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Writing tip Wednesday: “Killer Nashville”

The Writers Conference for Mysteries, Thrillers, Espionage, Suspense, Romance, Young Adult (YA), Fantasy, Adventure, Historical, Science Fiction, Horror, True Crime.

Guests of Honor: Anne Perry and D.P. Lyle

Starting at $119 for full conference

Conference: August 22. 25, 2013
Conference Hours:
Thursday, August 22 — 6 PM – 10 PM
Friday, August 23 — 8 AM – 7 PM
Saturday, August 24 — 7:05 AM – 11:30 PM
Sunday, august 25 — 8 AM – 3 PM

Over 60 session and 7 tracks

9 breakout session for intense small group session

Agent / Editor / Publisher Roundtables — free with registration

Manuscript critiques

Special Sessions: Synopsis Writing: Query Writing

Prizes and free giveaways

Many more things. To find out more,
call: 615-599-4032
contact@killernashville.com
www.KillerNashville.com

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Writing Tip Wednesday: “Community of Writers”

Held in Squaw Valley, California

Held in Squaw Valley, California

Click on either graphic above to get an enlarged view of the information.

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Killer Nashville, August 23 – 26, 2012

[Editor's note: I have attended two Killer Nashville conferences and can say there is plenty to see and do and learn, even if what you write is not strictly thriller, suspense or mystery. To be clear, I have no stake in the conference, and will not make any money if you attend. I have written a few blog entries from my most recent attendance. You can find those by clicking on Killer Nashville in the tags below.]

Killer Nashville

A Conference for Thriller, Suspense, Mystery Writers & Literature Lovers
________________________________________
August 23-26, 2012
Thursday evening through Sunday afternoon
________________________________________
Nashville, TN

Guests of Honor for 2012 Killer Nashville are New York Times Bestselling Authors C.J. Box, Heywood Gould, & Peter Straub

Since 2006, Killer Nashville has become THE conference for mystery, thriller, and crime fiction authors and fans. Located in Nashville, Tennessee, Killer Nashville is held the fourth full weekend of every August.

Killer Nashville attracts bestselling authors from across the U.S., Canada, and beyond, plus scores of fans and budding authors.

Sponsored by numerous national organizations, attendees have included authors, screenwriters, playwrights, filmmakers, fans, attorneys, editors, agents, and publishers.

Killer Nashville’s objectives are to assist writers of all writing genres and formats; develop a better understanding of the craft of the mystery, thriller, suspense and true crime genres specifically; to discuss such topics as investigative techniques, verifying crime information, and submitting one’s manuscript for publication; and portray law enforcement and forensic science in a fair and accurate manner.

Killer Nashville is offered in five concurrent tracks including over 60 events ensuring the weekend has something for every lover of literature.

One track, the forensic/CSI track provides insight into the latest in forensic investigations and crime detection and is hosted by the TBI (Tennessee Bureau of Investigations), FBI, and other law enforcement branches. Event includes a realistic crime scene staged by the TBI and solved by conference guests.

Many writers have found agents, editors, and publication through networking at Killer Nashville.

Killer Nashville is a volunteer-produced event and was founded in 2006 by bestselling Franklin writer and filmmaker Clay Stafford.

Contact information:
Killer Nashville
P.O. Box 680759
Franklin, TN 37068-0759

(615) 599-4032
contact@killernashville.com
Website: killernashville.com.
Blog: http://killernashville.wordpress.com/

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Crested Butte Writers Conference, June 22-24, 2012

[Editor's note: Every now and then, I get e-mails about writers' conferences, most of which I have never gone to. I have not been to the one below, but thought I would pass along the information. Before you go, check it out. I'm not saying this conference or any other is trying to take advantage of you, just that not every conference will be right for you, and it is best to find that out before you sign up. Certainly, if you attend this or have attended any others and you would recommend it, send the information my way.]

Crested Butte Writers Conference — June 22-24, 2012

Source: http://crestedbuttewriters.org/conf.php

Intimate:

A small conference designed to be friendly and cozy with the caliber of a large conference
Casual, small-group workshops encourage personal connection
A Pie in the Sky book signing where fans share dessert and conversation with favorite authors
Sandy Contest finalists share their experiences on a panel at the awards luncheon
Genre-Specific Informal Get-Together
Readings at Elevation Hotel lobby – We gather one evening to kick off our shoes, sip a drink, while sitting back and enjoying short readings from our Sandy Finalists and local poets and talented writers.

