Posted in Lists, Writing

10 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Conference Experience

IMG_20160516_235302 (1)

A couple of years ago, during my week of 10 Writing Tips in 5 Days, I wrote a post called “Join the Club” about becoming a member of writing organizations and attending events and going to conferences. At the time, I was talking to myself as much as anyone else, because I was still a newbie at the whole networking thing and I needed that push to get involved.

Luckily, I took my own advice and got out there, and I’m so glad I did. I’ve grown more as a writer, learned more about the publishing business, and met so many more people than I ever could have by staying in front of my computer. Now that I have a few conferences under my belt, I want to share my…

Ten Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Conference Experience

#1: Plan Ahead.

Personally, I love planning. Anything that involves a new notebook and different colored pens and schedules (ooo, schedules!) gets me all in a tizzy. But even if you’re not a super-nerd like me, it’s still a good idea to make some plans before you go.

Why bother? There are a few reasons. First, break-out sessions sometimes fill up. Hopefully you’ll be able to get into the ones you really care about, but if you don’t, you should have a back-up plan. Also, sometimes there just isn’t time to do the planning once you arrive. This Saturday I attended the SCBWI Austin conference, and it was ten hours of jam-packed inspiration. There were short breaks between events, but I spent them talking to people, asking questions, perusing the book store, or eating cake. (I highly recommend attending conferences where they serve cake.) I could have used my time to read through all the presenter bios and panel discussion options, but I’m glad I didn’t have to. Reading the info online beforehand meant time for more networking, more shopping, and more cake.

#2: Wear comfortable shoes.

Every time I prepare for a conference, I get out this really cute pair of heels that I own but rarely wear, put them on with my conference outfit, stare at myself in the mirror, and smile. Then I put them back in the closet and get out my flats. You’re going to be on your feet a LOT. Be good to yourself. Also, bring a sweater.

#3: Bring Business Cards.

Things I’ve learned about business cards:

  • They come in handy, especially for people like me who have difficult-to-spell names. It’s a lot easier to just hand over a card than to try to spell out my email address in a noisy room.
  • Think about what you want on them. I don’t have my full address on my cards, but I did recently add “Austin, TX” because I found that when I was out of the state, people connected to my hometown. As I’ve mentioned before, Austin is a thriving literary community. When people find out I’m from here, they mention the Texas Teen Book Festival or ask questions about the Writers’ League of Texas or start conversations about SXSW. I realized that having my city on my card is another way of connecting with people.
  • Here’s a cool trick I learned at my very first conference: Carry your business cards in your badge holder and you’ll never have to fumble around in your purse or pockets again.


#4: Reconnect with old friends.

The best thing about going back to conferences a second time is reconnecting with people you haven’t seen since the last event. Facebook is great for staying in touch, but there’s nothing like LOL-ing (L-ingOL?) in real life, so make the time to track down old friends and catch up.

#5: Make new connections.

It feels great to have friends by your side at a conference, but don’t spend all your time with them. Move around, change seats, venture off alone. Remember how you got those friends in the first place and introduce yourself to new people so that your support system con continue to grow.

#6: Take good notes.

When the conference first begins, it will be tempting to think, “I’ll remember this… how could I forget it? It’s so inspiring/useful/timely! But what you don’t realize is that you have several more hours and/or days of inspiration and advice ahead of you. You won’t remember everything. Take notes. I err on the side of excess. I’ve always been the kind of person who learns best by writing (writing things down commits them to memory thereby making the actual notes both moot and essential), so I fill many pages with writing when I’m at a conference. It’s okay though, because one of my favorite things to do is to go back through those notes later. Good notes let you relive the experience, which is like getting inspired all over again. Also, some will disagree with me here, but my advice is to ditch the computer. Bring something lightweight and easy to carry around all day.

Me taking notes at the 2016 SCBWI Austin conference - Photo by Sam Bond,
Me taking notes at the 2016 SCBWI Austin conference – Photo by Sam Bond,

#7. Step outside your comfort zone.

Hopefully the conferences you attend will offer lots opportunities for learning in your field/genre, but even if they do, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. I write middle grade books, poetry, short stories, and horror, so these are the topics I’m drawn to. But I’ve attended panels and presentations on nonfiction, memoir, and romance, and came away from all of them with valuable information and ideas. It’s good to view the writing life from a different perspective. Plus, you never know when you might be inspired to write in a new genre.

#8. Just step outside.

