Q&A: 3 Reasons to Attend Writers Conferences

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Q: I’m working on a book, but it’s not finished yet. Should I attend a writers conference anyway, or should I wait until my book is finished and I’m ready to pitch agents and editors?

A: Don’t wait. There are many benefits to attending writers conferences beyond pitching.

Classes

Writing conferences offer great teaching on a variety of writing techniques, as well as about the business aspects of a writing career. So yes, you should absolutely attend a writers conference while your manuscript is still in progress, because you will learn things you can immediately apply to your work.

Platform

Part of embarking on a writing career is building a platform, which is industry jargon for making a name for yourself. When we talk about networking, we often focus on getting to know people in your niche, but being known is just as important. Your platform encompasses your reputation and the number of people you’re connected to. Even as a newbie, you can start forming relationships with industry professionals. If you don’t have a manuscript to pitch, you can still sit with an agent or editor at dinner and ask about their work. Connect with them online. Then when you are ready to pitch, they may remember you. One of the best ways to become known in your niche is to volunteer at a conference.

Friendships

My single favorite thing about attending conferences is the friendships I’ve developed with other writers and freelancers. Many of my closest friends and most trusted colleagues are people I first met at a conference. Those relationships alone are worth the price of admission and then some. Just to give one example, I got to know Ben Wolf, editor-in-chief of Splickety Publishing Group, through the Florida Christian Writers Conference and the Realm Makers speculative fiction conference. Because of our friendship and the platform I had built, Ben recruited me to copyedit Havok magazine, which has become one of my favorite roles.

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Meeting other writers is the best reason for attending a conference. Realm Makers 2017. Photo by Kristen Stieffel

Find Conferences Near You

I consider traveling to conferences to be an investment in my business, but for a writer just starting out, the expense may be hard to justify. So do as I did and start locally. Here in Central Florida I attended the Florida Writers Association conference (which is coming up in October) and the Florida Christian Writers Conference (February) several times each before I started traveling to national conferences like American Christian Fiction Writers.

Search the writers conference category at Shaw Guides to find a conference in your region, or try searching the internet for the name of your state or province and the words “writers conference” or “writers association.”

If it still seems hard to justify the expense of a conference, consider that conference fees are tuition in your continuing education as a writer. It’s an investment that pays off.

Q&A: What’s the deal with spaces after a period?

Q: I saw a post online that said only people over the age of forty put two spaces after a period. But I’m under thirty, and my college professors said to use two. I’m confused. Which is correct?

A: Both are correct in different circumstances.

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As with so much else that publishing professionals get needlessly worked up about, this is a style choice, not a matter of right or wrong.

Three of the most popular style books currently in use, The Chicago Manual of Style, The Associated Press Stylebook, and The MLA Handbook (Modern Language Association), all call for one space after what we call terminal punctuation—that is, whatever marks the end of a sentence, whether it’s a period, question mark, or exclamation point. Continue reading

The Prophet’s Chronicle Storyworld

One of the things fiction allows us to do is examine hypothetical situations that don’t exist in the real world. A novel is a large-scale thought experiment. This is true of any fiction, but doubly true in speculative fiction. The whole point of science fiction and fantasy is to explore worlds that don’t actually exist.

The storyworld in which my first novel, Alara’s Call, and the other books in the series are set is modeled after nineteenth-century Europe, with all the small countries close together and interrelated royal families and court intrigues. But for all its differences, Europe was long united by a single dominant faith, and most countries had similar governing systems. In my stories, I want to examine several contrasts. This meant I had to set up the storyworld in ways that differ from Europe. Continue reading

Alara’s Call — Release Day!

If you follow me on Facebook, you may be sick of hearing about this, but if not, I’m pleased to say that today is the release date for my first novel, Alara’s Call. It’s book one of my series The Prophet’s Chronicle.

Cover of Alara’s Call

Sara Helwe did a fantastic job on this cover. Clicking the image will take you to the publisher’s website, where you’ll find links to all the major booksellers.

In the lead-up to this release, and for the rest of the week, I’ve been on a blog tour. The schedule is below if you want to visit some of these other sites and learn more about Alara, her allies, and her storyworld. Continue reading

Fiction Q&A: Styling Royal and Noble Titles

Q: When referring to a king or lord, when do you capitalize—if at all—for sire and your majesty and such? For example:

All we can do now is wait and pray that you and your healers can help my sister, your majesty.

I’m so confused. Thanks for your help.

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A: Titles are tricky, because it depends how you’re using them.

Generally speaking, the title will be capitalized if it’s being used with or in place of the person’s name. So in your example, Your Majesty would be capitalized. That’s what we call “direct address.” But if you and I are talking about the king, “king” isn’t capitalized because we’re using the word to talk about him, not as a name when talking to him. Continue reading

Q&A: Do I Need Italics for Flashbacks?

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Q: I used italics in a scene with a flashback, but my critique partner said I should never use italics. Here’s the part I put in italics:

He sat in the cold hospital waiting room, feeling numb. This was just like when Mom died. We did all we could, the doctor had said. 

I thought characters’ memories were supposed to be italicized. Now I’m confused. What’s the right way to do this?

A: Confusion is understandable, for a several reasons.

First, you’re not the only one who’s confused. Your critique partner is—I’ll be generous and say “overstating the case.” Whenever someone gives you a never in regards to writing, your inner warning klaxon should go off. Writing is an art, and cannot be governed by rules involving always or never. Continue reading

Subplots, Side Stories, and What to Do with Them

Novelists often get carried away with characters. Or maybe that should be, characters often carry away novelists. Either way, well-developed secondary characters can run away with a story if you let them. In one of my sample book maps, I showed how this can happen.

In my fictional fiction (sorry for going so meta on you here), the secondary character Cordelia suddenly gets a lot of attention in Chapters 5 through 8, with a big-city adventure that has nothing to do with the heroine, the hero, or the villain.

Sample Book Map

Click to open larger so you can actually read this.

If we can in fact tie Cordelia’s storyline together with Antonia’s in a plausible way, then Cordelia has a subplot. But if that’s the case, the subplot should amplify or contrast what is happening in the main plot. Also, we’d want to see more alternation between Antonia’s main plot and Cordelia’s subplot. If you stray from your primary story line for too long, the reader’s attachment to the protagonist can break. This leads readers to stop reading. Continue reading