I have another confession to make: the writers’ conference in La Jolla wasn’t the only thing I was excited about when I posted last week. The conference was definitely worthwhile – more on that in a bit. But I also met my great niece, who is just a joy of a baby. I reconnected with family and long-time friends in Southern California. I took several days off from work to hang out and revisit some California haunts (I’m posting this from San Luis Obispo, right now). While I wasn’t concerned that I might jinx any of these things if I mentioned them ahead of time, it just felt like it might make more sense to mention them after they happened. (And I get to share a picture of Madison that I took myself.)
They were also the reason paying money for a plane ticket, and paying money for the conference, weren’t really such a gamble in the first place. I knew the trip would be valuable, even if the conference didn’t meet my expectations.
After I completed my second draft of The Incident Under the Overpass in the spring of 2014, I felt like I had cleared the first hurdle in this writing journey. I found out I could complete a long story, that had a beginning, middle and end. And wasn’t wholly incomprehensible. But then the next two hurdles popped up, looming larger than the first ever had. One – how do I make it good, something that people will want to read? And two, where to find those readers?
After eighteen months of training for both hurdles, I think I’ve made some progress on the first. The third draft of the manuscript improved upon the second, and as I get ready to embark on producing the final version, I think I know what it needs to be ready for the world. But I’m less confident about the second hurdle. If I build it, will the readers come?
At IBPA’s Publishing University last April, Peter Hildick-Smith of the Codex Group presented “How Books Sell.” He talked about a total universe of 43 million book buyers (I think this number was for the U.S.) He showed an image up on the screen, three intersecting circles, one word in each: Discovery, Conversion, Availability. Discovery – readers need to find you. Conversion – readers need to want to buy what they find, when they find you. Availability – readers need to be able to purchase what you’re selling (via Amazon, via a bookstore, etc.)
In this writing journey so far, my primary focus has been craft. Which is how I think it should be, to start. No reader is going to want to invest in shoddy work. But seeing this presentation last April, I realized I needed to get started on the second hurdle sooner rather than later – the business of connecting with readers.
Early Sunday morning at the La Jolla Writers Conference (LJWC), Antoinette Kuritz presented the “9 Steps to a Successful Writing Career.” Number 2 was “Find your target audience.” Right. I’m trying. I received a good piece of advice at this conference, which I think will help me find those readers: I need to pick a genre. Do I write science fiction? Or paranormal thrillers? The Incident Under the Overpass is a paranormal thriller. My short stories lean more toward science fiction. Readers of both congregate in certain places. I need to reach out to those places.
Number 7 was “Join a writer’s group.” Done.
Number 8 was “Attend conferences, learn and network.” Done. But also, not done. This is going to be a work in progress. Lots more to learn, many more people to meet, more connections to make.
I was impressed with the wide array of published authors on the faculty of the LJWC. There was a good mix of writers with great advice on craft, and experts on the publishing business. The LJWC bills itself as “an intensive experience,” and it is. The schedule was chock-a-block, and I tried to attend as many different workshops with as many different writers and experts as I could. If I attended both the early bird and red-eye sessions, I could have been at it from 7am to as late as I wanted. I heard reports that the red-eye sessions lasted until 2am. Being an early bird, and my body still living in Central time, I didn’t have the heart or stamina for the red-eye sessions.
November is going to be a workshop-heavy month. This Saturday, I’m attending a Mystery Writers of America workshop in New Orleans. I will be glad to get back to New Orleans. I feel closer to the source there. The source of what, I’m not sure. My inspiration? My creativity? As beautiful as I find La Jolla, and California, and as much as I love being so close to the ocean, it’s not home. Los Angeles was once home, for seven wonderful years. But it’s not anymore. Like Paulo Coelho’s Alchemist, I seemed to have found what I was always looking for right at the spot where I started, in New Orleans. But I’m glad those other places are still out there. Despite certain prognostications, I know California will always be there for me, whenever I’m ready for a sojourn.