Tuesday, July 29, 2008

PNWC: Bob Mayer on Who Dares Wins

Friday morning at PNWC was devoted to an editors and agents forum. I didn't take many notes because in my opinion it wasn't all that informative. It was way too general, complete with the standard lines. All editors and agents are looking for "fresh, original voices." Really. They are. They all say that at every conference.

The most interesting industry tidbit was a Scholastic editor saying that YA as a genre is really tight now. When YA got huge a few years ago, publishers who didn't have YA lines rushed to start them, so now you've got too many books competing for too little shelf space. It's not dying out, but it's a harder sell than it was in '06 or '07.

In the afternoon it was workshop time again. I went to another Bob Mayer talk--"Who Dares Wins," which applies lessons from his Green Beret background to the writing life.

He started with a digression on working with agents. He's on his fourth agent, and he says he's happy with her because she's selling his career, while the previous three were just interested in selling his current book.

Other opening remarks:
- What stops most people from getting published is themselves.
- You need to ACT, not REACT.
- One power you have as a writer is the power to say no.
- 10% of first novels succeed. The other 90% fail to earn out.

Then he moved into the nine tools of "Who Dares Wins":

1. What. What do you want to win? What is your goal? You should have goals for both your current book and your career as a whole, and you should be able to state each in one sentence.

2. Why. What is your intent? What do you want readers to feel? Again, this applies to your career as well as to an individual book. What's the payoff of your book (the last scene)? Does it fit your intent?

3. Where. Walk the terrain of your story. (Me: You gonna pay for my tickets to England and arrange for me to take two months off work, Bob? Until then I'm stuck with Google Earth.) But note: fiction is not wholly authentic. It has to have internal logic, but not necessarily external.

Dissect books that are like yours. You can do this in an Excel spreadsheet. Set up three columns for each scene: 1) What's in the scene? 2) What's the purpose of the scene? 3) What can I do in my story?

When you finish reading a novel, go back to the beginning and look for what you didn't know before. You'll notice foreshadowing and themes that resound throughout the story.

4. Character. Consider your characters' goals and motivation--what they want and why.

Also, know yourself. Your characters will come out of your life whether you like it or not. (Me: This is so true. I've met several of my favorite authors since starting to write and hang out at conferences, and I've yet to be surprised by an author's personality. Authors match their books. Even those of us who would never write an autobiographical novel, who set all our stories in worlds past, future, or fantastical, leave our spiritual fingerprints all over our work.)

Templates can be useful in character development. Consider profiling. 99% of what we do is habit, not conscious decision. Look at behavior patterns and what they tell you about a person. Other resources include Jungian archetypes, Myers-Briggs, etc. (Me: Working with chaplains, I have a professional resource for this sort of thing. I've done enneagrams for my major characters, and once my boss and I spent half of our weekly touchbase session discussing birth order dynamics in large families.)

5. Courage. Most people's primary motivation is fear. Fear isn't about actual events, it's about the expectation of events. Fear isn't always bad, and you need to acknowledge its existence. If you have no fear at all, you're a sociopath (though it's possible to be a sociopath without being evil).

One way to combat fear is to develop a catastrophe plan. If you plan for the worst, you don't have to fear it and can focus your energy on working toward your goals. And think ahead--one book ahead, even one series ahead.

6. Change. 95% of people don't. Only 5% can change through internal motivation. If you want to succeed as a writer, you must be part of that 5%. Perseverance is more important than talent.

7. Command. As a writer, you will put together a team (agent, editor, publicist, etc.). You must be the leader of this team because you care more about your book than anyone else does.

When approaching an editor or agent, look at it from their POV. What do they want? How will they receive your pitch? How do you want them to perceive you and your work?

Learn from any source. Be open-minded and able to admit when you're wrong. And have patience and self-discipline.

8. Communication. We're writers. We create words on a page that come alive in someone else's head. That reader is the most important person. Think about whether/why the reader would be excited about a story.

9. Complete. Break the rules. Be different. But know the rule, have a good reason for breaking it, and take responsibility for it. (Me: I don't remember why that connects to "Complete." It's been over a week now.)

Two final thoughts:

If you're not where you want to be, you need to do something different. What will your sustained action to bring about a change be?

Fiction marketing is tough. Oprah is NOT the talk show host who moves the most books--Jon Stewart is, with his nonfiction author guests.

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