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First Monday Mentoring Oct – what writing festivals do for you

Money’s tight and living costs keep rising, I get that. Plus writing has never been a profession to make easy money. But recently I hear a lot about how expensive it is to attend writing conferences and festivals, many writers saying they can’t justify the expense.

My response is how can you not justify the expense? Perhaps you have a day job and it’s hard to get the time off. Yet writers whose time is flexible still resent the cost and time to attend these events.

Most professions require continued education. Why should writing be any different? In my long career I’ve had millions of words published in a variety of genres and translations but there’s always more to learn. Attending conferences and festivals lets me monitor changes in publishing, book marketing, indie publishing, and the fast-spinning world of social media. I’m also interested in other writers’ experiences. Not everything you hear at conferences and festivals shows up on social media.

The personal interactions are invaluable. We work alone a lot of the time. Getting out and “peopling” as a colleague puts it, not only renews friendships, but lets us discuss aspects of craft that don’t fit into a Facebook post or tweet.

I was reminded of these benefits at the recent Canberra Writers Festival where my agent, Linda Tate, and I presented a session at the National Library of Australia on how we work together, subtitled “how not to be screwed in 21st century publishing.”

Agent Linda Tate (left) and me with my books at the National Library of Australia before our presentation

Even savvy writers can be screwed in everything from contracts to options, advances and royalties. Before Linda became my agent twenty-plus years ago, I dodged a few bullets myself. And I can tell you, it makes a huge difference having someone else track those bullets, freeing me to focus on the writing.

As an indie, you can screw yourself unintentionally in the many details you must cover on your own account. An example is buying ISBN numbers (International Standard Book Numbers) your book’s ID in the reading world. Buying your ISBN numbers from, say, CreateSpace, can mean they are identified as the publisher instead of you. There’s a comprehensive article on ISBNs at the Self Publishing Advice Centre  http://tinyurl.com/yc92hqdx This is just one of many pitfalls indies have to negotiate.

As Linda and I are based in different capital cities, preparing our session, presenting it and sharing the success afterward were benefits of being on the festival program. We outlined how we work together, very differently from most author-agent relationships.  Her background is in the entertainment industry, so she isn’t inclined to submit books then wait months to hear back. Instead, she paves the submission’s way with the editor then calls to see how they’re enjoying the read.

Signing one of my books at the Canberra Festival

Whether you’re traditionally or indie published, if you have an agent and they aren’t keeping up, maybe check with them about new ways you can interact. If you don’t have an agent and want one, ask them to detail how their approach can be tweaked to better serve your books.

Like conferences and festivals, agents come with a cost. However a good agent not only recoups their commission in the deals they make, but the relationship should be more beneficial overall.

Here I need to address the “it’s all right for you” syndrome. Successful authors are supposed to take in stride the cost of attending writing events. Generally we do for the benefits described here, but bear in mind that every successful author started with a first book, building our brand steadily over many years. While nothing beats writing the best book you can,  mixing with writing professionals help us achieve our success, not the other way around.

As a writer do you attend festivals and writing conferences? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. They’re moderated to avoid spam but your posts go up right away if you subscribe – click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Workshop Townsville : 7 October  Story Magic Townsville Writers & Publishers Centre https://townsvilletickets.com.au/event/story-magic-with-valerie-parv-5096

Masterclass  Canberra : 18 November  Romance Writing Re-imagined  ACT Writers Centre  https://www.eventbrite.com/e/romance-writing-re-imagined-with-valerie-parv-tickets-35421113504?aff=Valerie 

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First Monday Mentoring February – What’s the point of writing anything?

Lately I’m hearing this question a lot from writers, both aspiring and multi-published. They say creating a work of entertainment seems pointless in light of the political upheavals all around us, and shared in confronting detail on social media.

They’re questioning the wisdom of billionaire businessmen as romantic heroes when the paradigm is undermined by world leaders and politicians in the real world.

We have been here before. Waking up to the horrors of 9/11 in Canberra Australia, I first thought it was promotion for a movie. Would that it had been. Instead we all had to deal with the awareness that our world would never be the same again.

As terrorism became an escalating threat, I remember discussing with colleagues whether sheikhs could ever be heroes again, right when I had a romance novel called Desert Justice on the drawing board. Sheikhs have long been a romance staple, along with twins, secret babies and characters with amnesia. Readers enjoy these stories, especially when writers put our own twist on the trope.

I concluded that my sheikhs had nothing to do with reality and never had. They were fantasies I shared with readers all over the world. Mine were mostly reformers anyway, to fit my feminist inclinations. So Desert Justice went ahead.

