Wordy Wednesday (“Writer’s Digest Conference 2013, Notes Part 1”)

Okay, here we go! I’m grouping these based on topic. Today’s post: Going from Aspiring Writer to Published Author.


Pitch Perfect [4-5-13]

Speaker: Chuck Sambuchino

**Please note: A lot of this session was specific to pitching your work at the Writer’s Digest Conference Pitch Slam, so I’m only sharing information that’s pertinent to writers outside of the conference. Thanks for understanding!

There are seven key components to crafting a winning query letter. These are:

1. Your main character—introduce them as soon as possible

2. You need A or B or both:

A) Introduce something interesting or unique about your MC

B) What does your MC want?

3. Inciting incident

4. Conflict—“What is your book about?”

5. Complications—interesting characters, situations, etc.

6. Unclear wrap-up—end in an ambiguous ending. You never want to give away how your book ends in the query letter (that’s what the plot synopsis is for).

7. STAKES. What will happen if your MC doesn’t accomplish their goal?

Avoid using generalities in your letter. This will sink you. Be specific.

Beware of subplots and details—stick to the central plot. You can have a little fun with the complications, but don’t spend too much time on them.

Only give the name of the central characters, OR keep to characterization rather than proper names (Ex: “The princess must save the kingdom from the evil sorcerer,” rather than, “Princess Dadkroasdufnsdrlksjd must save Hadlkrjsaodnksjdnsl from IadkrsndEadkfnrkdfHgalkdrnmsdl.”)

Make sure to use flair and voice. You don’t want your letter to read like a grocery list of what happens in your book.

Avoid “my novel is” expressions. (Example: “My novel is full of twists and turns.”)

Make sure to show, don’t tell—BE. SPECIFIC.

Make the agent have an emotion. If your book is funny, make them laugh. If it’s sad, make them tear up a little.


Panel: Ask the Agent [4-6-13]

Moderator: Chuck Sambuchino

Panelists: Joanna Volpe, Gina Panetierri, Jessica Regel, and Jennifer De Chiara

          Gina/Joanna: Self-publishing is good in certain cases, and sometimes your lit agent will suggest that you self-publish instead of going traditional, depending on the book. However, it’s STILL GOOD to have an agent—they can sell your sub-rights in other countries, get you a good deal on your movie rights, etc.

          Jennifer: Red-flags for pitching to an agent in person—don’t read off a paper (have your pitch memorized)

          Joanna: Also, don’t spend your entire pitch time talking—give the agent a chance to ask questions and react

          Chapter One Red Flags: bad voice (or at least not a rich one) (JENNIFER), querying a genre they don’t represent (JESSICA), nothing happens—it’s all backstory (GINA), if you haven’t edited your work (GINA), introducing 52 million characters in ten pages (GINA), making your opening entirely narrative (GINA), queries need to be proofread and ALWAYS have to talk about the story, NOT yourself(!!!) (JOANNA).

          JOANNA: In your query, only bring up agency comp titles if they’re actually similar to your story

          JESSICA: A query is NOT the same as a synopsis.

          JESSICA: If your genres are crazy overlapping, just pitch as the base genre (ex: YA, commercial fic, lit fic, etc—vs. “YA paranormal romance with comedy elements and a robotic dragon”)

          JOANNA: Use comp titles to clarify your genre.

          JESSICA: Depends on the agent, but usually your specific subgenre doesn’t really matter.

          GINA: Every time you start to write in a different genre than you have in the past, you have to start from zero all over again.

          JENNIFER: Try to write at least a few books in each of the genres you write in.

          JENNIFER: You have to publish about 20,000 copies in a short period of time in order for a self-pubbed book to be big enough to mention to an agent.

          JOANNA/JESSICA: Agents prefer that you DON’T self-publish before you’re agented.

          JESSICA: When you get a full manuscript request, it’s okay to do a 30 day follow-up; just be like, “How are you doing with the book?”

          JENNIFER: When pitching an agent in person, have your pitch memorized, but also try to not make it SOUND memorized. Sound like you’re just talking passionately about your book on the spot.

          JESSICA: Word count doesn’t matter as much as voice.

          JESSICA: However, “If you think it’s too long, it’s probably too long.”


Panel: Future of the Writer [4-7-13]

Panelists: Chuck Wendig, Amanda Barbara, Jon Fine, Kristen McLean, Kristin Nelson

          Kristin: There are no gatekeepers in the publishing industry now, because of self-publishing.

