Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Gateway Con 2018 Links

The Gateway to Publishing Conference & Convention is June 15-17, 2018!

Below are different links for the conference and events.
Find more at stwritersguild.org

Stay at the Renaissance Hotel
rates last until June 1, 2018

Attend the Writers Conference 
three days of workshops and literary events

Have a table in the Author Hall
open to vendors too

Get a ticket to one of the Book Faire Events - Book Party!, Young Writers Workshop, AWA Workshop, and more...

Sign up for a Master Class or Online Viewing 

See you at the Gateway to Publishing Conference & Convention!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

De Voe and Protzel Talk Historical Fiction

Article by Lauren Miller

Historical fiction authors P.A. De Voe and Ed Protzel gave a joint talk at the May workshop for writers sponsored by the St. Louis Writers Guild.


De Voe, whose work centers on Ancient China, opened the discussion with a question for the audience: “What is more important to you when you write your story – being factually accurate or telling an excellent tale?” De Voe thinks you can do both. “Being historically accurate doesn’t undermine creativity, it accentuates it,” she said.

Historical details add the color that brings your story to life. Be careful, however, to be honest with your readers. Your book may be their introduction to that time period, so you want to be accurate. Other readers may be history or technology buffs and will expect you to have done your homework on the period. “You are writing with emotions, and emotion ties to the brain. Be honest with your reader,” De Voe said.

What sort of story are you writing? Are you covering a broad period of time (e.g. WWI, WWII, or the French Revolution) or focusing on a single person’s life? Are you choosing a well-known, historical figure or one of the marginalized people of that time? Or maybe the story’s about someone from your own imagination. De Voe described story construction as a triangle: “[The three sides are] ideological (ex: gender roles, education systems, religious ideas), technology and economic conditions, and the social structure.”

De Voe used an example of life in China in 1380 to show how researching the ideological background of your story helps you craft your story. In the case of her Mei-hua Trilogy, De Voe explored gender roles and morality norms that influenced her characters’ motivation and how they think. Something else she considered was how their gender and social class would have impacted their exposure to education and later opportunities in life.

If your book is focusing on major historical events, read documentaries, history books, etc., to learn more about your chosen period. Footnotes can be a wonderful resource to point you to other sources. To learn more about daily life, reach out to groups with a shared interested in the time period (e.g. historical re-enactors); check out the microfiche newspaper archives and advertisements and catalogues; read the obits; look for books that specialize on an aspect of that period (e.g. clothing, medicine, education).

De Voe cautioned that some records will be “biased and stereotypical … The poor folks weren’t the ones making the records.” Personal correspondence can offer an intimate look at the concerns of daily life. True crime stories may benefit from archived court records.

Your own personal experience can also help enrich your stories. “If you’ve been someplace, it activates the five senses,” De Voe said. Elizabeth Peters, author of the Amelia Peabody series, drew from her background as an Egyptologist and her travel experience to flesh out her books, which are set in 1800s Egypt. Draw from all of your senses and add those details into your story – how do things look, taste, smell, touch, or sound?

Finally, libraries can be a great resource -- especially the Inter-Library Loan option -- to obtain scholarly works or materials not commonly available in general collections. “Talk to the experts,” De Voe said. “New information is coming out all the time.” Keep looking for the most accurate information possible.


Following a short break, Ed Protzel approached the topic of historical fiction from a different angle. Author of the DarkHorse Trilogy, Protzel said, “I am going to be speaking on the fundamentals of storytelling […] and how to best use historical research […], secondary characters, and subplots.” Any time you write historical fiction, you’re taking what you’ve learned of the period and using it to enrich your story. Often, the true events of history are more bizarre than anything you can make up.

For example, while researching the Civil War, Protzel learned Missouri was a brutal place. “Missouri, especially Western Missouri, was like Syria. […],” he said. “Refugees poured into St. Louis from all over. It was nasty stuff. [But] a novel isn’t a history book. You’re writing a drama, not a narrative.”

And like any narrative, you’ll want to focus not only on the research (although, as De Voe mentioned, that’s very important), but also on the emotions you wish to convey. Offer your readers an experience where they are immersed in your historical period. That first paragraph can be what sets your story apart from the rest – how do you arouse the interest and attention of your readers? How can you draw them into the period?

Comparing writing to painting, Protzel encouraged writers to think impressionistically, like Monet. “Find details that establish the character, period, place and mood. The small details matter more than large ones.” Once you’ve established your setting, character is the next major point to consider, Protzel said. Who will you be writing about, what attitudes do they bring to the world, and what are their motivations? As De Voe also mentioned, their station in life and ideological background will influence all facets of your story.

When writing secondary characters, consider their role and purpose in the overall narrative. The romantic interest and the antagonist are commonly discussed characters. Rather than lingering on these, Protzel delved into the lesser-talked-about reflection character, also known as the foil. They serve as the opposite of the hero and are usually a supporting character to your protagonist (i.e., a sidekick, a spouse, etc.). This is your Sanchez to your Don Quixote. Your secondary characters factor into subplots.

