Costa Rica: Exploring

This week, I am in Dallas, Texas for the National RWA Conference. If you’d like real-time updates on the writing conference, please check out the Manuscript Mavens blog, where all four of us will be posting updates all week, throughout the day, to share our thoughts, impressions, and ah-ha moments with you.

Also running on the MM blog is a Tooth Fairy comment contest–play to win! =)

In the meantime, I’ll be sharing a few of my Costa Rica photos with you here on this blog. (Link: my Costa Rica Thursday Thirteen post)

Today’s Costa Rica photo theme is: EXPLORING.

Erica Ridley in Costa Rica: Arbol de la Paz This is el Arbol de la Paz (tree of peace) on the route to one of the national parks. It’s super-tall, and 22.55 meters in circumference.


Here’s me out hiking the afore-mentioned national park. Aren’t those boots fetching? Erica Ridley in Costa Rica: hiking a national forest


Erica Ridley in Costa Rica: La Fortuna rain forest canopy and waterfall This is a view of the rain forest canopy from La Fortuna. You can see a waterfall in the distance.


Costa Rica is full of single-car bridges like this one, made of wooden planks, which we had to share with a local man as we crossed in opposite directions.Erica Ridley in Costa Rica: sharing a rickety bridge


Erica Ridley in Costa Rica: storm clouds and Nicaraguan countryside Since it’s currently the rainy season in Costa Rica, you can see the storm clouds rolling in on the horizon. (If you squint really hard, you can even see the outline of Nicaragua in the background.)


That body of water behind me is Lago Arenal, the half-empty lake in charge of providing the surrounding area with electricity and drinking water. Boy do we need the rain–especially if the touristy beach towns get their way and pipe their coastal drinking water in from the already-depleted Lake Arenal. Erica Ridley in Costa Rica: Laguna Arenal en Nuevo Arenal

Costa Rica: Dancing

This week, I am in Dallas, Texas for the National RWA Conference. If you’d like real-time updates on the writing conference, please check out the Manuscript Mavens blog, where all four of us will be posting updates all week, throughout the day, to share our thoughts, impressions, and ah-ha moments with you.

In the meantime, I’ll be sharing a few of my Costa Rica photos with you here on this blog. (Link: my Costa Rica Thursday Thirteen post)

Today’s Costa Rica photo theme is: DANCING.

Erica Ridley in Costa Rica: native children performing typical dances
I walked to a local school (Escuela Mata de Caña) to watch a performance of the native children performing typical Costa Rican dances.
Erica Ridley in Costa Rica: native children performing typical dances


Erica Ridley in Costa Rica: native children performing typical dances
I admit: I thought they were the cutest things on the planet.
Erica Ridley in Costa Rica: native children performing typical dances


Erica Ridley in Costa Rica: native children performing typical dances
Especially the two really little ones–how adorable are they??
Erica Ridley in Costa Rica: native children performing typical dances


Erica Ridley in Costa Rica: native children performing typical dances
I love local culture stuff like this!
Erica Ridley in Costa Rica: native children performing typical dances

Costa Rica: Good Eats

This week, I am in Dallas, Texas for the National RWA Conference. If you’d like real-time updates on the writing conference, please check out the Manuscript Mavens blog, where all four of us will be posting updates all week, throughout the day, to share our thoughts, impressions, and ah-ha moments with you.

In the meantime, I’ll be sharing a few of my Costa Rica photos with you here on this blog. (Link: my Costa Rica Thursday Thirteen post)

Today’s Costa Rica photo theme is: GOOD EATS.

Erica Ridley in Costa Rica: Pineapple Truck As we were driving to a national park, we passed a field where workers tossed pineapples into a truck for juicing. They were nice enough to give us a few for the road!


Erica Ridley in Costa Rica: Mashed Potato Volcano Note to self: Be more inventive in the kitchen! Here is a mashed potato volcano with sliced red peppers for lava. Cute, no?


Erica Ridley in Costa Rica: Homemade Tiramisu My pal D asked me how it was that I gain weight when I go to Costa Rica. Here’s one answer: homemade tiramisu! (Other answers include mango cake, macadamia nut pie, caramel ice cream, chocolate fudge brownies, homemade flan, fresh cheesecake… detecting a pattern? *g)


Erica Ridley in Costa Rica: Beer Ice Cream By popular demand, here’s a photo of me at the heladería featuring cerveza-flavored ice cream. (The sign I’m holding lists the flavors.) Beer ice cream tastes like… well, beer. And not milk-ish, either–more of a frozen beer snow cone effect. Not bad, not good, just… odd. But as they say, when in Rome… =)

Conference Series: Networking

Before I begin, thanks to everyone who congratulated me on my triple-final. Also, check out Carrie Ryan’s post on the Manuscript Maven’s blog and win some free autographed Diana Peterfreund books. Last but not least, today is my first ever Romantic Inks post. Check it out, and please leave a comment to let me know you dropped by!

