Friday, April 29, 2011

Some Conference Tips from a Social Dweeb

So, it's conference season in the publishing world and now that I've attended a handful of writers' conferences, I thought I'd share what I learned.  Now there are plenty of blogs and interviews from agents and other publishing peeps with advice on conferences.  Except for some great tips about how to pitch, most of the advice out there comes down to this: Don't be crazy.

Now chances are, if you're reading blogs looking for advice about attending a conference, then you probably aren't the type to pitch in the bathroom or get irate at rejection.

But I've learned there are so many more subtle ways you can screw up at a conference.  So here's some of my mistakes and what I've learned.

Start Early
  • It's intimidating to attend an event in different city with people you don't know, and all that possibility and potential hanging in the air.  And if you're like me, you might like to take a moment, or a day, to sit back, observe, and figure out how these things work before plunging in.  This is a mistake.  Don't wait until the closing cocktail party to pitch that agent or talk to that author. 
  • At the last conference I attended, most of the agents came to the first hour of the closing cocktail party and then left.  People have planes to catch and if no one is pitching them in the first hour, they figure they might as well go drink and talk amongst themselves somewhere where there's not a bunch of drooling writers staring at them from across the room.
  • So, if you see that agent you're dying to pitch hanging out by the coffee the first morning of the conference, go pitch him/her! Everyon waits until the last event of the conference to gather their courage, but then you'll have to fight off the other vultures or you'll be disappointed when the agent has to take off to catch a plane, or go get a tattoo, or whatever.

  • Ha!  How I wish I could tell you how to do this well.  I'm terribly awkward person with this huge, looming fear of social rejection following me wherever I go.  I'm timid and shy at first but once someone actually makes eye contact with me and starts talking, then something kicks over in my brain and I can't be stopped.  Once I realize I won't be rejected, I just talk and talk, getting louder and louder, making weird noises, flailing my hands about and knocking things over.  It's awful.  But I do it anyways.  Force yourself to talk to people.
  • The same start early advice applies here.  As soon as you have the name badge around your neck, start introducing yourself.  don't know what to say?  Here are the basics:
    • "Where are you from?"
    • "What do you write?"
    • "How's your conference going?"
    • "Which panel did you/are you going to attend?"
  • Found yourself awkward and alone? Go stand by the food or coffee, people will come to you!  Then hit them with one of the abover lines.
  • Also, don't be clingy.  Once you've broken the ice with that first person, don't follow her around all day.  Branch out and keep mingling.
  • Exchange contact info and follow through, it's easy to shoot someone an email or follow thier blog or twitter and say, "It was great to meet you at the conference."
Talk to the Published Authors
  • If you've read an author's work and loved it, tell her.  I've made the mistake of trying to give authors meaningful looks at signings, hoping they'll remember me.  Or I think, "Why should I say I loved their book?  They must hear that all the time, if I can't be original, then I won't say anything at all."  Stupid!
  • Also, it's ok to talk to an author if you haven't read their book.  I still quite haven't learned this one.  At my last conference, an author stood behind me in line at a signing and we just stood there in silence, awkward.  If we were at the grocery store, I would've talked to him, but I felt ashamed or embarrassed that I hadn't read his book.
Pick your Panels Wisely
  • I know you're probably attending conferences in hopes of getting an agent.  But there's also tons of other opportunities for learning and meeting other writers.  Don't attend a panel simply because the agent of your dreams is on it.  Giving strong looks from the audience will not make them offer representation, I promise.  And a lot of the time, the agent panels are usually about how to get an agent or trends.  Both of which agents usually don't like talking about and both of which you can learn an ENORMOUS amount from this thing called the internet.  Don't get stuck in a How to Query panel with the blue-haired lady asking, "What's a query?" and "Don't you just love rhetorical questions?"  You'll smack yourself in the head, wanting to scream, "HOW CAN YOU SPEND $300 ON A CONFERENCE BUT HAVE NEVER READ NATHAN BRANSFORD"S BLOG??!!"  Ahem.  In other words, try to attend panels where you'll learn something you can't find bu googling it.
So, I'm incredibly awkward and have made lots of mistakes, but I've managed to attend a few conferences without being blacklisted from publishing.  I've learned tons and met lots of great people.  If you're a social dweeb like me and the only thing holding you back from going to a conference is fear of going alone, then I say, forget fear, and go for it!  Be awkward with other writers!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Amelia predicts you'll love THE VESPERTINE by Saundra Mitchell

I'm usually not a fan of historical fiction.  It's difficult for me to care about problems that don't exist today, like tight corsets and strict courting rules.  But Saundra Mitchell's writing is so pure and so real, I was sucked back in time.

