SAGA Genre Writers Con Part 1
Hello my dear friends!
Last weekend, I had the privilege to attend the second SAGA Genre Writers Conference.
SAGA is the professional development conference for genre fiction writers to improve their craft and business to become more profitable. (per the website)
I went to the first SAGA in 2020. It was in early March. Rumors of this highly contagious and deadly virus were circling, but it hadn't really impacted the US yet. We went to SAGA. We got hand sanitizers in our bags and fist-bumped and only hugged people who were comfortable with it. Little did we know that only a week or so later our entire world was going to be turned upside down in a way that we (mostly fantasy writers) had maybe even pondered in our stories, but never imagined happening in real life.
SAGA returned this year, three years later. Many events that had tried to set roots close to 2020 haven't returned. Some long-running events lost their footing. I'm so glad SAGA was able to return.
It wasn't without its mishaps, however.
I arrived around starting time on Friday to the news that both the Guests of Honor (Jonathan Maberry and Sherrilyn Kenyon) had last minute emergencies and were unable to attend.
But, the Con Runner is John Hartness--a founder/publisher of Falstaff Books--and in true John Hartness and friends fashion, the organizers and faculty of SAGA came together to give us the best experience possible. If I hadn't know that Maberry and Kenyon weren't there, I wouldn't have suspected. Other faculty stepped up to teach on the same or similar topics that the guests were supposed to cover, and the keynote events were replaced with a hilarious panel about how to get accepted (and also banned) from Cons and a networking event (with a free drink)!
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I'm going to break my recap blog up into multiple parts. This next part will be talking about the workshops I attended on Friday night!
There were two options during each time slot: a Craft session or a Business session. Each session was 90 minutes long with a 30 minute break in-between.
Cons are exhausting and I love this set-up. I love having 30 minutes between sessions. Sometimes I felt like the 90 minutes was a lot, but other times I wanted more! There's a generous lunch and dinner break so you don't have to choose a panel or food. It's really well planned out, in my opinion.
I'm going to give a small recap of each of the sessions I attended. And this may seem like a lot but these summaries really only scratch the surface of all the information. I have 40-pages of notes, and I didn't even write half the stuff down!
Paths to Publication - John Hartness
I attended this panel, over "Build a World with Me" by Gail Martin. Gail Martin is fabulous, but I'm hoping to start publishing in the next year or two, so I wanted to hear what Hartness, a publisher, had to say!
Of course, one of the things John honed in on was if you have to pay, run away. Vanity presses are all bad. You should not pay the publisher to publish your work. I'm not talking about paying an editor or paying a cover artist if you're self-publishing, but paying a vanity press to publish your work. This is fairly common knowledge, but the red flag I wasn't aware of is not to sign anything that requires you sign over your copyright.
John also talked about self-publishing vs. traditional publishing (NY) vs small press publishing.
One of the things I took away about self-publishing, which I'm looking towards this year, is the importance of editors--and the distinction between what each type of editor does--and to adopt a "separate self" if you want to self-publish. By that, John means have the writer version of you versus the publisher version of you. I'm running into this right now anyway, because I've started some contract work where I am self-employed. Looking at writing as both a craft AND a business is important.
The last tidbit of information I'll share about this session--because I don't want to give too much away--is the distinction between different types of editors/editing: development, line, and copy.
And I hope I get this right because my notes have arrows drawn all over the place!
But the Developmental Edit should come first. This editor should read for character motivation, word choice, scene structure, and big things like that.
The Copy Editor should read for consistency (like this funny post I love). Things like height, hair color, researching things.
Like, when did Wal-Mart stop being hyphenated? Have you noticed that? It's just "Walmart" now. And has been since 2018. But, if you're like me and grew up with Wal-Mart, you might still hyphenate it! And if you're writing in a modern day world, it might not be the correct way to punctuate it. But if you're writing in the 1990s, then it would be! Those are things the copy editor should look for.
The last editor, the line editor is like a proofreader, and is the one who should catch things like commas, em-dashes, typos that have been missed in the other edits.
Hire at least one, but preferably three, editors. And don't self edit! That's a bit takeaway from this session for me. You can't see the forest for the trees.
I lied. I have one more tidbit of info to share from this workshop. There's a ton more, but a question was asked about rejection letters and if there's a point where you should decide to self publish because it continues getting rejected.
The insight from John was to look at the types of rejections and re-evaluate whether your book is actually done or not. Or consider redoing your query letter and pitch. If you're getting a lot of form rejections that's different than if you're getting a lot of "I really loved this, but..." personalized rejections. Personalized rejections mean you're probably onto something. Form rejections mean you might need to re-evaluate some part of your product, whether it be your pitch/query or your book itself. I thought that was something interesting to consider.