CONFERENCE SERIES DAY 4: Networking
[Day 1 link] [Day 2 link] [Day 3 link]

Real quick, I’d like to offer up a terminology disclaimer. Several people I know hate the word and/or concept of networking. I’m going to continue to use that word for lack of a better term, but as it applies here, be aware of what networking ISN’T.

Networking is NOT: lying, pestering, bothering, being annoying, being two-faced, pretending to be something you’re not, being “fake”, etc.

Networking IS: getting to know other industry professionals, meeting other writers, putting agent/editor/author names to faces, reaching out to the community, making contact with people who may become close friends with you.

Think about it. How did you become friends with, well, anyone you happen to be friends with? Networking, right? You might not have thought of it that way at the time, but a rose by any other name…

So, now that we’re on the same page with the human interaction we’re calling networking, how do you go about doing it?

Step 1: Go where the action is
Step 2: Make eye contact. Say hi.
Step 3: Ask questions about the other person. Listen.
Step 4: Be personable. Takes a friend to be a friend.
Step 5: If appropriate (and amenable to both parties), exchange contact info.

You can’t network if you’re closeted in your hotel room by yourself. Go to breakfast. Turn off your cell phone or leave it on vibrate. You’re here to interact with the people you meet. Make eye contact with people, remembering to smile and say hi. If someone attempts to engage you in conversation, join them. If not, it’s your turn. Look for a table with an empty seat and ask if you can sit there. Or look for someone standing by themselves and go and introduce yourself.

Personal anecdote: I met an agent this way. I had flown to a conference where I knew no one, and out of pure desperation for human contact, plopped down next to a woman sitting on a couch by herself. After we chatted a few minutes, it became clear she was an *agent*. And I hadn’t screwed anything up by acting like a moron (perhaps in part because I didn’t *know* she was an agent) and she gave me her business card and asked me to send her whatever I was working on.

Okay, so now you’ve met someone new and you’ve had breakfast. Now go to a workshop. You can talk to the people in the audience (not during the presenting, but before/after) as well as the agent/editor/author/bookseller/etc giving the workshop. (Plus you get to learn something!)

Personal anecdote: I went to a workshop Julia Quinn (another fave historical author) gave on Dialogue. Afterward, I made it a point to go chat with her. We ended up sharing a lunch table, and chatting at an agent/author speed dating event. Although we exchanged a couple conference-related emails, we did not become instant BFF. However, a few months later, we ran into each other at a different conference. She was sitting alone, and I went over to reintroduce myself. Before I could do so, she greeted me by name, and we talked for a few minutes. As mentioned above, networking isn’t about trying to “get” anything from someone else, it’s about meeting people and making connections.

After the workshop, there might be lunch. Do attend–aren’t you hungry? (I’m always hungry at these things. It’s either stress, lack of sleep, or some combination thereof.) Anyhoodles, if it’s an RWA conference, typically you will find your seat laden with various free books, often of the keynote speaker. (To whom you can ALSO speak, once she’s eaten her lunch and given her speech.) Plus, you’re at a table packed with new faces! (If you did come with friends or have a large chapter base present, do try to go outside your comfort zone from time to time to meet more people.)

Personal anecdote: I was at a conference where at the lunch table, it came up that I develop web sites for a living. Two of the people happened to have computer questions. We exchanged emails, and when I went back to my hotel room that night, I sent each of them detailed emails on how to fix their problems. What did I get out of it? A thank you, and good karma! They may or may not remember me, but if they do, it’ll be as “that girl who helped me even when she didn’t know me from Adam.” Isn’t that nicer than “that girl who sat there like a bump on a log, arms crossed, shoulders hunched, eyes averted.” ???

Let’s say the next thing on the agenda is the annual meeting. Oh, boy, you say. Those things are more boring than watching bones fossilize. Yes, yes, this may be, but this is where the future fate of your organization is debated and decided! (Plus, you get to put faces with names of the members on the board, as well as voice your opinions and talk to the board members afterward.)

Personal Anecdote: Right now a brouhaha rages over whether or not novellas will be kept or kicked as a RITA category. Some argue that the RITAs are for book-length romance, and novellas by definition are not book-length. Others argue that the RITAs are for book-length romance, and women’s fiction (chick lit, etc) by definition, is not romance, so what’s the difference. Both sides have valid points. I’m not here to argue either way, except to say you won’t know what rules are being added/changed/dropped and WHY unless you’re there to hear it!

Once you’re workshopped out and had dinner with new friends or a chapter group etc, it’s time to address my CP Kel’s advice: “Be the bar.” As mentioned yesterday, whether you drink or not, the bar is the best place to go to find people who are hoping to meet people, and to hear the latest industry buzz. Plus, you never know who you’ll run into!

Personal anecdote: I was at the post-RITA soiree last year at RWA National. I was there with friends, but somehow I was wandering between the tables and the chocolate fountain by my lonesome. The emcee and one of my all-time favorite historical authors–Christina Dodd–was wandering about in much the same boat, with that expression on her face that said, “Crap. Where are my friends? Why am I wandering around between the tables and the chocolate fountain all alone like that chick with the crazy curly hair?” So I went up to her and said hey, and did NOT gush fan girl crazy style over her books, but talked to her author-to-author. We didn’t exchange phone numbers (or even names, but duh, I knew who she was) and so we’re not BFF or anything, but it’s an example of how everyone is approachable. Just do it!

