My BSB Camp Presentation

Hey, y’all. I’m back from the Bold Strokes Books writers’ retreat! It was an entire week of presentations, writing sprints, and general tomfoolery. And ice cream. Boy, was there ice cream. Who feels like hitting the gym with me?

This year was my second trip to the retreat, and I was asked to put on a presentation with the fabulous and talented Carsen Taite and the equally awesome Melissa Brayden. We were so professional with our PowerPoint slides…

We spoke about how to pick the right events as an author, how to participate in panels at conventions (cons), and how to give a stellar reading. I tackled the second part, so if you’re interested, here’s what I had to say (minus my joking improv lines because I can’t remember them):

I’ve been a guest at around 15 cons and spoken on about 50 panels on a variety of topics. Some of what I have to say will be old news to many, but I have to begin at the beginning for those who might be lost, starting with:

What is a panel?

It’s a group of pre-selected people at a con speaking on a predetermined topic. Panels on a variety of topics are the backbone of a convention and are scheduled throughout the day. Small conventions might have 1 to 5 panels running at the same time, while large conventions can have 10 to 15 running simultaneously, depending on the space. They usually have a moderator asking questions about a topic you know about beforehand, and I’ve seen them with anywhere from 2 to 6 participants.

Why be a panelist?

Exposure

Meeting other authors

Conventions can be fun

Appearances can lead to book sales, but mostly it’s about getting your name out there and getting people to remember you. Even if they don’t buy your book immediately, they’ll remember you later when they’re looking around the internet or shopping on Amazon. Also, authors buy books, too, and I remember the people who impress me on panels. Also, building your author friend network will help you discover new writing or marketing tips, and it’s always nice to have more friends. As for enjoying the con, I like to pick cons I already want to go to and then volunteer to be a panelist.

Smaller cons have asked me how busy I want to be (how many panels I want to do each day.) I usually pick a lot, but I like to stay busy. Leave yourself enough time to enjoy the con.

How to be invited to do panels:

The convention organizers invite you out of the blue.

or

You volunteer to be a panelist.

The second is much more common than the first. Even with all the panels I’ve done, I’ve only just been invited to speak at a convention that I’ve never been to without me having to ask them first. It’s Houston Comicpalooza, and I’m pretty jazzed!

As for volunteering, scour the website for information on how to volunteer. If that doesn’t work, trying searching their Facebook page. You’ll want to do this many months in advance. If the convention doesn’t have readily available info on how to be a panelist, you might have to dig a bit, find an email address for whomever is in charge of guests, and if you can’t find one, you’ll have to email whatever address the convention gives for their contact info. I’ve gotten in touch with many cons through their Facebook pages as well as their websites. And you probably want to do it as soon as the information for their next convention becomes available. Some conventions plan a year or so in advance.

Speaking on panels:

Pick your topics well

After I’ve been formally invited to be a panelist at a convention, I’ve often been asked about what topics interest me. They’re usually pretty general at first and then become more specific as the date for the convention gets closer. For instance, the sci fi conventions that I do often have writing or world building panels, and I like to volunteer for those because I have a lot to say on the topic. I also volunteer for things I’m very knowledgeable about like mythology, so I can sound smart. I would not volunteer for a YA panel, say, because I don’t think I’ve read or written enough to contribute. If there’s a topic you think you can make lots of jokes about, pick that.

Informative or entertaining?

Panels come in two types: informative and entertaining, usually the former. A writing panel would probably try and teach the audience writing techniques, where an action movie panel would just be discussing films for the entertainment of the audience. Even if I’m on an informative panel, though, I try to be entertaining. You want to try and hit that sweet spot of smart and funny. I know, I know. If only we could hire someone to do it for us.

Talk about your writing and your books (but not too often.)

Remember that you’re there in a professional capacity. People come to listen to you because they want to hear about your processes and about how you do what you do. So talk about your work and how you write or whatever the panel is about but try not to mention the name of your book too often, maybe once or twice. Unless the panel is about something like Gothic literature, and then you probably won’t mention your work at all. You’re just trying to be memorable at that point.

Are you at all funny? Be that.

