Monday, May 9th, 2011

Many Genres, One Craft: Writing Conferences, Part II

This is the second of a 3-part interview series of authors from the book Many Genres, One Craft recently published by Headline Books. Many Genres, One Craft is an anthology of instructional articles for fiction writers looking for advice on how to improve their writing and better navigate the mass market for genre novels.

While the book encompasses many aspects of writing, this series of interviews is all about coordinating and attending writing conferences.

Lucy A. Snyder Lucy A. Snyder is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of the novels Spellbent and Shotgun Sorceress and the collections Sparks and Shadows, Chimeric Machines, and Installing Linux on a Dead Badger. Her writing has also appeared in several magazines.

She has a B.S. in biology, an M.A. in journalism and graduated from the 1995 Clarion Writers’ Workshop. Since 2005, she’s directed the Context Writing Workshops. She currently is a Seton Hill MFA mentor. Lucy was born in South Carolina, grew up in Texas, and now lives in Ohio, with her husband and occasional co-author Gary A. Braunbeck. For more information, please visit

What’s it like being a conference/convention coordinator?

It’s a busy but highly rewarding volunteer job. I coordinate the writing workshops track for Context, a convention in Columbus, Ohio that will be taking place the weekend of August 26-28 ( It’s steady work across the entire year that gets busier in the months leading up to the convention. Right now we’re getting very busy with convention planning and preparations. It’s always great to see your efforts pay off in a well-attended convention where you can see people having fun, making new connections, and learning new skills.

Book cover of Switchblade Goddess by Lucy A. SnyderWhat are the key skills for your role?

To be a writing workshop coordinator you need good organizational skills (scheduling and keeping track of course signups is a big part of what you’ll do), persistence (things won’t always go right the first time), and good problem-solving skills. And of course communication skills are critical. Knowledge-wise, you need to be able to reach out to good instructors, and you need to know how to be able to evaluate potential instructors.

What’s the best thing that’s ever come out of a conference for you? What about for someone else? Was it luck or planning that made it happen?

For me, the best things that have come out of conferences and conventions have been book deals, or preliminary discussions with editors that resulted in book deals. Luck always plays a distressingly large role in publishing, but in each situation I had done a lot of pre-conference planning (in terms of who I wanted to meet and what I was going to present to them) that I think vastly improved my chances of success.

Why should a person attend a conference/convention?

There are a whole lot of reasons to go to a convention. Many people go as much for fun as they do for business. It really depends on where you are in your writing career. If you’re unpublished, you might want to focus of conventions that offer a strong writing track and the chance to talk to small- and medium-press editors, who are often more receptive to new writers’ work. If you have been selling short stories and have just finished a novel, you might want to look for conventions that offer the opportunity to pitch to book editors and reputable literary agents. And if you’re a working writer, you’ll probably be looking for larger conventions that offer the best networking opportunities with editors and other writers as well as a chance to expose new readers to your work.

How can you decide (before you put your money down) if a conference is right for you?

Take a look at the guest/attendees lists — do you see the names of people you’d like to listen to or chat with? Take a look at the programming schedule, which might not be posted until a month or so before the conference. Do the panels and workshops and other events interest you? Now, look at the costs of attending the conference, not just the registration fees but also the hotel, air fare, etc. Can you afford this?

What if you get there, and find it’s not right? How can you make lemonade from the lemon?

Even a well-planned convention can end up with problems due to hotel errors, or high-profile guests may have to cancel at the last minute because of unexpected travel snags or illness. Because of this, it’s best to not pin all your hopes for a convention on a single guest attending or a single workshop, etc. Do your homework first and try to choose conventions that offer a wide range of events that will interest you.

Book cover of Spellbent by Lucy A. SnyderIf you arrive at a convention and at first it’s not what you expected, give it a chance. If you’re looking for the pro author guests and don’t see them, check the hotel bar — this is the prime hangout location for writers. If you came to meet other attendees and find the panels under-attended, check to see if there are going to be room parties later that people may be resting up for. Try to set aside your expectations and be open to what the convention has to offer.

