Tag Archives: conventions

Everything I learned about the business of being a writer I learned at Superstars Writing Seminar . . .

supserstars button

Three years ago my life changed.

Before dismissing that statement as being melodramatic, just hear me out.

It was 2010 and I was thinking that I might actually be interested in maybe someday pursuing a writing career. I was receiving Dave Farland’s Daily Kicks, and he mentioned he was putting together this seminar-thing (okay, he was far more eloquent than that) with a bunch of other top-notched and top-selling fantasy writers about everything you needed to know about the publishing industry, but no one was willing to tell you. The other instructors–Kevin J. Anderson, Eric Flint, Rebecca Moesta and James Owen–all have equally impressive resumes. The seminar-thingy was the Superstars Writing Seminar. I figured what the heck, I’d been going to “skills” seminars for about five years now, maybe it was time to get an insider’s look at the industry I wanted to be part of.

Best (professional) decision of my life.


The information and insight into the publishing market, including the self-publishing v. traditional publishing debate, was invaluable. Knowing the risks inherent for a publisher in taking on a new writer, I understood (and could work to circumvent) the barriers to publishing.

The time with the instructors was unprecedented. Remember that I said I’d been attending seminars for five years. Even with instructor-intense workshops, there wasn’t a whole lot of out-of-class time with the instructors. Superstars blew that distance out of the water. We went to lunch with the instructors. We went out drinking with Kevin Anderson. If you wanted a few minutes of their time, all of them where happy to oblige.

The instructor time ties in with a very important point.  They are some of the nicest and most open people you could ever want to meet. They genuinely want to help other writers succeed. They are James Owen and Iinvested in helping them do so. They have a wealth of information on many disparate topics and are more than happy to share that knowledge, whether it’s publishing, queries, hiking, micro-brew beers, mafia, European history or whatever.  For the price of asking, they gave us hours of their time to help us Superstars attendees move forward in our careers. And the guest speakers are just as open and wonderful as the regular instructors.

Then, of course, there’s the connections you form with the other attendees. The Superstars attendees are as amazing as the instructors. A group of the 2010 Superstars alums formed the writing group that grew into Fictorians. The picture to the right is of some of us at World Fantasy 2012. In addition to Fictorians, Superstars alums have an active Facebook group. We encourage and commiserate with each other. We are our own best cheerleaders. That network of people going through exactly what you are going through is invaluable. It’s also how I found my publisher.

Most of all, what Superstars did for me was give me the confidence to say, “I am going to be a professional writer.” It’s not a crazy dream. It’s a goal. Superstars gave me an understanding of the business side of the industry that I couldn’t get anywhere else.

Seriously folks, if you are interested in a writing career or maybe you’re already pursuing one, you are doing yourself a disservice by not attending Superstars. I highly recommend you attend Superstars Writing Seminar, which will be held May 14-16, 2014 in Colorado Springs, Colorado this year. Prices go up on  May 1, 2013, so sign up now.

I hope to see you there.

If you’re still on the fence, check out another great posts on this site about the Superstars Experience:

Q&A with the Superstars: Part I







Novel Rewriting Workshop and Other Dave Wolverton Semimars

Did you every have one of those stories that you know “missed it by that much”? I did. While there were some obvious fixes I knew I needed (like beefing up my descriptions), there was a fundamental flaw in the story that I couldn’t get my hands around. The story was sick and needed help. So, I took my baby to a professional.

Let me back up for a second, the story I’m talking about is my trunk novel. I’ve been picking at it for far too long. The first draft was well over 300,000 words. I know. I know. So, I broke it into three books. The problem was that the first book’s story arc was high on the Character quotient of Orson Scott Card’s MICE scale. For those who don’t know, I’m going to vastly oversimplify this. Card broke stories down to four archetypes – Milieu (setting), Issue, Character, and Event.  A character story is mostly concerned with the character’s internal journey. So, the book ended when my main character transitioned from spoiled, self-centered twit to taking responsibility for the greater community, and before the promisDavid Farlanded big battle.  A lot of the comments I received was that “nothing happened” in the story. So, books one and two became book 1. But I still had what I called a “pacing” problem. I didn’t know how to fix it. Hence, the trip to the book doctor.

The book doctor of choice and the stated course of therapy? David Farland’s Novel Rewriting Seminar. Dave is a New York Times Bestselling writer who has been translated into many languages and trained a number of #1 New York Times bestsellers, like Brandon Mull, Brandon Sanderson, and Stephenie Meyer.  His latest novel, NIGHTINGALE, has won eight awards. So, the ability to hear him speak, much less take a class from him, is an amazing opportunity.

This seminar focuses on editing. In order to attend, you have to submit a sample to Dave and be accepted. You’re committing to a lot of homework, both before and during the workshop. We had a reading list which ensured all participants were starting with the same base knowledge.

