Conference Overview #Ninc14

Nancy J. Cohen

Having just come from the Novelists, Inc. (Ninc) conference, my brain is fried with all the important information I learned. You can see photos on my Facebook Page under the Ninc Album and read my blogs of each workshop on my personal blog site.

As an overview, here are some of the important points I took away from this event.

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If you indie publish, offer your book at as many retailers as possible. These would include Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Apple, Smashwords and Google Play. Google is growing.

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Indie bookstores will survive the digital age, especially if they offer curating, personal service and community events.

Publishers may cry that they’re hurting but their profits are rising.

The global marketplace is not to be overlooked. There’s a huge market for English language books, plus the translation market is out there. Agents can still have a role with managing our subsidiary rights.

In the future, authors may sell directly to readers. Be prepared for new technologies and to take advantage of opportunities when they arise.

The real threat is the decline of recreational reading. There’s too much competition from video games, TV and movies, and other entertainment pursuits. We need to increase kids’ passion for reading.

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Target your readers. Analyze your data. View your results and modify your business plan accordingly. Make sure you write the best book that you can and present the product in a professional manner.

Series sell better than standalones. Even if you aren’t writing a series, try to link your books with a common theme. Have cover art that ties them together.

Back material is important. Your e-book is a living document. Include links to your other titles and to your newsletter.

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In the photo: Donna Andrews, Carole Nelson Douglas and Nancy J. Cohen

The rest is on my personal blog. Coming next there is BookBub, ACX, legalities for authors and more. Be sure to scroll down to see my previous posts.

For more information on Novelists, Inc., go Here.

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Attending a Writers Conference

Nancy J. Cohen

Today I am on my way to the Novelists, Inc. conference at St. Pete Beach. As I am contemplating what to say here, I’m thinking about the benefits of spending a wad of money to attend a writers conference. Ninc focuses solely on the business of writing for career professionals. You must have two published novels to join, so the membership consists of multi-published authors. This makes it different from any other conference, which may be aimed toward fans or writers at all levels.

Ninc doesn’t aim to teach you to write. It aims to get you up to date on industry news and trends in publishing; the how-to’s regarding promotion & marketing, indie publishing; legal aspects like literary estate planning and forming a collaborative group to produce a book box package; how to use Amazon or Book Bub or Goodreads effectively. Reps from Kobo, Amazon, iBooks and more will be present. I can’t wait to attend. I can pick anyone’s brain there for any career questions I might have, and I have plenty. Ninc is a goldmine of seasoned, professional authors.

So why should you attend a writers, as opposed to a fan, conference? Here are some of the benefits:

· Networking with other authors and making new friends
· Career guidance from more experienced authors
· Attracting new readers, as authors are readers, too.
· Workshops at all skill levels
· Editor/Agent appointments
· Name recognition
· Meeting authors whom you might ask later for an endorsement
· Giving back to the writing community by offering a workshop or volunteering

I have been attending SleuthFest for years. This premier mystery writers conference will take place Feb. 26 at Deerfield Beach, FL. And new this year is the Flamingo Pitch Tank, where you get the chance to pitch your novel to every attending editor and agent at once. This is in addition to one-on-one appointments. You’ll learn about marketing and brush up on your other writing skills. Last year I attended workshops on Kobo and ACX. So check out this event before it sells out. James Patterson and Dave Barry are guest speakers.

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What other reasons can you offer for attending a writers conference? As I will be unable to respond, please talk amongst yourselves. I’ll respond next week when I am back home.

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Planning a Writers Conference

Nancy J. Cohen

Organizing a writers’ conference is a year-long, time consuming event. Having recently attended the inaugural Mystery Writers Key West Fest, I can appreciate the hard work put in by its co-organizers, Michael Haskins and Shirrel Rhoades, to make everything run smoothly. We’re doing the same thing for SleuthFest, scheduled for February 26, 2015. What steps do you have to take to organize a conference? This is by no means a comprehensive checklist, but here are some suggestions if your group is interested in moving forward with a big event.

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Book the hotel and the date. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. You have to estimate the number of people attending, including speakers, editors, agents, and special guests. Why? Because you’ll need meeting rooms to fit your capacity. How many persons might attend each session? How many tracks per hour will you offer? Thus how many break-out rooms are required? Day by day and function by function, you’ll have to map things out with the hotel liaison. This includes social events like meals and cocktail parties. A contract is drawn up. What is the cost of each meal? How much in deposits are required and when? What’s the cancellation policy? If you’re in Florida, what happens if there is a hurricane warning that weekend? How many rooms of your block do you have to fill? You need a good negotiator for this aspect, and that’s only the start.

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Obtain the keynote speakers. Once you have a date and place, you can put invites out for the key speakers. They’ll be a draw for everybody else and for press coverage.

