Monday, March 10, 2008

More Thoughts on Retreats in General

Thanks to all of you who answered my introvert question! It sounds like I'm not the only one who does feel more at ease on the internet than in person, although Kimber an gave me some hope that one can learn to pace oneself, with experience. And most of you said -- and I agree -- that once you're published it is important to show your fans that you're a human and not a machine. (Unless of course you are a machine, which -- if you write sf, at least -- might be an advantage with the fans, who knows!)

I think this goes for agents too. Of course, agents don't go to books signings, but they are human beings, a fact it's easy for aspiring writers to forget. Most of the contact between aspiring writers and agents is in the form of the later rejecting the life's work of the former, a transaction not designed for maximum good feelings. Even when the aspiring writer has a professional attitude and tells her/him self, "It's business, it's not personal," the agent still remains a powerful mysterious figure looming on the other side of the query letter, with mystical powers of life and death over one's manuscript.

One great thing about writers' retreats and conferences is that it allows aspiring writers to meet agents, just as book signings allow fans to meet authors. Just this last November, I was fortunate enough to attend the Backspace conference in New York. This is a terrific conference, by the way, and much cheaper than Misque, for those of you who were complaining. (I'm looking at you, Bemused, you cynic.) Of course, it's in New York, which doesn't compare to Hawaii, and they won't help you edit and polish your manuscript, but for many of you it could be just the conference you're looking for!

I went there and met an agent whom I had formally only known through the official website of her agency. It's not that I had a bad opinion of her, it's more that in my mind agents inhabited some weird Twilight Zone like region of space and time orthogonal to our own. To my delight, she was simply a wonderful human being, with a terrific sense of humor, and just an extremely nice person. I have to say, most of the agents I met there were extremely kind people, not at all the sort of people who would, of their own accord, spend a good portion of their week crushing people's dreams. This was a part of the job they would have preferred not to do; unfortunately, it simply comes with the territory.

The relationship between fans and authors is a little different. Usually fans are not trying to petition authors to take them on as clients. But many fans would love to have a personal friendship with an admired author, and the author, whether extrovert or introvert, can't be personal friends with everyone who reads their books. Also, because many authors are introverts, they may fall into the trap of actively resenting time spent with fans signing books, and so on. And the more famous you are, the more difficult it is. Imagine how many people would love to sit down and chat about writing with J.K. Rowling. Obviously many more than she can accommodate.

For an aspiring writer, a book signing isn't the ideal place to interact with a published author, because it's simply too cramped and rushed to ask any of the questions you'd really like to ask. (Jump in and correct me if I'm wrong, established authors. I've never actually done a book signing myself.) Like, "Could you take a peek at my Chapter 13 and tell me if the dialog is too wooden? Does it drag?"

At a retreat, you actually can ask such a question, without the author in question calling security to ask you to please leave the nice lady/gentleman alone. At big conferences, it can still be a bit intimidating to walk up to an author after they've spoken on a panel, for instance, and attempt to strike up a conversation. You don't want to be the infamous stalker-in-the-bathroom fan.

Eight days after my son was born, I stumbled out of the delivery room and into the halls of theWorld Science Fiction Convention, hoping to topple over an agent who would immediately offer to sign me on as a client. Instead, I toppled into Mike Shepherd who was kind enough to listen to my woes about how to frame my novel in a query letter. I had my face pressed so close to novel, I had lost binocular vision. All I could see were the complexities, the subtleties, the marvelous themes and characters, and how could I possible capture all of that in a one-line zinger to lead off my query? For a good fifteen minutes, Mike listened to my rambling description of my book, and drew out the core conflict in the plot.

Well, now, as one of the commenters helpfully pointed out, the purpose of the Misque blog, is, at least in theory, to discuss Misque. Be glad of that, it's all that stands between this blog and endless rants about why my favorite microwave cordon bleu no longer has microwave directions, only oven directions. So I am going to share my hopes that Misque will be even better than World Con, because (a) I won't be lactating, and (b) the ratio of published authors to aspiring authors is going to be stacked much more in favor of the aspiring authors. Plus, there will be leisurely brunch-chats and dinner-chats about writing beside the swimming pool or looking out over the ocean, while half-naked Tiki dancers demonstrate their fire-swallowing abilities, with plenty of time to plumb the manifest systems failures of Chapter 13 and how to resuscitate same.

Oh, I have other good news too. Misque is sponsoring some books, which will be offered for sale on the site. Stuff about agents and writing. I have it on good authority at least one of these -- I think it's a book of the best agents for first time authors -- will be free. I don't know how soon it will be up on the site, but I'll be babbling about it here as soon as it is, don't worry!

In the meantime, I might be a bit quiet, because I am finishing up the edits on the same manuscript mentioned in this post, the full requested by an agent that I met at a retreat. Wohoo!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

A Question for Introverts

A lot of writers are introverts. Interacting with people -- while we may enjoy it -- drains our energy after a while. As a follow-up to yesterday's post about maintaining a website, I wonder if writers feel it's easier to interact with fans or even other writers through the internet. It is, after all, a written medium. Compared with, say, a book signing tour, where you meet people face to face, do you think it's easier to promote yourself and your work online?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Does a new writer need a website?

An interesting poll of agents over here on the question of whether it helps or hurts a novice writer to have a website.

Do you NEED to write?

I'm preparing a manuscript for an agent right now, and also working on a nonfiction book which is about a third finished (40,000 words). I've also had quite a bit of Misque business to attend to. I'm excited about the retreat, and glad to do it, but when I go several days without writing, I tend to get depressed.

This made me wonder. Do you NEED to write? I mean, do you ever feel the seed your creativity withers and dries up inside for lack of sunshine if you don't let it out to blossom once in a while?

Monday, March 3, 2008

Who reads more books?

I'm not going to make this blog about politics, but this tidbit was too tantalizing to pass up. Apparently, liberals read more books than conservatives. Alas, the sample size (about 1000 people) was too small to ask more detailed questions. Is there a difference between how much fiction and how much non-fiction each group reads? What about literary versus genre fiction?

Did the study control for factors known to affect political allegiance, and also known to influence reading habits? For instance, people who are affluent and well-educated are slightly more like to vote Democrat. Women are also slightly more likely than men to identify as Democrats. It happens that affluent, well-educated people read more than those lacking those advantages. (It's worth noting, however, that a French study found a love of reading can help low-income students catch up academically with their more privileged peers.) And women read more than men. In fact, it's been claimed, "When women stop reading, the novel will be dead."

The same article reported, "Among avid readers surveyed by the AP, the typical woman read nine books in a year, compared with only five for men. Women read more than men in all categories except for history and biography."

Compare this with the political literary divide: "Among those who had read at least one book, liberals typically read nine books in the year, with half reading more than that and half less. Conservatives typically read eight, moderates five."

If all those other factors were controlled for, would political leanings alone still indicate a difference in reading habits?

More Website Changes

A little blue bird told me that you will soon be able to link directly to our guest instructors books on Amazon from the website -- we're adding a "Shop!" button. Yeah! Also, I'm told there might be a freebe available for all of you...

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Amazon Widgets Added

Some Amazon widgets have been added to our blog. They wiggle. Maybe too much. We want to showcase the work of our guest instructors, but too much motion on a blog makes me dizzy. I may have to beg the web master to tone them down.

The website, I am told, is now going to feature the links to our guest instructors books. I encourage everyone to visit and click through the books and purchase them! Seriously, if you have read any of Robin D. Owens or Jennifer Ashley's books before, you are missing a real treat. You owe it to yourself to take a peek!