Tag Archives: writing

The Kind of Writers’ Conference I’ll Pay For!

What’s not to like about writers’ conferences? They offer terrific opportunities to learn about the craft of writing and the business of publishing from people who know what they’re talking about (as opposed to the neighbor who figures your book can’t be any good since Barnes and Noble didn’t display it on that table right inside the front door).

Of course, there’s the expense. A conference means registration, travel expenses, motels, and sometimes meals (and in my case, board for a rather large dog).

For some, the workshops and lectures and a chance to get autographs on mint copies of presenters’ books may justify those costs.

But if you’re interested in becoming traditionally published, it’s worth stretching your budget for a good conference. A well-chosen conference can give most of us developing writers what no cold query can:

  • A chance to sell ourselves and our work face-to-face, where we can slip a memorable impression into a busy agent’s or editor’s mind.
  • A block of time all our own, instead of the few seconds a hurried intern can spare for that laboriously written letter.
  • A hard-nosed reaction from a publishing professional unfettered by the need to make the writer feel good.

If, like me, those perks are the ones you want from a conference, here are the top five things I look for before I send in my registration form.

1) Location

I don’t want this to come first, but for many of us, it has to. The good news is, you probably don’t have to travel a thousand miles to find a good conference. In the past two years, I’ve attended two within a two-hour drive of my home. Search online, read writing blogs, and network with writers’ groups in your area to get on email lists. Conferences within your range and budget will turn up.

Of course, if you DO travel a thousand miles, make sure it’s someplace fun, since you can deduct the expenses from your taxes if you can show you’re really writing to sell.

2) Pitch sessions*

The right kind of conference for this stage in your writing must offer a chance to meet face-to-face with agents and editors. Most conferences charge a moderate fee for these sessions, but that ten minutes will garner a lot more attention to your work than the dozens of hours you spent honing a query letter that may never get read.

Many conferences offer “pitch practice,” usually also for a fee. Some will allow you to send in a written version of your pitch to be critiqued. Take advantage of these opportunities if possible. With luck, you’ll get voluminous and often painfully honest comments that will propel you into feverish revision the night or morning before your pitch. But that’s the point, isn’t it—to move you to a new level? You’ll get there faster with a push.

3) A chance to submit actual pages for critique

You really have one immediate goal as a writer seeking publication: to be read. Maybe once in a while your query letter elicits a request for pages, but the ultimate response, more often than not, will be “We’re not the right agency for this book.” No reasons. No chance to ask for reasons. (Okay, maybe it will be different for you.)

But at a good conference, you can submit part of your work and then meet with your critiquer to follow up on what worked and what didn’t. Good conferences will assign real agents and editors, empowered to ask for more, to this task.

Yes, you’ll pay extra. And no, your readers might not agree in their assessments, leaving you confused and frustrated, just like your critique group at home. But you’ll hear truths that no warm-hearted “supportive” writers’ group friend will ever tell you! Put on your thickest skin and sign up for as many of these critiques as you can.

4) A range of agents and editors

Conferences will publish the credentials of their faculties beforehand. Follow up on agents’ and editors’ web pages. Go to Amazon and read the first pages of books they have handled. Be sure that at least two or more of the people you can pitch or submit to like the kind of thing you write.

5) Opportunities to socialize with the conference faculty

Some of us are really good at button-holing people we hope to impress. I’m terrible at it. Still, I’d like the chance! A good conference will require its faculty to show up for receptions and banquets. Show up yourself, this time in your bravest skin. You may find that the agent who sorta-kinda-seemed-to-like your pages is also a fan of that obscure Korean horror director you adore. When you send your follow-up query letter, he’ll remember that long chat you shared over wine.

You can’t always tell ahead of time whether this criterion will be met. If it isn’t, make a note for the future, and by all means, include your disappointment on your evaluation form.

It Worked for Me!

I met the agents who sold my first books through the conference process, and since my return to writing after a hiatus, I’ve received far more requests for partials from conference pitches than from written queries. And I’m not even very good at the conference process! But conferences provide me with the best chance to see how people who actually make buying decisions react to what I’m doing.

