Tag Archives: publishing

Santa Barbara Writers Conference 2018


Feel like speed dating? The agents above will be at next week’s conference.

Here it comes again, ’round the corner of summer, and I’m wading through stories on my computer I hope my friends might like, or help me make better, pulling excerpts from a mystery novel that I want to test on critical minds, feeling nervous and definitely behind. Didn’t do my homework in time. Happens every year that I attend.

Last year was possibly the hardest, because I’d not been for nearly ten years, and I felt really out of step. Would anyone even remember me enough to share a drink? But it didn’t matter, I’ve written before, that at an event like this you go through a few days and it all slides back into place, the personal anxiety changes to pride that you are part of this larger effort, and you feel a joy in every person who has dared to come and share their work, expose their weaknesses as writers as well as their strengths. It’s never about me. It is always about us.

We come to learn and also to teach. If you attend, your job isn’t merely to have your stuff read so you can gain ideas about how to hone your own craft. You need to step up and offer your  ideas and insights about your fellow writers’ work. What worked for you, what didn’t and how might it be tweaked to communicate better, more powerfully, more clearly.

Sometimes the critique session is so crowded that the best gift you can give other writers is to listen carefully and jot down notes to hand over afterwards, because if you try to hold forth and explain all your reactions to their work out loud, you’ll hold up the process. An advantage of notes is also that if you write your critique, the writer gets to keep your commentary and think it over at leisure, maybe even when at home. When I’ve just read a piece of my own, my ears and nerves are jangling after, and it’s hard to hear every word offered in critique, however kind. And yes, writers and instructors, at least at this conference, are kind. The very definition of constructive criticism starts and ends with thoughtful honesty.

So, I’m planning to engage in a transforming experience, yet again, and my hopes are high. Six days of reading writing, talking, critique, jokes bad and good, laughter and tears. But not much sleep. I told you before about the pirate sessions…not much sleep.

Starts on Sunday in Santa Barbara. See you there?



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you are invited– April 28


watch cmyk S

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I don’t need an editor…


Why do I need an editor? I can read– in fact I’m really good at that. I can get all those great advice books that tell me how to self-edit, and then I’m there, right?

No. The answer is no. You need those advice books to help you revise so you can then get into the hands of a really good editor, because you don’t want to take raw novels or manuscripts to an editor and waste her time and your money. If an editor has to go through your manuscript ten times to get all the slag out, his or her mind will be tired, and will start missing things that need work, like what happened to the flavor and the leavening.

I’m not talking about a line edit. You should take care of that before your work gets into an editor’s hands. Grammar, spelling, punctuation; if in doubt look it up. I know I said it before but don’t waste her attention and your bank account having her fix those details.

Yes, get rid of the passive voice, all those elegant slowing down transitory verb forms. Do a search and destroy for too many ‘that’ and ‘as’ and ‘-ing’ and other favorite words of yours. ‘Simply’, ‘only’, ‘and’… the word ‘just’ keeps jumping into my prose, I’ve noticed. Seek your favorite terms and favorite phrases and delete or rephrase all but the few that you must have. Get rid of the various clever alternate forms of ‘said’ and let ‘said’ sit wherever it’s needed, because that is our modern trope and you need to embrace it. No beginning any sentence outside of quotation marks with ‘And’. Plus no exclamation points!

Get the point of view cleaned up as much as you can. No more jumping about from head to head in one scene. Pare it down, make it clear and clean for the reader. Discipline. You’ll still miss some point of view problems, but take out all you can find. The fresher you can keep your editor’s mind, the less distracted by the unpredictable and weird, the better the work he or she can do.

Take the manuscript to your writers’ group. Priceless free advice…. You don’t have to take every comment to heart– you can exercise discretion. Keep a tally of the most painful comments and if two or three readers make the same remark that bugs the heck out of you, I’m sorry, you need to review and fix the issue.

After this, look at the editor question.

Good editing costs, a lot, unless you’re incredibly lucky with a writer’s group full of professionals, or have a crazy good agent. I haven’t had an edit like the one my agent Toni Lopopolo gave Night Must Wait ever before, or since, and then the publisher undid part of it. (These things happen, and you need to be accepting. The publisher really does have final word, unless you’re willing to break your contract.)

A real edit may redraft the book. It’s an act of genius. The editor needs to love your genre and your concept, in order to reconfigure the work and recast the shape of it. Yes, it will hurt. We all start writing in the wrong places and sometimes we don’t even understand who’s the real main character. Don’t just go for the best editor you can find; he or she must feel sympathy for the genre and kind of writing you do. Otherwise you won’t see your manuscript back for months on end, and it will not return with the insights you need. It will have lost its loft, and its flavor.

