Tag Archives: conference

Notes from the Writing Trans Genres Conference

I like to write up my thoughts as I’m attending a conference or just after I walk away from it, while the plethora of conversations are still swirling around in my brain. It’s a little reminiscent of how I studied in primary school, by taking in as much of the school day as  Icould and then writing up my notes later. Maybe I need to move my fingers around to set the thoughts in place, I’m not sure.

I just finished up my participation in the Writing Trans Genres conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba. There were at least four generations of trans authors and thinkers there, maybe 250 of us, roughly. At least it felt like a quarter of a thousand. I didn’t do a head count and I didn’t ask the organizers. I didn’t want to miss even a moment of it—unlike truly humongous conferences like the Popular Cultural Association Conference or the BookExpo, where there is no hope of going to every panel, this was more intimate and almost comprehensible in scope, until people started talking. At that point there were so many ideas all in one animated stream that it took a lot of energy on my part to keep up with the conversation and concepts. But maybe I’m just an exhausted parent of two kids under the age of three. This conference was marked by several laudable characteristics not commonly found at conferences: Read More…

PNWA 2012 Moments from Friday

red pen correctionsThe first time I came to the PNWA Conference I was by myself, staying as a guest in the man cave of a friend’s house and commuting to the conference hotel by bus. I got to the event early and stayed all day, rumbled home on uneven roads, and zonked out until it was time to repeat the process in the morning. The next year I came with my sweetheart in tow, who was 9 months pregnant at the time, so I ducked out often to grab a meal with her or check in. This year I’ve got a family with me, meaning that I’m attempting to cram baby watching time in with networking, going to panels, and pitching stories to industry folks. Now that exhaustion from two years ago seems tame in comparison.

Also, this is the first year I’ve attended the conference as a published author. That’s pretty rad. Even still, my self-pessimistic nature continues to knock at my mind’s door. Oh, look at your puny stack of one book. And you call yourself a writer?

I’ve written before about how I’ve sent my inner critic away on a permanent vacation. Sometimes it pops back for a rendezvous with the rest of my thoughts, and I have to shoo it away again. Yesterday it tried to set its suitcases down and I handed it a ticket to Argentina. Go see the llamas and glaciers, I said. It slumped off, pissed and dejected. Read More…

Lessons Learned at PNWA 2011

Cherry Weiner literary agentCherry Weiner will suck your bad book idea through a straw into a blender and come up with something entirely different, but it will be sellable, damn it. Don’t interrupt Cherry’s smoking time with your shitty book concept.

No, my pitch session with Cherry did not go well, but at least I think I realize something: just as I am awful with multiple-choice tests, so will I bomb out on my pitch appointments, whenever I set them up. I’m much more natural and interesting when I’m pitching in a hallway outside the exhibit room, or next to the book signing tables. If it’s part of an organic conversation, I can paint a picture. If it’s speed dating, I crumble into a sticky mass of my own neuroses. Read More…

All Pitched Out

baseball being pitchedThey take starting pitchers off the mound and send them to nurse their elbows in something like the sixth inning of Major League Baseball games. There is no such relief for the intrepid, emerging writer. It’s pitch until you drop at events like the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association conference. And here I am, ostensibly dropped, face down on my hotel bed, typing without looking at my hands and thanking Miss Radice of McCorristin Catholic High School that she taught me to memorize a keyboard so well in 1986. Read More…

How not to pitch an agent

Call me Captain Obvious, but after reading a lot—and I mean a LOT—of advice about face-to-face pitching story ideas to agents, I wasn’t quite sure how to go about it when the time really came due. So much of it was contradictory, or impossible to do at once, or over the top, or not applicable. So here is my list, after taking myself to my first writer’s conference, of what not to do, as obvious as some of these items may seem. I’m not saying I did these things, but I or someone I noticed did each of the things in this list.