Within the first few pages of The Vespertine, we know Amelia is "ruined."  Then the story jumps back a few months and we watch her ruination unfold.  I found myself (even with my staunch apathy towards courting rules of the past) constantly worried about Amelia's reputation.  Each time she bent the rules, I'd think, "Amelia!  Your virtue!  Protect your virtue!"  Somehow Mitchell's amazing words turned me into a Victorian grandma.

I think that's what I loved most about this book.  Mitchell creates a world so solid, so complete, that I was both shocked and exhilarated by Amelia's daring when she touched a boy's bare hand or asked for his address.

And really, I don't think the story would work as well in any other time period.  Amelia sees the future in the sunset.  She doesn't know when or where the images she sees will unfold, only that they will.  In a time when spiritualism was all the rave, Amelia's gift makes her very popular in Baltimore....until she's blamed for the tragedies she foresees.

I love how the characters readily accepted the supernatural occurrences in the novel.  And that makes sense, really.  There was so much we didn't know and didn't understand about our world in the Victorian era.  Now, we'd be concerned with the hows and whys, but back then, not knowing was just part of life.

Mitchell somehow manages to write both a beautiful and fast-paced story.  She also doesn't pull any punches, this is truly a gothic novel with its fair share of devastation.

I see in the'll love it!

Monday, April 18, 2011

WLT YA A to Z conference

This weekend I attended the first ever WLT YA A to Z Conference in Austin, Texas. I guess it was also the first ever conference that focused only on YA, which is pretty awesome.

The conference was great.  There were panels Friday and Saturday, an opening cocktail reception on Friday, a keynote lunch with Tim Wynne-Jones on Saturday, and a closing party on Saturday night.  You could also sign up to pitch to agents, consult with editors or authors, and/or get your work critiqued by an editor or author.    I didn't partake in any of the consultations, I was just there to meet other writers and learn as much as I could.

Kay, I'd be totally lying if I didn't tell you that the absolute highlight of my conference was meeting my idol/agent-sister Carrie Ryan.  I'm pretty sure I did something stupid and embarrassed myself each time I talked to her, but I'm just proud of myself for not jumping up and down and screaming, "OMG, CARRIE RYAN!  I LOVE ZOMBIES!"

I also met many awesome Texas YA writers.  Haley, Sian, Donna, Zana, Jaimie, Sian, Tori, Yasmine, and Kayla, it was so great talking to you!

OK Junkies, I also took NOTES on all the lovely tidbits of KNOWLEDGE floating around the conference.

From a panel about the MARKET

  • YA historical is easier to sell to school and library market than commercially  
  • Agents and editors are still looking for men writing YA for boys (there was some good discussion about what that looks like)
  • Agent Regina Brooks said she and the editors she works with are looking for YA mysteries.
From a panel about writing Fantasy
  • Carrie Ryan explained her brilliant world-building believability points system.  Basically, since she asks her readers to suspend their disbelief and just accept that zombies exist, she has to work hard to make sure she's not asking them to suspend their disbelief on too much else.  So she works to make everything else as TRUE as possible, including the NY subway system.
  • Remember the kryptonite! All powerful characters are boring.
From a panel about writing for tweens
  • Greg Leitich Smith said (roughly), "Although I wish every child in America would read my book, I know that's not the case.  We're not writing for every child.  We're writing for the child who reads, and the child who reads is probably much smarter than the average adult."
And I wish you all could have been there for Tim Wynn-Jones's brilliant key-note address.  He discussed the writer's inner genius, or subconscious, or what he likes to call, Brenda.  He talked about how our minds put little gifts on the page for us to find later.  He said, when you're writing and come across a problem, the first place you should look is your own text.  We subconsciously leave a road map within our own stories.  Varian Johnson also touched on the idea of inner-genius in his workshop on metaphor. Metaphors and symbols shouldn't be forced, we should find things already in our own text and simply expand and refine them.

