Wednesday, August 31, 2011

On Being Mentored: Siri Mitchell's Detailed Accuracy

I sat down at my computer, closed my eyes, and pictured the scene I was about to write. 
I saw______, 
I heard ________, 
I touched ________, 
I tasted _________, 
and I smelled________. 

I painted a picture, a 3-D picture with rich words. Yet for some reason my story seemed superficial.  

Master writers like Siri Mitchell nominated for this year's Christy Award and Lynn Austin 5 time winner of the Christy Award have conquered this problem by: 

**Investing hours, days, weeks, and even months researching their topic
**Filtering through pages of information to include only select valuable details
**Blending the information into the action/dialogue/setting/plot/theme with master craftsmanship

so that....




their great investment.

Take a look at this scene from She Walks in Beauty by Siri Mitchell, page 34

     The corset had placed me in an unnatural position, and I could find no comfortable posture in which to sit. Moreover whenever I moved, at lest one of the corset's six hundred bones poked into my sides. I counted the hours until I would be able to take it off and sleep.
     But that night, after the maid had removed the corset cover, she handed me my nightgown.
     "But you've forgotten to remove the corset."
     She curtsied. "You're to wear it, miss."
     "I know, And I do. I will. But now it's time for sleep." Aunt had trouble finding maids that performed to her satisfaction. I was beginning to think this one's time, too, was limited.
     "You're to wear it while you sleep, miss."
     "While I sleep? But if I wear it, I will not seep!"
     The maid bowed her head and curtsied again. "Twas the missus's orders." 
     If I could have reached the laces, I would have untied them myself. I had tried, in fact, that very afternoon. But they were located at the back of the garment and tucked into the corset where I could not find them.
     "Your nightgown, miss?"


I asked Siri to share her research information with us today.  

Mary –

Thanks so much for thinking of me for your series!

I research all of my books the same way. 

I try, first, to read broadly about the period, looking for books on the general historic era. 

After that, I search for social histories that give more insight into the way people thought about themselves and the world in general. 

At this point, I try also to find books that focus on the women’s history of the period. If I can find them, I try to read some biographies or journals kept by women or some books from that era as well. 

After reading generally, I turn toward specifics: books about food, furniture, clothing, professions (if applicable), etc.

I’ve found YouTube to be a great source for old-fashioned dances and sites like SnapFish and Shutterfly to be useful for photos taken of places like Plymoth Colony, Castles in Europe, or other tourist sites that are still in existence.

I usually end up with between 200 and 300 sources for each book. Most of these are from the internet (a great source for digitized primary documents and out-of-print books), but a fair number are books. 

I’m attaching my bibliography for She Walks In  Beauty so you can see the books I read through
She really sent me the list!  Unbelievable!

I usually spend a month or two reading up before I start writing. I prefer to have all the ‘big picture’ research in my head before I start so I can ‘feel’ the era. I don’t mind leaving some of the more specific research (food, clothes, hairstyles) for later drafts.

Let me know if you have further questions. I’d be happy to answer them. And thanks so much for supporting my books!

author of A Heart Most Worthy,
She Walks in Beauty, Love’s Pursuit,
A Constant Heart, & Chateau of Echoes

Thanks for the great insights, Siri.

Well, I have more to say on this topic. AND I simply must tell you about Lynn Austin's modeling.
So, I will continue this topic in my next post, September 14th.

Do you have questions for Siri regarding her detailed accuracy craftsmanship?
Have you mastered this skill and are you willing to share tips or examples?
What research did you do prior for your WIP?
How have you changed boring details into exciting text?

Siri not only modeled how to let her reader see and touch the corset--Siri modeled how to let the reader wear the corset

**from She Walks in Beauty by Siri Mitchell, used with permission

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Secondary Character

I've been looking through The Fire In Fiction by Donald Maass. I'm a fast reader and sometimes miss important facts, so I often have to re-read books to really soak up information.

Maass's chapter on secondary characters really pounded in the fact that I really ignore mine! I tend to focus on the hero and heroine and stick my secondaries into the background, safe and sound. Poor things, they need more of a life so they can support the main characters like they should.

Here are three types of secondary characters to think about:

1. Special Characters: Who are the people that make an impact on your character's life? How have they made a difference in your protaganist's life? What makes these characters special is how they have changed your hero/heroine. What details show this to be true?

2. Ordinary Characters: These are the people in your protaganist's life that are taken for granted. One way to spice them up is to make them eccentric, make them quirky. While making them unique, you need to make them human too, so give them a conflict they must overcome.

3. Antagonists: Too often these can become "cardboard" characters who are entirely evil, which makes them entirely boring. These bad guys need some redeeming qualities. We need to somehow relate to them and even root for them at times. They need be in the forefront and in the hero's face, not relegated to the background.

According to Maass, secondary characters are just as important to the story as the protagonist. We need to make sure our supporting characters are real, are human, are memorable.

How about you? Do you enjoy writing quirky secondary characters? How much thought do you put into these? What is your favorite type of secondary character to write?

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Great-WAIT Agent Search

I just finished reading Writers Digest’s newest mailing and it’s all about AGENTS!

Since I’ve been going through that search myself over the past few months, I thought I’d share a little from Writers Digest with my own thoughts sprinkled in between.
Before you read this post though, you should REALLY check out Sarah Forgrave’s blog for her spectacular news that DIRECTLY relates to my post J

Though there are fabulous articles throughout the  October issue of Writers Digest, one of the most fascinating articles was the Get An Agent – Submission Workshop.
Within this article, Literary Agent Kristin Nelson went through the first few paragraphs of several submissions and discussed why she ‘stopped reading’ each one.

Here are the highlights:

1.       Too Much Dialogue – What? I thought dialogue was a good thing. It is – but dialogue alone is not going to impress an agent/editor. MEANINGFUL dialogue is the key. Dialogue that builds the story and the characters. For the first submission, Kristin says that she thinks the author is ‘simply starting the story in the wrong place.”

