Monday, February 28, 2011

Resource Round-Up!

Ever know how a word starts, but for the life of you can't spell it well enough to look it up? Try the Instant Word Search. This gem of a site starts popping words at you until it finally hits the one you're looking for.

Or are you looking for synonyms? Antonyms? Rhymes? Try The Big Huge Thesaurus. Okay, so the title is a bit redundant, it's still a fun site, particularly because it also generates blog post ideas and story/plot/loglines--a one-stop shopping site.

Of course, RhymeZone is still a popular site for finding rhymes and more including pictures and quotations.

is a terrific resource which has a list of terrific resources for mystery, romance, historical, and Christian writers.

And speaking of historicals, Our Time Lines helps the writer fill in the gaps and set the scene with a rundown of all the major events during the era in question. Easy to use, too.

But if you're just looking for some writing humor, you've got to see Inkygirl, if you haven't already. This site promises something for every writer's funny bone!
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Friday, February 25, 2011

Why Superheroes Hate Social Networking

From The Joy of Tech:

What's the moral of this comic?
* It's harder to keep a secret in a digital world.
* Even a Superman can mess up on the Internet.
* Never teach your mom about social networking.
* If you are Lex Luthor, get on Facebook!
* You have to be a superhero to figure out Facebook's privacy settings.
* Even on social networks, Batman beats Superman.
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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

How To Write Original Stories If 'There's Nothing New Under The Sun'

It’s an age-old enigma — three thousand years ago, Solomon himself wrote “there’s nothing new under the sun.” How then can modern writers keep their stories fresh when it’s all been done many, many times before? It's actually pretty easy. I’m going to combine a post by Nancy Kress about a talk given by Connie Willis to illustrate a great point about how writers of our age can find new angles on subjects and plots that have already been thoroughly mined.

One thing she said about writing especially caught my interest. The book she is currently working on is about Area 51. Connie said that every time a new book comes out on the subject she catches her breath, wondering if it will cover her territory before she can finish the novel (she is a famously slow writer). Upon reflection, however, she said she realizes that is not going to happen, and for a specific reason. Most subjects and plots have already been written about many times (certainly in SF, UFOs have!), and so when writers do them again, the trick is to combine the subject with other subjects. What is new is the combination. Connie said that her particular combination is "probably" new: UFOs, romantic comedy, and the Liberace Museum.

I don't think there can be any doubt.

But the point is intriguing. My Nebula winner "Fountain of Age" was about the quest for immortality and a single person who already has it -- a very old SF theme. But I combined it with the Romany people, a protagonist in his 90's, and romantic obsession -- possibly a combination not before attempted. As I thought about other successful stories, mine and those of other writers, I realized that they, too, often feature unusual combinations of elements. Two examples: China Mieville's THE CITY AND THE CITY combines the noir police procedural with the concept of cultural willful blindness. Mary Robinette Kowal's SHADES OF MILK AND HONEY combines Jane Austen's Regency world with delicate minor witchcraft.

Nancy finishes with the caveat that these combinations must be plausible and all good fiction depends on interesting characters, but by now, that should go without saying. The combination tactic is effective. As Kevin W. noted in the comments on Nancy’s blog, George Alec Effinger wrote an instant classic in the 80s when he mashed-up Noir and Middle Eastern culture with his Budayeen mysteries, When Gravity Fails (1987), A Fire In The Sun (1989), and Exile’s KissM (1991).

