Thursday, February 19, 2009

Fun Facts from the San Francisco Writer's Conference and More...

Greetings all from me and Snuffy! Hope your February is looking springlike like it is here in Seattle, WA, where the bitter cold and snows have momentarily receded.

I was just down in the Bay Area volunteering for the San Francisco Writer’s Conference, and wouldn’t you know, the weather was worse there than it is here. Which was fine because mostly I was indoors for the conference and then suffering from a horrible cold so had little use for the outdoors anyway.

I learned a lot of interesting things and met some great people at this conference, as well as getting a few of my burning questions answered. Here are some fun and not-so-fun facts I picked up:

  • Only about 50% of books are actually sold in bookstores today; the rest are sold through alternative channels

  • Most fiction manuscripts submitted to agents are boring and predictable because they don’t have enough FAILURE in them

  • Your “numbers” (that is, how many copies you’ve sold) stick to you like “toilet paper on your shoe”

My favorite speaker was agent Donald Maas; his wife Lisa Rector kindly gave me some advice as did agent Kimberly Cameron. I also met the author of the book Surviving Five Daughters, who was charming and fun, and refers to his daughters in conversation as D1, D2, D3, etc.

I did think there was an overemphasis on the business side of writing and publishing, and would have liked to see more talks devoted to good old-fashioned craft. That’s why I liked Maas’s talk – even though he was talking through one of the chapters in his excellent book Writing the Breakout Novel - and the material was familiar to me already. I liked his talk because it actually made me focus on my story instead of stressing about my "web presence" or how I can get my "numbers" up before I'm entirely wrapped in toilet paper.

His theory about breaking out as an author is that it’s not about how big your publicity budget is that makes your book a bestseller, but word-of-mouth generated by readers--and that you get that word-of-mouth by writing a book with larger-than-life characters going through conflict where the stakes are very high and where unexpected twists ensue.

Sounds easy, right? Especially when you read his book and he lays it all out for you. Then you try to actually start constructing a high-stakes plot with larger-than-life characters. And it's so effing hard! It’s like my piano lessons when I listen to my teacher play all kinds of cool honky-tonk riffs than even shows me exactly how to do them and I go home inspired and excited. But when I try to do them myself they don’t come out right at all and I feel even clumsier and more unskilled than before, especially when the more I practice, the worse I seem to do them.

But if I have faith (or even if I don’t) and I persist even just 15 minutes a day I eventually get better. And that’s how it is with writing too. If you’re feeling discouraged, just trick yourself into writing 15 minutes a day. Because the hardest part is sitting down at your computer. Once you actually start, you’ll want to write much longer than 15 minutes. And once you get in the habit of sitting down every day to do it, it gets harder not to do it than to do it.

Anyway. I digress.

In BreakupBabe news, for those of you Seattleites who would like to support your local businesses, you can find a copy of my novel at Balderdash Books in Greenwood! And soon at Lemon Meringue Boutique, also in Greenwood.

You’ll also be able to see me read at Cheap Wine and Poetry at Richard Hugo House on March 26. And no I’m not actually reading poetry! I *hope* to read something from the new novel! You know the one that’s full of colorful characters that you can’t stop reading and won’t be able to stop talking about – once it, er, finally gets written.

Finally, the moment you've all been waiting for. You can read my Alaska Airlines article about paddling in Glacier Bay here (warning: this is a PDF file). Remind me to tell you the real story behind this trip sometime -- you know, about how we got stranded, almost drowned, feared for our lives 80% of the time, etc etc. Plus, don't miss an update about my upcoming blogging class!

(Wait - I forgot one little thing. Recently I met someone who had downloaded my book onto a Kindle. It was a very cool thing to see; the Kindle was super-sleek, felt good in my hands, and the text was easy to read. And that's all I have to say about that. Except that I would love to have a Kindle and maybe one day I will actually be able to afford one.)