Saturday, June 2, 2007

Backspace Report

As promised, here are my thoughts on the conference.

First, overall I really liked it. I learned a lot and met some terrific people.

There were a couple of things I didn’t like, so I’ll start there and get them out of the way. In my opinion, the venue sucked. I realize this is probably sacrilege to those who revere the Algonquin as the bastion of writing. However, as fabulous as it’s history may be it’s not set up for conferences of 150+ people.

It was very dark, had 2 small elevators, steep marble stairs with small treads and small meetings rooms. The main meeting room was long and narrow and those in the back could barely hear. Plus, the air conditioning really worked well. So well in fact that I wish I had taken my wool socks and long johns with me because we were freezing in there. It’s difficult to concentrate when your fingers and toes are starting to turn blue from frostbite.

I suggest a different, more conference friendly venue next year. Those who want to savor the atmosphere of the Algonquin can go have cocktails there. I plan lots of meetings and conferences and it would have been very nice to be somewhere with bigger rooms where we could have leveraged our group size into some preferred room pricing so we could have afforded to stay there and have things like coffee in the morning.

I also didn’t like the venue for our banquet. It was festive and the service was good, but the food was just okay and the acoustics were awful. There were 6 of us at our table and we could barely hear each other. When the awards were presented, you couldn’t even hear what the speakers were saying. Again, it seemed that atmosphere trumped practicality.

End of rants. Beginning of raves.

I met some wonderful people, most of whom were aspiring writers and they were an entertaining and interesting bunch. We were writing in several different genres so it was fun to discuss our projects and talk about the common struggles writers face. I thoroughly expect to see many of them in print eventually and hope to keep in touch with some.

The workshops I attended were well done and very informative. I learned a lot about the business in general and what really good writing is in particular. I learned how important the first sentence, paragraph, two pages and chapter are and why you need to spend extra time making them extraordinary. I learned how agents work and how decisions are made about what books get published. I learned why there are rules and the importance of following them. I learned the most common mistakes writers make and how to avoid them. They were all very interesting.

There were two things that really stood out for me. On Thursday, the keynote speaker was Michael Cader the founder of http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/ . He was amazing and gave a fresh and interesting perspective on publishing and why it has to change to keep up with the times. I am including a link to Kristin Nelson’s blog which gives a great synopsis of what he said. I think it’s vitally important that everyone realize that change is needed and inevitable. Approximately 95% of the books published every year don’t make money. If you want your book to succeed you need to be proactive in the marketing and publicity of it and the internet and alternate means of publishing are taking on new importance.

The second stand-out was the workshop on memoirs put on by Kim Reid, Kristin Nelson and David Patterson. This was the topic I was most interested in because this was my genre. I didn’t hear what I wanted to hear. I heard what I needed to hear. Between this workshop and the few minutes of Kristin and Kim’s time I had after it, I had the answers to the questions for which I traveled 2,400 miles.

Was my manuscript good enough to be published? No.
Was I ready to query? No.

My life is interesting to me and my friends, but in order to make it interesting to others, the telling of it needs a lot of work.

I came back with an amazing amount of insight and ideas. I’m not sure yet what I’m going to do – polish my memoirs, turn the book into more self-help, or do something completely different.

While I’m pondering all this, I’ve decided to become an advice blogger. One of my master’s degrees was in counseling. I have lived a long life filled with mistakes, stupid choices and many lessons learned. I have no fear of being sued because I have nothing worth taking, so I am marginally qualified to give advice.

So if you need advice on any subject, please feel free to e-mail me. I make no guarantees about the sanity or accuracy of my advice. And remember, you might want to check several other sources.

Caveat emptor!

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am running into the same thing - I advocated for a friend who has written a memoir with a publisher that I know well. My publisher friend tells me that she has made it clear to her writers for 20 years that she does not do memoirs as trade publications because they are rarely profitable.

This writer is severely disabled, was labeled mentally retarded and institutionalized as a young child, bounced around the foster system, then finally tested at age 29 and found that she was not mentally retarded. She started her education at that point and made it through a real high school diploma, got married... Her story is heartbreaking and hopeful, full of stories of abuse, neglect, misunderstanding, loneliness, romance, disappointment.

No go. Not profitable. We may apply for a grant through an advocacy agency, but she will probably just end up doing POD.

I wonder how many memoirs there are out there.

-Anonymous Sister of Anti-wife

The Anti-Wife said...

Memoirs do get published. However, the writing has to be exemplary and the story gripping. Also, the best memoirs don't show the person as a victim but as someone who faces adversity and succeeds against all odds.

Your friend might benefit from a critique group that could help her polish her story for publication and to catch the interest of agents. Or perhaps a professional editor.

Once her story is the best it can be, she should search for a literary agent who handles memoirs and knows which publishers to submit to so she can have someone to advocate for her.

M. G. Tarquini said...

Thanks for this report.