What I Wish I Knew About Writing Conferences

Back in 2016, I made a shift. I decided if I was ever going to become a writer, I needed stop buying “how to” writing books, fancy pens, and themed journals and actually write. I know. Revolutionary idea.

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Don’t get me wrong, “writing swag” is great, but at the end of the day, the supplies gave me the illusion of productivity. I needed to write to become a writer.

Now in 2018, with one completed novel under my belt and a net of query letters out to a sea of agents, I decided writing wasn’t enough. I needed to learn more about the craft of writing that books couldn’t teach me.

That’s where the Dallas Fort Worth Writer’s Conference came in.

Now, I thought I was pretty prepared for my first conference. I picked out what classes I wanted to go to, signed up for special discussions, and headed out at 5:30 in the morning to be there by the time the doors opened. But here’s what I wish I knew, that I didn’t see anywhere online.

Writing conferences are less about the classes and more about the connections.

Maybe this isn’t true for all people, but it was extremely true in my case. While the classes were amazing, I realized I was woefully unprepared for the amount of networking I was going to be doing.

How do you make the most out of your networking and socializing experience? 

 Get a hotel near the conference center. Mine was 30 minutes away, to save money, and I missed out on so many fun get togethers.

If someone’s planning to do a dinner, go eat with a group.

If you find one group, don’t be afraid to go and hang out with other people, but know you might feel left out if your first group you hit it off with goes and does something else.

Order business cards and keep in touch with people after the conference is over. I’ll talk more about this in my “making friends” portion of this conference series I’m doing, but definitely do this.

Reach out to people before the conference. I met some wonderful writers online through facebook and online contests so when I got there, I already knew who to touch base with. In fact, if I hadn’t had so much fun talking to D.L. Hammons I probably would’ve been lost for the first hour.

And lastly, if you can pitch to agents or editors, DO. I was only going to use my free agent pitch but decided to buy two, and I learned more in those 20 minutes about the pitching/agent process than I did reading any book. Both people I pitched to eased me into the situation and asked me to email them my work. Come to find out, one of them was only accepting work through that conference, so trying to pitch to her online would’ve been impossible (or at the very least rude).

 

These are just a few things I wish I knew about the whole networking deal. I’ll go over what I learned about classes, making friends and the downsides to conferences (there are some, albeit small ones) in other up coming posts, so keep an eye out.

 

Is there something you want to know about writing conferences? This was my first one, so I’m not all knowing but I can definitely give you tips if you’re a newbie! Comment below and let me know.

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Book Review #6 – The Voice of the Night

After realizing I’ve been buying way more books than I’ve been reading, I decided to start doing reviews for older books on my shelf to encourage me to clear some space. I wanted to start with something easy to get through that would still be enjoyable, and since I like Dean Koontz for the most part, I started with The Voice of the Night.

Oh boy. This book. Let me tell you. This freaking book.

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I know this was one of Koontz’s earlier works, but he’s always been a little hit and miss with me. This one was a big miss. In fact, have you ever read an author and thought, wow, they are trying REALLY hard to be like another author? Well that was The Voice of the Night for me.

What happened. . . .

Colin is a shy kid who befriends another boy name Roy. Roy happens to be a sociopath who encourages a darker side in Colin. We learn about Colin’s messed up home life, Roy’s obsession with death, and a murder suicide that happened in the town they live in. A girl named Heather gets involved, Roy tries to kill Colin, and Colin and Heather finally take Roy out by luring him to the murder suicide house. Colin has the chance to kill Roy, but decides to show mercy, and winds up calling the cops instead.

All pretty formulaic for Koontz, but that wasn’t what bothered me the most about this book. I can handle an author who writes by a formula, and sometimes you need something like that just to tune out the world for a while. The problem was the psychological horror.

Now, I’m all for psychological horror. In fact it’s one of my favorite types of horror, right after science fiction horror, but the way he tried using it in this book just left me bored. I found myself skipping the chunks of conversations, tuning out, and I even put it down with no intention of picking it back up again.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if I liked the characters, but I didn’t. Colin was one dimensional, and Roy talks about raping women, torturing animals, and killing other kids. Even when you find out why he is the way he is, at that point, I just didn’t care. It felt lazy, like I was reading the script to a thrown out idea of a Criminal Minds episode.

The worse part is, it was like he was trying to mimic Stephen King. I know this is some people’s problem with some of Koontz’s work, but this time it really showed. It was lazy story telling, and at the end of the day, he’s told better stories than this one.

If, by some off chance, you’ve never read anything by him, don’t start with this book.

As for the rating, I wouldn’t even check  it out from the library.