2.       Overuse of Description – ouch! I LOVE using description. How can that be wrong? – According to Kristin, too much description can pull the reader out of the story. It’s the whole getting lost in the ‘trees’ analogy, it seems. Kristin says “Less is always more when it comes to descriptive writing.”

3.       Lack of Tension – yep, I get this one! Basically, the ‘why should I keep reading’ question.
       One thing we must always ask ourselves is:  “Am I giving the reader a NEED to turn the page?” “Am I making the reader ask question? Making him/her care about my characters? Feeling the first few paragraphs with enough uncertainty, humor, or suspense that the reader MUST keep reading?

Personally, this process has been humbling for me- but a great learning tool too. Most of the time, I do not receive anything more than a ‘thanks, but no thanks’ letter. But on the few occasions I have received more, the agent has given me valuable information to help me grow as a writer.

Is it discouraging?

Is it frustrating?

Does it make me want to throw in the towel?
Er…for a few minutes (or hours) it might – but then I realize if I can’t handle the heat, I shouldn’t write.

Besides, God’s got a perfect fit out there for me. Someone who will fall in love with my quirky writing style, my various array of ideas, and will have a ‘vision’ for my writing future.
My goal: Become a better writer.

I want an agent who will help me get there.

What about you? Why do you want to find an agent?
If you have an agent, what is something that you have learned from him/her? Or something you particularly appreciate about him/her?

pictures courtesy of:

Saturday, August 27, 2011

What's Up the Street For Next Week?

School’s in session for some of us…
AND The WRITERS ALLEY is in session too--with another great week of writing news and fun for you.

First and foremost we have some special announcements.
We LOOOOOOOOOVE special announcements around here.

So, if you are in need of some celebrating, go check out Sarah Forgrave’s website on Monday, August 29!!

You can learn more about Wendy (and celebrate with her) by visiting her website here.
We are partying at the Alley –so come along and join us!

We look forward to sharing more exciting news in the future, as The Alley Cats are discovered by the big world of writers. We’ll be adding a sidebar to keep you guys posted as updates and discoveries occur. J

In the meantime, this week will have a little of everything:

Monday - Pepper follows up with Cindy’s Friday post and sums up an article about Agents from The Writers Digest (very fitting considering some special news from SARAH FORGRAVE).
Tuesday – Stop by and see what Sherrinda has planned for you today.

Wednesday – Mary continues her series with On Being Mentored- Details and Accuracy modeled by master writers. Siri Mitchell will join her.

Thursday - Award winning author, Robin Lee Hatcher, is our guest on The Writers Alley so stop on by.

The magic wand is on the draw Friday as Krista talks about Too Good to Be True Romantic Moments.

Chip MacGregor stopped by to give some fabulous advice for writers about writers’ conferences. You can read that post here.

Don’t forget to check Sarah’s website on Monday for her extra-special news!

Krista’s a special guest at the fabulous blog, WordServe Cooler – a group blog created by many clients from Rachelle Gardner and Greg Johnson - on Tuesday, Aug 30. Drop in and see what she has to say. J

Have a fabulous WEEK – from our Alley to yours!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Preparing to Meet Agents and Editors

One of the greatest things about conferences is the networking. It's your opportunity to connect with friends and other writers, as well as professionals in the publishing industry. However, this can also be intimidating, especially meeting with agents and editors who you're trying to make a good impression on.

With the ACFW conference coming up shortly, I thought I'd share a little on when you will have the opportunity to meet agents and editors as well as how you might want to prepare.

Where will I meet agents and editors?

Scheduled Meetings

When you register for the conference, you will have the chance to schedule a meeting with an agent or editor or both. These fifteen minute sessions give you the opportunity to sit down face to face with an agent or editor and talk to them about you and your work.

Late-night Panels

You can also schedule to sit in on a publisher's panel. This is where editors and others from a publishing house will talk about their house, sometimes what they are looking for, or the direction of publishing, etc. You may not have the chance to meet an editor one on one at these sessions, but usually there will be a time scheduled for questions and answers.


During a couple of meals, you will have the chance to sit with certain agents or editors (first come first serve, of course, because there's limited seating at each table) and talk with them. Sometimes it's more casual and just general chatting and other times it's more specific. I sat with both an agent for one meal and an editor for another meal at the ACFW conference last year. The agent asked me about what I write, shared a little of what she was looking for with the entire table, and then I ended up spending several minutes chatting about mission trips and unusual food with her. A great example of how agents are people, too, and how it doesn't hurt to take a breather and just be yourself.

Random Meetings

These are the unscheduled kind where you run into an agent or editor because someone either suggested you seek them out or they just happen to be where you are or the other way around. I can't stress more that these kinds of meetings (such as the bathroom meeting) are not the kind of place you want to be pushing your pitch or your one sheets. BUT, if the agent or editor does ask to hear or see something, then you have an opening. (Trust me, it does happen. It met two authors in the bathroom and the conversation turned toward my writing and from that I got a recommendation to talk with an agent the next day. Also, a walk down to Starbucks with an agent turned into my chance to do a short pitch and hand over my one sheet.)

What do I need to bring with me or how else to I prepare?

One Sheets

A one sheet is a single page promoting your individual book. The one sheet includes a summary of the book, a bio of you as well as a picture if you have one (which hopefully you do for professional reasons), a single sentence hook if you can - basically a query letter in more attractive form. Angie posted on one sheets earlier this week if you need some good tips. (Also, bring these with you everywhere because you never know when you're going to have a chance to hand them out. I ended up handing out two over lunch, one at Starbucks, and three during scheduled meetings.)


It's a good idea to bring the first chapter or scene of your book with you so if an agent or editor asks, you have something to show them. It's a chance for them to see your writing style and know if they're interested in seeing more. If nothing else, it's a chance to get feedback if they're willing.


