Writing can be such a lonely profession. We’re not seeking sympathy, however, for many of us prefer it that way. But, then comes the day when we actually have to reach out as a writer (face to face, that is!)–to our readers, to our target market to sell our book,  or perhaps even to other writers for help.

I used to find this entire process quite intimidating and draining, but I’ve learned some things over my writing life that have really helped me connect with others in a way that’s not too daunting for introverts like myself. And, I have to say, the benefits have paid off handsomely.

Here are some tips I’ve discovered for connecting with…

1. Readers: One thing that really helps when connecting with readers is to make sure that you call the shots as to where you will be speaking to or meeting with them. If you don’t like speaking to large crowds, then arrange for a smaller group in a more intimate setting, like a library, bookstore, or coffee shop. I find speaking with small groups and being able to do Q&A is actually a lot of fun, and it helps your readers to get to know you better than if you were hundreds of feet away at a podium.

Get creative and develop some form of activities, crafts, games, and so forth that may work with your book’s theme. If none of these ideas would be appropriate, then design a time where you can do a couple of readings from your book, along with a discussion session or even workshop. This takes some of the pressure off you to “perform” and gets your readers more involved with your book.

2. Target market: It’s easy to “hide” behind the internet nowadays when it comes to book or self-promotion. I’m not knocking this, because blogging and promoting through various other online venues can be quite effective. All I’m saying is, don’t stop there! A great way to connect with your target market is through book signings, on-site promotional events, or, again, workshops. And, these can be as low-key or extravagant as your personality dictates.

I would not do well in a huge arena trying to sell my book to everyone who passes by. But having a book signing where my target market gathers or teaming up with a local radio station to do on-site promos is perfect for me. You may not reach the masses this way, but again, people have a chance to talk to you, get to know you a little, and through this you have a better chance of selling them on your book.

3. Other writers: Most writers attend writers conferences to talk with publishers or agents, but I’ve found it quite helpful to use these opportunities to get to know other writers as well. To make the most out of this experience, however, you probably need to step out of your comfort zone a little. If you’ve noticed at conferences, many people tend to sit at the exact same tables in the cafe meal after meal after meal. Your job is to not do this. Purposely sit in a different spot each time, seeking out people you don’t know.

Also, be sure to come with a ton of business cards. Sure, give them out to potential publishers or agents, but also hand them out to other writers. You never know when you’re going to need to pick someone’s brain over something, and it’s nice to be able to break the ice with “I met you at Writers R Us conference last year…” As you talk with writers, ask what genre they write, who they write for if they’ve been published, and how they got their big break. You’ll be amazed at the chain of networking that can come just from asking the right questions. Definitely don’t spend your whole conversation talking about yourself!

Other great places to network with other writers are, of course, writers groups, critique groups, local author events (libraries often hold these), and local writing workshops and seminars. But keep in mind, your main goal is not only to make friends, which will naturally be a byproduct of your efforts, but also to find writers who can walk with you on your journey. Some of these writers will be more experienced, which will be wonderful, because perhaps they will be willing to help mentor you. Others may not be as experienced as you, in which case you can be the one offering helpful tips and encouragement. And some may be exactly where you are, which is also good because you can navigate the waters together.

And, believe it not, like it or not, this is something we as writers need. There are times when it’s good to be holed up in your office pounding on the keyboard. But, there are also times when we need to poke our heads out and find others to connect with. I hope some of these ideas help in knowing where and how to make these vital connections.

Happy Labor Day!

Perhaps it’s appropriate that I’m blogging on Labor Day, since it seems nowadays I need national holidays to get caught up on my work! Unfortunately, I tend to use vacation time (or what should be vacation time) quite a bit lately to make sure I stay ahead of writing and editing deadlines. But for me, a simply change of venue, especially if there’s a beach involved, is all the vacation I need! Enter the writing retreat.

Before I completely understood what writing retreats were, I likened them to writing conferences. But they are very different in a number of ways.