YOUR TURN: If you have any questions about networking, please ask! If you’re a conference veteran, please share your best tips/anecdotes as regards networking. I’d love to hear about your experiences!

Conference Series: Workshops & Extras

I’m going to start the morning with a quick squee, just in case you missed last night’s bonus post where I found out I’m a triple-finalist in the TARA contest. OMG! Can you believe it?! squeeeeeeeeee

Okay. Now that that’s out of my system (it’s totally not, but whatever) we can continue with our regularly scheduled workblog.

CONFERENCE SERIES DAY 3: Workshops & Extras
[Day 1 link] [Day 2 link]

First, workshops. Some conferences have a limited number of workshops, such that you don’t have to decide which ones to attend because there is never more than one going on at any given time. Other conference have a multitude of workshops and other events overlapping each other at all hours of the day and night, with no possible chance of taking in a quarter of the possibilities. For the sake of having something to discuss today, let’s go with the latter.

If you attend a conference such as RWA National in July, you will face just such a conundrum. One great thing RWA does is provide you with a grid of all activities ahead of time so you can whittle down the choices in advance. Another great thing they do is separate the workshops into categories: craft, career, industry, promotion, etc. The third (and arguably most fabulous) thing RWA does is record the majority of the workshops and offer them to purchase on CD.

I’m going to start with the last point first. If your conference provides you with the option to buy recordings, my vote is on buy the recordings. This lets you choose a category (ie, craft) or make a schedule based on a workshop topic spreadsheet (or whatever), or to just wing it and see what happens, knowing you can relax because you have all the great information coming to you on tape. (Er, CD.)

That said, pay attention to two key things: If *not all* the workshops are recorded, you may wish to attend the ones that are not. Also, if the choice comes down to an untaped workshop you’re not gung-ho about and a taped workshop with a favorite presenter or key topic, by all means, make the choice that’s more right for you at this point in your career!

When you choose a workshop, arrive early enough to get a seat. The untaped ones and the ones with popular presenters fill FAST. Last year I went to a Debra Dixon workshop 15 minutes early and the standing-room only was already spilling out into the hallway, so it was a no-go.

Assuming you arrive on time, don’t be a wallflower! Get a seat front and center (or at least middle) and plop down with a fresh seat of paper and an open mind. Take notes! Interact! Ask questions!

And above all, remember this: There are NO RULES in writing, only suggestions! EVERYTHING you hear is an OPINION. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it! If something intrigues you, give it a shot! You never know what will help, or what throwaway comment will provide the exact ah-ha moment you’ve been waiting for.

Life After Workshops

Or before, or during, etc, because there are LOTS of things going on at most conferences! At RWA National, for example, (which I’ll keep using as the poster child since I’ve attended previously and the next one is in a couple weeks,) workshops compete with goody room access, publisher parties, book signings, etc. There’s also breakfasts, luncheons with keynote speakers, an Annual Meeting, and THE BAR.

As my CP Kel (also a 2007 TARA Contest finalist!) says, “Be the bar.” Even if you don’t drink (especially if you don’t drink?) the bar is a great place to meet other writers and industry professionals and hear all the latest info about who’s repping whom and which editors are looking for what types of stories, and who’s writing what, and which agents have quit/started/branched out on their own, etc.

Goody Rooms we discussed yesterday, so I won’t go into that again. Publisher parties are when a publisher or line (ie Harlequin Blaze) will throw a party in a suite with their editors and authors. You can go, mingle, eat some cookies, maybe get an autographed book or three, hang out, and soak up the vibe.

Book signings run the gamut from big, organized proceeds-go-to-charity gala events, to smaller, all-books-are-free author/publisher promotional rooms. Both are neat. Even if you don’t go home with any books, talk to the authors and industry folk you’ll see there.

YOUR TURN: If you’re a conference veteran, how do you choose which workshops to attend? Have any favorite topics/presenters? What do you do when you’re not at a workshop? Whether you’re a conference veteran or not, do you picture yourself spending more time workshopping or networking? Any other questions/tips on how to spend your time at conferences?

Somebody Pinch Me!

BREAKING NEWS: Just got word that I finaled in the TARA Contest with all three of my entries!

Erica Ridley: Dorinda and the DemonDorinda and the Demon

Dorinda Lockhart, perhaps America’s first honest politician, needs to win the impending mayoral election so she can prevent the incumbent from ruining her home town with his anti-feminist attitude and ridiculous ordinances. Unfortunately, her longtime campaign manager collided with a bus, and now Dorinda’s on her own against a rival with age, gender, and a devilish case of good fortune on his side.

Gabriel Nash, an upwardly mobile demon, hates being a mere Hades contractor and is after a promotion with better perks, such as a few lackeys of his own to control. He just has to head up to Earth’s surface and corrupt some do-gooder female politician so the Devil’s pick–a megalomaniac who bartered his soul–stays in office.

As soon as the prim politician’s soul tips far enough out of balance, demonkind will be able to knock her out of the race… permanently. Gabe’s never met anyone so passionate about being a “good” person. As her new campaign manager, he can show her one hell of a good time and tempt the curvy candidate to sample his wicked ways.

Dorinda turns to Gabe for advice–but ends up with an unfamiliar passion that lays bare more than just her body. As a woman whose entire life has hinged on her unfailing self-control, she cannot transcend from the mere physical to true intimacy without risking her dreams, her self-image, and her heart. Is it a fall from grace if her sexy adviser is the only one who knows the true nature of her soul?


Erica Ridley: Trevor and the Tooth Fairy
Trevor and the Tooth Fairy

Trevor Masterson, a no-nonsense anthropologist, can’t wait for his latest discovery to save his job from impending budget cuts, but before he has the partial skeleton in his possession for 24 hours, a sexy blonde with glitter wings sneaks into his tent at midnight, claims she’s some sort of magical being and tries to fly off with his discovery.

Daisy le Fey, an apprentice tooth fairy, yearns to wow her superiors so that she can make fairy and earn a pair of real wings, but her very first solo assignment turns into an unmitigated disaster when the supposedly sleeping child turns out to be a sexy (half-naked!) man who refuses to hand over the tooth.

Desperate to avoid ruining her would-be career on her first night out, Daisy has no choice but to break regulation and stay to fight for possession of the tooth. And if she uses her fledgling magical powers for unsanctioned purposes, what’s a mishap here and there? So what if her wand misses Trevor’s tent and turns his assistant into a pumpkin. It could happen to anyone.

Determined to save his job at all costs, Trevor focuses on keeping his dig — and his life — pixie-free. Just because chaos erupts every time Daisy bats her lashes sure doesn’t mean she’s telling the truth. After all, there’s no such thing as magic… right?



Erica Ridley: Touched
Touched

Touched is a Regency-set historical with a Dead Zone twist. The story opens when our reluctant superheroine is plucked from her comfortable lesser-gentry world and tossed into the soap opera-like drama of the haute ton. Skeletons leap from closets at a country house-party as the aristocrats turn on each other when one of them turns up dead…

Evangeline Pemberton is a twenty-year-old recent orphan with a scandalous past and an even more shocking talent — she can glimpse both the future and the secrets of anyone with whom she has skin-to-skin contact. In her hunt for the man who destroyed her mother, the last thing Evangeline needs to get mixed up with is murder… or the dark, brooding recluse suspected of the crime.

Gavin Lioncroft is Society’s wealthiest and most infamous black sheep, who hasn’t been accused of murder… since his father died. With both a secret of his own and a sister to protect, the last thing Gavin needs is a nosy little minx who believes she’s psychic — or a houseful of lying, manipulative representatives of the beau monde, hell-bent on saving their reputations by destroying the last remaining shreds of his.

Somebody, anybody, everybody squee! 🙂
I can’t believe it! My head is spinning! (And, quite possibly, expanding! *g)
A huge SQUEEEEEEE goes out to my CP Kel for finaling with Recipe For Temptation. Go Kel!

Conference Series: Pitching & Promotion

Welcome to the Conference Series Workblog, Day 2. (Link to Day 1)

Self-promotion is one of the many possible reasons for attending a writing conference. Although the possibilities are endless, I’m going to discuss three primary tactics to achieve this goal: Pitching, Freebies, and Volunteering.

Pitching

The first thing I’d like to do is debunk a myth.

Pitching–aka, enticing an agent or editor to request full or part of your manuscript through a physical meeting and verbal story description–is not “just for newbies” or “just for unpublished authors”. Pitching, (a verbal alternative to querying, which we can discuss at a later date,) is for any author in need of an editor and/or agent. I have an unagented friend whose first and only published book went out of print several years ago. You can find a used copy of the book on Amazon. You can find my friend pitching at conferences.

The second thing I’d like to do is offer an analogy.

Imagine, if you will, that you are at a video store with your spouse or sibling or best friend (hereafter: Alice). There’s a movie out that you really, really, really want to watch. (For the sake of argument, let’s say it’s The Princess Bride.) Alice–a serious movielover–has never heard of it. You’ve forgotten your purse/wallet at home, and Alice has kindly offered to pay for the movie herself–IF you can convince her the movie you want to see is worth renting.

Here’s what you don’t do:

You don’t cry or clam up or mumble something about how it’s impossible to condense a two-hour masterpiece into a ten-second explanation. You don’t hand her a bunch of homemade pamphlets about the movie and/or tell her how your mom said it was “lovely”. You don’t clutch the DVD box like it’s your last grip on humanity and read the text on the back in a robotic monotone. You don’t say, “Why don’t we rent the one that isn’t quite finished and hasn’t been edited, but the first half or so doesn’t completely suck.”

