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‘A Metaphor for Real Life’: Conversation with Fantasy Author Ryan Peabody

Like many fantasy readers, Ryan Peabody spent his childhood imagining worlds and dreaming up big adventures. However, when he entered law school, his love of fantasy grew for another reason — it gave him space to relax and explore.

Shadows of Hammerfall author Ryan Peabody

“I like the unexpected,” he says. “I suppose I’ve always enjoyed the fantasy genre, even as a youth and all the way through law school, as a space to relax and explore. I have read all different genres, fiction and non-fiction. But I was always drawn back to fantasy for its unique ability to capture the imagination with adventure and big ideas. As a writer, the world of fantasy was so vast that the logical next step was to further expand that universe in areas that I personally wanted to explore.”

The Texas-based author has wrapped up Shadows of Hammerfall, the first in an eventual three-book series chronicling the adventures of brothers Drakiel and Kael, and their efforts to save their kingdom from corruption, invaders, frightening primordial creatures … and how they shape themselves, society and world in the process. It features many twists and turns, including some that surprised Peabody as much as anyone.

‘I wanted more than an adventure; the characters needed to be more like real people. I wanted to get them to reject the status quo and effect real change,  in both themselves and in the world around them.’ — Ryan Peabody

In other words, a strong fantasy debut by a lifelong fan of the genre. Shadows is being shopped to publishers now; publication is anticipated in late 2018 or 2019.

Word Journeys sat with Ryan to discuss Shadows, in a conversation that not only offers up plenty of tidbits about the book, but gives insight into the writing process.

WJ: Ryan, thanks for joining us. Where did you come up with the seed of what became Shadows of Hammerfall?

Ryan Peabody: The very essence of fantasy is a metaphor for real life. I wanted more than an adventure; the characters needed to be more like real people. I wanted to get them to reject the status quo and effect real change, in both themselves and in the world around them. So many people today just accept the ideas of others rather than testing their own. My characters face off against the greater problems in society and find that making any progress to finding solutions is infinitely more difficult than they appear. The Shadows looming over Hammerfall are those problems, and iour aspiring heroes must pass through the crucible of fire and transform from naïve youth into hardened adults.

WJ: Can you elaborate more on what we’ll read in Shadows?

RP: Two brothers are born into a family where their entitlement is all they will ever need. Yet satisfaction in this lifestyle becomes more unbearable and oppressive than being in prison. They strike out to challenge the powers that be, and in the process, find themselves so far over their heads that  the course of their lives changes forever. As their brotherly relationship is shattered and rebuilt, they individually uncover a corruption in Hammerfall that will unlock secrets of an ancient past that will plunge them all into darkness. They alone can stop it, if they can only rebuild their broken bond in time.

WJ: In the book, we see a parallel, in some ways, to the social and political movements in the US. Did you have that in mind when writing it? Or did that draw out naturally through your characters and their stories and journeys?

RP: It’s more about the controlling forces in society than politics. That being said, politics has a tendency to get out of hand on either side; most people may agree. So I wanted to use that as a starting place and delve deeper. I wanted to pit my heroes against the person behind the person; the unknown antagonist pulling the strings of society. At the same time, I wanted to craft characters able to justify any action as a means to an end, and challenge notions of morality as they begin to slide down a dangerous slope to becoming the very thing they proclaim to fight against.

WJ: You present a great juxtaposition of influences in the boys’ lives, between Yodden, their wise blacksmith friend and a guiding light; and the Prime Chancellor, a very corrupt and authoritative, yet charismatic man. Tell us about the ways in which you present good v. evil in these characters, and also the room that fantasy allows you to develop variations of the theme.

RP: I wanted to blur the lines between good and evil by making these two characters pulling toward their own ends, but by following very different directions. It’s almost like the idea of vigilante justice; is killing a known killer justifiable? Or is due process more important than righting a wrong, particularly if the justice system itself is corrupt? The main characters must decide to fight within a broken system or justify their actions outside of it.

WJ: “Shadows” is in many ways the story of two brothers, Drakiel and Kael, who embark on a journey together – and then everything in both their lives changes. What are some of your favorite parts of their journey?