Funny is memorable. People follow funny people around a convention, and they will be more likely to remember you and look up your work later.

Be succinct.

Limit your responses to the topic and try to be as succinct as you can. People always remember the asshole who talked too much and not in a good way.

Include the audience when you speak.

Try and look at everyone while you’re speaking, including other panelists. The more people you make eye contact with, the more they’ll pay attention because people are scared of looking away if they think you might catch them at it.

Proposing panels to conventions:

Each convention usually has info on their website about how to propose a panel. Some want a panel topic, some want a topic and a list of panelists. Some big conventions require you to propose a panel in order to speak at all. But just because you propose a panel doesn’t mean they’ll accept. And be warned, if you propose a panel and the con accepts it, you will probably be the moderator unless someone else has already agreed to do the job. If you’re the moderator, you can still answer all the topic questions, but you’ll be the one coming up with all of them first.

What kind of panels you propose should depend on the con audience and general vibe. A sci fi con would probably not welcome a panel on westerns unless they were also sci fi. Again, the con website is invaluable for research. They often have info on past cons and you can see what other panels they’ve had, so you avoid any repeats.

How do I get paid for speaking at conventions?

Usually, you don’t. But you might get in for free. Sometimes, headliners get paid. But even then, a small convention may not be able to pay you but might offer you a comped hotel room or a travel stipend. Most small cons have offered me and my friends free entry into the convention, but some have offered it only to me. Most big cons still require you to buy an admission ticket, though some offer a discount for speakers. The only time I’ve ever gotten my room comped was when I was a guest of honor, and even then, I didn’t get paid.

Some pro tips:

Pick the seat that will give you maximum success.

Panels will almost always be set up along a table. The moderator will usually be at one end, though sometimes in the middle. If you sit at the ends, I guarantee you will be asked to speak first at least once during the session. Don’t assume that just because you’re at the opposite end from the moderator, that you will be last. If you always need time to think of an answer, sit toward the middle but never at the moderator’s side. If you’re that nervous about going first, speak to the moderator beforehand and ask them not to call on you first.

Fake it until you make it.

If public speaking terrifies you like it used to terrify me, pretend you’re someone else. Sounds insane, but it works. I’m an introvert, so to deal with stressful situations like cons, I create a persona that can perform at them. Then I have to go take a break and be quiet for a few hours. Sometimes, there are pills involved. Yummy, yummy pills.

Linger after the panel is done.

Unless the next panel is breathing down your necks for their turn at bat, linger after a panel is done for just a few seconds so anyone who wants can come up and engage you in conversation. Someone you’ve engaged personally is more likely to become a fan.

Wear something memorable yet appropriate.

When I do sci fi cons, I often wear funny, geeky t-shirts. When I do other cons, I try to dress in bright colors or wear distinctive jewelry. This helps people remember me and pick me out of a crowd.

Bring some swag.

Many cons will have tables where guests and panelists can put out freebies for people to take. Take advantage of this by putting out bookmarks, postcards, or pens with your name and book title on them. Never spend lots of money on swag. Keep it simple. If you make your own swag, limit it to something cheap that you enjoy making, like buttons, fridge magnets, or key chains. GotPrint.com is an excellent webpage that allows you to create your own bookmarks and postcards.

Why is everything so hard?

Why, for fuck’s sake, after writing a book do you have to do all this crap?!?! Because we’re all in this business to sell books. Even if you’re motivated by a nobler purpose than mere money, you have to get your books into the hands of readers, and the more appearances you do, the more your name gets out there. They get easier with time.

 

And that’s it! It went over very well, especially after I started sprinkling references to The Pyramid Waltz in after that “don’t mention yourself too often” business. I got some laughs. A wonderful time was had by all, and even if it wasn’t, they hid that fact from me. So hooray!

Please, ask questions if you have them. I’m here for you. 🙂

 

You have fifteen minutes

If you’re an aspiring writer, no doubt you’ve heard this before. Writing experts are always pushing to write for just fifteen minutes a day. Like workout machines, they promise results if you can spend a little time doing this one thing every day.

