Writer’s Conference Strategies: Sessions

keep-calm-and-choose-wisely-33 Writer's conferences are wellsprings of information, but you can only attend one session at a time, so choose wisely. Any good conference will have a variety of sessions to choose from and your job is figuring out what's going to be most useful for you.


“During 30 years of earning my daily bread as a writer I have learned many lessons about our craft. The most significant of those lessons is that I still have many lessons to learn about out craft.” ―  H.P. Oliver

You can never go wrong with craft. There’s not a writer out there who shouldn’t aspire to improve their craft regardless of where they are in their career. However, if you just finished or are still writing your first or even second novel, this is probably where you should focus most of your time. You may be a prodigy, but odds are that first novel isn’t a masterpiece. It’s a stepping-stone to growing as a writer. Like any skill, you aren’t born knowing how to do it right or when it's a good idea to break the rules. You have to learn the ins and outs of your vocation before you can advance through the ranks from apprentice to master. Craft sessions are there to help you on that journey. Take advantage of them.



“Content is King. Promotion is Queen” ―  Bob Mayer

Whether you intend to try traditional or independent publishing, marketing is something you’re going to need to learn. A great book that can truly sell itself is almost as rare as unicorns. Don’t hang your career on the hope that your book is going to be that fabled creature. Plan to bust your ass building your audience and make your book soar. These sessions will help you get ideas on how to go about that and what will work for you and your book.

Traditional publishing:

“If you wrote something for which someone sent you a cheque, if you cashed the cheque and it didn't bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.” ―  Stephen King

If you haven’t decided how you want to approach publishing, these sessions can give you the knowledge you need to make that decision. If you’ve decided on a traditional approach, these sessions can give you an inside look on what agents and publishers are looking for and how the publishing process works in the traditional world.

Indie Publishing:

“Behind every novel is a greater story of how it came to be published.” ―  T.L. Rese

Again, if you’re not sure how you want to go about publishing your work, these sessions can help you make an informed decision. If you already know you want to go this route, the sessions will give you insight on what has and hasn’t work for others and help you figure out how to go about it.


Remember, don’t get ahead of yourself. If you only just started writing, focus on craft and worry about marketing and publishing after you’ve seasoned your skills. If you're ready to move on, keep in mind that in publishing sessions, the people presenting will likely be advocates of the route they’ve chosen. Learn about your options and don’t get caught up in someone else’s enthusiasm. Choose the publishing path that is right for your goals as a writer and the kind of writing you do.

Happy Conferencing!

Writer’s Conference Strategies: Volunteering

h44A5BE23I just survived another great PNWA Writer’s Conference. With the event fresh in my head, it seems a good time to offer up a little of my experience for anyone who’s considering a similar conference for the first time or just looking for ways to better their experience at a familiar conference.

Writer’s conferences can be stressful, especially if you’re pitching a book to agents and editors. I picked up my agent, Emily Keyes, just before the 2012 PNWA conference. Since I was already registered and no longer needed to pitch, I decided to volunteer. I can strongly recommend volunteering for many reasons and suggest doing so even if you are pitching (or perhaps especially if you are pitching).

Benefits of volunteering:

  • If you’re pitching, volunteering can help take your mind off that stress. If you’re not pitching, it can take your mind off other stresses like wondering if a publisher is going to make on offer on your book or if the blood work on the cat living in your shop is going to come back showing some horrible disease.??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????
  • Volunteering gives you a look behind the scenes. You get to see how things run and how much amazing work goes into putting a conference together. If you help with early pitch sessions, you can also get helpful insight into how those sessions are run before your turn to pitch comes up.
  • You meet great people. Not just other volunteers and aspiring authors with their own fantastic stories to share, but also the agents, editors, and published authors sitting on the other side of the tables. They are great people and sometimes they’re just as nervous as the attendees are.
  • In a business that can seem really lonely and unforgiving, you will be appreciated. It takes a lot to run a conference and more help is always needed. The conference staff will appreciate you for your help, as will the attendees and presenters.

The down side:

  • You might miss a session you wanted to attend, but usually volunteer coordinators will try to work with you to find a time for you to volunteer that allows you to make the sessions you most want to attend.

