The WHY of Your Story
by: A. Lee Martinez. DFWWW Member since 1995
The first thing you should ask yourself is why?
Writing isn’t as simple as putting down words on paper. If it was, everyone would be doing it, and at times, it feels like everyone thinks they can. If we’re talking about sitting in front of a keyboard and typing until you have a few pages, then, yes, everyone can do it. There’s a difference between doing it and doing it well.
Asking why is that difference.
Let’s stick with fiction for the moment. Much of this applies to non-fiction as well, but it’s easier to focus on one right now. Fiction is, generally, a series of scenes that string together to form an overarching story. All basic stuff, you might think, but you would be wrong.
The Why (capital W from this point on) is Why this scene must exist in the first place. Your initial answer will probably be wrong. You will no doubt think of story points and character motivations and getting the plot moving to its next stage. That’s important stuff, but it is NOT your Why.
The Why is all about what we’ll call emotional intention. I should be feeling something in your scene, and that feeling should be what you want me to feel. New writers (and even experienced writers) can be so invested in moving the pieces on the board and pushing the plot forward that they forget that writing fiction isn’t about conveying mere facts.
“John woke up in the morning. He went to the store. He bought some eggs. He came home and had breakfast.”
That’s a boring story. Not just because it’s a boring story but because there’s no emotional weight to it. Even if we change it up by adding a zombie apocalypse or messy divorce, it still doesn’t have any intention.
“John dragged himself out of bed. He trudged to the store and bought some damned eggs. He cooked them alone, in his kitchen, thinking about her.”
The Why here is obvious. John is having a bad day. He’s tired. He’s barely motivated. And I, as the reader, know that this isn’t a happy scene or funny or exciting. It’s sad. I may not know the details, but the weight is there. The intention isn’t screaming, but it is palpable.
“John jumped out of bed. He ran to the store, treated himself in some extra large eggs. Singing their song, he cooked the eggs in his kitchen, thinking about her.”
The Why is completely different here. It’s full of positivity and energy. John is still alone. We still don’t know anything about Her, but we don’t need to. We sense the emotional weight of this scene just by how we choose to tell it.
Nobody cares about the details. Characters are not playing pieces on a board, and stories are not a series of checklists. They are about emotional intention, and, yes, even ambiguity is a perfectly acceptable goal for a scene if done on purpose.
So don’t write what happened. Write Why it happened, and that Why should almost never be because John ran out of eggs.
I attend the DFW Writers Conference to mainly help like so many others. I've worked the pitch session for some years. I tell bad jokes to the overly nervous writers waiting to pitch their works to agents and editors. And I usually catch a class or two. I didn’t attend to pitch anything, just hang with friends and maybe talk to an agent or two about the industry if the opportunity presented itself.
Then at the mixer I caught a glimpse of
Shilo Harris, a war veteran who had been burned over thirty-five percent of his body, walking towards me. I'd seen his picture on the website. Since I've led such a sheltered life in regards to traumatic injuries, and being shy by nature, I was nervous. How should I act? What would I say? What should I talk about, and more importantly, what shouldn't I talk about?
As he got close to the table where I stood, I nodded and said a timid hello. He stepped up and introduced himself with a firm handshake. The joy of being alive filled his voice and shone from his face as we talked for over an hour about his service, family, fishing, how he's helping vets. Nothing seemed off-limits. He made me feel like we'd been friends for decades.
The next day as I watched him saying goodbyes at the conference, it was obvious I wasn't the only person he made feel like a friend.
It's amazing how he's overcome such tragedy, such severe injuries. How he's so optimistic, so happy, so exuberant. How he's helping others, especially vets.
Back at the hotel, as I waited for friends, someone poked me in the back then hid on the opposite side like a kid. I turned and there he was, Shilo Harris smiling. He introduced me to his three sons, all good looking boys. We talked for a several minutes, then he was gone.
How many speakers would do that to someone they'd met once? And how many people has he met on tour? To him I wasn't just a blurred face in the crowd. I was a friend
This year's DFW Writers Conference brought something unexpected: the blessing, honor and privilege of meeting Shilo Harris, a hero, an inspiration, a man who helped me see past the physical. Serendipity brought us together, aligning an unfathomable number of events, events neither one of us could control, events as simple as a long drink line, events as complex as securing conference keynotes.