  1. Don’t use your pitch time or session for anything other than your finished work. They want to think you’re really into the thing you’ve written, and hello, you need to show you’re a closer and can finish a project.
  2. Don’t get so into memorizing your pitch that you’re a nervous wreck when you sit down to pitch. I’m going to put on my usability evaluator’s hat and remind folks that we humans hear differently than we read. A few interesting words are fine, but agents aren’t going to dissect your perfect language by ear. I like the notecard approach, personally. You know your project, be confident you’ll advocate for it well, and leave the memorization to the . . . memorizers.
  3. Don’t leave at the last minute to go to your pitch session. I don’t see how huffing and puffing and wiping sweat off one’s brow emits a glow of success. As I’m a classic overthinker, I also need to not give too much ramp-up time to myself, or I’ll work myself into a different kind of stress aura. Ten minutes beforehand to leave the workshop session, etc., is perfect.
  4. Don’t waste your pitch time blowing smoke up the agent’s ass. They have to endure this so often some may have mounted smoke detectors inside their underwear. Which I guess would make it hard to sit, but that’s not the point. I think there’s a middle range agents like to see—where the writer knows a bit about their client list and book selections, and can compare their work with each. But there’s no point to looking like a stalker-in-waiting. That’s just freaky.
  5. Don’t be an island unto yourself. Agents and editors and everyone in the book publishing business expects that writers are good readers—that we have knowledge of the other books in our genre of interest, that we know how to avoid duplicating other well known (or even somewhat known) plots and characters, that we want to contribute to the literature generally. Acting like we’ve been so well holed up in our literary caves that we don’t know what’s going on in the field won’t play well once the agent asks herself how we’ll market ourselves, because the answer will come back that we’ll look like asses.
  6. For email queries, don’t rush querying. I know, I finished my memoir and went straight to the “How to Query an Agent” blogs and books. It was like a hot potato in my pocket, that manuscript. Hey, I have big pockets, okay? Go back and make it tighter. Hack out sections that really don’t need to be there. Let it sit in the drawer for a while and in the meantime, go fishing, catch a movie or *gasp* read a book. When you finally sit down, after all of that, to write your query letter, spend some quality time with it. What was the point in writing the best book ever if you’re just going to send out a half-baked query? The query is the singer of the band—the bassist may be great, but very few people will get past poor singing to notice the bass.
  7. If an agent says no, leave them be and don’t hound them. One agent at the conference I attended says she receives the same query every day, starting more than a year ago. She’s never going to say yes to this person’s project. While that may be an extreme example, it’s a good reminder to respect an agent’s no. Keep refining your pitch and researching which other agents might be better advocates for your work.

I say all this in the midst of getting turned down for representation after the same agent asked for my partial manuscript, book proposal, and then full manuscript. That’s a long way to go in the process just to be rejected. It’s not easy, for sure, but I tell myself that if my project didn’t have any merit, I wouldn’t have heard back from anyone, much less the half dozen who’ve shown interest. And at least I know now that I should cut it down to about 80,000 words. It may be my baby, but heck, I’m trying to sell my baby, so who am I to complain about cutting it a little?

Okay, bad metaphor there. I do not encourage traumatizing babies, let me just point that out.

Writers, put yourselves out there. Keep pushing to be better. One of these agents, one of these days, is going to say yes.

PNWA: Three times the charm

It was Saturday morning, and I kept thinking about the Sims, that role-playing video game in which the people in the town all have little diamond-shaped crystals hovering over their heads, indicating their energy and mood levels. When a Sim is content, the crystal is emerald and shiny, a bright beacon of happiness. When the crystal is faded, looking mostly transparent, the Sim is no longer a happy camper. During the course of any activity, the crystal will slowly fade, ticking down, as it were, into misery and joylessness. Fortunately for the game player, something as simple as going to the bathroom with make the Sim happier. But just given the tendency of time and entropy, according to the game’s designers, all Sims will end up in Funked Out Town. And I have made Sims die by leaving them in a room by themselves with no toilet, food, drink, or human companionship. It is awful to see what goes through their minds as they slowly fade into death. I swear I didn’t do this intentionally. I just forgot I’d left the game running and was in the next room watching reality television.

I took the 560 bus again, getting a salutation from the driver who now recognized me. He may be confused on Monday, but I’m betting he won’t care. This time I wasn’t going to wait for the courtesy vehicle. I decided to walk to the light rail station, remembering that I’d seen the conference center from the train on my first day in town last week. Sure enough, a 10-minute walk later, I walked right into where they were serving coffee and continental breakfast. I should have done that all along instead of waiting around for some hotel van.

No sooner had I put a few things on my plate that I noticed that a lot of people in the room had faded crystals over their heads. Everyone was as wiped out as me. We were all toughing it out but damn, we looked a lot more rumpled around the edges and worn out than we had just the day before. I know we all wanted to be there, but I began wondering if it wouldn’t have been helpful to have had a nap room, like in my old day care. Maybe minus the story time with teacher.

