30 Jan

Writing Conferences: Don’t Be "That Guy"

Posted in Conferences, Tips, Writing

You know exactly what I’m talking about, because we’ve all seen That Guy in action.  You may have even met That Guy, or *gasp* been That Guy.  (If the latter is true, STOP.  Seriously, right now.)

When might you have encountered this rare specimen?

•  Sitting next to you on a cross-country flight, That Guy says: “Oh, you’re a writer?  I thought about writing a bestseller once… you know, like in my spare time.  I’ve got this killer idea.  Maybe you could ghostwrite for me.”

•  During the Q&A session at a conference, That Guy says to an agent: “I’m writing a book on the mating habits of Komodo dragons.  What kind of book deal could you get me?”

• When you’re a publishing intern reading slush and answering phones, That Guy calls saying: “Everyone who’s read my book loves it.  Even my lover/warden/kid/pet goat.  It must be the Best Book Ever and you’d be a fool not to publish/represent it!”

That Guy isn’t always a guy; in fact, about 50% of the time it’s a girl.  That Guy isn’t necessarily a bad writer, either.  That Guy might even get published someday if he/she/it stops being so That-Guy-ish.

So, how do you avoid being That Guy?  Two words: common sense.  Seriously.  It amazes me how many writing and publishing hurdles can be navigated if you use your noggin.  Actually, that’s kind of true in life too.

More importantly, how do you avoid the temptation of punching That Guy in the face?  I still haven’t figured this one out.  But I’ve discovered that watching this video helps.


11 Jan

Getting Ready for a Conference

Posted in Conferences, Tips

In three short weeks, I’ll be at the first of the two conferences I’m attending in January.  I’ve been to several of these in the past, but each time I still get frazzled.  I have this paranoia that I’ll forget to bring something super-important and it will lead to some massive catastrophe and I’ll never get published.  Never.  Ever.  Ever.

OK, this analogy might be a bit of a stretch, but bear with me.  Navigating a conference is sort of like knowing your table-manners.  Suppose you’re going on a date with the person of your dreams to some fancy-schmancy restaurant.  Do you really want to spend the entire time thinking about whether you’re using the right fork for the salad?  If you’re worrying about not embarrassing yourself with the silverware, then you’re not thinking about the really important thing: “is this person right for me?”

The secret of success is to figure out which one’s the salad fork beforehand.  In fact, if you know this stuff so well that it comes naturally to you, your mind will be freed up so you can think about the important things like when’s the best time to go for your first kiss.

For writers, conferences are the ultimate dinner date, only instead of figuring out which fork to use or whether you should kiss this person, you’re stuck thinking about query etiquette or whether you should pitch your book to an agent in the bathroom (which, by the way, you shouldn’t).

What to Bring 

In Portuguese, there’s a saying that roughly translates as “You don’t want to show up with your hands flapping.”  This means when you go to someone’s house for dinner, you need to bring something.   When going to conferences, the same rule applies.  Only here, instead of flowers or chocolates, you’ll want to bring along the following items:

  • Business cards:  If you don’t have business cards professionally made, you can print some up on your home printer and cut them with an Xacto blade and ruler (not scissors… please, not scissors).
  • Notebook:  You’ll want to write down notes, contact info from participating agents/editors, submission guidelines and lots more.  Besides, you’re a writer so you probably don’t go anywhere without your trusty notebook anyway.
  • Layers:  You never know if the conference rooms will feel like a sauna or frozen wasteland.  What I can tell you is they won’t be a balmy 72 degrees.  If you wear layers, you’ll be ready for anything.
  • Tote bag or large purse:  At lots of these conferences, they have a bookstore where you can purchase books written by the speakers.  Oftentimes there will be opportunity to get these books sighed after the talks or at the end of the conference.  If you’re like me and can’t resist getting a signed book, you’ll want some convenient way to carry all your loot home.
Know Your Manners

As with any situation, you need to come prepared with knowledge of the proper etiquette.  Rather than make a long list here, I thought it would be better to refer you to the advice from a couple of agents themselves.

Remember, the more preparation you do beforehand, the more you’ll be able to relax and enjoy the conference when you’re actually there.


13 Dec

When You Find Coal in Your Stocking

Posted in Process, Tips, Writing

The universe has a weird sense of humor.  You want to see your work in print but instead you get a pile of rejections.  You want to write something deep and meaningful that will reach people, and instead all that comes out is nonsensical garble.  You want to take the nice flat road and instead you find yourself pushing a giant boulder uphill like Sisyphus.