So once you and your writers’ groups have tweaked your manuscript as much as humanly possible and once you think you’ve done what all those books you’ve read say you should, pick a good conference to see what you’ve achieved.

*A “pitch session” doesn’t call for a synopsis or an elevator pitch. It’s a five-to-ten minute talk (usually breathless on my part) whose sole purpose is to tell the agent or editor what your book is about. The conference will specify how long you have. Maybe you’ll have time to throw in the extras from your full query; maybe not. The hook is what counts. Before you plan yours, search online—advice and examples abound. And if pre-conference pitch critiques or on-site practice is offered, sign up.

What about your experience with conferences! Share!


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Filed under business of writing, Finding agents, looking for editors, novels, Publishing, Writers' conferences, Writers' groups, Writing

Common Book Marketing Traps to Avoid…

Some useful advice from marketing expert Penny Sansevieri via Chris the Story Reading Ape. A reminder to me to a) get more proactive about marketing, and b) to get that next book out. I’ll go work on that now!

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

By Penny C. Sansevieri  on Book Works:

There’s a ton of information out there for indie authors. However, there is also a lot of misinformation, too, as well as outright lies about book marketing. And indie authors are left in the cold to sort through the truths, semi-truths, and non-truths for themselves. Which means that you may end up figuring out the best path through trial and error, falling into common book marketing traps in the process.

Because I believe that empowering authors to follow the best practices elevates the whole industry, today, I’m taking some time to set the record straight.  Indie authors, read on to learn some of the biggest book marketing traps and pitfalls and how to navigate around them for the best success.

Continue reading HERE

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Filed under business of writing, indie publishing, Marketing books, Money!, Myths and Truths, novels, Print on Demand, Self-publishing, Writing

Copyright Infringement Issues: Internet Archive Still at It

500px-Copyright.svgVictoria Strauss at Writer Beware follows up with her account of how she got Internet Archive to take down her copyrighted books. In her case, as in mine, it took a stern comment on their web site to get action, since the standard notices received no response. Her post includes a discussion of how the Archive’s actions in scanning books without permission and in some cases reformatting them differs from the actions of a regular library, which buys its books. She raises the issue of why copyright is worth protecting—and is not just a matter of greed on the part of authors.

I received a series of comments on this issue that introduced me to the Marrakesh Treaty, which allows authorized sites to provide books for print-disabled readers without author permission. You may find this news enlightening, as I did.

Check out the latest in this ongoing situation. Victoria Strauss’s original post provides information on how to see if your books are affected and how to take action.


Filed under business of writing, Copyright, Free Books, novels, Writing

Those Annoying Hyphens!

Beware of literary agents who deal in "handshakes'Here, from Life in the Realm of Fantasy via Chris the Story Reading Ape is an extremely helpful article about something that DRIVES ME NUTS.

Not whether to hyphenate, but why so many indie writers don’t use hyphens when they can be of so much help.

Connie Jasperson has pulled together a wonderful, easy-to-follow (note hyphens) guide to when and why to use hyphens in compound modifiers and expressions.

Check it out! Then get a box of hyphens to use in your own writing. They cost only a few cents at the dime store. I swear I'll catch up my SEO!


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Filed under correct grammar, Editing, grammar rules, indie publishing, punctuation, self editing, Writing

Anne R. Allen on How to Kill Book Sales

book word in letterpress wood typeI’ve often found great advice on Anne’s site. This post about what readers are likely to find when they click on that “Look Inside” invitation on Amazon echoes one I recently did about the first page of your book and why it matters, except that Anne goes into more detail and offers excellent examples of how you can make your “Look Inside” sample sing.

I especially want to endorse Guidelines Nos. 2 and 3.

No. 2 tells us to “start with conflict, not crisis,” advice I’ve encountered before, and which has ranked up there as the most useful advice I’ve ever received. As Anne points out, who cares if bullets are flying and bombs are going off if we don’t know the characters and couldn’t care less about them. “What the reader wants is emotional conflict,” Anne writes. And you get that by putting characters together in a demanding situation and finding out what they do about it—basically Anne’s Guideline No. 5.

