Thoughts From the 2018 Thrillerfest

I had quite a whirlwind week in New York City while attending Thrillerfest. It was my first time back in four years and I didn’t realize how much I missed it.  I would like to use this week’s blog to share impressions and information gathered from listening to established writers, publishing house CEOs, agents, and information experts.

Thrillerfest

The stone head is the normal decoration inside the Grand Hyatt, but combined with the Thrillerfest logo, it made a striking visual statement.

One catchphrase that seemed to crop up a lot was “great plot can overcome bad writing, but great writing can’t overcome a bad plot.” I like to think this idea of “plot is king” refers to a few books that have become hits despite mediocre writing. Publishers are hungry for great, original plots. One of the impressions I got was that they are more willing to work with newbie authors to shape up the writing in order to publish a great story.

Information from Established Authors

Along with these lines, a panel of authors that included Brian Andrews, Steve Berry, Mark Dawson, Robert Dugoni, Bob Mayer, Jenny Milchman, and Jeffrey Wilson all answered questions on traditional publishing. The first question commented on “what was the point where you knew you had ‘made it’ as a writer?” The answers mostly focused on not having to put on a suit or working by the pool, but the one that struck a cord with me was “the answer is a moving target.”

I agree with that. My goals and ideas for success have changed since Independence Day Plague was published in 2009. They will change again with the next book’s publication because becoming a career author involves climbing a ladder rung by rung and not just sprinting towards some end goal.

Steve Berry in particular remarked on the three points to success in publishing: platform, product, and promotion. He related a story where he was quizzed by a more famous author (at the time) about his sales numbers for different books in different markets. He couldn’t answer any of the man’s questions and was chewed out for it. What he learned from that was the mantra, “know the business, know the numbers.” We are in a self-promoting business and we shouldn’t leave our success or failure with anyone else.

One piece of Advice Each

Finally, each of the authors was asked for one piece of advice that they would offer to a new writer. I’ve summarized them below. I would love to attribute them to specific people but I couldn’t hear them that well. If any of my readers also attended and can tell me who said what, please let me know.

Don’t give up, and revise and resubmit. Be ready to throw away  a manuscript and start all over again because you are learning about and improving your craft every time you write a manuscript. However, also be prepared to listen to expert advice and fix mistakes as well before submitting to the next editor or agent.

Learn along as you write and (different author) go learn the craft. Good novel writing is a skill that you must develop. The way you learn is through books, seminars, other writers, and conferences and constantly write. Critically review your work to make it the best it can be.

Don’t try to write like Steven King. Write like yourself and find your own voice. Your writing will be stronger that way.

Network all that you can. Writers support writers with information, help with research, and sometimes collaborate on projects. Although I don’t remember if this was said or not, I would add here to be an active part of organizations like the Indiana Writers’ Consortium, other local writers’ groups, and even national organizations like International Thriller Writers (or whatever your genre’s organization) simply for the support and sharing of information.

Break the rules. One author said know the rules and more importantly, know when to break them.

Write what you love but not necessarily what you know. An example of this is that you may know all about something like finance or courtroom procedures but you don’t love it. Instead, you love modern art or raising unusual chickens. The passion that you feel about your subject will come through in your writing.

Keep writing. We all know people who say they can write but somehow never finish a manuscript or others that give up because they can’t handle rejections. Getting published is hard. The success usually goes to those are doggedly determined to win that book contract or connection with an agent. Find the time and place that works for you and keep hammering at the keyboards.

More information to come. In the meantime, happy writing!

Sci-Fi Agents: Where are they gathering?

A few days ago, I posted a message on the Fantasy & Science Fiction Writers Facebook page.

Does anyone know about a writers’ conference that focuses on sci-fi and/or fantasy? I’m going to Thrillerfest in a few days to pitch my sci-fi book but I feel like it is the wrong venue.

The response I got was varied, interesting and in some cases disheartening. I’d like to share some with you and my thoughts on them.

The First Group of Responses

Many people focused on the “sci-fi” and “con” aspect and started posting multiple suggestions of purely fan-oriented conventions for that. As you know, I like entertainment cons as much as the next person, but it is not where I would go, pitch in hand, to search for an agent. First of all, to my knowledge, agents don’t have a reason to go as a professional to a general sci-fi/fantasy con. If they go, I would assume it is because they go for the love of the spirit of sci-fi and don’t want to be pestered with newbie writers. Like others enjoying the genre, they might just want to dress up, see some panels, and sing some filk.

