Bullet Wisdom

I am an Active Duty Officer in the US Army. I am a Husband, father, writer, hunter, gamer, and SOLDIER. This blog is a forum for my many hobbies as well as my random musings.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

WriteOnCon Day 1

My first Con! Granted, it's an online writer's convention, but what the heck? I have plenty of time. My day job only takes up my time between the hours of 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wrong. At this point, travelling to a writer's convention is a pipe dream. So, the awesome folks at WriteOnCon developed what may be a first: A distant learning writer's convention.

My friend, writer Julie Klumb, showed me the link a few weeks ago. I signed up and happily waited. Gradually, I forgot all about it until she shot out a reminder. Good thing I registered early.

Yesterday was the first day. Forums opened for submissions for query's, WIPs, and finished products. All day long, the forum hosted events and discussion drawing in some awesome talent to share their industry wisdom. What did I learn?

1. Nothing new. Huh? What? Let me elaborate.

2. All the information you need is out there to be a successful writer, but you have to listen to the advice and be able to apply it. That's two very different, and difficult, things.

3. You need a professional-grade query letter. It should be simple: Present the story, introduce yourself. Be bold, be brief, then be gone. Don't overstay your welcome. The query letter is about your story. Save the extraneous life story stuff and how great you are for an actual phone conversation. If you get one. Jump over to Twitter and take a look at agent comments at #queryfail. Did it make you laugh? I did. What's funnier is I've made a good chunk of those mistakes.

4. Be professional. For some folks, this is hard. This is an industry practically invented the 'don't-call-us-we'll-call-you' tactic. Last night, literary agent Mark McVeigh gave a fabulous presentation, and at one point lamented about the poor behavior of some aspiring writers. I thought the best point he made was about following simple instructions.

Mark receives around sixty queries a day. Attachments take about a minute each to open and process. If each query and included excerpt was attached via word document, that's an additional hour a day just spent opening documents. Multiply that over a month and you have a lot of lost productivity. Follow instructions listed on the site, it's the professional thing to do.

5. Mark also said, 'know the agent you're querying.' I'm paraphrasing badly, sorry. His recommendation, if the agent your querying recently sold a book in a genre similar to yours, say so. I found that quite bold. Makes sense, but still. I think it goes back to the 'know the agent' statement. If you do your homework, you'll know when you can get away with a bold move, and when you can't.

6. Online presence, do or don't. The panel didn't really seem to care one way or another. I think this goes back to the most important mission of an aspiring writer: First, learn to write. If you're spending hours and hours weekly on your blog, you're probably taking away hours you could be doing research and writing for your story.

7. Critiques. Standards vary wildly and you need to pick and choose what to use, and what to discard. I'm used to the monthly line-by-line trashing I get over at Kelley Armstrong's Online Writing Group (OWG) Forums. For WriteOnCon, I'm noticing a paragraph or two of, 'I really liked this.' To someones credit, they flat out told me to scrap my first paragraph. I think they're right. If you want to write successfully, find a writing group that will routinely tear your stuff apart. You'll be better for it.

To me this is all common sense, and the kind of info pushed by publishing professional in every blog, interview, social media, and convention (all one of them) I've come across. If I had to pick something to impress upon everyone?

Write something great.

Huge thanks to the folks at WriteOnCon for putting on a fabulous platform for those of us who might never have to opportunity to travel to a Con.


Pat.Hollett said...

Great blog today Ken. I too peeked in at Writeoncon and left a comment on someone's post. I did read several people's work and found a few that were very good, the rest mediocre. Comments were generous, not a lot of negatives, and a lot of 'I like it'.
I agree we have to be more agressive with our critiques, and I think you've made some good points.
Well said. :)

pj schnyder said...

Great blog post, Ken.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend WriteOnCon due to some massive biz travel and day job deadlines taking me well into the midnight hours.

I most definitely agree with your points regarding finding a good writing group and becoming better for the critiques offered.

Taking constructive feedback is tough. We all bloom with positive reinforcement and can be intimidated or taken aback when it comes to criticism. I think it truly shows the metal of the writer when he can take constructive feedback and use it to polish his work.

Falcata Times said...

Hey Ken,
To be honest here, you're letting a lot of people know things that they really should know.

Some of it may seem like common sense but the way things are going, its not long before its going to be so rare that it's a Superpower.

Some great advice and to be honest when searching for an agent I've always followed the suggestion of seeing who authors thank in their acknowledgements. If they stick with the same agent in multiple books, the odds are its a good agent.

Some advice that I'll definitely follow though and thanks for posting it.


Kelly Metz said...

Awww man. I'm gonna have to check out the archives. Things got away from me and I wasn't able to participate.

Great post with good info.

Brittany said...

This is a great post. I loved WriteOnCon. It was a great way for writer's from all over the world to get together without leaving their couches (or kitchen tables, in my case).

I completely agree about the critique part of the forum. It would have been better if people were more confident with saying, "Hey, this part is just not working for me." I'm a big believer in you have to hear the good and the bad. I don't think you learn much if someone only acknowledges the good things.

Anyway, thanks for posting this! It was a great read. :D

Seleste deLaney/Julie Particka said...

I didn't really look into the critiques on there. I figured I have a killer crit group and the odds of getting anything solid were pretty slim.

The thing about cons, this one included, is there's rarely any huge revelations for people who are seriously looking to get published. The people who do their research and look into stuff already know a lot of it. But there's usually those one or two tidbits you can grab onto and sneak off with -- those are the con gems. I got one at WriteOnCon from Natalie Fischer's live query thing. Taking it and running with it.

Personally, I just wish they'd done fewer vlogs. I hate them with a passion. I think I only watched 2. I'd much rather read a blog that I can skim if I feel the need.

Ken said...

What do I know. I crit'd a query, arrogantly thinking it was the most juvenile thing ever, then it went and won a best query award. What do I know? I've saved it for future use, but even after numerous reviews, I still don't get it.