Casey Cowan, conferences, covers, Duke Pennell, Dusty Richards, editing, Greg Camp, Kimberly Pennell, Oghma Creative Media, Pen-L Publishing, promotion, Staci Troilo, Velda Brotherton, writing, writing groups
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.
This 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.
The 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.
The 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:
- Word of mouth/peer pressure
- Big name endorsements
- Eye appeal of the cover
- 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.
Then 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.
After 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.)
- 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.
This 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.