Tag Archives: seminars

Sophie’s Convention

A guest post by Kim May.

34890898Every year, I’m forced to make my very own Sophie’s choice. Except instead of choosing which child has to die, I have to choose which seminars, workshops, or conventions I’m going to attend. As much as I’d like to, I don’t have the vacation time or energy to attend them all. Not to mention that my meager travel budget can’t accommodate it. But they all have something unique to offer. Some, like Clarion, can be life-changing, while others like the Superstars Writing Seminar, have so much to offer that I’d be crazy not to go. WorldCon is enormous fun, and there are enough craft workshops to make my head spin.

So which one gets to live and which one gets to be taken out back like Old Yeller?

I don’t know if I’d ever be able to choose if it weren’t for a mentor’s advice. His advice was to consider what would be of the most benefit to my career at this stage. So where is my career? I’m still getting my name out there and trying to make my first sale. I’m also still mastering the craft (I suspect I’ll be striving for perfection the rest of my life, but that’s a discussion for another day). This means I need something that’s going to help me move forward.

Going back to a favorite workshop or convention is all well and good, but if all I’m getting out of it is renewing old contacts, something that I don’t have to do in person, then it’s in my best interests to go elsewhere. Even if a workshop updated its course materials, the majority would still be a review for me. If I need a review, and I often do, I can look at my notes. They’re free.

With this in mind, I can look at what each has to offer and make my choice. Like Sophie, I do harbor some regret that I can’t have them all. However, I can rest assured that my choice is the right one. Besides, just because it’s not wise for me to revisit doesn’t mean I can’t ever go back. Who knows, maybe in a few years I’ll be asked to come back to one of them as an instructor. Until then, I’ll have to make the grave in the backyard a little deeper and keep enough ordinance on hand to double-tap the desires that I can’t fulfill this year.

Guest Writer Bio:
Kim MayKim May writes sci-fi and fantasy but has been known to pen a gothic poem or two. She works at an independent bookstore and dog/house sits on the side. A native Oregonian, she lives with her geriatric cat, Spud, and spends as much of her free time as she can with family and friends. She recently won The Named Lands Poetry Contest. If you would like to find out what she’s working on, please visit her blog.

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

Superstars Week, Day 4: Q&A with the Superstars, Part 1

Now for our last two days of Superstars Week: Q&A with Kevin J. Anderson and David Farland, two of the panelists participating in Superstars Seminar. The other regular participants are: Eric Flint, Rebecca Moesta, and Brandon Sanderson. For more info on the seminar, go to www.superstarswritingseminar.com.

Though they need no introduction, it felt like a requirement, so:

Kevin J. AndersonKevin J. Anderson is the author of more than one hundred novels, 47 of which have appeared on national or international bestseller lists. He has won or been nominated for numerous prestigious awards, including the Nebula Award, Bram Stoker Award, and New York Times Notable Book. By any measure, he is one of the most popular writers currently working in the science fiction genre.

David Farland

David Farland is an award-winning, New York Times bestselling author who has penned nearly fifty science fiction and fantasy novels for both adults and children. Along the way, he has also worked as the head judge for one of the world’s largest writing contests, as a creative writing instructor, as a videogame designer, as a screenwriter, and as a movie producer.

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Q: Who thought of the Superstars Seminar and why did you think it was a good idea?

Kevin J. Anderson: Rebecca and I had Dave, Brandon, and Eric come to stay at our house for a few days so we could have a “bestseller summit” — with the intention of benefiting *ourselves*.  We were all bestselling, well-established authors, and there just aren’t workshops to give practical, no-nonsense advice to Pros.  We learned a lot from one another in those few intensive days, and we realized that we had a lot of good information to share with other serious writers, who weren’t getting it anywhere else.  The first seminar, in Pasadena, we had two TV producers who wanted to come and sit in-Steven L Sears and Marc Scott Zicree-and they ended up being guest speakers.  The second year, in Salt Lake City, we had Sherrilyn Kenyon as our official guest speaker, but Tracy Hickman and Howard Tayler also came to attend, and they spoke as well.  For the next seminar, we have Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith, but we’ll probably have some other surprise guests, as well.

David Farland: This was Kevin Anderson’s idea.  Some of us professional writers had gathered to talk about the state of the industry.  Brandon and I were both giving advice–me through my Daily Kick and Brandon through his podcasts, and Kevin suggested that we create a writing workshop taught only by NYT bestsellers.  I’d never seen one like this in our field, but it certainly made good sense, especially when one hears that wanky advice often given out by new authors who, while they may mean well, just aren’t very well informed.

Kevin and I have been friends since at least 1990, and we often talk–either through email or in person.  I’d discovered Eric Flint through writers of the Future and helped him get published.  I’ve always loved Eric and respected his work.  And then I was Brandon’s writing instructor at BYU.  I later took him out on his first book-signing tours and helped him get his career started.  So we’re not just writers, but also we’re all friends.  Each of the authors brings his or her own experience and strengths to the table.

Q: How long do you intend to keep doing it?

Dave: Oh, I’ll die in 15 years or so.  I think I’ll retire shortly thereafter.

Kevin: It’s very time consuming and a lot of work, but we get plenty of rewards.  It all depends on whether we have enough attendees!

Q: What has been your most rewarding or favorite moment from the seminars so far? (We had to specify that they couldn’t use Tracy Hickman’s story during the 2011 seminar.)

Kevin: (Note that the Tracy Hickman story was not planned; he just asked if he could have the microphone for a few minutes.)  It’s very rewarding to see how many people from the first two Superstars have signed up again for later seminars — so, either it isn’t sinking in the first time around, or they feel it’s valuable.  I love watching the discussion groups on Facebook and keeping in contact with some of our attendees, to watch how their careers are taking off (much faster than mine ever did!)

Dave: That’s a hard one.  For me, the greatest reward is to meet the people at the seminar.  I’ve very much enjoyed getting to know several people from the workshop, though I hesitate to try to name them all, for fear that someone will be left out.  You see, as a writer, we don’t get to have much in the way of a social life.  So I really take delight in getting to meet you new authors.

Q: If a student is to take away only one piece of information from this seminar, what do you hope it will be?

Kevin: That being a professional writer is an actual job-a business-and you need to treat it as such. You can’t just be flaky and “artistic” and miss your deadlines.

Dave: Ah, for each one of you, it will be different.  One of you might need to learn to make writing a habit.  So that’s what I want you to take away.  One of you might need to learn how to run an auction.  If so, I want you to walk away with that.  One of you might just need to learn how to hope in the face of discouragement–and so you must gain that.

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Join us tomorrow for the rest of our question and answer session.