Friday, November 07, 2014

Time to Write!

I often get asked how I find the time to do all the writing I do, and I think it’s worth saying that I don’t find the time, I make it. It’s a small distinction, yeah, but I think it has a lot to do with mindset.

Writing is a priority for me and so I’ve learned to stuff it into an already packed schedule. I am a typically busy person, working part-time, parenting full-time, keeping active, having other hobbies, and volunteering with multiple organizations. How do I make time to write? Glad you asked! The short answer is that I prioritize and make sacrifices. Now, to the long answer!

I don’t want to be discouraging, but writing does have to be a priority. Maybe not the number one – things like family and paid work need to take precedence – but it’s got to be near the top of your list or you’re unlikely to make the time.

There are some things that absolutely need to happen in your day, and if these things occupy all your hours, trying to fit in writing probably isn’t realistic. That doesn’t mean your priorities aren’t subject to change. Maybe a promotion or a child starting school will give you that bit of time you need. I barely wrote during university, but once I graduated, oh how the words flowed!

I stopped watching TV almost in its entirety, cutting it down to only one show a week (Doctor Who, in case you’re wondering). I don’t watch any TV in the off-season. We don’t even have cable anymore. There wasn’t enough value in television for me to give up writing for it. So out it went. I also actively try to minimize my time on social media.

By staying off the internet as much as possible without losing all of my friends, I have freed up scads of time to work on my novels. So take a look at your leisure activities. What can you cut back on?

Get Organized
I have an old-fashioned paper day planner that my life absolutely revolves around. I plan my days with military precision (note, I didn’t say that I execute them with the same precision, but I try) and it helps me to streamline all of my chores and my to-dos. Knowing what I need to do and when helps keep me focused.

I don’t have a smartphone (no, really) but I’m sure there are all kinds of wonderful apps and features that can help you plan out your day to make you more efficient, freeing up precious moments you could use writing.

Location, Location, Location!
Find a good place to write. This is almost as important as making the time. Maybe you just need a cozy corner in your living room. Maybe you need to get dressed and out of your house to be productive, so trek to a coffee shop or your local library. Experiment and see where you work best.

Take it With You
I have notebooks stashed around my house, in my coat pocket, and in my purse so that I never have to worry about an idea getting away. I also bought a purse big enough to fit my laptop (Kelley Armstrong gets credit for that one, she’s fabulous!). I’ve written in the car, at tables at festivals, jotted notes in restaurants and even worked on my writing in waiting rooms. I never get much done this way, but it really does add up.

Enlist Your Family
I generally write after my daughter goes to bed, but I have some “me-time” hours on the weekend when my husband fully takes over the parenting, giving me more time for writing. He and my daughter know not to bother me.

Make sure your family understands how important your writing time is. If you don’t have the same time every day, find a system you can use to signal to them that it is your time to write, and only dire emergencies are acceptable interruptions.

Get a Little Crazy
Join a writing group that holds you accountable. There are so many of them out there! If you think you might have the time, but are a little fearful, check out writing events like NaNoWriMo. I’ve participated in it for years. Get swept up in the sea of literary insanity, throw your internal editor and your fears overboard, and write.

Remember, you can do this! And your story matters. Now go forth and write. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

PiBoIdMo is here!

As a writer of children's picture books, this is exciting news! Picture Book Idea Month is the NaNoWriMo for picture book writers! The challenge, put forth by founder and picture book author, Tara Lazar, is to generate 30 picture book ideas in 30 days.

Just as with NaNoWriMo, the challenge is not to have something ready for publication in 30 days. I should hope not, as chances are 30 days would hardly give any writing a chance to ripen. The challenge is simply to have a rough draft, and in the picture book world, an rough idea is almost the same thing.

Now, to be fair, this sounds a whole lot easier than NaNoWriMo's challenge to write an entire novel in a month. Or at least, one would think so. But it’s not as simple as it sounds. Many picture book ideas have already been done ad nauseum so it can be challenging to say the least to come up with something new, fresh, fun and interesting to kids.