Metropolis girl

I’d love to cosplay this character.

The years (and it has been many years ago) that I’ve attended these conference, you couldn’t tell who a publisher, agent, artist, or writer was unless they were on a panel or in the Dealers’ room. It is not like they wear giant neon signs, arrows swaying over their heads, or even halos. Therefore, if they are there, how does a writer find them? Once the writer finds the agent, how do they go about “discussing” anything without seeming to be obnoxious? These are the things I worry about because I’ve very shy at crowded conventions.

On the other hand, when they go to organized writers’ conferences, they know they are going to be hit up with pitches. It is just another day on the job for them. When the same conference has a pitch fest, the event becomes a golden opportunity for writers to approach them in an organized safe way. This is best for both. Agents don’t want to be chased into the bathroom (as one person on the Facebook page related) or have their dinner interrupted with an overzealous author. At the same time, those authors that respect boundaries might have difficulty knowing when it is proper to approach an agent. I’m shy, generally speaking. At a pitch event, I can bring it on. When I’m standing in line for drinks at a conference break, I can’t. I honestly think the agent wants a break by then. So I try to abide by the rules of polite society and common sense, but that begs the question of when to approach them in a nonorganized way at a sci-fi convention.

The Second Group of Responses

I got some good recommendations for possible general writing conferences, most of which I already knew about.

  • Pikes Peak Writers Conference: This is a very good regional conference and I enjoyed the one time I went. It wasn’t too pricey (as conferences go) but only had around six agents (can’t remember actual number) of which only four might be interested in my work. For all the cost of the registration fee, hotel, air flight, and more. I spent a lot of money to meet these folks.
  • Thrillerfest (which I’m attending next week): This is a pricey national conference. The event is huge with lots of opportunities for learning, socializing, and pitching. I’ve gone four times before. I feel like I get good “bang for my buck” at larger, national conferences like this and the Writers’ Digest ones.
  • Push to Publish: I’ve never been but it was recommended to me.
  • Philia Writer’s Conference: I’ve never been but it was recommended to me.
  • Writing Excuses week long cruise: I’ve never been. I researched it and it talked about a lot of famous authors, over three hundred attendees… and one agent. As much as it would be fun, it is not a good option, in my opinion, for meeting multiple agents.

K. Tempest Bradford, who is a media critic and writing instructor, stated that I should concentrate on the conventions that have a high percentage of agents/editors who won’t mind doing a little side business. Again, how would I know about these people unless they literally have signs on them? She recommended these general sci-fi cons. I only know about the one that I commented on.

Third Group of Responses

This was the disheartening group because it seemed filled with bitterness. I’ll paraphrase it as “Pitch fests aren’t worth it. The agencies only send their newest, crappy agents, most agents hate these events, etcetera.” I have no idea what agents think about these pitch fests. I’ve been to several in California, Colorado, and New York City and the professionals been wonderfully kind to me. I always walk away with at least three or more requests for pages. The bigger the event, the more requests I get.

I have also met a LOT of established agents and CEOs of their companies, thus blowing away the “newest agent” comment. As far as that goes, I have absolutely no problem dealing with a new agent as long as we have good chemistry. I’m in it for the long haul and looking for a partner that will support me and also tell me when I’m wrong

In Conclusion

Ultimately, I was right. None of the science-fiction conventions appear to have the same setup as Thrillerfest, where they spend three days supporting writers and then two days celebrating fans. Although people on this Facebook page said they DO feel supported, the main gist of the advice was to go to mainstream writers’ conferences because “science fiction is different.” I disagree. Sci-fi is great with a huge body of supporters, writers, publishers, and agents. Yes, there are writing panels and workshops at places like Worldcon and the larger regional ones, but it stops there. So why can’t Worldcon have two days for writing and a pitch fest for those of us trying to become established authors? Why not support up and coming writers directly at some of the larger literary-oriented cons? It is the one way where we sci-fi people fall a little short of supporting our own.

Meanwhile I will be at Thrillerfest this week, pitching my feminist YA story about life for women in the Asteroid Belt where the Old West meets The Martian. Please wish me luck!

Happy writing!