Old Dog; New Tricks; Any time Surprises

Kent District Library puts on writers conferences in Grand Rapids. I attended once before, spoke on marketing another time, and decided to go again this spring. Realizing the conference is mostly for newbie writers, and having nine books published, I wasn’t sure what I would get out of it. Then came the emails of the waiting list, and to let them know if we were unable to attend. I thought to give up my spot, but something compelled me to go, not for what I could get out of it, but what I could give to others.

The physical conference set-up was different from my other times. Attendees sat around tables, six per table. I sat with six strangers. Previously, we were packed in rows, where I only socialized with the persons on my right or left, and everyone was on their own for lunch. This time, all morning and during the provided lunch we six were able to get to know each other. One had never heard of critique groups. Connections and invites were made. Towards the end of lunch I finally confessed that I was published, but…and then I rambled a bit about the confusion between author Sandy Carlson (for my MG historical fictions) and author S. L. Carlson (for my YA fantasies). I gave them each my business card (I was the only one with any), but warned them my website needed some serious updating. From their feedback, I realized I ought to set up a separate website for S. L. Carlson. It meant additional research and work, but what an unexpected epiphany… coming from newbies! This old dog learned new tricks from young pups. I thank you! Woof.

The breakout session on podcasting was eye-opening-new to me as well. Yet another reason to attend writers conferences: to keep updated on the industry’s technology.

Keep on writing. Keep on learning. Woof-woof!

 

Post Writers’ Conference Weekend Evaluation — The Punchline (i.e., Part II) – Intellectual Property

It’s now two weeks after the SCBWI-MI fall conference on Mackinac Island. It was time spent in a lovely location, thinking about my writing, learning new things, and networking with old and new friends.

One thing I used to do after each writers conference or listening to an author speak, was to share that experience and knowledge with others. That was intended to be today’s post. However, these days, more and more, intellectual property is flicking it’s finger on my temple letting me know that is no longer acceptable; that if people want to hear the speakers, they need to pay to go to the venu. So now I wonder what I can share outside of “I learned so much and I networked with fellow writers and illustrators.”

One of my friends spends a lot of the conference time in her room, writing. It is quiet time away from family and her busy lifestyle, surrounded and inspired by fellow writers. My goal was to speak at the conference and help others understand the pitfalls and successes of self-publishing and ePublishing, and to do island research while there.

When a big name speaker talks mostly about him- or herself, I tend to get a bit ho-hum-y. I could read about that information elsewhere. I’m at the conference (paying the big bucks for their intellectual property) to find out what’s current in the book industry, what works for them, and if they are an editor or agent, what tickles their fancies so if I have a story I think will match their likes which I can submit to them later. Mostly, I think success in this industry is a matter of luck — of outstanding writing, of course, but also luck. Constantly develop your writing craft, and be lucky.

I did learn things at the conference, but since I’m unable to share this information, I’ll let it marinate for a while and perhaps it will be tweeked and transformed someday into Sandy-speak.

Or maybe I’ll just write. There are always three or more stories I have in progress at any moment.

Whether you are able to attend a conference or not, keep on reading about craft; keep on bettering your writing. Every six months you should be a better writer than six months earlier. Read. Write. Learn. Wishing you each the best in your writing endeavors.

Post Writers’ Conference Weekend Evaluation — The Set Up (i.e., Part I)

It’s been a week since the SCBWI-MI fall writers’ conference on Mackinac Island. The day after the conference, life swung immediately back into normal mode. So now, one week later, I need to evaluate what went on.

My husband thought it best to make the 4.5 hour drive a day early so I’d be fresh going into the conference (v.s. leaving home at 3 a.m.). I took advantage of the alone time by stopping at Hartwick Pines State Park for logging photos (for Logging Winter) and at McGilpin Rock (for Tales of the Lost Schooner cover shots). I bought my ferry ticket that Thursday evening to avoid the rush the next morning, then drove over to the International Sky Park for sunset over Lake Michigan and a view of the galaxy plane (a.k.a., Milky Way). I returned to the motel room where the owner and I chased a big grey bat out of my room. (It was huge!) And then I slept. I think.

Friday morning I found I ‘d been successful in avoiding the ferry rush to Mackinac Island, for I was the only passenger on board for the 8 a.m. trip. As I couldn’t check into the conference hotel until 4 p.m., I decided to do some research. I’d written a MG story eight years ago, set on Mackinac Island, and thought to revive the story by renting a bike and seeing the inland spots I’d only seen photos of. At Crack-in-the-Island, in the middle of the woods, on one in sight, the chain fell off my rental. I wasn’t too worried. You can’t really get lost for long on an island with an eight-mile circumference. Still, it took me 45 minutes to find another human, during which time I discovered that when a chain if off a bike, not only can’t you pedal forward, but you also can’t brake. Did I mention I was near the top part of the island? My 1-hour ride turned into three, but upon my return I still had an hour before conference registration, so I mingled with the other early conference folk.