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Devise a conference budget. This will help you determine how much to charge for registration. Decide if your goal is to break even or to make a profit.

Appoint committee chairs. You’ll want to assign volunteers to take charge of the different roles, such as Programming, Editors/Agents, Author Liaison, Raffles, Publicity, Sponsors, etc. Put your key people in place early.

Brainstorm for programming ideas. What’s your conference theme? What topics do you want to cover? Will you have panels or one-on-one workshops?

Arrange for special events. Do you want to go on a shoot-out at a local range? Visit a morgue? Have a demonstration by K-9 dogs? Offer a murder mystery dinner cruise? Will you fill up the evenings, or will attendees be on their own?

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Once you have laid the groundwork, you’re ready to solicit speakers and post your registration forms online. Assign a publicity person to be in charge of tweets, Facebook posts, and other online promotion. Another one can be in charge of obtaining sponsorships, like for tote bags and for maybe a coffee break. Don’t forget to solicit ads for the program book. Now you’re getting down to the nitty gritty details.

Be gracious and praise your team. Putting on a conference is an effort of love. We need to appreciate the volunteers who work so hard. Giving out token recognition awards or publicly recognizing your team mates at the event itself will go a long way toward getting those same volunteers to come back next year.

Even if your event seems to be a well-oiled machine, be prepared for last-minute snafus. Tell yourself that everything will work out fine. No one will notice the glitches, and they’ll all have a wonderful time.

If you wish to read my reports on conferences I’ve attended, visit my blog at Nancy’s Notes from Florida.

Have you been involved in conference planning? If so, what has been your biggest challenge?

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Planning a Writers Conference

Nancy J. Cohen

Organizing a writers’ conference is a year-long, time consuming event. Having recently attended the inaugural Mystery Writers Key West Fest, I can appreciate the hard work put in by its co-organizers, Michael Haskins and Shirrel Rhoades, to make everything run smoothly. We’re doing the same thing for SleuthFest, scheduled for February 26, 2015. What steps do you have to take to organize a conference? This is by no means a comprehensive checklist, but here are some suggestions if your group is interested in moving forward with a big event.

IMG_0794

Book the hotel and the date. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. You have to estimate the number of people attending, including speakers, editors, agents, and special guests. Why? Because you’ll need meeting rooms to fit your capacity. How many persons might attend each session? How many tracks per hour will you offer? Thus how many break-out rooms are required? Day by day and function by function, you’ll have to map things out with the hotel liaison. This includes social events like meals and cocktail parties. A contract is drawn up. What is the cost of each meal? How much in deposits are required and when? What’s the cancellation policy? If you’re in Florida, what happens if there is a hurricane warning that weekend? How many rooms of your block do you have to fill? You need a good negotiator for this aspect, and that’s only the start.

P1030801   P1030800

Obtain the keynote speakers. Once you have a date and place, you can put invites out for the key speakers. They’ll be a draw for everybody else and for press coverage.

P1030789

Devise a conference budget. This will help you determine how much to charge for registration. Decide if your goal is to break even or to make a profit.

Appoint committee chairs. You’ll want to assign volunteers to take charge of the different roles, such as Programming, Editors/Agents, Author Liaison, Raffles, Publicity, Sponsors, etc. Put your key people in place early.

Brainstorm for programming ideas. What’s your conference theme? What topics do you want to cover? Will you have panels or one-on-one workshops?

Arrange for special events. Do you want to go on a shoot-out at a local range? Visit a morgue? Have a demonstration by K-9 dogs? Offer a murder mystery dinner cruise? Will you fill up the evenings, or will attendees be on their own?

P1030737
P1030767

Once you have laid the groundwork, you’re ready to solicit speakers and post your registration forms online. Assign a publicity person to be in charge of tweets, Facebook posts, and other online promotion. Another one can be in charge of obtaining sponsorships, like for tote bags and for maybe a coffee break. Don’t forget to solicit ads for the program book. Now you’re getting down to the nitty gritty details.

Be gracious and praise your team. Putting on a conference is an effort of love. We need to appreciate the volunteers who work so hard. Giving out token recognition awards or publicly recognizing your team mates at the event itself will go a long way toward getting those same volunteers to come back next year.

Even if your event seems to be a well-oiled machine, be prepared for last-minute snafus. Tell yourself that everything will work out fine. No one will notice the glitches, and they’ll all have a wonderful time.

If you wish to read my reports on conferences I’ve attended, visit my blog at Nancy’s Notes from Florida.

Have you been involved in conference planning? If so, what has been your biggest challenge?

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The Christmas gifts all writers need

By P.J. Parrish

See that picture at left? That is my dog Bailey. The antlers are photoshopped on but I dress her up in Santa outfits every year and she’s a good sport about looking silly. Dogs can teach us writers something this holiday season. We need to lighten up.