Stepping outside of your comfort zone can be, well… uncomfortable. Meeting new people and talking about your work and being bombarded by information can be overwhelming. For some, simply attending the conference takes an act of courage. So be good to yourself and take a short break when you need it. If you’re staying at the hotel where the conference is taking place, retreat to your room for five minutes of alone time. If you don’t have the sanctuary of a hotel room, go outside. Step out into the sunshine or rain or night breeze. It only takes a few deep breaths to rejuvenate you for another round of extroversion.

#9. Follow up.

All those great notes you take won’t do you any good if you ignore them when you get home, so be sure to go back through and follow-up with the people you met and the ideas you jotted down. I usually end up with a long list of people to thank, people to connect with on social media, books to read, websites to visit, and writing ideas to implement. I recommend waiting a day or two before jumping in to these lists, but no longer than a week. You want the information to still be fresh on your mind.

#10. Be fearless.

Many writers are introverts who would prefer to stay home in their yoga pants and never venture out into the big scary world of conferences and networking, but if you make the leap, you’ll learn that writing conferences are filled with people just like you! This is your tribe. Embrace it. Talk to people, ask questions, be the best version of yourself. And when it comes to meeting agents and editors, remember that they are people too. Not just people. Book-loving, writer-loving people. They want to meet you just as much as you want to meet them. You can do it. Get out there.

* * *

Got a conference tip to add to this list? Share it in the comments!

Posted in Reading, Writing

Horror-Related Happenings

Full moon rising over Austin, TX - May 3, 2015, photo by Carie Juettner
Full moon rising over Austin, TX – May 3, 2015, photo by Carie Juettner

More than once in my life, I’ve been told, This isn’t the right time for a horror story. Apparently some people think you can’t read a ghost story unless it’s midnight on Friday the 13th and you’re in the middle of an abandoned farmhouse with only a half-burned candle for light. And wolves howling outside. While I agree that’s probably the ideal setting for a spooky tale, I also believe that sunny days at the beach, front yard hammocks, and picnics are also excellent settings for horror stories. If a story is truly going to give you the creeps, it’s going to do it no matter what the time or temperature.

Having said that, it’s SPRING TIME! The skies are blue, the birds are chirping, the wildflowers are blooming, and… it’s time for some horror updates. 🙂

Something New, Something Old,
Something Published, Something Bold

Something New:

The hubby and I have started watching a new (to us) show—Bates Motel—and I’m really getting into it. I decided to give it a try based on Annie Neugebauer’s recommendation. (<– It’s really hard to read her enthusiastic rant and NOT feel compelled to watch it.) The show is currently in its fourth season and we’re only halfway through the first, but already it’s become a favorite. Of course, we had to start by re-watching the original Psycho. Anthony Perkins is unbeatable as Norman Bates, but I think the casting of young Norman in Bates Motel is excellent.

[Fun fact: While we were watching Psycho, a huge daddy long legs crawled over my husband’s head. Hee hee. That spider had perfect timing.]

Something Old:

I recently re-discovered this cool book I got when I was a kid. GHOSTS: A Classic Collection, Illustrated by Walt Sturrock, was published by Unicorn Publishing House in 1989. I don’t actually remember when or where I got it, but chances are it was a gift for my thirteenth birthday. (It certainly looks like the perfect Halloween-birthday gift.) The collection includes nine classic ghost stories, such as “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes” and “The Monkey’s Paw” (an all time favorite). In addition to the stories, there are thirty illustrations by Walt Sturrock, and they are beautiful and disturbing. You can see most of them on Sturrock’s website. This is the cover and one of my favorite pictures:

Ghosts: A Classic Collection cover and
Ghosts: A Classic Collection cover and “Was it a Dream” illustration by Walt Sturrock

As a kid, I admit, it was the illustrations that I cared about. I wasn’t actually a big reader when I was young and the stories were too long and too old fashioned for me to get into. But I loved the pictures and the book itself—a heavy black hardback with the headless horseman on the front and a silver skull on the back. Eventually, I did start reading the stories, but I’m honestly not sure I ever got through the whole thing. So I’m reading them now. Even the ones I already know, like “The German Student,” I’m reading again because I want to read them in this unique volume.

If you can find a copy of GHOSTS: A Classic Collection, grab it. If you’re a fan of horror, the stories may not be new to you, but the experience will. Also, it makes a great gift for the young horror-enthusiasts in your life, even if they just want to look at the pictures for now.

