Wednesday, October 31, 2018

A Grand Way to End It

On October 27, Indiana Writers’ Consortium held its fifth—and last—Steel Pen Creative Writers’ Conference. But it was a grand way to end it.

Unfortunately, IWC is closing down on December 31 because it can’t generate enough funds or volunteer hours to continue. The January 2, 2019 blog post will provide more information in a tribute to ten great years, but this post is a celebration of a conference that was almost perfect.

The day began with continental breakfast and a panel on writing science fiction and fantasy. Lunch was a filling sandwich buffet and an entertaining and inspirational speech by Michael Poore, or rather by Emily Dickinson. It ended with a cocktail hour with a wide selection of appetizers and a costume contest. If you get the impression that we like to eat, you got it right.

The rest of the day contained five breakout sessions with two choices at each. Agent Kaitlyn Johnson and two other writers also provided critiques.

It was a great day of learning and networking, but the most fun came at the end with the costume contest. The MC (Edgar Allan Poe) didn’t participate, nor did our keynote speaker Emily Dickinson. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo before she shed her wig, but the next photo shows everything else. Emily was accompanied by two of her poems in their own costumes as Death and Hope, but I didn’t get pictures of them, either.
Laura Ingalls Wilder (Juliana Clayton) won the female literary figure category, and the Mad Hatter (Grant Fitch) won the literary character category and the grand prize. There were no entrants in the male literary figure category, so that $20 Amazon gift card went to Louisa May Alcott (Mariah Julio), who was the third highest vote getter. The next photo shows these three winners.
Personally, I wonder if Juliana Clayton wasn’t the smartest of them all. The costume works for Laura Ingalls Wilder in her younger days, but when I first saw her I thought of Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables, who would have been in the literary character category. I should have asked Juliana if she originally came as Anne but changed her mind when she saw the competition she was up against. If that’s what happened, it was a brilliant move. After all, would you want to compete against the Mad Hatter?

Here are a few more pictures from a really great conference.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

How to Get the Most Out of a Writers' Conference

With the 2018 Steel Pen Creative Writers’ Conference a week and a half away, we don’t have any time to write new blog posts. Instead, we are reprinting one from September 27, 2017 with minor modifications.

Registration for this year’s conference is already closed, but the suggestions in this post apply to any writers’ conference, not just ours. So whether you are signed up for the 2018 Steel Pen conference or considering attending a different one, this advice is for you.

What can you get from a writers’ conference, and how do you make the best use of your time? Here are some tips based on the Steel Pen Conference Committee members’ experiences.

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.     If a conference offers pitch sessions with editors and agents, you should look at their websites and review the types of books they accept before deciding to pitch them. 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 to mentor as well as to acquire. If they offer critiques, for example, you may benefit even when you talk to someone outside your genre. But if you have a choice, you still want to choose the person most familiar with the type of manuscripts you write. 

c.      Make sure you have plenty of business cards with contact information on them. If you are worried about giving out personal information, leave off your home address and just include an email address, your website if you have one, 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 movement between classes (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, and conferences are a good time to meet new people—if you make the effort. Even if you don’t meet an agent or editor who is interested in 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, this tip covers only the highlights.

a.      Don’t pitch a book that you haven’t already 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 asked, 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.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Exploring New Worlds

Join us on October 27 for a panel titled “Journey into Strangeness: An Exploration of Science Fiction/Fantasy Literature – Past, Present, and New Frontiers.” The panel will be one of many highlights at the day-long 2018 Steel Pen Creative Writers’ Conference, which will be held on October 27 at Fair Oaks Farms just north of Rensselaer, Indiana.

The panel is moderated by Janine Harrison and features Michael Poore, Marilyn Kosmatka, and Carla Lee Suson. These sci-fi/fantasy writers will discuss the ever-evolving relationship of sci-fi/fantasy and mainstream literature, world building, content trends, character diversity, genre bending, game-changing online publication and promotion, working with publishers, and more.

Here are some interesting facts about each of the panelists.

·       Michael Poore is the author of Up Jumps the Devil and Reincarnation Blues. While his two novels could be classified as humorous fantasy, he has also been published in The Year’s Best Science Fiction. Poore is the keynote speaker for this year’s conference.

·       Marilyn Kosmatka’s novel Time Spike was written in collaboration with Eric Flint. It is a time travel story that makes use of Kosmatka’s experience as a prison nurse.    

·       Carla Suson’s first book, Independence Day Plague, also makes use of a non-writing background, but hers is in cellular biology. These days she teaches English composition at a local university and sculpts tales of ghosts, murder, and mayhem.

·       Moderator Janine Harrison is a creative writing instructor and a poet. She is a past president of the Indiana Writers’ Consortium and established the first Steel Pen conference in 2015.

This is a panel you won’t want to miss. Go to to learn more and to register for the conference.

Registration closes on October 15, so don’t miss out.