Then there was the Y2K bug, (for Year 2000 bug) when we feared a worldwide computer meltdown because programmers had routinely shortened dates to two digits – 99 instead of 1999 – potentially causing every system in the world to go haywire or crash when the program spun over to 00. Time Magazine’s slightly tongue-in-cheek cover blared, “The end of the world? Y2K insanity. Apocalypse now! Will computers melt down? A guide to Millennium Madness”

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Tongue in cheek or not, Time’s publishers set up a bunker in their basement, equipped to produce the magazine in the event of catastrophic breakdowns. None of which, as we know now, were needed. The Y2K disaster never happened.

But most such fears have some basis in reality.

Nor do I mean to make light of our fears right now. In Writing in Difficult Times Kristine Kathryn Rusch blogs about her feelings after 9/11 at http://tinyurl.com/hwq5ke5 and says, “Writing didn’t matter when faced with the loss of life and the outpouring of grief. It didn’t matter in the face of the kinds of horrors human beings can impose on each other.

And the irony was, for me, I had been writing a book that I believed did matter, that it was about things people needed to know and see and understand. I felt passionate about the book, until the world changed.

“…And that was when I had my epiphany. I realized that escape is rest. It’s important. It gets us away from the horrors, the terrible things, the stresses and upsetting moments of everyday life.”644244_605309199480761_1647106081_n

I understand her feelings. Writing has never been easy even when you have a reliable publishing path and keen readers. When you have neither, the journey seems endless. But pointless? Never. I’ve been at book signings where my readers say they’ve stockpiled my books to help them through upcoming surgery. Or that something I’ve written has directly changed their thinking in some way, or given them comfort in a time of struggle. How can this not be valuable? In her blog, Kathryn sets out some sensible, doable steps to help deal with whatever crisis you’re facing. If it’s getting out there and applying your skills to help out, do that. If it’s donating money, or raising awareness, do that. It’s OK to give yourself permission not to write while you handle the crisis.

Then, when you’re able, get back to the keyboard and write your truths in your own way, as novels, movie scripts, articles or blogs. When you write from your own inner truth, your words will affect readers in ways you can’t even imagine. That’s a valuable contribution, too.

By making sense of your own world, you help your readers do the same. As long as you keep writing.

How are you dealing with the world today? Has it affected your writing? Comments are moderated to avoid spam but  appear right away for subscribers, or after you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Valerie’s latest book, Outback Code, is OUT NOW,

3 books complete in one volume for summer reading

For international orders, print & ebook formats,

Booktopia http://tinyurl.com/hj3477e

From Amazon for Kindle http://tinyurl.com/hxmmqsk

First Monday Mentoring July 2015 – the crime of author intrusion and how to avoid it

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring when I open this blog to your thoughts and questions on the wonderful, scary, maddening and exhilarating craft of writing. To start us off, this week I was asked how to handle author intrusion, sometimes called author convenience.

As the heading suggests, I see it as a crime that’s serious enough to get a book rejected.

Basically, the question comes down to whose book this is, yours or your character’s?

Since you’re doing the hard work, it’s tempting to say the book is yours, but you’re only the means by which the story reaches readers. They want to know what happens to the characters and how they feel and act as a result. Readers want to share the journey and forget they’re reading words on a page or screen.
Author intrusion is a bit like photobombing a photo – you stick yourself into a scene where it doesn’t belong. On social media, photobombs can be hilarious but in a book, they’re more often an unwelcome distraction.
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Here are a few ways an author can photobomb a book:

Give characters opinions that belong to you, instead of to them.
Their politics, religious beliefs or opinions may differ from the author’s, and should agree with the way you want us to see them. Creating characters to get your own beliefs across is a huge mistake and will almost certainly read as if you’re lecturing the reader.

Dump every bit of research into the story:
However fascinating your research, it only belongs in the story when it suits the characters’ experiences and knowledge. Say your story is about a farmer who’s had a meteorite come down on his land. Unless he’s a former scientist turned farmer, he shouldn’t know everything about meteorites, except as they relate to him and his experience.

Put modern thinking into your historical novel:
This can be a failure of craft as much as author intrusion. You haven’t researched the time period of your story sufficiently to notice when you have characters use modern expressions or act in ways that don’t fit the period. It’s okay if you’re writing about a time travelling character who would bring his/her own views and speech to the period, and would notice the differences, but the other characters must behave appropriately for their time.

You can also photobomb a contemporary, sci-fi or fantasy story by having the characters comment on settings and technology they would use every day. How often do you marvel at your tablet or smart phone, or even notice yourself using them? Characters should treat their world similarly.