Picture books are short, naturally. They get to the point quickly. So an idea can often be the whole skeleton on which the meat of the story hangs. For a novel, an idea is just the first bone, or sometimes barely the ghost of a novel yet to be. Both still need "fleshing out", but one is a lot closer to the end result than the other. At least, there are fewer words to tinker with in the editing process. But you still need at least a bone to work with, and many bones have already been chewed down to the marrow!

Just like a novel, there has to be enough substance to write about. Unlike a novel, there can't be too much. With longer works, if there isn't enough material for a novel it may end up as a novella, short story or even flash fiction. You can scale back until it fits. If there isn't even enough for flash fiction, you haven't got a story. Picture books are flash fiction for the youngest of audiences. That said, an idea is an idea and that's all that counts for PiBoIdMo. The time will come, later, for participants to develop and explore the suitability of each. Some will bear fruit, some will wither on the vine. PiBoIdMo is all about planting seeds. In the end, the writer may end up with 3-10 concepts that will eventually become manuscripts. That's not too shabby for a month's work!

But now I face a dilemma. I write children’s books but I write in other genres as well. Last year was my first attempt at NaNoWriMo. I was not successful so I would like to try again this year, but since discovering PiBoIdMo, I have been dying to participate in this as well! Maybe I’ll get brave and bold and try both in the same month! Or maybe that's a bit too ambitious! I may have to alternate venues and just do PiBoIdMo.

 If you have ever wished to delve into the world of picture books, this might just be a way to dive on in! Registration is only open until Nov 3, so click on over and sign up!

Sign up for PiBoIdMo 2014! 

Catherine Warren (aka C.C. Monroe)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Embracing the Critique

It is, pardon the phrasing, a critical skill for any profession. And it is a skill. It is not about toughening up, it is not about having no ego (or being all ego), it is a skill you can learn. Painfully, usually, but you can learn it.

Once you have it, the pain of critique dulls down to a bruise you keep poking from its initial screaming skin-peeling horror. After you hone the skill, you will start craving the critique, seeking out more and more sharp, incisive critiques across everything you create.

The key skill is being able to objectify the input so you can see the underlying truths in it instead of reacting to the tone, the person, or the ever-present internal monologue that says you're not a good writer.

Separate You From Your Work

In all cases, you have to divorce yourself rapidly from believing that a critique of your skills or writing is somehow a judgement on your value as a human being. This is by far the greatest hurdle you will have to overcome in order to develop the skill of embracing a critique. 

You are not your work. Your work, is, however, a part of you. So is your poop. And your snot. And the hairs that shed through the day. Your urine, and other excretions. Not everything you produce is awesome. You do not, I am certain, save every hair, every tear, every ejaculation (verbal or otherwise) and hold them sacred and untouchable, so do not hold every word that way either.

As you evaluate your poop to determine if your diet is balanced and health is good, so too should you evaluate your writing -- with clinical and objective distance. 

Understand the Source

Like in many things, the critique says more about the critique-er than you or your writing. Some people focus on the nitty-gritty, the details, the layout, the structure of your writing. Others, the arc, the meaning, the overall effect. Some get hung up on their own pet peeves (I would wager that is actually most, if not all of us), and some of those pet peeves come from years of valuable experience. 

Understand who is offering the critique, and you will know what the highest value will be within it.

Neutralize the Input

There is, of course, a world of difference between "I didn't like it" and "It sucks", and accepting that is one of the tougher parts of accepting a critique.

Like separating yourself from your work, separating what is said from what is meant is a vital skill. There will be people, possibly many people, who will not bother differentiating. If they don't like it, it therefore sucks. The question becomes how do you know whether they dislike it because of personal preference or because there is something wrong with the writing that you can fix?

Dig deeper! You're always seeking the underlying issue, and to see if it's something that you can adjust in your writing, a continual panning for critique gold. Ask what they feel sucks, where they didn't like it, where they fell out of the story.

You are looking for the truths, not how they are stated, no matter who offers you the critique.

Sometimes You Will Miss the Mark

It is an unfortunate truth; sometimes the writing misses the mark. Sometimes you don't communicate what you think you're communicating. Critiques, or feedback, help you see what is still stuck in your head, what isn't making it across that barrier clearly.