I admit, I'm not a deep thinker. I seldom reflect and I avoid philosophy. I also tend to live in the moment. Things happen then I forget and move on. Essentially, my field of view is narrow, like I'm wearing blinders.
That said, where do I take this from here?
Will my meeting Shilo Harris be like the exercise equipment in the corner of the room, pushed aside, collecting dust, or will I use the meeting to improve myself, like so many others he's touched, helped, given hope? More importantly will I try to escape my comfort zone to become more like Shilo Harris by helping others inside and outside of the writing community? Is anyone truly changed by meeting someone once? If there is a desire, an emptiness, a hunger in their soul for change, to overcome.
The DFW Writers Conference and the DFW Writers' Workshop have helped expand my comfort zone and brought many new friends into my life. A multitude of writers' workshops and conferences are built on mutual support, friendship, helping others, being helped. How much we help and how much we are helped depends on us.
Can I change? Most definitely. Can we change the world? You bet. How do we do it? By charging out of our comfort zone, taking off our blinders, and taking action.
I pray that my path will cross Shilo's again and that I will become a better person for having met him.
To learn more about Shilo Harris go to http://www.shiloharris.com/
-- Eric Dixon, DFWWW Member Since 2008
DFWCON: Finding Your Tribe
Originally published July 23, 2015
By Brian Tracey
With ThrillerFest, a week-long New York City writers' conference, still in my rear view mirror and DFWCon just ahead, I've discovered everything I knew about writing conferences is wrong.
Like many writers, I approached my first conference with my perfectly practiced pitch and my carefully crafted manuscript just knowing that soon I'd be signing with the agent who would make all my dreams come true. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
After the devastating discovery that I, in fact, had no idea how to write, I became certain that the key to conferences was a focus on craft. I then packed my conference schedules full of classes. Point of view. Plotting. Character. Structure. I took them all. Craft. That was what it was all about. Still wrong.
It’s taken countless conferences from The Big Apple to The Big D, some serious trial and error, but I’ve finally figured it out.
Conferences are about finding your tribe.
It took several years before I noticed something about the people at these conferences who I'd met and grown to know along the way. They’ve become important to me. Very important. On the surface, they're not like me. Politically, religiously, racially, sexual orientation, you name it. We are different. There is, however, one characteristic that transcends it all. Something so personal, so profound, so intimate that all of those differences wash away. These people are writers.
And because they're writers, they know. They know what it's like. They know how it feels. They know the experience of having voices in their heads that won't shut up until the words appear on paper or on the screen, words that are sometimes rejected, bashed, and abused. Mostly, if not surprisingly, they want to tell you what it is like for them and they want to hear what it's like for you, even if they've already sold three hundred million books or they've yet to sell one. Because they know.
I hope you find your agent at DFWCON. I hope you improve your craft. But more importantly I hope you choose to reach out and go find your tribe. Because when you land your agent and when you improve your craft (and those are unlikely to occur in that order), your tribe will be there to cheer you on and help carry you to the next stop in this insane journey that those voices have driven us to take. They will do this because they’ve been there or they are there or they will be there.
They do this because they’re writers.
-- Brian Tracey, DFWWW Member since 2012
Book 2: Lessons from Book 1
A funny thing happened on the way to the couch last week.
I got an email from Barnes & Noble, saying "hey, we're super excited about doing your book launch on the 28th, but apparently the book's on back-order from the publisher, so...we might not actually have any for the party."
At this time last year, I would have been on the ceiling, the phone, and then the bottle. This time, though, I just looked at the email and thought, "Huh. Wonder how that's going to play out."
And that, friends, is the difference between the first book and the second one.
I know everyone likes to use the whole "your book is your baby" metaphor, but I'd like to propose a new one here: your book is your bae (boyfriend or girlfriend, in traditional parlance) – and if you think about what you were like during your first-ever dating relationship, you might start to see my logic.
You know what I mean. When you're new, nothing is not a huge deal. There's the euphoria and giddiness and over-the-moon feeling, sure – but there's also insecurity, jealousy, awkwardness, possessiveness, overreaction, disappointment, and usually at least one emotional atom-bomb somewhere along the way. It's very, very rare to marry the first person you ever date, and rarer still to become a bestselling success on the first book you ever write... but try telling that to your endocrine system.