As you can see, the balance is in the positive. There are many good reasons to volunteer and only one notable down side that I have run into. I strongly recommend the experience.

Have you volunteered at a conference? If so, how was your experience? If not, what concerns might keep you from doing so?

Happy conferencing!

The Next Big Thing and the No Kiss

I was all ready to do my No Kiss Blog Fest entry (due today), then I was tagged by the wicked Tod McCoy (who’s really quite a pleasure to be around when he isn’t signing me up for extra work) for The Next Big Thing Blog Hop (also due today). The most logical thing seemed to be to combine these two into one post. The book I am working on is Clockwork Cat book three, but I’m going to focus on the Clockwork Cat series as a whole for the Next Big Thing and snag the almost kiss from book one of another series. Without further delay, here is my entry for The Next Big Thing Blog Hop followed by the much-anticipated (let me delude myself – I’m happy that way) entry for the No Kiss Blog Fest.

  1. What is the working title of your book? Book three has no official title yet, it’s just book three. The first book is The Girl and the Clockwork Cat so Clockwork Cat has naturally become the series title.
  2. Where did the idea come from for the book? The series started with an idea I had during a writer’s conference. I’ve gone into that in detail in Writing the Right Book so I’ll let you read that if you want to.
  3. What genre does your book fall under?  I call it Young Adult steampunk, though the steampunk elements are not that heavy, especially in book one, which is almost more of a Young Adult alternate history. As the series progresses, the steampunk elements play more of a role.
  4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?  No clue. They are unique in my head and, at this point, I’d rather keep them that way.
  5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? I don’t have one that encompasses the series, but this is one of the less horrible versions I came up with for book one: After finding a cat with an unusual clockwork leg, Maeko discovers just how much a London street rat can accomplish when she decides to protect the cat and prove the innocence of a friend’s family by pursuing a murder investigation through the squalid streets of the city.
  6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? The books are represented by Emily Keyes of L. Perkins Agency.
  7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? The first draft of book one I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2010. Book two I wrote for NaNo in 2012. Book three has taken longer because I set it aside and rehashed some of the plot, which will now require a bit of rewriting before I finish the first draft.
  8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? Honestly, I’m not sure. It sticks more to the lower key alternate history style of steampunk in the nature of The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, but with more of a high-stakes adventure pacing… and a cat.
  9. Who or What inspired you to write this book? Again, it was something said at a writer’s conference in conjunction with music from a Steampunk event I’d been to prior to the conference (oh, and a conversation with my mom in which the cat with the clockwork leg came to life and cemented the deal).
  10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? The main character, a half-Japanese girl surviving as a pickpocket in the streets of London, is a vibrant and determined individual who really seems to capture my readers. Also, everyone loves the cat.

Now, I shall tag these authors to answer the same questions for next Wednesday:

But that’s not all. Here, for your reading pleasure and for the No Kiss Blog Fest is an “almost” kiss from the first book in my dark fantasy series. It wasn’t easy to find one of these scenes. Apparently, I'm not much for “almost” kissing.

Perhaps it was her insatiable curiosity as a reporter, but she was strangely reluctant to leave him now that safety was so close. “I… I don’t understand.”

“What if I told you I intend to kill you now?”

“I…” she hesitated, torn between instinct and ingrained fear.

“Do not think about your answer. Say what you feel.” His eyes held her captive.

“For some reason, I wouldn’t believe you.”

He smiled and Dark swirled around him, giving a sinister, yet deliciously forbidden allure to the expression.

“I don’t understand,” she repeated. “I thought Dark sovereigns were dangerous. I thought they… tortured people.”

He stepped in close to her. “We are very dangerous,” he whispered, his lips so close to hers that she could feel the breath of his words tickle across them. “Sometimes, we just are not in the mood to play.”

“The dress,” she muttered, looking down at the gown she wore to escape his intense gaze and focus on anything other than the longing now raging through her.

“Wear it when you return.” His hands slid up her arms to her shoulders. “You are trembling again. Are you afraid now?”

“No,” she breathed.

His lips brushed hers, almost more of a caress than a kiss. Then he stepped back, releasing her, and the Dark folded around him. In an instant, she was alone.