Accepting that missing the mark is just one moment in a long line of moments -- not a prediction of all futures, nor a measure of all pasts -- makes the whole process of writing and getting critiques easier to handle.

Keep Your Eye on the Prize

What do you want from the critique? Focus on that and let the rest of it fall away until you can use it. You may want to know:
  • Did you succeed in communicating what you intended to communicate?
  • What is the trend across all of the critique/feedback? 
  • What was hidden to you before the critiques about your writing?
  • Where do you need to focus your growth? 
  • Is the story arc clear?
  • Are the characters believable?
  • Is the format ready to send to a publisher?
Ready? Go get 'em!

(And in the spirit of bravely inviting critique, please let loose the feedback in the comments to let me know if this post met its goals of making critique less painful (more desirable). What could I fix? What did I get right? All types of critique are welcome!)

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Getting Unstuck: one approach to curing "writer's block"

It's early October and, for a teacher, that means getting down to the nitty-gritty of evaluation. Students get their first report card around the start of November, and that means lots of observation and marking.

If you're anything like me, there is nothing like a deadline in any other area of my life to get me to sit down at the computer and hammer something out; I am a dyed-in-the-wool procrastinator. Seriously. Like, my house only gets cleaned when someone is coming over. So call me and then come over.

Like many of my students, I tend to hit a wall when I finally have some time to sit down to tackle the outline, character exploration or chapter that I need to do. It seems that my brain has no interest in addressing the task at hand; it's like a hungry person who is determined not to shop or cook!

My tried and true "writer's block" banisher comes from Natalie Goldberg. I discovered this right after the tragedy of 9-11. I was teaching my Writer's Craft class in a computer lab at the time, and someone figured out how to access the live feed from a building adjacent to the twin towers. We struggled to breathe as, in three second bursts, we witnessed the second plane hit, and the two towers crumble.

Everyone was traumatized, and continuing with the curriculum seemed not only crass but impossible. For the first class after the event, we just talked. I was at a loss as to how to begin to work again, and turned to Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones for inspiration. In the second class, I had the kids do "automatic writing" for 30 minutes, and then we talked for the rest of the period. Goldberg's rules are simple:
1. Keep your hand moving. (Goldberg hand writes, but I have few students who still do. I suppose they could even do it on their phones.)
2. Don't correct anything.
3. Don't worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar.
4. Lose control.
5. Don't think. Don't get logical.
6. Go for the jugular. (If something comes up in your writing that is scary or naked, dive right into it. It probably has lots of energy.)

I described it to my high school class like this: "Automatic writing" is simple: it's really just a total brain barf. Write everything that comes into your head. No stopping, no editing, no looking at the screen if you can manage it - turn off the monitor if you have a tower, or cover the screen if you are on a laptop. GO!

I was worried that they would type for five minutes and then just stop. Instead, an amazing thing happened. As the first week passed, not only did the students write for the full 30 minutes, but they also began to move quickly to actual curricular discussion, rather than rehashing the continued agony that followed this trauma.

By the time November reports arrived, my students commented on the fact that their marks seemed to be significantly higher than their classmates - and higher than the marks they normally earned. No one was complaining, but it was obvious enough that we kept our eye on the trend as the rest of the year progressed. While the normal mark distribution began to reassert itself as the year progressed, my writing students kept up their increased productivity.

By the end of the year, all of the students in the class had averages 5% to 20% higher than they had ever had before.

I call the phenomenon "skimming" because it reminds me of my life-guard days. Each morning I spent the better part of an hour dipping a long-poled screen over the surface of the pool to remove all the detritus which had accumulated over the night. Leaves, pine needles, tiny dead toads, trash - everything was scooped up and dumped over the fence. The best moment of my day was when I got to dive into that cool oasis, cleaving the pristine surface in a perfect arc, torpedoing along the bottom to the other end.

Our brains collect detritus as well. The flotsam and jetsam of our lives can often be overwhelming. We cram info into our brains like hungry teachers at an end-of-the-day fruit and cookie buffet. It's no wonder things get lost: I recently realized that I have taught approximately 4,500 students in my 25 year career. If anyone knows how to erase that precious space filled with names (and the lyrics to every song from 1970-2010), please let me know.

