Five Amazing Things I Brought Home From My First Writing Conference

open notebook with "am I good enough?" written on page. Pen and pencil on notebook.I recently attended my first Romance Writers of America national conference in New York City. I left home full of nerves— What if I didn’t make any friends? What if I wore the wrong things? What if, when asked, I couldn’t remember what my book was about? Worst of all, I left home with a sneaky, sinking suspicion that when surrounded by other writers, I wouldn’t measure up. I packed all that in my suitcase along with six pairs of shoes, twenty-two pairs of underwear (just in case!) and headed to New York.

What I brought home four days later weighed one pound more (FTW, Delta!) and was more valuable than the extra Biscoff cookies I nabbed from the flight. Whether you write romance, thrillers, literary fiction, or children’s books, let me tell you about five of the things I brought back from my conference and why you might want to attend conferences in your genre.

Worst of all, I left home with a sneaky, sinking suspicion that when surrounded by other writers, I wouldn’t measure up. I packed all that in my suitcase along... Click To Tweet

#5. So. Many. Books.

In fairness, these didn’t come home in my suitcase because I had to ship them from the business center in the hotel, but let’s pretend for the sake of metaphor. I work in academia and I’ve written before about how I hid my love of romance for a long time, believing people would think it wasn’t “smart enough.”

I’m over that now, but there was no greater symbolism for that than holding a stack of new romance novels and talking with fellow readers who were educated, successful professionals about our shared interest in the book’s promise of happily ever after (and just for a minute about the shirtless model featured on the cover). I found my people along with new books.
#4. Business Cards

I was given a head’s up that having business cards would be beneficial, so I brought a stack to trade. I recommend doing this because I ended up bringing home a stack of cards from other authors. One of the most important things you’ll do at genre-specific conferences is meet other authors, industry professionals, and vendors. I also met many people in elevators, in line for the bathroom, and while waiting for sessions to begin. I knew we had at least one thing in common, so striking up a conversation with “What do you write?” was easy.

One of the most important things you’ll do at genre-specific conferences is meet other authors, industry professionals, and vendors. Click To Tweet

#3. Notes

The educator in me knows this should be #1, but I came home with a notebook filled with notes on marketing strategies, writing craft, publishing ins and outs, and important topics like domestic violence in romance. I love networking and cocktail parties, but the nerd in me was here for the learning. Taking notes AND talking about writing? Yes, please. Sessions will vary, but these conferences are a great opportunity to hone and stretch ourselves as authors. I went to sessions I knew I’d love and chose a few where I wasn’t sure what I was getting into—they all came home with me.

#2. Confidence

Admittedly, I attended the conference with a few things going my way already. I was a finalist for an award for unpublished authors, I’d signed with an agent a few months before the conference, and my book had recently sold. Still, I questioned my talent and abilities. During the conference, I met fellow new authors who could talk about our shared anxieties, I met seasoned professionals who offered to help and told me my book sounded great, and I met people who were just kind, welcoming, and friendly. Between the shoes I didn’t end up wearing, and the NYC-themed toys I bought for my son, my suitcase was filled with affirmation that I can not only write a kick-ass book, but the shoulders-back, boobs-forward confidence that I will write several more.

#1. A Plan

Confidence is great and I strutted (in my mind) down the jet bridge, but the most important thing I came home with was a plan. Between my new network of people, my notes, and Author Denise Williams smilingnewfound knowledge of my genre and the publishing industry, I came home with the tools to make a plan. I’ve already been in touch with authors I met willing to help boost my book when it comes out, I’ve started sketching out plans for marketing and questions to ask my publisher, and mapping out next steps for my career.

On top of those five things, I brought home a camera roll full of selfies with new friends and author heroes, a little bit of a hangover (Whew! Authors know how to party!) and three new ideas for novels. NYC is a cruelly expensive city to visit, as are many conference locations, but consider the options for your genre if it’s possible—local, regional, national, and international conferences are out there and can be great for indie, trad, or hybrid authors, unpublished and published alike. Pack your bag and see what you come home with—I’m glad I did.

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Denise Williams wrote her first book in the 2nd grade. I Hate You and its sequel, I Still Hate You, featured a tough, funny heroine, a quirky hero, witty banter, and a dragon. Minus the dragons, these are still the books she likes to write. After penning those early works, she finished second grade and eventually earned a PhD in education. When she’s not writing romance novels, she’s chasing two dogs, one husband, and a hilarious toddler.

Dr. Naya Turner has never failed at anything, but when she puts herself out there, she stumbles in every possible way. Luckily, the man she’s stumbling into doesn’t seem to mind. This is a story about surviving — and finding love and laughter on the way to finding one’s own voice.

Follow Denise on Twitter , Instagram , or Facebook.  How to Fail at Flirting, her debut romantic comedy, is coming December 2020 from Berkley. To receive an email when the book is available (and to learn more about Denise) visit www.denisewilliamswrites.com

 

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3 Types of Nonfiction That Can Improve Your Novel

Bharat Krishnan, Author

We’ve all had to do it at some point in our academic and professional careers: the Dreaded Personal Statement™. Why do you want to join this university? Why do you think this job is right for you? And going beyond personal statements, some of you might have even written an online dating profile. I know I did, and it led me to my wife. Finally, every day we write emails to colleagues, friends, family, and even strangers.