This is also called the elevator pitch, the very brief but hopefully intriguing summary of your book. It's a great idea to have this at the forefront of your memory, ready to tell an agent or editor what your book is about either at a meeting or somewhere else. I only had one agent and one editor meeting at the conference last year, but I ended up saying my pitch to three agents and two editors, as well as other writers and authors, in various places throughout the weekend. Check this post from Sarah about elevator pitches if you need some ideas.

Business Cards

These are handy to bring to appointments to attach to one sheets or chapters, although you should already have your contact information on the one sheets anyway. Otherwise, they're mostly just a tool to keep connected with other writers, authors, or friends you meet.

Relax and Be Yourself

There is such a thing as preparing yourself mentally or even spiritually beforehand and I'd highly recommend it. Last year, I had dreams about my first big conference, dozens of scenes in my head about the ways I'd mess up my pitch or what a poor impression I would make. Prepare yourself by telling yourself that you're not in this by yourself. You will be there with hundreds of other writers who are nervous or excited or even new just like you. And remember, agents and editors are people too and if you can relax with them you'll be able to really show them who you are and get as much from each meeting as you can.

What worries or concerns do you have about meeting agents or editors? Or, for those of you who are pros or excited about this one on one time, how do you plan on preparing for those meetings?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Time for Everything at a Conference


There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die (A new story idea is born while you ride the airport shuttle. An old story officially dies after hearing two others pitch something way too similar during a workshop about clichés nonetheless.)

a time to plant and a time to uproot (A spine-tingling conversation is happening in the bar. You plant it. Women begin gossiping about a fellow writer. You uproot.)

a time to kill and a time to heal (You kill your darlings during an intensive editing workshop. You heal from the comments you weren’t expecting to hear from an editor while sitting with him at lunch.)

a time to tear down and a time to build (You break your plot into teeny tiny pieces to evaluate only so you can build your story back up stronger after an inspiring plot structuring workshop.)

a time to weep and a time to laugh (You cry at the joy of seeing friends. You laugh with those same friends when one receives a request for a full.)

a time to mourn and a time to dance (You take a moment in the lobby to mourn that your career path will never look like Stellar Susan’s. And then you go get your groove on in a hotel room, dancing with friends...this I really did last year.)

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them (You hand out your one-sheets and business cards. You collect business cards and words of advice before you sweat yourself into a Wicked Witch puddle pre-pitch session.)

a time to embrace and a time to refrain (You embrace those you’ve established a strong bond with. You refrain from tackling your favorite agent to the ground in the ladies restroom, while screaming out the lyrics to David Cassidy’s “I Think I Love You”.)

a time to search and a time to give up (You scan the crowd for your top picks of who you’d like to sit with at lunch and when you realize their table is entirely full, you give up and end up sitting with exactly who God wants you to.)

a time to keep and a time to throw away (A trusted mentor offers a gold nugget on your way to meet with an editor. Keep it. Your napkin from lunch when you were able to sit with desired agent…throw that away!)

a time to tear and a time to mend (That entire first chapter. You rip it up after you realize it’s corroded with back story, a puffy and unnecessary prologue, and boring details. And in the bathroom at 2 a.m. you quietly mend your herky jerky ending.)

a time to be silent and a time to speak (You’re sitting in a class when an agent offers folks to stand up and give their pitch. You stay silent knowing you’ll have your time in T minus one hour during a one on one.)

a time to love and a time to hate (You love arriving and hate leaving.)

a time for war and a time for peace (You war with your insecure thoughts all weekend only to leave at peace with how everything unraveled.)

Because after all, there’s a time for everything at a conference!

Relate to any of the above?

*from Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8 with my interpretive conference-minded spin on it
**most of the above are fabricated scenarios with real potential to occur

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Conference Pitching: A Nitty Gritty Workshop (Part One)

If there's one thing that can make a writer shake until they fall out of their chair, it's the idea of pitching their story to an agent or editor face-to-face. But if you craft a killer pitch before you arrive at a conference, you'll be one step ahead of the game.

A couple months ago, my fellow Alley Cat, Angie, asked for feedback on her elevator pitch and query blurb. And weird old me jumped at the chance. Call me crazy, but I get a kick out of this stuff. Apparently the other Alley Cats found my comments helpful enough that they convinced me to turn it into a blog post. So here we are.

Just to clarify, I'm going to get into the details of wording choices and plot points to emphasize in a pitch, not necessarily how to deliver it effectively in person. So let's get started.

Here's Angie's original elevator pitch along with the comments I sent back to her.

In the Amazon basin in 1546, a tribal chief's daughter dares to love a Spanish explorer, ultimately facing a choice between her heart and her people.

[My comments: I love the unique setting! In general, this description feels a little broad to me. It's really close, but I think you could punch it up an extra notch by giving more specifics. What's her external goal throughout the story? I'd present that first, then tell how this forbidden love inhibits the goal.]

Without knowing her full story, here's the example I developed based on the longer elevator pitch she had also provided.

Desperate to escape a pre-arranged marriage to a savage beast, an Amazonian princess indulges in a forbidden love. But will the Spanish explorer who has captured her heart pull her from her home, only to lead her into a dangerous trap?

In this revised pitch, I changed the following elements to give it more kick.

1) Mentioned the marriage to a savage beast. I did that for a couple reasons. One is to give her motivation and goal in a short snippet, but it also explains the stakes (the phrase "savage beast" has a startling quality to it and gets the listener's attention).

2) Eliminated the need for a phrase describing the setting and time period. By putting the terms "savage beast" and "Spanish explorer" in there, it gives the listener a sense that it's a historical piece in a unique setting, while utilizing every word choice possible to convey the plot.

3) Mentioned the forbidden love. This clearly sets the stage for conflict no matter what she chooses. Instead of saying she's facing a choice between her heart and her people, we've now rephrased it to clearly show that conflict (marriage to a savage beast versus forbidden love with an explorer).