This epiphany came after yet another of my sleepless nights. I was worrying about a plot pothole in our novella-in-progress, and about not finishing it, and then what if nobody downloads it from Kindle Select…you get the idea, right?

As usual, I retreated to the sofa and the remote. Nothing on except “The Da Vinci Code.” I know, bad movie, but I hadn’t seen it so I figured it would at least put me to sleep. And then that creepy Albino monk starts screwing barbed-wire anklets to his legs and beating himself bloody with cat ‘o nine tails. And I started thinking about all the pain we writers inflict on ourselves. Self-doubt, exhausting promotion tours, crippling envy, three-books-a-year contracts, flop-sweat fear. Hell, we don’t need Kirkus. We’re killing ourselves.

So I have some Christmas presents for you.  They are the exact things you probably won’t give to yourself. But you need them. My gifts to you are…

1. Permission to write badly. I give this to myself every year because I am one of those perfectionist nuts who gets paralyzed trying to make every word sing. It has taken me a decade to understand that to get to the good stuff, you have to well, poop out a lot of crap.

2. The ability to know when you are brilliant. And you are. Even if it is just for one page, one paragraph, one sentence. You know when you’ve hit that sweet spot. You can feel it. Cherish it. You’re not going to do it every time, but you don’t need to. Brilliance, like diamonds, shines best when you think quality not quantity.

3. A friend to celebrate the good news. Even if it’s as small as you finished chapter two. Even if it’s as big as a six-figure book deal and Ridley Scott on your speed dial. Success is nothing without someone to share it.

4. An honest critic. You need that one true friend who can tell you when you have lost your way. Your mother loves you too much to tell you the truth about your book. Treasure the one who can look you in the eye and say, “this sucks, you can do better.”

5. The courage to question your agent or editor. Blind loyalty is dangerous. In politics, love…and publishing. A great agent or editor can be your biggest ally. But it is YOUR responsibility to steer your career.

6. A week off. Leave the laptop. The cell can go to hell. Find someplace to which you can truly retreat, where the world cannot intrude. I recommend St. Barts if you can afford it. But your backyard deck will do. Drink good wine. Read trash. Eat too much. Make love. Dance in the snow. Breathe in pink…breathe out blue.

7. The courage to talk to a writer “bigger” than you and know you have something to offer. The first time I found myself standing next to Lee Child I turned into the third verse of Janis Ian’s song “At Seventeen.” Years later, I still cringe but now I can talk to Lee without blathering. I just picture him naked.

8. A few extra bucks to attend a conference so you know you’re not alone. You need to get periodic infusions and if you approach cons right, you come away replenished and eager to work.

9. A walk in the woods to clear your head. You’ve got to quiet those shouting voices of doubt in your brain. This happens only in quietude. Or maybe during a drive on I-95 with “Bohemian Rapsody” blaring.

10. The clarity to recognize the seed of inspiration in the smallest things. You’re stuck. You’ve painted yourself into a corner with the plot. Take a step back and look for small things. Open your brain and all your senses. You never know where the answer will come from.

11. Time to appreciate your family for appreciating how hard you work. Your people are important. Tell them. Often.

12. Kindness to reach down to someone who admires you. No matter where you believe you are on the writer food chain, no matter how low you think you are, someone is looking up to you. Be nice to them. Karma, baby, karma…

13. Permission to spend some of that advance money or Kindle royalty check on yourself. Buy a great bottle of Meursault. Rent a red convertible. Get botox. Splurge on Celtic tickets. A friend of mine just got a new agent, signed a six-book contract with a new publisher — this after years of bad luck. She bought herself a diamond ring.

14. Courage to venture out of your comfort zone. This is a tough one because sometimes you can get wacked alongside the head for your trouble. But there is no growth without chances taken. You just have to believe you are right. Even when everyone else — and maybe even the sales — are telling you otherwise.

15. And lastly, I give you the gift of faith. Faith that someone will love your book enough to buy it. That you have another good story still inside you. That no matter how tangled your book might feel, you will find the way home. That you are….brilliant.

Peace, dear friends.

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Cultural Differences

By Nancy J. Cohen

Genres matter when you attend a conference. I started out in romance, attending National RWA and Romantic Times conventions. At RWA, we dressed in business attire and wore sequins to the Awards dinner. We taught workshops or we spoke on panels where the emphasis was teaching other writers the craft and business of writing. The same was true for smaller chapter conferences held around the state and throughout the country. Editor/Agent appointments were a staple for this type of working writers conference.

