Monday, June 3, 2013
THE REAL LOWDOWN ON WRITING CONFERENCES
Many billions of years ago, when mankind (men, who were kindhearted and a couple of women) first began to write, there were very few places to learn the craft. This was during the periods we know today as the Palaeolithic Age, the Mesolithic Age, the Neolithic Age, the first Roosevelt administration, Obama’s last term, and the Age of Aquarius.
There were only a couple of women writers because they had to go to work to support their writer-husbands. There was virtually no money in those days for cave-drawing-writers. Certainly no medical plans!
Mostly, there didn’t exist places to learn how to write… primarily because we didn’t have words in those days. (Or four-star hotels to host conventions) Writing was a form where we used pictures, carved on cave walls. We had words, but just a few. Maybe a dozen. Words like “ugh” and “booty” and “dinosaur” (English translation—the original word in cave-man language was “big ol’ dog.”) and “self-aggrandizement.” And these few words only existed in oral form. There was no actual “writing” as we know it today, because we didn’t even know such things that we consider basic today, like dangling participles and adverbs. We didn’t even have dictionaries! We were poor, Jack!
Things were tough then for writers. Not only didn’t we have dictionaries, we had to walk to school ten miles each way… through six-foot snow drifts!
No, wait. That was something else. That was my childhood.
The point is, we’ve come a long way, baby!
Today, we have words and a modern phenomenon we call “sentences.” We have dictionaries and even thesauruses (or is that thesauri?). We have COMPUTERS! We have all these things and we even have schools and other avenues to learn our craft. By schools, I mean MFA schools. Where, when I went, you had to walk ten miles each way… through six-foot high snowdrifts!
Some things never change.
Today, as we all know, there are secrets to becoming a bestselling author. And, it’s become ridiculously easy to acquire these secrets, when, once learned, one can quit that bullshit day job at MULTIPLEX CORP and just travel around to bookstores and sign mounds and mounds of our novels and eat at Elaine’s where we can wave across the room to Woody Allen who is a GENIUS. (Like us.)
We have craft books and better: we have BLOGS which are electronic places we can access easily and learn from incredibly good-looking, incredibly smart, amazingly well-hung writers such as MYSELF, all of those secrets.
We also have events these days called WRITER’S CONFERENCES. These are the best places to learn those secrets that lead to bestsellerdom. Why? Well, because the bestselling authors themselves ARE THERE IN PERSON and guess what? They are ALL DRUNK and HANGING OUT IN THE BAR. Where, all you have to do is buy them a Jack and water and they will share these vital secrets with you! They are all more than happy to do so. They are happy to do anything if you only buy them a JACK AND WATER, including random sex acts usually only seen in Juarez, Mexico! Unless, of course, you want to glom onto the secrets of a romance writer. Then, you need to buy them a drink which has an umbrella in it. But, if your ambition is to write gritty, crime and noir novels, then you need to stick to those manly guys drinking JACK AND WATER. And, romance writers aren’t in the bar anyway. They’re all up in their hotel rooms with other romance writers DOING RESEARCH in their vibrating hotel beds. (Nobody knows where the sci-fi writers are. Best guesses suggest either men’s bathrooms or hanging with the hotel janitor.)
What do you suppose Og, back there in his cave, chiseling out his romance novel of his tryst with Moggy on the cave wall would have given to be able to attend a writer’s conference? A LOT, that’s how much! If only for the vibrating hotel beds. Also, to get away from his wife Zelda, who has just found out about Moggy…
And the umbrella drinks.
For those of you who have yet to attend a writing conference and are frothing at the mouth to get to one, I’m going to let you in on how they work so that you can maximize your time while there and get a whole bunch of writing secrets that will… you guessed it… catapualt you into the ranks of BESTSELLERDOM! This is all inside stuff, so pay attention. Plus, it’s guaranteed to get you on the list and be interviewed by Grit Magazine and the NY Times! Your reviews will consist of original, truly descriptive words like “riveting” and “page-turner” and “brilliant” and “short.” (Well, the last only if you’re Tom Cruise and have just penned an autobiography.)