Well, after this weekend, I sure am inspired and motivated to write!  I've been floundering a little lately, but after some good advice this weekend, I have a clear idea of what I need to be working on.

If you get a chance to attend the WLT YA A to Z conference next year, I highly recommend it!  

Monday, April 11, 2011

Houston Teen Book Con

On Saturday morning, I popped on over to Houston Teen Book Con.  Ugly traffic and poor planning made me late, but I made it just in time to grab my free ARC (woohoo!), find a writer-friend, and watch the author introductions and Deb Caletti's awesome keynote address.

It was so great just be around that many teen readers.  Yes I'm surrounded by teenagers five days a week, all of whom are forced to read, but this was different.  My heart warmed at the collective sighs as Deb Caletti described her love of books.  The cheers and applause for authors and their books, as if they were rock stars, thrilled me.  Somehow, watching awkward teens milling about, clutching books to their chests, inspired more hope for humanity than my daily view of teenage swagger.

I attended the panel titled, "Where there be ghosts...and werewolves, and everything else!"  Rachel Hawkins, Saundra Mitchell, Stacey Kade, Joy Preble, and Andrea Cremer were funny, insightful, and incredibly open and honest in answering questions.  Saundra Mitchell discussed how paranormal creatures in fiction reflect the attitudes and general consciousness of the writer's society.  All the authors spoke candidly when asked, "What YA book do you wish you had read as a teen?"  The panel was great and over entirely too quickly.

Unfortunately I couldn't stay for any more panels or for the signings afterward.  But the Teen Book Con was a blast for the short time I was there.  If you ever have a chance to attend something like this, I highly recommend it.

P.S. I tried taking pictures with my phone, but they didn't come out well, so I'll spare everyone pics of blurry authors.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Annah is a fighter in THE DARK AND HOLLOW PLACES by Carrie Ryan

The Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie Ryan is by far my favorite book in the Forest of Hands and Teeth series. And Annah is my favorite of the three heroines.  She's the strongest, but also the most damaged.

While Mary and Gabry both grew up in relative safety, Annah has been fighting to survive since she was five years old.  Both Mary and Gabry took risks while figuring out what they wanted out of life.  (Sometimes these risks made me want to yell at them and say, "No!  Just stay put!  There are zombies out there!  What are you thinking?!!! Ahhh!!!")

Annah, on the other hand, is less reckless but her world is so much more dangerous.  Everyday is a struggle to survive.  She doesn't need to take stupid risks to decide what she wants, she already knows.  She wants to be safe and she wants to be loved.  But in a world consumed by death, where even the living have lost their humanity, this might be too much to ask for.

I found The Dark and Hollow Places to be significantly darker and more terrifying than The Forest of Hands and Teeth or The Dead-Tossed Waves.  Ryan explores the cruelty of human nature and what we're capable of once order is stripped away--ideas just touched on in the previous two books.  At times, I didn't know if I was more scared of the Unconsecrated or the Recruiters.

And boy are there some scary scenes!  In real life, I'm totally scared of the dark.  Who knew that reading about the dark would make me so terrified?  I had to stop and catch my breath a few times, I was gasping and panting while reading, I was so scared.  (Note:  I'm a wuss)

Don't worry, though, it's not all doom, gloom, and fear.  I also think the love story in this book is the best of all three.  Unlike with Mary and Gabry's romances, it was clear from the start who Annah belonged with.  And there's nothing more satisfying than watching two characters learn to love themselves so they can begin to love each other.

I loaned my copy of the book to a student and when she finished, she told me, "And I'm so glad she fell in love with him because...well...yeah."
"Yeah," I said.
Sometimes sixteen-year-olds say it best.

You will not be disappointed in the conclusion to this amazing series.