So here I sit on the eve of my second book release (or maybe not – I'm not exactly sure whether it's the 24th or the 31st, which is another on that whole long list of things that I'm so, so happy not to have to be ruinously anxious about anymore). And to be honest, I'm feeling r
ather zen about the whole thing. I'm sure it won't last – it's not like you're James Bond on your second time out of the gate either – and that soon I'll be right back to fumbling sweatily at my career's bra-clasps in the back of the family Subaru. But at this exact moment, it is just divinely delightful to have a reprieve from those huge, heartbreaking highs and lows of the first time around, and to get a sweet little taste of emotional equilibrium.
Because at the end of the day, what you learn from your first book makes you a better author for your second. Your second does likewise for your third. I'm not sure you ever get less invested or less passionate about your literary relationships – I certainly hope not! – but every step you make towards maturity and self-sufficiency brings you that much closer to writing happily ever after.
- Tex Thompson, DFWWW member since 2012
Buttoning Up Banned Books Week
Happy Banned Books Week!
This week always gets me thinking about censorship, free press, and the fear of the advent of a Brave New World or Handmaid’s Tale type of societal control. I was so glad when the DFW Writer’s Workshop decided to donate banned or challenged books to a high school this year. The sad fact is that 33% of high school students and 42% of college students will never read another book after they graduate. Maybe part of the reason for that is they haven’t read books that ignite in them a joy for reading, for whatever reason.
As a teacher, I try to get my students fired up for reading, but in this age of screens as entertainment, it gets harder and harder. So, maybe we should worry less about keeping books out of kids’ hands and more about putting books into them, even if the book that gets them interested in reading might make us uncomfortable.
My donations this year, for the most part, were inspired by both this philosophy and the “We Need Diverse Books” campaign. So here’s my list:
- Our Bodies, Our Selves by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective: Honestly, I was shocked to find this book on the list. A shocking number of women do not understand their own bodies because they were never taught and didn’t ask questions. This is not only an act of societal mysogynism, but also a health risk to women. Anyone who watched the episode of Orange is the New Black, “A Whole other Hole” saw a comedic depiction of a real problem.
- I knew that Geography Club (Brent Hartinger), and Annie on my Mind (Nancy Garden) would be challenged and wasn’t shocked to see them on the list. These are books about LGBTQ teens finding their way in high school. A message that is important in this day an age when we see so many LGBTQ teens contemplating suicide because they feel alone, or bullied. In order to develop tolerance in our kids, they need to learn about all kinds of people. That means all kinds of protagonists in their literature, and kids who identify as LGBTQ need to be able to find protagonists like themselves in their literature.
- I know that Leaves of Grass (Walt Whitman) has some of the same objections from the book banners as the above texts. But come on, how could you ban work from such an American poetic treasure?
- Am I Blue (ed. Marion Dan Bauer) is a collection of short stories by LGBTQ authors designed to teach tolerance for LGBTQ individuals to all students, while Revolutionary Voices (ed. Amy Sonnie) is a collection of reflections written by LGBTQ youth of color on their own unique journeys. Again, I feel these are an asset to a high school library, not something that should be put away in shame as if we are shaming the writers and readers as well.
- I know the above selections were a bit “cause-y” and while the causes are important, reading is also fun. So, I ended my donation with: Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, and Queen of the Damned (all by Anne Rice). There is a very simple reason for this. I needed teens to realize that real vampires DON’T SPARKLE. Okay, so it was a different kind of cause...
Banned Books Week is very close to my heart because if we hide or shame a subject matter in a book we are also hiding or shaming people in our society for whom that subject matter is part of their identity, be them people of color (The Invisible Man by Ellison), women (Our Bodies our Selves), alternative sexualities (my above selections) or anything else. So even if you disagree with the book, read it so you can better understand and we can all grow more tolerant. Kids who are taught tolerance don’t become bullies.
Banning books makes our schools less safe.
--Kat Cook, DFWWW member since 2013
A Banned Blog for Banned Books Week
The first banned book I ever read was Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I can’t remember what grade I was in, but my mom had to sign a consent form in order for me to read it along with the rest of my class. She also had to sign a consent form when we watched Franco Zeffirelli’s version of Romeo & Juliet after reading the play.