Interactive:

Pitch & Pages – unique efficient method of granting agent/ editor appointments
Advanced Read and Critique Masters Add-on Class – Thursday afternoon critique opportunity with attending agents and editors as well as other class participants

- New!

Plenty of free time to network and explore the area while making new writing friends
Opportunity during the Saturday Readers in the Rockies Day to interact with readers
Enthusiastic and accessible agents, editors, and guest authors

Inspiring:

Nestled in the beautiful West Elk Mountains of Colorado
Affordable
Gourmet Meals. Check out our menu choices before registering.
Comfortable as well as affordable accommodations
Group discounts – Groups of five or more friends/members of a writing group or complete strangers sign up together for the Conference, receive a $50 per person discount

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Writing Tip: Drama is conflict

My writing is distinctly middle brow. Just ask anybody who has suffered through it. Still, I like to think that even in my middling way, I can offer some helpful advice when I stumble across it. Therefore, from time to time, I will post some writing advice, but not from me. The advice will come from established sources. I will endeavor not to make it overlong or overreaching, and sometimes it will simply be reminders of what we all probably already know, but it will be some tips I have picked up from reading, from attending writing conferences, or it may even come from you.

Writing with paperclips in ears and nose

Darma is conflict, sometimes even self-inflicted

The first bit of advice comes from a writing course the Knoxville Writers’ Guild sponsored way back in 1993. The teacher was Joseph Gunnels and the cost was $75. It was two-day event, May 15 and 16, and we spent part of a pleasant afternoon sitting on the grass outside the Candy Factory, on The 1982 World’s Fair site. I took over 30 pages of notes, but rather than bore you with details, here is the essence of what I took away from the seminar:

Drama is conflict;
Without conflict no action;
Without action no character;
Without character no story;
Without story, who cares?

In a future entry, I’ll give you a short, crisp definition for conflict that I learned at a more recent one-day writing seminar. It comes from a very highly regarded script doctor in Hollywood, but applies just as well to other forms of fiction writing. Stay turned.

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Pictures at an exhibition

Below are a few photos of agents and editors taken while at Killer Nashville this past August 20 – 22, 2010. Consider this visual reference for the names of people mentioned in some of my earlier posts on pitching your novel to editors or agents.

From left, agents Jill Marr, Cari Foulk, and Jeff Gerecke. Beth Terrell, author and Killer Nashville Executive Driector, leaning over behind them.

Jill Marr (seated left) and Cari Foulk listening to a question at Killer Nashville 2010.

Jill Marr (seated left) and Cari Foulk listening to a question at Killer Nashville 2010.

Agents Jill Marr (left) and Cari Foulk standing for a few moments after listening to pitches.

Agents Jill Marr (left) and Cari Foulk standing for a few moments after listening to pitches.

Agent Jill Marr walking out of the Pitch Room.

Agent Jill Marr walking out of the Pitch Room at Killer Nashville 2010.

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The pitches

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Killer Nashville badge

Below are two of my pitches. I used the The Painted Beast pitch on all the agents and editors I talked with at Killer Nashville. I was able to use The Small Resurrection pitch once or twice.

Two pieces of advice, one I have said before: Practice the pitch and make it as natural as you can. Two: Think of a pitch as a spoken version of the back-cover blurb you read on many paperback books.

The Painted Beast

Ex-cop Stephen York was once a hero. Decorated and lionized from uncovering corruption in the police department and bringing down a criminal enterprise, he now works two or three menial jobs in order to hold body and soul together, not only for himself but also his thirteen-year-old step-daughter and eight-year-old daughter. One night his ex-wife, who has escaped from prison, returns home and terrorizes him. He escapes from her and she from him, but shortly thereafter she kidnaps their daughters. In order to save them, Stephen has to kill her, which puts him under suspicion for murder and under the thumb of a police detective who has personal as well as professional reasons for wanting to grind Stephen down further. In addition, his step-daughter’s biological father steps forward to kidnap her with the intention of leading her into a life of child pornography and prostitution in order to get money to help re-establish the criminal empire that Stephen had helped take down. This time, in order to save his step-daughter, Stephen, who has not been a particularly good father, has to offer his life in order to save his step-daughter’s. In so doing, he learns another definition of hero. At its core this novel’s theme asks and answers the question: Can a fallen hero be a hero again?

Limerick version:
There once was an ex-cop who did poorly
At being a father and what’s more he
Killed his ex-wife,
Then offered up his life
To save his daughter from a life in pornography.

***

A Small Resurrection

Is believing in what you see the same thing as seeing what you believe in?

