Sunday, October 30, 2011

2011 SCWW Conference Review: My Perspective

By Ginny Padgett

October 21-23, 2011 was the date of the 21st annual SCWW Writers’ Conference. As SCWW President, Conference Co-Chair and conference volunteer, I have a behind-the-scenes perspective on the conference.

As the conference ended on Sunday, I heard enough feedback to say with reasonable certainty that it was a good one. Many conference goers told me that this year's was one of the best, citing our excellent faculty. We have Carrie McCullough, Conference Chair, to thank for that - along with just about every other detail pertaining to planning this event.

The conference wouldn’t have been as successful without the efforts of Kia Goins, Conference Co-Chair, and Kim Blum-Hyclak, Silent Auction Chair. They worked like Trojans to make Conference 2011 an enjoyable, informative, seamless and financially-viable endeavor.

Then there are the 20 volunteers that gave up a good portion of their conference time to insure that attendees and faculty were comfortable and on time to their specific sessions and appointments. This was accomplished with smiles and enthusiasm. In addition, there were many unnoticed chores shouldered by these members.

After the last session on Sunday morning, a 19-year-old man stopped to pass on his thanks to SCWW and our annual conferences. He said he had been attending them since he was 15 years old and owed his writing career to SCWW.

Later, I asked an attendee as she was leaving if she'd enjoyed her weekend. She paused at the door, placed a hand over her heart and with a blissful expression sighed, “I have been inspired.”

Here’s a quote from an email I received Monday morning following the conference. “I sat beside a writer from NY Saturday night and I asked him how he discovered our conference. He found it online, a site that reviewed conferences in the USA and ours was listed as NUMBER ONE!”

Also, I spoke with an attendee the next day who said, “I am busy putting to work some of the things I learned this past weekend. I expect better results than I’ve had.”

And lastly, I received this email from Sorche Fairbank of Fairbank Literary and 2011 faculty member.
I want to extend a quick and heartfelt thanks once again for inviting me to be a part of your conference. I participate in six to eight conferences each year , and while I almost always enjoy them and find them worthwhile, it's been a long time since I've been to one that left this much of an impression on me. It was top notch all around, both for presenters and for attendees. Truly, not many conferences have such heart and soul, professionalism, and value. Your selection of speakers/agents/faculty was fabulous (even I left energized!), the attendees were open to suggestions and very eager to learn, there was a feeling of respect and excitement over being in the world of books and writing -- and none or very little of the doom and gloom that is present at so many conferences.

So from my perspective, the 2011 SCWW Writers’ Conference was a brilliant success.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Writer's Platform, Part II

By Michelle Gwynn Jones

For a writer, getting accepted in the publishing industry today means having a presence in the literary world before you are published. If you are famous in your field, are a household word or a serial killer you can consider yourself known. For the rest of us, it’s not so easy.

The first step for most is a web presence, unfortunately the problem many writers face is that they don’t believe they have anything to say. They ask themselves, “Have I published anything substantial, no, so why would or should someone listen to my expertise? Everything I have to say is second, third or fifty-eighth hand. The last thing needed on the net is more information by people who are just regurgitating something that may have been said by someone even less qualified than I.”

The number of websites offering writing advice is too high to count, the number of websites by those with no expertise in the field is nearly as high. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t write about writing, but write about your writing. Tell the reader how you approach your work. Do you outline like crazy (as I do) or do you just sit down at the computer letting the words flow from your fingers and see what comes out? Do you plan your characters out in advance or is your character formed as your story develops? Have you any idea how the story will end before you start or do you like to be surprised like the reader? Get personal, tell your story.

When I say tell your story, I mean the story of how you write, be very careful in sharing the story you are writing. There are many writers who rush to build their platform before they have the necessary experience and knowledge of their craft. They place work of poor quality on the net, only drawing attention to an inability to write well. This often occurs when a section of the novel or a short story is posted that is not ready for public display. Unfortunately the website does not have the intended results. Instead of drawing in a loyal reader who will return to read you again, the chances are you will turn off your target, or worse, get many unwanted hits when the first reader refers your site to others for a good chuckle. My advice: before you post a portion of your manuscript, make sure it has been edited and edited and edited to death.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

What’s a Page-Turner?