After a few gulps of hotel coffee, however, I had brightened my indicator by several shades of green, and I said hello to the folks I’d previously met. It was definitely nice to hear a stream of congratulations through the day from people who spotted my finalist ribbon. And in the back of my head, when so greeted, I would wonder anew if I would win one of the top three spots for memoir. I told myself not to get my hopes up.

I figured out which workshop to attend, found my chair and started typing away on my iPad to take notes. I’m the only one at the conference with this thing, and I hadn’t thought ahead as to whether any rabid anti-ebooks people would eschew me for carrying the device. I really do love paper books and find them easier to read, but the screen really is pretty good and when I’m really reading, I can eat through novels, so I appreciate having several in one place. Already this trip I’ve read through The Help, The Scarpetta Factor, and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. What can I say, I have eclectic reading tastes. I do miss my days as a book buyer because I loved getting uncorrected proofs and reading things before anyone else. But that was back in the era before Amazon reviews and online spoilers. Advance readers had smaller effects on others.

In the hallway I ran into one of the agents who handles science fiction and fantasy, and told her about my SuperQueers story, and she really liked it, handing me her card and asking for the first 10 pages. That made my morning! At that point, anyway.

It was time to go to the editor pitch session, in which a group of writers sits at a table with an editor and gets their take on our ideas and manuscripts. We writers have only a couple of minutes to give the idea and get feedback. While this may sound a bit insane—and it is—it at least mirrors the amount of time editors generally have to consider projects. I liken it to this:

I don’t think they get a lot of time to get the wrapping on at most publishing houses.

I gave the editor my pitch for my superheros novel, SuperQueers, that I started writing back in 2004 for National Novel Writing Month. It was a total turd by the end of that November, but I really liked my idea and so hey, I kept working on it for the next four years. I refused to watch Heroes because I didn’t want the narrative to disturb my project. I pitched the project to the editor, and she really liked it. I told her I often see the story as a graphic novel, and she thought about that for roughly 2 seconds, before smiling and leaning in toward where I was sitting.

“Actually, I think it’s a movie,” she said. I believe my mood indicator turned as green as the rolling hills of Ireland. I needed to get on this project next, take another look at the manuscript, since it has sat around for a while now, and see what needed freshening up before sending it to the agent, with whom I’d spoken earlier. The editor wanted me to make a few changes to the story so that it would be more marketable to a mainstream audience, unless I’d think that those changes would be paramount to selling out. I actually liked her suggestions. But I’d need to tell the agent, maybe, that it would be a couple of months before I’d be ready to send the manuscript out to her.

More workshops, another lunch eaten standing up while networking. My stomach was really starting to get pissed at me for eating so strangely these past few days. At least there was an awards dinner coming up in a few hours. But oh, I’d probably be nerve-wracked for that. I reminded myself again that I wasn’t going to win anything, so I should just settle down. I thought, nobody is going to give top prize to a sex change memoir, Everett. Get over it.

A writer I’d talked with the previous day came up and asked me if I’d like her speed pitching time slot. For memoir these had closed out two people ahead of me in line, when I’d tried to get assigned one, and she knew that. I asked why she didn’t want it for herself. She’d signed up, after all. Well, she explained, her longer-session pitches to the agent and the editor gave her enough information that she knew she needed to go back and spend more time reworking the story, so a speed pitch session would be a waste of time. I said sure, and we worked it out with the coordinators.

When the time rolled around for the speed pitch, I found the conference room and waited. Four of us were to meet with four agents. We got two minutes at each station, and had to listen out for the volunteers to call time, at which moment we’d move on to the next agent for two minutes. I walked into the room, and considered leaving, because taking one look at the group, I knew none of them would be interested in my project. They were:

  • A woman from a small agency in California who had thrown memoir in almost as an afterthought when she’d introduced herself two days earlier
  • A female agent from NYC who seemed really sharp but would be more inclined to take the next Eat, Pray, Love than Bumbling into Body Hair
  • A young female agent who rejected my email query five or six months ago
  • An older mam who probably didn’t know a transsexual from a puffin

The agent from NYC was my first pitch. She nodded, listened, as I talked a mile a minute. I hoped she could hear my “voice” with the Doppler effect from my almost stream of consciousness prose I’d memorized. She wasn’t the right agent, she liked the idea though. Fair enough.