Something Published:

I’m excited to announce that my short story, “The Girl in the Attic,” has been accepted for Growing Pains, a new anthology coming soon from Sinister Saints, an imprint of Horrified Press.

From the Horrified Press website:

Growing up is never easy. But what if the growing pains experienced are unusual, fantastical … or the stuff of nightmares? How will your main character react to these changes? What about their friends, family and society at large?   What are the consequences for all those involved?

For this anthology, explore the challenges and mental trauma experienced by those struggling to deal with their unexpected life changes. Delve deep into your imagination to deliver twisted tales from all avenues of horror.

Here’s the catch—these stories must incorporate a YA as a main character, and must be appropriate for the YA audience. They can be told from any vantage point, and can be first or third person. Dark fairy tales, bizarre fiction, horror, surrealism, and dark science-fiction are all cool here.

They’re still accepting submissions through the end of the month, so if you have a YA horror story you think they might like, check out the guidelines on their website.

Something Bold:

This Thursday, I’ll be heading to Atlanta for WORLD HORROR CON! This will be my first horror-themed conference, and I’m so excited I can barely contain myself. In addition to meeting amazing authors like Jonathan Maberry, Kami Garcia, and Lisa Tuttle (just to name a few) I will also be rooming with two fellow horror-writing friends who I normally only get to hang out with in the online universe. (Annie Neugebauer and Ashley B. Davis, I can’t wait to see you!) Look for lots of tweets this week about my conference experience. #WHC2015

[And yes, I do realize that three women who barely know each other sharing a hotel room at a horror conference actually IS the perfect setting for a horror story. I’m willing to take my chances.]

One Last Thing…

Sometimes people are surprised to learn that I write creepy stuff. Just last week someone said to me, “You’re too sweet to write horror!” HA! I have three things to say about that. First, you’ve obviously never seen me when I haven’t eaten in a while. I’m not sweet then. I’m like a Snickers commercial on steroids.* Secondly, you don’t have to be a horrible person to write horror. My fellow horror writers are some of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet. Their stories might scare the poop out of you, but they’re a friendly bunch. And third, I think it’s kind of fun to surprise people. Maybe if I were an old hag with long gray hair and a hunchback and warts on my nose and thin, gnarly fingers and a raspy voice**, people would expect me to write horror, but then I’d miss out on the fun of showing up to critique groups looking like my normal “sweet” self and handing out stories full of ghosts and demons and murder and mayhem. I enjoy this.

* Ashley and Annie, don’t worry. I promise to eat during World Horror Con.

** I fully intend to fit this description some day. I say if you have to get old, do it in style.

My Horror Selfie -
My Horror Selfie –
Posted in Life, Writing

Endings, Beginnings, and Middles

Hello blogosphere!

I’m sorry about my recent lack of posts. It’s been a big couple of weeks here in my little writing world. Grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and settle in. I’ll tell you all about it.


Excuses, Excuses

I was determined to finish my middle grade novel by mid-June. (That was, of course, after I had been determined to finish it by the end of May and by the beginning of May and by the end of 2013. But, you know, things happen.) I was working really hard, but at the end of each day there was always still more to do—more chapters to finish, more scenes to write, more words to put on the page.

Finally, on Thursday, June 19th (which is totally still considered mid-June, definitely, just like how at thirty-seven-and-a-half I am totally still in my mid-thirties) I had the feeling that it was THE DAY. I worked all morning at one of my favorite coffee shops (#4 actually) with my friend Lori. In the afternoon, when my brain was fuzzy, I decided to head home for a change of scenery and then I was going to FINISH MY NOVEL, all caps.

I wanted a change of scenery and I got it.

Whoops! I should have told you to set down that cup of coffee or glass of wine before I showed you this picture. Sorry. My bad.
Whoops! I should have told you to set down that cup of coffee or glass of wine before I showed you this picture. Sorry. My bad.

When I came home, my dog and I found a snake in our backyard. A HUGE snake. At first I freaked out, thinking it might be a rattler. I grabbed Uno by the collar and put him inside. Then, I went back out to investigate from a safe distance. (In my flip flops.)

My racing heart calmed down a bit when I determined two things: 1) This was not a rattle snake or any type of venomous snake and 2) it couldn’t bite me anyway because it currently had another snake in its mouth. (!!!) The eater (from here on referred to as Snake #1) was, we think, a coachwhip and it was about six feet long. The eatee (from here on referred to as Snake #2) was probably a checkered garter snake and may have once been up to three feet long, but I never got to see it in its entirety. The sight was so gruesome/ interesting/ horrifying/ cool/ creepy I had to get my camera. (Still in my flip flops.)

