Minutes 201601

Twenty four people attended on January 17th to hear local author Marcia Coffey Turnquist tell us about writing, publishing, marketing, and everything in-between. Marcia’s first novel, the God of Sno Cone Blue is available at Barnes and Noble (store and online) or http://www.amazon.com/God-Sno-Cone-Blue/dp/0991637437/ on Amazon.

The meeting began with a blank-slate clipboard as we start our new list of 2016’s members. If your name is missing from the clipboard in future months, please don’t panic; just add your name – we save paper by only printing names of people who’ve attended in the current year to the clipboard.

Marcia’s opening question, as we introduced ourselves, was “What do you personally have to do before starting to write?” Answers ranged from drinking coffee and dressing in comfortable clothes to tidying desks, opening or closing curtains, turning off TVs and/or internet connections, and re-reading what we just wrote. Marcia mentioned the joy of online vocabulary quizzes as a waker-upper: http://www.gameswithwords.org/VocabQuiz/, http://www.merriam-webster.com/word-games/vocabulary-quiz, … Do you have any favorites?

Here are some of the questions Marcia answered for us:

How do you become a writer?

  1. First you have to write. Marcia has been a writer, journalist, and TV broadcaster (which involves lots of writing), so she’s written a lot.
  2. Be inspired. If something hits you emotionally, turn it into a story. Marcia was inspired by wondering how a child would cope with losing her mother.
  3. Spend time to make a better story. Marcia’s novel was 10 years in the making – a long enough period for lots of rewriting, editing, beta-reading, and fixing. How long have you taken on your novel? Do you have any beta readers? Are we beta readers when we do a critique?
    1. You can pay a fortune to hire an editor, or you can use lots of good beta readers.
    2. You will find mistakes, even after 10 years of rereading. Cut down on them by letting someone help!
  4. Decide what you want for your book. Marcia decided to self-publish after her agent failed to place her novel. But not having an agent or publisher meant she had to do everything herself. So being writer might mean doing the text formatting, cover art, ebook conversion, and more.
    1. Marcia hired a designer to format the ebook
    2. She hired a model for the cover image (think $100 for rights to the image)
    3. A relative worked to make the image right
    4. She paid for a special font to make the cover perfect (think $5 for use of the font, and it makes a huge difference!)
  5. Don’t panic. If someone else has written a story with a similar premise to yours, it might just mean now’s the perfect time for that sort of story.
  6. Marcia’s novel has a BRAG award on the cover, which proves she did all these things well, and surely makes the book more attractive to a store. If you have a novel out there, you can submit it to http://www.bragmedallion.com/ (but not just now as they’re closed). Around 10% of submissions win, so it’s a serious achievement to earn the award.
    1. Print on demand makes it easy to add the award to the cover.
    2. Print on demand means you don’t have a garage full of unsold books.
    3. Self-publishing is usually print on demand.
    4. But you’ll still have to market your book.

The nice gold BRAG sticker looks great, but doesn’t sell books. Neither does great writing. And not having a big publisher means a writer has to do their own marketing too. Marcia has done this very successfully (though writing still doesn’t pay all the bills). Her book can be found in Barnes and Noble, and has been reviewed by more than a hundred readers on Amazon, with over 80% 5-star reviews. So how did she find all these readers?

  1. Define your genre, or readers can’t find you. Sno Cone Blue is a mother-daughter, inspiration, mainstream novel. What’s your genre?
  2. Connect with real physical readers. Local book groups might let you visit them. If a member belongs to another group, you get another invitation. Soon you’re giving author talks in local community rooms and more.
  3. Connect with distant readers. Use Facebook! Get a website. Write a blog. Marcia’s website is at http://marciacoffeyturnquist.com/
  4. Ask for reviews. Especially, if you know someone that other people know (like another TV presenter), ask for a review!
  5. Be available. Marcia will speak soon at an author event raising funds for affordable housing in Portland.
  6. Write another book – the best way to market your first one is to have another out there.

How do we learn to write “better”?