Next was the young rejector. I told her, “you rejected this query a few months ago, but here it is again.” She honestly looked at me like a deer in headlights. This was a graduate from Northwestern? She seemed taken aback. That’s when I realized I like querying GLBT stuff through the Internet. I don’t like seeing distress on a human being’s face. Not the right agent, I get it. Thanks.

Older guy, taking notes as I talked. I gave him the title first, before my “hook” sentence. He nodded, and looked straight at my chest once he put two and two together. Memoir + story about a transgender person = this guy used to be a chick.

“I like that,” he said, scribbling on his pad, “good phrase, ‘gender reassignment.'”

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that wasn’t a creative phrase, it was just medical terminology. Oh those medical terminologists. Such poets, they are.

“Did you have your surgery in Sweden,” he asked.

“I had it at a strip mall,” I said. This is the God’s honest truth. And nobody gets their surgery in Sweden anymore. He was 50 years behind the times.

I sat down at the fourth table.

“This pitching is really not going well,” I said. This was my opening sentence to the agent. “I think I’ll just be wasting your time. We could talk about something else.” Seriously, I felt almost tortured. Little crystal over my head was ready to instruct me to begin a temper tantrum.

“Well, tell me what it is anyway,” she said. She didn’t smile, didn’t give me any false affect.

“The title is Bumbling into Body Hair: Tales of a Klutz’s Sex Change,” I said.

“Ooookay,” she said, and told me to go on. I gave her the briefest of synopses.

“But it’s funny,” she asked.

“It’s really, really funny,” I said. “Pinky swear.”

She asked for the first three chapters.

I learned that this writing thing is just a roller coaster and I need to get used to it. There is an advantage to having a thick protective coating around one’s nerves.

We finally, finally, at last, made it to the award dinner hour. I’d gone down to the bar during the break for a tall pint of beer, and some email checking time, and I felt refreshed and ready to finish out the conference. Finalists were treated to a glass of wine and a networking party, then were led into the dinner room ahead of everyone else. For some reason everyone else at my table was a screenwriter, but the volunteers assured me we’d been seated randomly with other finalists. The awards themselves were poorly coordinated, and rife with technical glitches, but we managed to get through them, after hearing a Shakespeare-checkered keynote speech by C.C. Humphreys, who was charming, but too fake British for the wife of one of the screenwriters. She tsk tsked through his speech, which I heard because we were sitting next to each other.

“That is not a proper London accent,” she told me. “He’s not really English.” I myself would never have noticed, being that I’m from New Jersey.

They called up the memoir and nonfiction finalists. I took my certificate and smiled as everyone applauded us. That was nice. The woman reading the nominee names and titles seemed confused and slightly repulsed by the first part of my title. The subtitle wasn’t on the screen. I’m sure she wondered if I were just an extremely hairy man, and why anyone would write a memoir about that.

I did not win a prize, but with three agents expressing interest from the conference, one agent corresponding with me from before the conference, and one set of really good feedback on my fiction project from an editor, I think I’ve won more than I imagined I would. And I’ve made some terrific connections with other writers, with whom I keep in contact.

I left the dining room to head back to the main lobby, catch a cab, and go to sleep. On the way out, I ran into the science fiction agent. I told her the editor had suggested I make a few changes to the manuscript. She smiled at me as we walked.

“Oh sure,” she said, “she really knows the business. Just put that PNWA in the subject line, take the time you need.”

I thanked her, and we talked a little about the craziness of this business, but how we love it anyway. In my head I started drawing up rewrite plans and schedules.

I am a very happy green.

PNWA: Editor’s forum

I’ll start off with my notes from the Editor’s Session on the second day, since I promised them earlier. Here they are. I do of course have my own opinions threaded throughout the conversation but hello, they’re my notes, so I get to put in opinions when I want to.