          Chuck: Crowd-funding can be very successful for funding books. Danger: If there’s no audience, there’s no money. So: put free material out there in order to gain an audience for your paying projects.

          Amanda: Use free social media sites to build an audience—when doing this, don’t pitch your book, pitch yourself. Pitch your interests—people are more likely to buy your book if they already have a personal connection with you.

          Amanda: Be passionate. People will react to your energy.

          Jon: In the past, one of the major pillars that traditional publishing provided was marketing—they don’t do this as much anymore. Now it’s up to the author.

          Jon: You have the ability and obligation to control the path of your book now.

          Kristen: Self-publishing has caused the Democratization of Publishing.

          Kristen: The author is now a publisher’s customer just as much as the reader is—the publishers are late to the game to realize this.

          Kristen: Publishers need to get tools to help their authors market (heat maps, contacts lists, etc.)

          Kristin: Don’t go into it like, “How do I build my platform?” Go into it doing what you’re passionate about, and the platform will follow.

          Kristen: Traditional publishing used to be all there was out there. Now it’s just the top of a pyramid, with small/indie presses below it, and self-publishing at the bottom. All are routes to publication.

          Kristen: Midlist titles aren’t going to get to the top of the pyramid anymore; they’re going to be in the middle layer, with the small presses.

          Jon: Publishers go, “They’re already making 70% of Amazon. Can we actually make them more money?” It’s the job of both the publisher and author to consider that question.

          Amanda: Everyone (even the authors with the big publishers) NEEDS to connect with their audience these days.

          Kristin: Not a single book has become an international bestseller without a traditional publisher—it’s going to happen in the future, but it hasn’t happened so far.

          Kristin: Publishers REALLY get behind maybe 10 books a year.

          Kristin: Audiences never go anywhere—the publishers just stop paying attention to them sometimes (which is how what once was marketed as “chick lit” is now being marketed as “new adult”)

          Kristen: Self-publishing—decreasing risk to increase opportunity.

          Kristen: For every 100 or 1,000 titles a publishing house acquires, VERY few will be successful.

          Kristin: 240 to 500 5-star-reviews on Amazon shows that something is really happening with your book; that you’re being successful.

          Kristin: It’s all about content—you need to consistently be putting out content (at least every 3 to 4 months).

          Chuck: If you aren’t comfortable doing something (blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc), don’t do it—people will be able to tell and it’ll be bad for everyone involved.

          Kristen: As far as platform-building goes—do less, so you can do it WELL.

          Amanda: Social media is the future of the writer—do research to learn how to use it effectively.

          Kristen: You don’t have to be doing everything—you just have to do the right things for you.


If you’re curious, the full Writer’s Digest Conference East 2013 schedule is available here: link link link.

Make sure to check out all the speakers from the sessions–they’re brilliant! 🙂

I highly, HIGHLY suggest attending a writing conference if you get the chance. They’re super fun and informative. This was my third year attending the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City, and it still hasn’t gotten boring.

Links to other blogs talking about the conference:

The Ultimately Useless Stories of the Average Teenager

The Spastic Writer

Just Justice

And, while I’m in the middle of giving you a bazillion links, some other awesome people you should check out:

A Fuzzy Mango With Wings

Take It or Leave It

Rebecca Cao

Heroic Endeavors

Kira Brighton: Author



Yes. Yes, those are Starkid sunglasses.


Wordy Wednesday (“Forever”)

So I was trying to think of something new to share with you guys for this Wordy Wednesday — because I think you’re probably getting a bit sick of short stories and poetry/songs — and then it hit me. DUH. MY COLLEGE ESSAY!!

For those not in the know, most colleges require you to write a kickbutt essay in order to get accepted, and a lot of the time there’s a prompt that you have to follow when writing that essay, and all the different colleges that you apply to will, more than likely, have different prompts for their application essays… which basically means that you end up writing a tonnn of essays. (I’m not kidding. A metric ton. Don’t challenge me on this.)

I did this essay for the common application, which I used to apply to the University of Michigan (WHICH IS WHERE I’M GOING NEXT YEAR AHHHH!!!!!). Lucky for me, it was basically a free write in 250-500 words, so I could talk about whatever I wanted to in it. (Also, if you’re curious, mine’s 500 words exactly. BOO to the YA.) It’s titled “Forever.”

(Please Note that the name of the literary agent has been redacted for obvious reasons — the actual agent is super sweet and a fantastic woman anyone would be lucky to work with, but I was totally freaking out and panicking when I met her, so hence why I make her sound a bit, well, evil towards the beginning of this.)