  1. Join a writing group. Be critiqued. Have you had something critiqued yet? Have you critiqued someone else’s work so you learn to read like a writer?
  2. A job in journalism is good training – write short; write to a deadline. Do you write every day?
  3. Write a blog – also writing short. You can set your own deadline.
  4. Be willing to change your mind. Writing short is great, but writing a novel is different. Putting it all together might involve lots of rewriting, changed emphases, etc.

Putting this all together while the rest of us snacked on Pat’s great snacks, and bought books from Marcia, Walt had an announcement to make:

Walt, having made use of Writers’ Mill critiques and contests, has released a book called Eclectic Shorts. It’s available on Kindle for 99 cents (ask WaltS at portlandwritersmill dot org if you want a better deal). Find it at http://www.amazon.com/Eclectic-Shorts-Walt-Socha-ebook/dp/B019MCXQHA/ Find Walt at www.waltsocha.com and read his blog about medieval life and technology, and meet him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/WaltsVerbiage/

  1. Buy Walt’s book! (Ask him first how he advertised it to us!)
  2. Review it (an especially useful sort of critique)
  3. Start your own blog.
  4. Send us the link so we can add it to our site.
  5. Enter the next contest: http://portlandwritersmill.org/contests/current-contest-february-2016/
  6. Then write something for March and April’s contests too: http://portlandwritersmill.org/contests/upcoming-contests/

After wonderful snacks from Pat, we reconvened for contest awards and critique. Judy handed out awards for the One Year contest to:

  1. First place: Nellie for Shadow Cities
  2. Second place: Jessie for This Changed My Life
  3. Third place: Sarah for Everyman

Upcoming contests (see http://portlandwritersmill.org/contests/upcoming-contests/ ) are:

Norm led the critique on the second half of Jean’s story. Things discussed included:

  1. Things people enjoyed most about the piece are different for different people. We’ll find this when we have our work critiqued. You can’t please everyone.
  2. Point of view: It’s more important to be clear than to write from one particular viewpoint.
    1. Personal passages make the story more immediate because we’re inside the character’s head.
    2. Omniscient viewpoints convey valuable information, but can be made personal and involving through dialog, flashback, etc.
  3. Do stories have to start with action? Action grabs the reader’s attention, sets up expectations, and gives a sense of time.
  4. What connects us to characters?
    1. Flashbacks provide perspective – we invest more when we know more.
    2. Relationships with other characters make us care.
    3. The character’s relationship with the reader is important. If we like, then dislike, then like again – each change makes us more invested in understanding and caring.
    4. Dialog draws us near to listen.
  5. How do we choose the story’s narrator? Is the story different seen through different eyes? Would the ending have to be different?
  6. What do readers bring to stories? Childhood prejudice. Unintended inference. Do long sleeves hide burns on someone’s arm, just because the person’s afraid of fire?
  7. What sort of details become important?
    1. Hiding from fire in a closet may sound unnatural, but it’s what children and animals do. How do we avoid readers questioning it?
    2. Leaving an invalid alone overnight invites questions about going to the bathroom!
    3. Details of ages and events create a timeline. Important to make sure it’s valid.
  8. How believable are our bad guys? Do we need to see them through more than one point of view?
  9. How important is symbolism? Readers might find it, even if you didn’t put it there.
  10. How important is the space given to different parts of a story?
    1. Norm analyzed how much space was given to the fire department, finances, etc.
    2. Would such an analysis help us know where to add words and where to delete them?
  11. How should a story end?
    1. How do we balance leaving readers wanting more with make them wish there were less?
    2. What makes readers want more?
    3. Do we have to tie up the loose ends?

Our next meeting is Sunday February 21st. We’ve had to rearrange the topic since our speaker is moving house. So… find out all about blogs, and start writing regularly as Marcia suggested.

The next contest entries are due Sunday February 7th. Voting (another form of critique – please read and comment, even if you don’t enter) closes Tuesday February 16th. Topic – “It’s not what you think.”

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