JB Haleck, WindRiver, publisher. Three imprints. Christian fiction, homeschooling, blah.
Adam Wilson. Editor with Mirrorbooks, and Harlequin. Personally looking for romance suspense womens fic, also do Gina show alter. Largely women, but have some guys
Michelle Vega, Berkely Publishing Group. Penguin, crime line. Cozy mysteries, paranormal, sic fi, urban fan.
Peter Lynch, Sourcebooks. We do everything, he works adult side, memoir, history humor, hist fic, womens fic. Strong female pro tags.
Paul Dinas, Alpha Books, Idiot’s Guides. Highly formatted. Little complex. Welcome first time authors. 100 new ideas a year.
Monica Howick, Winthrop Pub. History and inspirational. General or religious market, looking to expand religious market. Also roman e and young adult.
Michelle Richter, St. Martins Press. Not corporately owned, really commercial really diverse books. Some celebrity books. Looking for memoir with strong point of view, female protag, food writing but not cook, pop science, pop culture, no Christian, not paranormal, big fan of mysteries, police proceed, cozies.
Shane Thompson, Variance Publishing. Like to get thrillers, military or special ops, YA fantasy is a new focus, sci fic. Looking for interesting voices. Pacing, plot, craft, voice. Got to have a voice. No gratuitous sex or violence or profanity. Want broad appeal. Market research shows that there is huge readership that don’t want that. Looking into ebooks.
Lynn Price, Bailer Pubs, small independent press in southern Calif. Memoir with strong social relevance. Issues that are not cliched, timeless. Not interested in the what’s hot now.
Paula Munier, of Adams Media. Not as polite as the other pubs up here. Lot of single title, in your face humor, sophomore guy humor. WTF series. 1001facts that will scare the shit out of you. Toxic Man. Why Men Love Bitches. Looking for self help, new age, YA.
Editors may love books, love the writing, but there is more to it. So what is it that gets a book in the door or gets a no?
Shane: I got a bk, read a submission, liked it, gave it to his ten yo, and said he loved it. I was sold on it. What sold me on it was moral of the story, the themes. They were real, provocative, not raw or edgy. It resonated with me and the editorial staff. When we looked at logistics of pubbing a YA fantasy when we’re not in the market there, we thought it would be too tough, building a new author at the same time. But I asked her to send us the pitch again. If you don’t find success in selling me a book today, it’s just today.
Adam: the worst thing is to get a book you love but can’t get to market right then. Some pubs are really corporatized now. Pubs are worried about the bottom line. There are a lot of pol with a lot of input. One of the worst things we can do is publish it and not support the author. We want to do this successfully, not taint an author’s numbers. We also don’t want to lose money.
Moderator: how much editing do you all do still?
Michelle R: when I get a submission I really love and I see things that need work, that’s part of the process. Plots that need work, chars that need strengthening. My job is to make it fit better I to what we do. To improve something thTs already great.
Paula: editors still really edit. A lot of first time authors need a lot of help. Development edits, line edits, copy edits, at Adams we’re all editing. Youre going to get edited, you need to get edited.
Lynn: if we get two good stories, we’re going to take the tighter one. On the other hand, we’re going to edit, if only to put it in our copy style.
Moderator: I’d rather have it be edited now than have it go I to print with problems.
Questions from the audience.
Culture of the business: how likely are any of you to call an Ed in another company and say this isn’t right for us but you may like it.
Michelle R.: it just doesn’t happen.
Lynn: I’ve done it. I ask the author first, but it’s not like they’re going to say no. I do, because I’m little.
Michelle R.: that said, editors are a very incestuous group in new York. We all know each other. So it may happen.
Q: Do you prefer direct subs or thru an agent?
Lynn: little independents like agents because they’re good vetters. If you’re coming to me directly, I don’t know you. I go to agented authors first.
JB: some really good quality works fall by the wayside. It’s a volume issue. You get three minutes of our time on the first pass. Random House gets hundreds of thous of sub,issions a year.
Paul: I welcome direct contact with authors, ESP by email. Fiction is a little bit ,ore complicated. But I like it. A lot of times their agents follow up to negotiate the deal.
Q: Explain strong social significance.
Lynn: strong social sig from history? As long as you can bridge it to modern times and show how it will continue on, then great, that gets people talking. I they not to get too limited. I also have to be able to sell it to a wide audience.
I just published a fic in a smaller house in the Midwest. But do you have speed to market thoughts about using smaller pubs?
JB: trade journals want four to six months ahead. Distribution channels take time. It’s not a printing issue. Come talk to smaller pubs if you’re an experienced author who didn’t lime bigger pubs.
Michelle R.: ouch. You need that time to build the interest a,ong the sales force. We are trying to tighten up the process, but sometimes the work suffers I’d you crash it through. Don’t wreck your book. If you’re looking for a career, doing a book a year is really tough.
Paula: for writing video game books, I’ve done it in 30 days. For crash books, first to market wins. But it does present problems.
Peter: in all kinds of houses you’re going to find great and not so great ppl to work with. Some places won’t market it right. Find the right people.
If you self publish, does that hurt the book bc first rights are gone?
Michelle R.: I worked with two docs who started self publishing and became traditionally published authors. We did follow ups with a diet guy and a cookbook guy.
Adam: it’s not as big a deal in nonfiction. It’s a harder sell with fiction. Or eds might ask, what else do you have going on?

