This is the second part of my wrap-up of the Life, The Universe, and Everything 2018 writer’s conference held in Provo, Utah between February 15-17.
The Slush Pile Simulator presented by Angie Fenimore
This was the most depressing panel I attended. Angie Fenimore started out by telling us that 3,000 books get published every day. Most of them are self-published so it’s a good idea to have an agent or an editor to give you an extra edge. How do you get an agent or editor? Editors and agents are looking for the ideal client, someone who is professional and stands out.
As a writer, you need to know story structure. Everything has story structure from jokes and songs to commercials and meals. Even seasons and sicknesses have story structure, so that part is easy to learn. You also need a professional website. You need to find who you are and what’s most important to you. Be clear about who you are. Have a voice. Be authentic.
When writing, don’t reinvent the wheel. Write what’s proven to work. There’s only a finite number of plots and they’ve all been done before. Napoleon Dynamite is the same story as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Big Little Lies is the same story as To Kill a Mockingbird.
Writers need to be on twitter. Agents and editors want a writer to be a partner who helps them sell books, so you need to have an already established fan base of 10,000 to 40,000 twitter followers before they’ll even read your manuscript. A good twitter hashtag to follow is #mswl which stands for manuscript wishlist. #amwriting is also a good one. You should tweet and retweet things that provide value to connect with other people. Avoid politics.
Query letters should be short and to the point. Remember agents and editors are people too with their own busy lives. Don’t waste their time. Start with an introduction reminding them how you met them (such as at a writing conference). Say how big your manuscript is. A query letter must contain how you plan to market your book and which social media platforms you are on.
For an in-person pitch session, dress to impress. Show them you’re a professional. Just give a one sentence description of the book that includes character, setting, conflict, try/fail cycles, and leave a cliff hanger log line. You need a bio that stands out (not something everyone else says such as “I’ve wanted to be a writer as long as I can remember.”) Be interesting. Come up with a funny way to introduce yourself and remember, less is more.
M. Todd Gallowglas said dialogue is conflict, but it can be low level conflict. He demonstrated by trying to shake Dan Wells’ hand in the California way (kind of a high five followed by a hand clasp and a shoulder bump), but with Dan trying to turn it into a boring Utah handshake. When people try to shake hands in different ways, you’ve got a conflict.
Ginny Smith said you should use word choice rather than misspellings to indicate different accents since misspellings can be distracting. She also recommended using the Myers-Briggs test to assign personalities to characters.
Peter Orullian said contrary characters are more interesting than agreeable characters. He said you don’t necessarily want to imitate real life dialogue since people in real life often speak in nods and grunts. He shared a humorous anecdote about going to a meeting which was about a meeting about a meeting. (I’ve been in such meetings as well and can sympathize.) Also, he said at Microsoft, they had to display their personality type at their desk so their coworkers would know how to interact with them. He recommended using StrengthsFinder to assign talents to characters. Characters are most interesting when they do something out of character. You can use minor conflict to establish personality.
Dan Wells mentioned the silhouette rule: in comic books, characters should be recognizable based only on their silhouette. In the same way, characters in your writing should be recognizable from reading only a couple lines of their dialogue. He gave a few examples of this. In the first Avengers movie, each character spoke in their own unique way, but in Avengers 2, everybody talked the same way. In the Star Trek universe, the characters in Enterprise were shallow compared with the characters from The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine.
Apocalypse vs Dystopia
I didn’t take much notes for this panel. J. R. Johansson said YA had a slow down in purchasing after the election since publishers weren’t sure what people wanted to read. Culture leads to what we consume. Luke Peterson said the dystopia itself should be sympathetic, since it’s actually a utopia for those on top. Christine Haggerty said in dystopia, there’s an existing societal structure that needs to be torn down, whereas in post-apocalyptic fiction, a new organization needs to be built up. Dystopias are an over-correction for a previous bad situation.
The Baen Traveling Roadshow
I didn’t take notes for this presentation, but it was a lot of fun. James Minz did a slide show showing featuring cover reveals for new books coming out from Baen. Authors Eric James Stone, Larry Correia, Brad R. Torgersen, and D. J. Butler talked about their new books. D. J. Butler even brought along a guitar and sung a couple songs from the Witchy Eye soundtrack. That’s right, he did a soundtrack for his novel. How cool is that? They gave out free books to attendees. Also, there’s the Baen Free Library for anyone who likes free books.