RP: My favorite part, without giving too much away, was their role reversal over the course of the book. The brothers start out with nearly the same personality profile and then are drawn in such dramatically different directions. I found this to be a particularly interesting concept, what would happen to the same person growing up in different environments; taking a different path through life. How dramatically different would the “same person” end up as a result of very different environments and external forces? I also explored how such seemingly small decisions can have dramatic impact on the life paths we follow.

WJ: One of my favorite parts is Drakiel’s sentence to the Wilds, a truly foreboding land – but you do a great literary thing by showing him experiencing his own lessons, then coming back to fight again with those new lessons in place. How does the journey, along with the original wild landscapes and creatures you created, help you draw out Drakiel, as well as set up the later story?

RP: Drakiel needed to learn humility; he finally had a situation  he had no control over. He had to give in. He had no choice. He had to be broken down and rebuilt. He had to give up who he was so he would have the opportunity to grow into who he was meant to become. In discovering the new land he was also discovering who he was meant to be. The wilds were a reflection of his own inner-self. Instead of fighting against the world he had to learn to adapt to it, and in doing so became a very dangerous man, taking these lessons back to the civilized world as a force of nature himself.

WJ: What types of creative license does working with two brothers give you when developing character?

RP: Although there are a host of unique characters, the brothers consistently emerged as focal points because of their unquenchable need to take action. The type of action they individually decide  frames their decision-making process and drives their characters. One sees the world as black and white while the other a pallet of gray. The reader may be able to almost anticipate how they will each react in a given situation, particularly as they come to know them better and better throughout the story.

WJ: When writing fantasy, what do you think are the most important ways your story holds the audience?

RP: Character and plot, in that order. The characters, including the creatures the readers will find unique and interesting, are constantly forced to make big decisions based on inadequate information. Sometimes they get it right, sometimes wrong, but most of the time in ways that will leave the readers questioning what they would have done in the same situation. The plot continually splits off and then rejoins the mainstream as well, like a river with branching tributaries, rapids and all.

WJ: You’ve set up Shadows of Hammerfall for eventual growth into a number of future books – one of which you’re writing. Can you give us a sneak preview of how Shadows ends – and where you are taking it from there?

RP: Without giving too much away, Shadows ends with a glimpse into an uncertain future. But to understand the future we must first understand the past. Book Two starts by answering some of the big questions about the more secretive characters and the incredible impact they will have on the story. It pulls back to get a bird’s eye view before quickly plunging  into the thick of the story.

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Jumping On It: Valuing the Sense of Urgency

Nothing like the afterglow feeling following a great creative or emotional experience, and this past weekend’s Southern California Writers Conference in San Diego was both. Whenever 200 writers get together after hunkering down all year over their computers, often in a state that is something like the combination of a golden cage and solitary confinement, the spirit is going to be charged. Add to that a weekend of workshops, constructive critique sessions, keynote speeches and banquet fare that would blow away most corporate conferences (and even Christmas parties), and you have what we had in San Diego – an awesome weekend.

So it should come as no surprise if you hear computer keys afire throughout the country this week, as writers spring into action to tighten their fiction and non-fiction manuscripts, integrate their workshop sessions into tip-of-fingertip knowledge, and sort out the issues in their stories discovered by the very same literary agents and editors who want to see the material again.

Which brings me to the main topic: Working with a sense of urgency. Nothing could be more vital to a writer’s career (or an artist’s, musician’s, or builder of apps, for that matter).

Last week, I was slammed with work – no other way to put it. I was finishing book proposals, madly revising and editing chapters, ghostwriting the front end of a book, writing press releases and query letters so that my clients would be ready to present their work at three different conferences which, of course, had to land on the same weekend. Meanwhile, I was wrapping up the proposal for my new book in progress, Just Add Water, the biography of international surf star Clay Marzo – who happens to have Asperger Syndrome.

Amidst all this, an email came out of the blue – or, rather, New York – from my agent, Dana Newman. My fiancée, Martha Halda, has been working on a memoir, A Taste of Eternity, about her near-fatal 1999 car accident, ensuing near death experience and how both have transformed and defined the past 13 years of her life. We sent Dana the proposal in December, but, like every other agent in this country, she’s swamped. So we sat patiently, while fine-tuning Martha’s early chapters so she, too, would be prepared at the Southern California Writer’s Conference.