Effinger's series builds a rich picture of a place (the Budayeen, the red-light ghetto in a Middle Eastern city that remains nameless ), a time (the late 22nd century), and a context (the political map is largely composed of the fragments of earlier superpowers, while it seems only the Islamic world has any coherency). The driving forces in the Budayeen are the same as the driving forces in any such place: money, sex, drugs, and power. An added fillip: the use of "moddies," modules that plug into the brain and allow users to change personalities, and "daddies," plug-in databases that make specialized knowledge immediately available, is widespread and wide-open.
As a genre fan, my own personal favorite combination is from even earlier. When I was growing up, I found a series by Arthur H. Landis in my dad’s amazing paperback library. The novels were A World Called Camelot (1965), Camelot In Orbit (1978), and The Magick of Camelot (1981). The series was a combination of Arthurian legend, the dragons and magic of Lord of The Rings, the pragmatic adventure of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, and the classic science fiction underpinnings of Star Trek. By themselves, each of those subjects have already been done to death, however, combining these disparate subjects in this configuration led to one of my favorite SF/F adventure series of all time.

If you have a favorite novel or series that combined subjects to form something fresh and exciting, less us know in the comments.
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Monday, February 21, 2011

Exploring the Wonder of the Genre With Randolph Lalonde

AC: Randolph Lalonde, you're busily engaged in two things that warm my genre-loving heart, space opera, and serial installments online. What's your origin story? How'd you come to writing in that genre, and in that fashion?

RL: I have been writing novels since I was a young teenager and, aside from creating a role playing game in a far-flung SciFi universe, I hadn't written anything in that genre. I wanted to, but for some reason I kept writing mostly fantasy and horror. Space Opera was definitely the church in which I worshiped, but wouldn't preach in.

Shortly before 2008, I started thinking about all the ideas I had for a SciFi novel and narrowed it down to the story of one character. My new year's resolution for 2008 was to write every day that year, and I started work on the first novella in the First Light Chronicles / Spinward Fringe series: Freeground. I've been crazy about writing the Spinward Fringe series since, and anything else I was working on had to be back-benched until the first leg of that series was complete.

AC: So how's the genre writing gig going? ;) (For those following along at home, our own K.M. Weiland and Randy were both part of a vigorous discussion about whether genre killed the fiction star. And as an aside, I know for a fact that Katie believes a good story is a good story, no matter the genre.

RL: I'm happy in the Space Opera genre, to be honest. The readers are fantastic, and I believe the Space Opera genre readership in general is growing. The Internet has always been where SciFi (especially Space Opera), fans thrive and have a voice. I credit them as much as entertainers with drawing as much attention to their beloved genre as possible.

Do I still think genre is limiting? Yes. At the same time, I benefit from being slotted in the Space Opera genre because it helps the people who are most likely to enjoy my brand of entertainment find my work quickly.

AC: In the comments at John Scalzi's Sci-Fi post at AMC's post about Science Fiction and Science Fantasy, Alex Hays wrote something interesting. He said he considers "hard" SF to be a genre and "soft" SF to be a setting. Alex goes on to suggest that Star Wars falls into the latter camp. As a fellow Space Opera aficionado, what do you think about that definition?

RL: I can agree that Hard SF and Soft SF could be considered separate genres, but I'd rather see that as a distinction readers make for themselves. The last thing publishers and authors should do is sub-divide the SciFi genre any more than it has been.

My focus is on characters and story primarily, that's how readers connect to my fiction and what ultimately entertains them. While I do plenty of research on everything from the size of a ship and her crew to advancements in nanotechnology, I'm not writing a story about exploring new gadgets. I do the research because I enjoy writing about characters in a dangerous galaxy, and making that setting believable requires it. The sub-sub-sub-genre labeling of Hard or Soft SF something I find too limiting.

AC: You created a book trailer for Spinward Fringe. Has that been a success? As a result of your experience, would you recommend online trailers for fiction?

RL: I managed to get the rights to the footage and music for that trailer for about $75.00, and I was looking to do a small project on a NLE (Non-Linear Editing) software package I'd gotten for free. Since I have an interest in film, editing, special effects and I knew where to get the content I needed, it was a perfect weekend project.

If you're not interested in any aspect of making a trailer, then I don't recommend doing one. Promotionally, it hasn't been terribly useful, though current readers really seem to enjoy it, so I'm glad it's there for them. An author's promotional efforts are better spent connecting with readers on common ground.