In the meantime, transferring our bobbing bits of brilliance to some more permanent format - paper, sticky-notes, computer, phone - can free our working brain to deal with other issues. Creativity is hard when your brain is engaged with grocery lists, appointment times and places, people to call, email issues to address, or any of the other myriad things we ask it to do on a daily basis. Forcing myself to keep all of my notes and reminders in my phone (I started years ago with a PDA) was one of the best habits I have ever forged.

To get myself out of the doldrums, and because starting the project I want to do is feeling way too overwhelming, I am committing to 20-30 minutes of "automatic writing" every day for the next two weeks. It's a good warm-up for NaNoWriMo (which I am, insanely, going to try, and ALSO have my writing students do!) and I am betting that it will clear out all my negative potholes, and fill them with webs of words - so much easier to drive on!

Join me! I will write a follow up at the end of each week noting how my work life (teaching) and writing life (dribs and drabs at the moment) are affected.
I would also love to hear how this tool works for you.

Write on!


Monday, August 11, 2014


I'm going to sneak a post in here about Songwriting, as I've brought lyrics to Writing in the 'Loo in the past. G and I are back at it, new songs are on the way, which means new lyrics have to be written. And it ain't poetry, people. It's a very different challenge. The rules are also very different, and I wrote a blog post here for you to check out.

I got a chuckle out of it, I hope you do, too. :)


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Writing is Hard Work

To be a hard-working writer means not only to produce, but to improve.

For many people, trying to find the time to sit down and write a thousand words is a challenge. If you have a demanding job, if you have children, if you travel… We can each list some very reasonable things that keep us from finding the time.

Other times, excuses keep us from writing. Favourite TV shows, the weather is too nice, or the soul-sucking internet. (*Waves at you as you read this on the internet.*) We all need some down-time, right?

So what turns someone into a writer? The absolute NEED to write. That drive, that all-encompassing desire to get the idea down, trumps all other activities.

If you want to know how that energy feels, start an argument with someone online. (Because someone on the internet is wrong.) You can’t walk away, you have to make your point, your words have to be seen, you, you… HAVE TO settle this! And then an hour or two zips by. You get caught up, you have been completely engrossed, and the laundry is still sitting there. That’s what it feels like.

If you are someone who has to write and cannot escape it, you already know what I’m talking about. You get up early in the morning or stay up into the wee hours, you write at lunch, or while you eat dinner – however you make it happen, you put your ass in the chair and write like the wind.

And that’s awesome.

But you don’t want to spend the next ten years of your life writing crap. Although it might feel like waves of genius flowing forth from your muse, chances are, you were not born an award-winning author. You need to keep improving.

That’s when it gets hard.

I don’t mean just reading every book on the planet. And not only, “I got another rejection, but I’ve got a thick skin.” And I don’t mean that writing is a lonely, self-doubting activity. Those are all hard indeed, but not what I want to focus on today.

I’ve said it before and I will keep repeating, “The whole world needs an editor.” Even the best writers need a second set of eyes. Smart eyes. Not someone who loves you and adores that you write, eyes. A person who knows how to properly edit your work is priceless.

But you know that old saying about teaching a man to fish?

If you are making errors with comma placements (for example), you have a choice. You can fix the commas the editor pointed out to you in this one particular manuscript, or you can go and learn about correct comma usage. You’ve got some problems with dialogue? Don’t just fix what they circled for you. Go and study, not just by reading books that have dialogue, but study how to write effective dialogue. Some people take classes, workshops, or find lessons online, but you have to find your own training.

And I’m not going to give them to you. No list of sources, nothing to reference, no starting point. I don’t know what you need.

They are your problems to fix. Not your editor’s. The editor is there to tell you which fish you need, they’re not going to catch it for you. If you’re lucky, they might point you in the right direction. But the really hard work? That’s all yours.

