But first, I shall reenact for you my first conference critique. It went something like this.
Livia enters dimly lit
Livia: Hello. (Kicks at enormous rat, which hisses but promptly get eaten by an even bigger cockroach)
Agent: I have a question. Was this the first thing you've written?
Livia: Uhhh.... (madly brainstorming ways to appear less dumb) Oh, uh... this little thing? Uh, yeah, of course. I mean. OH YEAH, it's not like I consider this a REAL manuscript or something. Just a little bit 'o fun on the side, in case you were wondering why it sucked -- I mean not that I'm saying that you're saying that it sucked but yeah, totally, if it read like a first manuscript it's just cuz ...... (Keeps digging grave for a few more minutes. Vultures circle overhead.)
Agent: Oh okay. I was just wondering, cuz this was actually my favorite submission. I actually didn't have much to say because I just wanted to keep reading.
Livia: (Blank stare)
Dungeon transforms into hotel conference room. Carrion eaters disappear. Screams from neighboring tables transform into polite conversation. Tongues of flame turn out to be smartphone LCD displays.
Hehe, yeah, so the first few minutes took a few days off my life, but the encouraging feedback afterwards counteracted that, for (hopefully) no let loss of lifespan. And after I stopped pscyhing myself out, I realized that Agent was very nice.
But anyways, on to the conference tips.
Writing Tips (On writing children, but applicable to other characters)
Observe kids in the age range you're writing. How do they move? How do they interact? For example, ever noticed that toddlers have a bow legged stance and a stomach-forward way of moving? Even if you don't write that out, it will show through in your writing.
-- Lauren Grodstein, author of A Friend of the Family
In the same way, listen to them talk. Listen to their patterns of speech.
-- Lauren Grodstein
[Note from Livia: Alan Rinzler also has a good article on eavesdropping for dialogue on his blog]
If your research is thorough and people still aren't believing your character, then it's a writing problem, not a research problem. Make your writing strong and authoritative enough that the readers have to believe it.
-- Lauren Grodstein
Generally speaking, the YA market responds to big drama. A girl reconciling with mom? Maybe. A girl reconciling with mom after Dad dies in a space shuttle explosion? More marketable.
On Platform and Publicity
If you're an aspiring fiction writer, focus your time on making your book better rather than on blogging. Unless your numbers are huge, blog followings won't help you get published.
– Julie Barer, Barer Literary
[Note from Livia: The other panelists agreed with this, and I've also been seeing this advice elsewhere -- it seems like there is a backlash against the recent push for aspiring writers to build up their internet presence. What do you think?]
Five years ago, writers were beholden to their publicists to make their book known. Now you have much more control. “It’s a wonderful feeling.”
– Allison Winn Scotch, author of The One That I Want
On Self Publishing
There isn't as much of a stigma anymore to self publishing. Agents and editors watch self published books to see if they do well (Upwards of 15-20,000 copies sold).
– Julie Barer
While it's true that in self publishing, you get a higher percentage of the cover price, you're also taking all the financial risk of publishing the book upon yourself. In traditional publishing, you share the risk with the publisher. Remember that most books don’t earn out their advance.
– Sanj Kharbanda, VP Digital Marketing Strategy for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Do you need a publisher? There are parallels to the music industry. If you want to be Lady Gaga, you need a traditional publisher. But just as recording technology has made it possible for indie bands to put out cds, self publishing now makes it possible for indie authors to put out their own books.
– Joshua Benton, director of Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University
On Ebooks and the Digital Marketplace
On a family vacation, Julie Barer's mother started chatting with another woman on the beach. They were both reading on their kindles, and Julie's mom thought the other woman’s book was interesting. Four seconds later, Julie's mother also owned the book.
– Julie Barer
In the digital marketplace, you get a small number of extreme blockbusters and a long tail. It’s easier than ever to get a book out, but it’s getting harder to make a lot of money from it.
– Joshua Benton
In digital formats, books are no longer limited by length. You don't have to add filler or cut out content to make a book fit the expected word count for the genre. A digital book can be just as long as it needs to be.
– Joshua Benton
Hope you found these useful! Let me know your thoughts.