Writers Coffeehouse, January 2020

First Coffeehouse for the new year! And the last one in Mysterious Galaxy’s current space. They’re moving towards the end of this month, to a rental with (I hear) even more meeting room space.

My notes are below. Thanks again to Jonathan Maberry and Henry Herz for hosting!

Marketing Yourself

  • put your credentials — certified electrician, lawyer, martial arts expert — out there for people to find when doing research or organizing panels at cons; you’d be surprised at what other writers want to know about

Upcoming Events

  • comicfest in march, smaller comic con
  • wondercon in april

Getting Better at Writing Comics

  • read lots of comics, pay attention to the storytelling, read comic scripts (find online, including on maberry’s website
  • booths are comic-con are staffed almost entirely by editors and editorial assistants; talk to them, trade business cards, but don’t bring a script, they don’t want it

Pitching

  • when pitching, and wanting to tell the target audience, don’t say “adults from 35-45”, say “fans of stephen king’s salem’s lot”

State of the Weird West Genre

  • with short stories, you’ve got a shot. novels, you’re almost definitely going small press, and you’re probably going to struggle to earn out

Coming Soon: Writing Workshops

  • once mysterious galaxy moves, will be doing workshops at the new location: fight and action scenes, children’s books, comic books

Character Description Tips

  • old action movie trick: give a bad-ass character something to hold in their hands, like a cup of coffee, so they don’t look dangerous (until they punch someone in the face), the contrast works
  • can get more mileage out of describing what a character wears rather than their specific physical appearance (because the clothes show character, but the hair color, eye color, etc, does not)

Setting Writing Goals for the Year

  • likes 90 days, 6 months, the year, but also 5 and 10 year plans
  • Maberry sets daily writing goal based on a week’s worth of actual writing; finds the average and halves it, then uses that as the daily goal, everything past that is bonus; pays himself for every day he hits his goal, can only use that money for fun
  • allows himself business days off when knows in advance (ex: knee surgery, spending all day in business meetings in LA)
  • build your schedule for mental health and comfort, not pushing yourself to the limit all the time
  • good to have a few projects at once, because writer’s burnout is real; can feel like writer’s block but happens if you’ve been working on the same novel/project for too long (for example, when you don’t bang out a novel in 3-5 months, but years)
  • after daily goals, have project goals, and make them realistic too; maberry’s first novel took him 3.5 years to write and revise
  • first draft and the revision process should not be part of the same plan, because they’re different sides of being a writer; the first draft just needs to get the story out, and be mildly entertaining and coherent, it really only needs to done
  • stephen king’s carrie was a terrible first draft, that he almost threw out, but his wife saved it and made him revise it (6 times) until it was ready to go out
  • the person who revises the book needs to be unemotional about the book; because we can see so much that needs fixing that we come to hate the book or lose faith in the book
  • trick: when writing a book in a year, break up the project into 11 parts (not 12!) and set the goal of having that first draft done by december 1st (so you can spend december partying)
  • careful with the rolling draft (write some and then revise some), because the storytelling mind and the editing mind are not friends! they can barely talk to each other. going back and forth for the same project is hard
  • writing down the bones: good book on writing craft
  • revising requires more writing craft chops than writing; should do some research first, learn how to revise from others then go about revising
  • revision strategy: unique character identities, making sure each character sounds different, moves and acts differently
  • one pass character identity, one pass character voice, one pass character arcs, one pass making sure protagonist is interesting, one pass for story chronology, pass on figurative and descriptive language (reads poetry now before writing any prose, to help his linguistic imagination), one pass on the logic of the story (which can mean checking or redoing his research), optional pass on POV consistency, very last pass is how much he can cut out of it
  • short story goals: write four new stories, revise them, send them out by the end of the year (that’s one drafted and done every three months)
  • if revising a novel this year, decide in advance when you’re going to submit it; don’t plan on sending it from mid-november to early january, because no one is going to read it, they’re all on vacation or at office parties or with family
  • other goals: 3 years from now? want to be published! your novel (maybe not the one you’re working on now) sold to a publishing house
  • 10 year goal: put things on there that are beyond your ken and your skill, then start looking for and doing the things that could get you there

Social Media Tips

  • for social media, two guidelines: don’t be a negative jerk, and post consistently (even if it’s just once a day)
  • the three platforms to be on: facebook, instagram, twitter; set it up so you can cross-post from one to the other
  • will save up links and quotes and youtube videos in a list and post them when he has nothing to say for that day
  • interactive posts: what are you working on? what do you think of this new show? i need a playlist for this book, here are the elements of the plot, what would you suggest?