By John May

When I first started writing a novel a few years back, I attended the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference in Seattle, Washington. The session I remember the most (thanks partially to good notes but mostly to content) was a Panel Discussion involving seven prominent agents and editors who dealt with all types of adult fiction. Someone asked the panel, “What’s THE number one thing that would entice you to represent or publish a fiction novel.” I was surprised when they all agreed they wanted the same thing, no exceptions:

Page-turners-—novels that compel the reader to read.

Naturally, the next question was, “What makes a novel a page-turner?” Here, it got even more surprising. I was certain there would be lots of different answers and that the answers would tend to vary based on category. After all, what works for science fiction can’t possibly work for a literary novel and vice-versa, right? Wrong. After much vigorous brainstorming, the panel came up with one consensus answer they felt applied across all adult fiction types:

In the typical page-turner, the reader experiences a story presented in a competent, suspenseful, and entertaining manner about interesting, strong characters who have important, clear goals and who must overcome significant resistance to their vigorous efforts to achieve those goals.

As part of the process, each of the individual attributes (experiences, story, competent, etc.) in the definition was discussed and defined precisely by the panel. The exact words and definitions are important— alternatives for each word were considered and discarded. For example, the reader is not “told a story,” she “experiences a story presented,” which is a very different animal.

In addition to exact wording, the panel felt strongly that all the many listed attributes should be present, not just a majority. They felt that if even one were missing, the likelihood the book would be a page-turner went down dramatically. And, with each additional missed attribute, come further dramatic drops in page-turner potential.

The above page-turner description was accepted unanimously by the panel but not by the audience. Some of the aspiring literary novelists felt it was “write-by-numbers” and that no one had the right to tell them how to achieve their artistic vision. The panel’s response to this went something like, “You’re correct. No one can tell you how to write. You only have to write this way if you want us to spend the time and money it takes to get you published.” The panel did admit there have been exceptions, but held they were few and far between. The odds of publication success (getting published and selling well) are enormously tilted in favor of the type of page-turner described.

Many of the attribute definitions and their subtle nuances are not self-evident. I’m thinking the next few times I’m up to bat in Blog Town, I’ll go over the definition in detail, discuss what each of the attributes meant to the panel and go over the nuances we discussed. I think there are some surprises here.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Opening Sentences

By Bonnie Stanard

We’ve had the lesson hammered into our heads that the opening of a book has to hook the reader. It’s so important San Jose State University holds the Bulwer-Lytton competition every year to name the worst opening sentence for a possible novel (

According to Brian Klem in Writers Digest* we should also establish tone in the first sentence. His definition of tone goes a long way to explain something that’s hard to describe. He says tone in a book is like a soundtrack in a movie. I can relate to that. The background music is something you’re more likely to notice if it’s bad. When it’s good, you’re too engrossed in the movie to notice it.

As I surfed first sentences of books, I wondered if we could pick out best sellers by their first sentences. I’ve come up with six sentences, three from best sellers. The remaining three are not best sellers. To get them, I searched titles for the word “dark,” which has to be one of the most overworked words in English literature. Surprisingly, the search turned up a number of Stephen King’s books among the 59,500 findings.

Which of the following first sentences are from best sellers? Can you detect a tone? Klem describes tone as the author’s attitude toward his subject, i.e. grave, amused, scientific, intimate, aggrieved, authoritative. I would add angry, laudatory, repelled.

1. “So, you would like to know your future?” the old fortune teller asked.
2. Mae Mobley was born on a early Sunday morning in August, 1960.
3. Under normal circumstances, Charlie Flint would have consumed all the media
coverage of the trial of Philip Carling’s killers.
4. While a late-summer storm bashed against her single skinny window, Lieutenant Eve Dallas wished for murder.
5. Vincent was feeling tired but instantly snapped awake the moment he thought he heard a slight swishing sound against stone.
6. As she gazed out the bay window in her bedroom, Mary McAllister knew this night would be her last.

Finding the winners here is more of an exercise in identifying the losers. I have low expectations of Number 1, which is about as innovative as “It was a dark and stormy night.” Any fault, such as one unnecessary word, signals that the author is careless with words, which is my view of numbers 3 (all) and 5 (which deserves a bad writing award). If I were Number 5’s editor, I’d suggest: "Vincent felt tired but snapped awake when he heard a swishing against stone." Add another negative to Number 3 for opening with an awkward conditional past perfect verb. If you haven’t figured out already, even numbered sentences are best sellers.

