Every spring, the Idaho Writers Guild hosts the Idaho Writers and Readers Rendezvous. I love this conference. It’s small and intimate–meaning you get to chat with pretty much anyone you want, including the presenters–is well organized, and has plenty to offer writers in the region.
This is my second year attending the Rendezvous, this time as a presenter. I sat on an editor’s panel with Stacy Ennis and John Helfers. I also offered several one-on-one manuscript evaluations. Aside from that, I was there to participate in the event, and boy did I ever.
I didn’t take pictures and I didn’t tweet during the event. (How do people remember to do these things? I was too involved to think of it. But that’s okay. I happened to have a pic of the Boise mountains from downtown. Pretty, yes?)
I did, however, take notes.
Plenty and plenty of notes. I’ll share just a few of the highlights here.
1. A.K. Turner’s Opening Address
I wish I could just share the whole thing with you, because it was fabulous. She talked about success and failure, and what those two words really mean.
Let’s see if I can adequately sum up the main points. How do you define success when a mega best-selling author with a gazillion books under his belt still worries that people thinks what he writes is crap, or when an author gets slammed by the New York Times on the very day he wins the freaking Pulitzer. (Both true stories.)
Do external markers like sales and awards equal success?
A.K. suggests that success looks like this:
What, then, is failure? “Giving up. That’s it.”
As writers, we’re lucky. We can’t give up. Even if we try. For us writers, failure is not an option.
Bonus highlights from her talk:
Book recommendation: Journey of a Novel, by John Steinbeck
Pronunciation tip: It’s not PEW-lit-ser it’s PULL-it-sir (straight from the website).
2. Business tips from Kristine Rusch
If you’re an author, you’re a business person no matter how you’re published. So get educated about it.
The ignorant person in a business deal is the one who gets screwed. Don’t be that ignorant person.
Want another business tip? Understand copyright law. This is your bread and butter people. You really need to know it.
She recommends the Copyright Handbook, an admittedly monster of a book she suggests you digest in short bites.
As an alternative, I recommend checking out SFWA’s copyright primer, which includes resources for learning more.
3. Writing tips from Danny Manus
He talked about how important it is to evoke emotion in your writing. When you’re writing a scene, ask yourself, “What emotion do I need to evoke?”
Danny said, “If I feel nothing, you haven’t hooked me.”
What elicits emotion the most? Conflict. Your story should have both external and internal conflict for your characters.
4. A Plot Diagnostic Tool from Kristine Rusch
She cautions this is a diagnostic tool, not something to worry about when you’re writing (lest you should stifle your creativity and/or drive yourself mad). It’s a breakdown of plot in it’s most basic parts, but a good reminder:
- A character
- In a setting
- With a conflict
- Who tries to resolve a problem (“an intelligent try,” she reminds us)
- Success or failure (but in either case, “things get worse”)
The first three items are the beginning of your story. Numbers 4 and 5, what she calls the “try-fail cycle,” constitute the middle. How many times you repeat this cycle will vary depending on whether you’re writing a short story or a novel. The last two items are the end of your story.
A note about #7. You may know it as the denouement. She has a great way of explaining what this is and what it does for your reader. I didn’t write what she said verbatim, but this is close enough I’ll put it in quotes anyway because she definitely gets the credit. Validation is simply telling the reader, “the try-fail cycle is over, it’s permanent, and you can stop reading now.”
All 7 items are absolutely critical to any story.
5. Reasons Your Story May Go Astray from Danny Manus
- You made your characters do something inconsistent with who they are.
- You have time jumps, location jumps, or age jumps that reorient the story in a way that’s less appealing
- Your story abandons logic or has a lot of coincidences. (Your characters can’t “bump into” each other more than once or twice.) (Better if never, I would add.)
- The tone changes halfway through the story (i.e. comedy to horror)
Yes, yes, yes. There are other ways to screw up your story, but these are pretty common. Great list from Danny.
6. Dean Wesley Smith defines the difference between goals and dreams
Becoming a best-selling author is a dream. You may or may not have control over your dream.
Goals are “controllable steps that lead to the dream.”
As in, “I’m going to write 2000 words every day.”
7. Do you need an agent to go the traditional route?
According to Dean, no. Editors say they won’t take unsolicited manuscripts because they’d rather have agents going through the slush. But if something comes across their desk, they will read it.
And likely reject it. But those are your odds anyway.
Unless your manuscript is really good. It IS really good right?
Dean said to have faith in your manuscript and send your submissions package straight to the editor. If they want it and ask if you have an agent, say “No, but I have an IP (Intellectual property) lawyer.” It won’t make any difference to the editor.
IP lawyers are even more qualified to negotiate your contract and you’ll only have to pay them $150 an hour (or whatever) for a few hour’s work instead of 15% of your royalties for life, like you would an agent.
I’d never heard of this concept before, but I was sitting right next to someone who heard him give the same advice at one of his workshops about a year ago. She now has two books coming out in the next two years, through a traditional publisher, and did it just like Dean said she should.
If you’re interested in the traditional path, this is good information to have.
7. In conclusion
These are just a few small tidbits from the sessions I attended over the weekend. This doesn’t even count all the people I met, the connections I made, and the tips I received just chatting with someone in the hall.
If you haven’t yet tried a writers conference, I highly recommend you give it a go. If you have, and want to share tips or thoughts on attending conferences, please feel free to share in the comments.