On Watch the Shadows, my agent did a strong edit, not as wild and complete as the Night Must Wait edit, but she gave me search and destroy words and phrases. Had me mark every ‘and’ for example, and take out as many as possible.

Next, the manuscript went under the knife again, through three readers, then the publisher’s editor. All had changes and suggestions.  I still found a batch of errors I needed to fix in my reading of the Advance Reader’s Copy and then one of my review readers found three more. I’m not offering a prize for finding errors in the published book because I know that something always escapes the sieve.

Did you watch the movie “Super 8“? It is a perfect example of everything people who teach at writing conferences will tell you a story should be. You should see it. if you missed out. It’s perfect, but it has no heart. Perfect structure, foreshadowing, pacing, suspense, spare scenes, snappy conflict-filled dialogue, taking us where we don’t want to go… BUT…   I would happily go back and watch that movie over again even though I have this problem with it. There’s a lot it has to teach and it’s good fun, yet it brings no tears. My throat doesn’t tighten.

The moral of that is, even the best editor can make a polished product that lacks heart. The heart has to be yours. Touches of raw emotion– some of those must stay, and that’s up to you, the writer. That’s why we still need the writer, to shove the beating heart full of blood into the story and make us worry that heart will burst.

About the editing, as far as I’m concerned, the big trick is you need someone who sees the story from outside– can pluck it out of your forest of words, and see where it works and how, and see how to actually break all its parts and reset them. It’s not the line edit, it’s the release of a true story that a good editor accomplishes.

Done right, it’s a miracle.


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First Book Panel

This was a discussion panel at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference — I’m here in purple answering our wonderful moderator Lorelei Armstrong, author of In the Face (http://www.amazon.com/In-Face-Lorelei-Armstrong/dp/0979372054/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1378014170&sr=8-1&keywords=lorelei+armstrong


September 1, 2013 · 5:43 am

Santa Barbara Writers Conference

            “Why would you want to?” my agent said.

            “You don’t think I need to?”

            “You’re a published author,” she said, giving me that look, the look that says I picked you out and we worked our keyboards off and you got published by a real publisher and that means something look.

            “Well,” I say, “that was your doing.”


            “But I’ve gone for years,” I said though she’s still looking at me.

            “You don’t need to go to writers conferences now,” she said, “unless they invite you to be on a panel.”

            So we went on our ways and about three or four days later I called her.

            “They invited me to be on a panel! The First Book Panel!”

            “That’s good. Who invited you?”

            “Santa Barbara Writers Conference.”

            “Good,” she said as though that settled it.

            So I went and I had a grand time even though I’m still learning this public presentation and speaking thing. But I learned something that even my agent didn’t know.  Something that I didn’t know. I used to tell my husband and my non-writing friends that I went to meet up with other writers because the Santa Barbara Writers Conference was easy for me to get to and because the connections and the chance to shop for an agent and the practice in giving and taking crit were all so valuable. No. That’s not it.

            I go because I have friends, old and new ones I haven’t met yet, who’ll be there. I go because the top of my head gets lifted gently off and inspiration blown in. I go to hang out and eat pancakes with some of the most original and funny minds I’ve ever met, and I have surely met a lot. I go to sit up too late and get up too early to hear more wild and wonderful minds and hearts at work. I learn new ways of seeing work, new ways of crafting and finishing. It can never be too much, you can never get too many tools for your personal toolbox.  Maybe a fragment of a comment overheard  will spin your mind into a whole new direction or solve a gnarly problem in one of your plots. Maybe someone responding to your new novel with that crushing phrase “Well, I just can’t believe…” will push you the needed extra ten degrees onto a new course. You simply never know.

            So it’s settled. I go because it’s fun, and yeah, you bet; God willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll be back….




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the book is free!

March 1 through 4  are the dates–
In case you missed the chance before, here you are. My novel Night Must Wait is a free Kindle download today through March 4 ! Just go to  http://tinyurl.com/8pd5pbm 
If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download a free Kindle app. here for your computer:
Once you download the Kindle app., you can buy ebooks and read them on your computer without actually owning a Kindle. 
Enjoy, and if you believe in encouragement to writers, reviews are important… not just for me but for any and all writers you read. Reviews on blogs, on Amazon, on Goodreads –they don’t have to be all positive either. Most of us continue to write, we’ve got new books on the way, and we want to keep refining our skills. We want to become better and more evocative, so let us know what you think. Sometimes we may nod ruefully in agreement, having already seen the problem within a story, but if you surprise us with an insight about what didn’t work for you, or what did, you’ve given us a priceless gift.
Above all, please try to give us feedback we can work with, feedback to build on. Thank you for sharing our stories.

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