by Lisa Brown Roberts
A few weeks ago, I attended my first UtopYA conference. I traveled to the event with some local author friends, and also connected with some other authors who I’d previously only “met” online. I’ve attended a lot of conferences over the years, from small and regional to huge and national, and I have to say that UtopYA is one-of-a-kind.
The vibe is positive, inspirational, and at times positively giddy. Most of the attendees are self-published, and many of the books are paranormal, so I wasn’t sure how I’d fit in as a traditionally published, contemporary romance author. I needn’t have worried.
UtopYAns are some of the friendliest people I’ve met. From the first night’s “newbie bingo” to the final night’s award ceremony, featuring the most awesome lip-synch contest ever, I never lacked for companionship. I met other writers, bloggers, cover artists, and librarians who’d come from all over the country (and even South Africa) to bond, inspire, and be inspired.
Forming and maintain community is so essential to a writer’s sanity, and it’s something that UtopYAns excel at. The community continues year-round on their Facebook page, which is also one of the most supportive online groups I’ve encountered.
Yes, it can be expensive to attend conferences, especially if you’re traveling out of state, but the intangible benefits of connection, inspiration, networking, and learning have always justified the cost, for me. There are several conferences I consider “musts” and attend every year, or every other year, depending on my budget and other commitments.
I encourage everyone who is serious about pursuing their writing dreams to explore different conferences. You just might find your dream con!
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In December 2013, I wrote about moving into a new decade, which included signing with a new agent in June 2013–What a Difference a Year Makes. In October we placed a picture book manuscript with Knopf and then I was busy continuing work on my YA, Fade Away, and other picture book manuscripts.
To be honest, I thought I’d be excitedly sharing that the novel had been accepted for publication and telling you the pub date, along with one or two other picture book manuscripts. But that’s not the case. Here’s what’s going on:
The Novel That Needed Time
If any of you follow my personal blog, Blab-o-Denise, you know that my YA novel, Fade Away, has been 4+ years in the making. It’s closer now than it’s ever been, but I’m currently in the second round of revisions with my agent. My goal is to get it in shape to submit in the fall. BTW, the novel has changed substantially and has a new title.
The Picture Books That Couldn’t–Yet
We had one board book series and one picture book on submission with high hopes for each. In fact, I loved the picture book so much that I was convinced we’d have interest from at least two publishers. We got positive responses, but no offers. So much for my writerly intuition :-). But it was fun being so excited about a story.
What I Learned and Where I’m Going
Novels take the time they take. I have to continue to stop myself from focusing on how many years have passed since I started the novel. It is what it is. It finally became what it was supposed to be last fall—in large part because I had gone through some personal experiences that enabled me to write it. It’s changed dramatically and requires a level of skill that is forcing me to write better than I ever have. That’s scary and exciting at the same time.
Board books are a tough sell. We knew that going in, especially for authors who are not also illustrators. So do I want to try to turn it into a picture book and possibly a series or leave it until the market turns? During a class I was teaching on rhyming picture books, one of my author pals gave me a very intriguing idea about a completely different approach to it so now I’m going to throw that in the mix and discuss it with my agent.
Picture Books Need to Be Incredibly Unique. Even though I felt my story and characters were unique, two editors had similar comments about wanting to be more surprised. They felt my characters and/or story felt familiar and not fleshed out enough. Because I was so married to the existing text, I decided to start completely over, approaching the characters in what I hope is a fresh way. I’m only just beginning and I’m not enamored with it yet, so we’ll see. The comments have pushed me to really look at the characters and story in a new way and that’s always a good thing.
All of these could be perceived as failures. But I don’t see them that way at all. I’m having the time of my life writing, feeling freer than I ever have to try new things and I’m so happy I have an agent willing to go on the ride with me. And each experience teaches me something I can bring into my next project and/or to further my career.
What have you learned that you can carry forward to a project or your career? Please share!
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By Whiney Writer
Whiney renewed her efforts to get in better condition. After so much time in front of the keyboard, she’d decided to speed-walk everyday. She’d heard her friend say “sitting was the new smoking” and that concerned her. After a few days, however, she became bored. And she kept imagining her computer, which she’d named Princess Buttercup, in homage to one of her all-time favorite characters, kept calling her name. Perhaps, if she walked backwards, it would be more interesting. When she stumbled over her own feet and went flying heels over head, she concluded it might be better to look where she was going.