Like the song says:
“You can’t always get what you want.  You get what you need.”

No, I’m not going to get all new age-y on you, but I definitely think there’s something to be said about a greater construct that can see beyond my own myopic point of view.  Some people call that a divine power.  Others (like Julia Cameron of The Artist’s Way) call it synchronicity.  I like to think of it as the universe having common sense.

Whatever you want to call it, I have seen proof that the universe knows what I need much better than I do.  Some time ago I took a writing class and really hit it off with one of my classmates.  After a couple of semesters in the same class, our lives took us in different directions and we fell out of touch.  A few months ago, I got an email from her out of the blue… only it wasn’t from her exactly; someone had hacked her email account and spammed everyone in her address book.  Even so, it reminded me that here was a writer I wanted to be in touch with and it inspired me to me to reach out and say hello.  Now, months later, she and I have become good friends and she’s one of the go-to people I consult with about writing stuff.  We still crack up about how our friendship was rekindled by a Viagra spam email.

My point is, sometimes the universe plays tricks on writers.  Sometimes a door opens and it doesn’t lead anywhere near where you want to go, but it’s the only open door so you take it anyway.  Sometimes Santa puts coal in your stocking instead of that iPod you wanted.  It happens.  Here’s how to deal:

Just remember 2 things about coal:

1)  You can burn it to make fire.  So you got a lump of coal (READ: rejection letter, nasty critique, door slamming in your face).  So what?  Don’t let it get you down.  Instead, think about how you can use it to light a fire in your writing.  Don’t let naysayers stand in your way.  Prove them wrong.

2)  Coal is basically the same as a diamond, only not as well put-together.  What can you do with the coal you’ve got in your hand to turn it into diamond-material?  How can you rearrange those molecules to make that dull lump of gunk into something sparkly and beautiful?

When you find coal in your stocking, think of it as a call to action, a BIG fat hint from the universe.  What you do with that hint is up to you.  After all, a lump of coal is just a lump of coal until you do something with it.


04 Dec

Google Reader

Posted in Blog, Tips, Web

One of the most important ways to Boost Your Blog is to interact with other bloggers and read their blogs as well.  We’ve all heard this a zillion times: to get people to follow and read your blog, you need to read/follow other people’s blogs.  Easier said than done, right?

A few months ago, my good friend Ghenet (from All About Them Words) showed me this awesome tool that has made keeping up with blogs I follow super easy. It’s called Google Reader, but it should probably be called Blogging Lifesaver, because it’s seriously changed how I read blogs.  OK, so this is probably not all that new to most of you and you must think me a computer dunce for thinking this is awesome, but humor me OK? 

This is what Google Reader looks like.  If you have a gmail or blogger account, then you can use that with Google Reader.  When you log in, your reader will look something like this:

Here are a few tricks I’ve learned to keep things organized and make checking blogs super-easy:

1)  Make folders for different blogs you follow.  I have one folder for publishing-related blogs, one for writers I absolutely must read, one for DIY MFA peeps (because during September I wanted to keep up with their blogs in case they posted about DIY MFA stuff), and so on.  Having blogs in folders works for me because in a pinch, I just check one or two folders, depending on what I’m looking to read at that moment.

2)  Use iGoogle and put a Google Reader widget on your page.  iGoogle is a personalized version of Google that allows you to put widgets on your Google homepage (weather, news, gmail, google reader, etc.)  I keep both my Gmail and Google Reader on my iGoogle page so that I can quickly scan it every time I search for something on Google.  That way, rather than sitting down for an hour or more to read blogs, I just scan my reader widget for a couple of seconds multiple times per day.  If I read a post I want to comment on, I’ll just make a note of it and come back when I have time.

3)  Subscribe to your own blog.  This probably sounds narcissistic but there is a logic to this tip.  Here’s my dirty little secret: I subscribe to my own blog on Google Reader, but I do this so I can see if my posts look right when viewed in a reader.  These days, so many readers use Google Reader or other such services that I want to make sure the post looks right both on the blog itself and in a reader.  Sometimes something that looks just fine on the blog can actually be hard to read in Google Reader and I want to make sure that my blog is user-friendly on all formats.

Also, keep in mind that when readers use Google Reader, they will not see most of the design elements on your blog (like the sidebar or the pretty header, or any of that stuff).  They will see pictures, but only the ones that are in the post itself.  Any other graphics or widgets will not appear.

What about you?  Are you a fan of Google Reader?  How do you use it to make blog-surfing easier?


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