Welcome to the next segment of my Willamette Writer’s Conference adventures! In my previous post, I talked about the first day and a half of the Conference, and what I learned about querying, researching for better authenticity in Historical Fiction, and World Building. You should go check it out, if you haven’t already. It was pretty great.
After the World Building class on Friday, I went on to a class called Beyond Book Signings: Making Book Promotion Fun by Kerrie Flanagan. I’m dreading the time when I need to be marketing my book, so I figured I needed to take this class. And actually, it was quite nice. Nothing revolutionary happened, but it was a great class for setting your mind at ease and realizing that marketing is not supposed to be painful. Her best advice, after discussing all the ways that influence people to buy books and all the ways you can reach people to buy your books, was this: pick one that sounds fun to you, and try it. Just one. Don’t worry about the rest. Don’t even think about them. Just do one. Do it the best you can. Because you’re not going to be able to do all of them.
Flanagan also said that the point of marketing was to gain loyalty. And there were 3 keys to gaining loyalty: connection, trust, and relationship. Connection is the start (finding a book on FaceBook, or having a conversation with someone who gets interested to buy you book), and then trust has to do with your readers believing they are going to get what you advertise: whatever drew them to you in the first place. As in, always putting out good quality fantasy. Or autobiography. Or romance. Whatever is your shtick. And relationship, the final one, is about engaging readers and making yourself approachable. Responding when someone says hey on twitter. Replying back to emails. Being connectable.
Her final note of advice about marketing was remembering these three things: Keep it Fun, Make it Memorable, and Build Your Tribe (of loyal readers). Overall it was good stuff, and put me at ease that marketing isn’t going to be complete awfulness.
After classes completed for that day, there was a social gathering dinner eating type event, and my brain felt like it was oozing out of my eyeballs. I could not believe how tired I was after learning and talking all day!
My newfound friend came back after her second pitch, which didn’t go very well. She was pitching a screenplay instead of a manuscript. and apparently film-makers are notorious for being uninterested and not getting back to people even if they request to see pages. Such a strange thing – I wonder why they come to conferences at all?
Anyway, after the dinner there was one last group of classes I decided to stay for. I ended up attending Tips for Terror, Hints for Horror, both because it sounded interesting and because I was curious whether or not my manuscript could be classified as “horror.” It’s an odd genre I don’t understand; I’ve seen books I didn’t think were that gross or psychological that were classified as horror, and vise-versa.
The class overviewed common elements and themes in horror, and then went through a few exercises where we did a mash ups of non-horror with horror to come up with crazy ideas. That was fun. Overall it was good info, but the most important bit was that my manuscript is definitely not horror.
By Friday evening I had a general pitch that I was decently happy with: it covered my complicated world in one sentence, the push of the story in another sentence, and then set up the personality of my characters and the dramatic line at the end. I was pretty happy just relying on general points to go with: I was going to come at my pitch with the attitude of a conversation. That way, I at least would engage and not be monologuing, which is never good. And if I memorized a speech, I’d just end up sounding robotic.
By the second day of the conference it was fun to be able to recognize people I’d seen around. It gave an easy excuse to start a conversation with someone. I ended up eating breakfast with the friend of the producer of The Amazing Race (who I also had met the day before) during the opening ceremony.
She and I both headed to The Pursuit of the True Final Draft by Larry Brooks. Since I’m at that stage in my manuscript, it seemed like a good idea. This class was… equal parts irritation and fascination for me. His personality grated my nerves a little, but he had great information to impart.
Brooks began the class declaring that you can’t write a story without knowing the ending. If you don’t know the ending, you’re not writing foreshadowing or the story itself. I’m not sure I agree completely, but he had a point, depending on what your story is.
The main gist of the class came from the idea that there 12 criteria you must master before your manuscript is complete. These separate into six core competencies (concept, character, theme, structure, scene execution, and writing voice) and six realms of story physics (compelling premise, dramatic tension, optimal pacing, hero empathy, vicarious experience, and narrative strategy).
Brooks went on to say that there were two main reasons a manuscript (or pitch) gets rejected, both because the manuscript isn’t final. The first is that that the story isn’t executed well enough, and the second is that the story idea itself isn’t strong enough. Then he started discussing the difference between concept and premise, which he emphasized were heavily different things. Concept has to do with the main idea of your story, the thing that is new or refreshing, and almost always has nothing to do with the hero. A story set in an alternative history, or on another planet. Or a story about ghosts. The hero can be the conceptual creation (superman, Sherlock Holmes), but most likely are not. The premise is the main, exciting “dramatic thread” that runs through the story: Character A has his life interrupted by X, has to accomplish Y by doing Z, but Character B (or environment, or whatever) stands in the way for PQR reasons.
Beyond that, you have your usual thread of storytelling, with the climax, plateau, etc, etc. Multiple premises can come from one concept (see multiple stories set in the same interesting world, like Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern and numerous other stories set on Pern), which is where you see series popping up and so forth.
Brooks kept emphasizing, over and over, that most people didn’t know the different between concept and premise and didn’t have the distinction in their story (thus, they get rejected by agents and publishers). When he started talking about concept and premise, it took him almost a half an hour to actually define the difference and tell us what he was talking about. I got really excited that I thought I knew what he was talking about, and got irritated that he wasn’t being clear about the definition.
So when Brooks finally got around to defining concept, I raised my hand, and like a complete smart-ass, asked: “Do I get a gold star that I knew what you were talking about before you defined it?” He asked what the concept was, and I gave him the one I had for my story (which happens to be the alternative history/world setting), and he told me I was exactly right.
Which was exactly what I needed to hear before going into my pitch. One, because it was encouraging, and two, because tweeking my pitch just slightly had my concept and premise defined and distinct from each other.
The next class was Own Your Time Like A Boss by Cheri Lasota, most of which I was going to be able to attend before I had to leave for my pitch. Lasota’s class was mostly about applications and software that can aid a writer in saving time while reading, collaborating with other writers, and editing. She talked about applications like Scrivner, Write or Die, Grammarly, PicMonkey, and so forth, which can do very different things to help a writer and author in their career. It was good information overall, and though I did leave about half an hour before it concluded, and she sent her powerpoint slides with links to the applications to anyone who wanted them. So I have that to still go through.
Anyway, so I left early and walked to the pitch room, replaying my pitch one more time in my head. The teacher of the Hints for Horror class was actually seated next to me in the waiting room, so we chatted briefly while I tried to breathe through nerves and make light of my cold and quivering hands. Making light of things always helps. Make fun of yourself. Somehow, it works. At least for me.
Then 11:40 hit, and we all walked into the pitch room.
Aaaand that is where I’m going to leave you until tomorrow’s part, just because I’m evil. Stay tuuuunnnnned. 😉