2016 AWP Conference & Book Fair: A Quick Roundup

As previously mentioned, I recently spent three days wandering around the Los Angeles Convention Center with some 13,000+ writers, editors, agents, booksellers, librarians, and other assorted writing-related people for the 2016 AWP Conference and Book Fair. This isn’t the normal sort of conference I attend. Mostly I go places where they stick me on a panel or have me stand behind a podium and answer questions, and then at some point I will sit across a table from a parade of writers and listen to pitches or possibly critique first pages of their work. What made AWP16 so different and so much fun (not that I don’t enjoy my normal conference experience, because I do) was that this time around I was flying somewhat under the radar. I was an attendee rather than a participant, which meant I had the opportunity to go to panels and sit in the audience and listen to what other people had to say.

Over the course of three days I sat in on some 10-12 panels on a variety of subjects, including a session on visual narrative that looked at illuminated books, graphic novels, and participatory storytelling such as gaming apps; a panel of agents discussing equality and gender on the business side of publishing; the use of film techniques to engage readers in young adult literature; ideas for harnessing the social media skills of a group of writers to provide support and cross marketing; subjects that are (or are not) taboo in young adult fiction; and a discussion of the realms of real and unreal in writing. There were conversations with writers I knew and others I had just met, and hours spent wandering the floor of the main hall where hundreds of small presses, publishers, literary mags, MFA programs, poetry chapbook authors, PR people and others had set up their tables.

Publishing has always been a moving target, an ever-evolving industry that changes shape at the rate of storm clouds. But some trends trumpet more loudly than others. I heard a lot of discussion and debate about diversity in all of its permutations, from the need for more diverse people working in publishing to the importance of championing varied characters in books as well as a spectrum of writers to tell their stories. There were in-depth looks at ways to promote work in this age of social media and a steady increase in competing forms of entertainment, and thoughts on how to harness some of the new forms of technology to tell stories in fresh, exciting ways. But there were also still people lugging tote bags filled with newly acquired books — paperback and hardcover alike. There were halls filled with enchanted listeners as writers read from their latest releases. I saw many aspiring writers bent over notebooks, frantically scribbling notes on advice from the pros. Some things remain forever the same.

There’s no graceful way for me to share every nugget of information I absorbed in those three days. Instead, I offer up a few links to sites and books that I heard about that might provide some inspiration or at least food for thought.

In terms of visual narrative:

Bats of the Republic by Zach Dodson – an illuminated novel that includes hand-drawn maps, letters, and other items that join with the text to tell the story.

A Life in Books: The Rise and Fall of Bleu Mobley by Warren Lehrer – an illuminated novel that features 101 books ostensibly authored by the title character.

PRY novella by Tender Claws – a novella and an app that allows reader interactions designed to put you in the narrator’s experience/thoughts.

In terms of the changing face of publishing:

Literary Publishing in the 21st Century – essays by a variety of writers, editors, etc. on the future of the industry, including the effects of technology, the fight for diversity, and more.

VIDA: Women in Literary Arts – home of the famed VIDA count, which holds magazines accountable for their diversity (now newly expanded to include race, gender, ethnicity, sexual identity, and ability).

In terms of marketing:

Tall Poppy Writers – a marketing collective started by a group of women’s fiction authors and now somewhat more broad in its scope, the purpose of which was to share social media knowledge and talents and to support each other’s book launches and careers.

Anyone interested in AWP’s annual conference and/or membership in the organization should check out their site: Association of Writers & Writing Programs.


Friday Links: Reading and Writing into the New Year

Happy Friday! I’m excited to resume Friday Links today. It felt strange having the holidays fall on Friday the last two weeks, but between blogging daily for the December Writing Challenge and also being in Connecticut visiting my parents, it was also nice to take a little breather.

This week, however, I have a great collection of links to start the year off with a bang. I hope you’ve all had a wonderful few days and that reentry hasn’t been too painful. Personally, I’ve been caught up in a whirlwind. It’s amazing what piles up even when most people aren’t working. So I’m going to get right to the good stuff, and then vanish back beneath my slowly shrinking avalanche of submissions and client projects and emails.

