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My DFW Con Experience Part II: The Timberline and Going All In

On of the most inspiring and motivating classes of DFW Con (and the whole weekend was so amazing, it is hard to pick one) was taught by NYT Bestselling author Jodi Thomas. What an incredible speaker and wonderful person!

I attended two sessions by her, the first on Sparking Creativity and the second on Writing Deeper. Both were full of great information and Ms. Thomas’ delightful wit.

She said there are 4 kinds of writers:

1) Those who don’t plan to write but just hit it- These are the 15 minutes of fame types. Snooki comes to mind.

2) Writers that write a little but never step up, they just kind of tread water.

3) The someday writer- “Someday, I’m going to write a book.”

4) The person who decides to write and goes after it full speed.

After taking in all that this conference offered and having some time to reflect on it, I’ve made the commitment that I want this. I want to be the 4th kind of writer. I want to be all in, so to speak.

Ms. Thomas described the writing journey as climbing a mountain, and clinging to things along the way. Trees, branches, anything you can find for support to keep from falling. Finally, as you climb the mountain, you reach the elevation point at which vegetation cannot grow- the timberline. If you’re going to get to the top, you have to go those last steps alone, with no trees to cling to for support. Maybe you fall, but that’s a risk you take if you’re trying to reach the top. Besides, as Ms. Thomas so eloquently put it- “The only difference between jumping from an airplane and falling off a cliff are those last few seconds at the end.”

So as aspiring writers, we need to learn how to take a fall. Think of it as skydiving, she said, and enjoy the view.

The primary theme of this year’s conference was the changing face publishing, and there was a good deal of discussion about traditional vs.  self-publishing. As expected, there were some divergent viewpoints on self-publishing, from James Rollins (yes, that James Rollins. Former veterinarian (he can neuter a cat in 30 seconds) turned mega best-selling author and a super nice guy) saying he sometimes wishes he could self-publish to Mer Barnes from Soho Press saying that publishing your ebook on Amazon KDP is “Step minus ten” in the process.

A new writer friend I met at the conference, after learning about my writing to this point and hearing about how my pitch went, came to the conclusion that I was at the timberline.

After some reflection, I concluded that she was right. It’s up to me now to decide if I am going to risk the fall and walk those last steps alone.

I self-published my first novel last year, and I did so without ever querying it first.  My reasons for going that route were numerous, and probably best left for a different post. One of them, though, was that I just wasn’t sure my writing, with my somewhat edgier and sometimes controversial themes, would appeal to a mainstream publisher, at least coming from an unknown author.

I don’t know, though, because I never tried to find out. I was too afraid to fall.

There. I said it.

By opting to self publish without ever taking the risk, I was still clinging to branches. I wasn’t all in.

The saying “If I knew then what I know now…” is trite, but in this case very true. If I could go back in time one year, if a year ago I had the knowledge and experience I possess now, after attending this conference, I can honestly say I would do things differently. I would not self-publish my novel without querying it to agents first.

That’s not to say self-publishing is bad or wrong. It is a viable alternative and for many writers may be the best choice. It still might end up being the route I go with my current novel.

For me, though, I am at the timberline. I need to let go of that last tree and see if I can make it to the top. Maybe I’ll fall, but I won’t know until I try.

James Rollins had some great advice. He said to query, and query hard, for four months. Then if it’s not happening, self- publish. Get that book out there in readers’ hands.

Meanwhile, the entire time, always be working on that next project.

The number one message from this conference, echoed by virtually very speaker, is that if you want to be a writer, you need to write.

Every single day.

And since that means writing on your books, not your blog, I am signing off now.  I have writing to do. Editing actually, and then queries to send out.

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2 comments on “My DFW Con Experience Part II: The Timberline and Going All In

  1. Love to hear about what you learned and I’m so jealous! Wish I could attend a great writer’s conference. You mentioned that James Rollins said, “to query, and query hard, for four months.” I’m just wondering if he meant to publishers or to agents too? My experience has been that it takes more than four months to hear back from publishers! I’m new at this too, and trying to learn.

    • The discussion was mainly centered on querying agents, but I think it can apply to publishers. I don’t think 4 months is a hard and fast rule, either, just a suggestion. His point was that aspiring writers give agents too much power, when really we’re the ones with the power because we have other avenues to publish now, and that no one should focus solely on one book for an extended period and keep dragging it around until it’s a corpse. At some point, if it’s not happening one way, then get it out there, make money on it, and move on to the next project.

      I thought it was sound advice. I’m not saying that if, on September 24, I don’t have a contract in my hand that I will immediately pop my book onto KDP and Pub It. But I will certainly give a good, hard look at where things stand and what my options are at that point. I’m not going to keep querying the same book into 2014.

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