Wordy Wednesday (“Writer’s Digest Conference 2013, Notes Part 3”)

Sorry this post is coming so late to you today! I was distracted by freedom and a package of Twizzlers. And Batman. (It’s finals week. Class let out yesterday and I don’t have anything again until Friday morning. It’s sort of a problem.)

First up today: I want to dye my hair this summer–it’s something that I’ve wanted to do for years but never actually had the guts too–so now I’m taking a poll to see what color I should go for.

I’m planning on using a dye from this line of temporary dyes (so it’ll last for like a month): http://www.clairol.com/en-US/box-convertor-page.aspx?collectionid=72

I’m deciding between:

Blond: 6 linen (medium cool blond)

Brown: 26 hot cocoa (medium bronze brown)

Auburn: 16 spiced tea (light auburn)

Second up: One last reminder from me to fill out the character form for This Is a Book to help Mel and me create some new, wacky characters to use in our genre-bending novelish masterpiece!

Third up: this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a continuation of my notes from the Writer’s Digest Conference East a few weeks ago. If you haven’t read my notes from the past two weeks, you can check them out by following the following links:

Part 1: Going from Aspiring Writer to Published Author

Part 2: Publishing Short Stories

This week’s topic is Perfecting Your Craft.


The First Draft is the Easy Part – Revision Demystified [4-6-13]

Speaker: Stuart Horwitz

          Three most important words: scene, series, and theme.

          Like NaNoWriMo, the first draft is quantity over quality

          How to Generate Material:

o   Count your words—you can’t simultaneously create and know the worth of what you’re creating—so count your words, rather than the quality of them

o   Find a neutral audience, like a writing group, beta reader, independent editor, etc.

o   Don’t try to organize everything.

o   Don’t count your hours, because you can get distracted during them (hello, Facebook). Count your words. But make sure you have enough hours scheduled to get that number of words.

          “You count the words, you make the time.”

          Listen for the sound of your own voice.

          Have fun—“the most important way to generate material”



o   Find all your scenes, put them in the right order

o   Define (1) where something happens, (2) where, because something happens, something else changes; (3) make sure it’s capable of series, (4) is in service of the overall scene, (5) is necessary to the novel.

o   Brainstorm all of your scenes by giving them each a name—the only catch is that you can’t look at the book. Go through the list of scenes, highlight the good ones in green (good enough)—highlight bad scenes in fuchsia. “A bad scene is sort of like a bad relationship; you have to fix it before you can move on.” Highlight in blue the scenes that you forget—examine why they weren’t important enough for you to remember. Highlight in brown the scenes you still need to write.

o   You should always be writing.

o   Print out a list of your scenes, cut them up, try to put them in order—this helps you get new ideas and understand your story better, etc. Examine how the scenes react and interact to create emotional pay off. This is called “series.”

          SERIES: The repetition and variation of elements that work so that their repetition and variation make the book better.

o   A scene MUST be capable of series.

o   Every time a series occurs, it’s an iteration of the series.

o   A character, relationship, saying, etc can be a series.

o   “Series is how a person becomes a character, an object becomes a symbol, and a theme becomes the philosophy of the book.

o   Series can be abstract or specific.

o   The series reveal your narrative arc. “SERIES is the new PLOT.”

o   Iterations of series create tension—variations of series release this tension.

o   Series—interact, inform each other in complex ways.

o   Write out all the series—cut them down until you just have the most important one, in one sentence—that one sentence is your book’s theme.


o   Put your theme in the center of a target. Take our subthemes (your other series) and place them around it on the target, the distance depending on how connected they are. Ultimately, you’re going to want to place everything on the target, from characters to series to scenes.


          Kill your darlings.

          The tyranny of the first draft—you think anything you’ve already created is better than what you will create in the future. This isn’t true.

          Short narrative parts are “links.” Connective tissues between the actual scenes. An example of a link is the “voiceover link,” in which your narrator talks directly to the reader.

o   Old-school did “scene and summary”—that was classic literature. It’s different now.

          You should have at least 60 to 70 pages written before using this method of revising.