So “writing” isn’t always about word count and your fingers flying across the keyboard. It’s not only coming up with the best ideas to ever rock the world. Sometimes it’s about soaking in a whole new lesson that will improve your work, and make your future projects more successful.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Going to a Writer’s Conference – Tips for Survival and Success – Part Three

Here we are at part three, and if you've missed the earlier posts full of tips for BEFORE and DURING the con, you might find it useful to go back and read those first:

So what's left? The con is over, you're bloody exhausted and possibly coming down with something. Mind spinning and feeling overwhelmed, excited and inspired, chances are you want to sleep for a week, and then write for another week solid.

After the Con:

Get your butt to work on Monday and drag yourself through the day. We’ve all been there. Drink a boatload of water, sleep a lot, and eat properly again. Vitamin C is your friend. Your coworkers may or may not want to hear about how you spent your weekend. Perhaps you'll even reconsider how you spend your days in the regular, mundane existence of employment. But trust me, keep your day job.

You know who will want to hear about your weekend? Everyone who reads your blog. Write about it, and make sure you include experiences that are unique to you. Who did you meet? What did you see? Were you there when that life-sized Dalek blew steam and scared the restaurant waiter? Post your pictures and put names to as many faces as you can, not only for your own future reference, but for others to put faces to names, as well. You might even include links to publishers and writers you met, as it will bring traffic to their sites as well. It's always nice to have a chance to promote others in a logical context.

Aaah...good job. But you're still not done.

The rest of the week will be spent doing some follow-up. Go through the business cards, bookmarks and flyers you picked up all weekend. If you had a conversation with the person, email them directly and say how nice it was to meet them, and mention something specific you might have talked about to help jiggle their memory of you. You don’t have to write a lot, just a couple of sentences. Light and polite. Under your closing salutations and name, make sure you include a signature that includes your website address. If you already have a newsletter, also provide a link for them to subscribe. (Website and subscribe links should be in your permanent signature anyway.) Don't be offended if you don't get a response right away, or at all. Most people are playing this catch-up game as well as keeping up with the regular day job, taking care of the kids, and fighting off sickness. Otherwise, look through the websites of businesses and people you didn't speak to in order to learn more about them, and how they fit into the grand picture. Everyone is connected in some way.

Hook up and find all of those people on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and whatever else you’re subscribed to. Your online rolodex is very valuable. Keep your initial connections alive and occasionally comment on or retweet something of theirs.

Back to the Message Boards. You want to stay top-of-mind. Continue to get to know to know people and become a part of the community by finding the related message boards, and hang out online. Some message boards are more...volatile than others. It's the Internet, put on your bid-kid pants and play nice. Everyone is connected in some way.

In the long run, if you find yourself reading things by authors/editors/publishers you've met, take the time to write a review. That could be posted on Amazon, Goodreads, and even your blog. Again, promoting others is always appreciated even if they don't see it personally. Others will see you boosting the signal.

Plan the next con! It's a vicious cycle, addictive, and necessary. Go back and read Part One to find out which cons are right for you, decide what you can afford and ask around about how you can save money at the next location. But there's a difference this time around, you've already met people! Send along a note or post on their wall/Tweet ahead of time to say that you're going and you hope to see them there. You'll know what to expect the second time around, and might even have ideas about what you'd like to do differently. It's possible that you also have more confidence as you see familiar faces in the hallways.

Perhaps you'll have something new to promote?

If only you had more time to write...but that's another (upcoming?) blog post.

Once again and as always, comments and your own stories are welcome!


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Going to a Writer’s Conference – Tips for Survival and Success – Part Two, At the Con

This is the second installment of tips, as the original post grew so quickly I decided to split it up into three sections. The previous post discussed things you can do to prepare for a conference (Part One), and in this post we'll look at the star of the show, tips for while attending the con.

At the Con:
You’ve pulled up, checked-in, and dropped your stuff off in the hotel room. Before you do anything else, find the Registration Desk

At most cons you will receive a package containing a program book, a map of the hotel, perhaps some promotional-freebie material, and most importantly, your badge. If you have to write your name on it yourself, make it BIG and CLEAR. People don’t want to have to put on glasses to see who you are. This badge will allow you to attend all of the events. A few times I’ve run into people before registering and although I wanted to join them, I had to leave their company to register, awkwardly cutting off the conversation. So, get checked-in, get all officialized.