For one, at a conference, you usually don’t have much, if any, time to actually write. The workshop schedule keeps everyone quite busy, and often there are so many people that it’s hard to find a quiet space to get away and work. But a writing retreat is ALL about the writing. There may or may not be any workshops or actual teaching time, and each retreat is limited to a small number of people. And, the environment is conducive to alone time–just you, your imagination, and your pad and pen (or iPad!).

The writing retreat is much more like a vacation than a conference could ever hope to be. You will seldom find a retreat in the middle of a big city (I haven’t actually heard of any), but rather tucked away in the mountains, overlooking a coast, or in a quaint, historic town (think bed-and-breakfast properties). The idea is to submerge the writer in tranquility and a natural environment that stirs the imagination and calms the soul. Unlike a frenzied conference, the feel is serene and slower paced.

Another difference is the cast of characters you’ll discover at a retreat versus a conference. Conferences are full of agents, editors, publishers, and speakers who can teach you everything from proper grammar to platforms. Retreats usually have none of these, but instead have writing coaches, mentors, and facilitators to guide group exercises and discussions.

Writing retreats range from a weekend to two weeks or more. Some are only for individuals, while others are open to hosting writing groups. (Retreats make a great getaway for critique groups, by the way!) Some retreats are self-guided, meaning they basically just provide a bedroom and a house (or lodge) for you to work in, and you’re on your own; others have scheduled events and meeting times for group  work, mentoring, or on-your-own writing each day. Finally, retreats may be general–open to any genre or niche, while others are specialized due to the coaching and mentoring available. For instance, so far I’ve discovered retreats that focus on: dissertations, poetry, screen plays, fiction, business writing, and those for women only.

So, think of a writing retreat as being able to take a vacation but not feel guilty about having extra work pile up when you get home! Retreats are perfect if you need a quiet getaway for a few days, if you’re stuck on your book and need professional help to jump start it, or if you need to be with other writers who can help you brainstorm ideas.

And, if you have the money and an adventurous spirit, you may want to travel outside the U.S. to help boost your creativity. There are plenty of retreats in France, England, Italy, and more exotic spots like Bali. Whatever setting you need to get you in the “write” frame of mind, there’s probably a writing retreat available!

If you’re looking for guided instruction during your retreat, one place to check out is the Elizabeth Ayres Writing Center:  www.creativewritingcenter.com.

If you need to get into character for your next historical fiction book, look into this retreat at a historic farmhouse overlooking the James River in Virginia: www.porcheswritingretreat.com.

For a list of various retreats by region (U.S. only), try: www.retreatsforwriters.com.

By the way, if you still want to find a conference, be sure to take a look at my Writers’ Resources page for an updated list of writers’ conferences through the end of 2011.

I’d like to introduce you to Scoti Domeij.  Scoti has worked for several publishers over her career in various facets of editing. She is now a freelance writer,  workshop teacher, and leads writing critique groups as well as a successful writing group in Colorado Springs. She recently wrote her first book and acquired her first agent.

I asked Scoti to walk us through the process of researching and finding an agent when you don’t know where to start. The following is the first part of her advice for locating an agent.

I recall the first agent I knew. As the editor of Harvest House Publishers, I wondered, Why would an author give up 15% of their advance and royalties to an agent? Seemed crazy. Who would have guessed that agent was a man ahead of the times?

Fast forward to 2011. These days most authors need an agent to help their manuscript land on an editor’s desk at a publishing house. So how do you get an agent?

If you’re not a superstar, celebutante, Jesus, or famous for being famous, first you’ll need to hone your writing skills, write a quality book-length manuscript, join a critique group, edit, edit, edit, and then craft an irresistible query letter. And that may take years. Since you only have a minute or two to catch an agent’s interest, make sure your topic, writing voice and skills, book, book proposal, and query is up to par to send to an agent.

And the Next Steps?

1.      Research agents by genre. Don’t waste your time or the agent’s by contacting someone who does not specialize in your genre.