From Friday, 2 p.m., until Sunday, 1:30 p.m., the SCBWI-MI writers’ conference hosted speakers like editor Arthur Levine, editor Christy Ottaviano, and agent Jodell Sadler, along with a host of Michigan speakers and writers including yours truly.

The 3 p.m. ferry was the earliest post-conference way off the island. By 4:00 I climbed into my van on the mainland. Four and a half hours and three cans of Red Bull later I pulled into our driveway.

(Stay tuned for Part II of Post Writers’ Conference Weekend Evaluation, as in the actual writers part of the weekend.)

One Week From Writers’ Conference

Next week at this time I’ll be on an island in northern Michigan for our SCBWI fall writers’ conference along with Arthur Levine and Jodell Sadler, just to name-drop a couple of speakers. I also will be on a panel discussing non-traditional publication and epublication. No pressure.

It’s a five-hour drive up there, a ferry ride across to the island, and staying in a hotel twice as expensive than what I’d normally spend. Will it be worth it? Every minute and every penny!

Besides the incredible amount of knowledge intake from an event like this, there are the reunions with writers and illustrators I haven’t seen for a while and the networking and meeting of new comrades. The excitement builds. So do my worries. Even a seasoned conference-goers like myself has some concerns. Will I make the right travel connections? Will the travel weather and the island weather be lovely, horrid, or not matter?  Will I bring too much, too little? Will I be able to speak without having a cotton ball throat, even to greet people, or want to hide in my room?

I therefore share two important things to know when attending a writers’ conference: 1) It’s not about you; and 2) It’s all about you.

For the first point, it doesn’t matter if you’re wearing cute shoes. Really. It doesn’t matter that you feel insecure about a thousand things. Only you will know that. Every other honest person would admit the same. You will need to step outside of worrying about the way you look or speak or act, and try to set yourself free for the weekend. Breathe deeply. You are there for your written words (or illustrations). Quit looking in a mirror. Straighten up. Stand tall. Remember, it’s not about you.

For the second point, it really is all about you, or rather what you represent. You are at the conference not only to learn, but also to connect with others in similar positions as you. The world of writing and illustrating for kids is a wonderful avocation/vocation with dynamic people who care — care about fellow writers and illustrators, and care about our readers. We’re all in this together. Reach out to others. Talk. Share. Reflect. Take home ways to better your craft  and to proceed into a lifetime of this twisting and changing and wonderfully spinning career choice. Remember, it’s all about you.

Mackinac Island SCBWI-MI 2014 Conference, look out! Here we come!

 

Non Conference Goers Alternative

Literature Blogs

This weekend is our local SCBWI chapter’s annual fall conference — for the first time, it was held on Mackinac Island. (Heaving a long, wishful sigh.) For about a month, chatter on our listserv has been mostly about the upcoming conference. Since about three-fourths of the chapter members are not at the conference, I thought I’d start a discussion on the listserv about what books we each are reading. The responses plum made me grin. Writing is about so much more than writing, or even reading for that matter, but it’s a start. There were books others mentioned which I’d been meaning to read and now have been given that extra nudge. Community. We may write alone, but we are not alone. Even though we 200+ were not on the idyllic island, trying to pay attention to dynamic and inspirational speakers, we are still connected, as writers, as readers, as adventurers.

Today, I finished a Louis L’Amour book (not in my writing genre, but it’s essential to read out of your genre now and then). I also am reading through THE ARTIST’S WAY by Julia Cameron, taking one chapter per week as the book suggests, in order to unblock my blocked creativity. Of course, several of the suggestions in her book would work best if I were a monk, uninvolved in this ole world.

So…? What books are you reading at the moment?

Tight Writing

 Literature Blogs

I must gather my thoughts (and notes) from this past weekend’s SCBWI-MI writers conference. Lots of great stuff to allow to soak in. I’ll pass on my notes soon. In the meantime… We all hear about how important it is to have tight writing. Here is an excellent example:

A university creative writing class was asked to write a concise essay containing these four elements:
1) religion
2) royalty
3) sex
4) mystery

The prize-winning essay read:
“My God,” said the Queen. “I’m pregnant. I wonder who did it?”

Writing Conference Expectations

 Literature Blogs

We’re having our SCBWI-MI fall conference this weekend. I’ve been to over a dozen live writing conferences in different states. I’ve also been co-chair of four of them. I’ve attended on-line writers conferences as well. After all this time and experience, I rather know what to expect. I should rather say, I ought to know by now what to expect. Here’s what I expect for this weekend.

* That I will greet old friends, and make bunches of new ones – all of us gathered by a shared interest and hope.

* That one of these writer friends will tell me: 1) if I put my sweater on tag-side out; or 2) if my shoes don’t match, from getting dressed in the dark; or 3) that before I slip away for a critique, to be sure I remove the spinach dangling from between my teeth or pumpkin smear on my cheek.

* That I remember to bring extra pens in case my favorite one runs out of ink. I also take a water bottle, a watch, and business cards, and sometimes even remember to hand out the cards.

