes of the IRS, so it’s best to be as careful as possible.
  • Take the deductions you’re allowed to. Your accountant (if he or she is a good one) will ask you for receipts for such expenses as dues for trade organizations (such as the Society of Professional Journalists or the National Writers Union), business cards and stationery, conference expenses (registration, plane ticket, transportation while in Chicago, hotel, and meals). In my first year as a freelancer, I had no idea I could deduct a trip I took to Chicago for an editing class. I ended up missing out a hefty deduction because I hadn’t done my homework. It never occurred to me, as a new writer, that I even had expenses. That sounds silly now, but what did I know at age 23, having never even done my own taxes before? I simply handed the paperwork to my mom in previous years, and the form came back with a note for me to sign and mail it.

* * *

All of the ideas covered here are important to your writing business. Keeping the business in order enables us to do what we love best: write.

In her role as president of JBedit, Jodi Brandon has edited and/or contributed to a number of high-profile book projects, including The Barnes & Noble Guide to Children’s Books (3rd Edition), The Buzz on Beer anthology, the Frommer’s Irreverent Guide travel series, The 50 Best (and Worst) Business Deals of All Time, and Copyright Plain & Simple. In addition to her editing responsibilities, she has also completed a number of writing projects on behalf of national and regional clients, including Arcadia Publishing, Inc., Amateur Chef magazine, The Newark Star-Ledger, Bride’s Guide magazine, Lebhar-Friedman Books, The Pathway School, and TheOddSpot.com. You can find her at JodiBrandon.com

Tips for Writer’s Group Etiquette

By Julie Rogers and June Ford

My editor and I frequently talk to writers—many who are or have been members of writer’s groups. More and more we find ourselves pulling out these tips because we believe healthy writing etiquette among peers encourages good writing habits. When a writer begins working professionally with an editor, the carryovers from training, etiquette, and experience become clear. If a writer is inflexible or impatient, that comes out in the process. On the other hand, if an editor is a frustrated writer, the end product will be overwritten and stylistically untrue to the writer’s original vision.

We encourage struggling writers groups to put the following tips into practice for at least three meetings. We believe the best writing comes from writers who, by hard knocks or intention, are moving into higher realms of personal growth. Above all, we encourage all writers to continue becoming good writers, a process we believe never stops—by studying the craft, reading, and of course, writing your dream.

  • Inventory—Who are the participants in the group, and what are they writing? A writers group with longevity caters to the writing interests and skills of the entire bunch. Periodic surveys are helpful in determining whether needs are being met.
  • Involvement—Encourage members to speak to the group on topics they feel comfortable presenting. Topics don’t necessarily have to center around the craft of writing, but can pertain to work, experience, hobbies, etc.
  • Reviews—Book or movie reviews teach writers about elements of critique and how to examine their own work. Encourage members to present reviews, allowing ten-to-fifteen minutes, or one per meeting. When writing a review, include all statistics (genre, author, screenwriter, publisher, producer, director, year of copyright, etc.). Give a brief synopsis of the story, including the protagonist’s external and internal conflicts. Compare the work, if applicable, to other works that author/writer has produced. List strong and weak points of the work.
  • Written Critiques—Divide into subgroups of writers who share the same writing interests. The subgroup should be no larger than three people. Members should bring a predetermined amount of material (usually around five pages) to be read. The subgroup will read every set of pages silently for ten minutes and make notes or corrections on the copy. When all sets of pages are read, the group or subgroups will discuss each manuscript for ten minutes.
  • Oral Critiques—Divide into subgroups of writers who share the same writing interests. Each member should bring a predetermined amount of typewritten pages (no more than ten) to be read out loud. Allow ten minutes after each reading for oral critiques from other members of the subgroup.
  • Guest Lectures—If the group has no coffer for paying guest speakers, seek out possible freebies from new authors, editorial services, agents, area experts, and area colleges. Remember that these lectures should not center on the craft of writing. Area newspapers, and radio and television stations are good resources for who’s who or the latest up-and-coming in your area.
  • Positive Feedback—Read the entire work. As a general rule of thumb, find and list three positive points first about the work you’re critiquing.
  • Negative Feedback—Critiques that offer solutions to correct a problem are preferable. If you offer negative criticism, be prepared to present two possible solutions for every negative comment.
  • Share the Work—Whether by election or by proxy, members should rotate secretarial and moderator duties to avoid staleness and burnout.
  • Socials/Outings—Downtime and socials provide a more casual, less structured and intimidating atmosphere for discussing lengthier projects or writing woes. If the group consistently meets at one location, this change of setting can do wonders for fueling creative energies.
  • Respect Craft—Writers who truly love the craft will respect its difficulty and be enthused by any effort to write. Whether a manuscript is great, good, or terrible, someone took the time to write it. That’s commendable. No one writes the best work the first time out. We encourage writers groups to respect writers who really work at craft regardless of ethnicity, background, or education. These writers may be the very ones who become really good working writers.
  • Second Opinion—Most writers share the experience of limping away from a critique. Subjecting your baby to criticism—even good criticism—is tough. Collect a spread of criticisms, usually between two and five, and never, ever rework a manuscript on one critique alone. Good critiques will adhere to the feedback tips given above and will genuinely seek to be helpful, versus simply ripping someone’s work apart. If a writer in your group goes home, puts away the project, and never pulls it out again, due to a critique—there’s a good chance it was a bad critique.
  • Read, digest, study—Writing is challenging enough, and making time to read can be even more challenging. Purchase a cassette or CD Walkman for listening to audio books while doing house chores or exercising. Stowaway books and audio books in your car. You’ll be surprised how much time you have on the road, waiting in line at the bank, or the post office, or at restaurants—even if it means reading in snatches.Share book and movie reviews with other writers. You obviously don’t have time to read everything, but a comprehensive review from another writer or book club member can broaden your horizons. Read good, acclaimed works, classics, trades, magazines, breaking news and events.