4) Ended the pitch with a question to increase the stakes even more. Now we're not just talking about forbidden love anymore, but forbidden love that could lead to a dangerous trap. (By the way, putting "dangerous trap" at the end is a Margie Lawson technique of backloading...putting a power word or phrase at the end of the sentence to draw the listener in and propel them to want more.) I didn't word that last sentence very well (has lots of "her" in it), but hopefully it gives you an overall sense of where to provide the specifics.

This type of pitch would be effective for those super-short snippets of time when an editor or agent says, "What's your story about?" You'd probably want a slightly longer pitch for a one-on-one appointment. I'll be dissecting that type of pitch in two weeks when I present part two.

Do you have any sort of method you use when developing an elevator pitch? If you're stuck on your elevator pitch or want feedback, share it with us in the comments. We love to brainstorm around here! :)

*Nervous photo by africa /
**Elevator photo by Gregory Szarkiewicz /

Monday, August 22, 2011

Design and Conquer: The One Sheet

I am an artist at heart. Graphics and design make me all giddy! When I first learned about one sheets, I was excited to play with this informative "art form".
The one sheet is a cheat sheet for you when you pitch, but it is also someone's only glimpse at your novel. These are so great to have at a conference.
Make it eye-catching, something an editor or agent is drawn too when they look through their stacks of one sheets. Use graphics that will stick in their mind when they think of your book. I'll give you my personal tips on creating a one sheet based purely on my graphic background... As I am unrepresented and unpublished, I will have to let you know how mine works at this year's conference! :)

Raison d'etre: Everything should have a reason to be... This is the anal architect in me. I cringe when I walk into a room and a picture is just “floating” on a wall when it could easily have been measured out and placed in a logical spot. Make sure you don't have graphics or text “floating” in space. Line text up with other text, center it with something, make sure your graphics or bio pic aren't just placed in a blank spot, but work with the rest of the sheet.

Tip: Photoshop has a grid that you can turn on while working on a design. This is a great way to “place” your elements.

Anchors Away: Use gradients, blocks of color, or "watermarked" graphics to anchor your sheet. The one sheet is just that, one overall composition to represent your novel. Be sure you don't just leave the eye “hanging” by keeping all your graphic work at the top or at the bottom. The graphics and text should flow to completion together.
Balance is everything. You don't have to have a ton of graphics, but if you have them, be sure they aren't sticking out amid a sea of text, that will only take away from your text.

Tip #2: How to put a picture behind the text: In a Microsoft program or Open Office, you can right click on an image and go to "order" or "alignment" and it should give you the option to send "to back" or send "behind the text". Be sure you change the opacity on the graphic so your text is still clear. In Photoshop or Gimp, you just make the graphic layer below the text layer.

Tip #3: DON'T RELY ON Photoshop and GIMP's text tools...make your one sheet background, then insert it into a Word file and use text boxes. The text in these programs (perhaps newest versions of Photoshop are different?) does not print out as crisp as Word.

Artistic License: It is easy to become overwhelmed with the many clipart images and photos you can choose from to represent your book. Don't settle. Only your mind's eye knows what you envision when you think of your story. Is it the vibrant colors of your humorous heroine's shoe collection? Or deep reds and velvety purples of kings and queens? Allow the graphics to support your novel in a way that the front cover of a book would. Be picky, take your time, and CREATE!

Tip: You can find a ton of free pictures using Flickr Be sure to check what each photo's copyright rules are...they will let you know how much you can manipulate it, and if you have to get the photographer's permission.

Go here to see examples and content tips on one sheets:
Rachelle Gardner's One Sheet Post
Dineen Miller One Sheets 

Are there any specific graphic-related questions you have as you create your one sheet?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

What's Up the Street For Next Week? CONFERENCE EDITION

Are you ready for MORE conference tips?
There’s more to come at the Alley, so make sure you stay tuned.
Btw, here are some FABULOUS pre-conference links you might want to check out:

And here’s a link from Fiction Writers Connection about theDos and Don’ts of Conferences

And to liven things up a bit, check out this article from Scott Hoffman about preparing for a writers’ conference -
(here's a pic of Melanie Dickerson & Edwina Cowgill from ACFW 2010)

So how will the AlleyCats help you get ready for conference?
Monday – Ang is teaching us about One-Sheets – the best ‘cheat sheets’ for conference. It will be a graphic tutorial – so come by.
Tuesday – Get your tissues ready – Julia has some encouragement for those of you can’t attend the ACFW conference this year. It’s Raining on Prom Night.

Wednesday – Do not miss Sarah’s workshop about getting your blurb and elevator pitch ready! Conference Pitching - a Workshop!!
Thursday – Wendy posts today! Stop by and check out what kind of surprise she has for us.
Friday – Cindy’s chatting about Preparing to Meet Agents and Editors. Don’t miss it!

Any brave person out there willing to share his/her agent’s name? Or if you don’t have an agent, which would you like to meet?

If you’re not sure, check out these Alley Posts to get the scoop:

Detective Rosemary Allspices sleuthing skills in her posts – The Case of the Perfect Agent – Part 1 

And Krista has some great tips from this post beginning writing!

Friday, August 19, 2011

How to Find Mr. Write at a Writer's Conference!

Here on the alley, we have a certain (unnamed) single young alleycat who us married, experienced alleycats are trying to mentor through the throws of dating.

This certain alleycat will be attending conference next month, so I thought I'd share tips to both her and any other single ladies out there hoping to catch a hunka-hunka writerman at a conference.