* That I will have one manuscript (possibly more) polished enough to pitch.

* That when I practice my elevator pitches, I mentally delete each “um” and “well, then…” and “ya know?” and remember to keep such phrases deleted when my mouth lays a patch at the intersection of Conversation Street and Nervous Lane.

* That I take cash-only for book purchases v.s. my credit card, which doesn’t light up when I’ve exceeded our monthly food budget.

* That I don’t pass out when I come face-to-face with an editor or agent. First impressions count.

* That I will take away gobs of information for my personal writing craft improvement.

* That after an attending editor or agent asks for a partial or a full, I’ll be business-like-delighted, but not so elated-ecstatic-happy that I’ve forgotten where I parked my car.

Time, Priorities and Discipline for Writers

Literature Blogs 

I missed the last day of the WriteOnCon. Out of town. Out of internet availability. I have had nearly a week to catch up. I listened to some of the talks, but now that I have them just sitting there, waiting for me, I have allowed myself to get distracted by other things in my life – big things, like cleaning turtles from our very own river oil spill, to the more mundane, like mowing the lawn, doing laundry, or meal prep. Each of those things are important in their own rights. (Oh, yeah. I forgot to mention making and canning the salsa today before the tomatoes overripe.)

Discipline and priorities involve decisions in our every-day lives. We only have twenty-four hours in a day, and we do need to eat and sleep and get a bit of exercise; besides that, most people need day jobs in order to eat and sleep with a roof overhead.

How serious are you when it comes to writing? Are raw writing (first drek-drafts), or revising, or learning more about the craft and the market, priorities for you? Or do you say you’ll get to it “someday soon, as soon as xx is over”? (In my opinion, the only “xx” excuse to keep yourself from discipline, is family, especially your children. They grow up way too fast to ignore them.) So… be disciplined. Write!

WriteOnCon, part III — online v.s. live conferences

Literature Blogs 

I am all for writers conferences. I’ve been attending them for about twenty-five years, and have co-chaired four and a half of them.

I participated in last week’s WriteOnCon — a free online conference for children’s writers. I am slowly catching up on day three because I was out of town for a week. During my absence, I thought of a few differences between online writers conferences and live writers conferences, and thought I’d share them.

1) Cost. WriteOnCon was free. Our 2-day fall SCBWI-MI conference — which I’m attending — costs between $235 and $285, plus attendees must arrange for our own overnight accommodations.

2) Information. Both forms make my head ache with overload of things to absorb. Both have things for new-to-the-business writers and seasoned, published writers. Online offered far more speakers, but live speakers can be approached.

3) Networking. This can work well for both types of conferences. Online can be a bit more difficult, but you can also meet people from around the world. On the live side, depending on your personality, meeting an editor for the first time in person can terrify some. An editor once told me the story of a face-to-face critique at a conference, where as soon as the writer sat down, she burst into tears from being so close to an actual editor.

4) Presentations. Live conferences have… well, live speakers, with question and answer times. Online conferences have YouTube videos, or live chats, or written talks (like a blog post).

5) Fashion. Spending a couple months deciding what to wear to a live conference (and usually changing my mind the night before) v.s. pajamas or grubs.

Personally, I appreciate both types of conferences. I appreciate the work which conference organizers put into making conferences dynamic and memorable information houses for willing-to-learn writers. I appreciate speakers willing to give of their time and knowledge, and to possibly pick up some new clients or authors or illustrators, which is, of course, every attendee’s hope. And I love meeting fellow writers who generally huddle together, us against the world.

Keep on learning. Keep on writing.

WriteOnCon 2010, part II

 Literature Blogs

I attended 2 days of the very first WriteOnCon last week, but then had to leave town on Thursday. I look forward to catching up with the third of the conference which I missed. The thing about writers conferences, is that I have attended over a dozen of them… in person. Some of the things the speakers talk about are “old hat” stuff to me.

Here are some things I gleaned from the first two days of the conference:

1) It was fascinating to “listen in” on the thought process of agent Natalie Fisher. She reminded us all that what she mentioned was only her own opinion, and other agents might not feel the same way. It was interesting, and helpful. Learn what the agent to whom you are submitting is looking for.

2) I now have a list of about 100 additional books to read, both about writing, and written for MG/YA. (Oh, the time. The time! How to find the time to do all the reading and writing I want to do!)

3) Stay current! Classics are nice, but some of those loved stories wouldn’t cut it in today’s highly competitive market. Read them. Love them. But write for today’s kids.

4) (related to #3) Kids hate retro. (Thank you, J.S. Lewis.) Don’t write about YOUR childhood, unless it’s a historical novel. Write for today’s kids and about today’s kids.

5) Know what the acceptable word counts are for today’s market. Yes, yes. We each can name several books which break the rules, but unless you are an established author with a great fan following, stick to the rules.

(More to come, both on the first two days, and the third day of WriteOnCon!) (Yeah to the organizers!)