    Read what interests you, but also try broadening your perspective (and writing capabilities) by reading a variety of genres. Consider forming or joining a book club. Reading lists are available from Writer’s Digest as well as some editorial services, book clubs, and online writers’ web sites. Reading story analyses and summaries is good practice, as well. Study what works. Cliff Notes usually offer good story, character, and writing element analyses.

  • Golden Rule—Sadly, many conferences and online critique groups today feel they have to post requests for participants to be kind to each other. Cutthroat behavior can permeate a writer’s world at any level. We encourage writers not to play that game. Working writers with longevity in the industry establish their careers with genuine courtesy and appreciation of other people, especially other writers.

Julie Rogers’ articles have been featured in numerous self-help, inspirational, and fiction publications, including Coping With Cancer, Daily Meditation, Complete Woman, and the annual anthology Writes of Passage: Every Woman has a Story! She is the author of Happy Tails: How Pets Can Help You Survive Divorce.

Julie is a journalism graduate of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, the 1999 Writer’s Digest Writing Competition Grand Prize Winner for her short story “House Call,” and has received numerous awards for her stage and screenplays. She is a producer at True Grit Films and represented by Jeff Ross Management.

Rogers’ book Happy Tails is available on www.amazon.com. You can read more at her blog.

June Ford has worked in a variety of editorial positions for publishing houses, magazines, and newspapers, including in-house for publishing companies as a managing editor, project editor, and editor. She has been commissioned to write trade books ranging from psychology to business and finance, coffee table pictorials to true crime.

In the genres of children’s, juvenile, and young adult, June has worked with everything from board, picture, and educational books to nonfiction and fiction series. The majority of the books she has worked with have been or are slated to be nationally or internationally distributed. June has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas.

Mining for Gold In Your Own Backyard

By Bex Hall

I’m not really certain why it took me so long to realize this, but I admit, somewhat ashamedly, that I have literally been sitting on a gold mine and didn’t have a clue.

For about eight months now I’ve been reaching out and networking with writers from afar. Participating in discussion lists and on message boards related to my book topic. My inbox is filled regularly with wonderful newsletters for writers that I devour upon arrival. I’ve been corresponding regularly with colleagues now who live thousands of miles away.

Then last month, I met a writer acquaintance while running errands. She told me about a local writing group that had an opening and asked if I’d be interested. After learning more about them, I applied, and was ultimately accepted.

The first meeting was an eye-opener, to say the least. Here I sat in a room with a local professor who had self-published a novel that was meeting with success. There was another woman who was shopping for an agent for her fiction manuscript, and yet another person who had been to the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Which, from what I understand, is truly a Big Deal. I was humbled. The remainder of the group was comprised of writers who were at various stages in their journey for publication and honing their craft. I know I’m going to learn a great deal from our monthly meetings and interaction via the message board.

