I spent last weekend at the annual Scottish Association of Writers (SAW) Conference, and, as always it was an enjoyable couple of days.
It was held, as it has been for the last few years, in the lovely Westerwood Hotel in Cumbernauld near Glasgow. And the hotel staff along with the amazingly hard-working, volunteer members of the SAW council ensured the whole thing ran very smoothly.
There were a variety of workshops to choose from and I went to three:
SELF-PUBLISHED FROM MANUSCRIPT TO MARKET – this was led by the director of an assisted and highly reputable publishing company. It was a good overview of the process of self-publishing but understandably he took the view that an author going completely alone couldn’t do as good a job as would be done by a company like his. But although I didn’t agree with everything he said, I did find the part on marketing useful.
HOW TO WRITE A CRIME NOVEL – this workshop was led by novelist Simon Brett and was great fun. I don’t plan on writing a crime a novel but I was sure I’d learn some more general things. And I did. There were more than forty people in the workshop and with Simon leading us we collaborated on producing the outline of an entire novel in one hour. As I say, it was fun and I picked up some handy tips on plotting.
WHAT PUBLISHERS WANT – this one was led by the owner of a small independent publishing company. It was interesting and informative about the traditional publishing process. But nothing the workshop presenter said led me to believe I’d be any better off being published by her. I sell as many books using my own imprint as most of her authors, so it was worth attending the session just to learn that.
But by far, the best part of the conference for me this year was the time spent talking to fellow writers, some of whom I’ve known for many years, and others who I met for the first time. Writing can be a rather lonely activity so it’s always good to spend time with colleagues and to share experiences. I was able to pass on tips to others and also to pick up new and useful information myself.
And so that’s it for another year. Thanks again to all who organised the conference for a very reasonably priced, well run conference in a perfect setting.
Question for writers: Have you attended any conferences aimed specifically at writers? If so what did you enjoy the most?
It’s some writing news of my own for this week’s post.
Bring on the rewrites
My next book is now with my editor and I’m braced and ready for the rewrites that will inevitably be required. I always think I’ve polished my writing until it cannot be improved before I send it off, but then I get the editor’s comments and realise it’s not perfect after all.
However, I do enjoy the editing process. I like the constructive criticism and I love to see how my writing is improved by rewriting. And even when I don’t at first agree with suggested changes I almost always see that the editor is right after I’ve slept on it.
I call my editor the Alchemist because he takes the base manuscript and gives me the means to turn it into writing gold (she says modestly).
Some of you already know that this new book entitled Settlement is the sequel to my most recent novel Displacement. I’ve never written a sequel before and it’s a slightly different process to writing a standalone book. Continuity and consistency in relation to the first book is vital and so is having the story make sense to people who haven’t read the first one without boring those who have. I think I’ve managed it, but I’m sure my editor will pick me up on any failures there.
Next job for Settlement will be cover design. I have a few ideas and will be discussing them with the cover designer very soon.
And while I await the editorial feedback, I intend to sketch out the third and final part of this series of books and to make some notes for my next children’s book. So, no, there will be no slacking at the writing desk.
However, I will get some time away from the desk this weekend as I’m heading off to the annual conference of the Scottish Association of Writers (SAW). I always enjoy this conference – a whole weekend of workshops, networking and meeting up with writer friends, as well as the announcement of the SAW writing awards for the current year. And the food’s always good too.
I’ll report back on how the conference goes in my next post. Until then I’ll leave you with a question: Do you like reading sequels and/or novel series or do you prefer standalones?
Writing is both an art and a craft. As such it’s something that requires inspiration, skill, ability and knowledge. So it’s important that writers sometimes leave their solitary garrets and go ‘fill up the well’ .
And that’s what I like about attending writing conferences, events and courses. I love the buzz and intensity and I really love those light-bulb, now-I-see moments that arise when listening to a speaker or conversing with a fellow delegate.
And so it was that from Wednesday to Friday of last week I was a virtual participant in a worldwide book event and then on Saturday I was an actual participant at a local workshop for writers. I got a huge amount out of both. I made contact with other writers and with professionals who had so much expertise to offer. I learned a lot.
IndieReCon: Indies at the London Book Fair
Last week was a big one in the world of publishing. It was the week in which the London Book Fair (LBF) took place. And it wasn’t just the big publishing houses who were there. Indie publishers – that is individual authors publishing their own books and small co-operatives of authors pulling resources and expertise in order to self-publish – had a real and significant presence there too.
