First day at PNWA

I showed up at the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association annual conference having taken the 560 bus from my friend’s house in West Seattle, raring to get there early so I could grab a latte before an all-day writing workshop. It was workshop in the conference sense, not the creative writing circle sense. Which was fine. But I waited a while for the hotel shuttle to show up at the airport, so I wound up waiting until the first break, some hours later, before having anything other than water for breakfast. Poor planning on my part constituted a high level of frustration on the part of my stomach.

I found a seat in the large ballroom—which is another funny word, since I’m fairly sure nobody has ever danced in this room of the conference center—and turned on my iPad. Realization dawned on me when it redirected to a pay-only/give password access page. Only cheap hotels have free WiFi. They need it as a selling point. The Hilton, even the SeaTac Hilton, does not need such leverage over its guests. I saw two women at the back of the room on laptops. Being the extrovert I am, I walked up to them and asked if they knew the password.

“Oh, there’s no network for this conference,” one of them told me, fiddling with her cell phone. “The conference didn’t arrange it.”

I relayed my shock and dismay in her general direction. She responded by walking up to the tech guy in the corner of the room and asking if he could help her get her Bluetooth to work. And wonderfully for us, he used her device to set up a network. What a guy!

She came over to my chair and gave me the password, and I thanked her with great enthusiasm. Now I was online with my iPad and could live-Tweet the workshop. So here’s the transcript, more or less, of what I wrote and sent out today:

PNWA! – Just starting the first workshop…writing the novel. Kind of a big subject!

New writers have a 90 percent failure rate. We’re just like restaurants.

BTW Thanks to Johanna Harness for getting me online today.

You should be able to say what your book is in one sentence.

This is all from Bob Mayer, who has 40 books in print.

The original idea is usually the heart of your pitch.|| sure, but they happen a long time apart from each other.

Write what you want to know. Elizabeth George isn’t British. She’s a damn good researcher.

Write what you read, what you’re interested in. Don’t worry about what’s hot. || he just gave me permission to write about transfolk!

Don’t write from a place of fear. People will know something about you from what you write.

Get each sentence right. Think about every word you put down. || well, I get to this place, but not usually in my first draft.

What makes you shiver, and how can you communicate that shiver?

We’re watching Joachaim Phoenix as Johnny Cash replacing all the instances of “song” with “book.”

It’s an example of listening to agents and getting over fear.

Give readers a good payoff at the end. You want them to get something new out of successive readings.

I already think about narrative structure and character, so whew on that.

How is your idea different? It isn’t. But we create new characters, plot, setting, intent to make it fresher.

Writers need to have strategic goals. Book goals, career goals, writing goals. Perswrvere.

Or, perservere.

Protagonist: must want something, be in trouble, unique voice, be different, be someone readers can identify with

Antagonist: must be someone audience respects/fears, drives the plot initially, should be a single person.

I’m not personally a believer of the single trigger leading to main motivation, but I’m not arguing with Bob here.

Conflict can arise from people having the same goal, conflicting goals, different goals. Be clear about what’s happening.

You must know, before you start writing, what your climactic scene is going to be. We’re not all Stephen King.

Use the POV that will work best for your story. Be willing to dissect your own books.

Look at the narrative flow of a movie by looking at the scene selection on the DVD. Think about what gets introduced first, char or prob.

Details drive your story. Flake on the details, bad news.

Outlining: get it out of your head. You’re a writer, write it down.

Back story should fill half your outline. And it’s all before the initial scene. You need to know all of it, your readers don’t.

Backstory: you can’t use your opening to set up your book.

Make clear to readers what is flashback and what is memory. || I don’t always do this. Intentionally.

The initiating event must introduce the protagonist, the problem, or both. Whew! Bumbling into Body Hair gets both.

Introduce your protagonist before they’re aware of the problem. It helps set their motivation.

The opening scene often mirrors the climactic scene, just at a lower level.

The bigger the story, the smaller the opening. And vice versa.

Think about your first shot. It sets your tone, your story.

Remember that suspense comes from caring about the characters. So make characters believable.

Fate works because it is layered on top of the existing base conflict. Coincidence merely is the conflict.

Break coming up. I’ll be back!

Only have one last scene after your climax. Otherwise you haven’t closed out your subplots well enough.

Show how the protagonist has changed by the end of the story.

Setting is time and place. And mood. And a character.

The when is part of your setting.

Get all five senses involved in putting together your setting.

You have to do intense research on your setting before you write it. Your readers don’t need to know it, you do.