 

Have you read The Voice of the Night? What were your thoughts? Disagree with my review? Comment below and let me know!

 

You Can Never Go Home

Once a year, from the age of five to seventeen, I escaped the Texas heat and traveled to a magical place. The trees were taller, the air was a sweet mix of cool rain and wet soil, and every night was lit with fireflies.

This magical place was Michigan.

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I know. Not exactly what most people would consider to be a gateway to another world, but as a child, there was magic across the Wolverine State. I used to think there were mermaids in The Great Lakes, fairies in the never ending forests, and when we went up to my grandmother’s cabin, the loons were singing to me and no one else. I loved, and still love, Texas, but there was something about Michigan that made me feel like I was home.

And then I went back as an adult.

As I rode from the airport to my grandmother’s house, I waited for that magical feeling. Even into my late teens, I felt it the second I was on Midwestern soil, but the more I looked around this time, the more I felt like I was seeing through the glamour. The sidewalks were cracked, the roads covered with litter, and worse of all my grandmother’s smiling face, a face that never seemed to age, was worn.

I thought maybe the dread would go away the longer I was there, but it didn’t. The places of my childhood were closed, or replaced with something new. The cabin now could only be visited once a year, and they had gone earlier without me. The magic was gone.

It was like someone ripped away a blanket I had been hiding under. I realized that the feeling of home I longed for in my adulthood was gone, and in that moment, I saw things for how they really were. The map of my childhood had been thrown away, replaced with the reality that those roads had changed and now I was lost.

I guess everyone goes through this in their late twenties. You begin to realize that the way you saw things when you were younger, while maybe not a lie, was a beautiful retelling of the truth. You become more aware of the family politics, of why people are the way they are, and you realize your heroes and idols are just as flawed as you are.

Maybe it’s just me? Maybe I was a child who saw things that weren’t there, and now I’m finally having to face reality? But one thing I know is that sometimes you can never go home. You have to build it elsewhere, and hopefully the foundations are stronger. Your walls need to be made out of stone instead of gingerbread, and the next time someone or something tries to knock it down, they’ll stand firm.

Or maybe that’s all life really is? One knocking down after another, and learning how to grow from it? Home is, after all, just a construct we build to make ourselves feel safe. Once that’s gone, and the net is pulled away, maybe that’s when we can really start living?

5 Horror Shorts for You

The other night, I fell down the dark, black hole that is Youtube short films, and found some great horror flicks. Some are unsettling, some are just horror-comedy, and some are just plain scary. Here are the five I enjoyed most, and wanted to share with others.

Enjoy!

Viewer Discretion is advised.

Continue reading 5 Horror Shorts for You

Write Fight Club Reflections

When I first started writing, I wasn’t scared to submit to contests more than I was to submit to agents.

Agents are less intimidating to me. While people consider them the gateway to getting published, I always saw agents as people who are looking to create a business partnership. Submitting to contests, however, was someone actively judging my work. And not just judging. In my imagination, the organizers were gods, scrutinizing every word, looking down on my poor unfortunate writing and laughing as they sang a song about how stupid I was to even consider submitting.

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Then I found Write Club, and my thoughts on the subject changed.

What is Write Club?

As a quick explanation, Write Club was started by D.L. Hammons, loosely based off the movie Fight Club. You anonymously submit a 500 word story with a pen name into a slush pile. From the slush pile, it gets narrowed down to 30 writers, and then other people online vote for their favorites in 15 bouts. Over time it’s narrowed down to finalists, and the winner’s announced at the DFW Writer’s Conference.

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This is a very bare bones definition of Write Club, and if you want a better idea of it, check out the link above.

Why did this contest change my mind about submitting to contests?

The idea that no one would be able to associate my writing to me took some of the stress out of it. I always saw contests as being judged as a good or bad writer. Instead it turned into “this work isn’t as enjoyable to me”. If someone didn’t like my work I didn’t think it would reflect on my abilities, it was just a matter of taste.

Then when I saw the entries, I realized it really WAS a matter of taste. I would read a piece and think, “This person is clearly the winner!” but then I’d see other people voting for the other person. I was baffled at what they saw in the other piece, but that was just the nature of the game.

And that’s when I realized that ALL forms of submissions were a matter of taste. There are some books I can’t stand that get published and hit top of the sales charts, and there are some books I love that never get noticed.

Write Club cured me of my submitting to contests fear, and I have to admit, I’m already editing my piece for next year’s contest.

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Host, D.L. Hammons, with a few participants /raffle winners at the 2018 DFW Writer’s Conference. (From Left to Right, with Twitter screen name) Mike Hilton (@5hourninja), Wanda Woodworth (@wandawoof), D.L. Hammons (@DL_H), Dannie Olguin (@DannieMOlguin), and myself (@aemcauley)

Would you like to join in Write Club?