          “Spend time thinking about what you’ve done before trying again and again to do it.”


Twenty-One Revision Techniques [4-6-13]

Speaker: Cheryl Klein

          Revision = Re-visioning

          VISION: go back to the big picture of the story and figure out EXACTLY what it is, what you want it to be.

1.      Know how you work best

2.      Take time off from the project and work on something else in the meantime

3.      Before you look at the MS again, write a letter to a sympathetic friend saying:

a.       What is the book about? What is sacred about it? What’s at the core? What would you refuse to change no matter what?

b.      What do you want to do with the book—to be funny, dramatic, etc?

c.       What is the book about from a thematic/philosophical sense?

d.      All the things you love about it.

e.       What you suspect/know needs work.

4.      Write the spine of the story in one sentence.

5.      Write the flat copy—a 250 word summary that gives away the ending.

6.      Creative stuff—look at word frequency using www.wordle.net

a.       Make a collage or playlist

b.      Choose touchstones (words, pics, or mascots) that represent a character or feeling or idea


7.      Change the font, then print out and read the entire MS on. the. page. Take notes as you go.

8.      List the first ten things each significant character says or does; include internal thoughts for your POV character.

a.       “The man reason for rewriting [is] … to discover the inner truth of your characters.”

b.      What is the character’s joy? Pain? What do they want? What will they do to get it?

9.      Is your inciting incident actual action? How close can you get it to page one?

a.       Where are the turning points in the story?

b.      Work backward from the climax: do at least three plot developments support it?

10.  Chart plotting/book mapping: Map out your book.

a.       Plot-oriented mapping: make a spreadsheet with: chapter number, title, POV character, setting, word count. – At the bottom, justify the existence of each plot relative to the other plots and themes.

11.  Chart plotting/book mapping: Map out your book.

a.       Character-oriented mapping (for each significant character): Desire (conscious, unconscious), strengths, obstacles to reach desire, three actions they take to achieve desire, and overall contribution to plot or protagonist this character makes.

12.  Book map (outline) the action of the book scene-by-scene.

a.       For every scene, ask: What do the characters in the scene each want? What is the conflict in this scene?

b.      For every scene, ask: What is the new info we learn in this scene?

c.       Each scene should have:

                                                              i.      Initial action

                                                            ii.      But (or) therefore (or) meanwhile

                                                          iii.      And then

13.  Mini-map

a.       Provide a 1-to-2 sentence summary of the action in each chapter. Do you have a lot of talking/thinking/action scenes in a row?

14.  Compare the vision you articulated in #3-5 with the results of #7-13 and compile a “To Do” list of things you want to accomplish in a revision.

a.       Don’t be afraid to think BIG, but take time to listen small.


15.  Set a deadline for completing each state of revision and a reward for each one.

16.  Work large to small

a.       Wording’s the last thing; major plot/character changes are first.

17.  Once you’re reasonably satisfied you have the big stuff done, highlight the following in different colors to find your balance, what each scene is conveying to the reader, etc:

a.       Action

b.      Description

c.       Internal narration

d.      Dialogue

Highlight each character’s dialogue in a different color—read through for:

a.       Consistency

b.      Voice

Cut adverbs, other than said, feel, etc—“I felt sad” should be replaced with “I was sad” (stronger language)—Remove passive voice. Use active voice. What’s dangerous is not one particular practice, but an excess of that practice. “Unhelpful babies”—kill your babies when they’re getting in the way of the larger plot you need to achieve. Watch your emotional tone.

18.  Check your first line for resonance—needs to promise drama.

a.       Last line—fermatas—last line of every chapter or scene should be a note you want to sustain in the reader’s mind.

19.  Read the book aloud, or—better yet—have someone read it aloud to you.

20.  Keep a copy of EVERYTHING. Never permanently delete anything.

21.  Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. KEEP CALM AND REVISE ON.


The First Ten Pages [4-7-13]

Speaker: Paula Munier

          You have 140 characters to capture your reader’s attention. You have 140 characters or 25 words to get an agent or editor’s attention. That’s a single line, paragraph, page, or scene.