And you know what? They’re right. If you use some of my note-taking methods and jot down bullet points of what you did in your previous writing session, you’ll be able to spend fifteen minutes writing the next day instead of reviewing what you’ve written and getting bogged down with the urge to edit. At fifteen minutes a day, you can write a novel.

I hear you saying, “That’s easy for you to say. You don’t have kids. You don’t have another job. You don’t know me. You don’t know my life.”

It’s true. I only have my four furry kids, and the only other things I have to do in a day besides writing are the chores everyone else has to do, but I still know you have fifteen minutes. I won’t bore you with an endless parade of parents or employees that still manage to write. You know they’re out there. You’ve probably met some. And if your family or your job leaves you too wiped at the end of the day to write, do as my friend David R. Slayton recommends and get up earlier in the morning to write while your brain is still fresh.

“What is the point of this?” you ask. “Is it just to make me feel guilty about how much I’m not writing?” Not at all. If the occasional spurt of writing is all you want to do, go for it, but that is a very long, difficult path to finishing a novel. Write short stories or blog posts or articles, but novel writing is a commitment, and long periods of no writing can slow you to a crawl and make you forget everything you’ve done before. Even bullet points can’t save you.

If you really want to write a novel and finish it, find fifteen minutes in a day to do so. And if you can’t find those minutes, ask yourself if you really want to write a novel and why. And for heaven’s sake, stop beating yourself up if it’s not something you really want. I’m asking you to let go of guilt, to let go of this slog if you don’t actually want to do it. And if you finish soul searching, and find that writing a novel is something you really want, I’m asking you to find those fifteen minutes. You might become addicted to them. Fifteen might become thirty or an hour or two hours.

And now I hear you saying, “Goddamn it! With all this other shit I have to do, what is so wrong with wanting a little me time! Why does everything have to be work!” And I’m trying to tell you that writing IS me time. If you’re a writer, if writing and finishing a project gives you the rush it gives me, writing is the best me time ever. You will be the greatest champion your work will ever have; it’s all about you. Everything you write will live on after you, whether it storms the bestseller lists or not. It will be out there forever, a legacy that is wholly yours.

You have an idea.
You have the tools and the will.
You have my support.
You have fifteen minutes.
Go.

First drafts: Don’t stop believin’…or writing

Let’s talk first drafts and editing. I’ve met writers who love editing, and those who loathe it, but if you want to improve the speed of your first drafts, you’re going to need to learn to love it. The first draft is all free flowing love and ideas, trying on different plots and characters and seeing how they fit. The eye is purely creative only because the editing eye can seriously get down to business later.

The most important piece of advice I can give you about writing first drafts is to never stop, go back, and try to “fix” what you’ve already done to suit what you’re doing now. So, in chapter three you decide that your guard captain isn’t really working out as your main character, and that her lieutenant is actually much more interesting and would make a better focal point for the story. Hurrah! You’ve caught that pretty quickly, and you’re happy with the decision you’ve made. Surely you should go back and change what you’ve written to reflect that, right?

Abso-freakin-lutely not!!!!

No way. Make a note in your handy dandy notes about where the change happened, maybe even why or a short note about where a new start to the novel could be, and then you keep going forward from that point and just leave those first three chapters where they lay. Why? Because they might change again, and then all your editing work would be for nothing, and because you’re on a roll now; things are becoming clearer for you in your novel, and you should embrace that forward momentum. I treat first drafts like a sprint. No matter what, I like to put my head down and run for the finish line.

If I decide the scene in chapter five should take place in a restaurant instead of someone’s living room? I make a note of the change and keep going. This secondary character isn’t working? I make a note of where I’m no longer going to be writing them and keep going. Now if it’s something really big, like the whole plot isn’t working, I do the same thing, but my primary note is that everything before the big change is likely going to be cut completely, which leads me to the second most important piece of advice I can give you about writing first drafts.

Learn to love cutting your novel!!!!!

It’s more than just killing your darlings. It’s more than cutting scenes or words that don’t add anything or characters you love that other people can’t connect with. It’s taking whole chunks of perfectly good writing, seeing that they really don’t fit, and excising them as if they were dead tissue. You can do with them what you like. I like to save them in a folder (with little notes in the beginning about what they are and where they came from) so that later I can stick them back in if they’re a good fit. You have to be okay with cutting thousands of hard-earned words if it makes your novel better. Learn to be a novel sadist and love it.

