Friday, June 12, 2015

What I Learned at the 2015 California Crime Writers Conference

Last week I attended the California Crime Writers Conference (CCWC), and wow did I learn a lot! For the last few years I've focused on attending mystery conventions where I get to meet readers, instead of the craft-of-writing conferences I attended while learning how to write a mystery novel. But CCWC was a fantastic reminder about how much all writers can continue to learn, no matter where we're at in our careers. Plus, it was fun!



The conference is a joint project between Sisters in Crime Los Angeles and SoCal Mystery Writers of America. It takes place every two years, and this was my first time attending. SinC LA president Diane Vallere and SoCal MWA president Craig Faustus Buck were the co-chairs. Their efforts, along with dozens of other volunteers, made it a fantastic weekend.



The first day of the conference included a signing for the new Sisters in Crime LA anthology, LAdies Night, published by Down & Out Books. All three editors and all but two of the contributing authors were in attendance!

It's a great lineup of authors (Julie G. Beers, Julie Brayton, Sarah M. Chen, Arthur Coburn, L.H. Dillman, Bengte Evenson, Cyndra Gernet, Andrew Jetarski, Micheal Kelly, Susan Kosar-Beery, Jude McGee, Gigi Pandian, Wendall Thomas) and editors (Naomi Hirahara, Kate Thornton, Jeri Westerson). My short story is "Tempest in a Teapot," an impossible crime mystery starring magician Tempest Mendez, a side character in the Jaya Jones treasure hunt mystery series.

LAdies Night authors and editors at the California Crime Writers Conference
(Thanks to Jackie Houchi for the group photo, and Anne Cleeland for the pic of me)

Panels


Next up, panels! So many great ones. The three that were the most eye-opening to me were a bookseller panel, a librarian panel, and panel where agents and editors reacted to opening pages. I jotted these tips in my notebook:

Bookstore Partners
  • The staff from Mysterious Galaxy had some advice I hadn't heard before: Don't do a reading at your event! Instead, tell personal stories about you and your book. People can read on their own, but they want to know what's special and interesting about you. (Readers, is this true??? I usually do both at an event.)
  • Want to do an event at a bookstore? Contact a bookstore three months in advance, ideally four. And to generate the most interest in your book, the month or so around your release date is really important -- though that buzz only applies to in-person events, not to a bookstore hand-selling your book, which can happen at any time. 
  • There's a thing called a White Box, containing Advance Reader Copies and other promotional materials, that American Bookseller Association members receive. 

Marketing Through Libraries

  • Ask your local library "What's your collection development policy?" to find out how books are added to their system. There's no one system that all libraries use to build their collections. 
  • Like bookstores, libraries like to have four months advance notice to schedule events. 
  • Many libraries have book clubs. 


Author Idol
A panel of agents and editors judged the brave souls who anonymously submitted the first pages of their unpublished manuscripts. The America Idol-style format wasn't for the thin skinned, but it was incredibly informative.

The first page of each manuscript was read aloud, and agents and editors raised their hands as soon as they would stop reading. The agents/editors then explained what it was that made them raise their hand -- sometimes it was as simple as the fact that it wasn't something they represented. (The lesson for unpublished writers: once you've polished your manuscript and are getting ready to submit it, do your homework to find out what an agent represents and a publisher buys.)

The exercise drove home the importance of the first page grabbing the reader on many levels. And yes, several of the first pages didn't receive any raised hands, meaning everyone wanted to read more.

Agents and editors on the "Author Idol" panel 

Keynote speakers Charlaine Harris and Anne Perry gave inspiring speeches, and also discussed Elmore Leonard's "10 Rules for Good Writing." They agreed with almost everything on his list, but like with everything in life, the real answer is, "it depends." I've always been a firm believer in knowing the rules before you break them.

Charlaine Harris and Anne Perry discussing Elmore Leonard's "10 Rules of Writing" (moderated by Craig Faustus Buck)

Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules for Good Writing

  1. Never open a book with weather.
  2. Avoid prologues.
  3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said"…he admonished gravely.
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
  6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

And the most important rule is one that sums up the 10: If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Connections


Outside of the official program, one of the best things about attending events like this is getting to catch up with people in the mystery world, plus make new connections. In addition to catching up with writer pals I rarely see, I met amazing new people, and got to see both of my editors! (If you enjoy my books, it's in large part thanks to them and the rest of my editorial team.) 

With my awesome editors: Terri Bischoff from Midnight Ink & Kendel Lynn from Henery Press











Lunch with Naomi Hirahara

I also ducked out of the conference hotel for an excursion to the Magic Castle. Though I write about several magician characters, I hadn't ever visited this famous magicians' playhouse. Thanks to mystery writer and magician Stephen Buehler for getting me in!


And thanks again to the team who pulled off such a great CCWC!

7 comments:

  1. Thanks, Gigi, for your recap of the conference. You are so right about craft-of-writing conferences . They are very helpful and a lot of fun. CCWC sounded ideal. Rubbing elbows with the likes of Anne Perry would have been worth a trip to California. Wish I could have been there.

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    1. I'm lucky that it was only a short hop down to LA!

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  2. Thanks for the recap, Gigi! I missed most of the panels, but was able to pop into a few. I'm thrilled that you found inspiration at the conference!

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    1. Now that you've done such a fab job as co-chair, next time you'll get to sit back and enjoy the conference!

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  3. Great recap! Thanks for sharing. For the record, I hate hearing authors read. I'd rather hear their stories/challenges about writing.

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    1. Thanks for weighing in! I like telling stories, too, but perhaps I'll skip the reading all together next time and see how it goes :)

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  4. I now have a case of West Coast Writer envy. That looked so fun.

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