PNWA, take two

I hopped on the bus, a sudden expert at the King County 560 route to Bellevue via Seatac. I don’t even know what half of that means. But it was the same driver, same bunch of drones heading to the office, and it kept occurring to me that I wasn’t seeing as many coffee thermoses as I’d thought I would. Maybe they all had stashes of coffee tucked away in their bags. Maybe I was in a parallel universe where coffee so perfectly absorbed light beams that it was invisible to the naked eye. Maybe coffee is illegal on public transportation in Seattle. But that would be too weird.

The bus ride went smoothly and I had plenty of time to grab my own cup of joe at the hotel before the workshops started, but then it all changed. I was at the courtesy vehicle ramp at the airport waiting for the hotel van. Waiting. For the vehicle marked Godot, apparently. More than half an hour ticked by, and finally he rolled by, stopping to pick me up. This wasn’t actually his choice, as I’d pretty much stood in front of him and blocked his path.

Now with six minutes to go until the editor’s panel, I had just enough time to grab some watermelon chunks, a muffin, and the proverbial coffee. Good thing I was there to network my six minutes, while stuffing food in my face before I fell over from low blood sugar. It was a great way to make a positive first impression, of course. The editor’s panel was interesting; I’ve posted it at the end of today’s blog. It’s good and somewhat dejecting to see how many kinds of editors, publishing houses, and distribution channels there are in this business. In my mind, trying to get that first book published looks like a daunting Venn Diagram: Agents in one circle, Editors in the second, Publishing Routes in the third.

Getting a book on the market is like playing pin the tail on the donkey, hoping you land in the sweet spot of the middle of the overlapping circles. In other words, it’s the dream of an ass.

And I’m all fine with that. I can ass around with the best of them. Especially while crunching my way through a few watermelon chunk seeds.

I went to a panel titled something like, “Vampires, Werewolves, and Zombies, Oh My!” and I appreciated the tip of the hat to The Wizard of Oz. It was great to hear what’s selling in that market right now—hint, it involves urban fantasy—and what is about to be done with, at least for a while. So I’ll have to shelve that book idea for the teen vampire romance, and here I thought I was being all original. I do actually have a book project going on right now that isn’t done enough to pitch, but I hope to lay out the concept and see if they think it’s marketable. These poor agents can barely stand in line to use the rest room without getting accosted, so I try really hard not to be “that guy” who doesn’t know when to shut the hell up. And by try really hard, I mean I don’t stop agents from urinating. Unless of course, my ideas during the pitch session are so bad that they spontaneously evacuate their bladders. That kind of effect I just can’t help. But when someone says, “Wow, I really need to go to the bathroom,” it’s only proper that you let her go, even though you know in your heart of hearts that if she just listened to The Incredible Idea she’d never have to pee again. That’s her loss.

I networked, I talked to other writers, a couple of editors, who are really my kind of people. I know what they do up close. I’ve done it, albeit for much drier material than this. But I get who they are as people, so I feel comfortable with editors. Agents just make me want to throw up with nervous energy. I have to dedicate a portion of my consciousness to slowing down when I speak with them so I don’t rattle off words like a machine gun.

I saw that my pitch session—which is a 10-minute block of time writers get at this conference with an agent one-on-one—was at the tail end of a workshop I wanted to attend. Its focus was on humor. I like humor. I walked in, looking for a chair near the door, but it was in a very small conference room, because hey, who gives a crap about humor? Note to PNWA conference coordinators, give a bigger room to humor next year. We nearly had to velcro attendees to the ceiling to fit us all in there.

I walked up to the presenter, Gordon Kirkland, who is Canada’s answer to Dave Barry. As if Dave Barry required answering. I apologized, saying I had to leave the session early and I didn’t want to be rude.

“Well, you’re going to be rude, but thanks for telling me about it in advance,” said the presenter. This was going to be a good workshop.