Savoring the lingering tingle of his light kiss, she licked her lips and tasted blood on them. It had the familiar coppery tang, but was unusually sweet. She ran her tongue over her lips again, searching for a cut that would explain the blood. Again, she tasted the copper-sweet tang and licked it away, finding no wound beneath. The wound inside her lip from her fall had long since stopped bleeding. This wasn’t from that. Odd.

Swallowing the taste of coppery sweetness, she turned to go inside and stopped mid-step. A chill ran through her. What had Syberis told her?

The cat’s voice whispered through her memory. “We are bound in hisss blood.”

The NaNo Novel That Could (or How I Got My Agent)

I started out looking for an agent the way many people do, by cold querying any agent who handled my type of books. I thought I had an amazing book and, honestly, we should think that of our work. If we don’t love it, why the hell did we write it. I just knew someone was going to snatch up this spectacular masterpiece. They didn’t.


I was naïve, but it’s okay to be naïve. The important thing is being able to learn and grow. In the beginning, I only researched agents and editors to make sure they handled my genre. But that’s not enough. Information is everywhere. There’s no excuse for sending something to an inappropriate agent or editor. Just handling your genre doesn’t make them an automatic fit. That’s like assuming a shoe will fit simply because it’s the right color.

When you’re looking for an agent, you want someone who will be as passionate about your book as you are. You want someone who will promote it enthusiastically to publishers. To get that, you need to care enough about your book to find the right person for the job.

How do you do this?

The turning point for me came when I attended my first conference, the 2010 Pacific Northwest Writers Conference.

One of the most important things I got out of the experience was the disappointing but crucial realization that the book I was pitching wasn’t ready.


I wasn’t thrilled about the discovery, but I had learned something that would prove to be a solid stepping-stone to getting where I wanted to go. I learned what I needed to do to make the book ready.

The second thing I learned was that meeting face-to-face and showing people that you’re serious about writing is priceless. I got submission requests from all seven agents/editors I pitched to at the conference.

Wait! Didn’t I just say the book wasn’t ready? Yep. But now I had a leg up on the slush pile. I just needed to fix the book and send it.

Lastly, I learned that ideas are simply floating in the air at a writer’s conference.


A single comment made at one session gave me the idea for the book that landed me my agent (more about that book in Writing the Right Book).

Did I get my agent from that conference?

Nope. I sent the manuscript out and received those dreaded rejection letters, but they were different now. The letters from agents and editors who looked at that book provided feedback, suggestions, and positive encouragement that helped me improve that book and my writing in general. The process also helped me understand that agents and editors really are people like the rest of us, not wicked gatekeepers cackling evilly as they hit send on a thousand form rejections a week. They want your book to be good almost as bad as you do and, if you put forth the effort to show them you’re serious, they’ll sometimes help you get it there.

The following year I attended two more conferences pitching the book I wrote during NaNoWriMo 2010, the one that stemmed from the idea I got at the first conference. I learned more, got many requests for the new book, and made some awesome friends. Every partial submission garnered requests for more and the fantastic feedback helped me polish and tune the book between sets of submissions.

During this time, I also stepped up my research and began searching out other ways to get my work out of the slush pile and in front of agents. Online contests are great opportunities. I got my work in front of several agents through contests like those run by Cupid's Literary Connection.

After communicating with numerous agents, I also began to understand that it was important for them to be someone I wanted to work with.

Wanted: Someone to sell this book while I'm busy... writing the next one.

I started taking time before each submission to read up about agents on their agency website and to read entries from their blog if they had one. This research also gave me material with which to personalize my query letters, resulting in even more requests even from cold queries.

The quest for information led me to still more opportunities. I subscribed to Writer’s Digest online and began attending the occasional webinar, especially if the presenter happened to be an agent or editor I was interested in. I had to be selective because, while there are some free webinars, many of them cost and I haven’t found a way to grow money on trees yet (but I’m willing to learn if anyone has tips).

With all the positive feedback I’d been getting, I felt like I balanced on a fence, ready to fall to one side or the other.


Then it happened, sort of.

I signed up for a Writer’s Digest webinar, “How to Find and Work with an Agent in the 21st Century” being presented on January 19th, 2012 by Lori Perkins and Louise Fury of the L. Perkins Agency. I was interested in the agency and the subject, and a query critique by one of the agents was part of the package.

