As you know, last weekend I attended the stellar Dallas Ft. Worth Writers’ Conference, and I want to share some of the tips and advice I picked up while I was there.
- Check out the vendor tables. It’s easy to pass by these booths — after all, you’re there to learn and network, not buy stuff. But I stopped by each booth and scored some cool goodies: tips on joining writing groups, connections to small publishers, and autographed copies of books from the presenting authors. Not a bad haul!
- Twitter friends are amazing — and even better when they become real-life friends! These groovy gals and guys understand my passion for writing, beta read for me when I’m desperate, and totally support my journey. They’re awesome, and you should check them out in the blogroll on the right!
- Don’t be afraid to pitch an agent (when the time is right). Obviously, you should refrain from stalking agents in the bathroom or on the elevator, but when you’re in the appropriate setting, go for it! Because here’s the thing: agents want you to succeed. Take a second and read that again. They’re not attending these conferences out of the goodness of their hearts. They’re looking for new talent. The want to hear about your amazing book. So take a deep breath, set aside your nerves, and talk to them. Even if you muddle and blunder your way through (and I totally did), it’s okay. My first pitch was confusing (even to me!) and ended early, and the agent still requested three chapters.
- If you write middle grade or YA, consider writing a book for boys. Not only are boy books at that level sadly lacking, but writing boy books automatically doubles your audience. This is because boys won’t read girl books, but girls will read boy books. So what will boys read? It’s simple: boys want a good story. Don’t be afraid to write one for them.
- And speaking of fear, don’t be afraid to write a love scene if your book needs it (but don’t stick one in there if it doesn’t). Readers can tell if you chicken out, so don’t! Give them what they’re craving. If you’re suffering from that whole, “but what if my parents read this?” dilemma, remember two things: 1. You’re an adult (hopefully), and 2. Your parents have had sex (obviously, because here you are!). They’ll get over it.
- Voice is key. Voice is one of the most important factors in creating a strong and unique manuscript, but it’s also one of the most misunderstood. Jenny Martin gave a perfect definition of voice in her presentation, and I recommend remembering it as you write: Voice is your unique fingerprint as an author. Itʼs about letting the characters interpret the action, instead of reporting the events.
- You need a strong antagonist. Without an antagonist, your book doesn’t have a plot, because your main character has nothing to struggle against. Many people confuse “antagonist” with “villain,” but those terms are not (necessarily) synonymous. Sure, the antagonist can be the villain, but it can also be one of the main character’s friends or a character who simply thinks his actions are justified. Because, and this is important, the antagonist is simply whoever (or whatever)’s agenda is opposite that of the hero. This could mean that the antagonist is alcoholism, if the MC’s goal is to get sober (but if the antagonist is a concept, it needs to be represented by a face). The antagonist is the thing/person who is standing in the hero’s way.
- Make sure your first chapter is strong. It sets the key themes and tone of your book, and should include strong prose, dynamic voice, and tense conflict. Give agents and readers a reason to turn the page.
I picked up so many more amazing tips at this conference, but there’s no way I can share them all here. Instead, I recommend attending as many writing conferences as you can and soaking up all this wonderful knowledge in person. And hey, tickets for DFWCon 2013 are already on sale, and if you buy before May 31, you get a BIG discount!