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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Getting Energized at a Writers’ Conference

Writers Conferences aren’t for everybody. They can be expensive and exhausting—and are sometimes havens for dream-smashers and know-it-all bullies. Valerie Geary wrote a great post on the Dark Side of Writers Conferences last August that’s a must-read.

One solution she suggests is choosing a small, regional conference. Smaller conferences are more relaxed, usually take only a weekend, and are budget-friendly—especially if you can find one close to home so you don’t have hotel expenses.

This is why I love California’s Central Coast Writers Conference . It only lasts a day and a half, has about 300 participants, and costs about $150—less if you register early. Plus it’s the friendliest Writers’ Conference on the West Coast, according to Westways magazine.

At last weekend’s conference I got to take small, relaxed classes attended by writers who ranged from newbies to NYT bestselling author Jay Asher (Thirteen Reasons Why) and agent Nathan Bransford (also author of Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow.)

Together, we participated in discussions and soaked up the wisdom of the diverse faculty. I especially loved a class I took outside my own genre—a children’s fiction workshop given by Kathleen Duey , award-winning author of over 70 children’s books and an honest, funny, and intelligent teacher. (One of Ms. Duey’s tips for writing MG boys fiction: farts. MG boys love farts.)

Of course, meeting Nathan Bransford was the highlight for me, since his blog is the center of my corner of the blogosphere. In his keynote speech, his (hilarious) query workshop and casual chats, he turned out to be the same smart, classy guy he is on his blog. And he’s full of positive energy and hope for new writers.


Really? In this nasty world of evaporating markets and shrinking advances? In a world where other agents are now telling writers—without irony—to take Hollywood heiress/reality TV star Tori Spelling as our role model

Yup. Nathan offers hope. He says that, although the publishing industry is in an era of rapid—sometimes terrifying—change, things are shifting in favor of writers. Kindle and its many cousins are shaking up the old paradigm of a few big publishing houses controlling the marketplace.

And what’s going to take its place?


That’s right. (Michelle Davidson Argyle, who just self-published her novella  Cinders , you are allowed to crow here.)  Publishing yourself is no longer taboo. In fact Nathan says it’s no longer a no-no to mention a self-published book when you query him. He says he’ll be representing self-publishers himself.  Self-pubbed writers will still do better with agents, he says, but agents will perform different functions.

He also cut us a little slack for spending so much time out here in Cyberia, instead of working on our writing. He calls the time we spend reading publishing blogs “productive procrastination.”

His #1 tip for getting an agent’s attention with your query? Personalize.

And the best way to get personal with an agent (politely of course) is to read agency websites, blogs, and interviews. So maybe you don’t have to feel so guilty you’ve been surfing the Interwebz for the past two hours instead of facing those rewrites.

Another person at the conference who inspired me was Jay Asher—a humble and generous-spirited man with a phenomenal success story. He went from being a nobody like the rest of us—with nothing but rejection slips to show for 12 years of writing—to the top of the N.Y.Times bestseller list: six months from successful query to stardom. And this wasn’t in the dear, dead days of the last millennium when multitudes of indie bookstore clerks lovingly hand-sold works of art into bestsellerdom.

It was two years ago.

He didn’t have a huge platform. He didn’t take Tori Spelling or Paris Hilton as his role models. He didn’t brand himself. (That’s gotta hurt, right?) All he had was a blog with two other children’s book writers—mostly to commiserate over rejection letters—and a MySpace page. Plus, of course, a phenomenally good book

It still happens.

So whether you want to stick to the traditional route like Jay, or hook your wagon to the self-publishing comet that Nathan sees coming, there’s hope. I’m still not sure which way I want to go, and I think I’ll want an agent either way, this time around—but I’m feeling a whole lot better about my options.

Attending a writers’ conference isn’t so much about trying to land an agent or sell your work. It’s about meeting people, keeping up with the industry, and getting energized.

The Central Coast Writers Conference sure did that for me.

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Blogger Emily Cross said...

As always great advice Anne!! And I think Michelle is doing so well with Cinders because of the huge amount of work she's put in!

September 26, 2010 at 11:33 AM  
Blogger Roni Loren said...

Great advice! Glad you had a good time at the conference, those are some great speakers! I love conferences--have been to both big and small--and I always feel excited and re-energized after I leave them. :)

September 26, 2010 at 11:35 AM  
Blogger Simon Kewin said...

Fascinating post Anne. I feel rather caught between the traditional and the self-publishing worlds myself and feeling, I suppose, that it doesn't have to be an either/or. Your post, as so often, encourages me greatly.

