AWP, part one

I’m going to separate my posts about AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) into several installments.

So, in my previous post, I arrived in Chicago to beautiful weather and I ventured out to visit Chicago’s Field Museum. In retrospect, I wish I had called that post “Leap Day” because a) it occurred on Leap Day, and b) like Leap Day, it felt like one of those special days that you have when there is an extra day slipped in (the type of day one hopes for when they wish for those extra hours in the day to accomplish whatever thing that they are horribly behind on). It was fantastic.

To pick up where I left off …

I was on a coffee break to recharge my phone in the Field Museum and I was trying to download Pages from iTunes onto my new MacBook Pro in order to type up my thoughts on AWP in the evenings and paste them into WordPress once I had WiFi again … this didn’t work out so well, since my connection to the Corner Baking Company WiFi cut out (I think that they have a usage limit on it) and when I tried to reconnect to it, or to the Field Museum’s WiFi, the download never completed. Once I returned home it finished in seconds, so now I have it. But, as such, I’m relying on notes for these entries.

I finished my coffee and I hustled back into the museum. The laziness of my earlier wandering was now replaced by the hurried browsing of whatever I could before the museum closed. There is simply too much to see at the Field Museum in one visit. This is a good thing.

In the morning I saw Sue, who lives in the main lobby. Then I went through their reproduction of an Egyptian Tomb, visited their lower level exhibits and had lunch at the McDonald’s located within. I went up to the upper level after lunch, saw Sue’s skull (which is too heavy to be mounted with the rest of the skeleton in the lobby), took a look at the DNA lab/ exhibit and saw my screening of Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs in 3D, and then strolled through an exhibit on the evolution of the planet (very cool–a lot of fossils, more dinosaurs, and an exploration of everything that happened on this planet before humans arrived) before I got to my coffee break. I then went into the special exhibit on Genghis Khan, which was as much about the history of Mongolia as it was on the man. It was very interesting, though, at this point in the day, I was rushing though. With time running out I had to choose between the museum’s other special exhibit (Opening the Vaults: Mummies) or to walk through the exhibit on the ancient peoples of the Americas. As interesting as the Mummy exhibit looked, I’d already spent a fair amount of the day in ancient Egypt, so I opted for the Ancient Americas. Brilliant stuff, though about halfway through I started just scanning the things displayed as I walked at a moderate pace–not enough time to spend time with the text and detail at each location. I swung through the museum store and then I was off, twenty minutes before the museum was scheduled to close, back to the hotel.

The beautiful day had become cloud-covered and the sky was threatening rain. It was actually more than threatening it, it was promising that it would happen soon. I walked extremely quickly back to the hotel (just under a mile away) and beat the drops by seconds. I dashed downstairs to the Lower Level to pick up my registration materials and then went to my room to relax for thirty minutes before meeting Gary, a fellow Hamline fiction writer, for dinner. I was a little exhausted, with the week and events leading up to my trip, but now Chicago had its own momentum going and I was just getting started.

Gary and I ate dinner at Kitty O’Shea’s, an Irish pup in the Chicago Hilton where I was saying and where the conference was happening. In the small guide book that I purchased before my trip a lamb stew was mentioned. I was sad to discover that the lamb stew was no longer on the menu. I ended up having the corned beef and cabbage (not a mash, as I was expecting, but rather a pile of thick cuts of corned beef and a stack of cabbage with some small potatoes in between) and a couple pints of Guinness. We had a great conversation about our projects, our feelings on our MFA program (especially pertaining to thesis, as I’m just finishing and he is just starting) and that big question: what comes next. We also talked a little about our expectations for the conference–Gary had been to a few and this was my first AWP (though I’ve been to other conferences and had an idea of what to expect). Then we retired to our rooms for the night. I figured out how to get the TV onto regular television programing, discovered that I had HBO (and that HBO didn’t have on anything that I wanted to watch) and watched an episode of Psych and two reruns of NCIS before falling asleep at midnight.

AWP: Day One

Somehow I was up before my alarm. I don’t know how that happened–I am not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination. I rolled over and finally rousted myself from the bed (if not from sleep) just after 8 to quickly shower and walk downstairs for my first panel at 9.

