Wednesday, September 27, 2017

How to Get the Most Out of a Writers' Conference

The 2017 Steel Pen Creative Writers’ Conference is just over a month away, and registration closes on October 15. So whether you are signed up or still considering it, what can you get from a writers’ conference, and how do you make the best use of your time?

Here are some tips from the Conference Committee’s members own experience.

1.     Prepare before you go.

a.      Research the presenters as well as reading the breakout session descriptions, then rank your choices. Unfortunately, you may arrive at the conference to discover that your top choices conflict. But if you have ranked them in advance, your decision will be easy even if it isn’t happy. 
b.     As a relatively young regional conference, Steel Pen doesn’t offer pitch sessions with editors and agents yet. If you go to a conference that does, however, you should look at their websites and review the types of books they accept before deciding to pitch them. (The same goes for critiques.) If an editor or agent specializes in adult science fiction and you write children’s picture books, you will be wasting your time and theirs. That said, there are a few conferences where editors and agents are there primarily to mentor rather than to acquire. In those cases, you may gain some benefit even when you talk to someone outside your genre. 
c.      Make sure you have plenty of business cards. If you are worried about giving out personal information, leave off your address. But make sure you include an email address and preferably a telephone number. If you have a published book, you should also take promotional bookmarks or postcards.

2.     Know what you want to accomplish at the conference, but keep your expectations realistic and your goals flexible. You may go to learn about writing memoirs and come away with a great idea for a murder mystery. Or you may hope to sell a book but meet the perfect critique partner instead. Few writers sell their first book at a conference, but many develop relationships that eventually lead there.

3.     Take notes at the sessions you attend. The notes probably won’t be as extensive as the ones you took in your high school or college classes, but if somebody says something that gives you an “ah-hah” moment, write it down. Steel Pen will give you a notepad and a pen, but that may not be true at other conferences. If you don’t know, take your own. And even if note-taking materials are provided, you may prefer your favorite portfolio and lucky pen.

4.     While the rules about session attendance vary from conference to conference, if the conference allows (and Steel Pen does), don’t feel bound to spend the entire breakout session in the same room. If your top choices conflict, maybe you’ll want to spend some time in each. Or if that session on flash fiction reiterates information you already know, it is not disrespectful to leave (quietly) and head down the hall to the session on poetry where you may learn something new.

5.     Whether or not the conference offers pitching sessions, it helps if you can describe what you are working on or trying to sell in one to three sentences. If someone asks you—and they will—about your current project, they are looking for a thumbnail sketch, not a dissertation. They can always ask for more details if they want them.

6.     Part of the value of conferences comes from what the business world calls “networking” but is more accurately described as developing relationships. Writers tend to be introverts, but conferences are a good time to meet new people, so make the effort. Even if you don’t sell your book, you may find a new critique partner or meet somebody who has experienced the good and bad of hiring book cover designers and is willing to pass on that knowledge. But don’t lead off an informal conversation by talking about yourself. Ask about their current project or expertise or what they expect to get from the conference. At some point they will ask you the same question, and then it’s your turn.

7.     If the conference offers pitching sessions with editors and agents, however, you will begin those sessions by talking about your book.  The special rules for pitching sessions deserve their own blog post. Since Steel Pen doesn’t offer them yet, this tip is limited to the highlights.

a.      Don’t pitch a book that you haven’t written (and rewritten and polished). There are some exceptions for nonfiction and experienced writers but none for beginning novelists.
b.     As noted above, research the editors and agents in advance and don’t waste their time, and yours, by pitching somebody who doesn’t handle your genre.
c.      Unless otherwise invited, limit your pitching to the pitching sessions. At other times, wait until an editor or agent asks what you are working on or selling. And give editors and agents some room. Don’t corner them or follow them into the bathroom. They may remember you, all right, but only as someone to avoid.

8.     The last and most important tip is to relax and enjoy the conference. Writers’ conferences seldom make or break careers, but they can open doors.

Registration for the 2017 Steel Pen Creative Writers’ Conference ends October 15. You can find more information and register at this link:

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Many Roads to Publishing

Indiana Writers’ Consortium has the good fortune to receive interns from Purdue Northwest each semester. In the spring, we had Louis Martinez, who continues writing blog posts as a volunteer. This semester we welcome Emily Baginski. Here is her first post.
The Many Roads to Publishing
Emily Baginski
Being a college student working towards an English Writing degree can be intimidating at times, but being a college student working towards an English Writing degree without many experiences in life is even more intimidating. When I first walked into classes, I thought this degree was a fight for getting a story published. I was a scared little puppy that had nothing notable happen in their life. So here I was, scared, intimidated, and fearful about the choice I made.
As I continued on through classes, I slowly learned that there is more to English Writing than publishing books. This soon gave me light at the end of the tunnel. The possibilities in writing are endless. Grant writing, business writing, writing for magazines, writing for video games, etc. There are so many routes to take. There is no need to be stressed about publishing a book. Find something you are interested in writing and look at publishing that way. 
This may seem like common sense, but I was unaware of the wide range of publishing options I could experience. There was more to publishing then writing or creating a story. I wrote this post to give hope to a lost writer out there who thinks the only road to publishing is through stories.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Optimizing Your Writing Process