Wishing you a wonderful, productive week, filled with all things reading and writing!

24 in 48 Readathon – It’s back, and scheduled for January 16th and 17th. Frequent readers will be familiar with my discovery of readathons a year or so ago, and this is my favorite one. The aim is to spend 24 hours reading out of a 48-hour period, quite doable and still leaving time for sleeping and such. Scroll on the site for complete details and to sign up if you’re interested.

The New York Public Library Just Uploaded Nearly 200,000 Images You Can Use for Free – Rundown of the new public domain images that the library has digitized for everyone’s use. Great for use on blogs/websites, etc., but also just really fun and inspiring to browse.

52 Short Stories in 52 Weeks – 52 short prompts to use for short stories, the idea being to write one per week over the course of the year. Of course, we’re a week behind, but that’s no reason not to dive in anyway if you’re interested in a year-long writing challenge.

Did you know that no novels from Madagascar have been translated into English? – Until now. Nice short piece with a small excerpt.

Inspiration Tuesday: Michael Nobbs – Artist and writer Danny Gregory interviews artist Michael Nobbs on how he’s creative in very short spurts daily, and how much one can accomplish when those short spurts add up. (Video linked, not embedded, per request of creators.)

Most Anticipated: The Great First-Half 2016 Book Preview – The annual preview of books being released in the first half of the year. Mostly upmarket and literary, but a fabulous overview of upcoming titles regardless.

Opportunities for Writers: January and February 2016 – A list of contests, publishing opportunities, and other deadline-oriented goodies for writers.


Friday Links: Writing Advice to Escape the Doldrums

Happy Friday the 13th! Does anyone truly get spooked when that day and date collide? I’ve always wondered. One of these days I need to look more closely into the origins of the superstition. I do know that in some countries, 13 is considered a lucky number. Funny how differently these things develop depending on where you are.

In my book, Fridays are a good thing pretty much across the board, though this week I anticipate burning a bit of midnight oil to finish up some things I swore wouldn’t creep into the weekend. Earlier this week I had my phone and internet upgraded, and of course that meant no service plus a technician on the premises for a good chuck of a day. It never ceases to amaze me what a few lost hours of work time can do to my schedule. But on the upside, I now have speedier internet, and my computer no longer groans when I go to download email with enormous manuscripts attached.

But enough chatter; I have Friday links to share. This week I seem to have a backlog of links I’ve been meaning to post previous weeks along with some new things I discovered, so in the interest of closing tabs, I’m just going to throw them down and let you all go to town. Plenty to entertain and inspire here, especially if you’re feeling like you need a bit of a pep talk. Enjoy, and happy writing!

Colum McCann’s Letter to a Young Writer – Some lovely words of advice to keep you plugging along, no matter your age or stage of writing career.

How Do You Write for Teenagers? – Looking to write YA? Here are some words of wisdom from writers in the know.

I Hate Women’s Fiction and I’ll Tell You Why – An impassioned and intelligent look at the distinction between works of fiction about women written by women, and those written by men.

Sometimes Writer’s Block Is Really Depression – An honest, personal account from author Mary Robinette Kowal.

Why We Read (and Write) Short Stories – An interesting analysis by skilled short-story writer Lorrie Moore.

The Rachel Connection: Why Rachel Fershleiser Is a Wizard of New York’s Literary Community – The woman behind bookish Tumblr.

How to Build Your Own Self-Hosted Author Website in 30 Minutes – Clear step-by-step instructions from author Joanna Penn.

To Question and Be Questioned: The Millions Interviews Azar Nafisi – An interview with the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran and The Republic of Imagination: A Life in Books.

6 Things You Should Never Write About for NaNoWriMo – A list of things to avoid when diving into NaNoWriMo, or, in the case of most of them, any writing project at all.

Friday Links

TGIF! It’s been a short week here, thanks to the Labor Day holiday, but definitely jam-packed nonetheless. Still plenty to do before I click over to weekend mode, but of course I wanted to drop by with some fun links to help you all start your weekends right.