Give characters skills or history that conveniently fits the story needs:
This is very common. Your mousy secretary is confronted by the villain and somehow knows how to fight him off. If you need her to defend herself convincingly, then go back and write in how her office had offered their staff self defense classes and a workmate had talked her into going. That way, when she’s attacked, we already know how she’s learned to handle herself.

Sharing her thoughts, fears and struggle to remember what she was taught will take us right inside the situation, as if it were happening to us. You can also share more of her character with us by showing how she acted in the self defense class.
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Putting yourself in the character’s place, writing much of the story in dialogue and through their eyes helps avoid author intrusion. Descriptions are limited to what that person would normally notice, depending on who they are.

A fabric designer walking into a room may notice the fabulous curtains, whereas a sportsperson is likely to see the expensive fishing rod propped up in a corner.

Story analyst, Michael Hauge, says you need to ask whether your characters would behave the way people with their background would normally act in this situation.

Say a business person stumbles on a dead body. Would they proceed to investigate the crime? As one of my editors said, too often the character fails to contact the police, the first thing most people would do. If the character is an undercover cop, however, their reaction will be different depending on the story.

Remember, the book belongs to the characters. Tell their story, rather than imposing yours on them. As movie mogul, Samual Goldwin, was reputed to have told his writers, “If you’ve got a message, send it Western Union.”

Now over to you. How do you avoid photobombing your story? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam, but you can have your post appear right away by clicking on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Check out Valerie’s online course, Free the Writer In You
At http://www.valerieparv.com/course.html
Order Valerie’s Beacons’ book, Birthright, at http://tinyurl.com/mxtmbx6

Are you growing as a writer?

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If you compare what you’re writing now with some of your earlier work, you should be able to see how far you’ve come. Certainly most writers will have made progress in areas of craft – such as being able to put words together more skilfully, and share story background with less “telling” and more “showing.”

You’ve probably also learned how to motivate your characters so they come across as real human beings with desires and goals we, as readers, can relate to.

But there are other kinds of growing writers can, and should, be doing.

Are you keeping up with trends?

This doesn’t mean slavishly imitating the current best-seller, whether it’s 50 shades of gratuitousness or the latest da vinci whatever. It means being aware of developments in the writing world. We know readers are increasingly reading our books on devices from ereaders to smart phones.

Have you seen how your chapters look on an iPhone? For more on this, check out “What’s Going on with Readers Today?” at http://toc.oreilly.com/2013/02/whats-going-on-with-readers-today.html

Some writers gloat about not understanding the electronic world and social media. Sure, it’s time consuming, occasionally time wasting, but that’s up to the user. When politicians are taking to social media in droves, you can be sure it’s because that’s where the voters are. Do you know where your readers are? Keeping up with them on social media makes perfect sense.

If you’ve been writing for some time, are you breaking new ground with your current work? 

Settling into a writing rut not only risks losing readers, it also bores the writer. Next time you write a scene that’s similar to what you’ve done before, challenge yourself to write it in a completely fresh way.

If you usually write novels, try a novella or a short story. Perhaps even some poetry. If you write in one genre, try reading in a few others to see if your voice would fit in any of them. Recently I ventured into digital-first publishing with my book, Birthright, a long novel that crossed over between romance and science fiction. No guarantees of success, but it’s a lot of fun and taking me in directions I’d almost forgotten I loved.

You can do this too. Try mixing up your romance with a dash of paranormal. Or your romantic suspense with a shot of inspirational. These days there are no limits to what a writer can try, and who knows, your little experiment may just catapult you into best-sellerdom. As a writer, what are you doing to keep your work fresh? Share your comments here.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

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on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Read some reviews already up at http://www.valerieparv.com/birthright.html

 

 

 

My 7 favourite writing books for 2011

It may seem surprising that I still read how-to books despite selling over 70 romance novels and nonfiction titles. Yet the joy of the writing craft is never knowing it all.  These days I aim to discover one new nugget of information from a book. If I get that I consider the investment of time and money well spent. So here are the gems I’ve read this year, not all newly minted, but all with something valuable to say.

1. Doctor Who The Writer’s Tale

Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook (BBC Books 2008)

A 500-page monster I devoured with great glee. The writer of some of Doctor Who’s most memorable episodes, and creator of Torchwood openly shares his doubts, fears, writing methods and “how it really is” to be a writer. Love love love this.

