Not surprisingly, technology is woven into just about every one of these Aha!s. But please don’t stop reading this if you are challenged thusly. “Me, too!”
We writers are right-brained creatives. The password to my website is IHATETHISWEBSITE. If a computer problem can’t be fixed by ctrl-alt-del, I’m in trouble. But I found salvation at the 2014 San Francisco Writers Conference. Here’s a teensy bit of what I learned during the February 13-16 convention:
- Don’t quit your day job. A panel of three engineer/poets (not as oxymoronic as one might think) revealed that besides feeding one’s body, a day job can actually boost your creativity by providing fodder for stories and pressure to meet deadlines. One panelist found that he wrote less during his sabbatical than he did while working at the lab. You’ll be a more interesting conversationalist, too—after a while friends want to hear about more than your latest best seller.
- If you want an agent, editor, or publisher, conferences can be the best place to look. “Speed Dating with Agents” and “Pitch-and-Ask Sessions with Editors and Publishing Professionals” were fast-paced, face-to-face, two-way interviews that gave each participant revelations that would have taken weeks to come by otherwise.
- Brace yourself: Twitter is the Number One social media platform for writers, according to the consensus of professionals and New York Times best-sellers at the conference. Twitter, they say, is not all birdsong and what you ate for breakfast. It’s about content—sharing meaningful information, congratulations, and laughter. LinkedIn and Facebook rank second and third. This is a paradigm shift for me. I just bought Twitter for Dummies, and I’m going to rent a teenager.
- SELF-PUBLISH! I knew this before, but was it ever drilled home at this conference. However, I did become convinced that traditional publishers provide a necessary expedient for many. The sacrifices in going the traditional route are: royalties (10-15% vs. 70-95% in self-publishing), control over “the baby” (the author relinquishes many rights), and time bringing it to market (typically two years).
- Which brings me to self-promotion and marketing. A huge criterion that traditional publishers use in the selection process is what the author can bring to the table besides her book—how you will get out there and make sales. If the author has to do 95% of the marketing, well, I rest my case.
- New terms (to me): Wilful blindness, legacy publisher (a not-very-nice synonym for traditional publisher), and indie author (cooler term for self-published). And a familiar term that sums up this conference: life-changing.
- Joining a writers’ critique group doesn’t have to be a huge time-gobbler. A great format is twenty minutes for each participant during which the group reads for ten minutes and critiques for ten minutes.
- It costs more to take a cab from a hotel on Nob Hill to BART, than it costs from BART to Nob Hill. Basic economics.
- There’s politics in publishing. Amazon offers indie authors huge splits and many incentives. This competitive challenge to other self-publishing companies like Apple’s iBookstore, Barnes & Noble’s PubIt!, Smashwords, and others may result in their demise and Amazon’s monopoly on the market—with lower splits for authors.
- Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larsen, the directors and co-founders of San Francisco Writers’ Conference, are rock stars in the publishing industry!
There is soooo much more to share, but… ctrl-alt-del.
Cathy can be reached at: