Monday, June 2, 2014

Realm Makers 2014 Re-cap

Realm Makers 2014 Re-cap

I got back from the 2nd Realm Makers conference yesterday. What a blast. I learned a lot, got to finally meet a bunch of awesome people for the first time, and let my geek flag fly high.

I'm a huge geek. Need proof? Grace Bridges posted this preview photo of her costume before the conference:

I guessed it within about two seconds. You give it a try (well, if you weren't there, or haven't seen it...) I'll post the full later on...

The campus at Villanova was beautiful.

Full of late 18th and early 19th century architecture. Well, most of it. There was this tunnel under the railroad tracks that we had to take to get from the dorms to the conference rooms. Brick walls, peeling white paint, flickering florescent bulbs, and the sound of dripping water. It was like something out of HP Lovecraft or Mary Shelly. The kind of place you expected to be haunted by monsters. And, in fact, it was.

 (Wait... that's just the Splickety staff. They always look like that. Never mind.)

Thursday night was the pre-party. If that's the kind of thing that you think you can miss, you should reconsider. What's it worth to you to see a literary agent, a New York Times best-selling author, and two editors read through five different submission samples and tell what they like, what they don't, and some ways they could be improved?

For me, that was one of the (many) most valuable things at the conference. There were all sorts of really cool classes, but I'll give you a few things that stood out to me:

- From Jeff Gerke: The rules of writing aren't as important as engaging a reader. Granted, most of these rules can help you do that, but the average reader doesn't care about POV, passive voice, three or five act structure, etc... they want to be sucked into the story, and if you can do that, they'll forgive a wide range of writing sins.

- From Kat Heckenbach: if you're writing YA (that's "young-adult, for those not in the know), you can't just have teen characters and write, you have to write that character without the life experience you've accumulated after those years. (Also, avoid slang, it'll just date your novel unless you're REALLY good at it.)

- From Travis Perry: Oh man, lots of good stuff here. Most battles in books and novels are very unrealistic. Most battles are fought not to the death, but to make the enemy surrender or turn and run. There was a bunch of fascinating human (and horse!) psychology behind this. Really good stuff that will make battle scenes better and more relateable, real, and engaging.

- From Steve Laube: "There are two kinds of people. Those you have read a slush pile, and those who haven't. You have no idea how far you ahead of [the other submitters] you are when you come to a conference like this to improve your writing."
I might be slightly miss-quoting this, but you get the idea...

- From Torry Martin (and the marketing panel): Don't just push your stuff on people. If you want to use social media to market, post a bunch of stuff that your audience will love/find of value to them. Also network a lot. Comment on other peoples' posts.

This really works. I went to Realm Makers for three reasons: to learn my craft, to network, and to gush about my favorite books to their authors. It really amazed me that when I stepped up and introduced myself, everyone said "Oh, you're Aaron, I've really been wanting to meet you!"
That blew my mind. I'm nobody. My book isn't out yet, I'm not famous. You're the author who writes ten times better than I do, why are you excited to see me? It was really cool.

- And last, but not least, what I learned from Tosc Lee (who's books I've REALLY got to read...): Everyone has a writing superpower. There's one thing we each do really well. Don't ignore it just to get the rest of your writing up to average. You'll just end up with an average book. Feed your writing superpower, and you'll end up with a super book.
Also, New York Times best-selling authors aren't some kind of super-being that we mere mortals can't ever dream of aspiring to. They have the same fears and faults as the rest of us.

And finally, one of the highlights of the weekend, the costume dinner. There's something wonderful about holding a literary conversation with a zombie when no one in the entire room thinks it's at all unusual.

Here's me and Grace Bridges of Splashdown books:

Me with Sir Fluffy (aka Jeff Gerke):

And lots more on my facebook page, and the Realm Makers page.

And I think I'll make a meme of this one: