From left to right: Catherine Asaro, Rachel Caine, Laurel Anne Hill, Valerie Griswold-Ford, & Chris Flick in a panel on vampires
I was involved in two other events related to writing: a panel about the business side of writing and a workshop that focused on the craft side.
To Agent or Not to Agent? focused on the question stated in its title. The panel consisted of an agent (Michael Kabongo), two agented authors (Leona Wisoker and me), and one published but unagented author (Jim Stratton). The consensus seemed to be that, although you probably don’t need an agent to sell your book to a publisher that accepts unagented submissions, agents more than earn their 15% by providing these services:
Editorial feedback before a manuscript goes out on submission. Many authors take a manuscript through several drafts with their agent before the agent submits it to publishers. Leona also noted that it can mean a lot to a writer simply to find someone who believes in a project after rounds of rejection and indifference.
Contract negotiations and expertise. My agent negotiated a slightly higher advance and better terms than came with my initial offer, and she also knew which subrights to hang on to. Even though I’ve published several nonfiction books, she knew what to look for in a fiction contract that I wouldn’t.
Subrights. A lot of aspiring authors don’t look beyond The Prize of getting an offer of publication. But what about foreign/translation rights, audio rights, film/TV rights? I wouldn’t have a clue how to go about looking for buyers for those rights, myself, but my agent does.
An eye to the future. An agent is beneficial here in two senses: offering help in planning an author’s career and keeping abreast of changes in the publishing world, which seem to be happening almost daily right now. Michael talked about ebook rights and how the dust is far from settled in that issue.
We also talked about the importance about finding not just “an agent,” but an agent who’s compatible with you: who likes your work, whose goals for developing your career match yours, who has a compatible personality and communication style. A good fit can make a huge difference in building a productive working relationship with your agent.
The writing workshop, Breathing Life into Your Writing, was conducted by Laurel Anne Hill (she’s in the middle of the panel in the photo at the top of this post). For the first hour, Laurel gave a presentation packed with writing tips, illustrated with examples from fantasy stories and novels. For the second hour, participants worked on putting some of those tips to work in their writing. Each participant read their work for feedback from the panel: besides Laurel, panelists were Allen Wold, Barbara Friend Ish, and me.
Here are some of Laurel’s writing tips:
Stay in the viewpoint character’s point of view. He/she’s called the viewpoint character for a reason, right? If you tend to write a lot of tags such as “she thought” or “he noticed” in the first draft, cut those as you revise. Don’t try to pack in more viewpoint characters than the length of your story can support. (A short story might have one or at most two viewpoint characters, but a novel can handle more.)
Pay attention to dialogue. Dialogue needs to sound realistic while doing its job of conveying necessary information. Real-life dialogue (small talk, throat clearing) doesn’t sound right in fiction. Avoid “by the way, Bob” info dumps, as in “By the way, Bob, as I’m sure you remember, World War III has taken a devastating toll on this area. Let me explain…” In other words, don’t fall into the trap of having characters tell each other things they already know.
Avoid talking heads. While you don’t want to add a dialogue tag to every line of dialogue (especially dialogue tags cluttered with -ly adverbs, she said disparagingly), neither do you want to strip dialogue of the signals that help readers follow who’s speaking when. A good strategy is to layer in characters’ reactions to what’s being said and the viewpoint character’s thoughts about it.
Use all five senses. This makes the story world rich and multilayered.
The story arc needs both forward momentum and breathing space. I think pacing is one of the trickiest parts of writing a novel, so this point is important. (I feel a future post coming on…)
After Laurel’s presentation, workshop participants could apply these principles to a work in progress, or they could choose a photograph and use it as a writing prompt. They wrote for 15 minutes and then read what they’d written out loud for feedback from the panel.
Brave folks. Maybe I just don’t play well with others, but personally, I hate sharing that sort of quick writing exercise. Not only did everyone agree to read their work out loud, the first drafts they’d produced in those 15 minutes were mind-blowingly good. Not all polished up and ready for publication, but alive and energetic and more than capable of pulling the reader in. I was really impressed—and also glad that the panelists didn’t have to do the same exercise to give examples. I don’t write that well that fast!
We finished with a discussion of how it’s important to know writing “rules” NOT to apply them rigidly to your writing, but to understand their effect so that you also know when to break them. There are times, for example, when an adverb or passive voice is effective—but unless you know why such things can vitiate your writing, you’ll never know when they can enhance it.
So that’s my RavenCon recap. It was a great time, and I hope to go back. (No way I’m missing the zombie makeup workshop next time!) I’ll end with a picture of me during my signing. (Thanks to Ciera and Rachel for taking the photo!) Several people stopped by during the hour, so I had some really fun chats and didn’t just sit there looking all lonesome.
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