(Oh, and also Please Note that the literary agent who was, at the time I applied to colleges, reading my full manuscript rejected me a couple of weeks after this, but with the nicest and most complimentary rejection I’ve ever received, with some great suggestions for how to improve my manuscript that I’ve since implemented.)


My entire life, I’ve been searching for forever. Other kids want to be lawyers and doctors, but I just want to be remembered. I want to change the world.

There are many ways to go about achieving this. I could be president, a philanthropist, or an animal rights activist. But while all of these are worthy pursuits, none of them appeal to me individually. Instead, I look at the way books can change people and bring strangers closer together, and I see the effect writing has had on my own life, and I know that this – being a writer – is what I want to do.

In January, 2011, I had the opportunity to fly to New York City to attend the Writer’s Digest Conference and the subsequent pitch slam. They lined the conference room’s walls with tables where writers could sit and discuss their novels with various literary agents and perhaps get a business card, which signified that the agent may be interested in representing the project to publishing houses.

I was so nervous, I felt like I was going to hurl.

My first pitch was with a woman named [redacted], who was severe looking with a last name to match. Upon laying eyes on me, the only minor there, she raised her thin, dark eyebrows and said skeptically, “Hello, what do you have for me today?”

I hesitated a second before sitting down at her table, and forced a smile as I introduced myself. She leaned back in her chair and I noticed her nails were painted blood red. Perfect.

“Continue,” she murmured.

With a deep breath, I read my pitch and tried to keep my hands from shaking. When I finished, her fingers inched toward her stack of business cards, but then moved back away. I felt something die within me.

She didn’t speak for a moment, and my pulse spiked in fear, but then she finally cracked a smile and said, “Well, I think your plot is really intriguing and I’d like to definitely read some of it.”

I didn’t take my eyes off her as she picked a business card up and examined it before sliding it across the table to me. My stomach flipped over.

Genuinely smiling, she said, “I can’t wait to hear from you!”

“Thank you!” I stood up, practically dancing.

Although I received seven more business cards by the end of the pitch slam, none of them mattered as much as the first. I proved myself with it; I not only wanted to be a writer, but I am one.

Now, as I wait to hear back from a literary agent reading my full manuscript, I dream about how I’ll change the world… While I know my destination, I don’t know what hurdles I’ll have to overcome to reach it and I have a feeling that college will best prepare me to take them on.

My entire life, I’ve been searching for forever. I think college will help me find it.


And yup! That’s my college essay! 🙂 Thanks for reading!!!

Also, SOMEBODY LEAKED A NEW JONAS BROTHERS SONG ONTO YOUTUBE!! (I feel like the excessive use of caps lock in this post has definitely been necessary, especially here.) (Don’t laugh at me for liking the Jonas Brothers, or I’ll have to play the Nyan Cat song on repeat, and then you’ll be sorry… you’ve been warned…)


Wordy Wednesday (“Writer’s Digest Conference NOTES, Part 6)

It’s The Return of the Notes!!!!! (If you didn’t notice, I went to see Star Wars in 3D over the weekend.)


The New World of Publishing, and What It Means for You by Barry Eisler


  • Digital publishing is changing – but readers still love to read and are still willing to pay for good writing; that probably (hopefully) will never change. You still have to write the very best book; you’re obligated to write the best book you’re capable of writing.
  • It can only help your chances of commercial success to write the best book you’re capable of writing.
  • Writers need good editorial, books need good packaging (the nature of the packaging is changing, but needing packaging is not)
  • “If you write for a living, then you are your own CEO” – one way writing’s not changing
  • Check out Barry’s website (linked to by clicking on his name above). Read the page “For Writers,” and check out his book Be the Monkey.
  • You are the cause for your own success, or failure, in the world of writing
  • Making a living in the writing business has always been a kind of lottery and it always will be – Most writers do not make a living at writing.
  • The statistic about the avg. e-book only selling 83 copies is only in the short term – don’t know how many books it’ll sell in the long term.
  • What’s Changed: As writers, if we want to make a living at writing, we’ve always needed a distribution partner. Now, with ebooks, we don’t.
  • The Valley Proposition: sure you’re only keeping 15% proceeds of your book, but with us (the publisher) you’re actually selling books and without us you wouldn’t get any money at all. In paper, we need a distribution partner. But without paper, we don’t. Publishers are a distribution partner. They’ve built their businesses off of distribution partner. All the things they do are based around distribution.
  • With digital: You are on a level playing field with the big buck publishers.
  • There is nothing that the big corporation publishers can give you with digital that you can’t give yourself.
  • Amazon has unparalleled direct-to-consumer marketing in the digital world
  • Publishing is going to be rebuilt, not on distribution, but on direct-to-consumer marketing