“The function of subplots is to parallel but contrast with the main plot by adding depth to your themes (offering them from a different point of view), adding poignancy to a comedy, or humor and irony to a dramatic story,” Protzel said. The power of a secondary character increases dramatically when you consolidate multiple, flat characters, and throw them in the proverbial blender. Out comes a fully fleshed-out character who has an important role/purpose in the life of your protagonist.

Avoid weak linear plots -- “this happened, then this”-- by having your protagonist and antagonist frequently clash with one another. Without conflict, you have no story. You can also add conflict by including multiple characters with differing goals who simultaneously interact with each other. This can be as ordinary as characters trying to reach a decision or as extraordinary as multiple characters in open combat on opposing sides.

With historical fiction, real events will shape the course of your book. Avoid technical terms that force readers out of the drama in order to research them, but do use facts to add color and spice to your story. Finally, when it comes to themes, remember they need to be interpreted from the historical perspective of that time period. Protzel’s last piece of advice, which is certainly worth remembering regardless of what time period you specialize in, is: “You are telling a story, not writing history.”

Speaker Bio:
P.A. De Voe is an anthropologist and Asian specialist who writes historical mysteries and crime stories immersed in the life and times of Ancient China. She’s published short stories, From Judge Lu’s Ming Dynasty Case Files, in anthologies and online. Warned, second in her Chinese YA Mei-hua Trilogy (HiddenWarned, and Trapped) received a 2016 Silver Falchion award in the Best International category. Trapped was a 2017 Agatha and Silver Falchion finalist. Her most recent novel Deadly Relations, A Ming Dynasty Mystery, came out in 2018. For more information and a free short story go to padevoe.com.

Ed Protzel has completed five original screenplays for feature film. His published novels include his Civil War-era DarkHorse TrilogyThe Lies That BindHonor Among Outcasts, and soon, Something in Madness. His futuristic mystery/thriller, The Antiquities Dealer, will be released later this year. Protzel lives in University City and has a master’s in English literature/creative writing from the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Cook Preps Conference Attendees To Craft and Deliver a Perfect Pitch

Article by Lauren Miller

Brad R. Cook, a former acquisitions editor at Blank Slate Press and a multi-book author of the fantasy series Iron Chronicles and The Airdrainium Adventures, has been teaching about successful pitching techniques since 2012. A packed audience turned out to hear Cook share his expertise on preparing to give the best possible pitch for your literary agent session at conferences, such as those hosted in Missouri this spring and summer:
  • Missouri Writers Guild’s conference is May 19, 2018 (link)
  • Gateway Con is June 15-17, 2018 (link)
(As a disclaimer, SLWG sponsors Gateway Con and is a chapter member of the Missouri Writers Guild, so you will see plugs in Cook’s talk for our event. Thank you, Brad!)

“I’ve sat on both sides of the pitching table,” Cook said, and his perspective on writing makes this a popular talk every year for the SLWG. After finishing and editing your books, you’ll want to take these steps as you enter the waters of the writing business. First, identify the genre your book falls in, and then prepare a query letter, synopsis, and log line.

Next, identify literary agents and publishers who may be interested in your book and send them query letters or pitch to them at conferences. Cook recommended googling 'successful query letters' and mentioned WritersDigest.com, which has a number of query letter examples (link). Also recommended was Justin Wells’ talk in January 2018 at SLWG. If you missed it, you can catch the write-up on our blog (link) or the webinar replay (for SLWG members only).

Writers conferences, like Gateway Con, are particularly helpful for writers looking to connect with agents. “Writers conferences [are] where we all gather together as an industry to learn more and where agents [and publishers] will be looking for clients and books. Nobody is going to publish you if they don’t know you exist,” Cook added.

Query Letters

Query letters are the main way writers introduce themselves to publishers or literary agents. The query should be single-spaced, 12-pt font, black ink on a white background. “We do not call people, assault them, or contact them via Facebook,” Cook quipped. You email, or occasionally snail mail. Your query letter should start with your story’s hook and include the concept and your pitch.

What does a standard “pitch room” look like at a conference? Mostly, a bunch of tables and chairs where you’ll sit one-on-one with a literary agent, or, in the case of remote pitching, you’ll be seated with a laptop and pitching using a video app. Generally, pitch sessions last 5-10 minutes; if you’re attending Gateway Con this year, you will get 7 minutes for your pitch. Dress like a business professional; this is your chance to make a good impression with an industry professional.

“I know for you, this is a passion…you’ve spent five or ten years working on your book, but guess what, this is a business that you’re walking into. Agents don’t look for books, they look for clients! Publishers look for books. Agents get 15 percent off of every book you sell. They want multiple books over your [writing] career where you both make a ton of money,” Cook said.