If you really want to put a trailer together I have a couple pointers that may help. Make sure you get the rights to whatever footage you use so there are no legal issues later. Do as much of it as you can yourself so you're only investing your time and there's no one to pay. Do it because you enjoy the product, not because you expect massive sales as a result. Oh, and try not to spend money.

AC: In his memoir and book on the art and craft of writing, On Writing, Stephen King talks about how he carves time out of every working day to read. What does your writing day look like? Morning person, night owl? And do you make time for non-writing activity to help your writing activity (and if so, what)?

RL: I normally write in the morning while I'm having my morning coffee. Breakfast comes after my first thousand words. I try to read a couple books a week. Some weeks I finish one, while there are weeks where I go through more than five. These days I've been reading as much non-fiction as fiction, but historically I read more fiction.

After I finish writing, normally sometime in the late morning or early afternoon, I attend to business. With an online Spinward Fringe store opening in the next month or two, a series of existing eBooks to curate, and other things I can't talk about right now ramping up, I keep pretty busy.

In my spare time I try to learn new things. Recently I've been studying film making El Mariachi style* (see the Robert Rodriguez book, Rebel Without A Crew), and I'm learning to play guitar. So far my proficiency at strumming 'E' is improving at an alarming rate.

AC: In August of 2009, you wrote that you'd turned down a more traditional publisher's offer to self publish your work. How has your career fared since then? Considering the changing landscape of traditional publishing vs. self publishing, do you still think that was a good idea? Would you recommend your experience for other authors?

RL: I'm happier than ever with my decision to turn down that offer. I won't go into details, but my instincts told me I was being asked to sell my cow for a handful of magic beans.

On the other hand, I don't have any publishing credits and access to professional editors comes at a cost. To self publish well you have to have resources of your own or be willing to develop them yourself.

The Spinward Fringe series has been doing better and better since I refused to sign on the dotted line.

I still wouldn't recommend self-publishing for everyone though. I spend a lot of time doing jobs a publisher would, and I'm going to be working with an editor to add polish to the series, which is an expense I'll have to shoulder myself. I don't mind, I've always been a DIY Guy. Readers also get to read the first 165,000 word novel for free, so if it's not their cup of tea for any reason, they haven't spent a dime. This first-one-free policy makes most publishers twitch uncontrollably, but I have the freedom to make that happen. I believe every self-published author should do the same. If we're bypassing the agent, publisher, and possibly editor, it's only fair that we give our readers the first taste free.

I still have my first rejection letter, received from Asimov's at age thirteen. There may still be reams of paper with my byline on top in a slush pile somewhere, I chased the dream of having a publishing credit for a while like everyone else. If you truly dream of being with a major publishing house, then I wish you the best of luck. Don't expect to do it for a living taking that route, however, because I know for a near fact that I would not be earning a real living writing SciFi if I were with a trad pub.

Would I sell something outside of the Spinward Fringe series to a publisher? Yes, because I'm still like most authors — a sucker for an easy writing credit. Just kidding**.

AC: You successfully made the leap to fulltime author. What's your top tip on how you accomplished that leap?

RL: Keep writing. No matter how bad you think your work is, or how much positive attention one of your stories draws, keep at it. Don't falter from failure for long, and never bask in the glow of good reviews for more than you should. The key is the craft. The only truly failed writer is one who stops writing and never returns to their instrument, whether it be a keyboard or pen.

AC: Tim O'Reilly said that "obscurity is a greater threat to authors than piracy." How has your experiment gone with regard to giving your works away to generate interest / sales?

RL: While I believe that giving something away for free does make something seem less valuable at first blush, it's still the best way to get your work onto someone's eBook reader. As a relatively unknown self-published author, I have to work harder to get attention, and a freebie that I put real work and money into has become the best way.

I don't like talking figures, but questions about the success of offering your first book for free have been coming my way more and more often. Readers want to test drive a new author at little or no expense, which is understandable. Writers are skeptical about offering something they put talent, imagination and time into which is also understandable. An example is needed to validate the 'first one's free' or 'loss leader' model, I think. Here it is.