Panel: Hardcore Author Marketing – What to Do to Rise Above in the Digital Age by Dan Blank, Rob Eagar, Christina Katz, and Kate Travers


  • Be contrarian, but not controversial
  • Marketing is not about the means – not Facebook, or Twitter, or blogs, or public speaking – those are just the channel by which you get your thoughts out to people and get their attention
  • What kind of thoughtful, intelligent response do you have for something that’s going on – get that out there, and people will want to pay attention
  • You are a base. Shop local, know your local bookstore, and go to events there. Buy their books. Know your local library and go to events there; see who is part of the literary scene in your community.
  • Look at the people who come out in the dead of winter to come to a reader – build a relationship with them, and they will be behind you.
  • Have a mailing list.
  • It doesn’t need to be provocative; it just needs to be a conversation. It can be different from your previous work, but it must promote and connect with your previous work. Don’t isolate. Reach out to the people who are already your followers and fans.
  • It’s becoming increasingly difficult to get attention online, because everyone’s willing to scream and shout and point to themselves; it can be embarrassing and it can be difficult.
  • It’s not about what you’re saying, but who you’re saying it to. Understand who your audience is online and who you engage. You can reach out to anyone you want online.
  • Put yourself on other people’s blogs and do interviews, bring their audience to your blog.
  • Everyone wants to see their names up in lights. Everyone has something to share.
  • Don’t identity who the influential people are in your group/tribe, and then decide that their space is your billboard for sharing your work.
  • Be respectful of those who have gone ahead and done a lot of work; possibly spent years developing an audience and developing a good relationship with them.
  • Don’t be the vanilla-middle. When you choose to do something, do it fully. Don’t do what a million other people are doing – Tweet a lot, be consistent.
  • Be willing to spend money on ads if it means that you’re earning more money on your books.
  • Thinking outside the box will always be helpful in your career.
  • Be human. Don’t just talk about writing, or yourself; don’t just talk about books. Talk about your experiences, things that people can relate to. Be authentic (so if you see a mouse at Whole Foods, def tweet about it) (see six people reading the same book on the subway? Talk about it!).
  • Don’t be a machine. Don’t be a shark. People can tell when you genuinely care, or when you just want to sell, sell, sell.
  • Don’t call someone in the middle of the night requesting free marketing advice.
  •  “Yousletter” vs. “newsletter” – people aren’t interested in you, they’re interested in what you can do for them.
  • Make your materials less about you and more about the reader.
  • Engage the audience: What gets people to act. What gets people to actually pull the trigger and buy your book. People underestimate what makes people buy a book.
  • How do your track what’s working? How do you keep track? How does that happen, that someone buys your book?
  • Just take an hour a week and see who’s buying your book, try to figure out how and why they bought your book. Grow your success by concentrating on what’s working and all that.
  • Definitely create an affiliate relationship with Amazon and your publisher.
  • You get a kickback for anything that’s sold through your site.
  • Use Mashable.com.
  • Give something for free. Works strategically. (Have to have publisher’s permission, though.)
  • Put out tips and strategies for free. “Freemiums.”
  • What’s the upsell? What do people go for full price?
  • Use Google Analytics
  • Freemiums can go beyond anything you’re specifically giving away.
  • Freemiums, blogs, and newsletters – the best ways to get attention.
  • To get attention for your novels – Share backstories, lost chapters, contests. Show tidbits of your research on your story, positions you as an expert. Do free phone calls with book clubs. Allow people to sign up on your website.
  • When you get to be more advanced, create a fanclub and have people do your marketing for you.
  • You need to know who your biggest fans are. Dig in for the marketing hall. Don’t work in phases. Marketing is a job, a big job, and it’s not just going to do itself.
  • Take things out; think “people want this, people need this” – extract those, and put them in the hands of your biggest fans. Champion them. Be a champion for your fans, and they’ll be a champion for you.
  • Focus on making relationships; don’t worry about which audience you’re appealing to, exactly; realize what magazines and blogs reach the type of person you’re aiming for. You have to build two different audiences – the writers and the readers.
  • Good Reads is an interesting community, but it’s less about readers as much as writers now.
  • Keep going. There’s nothing instantaneous about this process. KEEP GOING. It’s a continuous, passionate process.
  • Use Google +. Haven’t done it yet, DO IT NOW. The circles feature is very, very helpful.
  • Make sure to always be on top of and a part of social media. You create your base relationships on there. There’s no surprise tricks – just keep going.
  • Don’t preach to the choir. (We’re at “marketing church” because it’s Sunday morning lol.)
  • What’s your value, who needs it the most, and where they congregate in large numbers.
  • Know the difference between your colleagues and your potential fans. You want readers for what you write (so if you write books for writers, go to writing conferences).
  • Spend more time with readers who read your books than writers who write your books.
  • Spezify.com – shows you who’s talking about you all over the internet (so you can thank them! J) You should thank people ten times as often as you get thanked
  • You’re talking to more than one audience. Engage all of them. What are you doing to get and keep people and get them to buy your books.
  • It’s making the best use of the time you have.