First of all, you should probably attend one of the panels. One is plenty. They’re all pretty much the same and while the organizers seem to put a lot of emphasis on their websites and in their glossy brochures on the panels they’re offering from BRAND-NAME AUTHORS (a clever synonym for BESTSELLING AUTHORS), like they say about Paree: “When you’ve been with one hooker, you’ve been with them all.” No, wait! That’s something else. I meant to say: “When you’ve been to Paree it’s hard to go back to the farm and concentrate on the corn crop.” NO! That’s not it, either! Dang it. I forget what the saying is, but the gist of this is that one panel is all you need to attend. Trust me on this.
What will the panel be about? It will be some guys and gals sitting at a table in front (get there early and grab a seat up front as there will always be at least one guy who is considered a SERIOUS WRITER who talks really softly and forgets he or she has a microphone so you’ll want to be close enough to hear him/her when they begin to impart their secrets. It will be the best secret of all, but the bad news is that you’ll only be able to make out about every third word as the rest will be drowned out by thunderous applause whenever his mouth opens or he tugs at a pesky nose hair.
No matter what the topic has been labeled, it will always end up being about ADVERBS and why REALLY SMART WRITERS never use them. Well, hardly ever… Scarcely ever, anyway. Occasionally, at best.
This will be the only thing you’ll learn from the panel.
Even if the publicized title of the panel is:
DISTINGUISHED PULITZER PRIZE WINNERS TALK ABOUT HOW CREEPING EXISTENTIALISM AND THE NATIONAL GROSS PRODUCT FIGURES OF 1997 ARE IMPACTING THE LITERARY TABLEAU AS EVIDENCED BY THE SCHOLARLY JOTTINGS OF “FIFTY SHADES OF CRAP” AND OTHER POST-MODERN CLASSICS… WITH LOTS OF QUOTES FROM HAROLD BLOOM
(Hint: If you don’t know who Harold Bloom is, you’re in the wrong room. This is why you’re the only one here, Boobie.)
…even if the publicized title is the above, that part will only take about 43 seconds and the rest of the panel will be devoted to… you guessed it! ADVERBS. Also, some stuff on what we laughingly call “Writers’ Bumper Stickers of Wisdom.” You’ve probably seen some of these around town on Government Motors (GM) trucks driven by short, redneck guys who look a lot like TOM CRUISE but with fewer teeth. These stickers will be composed of pithy, but true, nuggets of writerly wisdom like: “Show, Don’t Tell.” This means (in literary language) if you find yourself pregnant by a BRAND NAME AUTHOR, don’t tell on him, or you can kiss goodbye his highly-desired blurb on your tome that is guaranteed to sell a bazillion copies of your opus to people who only buy because Frephen Fing (Not his real name—I’m protecting his true identity, out of respect.) or Frichal Fordan has said it was a “riveting, page-turning, brilliant read… and it’s short.” You’ll be showing, soon enough. No need to tell.
It’s always a sound idea to visit the bar before attending the panel and, if the organizers of the event were smart enough to hold it in a civilized city like NEW ORLEANS where they have GO-CUPS, take one with you to the panel. If, unluckily it’s in a place like CLEVELAND, go early to the bar and drink two more than you normally would. Ideally, you’ll drink enough that you’ll pass out for the entire length of the panel, but even if not, you’ll be able to get through it by realizing:
YOU’RE IN FREAKIN’ CLEVELAND!
How the hell did that happen? Wallowing in the misery that comes with knowing you’re spending perfectly good money to spend a rainy, sleety, windy, COLD-ASS weekend in the MISTAKE BY THE LAKE (clever and revealing Chamber of Commerce proclamation that’s plastered all over their brochures), the panel won’t suck as much as might have in a really cool place such as… NEW ORLEANS! Where you probably won’t bother with panels at all but do the smart thing and just hang out in the hotel bar the entire time. Or any bar.
Okay. You got through the panel and can breathe a sigh of relief that that’s over and you can tell your wife when you return home that you learned “a ton of stuff at this panel I went to. They covered adverbs pretty thoroughly and the REALLY SERIOUS WRITER GUY said something really profound. As soon as I can find my notes I'll tell you what he said.” It also means you can write it off on your taxes.