During the month of December, 2010 Spinward Fringe Broadcast 0: Origins sold 583 copies at $0.99 on The follow up book - Spinward Fringe Broadcasts 1 and 2: Resurrection and Awakening sold 456 copies at $2.99. People seemed to do a little homework before buying Origins for ninety-nine cents and were rewarded with something that, in many cases, seemed to meet their expectations. This is proven because they most of them bought the next, regularly priced, volume in the series.

Between February 1 to February 7, 2011 Spinward Fringe Broadcast 0: Origins was downloaded 8,228 times for free at The follow up book, Spinward Fringe Broadcasts 1 and 2: Resurrection and Awakening sold 597 copies at $2.99. While it's clear that many (possibly thousands) of readers downloaded Origins only because it was free, it's also clear that greater exposure resulted in higher interest in the follow up volume.

Just in case you missed it, I'm comparing the sales of one entire month with the sales in one week. Offering the first one free when your work is not vetted by the publishing establishment isn't only fair to the reader, but it's beneficial to the writer as well.

AC: What one writing habit has helped you progress as an author the fastest? What one habit has hindered you the most?

RL: The good habit I've embraced is actually something I thought would be awful to admit to for a long time. I allow my ego to inflate to epic proportions when I'm writing. I'm God at the keys pushing that blinking cursor along as fast as I can and I can do no wrong. When the laptop lid closes or I edit my work I stick a pin in it and come back down to earth. That sort of inflation is great for letting my imagination run wild, making interesting dialog choices and setting a moody scene. The ego deflation is essential because if I walked around with an ego that big all the time I'd be an insufferable prick.

The most hindering habit is getting sucked into the limitless time-sink of the Internet. Tabbing out of my word processor for a moment of fact-checking or doing quick research verification can sometimes turn into checking my Email, Twitter account, Facebook reviews or my Google report. I've even been known to get distracted by blogs from time to time (*cough* AuthorCulture *cough*).

AC: Can you talk about what's next in the pipeline for you?

RL: I'm working on finishing Spinward Fringe Broadcast 7: Framework. It's the most important book in the series since it began. While that's going on I'm setting up a small online store and piecing together a studio so I can do more on my own. Later this year I'll be working on another book set in the Spinward Fringe universe, a full-length horror novel based on the Dark Arts short serial and I'll be finishing a one-shot fantasy novel. There are other things going on, but it's too early to bring them up.

AC: Do you have any last words for our loyal readers?

RL: Thank you for having me, I've been reading AuthorCulture for a while and enjoy the site. It's an honor to appear. Oh, and if you enjoy a little Space Opera, take a moment to download my freebie from your vendor of choice.

You can find links to the freebie and all kinds of other stuff at

* El Mariachi style film making is one way of saying you're making a movie with as low a budget as you can while presenting the most professional looking results possible. The term comes from Robert Rodriguez, who made his first full-length feature, El Mariachi, for $7,000 and sold it to a Hollywood studio.

** I'm not kidding. If you want to publish a non-Spinward Fringe book, I have a few novels I can sell you in trade for a few magic beans.
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Friday, February 18, 2011

Fabulously Fun Friday: The Journal of Universal Rejection

Feeling bad about a recent rejection of your manuscript? Try looking at the cup through the same half-full goggles of the Journal of Universal Rejection.

About the Journal
The founding principle of the Journal of Universal Rejection (JofUR) is rejection. Universal rejection. That is to say, all submissions, regardless of quality, will be rejected. Despite that apparent drawback, here are a number of reasons you may choose to submit to the JofUR:

  • You can send your manuscript here without suffering waves of anxiety regarding the eventual fate of your submission. You know with 100% certainty that it will not be accepted for publication.

  • There are no page-fees.

  • You may claim to have submitted to the most prestigious journal (judged by acceptance rate).