Guess what! We only have one more session to go over after this! YAAAY! 😀 Are there any topics you’d like for me to cover after we’re finally done with Writer’s Digest Conference notes? Let me know in the comments!




Wordy Wednesday (“Writer’s Digest Conference NOTES, Part 3”)

More notes today! 🙂 These are going to be on pitching and agents.


Pitch Perfect by Chuck Sambuchino


  • When pitching to an agent at, say, a writing conference, your pitch should be memorized and you should aim for a 60 to 90 second pitch (preferably closer to 60).
  • DO NOT REVEAL THE ENDING IN YOUR PITCH/QUERY LETTER. If you reveal the ending, the agent won’t have a reason to read your story.
  • Do anything you can to cut down on confusion in your query.
  • Make sure you share the following:
  1. Genre
  2. Title
  3. Word count
  4. Complete or not
  • Logline: Your story in one sentence. Introduce main characters, introduce something interesting or wanted by your main characters, share your inciting incident – what propels your story into motion, what happens if there’s a mistake, complications in your story (what bad stuff happens), and leave off with an unclear wrap up (end where you’re comfortable and don’t give away the ending). Extra credit for including your MC’s character arc.
  • Avoid generalities, phrases like “highs and lows,” “ups and downs,” “life gets turned upside down,” etc. Be specific; there’s a difference between a secret and a generality.
  • Only use names that are absolutely necessary and skip subplots.
  • Bring an emotion to the pitch – make the agent feel something (but not like, “Gosh, somebody get this buffoon out of my face already!! *aaaanger*).
  • Don’t talk about yourself unless necessary (unless, you know, you’re querying a memoir)




Panel: Ask the Agents by Chuck Sambuchino (moderator), Mary Kole, Diana Fox, April Eberhardt, and John Willig