Got a buddy? Find them. Do you know what they look like? Do you have a planned meeting place? If they are carrying/wearing something unique it will be easier to identify them rather than reading a bunch of name tags as you walk around.

Tweet and Facebook-post live, and if you can remember it, use the conference hashtag. There might be other people searching for the hashtag who will join you online, or even look for you in person if they are also attending.

Bring your camera! You never know who you’re going to meet, or what kind of crazy things you’ll see. It will help you remember special events, you can share pics of you with other people (to remind them of who you are, too!), and to capture some of the strange things that turn into conversation starters for years to come. Do you remember when the life-sized Dalek blew steam and scared the restaurant waiter? Yes! I was there and got a picture!

Make your business cards easily accessible. I usually wear jeans where I have copies of my card in one back pocket, and the cards I collect in the other. Try not to fumble through deep purses or thick wallets. Nice and fast, ZIP! Here’s my card, and shake hands.

Which leads me to… Wash your hands a lot. It’s a small space for all of those people who are shaking hands. You don’t want to come home with “con-crud” which could be any sickness anyone had that weekend. You will be low on sleep, you might not eat enough, and a con will take a lot out of you, so give yourself a chance to escape healthy.

If you are NOT promoting any of your work…

Look through the programming and attend panels based on the people you want to meet, not necessarily the topic. You may not be interested in vampires, but the editor talking about them today might be in line with you waiting for coffee, or in an elevator later. And remember to keep the conversation and timing light-and-polite, being overaggressive is an instant put-off.

While at a panel, sit in front if you can. Try not to ask a million questions, a couple will do. Even if you don’t ask anything, sitting closer to the front will make you a recognizable face. A smile and eye contact also go a long way. If you’re so inclined, take notes. Someone might drop a name, or do’s and don’t’s you’ll want to remember. (Like the infamous Sandra Kasturi line from the What Editors Want panel: “Don’t be a douche.”)

Take a long walk through the dealer’s room. The dealer’s room is where you buy stuff. Depending on the con, the "stuff" changes quite a bit. Swords and jewelry, corsets and Lego kits, it’s always interesting to see what’s there. But focus on the books. There might be bookstores, publishers, or authors, so ask questions! Ask who they are, they may or may not be an editor, the publishers, or a friend manning the table. Does a publisher take unagented work? How many books do they put out in a year? What type of writing are they looking for? Pick up biz cards and bookmarks on the table. Ask if you can give them your card, they’ll usually say yes. I used to feel incredible pressure to buy things while visiting a table. You do not have to buy something from every table in order to make a good impression. You’ll be broke in an hour, and of course people want you to purchase their merchandise, but they also understand that you’re trying to do business, too. They will remember you by your card, not your sale. (But by all means if you find items you like, buy buy buy!)

Carry cash. Whether you are in the dealer’s room, grabbing a quick coffee or a hot dog, or catching someone in a hallway to buy their book, you’re going to need paper in your pocket. If you are there with an experienced writer and riding their coat-tails, offer to buy them a beer or a coffee. (It’s not necessary to buy a four-course dinner.) For example, years later a writer/editor remembered when I bought him a three dollar soup when I was already making the walk up the street for my own. We all try to pay it forward. This could be your new family.

The Consuite is a hotel suite reserved for all attendees, and you can find various types of snacks or meals, beverages, and company. Some are more elaborate than others, but either way it's a nice place to be able to SIT and RELAX before rushing off to the next event. You will find people either very tired or jovial and friendly, the latter obviously more open to answering questions and chatting. Big fans of the con will even be able to tell you about past years, and about the most popular events of the weekend. (See room parties tip below.) Hanging out in the Consuite might even make for some interesting people-watching, especially if they're in costume.

If you ARE promoting your work…

I’ll be honest, when you have something to promote, you feel like you have more of a right to be there, some solid footing. Your name tag will look different and people will recognize that. You’ve done the work, you’ve published short stories or a novel and you should be proud.

You have a LOT of work to do. If you are doing a reading, print off some posters with your reading time/details, your picture and your book cover, and hang them ALL OVER the hotel. Most importantly, hang them in the elevators (and bathrooms?) where people stand and stare. Have bookmarks or postcards made with your name and cover of the book to hand out at your reading, and to leave around everywhere as well.

