Donald Maass: Boundary-Breaking Fiction

Along with all the mountains — no, continents — of praise I have already thrown onto this blog about the Pikes Peak Writers Conference, I have one more. And this is something that shatters that particular boundary, something that needs to reach writers everywhere.

On Saturday, while we enjoyed lunch in the hotel’s elegant ballroom, the man some have called “the Mick Jagger of literary agents” blew us all away with a speech I don’t think anyone in that room will ever forget. Nor can we afford to forget it. Donald Maass, author of the indispensable books for writers Writing the Breakout Novel and The Fire in Fiction, was our keynote speaker for that meal, and spoke of how fiction would change in the twenty-first century.

One of the important points in his address was how the borders between genres are beginning to crumble. The landscape of fiction is starting to blur its own borders. Steampunk is getting blended with science fiction and mystery (Perdido Street Station). Fantasy mingles with alternate history (Temeraire). Horror and urban fantasy meet with teen romance (Twilight). Many of the barriers that kept genre firmly divided are finally breaking down like so many Berlin Walls. Writers are more free to write what they want to write without having to hew to genre conventions.

Another huge issue Maass addressed was that people are still buying books because of two main factors: Word-of-Mouth and In-Store Displays. Some authors, especially if they are self-published, put a truly Herculean effort into trying to convince others to buy their works, slaving away at building social media platforms and trying to market their books like products. And while that is an important part of the business side to writing (and, I think, will take on a larger role in the years to come), I was shocked at the statistics Maass quoted that demonstrate all that effort currently results in less than 2% of overall book sales. Bestseller lists, print newspaper/magazine ads, and book reviews were even more surprising with similarly low numbers. By far, people buy books because they see them in the bookstores (far more titles than you see during an average visit to Amazon), and because their friends recommend the books.

And finally, Maass reminded a room of over 400 writers that the twenty-first century will give us books that will change the world. It can be problematic to call an author “The next Hemingway/Tolkien/Shelley/Doyle,” but there are still plenty of ways a book can affect a generation so powerfully that they become timeless classics. Just look at what’s happened to The Hunger Games. And Maass expressed an inspiring optimism toward the people in that ballroom, saying that we could commit to writing fiction which would still be read and loved a hundred years from now.

The best way for authors to get that kind of recognition is simply this: To write terrific books. The first step of marketing a book is to have a great one in the first place. A difficult task, of course, but it’s essential for lasting success as a writer.

Donald Maass, as a literary agent, is constantly looking for exactly that sort of novel. He wants to see you succeed and excel. So, writers, go forth and create something remarkable. It’s a huge challenge, but at writers conferences you are among friends who can help you achieve it.


Conference Report 2012

Last weekend took a lot out of me. Fortunately, I gained so much more for the experience. Pikes Peak Writers Conference 2012 was my first official writing conference, and seems to be the start of my official career as a writer. And I couldn’t be happier with the results. No wonder its attendees and faculty speak so highly of it.

Jeffrey Deaver, one of the keynote speakers, in his finest James Bond costume.

Aaron Ritchey, author of "The Never Prayer" and an awesome guy all around. Crazy in the best and most enthusiastic way possible.

Thursday consisted of all-day workshops for topics like “So you have an idea for a book,” “Writing for young adults,” and a seminar based on Donald Maass’s “Writing the Breakout Novel” (the one I attended). Friday began the conference proper, with more workshops all day, and a costume party at night.

My friend Patty, looking positively resplendent.

Lara Croft dropped by for a visit.

Can't have Bond without a lovely Bond Girl!

Saturday had more workshops, and pitch appointments. I pitched my manuscript to an agent, and she requested the full manuscript. That is something to celebrate right there – most writers, even at those rare instances when they can pitch in person, usually get turned down, or are asked for a synopsis or the first three chapters, so a full manuscript request is a big deal. It’s a big step forward, but I’ve also got about a month before it needs to be emailed to the agent, and it still needs some good old-fashioned revising. To the revisionmobile! (Cue the Batman theme)

And Sunday had even more workshops, with reluctant farewells to the wonderful human beings I met over three days.

And I got to see my first ladybug of the year as I left the Marriott on Sunday. Honestly, can you have a better denouement than this?

Yeah, this was totally worth it. Barring the zombie apocalypse, I am absolutely going back next year. Later today, I will deliver a recap of Donald Maass’s amazing keynote address, and some of my thoughts on it. If you can get a recording of that speech, it should be required listening for every fiction writer.

Pikes Peak Writers Conference…Almost Here

Well, the Pikes Peak Writers Conference is about to kick off. A most excellent workshop by Donald Maass has already been delivered on writing fiction that combines literary and commercial elements for a high-impact novel that readers will love. More onsite reports will be on my blog soon.