Louis Martinez

Writing is difficult enough as it is, so anything that can streamline the process is invaluable. And if you’re citing sources, one thing you can do is sort your list of references out early so you can type those in-text citations at the end of a sentence as smoothly as any punctuation. When you’re on a roll with a rough draft, you don’t want anything to disrupt your flow of ideas. Any stray thought can potentially derail the train on its journey to the end of the document, causing you to omit a statement that may have made the difference between agreement or disapproval in your reader’s mind.

If I’m writing a non-fiction piece with sources to cite, I find it invaluable to have my references readily available so I can insert them in-line as naturally as I would a period or comma. In the past, I have made the mistake of pushing through my rough draft from start to finish, only to realize I now had to go back line-by-line for the expressed purpose of picking out sentences that should have citations and tediously adding them in. This added an entire new step to the writing process; a step that was unnecessary, and one I’m glad I now have a system to accommodate for.

When I have a large number or sources I’ll be citing for a piece, I like to form my reference list as I come across information I’ll be using, rather than simply recording where I found it so I can form the reference list later on. This may require some detailed familiarity with the citation style you’re using, which I am fortunate enough to have at this point. Having this information compiled in advance becomes a useful tool I can use when writing my rough draft.

When I’m writing a research paper; a report on an experiment; an analysis of a case study; or some other piece which may require a reference list several pages long, I like to have that list available at the side of my screen in another window next to my document so I can easily place the appropriate information in-line right when it comes up without having to stray from my spot on the page. I used to scroll down to my references, gather the information, then return to my spot to type it in, but I found moving my eyes slightly to the side to be much more efficient than scrolling all over the place.

Using this method has substantially decreased the amount of time I spend writing, especially over long pieces. I encourage anyone referencing other material in their work to develop a system that enhances efficiency. By cutting down the time spent on drafting, you can increase the time available for editing, which will ultimately result in an overall higher quality of writing.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Ezine and Print Magazine Rights: Part II

Kathryn Page Camp

Last week I described three major types of ezine and print magazine rights. This week I’ll talk about some other common types.* This is not a complete list, and even the ones talked about in these two posts can be modified by contract, so make sure you read the submission guidelines and any formal contract you may be offered. More about that at the end of this post.
As a reminder from last week, when used in this post the words magazine, publication, and periodical include both print magazines and ezines. References to story, piece, or item include stories, articles, poems, and any other type of work that can be submitted to a magazine.
One-Time Rights
One-time rights allow the publication to publish your story once. If it wants to publish it again, it must get your permission.
Simultaneous Rights
If you grant simultaneous rights, you are probably trying to sell the story to more than one publication. As the name implies, simultaneous rights allow several periodicals to publish the piece at the same time. These rights are not the same as reprint rights since you may be selling the item for the first time.
Nonexclusive Rights
When a publication buys nonexclusive rights, you can sell the piece again at any time. Unlike one-time rights, however, nonexclusive rights authorize the magazine to reprint the piece in subsequent editions of its publication without further payment or permission.
You can explicitly agree to sell nonexclusive rights, but it is also the default. If you don’t say what you are selling and the publication doesn’t say what it is buying, it gets nonexclusive rights.
A Word of Warning
Rights can be modified by agreement, and even if the magazine doesn’t make you sign a contract, you still have one. In that case, the contract will usually combine the terms of your submission letter, the publisher’s acceptance letter, and the submission guidelines. If your submission letter offers one type of rights and the publisher doesn’t object, that is what you have sold. If the publisher says it will buy a different type of rights and you don’t object, then the acceptance letter governs. If both letters are silent but the submission guidelines tell you what the magazine buys, that is what you are selling. So read the submission guidelines carefully.
Because it’s important to know your rights.
* The two posts in this series are taken, with modifications, from pages 166–170 of Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal by Kathryn Page Camp and are used by permission from me to me.
Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer who writes adult non-fiction as Kathryn Page Camp and middle-grade fiction as Kaye Page. Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal was a Kirkus’ Indie Books of the Month Selection for April 2014, and her first middle-grade historical novel, Desert Jewels, was released in August 2017. You can learn more about Kathryn at