That changed instantly: Dana had received strong interest in A Taste of Eternity from Berkley Books and Harlequin Non-Fiction, both major publishers. She wanted to know if she could send Martha’s proposal, now.

One thing you learn fast in this business: you’ve got one shot to win over a publisher. There’s usually not a second chance for the same book. Knowing that, I advised Martha to tell Dana we’d get it to her on Tuesday. I wanted to get back into her proposal, update it, and make tweaks. And Martha wanted to improve her all-important sample chapters.

So, amidst a hundred and one other things to do, we jumped. The sense of urgency was absolute. We got up early, and worked under one of my old friends – the daily newspaper deadline, where you haul ass and get it right at the same time. By noon, as promised, we hit the “Send” button.

That’s what it takes when an opportunity arises. The ability to jump on it, act with that sense of urgency, cannot be overstated. At the Southern California Writers Conference, keynote speaker Michelle Scott spent plenty of time talking about the same thing. Michelle has written 29 books under several different imprints. Since she is in her early 40s, you know it’s been at a greater clip than one book a year – more like three or four a year. She understands urgency like writers of her stature and output: when an editor or agent calls, and says they need something quickly, you jump and you deliver.

“I’d written a book for Penguin that I figured was the beginning and end of those characters,” she said. “Penguin saw it differently, as a series. So I had a day to write one-page outlines of second and third books I’d never even thought of. I ended up doing nine books in two different series over the next six years.”

She also shared an experience of going to dinner in L.A. with a friend who brought someone else along – an editor from Amazon.com, which now has five publishing imprints to go with its megalithic book and product-selling operation. “He’d been to a horse ranch that day. My friend told him that I wrote a book about horses; I own and love horses. The editor asked for a synopsis and a partial manuscript. I got it right to him. I sent it that night from my hotel room,” she recalled.

My hope is that Michelle’s message, and the concept of acting fast when opportunities arise, sticks tightly to every writer. Many at the Southern California Writers Conference, and others, received positive feedback and interest from visiting agents and editors. In this hypercompetitive atmosphere, the word “interest” should be synonymous with “review, revise, perfect and submit – soon.”

 

Jump on it.

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What To Look For (and Require) From Your Book Editor

A few days ago, on the Southern California Writers Conference’s Facebook community page, SCWC director Michael Steven Gregory posted about one of the most troubling challenges writers face today:

Gotta say, folks, I’ve recently been coming across way too many people bilking writers big time–from publicists & editors & book printers & conference organizers to you name it… Please do your due diligence before paying anybody a penny with regards to your work and dream. The big shift today is not about publishing your book; it’s about convincing you that “author services” will sell your book. (I know the SCWC’s been dealing with this for about a decade, but it’s gone really, horribly rampant as of late.) Just a heads up.

For the past three years, I’ve been a member of the SCWC faculty (FYI: the next conference is Feb. 15-18, 2013 at the Crowne Plaza Hanalei in San Diego). I’m also a freelance book editor who also, in some cases, writes book proposals and locates agents or publishers. I steer others toward a self-publishing route, whether through print books, e-books, or both.

Michael is right on the money: it’s getting tricky for anyone trying to write and publish a book. With the traditional publishing industry becoming more difficult and condensed every day, and the costs, potential profits and opportunities to self-publish more appealing than ever, an increasing number of writers are striking out on their own. The smart ones are finding qualified, distinguished professionals who can edit their books to a publish-quality shine, perhaps help them build their promotional platforms, and maybe even offer solid advice on the publishing process.

But here’s the rub: For every good, established professional, you’re going to find two or three who just aren’t qualified to provide the services they promote. Some among this latter group try hard, and mean well, but don’t have the skills or track record. The others, however, are shamelessly capitalizing on your dream of publishing a book. Like unscrupulous shysters in any industry, they promise the moon, take your money, prey on your hopes and aspirations, don’t edit well, and leave your book off worse than when you started. These are the people to which Michael Gregory alluded. When you’ve spent months, or years, pouring your heart, soul, time and money into a book, the last thing you need is to meet the proverbial robber on the road.

These people infuriate me. They infuriate all other hard-working, dedicated professional editors and author services experts who commit themselves, knowledge and skills into their clients’ works — their clients’ dreams.  I have personally witnessed authors’ dreams crushed by reputed agents and freelance editors who did nothing — or worse, touted their credentials and proved to have no track record at all.

