Recap, rewind, redux: Back from the abyss! (or rather, the national AWP conference in Denver): Part 2 of ???

OK, down to what people probably really want to know: what did they talk about a the conference?

First of all, I was more organized and goal-oriented going into this conference.  I’m very close to finishing my first novel, much of it is fairly polished, at least as far as I can personally edit it, and I’m really focused on publishing this thing some day. Thus, I was mainly interested in the publishing and marketing discussion panels and the AWP this year really didn’t disappoint.

I’ll try to give a brief rundown of some of the panels I attended and my own impressions.

The first panel I attended was titled “How to write about your writing” which focused on writing proposals, grants and query letters.  J. C. Hallman’s presentation was exceptionally entertaining, written and delivered  in a very David Foster Wallace-esque style and tone however, I didn’t really glean much in the way of writing an actual Proposal.  (A few other conference goer(s) had the same issue with Hallman).

He did mention one should have a speculative, marketable tone and assume a pragmatic approach, but this advice seems nebulous and vague a best.  He may as well said “don’t write a sucky proposal.”

The section on Grants was considerably more informative. First, always review the organization-from-whom-you-desperately-hope-to-receive-monies’ mission statement.  Speak to previous winners.  Google the formats previous winners used.  Seek feedback.  Start small; winning smaller grants will lead to larger grants.  Don’t brag about yourself.  Think of it like asking for money from your parents.  Absolutely trim the fat from your proposal.  Show them how it will affect you if you don’t win.  Your grant application needs to illustrate the importance beyond your own personal success–how will it make the world a better place?  Apply for grants “in your league.”  Unpublished? Look for grants for emerging artists–maybe even locally.

Assume the judges for your grant application are good people putting forth their best faith efforts.  Strive for clarity; if it can be misread, assume that it probably will.  Use bullet points to show that you have addressed all of their questions.  Leave out things that do not pertain to your writing.  Keep your goals realistic; don’t tell the panel you will write a novel in two weeks if you win.  Don’t be vague.  Don’t say, “I’m going to write for 16 hours a day,” even if you are going to.  Tell them what you will be doing with those 16 hours.

Turn your weaknesses into  strengths.  Talk about what you need to become a better writer; don’t pretend your weaknesses don’t exist.  Say, for example: “I need time at the writing center to work on point of view.  Here’s what I’m going to do________.  Here’s how I’m going to do it ________.”

And finally, Queries were discussed.  Essentially, it boils down to the fact that good writing is good writing.  Here, you are now marketing; keep this in mind.  Think about your query outside of your novel.  Make your query one page, five paragraphs.

Paragraph 1: This is where you introduce yourself, the book, position within the market, credentials and closing.  Relate to those who will be reading your query (agents, editors, publishers), mention conferences, Publisher’s Marketplace, name drop if you can.  Research before writing the query.  Google agents (or editors or publishers) before sending out your pitch.

Paragraph 2: Remember–who? what? when? where? why? and how?  Go for simple and keep the language tight.  Give them a sense of your voice in this paragraph.  Transition the voice from formal to your own and then back.

Paragraph 3: How will your book make a difference?  What genre is it?  Contextualize your voice and tone, with respect to other authors who you sound like as well.  Show your angle.  Do you have a unique point of view? Is there something unique about your craft? your narrative?

Paragraph 4: Only include stuff that is relevant.  Keep the angle professional.

Paragraph 5: Keep your conclusion professional and succinct, i.e.: “If you would be interested in reading past the first chapter of my novel, please let me know.  I appreciate your time and consideration.”

OK, so that was longer than I intended it to be.  I’ll keep this post short and add more tomorrow.  Plus it gives people a reason to tune back in!

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3 thoughts on “Recap, rewind, redux: Back from the abyss! (or rather, the national AWP conference in Denver): Part 2 of ???

  1. Hi! I was at the same panel and had the same reaction to Hallman’s presentation. Luckily, I’m a poet and don’t have to submit proposals very often. Thanks for the notes on the grants and queries. I couldn’t keep up with listening and writing.

    Good luck with your book!

    • joemowens says:

      Thanks! I’m glad I took decent enough notes! I have about the same amount for each panel I went to. I’m also really glad I wasn’t the only one who thought his spiel was entertaining [sort of] but not very informative. I think we were almost done a disservice because I’m still a little foggy on writing proposals. C’est la vie…

  2. Thankyou very much, I’ve found this article very useful!

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