Here’s what you should do:

You think to yourself about why you want to see this movie so badly. Is it the action? The romance? The suspense? The mystery? The characterization? The unusual premise? And then you think about what Alice’s favorite types of movies are, and you sell her on that angle. You might say, “TPB is a screwball comedy about a farm boy turned pirate, out to rescue a pampered princess named Buttercup.” Or, you might say, “TPB is a funny, sweet romance about a princess in need of love, and a dashing rogue unafraid to risk his life–or his heart.” Or, you might say, “TPB is a guy-friendly action movie filled with swordfights, circus performers, and rodents of unusual size.” Remember: ALICE LOVES MOVIES. Alice WANTS to take home something great. That’s why Alice is in the video store with you in the first place!

Practical tips:
* Research the agent/editor before you pitch.
* Ask questions about the agent/editor to critique partners or chaptermates
* DO pick an agent/editor who enjoys your style/genre of book.
* Do NOT pick an agent/editor who does not represent your wordcount/genre.
* Do NOT pick an agent/editor with a bad reputation.
* Pitch a completed manuscript. (Do not waste the editor/agent’s time.)
* Pitch a manuscript you can mail immediately if asked to do so.
* When crafting your pitch, think back-of-book or DVD-box blurb.
* A pitch is not a query letter. Less formal, more fun.
* Short is better than long.
* Practice in the mirror.
* Practice with a friend.
* Practice with a stranger.
* Speak up and slow down.
* Memorize from a notecard if you must, but do not read from it during the actual pitch.
* Make eye-contact! (Impossible if reading from said notecard)
* Know your story.
* Know about the editor/agent.
* Know about the editor/agent’s clients/line/new releases.
* Be prepared to be interrupted.
* Be prepared to answer questions about your story.
* Be prepared to answer questions about yourself.
* Be prepared to answer questions about your career.
* Be prepared to explain why you chose this editor/agent.
* Be prepared to ASK intelligent questions to the editor/agent.
* Be prepared to discuss what else you did/will write.
* Smile. Be personable.
* Ask “How are you?” and listen to the answer.
* RELAX.
* Alice loves books!
* Alice wants to love YOUR book!

Number One Takeaway:

Remind yourself of the worst case pitch scenario: Agent/Editor does not request to see your book. Then remind yourself of what happens if you DON’T pitch: Agent/Editor does not request to see your book!

Pitching is win-win. Even if you don’t get a request, you get 5-10 minutes with an industry professional, during which you can get all sorts of information that you’d never have a chance to ask about under normal circumstances.

My other posts about pitching: [Link 1] [Link 2]

Freebies

Many conferences have a fun little section called the Goody Room. In this room, you will find tables filled with a plethora of promotional items, all of which are free for the taking. Typically, almost anyone can sign up to donate items to the Goody Room.

Who does the Goody Room self-promo?
* Published Authors
* Unpublished Authors
* Publishing Houses
* Workshop Presenters
* Industry Professionals
* Bloggers seeking increased readership

What kind of items can be found in the Goody Room?
* Free books
* Free book excerpts
* Free bookmarks
* Free business cards
* Free magnets
* Free cover flats (often autographed)
* Free pens/pencils/erasers
* Free notepads/stickynotes
* Free DVDs with book trailers and/or excerpts
* Free pins with logos/sayings/etc
* Free candy/chocolate/etc (sometimes branded, but not always)

The best (most popular) items are:
* Useful and/or consumable
* Compact for ease of travel
* Lightweight for ease of travel
* Branded with your name and web site

Another popular self-promo item is the branded t-shirt. You may give them away (here’s me in a Colleen Gleason tee) or simply wear them around like a walking billboard to create buzz. Buzz=good.

An important thing to remember about freebies is that freebies = free for them, not necessarily free for you. Always keep ROI (Return On Investment) in mind.

Volunteering

An often overlooked method of self-promotion is simply volunteering your time. Conferences are hard work. Most of the people who organize and run them are unpaid. You could be one of them!

Uh… great, you say. What’s in it for me?

For one, good karma. Being helpful is a fine quality!

For two, you get your NAME and your FACE out there. You might be the one managing the agent/editor appointments, for example. Or the one facilitating the workshops, or sending out newsletters with updates, or ferrying the guest speakers to the hotel.

Volunteering is an unbeatable networking opportunity!

YOUR TURN: If I didn’t answer your question(s) on pitching, volunteering, or self-promotion, please ask them in the comments and I will respond. If you are a veteran pitcher, please share your horror/success story. If you have taken advantage of a goody room–either as a giver or a taker–please give your thoughts on what elements work and what elements do not have the desired effect. If you have volunteered at a conference, (or worked behind the scenes in any capacity,) please share your experience!

Writing Conferences and Good Karma Tuesday

As promised, today is Day One in the workblog series on Writing Conferences. But since it’s Good Karma Tuesday, the first thing I want to do is award some prizes!