What if I were to tell you that by mastering the art of the personal statement, the art of the online dating profile, and the art of email, you could become a first-rate author? You’ve probably had plenty of practice doing these things anyway, so why not tell yourself that spending time doing this stuff counts towards your daily word goal so that you don’t feel so guilty spending time on Tinder or Gmail?

Here’s how it’s worked for me, and how it could work for you, too.

Personal Statements 

Writing about yourself is hard, and many authors want to compartmentalize their writing as just one aspect of their multi-faceted lives. But the thing about writing is that it begs to burst from your soul. You write (or at least I do) because you just cannot keep the words inside of you for a moment longer or you’ll explode. Writing is intensely personal, then, and there’s no need to be embarrassed about that. The first short story I had published was about my alcoholism. Anybody can sit at a computer and type on a word document, so what makes your writing stand out is that it is YOU writing it. You are telling a story that only YOU can tell, and you owe your readers the answer as to why that is. Why can only YOU share this tale about two brothers searching for revenge in a desert? Why can only YOU pen this tale about a girl who just wants to go home?

The thing about writing is that it begs to burst from your soul. You write because you just cannot keep the words inside of you for a moment longer... Click To Tweet

My first book was essentially a 150-page personal statement. In 2016, I wrote an autobiography based on 10 years of working as a professional political campaign manager; being able to tell my personal story in that medium turned out to be a massive help over the next several years of my life. In 2017, I had to write a personal statement to get into an MBA program and, thanks to months spent refining my “less is more” style of weaving a personal narrative in a few words that still manages to captivate, I got a full scholarship to my top choice. It turns out that when you learn how to write about yourself in an interesting way, writing about other things in ways that captivate the soul becomes much easier.

Online Dating Profiles

Growing up in that awkward period — when the internet wasn’t quite yet a thing in grade school but everyone had an AIM screen name by 6th grade — I became well-acquainted with just about every dating app available by the time I hit my 20s. OkCupid, Tinder, Hinge, and – what finally worked for me – Coffee Meets Bagel. Just as in writing a personal statement, when writing a dating profile you’ve got to explain things succinctly.

Unlike personal statements, though, online dating profiles require HUMOR. Just think about that – why do you swipe right on someone’s profile? How much can you really learn about someone given a few words and a couple of pictures? Enough to make you feel safe and happy enough to want to spend an evening with them? Perhaps our inhibitions drop and we’re convinced of a person’s authenticity when we know they can crack a joke: humor is a cheat code. 

What I mean is that when you can make someone laugh, they start to think less logically and more emotionally. All your favorite stories – from Harry Potter to Star Wars to the Avengers – have inconsistencies in them. Why don’t Deatheaters weaponize polyjuice potion? How can Leia remember her birth mother in Return of the Jedi? Why doesn’t Thanos just double the universe’s resources? We don’t mind these inconsistencies because, by the time they’re introduced, we’re thinking emotionally. And one surefire way to make sure people react emotionally about your writing is to make them laugh.

Perhaps our inhibitions drop and we’re convinced of a person’s authenticity when we know they can crack a joke: humor is a cheat code. Click To Tweet

There’s Always E-mail 

I never knew there was an actual term for what I often do: “ping-ponging.” I frequently will respond to a just-sent email with a few words, and then follow up with a few more words, and then follow up with a few more words. You’ve now received 3 emails from me in the span of five minutes, and it’s all because I couldn’t just chill and read your entire email in one go. 

You’ve now received 3 emails from me in the span of five minutes, and it’s all because I couldn’t just chill and read your entire email in one go. Click To Tweet

When writing anything, you want to gather all your thoughts in one go and then succinctly do the thing. This way, you can make sure your writing is compelling and to the point. You need to write something that fully addresses all the questions your reader might have, but isn’t needlessly long. As authors, we might have less than 500 words to convince a reader to buy our book instead of just reading the free preview on Amazon. 

Improving your email etiquette could make you a better author by ensuring that each word in your novel is justified.

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Bharat Krishnan is currently working on his third book in four years, and during that time he decided he wasn’t quite busy enough so he also got married and graduated with honors from LSU’s Flores MBA program. He lives in Columbus, Ohio as a philanthropic consultant, and loves to cook when he’s not writing or working out.

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pink neon sign says, "discover, embrace, be you."

Hashtag WritingCommunity: Emma Lombard on Building an Author Platform

 

Photo of writer Emma Lombard in her post on social media and followers

When I ventured into the Twitterverse, I was terrified. Having witnessed how quickly situations could turn toxic on social media, I didn’t want to involve myself in this world. But a huge part about being an author is putting yourself out there and social media plays a big role in that these days.

I resurrected my Twitter account in 2018 (dormant since 2010) and I most fortuitously tripped across the #WritingCommunity.