No. 3 tells us that any opening scene that consists of some character musing away about some off-stage event is a huge turn-off unless you have an incredible voice and a mesmerizing character. While we’d all like to think we can produce such prodigies of characterization and style at will, the evidence suggests otherwise. You don’t have to create a character worthy of the ages in a Nobel-prize-winning style if you place your readers at the heart of a conflict, right there, in the middle of it all.

So many books!

An additional turn-off I’d personally cite for “Look Inside” samples is more subjective: I respond to voice. Yes, I’ve got to have conflict; things have to happen for me in those first pages. But even if I’m thrown into the middle of conflict, a pedestrian voice stuffed with clichés and unimaginative or, for that matter, forced description can kill my buying urge. Lure me with a voice that breathes with the magic of  language used in new and illuminating ways. If you can’t, make your conflict mesmerizing and original. Ideally, do both.

So check out Anne’s list of ways to keep your first pages from killing your sale. What makes you put a book back on the Amazon shelf?

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Filed under Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, ebooks, indie publishing, Learning to write, novels, self editing, Self-publishing, style, What Not To Do in Writing Novels, Writing

Clauses and Conjunctions–Oh, My!

Ball of letters tangled, like grammar rules

“Grammar rules” can look like this!

I came across this nice post from Deborah Lee Luskin over at Live to Write—Write to Live that lays out the rules governing various kinds of clauses and the conjunctions that attach them to each other.

What this post supplies is “meta-knowledge”: knowledge ABOUT knowledge, that is, about the kind of knowledge writers need. We also need an inner grammar that allows us to construct functioning sentences instinctively in a language that is our native tongue. Growing up with a native tongue allows us to internalize the ways sentences work in our linguistic world. (When we learn second or third languages as adults, it takes a while to develop this internal grammar because our minds are pre-programmed to acquire grammar when we are very young, from listening to and interacting with those around us.)

This inner grammar serves us for speech, even if we don’t know “the rules” from book-learning—all the names of the things we’re doing. It functions less effectively for writing.

Why is this so?

First, writing is not a pre-programmed activity the way spoken language is. Writing is a LEARNED activity. Stanislas Dehaene argues in Reading in the Brain that vision and sound operate in different parts of our brains; our synapses have to remodel themselves to make the connection between visual symbols and the sounds that carry meaning.

Second, the punctuation that connects sentence parts varies between arbitrary conventions like putting a comma after the name of a state and important signposts for meaning like using commas to set off nonessential elements. Both the conventions and the signposts have to be overlaid on our spoken language awareness, requiring new coordination between parts of the brain.

Finally, written language demands a big burst of cognitive energy, especially when we haven’t had a lot of practice and have to think about every period and every modifier.

All these issues separate writing from speaking. They make the process of learning to convert our native language to writing into a secondary process more burdensome and harder to learn than simply learning to speak.

On the one hand, I think every writer should know the information in Deborah’s post: the parts of a sentence and the ways they work together. On the other hand, after twenty-five years of teaching college writing, I believe what the research into the acquisition of grammar “rules” tells us: people don’t learn these skills from lists of rules. Even the ability to recognize “a complete sentence” has seemed unteachable more often than not. A writer either has it or she does not.

Ironically, every indication is that we learn sentence structure and the conventions and signposts the same way we learn to talk: from being widely exposed to written language from a very young age. Reading comes first. Practice in writing to communicate is also vital. When we start trying to use writing to express needs or ideas we want taken seriously, we revise and work until we develop multiple strategies for making ourselves understood. That means acquiring a lot of rules.

To be fair, teachers can never tell just how much effort any given college student has put into learning the strategies for successful “grammatical” writing. This kind of knowledge is notoriously boring. Yet I have seen isolated examples of people who seemed almost illiterate and then somehow just figured it all out (for example, a young man I knew who joined the Army and emerged a totally different writer).