I was taking pictures of the awesomeness of nature happening in my backyard, feeling proud of myself for my bravery and my lack of fear of non-venomous snakes when Snake #3 arrived. (!!!) It was another coachwhip, also close to six feet long. This one was moving fast and had nothing in its mouth to prevent it from biting. And that’s when I flipped out and ran screaming back to the house. (Flip flops flying.)

I eventually calmed down enough to venture out again (this time in cowboy boots) but by that time, the snakes were leaving. Snake #1 and Snake #3 slithered through my back fence into the greenbelt area behind our house and curled up together. “Cuddled” is really the best word to describe it. Snake #3 protected Snake #1 while he/she digested Snake #2, and then they left. They don’t, presumably, live in my yard, but had just come here to dine.

What Does This Have to Do With Your Novel?

Right… my novel. Nothing. Snakes have nothing to do with my middle grade novel about a quirky boy who starts a game club at his school. Nothing at all. And that’s why I was unable to finish my novel on June 19th, because if I had, it would have ended with, “AND THEN THREE GIANT SNAKES CAME AND DEVOURED EVERYBODY!” and while that is indisputably a great ending for a book, it was not the right ending for my book.

The End

On June 20th, with no snakes in sight, I finished my novel. The Legacy of Bamboo Bilski was complete.

I wrote all that! Well, not The hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Douglas Adams wrote that. I wrote the thing in front of it.
I wrote all that! Well, not The hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Douglas Adams wrote that. I wrote the thing in front of it.

The Beginning

One week after finishing my book, I attended my first big writing conference, the Writer’s League of Texas Agents & Editors Conference here in Austin. If anyone is considering attending next year, I highly recommend it. The WLT staff did an excellent job organizing the event. It was easy to navigate, even for a first time attendee, and the speeches and panel discussions and presentations were all interesting, relevant, and inspiring.

Plus, the faculty was amazing. There were agents, editors, and publishers from Folio Literary, Sterling Lord, The Gernert Company, ICM, Dystel & Goderich, Polis Books, Scholastic, Henry Holt & Company, Carol Mann Agency, Foreward Literary, and more, as well as several local authors. The conference was set up in a way so that there was plenty of time to talk to these leaders in the business both formally and socially. (My favorite part was listening to them talk about the BBQ they ate for lunch. For the first-time visitors to Texas, I think it was an eye-opener!)

During the weekend, I pitched my novel to three different agents and editors and received positive responses and good feedback. One agent (superstition keeps me from revealing who) was very excited about my idea and asked me to send her pages, which was, of course, extremely exciting. (I’ll be working on that query right after I post this!) For me, this is the beginning of another exciting step on my road to publishing—sending my work out into the world. I hope the world is kind to it.

Somehow, this is the only conference-related photo I took. I think I was too absorbed in the information to think about taking pictures.
Somehow, this is the only conference-related photo I took this weekend. I think I was too absorbed in the information to remember to take pictures.

It wasn’t just the industry professionals that I enjoyed meeting. The conference gave me a chance to get to know other writers of all genres and backgrounds and stages in the writing process. I came home with business cards from several local writers who I can’t wait to connect with again.

If you do plan on attending the WLT conference, get your tickets and consultations early because this year they sold out of everything—conference tickets, keynote tickets, 10-minute consultations—EVERYTHING. Take advantage of their early-bird offers if you can.

The Middle

Finishing my novel was a huge accomplishment, and I celebrated it accordingly, with beer and horror movie sequels. (I’m saving the champagne and party for when I get it published.) But even while flinching at the scares in Insidious 2, I knew that this was really less of an ending and more like the start of the middle, because my work is far from done.

As I think about the revising that lies ahead of me, my mind keeps coming back to that image of the snake. As I dive into the inevitable cutting and chopping and rearranging of my story, I picture myself as Snake #1. Deleting text or characters will likely feel a bit like devouring one of my own. While each “bite” I take out of my novel will hopefully make it stronger, I imagine that the process will leave me feeling a bit helpless. Luckily, I’ve got good friends like Snake #3 who I know will support me along the way.

(Did I seriously just turn that creepy snake-eating-snake photo into a sweet/cheesy metaphor about writing? Why, yes I did. As Jason Pinter, founder of Polis Books, said after making a “meat cake” metaphor in his presentation about publishing, “I stand by it.”)