Takeaways From the Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference

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Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference 2013 flyerThis was my second time at the Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference. Last year, it coincided with my birthday, so I considered it a birthday gift to myself, and it was money well spent. I learned a lot and had a great time. This year was even better.

I’ve been writing professionally since the late 1980s and have three books to my credit (two traditionally published and one independently published), so I gravitated to the “Accomplished” track of sessions — the other two tracks are Aspiring and Active. Although I took a lot of notes, I found that each session had one takeaway that summed it up. So here is the short version of what I learned:

“Doing Your Homework: Researching the Nonfiction Book” with Gayle K. Brunelle
Gayle Brunelle is the co-author, along with Annette Finley-Croswhite, of a series of books about some mysterious murders in 1930s France, and they put years of research into them. Originally it was only going to be one book, Murder in the Metro, which brings me to the first takeaway: a really good nonfiction book requires so much research that it’s time- and money-smart to use it for several books. So instead of thinking of a single book, consider other books that could be created from this topic — maybe even a series. What else besides your primary project can utilize this research?

Gayle also had an amazingly organized binder (or as she called it, bible) that contained her research for her books, including sections for notes, maps and the book proposal. One of my current nonfiction projects would benefit greatly from my doing this. Actually, my life would probably benefit greatly from this type of organization.

“The Short Story Market” — a panel that included Terry Kate, Joni Labaqui, Nancy Ellen Dodd and Gary Phillips
My takeaway from this: there are no hard and fast rules in the short story market. Some writers preferred to stick to the tried-and-true contests and magazines (especially genre writers in areas such as science fiction and mystery). Some considered the eBook market a perfectly fine way to go. What to do? Just write and get your stories out there.

“Writing the Next Science Fiction Classic” — Without a Zombie in Sight — a panel with Steven W. Booth Ace Antonio Hall, William Wu and Howard Hendrix.
These four writers emphasized, “Don’t be afraid to innovate.” I remember back when I was a rock journalist, the loser bands were the ones that jumped on the bandwagon after a style of music was already popular: pursuing hair metal in 1991, being grunge in 1995, etc. Same thing with Science Fiction (or any other genre) — don’t chase trends. Allow yourself the creativity to be fresh and different.

“The Developmental Editor” — a panel with Marcia Meier, Claire Gerus and Claudia Suzanne
I have always wanted to be a developmental editor — I just didn’t realize it had a name. I just knew I enjoyed taking raw talent, giving it shape and helping the author mold it into a beautiful, polished piece. The biggest compliment I ever get as an editor is, “That’s what I meant to say!” So my takeaway here was personal. This trio of veterans gave a great overview of both the developmental editing and ghost writing business. I thank them.

“Seven Tools of an Adventurous and Risk-Taking Writer” — keynote by Beth Walz
I learned a great new phrase from Beth: Word Warriors. No surprise, coming from a woman who has a website called Adventure Woman. You probably want to know the seven tools, so here they are… but you would have to hear them from Beth to get the full effect&nsbp;— in any case, they work well for any project, book or otherwise:

1. Have a compass — you need to know where you are going.
2. Have a map — how are you going to get there?
3. Preparation — do your research and take each project individually
4. Begin! After you have done all the preparatory work, commit and start.
5. It will be difficult, but the universe will help you.
6. Have the courage to turn back and revise.
7. Persevere

“Mainstream Vs. Genre, Do Walls Still Exist? Writing Cross-Genre: What Works and What Doesn’t” — a panel with Gary Phillips, Sharon Goldstein, Art Holcomb and Howard Hendrix
This lively session contained the inevitable cat video-Grumpy Cat reference (there has to be one at every conference now, you know). More importantly was what I wrote down in big letters in the middle of the page during this session: Genre versus Target Market. While you are trying to figure out where your book fits, you might also want to consider who is going to read it, because you want it to get into those readers’ hands. When thinking in terms of genre these days, consider this — people want to know where to look to find stuff they like. Isn’t that the most important thing?

“The Business of Books” with Claudia Suzanne
In a way, Claudia’s talk was related to the session I had just attended because it concerned marketing and classifying your book — but instead of just thinking about who your readers are, she focused on where you are going to sell your book. She explained the importance of narrowing your classification and being smart about where you place it: Does anyone really do a general search for “memoirs,” for example? No, they are searching about books by people who had a certain type of experience — and that experience or subject would be where you want your book to be. Once you have that defined, it makes marketing easier.

“Understanding Your Publishing Options” with Randy Kuckuck
Randy, Senior Publishing Executive for PublishNext, offered up plain talk about publishing, especially those Print-On-Demand companies that charge exorbitant fees for their services and make it hard for authors to turn a profit on their books. He gave practical advice for fledgling publishers (“Don’t print more books than you think you can sell in the next year,” “Submit books for reviews to publications such as Publishers Weekly and Kirkus at least four months in advance”), and emphasized the importance of tools like Goodreads.

“Perspectives from the Programmer’s Side of a Literary Festival” — Do’s and Don’ts of Appearance Requests with Rosalind Helfand
I’ve always wondered about the process authors had to go through to make appearances at book and literary festivals, and Rosalind did a great job of summing it up. Like anything, it helps to know people or be part of a group involved with the festival somehow, such as a publisher, or a respected reading series. She also explained the timing of putting together a festival (they start working on the schedule not long after the last one is over), the different types of appearances (panes, readings, storytellings and workshops), and making a request to appear. The takeaway here: being prepared — having a polished website, submitting your request in a professional manner and being timely about your submission.

“Crowdfunding/ Kickstarting” a Project with Terry Kate
The big takeaway from this one was know who you want to solicit funds from and craft your crowdfunding pitch to sell them on your idea. Then you have to keep these people engaged for the 30 to 60 days that your campaign is going to last. Terry also had practical points such as never offering a physical incentive under $100 — “DON’T do bookmarks!” she said to me when I suggested that for a project I am working on. “That’s too costly.” Instead she suggested offering PDFs of tips, access to private YouTube videos, private Facebook groups and the like. Crowdfunding is hard work, but if you find the right angle and incentives, it can work for you.

“It’s OK to Make Money from Publishing!” With Randy Kuckuck
I almost did not attend this session, which was the last one of the conference for me, because I thought the title didn’t make sense. Isn’t making money the point of publishing? But when I saw Randy speak the day before, he talked up this session and it sounded like it was going to be more practical advice, like the things he had discussed in Understanding Your Publishing Options. And I was not disappointed! Through a series of charts and a calculator, he showed the costs that went into the publishing of a book, and what that meant as far as money made per book sale. It was a very practical session, and while it was certainly a reality check for anyone who thinks they can make millions from their book, for the rest of us, it showed the path to profitability. My takeaway from this session? The awesome Publishing Profit Calculator, which he offered to anyone in attendance who wanted it.

I’ll be benefitting from what I learned at the Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference for a long time to come. And I’ll be back next year!

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