Even though the main characters die at the end, I think that form had more to do with the fact that we got to see Romeo’s butt, a quick flash of Juliet’s breast and a totally covered post coital smooch. It’s amazing, but we survived.
Even though I can probably still quote a few lines from Romeo & Juliet, it didn’t make an impression on my teenaged mind. It had nothing to do with Shakespeare’s mad writing skills. I just couldn’t connect to Romeo and Juliet. But Holden Caulfield was a different story. Even though he was a different gender, I felt like we were on the same floor in the angst-ridden department. After all, not all teenage girls are lovesick or pining over their own star-crossed lover. I was moody, cynical and probably clinically depressed. And Holden’s story made me feel as though my thoughts and feelings were valid. He had them too.
Yes, there’s a lot of swearing, a prostitute and underage drinking, but in this day and age, that’s totally PG-13. I pray they never make Catcher in the Rye into a movie because there’s not much of a plot. (I know it hasn’t stopped Hollywood before.) It’s a simple character study about a depressed young man coming to terms with becoming an adult. It’s a book that I’ve read several times throughout my life and each time, it’s like visiting with an old friend.
I’ll leave you with my favorite passage.
I was the only one left in the tomb then. I sort of liked it, in a way. It was so nice and peaceful. Then, all of a sudden, you’d never guess what I saw on the wall. Another “Fuck you.” It was written with a red crayon or something, right under the glass part of the wall, under the stones.
That’s the whole trouble. You can’t ever find a place that’s nice and peaceful, because there isn’t any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you’re not looking, somebody’ll sneak up and write “Fuck you” right under your nose. Try it sometime. I think, even, if I ever die, and they stick me in a cemetery, and I have a tombstone and all, it’ll say “Holden Caulfield” on it, and then what year I was born and what year I died, and then right under that it’ll say “Fuck you.” I’m positive, in fact.
-- Pamela Skjolsvik, DFWWW Member since 2010
Follow her @pamelaskjolsvik
Five Reasons to Reconsider Before Self-Publishing
Yes, I know.
We all want that big publishing contract handed to us upon completion of our first novel, and the career trajectory that rivals Stephen King. And there are still some people who get it. But there are also people who win the lottery, and their odds might be slightly better. The fact is, more people than ever are
trying to get published, and there are only so many traditional houses that can take them on. Eventually, we’re all faced with the question of whether we want to let our work—our art—sit in a drawer forever while we wait to be discovered, or take a chance on our own.
I’ve been self-publishing my own books for nearly a decade, and gotten so much experience with the industry that I now produce books for other people. This isn’t where I tell you how wonderful and artistically freeing it can be. In fact, if you’re considering self-publishing, here are a few reasons to think twice before you go charging in…
1. Self-Publishing Should Always Be a Last Resort
I always tell my clients to try to get their manuscripts published the traditional way before they self-publish. I spent another decade collecting rejection letters before I decided to try something different.
Most of my clients are in the same boat, just as frustrated as I was after getting nowhere, and determined to follow their dreams. But the amazing thing about all that querying and submitting and pitching is that the process itself still gives you some great insight about the industry: how it works, what it wants, and what sells.
One of my clients refused to listen to me about this. She had just put pen to paper for the first time three months before, scribbled out what she felt sure was a bestseller, and wanted to get it out to the reading public no matter what the cost. She had no understanding of what it takes to market or distribute a book, and was utterly baffled when she wasn’t on talk shows the week after it came out.
2. You’re Trying to Get Discovered in a Slightly Smaller Ocean
Remember how hard I said it was to get the attention of a traditional publisher these days? When the economy tanked in 2008 and unemployment skyrocketed, there were suddenly a lot of people with a lot of time on their hands who thought writing a bestseller sounded like a pretty easy gig. The result is an ocean of writers, all with their own manuscript, waving it at any person with a sign over their door that says ‘Agent’ or ‘Publisher’. And when they realized it wasn’t going to happen, a large segment of these writers turned to self-publishing.
When I started out, the landscape was very different. Expensive vanity publishing houses were everywhere. The production quality of most print-on-demand distributors was lacking. Ebooks were still a burgeoning market, and the technology to create them was far above the layman author. In other words, only the most determined—or the ones who had the most money to burn—could self-publish.