Ghost Road Blues by Jonathan Maberry

Simply put, a fantastic ghost story. Like a horror film from the 80s updated and put in novel form.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • 3rd person omniscient works only if you stay out of characters’ individual perspectives. Say what happens, and report what they think, but as an outsider
  • Tragedy for a minor character has more impact if we spend some time with them first, however little, to see how they act normally
  • Remember that characters only know what they see, and that can mislead them sometimes. That’s okay. Let them be wrong when they should be wrong, so that when they’re right it’ll feel like triumph.

Writer’s Coffeehouse Notes, Aug 2017

Attended the Writer’s Coffeehouse at Mysterious Galaxy yesterday. As always, I came away with lots of great advice 🙂

Many thanks to Jonathan Maberry for running these, and to Mysterious Galaxy for hosting!

My Notes from the Coffeehouse

Dangerous to be a one-trick pony; if you put something out that doesn’t succeed, don’t take it personally, instead ask what you can do that will sell

Sometimes you have to pick one idea over another because it’ll be easier to sell

Negativity never helps. Da Vinci Code got slammed by so many people, and yet it was responsible for thrillers becoming the dominant genre on the bestseller lists (which they still are)

Lot of business discussions happen at comic-con, behind the scenes; he had meetings with agents, game devs, editors, etc.

If you have a published work in a genre, post on fb page and ask around about getting on a panel at one of these cons

Science people can be a big draw at these events

Got to get involved in these things, put yourself out there, to have these opportunities happen

Henry: started out with small cons, like ComicFest and ConDor, volunteered to put together panels, those smaller cons always need help, another author gave contact info for comiccon organizers, he did the same thing there, volunteered to put together panels, etc

One thing about moderating: try to come up with questions they haven’t had asked before, avoid the “where do you get your ideas?”, try to ask things that get into the personality of the panelists

Other writer noticed Henry asks questions that gets debate flowing among the panelists; respectful, but not all agreeing with each other

Henry: can write in a closet, but might not ever become popular, takes energy and work to get the connections and opportunities for a career in publishing

Suggestion: if you’re in a writing group, hold fake panels; have one person moderate, two or more be fake panelists, others watch and rotate; it’s great practice for later

Some writers will ask questions of the audience to get comfortable at signings

Handle interviews by focusing on what’s fun about it for you; the fun will show and the audience will love it

More practice: get group together, have one person go up and answer the same question over and over again in different ways

If you get on a panel, bring something to share out at the end

La jolla writer’s conference coming up
Southern california writer’s conference coming up

Good advice: a pitch is telling someone how to sell your book

Maberry: writer’s conferences made him fall in live with writing again, would not be a fiction writer without them

Queries: never make absurd claims (this will be as big as harry potter!), or slam other books (this is so much better than harry potter!)

Don’t take pot shots at other books or series

Round the word count to the nearest 5,000. No need to give the exact word count

Most novels, they don’t want more than 100,000 words, because of the extra printing costs for a book of that size

Important to know the right length for your genre; epic fantasy tilts long (150K), westerns tilt short (65K)

DON’T QUERY UNTIL THE NOVEL IS COMPLETE AND POLISHED

Henry: timing of query and font doesn’t matter so much

Maberry: disagree; when you’re querying, getting this stuff right separates you out from amateurs

Maberry: prefers verbal queries; lots of writers’ conferences, find which ones your target agents are going to

Don’t listen to the myth that agents who have sold X numbers of Y genre are no longer looking for more; it’s bunk; you want the agents that are known for selling your genre

Intern here from march fourth publishing house, she confirms everything (and suggests checking them out!)

Pitching in person: the agents there might not be right for you, but it’s good practice, hones your skills, and the agents that are there often come prepared with other agents they can recommend; if nothing else you can get feedback on the pitch

Keep in mind: the agents are just as nervous about this as you are

Jim Butcher: queried jennifer jackson and rejected by her, then met her at a conference, and she agreed to pick him up

Verbal pitches: don’t necessarily have to be pitching a finished book

#mswishlist twitter tag where editors and agents tweet about what they’re looking for

ALWAYS HAVE BUSINESS CARDS WITH YOU AND PUT YOUR FACE ON IT SO THEY CAN REMEMBER YOU

When doing verbal pitch, do not read your pitch, or stick to a script; pitch to the agent, change how you talk about it based on how they react to what you say

Elements of a good pitch: hook them, give them a sense of characters and the stakes, link it to other books and explain why people will want to read it (best to connect it to what you like as a reader, and show how other readers also like that thing)

Another good exercise: take a book you know, and pitch it to your writing group, see if you can get to the essential points

Don’t land too hard on the market piece, becomes too much of a sales pitch; connect it to readers who are real people, and yourself as a writer and someone you want them to want to work with for years

Pitch practice: genre, subgenre, demographic, main character’s name, and a crisis

Don’t think in terms of good or bad for your own writing. Think of “publishable” and “not yet publishable.” Take the latter parts and change what needs to be changed in order to make it publishable.