Conversely, good editors and service professionals deeply care about your book. They pour their hearts  into your writing. None of us receive the lofty salaries New York-based editors earn (or at least used to earn). That’s OK: for us, the satisfaction comes in knowing we help authors fulfill their journey, and bring their stories, essays, memoirs and knowledge to your awaiting readership . We collaborate with our author-clients, help them reach down and find the very best expression of their feelings or subjects, and manifest it in their work. When you’re half of a great editor-author working relationship, it sometimes becomes transformative, like alchemy. Doesn’t matter which half, either.

This leads to a couple of questions: How do you distinguish between solid, qualified, professional editors, and those who are not? How can you tell when someone really cares about your work — cares enough to go over it, again and again, to make sure it’s the most polished and refined it can be? How do you know an editor really has helped other clients get published?

These are questions you should ask, whether it’s your first book or your tenth. Since self-publishing is not only a viable, but a preferred option in many cases, it is more important than ever that your book emerge as clean and mistake-free as possible. Therefore, you need to hold a prospective editor to a rather tough standard.

Here are my suggestions:

1)   Ask the editor what books s/he has edited within your genre. Believe it or not, many writers miss this, and then wonder why their manuscript hasn’t been properly edited. Editing a memoir is entirely different from editing a how-to book. “Listening” to make sure dialogue matches characters and situations within a novel is far different than polishing an explanatory thread in a history book. Mysteries differ from adventure romances. And so on.

2)   Ask what type of editing services are provided. If they say, “all editing,” or “everything you need,” dig deeper. Do they offer content editing? Line editing? Revising? Polish, or final, editing? Proofreading? The good ones do it all — and break down each phase with explanation, just like this.

3)   Ask which edited books have been published, and by whom. Do your due diligence. In nearly all cases, a quick visit to Amazon.com will suffice.

4)   If the editor’s previous works in your genre were self-published, that can also be a good thing. Go onto Amazon.com, and look at book reviews, ranking, how high up in category the listing shows, etc. That will give you an idea of how noteworthy the book is.

5)   Ask the editor to test-edit 3 to 5 pages of your manuscript. This will give you an idea of how much more refined s/he can make your work. Don’t ask them to edit more than that; be mindful that the editor is busy, too.

6)   Have a conversation with your editor on the phone or in person before hiring. It’s so easy to do everything via email, but at least hear the voice of the person you’re entrusting with your hard work.

7)   Be sure the editor does not alter your narrative voice. This has been my biggest pet peeve for years with editors both inside and outside publishing houses (and magazines and newspapers as well). A good editor recognizes or helps you develop your narrative voice, learns your working vocabulary and vernacular, and works to help you expand it.

8)   Set deadlines for performance, and pay according to those milestones. Most editors require some down payment (as I do), which is fine, but do not pay in full until you are completely satisfied with the final product. A good editor will set up installments – a sample schedule might be 25% down, 25% when half the manuscript is edited, and 50% at completion and acceptance. There are many variations, which are all good as long as you don’t pay in full until the job is complete.

9)   Does your editor have good contacts with agents or publishers? Or does s/he know how to help you write book proposals, synopses or market the book? This is not necessary to guarantee a good editing job. If so, however, that’s a huge plus. Some editors do have these credentials and contacts.

These questions will serve you well. They’ve served me well during the past 15 years and 130+ books, ebooks and numerous magazine titles that I’ve edited. Good, established editors will pass this test with flying colors.  For instance, when I work with a client, I always offer to test-edit a few pages. Some take me up on it; others just want to get started. If clients want to know my credentials, I rattle off a few finished titles in their particular genre. If I haven’t edited in their particular genre or sub-genre before, I tell them straightaway. They have a right to know. If writers want contact information for my former clients, I provide a couple of contacts. Since I also write book proposals and synopses, and occasionally work with agents and publishers directly, I let prospective clients know that as well. If they have specific questions about the publishing profession, I answer — or find the answer if I don’t know it, and get back to them.