Here goes:


  1. Upon check-in at the hotel, scope out all the single men (aka wedding-ringless guys.) Find a cute one?? GOOD! Use your stealth researching skills to find out EVERYTHING you can about him. Ask his friends. Take pictures using your handy-dandy smart phone or camera, but be discrete! Use plants and bellhops to hide behind.
  2. Speaking of bellhops... pretend to mistake said hotty for a bellhop. Hand him your bag, then proceed to run your hand over his bicep (he does have one, right???) and say, "Thank you sooooo much for taking care of my bag. You have such strong muscles... why, I'm sure you could carry me if you needed to!" (note, may want to scratch that last part if you are like me and a little, uh, pleasantly plump...
  3. Sit next to hunka man at lunch, and GUSH over his project in front of the agent/editor at the table. Then bat your eyelashes at him and wink every time he looks at you.
  4. Happen to run into him between sessions so he has to put his arms around you to steady you (wear heels to make this more realistic) then look deep into his eyes and catch your breath and say, “Oh, my.”
  5. Write him little notes (it IS a writer's conference after all) and slide them under his hotel room door. OH, and put on a bunch of lipstick and kiss the notes too, so they are "sealed with a kiss."
  6. Wear a wedding dress on banquet night. He'll get the hint!
  7. When in your agent/editor appointment, pitch HIS project instead of yours. (Wait, nevermind. This is going a little TOO far! Those editor/agent appointments are YOURS, girl! Use 'em!)
  8. Sitting next to him in a class... start to cry. Like loud, sobbing crys. He'll have to console you, right?
  9. On banquet night (in your wedding dress) storm the stage, steal the microphone from Brandilyn, and announce your undying love to hunka-hunka man and ask him to marry you.
  10. Ignore #1 - 9, in fact do the exact opposite of all the things listed above. (If you remember from my post 2 weeks ago... I really DO like the movie, "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days"!)
So now that we have that important stuff out of the way, thought I'd leave you with a few REAL tips on catching Mr./Ms./Mrs. WRITE AGENT/EDITOR.
  1. Be professional, but also be yourself.
  2. Know your stuff before hand. Practice your pitch and your one-liner until you are comfortable with it.
  3. BE CONFIDENT. But not too confident. No "this might sell okay" but also no "OHMAGOSH this is THE next bestSELLER!"
  4. Look the part. Don't go in there with cutoff jeans and a Tshirt. You are a professional trying to sell yourself as an author and your manuscript as a potential book. You don't need to wear a 3 piece suit, but business-casual is totally appropriate.
  5. Be courteous. Don't corner them in the bathroom. Don't monopolize time at the dinner table to the point that they can't eat a bite of food, or no one else gets a moment to talk.
  6. Don't get defensive. Chances are, you might get some not-so-welcome feedback. Accept it. Thank them for it. Digest it later. Burning bridges is a NO NO! It WILL come back to bite you.
  7. Don't give up. Just because one person turns you down doesn't mean the next one will. I had three appointments one year. One was "not bad, but here are a few things to work on." One was "I like it!" One was "This royally sucks." Looking back, in a way, they were ALL right. The project was a good one, but needed a lot of work!
  8. Bring the best. Edit, Edit, Edit. Silly mistakes (of which I am QUEEN) leave a bad taste.
  9. Know your stuff. What agents/editors will be there? What are they looking for? Look at their pictures and names so you can recognize them. I once asked an agent "what are you writing" trying to be nice since she said it was her first conference. She said, "Oh, I'm an agent. It's my first time at this particular conference. What do YOU write?" She was sweet, but I was quite embarrassed!!! I also once booked an appointment with an agent who I found out later "only wanted to meet with published authors looking for new representation." Well then...
  10. Above all, PRAY PRAY PRAY. I'm a big believer in divine appointments. If you are truly seeking God's will, you can't mess things up. God can use even your biggest mistakes to bring about His purposes. 
 For those of you who have pitched at conference before... any tips you have for newbies? For those of you who haven't, any fears/questions/thoughts?

      Thursday, August 18, 2011

      10 Ways to Survive Crazy Conference Roommates (and other hopeful advice from a newbie that has never gone)

      A very confident title wouldn’t you say? This year will be my first time attending the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) nationalconference in just FIVE WEEKS!

      Are you excited yet? If you’re going I’m excited to bump into you, which I am sure there will be a lot of that with already over 600 people registered to attend. WOW! Hope you aren’t prone to claustrophobia…

      If you’re not going…I know what you’re going through and I hope you’ll take a second and read my encouraging post on my personal blog from last Wednesday. Commiserate, we get it!

      This year I took a deep breath, gulped down ALL common sense and told Pepper, Mary and Carol Moncado (of Pentalk Community blog) I would room with them.

      Crazy. I know. Don’t remind me. And I’m more scared since I was recently reminded that last year Pepper and her roommate had a TOILET explode in their room.

      I’m shakin’ in my Harney County FatBaby© boots!

      Thus my ammunition in this list. Read it with caution and print it out and staple it to your suitcase in case you end up with crazy roommates! (plus a few extra credit ideas to surviving newbie-ness at a huuuge conference)

      1.       Learn where ALL the exits from your room are. And rehearse a quick, short, give no-hints-of-where-you’re-going speech when an escape is in instant demand.

      2.       Take a deep breath, walk up and greet someone you don’t know. Don’t think about it being 600 HUNDRED people. Think about that one person looking a bit lost and needing help (that would be me)

      3.       Keep a steady supply of chocolate in your room. It works well for bribes. Like extra shower time. Or more blanket space. Or an extra pillow. Or the TV remote. Just hide it, or it might be used against you.

      4.       Don’t stress the appointments. Look at it as a chance to network and talk WRITING. I mean we ALL love to do that right?? Write??

      5.       When in doubt when security knocks on your room door, roll over and feign a stroke, heart attack, sleep, ANYTHING to prove you didn’t do it.

      6.       Be willing to deviate from your rigid schedule to take a moment in the prayer room, chatting with a new friend or visiting with your favorite author. God knows where He wants you to be and nothing that happens is not without His stamp of approval (unless it’s rooming with those crazy people!)

