Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tricks of the Trade

I mentioned on Facebook that I wasn't going to blog about ACFW until (at least) tomorrow, and that's still true. I've got, like, 500 photos from the Memphis-Little Rock-St. Louis trip that need to be loaded onto my computer.

It's a job, let's just put it that way.

Anyway, lots of exciting stuff on the horizon and the realization that my year of quiet has come to a close. Once book projects become official, I will have a lot of work to do.  This is good, because it's a little disconcerting to be a writer by trade and not have any official projects on the horizon.

I am a bit overwhelmed at the prospect, though, partly because the writing process for Sara (and Jayne, in some ways) was VERY stressful.  I have to remember that I've learned a lot; every book is a learning experience!

Several of my friends have books releasing soon, so I thought that until I get those 600 or so photos downloaded (which, I have to admit, are largely photos of waterlilies in various botanical gardens. Apparently I have a waterlily photography "issue"), I've definitely got time to share the bits of writer's life wisdom I've discovered along the way...

1.) When the going gets tough, the tough go underwear shopping.  And socks.  Basically, when you're on a deadline/ tight marketing schedule, laundry needs to not be quite so high up on the list. Stock up on undies and socks, and an extra pair of jeans for everyone in the family.

2.) Spruce up your own wardrobe.  The writer's life doesn't lend itself to business wear acquisitions, but you'll appreciate having go-to pieces of clothing for headshots, book events, and conferences.  Take a small chunk off the top of your advance and look for pieces that can be dressed up or down (like a silk blouse in a print) and worn for multiple seasons. I'm a big fan of denim suiting pieces for author events - a denim blazer or trouser pant looks polished without being stuffy.  You're a writer, not a stockbroker. Have some fun with your look!

3.) Set goals and stick to them. It seems basic, but it really is helpful.  Figure out how many words per day you need to crank out, be realistic, and work from there.

4.) When it comes to marketing, now is better.  When you get interview requests with questions, do them right away. It's much easier to get those done and sent off rather than keep track of the interviewer's schedule and have it leave the forefront of your consciousness.  Take a break from writing, set a timer, and answer the questions (however brilliant or inane they happen to be).  Just think back to the days of email forwarded surveys...

5.) Keep your files organized. I strongly recommend keeping your headshot jpg (in a large and small size) and book cover jpg (ditto) in the same folder (mine is labled "promotions"), as well as your press release and whatever interviews you're working on. That way, they're ready to go on a moment's notice whenever you're asked.

6.) Look sharp. Speaking of headshots, it's really best of an author shot to be a true head/shoulders shot. More than that, if it's viewed from far away or printed small, isn't going to read as well (and by "read as well," I mean that the image won't be quite as easy to understand or have the same visual impact). During the conference, there was one author who's photo made us scratch our heads until we figured out what was going on in that image.  Simple really is okay - it's your face we want to see!

7.) Synopsize! I totally made up the word, but you get the picture. Basically, if you're thinking ahead about your story's events and structure, you'll spend less time repaving over plot potholes later on down the road.  Seat-of-the-pants writing is only for people with years of time on their hands to write.

8.) Eat. Just not too much... Maintaining a steady blood sugar is important, so make sure you're feeding your brain as you work.  However, know that the write/snack/write/snack thing will come back to bite you - literally - in the behind.  Typing does not burn calories. Watch the munchies - eat smart.

9.) Take breaks. If you're not spending time with your family/friends/spouse/children/dog/cat/whathaveyou, you will become a hull of a human being and a sucky writer. It's okay to back away from the computer. Boundaries are your friend.

10.) Exercise.  I get through writer's block while walking with my husband (and these days, my dog).  The exercise does a lot for your body and your brain chemistry, so make sure to figure it into your schedule.

Remember, you can get creative with your exercise, as demonstrated here:'s my bedtime.  What tricks of the trade have you picked up?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

ACFW from the Agent's Perspective: a Q & A with Sandra Bishop

If you're ACFW-bound, I strongly suggest taking a brief break from your packing.  On the blog today is my fabulous agent, ACFW 2010 Agent of the Year Sandra Bishop.  I asked Sandra a few ACFW-pertinent questions, which she was gracious enough to answer (and answer on a short time-frame).  This is information  you won't want to miss!

Hillary: As an Agent, describe the ACFW experience.

Sandra: It's fun. I get to wear dark glasses and skulk around looking for aliens.

H: What elements of ACFW surprised/interested you during your first conference experience?

S: That the "poolside rooms" in which they'd set faculty up for meetings were next to a covered pool. Actually, the organization and appointments are very well run. The staff is amazing and incredibly accommodating of faculty. I think they genuinely appreciate us.

H: When you're meeting with writers, what are elements that grab your interest?

S: Incredible writing. For me, it's always the writing. I see a lot of good writing, but that doesn't do it for me anymore.

H: I feel the same way about chocolate...back to the meetings, though - what are some of your pet peeves when you're meeting with writers?

S: When they don't actually bring a writing sample with them but say "they told us not to!" Who are "they" to tell you what you can have in your bag of tricks. If an agent or editor wants to see your writing and you don't have it, you've missed an opportunity to make a meaningful connection - or cross someone off your list.

H: Are there any cues that make you think, "Hey, this is going to be a really good meeting"?

S: Actually, when someone knows what they want from me. Even if it's just an opinion. Of course I love meetings with calm, focused, and confident authors who know what they are writing, and why. But, I also don't mind just encouraging writers who need it or talking through ideas - if they know that's what they want from the beginning so we don't end up with 45 seconds at the end of the meeting to talk about it.