Sounds like a marvellous conference too.

September 26, 2010 at 1:15 PM  
Blogger CS Perryess said...

Dearest Miss Allen,
Bravo. There is, indeed, hope. I heard the same message loud & clear two weekends ago from agent Laurie McLean of Larsen-Pomada Literary Agency. Having been in the never-self-publish school for (heavy sigh) nearly twenty years, now, I don't really know what to do about the impending change. I'm not one to jump in & be the first or even second to ride a wave, but I can root on my pals from the sidelines, & keep plugging along with a bit more hope.
All the best,

September 26, 2010 at 2:06 PM  
Blogger Valerie Geary said...

Great thoughts! Very encouraging! (And thanks for linking me. :) )

September 26, 2010 at 2:25 PM  
Blogger Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

Anne, what a great informative post, thank you! And thanks for the shot out. :) CROW!!!

I'm just curious, though, can you give us a little bit more information on why a self-published author needs an agent? For international rights and such? And if so, how does a self-published author go about finding agents who considers taking on such clients? Part of the huge draw to self-publishing my novel and going with small publishers right now is that I don't have to have an agent, but perhaps I'm missing a piece of the puzzle here.

September 26, 2010 at 2:49 PM  
Blogger Yvonne Osborne said...

Great post, Anne! I, too, love small conferences. The one in Columbius, OH was a hit with me. There's also a small one up near Petoskey in northern Michigan I'd love to attend one day. It's interesting what's been happening in the self-publishing arena. It's a firestorm, and so many more possibilities for us newbies. Nathan still sounds like my dream agent though he doesn't think so!

September 27, 2010 at 4:32 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...


Nathan wrote a post about the agent's role in the upcoming publishing world, and it's in his archives somewhere, but I haven't found it. At the moment I think agents are taking on clients with an eye to the big houses as usual, but when that doesn't happen--as it often doesn't--many will take their authors through the steps of self-publishing and continue to guide careers, much the way an actor's or athlete's agent does. (I'm not sure exactly how we tell which agents those are, but that info will probably start appearing on websites and blogs.)

That doesn't mean you should look for an agent for Cinders, since you're doing fine on your own, but you might want to query agents with your next book. Or not. If you're doing fine without help, I see no reason to pay 15%. It's going to be a more individual decision, I think.

September 27, 2010 at 9:25 AM  
Blogger Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

I see no reason for an agent right now, but I may in the future. I've already had a small publisher offer representation on Cinders and my other two novellas and I said no for many reasons. That's different than an agent, I know, but that decision alone helped me understand the reasons why I'm doing what I'm doing and what I want out of it.

Let me know if you find that post of his. I'll look into finding it as well.

September 27, 2010 at 10:25 AM  
Blogger Andrea said...

I signed up for the RWA conference a couple years ago but had to cancel last minute. I'm glad I did because I don't think I would have enjoyed it. I went to Blogher this year (I know totally different conference - writer oriented versus blog oriented) but I did learn that big conferences are not for me. There were so many people I only felt completely overwhelmed. I'd love to find one local or semi-local to the Cincinnati area. I think I would enjoy it and learn a lot.

It's interesting the idea of self-publishing. To me it seems to be such a no-no. I'd be interested in hearing more about that and what future it really does have for nabbing an agent. How do we know if what we've written really should be out there (via self-publishing), even with positive beta reader feedback?

September 27, 2010 at 11:11 AM  
Blogger Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

Andrea: You may want to check out my self-publishing series on The Literary Lab here.

September 27, 2010 at 11:13 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Michelle's series is eye-opening. Another must-read is J. A. Konrath's blog, a Newbie's Guide to Publishing. He's the pioneer in e-book publishing. He's smart and getting rich.

September 28, 2010 at 10:16 AM  
Blogger m. christine weber said...

I enjoyed the conference also. Seriously, EVERYTHING about it rocked. And next year we're wearing our orange Nathan Bransford t-shirts--what do you say, Anne? ;-)
Here's my take on it: http://mchristineweber.com/nine-only-slightly-creepy-reasons-to-attend-a-writers%e2%80%99-conference/

September 29, 2010 at 7:46 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

m. christine--your blogpost is hilarious. Introvert heaven!

September 30, 2010 at 9:24 AM  
Blogger m. christine weber said...

:-) Thanks, Anne! And I have to tell you that after I posted it, I received a facebook from Jay Asher asking for his used Kleenex back. ;-)

September 30, 2010 at 10:10 AM  
Anonymous Susan Young Tuttle said...

Test omment

October 4, 2010 at 7:48 PM  

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