Tentatively Venturing into Social Media

I spent months fumbling my way around Twitter, feeling insecure and unsure about what to do – or more importantly, what not to do. I didn’t want to step on any Twitter toes. I started posting Twitter Tip threads that garnered a lot of thanks and praise from those still learning themselves. I ended up with so many Twitter Tips threads that I decided to put them together as my first blog, TWITTER TIPS FOR NEWBIES. It has turned out to be a big hit with folks, as have my follow-up blogs in the series.

I’m no expert in social media, in human relations or in the publishing industry – I have a little more knowledge than some folks and a whole lot less knowledge than others. I share my own experiences. Sometimes, all folks need is to know they are not alone on their journey and that others are experiencing similar challenges.

Sometimes, all folks need is to know they are not alone on their journey. Click To Tweet

 

Figuring Out How Social Media Ticks

I research blogs and online marketing sites for advice. Social media is an evolving platform, so I figure that reading the most up-to-date news about its functions from those in-the-know is the way to go.

Interestingly, I found some marketing websites better and easier to understand than Twitter or Facebook’s help sites. The best sites for me are the ones with pictures or videos. Bless all those guys and gals who know how to record this info and upload it!

One thing I like to do on Twitter is to boost those who have fewer than 1,000 followers. I don’t do this to encourage folks to play the numbers game. I do it because Twitter analytics don’t seem to give any traction to the posts of those with fewer than 1,000 followers. This came from my personal experience – I found that once I tipped over the 1,000 mark, I popped up on people’s feeds and they interacted with me more.

One thing I like to do on Twitter is to boost those who have fewer than 1,000 followers. Click To Tweet

 

Taking Care Not to Be Overwhelmed by Social Media

pink neon sign says, "discover, embrace, be you."

One huge job for me is screening new followers on Twitter to decide if we’re compatible. I don’t blind follow (I made that rookie mistake in the beginning). As part of my daily Twitter housekeeping, I do a quick screen for bots – they’re easy to spot – and I block them instantly. For everyone else who’s a real person, if they interact with me on my feed and I see that they are following me, I screen them for compatibility and if we’re a good fit, I follow back.

This process keeps me supporting and following new folks while not being overwhelmed by a large number of followers. I realise I’m in a fortunate position and I can only thank the lovely peeps in Twitter’s #WritingCommunity for making this happen.

I’ve taken my time about building my author platform, only extending myself into new areas once I was comfortable with a certain niche. I began with Twitter, then branched out to blogging and my most recent endeavour is my Facebook author page.

 

Should Writers Have a Large Social Media Following?

Hoo boy! This is a loaded question with so many varying opinions, including from editors, agents and publishers! From my understanding, it is essential to have a decent social media following if you are planning to self-publish or if you are going down the traditional publishing route with non-fiction. The jury is still out in my court whether a large following is essential if you’re planning to be a traditionally published fiction author – some agents say you do, some say you don’t.

From my understanding, it is essential to have a decent social media following if you are planning to self-publish. Click To Tweet

I think folks need to do what they are happy and comfortable with. Not everyone is comfortable with having thousands of followers because they don’t feel they can connect with that many people, while others feel it’s important to have that broader base to work with when it comes to their marketing strategies.

barefoot person sitting on a big pile of books readingHowever, I will add that I’ve not yet seen a hard-sell marketing campaign on Twitter succeed in any sales; but I have seen dozens and dozens of books bought by folks who have a relationship with authors. The key factor, whether you have 100 followers or 100,000 followers, is positive engagement and interaction, which is integral for building those relationships.

 

Lift Others Up

Genuinely engaging with folks online (aka, your potential readers) takes time and energy but if you are planning on building a supportive following, you need to put the work in – it’s like anything in life really. If you are only in it for the numbers, most people will spot you from a mile away. I believe you earn your true followers through engagement. Having thousands of empty followers isn’t going to make people buy your books, read your poetry or sign up to your blog.

Genuinely engaging with folks online (aka, your potential readers) takes time and energy but if you are planning on building a supportive following, you need to put the work in. Click To Tweet

I’m not on social media to compete with other writers, I’m here to share in their journey and share mine with them. By lifting other writers up in Twitter’s #WritingCommunity, I have been lifted, supported and loved tenfold by so many wonderful folks.

 

What the Pros Have to Say

That’s my rookie two cents’ worth. Here’s what the publishing pros have to say about building your social media platform as a writer:

  1. A great Twitter thread from Megan Manzano (@Megan_Manzano), YA Editor & Book Blogger – Agent Apprentice @CorvisieroLit – 1/5 of @WriteCraftQuest and #Pitchwars Mentor: tips and tricks to help build your social media platform
  2. A one-hour-long vlog from @WriteCraftQuest – A collective of #editors supporting writers on their publishing adventure @Maria_Tureaud @SouffleLumiere @Megan_Manzano @Justine_Manzano: Social Media Dos and Don’ts for Writers

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Emma Lombard was born in Pontefract in the UK. She grew up in Africa – calling Zimbabwe and South Africa home for a few years – before settling in Brisbane, Australia nearly 20 years ago. She writes historical fiction and keeps platform-building authors on their toes as the #WritingCommunityMum

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