          “The first page sells the book. The last page sells the next book.” – Old saying in publishing

          Take your favorite ten books off the shelf, read just the first page, and see if you can do the same thing they did.

          First and last page should reflect one another.

          The two most important pages are the first and last.

          The first two weeks as an agent, Paula got 1,000 queries—and they keep on coming. That’s a lot of queries to try to stand out from. But good material will stand out.

          1 in 200 queries is worth asking for material from

          Most writers can’t write a good synopsis—most agents will not hold that against you

          If an agent requests something and the synopsis—they will read the “something” before the “synopsis” generally.

          Reasons Agents Stop Reading:

o   Nothing happens

o   I’ve seen it before

o   There’s no strong voice telling the story

o   I’m bored

o   I’m not connecting with any of the characters

o   I can’t tell what kind of story I’m reading

o   Don’t care what happens next

o   The plot is unbelievable and/or full of clichés

o   The dialogue doesn’t sound like “real people”

o   There are typos, spelling, and/or grammatical errors

          Agents, editors, readers—they’re a sucker for voice—a strong voice can save you

          Make sure your title fits your genre

          You want the reader to be asking questions

          Don’t go for the cheap joke if it’s not authentic

          Invest in your project—get a line editor

          Top Ten Reasons Agents Keep Reading:

o   Something happens (aka: inciting incident)

o   Strong voice

o   Level of craft is high

o   Characters make you FEEL something

o   Writer has gained the agent’s confidence

o   Don’t know what happens next

o   Something unique about story/storyteller

o   It’s clear what kind of story is being told

o   There’s a market for this type of story

o   The prose is clean, clear, and concise—the 3 Cs of Prose

          Never open a book with weather. But if you have to start with weather, make it;

o   Bad weather

o   Propel your plot

o   Affect your hero in a bad way

o   Set the tone

o   Speak to theme

          Avoid prologues

o   If you need a prologue, don’t call it a prologue—use a time reference instead (“Five years earlier,” etc)

o   Try to use a device like a newspaper clipping, diary entry, etc instead

o   Apply a different format to set it apart from the rest of the book (italics, breaks, etc)

          Do not start with a dream

o   So many stories have done this, pulling it off in an original way *now* is tough

          Don’t start with a character alone, thinking.

o   If you do this, he’d better be doing something compelling at the same time, like:

§  Committing a crime

§  Finding a corpse

§  Planting a bomb

§  Etc.

          Don’t start with a phone call (especially in the middle of the night)—also, tweets, voicemails, etc.

          DO Start with:

o   Voice

o   Setting

o   Action

o   Character

o   Conflict

o   Scene

o   Theme

o   Tone

          You have to:

o   Move the plot forward

o   Establish genre

o   Highlight voice

o   Describe setting

o   Reveal character

o   Set the tone

o   Speak to theme

          Most of all START WITH A SCENE.

          You HAVE to have a killer first line.

          Scene 1 Checklist:

o   What actually happens?

o   Why will the reader care about/relate to the characters?

o   How do you want the reader to feel? What have you done to evoke that emotion?

o   Have you used all the elements of fiction at your disposal—setting, plot, character, theme, etc?

o   Have you chosen the right POV/voice?

o   Does the dialogue ring true?

o   Are the story questions strong enough to keep the reader reading?

o   Is it clear what kind of story you’re telling?

o   What makes this story different from the others of its ilk?

o   Is the scene well-written and well-edited?

          If you can’t think of what makes your story special, you’ve got a problem—you want your story to be “just like [insert successful novel name here], but different because [insert kickbutt reason here].”




Wordy Wednesday (“Writer’s Digest Conference 2013, Notes Part 2”)

As to be expected, the end of the semester (and school year, for me) is absolutely CRAZY. Lots of homework and studying and trying not to get distracted by the great outdoors. Plus, I’m currently sick with allergies, so that’s always fun. I’m really excited to (finally) be done with my eight credit hour Spanish classes next week, though, so I’ve just gotta push through this last little bit, then it’s summer vacation! Yay!