2. Story

Robert McKee (HarperCollins 1997)

McKee’s beautiful prose turns me green with envy. This is not only a breathtaking look at the art of story from an acknowledged master, but pure reading pleasure. My copy is littered with post-it notes and I’ve tweeted more from this book on #quotes4writers than any other book I own.

3. Emotional Structure

Creating the story beneath the plot, a guide for screenwriters

Peter Dunne (Quill Driver Books 2007)

As valuable for novelists as screenwriters,  this books fills the gap between plot and story and makes their differences clear. Shows how to create scenes with heart and soul, so your viewers (or readers) will feel the passion. A very different approach.

4. Writing Screenplays That Sell

New 20th Anniversary Edition

Michael Hauge (Collins Reference 2011)

Any book that gets to a 20th edition is doing something right. Again the content speaks as much to novelists as screenwriters, covering everything from goal setting to brainstorming, editing and writer’s block all the way to the dreaded pitch, though Hauge addresses pitching more fully in Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds.

5. We Are Not Alone

The Writer’s Guide to Social Media

Kristen Lamb (whodareswinspublishing.com 2010)

A groundbreaking book on using social media to build a solid platform that connects you with readers. And you don’t have to know about computers or sales to benefit. Without Kristen, I might still be thinking about blogging.

6. Beyond Heaving Bosoms

The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels

Sarah Wendell & Candy Tan (Fireside, 2009)

The creators of the legendary blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, spotlight the good, the bad and the ugly in romance novels. Jennifer Crusie’s cover quote says “I love the Smart Bitches. They look at romance with clear but loving eyes, and they do it with wit, style, intelligence and snark.” As much a guide to what not to do, as a how-to.

And because I can…Heart and Craft

Best-selling romance writers share their secrets with you

Valerie Parv Editor (Allen & Unwin, 2009)

Indulge me for a moment. Imagine how many billions of books (not a misprint) a team including Helen Bianchin, Robyn Donald, Elizabeth Rolls, Meredith Webber, Jennie Adams, Daphne Clair, Kelly Ethan and Alexis Fleming have sold around the world. This book explains how we got there, with insider advice on everything from craft to editing and marketing. This was a “book of the heart” for me to edit and why it’s on this list – so you don’t miss the gems these much-loved authors share so generously.

There it is. Are there books I’ve missed that spoke to you? Share your comments here.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

On Twitter @valerieparv

and Facebook

Writing conferences, 5 reasons why they’re worth your time and money

When asked whether he thought writing courses stifle writers, Ernest Hemingway famously said he didn’t think they stifled enough of them. You have to wonder what he’d think of the Romance Writers of Australian national conference taking place next week in Melbourne, where 350 writers are gathering to catch up with friends  and share information about the craft. Certainly not stifled.

www.theage.com.au is a good article about what’s coming up.

Already the net is abuzz with the excitement of those attending, me included. My suitcase sits open and half packed, my notes and giveaways for the workshops I’m presenting are ready. I’ll be talking on Creativity and Feeding the Muse at the Published Author Day next Thursday, then on The Art of Layering Your Romance Novel with Jennie Adams on Saturday.  Other sessions range from social media and marketing to staging a convincing fight scene.

Learning is a big part of writing conferences

From this you might think the benefit of being there is mainly in learning from experts. While that’s a big part of what conferences are about, here are some other reasons I think they rock.

1. You catch up with colleagues you only “meet” online the rest of the year

2. You find out what everybody else has been writing

3. You load up your case with free books as well as the booty from the conference bookstore

4. Somebody else feeds and cares for you during the event (writers with families know how amazing this feels)

And most importantly:

5. You find out you’re not the only person in the world who…….(fill in the gap)

#5 is huge, because all of us at some stage have thought we were the only one getting sucky feedback from editors, going through a dry patch when ideas were non existent, unable to write because of life in general,  or thinking a day job at McD’s was looking good. Knowing others are in the same boat can lift your spirits and get you back in the game faster than almost anything.

Right now there’s a huge amount of upheaval in publishing. Nobody really knows where we’re headed, making it even harder to write than usual – and it’s tough enough in the good times. Being among like-minded friends can reassure you that it IS worthwhile hanging in there, writing the book of your heart and trying to get it published. When something is hard, it’s usually the most rewarding when you make it.

Then there’s the social side of cocktail party, awards dinner, charity auctions and hanging out with friends in lobby, coffee shop or late night bar. Everybody gets something different out of this side, but we all come away feeling supported, encouraged and fired up to get back to the keyboard.

If that’s not enough to justify the time and cost, there are those other magic words – tax deductible.

Are you going to a conference soon or have been to one lately? What was the best thing about it for you?

Valerie

 

 

 

 

 

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