You might be asking yourself why do obscenely-rich, incredibly handsome, extremely well-hung BRAND NAME AUTHORS (such as myself) deign to even sit on these panels and yak about ADVERBS.
Good question! It shows… you aren’t drunk enough yet if you’re thinking this logically. Go ahead. Grab yourself a JACK AND WATER. I'll wait. It'll help you get through the rest of this. Make it a double--you'll thank me later.
The answer is that although we’re all OBSCENELY-RICH BEYOND ANYONE’S WILDEST DREAMS, it isn’t through the royalties on our BESTSELLING BOOKS. The truth is, we don’t make squat on those. Are you kidding? It all looks great to the outsider, but the truth is, as they say about almost everything, stranger than fiction. Here’s the truth about royalties.
Let’s say the book sold a million copies. That’s a lot, right? Well, the joke’s on you if you think the author himself made very much.
First of all, there are other hands in this pie. (If you think these metaphors and similes or whatever they are crap, don’t forget I’m a BESTSELLING AUTHOR and can do this all day long and you can’t do a thing about it so just shut up and lie down by your dish.)
To begin with, the publisher keeps 85% of all the money. Yep. Thas’ right. I didn’t stutter. The writer gets to keep 15%. Only he doesn’t.
His agent takes 15% off the top. This is to pay him or her back for taking your phone call when you inform him you just sold your book to an editor you just met at the BAR IN CLEVELAND. He’ll also do some other valuable work on your behalf when he looks over the contract which basically sells you into servitude for the rest of your natural life, plus ten years and says, “Yep. Looks good. Sign on that line on the last page where your full name is printed out above.”
Money well spent!
Then, the publicist takes 20%. What, you say? The publicist? What if I don’t want no friggin’ publicist? Well, go ahead and don’t have one, but how do you suppose your book sold a million copies without one? The answer is, there are only 16 people in the world who have Oprah’s private phone number and can get you booked onto her show which is the only way you CAN SELL A MILLION FRICKIN’ COPIES OF YOUR STUPID BOOK, btw. And, of those 16 people, 15 ½ are publicists. (The other one is TOM CRUISE, which is why he gets a half.) So, you need a publicist. Wake up and smell the pillow, moron! (Smells like drool, doesn’t it?) The other half goes to CHER who hasn't written a book (has she?) but definitely has a PUBLICIST and her publicist has Oprah on speed dial in case she has another kid like the one in that movie. Go CHER!
Then, your agent has presented you with a great idea. To get the bestseller deal going, he suggests you take a portion of your royalties (say, 65%) and sneak into various bookstores in various disguises… and buy up copies of your own book!
It’s a brilliant idea and you glom onto it instantly! Why? Well, the guy giving you this advice is obviously a GENIUS—after all, he just scammed 15% of your money just by answering the phone, so he’s already shown you he’s no dummy.
All over your geographical area, stores are calling into Barnes & Noble regional centers (Barnes & Noble because they’re the only bookstore left) to report that sales of your opus are “flying off the shelves!” (Bookstore owners use cliches like this all the time because they mostly read bestsellers and that’s where all the clichés are.) Barnes & Noble speaks regularly to the NY Times and Oprah (they meet at Elaine’s at the table just behind WOODY ALLEN’S), and when presented with the news that your opus is flying off the shelves (this is just a highly original way of saying they’re selling a lot and the cashiers are calling in sick with an outbreak of carpal tunnel syndrome from punching cash register keys), they say to themselves, “Hey! This is a bestseller! Let’s get it on the list! Let’s book this guy on the show.” (The NY Times says the bestseller thing and Oprah says the show thing. After which, the waiter brings them all a round of mimosas and they toast each other for their acumen. The B&N person is the last one to leave and she gets the bill. Which is added to your expenses…) Meanwhile, you'll have to start parking your car and snow-blower in the driveway as your garage will be full of books...
There are other folks who get a piece of your pie. The publisher will want a photograph of you for the back cover, which you’ll pay for. Your wife’s Kodak moment taken at Disneyland when you rode the Small Cups Ride won’t work. They’ll laugh hysterically when you try to foist that one off on them. No, they’ll have to send out a New York photographer, because everyone knows New York photographers are the only people who know which end to look through and where the little button is to click on a camera.