Think about how time affects your narrative structure, conflict, suspense. Time can wreck it or enhance it.

Know the purpose of every scene. Make sure it has its own protagonist and antagonist.

Once you hook, the reader, trust them to stay connected. Don’t jar them and take them out of the story.

I like that we’re watching a lot of Paul Newman scenes in this presentAtion.

Dialogue: establishes character, advances the plot, shows off conflict, controls pace, gives expository info. But beware the last one.

Don’t use dialogue tags. Readers notice when writers say shrieked, exclaimed, sighed.

My takeaway about dialogue is that it’s very easy to get wrong. I speak mine out loud to make sure it’s sayable.

Stuff on writer’s block. Nobody cares about that, right?

Don’t over edit. You leave subconscious seeds that should stay in. It might not make sense to you yet, but it may someday.

3 ways to write: following the outline, followed subconscious seeds, rewrote and added.

You have to be your own best editor.

Have beta readers for your work. They must be good readers, not writers.

Readers point out problems. You’re the writer, you find the solutions. All the problems have to be erased. You can’t explain, you must fix.

Story editing: answer why now, what’s the mood, setting, who are the actors? Do the turning points aid motivation? Conflict escalating?

More editing: can your book be better?

Stick your characters into Maslow’s hierarchy to see where they are. They’re never self actualized at the start of the book.

Your characters all have blind spots. As an author, you need to know yours.

List your characters, their main traits, and their flaws. Flaws can be just needs in the extreme.

Your character has to have motivation and back story, but you don’t have to explain to the reader. At least, not at first.

Time for lunch. Catch you all later!

Checkov: don’t have a gun in act I unless you’re going to shoot it by act III.

Show, don’t tell.|| I know! I guess we all keep doing that if they keep saying it.

Character description: keep it brief, distinctive. Use placeholders of people you know so you have a visual image while writing.

Don’t have your char stand in front of a mirror. || Unless they’re a vampire! Kidding.

Try not to make ridiculous names for your character. Users shld be able to pronounce. || Unless that’s the point. I’ve done it on purpose.

Writers interested in getting published should join the romance writers of America, bc they’ve got the most professionals.

Profile yourself for a week, then see how much time you waste that you could have been writing.

Writers should take the Myers-Briggs. One of the 16 types is author. It’s opposite? Promoter.

Writer’s groups should make sure they’re moving forward. Goals, goals, goals!

Top character trait of writers is the ability to change. || I had a sex change, does that count?

#bookmarket I’m at PNWA, listening to a talk on the book market. Follow me for my live twitter feed.

Only 5 percent of people can change themselves at the rate we writers need.

When characters make decisions, they either dismiss it, feel stuck by it, or stick with it.

Nothing in your writing should be by chance. You’re the architect. Architect it.

Decisions leads to sustained action, leads to change. This is how characters develop.

Moments of enlightenment leads to decisions, which start the process.

The stages of death: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. It’s just like publishing!

To show your character has changed, they must act differently.

During lunch break, lit judge agreed with me: tell agents I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get pub interest.

Everything you put in a book, use two ways. Back story, plot grease, character develop.

Don’t be afraid to refer to other points and arcs in the story.

Bob Mayer: I hate it, but know what genre you’re in. You must know exactly what you’re in. 56 percent of sales is romance, FYI.

There is no reality. So think hard about what POV you will use. POV is the number 1 problem writers have that keeps them from selling.

In communication, the receiver is more Important than the sender. So know your readers.

Don’t be afraid to let your books grow. If pub wants more out of one narrative, write more books!

If the reader doesn’t need it, don’t tell them. The more you put In it, the more you may introduce something they don’t like.

Beware the subconscious negative: to be honest, or else, mocked…

Don’t have too many POV angles.

First person is good for a lot, but not for building suspense. || unless readers think the narrator is dead!

Try not to start too many sentences with “the” unless you’re writing omniscient.

A change POV if it makes sense. Read thru to make sure you know when/why it shifts.

Start writing your next book before you start querying your first. Let the first one sit for a while. Get some distance.

Remember it’s voice that sells. Must be distinctive. In third POV, voices must sound different.

The voice that is your best voice is the one you want least to write in. Because it’s so close to you.

You will tend to write in the voice you most enjoy reading.

Ex. Of Courage Under Fire as a way of using POV as a narrative/plot device.

Selling Your Book. When yr story becomes product. Figure out what you want to achieve.