But if it simply isn’t working for you, take a look around and see what other opportunities present themselves. If you’re in the middle of an unfamiliar but interesting city, take the opportunity to do some sight-seeing. You might be able to forge new friendships with other attendees who are similarly disenchanted with the conference.

Also, once the weekend is over, you might want to send a polite, non-judgmental email to the convention chairs to let them know about the things that didn’t work for you or created problems for you. Again, politeness is key here; the organizers are likely unpaid volunteers who worked as hard as they could to put on a good event. They’ll want to know what went wrong for you so they can do better next time, but they won’t be receptive to your message if it’s disrespectful or ends in high-handed demands. Many conventions will offer membership refunds if there’s been a genuine at-con disaster.

If you’re pitching at a conference, what do you need to do?

Make sure you know the rules of the pitch session going in, and make sure you’re following those rules. If you know who you’ll be pitching to, try to learn a little about the agent or editor and his or her tastes, and adjust your pitch accordingly. Practice your pitch on friends, and prepare pitches of different lengths. For instance, it’s always good to be able to describe your project in 30 seconds or less, but you’ll also want an intermediate and longer pitch that you can use depending on the circumstances. And it doesn’t hurt to have a back-up pitch prepared in case the agent or editor says “I don’t think that project will work for us, but do you have anything else?”

When should a person consider NOT going to a conference?

Conferences are wonderful, but if you’re behind on your novel deadline, don’t go, unless there’s a truly compelling reason. You should also reconsider your attendance if going to the conference will send you into debt, or deeper into it. And if you have the flu, please stay home; the virus that gave you an annoying cough could land someone else in the hospital.

If you decide you must cancel and you’re scheduled to participate as a panelist or on other programming, be certain to let the organizers know as soon as possible so they can adjust their scheduling accordingly. It’s simply the polite thing to do.

Many thanks to Lucy A. Snyder for answering a few questions about attending writing conferences and coordinating them. If you have others, please post in the comments. Lucy will be happy to answer them!

More information about Many Genres, including author information and other interviews is available on the Many Genres blog.

Please visit next Monday for the third (and final) interview from Many Genres, One Craft. Part 1 with thriller-auther KJ Howe can be found here.

Order information for Many Genres, One Craft.

Friday, May 6th, 2011

Writing Prompt: Oh, the Humanity!

Hindenburg on FireOn May 6, 1937, the German airship, Hindenburg, exploded just as it arrived at it’s destination, Lakehurst, New Jersey. Thirty six people were killed.

Herbert Morrison, a radio announcer on WLS Radio, watching the disaster unfold, delivered a live speech as the zeppelin went down in flames, the last line of which has been exploited in movies, television and elsewhere (often taken out of context and used for dramatic — even humorous — effect).

He said:

“Oh, oh, oh. It’s burst into flames. Get out of the way, please…this is terrible…it’s burning, bursting into flames, and is falling… Oh! This is one of the worst… it’s a terrific sight… oh, the humanity.”

Almost a thousand people waited for the Hindenburg that evening. Bad weather and rain delayed both the ship’s arrival and timely docking. A set of unfortunate circumstances: the use of hydrogen for buoyancy and maneuverability (rather than the safer helium gas), the small gas leak noticed too late, Captain Max Pruss’ too-fast landing and subsequent reverse engine thrust, all contributed to the inferno.

Reports say the spectators felt the heat of the blast nearly a mile away.

Here’s Your Prompt: Write an eye-witness account of an accident, a natural disaster, or a medical emergency. What was your first thought, or the first words out of your mouth? What were you doing when “it” happened? Were you with anyone? Were you near enough to be injured yourself? What about anyone else you were with?

Who else was involved? How did it happen? What was the ultimate outcome? Write what you experienced during the event. Don’t ignore your senses: how things looked, felt, sounded, smelled and even tasted. Include how you were feeling when the event was happening, and now, looking back on it, how you feel about it having happened.

