I attended the James River Writers monthly Writing Show last night and I thought it was the best of the year. For those who haven’t been to one, they are convivial and fairly informal. Before each show, there is registration and a reception where attendees can make new friends and gab with old ones, made easier with wine, cheese and crackers. All are there to help each other. Books, often selected to reflect the evening’s theme, are for sale from local bookseller Fountain Books. When the show begins, there are introductory remarks and plugs for upcoming events, followed by a JRW board member sitting with the panelists to lead the topic’s discussion. After the intermission, there is a Q&A between the audience and the panelists.
The topic last night, Building a Writing Career, covered ways to get an agent and get published. An evergreen topic for writers. Ready to help were the panelists: Mary Flinn of Blackbird online journal; Thom Didato of failbetter.com; and author Colleen Curran. JRW board member Virginia Pye moderated.
Here are my notes, attributing the panelist where I can:
Mary answered the question, How to improve your writing: Keep writing and reading writers whom you admire; glue yourself to your seat and don’t get up until you’ve finished.
MFA (Master of Fine Arts) programs are a great place to hone your craft and put your name out there. The caveat being that such programs aren’t cheap and one must weigh what you put into the program with what you can reasonably expect to get out of it.
All panelists agreed that you need to research your market and the publishers (houses, journals, etc.). Mary recommended the Poets & Writers web site as a resource for finding suitable places for your work. Either Colleen or Thom recommended Duotrope as well.
On this, Colleen held up a index card organizer and shared her method. She kept a index card for each publisher, writing their address, who was published in their magazines, which ones she submitted work to, rejection slips and notes of encouragement.
Thom admitted that often agents and editors are looking for reasons not to read queries and manuscripts. So don’t give them one! A sure-fire way of sabotaging yourself is by not following the guidelines for submission. Colleen advised that writers avoid “walker” sentences. The character walked to the door. It’s filler. Make each sentence count by making them purposeful. Wow them with the first line.
Then the discussion turned to conferences as another avenue for improving your craft and finding an agent. Thom suggested that you should go for the love of writing and forming friendships and not the expectation of being discovered. Though certainly conferences vary in their focus. Some may be oriented toward craft while others cover the business side.
Attendance was great, probably between 90 and 100.