It was then that I began to wonder if there were others in our community who write or have been published. Google provided me with some interesting results. When I searched for “local, authors, published, [my city, my state]” I came across a gentleman who has been a freelancer since 1985. He’s written two dozen books, some that are well recognized, and his wife is an editor at our local newspaper. All I could do at that moment was pick my chin up from the floor and wonder aloud, “Here? In my little town?” I later shared this with my husband and he then proceeded to tell me that he had lived two doors down from the couple for seven years and that they were friendly people. I asked for an introduction.

I found the schedules of several other local authors who were doing book signings at, of all things (gasp), our local Borders bookstore. Sometimes I amaze even me at how obtuse I can be. My thirst for knowing more fueled my quest so I dug deeper. Apparently, our museum holds workshops for writers, I discovered. And to top it all off, our city holds an annual Festival of Books in November. I learned that last year our state capital, a mere hour long drive away, debuted a Book Fest event that was attended by over 7,000 people and that it’s being held again in October, complete with publishers, agents and nationally known authors. How could I have missed all of this?

I reason that it’s because I’m a writer first, marketer and networker, second. Better late than never, I rationalized. I also found that our state has an organization just for writers and I joined. They have an annual writing competition and while the deadline for entry was missed this year, I plan on participating next year as a new member. They’re holding a weekend workshop in June that’s designed to improve the craft, and my registration is already in the mail.

My search also revealed a seminar by Dan Poynter, the self-publishing industry guru, who was hosting the event only three hours from my backyard. I ventured forth for the day and met other published authors sitting in the audience. I also learned a very clever secret from one of the attendees about how to get reviews for your book cover. Well, it worked for him at least, and I’m sure going to give it a try.

It’s somewhat embarrassing to admit that I’ve been blind for so long to the goldmine in my own backyard. While it’s a good thing to network with those you may never physically meet, being face-to-face with other writers, editors, and publishers, I’ve learned, is priceless.

Not only for the encouragement and support one can receive, but also for the doors that can potentially be opened on a local basis. Developing these contacts and relationships will take time and effort, however, when the time comes to seek local paying freelance jobs or to promote the book once it’s published, the groundwork will have been laid.

Do you remember that commercial that went something like, ” . . . and they’ll tell two people, and then they’ll tell two people . . . “? If you happen to be in your late thirties, used a certain popular hair care product and you were concerned about others hating you because you were beautiful, then you may be familiar with it. If not, it exemplifies the concept of grassroots marketing and networking. Even though it may take time away from writing, it can ultimately lead to more opportunities to do so.

If you’re already out there in your own backyard, panning for nuggets, then kudos to you. If not, then get thee to thy favorite search engine and begin the rush. Who knows? You may even become richer from the experience.

Copyright © 2002 Bex Hall

Bex Hall is a published writer, a mother of two daughters and has remarried adding three stepchildren to the fold, all between the ages of 11 and 20. When she’s not busy applying to be on Jeopardy!, Bex spends her free time looking at life and watching what’s really going on amongst humanity. She then turns around and writes about it. In fact, her column appears weekly at Macon Area Online and on Bex Hall’s Website.

Backspace Writers Conference

Pen nibJust a reminder to those of you thinking about attending Backspace Writers Conference in May, you’ll get an early registration discount if you register before February 1.

(In the interests of full disclosure, Backspace does advertise with AbsoluteWrite on occasion, but this is not a paid post, and I’ve personally heard really excellent things about this conference.)

This is a terrific opportunity for agents and writers to find each other. From the Backspace FAQ:

Both the Agent-Author Seminar and the 2010 Backspace Writers Conference offer access to agents so that authors can talk about their project, get a feel for the agents’ personalities and interests, and learn from the agents’ cumulative knowledge and experience. We offer workshops, not pitch sessions, which means that while an author can get their work in front of agents, if the agents feel it’s not yet ready (or if your opus is not quite finished), authors haven’t burned any bridges. The agents know that based on what authors learn at the conference, they might want to take another pass through their manuscript before they submit it. So while ideally, authors will be coming to the seminar with a finished manuscript in hand, they can still connect with agents and learn from their feedback, even if their work is not quite finished.

Writers generally have to do a lot of self-educating about both writing craft and the publishing industry. Conferences like Backspace Writers Conference can offer an excellent set of resources for a writer’s continuing education and professional network.