Submissions are open March 12th until April 1st or just check out DL Hammons’ page and follow his blog.

Writing Conference Reflection Month – July Schedule

It’s been three days since I went to the Dallas-Fort Worth Writing Conference, and the more time that passes, the more I look back and go “Wow, did I really just spend 48 hours surrounded by other writers?”. It went by way too fast.

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To make up for missing the time I spent with my fellow writers, I decided to turn July into a “Writing Conference Reflection” month. Since this was my first conference, I’m going to talk about what I learned, what I wish I knew, and what I’ll be doing differently for my next conference.

I’ll be making posts every Monday, but will also be adding up one on Friday for suggested topics, if I find the time.

 

Here are some things I’ll be posting about. If you have anything you’d like me to talk about, feel free to ask me to add it!

  • Talking to Agents
  • Making New Friends (suggested by JoAnne Turner)
  • Your First Pitch
  • What Classes Should You Take
  • Importance of Self Care

 

Look for these topics and more this July!

Know How to Market Your Novel

In 1992, Batman Returns hit theaters to an audience that had, to some extent, no idea what they were in for. This in part was due to the marketing put out at the time, both in content, and the lack there of.

The limited marketing till the last minute, decided by Robert G. Friedman, Warner’s president of worldwide theatrical advertising and publicity at the time*, was meant to build hype. Instead of promoting the movie’s plot, they sold merchandise in the form of toys, t-shirts, and Coke cans. This youth based marketing lead parents to believe that this would be a movie for children.

Then it hit theaters.

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They seemed to have a bit of a miscommunication as far as just how dark this movie was going to be.

The cheerful toys put out by McDonald’s were a far cry from Tim Burton’s version of the Dark Knight, and many believe this caused him to lose his credibility for the next Batman film.

In many ways, because of the poor marketing done by higher ups and misleading the audience, Burton fell from grace in the eyes of the movie goers for a short time, and we wound up with Batman Forever and *shudder* Batman & Robin, both directed by Joel Schumacher.

So what does this have to do with your book?

Too many times, especially with independent and self published authors, bad marketing is done in one of two ways. Spamming social media to the point where followers lose interest, and/or lying to the audience.

Now, of course, this goes without saying that this isn’t what ALL independent authors do, this is just what I notice as a trend in those who don’t know how to marketing works.

Lying to your audience, in my opinion, is the worse of the two. While spamming is annoying, deceiving your audience for the sake of hype discredits you as a writer. If you say your book is a fun fantasy, with promotional products featuring flowers and singing birds, when really it’s a dark story filled with adult themes, the next time someone sees your name, they’re less likely to trust your book.

In Burton’s case, he didn’t have a say in marketing, as he was just the director, but he still suffered for the choices made by higher ups. This is another lesson you can take away from the Batman Returns debacle.

If you hire someone to do the marketing for you, know what they’re putting out.

Burton didn’t have a hand in how his movie was presented to the world, as he answered to Warner Brothers, but you, as an independent author, do. If you hire someone to create your cover, make a video, or do any promotional items for you, you have the right to say the product doesn’t convey the tone of your novel.

This is extremely important. The ability to chose how and what in a novel is put out to the world is why many people are leaning more toward independent publishing vs traditional. If you don’t exercise your right to veto ideas presented by people working for you, you can wind up in the Burton boat.

You should always be polite when working with others, but remember, you need to stand up for your work. Also know that you get what you pay for. Paying someone to design your cover for only $10 is great, however remember that they might not have the best quality product.

All in all, marketing is extremely important. It’s the business side to writing that some independent authors overlook all together, but this is crucial to your sales. Learn from Batman Returns and create a marketing campaign that’s an honest representation of your novel.

Have any marketing tips that work for you? Disagree with anything I said here? Comment below and let me know.

Best Creative Advice I’ve Ever Received

At the time I’m writing this, it’s almost one in the morning and I can’t sleep.

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I can hear the sound of the AC unit on the outside of my office wall and the mumbling of my husband’s audio book he fell asleep listening to. There’s a faint smell of pencil shavings and dusty feathers, and even though I’m wrapped in a blanket to fight the chill, my toes are still frozen.

I’ve been sitting like this for close to an hour now, sketching while listening to the white noise of my house, unable to get the voice of an old coworker out of my head as I erase the same part of a drawing I’ve already done fifteen times.

“Don’t be scared to erase your mistakes. If you erase it and try again, you’re learning how to get it right. Even if it looks worse the second time, you at least tried something new, and found out it didn’t work.”

