Squee! Kelsey Browning is back at RU to tell us about her roundtable conference – and all the wonderful things she’s learned!
In August, I attended the Killer Nashville conference with my friend and co-conspirator Nancy Naigle. This was my first regional writing conference, and I found the more intimate format offered benefits such as:
- The pace seemed more relaxed, although the conference offered plenty of sessions and opportunities for social interaction.
- The cost was less than half that of larger national conferences (but no meals were included in the conference price).
- Attendees had more access to speakers, panelists and publishing professionals.
Rather than one-on-one pitches, Killer Nashville offered roundtables where the first two pages of a writer’s manuscript were read aloud in a group of twelve writers, one designated reader and two feedback providers (agents/editors).
I attended two roundtables, the first with two agents as feedback providers and the second with an agent and an acquiring editor. I took notes on the feedback offered to me and the other writers, in addition to my own observations. I want to share those notes with our RU readers.
- Having someone else read your work aloud is priceless. You can hear how the reader stumbles on names or awkward phrasing. This is valuable insight you might miss if she read silently or you read your own work aloud.
- In a group situation, know and respect your time limit. If you’re asked to explain a detail about your manuscript, keep the explanation short and to the point. Otherwise, you’ve lost both the attention and respect of the agent/editor and the other roundtable attendees.
- Early inner monologue from your point of view (POV) character can be distracting, especially if you’re moving back and forth from third-person limited POV to first person POV indicated with italics.
- Don’t start your manuscript with too much description. Some pieces read in the roundtables included two full pages of scenery and setting, which did nothing to invest me in the story or characters.
- One agent suggested a prologue should never be called a “prologue.” Instead she recommended writers use a time/date stamp or location if a prologue is necessary.
- If you have more than one POV character in your book, use third person limited rather than first person. First person is hard to pull off with multiple POVs.
- Semi-colons should rarely be used in fiction. For more insight on this, take a look at Theresa Stevens’ recent post.
- Watch for too much narrative in your first few pages. Many times this indicates you’ve done a back story dump. Which information does the reader need NOW? Cut the rest.
- If your character shrugs, the reader assumes he’s shrugging his shoulders. Cut “his shoulders.”
- Small details can slow pacing. Do we need to know your character is climbing into his 2013, iced silver, Mercedes GL 450 with grey leather seats, rather than simply his new Mercedes? Maybe not.
- Your reader needs to be invested in your narrator/POV character within those first two pages. That’s hard when your reader doesn’t know your character’s name or anything about her. Give the reader a reason to like or sympathize with your narrator as soon as possible.
- One agent mentioned a mock news clip or diary entry can be used as an interesting device to ground the reader in the story early on.
- If your POV character has a nickname for another character, use that nickname in the dialogue, but not in the narrative.
- Per one agent, books about Alcoholics Anonymous and alcoholic protagonists are apparently a hard sell to publishers. Regardless, the agent thinks there’s a market out there and requested a submission from the author.
- Starting with a secondary character can be dangerous because your reader will assume she should connect with that character. Even more dangerous is having the reader bond with a character you’re about it kill off.
My overall impression about the roundtable format was positive. Hearing others’ work and seeing the same mistakes in my own work was helpful. Even better was the knowledge that I’d outgrown many of the mistakes other writers struggled with. It was also interesting to hear the publishing professionals’ opinions and how they (dis)agreed with one another. Each roundtable took an hour and a half from my conference schedule, so I missed another workshop or panel. Would I choose to invest that time again? Only if I were targeting a particular agent or an acquiring editor was in the session.
However, I had a specific agenda for these roundtables. I wanted to know if the new first scene in my paranormal “worked.”
Feedback I received in the first session:
- Be careful of introducing too many characters early on (even if they aren’t physically on the page and just mentioned in dialogue). Duh – I knew this, but it became very apparent when the passage was read aloud.
- Leave the reader wanting to know more, but be sure to give her enough information to ground her instead of scratching her head in confusion.
- Pacing is important, but it’s okay to slow down in order to seat the reader solidly in the story.
Before the second roundtable, I added five words to my first line and took out two character names. Response? I received a full request from the acquiring editor. Lesson learned? Small changes can have a big impact.
Have you ever participated in a roundtable like this? What small changes have you made to a manuscript that completely changed the way it was received?
Join the awesomesauce Sara Megibow on Wednesday when she discusses the 2nd book deal.
- Cut and Run: Signs it’s Time to Retire from the Contest Circuit by Kelsey Browning
- Why You Should Pull Out the Manuscript Under Your Bed by Kelsey Browning
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for September 10th to September 14th
- To Be or Not To Be…Agented, That Is
- Agents are People, Too