Well, I'm just back from a weekend at the Backspace Writers Conference and I wanted to post something before inertia - and the new week - takes over. First of all, kudos to Karen Dionne and crew for putting together an excellent, small, and focused conference. I arrived midafternoon on Friday, just in time to hear Joseph Finder talk about what he's learned while writing his successful and quite wonderfully written thrillers. Lovely speaker, and a smart man - and when some overly worried newbies were stressing about whether ebooks and Kindle would change the face of publishing, he cut right to the point: Don't worry about the means of distribution at this point, he told them. Just work on your book. (My husband and I broke into wild applause at this point.) He also ended up repeating, several times, the hard truth that many writers need to hear: You need to listen to criticism. If everyone is rejecting your book, maybe you need to keep working on it. His own story of rewriting his first book multiple times was a vivid example of the labor needed to become a success.
That seemed to be the theme of the conference, certainly during my own panel on "keeping the series fresh." Jason Pinter, another thriller master, moderated and while fantasy writer Naomi Novik couldn't make it (food poisoning!), her husband, Hard Case Crime honcho and author Charles Ardai stepped in. I felt like the softie on the block -- being the only writer for whom blood and gore isn't a priority -- but I like to think I held my own in a lively (but really quite fun) discussion of everything from how do you know when a series is done (either when you or your publisher gets bored) to whether or not series characters should grow (I say yes, but Charles pointed out that in some cases, you go to series for their consistency. Hmmm... well, yes, but...) We also touched on how we choose a protagonist who can go for several books (what makes a character interesting? Sympathetic? Well, what makes a person interesting or sympathetic?) Good audience questions, too!
Sat., I had the honor of being on a panel with blogger Sarah Weinman moderated by dear friend and fantastic novelist Caroline Leavitt. The topic this time was book reviewing - and we had quite a few authors and would-be authors asking us all sorts of questions about how to get their books mentioned in print. Caroline gave out great, sound advice about pitching - and about the reality of how many books don't get reviewed. (Caroline told us the distressing reality of reviewing for People magazine: Hundreds of books are reviewed and the reviews don't run because they don't fit in the mix - she has even reviewed a John Updike novel and the review has not run! Maybe they had too many four-star reviews that week - or no-star reviews - or books by men, or .. whatever.) And Sarah taught me a few things about social networking and creating a buzz even without reviews. Basically, she said if you're going to do it, do it right - and told us about sites like boingboing.com and Dear Reader. I added a note of simple web etiquette - make sure you know the rules (in most cases, don't just sign on and flag your book. Make sure you participate in the conversations, etc.). Much, much more... but that's the gist. Nice people, nice crowd, lots of time for mingling... and if Jon and I ran off to have a glass of prosecco on the rooftop garden of the Met, I hope everyone will forgive us: it was our anniversary!