Not so anymore. The industry responded to the growing interest, and now pretty much anyone can self-pub easily and cheaply. You can even try to crowdsource it, if you don’t have the funds yourself, a trend that’s also growing among the traditional houses. The result of this is, of course, a slightly smaller ocean than the one trying to flag down the traditional publishers, except now you’re attempting to convince readers why they should pick your novel not only over the “real” books, but all the other self-pubbed ones as well. Ask yourself how you intend to market that bad boy before you set it loose on the world.
3. Going About It the Wrong Way Can Still Bankrupt You
The most important question to ask yourself before you decide to self-publish is, why am I doing this? Do you just want a book to give your family and friends, or is this a serious career attempt? If it’s the latter, you want to reach as many readers as you can. Ebooks are a cheap, easy route, but if you only publish in electronic format, aren’t you cutting off a huge segment of the market? Not everyone has an eReader, and some industry moguls say they’re a fad that’s already in decline. So you have to consider publishing a physical copy as well, and that’s where you can run into some serious money.
That old saying about not judging a book by its cover sounds great, but it’s human nature to do so. If your book doesn’t look as professional as any you would find in a bookstore, that puts you at a disadvantage. And since not too many people have the training to typeset their own book and design their own cover (although too many try), they have to find someone else.
This is the point when people tell me that companies like CreateSpace and Lulu are a great option for this. But you have to understand, these places are producing covers for thousands of people. Most of them are simple, boilerplate designs that are going to look like everyone else’s. If you truly want something original, something that stands out in that ocean, hire an independent designer.
I’ve met other self-publishers who have spent tens of thousands of dollars just having a book designed, which is, frankly, insane. You have almost no hope of making back that kind of investment, especially your first time out. So set a budget for yourself, and stick to it.
4. The Stigma is Still Just as Bad
I will never, ever forget the first time I told my writer friends I was self-publishing. I can laugh about it now, because the look of horror that spread across their faces was just as bad as if I’d told them I’d tested positive for bubonic plague. I even remember reading an article years ago where one famous author said it was better for writers to try their whole life to get published “legitimately” and fail than to self-pub, a philosophy which still makes me see red.
Self-publishing has certainly come more into the mainstream now. You even have established writers leaving their publishers because the royalties are so much better. Of course, they’re bringing name recognition and an established fan base with them, so that’s not really the same thing. A savvy reader can spot a self-published book a mile away, and they avoid them like, well, like the plague.
And why all the hate? Because self-publishing has always had a reputation for poorly-edited books, and just because the practice is more prevalent now doesn’t mean that’s changed. In fact, it’s undoubtedly worse. It’s up to you to present your best face to the world when you publish your own book, so don’t forget to get it edited (which can cost a fat stack of cash as well).
5. Your Success—or Failure—Will Ultimately Have Little to Do With Your Writing
When you self-publish, you become a business owner as well as a writer. And as such, you have to concern yourself with profits and costs and all the things which a publishing house would normally do for you. How will you market? How will you distribute your eBook to the multiple eReader platforms? Which printer will use the best quality materials for your paper copy (check out this article for a fantastic comparison of the major print-on-demand distributors; I was pleased to learn that mine, Lightning Source, is probably the best)? How will you network with bookstores and venues to get signings and appearances?
Just writing a novel—even if it’s a great one—isn’t enough.
Because anyone can be a self-publisher these days. But it takes an entire range of skills to be a successful one.
- Russel C. Connor, DFWWW member since 2006
You can buy Russell C. Connor’s novels through all major online retailers, or go to darkfilamentpublishing.com if you’re interested in having him produce your book. Find him on Twitter @russellcconnor.
Medicine for a Post-Conference Hangover
It’s conference season, the time of year writers force themselves out of their hidey-holes to network, attend classes on the craft and business of writing, and to pitch their brilliant Great American Novel to eager agents. At these conferences you are surrounded by People Who Get It. By people who don’t think it’s weird to spend hours talking about the difference between New Adult and Young Adult, ponder the strange phenomena of the counter-correlation between editorial oversight and author success, and debate what exactly is the perfect query letter.
I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of a writing conference attendee who hasn’t recaptured the motivation and inspiration that made him or her turn on the computer and type the first sentence of a story. But, how do you channel the avalanche of information you’ve received? How in the world do you choose what to do first? Should you do it all? Do you spiral into self-doubt and second-guesses?