  • Publishing house editors don’t do a lot to edit your work anymore, sometimes, so you have to edit with your agent; the agent’s role is increasing in scope in the publishing industry.
  • You have to remember when querying an agent that although you’re only pitching one novel, if that agent signs you, you’ll ultimately be working with them on MANY novels.
  • An agent is like a Sherpa.
  • Make sure that your query letter is perfect. If the writing in the query letter isn’t good, the agent will assume that your book won’t be good either, and they’ll reject you based on that assumption.
  • Don’t get too excited over partial requests. If your writing is at all decent, you’re going to get a bunch of them, and you’re still very likely to get rejected off of those.
  • The biggest reason for a novel to get rejected after a partial is because the story doesn’t have a good hook or gets sloppy after a while.
  • If an agent suggests edits, you should take them – even if you haven’t signed a contract yet, the agent wants to see how well you can work with them.
  • Agents look for high-quality writing and good pacing, and pacing counts double in kid lit because kids aren’t going to keep reading something if it bores them. Make sure your voice rings true.
  • Platform is a built-in audience for your book, but it’s not entirely necessary in fiction.
  • Agents are looking for writers who can be partners in getting a quality book out in the market
  • Self-publishing is okay – you can still get an agent – but you need to really good sales on your self-published book, then. At least a thousand copies, hopefully more.
  • The odds are stacked against debut authors; it’s very difficult to break into the industry.
  • Marketing is especially important for author-illustrators.
  • Generally, narrative nonfiction and memoir are represented by fiction agents rather than nonfiction, because although they’re about real life, they read like fiction.
  • Sometimes it’s good to have an agent even when you’re self-publishing, because even then they can act as your guide.
  • There’s a lot of blending of roles these days between agent and editor.
  • If one agent passes from an agency, the entire agency is a pass.
  • When doing a partial request, always start with the beginning of your book and go from there – don’t be like, “Oh, you want to see fifty pages? Here, let’s go from page 73 to 123!” (Because then you’ll look really stupid.)
  • When establishing your platform with children’s books, make your target audience the parents, not the children, unless you write YA – teenagers are on the internet. Five year olds whose parents read them bedtime stories are not.
  • If you have a nagging feeling about editing something before you send it to an agent, do it. Even if it’s a lot of work.
  • When you are sick to death of your novel and don’t think you can revise it one more time, put it away for two months. Do something else, generate new ideas, and then go back to it – edit it ONE MORE TIME – and then it’ll be ready.
  • When you write multiple genres (like women’s fiction and thrillers, or something), you might need multiple agents to represent all of those, but make sure that all of your agents know about each other and are constantly updated on what’s going on between them. However, if you sign with an agent who represents all of those different genres, they’ll automatically expect to represent all of your projects in those genres.
  • While you can’t copyright an idea, you can trademark a logline, chapter header, hook, etc. Check out: www.legalzoom.com
  • Agents do general marketing, but if you’re blogging – market that. That’s your marketing.
  • In YA, there are different levels of edginess, and there are agents and editors for all of those different levels. The key is finding the agent and editor who like the level that you’re writing at.
  • Don’t follow the market. Be yourself. Don’t be edgy for the sake of being edgy.
  • The biggest reason for parting with an agent is a lack of enthusiasm for a project.
  • Remember that there’s a difference between an agent screwing your career and not being able to sell your book. Sometimes the market’s just not right for your project and, despite the agent’s best efforts, nobody’s buying.

Be on a look out for even more notes from the Writer’s Digest Conference 2012, coming this weekend!

Oh, and guess who just found out last night that she won stuff from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards?? YEEEEY!! 😀 I got silver keys for my short story “Touch” and memoir “I Am,” and an honorable mention for my senior writing portfolio (which contained lots of different types of pieces).


Writer’s Digest Conference: Notes (Part 2)

First of all, can I just say that I think the dude driving the car in the rap part of this is absolutely hilarious? They should have made the video just about him.

Now onto conference notes!!

This is basically going to be a massive condensing of everything  I learned this weekend (minus anything dealing with pitching or literary agents, and anything that I saved in Word documents instead of hand writing — because, believe it or not, those require more time and effort to edit and get out to you guys — so that’ll all be in my next few blog posts). Please bear with me on the length of this post.


Writing About Yourself in the Digital Age by A.J. Jacobs:

  • There are three rules to writing a good book.
  1. Be aggressive.
  2. Remember that it’s possible to write anywhere, at anytime.
  3. Write with style and passion — do this, and you can make any topic seem interesting (even an epic poem about a sofa).
  • When writing in first person (hence the “writing about yourself” part of the title), you have to make people care. To do this, share small details of life; both good and bad characteristics… find the grey area between the good and the bad. Be expansive and write about the world as much as you do yourself. And most of all, be compassionate.
  • Conflict drives a story. Be willing to put it in the foreground.
  • As a writer, your job isn’t just writing. It’s also marketing, editing, agenting — all of that. None of it’s a chore; it’s all creative stuff, and it’s all part of the process.
  • Start your story with a hook — make it so gripping that whoever’s reading it has no choice but to keep reading so that they can find out what happens.
  • Editors LOVE counter-intuitive pieces. Take a piece of common wisdom and turn it on its head.
  • Tweeting is the most effective way to build your platform, because it reaches the largest number of people. (Guess I should get on that, huh?)
  • When writing stories, readers want a narrative arc. When writing blog posts? Not so much. Books need to have a beginning and ending — somewhere they’re going. Blog posts don’t.

