At the DFW Writers' Workshop, we are writers helping writers. Since 1977, our workshop has helped writers of all genres and experience levels to produce and promote professionally published work with weekly read-and-critique, educational activities, ongoing author support, and networking opportunities. Our welcoming and inclusive atmosphere has helped hundreds of authors develop their craft creating a culture that pays it's experience forward.
For the next series of blog posts, DFW Writers' Workshop will continue to 'pay-it-forward' by featuring our own authors discussing and dissecting the skills they've honed over time.
Over the years I have had the privilege of learning from some of the coolest, most talented indie and traditionally published authors. Recently, I was re-blown away by the skillful imagination of workshop member and horror author, Russell C. Connor. His mastery of voice and his precision of point of view makes for an immersive story - and need to read with the lights on.
Non-writers would assume social distancing and self quarantine would be a writer's dream come true. Except for many of us, it's the opposite. Most members of the DFW Writers' Workshop thrive on the in person read and critique, and the socialization that comes with a mutual love for the writing craft. And a love of IHOP's mozzarella sticks and pancakes. So far, 2020 has put a lid on that part of the workshop, but has opened the door for virtual out reach.
Daniel Link, debut author of MACKLIN MYSTERIES CryWolf by Fawkes Press available October 1st, 2020 describes his experience as a new, virtual member of the workshop and how it has impacted his writing and getting through the slog of isolation.
The DFW Writers Workshop's gong show is an epic event. Every year at the DFWCon, the writer's conference run by the Workshop, aspiring author's submit their queries to a panel of judges, high-level agents and editors, for feedback and maybe for success. The gong show's host read queries one by one. At the moment a judge finds something wrong with the query, she bangs on the gong. Three gongs, the host stops reading, and the judges provide a critique as to why it didn't work. If the host reads your query to the end, then you've hit it big. Applause and cheers. Maybe a full request.
The show's fun, but it can be brutal.
It's like a trial or a gladiatorial game. Your query versus the panel. Sometimes their critique cuts sharply or smashes bluntly.
But you can't fear the criticism. You've got to put the query out there. Make it a learning experience to hone your craft or to find out if your story is gonna work. Brave the experience, and sometimes it can lead to something amazing.
I experienced one DFWCon before, so I knew what to expect from a Gong Show. Not many queries make it to the end. But I took notes, learned from the panel's feedback, and honed my pieces with the help of critique partners.
Prepared and confident, I submitted two queries, slipping them neatly folded into the box of doom.
That morning, I pitched my completed manuscript: an MG fantasy adventure about a young chef battling it out in a magical cooking competition. Despite the nervous buzz in my gut, I managed a fine session with a fantastic agent and got a full request. Things were looking up, and I hoped my good fortune would continue throughout the conference.
The Gong Show happened the next afternoon, the last day of the Con. The final event. The make-or-break moment (If it even happened. It's not guaranteed you'll get your query read).
The two hosts kicked off the event by introducing the judges armed with a gong and mallet. That year, there were agents off stage who could be judges, too. That made the panel of ten or more judges, upping the odds for a rejection.
One of the hosts began reading the entries. Deep-voiced and enthusiastic, he was like the radio announcer for the literary pantheon.
The gong show was intense. The panel relentlessly gonged the first several queries; none survived.
Then the host began reading mine, and I braced for the worst. So much for confidence. Line after line, I could feel a buildup of energy from the crowd and the judges. One of the agents off stage got up and struck a gong. Two more would mean the end, but before I knew it, the host read the last line and held up my query. The crowd exploded with cheers. Shocking. Abso-freaking-lutely shocking. Frozen with disbelief, I sat there until my writing friends told me to stand and bow, which I did without looking too much like an idiot. A couple of agents requested full manuscripts right then and there. Crazy.
Except, the query that was read was not for my completed MG fantasy that I brought to battle, I mean, to pitch. It was for another manuscript, CARDSLINGER, which was incomplete.
You see, although it was a story I would read, I had no idea if a Wild West/card game/mythology/adventure mashup would connect with, well, anyone. I feared it wasn't worth the time and effort to finish.
But with its success at The Gong Show, CARDSLINGER got its giddyup.
Three years later, after dozens of revisions, I sent it out to the world, including one of the agents who requested it from the stage. She loved it, and I got "the call" with an offer of representation.
Now, CARDSLINGER is a real book, published on August 6th, 2019 by Carolrhoda Books. It never would've happened, if I didn't face what could've been a heartbreaking disaster.
Learn, create, and be relentless. Go to conferences. Join critique groups. Give and take feedback. Brave the unknown, the slush pile, or a panel of cold-blooded agents.
I just finished writing my fourth novel, but you won’t find the first three at Barnes & Noble or even on the ninety-eighth page of an Amazon search. They gather dust on my hard drive.
Revisiting old projects can be cringe-worthy, but I’m a big fan of sharing and comparing failures, so these are the books that died on my hard drive. They taught me a lot. Maybe they’ll teach you something, too. At least, perhaps, they’ll make you feel less alone.
My first book, “Kalos,” hit the page as a YA fantasy with too many characters and not enough plot. It chewed up the conventions of Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Twilight, and spit them back out in a grayish mess. I loved it. And I queried it hard core. Countless emails earned me a single request for the first five pages (yep, five), and nothing more. The non-responses killed me. The form rejections killed me. But they also lit my fire. They urged me to learn anything and everything about the publishing industry, to meet other writers, and to improve my work.
My second book, “Stupid Good,” seemed so killer when I wrote the last word. After the catastrophe that was “Kalos,” I’d found my genre: contemporary YA. Rooted in the real world, I discovered my voice and wrote characters that felt luscious and alive. More confident than ever, I brought this book to the DFW Writers’ Workshop. There, I found my people. People who would compliment my work when it shined and rip it apart when it lacked luster.
A few agents read “Stupid Good,” but in the end, they all turned me down. They said things like “this story has nice elements, but...” and “there’s so much to admire, but...”
I had to keep climbing, and for the first time ever, I had a community to show me the footholds.
Isla from Everywhere
After a revise-and-resubmit, my third book, “Isla from Everywhere,” hooked an agent at the DFW Writers’ Conference. Joanna Mackenzie brought a brilliant new eye to the story and helped me refine it for two years. Together, we nearly snagged a publisher.
This. Book. Almost. Happened.
But... the editor asked for (you guessed it) a revise-and-resubmit, and in the end, declined.
I have to admit, shelving this book hurt. I’m not a crier, but I cried. In the car. In traffic. On the way home from my nine to five. But “Isla” taught me the most important lesson of all: time spent writing is never wasted. Even when it seems like you shot two-and-a-half years on a project that no reader will ever read, you didn’t. Every word, every page, every draft makes you a better writer.
I won’t tell you the title of book four, because – heaven help me – this one might work out. It started living in my head last June, and right now, it’s on submission.
This novel stands on the shoulders of the first three. I know my genre, I know my voice, I know how to plot a story from beginning to end. And, guess what? Some of the characters from “Stupid Good” came back to life. I gave them new names and new circumstances, but their personalities prevailed. All those hours spent on books that went nowhere stacked up to a book with a chance.
Last time I went on submission, I found the courage to email David Arnold, my all-time favorite author. He actually wrote back (cool dude, right?) and said, “Turn off your email notifications, and drink lots of wine/beer/whiskey, etc. ( <---- Official submission advice.)” Words to live by, for sure. And yeah, my cork collection will probably grow over the next few weeks as I wait for the final word, but this time around, I know something new: I will keep going. If my fourth book ends up on my hard drive, I’ll keep writing. I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again.