Tag Archives: Lisa Scottoline

Conventions as Marketing, Part II, or Every Day is An Interview

I wanted to follow-up on Quincy Allen’s great post of October 15, 2013 about the value of active convention attendance on your marketing plan. The post is particularly timely as I’m packing my bag for World Fantasy which will be held in Brighton, England from October 31 – November 2. Quincy shared how his career had been enhanced by his decision to attend conferences. Like Quincy my successes in writing can be traced back to my decision to attend a conference. But that’s only a part of the story. Showing the is the easiest part. What Quincy did, and I recommend you do, is he was an active participant in the conferences.

Taking a convention from being a fun event to being a professional marketing tool is hard work. We attend writers’ conferences or seminars, to market our writing, and to meet other writers, agents, publishers and editors. For ease of reference, I’ll refer to agents, publishers and editors collectively as “agents.” You cannot sit in the seminars and only interact with the group of people you came if you are marketing.  Every day of a convention is an interview. Every moment of every day is an opportunity for you to help or hurt your career. So how do you ramp up your marketing potential at a Con?

Before the Con: do your homework.

One of the things I love about World Fantasy is it posts a list of attendees or “members” so I can see if my dream editor or agent is going to attend. This year WFC also has a separate list of attending publishers so if you don’t know that Jane Doe is with XY Literary you can see that XY Literary is attending and investigate further. Conventions are often crowded. Decide in advance who you’d like to make a connection with, why, and how.

I wanted to talk to Peter Beagle because I love his stories and since he was a Guest of Honor that year . How was I going to meet to him? Because he was scheduled for a reading, an interview session, and to attend the banquet I knew where and when I could find him, but I also asked my friends if anyone knew him. One of the founding Fictorians did and she introduced me. Ask your friends and colleagues if they know the person you want to meet. Chances are that one of them does. A personal introduction will usually take you a lot further than cold calling on someone. If the person you want to speak with is not giving a lecture or otherwise booked to be in a specific place be prepared to check the Con Bar – regularly.

If you are planning to pitch a story make sure it’s finished. “Finished” does not mean the first draft is complete. It means you have done everything you can to make the story as compelling and as free from typos as you can. Prepare your pitches. Ace Jordyn attended last year’s WFC with a list of the people she wanted to meet, and pitches prepared for each work and each person. Amazing, really.

At the Con:  Be professional and bold.

I’ve written about this before so I’m not going to delve too deeply here. Appearances matter. If you want to be taken as a professional be dressed as one. Does that mean you have to wear a suit? No – unless that’s your brand. Look at just about any New York Times best-selling author’s website and you’ll see what I mean. Lisa Scottoline, a retired lawyer and writer of legal thrillers, wears suits. She wore one when she was instructing at the Seak, Legal Fiction for Lawyers convention where I met her. Because of who she is and what she writes the suit is part of her brand. Neil Gaiman and Brandon Sanderson don’t wear suits.  In fact, I would guess that the bulk of professional writers don’t wear suits. Still, they all look professional. You should too.

Act professional. Don’t interrupt, don’t be rude. Enough said about that.

Go boldly.  Follow-up on your plans. Go to the places the people you are looking for are likely to be. Talk to them when you find them. If you can’t find them, ask other people if they might know where Jane Doe is. You must approach strangers at a convention. You must ask friends to introduce you to people you don’t know, but want to. At least one agent has said that she only signs people she’s met at a convention, and the agent doesn’t wear a name tag. She, like every other agent, wants to see you’ve done your research and that you’re passionate about your work. After all, if you’re not excited about and willing to sell your work, why should she be? Sitting in a corner watching the con go by will not result in publication.

Strike while the iron is hot. If you are engaged in a genuine conversation and someone asks what you are working on. Tell them.

After the Con: Follow-up.

Oh lucky day! You spent three hours talking to your dream editor at the Con Bar. So, now what? Follow-up with that person just like you would do at any other networking event. Send her an e-mail saying you enjoyed meeting her at the Con. Make the e-mail specific so that if you drinking a purple girly drink remind the editor so she, who met hundreds of people at the Con, has the opportunity to place you. If you were asked to submit to the editor do so now. It not, just thank her for her time. At minimum, follow the editor’s twitter feed or friend her on Facebook. Comment honestly on posts. If she posts something you find interesting you should comment on it. If not, you shouldn’t. You are trying to maintain and forge a genuine connection with her.

Don’t forget your friends. Remember all those people who helped you research and introduced you around? Thank them as well.

Conventions are one of our most powerful marketing tools if used correctly. Meeting someone at a convention may make the difference between a polite “no, thank you” and a sale. Treat every convention like an extended job interview because that’s what it is. Your primary goal is to form honest and lasting connections with the people you meet. Succeeding at that goal leads to success.


Okay, so you have your novel started…so, now what?

One of the wonderful things about NaNoWriMo is it forces thousands of writers to get the writing party started. This raises the question of: Now what?

The answer is deceptively simple: FINISH  IT.

Okay, I can’t leave it at that. Simple answers just aren’t in my nature. Why? It’s because the simplest answers often hold the hardest truths, and most difficult objectives.

The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words in a month. Keep in mind that the goal isn’t 50,000 immediately publishable words. I’ll circle back to that point in a moment. Most adult-reader novels (and no, I’m not taking about those at the top of the rating system, but all books that fall outside the picture, children’s, and middle grade markets) these days are more than 50,000 words.   Young Adult novels use to fall into the 50-60,000 range, but with the breakaway success of the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises, Young Adult often exceeds this mark as well. Books in the fantasy genre tend to be on the  higher end of the word count spectrum. If you’re not Brandon Sanderson or George R.R. Martin, your likely word count is between 80,000 and 120,000 words.  Romance and Thrillers tend to ranger closer to the70- 80,000 word mark.  So, our task isn’t done when at the end of November we hit the magical 50,000 words. We can’t spell check and e-mail the partially-finished manuscript out to our top ten fantasy agents and expect them to rush to represent us. Seriously, don’t do this.