      7.       Beware of high-pitch giggles. Girly TMI (unless you’re a guy rooming with guys, then have no fears). Long showers. Bathroom counter space fights and pantyhose and other such articles flying across the room. Watch out and DUCK!

      8.       Remember this time and the opportunity to attend the conference is a gift from God and He wants to be part of the time you spend socializing. Pray, worship, praise! You wouldn’t be here without Him.

      9.       When your roommates want to introduce you to someone they are sure you are going to LOVE, always take their word with a healthy dose of salt. You never know when they might be setting you up with what THEY think will make your “Mr. Write”. Don’t always believe everything they say. They may seem sweet, but remember the title of this post??? Just trust me.

      10.   Learn and learn lots. Take notes, laugh, enjoy, don’t stress. Thank speakers. Greet others with courtesy and have a business card ready at the flick of a wrist when someone asks.  If you’re carrying a bag or purse with you, keep all  your writer’s utensils within easy reach and organized so you don’t have to dig. Keep smiling!

      So now that we have woven to the end of this crazy maze, I ask only one thing of you: if you think of me between September 21-25th, please say a prayer and hope I packed enough chocolate!

      Any helpful conference tips (funny or otherwise) you would care to share? I would be greatly in your debt!

      (Oh and btw, if you happen to attend and hear a high-pitched scream, just ignore it, that would be me, being mauled over my overzealous and ever-so-CRAZY roommates. ;-)

      Wednesday, August 17, 2011

      My Guest: Chip MacGregor, Literary Agent: Five Reasons to Attend a Writing Conference

      I've sat in Chip MacGregor's class and listened to his recorded sessions from writer's conferences. It took a nano second to see his enthusiasm, professionalism, gift for communication, and genuine desire to help authors create great books.

      Chip is a renowned Literary Agent. He's secured more than 1,000 book deals for authors with every major publisher. This is an agent who can answer my question :

      From an editor/publisher/agent's point of view, why should writers invest their time and money to attend a writing conference?

      Here is his take:
      As a writer, you probably spend a lot of time sitting at your desk, banging out words, pondering your story. You do some research online, write a chapter, do some revising. Sure, you waste some time emailing friends to try and see what else everyone is up to, but for the most part the things you do as a writer are done alone. Writing is a solitary job. Every successful writer I know spends a lot of time alone with their thoughts, sitting at a computer, creating worlds and conversations in their head. 
      If you're a novelist, that's exactly why you need to think about coming to a good writing conference. Because all of those solitary writers out there also have a need to meet with other people who love books and words, instead of always sitting by themselves at home. A writing conference is a chance to connect, to learn, to network, to hear about opportunities, to see old friends, and to make new ones. Let me suggest five benefits to attending a good writing conference...
      First, it's a chance to LEARN. Just take a look at some of the workshops being taught at this year's conferences – I’ll bet you find information on creating strong proposals, on developing better characters, on using humor, on writing to specific niche audiences (there's sure to be a workshop on "how to write Amish"). There will probably be a couple dozen workshops you can attend, and many are taught by published novelists or experienced industry professionals (for example, I’m going to be at a conference this fall where participants get to listen to the editorial team from a major publishing house talk through what an editorial meeting is like – what a great way to learn about the industry). 
      Second, it's a chance to POLISH. Most conferences offer continuing sessions, where you'll be able to get in-depth on a specific topic. Multi-selling authors will be there to talk about crafting novels. Famous writing instructors will be explaining symbolism and structure. Bestselling novelists will be helping you craft better scenes. A publicist or marketing guru is sure to offer ideas and experience to help you know how to market your books. And there will doubtless be editors and agents who have much to share about the industry. 
      So have your proposal and sample writings as polished as possible before you attend, then use your time at the conference to see how you can make it even better. That's easier said than done, of course, but that should be the goal. A great idea, expressed through great writing, in a great proposal, preferably by an author with a great platform. All of those things take time and talent. 
      Third, it's a chance to NETWORK. You'll see hundreds of other writers there -- people who love books and words as much as you do, and who want to explore how to get better at what they do. There will be editors there, representing a wide variety of publishing houses. You'll probably be able to set up one-on-one appointments, just to talk with them about your manuscript. There's likely a chance to talk with several agents -- in fact, a writing conference is one of the few place you can go and connect with literary agents these days. Between sessions, at meals, during the social times, and in the hallways, you'll be surrounded by industry professionals. Make sure to use those opportunities to meet people and get to know other writers. 
      Of course, the focus of those meetings depends on what your goals are. Sometimes you'll talk with an editor just to let them see your work and offer their perspectives. If you're looking for direction in your writing, make that clear at the outset, so that you can get the most out of your conversation. If you sign up to talk with an agent, give them some sense of your expectation in the meeting. But be aware -- sometimes an editor or agent will have limited times available, and we hate it when somebody is clearly wasting our time. I'll offer an example... I don't represent children's books, poetry, or sci-fi novels. Ten minutes of research would reveal that to a prospective author. Yet I regularly have authors pitch me their sci-fi children's poetry idea during agent appointments. As though they expect I'm suddenly going to see the light, grasp their proposal, and shout, "Hallelujah! Poetry I love!"
      A couple years ago, at a conference I did as a favor to the director, I could only be there for an afternoon. They made a big point of stating "Chip is here just for a couple hours, and we'd appreciate it if you would leave his appointment times for experienced writers." So who was my first appointment? A woman with her fourteen-year-old daughter, who began by saying, "I don't really have anything to talk with you about, I just wanted my teenage daughter to meet you." (I was polite. I figure seriously stupid people require calmness, in order to keep them from getting upset.)
      Fourth, it's a chance to CONNECT with friends. You'll see some people you know, and be introduced to some folks you've read but never met. There will be an opportunity to link up with a critique group, or to simply meet other writers from your area. When I was a young writer, I went to a conference and introduced myself to people. I made friends that helped me get connected with the local writing scene, and that led to my first paid book-writing gig. 
      If you are connecting with an agent who was a longtime editor, you might ask about the saleability of your work, or talk about your craft. If you're talking with an agent who is known for industry stuff, you might ask how your idea fits with publishing houses. If you were meeting with me, you might ask career questions. Do your homework. Be ready to talk about yourself and your book. Be clear about what you're hoping to get out of your meetings. Allow the editor or agent to respond to your questions. Don't push too hard. Understand these are just people doing their jobs, so they may not have fabulous answers to every question you ask. And when connecting with friends, talk about what you’ve learned each day, so you can retain some of it after you get home. If you're serious about writing, then you have to treat a conference as a business trip, not just a mini-vacation.
      Fifth, it's a chance to REFLECT. There will be time to think, time to talk, and time to learn. Part of the value of being away at a conference is that it forces you to get out of your normal routine -- so you can use that to think through what you'd like to be writing, and how you'd like to approach it. You can join a small group for a quiet night of discussion, or you can grab friends and sit laughing in the lobby until all hours of the night. 
      The value of a conference depends on your expectations. If you're going to meet people in the industry and get connected, you'll probably find it worthwhile. But if you're going with the thought that "an agent will have a ten-minute conversation and want to sign me" or "an editor will take one look at my proposal and offer me a contract," you're probably going to be disappointed. I suggest an author sit down and look at the list of faculty and the list of workshops being offered. If you need craft help, go to a conference with really strong craft seminars. If you are most in need of talking with agents, look for one with a long lineup of literary agents. With travel, meals, hotel, and the registration fee, you could be spending more than a thousand bucks on a big conference -- that's a lot of money, especially if you're a writer who isn't making a thousand dollars a year via writing. So you've got to think about what your expectations are and how well the conference meets them. A little research can go a long way.
      I'm a huge fan of the writing conference experience. I’ll be at a couple this fall, meeting with authors and appreciating friends and trying to think of something to say in a one-on-one appointment that doesn't sound trite and shallow.