My newest addition is a spreadsheet. When someone is considering me for their book, and want to know my background, I send them a spreadsheet with 20 recent titles I’ve edited, six books I’ve ghostwritten, and six author or client websites I’ve developed, including publisher’s name (or soon to be publisher) — and a URL to the publisher’s site, Amazon.com title link, or author’s site. Nothing verifies faster than seeing the physical proof. If you’re an editor, you may not yet have 20 books on your list — but you may have 200. Whatever you do have, give your prospective clients the opportunity to see what you’ve edited.

That’s what you want when seeking an editor. I wish we could all be in the trusting business — and it pains me to say this, because I’m an incredibly trusting person — but, you need to know who’s working on your book. And what makes them the right person to do so.

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Readings, Teaching Workshops, Going Online

To purchase The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life

To join Writing The World Workshops

During the Southern California Writers Conference, I met the associate editor of Toastmasters Magazine, Beth Black. We talked for a few minutes, and continued the dialogue during the past week. Our conversation pertained to the way writers and teachers of writing have migrated online to conduct all parts of their businesses.

This is a monumental week for me in that regard, in three ways:

• I have joined Harvey Stanbrough and Chris O’Byrne in presenting the Writing The World Workshops membership-based website, with its writing courses, articles, tips and video classes;

• The 7-minute social media and networking tutorial I delivered at the end of my “Your Journal, Your Goldmine” workshop at the Southern California Writers Conference is now available on You Tube and my newest business website;

• Which is the third major development: I’ve joined my longtime friend, John Josepho, in forming Millennium Media Masters — which is all about print and online publishing, platforming, media and affiliate marketing development for entrepreneurs, artists of all media (including filmmakers), musicians and writers who want to get their stories, messages and brands out to their audiences in a variety of different forms.

So when Beth asked me a couple of Toastmasters-type questions pertaining to the online migration, and reading publicly, I obliged. Thought I’d share the answers with you:

Q: If you can give me a quote or two on what it’s like going from the quiet of writing time to presenting in public (or pitching to an agent or publisher), that would be great.

A: Writing alone is very solitary and insular, almost like being in another world — especially when writing fiction, when we should be in another world, the world of our story and characters. Everything happens between the creative and thinking minds. When presenting workshops or talking about writing, we have to carry all this information outward and be crisp and confident when doing so, because attendees are seeking to apply your experience and knowledge to their work. I find it easiest to approach this like a storyteller, weaving together information with anecdotes that best illustrate the point. Pitching to agents or publishers is different yet: I have 60 seconds to interest them and another 60 to 120 to summarize my book — making the ability to communicate verbally and with good expression a must.

Q: Also, if you’ve done any public readings of your work, what’s your take on that?

A: I’ve read from my poetry and essay collections all over the country — Boston, New York, Chicago, LA, New Mexico, Tampa, the South, San Diego, plus a few European cities — Munich, Venice, Florence. I love interacting with the audiences, seeing which poems or essays draw them most or provoke strong responses, and telling the back stories behind the works. It is a great way to see how your writing impacts people — and a reminder that all writers should read their works aloud, to hear their voice.

Next week, we’ll post the three-part series on Platform Development.

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Why You Need to Build a Platform — NOW

As I prepare to return to the Southern California Writers Conference this weekend to teach writing workshops and offer read & critique sessions to writers of all genres, I can’t help but think about what has kept me very busy for the past six months with clients and businesses alike: building platforms.

Until about 10 years ago, the word “platform” was unknown to most people outside the public relations and marketing world. Now, every publisher and most literary agents are requiring that anyone trying to sell a book — writers, entrepreneurs, CEOs, celebrities, athletes — enter the publishing arena with a strong existing platform before they bother to pitch their book or message with a book proposal and sample chapters.

This scares 90% of working writers to death — with good reason. Most writers don’t consider themselves strong self-promoters, let alone experts on social media, social networking, traditional media, promotions or marketing. Yet, in today’s world, you need to know how to factor all of these tools into your ability to sell your book — even if you’ve signed with a publisher. And you also need to know where to turn for help. I’ve been fortunate in this respect, since I owned a public relations agency for seven years and now have migrated those skills to book and brand promotion — and offered those services to authors.

Which begs the million-dollar question: What is a platform?

Quite simply, a platform is the way in which you build public awareness in yourself and your company or message — or, in the case of an author, your book. The greater the public awareness, the greater number of potential readers or customers — and the greater your platform. The bigger and more expansive your platform, the closer you are to becoming a household name, at least among the target audience of your book or business initiative.