All participants send in the first 100 pages and a synopsis of their stories. Part of the pre-seminar homework is to read the first 20 pages and synopsis of the other workshop stories. Getting to read and critique other stories, when you do so honestly, is a learning experience. What do I mean by “critiquing honestly”? I mean not cutting down a story just to cut it down. Your plan should always be to help the writer improve the story. realizing that your comments are just your opinion and you’re not any smarter or better than any other writer. Use critiquing as a way to help someone, but also as a means of seeing what you are doing that might be hurting your own writing.

The work doesn’t end when you get to the workshop. This isn’t a seminar where you can sit back and zone out. Each day, we went over two or more of the workshop stories, discussed story structure and elements, and were given homework that applied the topics discussed. We each left with 10 other perspectives on our story. Another fabulous excercise we did was disecting the story-telling elements in The Hunger Games movie. Many of the workshop participants would go out to lunch or dinner together. We built a community there.

Each participant meets with Dave to go over his comments on the first 100 pages of your novel. I have to say the time spent with Dave was worth far more than the price of admission. Not only is he a genuinely wonderful person, but he has so much insight and experience over the entire entertainment industry. I could have spent hours talking to him about everything from game design to movie making to publishing, and barely dipped my toes in the well of information and experience that he has.  Dave pointed out some of the things I knew needed work – my descriptions of places and people were thin. But he also articulated the bigger problem I was having, and a way to address it.

What was the best thing about the workshop? That’s a hard question. The people I met there are wonderful. The knowledge I gained was invaluable. But, I have to say the best thing about the workshop was leaving knowing what I had to do, and that I could accomplish it.

Dave has a workshop for whereever you are in your writing career. He has a host of new writing classes scheduled for 2013 available at www.davidfarland.com/writing workshops.  These range from his new Short Fiction Master’s Class, to his Million-Dollar Outlines, Novel Revision class, and Fiction Mastery Class. While there is some overlap between the seminars, each focuses on a different aspect of the craft of writing. I can’t wait to attend some of the other ones.

As if the workshops weren’t  cool enough, if you go to to any of his workshops and mention that “I heard about it through the Fictorians,” Dave will buy you a free dinner with him (if time allows), or he’ll give you $20.

If you have the choice between dinner with Dave or $20, take the dinner. Every time.

So please check out his workshops here.

Sail To Success – a unique Writing Workshop

Any of you trying to decide whether to take that cruise to the Bahamas or attend a writing workshop?  Well, now you can do both!  The Sail to Success writing workshop combines the awesome vacation experience of a Bahamas cruise with a professional level writing workshop.

I attended this year’s first-ever workshop, and it was well worth the cost, which was higher than some other venues, given that we combined a vacation with a small group workshop with top talent.

When I heard about the Sail to Success writing workshop, I had to go. Not only was the venue uniquely enticing (I’d never cruised before), but the line-up of faculty presenting to the small group was outstanding. Presenters included:

Wow. And the reality lived up to the expectation.

The workshop proved extremely productive, although being on a cruise ship proved to be a challenge as well as a great benefit.  It was a little difficult to focus on class time while the ship was docked in Freeport or Nassau.

The class schedule was intensive: from 8 AM to noon, and from 6 PM to midnight most nights. We managed to slip ashore in the afternoons, but lacked the time for extensive excursions like scuba diving (we had to return to the ship by 4:30). Luckily, my wife came along since the purchase included cruise for two, and she vacationed for both of us while I sat in class.

I didn’t mind. The classes were excellent. Not only did we receive excellent instruction on craft from Nancy Kress, but we learned from these long-time, successful professionals about the nuts and bolts of the publishing business.

The highlights of the class were the critique sessions from Nancy Kress and Toni Weiskopf. Nancy reviewed samples of our writing from an editor’s perspective, and provided wonderful feedback. Toni reviewed other samples from her perspective as a purchasing editor. What a rare opportunity to sit with a publisher and see exactly how they look at your work. It proved enlightening, and a little scary.

Toni receives over a thousand manuscript submissions per month. When she considers those submissions, she’s not looking for reasons to like a manuscript. She’s looking for any excuse to stop reading, and to give that submission the dreaded “red mark of doom’. It might come in the first paragraph if she sees it’s not the type of story they’re looking for, or it might come on page two when she finds herself confused, or sees too many grammatical mistakes. If she can’t find a reason to throw the manuscript away quickly, then it just might be a work she’d consider reading further.  Of the fifteen students in the class, only three of us earned that distinction, which was a rare moment of validation.

The only complaint about those critique sessions was the lack of time. Given the time constraints, feedback was limited to 7-10 minutes per manuscript. It just wasn’t enough time.  However, in 2013 the program will be structured slightly different.  Each student will select if they want a critique from Nancy or from Toni, not both, although all students will get to sit in on both critique sessions and hear the reviews of all of the submitted works.  That should allow for more time per submitted work.

So overall, this workshop proved well worth the investment in time and money, and I strongly recommend it to anyone who’s a serious aspiring writer.


