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Friday, November 21, 2008

Writers Helping Writers

I returned from Orlando, Florida, a few days ago, and I’m still glowing. The balmy weather and Florida sun warmed me for sure, but more than that, the people at the Florida Writers Association conference added radiance to my demeanor. The Florida Writers Association tagline, “Writers Helping Writers,” sums up the organization’s attitude and aligns with my philosophy.

Here are a few other things I appreciated about the conference:

As with almost any conference, several workshops took place simultaneously, which afforded attendees a wide choice of subjects to study; however, it also meant writers couldn’t be everywhere at once, and they sometimes missed information they would have liked to have received. FWA resolved the situation by offering a table where extra handouts from the workshops were available to all, so even if you missed a seminar, you could get the handout.

The food was actually good. I know serving 300 people at once is a challenge, but the chef and the conference folks picked items that could be prepared in large quantities and still be tasty and nutritious.

The meeting rooms were roomy and comfortable, and restrooms were never more than a few doors away.

The hotel facilities were exceptional and spotless.

Friendliness prevailed.

The speakers may have all had a secondary agenda of promoting their businesses or books, but they spent almost all their time giving information to participants rather than promoting themselves.

For every workshop evaluation attendees turned in, they received a ticket to a drawing. In this way most people remembered to evaluate the workshops, presenters and committee members received a great deal of important feedback, and more than seventy items were given away.

Best of all, the presenters offered a wide selection of subjects for writers of many types.

Conferences are great places to meet publishers and agents, many of whom requested manuscripts from people who pitched their projects. No doubt some sales will result. If you want to further your career, you can do nothing better than attend a conference where publishers, agents, and others will be speaking. You’ll learn more, meet people who can help you and educate you, and you’ll have fun doing it. You may even be able to deduct your expenses. Talk to your accountant about it.

I hope I’ll see you at the next conference…somewhere.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What Do You Want?

"Start with the end in mind." -- Aristotle
"If you don't know where you're going, you'll wind up somewhere else." --Yogi Berra

I love motivational quotations, even funny ones, and I've heard one more that says it all, but I cannot find who said it. It goes like this: "If you don't know where you're going, how will you know when you get there?"

When I speak at conferences, as I did this past weekend at the Florida Writers Conference in Lake Mary, Florida, I often mention the importance of knowing where you want to go. Goal setting is vital to writers. We may write because we enjoy the act of writing, but we need to know what we want to happen after we finish writing.

For my award-winning book, Write In Style, I wanted to reach as many English-writing people as possible, so I could teach them easy tips to find words in their manuscripts that, once found, could lead to stronger writing. After editing books for many years, I had a list of words and phrases that most writers put into their manuscripts that, if deleted or changed, would lead to more powerful prose. I didn't care about profits; my goal was to educate the public. I wanted thousands of people to know about my findings, so I set the goal of finding a traditional publisher who would and could get the book into every bookstore in America, Canada, and Australia. Once I set that goal, I was able to achieve it, even though it took me a few years to do so. I knew where I wanted to go, and I would not compromise or give up. As a result, the book has been on the market since 2004 and still sells briskly, even though few stores have copies still on the shelves. They can order it for you or you can order it from any Internet bookstore.

When I wrote Purge Your Prose of Problems, I had different goals. I wanted to have something to offer writers who couldn't afford a couple thousand dollars to pay a professional editor like me. I wanted to teach writers who wanted to edit their own manuscripts or edit the manuscripts of others. I did not, however, want that information to get in the hands of every Tom, Dick, and Harriett. Rather than sell thousands of copies of that book and make a few cents per book, I wanted people to pay me a thousand or more dollars to edit their manuscripts. In other words, I did want to make a profit off the knowledge in that book or from editing manuscripts. For that reason, I self-published Purge Your Prose of Problems, creating only a limited supply. I knew my goals, and I've met them. You can order a printed copy of the book through my Web site or as an e-book through BookLocker.com, but I have not printed many copies, and when they're gone, they're gone.

When conference leaders began sending requests for me to speak, I set goals in that regard as well. I have very little sense of direction and a low tolerance for inconvenience, so I envisioned being flown to new cities to speak, being picked up by a shuttle or limo, and being driven to my comfortable hotel. When it came time to leave, I wanted to be picked up and dropped off at the airport, too. If a conference offered me those services, I'd consider speaking there. I set my goal.

The Florida Writers Association did all those things and more for me this weekend. When my plane landed and I could turn on my cell phone, my limo driver had already left a message telling me where he would meet me and what sign to look for. He had already picked up one other speaker, a publisher from Tallahassee, and the two of us had a great conversation in the car while being driven to our hotel. As a result I already had a new friend before I stepped out of the car at the conference center. The accommodations were grand, the food--even the banquet food--was great, and I felt pampered and treated like royalty. I also had dozens of people stop me to say how much they enjoyed my workshops and learned a great deal from me, so I had a sense of accomplishment and pride in being able to help other writers.

While the limo driver drove me back to the airport after three and a half delightful days, I had another educational conversation with yet another publisher, a husband-and-wife team, and we exchanged business cards.

On the plane ride home I vaguely recalled having set my goal for conference speaking years ago, and how it all has come to fruition, and why? Because I knew where I wanted to go. Best of all, I knew I had arrived.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Coping with Rejection

The agent that handled Write In Style, my award-winning book on creative writing, sent me a rejection e-mail last night for a proposal I sent her for my latest book. I looked at the brief note that gave no explanation other than "This is not a project I can pursue." How typical, neutral, and devoid of helpful information, and this note came from an agent with whom I have history.

No wonder writers get frustrated and demoralized and want to quit!

When I read the e-mail, though, I did not let it get to me. I read it over a couple of times and then closed the e-mail. I next went to http://www.writersmarket.com/ and searched for agents who might want to pursue the project. I found several leads I'll pursue, and at least two of them have sold books in the same genre as mine.

I reminded myself that my current book is a memoir, whereas my former agent handled my reference/writing book, two completely different genres that call for completely different approaches to publishers.

After hours of performing research, I grew tired and went to bed.

Instead of feeling rejected, I felt energized to keep going, but my reaction comes from many years of facing rejection. From personal experience I know that rejection, especially the very first rejection of a proposal, has little to no significance. Things have a way of reversing. Rejection from one place can mean anything, and sometimes it means only that the piece has not yet reached the right hands. My first book met with rejection from plenty of agents and quite a few publishers before one made an offer.

A new day has dawned today. Yesterday my proposal was rejected. Today I have a list of new agents to try, and many of those don't object to multiple submissions; that is, I can send it to more than one agent at a time, whereas I had given my own agent an exclusive shot at my proposal and had to wait for her response. Yesterday I had hope, had that hope shaken, and rebuilt my hope. Today I have a plan of action, and action always, always, counteracts rejection or depression. Inertia, however, is depression's best friend. I refuse to feed into depression, hopelessness, or rejection. I am writer, hear me roar!