2.      Subscribe to the Guide for Literary Agent’s blog. http://guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog/ This blog’s tagline says it all—where and how to find the right agents to represent your work. This blog lists agents looking for new clients.

3.      New may be for you. Look for an agent that’s new and needs clients. Or check out agents looking for new clients or that accept unsolicited queries.

4.      Attend a writing conference with top-quality agents. Make an appointment to professionally pitch yourself and your book. Better yet, attend a writing conference known for attracting beginning writers. If you’ve honed your craft, you’ll stand above the crowd.

5.      Read book forewords in your writing genre. Read the acknowledgments page. Authors thank their agents by name. Google the agent’s name and go to their website. Read their query submission guidelines, and then follow their directions to the T.

6. Head to the library. Read 2011 Guide To Literary Agents http://www.amazon.com/Guide-Literary-Agents-Chuck-Sambuchino/dp/1582979537/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1299990055&sr=8-1 or Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents 2011, 21E: Who They Are! What They Want! How to Win Them Over. http://www.amazon.com/Hermans-Publishers-Editors-Literary-Agents/dp/1402243375/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1299990186&sr=8-2 or Literary Market Place 2010: The Directory of the American Book Publishing Industry with Industry Yellow Pages. http://www.amazon.com/Literary-Market-Place-2010-Publishing/dp/1573873578/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1299992811&sr=8-1

Scoti has another 6 points to share, so please stop back next week to learn more about how to find an agent.

A lot of my writer friends right now are talking about conferences that they have selected to attend in 2010. Some are brand new to the conference circuit; others are veterans. However you might classify yourself, it never hurts to take time to prepare. Here are a few steps you’ll want to take beforehand:

1. Research the publishers, editors, and authors who will be present. If you have a finished manuscript or proposal you want to talk with an editor or publisher about, make sure that the people you will meet at the conference are the right ones for you to talk with and that the publisher is looking for what you have to offer. Spending a few minutes browsing the publishers’ websites will help you determine if that house is right for you.

If you know that your book will be perfect for a particular publisher, but the only editor represented by that publisher works with a different line of books (fiction vs. nonfiction, for instance), talk to that person anyway. Editors will typically know enough to say whether your manuscript should be forwarded to another department within their house.

Take advantage of authors who are there as well. Authors who are on faculty will have enough experience with writing and publishing to help tweak your work and offer good advice.

2. Don’t bring your entire manuscript or proposal. No one will have the time at the conference to read through a lengthy manuscript. Instead bring a sample of that work and a one-sheet proposal to give an editor an idea of what your book is about.

3. Prepare your conference schedule. As the conference draws near, the conference director will typically have a workshop schedule finalized. Take time to review the schedule, deciding on which workshops you want to attend and which editors you want to meet with. Often, if you can’t get an appointment with the editor you need to see, that person may be teaching a class you can attend. You may be able to schedule an informal time to meet with him then.

With conferences, a little preparation goes  a long way to help you feel confident when approaching editors. For information on how to enjoy your conference experience, please see my recent article at the Florida Christian Writers’ Conference blog.  For other general information on attending writers’ conferences, you can view a previous post here.

I’m gearing up to teach at the Florida Christian Writers’ Conference in early March. Doing so made me think that a lot of writers are also getting ready for the busy writing conference season ahead and are preparing to put their best foot forward when they meet with editors and publishers.

With that in mind, I’d like to address one aspect of preparation: the one-sheet proposal. The one sheet is just that–one sheet geared to a specific book idea. This is obviously quite different than a full proposal, which can be upwards of fifty pages or so.

The idea behind the one sheet is to present your idea, not your actual writing. One sheets are great for conferences or anytime you only have a few minutes to present your book idea to a prospective buyer. Most publishers discourage bringing an entire proposal to a conference because (1) it’s rather cumbersome to carry everywhere; and (2) they won’t have adequate time to read it anyway.