Romantic Times, in contrast, was a fan convention. Here we’d meet readers, booksellers, and reviewers in a fun, party-type setting. I still dressed in business casual during the day. At night, people wore costumes to themed balls and parties. As RT attracted more writers, they added writing tracks to educate aspiring authors. Now they’ve expanded to include other genres just as RT has changed its name to RT Book Reviews. It’s still a great conference to meet industry personnel and readers.

Then I switched to writing mysteries and attended Malice, Bouchercon, and SleuthFest. What a difference! People wore jeans! There were men in the crowd! Panelists were expected to be entertaining and witty and mostly talked about their books. Bouchercon and Malice are fan conventions while SleuthFest is a writers’ conference. SF has a forensics track and workshops for different levels of writing, along with editor/agent appointments.

The one thing these events have in common? Writers hang out at the bar, the hospitality lounge, or the dealers’ room and network like crazy. Costly swag gets picked up along with candy and pens. Bookmarks and other papers lay around the promo tables like unloved orphans.

And then I attended Necronomicon, my first SciFi/Fantasy/Horror convention. Lo and Behold! Another culture shock! In many ways, this convention was similar to the mystery cons. The panels were professional and moderated by a host. Aspiring authors attended in abundance. Instead of a forensics track like at a mystery writers conference, this convention had a science track led by scientist guests. However, here’s the biggest difference: Gamers. One darkened breakout room held 3 rows of computers where people sat  playing Halo. Other guys sat at round tables absorbed in role playing games.

Workshops went on into the wee hours of the night. I was scheduled to speak on three panels and had to request the organizer not to book me after dinner. Authors who paid for a spot in Author’s Alley sat at tables in a hallway and sold their own books. The Dealers’ Room was similar to the ones at mystery cons, where authors hope one of the vendors has their books for sale or else we make a consignment deal. I noted only one bookseller at this convention. Most of the vendors sold jewelry, games, and other knickknacks.

All in all, this conference was a valuable introduction to an entirely new audience. The panels were interesting as well as stimulating, and parties ranged into the night if you were so inclined. Check out my personal blog for more photos and reports on the panels I attended. Keep in mind that this was not like the big SciFi cons where TV and movie stars attend and people roam around in costumes. There was a costume contest, but it was one night only. This felt more like a writers conference aimed at SciFi/Fantasy authors.

Would I attend again? The jury is still out on that one. While the conference was comped for me since I was a speaker, I still paid over $500 for a hotel room. I sold two books. Granted, this audience is more likely to order the ebook version, but would I spend that money again instead of attending a conference that targets mystery or romance fans? We’ll see. The exposure to a new crowd is always good, and I had a great time meeting new people. I guess as in any choices we have, it depends on the budget.

If you have crossed genres, were you surprised by the differences at the conferences you attended?

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Brainstorming on the Beach

The Novelists, Inc. conference Brainstorming on the Beach was held at St. Pete Beach on Florida’s west coast. It is the first writers conference I’ve attended where no one handed out promo materials, dropped their bookmarks on a promo table, or talked much about their work. That’s because all of Ninc’s members are multi-published career authors. So you don’t come to this conference to promote yourself. You come to learn and schmooze with fellow authors about issues affecting us all.

This year’s conference brought in many illustrious speakers, pundits in the publishing industry. Here are some of the highlights of what I learned in no particular order:

    *      Everyone will be reading on their mobile phones in the future. What will this mean for the art of writing? Smaller paragraphs, shorter books, scenic descriptions perhaps replaced by video.

    *      Ebooks will be the next mass market.

    *      Think global. People in other countries want to read our work and they want these stories to take place in the U.S. so they can read about our lives here. The demand will continue to grow exponentially. This is a huge potential market.

    *      Many pirate sites originate overseas where English language content is unavailable. How to combat piracy? Cost and Convenience. Make our work cheaper and easier to obtain.

    *      Be prolific to build your brand.

    *      Don’t think of writing as draining your mental energy so you need to refill the creative well. Think of writing as recharging your batteries so that the more you write, the more you’ll want to write. It’s harder to restart the engine so keep it running.

    *      Publishers need to step up to the plate and provide authors with editorial, distribution, promotion, and product if they’re to be viable in the future. The most important role of publishers continues to be as a gatekeeper for a quality read.

    *      Social networking is crucial for authors to establish a platform.

    *      Reviews still drive book sales, and bloggers are the new reviewers.

    *      Indie bookstores still have tremendous influence. They may still be around after the chains go out of business. Establish a connection with your indie booksellers.

    *      Writers with a backlist have many different avenues to explore to make their books available to readers again. This is an exciting time because we can bring our stories directly to readers ourselves.

Many of us authors are struggling to define our roles in this new publishing climate, to understand where the industry is headed, and to define our limits for social networking. The beauty of Ninc is that we know we’re not alone. For more details on each panel presentation from the conference, please visit my personal blog.

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