You should plan to spend about 50 percent of your time on the pitch itself and reserve the other half for a Q&A with the agent. You want to provide them plenty of time to discuss your book with you. What should the pitch itself include? Let’s tackle the key points one by one:

The Introduction

Cook said the introduction should be 12 percent of your time (and include a greeting with your name, the genre, word count, whether the book is finished or not, and whether you’ve been published before). All of these things let the agent know you have prepared in advance for this session. It helps them immediately classify whether this is the kind of book they represent (by identifying the genre/type of book) and whether you’ve overshot/undershot the standard publishing length. It’s remarkable how much you can convey in such a short amount of time, isn’t it?

The Hook

Next is the hook, which is 13 percent of your total time. Think of the hook like the taglines you see for films. In one to three sentences, your hook should establish who your main character is, what the setting is, the conflict, and the stakes. Consider the back-cover copy of a book that grabs your interest and makes you want to read it immediately. That’s what you’re going for. Note that in the hook, unlike in back-cover copy, you only make statements, never questions.

Another way people describe the hook is your “elevator pitch” – if you have the time of traveling one elevator floor to describe your idea, what would you say? Hooks are different from your “tag line” (aka a log line), which tends to be shorter, but they still include that high concept idea that gets people interested. Cook shared an example of a hook from one of his books:

Iron Chronicles: “In a steam-powered Victorian world where pirates prowl the sky and secret societies determine the future like a game of chess, Alexander, Genevieve, her little bronze dragon, and a crew of Sky Raiders must save the world from the four Iron Horsemen.”

The log line for Iron Chronicles, by comparison, is only a single phrase: “High adventure in the age of steam and steel.”

The Book

Moving on, you need to consider what you’ll discuss when it comes to the book itself. Cook said only 25 percent of your total time with the agent should be spent on explaining what the book is about. What you discuss here will vary depending on whether you’re writing non-fiction or fiction.

For non-fiction books, you’ll want to focus the topic the book addresses and why we need another book on this subject. You should be able to explain who the intended audience is, and whether you’ve already got contacts/exposure with them (i.e. an author platform and a plan for reaching that audience). While you don’t have to be a professional in this subject area, it is helpful to explain what qualifies you to write about it, whether it’s extensive knowledge, years as a hobbyist in this field, or an astounding number of followers on Instagram.

For fiction books, while your author platform is important and will certainly be helpful in selling your book, you should instead focus on conveying to the agent that you’ve crafted a cohesive story. Who is the main character, and what challenges and stakes do they face? Who is the villain? What is the plot? What are the themes of the book? If you have time, you can include one or two subplots and associated characters.

Don’t focus so much on tone that might restrict your book into a niche genre, (ex. Southern Gothic Vampire Romance, instead of just ‘romance’) and may turn off an agent who isn’t interested in that sub-genre. Let the story speak for itself. This is your chance to let the story you’ve crafted really shine. Cook cautioned against getting caught up in backstory (it’s a rabbit hole). Don’t ramble -- keep your points sharp and on track.

Other habits to avoid in your pitch include being negative about your work or talking about how well it was reviewed by this person or that (unless it’s a high-profile author like Stephen King, it’s probably not going to matter). Avoid clich├ęs and generalities – if you’re using them in a pitch, what does that bode for your as-yet-unread-by-them manuscript?

What is allowed in your pitch? Be friendly! Be positive! Be polite!

Questions & Answers

Finally, the majority of your time will be spent on the Q&A with your agent -- roughly half of your total talk time. What is that in real-time? If you are attending Gateway Con this year, it’s only 3.5 minutes! This is also the most important part of your pitch. If the agent doesn’t have any questions for you, something is broken in your pitch. Cook cautioned, “Beware the questions you aren’t expecting… ‘What is next?’ [or] ‘What else do you have?’ [or] ‘How does your book differ from [top book in the market right now]?’ And [then], keep your answers short.”

Inexperienced authors pitching their books may forget that this section of your pitch session is no longer just about your book, it’s a dialogue. Remember -- there is another person on the other side of the table (or screen). Please, please, practice beforehand! Avoid getting angry over feedback, and don’t argue. Do not try to engage in physical contact or offer gifts or bribes. Just don’t.

During your writers conference, look for other opportunities to interact naturally (not forced) with agents and publishers. At Gateway Con, for example, SLWG has a Meet the Faculty event on Friday night to allow writers and agents to interact. Or maybe you’ll bump into them out and about (stranger things have happened). Remember, though, always be respectful and polite. Agents and literary publishers are not your golden goose, they’re people, just like you. Remember that, practice, and from all of us at the St. Louis Writers Guild, good luck!

Speaker Bio:

Author of historical fantasies, The Iron Chronicles, The Airdrainium Adventures, and Tales of the Gearblade, Brad is a former co-publisher and acquisitions editor for Blank Slate Press. He is a SCBWI member and currently serves as Historian of St. Louis Writers Guild after three and half years as President. A founding contributor to The Writers’ Lens and The Sword Writers Academy, he can be heard weekly as a panelist on Write Pack Radio. He learned to fence at thirteen, and never set down his sword, but prefers to curl up with his cat and a centuries’ old classic. Find more @bradrcook on Twitter, Instagram, and tumblr. BradRCook.com