Staci Troilo

Suspense, Passion... Fiction That Flutters The Heart

Tag: conferences

Getting to the Heart of A Different Matter

by Staci Troilo

Hello. If you’re stopping by hoping to read another anecdote about my family or my friends, you’re going to be disappointed today. Or maybe not.

We’ve been discussing my relationships for a while now. I’ve told you stories about my grandparents, my parents, my siblings. You’ve read about my husband, my kids, my friends, heck, even my dogs.

What we haven’t discussed much lately is my work life. And we should. Because as far as relationships go, we have professional ones as well as personal ones. And if you’re as lucky as I am, you’re as passionate about your career as I am about mine, which means your professional relationships have the potential to be quite powerful, meaningful.

writing conferenceThis weekend I attended the Northwest Arkansas Writers’ Workshop Annual Conference in Fayetteville, Arkansas. It’s been a while since I saw some of the attendees, some of the people I only knew from online and I got to meet in person for the first time, and some people were complete strangers to me but became new friends and colleagues. A great time was had by all, and there was some valuable information presented.

greg campThe day started with Greg Camp, Publishing Director of
Oghma Creative Media doing a presentation on
editing for publication.
Greg’s talk covered the importance of a few key points
in fiction writing in order to avoid getting rejection letters. Well, to avoid getting as many as you would otherwise, anyway.

  • Grammar—You must have no grammatical errors if you want to be considered for publication.
  • Research—You have to do your homework. Historical inaccuracies are a sure way to get your manuscript tossed.
  • Pacing—You can’t do an “info dump” and tell the reader everything within the first five pages of the novel. Action needs to be revealed through the POV character interacting with other characters at a measured rate throughout the novel.
  • Conflict and Motivation—You don’t have a story unless your characters are at odds with something or someone and are motivated to change their situation.

I’ve known Greg for a few years and we have a lot in common. We both taught at the college level (he still does), we both write fiction, and we both edit for a living. I can tell you two things about his presentation: He knows his stuff and his advice was spot on.

casey cowanThe next presenter was Casey Cowan, President and Creative Director of Oghma Creative Media. Casey’s presentation was all about the seduction and allure of book covers. He said four things sell books:

  1. Word of mouth/peer pressure
  2. Big name endorsements
  3. Eye appeal of the cover
  4. Author effort/interaction with readers

When Oghma Creative Media designs covers, they consider the demographic of the readers and the genre of the book, then they look at the book’s message or theme and work with the author to design a front cover and spine that has the appropriate appeal for the audience. Then they work on the back cover to design not only the right color, but also taglines, teasers, and endorsements so that the back works with the front and works with the genre, creating a comprehensive package.

Duke PennellKimberly PennellThen my bosses, Duke and Kimberly Pennell from Pen-L Publishing, did a presentation on the relationship between authors and publishers. They discussed author expectations, publisher expectations, and the importance of the two getting in sync for a rewarding relationship. Some points covered were:

  • Personality—It’s really a matter of chemistry between author and publisher. If you don’t like each other as people, you won’t trust each other and you won’t work well together.
  • Vision—What are you expecting for your book? Your promoting efforts? Your career as a writer? Talk about it and be sure your plans mesh.
  • Marketing/Promotion/Reviews—Publishers used to send books to reviewers, issue releases, handle the promotion efforts. Now the shoe’s on the author’s foot to handle the marketing. These plans should be agreed on in advance so there are no surprises or disappointments.
  • Editing—Typically work is done in Microsoft Word using “track changes.” If a different method is preferred, it should be discussed.
  • Distribution—You need to know where your books will be available for purchase, how much you can buy them for, if you can buy them at wholesale price, etc. Learn the details in advance.
  • Support—Support shouldn’t end when the book is released. If you have questions or concerns, you should be able to call your editor. If you are doing a marketing tour, it’s not unreasonable to request a media packet be sent on your behalf. Make certain you have this support in place. Remember, your publisher doesn’t make money unless you do. They should be on your side.

velda brothertonAfter lunch, one of the founding members of the group, Velda Brotherton, discussed her twenty year writing journey. She encouraged us to hang on to everything we write, even our early work, because while we might not find a publisher for it immediately, years later we might. She’s finding success with some of her work twenty years after she wrote it. She offered a lot of advice, applicable to novices and experienced writers.