H: Share a humorous, conference-related anecdote (you know how I enjoy humorous anecdotes).

S: I laughed about it now, though I didn't at the time. ... Once a writer refused to accept my advance critique saying I hadn't edited the whole thing and pushed it back across the table saying I owed him more. I pushed it back to him reminding him I really didn't owe him anything but that we could spend the rest of the time talking about his idea if he'd like. He pushed it back across the table again, stood up, and said "you are going to take this and I'm going to go talk with the conference director to make sure I get my money's worth." I took it and dropped the floor and said "any chance you might have had to work with me just landed where this is going. Good luck with the director." I like to think he learned a valuable lesson - and got his money's worth - though I doubt it. As it turns out, the director refunded his fee for the advance critique and invited him never to return to the conference.

H: Oh my goodness! I've said it before - do not be that guy!  It never ends well.  Let's talk food.  Mealtimes are generally conference-Kosher times to pitch to both agents and editors. What are good, non-obnoxious ways to gauge an editor/agent's interest?

S: Honestly, meals are hard because it's often times difficult to hear. If you don't get a chance to pitch your idea, don't despair. If you do, speak up and have a statement ready, which answers the following questions:
Are you published; in what genre are you writing; and what's the hook of your story. If they want to hear more about it, ask when they might have a few minutes to talk, or if you can contact them later. This gives others a chance and demonstrates that you're not desperate!

H: Because desperate is bad. Any additional tips for ACFW-bound writers?

S: Have fun, take notes, be assertive but not aggressive, and remember God may have plans for you you haven't even considered.

H: Excellent advice! Thanks so much for stopping by!

You may now resume your conference packing.  See you soon!

Monday, September 12, 2011

ACFW on the Mind

This blog comes to you from the Mid-South again, though a few miles south of Memphis than before (we're staying in Southaven this go-round).  Danny had meetings and further work training to complete in the Memphis branch (though "complete" may be an optimistic term), and with ACFW coming up, we decided to connect the St. Louis trip with the Memphis trip and make it one, giant trip away from home.

Danny's busy in the office and hydraulics shop by day. I've been spending my time getting ready for ACFW.

I confess, my priorities are not as my agent would have them. I need to get together my pitch materials for my conference meetings...but let's be honest. Those (when the author chooses to focus on them) tend to come together quickly. You know what takes more time and effort?

Getting your ensemble for the ACFW Awards Banquet ready.

I've got the dress - it took two tries (the first color I ordered was back-ordered until the day *after* the banquet), but it arrived before we left and it's at an alterations shop as I type. I've got the shoes - picked them up to wear for Easter this last spring.  I've got the handbag - found it at TJ in Richland. Bought a cute little hair-clippy and bracelet yesterday. Still haven't figured out what lipstick to use, and if I'm going to get arty with my accessories and perform some last-minute tweaking, but the essentials are there.

So now that *that's* taken care of, I'm on to the task of getting the pitches ready. This involves creating a title and names for character for a story concept I've loved but hadn't spent time articulating the particulars of. Now, if you've followed this blog for any length of time, you know that I take my names very, very seriously.

For both Plain Jayne and Simply Sara, the main character names were entirely informed by the titles. This is not typically how I roll.  I research, I think about the character in my head, I write out lists, I wait for the right name to pop out and say that this is the one that fits.

Kind of like trying on shoes.

Also, I used to be pretty good at naming books.  I think that period of my life is over.

Next, I'm going to tidy up the first few chapters of my WIP (work in progress), since the second chapter isn't doing for me what I'd like it to.  Especially in an age when readers decide to purchase books depending on the strength of the sample offered on e-reader, the opening chapter and a half (or so, depending on the publisher) is even more important than ever. The days of easing the reader into a story are over. The days of being lazy about starting a plot are over. Bookselling is a competitive marketplace - edit! Tighten! Rewrite! You'll never sit back and sigh, "If only I hadn't given my book a stronger opening sequence."


In other random ACFW news:

Last year at ACFW was tough for me. I resolved then to do what I'm doing this year, which is arrive early to rest up before the conference begins.

I didn't know until a couple weeks ago that I'd be given two weeks to acclimate to the time change, but we'll still arrive at the hotel a day early to get settled and figure out the lay of the land.

Also, ladies, I highly recommend packing this product - Benefit's Eye Bright pencil. They describe it as a nap in a stick, and I would consider that to be an accurate description. I went searching for something, anything to fix my under-eye issues after our last drive back from Memphis - things had gotten so bad I avoided looking at myself in the mirror in the morning.  You can apply it under your under-eye concealer, on top of your makeup at the corners of your eyes, pretty much wherever you need to banish dark shadows. It really is magic, and I don't travel without it.

I also recommend packing plenty of cardigans as well as comfortable shoes - considering that you're moving from one part of a hotel to another part of a hotel, there's still plenty of time on your feet (especially if you're me and you're running late and you've got to seriously hike it from your room to the elevator, and the elevator takes forever and you'd totally take the stairs if you weren't on the ninth floor, and even after you've caught the elevator you make two or three stops before making a dash to the conference room on the opposite side of the building, down a long hall) *and* you never know how the a/c is going to be tuned. Layers are your friend.

Well, it's back to pitch-work for me. If you're at ACFW in a couple weeks, be sure to track me down!