Prosing On

Scenes, Submissions, and Self-publishing…oh, my!

At the end of April I attended the annual conference my regional writers’ group puts on. (It’s the 603: The Writers’ Conference given by the NH Writers’ Project. If you live in New England, I suggest you look into it for next year.) I’ve been a few other times and always found it a great way to spend the day. With workshops, panel discussions, and famous authors delivering keynote speeches, there are a lot of writing-related topics to get you pumped about writing, especially if you’ve been in a slump.

Something Wicked this way comes…
Gregory Maguire standing at a podium speaking to a group of writers.
Gregory Maguire talks fairy tales in a modern world.

The keynote speaker this year was Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked and several other fairy-tale retellings. I’ve met Mr. Maguire before, many years ago when I was a bookseller and Wicked had just been published. At the time, I had a dual role of marketing coordinator and bookseller, so I was the one who sat with authors as they signed books, making sure they had what they needed and keep them company if things were slow. I loved Wicked’s design (the dust jacket was die cut, for Pete’s sake—the publisher obviously had faith in the book to spend that kind of cash on a fancy design) and the premise was intriguing, so I got a copy for myself and asked him to sign it.

Title page of novel Wicked signed by Gregory Maguire. It says "For Maria, with thanks for your welcome to Waterstone's—Gregory Maguire. Revised nearly 25 years later!"

That book has made it through so many moves and book cullings, I can’t even tell you. Now I know why.

I’m jumping ahead of myself a bit.

Before the signing, Mr. Maguire spoke to us about the importance of fairy tales in times of darkness. As someone who writes books predominantly based upon fairy tales from different cultures, he believes what makes those types of stories significant is that they are a way to talk to everyone—adults and children. He talked about how fairy tales are less about magic and more about the power of charitable behavior, of heroic generosity. And it is that quality that gives hope to people.

Hope often feels in short supply these days, but as writers, we have it in our power to not just live a life of hope ourselves, but to spread it to others through our stories—fiction or nonfiction. We have to remember that what we have to say is important to others even if we don’t always feel like it. I know I forget, but this was a good reminder.

I’ve scene that!

After the speech and book signing, it was time to head off to our respective sessions. There were several options per time slot (and there were three one-hour and fifteen minute sessions throughout the day), and the first one I attended was “The Scene” given by author and teacher, Hester Kaplan.

I loved this session and wished it could have been longer. We looked at a scene from a short story and broke it down into chunks, looking at elements like language, tension, character, and setting. It helped me cement what is important to a scene.

The three lessons that stuck with me were:

  • Don’t avoid the tough stuff
  • Scenes are about the management of time
  • Scenes have a goal, an obstacle to the goal, and a resolution to that goal just like the overarching story.

When the session was over, I really wanted to go sit somewhere and work on my own scenes, because taking that step back to break down someone else’s scenes made it easier to look at my own in a new light.

You will submit!

The next session I sat in on was “Submissions 101—From Inside and Outside of the Publishing Industry” with children’s book author and editor, Cynthia Platt. I took this session mostly because the process can be daunting and getting the low down from someone who has been on both sides of the rejection letter seemed invaluable.

Making sure your work is in its best possible shape before sending out was the number one piece of advice Ms. Platt offered. Without putting your best work forward there is no chance at landing an agent or a contract. Getting other sets of eyes on your writing and submission materials before sending them out is not optional.

The next important piece of information was to make sure you research not only your market, but the right agents for your work. Sending your query out to any and everyone is a colossal waste of your time. Also, always follow submission guidelines to the letter. They are there for a reason, and breaking them won’t make you stand out in any kind of positive way.

When it comes to sending out queries and samples, there’s so much pressure. Being diligent and patient in the submission process will only support your creative work in the long run.

(I am always available to check over submission materials for clarity, typos, etc. if you need an outside perspective. Contact me today!)

PIY: Publish it yourself

Lastly, I went to author Jeff Deck’s session, “Stack Up to the Big Dogs: Turn Pro with your Self-Publishing.” This is really a huge topic to cover in just over an hour. Even though I’m very familiar with the self-publishing process, I always like to hear about the experiences of as many self-published authors as I can, as well as hear the questions people have about the process who don’t know as much to prepare myself for similar questions.

The points I agreed with were:

  1. Have your book cover professionally designed. The interior pages as well if you aren’t comfortable doing a professional-looking job yourself.
  2. ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) should be sent out or made available 2 months prior to your publication date to give your potential reviewers time to read the book and compose their review.
  3. Don’t charge more than $9.99 for your e-book.

And there you have it. My writing conference experience in a nutshell. I look forward to using all my knowledge for good—with you!—and hope what I passed along is helpful to you now. If you need help with book design, submission materials, or any step in the self-publishing process, contact me today or anytime.

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Been to any writing conferences? What did you get out of it? Tell me in the comments below!

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