An effective one sheet, however, can serve the purpose of getting an editor interested enough in your idea that he or she requests a proposal from you. So let’s take a look at what a one sheet looks like…

Add the working title of your book front and center toward the top of the page, just below your contact info. Keep in mind that eventually your title will more than likely get changed by the publisher, so don’t get too attached to it!

Next, write two or three sentences maximum for your book’s concept. What you write could also be referred to as your “elevator speech”: What would you say to an editor if you met one in an elevator and wanted to pitch your book idea? If you can’t summarize your book in two or three sentences, it probably isn’t clear enough in your own mind yet.

You’ll also want to include a brief (one paragraph) synopsis of your book. Here, you’ll expound on your concept and offer specifics on what your book is about and what purpose you intend for it to have: How will it affect your audience? Why is it important? If you’re writing a novel, give a basic overview of your plot line, the main characters, and the book’s theme.

Your next section will be market potential, where you define your target audience, offer statistics and research on the size of your market and why your book is important to this market, and how you plan on reaching your audience. You can also include your platform in this section–what will you do to help market your book? If you have an extensive platform that you know will be a huge selling point for you, you’ll want to create a separate section just for that.

After market potential, add a section on comparative titles or the marketing edge your book has over other similar books on the market already. Do your homework and list a few titles that are like yours, yet give specifics on how your book will differ from what’s already out there.

Final sections include a short bio of your writing experience, especially as it relates to your book, along with any other relevant experience you may have; the proposed length of the book; and the completed time frame of when you can finish writing the book if you were offered a contract (most publishers would expect the book to be completed in 6-9 months).

This seems like a lot to fit on one page, but it can be done. Make sure every word counts and that you’re only including information that is absolutely necessary to help sell your book idea. A well-written one sheet should be very readable so that it can be quickly scanned by an editor, with all the important aspects easy to find.

I realize this was a quick overview of a lengthy topic, so if you have any questions on constructing a one sheet, please share your comment!

Just wanted to add a quick post about writers’ conferences before continuing with my Writing Life posts.

If you’ve never attended a writers’ conference, perhaps this could be your year! Whether you’re a total novice or advanced writer, you’re sure to come back with some nugget or connection that will make attending a conference worth your while.

Nowadays, there are so many conferences to choose from, you will most likely find one that caters to your specific writing niche or genre. Often, writers who don’t currently have a manuscript in the works will hesitate attending a conference because they feel they aren’t prepared. My advice is, even if you aren’t currently working on anything, if you find a conference that’s a good fit for your genre, there are several reasons you should still attend:

Networking, networking, networking! That’s really what’s it’s all about in this business anyway, right? You never know who you’ll end up meeting at conferences. I’ve heard stories about writers meeting others writers and becoming co-authors, writers meeting editors and selling their ideas for further review (even without manuscript in hand), and writers meeting publishers who they later submitted–and sold to.

Advancing your craft. As a writer, you should always be learning something new about your craft. Conferences offer hands-on writing experiences as well as workshops to help you stay on top of new publishing trends–something we all need to know about.

Writing time. If you’re like most writers, one of the toughest things is actually finding quality time to write. Although writers’ conferences are typically jam packed with activities, there’s still time to be found for writing. Usually, conferences are held in picturesque, resort-like locations, which are perfect for finding peace and solitude to ignite your creativity.

Ideas. If I get nothing else out of a conference, I always seem to come back with a boatload of new ideas. Ideas about new markets, ideas about new ways of approaching editors and submitting work, or ideas about writing itself. And we can never have too many ideas!

One of the hardest parts about attending a conference is knowing which one to go to. A good start is to find those that are specific to your genre and have a wide variety of faculty to meet with– editors, other writers, publishing staff, agents, marketing experts, etc.

I have compiled a list of various 2010 conferences throughout the U.S. on my Writers’ Resources page. You might also want to check out the Florida Christian Writers’ Conference where I will be teaching March 4-6. Take a look at their blog to read faculty posts for ideas of what to expect at the conference as well as some helpful tips if you do plan on attending.

Happy conferencing!