Let’s see what gems I can distill from my 28 pages of notes, shall we?
But first, let me say that the conference organizers were truly amazing and their energy tireless. How do they do it? Man, the staff and volunteers of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA) totally slayed it!
Alright, here are some of the highlights from my scribbles:
- Blogging, tweeting and Facebook do not replace the intent and effect of a newsletter. A writer can use this medium to impart information that will help their readers ‘have a better life.’ It should include a feature article, maybe some Q&A, a resource list or some type of resource that fits your persona, e.g. recipes, a calendar of your events, and, of course, all of your contact information. Thank you to Visual Quill for this one.
- John Grisham reads the obituaries and draws character sketches from them. Brilliant! This insight came from Robert Dugoni.
- A quick way to pinpoint agents who are accepting queries and submissions is to make a list of all the agents who are attending various conferences throughout the year. Sarah Callender shared this tip. I also love the name of her blog, Inside-out Underpants.
- Write down the one thing you don’t think you could write about—something secret or shameful, something you believe but are afraid to express—and then look for a place in your manuscript where you could give this feeling to your fictional protagonist. In other words, write personally, from what’s in your heart on that day. This is the wisdom of Donald Maass.
- Breathe, as conveyed by several of the agents during the forum that preceded the Power Pitch sessions.
- Location and atmosphere together create the setting, and atmosphere is the emotional part of the setting. Use details in your writing not for what they are, but for the emotion they evoke, e.g. the snap of a twig in the forest can evoke fear and trepidation. Author and book doctor Jason Black spoke almost these exact words.
- If your book is ‘club appropriate,’ then there are tons of ways to get involved with book clubs—personal appearances, Skype, email Q&A, etc. Start by adding a book club section to your website and contact bookstores (where clubs often register so they get notifications of new releases) to let them know you’re available to participate. This was all part of Janna Cawrse Esary’s presentation; she has participated in more than 50 book club meetings.
- Need a vocal warm-up to loosen your lips before you do a book reading? Try a handful of repetitions of ‘red leather, yellow leather.’ And if you find yourself needing to stop and take a drink of water during your reading, use it as an opportunity to add dramatic flair! Thanks to Craig English for these tips.
- Backstory isn’t a bad thing, but remember, you’re not writing a story about the backstory, you’re writing a story because of what happened in the backstory. What was it that happened offstage that was the igniter to the real story? Things that make you go ‘hmmm’ from Lynn Price.
- Christina Katz didn’t just talk about author platform, she talked about platform dynamic—the heart and soul you want to give to the world, and how you put it out there. She made me realize just how boring my current website is; it doesn’t give the slightest hint about my irreverent, self-deprecating, 10-year-old-boy sense of humor (hee hee, did I tell you Sarah Callender’s blog is called Inside-Out Underpants?) And you’d never know that I put quite a bit of thought and intention into how I interact and what I’m trying to achieve with my message in terms of the big picture. All it says is that I live in Seattle. Yawn. I vow to make my platform come ALIVE!
There was some personal success at PNWA, too (I was over the flipping moon, people.) As one of the first 200 people who registered for the conference, I had access to two Power Pitch blocks, and I must say, once I got the first pitch out without totally screwing it up, it was really fun. The agents and editors were great, considering the fact that they get about one half of one second to themselves in between pitches, and I now have a list (that I am very excited about) of people to whom I will be sending my materials when the package is ready.
Finally, I made some swell new writer friends. We shared our pitching excitement, ate cheesecake together (actually, I ate quite a lot of one of my new friend’s uneaten cheesecake) and just reveled in the camaraderie in general, and it was one of the best things about the conference. That’s one thing about being a writer: we’re a tribe, and spending four days elbow to elbow with other writers is a lot like coming home.