Finding the Right Writing Seminar for You.

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Deciding what writing seminar to go to is a daunting task. If you Google or Bing search “writing seminars fiction” or “writing conferences fiction” you’ll get well over million hits between the two. For simplicity I’m going to use the terms seminar, conference and convention interchangeably. Even when you factor in duplicate or out of date entries and wrong responses, there are thousands of writing conventions you could attend on a local, state, national or international level every year.  Add to the vast array of choices the necessary limitations of time and money, and you’re faced with a conundrum. Whether you are only attending one or five conventions that year, you still need to winnow down your choices to the “best” convention.

Since all of us here at Fictorians are setting up our convention schedules, we thought we’d address this very important topic. All month we’re going to be featuring posts on particular convention to help you make the “right” decision. There are many factors that make a convention “right” for you. A lot of it, though, comes down to what your goals are.

So, here are some of the factors I take into account when I’m planning out my conference attendance for the year.

1.         Time, Money and the Intangible Costs. All conventions are trade-offs.  Most of us have families we leave when we attend a convention. Non-writing jobs limit our available time. Limited funds may dictate that certain conventions are out of reach, for now. Even when writing is your full time jobs, the time at the convention takes hours away from your ability to write. Recognizing the trade-offs will give you one measure of whether the cost of attending the convention is more than you are willing to pay.

            I’m a mommy, writer, and lawyer. When I make decisions about most courses of action, I balance the time away from my family, and work with the benefit of the proposed action. Would I love to attend a seminar a month? Yes. Is it feasible? Heck no. Remember, we all have multiple demands on our time and attention. Don’t (knowingly or unknowingly) sacrifice more than you are willing in one area of your life for another.

2.         Take into account the convention’s focus and your needs. Each convention has its own personality, and focus. Some conventions are skills-based, some are industry-based and some are fan-based. My first seminar was skills-based. At the time I had a mess of a manuscript, but at least it was finished. The focus of the convention was how show lawyers how they too could be the next Gresham and write legal thrillers. While I was writing fantasy, the basic skills being taught applied to every type of writing. Other seminars focus on the networking opportunities, while still others focus on the costumes and pageantry of a fan convention.

Assess where you are in your career and what you want to get from the convention. For fun, there are some great conventions. A word of caution though, keep in mind if you are attending as a fan, you may not watch to pitch your dream editor while you are wearing a superhero outfit.

If you are starting out your writing career, my suggestion would be to focus on the general skills-based seminars for your first conference.  As your writing skills increase, there are seminars that focus on particular elements of the writing process like outlining, editing and pitching your story to agents and editors. Seminars like Superstars will also give you a lot of insight as to how the industry works and what it means to be a professional writer.

When you have a work looking for a home, you’ll want to focus on conventions that will give you the opportunity to meet agents, editors and publishers. At this point, you make also want to go to some of the genre specific conventions like Romance Writers of America, World Fantasy Convention, ThrillerFest and the like.

3.         Who else is going? Pay attention to the speakers and attendees, if the list is available. Attending with friends is a good safety net. Having people to be with can help bolster your confidence. A friend can prod you to go back and talk to that editor who’s looking for the same type of stories you write. Just remember not to pack up to the exclusion of new connections.

More importantly, if your dream agent is on a panel or attending at a particular conference, that conference is one that should be high on your list. This is where doing your homework before the conference comes in. Research the convention speakers. Find out if they write, edit or publish in your genre. Knowing who is speaking may help you winnow down your choices.


4.         Is the Content Useful?  Know what sessions will be offered, and if they sound helpful to your furthering your writing career.

There’s a caveat here. For the World Fantasy Convention and several other genre specific seminars, you will often need to sign up months, if not a year, before the sessions are announced.  The keynote speaker and often some of the other speakers or award recipients are often announced when the registration process starts. While this might be all right for the premiere genre seminars like WFC or ThrillerFest, since if you’ll want to attend them if you write in those genres, but try to avoid signing up for a conference when you don’t know what will be presented. It might be that that fine sounding seminar actually isn’t what you needed when you learn the details.

5.         Ask. If you’re reading this blog, you’ve already taken a positive step. You’re connecting with others in the industry. If you know Jane went to WorldCon, but Pete went to World Fantasy and you’re trying to decide between the two, ask Jane and Pete about their experiences. Contrary to the stereotype, writers tend to be a fairly gregarious bunch when we’re not at the keyboard. We’re happy to share insights and swap war stories. Asking people who have been what they liked or didn’t like and whether the seminar was useful is a great way to narrow the options to a manageable grouping.

6.         Have Faith.  Even after you’ve winnowed down the list by doing the above, you’re likely to have more choices than you can realistically attend. At that point, take a deep breath and pick the one that appeals most to you. With the right mindset, every convention can be a great one for you. And, you can always attend a different convention next year.

A final word on this subject: regardless of what type of convention you choose, you MUST network. The friendships you make are priceless.

fictorians at superstars