  • Write the best book you can (This involves more than just writing; it means studying the craft, joining critique groups, going to conferences, writing every day, editing ruthlessly, and having your work edited—with a thick skin.)
  • Build your platform so people can find you and follow you—Promote!
  • Publish your own work if you have to so your tribe can start reading your work
  • Avail yourself of small publishers
  • Use Createspace
  • Look into audiobooks
  • Then go for broke in New York (This is where conferences are so important. You’ll make connections with agents and editors there to get your foot in the door.)

Dusty RichardsWe ended the day with the other co-founder, Dusty Richards. Dusty discussed everything and anything you’d want to know about writing.

  • How to measure page count (1 page = 250 words)
  • How to structure a novel (1st quarter, hero’s lost. 2nd quarter, hero’s alone. 3rd quarter, hero gets support. 4th quarter, hero becomes hero or martyr.)
  • How to end a chapter (with some teaser to keep readers turning the page)
  • How to analyze the experts (Read every other page; you’ll see their structure. Or read one scene in the middle of the book and pick it apart.)
  • How to get experience (Work on short stories first, then work on single person POV.)

It’s been a privilege being in Dusty and Velda’s group for the last several years. Between them they have close to two hundred books published and decades of wisdom that they willingly share. All of the speakers were full of knowledge and quite entertaining. It was a really good day.

But I think my favorite part was the people. I used to be intimidated by conferences, but now I love them. I like meeting new people and catching up with old friends.

conferenceThis was the first time I set up a book table. That was a new experience for me, and it was a blast. It’s always a shock to me when someone wants my autograph, and this time someone even wanted to take my picture! I even had one woman come up to me and say she saw my book cover from all the way across the room and she just had to come over and see what it was about. That was a real honor. Yes, I met a lot of new people, made some new friends, and had a really good time.

So this post wasn’t about family, but it was about relationships—professional ones. And I’m just as passionate about them and treasure them just as much as I do all the other relationships in my life. What about your professional relationships? Have you recently been to a conference? Are you in sales? Do you have a funny work story to tell? Share it with us here.

Four Ways to Turn Weekend Negatives into Writing Positives

snow in MayWow, what a weekend. It started with snow. In May. In Arkansas. I ask you, what’s a die hard northerner to look forward to in the south if not nice weather? We’ve already opened our pool, for Pete’s sake. And now we have snow! It couldn’t have come at a worse time—it was the first tennis tournament of the season. So here I was, missing a writing conference that I’d love to attend because of my kids’ sporting events, and the weather was not cooperating. I had planned for sun and heat and instead I was worrying about precipitation and wind chill factors. Not the weekend we had planned.

It was not a good weekend for us. On Friday, as I said, we woke up to snow. I was too cold to even get out of the car to take a proper photo of it. The tennis matches were all backed up and rescheduled, as well as operating under amended scoring protocols. By the time my son was used to the tournament and thoroughly warmed up, his match was over. Sadly, he lost, which isn’t unexpected for the first match ever, but he took it hard. By the time we ate and went home, the Penguin game had started. Luckily, we recorded it. Sadly, they lost too. It was a bad day for us all around.

Saturday started out as wet and cold as Friday. Tennis was still on amended schedules. My daughter’s match was delayed several hours, and they didn’t even bother telling us, so we just hung around for, oh, I don’t know, ever, until our turn. She made it into the semifinals, so we thought things we looking up. We were wrong.

Sunday dawned warmer and partly sunny. After Mass, we headed over to the courts and I checked in my daughter while my husband left with my son to go get some practice time in before his match. Everything was looking up, right? Wrong. They took my daughter ahead of schedule, so my husband missed the beginning of her match. He didn’t miss much. She lost. My son played a couple of hours later. He had a great match, but he also lost. We decided to grab something to eat and call it a day.