Writing the 21st Century Novel by Donald Maass:

  • While thrillers are popular, they’re usually only good for about 9 weeks on the bestsellers lists, while on the other hand literary fiction can stay up there for one to two years. Why? Because it reaches readers; changes hearts and changes minds. People want something more than simple entertainment out of your story — they want to be affected by it.
  • There’s currently a rise in cross-genre fiction and a decline in plain and simple this-is-my-genre stuff.
  • In writing, it’s okay to use big emotions, but make them specific. Make the reader feel the emotions. What do they look like — their color, shape, dynamic? Be specific and unique. Use secondary emotions to back up and give meaning to the big emotions. Excite the readers’ imaginations and make them feel something.
  • Safe writing is fine, but it has no impact. You have to be willing to go out on a limb and test yourself.
  • You have to have lots of arcs in your story — the inner-journey, the general character arc, the plots and subplots; everything should have an arc, and no arc should be simple or straightforward. Make it complicated; make it like real life.
  • Have one thing that your character has to do by the end of the novel that they aren’t brave enough to do. Make it something they’ve sworn never to do, or never to do again. Make them do it, and then watch for the fall out.
  • Have a single truth or belief that your character trusts and believes in more than anything else. Destroy that truth. How will your MC recover? “Sometimes it’s destroying who you think you are to find you’re something different.”
  • When you get to the halfway point in your novel, the “saggy” middle, think of the one thing that would completely blow the story sideways and change where you think it’s going. Do it.
  • Put the biggest possible thing you can think of in the middle of your story. Make your character think that that MUST be the climax. Then, top it with the actual climax towards the end.
  • Your villains must be interesting; strong, 3D secondary characters. Don’t just make them evil, make them people.
  • The recession’s showing us what people are really willing to pay for — good stories and good writing.
  • Don’t be afraid of dating your novel. All of the classics are dated, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Give it a date, and stick with it.
  • Remember, if you’re writing a fantasy novel, that there is still time and history and change.
  • Writing is, first and foremost, about writing good books. Not about selling film rights or getting lots of promotion. Just writing good books.


Panel: Ask the Editor by Benjamin LeRoy, Scott Francis, and Millicent Bennett

  • The most important piece of fiction is quality storytelling. You need both a strong narrative and strong writing.
  • Catch the reader with the opening — let the reader connect with your story by telling them how we’re all human. Tell them how your story is about this, how it’s something we can all relate to.
  • Let your character leap off the page. Make it feel like an old friend — but remember that everything is based on personal opinion.
  • Be yourself on the page and in person.
  • Make sure to stand your ground. While somebody is guaranteed not to like your story, somebody else is guaranteed to like it.
  • Write from your gut!!!! Remember that writing is an intuitive process; lead with feeling, not thinking.
  • Every sentence should move your story forward.
  • Remember that you don’t want people to read your book, you want people to love your book. There’s a big difference.
  • Show people something they’ve never seen before.
  • If you care about it, the reader will care about it too.
  • You need to “marry” your characters. They’re in your head all the time. They’re with you when you eat, sleep, breathe, live. Your life and your characters’ lives are intertwined.
  • A story is about the characters, not the plot. The plot happens, yes, but it’s just the medium for your characters’ journeys.
  • When working with an editor, remember: they’re pushing in the same direction as you are– they want what’s best for your book, and they’ll only keep suggesting things for as long as you’re willing to hear them.
  • Editors buy books very infrequently — only about 10 to 20 a year of all the hundreds to thousands that come in each year.
  • Only 7% of all books published (including both self-published and legacy-published books) sell more than a thousand copies.
  • Average number of copies sold for a self-published book is 87.
  • There’s no checklist for writing a good book.
  • When editing, look for something that doesn’t sit right with you, and edit for that.
  • Watch out for overloading the reader with back story at the beginning of your novel!

… And that’s it for today! Keep a look out for more notes from the Writer’s Digest Conference coming over the course of the next couple of weeks!

Also, for anybody who doesn’t know, New York has distinctly good food. Even its airports:

For another’s perspective on the awesomeness that was WDC, make sure to check out my new friend Ari’s blog:


I have news. Quite a bit. So first of all, let’s get some basic facts out of the way:

1. As you may know, last weekend, I attended the Writer’s Digest Conference 2012 in New York City.

2. While I was there, I learned a lot (but not alot) about both writing and publishing.

3. I also pitched my novel to real-life, honest-to-God literary agents.

Link: http://fuzzymango.wordpress.com/2012/01/27/writers-digest-conference-2012-part-i-or-little-mango-goes-to-the-big-city/

For a full list of the sessions offered at the 2012 conference, go to: http://www.writersdigestconference.com/ehome/27962/52254/?&


Wordy Wednesday (“Writer’s Digest Conference NOTES”)

I’ve got notes to share with you from the Writer’s Digest Conference last weekend!! WHOOOO!!! 😀

(Me outside the New York Public Library!)