I've spent a lot of time in job interview spaces with pitching myself, writing cover letters, tailoring resumes, interviewing, and giving others tips on the same. I look at the book writing and publishing process the same way. Your query letter is basically a cover letter for your book. Your first three chapters are like a first interview. Your pitch is like your resume--or even your headline on LinkedIn if you want to get to a more comparable in size thing. But that's what hooks the agent/publisher to want more, just like your resume hooks a recruiter or hiring manager. Then they look at your query/cover letter. Then they decide whether they want to interview you. Those things need to be competitive.
Another thing I'm looking forward to exploring, related to this workshop, that we received was a code for some discounts at Author's Essential plus a free link to the full four-hour session that John does on this topic as well! Definitely go check out all that Author's Essentials has to offer.
Genre of the Moment - AJ Hartley
AJ Hartley is always such a joy to listen to speak. He's very passionate about writing and teaching . He's a professor of Shakespeare, best seller, and all around interesting guy, and writes everything from Middle Grade to Adult to scholarly publications.
I say all that to say, he's someone worth listening to. Not that other presenters aren't, I just want to convey the level of knowledge that SAGA has to offer. The faculty at this conference may not be people you've heard of but they are people who have the experience and know what they're talking about.
(As a side note, the Business track during this session was "Scams in Publishing" presented by James P. Nettles, which talked about vanity presses, fake agents, etc. I believe there's an Authors Essentials course on this as well.)
I'm going to give more of a summary of this topic "Genre of the Moment." It's easier to summarize because it was one big idea as opposed to hitting on multiple small ideas like the panel on publication.
Going into this I was thinking it would be about "what's happening in your favorite genre right now and why you should (or should not) write to that genre" but it wasn't that at all!
The main theme of this presentation was that your book, no matter what genre it is, is going to have a "genre of the moment" throughout. Just because you're writing epic fantasy, doesn't mean every passage has to be long, detailed, full of big words, etc.
AJ gave us a good example from The Lord of the Rings. In the first passage he shared Legalos was reflecting on his homeland, talking about the leaves and how they turned gold and stayed on the tree until spring when the new green leaves replaced them and the golden leaves fell and then everything was golden. It was a long, flowing, reflective passage like you expect from an epic high fantasy.
But later on, when Gandalf is fighting the Balrog, it's like you're reading the latest action novel. The sentences are short. The dialogue is focused. There's not a lot of superfluous description. You shouldn't ruminate during combat. It takes your reader out of the action. And Tolkien doesn't. He's not describing the details of the bridge or the fingernails of the Balrog. There's just action. Short and sweet. The characters don't have time to sit there and lament Gandalf when he falls, they have to do that later, reflecting back on the battle, not in the heat of the moment.
So that's what AJ meant by "genre of the moment." Your book may go through multiple genres within. Be flexible. Don't write action scenes like reflective high fantasy scenes, for example.
Three more short tidbits I wrote in my journal:
Focus on the reader's journey. The emotional ups and downs in the moment to moment telling of the story. See the story as readers will. Separate yourself from the story and think about who the reader will experience it.
A Hollywood rule: Get into a scene as late as you can and get out of the scene as early as you can. Example: You need to go to grandma's house. If there's nothing plot specific that happens on the way to grandma's house, don't write the transportation/journey there. Just go to grandma's.
Beta reader tags: Have your beta readers on a first run through tag things with A, B, C, or D for first impression feelings. A for Awesome. B for Bored. C for Confused. D for Don't Care. I will definitely be using this system when I get to beta readers!
That was it for the panels on Friday. From the length of this blog I may have to split Saturday into two posts!
Friday night there was a 9pm session. It was supposed to be Story Time with Jonathan Maberry and John Hartness, but since Maberry wasn't able to make it it became a panel featuring Hartness, and (I can't remember everyone's names) but Con Runners/Organizers from Multiverse in Atlanta in October, ConGregate in Winston-Salem in July, ConCarolinas (Misty Massey) in Charlotte in June, and the Muggles Market which is a huge craft vendor event that is AMAZING put on by the Charlotte Geeks.
They talked about how to get accepted to be a panelist at Cons, how to be a good panelist, and things NOT to do when a panelist that can get your banned or not invited back (one of which was taking of pants during the panel). As you can imagine, it was quite an entertaining panel! I definitely suggest checking out Multiverse, Congregate, and ConCarolinas to attend. I can personally attest to the awesomeness of ConCarolinas. I will be attending this year, and the con is expanding to two hotels!
Be on the lookout for a few more blogs talking about things I learned at SAGA! It may take me another week or so to pull everything together.
Hope you enjoyed this overview of the first day at SAGA 2023. I highly recommend checking it out if you're looking to get your feet wet in writing conferences. I plan to continue going as long as I can and look forward to seeing where this conference goes.
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