We headed out to a Mexican restaurant. I usually cook a special Mexican meal for Cinco de Mayo, but we weren’t home for me to make it, so we were at the mercy of the restaurant. The first piece of bad news: we walk in and the television above the bar has the hockey score on. No point in watching the game now. At least we won. Then the waitress who took our drink order never came back, so we were abandoned for a while. The good news was that we ended up with a really good waiter when he figured out that we weren’t being served. The meal wasn’t that good because they were super busy and using a modified menu, but we were together, so that’s all that really matters. I’ll just make our “real” meal later in the week.

So what’s the take away from this weekend?

  1. They don’t cancel tennis tournaments for snow.
  2. The kids are resilient when they lose in tennis matches.
  3. It doesn’t matter whether my kids (and my pro sports teams) win.
  4. Only four more years until I can make it to the writing conference in May.

And how these things impact fiction writing?

  1. Sometimes weather is inappropriate for the season.
    We’ve all seen storms thrown into stories, or cowboys riding into sunsets, but consider the weather as part of the setting when it’s not traditional—like snow in the summer, or a heat wave at Christmas. How can that impact your characters and your story?
  2. How characters handle adversity defines them.
    My kids didn’t make it into the finals this weekend, but they left the tournament as champions because of how they handled themselves. There were no McEnroe-sized temper tantrums, there were no tears. There were no blaming bad calls. There were no varsity limps. My kids shook hands with their competitors and held their heads high as they walked off the courts. How your characters handle losses helps readers know who they are.
  3. Heroes can’t always win and villains can’t always lose.
    There’s something to be said for the successful villain or the down-on-his-luck hero. If the hero is always on top, he’s going to be boring. He needs to face adversity and not always win. If the villain doesn’t score a success or two, he may succumb to new lows of depravity and evil, but he’ll be one dimensional. No one loses all the time. Mixing it up makes it more real.
  4. Writing conferences will help you improve your writing.
    There are times that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. This weekend, the first weekend in May, is always our first tennis tournament. It’s also the OWFI Conference. I can’t do both, and my family needs my support more than I need to go to the conference. There are other conferences, and in a few more years, I’ll be free to attend this conference, too. That doesn’t mean that I don’t find conferences important. I do, and I suggest writers find a conference and attend it. In fact, I found my agent at a conference, so I can’t say enough good things about them. Do your research, prepare, and attend. It’s a great way to network in addition to learn about your craft.

So no, this wasn’t the best weekend the Troilo family has spent in recent history. But we took our lemons and made limoncello out of them. (We’re Italian, what else would we make?) I hope you had a better weekend than we did, but if you didn’t, hopefully you found a way to get the positives out of the negatives. Good weekend or bad, why not share it with us below? Especially if you have a tip for a fellow writer.

Patience is a Virtue

So you’ve sent off your short story to a contest, or your query letter to an agent, or your manuscript to a publisher. And you wait. And you wait. And you wait.

It can be agonizing.

What’s a writer to do?

This is the age of instant gratification. If you need an answer immediately, go to a conference. There you can sit down with an agent or editor and have a face to face chat and find out immediately if you have what their agency is looking for. You may not like the answer you get, but at least you’ll get an answer. Immediately. If you don’t like the answer, don’t give up. Pitch to a different agent or editor. If you keep hearing “no” well, then maybe you should write something else.

If you’re willing to wait the two months for the competition, or the answer to the query or the manuscript submission, then there’s nothing you can do but wait the time out. And while you do, don’t twiddle your thumbs. Keep writing.

Someone may want to read a sequel.

NWA Writers Conference

Originally posted March 10, 2012

I attended the NWA Writers Conference today, and I wish you all could have been with me. It had excellent presenters and valuable information for any published or hoping to be published authors. I feel inspired to work on my platform and my manuscripts. Which is why I’m here blogging right now instead of doing the thousand other things that always take me away from blogging. Check out Many of the members have useful links that you might like.

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