Another Writers Conference and a Few Thoughts on Self-publishing

I went to the Whidbey Island Writers Association (WIWA) conference over the first weekend in April. Like the PNWA conference last year, it turned out to be a great experience, made a little less intimidating by the smaller number of attendees and the fact that it wasn't my first conference.

The sessions were quite fun and helpful. My favorite was actually a session I took on The Virtuoso Sentence by Priscilla Long. A very useful session for someone who tends to run stiff with her writing due to so much time spent following rigid rules as a technical writer. The session looked at sentences from well know authors and showed various ways in which they play with the rules of syntax to create brilliant, compelling writing. It also gave us tools for developing that kind of writing in our own work.

One of the highlights of the session, of course, was my first pitch. The agent responded to my book with considerable enthusiasm and requested a submission. That will be going out at the end of April (and I should be working on it right now). Fingers crossed, pat the lucky rock, etc.  J

I had a critique session to go over the first 20 pages, which I submitted prior to the conference. I found that experience very educational and encouraging in the fact that all the critiques were on craft issues not story/plot/character issues. These are little things I can easily fix and that will help me continue to improve my writing.

Lastly, I pitched to an editor who I knew was kind of a long shot. She admitted that they weren’t interested in what I was pitching, but gave me some wonderful tips on improving the pitch and told me it sounded like a great story. A win as far as I am concerned since that pitch will be the heart of my query and synopsis.

The next highlight takes a short back-story. Some time ago, my mom gave me a pile of books to read. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein nestled among them. I’ve read many books about animals and one thing tends to ring true through all of them, they end sad. I wasn’t going to read it for that reason.

Through my life, I have been fortunate to share my home with many animals. I love them dearly and miss them horribly when they pass, which they always do. Despite the pain of that loss, I keep on bringing another one home and going through it all again. So, I finally read the book. I was bringing another one home in a sense.

I’m glad I did, and not only because it was a remarkable, beautifully written book (though it did make me cry more than once). At the writer’s conference, Garth Stein was a keynote speaker and instructor. He came across as a very approachable, down to earth person. One of the things about his speech that really struck me was his emphasis on the relationship between the author and their readers and the promise we make as authors to give our readers an experience worth the time they invest. An experience that will move them and perhaps change them.

This leads me to something that bothers me about the current state of publishing. I think it is wonderful that more people have the opportunity to realize their dreams through the growth of self-publishing. I think there is a great deal of opportunity there and hope to see it flourish. However, I believe very strongly in that promise we make to a reader when we put our words down on the page. I think the current self-publishing industry encourages certain laziness in regards to that promise. Some great work comes out through self-publishing. So does some work that is poorly written, poorly edited, and simply a mockery of that sacred promise. That kind of work stains the rest, making it hard for self-published authors without an established audience to gain any respect.

This is one reason I am trying to go the traditional route. I don’t know that I have the knowledge to ensure that my work is the best it can be before I put it out there. I’m looking for the experience an agent and editor can bring to the table. I also like the idea of the relationship that one must build with their agent. For all that I am a reclusive introverted writer, I am also, oddly, a serious people person. I blame this contradiction on the voices in my head. J

Happy writing!