Challenges become opportunities: The Author Salon Experience


Back in December, I joined Author Salon on the advice of one of the people I consider to be my writing mentors, Barbara Kyle.

Initially, I had no clue what I was getting myself into.

My first mistake was not reading anything before I signed up, so when I was presented with a profile to fill out, I dove right in.  Little did I know that there was an art to this …  I did read the AS step-by-step guide, belatedly, but I still had no clue what I was doing.

I set up my profile to the best of my ability, sounded off in the Shout Out Forum, and then posted a call for peers in the In Production I Forum group that seemed to suit me best: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Horror, and Speculative Fiction.

The initial group that formed was small, but dedicated.  We started off by critiquing each other’s profiles.

Now, this may not seem particularly important work, but part of the AS process is that professional editors and agents peruse the site from time to time.  Ultimately, the author’s profile will be a marketing tool to those same agents and editors, so it is a critical piece of the AS puzzle.

It’s as important as perfecting your “pitch” or logline, as important as writing a knock-their-socks-off query letter, in short, the AS profile is as important as it gets.

I’ve been at a bit of a disadvantage because I’ve not yet attended a conference where I’ve had the opportunity to “pitch” my concept to agents.  I haven’t started shopping my novel yet, and so I really don’t have any experience crafting a query or synopsis.  I really don’t have an idea about what a hook line should be and how it differs from a conflict statement.  But I’m learning …  and I have to learn fast.

I thought I knew at least one thing going in: even if you have a series planned, the novel must function as a stand-alone, but it seems that everyone else in my critique group is using the fact that they have a series planned as a selling point.  So now I’m fairly convinced that I know nothing, and am approaching the whole process tabula rasa.

One question posed to me was, “why mention your day-job?”  The point was that the information should only be included in the event that it lends to the topic you write about, like a retired police officer writing mysteries/police procedurals.  I’d like to address that here.

As a learning and development professional, I write courses.  Certainly, it’s a completely different beast than a novel, but writing is writing and any practice reinforces skill.  It develops my rhetorical skills to direct my writing to a particular audience with a particular purpose in mind.

Also, as a corporate trainer, I have presentation skills.  It’s a good marketing point and while it may not be on the top of every agent’s list of skills an author must have, it may be an asset that tips the scales in my favour.

I’m more likely to be comfortable in an interview situation, doing public readings, and participating in workshops or conferences on a panel.  I’m tech-friendly, if not tech-savvy, as the result of my work.  I could easily put out YouTube videos or podcasts regarding craft, or reading of my work (in fact, it’s something on my list of things to do for my platform).  I could even parlay my skills into delivering Webinars or tutorials.

Finally, it was my learning and development day-job that got me back into learning-as-lifestyle.  Mutant learning, social learning, independent research, call it what you want, it’s what I need to ramp up my profile and my writing as presented on AS and attract the attention of agents and editors.  I started developing my online platform as a writer thanks to my work in L&D.

What I learned about Initiate of Stone in the first go-round:

  • It was too long;
  • It was too complex:
  • I’m too wordy; and
  • I’m not very good at seeing the redundancies in my own work.

Then, in January, all of my critique partners left In Production I and were promoted to Editor Suite.  Most of them had attended an Algonkian Conference which acted as their respective invitations to AS.  They all received personal notification to move along.  I thought I was left behind.

So I started over with a new call for peers and waited.  Eventually the administrators realized that there was some kind of miscommunication and offered a clarification.  I was promoted to Editor Suite after all!  My relief was immense.

My new critique group in Editor Suite included all of my old friends, plus a couple new ones.

The first order of business was to start over with the profile critiques, and when that was done, we moved onto critique our first acts.  AS calls them the first 50 pages, but I prefer to call it the first act because it’s actually the first 50 -100 pp, depending on where your first major plot point falls.

What I’ve learned from the critique of the first act:

  • My first major plot point takes too long to arrive;
  • The story line for my protagonist needs to be seriously amped up;
  • I still suck at the profile stuff (that’s part of what I’m working on next);
  • I may be wordy, but given my chosen genre, epic fantasy, it works, overall.

Along the way, there was this thing called the Showcase.  AS reps would be showing a foreshortened version of our profile to industry experts and seeing if they could get any interest.  The call went out about the time that the former version of this blog was hacked and there was a little confusion while I reordered my electronic life.  The server on which my blog was hosted at the time was also my email server …

Got that mess sorted, but even though the Showcase went on until May, IoS did not get a single nod.  Almost everyone else in my critique group, however, got at least one, and many received multiple expressions of interest.  I’m very happy for my peers, but really disappointed in/for myself.  This just speaks, once again, to the importance of the AS profile in the overall process.

What I’ve done or am doing as a result of all this:

  1. Cut my novel in half.  The former mid-way point is now the climax and I still have to cut about 40k words.  I don’t know how this will turn out, but I’m willing to work at it until it’s fabulous 🙂 ;
  2. Rewriting Ferathainn’s story/plot line;
  3. Revamping my profile;
  4. I’ve applied for, was accepted to, and have registered for Algonkian’s New York Comes to Niagara conference in October.  If nothing else, I’ll learn how to get my profile together there.

So we’ll see where this all takes me.  The AS journey has been fraught and fun and incredibly hard work so far.

That’s it for this week bubbies!  Gotta get working on my WIP!

For my science fiction writer friends, I want to post links to Robert Sawyer’s two-part January interview with William Gibson:

Also check out Robert’s TedXManitoba lecture:

Are you part of an online critique group?  What have you learned from the process?  How is it changing your creative life?

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4 thoughts on “Challenges become opportunities: The Author Salon Experience

  1. This is really interesting, Melanie. I’m not part of a critique group anywhere (either locally or online). I have a couple of really good readers, but that’s it. Author Salon sounds like a good but tough forum. I’ll go over and have a look. FYI: I had to revamp the concept of my second novel by basically cutting it in half and re-visioning and fleshing out the story accordingly. Now what I thought would be the second half of that book just might be a sequel, and wouldn’t that be cool?

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  2. Great piece on your experience with Author Salon. I’m finding it extremely helpful to have a peer group of writers like yourself critiquing work with clarity and commitment to excellence. Hard work, painful at times, but we’re all moving forward inch by inch. BTW, I mention a career in management consulting, training and public speaking in my profile — did leadership and organization development work for many years. And I agree, that type of work does speak to a set of skills important for a successful author.

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    • Glad you liked it Richard! I really do think of our little group as a family. And thanks for the trainer solidarity 🙂 I really do think that my day job complements my writing, which is why I write about both sides of my life on Writerly Goodness.
      Thanks again 🙂

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