A week later, she began her new exercise routine. After watching a television add, she became excited about her new piece of equipment. Ripping open the box, she pulled out her mini tramp and placed it by her French doors. If she could at least look outside during her workout, she was less likely to get bored. Right?
Two days later, after bouncing onto her patio and nearly falling over the rail, she started her newest exercise routine. Her friends had been trying to get her to play golf for quite some time. Five hundred dollars later, she strode onto her local course, clubs in tow. The wind blew against her face and she tucked her frizzy hair tighter under her new hat. Along with her recently purchased golf outfit, she felt quite stylish. Her friends were waiting for her on the first tee, hands on hips. Whiney had assumed a tee time was just an estimate of when you should arrive on course. Oops! After making her apologies, she grabbed her new driver and stepped up to the tee box. How hard could it be, anyway? The people on TV seemed to do quite well. She swung as hard as possible, spun all the way around, and completely missed the ball. After a long day on the course, she decided golf was harder than she thought, and definitely not for her.
Whiney ran her computer character over the obstacle course in record time. What a performance. And her heart rate was soaring. Virtual exercise! Yes, perhaps that was the way to go. At any rate, it was definitely safer. She wondered if she could find a golf program. Hmm… Maybe she should keep those clubs.
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by Hilari Bell
Before I became a writer, I wasn’t well acquainted with my subconscious. It was a bit like having a neighbor who keeps to himself. I knew it was there. It said something in passing every now and then and I acknowledged it. But we never really dealt with each other until I started trying to come up with an idea for a picture book every month.
At first, my subconscious refused to cooperate. My critique meeting was looming, I needed to bring something to read…and I was blank. Zero, zip, nada. It got so bad I sought advice in the how-to-write books, where one person suggested that you keep an idea file. The trick, she said, is to write down every idea that occurs to you without judging it. If you write down everything, she said, your subconscious will be encouraged to trot out ideas and ultimately get into the habit. If you condemn the ideas it produces, your subconscious will get discouraged and quit. I couldn’t see any harm in jotting down bad ideas, and I thought there might be some good ones mixed in with the bad, so I started writing up every idea that popped into my head. And some of them were horrible. (One that sticks in my head to this day was, “A story about a lollypop that wants to be licked.”) But some of my ideas weren’t quite that awful, so I kept at it. After only a few weeks my subconscious started turning out more and more ideas…and their quality started improving as well. In fact, after a few months, my subconscious got so accustomed to turning out ideas that I only had to write down the good ones to keep it going. This not only helped me write picture books—it taught me that my subconscious was trainable.
It wasn’t till I started writing novels that I reached the next stage in our relationship. I prefer to write first drafts in January, which means I need to start plotting in the fall. If I don’t have a story idea I’m really excited about, I’ll pick the best idea I have and tell my subconscious, “OK, if you don’t like this idea, you have till November 1st to come up with a better one. If you haven’t given me a better idea by then, we will write this book.” If I don’t want to write that book, then I know my subconscious really doesn’t want to write it—it’s never failed to give me a better idea by the deadline.
By the time we’re outlining that good idea, I don’t usually have to resort to threats. Say I need to get my hero from point A to point B, but I don’t know how to do it. Right before bed, I’ll pick one story problem to focus on. I’ll think about where my hero is now, where I want him to end up, the difficulties in his way—then I’ll ask my subconscious to come up with a solution and go to sleep. (My subconscious is a complete night owl—it does its best work when I’m asleep.) I don’t always have an idea by the next morning—sometimes my subconscious takes three, or even four days to solve a particularly thorny dilemma. But it’s never failed me, and I don’t think it’s ever taken more than four days.
At this point, you may be thinking my subconscious is a wimp, always doing just what I tell it to…but it’s got a lazy, deceitful streak. When I’m getting ready to start my first draft, my subconscious will suddenly start throwing out ideas for other wonderful stories I could write. At first I thought it was trying to be helpful, but if I pursue one of those ideas it will throw out another, and another. I soon realized that my subconscious was deliberately trying to lure me away from this story so it wouldn’t have to work! Now, when I hit the “about to start writing” stage and my subconscious throws out a great idea for some other story, I thank it, write that new idea down, and save it for later.
Every writer uses their subconscious, whenever they write anything—whether they’re aware of it or not. And yes, subconsciouses can be tricky, and even blindside you if you’re not paying attention. But the next time you’re stuck in a plot predicament, or have run out of ideas, ask your subconscious for help—you might be surprised by what a good neighbor it can be.
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