And there’s a booksigning going on at the Marriott at Colorado Springs tonight around 7 with Maass, Jeffrey Deaver, Susan Wiggs, Kevin J. Anderson, and tons of other authors, with a silent auction in the same room.

Hope to see you here!

Pikes Peak Writers Conference: Coming Up Fast

Well, as I have stated before, the Pikes Peak Writers Conference is coming up fast. Slightly under two weeks until we are there. Right now, it costs about $450, but I’m passing along the word that it’s one of the top ten writers conferences in the country, and is the friendliest overall. Seriously, a Marriott with a great view of Pikes Peak, you’re surrounded by professionals – writers and agents and editors with years of experience – and quality dining and service from the hotel. What’s not to love about that idea?

There’s still time to register. If you are a writer who wants to expand their career, make connections in the business, and meet with hundreds of other writers, this is the place to be.

With people like Robert Crais, Jeffrey Deaver, Donald Maass, Susan Wiggs, Kevin J. Anderson, Bree Ervin, Ronald Cree, Angel Smits, etc., there will be hundreds of fellow writers, either going for the first time to give their professional careers a shot of adrenaline, or returning veterans who have stayed with the conference since it was formed twenty years ago. And you will be hard-pressed to find a more pleasant city to hold an event like this.

Hope to see you there!

The End of Days…for a Scholarship! Info for Pikes Peak Writers Conference

Fellow writers, a chance to pitch, agents and editors to rub shoulders with, famous authors, a gorgeous hotel...and all of it in the view of a beautiful mountain. What's not to like?

Today is the last day you can sign up for the scholarship for the Pikes Peak Writers Conference, being held April 19-22 at the Marriott in Colorado Springs, CO. In honor of the conference’s 20th anniversary, there will be a plethora of excellent presenters for all of your writing needs, including agent Donald Maass, Editor Bree Ervin, and authors like Kevin J. Anderson, Robert Crais, Angel Smits,  Jeffrey Deaver, Susan Wiggs, and a whole host of others, plus hundreds of aspiring writers. You even get a chance to pitch to an editor or agent for your work, and receive feedback and critique for your manuscript. If you’re ready to get serious as a writer (and make connections in the writing world), all accounts I’ve gathered state that this is an excellent place to start.

A very favorable review of the conference from romance/mystery author Terry O’Dell can be found here:

If you want to go but just don’t have $400 to spare to pay for presentations, materials, and meals, the scholarship (which closes after today) is your chance for Pikes Peak Writers to take care of that for you. (Note on the meals: the Marriott accommodates for vegetarians and food allergies!) Go ahead and sign up for it. Here’s the link where you figure out how to apply for a scholarship via email:

Here’s where you can register online, if you are okay with paying the full amount. There’s also a terrific lineup of guests, some of the available workshops, agents and editors who will listen to pitches, and which meals are paid for:

And here’s where you can find out more about the conference itself:

I hope all of you will have an opportunity to go! It will be my first time, but most of my close writing friends have gotten to attend it beforehand, and they absolutely love the experience.

In any case, I will keep promoting the conference on the blog, and will try to not be annoying about it. You’ve noticed I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m excited for this opportunity to meet other storytellers from across the country, further my own craft, give and receive feedback, and get my feet wet in the world of professional novel-writing.

Keep writing, everyone. I hope to see you in Colorado!

The Pikes Peak Writers Conference: 20th anniversary

(Gathered from Facebook)

This April, I am (hopefully) attending the Pikes Peak Writer’s Conference in Colorado Springs, at the Marriott Hotel. My fellow writers who have attended the conference have assured me of its quality, helpfulness, and potential. From what I understand, it is among the ten best conferences in the nation, and the friendliest as well.

April 19-22 marks a special occasion, for it is the 20th anniversary of the conference, and contains an abundance of opportunities for those authors looking for an agent to represent their novel, pitching a book to get a publisher’s attention, forge connections in the writing world, or simply to search for community and helpful advice on making yourself a more recognized and more professional writer.

If you’re interested in going, there will be a good number of high-profile speakers there, including agent Donald Maass, bestselling author Jeffery Deaver, novelists Susan Wiggs and Robert Crais, and many others besides.

Their official website has what you will need to learn if you decide to go:

A lot of the volunteers and leaders are good friends of mine. This will be my first conference, but I look forward to it. There you can also register, apply for a scholarship if you can’t pay for the whole ticket, or donate to the Pikes Peak Writers or the scholarship fund.

You can find out more about registration here:

I hope to see you there in April! Keep writing, and keep looking for the best stories.