You will need that sadist within because if you’re writing down all your ideas in your first draft, many of them will have to go. You’re going to have a lot of editing work to do. You may have to change tenses or person. I almost always have to add description and subtract exposition. But if you’ve got an entire first draft, you’ll have an entire novel waiting and not just pieces that you’ve been editing and re-editing for years. You’ll have finished a freaking novel! It may be ugly and in pieces, and you switched main character in chapter three, it all takes place in a diner now, and no one has the same eye color anymore, but you wrote a goddamned novel all the same!

If that’s too scary to contemplate, break it down into smaller increments. Think of finishing chapters, scenes, or sentences; one word following another won’t seem so intimidating. Editing can be thought of the same way. If you look at your crappy first draft and the work seems too hard, dissect it with the help of your notes. Look at it as building bricks to be moved around. Line edits can wait to until the end, long after the plot and the characters are settled in their proper spaces.

Remember, do not stop whatever part of the process you’re in just to move on to another part because you’re bored/tired/OCD. If every time you write, you go back to edit, you’ll never finish a first draft, and if every time you edit, you stop and work on the first draft of something else, you’ll never have a completed work. Very advanced writers can work on multiple novels that are at different levels of completeness, but even then, it’s difficult. If you’re just starting out, I’d stay with one novel until it’s done unless you’ve decided to abandon it completely because no part of it is working.

Sound insurmountable? Wonderful! Welcome to being a writer. Now thumb your nose at insurmountable and go write. Then edit. Just like writing those first drafts, the more you edit, the more you’ll want to edit. You’ll get a taste for it until you’re sidling up to other writers and offering to edit their work, too.

Or maybe not. Don’t be creepy.

Do you love editing as much as I do? Do you bite your lip every time you have to cut a chunk from your novel? Is that creepy?

Have questions about other parts of the writing process? Let me know, and I’ll probably steal your ideas and do a blog post!

!!!!!

Notes, the writing before you write

People often ask me how I write so quickly. My typing speed is pretty high, but that’s not usually what they mean. They want to know how I move through projects so quickly and finish first drafts within a month or two, so I thought I’d share some tips. First off, Notes.

Notes!!!!

I can’t stress them enough. I’ve heard of both pantsers and plotters. The first doesn’t use an outline and writes “by the seat of their pants.” The second has a detailed outline and sticks to it. I’m somewhere in between. I think most people are, but I can’t move without my notes, and if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t write anything down before you start writing and then stalls out quickly, I believe this is because you didn’t make any notes.

I like to make my notes with pen and paper. My notebooks are color coded and I use different pen colors for different characters or timelines. I like to have them open beside me while I’m working on my laptop, and the color coding of the notebooks helps me keep track of them. But you use whatever notes you like. Some weirdos hate paper, or so I’ve heard.

Spitball the ending!!!!

(The exclamation points make orders come alive!!!!!)

You don’t have to do an outline, but I think it is helpful to have a general idea of where the story is going, even if it’s something like, “A guard captain starts off believing her queen is awesome and ends up realizing she’s evil.” That’s enough to set a bulls-eye to aim for. You’re going to need a whole lot more plot to wrap around that, but you know in the beginning you want someone to think one way and end up thinking another. This could change. You could decide you want this realization to be in chapter three. Then your main character needs a new goal. Even if you don’t have one right away, jotting down potential ideas can help you think of something. Even if your idea is as vague as, “I want everyone to die like in Hamlet,” that will get you thinking of ways to make that happen. Writing them down solidifies them and helps them stick in your brain.

React to all the things!!!!

How characters react to various situations is the best way to show how their minds work, imo. I won’t believe a narrative that simply tells me a person is jovial or angry or homicidal. I want to see them being all those things. So I jot down character sketches before writing the story. My guard captain is jovial when she’s off duty, angry when she’s on, and homicidal when someone attacks her. I think of how she might react to a potential lover, too, or something less threatening than an attack. That way, if it happens in the story, I can look to my notes and my character can react quickly, so to speak, and I can keep writing without slowing down to worry about who this person is and why they do what they do. I can get the heart of them down right away and add some fine-tuning later. A first draft is not the time to polish. It needs a framework of a plot and a framework of the characters, too.