That’s what book publishers are looking for, because it guarantees a core group of people likely to buy your book. No matter how wonderful your relationship is with your agent, or the acquisition editor of a publisher, it all comes down to one thing with virtually all publishers, from the biggest New York houses to your own self-publishing initiative: SALES.

This leads to the next question: How do I build a platform that expands awareness in my book and myself, and attracts these very discerning publishers?

The quick answer: One plank at a time — starting RIGHT NOW, no matter where you are in the writing process of your book or the process of converting your message and practices to published form.

We’re going to spend the next four blog posts focusing on the following four essential elements of building platforms:

1) Strong Traditional Media Presence — Print, Online, Consumer and Trade

2) Strong Online Presence — Websites and ACTIVE Blogs are a must

3) Strong Social Media/Networking Presence — If you’re not on Facebook or Twitter, sign up NOW

4) Outside Activities Related to Your Book Subject — This includes participation in workshops, conferences, teaching, speaking engagements, seminars and the like.

We’ll address each of these elements in future blog posts. Also know that we offer top-of-the-line platform building services and consultation to authors of all genres. Our goal is the same as yours: to see you in lights, and to see your book published.

Visit us on Facebook:

Word Journeys — Resources for Writers

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‘Meet Me In The Bar’: Working A Writer’s Conference (III)

(Blogger’s note: Summer is on its way — which means, for many, the season of writer’s conferences and retreats. In this three-part series, I share the many things I’ve learned during 20 years of attending writer’s conferences and 10 years of teaching and presenting at them.)

For information on the Society of Southwestern Authors’ Wrangling With Writing Conference, which takes place Sept. 27-28 in Tucson, Ariz.

Part Three: Back to the Bar

I met with the agent in the bar. After a relaxed two-hour conversation that bore no resemblance to the 15 minutes of speed-talking in the pit, she invited me to send sample chapters and a proposal. Three months later, I received a contract.

From this, I learned two vital unwritten rules about writer’s conferences:

1)   Make your interview count. You’ve got one minute to seize the agent or editor’s initial interest, and five to seven minutes to develop your initial pitch and describe your project while the agent/editor sprints through your material. This is marketing, not creative brainstorming. You’re in the meeting to sell. The remaining half of the interview works best if you answer questions, produce additional material requested, and absorb the input you’re given; and

2)   Much conference dealing takes place away from the interview area, in the bar, hallways, hotel rooms, Jacuzzi, or across the dinner table.

In my years of presenting, I’ve seen countless arrangements develop after conference hours end, when agents and editors can relax and think through a promising prospect while getting to know the potential author. It is a good conference indeed when you’re “invited to the bar.” As a magazine editor who has purchased pieces or assigned articles to authors in that literal and metaphorical bar, and as a proposal consultant and freelance book editor who has connected authors and agents in the bar, I can assure you that the side meetings produce new author-agent or author-editor relationships.

Which leads to the next unwritten rule about writer’s conferences:

3)   Do not leave the building the second your appointment or workshop is finished.  Stick around. Rub elbows.

Chat with fellow authors, agents, publishers, editors and consultants on the premises. You never know who will like your idea or see the marketing potential of your hard work—or your potential in the writing business. You might have a book idea you didn’t originally pitch that they like. Or, they might have a lucrative ghostwriting project involving a well-known client who doesn’t write. You don’t know—nor will you, if you don’t ask and remain open to new possibility.

Let me give you two examples. An editor from a major publishing house saw the sample chapter for a book I was pitching years ago. “Who book doctored this for you?” he asked.

“I did.”

“This is clean. You should think about becoming a book editor when you’re between books.”

Ten years and more than 80 edited books later, I thank him for opening an avenue of vast enjoyment and revenue I never saw myself traveling.

Let’s revisit the agent in the bar. She asked for a book proposal.  I’d never written a full book proposal, but I’d read a few articles, including the invaluable front end of Writer’s Market (these 60 to 80 pages are required reading for all working writers, in my opinion.) As a former public relations executive with marketing experience, I already knew how to write sponsorship proposals. I also asked a couple of agents at the conference what they liked to see in proposals.

Within three days of receiving my proposal, the agent called. “Where did you learn to write this? This is excellent!”