On a more somber note, prayers for all those affected by the tragedies in Boston this week (I can’t even imagine), and prayers, also, for my angry-old-man-cat, Willy, who hasn’t been eating much the past few days and has started having trouble breathing. He’s seventeen and a half, but a fighter. If you’ve been around since the beginning of this blog (or share my stalker tendencies), then you’ll remember that it was Willy having a massive seizure a year and a half ago that actually got me started on the blogging train (I needed something to do while keeping him company 24/7, and there wasn’t a TV in his room 😉 ).

Anyway, back to what we’re here for. This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a continuation of my notes from the Writer’s Digest Conference East 2013 earlier this month, today on the topic of Publishing Short Stories.

If you haven’t read last Wednesday’s notes on Going from Aspiring Writer to Published Author, click here.


Panel: How to Write for Big Name Publications [4-5-13]

Moderator: Jessica Strawser

Panelists: Susan Shapiro, Paula Derrow, Christian Hoard? (the panelist works at Rolling Stone; I missed his last name when they were doing the introductions), and A.J. Jacobs.


          A.J.: Start small, work up to the big publications. You need experience to pitch the larger magazines.

          Susan: However, sometimes you can break in with big pubs as a newbie, too. Don’t pitch a profile or a complicated news piece—pitch a deep personal essay, where you can send the editor the entire piece—it’s MUCH easier. Susan suggests using the method she calls the “Humiliation Essay,” in which you write about your most humiliating secret.

          Paula: It’s all in the execution—how is your story different? Look into writing for the front sections of mags—those are done by the junior editors, who are easier to pitch to.

          Susan: Magazine websites are easier to get into than the print ones—they’re a good stepping stone to getting into the print mags.

          A.J.: Creatively, right now is the greatest time to be a writer. Financially, not so much.

          A.J: Study what a publication has done, compliment them, and THEN pitch your own writing.

          A.J.: You write for two reasons. #1 is the prestige; #2 is the money. (Get that? Money es numero DOS!)

          Paula: It’s getting harder to break into the print magazine market—there are fewer long, narrative pieces. Think 700 words now, rather than 3 to 4,000. It used to be $3.00/word, now it’s more like $250.00/story. This is a downward trend.

          Paula: there’s less back and forth with the editor now.

          Susan: Best secret to writing: hire a good shrink.

          Susan: Go slow. Don’t send off your writing the moment you finish a piece.

          Susan: “Addicts depend on substance, not people.” – Don’t be an addict about writing.

          Susan: Sometimes you have to spend money to make money. Hire a ghost editor.

          Christian: Rolling Stone website publishes 30 to 40 e-articles every day, but only for about $0.75/word.

          Jessica: Magazines—unlike novels, is better to ignore the submission guidelines—find the RIGHT editor, rather than just subbing to the magazine in general.

          Susan: THE OPINIONATOR pays $150.00/story—that’s a good deal.

          Susan: It’s about the online articles now, not the in print ones.

          Jessica: Shoot for the lower-level editors, rather than the high-up ones.

          Paula: Your writing needs a twist—the secret to a good personal essay is to have a twist in a traditional topic.

          Jessica/Paula: Read the mag before you submit

          Susan: On your byline, it’s good to be like “… and so-and-so is working on a novel/memoir/etc. on the same subject” – gets you attention from editors, producers, lit agents, etc.

          Susan: Check which articles are freelance—call and ask to speak with the editors of those articles

          Christian: Just because it’s obvious to you doesn’t mean it’s obvious to the editors (could be something they forgot to cover; there are lots of little holes)—put a new twist on an old topic, and you’re gold.

          A.J.: For your cover letter—a couple of punchy paragraphs about your idea and a short bio at the end.

          A.J.: “There’s a fine line between persistence and stalking” – don’t stalk an editor to try to get them to publish you

          A.J.: The profiles, the big topics—those are generally given to the staff writers.

          Susan: 95% of editors also write. Find their work. Read it. Tell them why you’re contacting them: “I’m a fan of your work, I just read your piece ___ in ____!”

          Jessica: Look at “front of the book” – shorter assignments are good for getting your feet wet.