Oh my God. My manuscript stinks. I should probably just chuck it all and start over.
Hold on there. Take a deep breath and keep reading.
Make a copy of your WIP
You want to make changes, lots of changes! Maybe you should, maybe you shouldn’t. But, the very first thing you should do is make a duplicate copy of your manuscript as the pre-conference version. Why? I know you learned so much your manuscript will be loads better if you put every single suggestion you learned into action. Right now! But, there’s the chance, probably very slim, that you will start this rewrite and suddenly realize this new version isn’t working, that what you had before wasn’t so bad, that you’ve made too many changes and have lost the thread of your original story. Then where are you? Fifty thousand words into an ill-conceived rewrite without the original version to go back to. Trust me when I say, this is not a place you want to be.
Not all good advice is the right advice.
Every week at workshop, I receive critiques on my work. The majority of the critiques are good, but that doesn’t mean they are right for the story, the genre or my writing style. I process the critiques, evaluate them, then choose what I will use. The same considered approach should be used for conference advice. I know you want to put what you learned to practice, yesterday. Resist the temptation. Take a few days to let what you’ve learned sink in. Type, or retype, your notes. Highlight the “lightbulb moments,” those comments the presenters made that sparked an idea, or illuminated a weakness in your writing you want to address. Your MS, and the weakness in your writing, isn’t going anywhere. You have plenty of time to address the problems in your MS.
Finish what you started. Then polish it. Then start something else.
If you are 80,000 words into a planned 90,000 word MS, resist the urge to chunk it all and start over (but if you do, make a separate copy!). You are already 80,000 words into a crappy first draft. Why in the world would you chunk it to start a second crappy first draft? Finish the MS how you started and implement the suggestions you learned in the rewrite. You will probably find what you wrote after the conference needs less reworking than what came before. But, at least you aren’t starting from zero. Once you’ve rewritten and polished the MS, send it to the agent who was so excited for your pitch, or start querying the agents and editors whom you met. But, most importantly, start working on something new. Put the polished MS in a drawer and forget about it. True growth as a writer doesn’t come from rewriting the same MS over and over. It comes from creating, editing, and polishing; creating, editing, and polishing. Over and over and over and over…
“What’s going to get you to your publication goal? Getting done sooner or getting done better?” Donald Maass, DFW Writers' Conference, May 2014
A very hard lesson I’ve learned in the past year is the publishing industry is slow. Ridiculously, laughably slow. As much as you want to think the agent you pitched to is eagerly waiting for your MS, the reality is she is swamped with queries and reading queries isn’t even the biggest part of her job. Respect the agent enough to send the very best version of your MS. It’s better to send a polished MS to an agent in August, than one riddled with errors in June. The former will get you an agent, the latter will make you an expert on query letters.
Though if you play your cards right, you can teach a class on query letters next year.
-- Melissa Lenhardt, DFWWW member since 2012
photo credit: Unhindered by Talent
So You're Making a Talk
Your book is finally in print. The next step: your platform. Social media, blogs, book signings, public talks.
Whoa. Public talks? Stand up before a crowd and speak? No way.
OK. Take a deep breath. You wrote the book, sweated over every page. No, over every word. And it came together. Seeing that cover art for the first time, you breathed that deep sigh of relief. That smug sigh of self-satisfaction. If you can put down coherent thoughts on paper, you can make a talk. But first, do your homework.
Know your crowd. Seniors, teens, school kids, professionals. Each will have different interests, different ideas on how a speaker should dress or talk. But here’s the good news: if they’re not interested in your book’s genre, they probably won’t come to hear you speak. So come up with something to say that reflects what you’ve written and they’ll love it.
Write down an outline. Have a catchy beginning, just like your book. You need a middle and an end, too. Keep them wanting more.
Talk about yourself, but don’t overdo it. How you started writing, what qualifies you to write your book, especially if it’s nonfiction. Oh, you write about zombies and haven’t offed any lately? Maybe why zombies interest you and why the reader should care, too. Also, it’s not a good idea to read directly from the book. Paraphrase and speak from the heart.
Practice your speech ahead of time. Do it in front of a mirror, or even better, a friend or family member who’ll give honest feedback. If all you hear are good comments, find someone else. This is not unlike a writing critique group.