And tone? It’s hard to credit these sentences with any tone. What can you tell from the first note of a soundtrack?

Whatever my attitude toward my characters, I try not to judge them. Some of them behave badly, but it’s not up to me to tell the reader they’re scoundrels. Whatever the foibles of our characters, if we care about them, our readers will too. That goes a long way in setting a tone that engages the reader.

Book titles and authors: (1) Dark Tomorrows by J.L. Bryan, A. Hocking; (2) The Help by Kathryn Stockett; (3) Trick of the Dark by Val McDermid; (4) New York to Dallas by J.D. Robb; (5) Storm of Prophecy: Book 1, Dark Awakening by Michael Von Werner, F. Diroma; (6) The Mill River Recluse by Darcie Chan
*7 Ways to Perfect Your Writing “Tone” by Brian Klems, on Writer’s Digest website (

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Dealing with Rejection

By Shaun McCoy

You did it! You wrote that story. You sat down there in front of that accursed word processor and opened up a soul-vein. Your soul poured out of it like an artistic geyser of prosaic verbosity, blasting plot, character development, and witticism into the greatest story ever written by un-unaided mortal. More than that, you found someone to send it to. Someone who says they like character driven stories. Someone who has a professional looking website. And you sent your baby off.

…And you waited…

You're response: a form rejection letter.

Thank you for submitting your story, but I'm afraid it just doesn't work for us. It's not you, it's me. Really. You've got a very special editor out there, alone in the world, who can appreciate your story for who it truly is.


What? Didn't they read it? Stupid editor probably went for some leather wearing, motorcycle riding, bad-boy story. Some manuscript who wears dark sunglasses and treats editors like Chihuahua poo. How dumb could that editor be? I mean, they say they like character driven stories, but look at that other Labrador doodoo they publish? Editors never say they want what they really want. Nice stories finish last. It's time to go home, drink and prepare your story for a life as an old cat lady.

But wait…it doesn't have to be this way. This story is a good story. But what can you do? Maybe it's time to bite the bullet and meet that agent your mother always talks about. Or perhaps internet or speed dating?

Internet or speed dating? Durn right!

It's time to go eHarmony on those b$#@tches.

While it may be inappropriate to ask out every dude at a bar, that strata"gem" will only help you in the attempt to shop around your writing.

What we need is a system. We need to email out that manuscript like it’s a snuggie on the QVC. We need to turn your home computer into a spam server that will make lolsec look like an 85 year old AOL user.

The first step is to make a list. Find a slew of Agents/Publishers where you can send your manuscript. You can find them with Google, a website like duotrope, a Writers's Guide from a semi recent decade, or any other source. Then map your story's path. That's right, assume rejection. Be ready for it. Relish it like it's Laura's Crème Brulee. If the editor rejects it, pass it on through to the next one in line. Unless they give you some advice on how to improve the story, or you see a problem, send that puppy right back out there into the rain. Keep those birds in the air. Don't let that story sit un-submitted for more than a day. Simultaneously submit whenever possible.

…And write more! The biggest lie about publishing you'll read on the internet is that it isn't an odds game. Well, maybe not if you're already a fancy schmantsy uber writer, or if you're so bad your work gets rejected from fan fiction websites. For the rest of us, there are many editors which would say no to our stories, and a handful who would buy them. You've got to find the handful amidst the unappreciative masses.

Don't wait with just one. Keep writing and keep learning, and then get those birds in the air.

As a personal example, I calculated that if I were to only submit one story at a time, that I would have to wait nearly three years in-between short story publishing. With ten stories in the air I get one published every three months.

On the internet they'll tell you trite things like "don't take it personally." Pansies! Rejection is weakness leaving your manuscript, what doesn't corrupt your computer's hardrive makes your story stronger. Get back out there on that horse and date the prom queen! Get your story a motorcycle and sunglasses. And whatever you do, under no uncertain circumstances, don't stop writing—or get drunk.*

*Unless you've had your work rejected by a fan fiction website. Then it's time to start drinking.