Because I don’t have the time to go through all of my specific notes right now, I’ve instead decided to share with you the Three Top Lessons that I learned at the WD Conference for this week’s Wordy Wednesday. Later on, I’ll get more concise notes up for the various sessions, detailing what I learned in all of those, but for now this is what you get. 🙂

“You don’t buy a shovel because you want a shovel. You buy a shovel because you want a hole.”

— Lesson from a Conference Attendee

I apologize for not knowing the name of the woman who so eloquently stated this, but if anyone should ever happen to know who she is, let me know because I’m basically going to live the rest of my life on this principle. (Well, my writing life anyway.) But how does this apply to your writing, right? Good question, dear reader. (You know you were totally just wondering that. Don’t even lie.)

Answer: Why do you read a book? It’s because you want to get something out of it, isn’t it?

From laughter to tears to adrenaline, we all want to feel something from every book that we read. When you’re writing a story, you need to ask yourself what the reader’s going to get out of reading it and how to better bring those elements into focus throughout the story. It’s not about writing the obvious things, but writing the intricate things. You can write about the school play, or you can write about your specific experience within it…

… Which leads us to our next lesson:

It’s not a bad idea. It’s just that you’re focusing on the wrong parts of it.

— Lesson from Jack Heffron

Jack Heffron’s session “Making Good Ideas Great” focused a lot on the numerous stories of manuscripts Heffron had run into throughout the years where the writer had a good idea but she was fleshing out the wrong elements of it.

For example, my current WIP takes place primarily in a dream world, so I was making the main character’s experience within this dream world the focus of my novel, but then I realized, through talking out the plot with my mom after attending Jack’s lecture, that it’s not actually about that. It’s about my MC learning to cope with the sudden divorce of her parents and all of the havoc that ensues in her life due to that.

Again, you have to think about what the reader’s going to get out of your book. Whatever that is, that’s what you need to make stand out in the story; that’s the important part.

“A ship in harbor is safe — but that’s not what ships are built for.” (John A. Shedd)

— Lesson by Chris Baty

Writer’s Doubt it probably the worst thing that can ever happen to you. It’s way worse than Writer’s Block, or feeling like you don’t have a story to tell, or anything. It’s debilitating and disheartening… and I had a really bad case of it over the weekend. I was so depressed for a couple days, there, that I started to feel a sense of camaraderie for Virginia Woolf (which is, you know, not exactly a good thing).

I usually don’t let bad things get to me. I’ve actually gotten excited over getting rejected before, because I’ve always held the belief that each rejection is just one failure closer to my imminent acceptance… but then all of a sudden it hit me that I might not get published. And even if I do, that doesn’t mean my book’s guaranteed to be read by anyone. And even if people do read it, that doesn’t mean they’re guaranteed to like it.

What right do I have to think that my novel is good enough? What right do I have to think that people would actually want to read it?

And then I went to Chris Baty’s closing keynote address on Sunday, and he reminded me why I write. Because while a ship in harbor is safe, that’s not what ships are built for. They’re built to go out to sea; to weather storms and to feel the wind against their sails. The same is true about writers. While it’s easy just to keep our writing to ourselves, that’s not what we’re meant to do. We’re meant to share it with others, and to weather the hard times because we know it will be worth it in the long run.

So even when it’s difficult to keep going, even when all you can see is doubt on the horizon, keep going.

Even when you can’t see the sun beyond the clouds, keep going.

There’s no reason to do anything unless there’s the risk of failure. That’s what makes life exciting and worthwhile.

Go get out of that safe harbor and experience the world. Do the things that scare you.

Just. Keep. Going.


Writer’s Digest Conference Weekend: Sunday Morning

The next session is just beginning, so this is going to having to be short, but I just wanted to let you all know that the pitch slam went really well yesterday — I’ve got eight partial requests! 🙂 Plus, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying was really totally awesome last night… but more on all of that later! I’ll try to do another post tonight as a more detailed recap of the entire weekend, okay? And I promise to get my notes up from the sessions soon!!



WDC Weekend: Saturday Morning

Hey guys! I’m currently sitting in a ballroom crowded with other writers, waiting for the second session of the day to start, and so far the conference has been amazing! (But why am I surprised, right?)

Last night there were some fantastic sessions on writing in the digital age, how to pitch your novel to agents, etc, and then so far this morning I’ve attended an editors’ panel — right now the Ask the Agent panel is about to begin — and I’ve got notes on all of them to share with you guys (but later, because the panel’s beginning ;)).

Talk to you all later!


(Oh, and I guess I jinxed myself, because I forgot to pack my shoes. Stupid packing list.)