          A.J.: Best way to get a book deal is through a magazine article, newspaper article, etc. “You can’t just write books.” BRANDING (per usual)—keep your brand out there or people will forget about you.

          Susan: write the piece at the same time as you write the book.

          Paula: having the pressure of real life—a “real job,” etc—can be great to let you have the pressure you need to write your book. Quitting your job can actually make you write less, because there’s less time pressure.

          Christian: If you’re unsure about something, try to start a dialogue with your editor.

          Christian: If you can, it’s always best to be an editor before you’re a writer; it makes you a better writer.

          Jessica: Don’t be afraid to ask your questions up front.

          A.J.: Up front, be like, “Here’s what I’m thinking, what are you thinking?”

          Jessica: Ask UP FRONT to clarify the assignment; get all the details right away.

          Paula: Phone calls allow for more creating—bouncing, developing ideas—than emails do.

          Susan: Ghost editors are good—share your work for critique before you show it to the editor.

          Susan: Write your essays around your book, not using the same, direct words from your book.

          Susan: It’s easier to be foreign in the current publishing market. If you have anything unique about you, UTILIZE IT in your writing.


Panel: How to Become a Regular Contributor to Any Publication [4-6-13]

Moderator: Jessica Strawser

Panelists: Zachary Petit, Susan Shapiro, Debbie Harmsen

          Jessica: Pitching a regular column to a magazine is like asking an editor to go out with you every Saturday for the next year without even meeting first.

          Jessica: Pitch one article. If they like it, then you pitch more.

          Susan: The biggest mistake people make is to launch into their own story in their pitch, rather than focusing on the story they’re actually pitching.

          Susan: 90% of editors also write—as do a lot of agents. Find what they’ve written, read, use that knowledge to your advantage.

          Susan: The biggest insult is to email pros with form letters rather than giving personal attention—better to be a kiss-up than a self-absorbed jerk.

          Susan: Start by focusing on the person you want something from, not yourself.

          Debbie: Try not to be irritating—use email, not phone calls.

          Zachary: Follow. Submission. Guidelines.

          Susan: Always have the name of the agent or editor in your letter—find their personal email.

          Zachary: If you google “[insert name of person you’re submitting to here]@” their email should pop up.

          Jessica: The first impression goes beyond your first email to them—it goes to your entire online persona. Don’t have inappropriate pictures on Facebook, etc. “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”

          Susan: If it’s on your blog, website, Twitter, etc—it’s already published. If you’re already giving it away for free, it’ll be very hard to sell.

          Zachary: Always make your inappropriate photos (if you feel the need to have some online) PRIVATE.

          Zachary: Always be polite and courteous—“don’t be the writer that lands herself in the blacklist folder.”

          Jessica: Editors want to have a big staple of writers to call upon; they want to have more regular contributors to work with; they WANT you to be on that list; they want your first assignment to go great—so NAIL that first assignment.

          Debbie: If you’re writing a book, it’s your brand. If you’re writing for a publication, it’s THEIR brand.

          Debbie: It’s easier for the editor to work with someone they already know.

          Debbie: The first impression isn’t just getting that first assignment, it’s how the assignment goes.

          Debbie: You don’t have to be Michael Jordan, but you need to be a solid player (rather than Dennis Rodman)

          Susan: Use ghost editors if you’re worried about grammar or spelling—if you’re not 100% sure your writing is perfect, GET. HELP.

          Susan: Always turn your work in early and clean.

          Susan: Be open to the editor changing anything they want.

          Susan: Write thank you letters, put the editors’ names in your acknowledgements, send little thank you gifts—treat them to lunch, etc. Ask them to be on panels, in events, etc; anywhere the editors can be honored.

          Susan: It isn’t about being the best; it’s about having a good attitude.

          Zachary/Susan: Fact-check before you turn in your assignment—show your fact checking; put fact-checking in your reference tab, track changes comments, at the end, put page numbers just to the right—whatever the publication prefers. Just make sure to fact-check.

          Susan: Make sure to thank the little people in your acknowledgements.

          Jessica: Try to strike a good balance with an editor FROM THE START.

          Jessica: Casual formality—no emoticons, “lol,” etc. in your language. Don’t be overly familiar. But also don’t be overly stiff.