September always makes me think of heading back to school. Call it years of indoctrination at a most impressionable age. Regardless, I itch for shiny new school supplies and a big bag of new books. But it’s also a great time to think of what you want to accomplish with the rest of the year in terms of your writing goals. The last stretch, so to speak. Before you know it, we’ll be racing into the holiday season, so take an hour or so in the next few days to look at 2014 so far, your writing goals and accomplishments, and determine where you want to go from here.

This week’s links are the usual mash-up, but I hope you find them helpful and that some of them inspire you to recommit to your writing goals in the months ahead. Wishing you all a wonderful weekend. Enjoy!

Sherman Alexie and Jess Walter Launch Literary Podcast – Podcasts are a great way to get writing tips, and these gentlemen are sure to be handing out some excellent ones.

The Unseen or the Unspoken: Some Notes on Absence in Fiction – Sometimes what you don’t say provides as much detail as what you do.

To Be More Creative, Question What You Know – Stepping outside your sphere of knowledge can inspire you.

297 Flabby Words and Phrases that Rob Your Writing of All Its Power – Great for writers looking to tighten up their prose and eliminate redundancies, in particular.

Novel Writing Tips: The 8 Laws of Foreshadowing – Not every project requires foreshadowing, but here are some things to keep in mind for the ones that do.


More Than Sorta Social

BreatkfastClubCastJohn Hughes’s iconic 1985 teen-angst film The Breakfast Club follows five very different high school students over the course of a day-long Saturday detention, during which time the audience gets a run down of their home and school lives and finds out what led to their spending part of their weekend confined, at least in theory, to the school library. At one point, they discuss their extracurricular activities, and Anthony Michael Hall’s geeky character volunteers that he’s a member of the math and physics clubs where they get together and discuss properties of math and physics. Molly Ringwald’s character is quick to point out those are “academic clubs,” therefore quite different from the groups she and her friends would join, but Jud Nelson’s character declares them to be “…sorta social. Demented and sad, but social.”

The world of social media is, in some respects, far more egalitarian than your average high school. Blogger, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook… you can join any or all of them. But just because you’re invited to all the parties, doesn’t make them all the same. And when it comes time to market yourself and your writing, only you can determine which parties will serve you best, and where your time is most wisely spent. Not all writers are comfortable with all formats; one person might find 140 characters far too few to get a thought across, while another balks at blogging twice a week. So how do you make the most of the social media platforms?

Master one or two forms of social media at a time – Don’t rush in and try to juggle every available social media format at once. Pick a couple and get started. Learn how they work, how you can make them work for you, and be consistent in your usage and participation. If you allow comments on your blog, respond to them; start up conversations with people on Twitter; determine if you have sufficient visual content to keep your Tumblr page fresh and interesting. And don’t forget to leave some time for real life in addition to your online social life.

Get a head start – Hitting the social media scene the week your book comes out is like arriving at a new school in May and expecting to be voted prom queen. It takes time to build real social connections. No one likes a spammer, so don’t expect to show up and start talking up your book and win any popularity contests. Social media is social. You need to join in and chat with folks, share ideas and discoveries and respond to what others have to say. Make friends and network months in advance of a book release. Then when your book comes out, you can share your enthusiasm without sending everyone running away.

All things in moderation – Even your friends will get sick of you if all you do is talk about yourself. Keep the self-promotion to a minimum, especially on Twitter, where it’s tempting to retweet every great comment and review that crosses your path. Try to keep your book-promo down to under 20% of your social media interactions, and closer to 10% on Twitter. (Places like your website and blog will naturally have a much higher ratio, but these are less social and more your home on the web; visitors will expect to see book covers and links-to-buy all over the walls of your virtual living room.)

Customize your content – You wouldn’t expect the same experience at the jock’s keg party as you would at the party thrown by the brainy geek, so don’t try forcing the same information into all your social media outlets. Avoid automatic distribution features that have your exact same blog post appearing on your website, Facebook page, Goodreads page, etc. Rotate where you debut your information and expect audience overlap between your media sites. Post images where they will show to their best advantage, such as a blog or Tumblr, and avoid posting them places where they get lost in the shuffle, like Twitter.