Dress appropriately. Sure, everyone at the local library may show up wearing jeans and tees, but business casual is never too dressy when addressing a crowd. Speaking before business leaders? Coat and tie for men or appropriate business attire for women. Not sure? Always dress better than your expected audience rather than more casually.
And now, the day has arrived, the speech is at hand. Those butterflies are fluttering, your heart is pounding. The emcee announces your name and you head for the podium. When you get there, stop.
Arrange your notes, take a deep breath, and make eye contact with the audience. Now smile, because they’ll hear it in your voice. Only then do you speak, and when you do, talk to the people in the back row. If they can hear, so can everyone else.
Make a mistake? No prob. Laugh at yourself. Public speaking is an acquired skill and everyone in the audience knows it. They’ll understand.
Bring some books. It’s a great place to sell them.
And here’s the most important thing: have fun and make it show. Everyone else will, too.
-- George Goldthwaite, DFWWW Member since 2009, The Voice of the DFWCon Gong Show since 2011
photo credit: WilliamMarlow via photopin cc
The Con in Review
This past weekend, I attended my second DFW Writers' Conference. It was better than the last one. Or maybe I was better. I think with a big event like this, you need one run for practice before you get the hang of it.
Here are some things I learned:
Donald Maass (a) is a colossal nerd, and (b) has a name that ends in "SS" not just "S" as I keep wanting to type it.
He's the best kind of colossal nerd - a fantasy fan and gamer who loves that stuff and wants to share his love with other people. He's also an incredibly nice guy who will go out of his way to make you feel welcome and valued in any conversation. And he has a wicked-sharp sense of humor.
Jonathan Maberry (a) is a really awesome guy, and (b) has only one "Y" in his name despite my urge to type in another every damn time I write it. (No H, either.)
He is also a colossal nerd, both in nerdiness and size. Seriously. Jon Maberry will mess you up. He's huge. In a fight of Jon Maberry and a full-grown Kodiak bear... I'd bet on the bear unless the spread was really crazy. But I'd check the odds, just in case. And he's also warm and friendly and loves to share geeky stuff.
Literary Agents are really nice people.
This year, I volunteered to wrangle an agent (i.e. act as a guide, gofer, and chauffeur). I'd imagined the job would be kind of difficult, but that it would be worth it for the networking opportunities.
Instead, it was one of the easiest things I've ever done, and more than worth it for the networking opportunities. Margaret Bail, of the Inklings Literary Agency, is incredibly friendly and easygoing. She was great to work with, and about as low-maintenance as I could have imagined. And she wants to see my book when it's finished, which is awesome.
What I got for my (minuscule) trouble was the chance to hang out with other agents at dinners and lunches, where I learned a lot about the publishing business and made connections.
So if you're with the DFW Writer's Workshop and you're attending next year's Conference, be first in line to offer to wrangle an agent. It's the opposite of traumatic, and it's a great opportunity.
Keep track of your schedule.
Again, this is kind of obvious in retrospect. I did a great job keeping Margaret's schedule straight. I plugged all her events into my Google calendar, which fed me alerts all day. But I forgot to put my OWN events in the calendar, so I missed my Saturday critique session. Oops.
Don't be shy. Les Edgerton says so.
And really, don't be. Talk to people. Almost all writers are wallflowers who are each secretly hoping someone else will initiate conversation, and the agents ACTUALLY CAME TO THE CONFERENCE to talk to you. They did it on their own time, too. They are here for the express purpose of listening to you talk about your book so they can decide if they'd like you to submit it.
Thanks to Kirk von der Heydt and the rest of the Conference Committee for a great conference. Thanks to all the agents, editors, and speakers. Without you, the conference would be a hollow shell of itself. Thanks to everyone who made it a fun, educational weekend full of opportunities. And good luck to everybody. I hope this conference results in some book deals.
I look forward to seeing you all next year. And if you could each bring roughly .3 friends, that'd probably be good.
Well, don't literally bring a fractional person. 1 in 3 of you bring one friend. Or something like that.
-- David Goodner, DFWWW Member since 2012 *(This essay originally appeared in slightly longer form on The Astounding Mr. Goodner's Amazing Electric Widgets blog. Check it out, because it's good fun!)