          Debbie: Don’t stalk the editor. Let them invite you to follow them on Twitter, to friend you on Facebook, etc.

          Debbie: Try to group questions together rather than sending a new email with a new question in it every hour.

          Debbie: Most editors prefer email to phone—if you do call, make sure to ask if they have time to talk to you right then.

          Susan: Never finish something and then send it straight out—get a mentor to critique your work, not just be like, “I like it.”

          Susan: Writing groups are great. So are ghost editors. Use these resources.

          Susan: The people who are open for criticism, turning in work early, asking questions, taking notes, etc.—they are the ones who get deals.

          Zachary: When and how to pitch again—it’s not bad form to pitch again right away (if they liked your last article), but MAKE SURE IT’S READY.

          Jessica: Wait until your first assignment is edited—you’ve signed off on your pre-publication galleys—before pitching the next assignment.

          Jessica: Don’t send an open-ended message like, “Hey, let me know if you ever need anything!” If it doesn’t work for making plans with your friends, it isn’t going to work with an editor, either. Make sure to make definite plans.

          Jessica: Pitch the next project once the assignment is complete, but it’s still fresh in the editor’s mind.

          Susan: The best thing is to let the article publication completely play out before you submit again.

          Susan: Break the rules WHEN necessary, but ONLY when necessary. (She told a story here about how she pressured a publishing house into giving her a deal for her next book by publishing lots of short pieces on the book’s topic and thus creating immense interest in it—something you’re not generally supposed to do, pressuring the publishing house, but she knew it was the only way she’d get that deal.)

          Zachary: Be honest if you’ve already written a really similar piece, when pitching.

          Susan: There are two people you should never lie to about your writing: your editor and your shrink.

          Zachary: Be willing and open for everything you write to be critiqued and torn to pieces.

          Susan: Go to as many conferences, panels, and seminars as you can—try to stay as up to date as possible.

          Susan: Start high—try the best places you can—and if none of those places want your piece, then head lower.


Marketing Short Fiction: The Science of Publishing [4-7-13]

Speaker: Jacob Appel

          There are only about 3,000 slots for short story publications a year. A lot of those go to people like Jacob Appel (who sold 30 stories last year).

          There’s a systematic way of doing the short-story-publishing-thing. The quality of your story MATTERS.

          There are more great stories being written than there are spaces to publish them.

          There are 2 ways you can approach short story publishing:

o   Process-based approach: work on only one story at a time. If it sells, then you work on the next one.

o   Career-approach (which in the long run is better for you): Work on multiple projects at once, not putting a particular focus on any of them.

          Check out Best American Short Stories. There’s a list of about 150-200 good magazines.

          Hit journals at their “weak points”:

o   Contests—you have a chance of about 750 to 1 of winning, whereas when just trying to publish, the magazine gets about 5,000 submissions a month and only buys 3 or 4. YOUR ODDS ARE MUCH BETTER WITH CONTESTS.

§  Why contests rock:

·         Someone has to win (make sure the rules say someone has to win, or it’s pointless).

·         They’re being judged blind (it doesn’t matter what the author has done before this story)

·         Prominent authors like Joyce Carol Oates don’t do contests.

o   Theme issues are also good—submit to these. WRITE FOR THE OPPORTUNITY.

o   Find out details of the mag—act like you know someone who works there—it’s easy to intimidate an intern into sending your story on to the editor.

§  Gateway approach—tiers—get past the intern who doesn’t know any better, and you’ll have a much higher chance of the editor taking your work seriously.

§  Goal: Convince the first gatekeeper (the intern) that you are a famous author presenting your work fraudulently (under a “fake name,” you know). Don’t think like you’re a pro, but act like one. Trick the intern into thinking you’re important.

·         Basically: Act like a subsidy publisher.

          Be a repeat-set player—don’t be a one-time player.

          As a writer, you aren’t a hospital patient—you’re a doctor. You aren’t focused on getting that one person home, you’re focused on getting ALL that patients in your wing home (the “patients” being “stories” and yeah).