Journalistic Prompt: Write the same story as a reporter, not as an eye witness. “Interview” others who saw what happened and relate, in their words, the most key elements of the story: who, what, when, where, why and how. Keep your own opinion out of the story, and be certain to include a spectrum of eyewitness opinions — including contradictory accounts and conclusions — to make certain the story is “fair and balanced.”

For more information on journalism, see my other prompt on the inverted pyramid style of writing for newspapers.

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Typewriters – Not Just for Storytelling Anymore

Mona Lisa Typed by Paul SmithEver since I posted the story about the typewriter factory possibly closing, I’ve come across more typewriter stories on the ‘net than I thought possible…without even looking for them.

I think this one, about the artist Paul Smith, is pretty interesting. He was born in 1921, with such a bad case of cerebral palsey that he didn’t attend school.

It didn’t stop him from creating some wonderful art – with a typewriter.

Smith taught himself to be an artist, using shading techniques similar to charcoal drawings. He most often used the keys @ # $ % ^ & * ( ) _ to create his art, backing up the carriage and typing over and over again in the same areas of the page. He sometimes smeared the ink with his thumb, adding depth to the picture.

It’s a far cry from ascii art, eh? Here’s some by Jorn Barger for comparison. Mona Lisa by Jorn Barger

During his life, Smith created hundreds of pieces, including portraits of presidents, animals, religious icons, and especially seascapes and pictures of boats. Often, he gave the pieces away.

I love how he wrote “Typed by Paul Smith” on each piece he created.

See more of his art at the

Close Up: Mona Lisa's Eyes by Paul Smith
Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Many Genres, One Craft: Writing Conferences

This is the first of a 3-part interview series of authors from the book Many Genres, One Craft recently published by Headline Books. Many Genres, One Craft is an anthology of instructional articles for fiction writers looking for advice on how to improve their writing and better navigate the mass market for genre novels.

While the book encompasses many aspects of writing, this series of interviews is all about coordinating and attending writing conferences.

. . . . . . . . . .

KJ Howe, is a two-time Daphne du Maurier winner, a four-time Golden Heart finalist, and a finalist in the American Title III Contest. She earned her Master’s in Writing Popular Fiction in 2007 and is now represented by the Evan Marshall Agency. International intrigue and pulse-pounding adventure are her passions. When she isn’t writing romantic thrillers, KJ is researching them by shark cage diving in South Africa, interacting with semi-habituated elephants in Botswana, or scuba diving in the Red Sea. You can visit her at

Kimberly J. Howe

KJ Howe

Why should someone attend a conference? How can you decide if a conference is right for you?

No matter where you are in your writing career, you can benefit from attending a conference. You can learn from the workshops, find critique partners, network with industry professionals, promote your books, find inspiration to get back to your writing, discover new writing tools, meet people with the same enthusiasm for books, and so much more.

I would recommend finding a conference that is in your genre, so you can make specific connections to editors, agents, and other writers in your chosen field. There are large conferences and small conferences. The small ones offer intimacy, but the large ones offer more choices and a larger number of superstars. I’d try both and see what feels right for you. Some authors find the large conferences a little intimidating, while others enjoy the hubbub and love having access to many big names.

What is the best thing that’s ever come out of a conference for you?

I was very fortunate that at one of my first conferences, I entered a writing contest and was lucky enough to win–and secured an agent as a result. Always throw your hat in the ring and enter contests at conferences. It can really pay off.

What if you get there, and find it isn’t right for you? How do you make lemons from lemonade?

I’ve been at a few conferences where I felt like a fish out of water, but I always try to make the most out of it. There is always something to be gained–from an incredible writing insight to meeting an instrumental person for your career. Keep your heart and mind open. You may be surprised what you discover.

What was the worst thing that’s ever happened to you at a conference?

Very good question. I was once introduced to a high-profile author. I was quite nervous to be thrown into the situation with no warning, and, needless to say, I wasn’t at my most eloquent. As a result, the author turned and walked away without a goodbye. The experience hurt, but I learned many lessons from it, most importantly, to treat people with respect no matter who they are because I’ve felt the impact of being snubbed.