At your reading, make sure you put up your name tent (a folded, light-cardboard name tag usually in your registration package) so everyone can stare at it as they listen. Do you have extra signage that you can hang or stand up beside you or on the table? And yes, I know you're nervous. We all are. But don't read like you're nervous, do it right or don't do it at all. Loud and proud. A quiet, monotone reader will literally put the audience to sleep. Even if you have one audience member, give them a great reading, and who knows, you might attract people walking by when hear interesting things happening. Do your best to stay within your scheduled time, and leave about ten minutes at the end in case anyone has questions. Remind them of all the places where they can buy your work, and give out freebies like bookmarks.

If you are on a panel, have something to say. Often you'll find that the other panelists will want to discuss the topics over email before the conference, but not always. Jot down some points ahead of time, but be ready to follow the flow of the conversation. Personally I would not offer to be a moderator at my first con. A “mod” has the added responsibility of making sure everyone gets a chance to speak, to tone down any overbearing panelists, and get quieter people to contribute. If your day job is teaching related, this might come naturally for you. Again, speak loud enough to be heard, and listen to the audience questions carefully. There is usually time at the end for Q&A, and remember to shake hands with your fellow panelists before you move on to the next event.

Writer's conferences set up a large signing room for authors to sit and welcome people who want to get books signed. If you are a new author, there is a good chance you'll be bloody lonely. But wait! There are good reasons to stay. First, people in line for popular authors are staring at you and copies of your book while they wait. They might pick up your card and bookmark. Smile and chat with them because you never know, many readers are looking for someone new to read. This happened to me at my last signing, a reader bought all three of my books because he DIDN'T recognize me. Another good reason to stay is because you can meet so many authors, and some editors are at signings with anthologies they've released. If you are sitting beside them, exchange business cards and chat. If not, wait for a lull at their table and go and visit them, joke about your lonely post and keep it light and polite. If there is no lull, make a point of meeting up with them another time.

Everyone likes a party. If you are having a Book Launch Party, see if your publisher will help you with costs and setup. You will need to make posters (perhaps combined with your reading time) and hang them everywhere as mentioned previously. Decorate your party room door to grab the attention of passers-by, and have signs around the room that celebrate you and your work. You will need beer, wine, hard stuff and mix. Have non-alcoholic beverages available. You will need snacks, finger foods, pizza or other self-contained eatables as well. If you are playing music, try to find a volume balance so that everyone can still talk to each other and network. Some people run contests or give away promo items, others do a second reading, most give a small speech at the very least to thank everyone for coming, and to remember to buy the book. You might want to have copies of that around, too...but, not as coasters.

If you are not having a book launch party, make sure you go to the Green Room. Most cons have a hotel suite for participants only, and there is usually free food and beverages throughout the weekend. It's a great place to go between events because you know you will see people who are guests/authors/editors/publishers. Don't be afraid to talk about your work, or even new projects you're working on. Nobody is going to steal your ideas, and you might even find someone who's interested in hearing more about you. One of the most common questions asked is, "So, where are you from?" Answers vary from names of magazines or publishing houses, to which State or City they live in, or a project they're working on. Some people find this question necessary and/or safe, others are tired of answering it and get annoyed - you can't please everyone. No matter how you begin your chit-chat, have those biz cards ready. Later on at night, there is a good chance alcoholic drinks will be free, and attendees will be done with their panels and readings and gather there en masse, or at other room parties...

"Room parties" are common. Some are themed, some are publisher-run, some are seemingly random room parties - look for signs throughout the day and try to find out where most people are going. It's all about networking and making connections. Be ready for a jam-packed, sweaty, loud experience. After the midnight hour, how late you stay up, how much you have to drink, and how you conduct yourself is up to you. Try not to be a douche.

The morning after is unpleasant for everyone who stays up late. Find coffee, water, and eat something. Get as much out of each day as you can. Travel safely when it's time to go home.

Sleep on Monday at work.

But that leads to part three, what to do AFTER a con... yes! There are tips for when you get home!

Once again I'd like to invite anyone out there who would like to add or comment on these tips, or tell us about your own experiences!