The man who told me this was one of the most talented artists I’ve ever met. I haven’t seen him in years, but I think about this advice all the time, and not just for drawing but for life in general.

So many times we go through out our day to day, struggling to get things right. We try to write the perfect book, draw the perfect picture, or just try to be someone we’re not for the world around us. We feel kicked and beaten, and often times having to try something again can feel like you’re failing, when this isn’t the case at all.

Every time you stand back up and submit that manuscript, or keep creating, you’re making yourself stronger. You’re learning something. Even if it’s wrong, you’re still becoming better for it.

So, keep on trying. Even if you mess it up over and over again, you’re learning something each time you do. I hope it helps you with whatever you have going on in your life as much as this advice has helped me.

 

What was the best advice you’ve ever been given, either about creating or just about life in general?

Favorite Tropes #2: Badass and Child

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about some of my favorite tropes. Sure, people might not like them, but try as I may, I love some common archetypes in literature and film. That being said, there are far and few that can really beat one of my all time favorites, Bad Ass with a Baby.

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For those of you who aren’t familiar with this character duo, let me quote TVtropes.com:

“The Badass and Child Duo in its purest form, occurs when a (usually) male badass takes it upon himself, out of goodness, interest, or circumstances beyond his control, to protect an orphaned, unrelated young (usually) girl.”

Over the years, this trope is one of the ones I notice popping up in my own writing. Even if my protagonist isn’t a “badass” in a physical sense, I find many of my characters who are strong in their field have a younger, inexperienced character they have to protect.

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Why do I like this trope so much?

While this can be characters from the same family, generally this is the perfect example of characters finding a family or someone to care for, without having to be related. There’s something about a love between two people that isn’t romantic or familial that I find beautiful. Often times there’s a sense of obligation to love family or significant others in books and movies, regardless of how they act toward the protagonist. But the bond between true friends, or between two people who have to trust each other completely feels more real to me.

The Badass, usually someone who has given up on finding anything good in the world, needs to have a “child” in their life to teach them there’s something worth living for, and the child also learns how to be strong from their care taker. One is learning strength while the other is learning something gentler, and both walk away better off (when both parties survive that is).

Often times, this relationship can evolve into mentor/student, which I still enjoy either way.

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Favorite Examples in ….

Books

A Song of Ice and Fire – Sandor + Arya

Mercy Thompson series – Mercy + Jesse (eventually becomes family, but still sweet)

Inkheart – Dustfinger + Meggie

 

Movies & Television

(I’m not counting The Professional in this, even though tvtropes does, simply because of the romantic undertones that I don’t feel like fits the trope. Great movie, just not one I would consider in this category.) 

Logan – Logan + Laura

Terminator 2 – T800 + John Connor

Aliens – Ripley + Newt

The Walking Dead – Daryl + Sophie // (later Judith)

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood – Scar + Mai

 

What’s your favorite example of this trope? Do you find it popping up in your writing? Let me know below!

Write Club Update

Well submissions are closed.

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I only got one in, mostly due to my own poor time management around the holidays, but I’m a little hopeful. Not entirely optimistic, but hopeful. Of course I’m still glad I did this. It’s already encouraged me to start submitting my writing to smaller contests, and I’ve gotten back into actively writing, as opposed to passively jotting down a few lines every day.

I can’t say that this year had a good start for me, creative wise. If I’m being more accurate, it really hasn’t been great since my move back at the end of October. But looking at my personal timeline, I will say every time I change states, I always get thrown out of sorts for three to six months. With this being the beginning of April, I’m right at that cut off, and can already tell my stamina is back up to create again.

I guess that’s one bad thing about constantly having to move no one really warns you about. Sure, you get to see new places, meet new people, and have different experiences, but at the end of the day, I’m still an introvert at heart. My personal time and space is very important, and when I have to uproot what feels comfortable, it’s hard to get that back right away. This isn’t a complaint so much as an observation. I’m grateful to have the life I do, and I know I’m extremely lucky, but it still takes some time to get back to normal after a big change.

Write Club helped me a lot, however. I feel a little more confident, and the thrill I got from even participating in the contest this far lit a fire under me. Even if I don’t make it to the top 30, I’m still happy with the experience.

 

As you might’ve been able to tell, this was a little bit more of a conversational post than normal. I know it’s a tad bit rambling, but I felt more casual tonight. Thanks for sticking through for this long though! If you liked this style more, let me know. I’ll gladly do more updates like this if it’s preferred.

 

Hope you all are having a good start to April. Keep writing lovelies ❤

Author. Blogger. Traveler.