Notes do more stuff, too!!!!

(Or, I suck at headings!!!!)

Notes are useful for  more than what I’ve listed here. As I’m writing, I keep a loose timeline of what’s happening when. Sometimes I don’t do this until after I’ve got my first draft done, that way I can tidy up the timeline as I polish.

Also, when I finish writing, I sometimes jot down bullet points about what I’ve just written, especially if there’s going to be a gap of a few days before I can write again. This saves me from having to read what I’ve written before, which saves me from the temptation to edit as I go and get bogged down in details when I should be writing new stuff.

It’s also very handy to write down chapter breaks in your notes, so you can see how long each chapter is as you write. If you’re trying to be consistent with the lengths of your chapters, you’ll see what you’ve done so far and have an idea of how long you want a scene to be by looking at how much room it’s already taken up within a chapter.

You may have noticed that I treat first drafts sort of like notes themselves. This is very true, but I will save how I get through first drafts for another post. Hint: never stop writing a first draft in order to edit it.

Do you use notes when you write? Do you find they make your life easier? If you didn’t before, are you going to try them now?

Ups and downs

Wow, what a couple of weeks!

First off, my computer died. Not so much my entire laptop, but my hard drive decided it’s time had come. Luckily, Ross predicted this, so he had a new one waiting. It is now replaced, and life can finally go on.

I could access the internet briefly with the kindness of strangers, but I couldn’t write except for longhand, and that gives me horrible cramps. It was madness, I tell you, madness. Several people told me to think of it as a vacation. Strangely, forced vacation = not fun. I’ve written two short stories since I got my dear laptop back, just because I missed writing that much.

More post-hard drive good news, I got to write the acknowledgments and dedication for The Pyramid Waltz. That was a lot of fun and a lot of trying to remember everyone to thank! I felt like those people at awards shows who just start shouting names and then have to end with, “If I forgot you, I’m sorry.” Luckily, no one was playing me off the stage.

Today I’m going to look at a book launch venue. Soooo exciting. I’ll give you a full report once I’ve finally FINALLY nailed down my location.

Is anyone else doing Nano summer camp this year? I’m gonna try to do it this June, though I have a lot of non-writing tasks to complete. Who’s with me?

Did you have any tragedies these past weeks? Any near misses?

IWW: How I wound up here

When I first decided I wanted to write female main characters, it was hard not to write ABOUT women, about what pressures I felt as a woman or what impacts I thought society had on women or yeah, yeah, yeah. (I know you were starting to tune out right there.)

To counteract this and write a story that starred a woman instead of being about her, I moved my story to outer space.

Well, that’s not completely true. I wanted to write stories set in outer space anyway, or at least on other planets. Since one of my first college loves was anthropology, I created an anthropologist studying alien species in order to help her human colony survive.

You win this fabulous jungle background!

She felt tremendous pressure to do her duty, to do what was expected no matter what she might want for herself. Those pesky societal constraints sneaked in there again, like ticks, or gnats. Stupid societal constraints…

Crap.

On the same planet, years later, I wrote about a space marine. She followed her own path, walked to the beat of her own drummer. She knew about sacrifice, but she chose to do it; no one ever forced her. She was huge and muscular, and too tough to cry.

Barbie dolls can’t flex enough to truly bring the gun show to town.

I still like her, but she was a bit of an overreaction.

For my next female MC, I swung far the other way. I wrote about a dancer who could take care of herself but wasn’t afraid to cry or love or wear pretty dresses, you know, all that girl shit. She embraced what some might call the feminine things in life. (In real life, I think this is when I fell back in love with glitter.)

No matter what I did, she looked drunk, okay.

I discovered that female characters could cover all these ranges, could cover every range. They could be insecure, easily swayed anthropologists, tough-as-nails space marines and dress-wearing dancers. I realized there was no one role model everyone could look up to. Not everyone can be a superwoman, but all my characters had one thing in common, when the chips were down, they were all brave in their own ways. I think I mixed them all together to make to create the heroines of The Pyramid Waltz.