When the 19th came around, we were in the midst of Snowmageddon 2012, stranded at home with a few trees collapsed on the barn and horse shelter and, as of the time of the webinar, without power.

Snowmageddon 2012!

I plugged a headset into my iPhone, downloaded the meeting app (because there really is an app for everything), and crossed my fingers that my battery would make it through the 90-minute presentation. It did, just barely. I was impressed with both agents, but I directed my query specifically to Louise as the book was more up her ally.

On March 18th, I got e-mail from Louise (who had been out of the country) with a complimentary rejection and a referral to a new agent at L. Perkins Agency, Emily Keyes. Emily brought prior experience from the publishing world into this position and, after reading her blog, I liked the personality that came across. I submitted a personalized query the next day with a mention of the webinar and Louise’s referral.

Of course, I’d been submitting to others during this time as well. On April 27th, the editorial assistant at a larger New York publisher contacted me to let me know that she enjoyed the book and wanted to send it to their editorial director for consideration, to which I agreed enthusiastically. On June 5th, I received e-mail from the smaller local press stating that they wanted to move forward with the book.

I wasn’t sure how to handle the escalating interest. Did I jump to the small press? Did I ask them to wait and risk losing their interest? In an effort to solicit some wisdom, I sent e-mail to Emily Keyes letting her know that the book was garnering interest. She had, by this time, requested the full manuscript, but hadn’t read it yet. She provided me with some guidance and took the weekend to read the book.

When I got the offer of representation on June 10th, I finally understood what it meant to find someone with enthusiasm for your work. Emily was very excited about the book and that’s what ultimately decided me. Here was someone passionate enough about my book to put forth a real effort in finding a home for it. I accepted her offer and put her in charge of communicating with the publishers who had already shown interest.


That book is now making rounds and getting looked at by more publishers. I had the opportunity to meet Emily in person at a writer’s conference I attended in July. She is a delightful person and I am quite happy with her process of submitting the book. She’s managed to get it in front of several editors I never would have gotten attention from on my own. I also just finished making edits on another book (a much improved version of the one I pitched in 2010) per her suggestions and will soon have two books out making rounds.

What do I believe got me this far, aside from writing the best book I could (which I strongly recommend)?

  1. Networking and connecting with people.
  2. Finding ways to get my work in front of agents and editors outside of the standard cold query, such as conferences, contests and webinars.
  3. Recognizing that agents and editors are people and treating them as such by learning about them through blogs and other social media outlets like Twitter.

So, that’s my agent story and the story to date of my 2010 NaNoWriMo novel. Proof that NaNo novels can be good too.

Happy writing!!

Writing Conferences: Why go?

The PNWA (Pacific Northwest Writers Association) annual conference is almost here again. The first year I attended the conference I mostly fumbled about in an overwhelmed stupor (probably with my mouth hanging open most of the time). There were so many agents, editors and other publishing guru’s present, and I could barely fathom how many writers had come out of the woodwork in my region. That many crazy people all gathered in one place can be a shock to the system. (We are all crazy, right? It isn’t just me? I mean, they even have mugs making fun of us. We have arrived.)

What really amazed me were all the opportunities to learn, to network, and to put my writing in front of other people, whether for a peer critique of my pitch or for the attempted wooing of an agent/publisher. By the time it was over, I understood that I wasn’t ready and neither was the book I was pitching, but it opened my eyes to many things I had been missing. There's a whole world of author networking opportunities out there, both in person and via social media. Unexpectedly, while I was attending that first conference, some of the discussions also opened the door for a new book idea to sneak up and bludgeon me over the head (but that’s a different blog post).

By year two, I was ready (or at least much more so than before). I had a new book (see above) ready to pitch to agents. I was prepared to start talking, not just to the people I was pitching to, but to other attendees and anyone else who would let me chat them up. This led to some fantastic conversations with people in the book world and at least one great new friend.

I also knew going in how much information I could glean from attending the right sessions. As authors, we should always be looking to learn more about our industry and, more importantly, about improving our craft (you can never be too good at what you do). Many presenters are wellsprings of information. Be willing to ask questions (preferably questions that benefit everyone in the session). Gather the information. Compile it. Find the gems that will serve you best.

