Friday, February 17, 2012

A Day with David Morrell (and Others)

Today was pretty much a mind-blowing day. I’m still trying to let all the information sink in and process, so I can use it to my advantage. I learned so much, and had a great time listening to other authors talk about writing, their successes and failures, and tips on how to make it as a writer.

Perhaps best of all, my dad had a great time as well and said it was a fascinating look into my life and my world. It’s more than just putting words to paper, folks! So, it’s nice that someone else gets it. It was also rather amusing to see Dad get all flabbergasted when an author made him (and everyone) say what he is best at in writing, and her blank stare in response (he said "content").

But first, let me show you my goodies:

Education by Experts

My day started with learning how to convert books into e-books, with the workshop led by D.B. Barton. I already knew a lot of the information, but did get valuable tips on formatting. And I learned a new word (pilcrow).

Then we were off to a talk on using place as a catalyst in fiction by Tatjana Soli (who wrote The Lotus Eaters). I really loved hearing her talk, as her writing process sounds a lot like mine (slow writer, doesn’t outline, loves descriptive language, etc). I’ve never really thought of place as its own character before, so that was an interesting insight. I enjoyed her point on “faking a lived experience” when writing historical fiction, as that’s something all authors most do – make the reader believe this person existed.

Discover the Hidden Opportunities

Holy Hera, the entire day was worth it for this one hour-long workshop alone (by Pamela Bauer Mueller). I have all the tools I need to become my own marketing master (I know, I know, Melissa, you’ve been telling me this stuff for how long?). My biggest and most important task is to create my own brand. To an extent, I know this already, so it’s just a matter of actually doing it. We all know that I’m not the world’s best marketer and I suck at bragging, so these tips and tricks will definitely help me make a bigger name for myself. My first task is to create postcards and bookmarks, like these:

Other Ways to Market Myself:
Special markets (i.e. the powwow I’m attending next month)
Sign up for school reading programs (like Renaissance Accelerated)
Ask to be a speaker or exhibitor at conferences
Try to get local and national book awards
Do talks at local book clubs
Display booths with pizzazz
Get in with Jacksonville’s “Christmas Made in the South”
Get a smartphone so I can accept credit cards
And a crapton of other ways

David Morrell, AKA “Rambo’s Father”
(The above was written on the book he signed for my stepsister, gave me a chuckle)

So, as it turns out, David Morrell is my kind of writer. I found myself incredibly inspired by his words. But before I share some of his finer points, a story:

David’s keynote speech was a focus on the changes in the publishing industry, and how today’s technologies affect the marketplace. He touched on how downloading (legal and illegal) changes publishing as well, and how authors suffer from illegal downloads (I’m looking at you, illegal downloaders). To make his point, he uses music as an example and points to me, asking if I buy CDs or download online. To which I respond, “I buy CDs” (this is true, I have never downloaded a song, or movie or book, either legally or illegally). David says, “Oh. Really? I wasn’t expecting that” then turns to the only other young person in the audience and asks the same thing. She says, “A little of both” and David again wasn’t expecting the answer, so he kind of had to backtrack to make his point about the younger generation and pirating.

After, I buy his book and as he’s signing it, he jokingly apologizes for putting me on the spot, saying he figured he’d get the answer he wanted/expected from a teenager. Ha! I told him I was 26 and we had a laugh. So, David Morrell, I apologize for foiling your plans to slide right into a talk about illegal downloads. That’s what you get for assuming I’m a teenager!

Anyway, back to his finer points:

“If you chase the market, then you’re already two years behind.” – I love this quote because it touches on my own work. Too many people try to write about what’s popular in order to get sold. Me, I like to write what I want and not worry about what’s popular, especially since this can change overnight. David talked about authors who just want to “get rich and famous” and how these are the ones who don’t write for themselves. It’s not about fame and fortune to me, and it was nice to hear that a guy who has it all actually lambasts those who are simply seeking fame. Along this note, this is why I don’t keep track of how much money I’ve made or how many books I’ve sold (frequently, that as, as I have to for tax purposes), and I absolutely despite being asked. So, don’t ever ask me how much money I’ve made. It pisses me off and makes it sound like I’m just in it for the paycheck.

The “Love Me” vs. “Love What I Do” Model – This goes hand-in-hand with the above. What hit home with me is that David talked about his first book tours and signings, and how humiliating it was when no one showed up. He’s been there, everyone’s been there, but if you love what you do then you just keep going. It’s not about writing to make people love you but about enjoying the process. Don’t write just to identify with the model, with the trend.

“You can’t chase the dream. You have the power, so make it happen.” – Ain’t that the truth. Make. It. Happen.

“Never Be Afraid of a Blank Page” - the Query Letter That Sells

So, if you know me, then you know I’m wordy. That’s why condensing a 188-288-page novel into a 3-line pitch is downright impossible for me. As a result, my query letters are long, and likely worthless to an agent. Author Marita Golden talked about writing a sound letter, as well as what to look for in an author.

There was plenty more discussed, but the main point is that I managed to condense my super long synopsis for The Sour Orange Derby into a 3-sentence pitch:

The Rough Draft:

The Final Version:

“One lone tree is all that remains of the cherished Standridge family orange groves, and for young Colly Standridge, that solitary tree is at the center of a magical world. Inspired by real people, The Sour Orange Derby follows the lives of Colly, who dreams of becoming a professional baseball player, and K.B. Standridge, an imaginative old man who spends his days searching for a new family tradition – and finds it in his last beloved orange tree.

A story about love and healing steeped in southern traditions, The Sour Orange Derby is a tale of how one family comes together to celebrate life and history, and how one orange tree holds them all together when the young boy’s fight with cancer threatens to tear them apart.”

You’d want to read that, right?

Anyway, I believe I came away from the conference a much better writer, and a more confident marketer. Tomorrow is the Authors Marketplace and I’m going to test out my newfound confidence. After that, I’m going to take the e-book world by storm and embrace the changes in the publishing world.

If David Morrell is up for the adventure, then you can bet I am too.


  1. Today was fun and I did learn so much about the writer's world - your world. I still to this day do not know where your creativity came from as your mother and I do not really have that gift. As for you Query letter - I like it and it makes you want to know more (send me the first chapter!). Now for content - yes I got thrown off, but the only thing I can write is policies and procedures - and they have to have the right content :)


  2. You definitely walked away with a lot of knowledge. I love the part about him thinking you were a teenager. Your summary is perfect. I would have benefited from those workshops. Reminded me of the writers workshops I've been to. I hope I can go to one with you next time and to your next show. An old high school friend may actually be performing at your powwow. He is native amereican and would be perfect to help get word out about your book. Need to get in touch with him anyway about band reunion. I can't believe I didn't think of him before. He goes to those for a living. Ill let you know his website. Good luck tomorrow ..aunt debbie