10 Things I Learned at the Baltimore Writers Conference 2013

This weekend I had the very great fortune to attend the Baltimore Writer’s Conference. It was my first time attending such an event and let me just say, I am incredibly thankful that I did. For anyone who has never considered getting involved in the conference circuit, I strongly suggest you reconsider. Not necessarily because you’re going to learn any incredible tips or tricks which are magically going to get you published (you won’t), but if for no other reason than to meet other people in the same situation as yourself. It came up several times during the conference that we, as writers, tend to exist in a vacuum. The nature of writing is that you do it by yourself. So it is a good thing when we are given the opportunity to interact with others who understand, and to learn about their triumphs and their failures.

Now I could write out a blow-by-blow of everything I did and heard at the Baltimore Writers Conference, but that would be boring. So instead, here is a list of the top ten things I took away from the event. If anyone has any questions or wants to hear more – please let me know!

In no particular order:

1. Every story has a backstory – try to find it. This will give you a deeper understanding of your characters, your world, and your overall story, even if the backstory is never put on the page.

2. Memorable stories on timeless themes will always attract readers – whether or not it fits into a trend.

3. Marketing is not a dirty word.

4. When writing YA, you must keep your audience in mind because your readers are at a formative stage in their life. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t address difficult subjects, only that you need to be aware of the difference between how young readers will receive the subject as opposed to how an adult would.

5.  Authors get virtually no say in what their cover looks like.

6. Kids like to read up – so if your target audience is twelve to fourteen, your protagonist should be fifteen or sixteen, etc.

7. The most important thing in writing is to find the voice of your character.

8. As a new, young writer you need to finish your first book, and then move on. A lot of people spend far too many years on their first book, and never get past it.

9. Sometimes you need to switch genres in order to get published.

10. There are three things you should consider when writing a new scene: First, what does each character want. Second, what will happen if they don’t do it. And finally, why now?

All in all, it was a very successful conference for myself. I met some wonderful people, had some great conversations, and found myself feeling a renewal of my enthusiasm for the entire querying/publication process.

Losing Heart

The past week was not a great one for me, as far as my writing is concerned. The issue with having to rewrite a chapter plus too many other things going on (work and personal) meant that I have fallen off my schedule for my rough-draft completion date. No, it’s not going to kill me if I’m a month late, it’s just not what I had hoped for. Still, I’m in control and I will work everything out in the best manner that I am able.

But on top of loosing two weeks of time, I also received my forth form rejection for the manuscript I’m currently circulating. While this isn’t a huge deal, because I’ve now only sent out fifteen queries and have only heard back from four, this one was disappointing because it was someone I thought would be a good fit.

Still, my goal is always to handle these things with grace, so I took a deep breath and closed the email. But then I started thinking. If someone I thought would be such a good fit for me didn’t like the story, then what am I doing wrong?

Unfortunately I’ve had a sneaking suspicion that there were some serious issues with the manuscript ever since I started sending it out. And the biggest of these is that I’m trying to sell this as YA, but the reality is that the story may just be too detached. The protagonist may be too reserved and calculating for a YA audience to relate to. And while that’s certainly a part of her persona, what I really think is that the story was worked on for so long, was worked over so many times, that maybe somewhere between drafts it lost its heart.

How difficult a balance it is to strike, between keeping the writing clean and polished, but also providing enough color for the audience to grasp. I think I probably was so focused on polishing, plus so embedded in the world, that I lost track of which details needed to stay, that I over-edited, and the resulting manuscript may seem a bit too cold.

I’m not sure if these are the reasons I’m being rejected. Maybe it is the fact that, though a steampunk work, it has too many dystopian elements. Maybe my writing just sucks. But I think that, since it has now been almost six months since I said “Done” that it might be the right time to go back and reevaluate what I’m sending out, since what I’ve been doing so far obviously hasn’t been working. But either way, I’m not losing heart, I’m not giving up. I will write until the day I die, and if I never get picked up by an agent, then so be it.

After all, there’s always self-publishing.