9am-10:15am (in Williford C on the 3rd floor)–“The Business of Publishing Your Novel with an Independent Press: Author and Publisher Perspectives”

From the description:

R117. The Business of Publishing Your Novel with an Independent Press: Author and Publisher Perspectives
(Dennis Johnson, Joe Meno, Adam Levin, Christopher Boucher, Leigh Stein)
Wiliford C, Hilton Chicago, 3rd Floor
Melville House publisher and co-founder Dennis Johnson leads a practical discussion of the publishing process with four authors in various stages of their literary careers: Joe Meno has had seven books published since 1999, Adam Levin’s first novel was a 2010 critical hit, and Christopher Boucher and Leigh Stein have debut novels appearing in 2011 and 2012. Topics include acquisitions, editing, big house versus indie publishing, publicity, marketing, tours, social networking, and the changing role of the author.

I can’t say that there was much that I learned from this panel (though this isn’t necessarily saying that there wasn’t anything of value that they shared, just that I’ve done so much exploration into this and other publishing topics that there wasn’t much new information that jumped out at me). One big takeaway was that the publishers at smaller presses are passionate about the stuff they publish, it is just that what they are able to offer differs greatly from press to press and is, across the board, going to be less than at a major press.

From my notes (jotted down in a little blue Moleskine cashier):

“Printer” versus Publisher. (The distinction here being that the large conglomerate or “legacy” publishers are now little more than printing your book, whereas a publisher, especially a smaller press, will have a greater connection with the writer.)

Dennis Johnson: “Writers should understand the business they’re in.”

Leigh Stein: “Book tours are about schmoozing booksellers more than how many people show up to the event.”

Takeaway: These particular writers have gained a lot from being part of a smaller press. Joe Meno (Hairstyles of the Damned) has had a varied career at big and small houses and he likes the punk band/ small label feel of the smaller publishing houses, including the way the money is split (very low, if any advance against royalties, but a 50% or 70/30 split of all money coming in after expenses). Johnson cares a lot about publishing good books and doing what he can to help his writers (especially first time authors, of all ages, publishing interesting and unexpected work) find an audience.

I dashed out of this panel during questions (most of the panels had pretty poor Q&As … someone should teach people how to phrase a question, which questions are actually stupid questions, and how to allow others to ask questions) in order to shore myself up with some coffee. Fortunately for me, the Chicago Hilton had a cafe serving Starbucks in the lobby. The lines were always long–in this instance, it took me just under 30 minutes to get through the line and I just made it to my next panel discussion.

10:30am-11:45am (in Williford B on the 3rd floor)–“Women in Jeopardy: Crime Fiction”

From the description:

R141. Women in Jeopardy: Crime Fiction
(Jane Cleland, Danielle Egan-Miller, Jamie Freveletti, Julie Hyzy, Joanna MacKenzie)
Wiliford B, Hilton Chicago, 3rd Floor
Three best-selling and award-winning crime fiction writers and two top literary agents will discuss the role gender plays in their trade. Are tough gal detectives taken as seriously as tough guy detectives? What does the popularity of female-oriented subgenres like chick lit and cozies and crossover categories like YA paranormal say about the market? With e-publishing sweeping across the genre, are women authors in more or less jeopardy than before? How can new writers break into the field?

This panel was interesting, though again, not something that I learned a great deal from. At this point, I decided to remove the idea of learning from my expectations and focused on enjoying the panels and the personalities. I had a much greater enjoyment in the discussion of these subjects on these terms. This one began to focus mainly on the marketplace and publicity. There were two agents and two writers on the panel and the moderator was also a writer (Jane Cleland), who tended to dominate and at times step on the discussion a little. I say discussion, it was more of a “question posed/ question addressed” format.