What should you do to prepare for a conference — especially if you want to pitch your book?

I would recommend sitting down and writing out your goals for the conference. Are you there to network, learn craft, find an agent…try to figure out what would serve you best at this time in your career. Also, do your homework about who you would like to meet. You should have access to the workshop schedule ahead of time. Select your workshops based on subject matter and who is teaching. Be strategic and target your priorities.

There is a great article on pitching at the ThrillerFest website at Just go under the AgentFest heading–AgentFest is a pitching event where we have 60 agents eager to hear about your book. If you’re looking for an agent, you may want to consider joining us.

Many Genres Book CoverWhat are some conferences do’s and don’ts?

I would recommend treating a conference like a business event. Dress business casual, be polite and professional to everyone, and don’t imbibe too much alcohol. Most of all, have fun. Writing is a solitary activity, and it’s important to meet fellow enthusiasts.

When should a person consider NOT going to a conference?

Although I feel strongly that spending time at a conference is almost always worthwhile, there are times when you may decide not to attend–if you’re under a tight writing deadline, you may have to spend that week writing (although I know many writers who come to the conferences for certain events while spending tons of time in the room writing). Financial constraints can also play a role. It’s a very personal decision, and it’s important to weigh all those issues before signing up for a conference.

What’s it like being a conference coordinator? Do you get paid?

I have the distinct pleasure of working on the ThrillerFest team, a conference for thriller writers held in NYC every July. Because we are part of the International Thriller Writers, we have people coming from all over the world to participate in ThrillerFest. We’re fortunate to have countless industry professionals attend because we host the conference in NYC where editors and agents can walk down the street to join us.

Working as a conference coordinator is similar to being a juggler. There are so many aspects of running a conference, you need to keep all the balls in the air, hoping none drop. Some of the key tasks include: coordinating the logistics with the hotel staff, arranging for food and beverages, taking care of VIP guests, organizing volunteers to assist with programming, advertising the conference, securing sponsors…the list could go on and on, but let’s just say that many details need to be worked out to make sure the attendees experience a smooth, interesting, and well-organized event.

The position of Executive Director of ThrillerFest is a full-time position–and one of the best jobs in the world.

What are the top three skills for coordinators?

1) Strong organizational skills.
2) Positive interpersonal skills.
3) A detail-oriented approach.

What do you need to know to run a successful conference–and how would one go about getting involved?

My best advice if you’re interested in becoming involved in conference organization is to start by volunteering your time. Learn the ropes from the ground up, so you can see how it all works. That’s what I have done, and it’s been a wonderful learning experience. Also, as a conference organizer, it’s important to do every job at least once. That way, if someone is ill or can’t do his /her job, you can take over seamlessly.

What are some trends in conferences these days?

Conferences offer so much. For high profile authors, conferences can offer an opportunity to meet fans and promote their latest novel. Aspiring authors can network with established authors, learn from the various panels/workshops, and find inspiration from being around people with a similar love of literature. As far as trends go, there seems to be more fan-oriented conferences available, and many conferences offer courses on the craft of writing. For example, at ThrillerFest, we have an event called CraftFest where NYT Bestselling authors share their secrets to writing fiction. For more information, please visit and take a look under CraftFest.

What’s exciting about running a conference, and what’s not?

There’s nothing like the rush of seeing all your hard work pay off–when people thank you for the event and express their enthusiasm, it makes burning the candle at both ends well worth it.


Man Genres, One Craft can be purchased at


Many thanks to KJ Howe for answering a few questions about attending writing conferences and coordinating them. If you have others, please post in the comments. KJ will be happy to answer them!

More information about Many Genres, including author information and other interviews is available on the Many Genres blog.

Please visit next Monday for the second interview from Many Genres, One Craft.

9 May 2011 – Edit: Part II with Bram Stoker Award Winner Lucy A. Snyder can be found here.