Another light bulb flashed in my head. Out of nowhere came another service that keeps me out of the 9-to-5 punch-the-clock work cycle (every writer’s dream): consulting with authors on their book proposals, or completely writing them to be pitch- and sales-ready. Agents love it, because they’re getting market-ready proposals. Authors love it, because who really wants to write a book proposal, which is a business plan for the book, after months writing a whole or partial book? 

It all started at a writer’s conference, which brings me to the next unwritten (until now) rule:

 4)   Be sociable, conversational, and mindful of why you’re here—to learn, to network, and/or to sell your work. Use the salesman’s credo: If someone is within three feet of you, introduce yourself and shake his/her hand. Your future might be shaking back.

Sometimes, we feel intimidated or insecure around attending agents, authors, editors, keynote speakers and publishers—the faculty. That’s natural: They are living the dream we’ve carried for years or decades. They’ve made it, or so we think. We tend to be sheepish around the conference faculty, withholding questions “because they’re stupid,” refraining from sharing our wildest book ideas “because they’re too ‘out there’ for the mainstream” (as if we really know), pulling back sample pages we prepared for the editor interviews “because they’re not polished enough.”

For this, I offer two tips:

a)    Conference faculty has been urged by event organizers to be available. The faculty is there to impart knowledge and wisdom, engage in conversation, and expend energy for your benefit. They are at your service—not the other way around. Take advantage of this opportunity to visit with 35 or 40 knowledgeable professionals whose answers to your questions might ignite or even define your future; and

b)   Ask the “stupid” question. Show the sample pages. Share other book ideas if asked. Case in point: An agent told me about an author whose prepared material was well written, but the potential audience was too narrow. However, when the agent asked about the author’s other ideas, a dialogue began that, six months later, resulted in the author selling a trilogy.

Finally, think about this: You’re investing several hundred dollars to be at the conference. You’ve spent months, or even years, developing the material you plan to present. This could be your first best chance—or your last. No one knows. For a weekend, you will occupy the same space as several dozen respected book publishing professionals. To equal that experience, you’d have to fly to New York and stay for two weeks—if they took meetings with you. Not likely.

Work the conference and absorb the presentations as though your future and career are the prizes for your efforts. They often are.

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‘Meet Me In The Bar’:Working a Writer’s Conference

(Blogger’s note: Summer is on its way — which means, for many, the season of writer’s conferences and retreats. In this three-part series, I share the many things I’ve learned during 20 years of attending writer’s conferences and 10 years of teaching and presenting at them.)

For information on the Society of Southwestern Authors’ Wrangling With Writing Conference, which takes place Sept. 27-28 in Tucson, Ariz.

 

Part One: Meet Me In The Bar, Take One

 

Like three hundred others, I carried my pitch letter, proposal introduction and sample book chapter into the interview area at the Society of Southwestern Authors’ Wrangling With Writing Conference in Tucson. I’d spent a solid month writing, polishing and tweaking the chapter and proposal intro. I’d also made sure the pitch letter stated everything I needed the agent to know about my book idea, writing style, professional background, ability to reach the market (platform), and knowledge of the subject.

I carried a piece of my life into what is affectionately called “the pit.”

A dozen literary agents and editors were sprinkled throughout the area. It was the afternoon of day one, and already, a glazed look started to reflect from their eyes. It better be good, Bob, I said to myself. The editors and agents heard fiction and non-fiction book pitches from writers who, like me, took their dreams of being published into the pit. In 15-minute bursts, writers presented their material, answered agents’ questions and either were told:

a) “We’re not looking for this particular genre;”

b) “This looks promising, but needs some more work;”

c) “I’ll keep you in mind, but we’re filled up in that area right now—do you have anything else?;” or the far preferable

d) “I’d like to see more chapters and a proposal—send as soon as you can. Here’s my card.”

My first experience was different. Let’s call it “e”. The agent asked me if I knew or talked with the subject of my proposed book; she wanted to know if my book was authorized. I ran to my hotel room, grabbed my cell phone, raced downstairs and called the subject in the agent’s presence. Her eyes lit up. Turned out she was a big fan. “Meet me in the bar tonight at five,” she said.  

 

Coming Up:

Attending Presentations

Back to the Bar

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