          Always make the editors think you want their feedback—submit a beautiful letter telling them how you appreciate their opinion, and then send a thank you note afterward.

          “If a journal rejects you three times, you should never submit again.” —Stephen Dixon; BAD ADVICE. Don’t take rejection personally; don’t let it discourage you. Be relentless.

          Writers are writers, and editors are editors—LISTEN TO THEM. They know what they’re doing.

          Just because something enters the world one way doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. Revising is not a bad thing. Rewriting is not a bad thing.

          You should submit a story EVERY DAY. If you get a rejection, you submit two stories the next day. If you get a rejection that hurts, send out 10 to 20 the next day, just to get it out of your system. You need to get used to rejection.

          Being kind, courteous, level-headed—that is what gets you your network more than anything else. BE LOYAL. Be a good person.

          You have to think of the publishing industry as a process, not a project.

          Internet journals are more likely to accept previously-published work than print journals are.

          Cover-letter—make it very standard and plain—don’t attract with format and style, but with content.

o   First paragraph: Short and simple. Make it personal (“I am an avid reader of your journal”; “I am subscribed to your magazine”; etc.).

o   Second paragraph: Credentials—say someone suggested you submit there, even if it was your crazy, unpublished uncle. (The intern won’t know any better.)

o   With short stories, agents are helpful, but not necessary the way they are with novels.

          Short story collections are not profitable—the reason agents will represent a short story writer is because they think there will be a novel eventually down the line.

          Find an agent who reps VERY similar projects to yours.

          Agents only have about 20 publishers it makes sense to submit to, with short story collections; for writers, there are more like 80.

o   Submit to the lower-level publishers, publish with them, and then the larger players will be interested in your next collection.

          Go to the back of Best American Short Stories to find the list of journals.


       As always, while these notes might be helpful (despite how extremely scattered and incomplete they are; sorry ’bout that), actually attending a conference is a LOT better. I highly suggest getting to a Writer’s Digest Conference if you ever have the chance, and if you don’t have the money or time to go to a conference in person, the annual online (and FREE!) Write On Con event is great also.



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.


WDC Weekend: Friday Morning

… And so we find ourselves at the inaugural post of the Writer’s Digest Conference Weekend 2013. It is currently 7:42 AM. I’ve got my clothes for today hanging off the ladder for my loft bed behind me, my camera resting just beside my right hand as I type this, and a whole heck of a lot of luggage hanging out somewhere back in the recesses of my room.

Inside I am freaking. out. Outside I look like this:

Snapshot_20130405Please excuse the random lamp in my hand. Webcam is being finicky.

I wasn’t planning on getting up until 8:00, because that’s my usual time for Fridays, I was up past midnight not being able to sleep, and I wanted to get a good night’s rest in before leaving for the conference–but alas: I’m awake already. And although I am TIRED, I am not sleepy. Oops? I guess this gives me more time for all my last minute packing, though. Which is always good since I am the Eternal Forgetter of Everything. (Last WDC I forgot to pack my shoes. THAT was a fun realization when we got to New York.)

So, while I’m here, yawning and angsting at myself for being awake this early, here’s a quick overview of how the weekend’s going to work:

  • Sessions for the conference begin this evening. I’ll probably do a post about what’s up sometime tonight.
  • We have sessions all day tomorrow, culminating in the Pitch Slam (in which Mel and I get to have the funnest of funs by pitching our novels to Real Live Literary Agents for two hours straight while trying not to have simultaneous heart attacks). Then tomorrow night we get some free time to go explore the city (and by “explore the city” I mean “eat good food” and “watch a good musical” and “maybe shop a little because I am an obsessive shopper who shall be in New York City”), and yeah. I will definitely be blogging at least once throughout the day, probably more.
  • Sunday we have sessions in the morning, and then a little more time to go be tourists, and then it’s back to good ol’ U of M for me and good ol’ Other Cool Places for Mom and Mel. I’ll probably update you a couple times throughout the day, and be read for a WDC recap for the end of Sunday.

… And now, I’m off to attempt to stop my bangs from standing straight up like I’m in a cheesy cartoon. Talk to you soon!