Prom 1996

Two women, each brave in a different way, each very different people. Starbride (on the left) is a thinker. Katya is a fighter. In different situations, each is cautious or impulsive. They both love jewelry and nice clothes, though they have very different styles. Katya takes sacrifice to extremes and needs Starbride’s level head. Starbride tries to do everything herself and needs Katya’s helping hand.

And it doesn’t hurt that I can easily make them into Barbies. (I do wish, though, that the Barbies of color were a little darker. I think the one I bought is supposed to be Hispanic, but her skin tone is even lighter than her blond counterpart.)

And now I have enough dolls to stage this:

Yes, that is a woman dancing with a panda in the background. That’s what you took from this?

Aaaahhh, so good. Yeah, I didn’t put the panda and the pear together. That would’ve been…weird.

But I can’t stop doing this.

I know, it looks like there’s some ass-cupping there. These dolls are hard to pose!

Or this.

The untold Disney story.

Or if I’m honest, this.

A love that will not be denied…

Who’s up for writing a ninja/pear romance with me?

And a super duper p.s.: My friend John Clark has started a Kickstarter for his novel, Red Chords! Let’s all go help him out. If you’re a fan of Laurel K. Hamilton or Patricia Briggs, I think you’ll really go for this.

p.s.s It’s not even my birthday yet, and I’ve already received some wonderful presents from my writer friends:

Soo……much…..glitter…..*drool*

What’s goin on with you guys? Writing news? Birthday news? Barbie news? What can I say, it’s all I think about.

I swear…

…I am working on a Barbie post.

In the meantime,

Edits are away to my publisher. Now to decide what the hell I’m gonna do until The Pyramid Waltz comes out in September!

Network: I’ve missed talking to my blog buddies as much as I want, and I haven’t been able to click any #FF links on twitter or to take any blog recommendations. Now I can! I’m looking forward to meeting more internet friends. I’m soooo much more awkward in person. I tend to smile really wide in overcompensation. ^_^

Book release party: I’ve got to plan one. Got to figure out how many people might come, book a venue, and then…no clue. Bake some cheese sticks?

Keep writing: Not only do I have to jot down some ideas for what I’m hoping will turn into a series from The Pyramid Waltz, I also want to write some new stuff, just to keep my brain elastic. Maybe something about giant sharks. Or pirates. Or giant shark pirates. Heh. I almost typed pilates. Giant shark pilates might be fun, too.

On a totally unrelated note and since in my day-to-day life I keep flipping from topic to topic here, I heard Huey Lewis and the News’s “Heart of Rock in Roll” in the car, and when he’s singing about LA, I know what he really says, but it sounds like:

“Neon signs and the pretty pretty girls
All dressed so skeptically.”

You’d need sensible walking shoes, in case you have to disprove something in the wilderness. You’d need heavy trousers for wading through weeds. You’d need all sorts of gear for your skeptical tasks, like cameras, meteorological sensors, tape measures and other tools, and an EMF detector in case you’re investigating ghosts. A girl dressed skeptically has to be prepared to disprove anything. ^_^ I didn’t know they were all Scullys in LA.

Everyone else got any news?

OMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMG

So much editing! Deadlines fast approaching!! Writing well in hand but pressure leading to heart attack!!!

And breathe.

I’m going off on those OMG deadline tangents a lot lately. Luckily, I’ve got them pretty condensed and can go straight into the breathing much sooner than I could before.

And breathe a little more.

Before I pass out, I have some fabupendous news. (I thought about going for stupenabulous, but that’s more like stupid fabulous. Well…that could work.)

Okay, stupid fabulous, stupendous news. I’m on amazon again! But for my book this time which guarantees I will never ever go away.

NEVER.

The Pyramid Waltz!

Squeeee! It’s very exciting. Go ahead and hit that preorder button, don’t be shy! ^_^ I’m sure the cover art will be up as soon as publication time gets closer. (It’s not until September.)

So, who’s coming to my book launch party in Austin? You’re all invited!