Friday, September 28, 2012

C3 Conference - polished paneling

When planning the Creatures, Crimes and Creativity conference it was easy to decide what we wanted the content to be in general.  But the devil’s in the details.  The plan calls for a total of 13 hours of panel with three presentations happening at a time.  That means we need 39 different presentations that will be fun and interesting to readers and to writers of seven genres of fiction. 

Filling two of those slots was easy.  Our local special guests, thriller author John Gilstrap and suspense writer Trice Hickman each offered to give a one-hour presentation.  Both these best sellers have had interesting writing journeys and I think their fans and fellow authors will be jump at the chance to get up close and personal with them and ask their own questions. 

We’re saving one of those hour-long slots for a special event I’ll tell you about later.  That still leaves us with 36 spaces to fill.  Luckily we’ve all been to enough cons to have seen dozens of panels, and we know which ones we liked and which we didn’t.  So the group got together and started throwing out ideas.

In conversation we’ve learned that a lot of people have heard of steampunk but don’t know what it really entails.  So a “What is steampunk” panel seemed a natural.

The team is pushing for me to do a one hour class called “Let’s write a mystery” in which the audience will collaborate, with my guidance, to build a story from scratch.  I love the panel idea, but I’m looking for another mystery author to take it over.  We’d also like to see a panel of new writers talking about how their first book came about and what the experience of being a first-time author is like.

Like the previous idea, a panel discussing how to create a strong protagonist can have writers of different genre.  For mystery and thriller fans we’d like a panel on real-life crime fighting and forensics.  And we plan to mix the genre again for a panel of writers discussing where their ideas come from.

Of course this only scratches the surface – the ideas bubbled up out of control.  The real challenge will fall to romantic suspense author Deliah Lawrence who is our talent coordinator.  As each author registers for the conference she will contact them to learn about their genre and their talents.  Then she will place them on a panel or two with others who will provide the right balance of similarity and contrast. 

Honestly, I can’t wait to see some of these panels, and we haven’t even assigned any authors yet.  And we’re still open to ideas so if there’s a panel YOU’D like to see… or be on… let me know!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Cover (Letter) Story

Whether you’re writing to a small press like Intrigue Publications or an agent who can get your manuscript considered by a larger publisher, you want your approach to be professional.  Your first professional contact with them will be the cover letter on your submission.  You need to write it as if it will make or break the reader’s interest in your work.  Because it will.

If your work is fiction we (or that agent) want to know two things right away: your book’s title and genre.  In just four months of reading submissions I’m already surprised at how many people send us material we would never publish, despite our guidelines being posted conspicuously on our web site.  Just as we handle only four genres, agents usually specialize in certain kinds of work.  So we all want to know right away if we should waste our time reading past the first sentence of your letter.

Next we want to know the word count.  Each genre has a common general length.  We are as unlikely to handle a 60,000 word thriller as we are to accept a 100,000 word young adult novel.  Either might be successful someplace else, but not for us.

The letter also needs to show us you know who your target market is.  We want to know you’ve done enough research to have a feel for where your book might fit. 

Now it’s time for a brief synopsis.  It’s not so much about the characters as it is about the story’s primary conflict.  Will we care about the villain’s plan?  Is the hero someone we can care about?  Are the stakes big enough or intimate enough, depending on the genre.  Is the conflict one that the target audience will care about?  This story summary should answer these questions.

Cap your letter with a little history.  Not your personal history, but your publishing history.  What have you sold?  What have you gotten published?  I’d even like to know what you’ve posted for free on the internet.  If you have a blog, I want to see that.

Beyond that, keep your letter to one page.  If it’s an email, try to keep it to that roughly that same length.  This should be enough to get an agent’s or publisher’s attention.  After that, let your writing do the talking.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

C3 Conference – Book ‘em

There is no “how to give a literary conference” kit.  So I’m building one.

Next year’s Creatures, Crimes and Creativity conference will give avid readers a chance to mix and mingle with some favorite writers and meet some new authors they’ll want to get to know.  Many of those fans will want to pick up books by those writers while they can get the books autographed.  That means the C3 Con has to have its own bookstore.

Some conferences have volunteer staff run an onsite bookstore.  While that can work, it has its limits.  Authors have to bring their own books, whereas many published authors don’t keep books because bookstores usually just order from a distributor.  You need several dedicated volunteers to make a bookstore run.  And someone has to handle cash and figure out how to take credit cards.

We decided to let a professional handle the book sales at the C3 Con.  In addition to the reasons above we wanted to support a Maryland-based, privately owned bookstore.  We considered several, but it didn’t take long to narrow the choice down to Mystery Loves Company in Oxford MD.

As their name implies, Mystery Loves Company is well versed in handling genre fiction.  Aside from that, Kathy and her staff have a long history of showcasing local authors (including this one) with book signings and other events.  Plus, they have extensive experience working outside their own store.  Mystery Loves Company handles the book sales at the Bay to Ocean writer’s conference and the Malice Domestic mystery convention, not to mention the monthly Mystery Writers of America meetings.