Good Karma Tuesday winner: Aurora St James
Reciprocal Pimp award: Vicki Lane

Speaking of Good Karma, check out my pal Carrie’s blog. She’s giving away free books in honor of today’s release of Diana Peterfreund’s Under The Rose. Go win!

(As you know, the Good Karma Tuesday prize goes to a random reader who commented on a post during the previous week. The Reciprocal pimp award is a non-random totally subjective honor bestowed upon someone who has graced me with link love during the previous week. Vicki’s blog links to this site, as well as the Manuscript Mavens blog. Go Vicki!)

Aurora and Vicki: Send me your addresses and I will send your prizes when I get back to the States next week!

Writing Conferences

First of all, lets back up a second and talk about professional writing organizations. I am a member of Romance Writers of America as well as Mystery Writers of America. Within those two national organizations, I am a member of several smaller chapters. Some are regional (such as the MWA Florida Chapter and the Tampa Area Romance Authors, and some of them are topical, such as the Kiss of Death mystery/suspense chapter and the Beau Monde Regency England chapter for writers of historicals.

Depending on where you live and what you write, other groups that may interest you include:
* Professional Writers Association of Canada
* Horror Writers Association
* Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America
* American Screenwriters Association
* The Authors Guild
* More United States organizations: [General] [Romance]
* More Canadian organizations: [General] [Romance]
* Romance Writing Chapters: [General] [RWA-Approved Special-Interest Chapters]

Some of the advantages to joining a professional writing organization are:
* camaraderie
* research email loops
* personal email loops
* inspiration
* networking
* access to members-only web sites
* workshops, speakers & newsletters
* new friends
and of course:
* conferences (and discounted rates!)

So. If you’re like me (which I’m not saying you are, but let’s face it–that’s my frame of reference) the primary concern when it comes to attending writing conferences is ROI. (Return on Investment)

You plan to spend your time, effort, and money, and you want to get something of value in return. Before we deal with the former, let’s talk about the latter.

The first thing to ask yourself is what you desire (and reasonably expect) to get out of a conference. For some, it’s a chance to pitch a story to an agent or editor. For some, it’s networking with other writers and those in the publishing industry. For some, it’s attending workshops and learning more about the craft of writing. For some, it’s about promoing the newest release in the Goody Room and getting their name/face/cover out there for the world to see. For some, it’s about walking on stage and accepting a writing award, or getting away from the spouse and kids to be amongst people who “get” what it means to be a writer, or meeting critique partners or plot buddies face to face, or going home at the end of the conference with a suitcase full of books.

Even if you answered “all (most) of the above”, try to determine your primary goal. The number one thing that makes it worth the time, effort, and money.

For example, the first conference I went to, I was all about the craft. I did have two agent appointments (who requested partials of my first manuscript but luckily for all of us, passed on the story) but I spent every waking moment in various workshops and didn’t network with anyone except my roommate (if that counts).

(Speaking of roommates, a big shout-out to USA Today best-seller and RITA award winner Karen Rose, a talented romantic suspense writer and my very first conference roomie. Go buy her books!)

I left that first conference with my head spinning, exorcist-style. It’s so unutterably exhausting to have your brain “on” from 8 am to midnight several days in a row. (But I learned TONS.)

Most RWA National conference workshops are taped, so my plan there was to attend all of them that weren’t taped, and then buy the CDs. And then I discovered publisher parties and book signings… More on that later this week.

Lately, my primary goal has been pitching. I flew to San Jose, CA last year for the Prepare to Pitch conference and came home with something like 8-10 requests. Totally worth the plane ticket, for a goal of “find agent”. I’ve also road tripped to two in-state conferences in the past few months, also with a “find agent” goal. Those conference only offered one agent appointment, but were well worth the drive time.

So. Step one is to research professional organizations and see which, if any, mesh with your goals as a writer. Step two is to check out their conferences: when they are, where they are, who will be there, what they offer, how much they cost, how long they last. Step three is to decide what meeting those goals is worth to you, and choose a conference accordingly.

Don’t attend a conference just to attend a conference–pick one that meets your needs. If you’re targeting a particular agent or publishing house, pay attention to the workshop presenters and the people offering pitch appointments. If you’re hoping to learn more about craft, read the workshop descriptions and presenter bios online before you sign up. If you are on a limited budget (and remember–if you are pursuing a professional career, chances are good that dues/fees will be tax deductible!) or have a limited number of consecutive days you can be absent from home while still keeping your job/spouse/sanity, pay attention to that as well.

Once you choose a conference, the next phase of fun begins… More on this tomorrow!

YOUR TURN: Are you a member of any professional writing organizations? What conferences (if any) have you attended? What were/are your primary goals when it comes to attending writing conferences?

Announcing Shannon Aviles!

This week’s guest blogger is Shannon Aviles, here to answer your publicity questions. Shannon is a multi-media specialist and promoter. The questions she answers below were posed on this blog post, which also contains more information about what a multi-media specialist is and does. Shannon will also be appearing on a panel for the PAN group at RWA National next month, as well as presenting a workshop with Levy and Pam Nelson.