Knoxville, Tennessee, is the last place T. Xavier Gabriel wants to be. But the director of the 8th highest grossing film in Hollywood has come to town to ask his ex-wife for forbearance in paying the large alimony and possibly also for a loan to help restart his fallen career. She, however, has other plans. She wants him to

Pitching your novel

Use conversational voice when talking about your novel

rescue their 22-year-old daughter from the undue influences of a 24-year-old evangelical preacher. Gabriel wants nothing to do with that, having already admitted to be a failure once as a father, he doesn’t want a second bite of the apple. But when he finds his daughter keeping company with a resurrected Rod Serling, he sees a chance to use this Serling look-alike to resurrect his own career. But getting Serling away from his daughter puts her in jeopardy, and Gabriel must decide if he is going to save her or save his career. To save her, he must enlist the aid of Serling, who is not quite sure who he is or why he has been resurrected, and in saving her he puts an end ever resurrecting his career.

Limerick version:
There once was a director named Gabriel
Whose life was a broken down fable
Then along came Rod Serling
And an offer so sterling
That it could save Gabe if he was able.

Two final notes:
1) The limerick versions were not something I pitched, though I thought about it. It was my way of have a pitch that could be done in 15 seconds or less.

2) Some pitch advice says you need to have antecedents as part of your pitch. Antecedents are novels that are like yours. Something similar to your novel. This is supposed to show that you know about your novel’s market and where it might fit. While I had that prepared for The Painted Beast, it did not seem to be something those I pitched to at Killer Nashville were interested in. That could have been a mistake on my part. But I had the feeling that these agents wanted to be the ones to decide where it belongs.

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Pitch aside: dealing with contradictory information

This information comes from agent Nathan Bransford, and while he is aiming the information at query letters, I think the same advice can apply for pitches, with a little modification:

1. Take a Deep Breath: As long as you’re getting the big stuff right, you’re going to be fine. You don’t need to have every single little teeny tiny thing perfect. You can get my name or gender wrong and I still might request your pages (just did this last week in fact). I’m not going to reject you because you sent me the first five pages of Chapter 1 instead of your Prologue if I like the idea and your writing. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Because really: if an agent is going to reject your query over some small niggling detail, are they someone you’d want to work with anyway?

2. Remember That Agent Blogs Are Just Trying to Help: I know how tempting it is to throw up your hands and just think that literary agents are so many Goldilocks with completely different ideas of how hot the porridge should be. Please just remember that we offer so much advice because people ask. We get e-mails and comments all the time asking about everything from paper size to fonts to anglicized spelling to serial commas. So we try to help, and we’re not always going to agree on everything. Personally, when I’m wearing my author hat I’d rather have too much information than too little, so I tend to err on the side of dispensing too much agent advice. It’s up to you to decide which advice you agree with and which you don’t. Just remember that we’re trying to help, not trying to make your life miserable.

3. Not All Publishing Advice is Created Equal: I went back and looked at some of my early blog posts, and holy cow after just four years they’re already wildly out of date. Consider the source, consider the freshness of the advice, and beware of anyone who tries to tell you that there’s one way and only one way to find successful publication. Occasionally an author out there somewhere will have a sense that the way they found success is The Way That Should Work For Everyone, whereas people who have worked across the publishing spectrum have seen the proverbial cat skinned in an impossibly vast number of ways.

4. Try As Best You Can to Meet an Agent’s Specifications, But Don’t Go Crazy Trying to Do It: If you happen to remember that Rachelle wants you to query with your pen name and I want to hear from the real you: great! Query accordingly. But don’t go creating a massive spreadsheet with every agent’s particular individual preferences. No agent expects you to do that.

5. If You Think the Contradictory Query Advice is Mind Boggling, Just Wait Until You Reach the Publication Stage: In case you haven’t noticed, this business is an art, not so much a science. There’s no one way to do things, and you’re going to face conflicting advice and opinions about your manuscript, cover art, marketing plan, you name it. There are even more opinions out there than people (sometimes people can’t even decide what they think and have multiple opinions). At the end of the day, all you can do is just take all the advice into account, and choose the route that works best for you.

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What makes a good pitch? The thou shalt nots

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In the last installment of our trip through pitch land, I listed a few things to consider that make for a good pitch. Here I will list a few things not to do.

1) Thou shalt not consider me an expert. I believe it was the author W. Somerset Maugham who said, “There are three rules for writing a good novel. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are.” While I took most of my ideas for a good pitch from Michael Hauge’s book, even he admits there are other ways of constructing a pitch. You can certainly find suggestions by simply searching on the Internet, and some of them are very good. But all of them, in the end, revolve around the principle of “Be brief, be sincere, and be seated.” Or get out of your seat to make way for the next person who is going to pitch.