  • The JofUR is one-of-a-kind. Merely submitting work to it may be considered a badge of honor.

  • You retain complete rights to your work, and are free to resubmit to other journals even before our review process is complete.

  • Decisions are often (though not always) rendered within hours of submission.

  • Read more

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    Wednesday, February 16, 2011

    Lessons From the Pros: Harness the Power of the Simile

    One of the most evocative, memorable, and poetic writing techniques is the simile—and its cousin the metaphor. A simile describes something by comparing it to something else: The sky was blue, like a robin’s egg. A metaphor describes something by saying it is something else: The sky was the blue of a robin’s egg. With practice, we can learn to wield these powerful figures of speech with precision and originality, and the result is unforgettably vivid prose.

    Master wordsmith William Faulkner did this to admirable effect in his early novel Flags in the Dust (also published in a slightly abridged version under the title Sartoris). For example, in describing a faded Southern society belle, Faulkner employs two powerful similes. He writes that the woman’s “flesh draped loosely from her cheek-bones like rich, slightly soiled velvet; her eyes were like the eyes of an old turkey, mucous and predatory and unwinking.” His choice of similes not only presents a vibrate image for the reader’s mind’s eye, but he also makes his descriptions do double duty by using them to give us a sense of the woman herself.

    If you’ll permit me a simile of my own: Similes are like Egyptian chocolate. Their rich, deep sweetness lingers in our memories. Well-placed they work marvels. But be wary of overusing them. Packing your every description with a simile, or a metaphor, only overwhelms the general effect. Throw out all but the most powerful comparisons. Polish those that remain and watch them light up your writing.
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    Monday, February 14, 2011

    Writing Tips ~ What is Point of View (POV)?

    One of the questions often asked of me by new writers is, "What exactly is POV?"

    POV is the acronym for Point of View and with relation to writing this refers to the person whose perspective the author is writing from.

    It used to be fairly common to write from an omniscient POV, however in recent years editors have begun to frown on the use of it and you will often hear the omniscient style referred to as "head-hopping." Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of great writers who write omnisciently. (Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express is an example.)

    Puristic point of view, however, allows your readers to more intimately relate to your characters. It allows you as the author to show your readers what your characters are thinking and feeling, as well as what they are doing. It could be argued that omniscient POV does this too, but the advantage that puristic POV gives is that it allows you to do this in a way that your reader can easily follow. When reading omniscient it always takes a moment for the reader to realize they are seeing the scene through a different character's eyes and then begin to make a connection with that character. Puristic POV eliminates that delay.

    There are two things to remember when trying to write a good puristic POV story.

    For puristic POV to work, the author can only state things that can be KNOWN by the character whose perspective they are in. So for example, if Suzy is your POV character and she has her back to John, another character, you cannot tell us, "John bent and unlaced his shoes," because Suzy can't SEE that happening. You can however write something like, "John's knees popped as he squatted down.  A moment later the soft thud of his shoes hitting the floor and the squeak of the bedsprings told her he'd called it a night." All those sounds are things she could hear and then infer his actions from, so that still keeps us in her POV.

    Puristic POV can have more than one POV character, however there should be a hard break between sections written from different points of view. So, if we keep with our above example, and after John climbs into bed we want to let the reader know what John is thinking, we could do something like this:

    "John's knees popped as he squatted down.  A moment later the soft thud of his shoes hitting the floor and the squeak of the bedsprings told her he'd called it a night.


    John curled his arm under his head and suppressed a groan at the thought of the alarm going off at 5am. He hoped Suzy would be quiet when she crawled in. Then again, Gabriel's trumpet itself probably wouldn't be able to wake him tonight."

    The reader immediately knows they are in John's POV because they are being told things that Suzy could not know. The hard break makes this transition easy and smooth.