This year will be different for me. My agent will be there, so I’ll get to meet her in person, which is very cool. I’m looking forward to this new experience without the stress of pitching where I can really focus on networking and soaking up knowledge.

Conferences can be expensive, but they are an investment in your writing career regardless of what route you plan to take to publishing. Meeting agents and editors in person can also get you past the dreaded slush pile if that's your chosen path. If you can swing it, take advantage of the opportunities and give yourself a little boost. In my honest opinion, it's worth it.

Have you attended any conferences? Why or why not? What are some of the things that made it worthwhile (or not) for you?

The Writer's Conference: A Few Days Later

In follow up to my last entry, here is a summary of my experience at the PNWA writer’s conference.

The Attendees:

I met many great people, all aspiring to the same goal of sharing their writing with the world.  I met people writing poetry, legal and political thrillers, varied fantasy and science fiction sub-genres, young adult novels, and so much more.  Despite our varied interests, we all had a great deal in common and I think I learned a lot from my fellow attendees.  I also came away with some interesting character sketches from the many people watching opportunities and a few contacts with whom I hope to stay in touch.

The Sessions:

It is always interesting to listen to what people inside the industry have to say.  There were successful authors, agents, and editors running most of the sessions.  It was great when they validated my own research with many of their tips and recommendations, and even better when they offered new insight into things I didn’t know as much about.  The How to Write a Synopsis and Query Letter session with author Bob Dugoni was incredibly valuable for me.  He broke down the elements of both in such a way that I had a new letter and synopsis mostly written by the end of the session.  That was just one of many excellent learning opportunities.

The Pitching:

This was a very good experience for me.  I was extremely nervous about doing this, but I went to a Clarion West party with a friend who is attending this year and got an opportunity to speak with Ellen Datlow there.  She was very nice and I enjoyed talking to her.  That conversation really helped me relax, as did the editor and agent forums the next morning which helped me look at these wonderful people as people I might be lucky enough to get to know and not big scary entities who could make or break my career.

I managed to get five agents and an editor to request some portion of my work, which felt fabulous since I was figuring I might get three of them if I was lucky (though I did learn that there is a time to pitch and a time to give these people a break – be sure to respect that if you go to this kind of event).  I also realized that I need to tighten the book up before I send it.

Some of the sessions helped me come up with ideas for things I could cut and I am already down 7,000 words since Sunday.  The pitching also helped me find the holes in my query and synopsis.  The pitch and query both failed to show what is unique about my trilogy and I now have some good ideas for bringing that out.


The industry is in a state of change and I found it fascinating to listen to the differing opinions the many agents, editors, and writers had about how it was going to go.  With eBooks and self-publishing rising in popularity, things will continue to change at a remarkable rate for some time.  Many of the speakers seemed to feel that traditional publishing would remain, but that there were now new ways to get there.  For example, several commented that successful sales with self-publishing are becoming an alternate way to get the attention of agents and publishing houses.  I don't plan to go that route at this point, but who knows how I will feel in the future.

I would love to see at least some of my work in print.  I hate killing trees, but there is something magical about a printed book.  That said, there is a whole new generation of kids reading books electronically who may never understand that view and there is nothing at all wrong with that.  In fact, if you asked the trees, they'd probably be happy about that change.

Things I'd Do Differently:

I think not staying at the hotel was a mistake (though it was a financial decision).  On one hand, I did a lot of pitch practicing and came up with a new book idea on the hour drive to the conference.  On the other hand, I decided when to leave based on how tired I was going to be driving home, which meant I didn’t hang around as long as I might have in the evenings and missed the dessert reception Thursday night and the literary contest awards at the end of the dinner on Saturday.  I also could not talk myself into driving back down for the half-day session on Sunday.

I would probably also get my book into the literary contest.  I wasn't paying attention and the deadline just skimmed by this year.  I've been wrapped up in my writing and editing work, but I think the contest would have been a good opportunity to get more feedback on that work.


That’s it.  I enjoyed the conference.  I learned a lot.  I met great people.  I have a small leg up on the competition with my next six submissions.  I also have a lot of work to do to get those submissions ready, but I will take the time needed and do it right.  All told, I think it was a great thing for me and I recommend it to anyone who hopes to get their writing out into the world.  Your mileage may vary.