where the writers are
Emerald City, Part 2
The Core Idea for Your Book, and Conflict, the Fuel of Your Story

Bob Mayer gave a two-session workshop where he talked about the industry. By way of introduction, he started by saying, "Nobody knows what's happening in publishing, but it's happening fast."

Here are a few of his remarks—time and space won't let me go into all the great stuff he covered.

Authors, unlike other professionals, don't get a training period. You're dropped into the job and expected to know what you're doing.

He spoke about the three "Ps" – Platform, Product, and Promotion.

A quote from Stephen King: "I'm convinced fear is at the root of most bad writing."

As for selling books: Nora Roberts sells 27 books per minute. On the flip side, 70% of published books don't make money at all. These are midlist authors, and it's a rapidly shrinking group.

He stressed the importance of learning one's craft. You should be able to state what your book is about in one sentence. Does it bring an emotional reaction? That sentence will be your opening sentence in your query letter. Agents average about 15 seconds per query. Yours has to stand out.

He made an interesting point about back story: Back story should have a secret. This drives the character, but the character doesn't know why.

He talked about the original idea for your story. It's usually the spark of inspiration for the book—the foundation, or what he calls the kernel of your idea. It can be anything: a character; a plot; a setting or scene; an intent; a "what if?"

The kernel should be very close to (or the same as) the pitch for your book. The difference is the kernel is your tool for writing, while the pitch is the tool you use to sell your writing to someone else. It's also important to remember that "idea" is not "story." Every idea has been done. Story is: Who, What, Where & When, and Why. The idea doesn't change, but the story can. You have to figure out how to tell your story so it's different from everyone else's.

He talked about the 'shiver' factor—what excited you? What excites the people you tell it to? You have to convey the emotion, the passion. He spent the second hour taking one-sentence summaries from audience members and the group worked on turning them into pitches with the shiver factor.

I've got more workshops from Emerald City to cover, so stay tuned.