      Thank you, Chip. Your insights and encouragement are sure to prepare us for our conference adventure. We appreciate the time you shared with us today.

      Reader, do you have any questions Writer's Alley can address before your conference?

      Tuesday, August 16, 2011

      Behind The Scenes: Great Tips for Going to a Writing Conference

      Today I am not Sherrinda. No, I am Super Sleuth Behind-the-Scenes Sherrinda. The SSBSS…er, well, maybe not. So…I have been busy meddling into the spare time of my fellow Alley Cats, and finding out some of their most prized tips on going to conference. I even found some special tips for those who are NOT going to conference. Alas, I am in need of those nuggets of advice this year, since I cannot join my Alley Pals in St. Louis for the ACFW Conference.  But, I do have the satisfaction of knowing that they will miss me terribly.

      Let’s stop and talk with Casey for a moment. She’s the youngest of our little Alley Cat Pack, but has experience beyond her years. (And there’s been talk about getting Miss Casey fixed up with a handsome hero, but from all the pictures I’ve ever seen from the conference, there’s not a whole lot of male writers….I’m just sayin’.)

      Casey, share a tip or two on how to meet the people on your MUST MEET list.
      Don’t wait for the “socially correct” moment. Clear your throat (God gave you elbows, use them!) and push your way to the front where you should then perform a major league tackle that will have the Dallas Cowboys waiting to sign you up and grab your “must-meet”  author/writer friend and scuttle out of there.
      Or if you are reserved like me, hang around the fringes until the flock of fans disperse or go to bed. Then again, you’ll probably be there all day, so better go with the tackle.
      You are FUNNY, Casey! Who are you most looking forward to meeting at the conference?
      My list is so long, I know it won’t be completely realized. But hands down first and for most, I plan to send the biggest squeal ever when I run into an Alley Cat. I mean, been corresponding for over a year, I’ve been saving up for a long time. ;-) Then a full list too long to go into detail here, and I’m sure I’ll come home wishing I’d run into a few more people.

      You are an avid reader. How many books do you plan on purchasing at conference?
      Since we are driving down to the conference, my space is boundless and my budget limitless!
      Okay, in reality it does have a boundary, but I hope to walk away with at least a small stack of books all signed (of course) by the author as I stand in front of them and gush about how much I looooove their fiction. That’s why we’re going right? Riiiight??

      Okay, let me get to Julia, our cutie-patootie at The Alley. Like me, Julia is not going to be able to go to the ACFW conference this year. Julia, how do you plan to spend your time while everyone is at the ACFW conference?
      Well I'll admit that I'm a bit bummed, but I'll definitely be keeping busy!  I homeschool my kids so they're weird and unsocialized (soccer practice, kids chorus, church activities, weekly co-op...).  And I'll be roaming the "prairie" teaching a "Little House" class to a group of 15 six to nine year olds.  Let me tell you you can't keep your mind on anything with 15 elementary school kids around!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           
      Goodness, that should keep your mind off all the fun you’ll be missing! Do you commiserate with other writers not going to conference?

      Definitely.  I talked to one of our Alley Cats (Casey, do you mind if I say your name??) about the disappointment of missing conference last year and this year her turn has come!  I know mine will, too.  And I know its going to be so much more special because it will be God's timing.  I feel like God is showing me to take my time and enjoy the journey and most of all enjoy my littles because they won't stay that way long. Also, I encourage you to try to save up for the CDs.  I have listened to the past conference CDs over and over and they are invaluable. 

      Have you found any other conferences or seminars to attend instead of the ACFW conference?
      Well, I will attend anything that comes up in my area.  Next year I'm hoping to attend Montrose conference which I found out is only about 3 hours from my hose.  And someday I'll have to get to save me a hug, Alley Cats. This year I attended a Debra Dixon one day workshop and also took a local class on description. 

      Awesome, Julia! I’m sure you will benefit from those ideas to keep active! Let’s move on our very own Mary!

      Mary, what is the best class you’ve ever taken? The best writing class I've taken was "Blogging". Craig Van Busek taught a packed room the how to's of blogging. As a result, I've set up my ministry of telling Bible and Missionary stories to families. From there I've met some great people. Because of his advice and easy to understand directions a large number of international readers read the stories each day.

      That sounds like a class I could use! Tell me, what is one thing you should NEVER forget to take with you to a conference? BUSINESS CARDS. I can't remember all the wonderful people I meet. But with a business card in hand to take home with me I can. These cards help networking in a viral way.

      Should you dress for comfort or style?  Yes. Here in Montana I've see new blue jeans worn by grooms (cowboy hat and boots, too). BUT the "when in Rome" rule fits all occasions. That means I'll have to dig up some dress pants for days and a fancy dress (ewww) for the banquet to properly socialize with the rest of the world.

      Who are you most looking forward to meeting at the conference?  The other Alley Cats.  Of course you are! They are the coolest!

      Have you practiced an elevator pitch in front of your mirror 100 times?  No (sniff--I should--too nervous)

      What's the one class you MUST take at conference? Every class I sign up is a MUST class for me.  I didn't know it at the time I registered, but I found out during the class. :) 

      Mary, I love hearing that, because I always fret over what to take! Thanks! Now, Miss Sarah, are you ready? Let’s hear what you have to say…

      Sarah, what is the best class you’ve ever taken. At last year's ACFW Conference, the editors from Thomas Nelson re-enacted a pub board meeting. They walked through what often makes or breaks a decision for them to extend an offer. It was candid and eye-opening!

      What is one thing you should NEVER forget to take with you? Business cards and camera
      Should you dress for comfort or style? Both! But comfort comes first, especially when it comes to shoes. Find a cute pair of flats or dressy sandals and make sure you break them in. The worst thing is discovering your new shoe gives you a blister on your pinkie toe!

      Ouch…I’ve had that blister! So, how many books do you plan on purchasing at conference? Enough to warrant an extra suitcase. :)

      Now that’s my kind of reader! 

      Wendy, it's your turn! Tell me, Wendy, what is one thing you should NEVER forget to take with you? The infamous one sheet. I was comforted to have it, not just to pass it out when needed, but to help me feel more comfortable with my pitch. I’m not much of a memorizer, so it relaxed me to know I had all the basics at my fingertips.

      Excellent tip! Why is picking the right roommate is vital to the health and well-being of all those involved? I’ve been so blessed to room with the ladies I have. It certainly helps to know that you’ll have the opportunity to laugh, and bounce ideas off your roomies throughout the conference. Also choosing folks who’ll respect your time, space, stuff, etc. will do wonders to keep you in an optimal state of mind for bringing your best everywhere you go.
      Sounds like you have a lot of experience in that area, Wendy! Thank you for sharing.

      Now it is time for Cindy! Share with us a tip or two on how to meet the people on your MUST MEET list.  Don't let intimidation stop you! If you run into the person on your must meet list or you seek them out, take a deep breath and walk right up to them with a smile. Most everyone is very gracious and happy to talk to you. Also, keep your mind open to opportunities to talk to anyone. They might not be on your must meet list, but it could still be the exact person you were meant to run into and you can gleam something amazing from it.

      Have you practiced an elevator pitch in front of your mirror 100 times?  
      I practiced my elevator pitch dozens of times before the ACFW conference last year but it was never with much confidence until I actually got in front of other writers. My roommates at the conference made me give them my pitch and encouraged me to do it with confidence. It was such a blessing to get their feedback and learn and grow from their advice.

      What great roommates! Now, tell me, should you dress for comfort or style?  Dress first and foremost for comfort. Pick something you feel good in and is versatile. It doesn't hurt to bring a sweater for those colder rooms or areas, and definitely wear comfortable shoes because conference days are long and busy and you want to be able to keep going the entire day.
      Angie, my friend! Tell me who was the coolest person you met at conference? Well, the coolest people I have met at ACFW was Patti Lacy and Pepper! They took me in and made me feel comfortable. I was such a nervous wreck before they came up to me!

      Pepper is nice like that! Now tell me what is the most important thing to take to a conference?  I think breath mints and confidence are a must to take with you!!

      Breath mints! I’ve never thought of that, but I’m sure that’s important in those little elevators, giving your short elevator speeches!

      Last, but definitely not least, let's hear from our very own Pepper. I’m sure she’ll have some words of wisdom for us. Pepper, dear, what is one thing you should NEVER forget to take with you?  UNscented deoderant. #1 - this year the conference is scent free #2- no agent, editor, or author will want to get near you for too long without it ;-)
      Oh...and I try to never forget a smile.

      Yes, indeed. The smile is ever so important! Now, should you dress for comfort or style? A little of both if you can do it. I always go for business casual (and bring a jacket. Temperature fluctuates)

      I’m sure you’ll have a great answer for this next question. You do so love to meet people. Who is the coolest person you’ve ever met at conference? I got a pic with Janette Oake while helping at the registration desk, but the VERY BEST people I met were the Seekers!!!!!!! And Siri Mitchell!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I LOVE Mary Connealy! And Audra Harders! and Myra Johnson!! Oh my goodness, they are wonderful!

      I know you are a Seeker-at-Heart, but at this conference, who are you most looking forward to meeting? THE ALLEY CATS!!! And possibly my future agent? Here's hopin'!

      Now, one last question…what's the one class you MUST take at conference? The kissing class from the Kissing Queen, Julie Lessman

      A kissing class, huh? Sounds very interesting. I wonder…will there be demonstrations? Hhhhmmmm….er, okay.

      Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this LONG interview of our Alley Gals. I know I’ve learned a few important tips for going to conference, and I hope you have too!

      Do you have anything to add?