Be consistent – Don’t join the social media bandwagon just to vanish for months at a time. If you’re going to be traveling, make a point of scheduling some blog posts and Tweets to post while you’re away, and try to check in for some real-time responses and activity even during your trip. If you know you’ll never manage to blog every week, stick to a more traditional author website, and update with other sorts of information to keep it fresh, such as release dates, cover reveals, signing or conference information, contests, giveaways, sneak peeks, etc. The only way to build an audience is to keep showing up.

Friday Links

Happy Friday, and happy holidays to those of you in the midst of celebrating various things.

We’re in the last few days of the March Madness Challenge. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and that you manage to sneak some more words in before April rolls around. In the meantime, I have a pretty broad range of links to share, from some industry news to some thoughtful reads and couple just for fun. I find them pretty interesting, and I hope you agree.

Wishing you all a lovely weekend, and good writing time!

The Importance of Endings – On why even a good thing should eventually come to an end.

Amazon to Buy Goodreads – Just what it says.

I’m Comic Sans, Asshole – Just plain funny, as only McSweeney’s can be.

Top Ten Most Prolific Authors on Twitter – If you’re looking to liven up your feed, add a few of these folks.

Curious Cat Walks Over Medieval Manuscript – Inky paw prints on a 15th century manuscript, presumably from a 15th century kitty.

Friday Links

Happy Friday! I hope you’ve all had an enjoyable week and have some excellent plans for the weekend — including a bit of writing time perhaps? Regardless, I’m glad to offer up this week’s collection of Friday Links for your perusal. Enjoy!

How Writers and Readers Can Use Twitter’s Vine – Twitter’s new means of posting short online videos.

Urbex Photography by Rene Vermunt – Some fabulous inspirational shots for anyone looking for some writing prompt material.

Max Sebald’s Writing Tips – Some great tips and thoughts from the late writer.

English Literature’s 50 Key Moments from Marlowe to J.K. Rowling – Interesting list, whether or not you agree with all the choices.

Locus Online’s 2012 Recommended Reading List – The magazine’s annual listing of the previous year’s best in SFF.

Agent Q&A Day!

Usually I run these over at The Knight Agency blog, but we’re experiencing some technical difficulties over there, so I’m going to do a Q&A here instead.

For those of you unfamiliar with these, it’s very simple. Just leave your questions about publishing, writing, getting an agent, etc., here in the comments of this thread. I will return late tonight or early tomorrow morning and answer at least three of them, though I try to do more if time allows.

So, what would you all like to know? Go ahead and ask! And don’t forget to check back to read the answers, even if you don’t have a question of your own. Someone else might ask something you never realized you wanted to know.

ETA: Q&A closed for this session. All answers are posted below each of the questions. Thanks to everyone for participating!

Tapping Your Creative Reserves

Creativity is a habit, one that requires regular practice in order to flow smoothly. But let’s face it. Even the most creative and talented and brilliant individual can hit a dry spell, when inspiration refuses to come. So what do you do when you’re grasping for the right idea? Try mixing things up a little.

Karen Walrond is a blogger, photographer, writer, and inspirational speaker, and she recently gave a talk to the folks at Getty Images for their Power of Innovation series. It’s nearly half an hour, so be sure you set aside some time to watch it. Her ideas are the sort of brilliant, flexible concepts and exercises that will help wake up your brain and get your creativity jumping, whatever your creative endeavor.

Monday Fly-by

Monday already. Some weekends definitely go faster than others. I spent most of this one at the LA Times Festival of Books, one of my favorite events of the year. We had gorgeous weather, tons of fabulous authors, and pretty impressive crowds. I’ll be writing up the panels I attended as soon as I have a chance, but right now I must dig into the piles of things that accumulated while I was actually taking the weekend off.

As a parting gift, I offer up a link to a fun, spur-of-the-moment interview that Nalini Singh did at the Romantic Times convention last week, with the crew from Smart Bitches and Dear Author. Enjoy!