Last Day of Backspace Conference

Finally, we are at the last day of the conference. I started the morning with a workshop on writing the romantic subplot. Here are some points from my notes on the workshop:

  • The bait has to taste good to the fish, not the fisherman
  • The shortest distance between a human being and the truth is story
  • An engaging character actively overcomes tremendous obstacles to reach a desired goal
  • In a romantic love story, you have to see a soul connection
  • Heroine has to change for the better
  • There is no drama without conflict so raise the stakes
  • Make it hard, almost impossible for the heroine to achieve what she wants
  • HEA is inevitable but should be unexpected
  • The Notebook is an example of extraordinary love and a grand gesture
  • Don’t have the character say everything they think or feel

The next panel discussed buying and selling from the publisher to the bookstore. Some key points included:

  • When you hire an external publicist make sure they are in contact / coordinating with the in-house publicist
  • The publisher sales rep is paid to read books and talk about them
  • Talk to people who work in your local bookstore–they will consider stocking your book especially if you let them know you are a local author or your family (buyers of book) live in the area
  • Tell your editor where you went to school, grew up, lived—areas with interest in your book/guaranteed sales
  • Befriend the local indie bookseller
  • Be present at store/attend events
  • Show appreciation–a thank you note, cookies, candy–to the people who helped sell your book–bookseller, publisher, editor and all the key support people in the publishing house
  • Bookselling=relationships with people
  • Need internet buzz, print buzz radio buzz
  • Always be nice to everyone
  • A lot of buying is reactive–a good review helps
  • Reach out to people–Twitter/blog–don’t just talk about your book
  • CC agent and editor on everything so everyone stays in the loop

Next I went to a workshop where the Mystery/Thriller group read their first two pages to Rebecca Strauss. General feedback included:

  • Start with more action to grab the reader’s attention
  • Condense and make tighter
  • Keep backstory for later
  • Get to what the scene is about fast–give backstory later on when reader is invested in the character

Then I lunched and went to the seminar on the ten most common mistakes writers make. Key points included:

  • Controversy sells
  • Learn about character in book the same way learn about person in real life
  • Sex is the hardest thing to writer
  • Stilted dialogue is a common problem–use contractions
  • If there are only 2 people in a scene no need to put a tag on every line said. Include tags (she said) every 6-7 exchanges to remind reader who is speaking
  • Most people speak 3-4 sentences at a time
  • Give hero flaws
  • How to plot–info given to reader on a need to know basis
  • Villain also has to have some redeeming virtue
  • Show don’t tell
  • Remember it’s easy to put down a book and not pick it up again
  • In our fast paced culture, we like things fast
  • Prologues and intros are not well liked
  • Agents look for skilled storytellers
  • Italicize interior thoughts
  • Concise language is preferred with less adjectives and adverbs
  • Leave something to the imagination

The next panel touched on different things you’d want to know from an agent. Key points included:

  • Importance of voice
  • Know your genre
  • Platform is less important for fiction
  • You don’t need to preserve the writer’s voice in the synopsis–just tell what happened
  • After you land an agent, you should sit down with them and lay out expectations, especially for revision process
  • The agent is your advocate/proponent
  • You can ask to be the voice on your audio book, but you’ll have to audition

Next came the Donald Maass seminar on “Writing the Breakout Novel.” Key points were:

  • There are 3 types of protagonists: every man (who extraordinary things will happen to), hero (fireman/FBI), and dark (wounded/haunted/self loathing).
  • Ordinary characters are easy to identify with
  • Resistance is normal and natural, but can be our friend. It points toward most needed. Whatever you resist the most=weakest point
  • Figure out what protagonist most wants and make him simultaneously not want it–split over what wants
  • Create doubt about outcome
  • Have a moment where protagonist completely rejects that he wants
  • Think about what would make the problem so painful it can’t be solved
  • Twist the knife and wreck the protagonist
  • Everything that applied above to protagonist also applies to antagonist

The last panel of the day I attended was on writing about times before you were born. Key points from my notes included:

  • Primary sources can be found at the Library of Congress (photos, taped interviews)
  • Use period maps
  • Bailey records online have details of daily life
  • Go to the library in the location you are writing about
  • Geneology departments
  • Get to the greater truth by leaving out some of the details
  • Slang can be found from regency era at Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue–but you have to work it into context so reader gets its meaning
  • Useful to read fiction from that time to get feel for language

This concludes my recap of the Backspace Conference. It doesn’t begin to cover all the amazing published authors who generously donated their time on the panels, or the agents who were there to field questions and give feedback on queries and first 2 pages, or the cool writers I met on our journey to be published. But that’s what made this such an amazing experience. Thanks to Backspace, especially Karen and Chris, for organizing this entire event.

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4 Responses to Last Day of Backspace Conference

  1. betty says:

    Wow, how did you manage to write this all down? You take great notes!

    • I use lots of symbols and abbreviations. Plus I write super fast. Luckily, whatever I missed is available to Backspace members–they recorded each panel/seminar–on the Backspace website.

  2. Emma says:

    Well, what can I say? Just like Betty said… But honestly, I’m kind of surprised that you only got one single comment on all the blog post on the Backspace conference. I think you deserve a lot more than that for all the great work. But who knows, maybe more people will see it and leave a comment; I really think you’d deserve a big thank you for posting all this!

    • I’m glad you liked it. Honestly, I like sharing when I picked up at conferences. Plus, typing up my notes gives me time to think through and digest everything. So it really is a win-win situation.

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