Without further ado…

Heeeeeere’s Shannon!

Finally! Here are the answers. I find it an honor and a privilege to be invited to do this with you and your blog readers. I feel terrible about the delays–but, I really enjoyed answering the questions below for your readers.

How much work/effort should I put into publicity vs. actual writing, at this stage of the game? I’m pre-pubbed–I know I’m close, but not there yet. Should it be 75% writing / 25% publicity? More/less on either side? I’m sure it’s different in every situation, but what’s a good ballpark to start with?
If you haven’t been published yet–all your time should be focused on getting published. You’re basically putting the “cart before the horse” to do otherwise. Becoming aware of how to promote does not hurt and creating a web site will not hurt either. But you must have a “product” to promote and a “Brand”–otherwise, you’re wasting time, effort and money.

Does most of the responsibility for promotion lie with the author?
Yes and No, it lies with the author and the authors respective Publishing House. However, due to the “realities” of the today’s literary lines of business–it falls to the author to “motivate” their PH to do more for them.

What are the biggest mistakes you see people make when self-promoting?
They are not thinking “saturation” and they are not thinking “big/broad enough” and they are putting all of their focus on cannibalism. Which means–they are placing their focus only in one market (ie Romance) which does not provide for growth.

Should branding be a concern for unpublished authors?
ABSOLUTELY! It is the MAIN focus! The “Brand” is the author’s name and also the “product” is their book–these are not an either/or scenario.

For authors with multiple (possibly branded) pseudonyms, are there pros/cons to having two separate web sites and/or being public to one group of readers that you are also the author for the alternate genre?
Separate web sites for each pseudonym confuses the “Brand” which is a HUGE mistake. Key and consistent messaging is the goal.

Sometimes authors take a pseudonym because their previous author name is tied up at an ex-publishing house or their previous series/line/genre/book bombed, etc. In these situations (where the author doesn’t necessarily want to broadcast that she was the original author) are there any special considerations for promotion? Or would it be like “starting fresh” with a brand new author?
There are proven successful strategies to fix these challenges. Anyone who wants to know what they are can contact me directly. The important thing to know is that it is fixable and/or manageable.

What are the top two things an author can do to self-promote?
Create a successful Web Site and make sure that it is SEO (Search Engine Optimized)!

When is it time to call in a publicist?
When you can afford one and when you have reached a certain position in your line of business that will allow you to market your “Brand” and “Product.”

How effective are banner ads on the various romance writer/reader sites? Does anyone notice them? Click on them? I personally don’t, but they seem inexpensive, and I was curious if they make a promotional impact.
Studies show audiences are “Banner Ad Blind” these days. I do not advocate them. As most are done very badly to begin with, it supports the studies.

Do you see very many common names with successful marketing, or is it better for someone with a name as common as Mary Jensen to use a pseudonym?
A name is a name is a name–a rose by another name would smell as sweet.(g) Although names are important–more important is the Brand and its placement.

When is the best time to start promoting a name or book?
When you are published (contracted).

I think although forums, blogs, websites and sometime loops can be good, online chats are pretty much a waste of time. Am I wrong?
Any and all exposure to wider audiences is all good. However, blogs, loops, chats, etc…. take a lot of time and the time is taken away from writing. If any author does these, I always advice them to be “guests” and to plan them a couple of times a month on their calendars (scheduled time) and no more.

How do you get your name out there without having to go on book tours? Is the internet the most effective way?
The internet is one of the most effective ways–but, if “time” is the concern–there is nothing to save time in “Promoting.” Time and money is a must to promote ANYTHING. Managing both is the “key.”

How much help can an author expect from the corporate world in terms of $ for promotion? About how much does the “average” author spend out of pocket to get out there? What’s the cheapest yet most effective?
Well, this is a loaded question as it is so DEPENDENT ON POSITIONING STATUS within your Publishing Houses. Political as is everything. No one has done studies on the “average expenditure in promotions by authors.” In terms of “cheapest and most effective”–this one is easy: “Viral Marketing.”

How soon should you have a blog and or website?
If you have signed a contract to be published–get a web site! First web site–then blog…

What pub/promo errors scream “Green newbie!” and keep everyone who’s anyone away from your book?
Heavy promotions of yourself before you’ve been published. However, do not let any of this deter your efforts to write and get published.

If marketing yourself makes you feel productive working towards your goal and you have the time and the money–do it. Never listen to anyone telling you to give up and not do anything.

However, REMEMBER–promotions and marketing are for sales of products. If you do not have a product on the market for the consumer to purchase–what are you marketing?

I’ve love to know about budgets. I don’t have a lot of money to spend, but know I need to self promote. Starting out, how much should I be allocating and where are the best places to invest? I’m e-pubbed so websites? Magazines?
Contact me and we’ll talk. Budgets are HIGHLY private and personal discussions and are TOTALLY individualistic. There are many things taken into consideration when planning any budget. There is no magic number out there and if anyone tells you so–don’t listen!

Is there a specific % of a budget that should be spent on publicity–hoping 100% is not the answer!
Well, a good strategic budget will incorporate not just Publicity–but, also Marketing, Promotions, Advertising, etc… Did I confuse you? I bet I did… Publicity is only one part of any strategic planning to promote a Brand and/or a Product.

What works to promote e-books?
Viral Marketing.

Sometimes I feel like my online promotion flops and I wonder if I’m wasting valuable writing time. Where should I concentrate my on-line efforts? Blogging, chats, banner ads, newsletters, or excerpt loops?
Doing a little bit of everything gets to be exhausting. Strategize. Create a plan for a period of time–4 months, 6 months, 12 months–whatever, you can handle.

In this plan, identify everything you’ve done in the past including costs. Summate what you’ve spent in the past per annum and break down by your decided time frame. Evaluate your final expenditures and evaluate all that you’ve done and then look to do something more moving forward and/or different if you decide that what you’ve done in the past hasn’t worked for you.

Adjust the future budget by the past and STRATEGIZE and PLAN! Don’t just spend money to do something that is called Publicity/Promotion/Marketing–because, you know you should be doing something. Most important–learn to ask questions–lot’s of questions and learn to research the “right” questions to ask before you spend another dime.

Should different venues be targeted in small chunks (all over the internet) or is it better to blow the budget on one big ad that reaches 1000’s (like a RT ad)?
Never and I mean NEVER spend your whole budget on any ONE THING! You’d be better off spending it all on ONE lottery ticket and hoping that you win big! In essence you’d be gambling your money away placing all your balls into one court. You should be “saturating” the markets–ALL MARKETS–not just one.

What does she think about characters blogging?
I’m feeling the “LOVE” everyone! Brilliant!

QUESTION: What are you doing to drive business to these sites??? And–are you competing with your own web sites? This is called “Cannibalism.” If this is done incorrectly, you WILL compete with your own promotion (web site) AND YOU WILL HURT your web site. If this unique idea is done well, you will drive business to your site, which will drive sales.

Does Shannon have a web site I can visit?
I will eventually. I intentionally stopped the launch as I am scheduled six months out with authors waiting to come on board. Web sites are for promotions to drive business.

All of my business started through referral and as I started doing “guest speaking, panels and workshops” locally and nationally in an effort to help authors–I quickly realized that the “fall-out” became unmanageable. I HATE disappointing authors and having them wait for my services. I want to be able to help everyone–I’m an overachiever and my health began to suffer.

So as I strongly advocate web sites for all authors to promote their brands and products, I found that this advice was not necessary for my business. Therefore, I’ve redirected the design for my web site to be informative for authors so that I can help as many as possible without killing myself in the process.

Is it possible to measure buzz impact on sales?
There are no “formulas” to measure “Buzz.” I am now going to turn the tables on all of you by asking you a question: Can any of you tell me your Publishing House’s ROI – which impacts your Royalties? …I’m waiting.. (g)…I’d bet you can’t. In fact, I know you can’t–why? Because, Publishing Houses will give NO ONE this information–not unless they are court ordered to do so.

Don’t expect any Marketing person to be able to provide you with an ROI answer for any campaign done on you and/or for you. In order to determine ROI (Return On Investment) you have to be able to provide the total sales figures from your Publishing House for each book sold.

Oh and by-the-way, Publicists/Publicity does not work in ROI as “Promotion/Publicity” has no dollar value on it as it is valueless–meaning PRICELESS! You cannot place a dollar amount on people talking “positively” about you and your books. You can however, measure Marketing/Advertising Campaigns–but, then we go back to the beginning of the discussion on ROI. =)

In closing…

I want to be able to help as many authors and aspiring authors as possible. Feedback is always a wonderful and appreciated thing…

Thanks, Shannon! I now open the floor to the readers… Questions? Comments?

Thank You, Guest Bloggers!

A big THANK YOU goes out to my recent guest bloggers!

Just in case you missed the fun, here are the links:

ROBERT WALKER
Robert W Walker, a graduate of Northwestern University, is the author of forty-three novels, including the acclaimed Instinct Series with FBI Medical Examiner Dr. Jessica Coran, and the Edge Series featuring Texas Cherokee Detective Lucas Stonecoat and psychiatrist Meredyth Sanger.
Click Here for the Interview
Click Here for his Web Site
Click Here for his Blog Site

JULIA BUCKLEY
Julia Buckley made her imprint on the mystery scene last year with THE DARK BACKWARD. This summer she launches a new humorous mystery series with her first book, MADELINE MANN, which Kirkus Reviews calls a “bright debut.”
Click Here for the Interview
Click Here for her Web Site
Click Here for her Blog Site

CYNTHIA REESE
Author, mom, wife, and a full-time workin’ woman at her dayjob, Cynthia writes for Harlequin Superromance. Her first book, THE BABY WAIT, was on the shelves in April 2007.
Click Here for the Interview
Click Here for her Web Site
Click Here for her Blog Site