Monthly Archives: July 2014

MWW Takeaways

Our extended writing family at MWW.

Our extended writing family at MWW

I just got back from Midwest Writers Workshop, where I learned a lot and spent time with some truly amazing people. The biggest takeaway for me this year was networking — lots of writers I know mostly on Twitter or only see a few times a year were there, plus I got to meet some new writers who weren’t previously on my radar. Gushing about the great times we had talking writing and life in general won’t help you any, so I’ll only say this about networking: I’m proud to be a contributing part of this creative, supportive community.

If you’re still writing in a bubble, I strongly encourage you to reach out to other writers. Whether you meet them at a conference or through contests or Twitter, having a supportive network is one of the best things you can do for your writing career. For contests, a great place to start is Brenda Drake’s Pitch Wars if you have a completed manuscript. Even if you’re not ready to enter contests, just looking at others’ entries can help you meet people who write what you write. I know several people who met critique partners through comments on a blog contest — they had similar tastes and writing styles and decided to trade pages.

Besides networking, another thing that was mentioned a lot at the conference was the importance of knowing what publishing route you want to take before you start submitting. I already know I want to sign with an agent and publish traditionally, but that’s just one of many paths to publication. Writers can also submit their work directly to small presses, or they can choose to self-publish. I think different routes work better for different writers; ultimately, you have to decide what’s best for you and your book. However, both agents and authors at MWW agreed that you should know what that is before you start querying.

Why? Agents like to control where they send their clients’ manuscripts. If a small press offers to publish your manuscript at the same time an agent is reading it, you may be forced to make some tough decisions. Telling the agent about the offer might make her more inclined to read your work quickly, or it might make her more inclined to pass on the project. You don’t want to hurt your chances at getting an agent (if you decide that’s what you want) because you’ve submitted to small presses, too.

So, know which path you want to take from the start.

Those are my two big business-end takeaways from MWW. I’ve already got next year’s conference marked on my calendar!

The Benefits of Writing Conferences

Midwest Writers Workshop. In two days I’ll be headed to Midwest Writers Workshop, and I’m really excited to attend craft sessions, network, and pitch my book to a couple agents! Last year, I attended MWW — my first ever writing conference — and it really jump-started my career. The other writers I met at MWW became some of my best critique partners — and best friends — and I’m looking forward to a reunion this year!

For writers who are on the fence about attending a conference, I highly recommend finding one in your area. Here are my top reasons why:

1. Opportunities to pitch to agents and/or get agents’ feedback on your pitch, query, or sample pages. This varies from conference to conference, but even just attending a panel where agents talk about the submission process and what they’re looking for can be a huge help. For those who are just getting started, or are just starting to query, conferences can teach you a lot about the business side of writing.

2. Craft sessions. I do a fair amount of reading about craft, but that can’t substitute for live sessions where you can ask questions and get feedback from both instructors and other writers. Last year, my favorite MWW session was a look at first lines taught be John Cusick of Greenhouse Literary. This year, I’m looking forward to Daniel Jose Older’s sessions on writing the other, since one of my protagonists in my current project (not the one I’m pitching) is very different from myself.

3. Opportunities to network with other writers. So much of writing is a solitary activity. MWW was my first exposure to a living, breathing writing community. From the first minute — walking in from the parking lot, actually — I was talking with other writers, practicing pitches, critiquing and getting critiqued. It was so refreshing to talk with and learn from other writers, and I wound up meeting several of my current critique partners that weekend.

4. Opportunities to meet other writers. I’m listing this as a separate item, because not only did I leave MWW with new critique partners, I also left it with new friends. The people I met there have become some of my best friends. These are the people I will celebrate, commiserate, vent, laugh, and even cry with. People who know and understand what it’s like to be a writer, whether that means working through writer’s block or wading through the slush pile or being a member of the infamous “sub club.” Or, you know, people to talk about normal stuff like moving and kids and new jobs with. (Surprise literary baby shower, anyone?)

So, if you’re trying to decide whether to hit the conference scene or not, I say, do it! It is absolutely worth it. I can’t wait to meet up with the writers I met at last year’s MWW, and am looking forward to meeting new friends and CPs.

I’ll check in next week with a review of this year’s MWW. Until then, happy writing!

And if any of you are going to MWW, be sure to say hi!

Why Your Princess Is in Another Castle

Thank you Mario! But our princess is in another castle! A couple months ago, Arthur Chu’s Daily Beast article, “Your Princess Is in Another Castle,” got a lot of attention for pointing out ways in which American pop culture contributes to our country’s rape culture. Inspired by the article, and by the plethora of recent fairy tale retellings, I started thinking about what the NES Super Mario BrothersTM games might have looked like from the princess’s perspective. What I came up with was a letter similar to the ones Mario received after defeating the bosses of the doom ships in Super Mario Bros. 3. I’ve drawn mostly from the original Super Mario Bros.TM and Super Mario Bros. 3, and taken the liberty of assuming that (as is the case in most fairy tales) the king has promised the princess’s hand to whoever returns her safely to his castle.

Dear Mario,

Though you’ve shown great courage, strength, and perseverance, your princess is — once again — in another castle. After six with decoys, I’d think you’d take a hint.

Both you and my father share the misconception that I am in need of saving. As it turns out, I intend to do the saving, and your meddling is making things more difficult.

I’m sure you are aware of the deplorable way my father treats koopas, goombas, and all other magical creatures. By stomping on goombas, using koopa shells as weapons, and locking magical items in question boxes, he has repressed these citizens of our kingdom for so long that they’ve turned against us. Bowser and his followers mean to overthrow my father and take vengeance on all the humans who have wronged them.

I mean to make a deal with them.

Diplomacy by means of promising women to potential enemies is hardly a new concept. Princesses have been married off like property for years to secure more property, more power, more allies. But when a woman suggests such a thing — when she does anything to suggest she’s capable of intelligent thoughts — she is dismissed. So I made the arrangements behind my father’s back. By marrying Bowser, I’ll unite the humans and koopas, prevent a war, and keep my father’s bloodline on the throne.

I’d like to think you’re so persistent because of some deep-seated patriotism; however, I fear that you only want to win my hand. Again, were the last six worlds, the last six empty castles, not a clear enough message? Bowser has been incredibly kind, trusting me and even ordering his soldiers to defend me, but he’s losing patience. We both are. So I’ll say it again: Bowser is not a monster, and I do not need saving.

Please, go back to plumbing, Mario. Otherwise you’ll trade this kingdom’s future for my hand.

Sincerely,

Princess Peach

Now it’s your turn. What other pop culture icons contribute to rape culture, and how would they look from a different perspective? Please share in the comments!

Encouragement

When I visited my parents last week, they asked me to go through a box of things from my old bedroom (now an office). Mixed in with the high school marching band drill charts and trophies I got for participating in one year of various rec sports throughout elementary school was a folder from my early writing days.

I finished my first novel when I was seventeen. After seeking feedback from some friends who wrote and an extremely kind English teacher, I decided to try to publish it.

At the time, I had only my Writer’s Digest magazines to guide me. This was before the days of query tracker and agent blogs and even email queries. I went out and bought the latest edition of Writer’s Market and poured through the hundreds of fine print listings to find agents who represented YA fantasy writers. I chose five agents, wrote a query letter and synopsis using the samples in Writer’s Market as my guides, and printed all the materials and sample pages each agent requested. I bought full-sized envelopes and went to the post office to have my queries weighed so I could be sure to include enough postage.

Querying was a lot tougher back then.

I waited several weeks. Then, slowly, my SASEs started coming back with form rejections. Though the rejections were disappointing, I didn’t let myself get too upset by them. I’d written a book. I’d taken it seriously, and people who’d been in the business for years were taking me seriously. (Rejecting me, yes, but with the same professional courtesy they used to reject older, more experienced writers.)

But the best response I got came from an agent who included a handwritten note in the margin of her agency’s form rejection:

“I love to encourage young writers. While your work is not really ready for publication, it is a fantastic piece of writing for someone your age. Keep honing your chops and if you want to submit future fantasy novels, I’ll be waiting!”

Handwritten note.

Handwritten note on one of my first rejections.

These three sentences were some of the best encouragement I received as a young writer. I wasn’t devastated that she’d said my book wasn’t ready for publication. I’d read Writer’s Digest; I knew few people published their first novel. To get a personalized not from a literary agent felt huge.

Those first rejections encouraged me to keep writing. Years after I received that handwritten note, I still think of it every time I feel frustrated or stuck. I doubt that agent has any idea how much her words impacted a young writer, but I hope someday to be able to thank her and all the others — agents, writers, teachers, librarians, family, and friends — who have encouraged me to keep writing.

Who or what has encouraged you as a writer? Please share in the comments!