Tip #1 then is to write until done. Whether you need another 20,000 words or another 60,000 words, you must finish the story and type “THE END.” Having the privilege of typing that phrase a number of times, let me tell you it’s the best feeling. Revel in it for a day or two. By typing “the end” you’ve done what most of the want-to-be writers never do. You’ve finished the story. Congratulations. It’s a huge accomplishment.

But, you’re not ready to hit send yet. RULE 1 – and unlike pirate “rules” you are not allowed to ignore this one – No story should go from the first time you type “the end” immediately into an agent’s or editor’s hands. The story isn’t ready, and worse, if you had a connection with that person, you might have wasted your “big chance” on an inferior product. Hopefully, your first draft isn’t far off the mark, but everyone needs some editing before publication.

A very wise and funny lady once told me “give yourself permission to write a crappy first draft.” Thank you, Lisa Scottoline for that advice. The saying isn’t unique to Lisa, but she’s the first person I heard it from where it sank in. I mentioned above  very few people can write 50,000 publishable words on the first pass. I think outliners have an advantage over pantsers like me because the outliner already beta-tested, as it were, the story’s structure. For most of us, the hard work comes after we type “the end” and start the editing phase.

Tip #2 – Put the draft away.

We fall in love everytime we write. I love my characters, even the really horrible people, and their story by the time I type “the end.” I’ve spent months or years with them. Like any other parent, this unconditional love means I’m blind to the characters’ and story’s flaws.  I generally need at least a month before I can objectively look at a novel I’ve written before I can wade into the forest of words with a machette. Take at least a week. Longer if you can. The distance will grant you objectivity, and you’ll need that for the editing/ rewriting process.

Tip #3 – Outline the story.

Okay, this is where opinions will vary widely and you’ve going to need to experiment to find out what works for you. Tip 3 is where the editing process starts. Whether you are an outliner or a pantser, my recommendation is to outline your completed story to ensure you hit all the “beats” you need.  I’ve written about the Hollywood Formula of story telling here before and we just had a great review of Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat which uses this formula here so I won’t replow this ground.  Please check out those two posts because the outlining and story telling techniques set out in both are helpful in structuring a story or fixing one when it’s leaped the tracks.  If you use this method to dissect your story, the “what’s missing” to take this from fair, to publishable, to kick-butt runaway sucess become obvious which makes the editing process less painful.

Tip #4 – It’s okay to delete.

This tip is a version of Stephen King’s imfamous phrase, “kill your darlings.”

I had a professor who was also a playwright. He’d adapted a well known classic novel that hadn’t been previously adapted to the stage. One of the reasons, I think, this particular work of this very well known and revered writer hadn’t been adapted was the “novel” was originally published week-by-week in a newspaper. Sometimes the week’s episode fit into the overall story arc and sometimes it didn’t. The professor overlayed a plot line of the writer’s actual life with the story. The idea was brilliant. The first act’s execution suffered because the professor wouldn’t kill his, or the original writer’s “darlings.” The tech crew (of which I was one) spent the act-break telling the audience the one scene they needed to know from the first act, and  begging them to stay for the second act.  On a good night we only lost half the house at intermission. The second act was brilliant, beautiful and heart-breaking. The problem was almost no one saw it. Instead of listening to advice, killing the scenes which were neat but interrupted the story, and making the play a long one-act, the professor insisted on his version which kept all these odd-ball bits. Because he wouldn’t “kill his darings”, the professor killed the entire play.

If you have a bit you love and that’s the only reason you’re keeping it, use the cut and paste function. Cut it out of the current story. It’s a cancer that will infect the whole work. Paste it into a file named “darlings” or “neat bits” and save. At some point that darling will rise from its technological grave and be given new life in a story it belongs in. Have faith in yourself that you’ll find a home for it in some other work. If a bit isn’t advancing character and plot, it doesn’t belong in this story. Take it out.

Tip #5 Stop editing when it’s time.

People who advocate for limited editing have a valid point. You can edit a story to death. At some point, you have to say it’s as good as I can make it and let it go. Do you send it to agents and editors now? No.

Tip #6 When you’ve gotten it as good as you can, phone a friend.

Remember when I said writers are parents who are blind to their child’s faults? This is where that maxim comes into play again. You need a trusted reader or six. These people are new to your story and can see what you can’t. Whether you’ve had other readers in the editing process, this group’s purpose is to give you impressions (not line edits). This is the group I want to come back to me with emotional comments like “hu?” or “I cried here.” and not technical ones.  You want cheerleaders out of it. If you get people who finished only because they are your friends or, worse, get the DNF (“did not finish”) comment, you have a problem that needs to be corrected before you go past “Go” and collect your book advance.

Tip #7 Send it out.

A professional writer’s light at the end of the tunnel is publication. You can’t get published if your story languishes on your computer’s harddrive.   You must submit.  Do your research. Meet agents and editors. Send the story to the person it is a good fit for. Self-publish if that’s what you want to do. Then the waiting begins.

Tip #8Start all over.

While you are waiting, guess what you need to do. Yup. That’s it. Write another story. Kismet happens, but you need to put yourself out there. Finish more stories. Give them wings and send them out to the world. Keep at it long enough and you’ll suceeed, whatever that term means to you.

For me,. suceess means writing another 2,500 words today. I best get started.

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