The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) ran an Indie Author Fringe Festival in association with the LBF. It was delivered in live-streamed and watch-when-you-can formats over three days and it was called IndieReCon. So while some events were live and interactive and could be attended in person, some (including those live ones) were video (vlog) presentations that could be watched at your own convenience and some were written presentations in blog format where ‘attendees’ could leave comments. All the presentations, whatever the format, were designed to either inform self-publishers how to improve their products or to tell them about the sorts of services, expertise and marketing that are available to them – just as at any trade fair.
And on the third day of the fringe fest there was also an indie book selling event at Foyles bookshop where indie authors could promote and sell their own books.
So, despite being hundreds of miles from London, I was able to take part. And I’m very glad I did.
The online organisation was mostly slick and with only a few technical hiccups – and it’s important to bear in mind this was a first time and a unique event.
Below is a roundup of the events, talks, discussions I attended.
Discussion between ALLi founder Orna Ross and Smashwords (eBook publisher/distributor) chief, Mark Coker. It was a good introduction to e-publishing for those who’ve not done it before and a good round up/reminder of the pros cons and possible future developments for the more experienced.
David Farland shared his recipe for fiction that sells well.
Ben Galley led a lively and useful interactive discussion on online bookstores.
Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware did a live session on the need or otherwise to register copyright.
Miral Sattar gave a talk on the basics of online book selling – excellent for first-timers.
David Penny and Joel Friedlander shared an often amusing, as well as enlightening, conversation on the principles of good book design. As Friedlander said, the design should be so good the reader doesn’t notice it. He also flagged up his Book Construction Blueprints available free on his site bookdesigntemplates.com
Guido Caroti also did a useful presentation on cover design and on copyright issues around covers.
Neil Baptista of Riffle and Katie Donelan of Book Bub gave good advice on how to optimise your book for inclusion on their promotional sites.
One of the best talks, for me, was the one given by Rebecca Swift of the Literary Consultancy. She stuck her head above the parapet by addressing quality in self-publishing. She made comparisons with the Victorian era’s Penny Dreadful novels. She wasn’t dismissing or deriding self-publishing, but she was making a plea for high ethical standards of editing, for good content both genre and literary and for expert reviewers. She made the point that it shouldn’t be the writers with backgrounds in marketing and with money to spend who flourished. Good thought-provoking stuff.
Other highlights were Jessica Bell on self-editing. As an experienced editor as well as a writer she provided a first-class editing checklist which I’ll definitely be using. Ricardo Fayet advised on finding and working with publishing professionals such as editors. Yen Ooi’s excellent ‘What is your Message?’ addressed how to grab readers’ attention. She talked about the importance of crisp, precise description of your book and how to apply it. She suggested thinking in terms of newspaper headlines followed by a suggestion of content. Jay Artale advised on the use of Pinterest for authors – something I’d been wondering about. And finally, Robin Cutler’s piece on getting your manuscript together and on the four most lucrative genres was also interesting and helpful. And finally, author, poet and campaigner Dan Holloway performed his outstanding new poem calling for social diversity in publishing. You can read it here.
All of the above people have their own websites, blogs, twitter (etc) accounts and I recommend you check out any who grab your interest. It’s also my understanding that most of the events will be available to view on the ALLi/IndieReCon website within the next fortnight.
Orna Ross and her team and all the presenters deserve a very big thank you for all the hard work they put into this successful event.
Emergent Writers Workshop
Then, on Saturday, I was off out into the real world to a local arts centre for a day’s workshop on self-editing for novelists. This was run by community interest company, Emergents, which as XPONorth offers support to writers in the Scottish Highlands and Islands. Novelist, literary agent and editor, Allan Guthrie delivered the workshop. Now, when I was at the Scottish Association of Writers Conference at the end of March, I’d attended an interesting and informative workshop given by Allan on the topic of getting published (which I wrote about here) so I had high expectations.
I wasn’t disappointed. It was superb and I came away with sheets and sheets of notes and again, I learned a lot.
Writing can be a lonely pursuit. It’s easy to let self-doubt eat away at motivation, to wonder if it’s worth it. It’s easy to be daunted by all you don’t know. It’s easy to get stuck. Having a network of fellow writers and of publishing professionals is vital. And striving to improve is vital. So for me those four days were sound investments in my writing. I learned so much and my own writing-well is full to the brim once more.
If you’re a writer, or other type of creative artist, how do you ensure you keep learning, developing and continue to be motivated?