Kirkland had, legend tells it, basically locked himself in a room with a couple other writers in Edmonton, Alberta, to write a book in 72 hours. Fortunately we Americans don’t have to convert the time—it’s the same here as in Canada. But Kirkland brought this story up in his workshop, saying that nobody comes out of Edmonton except alcoholics and hockey players. I rolled my eyes, but most of the US folks in the room didn’t know the reference well enough to laugh too hard. Ha ha, they thought, hockey players. Those silly Canadians.

Some banter, as one can imagine, ensued. We talked about writing about our families, how humor works, etc., and then it was time for me to start practicing my pitch before my session. I stood up and started making my way through the throng to the door.

“And where do you think you’re going,” Kirkland called out to me.

“I’m going to my pitch session,” I said, “and by the way, my wife is from Edmonton!”

The room erupted in laughter.

Later, a writer to whom I had just told this story informed me I had left out a line in my response to him.

“You should have said, ‘my wife is from Edmonton, and she’s a hell of a hockey player!”

And that, right there, is why I love this conference.

I sat out in the hallway, and pulled up my pitch on my iPad. I read it something like 40 times in 10 minutes, not necessarily trying to memorize it, but so that I could hit every point in the synopsis/pitch. Gotta keep “edge of burnout,” gotta mention the bad hair dye job, gotta bring up the social networking profile for my cat. Once our time drew nigh we were to sit in chairs outside the ballroom doors and wait to be led in. This did nothing to lower anyone’s anxiety about the moment. Then a volunteer poked his head out and motioned for us to enter the inner sanctum. I drew my +3 Vorpal Blade.

Wait. Wrong story.

We walked down a hallway and then we saw the room of agents, each sitting behind their own table, each with a beverage at some point of fullness/emptyness. I had to walk by the agent with whom I’ve been corresponding. I nodded hello to her and she wished me good luck tomorrow, meaning the awards ceremony, for whom I’m a finalist (give a little yay! here). I found my agent and sat down. He was much smaller than I’d realized when I saw him sitting at the agent’s forum earlier in the day. He was actually a pocket person.

“I’m nervous,” I said. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, shut up! Just give the pitch, you dumb ass!

“That’s okay,” he said. “We can just talk.”

Suddenly this exchange had the tone of a teenage boy going to see his first prostitute. I figured I should just get up and walk away. Exploiting prostitutes isn’t right.

I told him I was going to pitch him a memoir. He sat back a little, waiting.

I said, “As Henry Miller supposedly said, the way to get over a woman is to turn her into fine literature. But that’s not why I wrote this memoir.”

Of course he wasn’t following me yet, because he didn’t know the Huge Transgender Topic of the memoir. But he didn’t look disinterested, per se. I told him the title, which is a giveaway on the whole book concept.

He looked straight at my chest. What a cute little pocket person agent. Thank God I usually query in letters. We talked for a bit, me giving the synopsis and then talking about my other writing, the speculative fiction stuff and the pop culture critique stuff.

“What other books are on the market like this,” he asked. I told him I’d made a book proposal with a full market analysis section, and he said, “oh good.” Quite the terse fellow, this one.

He never seemed really interested and I couldn’t get a feel for how I was coming across. I think perhaps future conferences should have a drop button so the writer can just fall through the floor onto a landscape of pillows. At least you’ll know their sentiment. He slid his card to me as the time for the session expired, asking for my book proposal. And then it struck me.

It was pity sex, this card. But I’d follow up and send it out to him. It wasn’t going to show him much in the way of voice, but it would show him that people buy books like this.

Next up was the dinner. This was a fiasco, as we stood in line for the buffet for half an hour, the hotel running out of food in the first 10 minutes and needing loads more time to restock. I was not pleased. When I sat down, other people had come to the table, not realizing folks were already seated there. I tried to turn it into another get to know new people thing. The keynote speaker was funny, but done way early for her time slot.

Several science fiction writers and I made our way down to the bar in the lobby, and decompressed from our day. It was a good day. I was glad my pitch session was over. Partway through my first 7&7 my friend who’s been hosting me arrived and he joined us. I could tell just in the car ride that I was going to crash once my head hit the pillow. And I did.

Day three starts in a few hours.

By the way, I lied, I’ll put the editor’s forum notes in another post.

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 bobmayer.org.

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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