You may be asked to cut, add, simplify, restructure. Do you want to sell it or not?

The writer is working in conflict with their own environment and the publishing world. Have clear goals and plans.

It’s not supposed to be a war with writers and agents.

Don’t spend your time reacting, get to acting. Successful writers get beyond reacting.

Every writer who thinks they have it made fails. Perserverence makes you successful.

Fixed minset vs. a growth mindset. Writers must be prepared to reinvent themselves.

Have measurable goals. External, visible outcomes. Time lock for achieving goals. Keep it positive.

Face your freaking fears. Often the fear is what you have to do.

Ask yourself: what was my original goal as a writer? Should you return to it? Change it? Make it happen.

If you don’t state that you want to be a NY Times bestselling author, you won’t be. Tell others, too, If this is your goal.

Have specific tactical goals: read PUblishers Weekly, go to specific confs, write 5 pages a day,etc. Write down your goals.

Prioritize your goals, but make sure you keep writing.

Keep your options open. Look for direct and indirect approaches. It’s never a good time to be a writer, so get over that.

Study other books like yours. It’s part of your work. It’s your job. Network and ask for help.

Read blogs by agents, authors and editors, but understand they all have a POV.

If you’re type A, publishing will break you of that. You must have persistence and patience.

Have a three year mindset. Publishing’s processes take time.

Traditional publishing is planning for books in 2012, 2013.

You need to figure out what your platform is. Your anger, your idea, your background. Understand the market you’re trying to reach.

If you’ve written a funny story, your query letter should be funny. Match tone.

The aggressive person wrote a good book, the obnoxious person wrote a bad one.

Find the right publisher by knowing imprints, genres, market, small presses, ebook possibilities.

Copyright symbols on queries and ms copies are turn-offs for agents.

Don’t pay attention to slush pile statistics. The slush pile is supposed to be worse than your writing.

Cover letter: 2 para on idea, 2 para on you, one page total. Don’t say anything valenced–no praise or negative comments about your work.

Don’t hold back the ending to your book in the query letter! Give the entire story arc. Be terse with your synopsis, though.

Only mention the pro tag, antagonist, main supporting character. Don’t use bullets in your query. If it’s a genre, say what it is.

Don’t put subplots in your query letter. Just show the main storyline. In a query, less is more.

Think about using snail mail queries. Email lets agents track you, may serves walls to getting representation.

I really don’t like the predictive keyboard on this iPad. It keeps introducing typos!

Go to writer’s conferences and retreats.

Do multiple submissions, don’t tell them it’s a multiple; that’s a subconscious negative.

Agents and editors don’t read like readers. They scan.

They also don’t read in their offices. They cram it in when they can.

If you want to get published in New York, you MUST have an agent. They actually support writers’ careers.

Small pubs with no advances, regional presses, if those are your goals, you don’t need an agent.

Ask agents: recent sales in your genre, how long in the biz, submission timelines, contract types, how do they like to communicate.

Nasty rejections are mostly myth. But if you get one, stop reading and delete it. Just move on.

It’s simple. Just don’t quit. Be wiling to market yourself.

Thinking your agent will market your book is like thinking your OB-GYN will raise your child.

When you get your first book published, market the hell out of it. You have to work hard to succeed.

We want to love indie bookstores, but it’s the big stores that stock all genres. || eh, I still like ’em.

Go ahead and self-promote, even if you’re worried about being self-promoting.

Balance your promotion with supporting others. Keep yourself honest.

Don’t make your Twitter avatar your book jacket. You’re going to write more than one book, right?

Writers, it’s likely you will have to get out of your comfort zone to promote yourself.

Average sell through on a book is 50 percent. That is why publishing is struggling.

Booksignings are not cost-effective. But they’re good for networking and fan base. Get creative with venues.

Publicists are more important for non fiction. Jon Stewart sells more books than anyone else on TV.

Write a book on your blog. You’re going to write 100,000 words anyway.

Think about viral marketing for your book on You Tube. Do everything you can to find your audience.

If you’re a new writer, get traditionally published. 950,000 books last year (out of 1.2M) sold 99 copies or fewer.

If there were a formula for success, everyone would be doing it. Be open to possibility and find what works for you.

Generate good will. It will go far to your success. For more info, follow @bob_Mayer and go to

Don’t self publish fiction. Your work will get buried.

Publishers control distribution. That is why ebooks are confounding to the industry.

That’s it for today. I’ll see what I can Tweet out tomorrow, folks. So far so good!

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