    I know I've only touched on POV here, so do you have any questions for me? I'll be happy to try and help you understand anything that isn't quite gelling yet!
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    Friday, February 11, 2011

    Fabulously Fun Friday ~ Love in the Time of Amazon

    After watching this video my husband said, "If it's any consolation, I haven't been buying your book on Amazon." :D

    I thought this was very cute and creative. How many of you are working on book trailers for your books? What unique things have you done with your trailers? Feel free to post a link in the comments!

    Happy Friday, Everyone!
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    Wednesday, February 9, 2011

    Review of Booklife by Jeff VanderMeer

    In Booklife, fantasy author and multitasker extraordinaire Jeff VanderMeer offers readers a special kind of book: a hard-hitting, no-nonsense guide to establishing, maintaining, and protecting a workable writing lifestyle, paired with a mega-dose of commiserative encouragement in the form of personal anecdotes, essays, and shared blueprints. VanderMeer has been around the publishing industry, in its many manifestations, long enough to be brimming with useful advice for authors climbing the ranks behind him. As a man who obviously knows how to think outside the box, he offers ideas that spur his readers to abandon the status quo in favor of a more daring, more rewarding adventure.

    VanderMeer’s style of communication can only be described as generous. No arrogance, smugness, or cynicism to be navigated here. He comes across as a big brother, reaching down to help his less experienced siblings up a step on the ladder. In many ways, his reserved enthusiasm is worth the price of admission by itself. But VanderMeer offers much in the way of practicality as well, namely an incredibly thorough exploration of the “public booklife.” His suggestions span the gamut from formulating realistic goals and analyzing trends to establishing publicity platforms and navigating public relations.

    He offers an intuitive and adamant model, in which he demands separation between public and private booklives, insisting that no author can work at full speed without separating the two very different sides of the writing coin. In stressing the need to routinely readjust the two booklives in a quest for balance, he also offers a wonderful set of chapters on building the private booklife to allow optimum creativity and productivity. He rounds off the book with a treasure trove of appendices, including his outline of “How to Write a Novel in Two Months.”
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    Monday, February 7, 2011

    Book Signing Etiquette

    Like it or not, book signings are still a valid marketing technique for authors. How easy it would be if we could all hide behind our screens and do all our promotions in our fuzzy slippers and pjs. Sometimes, though, we need to get out there and meet the readers face to face. I'm one of the ones who'll be getting "out there" soon, so I was glad to find this post in AuthorNation by Alicia Harrell.

    On November 13, 2010, I had a book signing at a Hastings store. This was my first only-me-featured-as-an-author book signing. I was extremely grateful for the many who attended. This event went well; could not have asked for better.

    Afterwards, I voluntarily autographed the remainder of my book's copies. The book manager was very pleased. She immediately placed "autographed copy" stickers on each cover, then invited me for bi-weekly or monthly visits to check on Just Alex's sales. She further said, "When you get your next book published, let us know. We will then arrange another book signing." This Hastings has a policy of one book signing per release of book during the year it is published. They feel their policy is the fairest to all authors. I respect this and was delighted the bookstore wanted me for another.

    I waited two weeks and then visited Hastings to see how Just Alex looked on the bookshelf. For me this was very exciting. I wanted to see which Science Fiction books Just Alex would be next to on the shelf. Well, as luck would have it, my book was not on the Science Fiction book shelf as expected. Instead the business savvy book manager had placed Just Alex where everyone walked past for all to notice the "autographed" copies. The book manager had professionally arranged my book's copies into a display in order to generate sales. This was a delightful surprise!

    It pays to autograph all copies left at a bookstore after a signing. People view autographed copies as collectibles. Customers are more inclined to purchase autographed copies. This benefits the bookstore and author. Glad I learned this lesson during my first year as an author.

    Another huge benefit is the ability to refer friends, neighbors, and those encountered publicly to the bookstore that has the autographed copies. I have referred several to the Hastings store in for their "autographed" copy. I have received positive feedback from some of these happy new owners of Just Alex who visited this Hastings solely for their autographed copy.