The good news for us is that we will only need for one volunteer to deal with the bookstore.  Romantic suspense author Deliah Lawrence has volunteered to interface with all the authors who register for the conference.  She will get their book titles and ISBN numbers and feed those to Kathy at Mystery Loves Company so she can order them.  Published authors who don’t have distribution will bring books to the conference, where Kathy will log them in and add them to the display for sale. 

We want every author who registers for the conference to have their books available there.  Fans can get to know the writers, hear them speak on a panel or two, and have extra insight into that autographed book they take home.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What ELSE Not To Do In Your Novel

Last week I talked about some things fiction writers should NOT do if they want to see their work published.  Since then several fellow authors have mentioned some other crimes that writers need to avoid, enough to warrant a follow-up blog.  For example…

Don’t write a classic.  Thomas Hardy’s “Return of the Native” opens with an entire chapter describing the setting.  That may have made readers swoon in the 1870s but it will simply put today’s readers to sleep.  Keep your book focused on the story, and give us no more detail in setting or background than we really need.  The easiest way to avoid being wordy is to seek out and delete all adverbs and most adjectives.  Nouns and verbs make the story.  

The only thing worse than being overly wordy is being overly scholarly, especially in your dialog.  Atlas Shrugged was a big hit in the 1950s, but you won’t be able to sell a manuscript with a 70 page monolog today.  Dialog needs to imitate the way people converse, and none of us is going to let our friend go on for even a fraction of that time without chiming in.  Also, dialog doesn’t need to follow the same rules of grammar your prose sticks to.  People speak in fragments, use contractions, and sometimes just misuse words.

In the same vein, don’t focus too much on detail in general.  Tom Clancy is a very successful writer, but he had brought any of his manuscripts to Intrigue Publishing we would have passed unless he cut about a quarter of the book.  We just don’t think our readers need to know much more about a particular weapons system than its name and what it can do.  The same applies to day-to-day activities.  Unless something exciting happens during the trip I don’t really need to see our hero sitting in his car going from here to there.  We will assume that your characters do brush their teeth, shower, go to the bathroom, get dressed, etc.  Unless something happens that moves the plot forward or deepens characterization, let it all happen off camera.

Don’t make me work to follow your story.  I’m not against flashbacks, but non-linear storytelling (the TV show Lost comes to mind) will prompt me to put the book down.  Flashing forward and back is not necessary if you have a good story anyway.  Using literary techniques just to show off does not impress me, or most acquisition editors.  The last writer I read who I thought got away with being cute with a story was O. Henry.

If you have more ideas for things that writers should NOT do if they want to get published, share with us!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Key to the Keynotes

If you decide to produce a mystery conference you want to get a big-name mystery author to give a keynote speech.  That name lends credibility to your project and attracts fans who want a chance to get up close and personal with the master.  But what if you’re giving a mystery-suspense-thriller-horror-science fiction-fantasy-steampunk conference like our own Creatures, Crimes & Creativity Con?  Well, to draw those various fans you better have broader big name representation.  How do you do that?

Well, here’s what not to do.  Don’t write to the publicists, managers, editors or agents of your favorite writers.  Those folks are in the business of getting lucrative gigs for their authors.  One vampire-writing Southern belle gets more for a speaking engagement than our entire conference budget!  Even local mystery bestseller Laura Lippman gets $5K to appear.  (To be fair, Ms Lippman does donate every penny of that to the Enoch Pratt Free Library, a marvelous way for an author to give back.)

You get those big names to your conference by being part of the writing community so you can ask them personally.  Jeffrey Deaver has put so many thrillers and mysteries on the New York Times bestseller list that he could almost name his price to appear at a conference.  Even if you’ve never read a mystery you probably know who his sleuth Lincoln Rhyme is or have at least seen The Bone Collector, one of his novels that made the jump to the big screen.  But when I asked him, at a Mystery Writers of America meeting, if he’d be willing to headline our new conference he checked his PDA and said, “Sure, I’m free.”

Similarly, our local guests of honor are people we know beyond their writing.  I’ve met John Gilstrap, another New York Times bestselling thriller writer, at several writers’ club functions.  He gives classes in the area and works with local writers whenever he can spare the time.  John always supports other authors and he quickly agreed to attend the C3 conference.

Urban drama author Sandra Bowman is a master (mistress?) of networking.  She knows all the local writers worth knowing and met bestselling romantic suspense author Trice Hickman on Facebook.  When Trice learned of our planned conference she was the first to offer her talents and marquee name to the cause.  She, like Gilstrap, will be interviewed at the conference and will give a seminar on writing and getting published.

Our second keynote speaker, New York Times bestselling horror and science fiction writer Christopher Golden was NOT a personal friend.  However, Golden is a longtime friend of a longtime friend of mine, Meloney Crawford.  When Meloney was a comic book editor she gave Golden one of his first breaks as a writer.  When she reached out to him for me, he was happy to come on board.

Networking and professional friendships are the secret to getting great celebrity guests for a conference.  And I think we have some real shining stars for the C3 Conference.