HWG Pre-Conference

“Building Your Author Persona” at the Pre-Conference Event hosted by the Houston Writers Guild provided invaluable information to a beginner such as myself.

The first session I attended was led by Melanie Bragg, author, professional speaker, lawyer, community activist. She organized exercises for the participants to complete alone then discuss in groups. Some of the best work I have ever done in a workshop. Fun and useful. Those two things don’t go together as often as I wish they would. In order to sell your book, you need a one-liner to introduce the concept quickly to a potential agent, publisher or reader. This is something I’ve always struggled with. My high fantasy novel is so complicated I have trouble breaking it down to its bare essentials. By telling me I had to, right now, Ms. Bragg gave me the impetus to finally tackle the seemingly impossible task. Here’s what I came up with for Tarbin’s True Heir:

“A Princess races against her twin brother to determine the rightful ruler of the legendary Kingdom of Tarbin.”

It could still use some work, but it’s better than me stuttering, searching the emptiness over my head trying to toss some words together that might represent the epic novel I’ve been working on for a few years.

Ms. Bragg also had us right a thumbnail describing the author, her process of writing, and the book itself. A biography of the author is featured in everything I read from conference speakers to featured writers at cons to descriptions on the back covers of novels. I know I need one, but struggle with producing one sufficiently clever. Thanks to Ms. Bragg, I have a start:

“Kelly Colby is a professional volunteer and amateur juggler who keeps her responsibilities flying in the air while she squeezes in writing time. Tarbin’s True Heir formed in bits and pieces on the sides of her textbooks as Ms. Colby completed her biology degree. The compilation of those notes takes the reader on an adventure through a fantasy world where Princess Talia Winterlaus competes with her twin brother, Tanin, to collect the five Holy Gemstones. The winner claims the crown of the legendary Kingdom of Tarbin.”

Again, it still needs work. Yet, it’s significantly more than I had before the conference. More importantly, I wasn’t sure where to start when promoting my book, except to purchase time at a table at a con or two. Now, at least, I know a bit about how to present my work in an accessible fashion.

The second session I chose was led by Shelley K. Wall. I had the pleasure of meeting this delightful author at the meet and greet I blogged about previously. As the session started,  our presenter had each person introduce herself or himself to the group, including the genre their novel or novels are in and their experience level. The first part was enlightening hearing each person’s story. Some were veterans while others were freshly starting like me. Writing is lonely. It’s comforting to be reminded that you are not the only person out there sitting in a chair creating make believe worlds to explore what it means to be human. (I’m sure Jody Lynn Nye would give me a box full of commas for that sentence, but I honestly am not sure where they should go.)

The meat of Ms. Wall’s session took us through how to sell our book, and ourselves as authors, to an agent. She discussed the intricacies of pitching as well as what to expect as an outcome. I had never heard advice like this before. Useful, practical advice. I am a research-oriented person. The more I know about something before I dive in, the more confident I am with broaching the subject.

Ms. Wall ended the session with a quick lesson on how to put together a query, another aspect of a writing career that has me biting my lip in fear. She advised that we research the person we are querying to make sure we are talking to someone who is open to our genre of book. The knowledge allows us to customize our query for that specific agent, instead of a general email that speaks to no one. She listed the three things that should be used to describe our novel:

1. WHO: Identify the main character or two, no more, along with his or her vocation and the initial situation.

2. When: Describe the pivotal point where everything changes.

3. Now: Elucidate the danger that must be overcome to reach the end goal.

With this information, I will be able to take a stab at a query for my novel.

I do, however, have to finish it first. So, enough of this.

My recommendation today will mirror the advice theme of this blog. I read Million Dollar Productivity by Kevin J. Anderson while camping with my Girl Scout troop. Mr. Anderson has been an inspiration to me for a couple years now. In this book, he leads us through his process for staying focused as life continuously gets in the way. He tells us his secrets to finding the time to write and publish an average of five books a year while attending conventions, compiling anthologies, mentoring other writers, hiking the peaks of Colorado, and spending time with family. As a fellow over-achiever, his words resonated with me and encouraged me to meet my goals.

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2 Responses

  1. Helen says:

    Thanks for sharing what you learned Kelly. Brief pitches and descriptions is almost the hardest thing about working epic fantasy.

    It’s nice these pre-conferences are happening? Are you excited for when the main conference rolls around?

    • Kelly Colby says:

      Yes, Helen, I can’t wait for the April Conference. I only have six chapters left in my first draft. I want to get that complete and my first few chapters beautiful so I will be ready to pitch at the Conference. I have to follow rule one, however, and make sure the agents accepting pitches represent my genre.