This April 12th to the 15th, the air at Madison’s Concourse Hotel will be buzzing with tales of murder in Elizabethan London, dragon-slaying in fantastical worlds, intergalactic war, and Russian espionage when UW-Madison’s Division of Continuing Studies hosts the 29th Annual Writers’ Institute.
Writers will come from all over the country with the goal of honing their craft, meeting literary agents, and learning the tools of the trade and I’m excited to be a part of it. This year, as last, I’m organizing the Author Book Signing and Selling Event. Conference participants will have the opportunity to sell their books at the Concourse Hotel through Mystery to Me Bookstore and then participate in the book signing. Last year, Shannon Henry Kleiber, Matt Forbeck, Linda Frothingham, and I shared a table.
This year, I’m also hosting the Live Lit Event with Kevin Mullen, the Book Doctor. Writers will sign up to read a short story, poem, essay, or portion of their book in front of a live audience. Last year’s stories were heart-wrenching, humorous, poignant, and inspiring. I can’t wait to hear this year’s tales.
But my favorite thing to do at the Writers’ Institute is to help authors practice their pitches. Fiction writers who want to be traditionally published with one of the big publishing houses (Random House, for instance) need a literary agent who will then sell their project to a publisher. There are several ways authors can contact agents: through cold-querying (sending a query letter to carefully-researched agents), Twitter pitchfests like #PitMad, or in person at conferences.
This year at the Institute there will be seven agents who are looking for everything from nonfiction and essay collections to mystery, science fiction, and romance. Writers interested in pitching their projects sign up for an 8-minute time slot — yep, just 8 minutes to explain what their book is about. Think of it like a job interview but instead of selling yourself, you’re selling your baby, the one that took years of your life to create.
This is where I come in. Writers can sign up for 15-minute practice pitches with me and together we work hard to distill their 300-page manuscript into one attention-grabbing sentence, the logline.
How is this possible? What many readers and writers don’t realize is that at its most basic, a story consists of a character (the protagonist) who has a goal and someone or something tries to stop that protagonist from achieving that goal. That’s it. Sounds easy, right? Not at all. Take a look at this pitch example:
- In my novel, a girl tries to get back home but can’t.
There’s the character, a girl, and her unrealized goal, trying to go home, but . . . who cares? It’s boring, right? So I urge writers to use a one or two-word adjective to describe the character, pack the sentence with words that immediately create images, and add what makes the story unique. How’s this:
- In my novel, a teenaged runaway is swept away by a tornado to a magical world and tries to return home to Kansas but is captured by the Wicked Witch of the West.
Much better — might even be a classic. Some literary agent should definitely sign this author up!
Universally, new writers say that creating a logline is harder than actually writing the book. If you don’t believe them, try it yourself. What book have you just finished reading? Can you write a logline for it? If so, send it to me — I’d love to read it.
During the course of the Writers’ Institute weekend, I’ll work with thirty to forty writers on their pitches and, like years past, I’ll be awed by their creativity and thrilled to hear about their pitching successes. I can’t wait.
Writers, I hope to see you at this years’ UW-Madison Writers’ Institute!
Where you can find me this spring:
Upstate 8 Literary Festival, April 6, 2018, South Elgin, IL. I’m the short story judge for high school students! I get to present the Judge’s Choice Award to the winner and teach a writing workshop, twice. Can’t wait to meet these talented kids.
UW-Madison Writers’ Institute Pathway to Publication, April 12-15, 2018. I’ll be busy helping writers practice their pitches to agents, running the Book Fair, and, together with Book Doctor Kevin Mullen, hosting the Live Lit Event.
Madtown Author Daze, Saturday, May 5, 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., Madison Museum of Modern Art. As one of twenty-six local authors on hand, I’ll discuss my books and sell signed copies. Would love to see you there!
UW-Madison’s Write-by-the-Lake, June 11 – 15, 2018. Heaven on Earth for writers! I’m offering a workshop on setting and will emcee Open Mic for those brave souls who want to share their work. If you’re a writer, be sure to check out this amazing writing retreat.