Apparently, “Women in Jeopardy” is a category of mystery/ thrillers. The panel talked for a little bit about a bunch of different categories, it’s an ever shifting milieu. Cleland writes cozies (mysteries that don’t show the gore of murder or sex, detective is a hobbyist (like Jessica Fletcher of Murder, She Wrote, someone who works in another profession and also solves crimes) and the murderer is always someone who knows the victim. Hyzy is also a cozy mystery writer (her’s involve the White House chef, while Cleland’s is an antique dealer). Cozy mysteries also tend to involve a gimmick (like a knitting circle, recipes, etc … in other words, they’re about half of the books that my mom loves to read). Freveletti, on the other hand, writes thrillers (including an upcoming Covert One novel for the Ludlum estate–a big deal, since she is the first female writer to be approached by the estate).

Once the panelists chatted for a bit about their experiences in publishing and how they felt about various things, an audience member spoke up and asked if they could focus on craft for a while, how they approached writing topics and how the agents considered topics when looking at who to represent. Once this conversation got going, the audience became a little more invested. One audience member asked: “When I’m writing a woman character, I find that she tends to take on masculine traits, because I’m, well, a dude. How do you deal with writing male characters? What issues do you come across?” The most interesting answer (i.e. the one I remember clearest) came from Freveletti, who said that it often comes down to perspective and that men and women approach things differently. With one of her novels, she had a character going into a dangerous part of Somolia. The pilot, a man, asked if she had a gun to protect herself with. She said no (didn’t even think of it) because she didn’t know how to handle one, whoever might be attacking her would be much quicker at the draw, and she would probably just get herself killed faster if she had a gun. An analytical look at the situation. The male approached it from a different perspective, more of a “better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it”. He gave her a grenade launcher to eliminate the problem of outshooting a group of attackers and showed her how to use it. Freveletti said that another instance was discovered during a revision (at the copyediting stage) where she realized that she had given a guy a line of dialogue that wouldn’t have occurred to a guy to say. Essentially, it happens; be aware and do what you can to put yourself in the other perspective, but realize that you’ll never get it all right all of the time.

From my notes:

On advances:

Nice deal is $1 to $49,000
Very nice deal is $50K to $99K
Good deal is $100K to $250
Significant deal is $250K to $499K
Major deal is $500K and up

From all the panelists, a warning on advances: “if you don’t earn out, you’ll have a hard time doing another book (or getting another contract)” The advice is basically to do what you can to keep getting contracts to write books–in this case, a lower advance is helpful because it gives the writer less money that they need to bring in to earn out, though on the other hand, the less money you get as an advance, the less support the publisher will give your book. One panelist mentioned Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher series: “Lee Child didn’t hit until book 6 or 7. You have to get the contracts to get there and break out. Hard to get there if you get a big advance and don’t earn out.”

The type of book also helps determine the type of advance that the writer is likely to be offered. The writers of cozy mysteries are advanced very little, but they have to sell a lot less to earn out. Hyzy also mentioned that she is lucky that, with Penguin, all of her books are still in print. They are also all still available to buy as an ebook through the publisher. This panel was a little down on self-publishing, but not for the reasons that I’ve already heard. They’re reasoning is that all sales figures are public (both when you have a publisher and when you’re doing it for yourself on Amazon or Nook) and if you want to be published at some point by a larger house and you don’t breakout with your ebooks then it becomes even more difficult. The challenge here, in addition to all the upfront challenges of getting your manuscript copyedited and formatted with good cover art, is getting lost in the shuffle of ebooks, especially all the self-published (or indie) ebooks. They didn’t come out strong against self/ indie publishing, but warned that it could hurt as much as it could help.

Okay, that’s it for now. Battery life is low and I’m out of coffee.

Still to come from Day One:

“What I Wish I’d Known”
“There Will Be Blood”
“Renaissance of Midwestern Literature”
Dinner and Margaret Atwood’s Keynote Address

Day Two
Day Three
The Trip Home

More later …


Published by: Thomas Rohde

Artist // Writer // Theatre Professional // Nerd // Night Owl Inspired by a steady and lifelong infusion of pop culture, comic books, and a vast assortment of films and books, our friendly neighborhood blogger has doomed himself to a life of creative pursuits. There's not enough time for everything, but we all do what we can. Artist: of watercolor, ink, comic illustration, horror/ sci-fi/ fantasy art. Writer: of fictions, tweets, captions & blogs. Lover: coffee, whiskey, wine & beer. Instagram and Twitter as @demipho

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