Does all this mean I think aspiring (and successful) writers shouldn’t learn the information in the post I’m sharing? Not at all. But just as important: keep reading. Watch how the writers you admire use clauses, conjunctions, and punctuation. Copy their styles to see what your book would sound like using their methods. Play.

At the risk of angering indie authors everywhere, I suggest you look for your best examples of these rules applied correctly in books, articles, and essays that have been traditionally published. Lord, no, editors in traditional houses aren’t right all the time, but more eyes have examined the writing and the more egregious errors have been winnowed out.

And don’t rely on Grammarly or other so-called editing bots. (Yes, I can start a sentence with “and,” thank you.) They don’t know what a complete sentence is, either.

Or when it’s okay not to use one. The grammar you can ignore if you want to, and why—that’s the kind of knowledge you really need!

How did you learn “the rules”? Share your strategies!



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Filed under College writing, correct grammar, Editing, grammar, grammar rules, indie publishing, Learning to write, Myths and Truths, novels, punctuation, self editing, Self-publishing, style, Teaching writing, Writing

Follow-Up: Copyright Issues at Internet Archive—The Marrakesh Treaty

Stack of many booksIf you have read my posts about my experience eliciting a response from the Internet Archive, which scans and posts books on their free website without notifying authors or asking permission, you may have also read the comments on the latest post.

There, you’ll learn what I learned from Kevin, a reader from newauthoronline.com.

He  introduced me to the Marrakesh Treaty, implemented in 2016. This treaty, which the U.S. has joined, allows authorized non-profit sites to post—without permission—works for “blind and print-disabled” persons.

Here is an overview article Kevin linked to, which contains a link to the Marrakesh Treaty itself as well as a useful discussion of access issues for the print-disabled. From the article:

Marrakesh Treaty: A roadmap for equality

On July 18, 2016, American musician Stevie Wonder welcomed the entry into force of the Marrakesh Treaty with powerful words. “A treaty that promises to end the global book famine… A pact,” he said, “that means that the millions of people in the world who are blind or visually impaired will be able to read books in accessible formats in various regions where they did not previously have access, regardless of their financial means.”

To address this challenge, the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled, was adopted in 2013 under the auspices of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and entered into force in 2016. The treaty was conceived to foster and ease the production and transfer of accessible books, including across national boundaries. To achieve these goals, it established a set of limitations and exceptions to copyright, mandatory for ratifying countries, for the benefit of the blind, visually impaired and otherwise print disabled. So far, 91 countries have signed the treaty and 33 of them have ratified it.

Here is relevant text from the treaty;

[Article 4.]2. A Contracting Party may fulfill Article 4(1) for all rights identified therein by providing a limitation or exception in its national copyright law such that:

(a) Authorized entities shall be permitted, without the authorization of the copyright rightholder, to make an accessible format copy of a work, obtain from another authorized entity an accessible format copy, and supply those copies to beneficiary persons by any means, including by non-commercial lending or by electronic communication by wire or wireless means, and undertake any intermediate steps to achieve those objectives, when all of the following conditions are met:

(i)  the authorized entity wishing to undertake said activity has lawful access to that work or a copy of that work;

(ii) the work is converted to an accessible format copy, which may include any means needed to navigate information in the accessible format, but does not introduce changes other than those needed to make the work accessible to the beneficiary person;

(iii) such accessible format copies are supplied exclusively to be used by beneficiary persons;  and

(iv) the activity is undertaken on a non-profit basis;

An operative term here is “lawful access.” I have written WIPO to ask for a definition.

Remaining questions:

  • Is the Internet Archive an Authorized Entity?
  • How does it ensure that people using free services under this treaty are eligible beneficiaries?

Kevin’s comments also include some enlightening information about accessibility software and process for blind and print-disabled people.

I have not found this information about the Marrakesh Treaty widely shared in the writing-blog community, probably because the treaty was just implemented in 2016. I hope this will prove a useful post for my writing colleagues. The information certainly was news to me.



Filed under business of writing, Copyright, novels, Publishing, Writing