    Support your local bookstores. They support local authors.
    (originally posted in AuthorNation, December 10, 2010).

    What Alicia wrote makes sense--like reciprocal back-scratching. Local bookstore owners are willing to help authors who aren't just go-getters, but who also go the extra mile.

    Alicia Rose resides in Southern Oklahoma. She is the author of the Science Fiction novel Just Alex published by Infinity Publishing. Alicia has written numerous articles that explore a variety of topics; published by Associated Content,, HubPages and websites. Her blogs are located on AuthorNation and Wordpress.

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    Friday, February 4, 2011


    I found it! The site with the answer to the dos and don'ts of pluralization. I discovered the VIPs who are in the know--whether they have MAs or PhDs, whether they were born in the 1980s or 1990s. These are the ones who undoubtedly got As and Bs all through high school and beyond.

    Right now, you're wondering, "What is she talking about?" If you're an astute writer, you're thinking, "The plurals in that paragraph can't be right."

    If you're a writer who uses The Chicago Manual of Style or The Christian Writer's Manual of Style, you already know the answer to the burning question: ?

    If you want to be in the know too, follow the link . . .
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    Wednesday, February 2, 2011

    Networking at Conferences

    The first time I saw author James Scott Bell, I vaguely recognized him. When finally it dawned on me who he was, I thought, He's so much taller than I imagined! Then I had opportunity to speak to him. I explained that I'd been in contact with him to use a couple of exerpts from one of his books, that I taught from his Writer's Digest great, Plot & Structure, and that I'd conversed with him on Twitter--because, after all, surely he'd remember me from Twitter, right? I told him that he looked so much taller than his picture. His response? "Let's hope so. Everyone should look taller than their Twitter pictures."

    Oy vey.

    Ending our meeting with a foot dangling from between my teeth pales to the fact that I met one of the superstars of suspense writing. As a matter of fact, I met quite a few superstars that weekend—chewing on my toes only that once. Meeting these people is one of the benefits of belonging to a major organization for writers.

    We authors are a peculiar bunch. We live in our heads and listen to our characters talk with one another. We agonize over settings and phrases and wordcount. We view the world and wonder how we can fit it all into our books. Nonwriters don't understand us. They don't know that staring out the window is working, as is talking to ourselves, scrambling for pen and paper at three a.m., acting out scenes—and playing all involved parts.

    The only place we're likely to be understood is a writers' conference. At a major conference, as long as the characters in our heads don't talk to the characters in someone else's head, we're safe; we're among friends, we're with people who get it and know the struggles we face.

    In the world of writing, nothing compares to a conference for networking. Agents, editors, publicists, marketing experts hobnob with authors of all levels, beginners to mega-pubbed experts. Jim wasn't the only star twinkling in Indiana the weekend of the conference I attended. Almost every major name of my industry was there, offering words of wisdom, encouragement, a few laughs.

    Making a good impression at these meetings is vital. Meet the big players on the field, be charming and attentive, collect their business cards, and keep in touch. Whether you're ready for their services at the moment or not, you've added a contact to your network. Treat the unknown as well as you do the well-known: you never know whether they can give you a hand up or if they'll be one of your biggest fans.

    Does this sound mercenary? To an extent, maybe it is. People network for the sole purpose of having contacts who can help them along. Having this ulterior motive is salved if you take the extra step of actually appreciating the people you've added to your ladder, and if you're willing to help them along as well.

    I met an author who was published by a small house, but her book was receiving serious endorsements. She was seeking an experienced agent who could put her with a larger publisher. This woman took the time to share with me some of her effective marketing tips, which will be vital when my book comes out next month. Right now, I have nothing more to offer her than a bit of free advertisement—which I'll gladly do. But along with this exchange of back-scratching, I gained a friend.

    Cyberspace is wonderful, it can take you places where you'd otherwise have no access. But nothing beats the face-to-face meetings, meals shared, connections made which come only from belonging to major writers organizations and attending their conferences.

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