Except, it’s not that simple. (You saw this coming, didn’t you…) It never is. It turns out that the New York photographer is TOO GOOD! Your photograph looks… EXACTLY LIKE YOU! That will never do. This is against tradition. The author’s photograph should be of him (or her, if the author is a woman), but it has to be of him or her from thirty years ago and nearly unrecognizable. That’s why when you went to the panel, you couldn’t recognize any of the BRAND NAME PANELISTS. None of them look like their photos. This is why. The photos were all taken at a time when they were younger and dumber and full of… (sorry, I forgot this was a family venue).
Who wants to see an old geezer on a book jacket? NO ONE. That’s why they’re always photos taken just when the author was mustering out of the service just after WWII, still wearing his bomber jacket and looking jaunty (writer’s word that means… I don’t know what it means. It means jaunty. Some kind of peppy look, I think. With a crinkly smile.)
This means that the publisher will then request one of your wife’s Kodak moments, taken just before you were married that June day in 1954 and still had most of your teeth. They’ll want the one taken just before you were married, where you still knew how to smile. WITH ALL OF YOUR TEETH--THE FRONT ONES, ANYWAY. Those so-called "smile teeth." Unless you're a crime or noir writer. Then, you should never smile in public and never for a photograph! Are you nuts?
You’ll learn that another massive charge has been marked against your account. They had to Photoshop the picture (they’ll charge you for the price of the Photoshop program, btw. You didn’t think those paid for themselves, did you!). You’ll also note in the itemized charges a fee for the guy who manipulated the Photoshop program to make it look “current.” Which means making the Tiny Cups Ride disappear and changing the sepia tones to color. This is done by a guy in the basement (who writes sci-fi novels when he isn't working the Photoshop machine).
You’ll be amazed at the skill this guy has brought to the table! Instead of that old snapshot you remembered, where you threw up seconds after it was shot and where to your trained eye you can already detect the glassiness in your stare—now you’re looking at a photo of your old, long-gone self… STARING OUT TO SEA WITH A SOULFUL, DEEP EXPRESSION, DIGGING YOUR TOES INTO THE SAND. Suitable for a People Magazine cover of… TOM CRUISE. In fact, it looks like almost all photos of TOM CRUISE IN PEOPLE MAGAZINE, except the guy in the picture (you) isn’t short. That’s because it’s shot from ground level, the so-called “power shot.”
Anyway, I won’t bore you (further) with how your royalties all disappear, but will make a long story short (I know, I know… it’s too late!), by saying the reason BESTSELLING AUTHORS and BRAND NAMES do these conventions and sit on panels discussing ADVERBS and why you shouldn’t use them even if they do and are BESTSELLING AUTHORS in spite of the terrible obstacle which adverbs pose, is because it’s the only way they can make any money. And, the whole reason they’re there (besides the fabulous sums the organizers throw at them), is because there’s always A BAR on the premises.
Which is where they’ll be when they’re not on their panels.
This is the end of our discussion today on WRITER’S CONVENTIONS. Why? Because all this talk about bars has made me thirsty and I crave me a JACK AND WATER.
We’ll pick this up again (when I feel like it), and talk some about writer’s conventions GROUPIES and how to successfully stalk a BRAND NAME AUTHOR.
Until then… happy writing!
Before I leave you, let me leave you with one valuable piece of advice. If you find yourself at a writer’s convention, and you spot BRAND NAME LEE CHILD, under no circumstance should you approach him and say the name, "TOM CRUISE." Mr. Child is a big guy (contrary to what his name would lead you to believe) and trained in some of the more popular martial arts. Just sayin’…
This message was brought to you by the publisher of THE RAPIST. Please buy a bunch of copies so that Les can join the ranks of the BRAND NAME AUTHORS! Remember: Christmas is just around the corner and what better gift could Granny ever wake up to than a copy of THE RAPIST in her stocking? (The one on the mantelpiece, not the one she’s wearing…)