I know, I know. It is a pain, a real pain to take this 70,000-, 80,000-, 90,000-, or 100,000-word-or-more creation and squeeze the essence out of it. After all, if you could have said it less than 500 words, you would have. Right?

I empathize. I do. After all, I have a novel or two or three, and I went kicking and screaming into this idea of pitching. That’s part of the reason I say don’t consider me an expert. I’m not. And certainly, if you have a better way of doing it, stick with it. Maybe even let me know. In the meantime, I have to go kicking and screaming into this reality, much as I would rather spend time creating another one filled with people much more interesting than I am.

I will say in defense of pitches, I did get to meet some interesting agents, such as Cari Foulk, Jill Marr, and Amy Burckhart. And meeting them was a way to begin to get to know somebody who might wind up being my agent. After all (and this is a side note), I heard several times that having the wrong agent is worse than having no agent at all, and who might be the right agent for you might not be the right agent for me. But that is another subject.

2) Thou shalt not mention more than one character name in your pitch.

Tablet

Tablet with writings

And that should probably be your protagonist. You might be able to work in two names. But absolutely no more than that.

I know, I know, you probably agonized and researched, tried and retried names for your characters until you found the ones that were the best and no others would do. I am not disputing that the naming of characters is not important, and again, another subject for another time. But remember, you only have 5 minutes, and you are not the only person the agent or editor is going to be listening to. The agent or editor is not likely to remember more than one name anyway, and in all honesty, you probably want her or him to remember yours.

If the editor or agent wants to see some or all of your novel, that’s when he or she will get a chance to remember the character’s names, and that is when your skill in naming them can shine. In short, it’s okay to say “Jim Summer’s enemy…” or even say “his antagonist….”

3) Thou shalt not recount every plot and sub-plot, nor every plot point in your pitch. You may be the next Jeffrey Deaver, with the ability to handle a major plot and several strong sub-plots, and have them all have reversals or other surprise twists. But like having too many names, having too many plots and sub-plots in your pitch will only lead you into a thicket of inability. Stick to one plot, the main one, and stick to the two or three main features of that plot. If the agent or editor wants to know more, she or he will ask, and by her or his asking, you know they are at least mildly interested. Maybe more than mildly.

4) Thou shalt not say you are the next Jeffery Deaver or that your book is better than Jeffery Deaver’s latest. Even if either one or both of those statements is true, you gain nothing by it. Belittling somebody else to make yourself look more important was childish when you did it at ten and it hasn’t gotten any better since then. I will admit, I have read several accounts of accomplished writers who started writing after they read something so bad they threw the magazines or books across the rooms and proclaimed they could do better. Then they proceeded to do so, though most will admit they weren’t immediately or instantly better. It’s okay if something like that was your catalyst toward becoming a writer. But if you are truly better than X author, let your editor or agent find that out on his or her own. After all, there is no greater professional joy for an editor or agent than finding somebody he or she believes is the next Jeffery Deaver (or pick an author).

5) Thou shalt not say your novel is a sure best seller. It may be. I certainly hope so, but there are too many variables that go into making a best seller.

Being confident your novel and in yourself are good things. Often, late at night or early in morning, when you are struggling with the blank page, than confidence In your book or yourself may be the thing that pushes you through the retaining wall of doubt into a world that only you can imagine. But good writing is collaboration between you, the author, and the reader, where what you do ignites a passion in those who read your words and want to share in your world, and that includes agents and editors. Leave them a little room to discover your magnificence.

Next up: my pitches.

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Pitch aside: some resources

Research and reference books

Some pitch reference sites to consider

Below are a few links with information on pitches. Not all the information here is going to agree with all the other information. And some of these links focus on “one line pitches,” or distilling your novel into one sentence. Sometimes a one-sentence pitch might also be called a log line.

This blog entry from agent Nathan Bransford is one of many of Nathan Bransford’s blog entries. He is interesting and you can certainly sign up to receive his blog entries yourself: One sentence pitch.

Another blog entry about pitching, this time called the One-Sentence Hook.

Some information from another agent, Rachelle Gardner. This blog entry focuses on longer pitches. Notices that she says she wants a little information about the author up front, which is something that Michael Hauge says should be at the last, if at all. He even says it is not necessary to start with the title.

Here is additional information on the Guide to Literary Agents blog. Note the information about such things as practicing and attire.

I’m sure there are other blog entries and web sites with information as well as books and articles in magazines. After all, writers write, and sometimes writers write about writing.

Pen up.

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