Welcome to the Thrillerfest V Blog!
ITW is a youthful organization, always ready for a new way of looking at things. You'll find that dynamism here, in blog posts from authors, agents, editors and Thrillerfest attendees, past and present.
And that same excitement you feel from your favorite reads is evident in everything ITW does, and no wonder--the organization, staffing and publicity for ThrillerFest--including this new blog--is undertaken by volunteers, most of whom are ITW authors themselves.
So pull up a chair and stay awhile ... discover the latest news on what Thrillerfest V--the fifth anniversary of the conference--has to offer. Visit old friends, make new ones, ask questions, and hear about the remarkable things in store for the conference.
Whether or not you can come see us in New York--and we hope that you can!--please join us here. It's gonna be ... a thriller!
Kelli Stanley, Thrillerfest Publicity Committee Chair
Thrillerfest Publicity Committee:
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Do you know your status?
Visitors to the ThrillerFest blog are not a random sample of the population. Voluntarily reading these words is itself a simple test with a positive predictive value of greater than 90%.
In other words, you too probably have WIV, or Writing Impulse Virus (subtype: thriller).
For years, I tried to conceal my desire to write fantastic tales under the veneer of a respectable career as a biology professor. It worked for a while; the demands of teaching and family made it easy to resist the temptations of Microsoft Word. But I didn’t do enough to protect myself. Late-night trysts with a thesaurus, flash drives filled with secret back-up files, and hushed references to “my book” could only lead to one thing. I became WIV+, afflicted by a disease for which there’s no cure, only lifelong keyboard therapy.
At first I was ashamed. How could I tell my husband that the scientist he married was really a writer at heart? How would my children manage the stigma of answering the question, “What does your mommy do?” (“Oh, she sits at a computer a lot and doesn’t make any money.”)
I’m in the early stages of the disease, and I have the classic symptoms:a completed manuscript, a decent pitch, a few requests for partials, and a growing stack of rejection letters. What I need (besides an agent) is a support group. Luckily I learned about an organization dedicated to serving the needs of the WIV+ community—International Thriller Writers.I registered for ThrillerFest at once.
Why am I, an unpublished writer, going to ThrillerFest? Because today, I may be just an author wannabe, lost among the unwashed masses of query composers filling the slush piles of the world. But I aspire to be much more. I have accepted my WIV positivity and embraced the writing bug. I’m going to ThrillerFest because I need to go. I need information and advice for living with WIV. I need the fellowship of others who share my condition. I need hope and inspiration.
I want to meet debut authors who recently crossed the magic threshold into publication and tell myself, that could be me next year. I want to listen to authors who have more experience and say, I can apply their knowledge in my work. And of course, I want to meet an agent who will fall in love with my manuscript and tie the contractual knot on the spot (hey, it doesn’t cost anything to dream!).
It does cost something—rather a lot, in fact—to register for ThrillerFest, to fly from California, and to stay almost a week in New York. But I believe it’s worth it, because one day, I’m going to see my name on a bookshelf, and then I’ll say WIV is the best thing that ever happened to me.
Dr. Amy Rogers, (unpublished) author of The Han Agent
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Whenever an unpublished writer explains this scenario to me, and it’s more often than you would imagine, I usually respond with “Huh? That’s it? You get a letter explaining what didn’t work and you don’t follow up? What’s up with that?”
It is at this stage that the writer begins speaking in slow, measured tones, as if I am deaf and not quite getting the gist of the conversation. The writer says something usually along the lines of, “Um, I just said he rejected me. He doesn’t like it. End of story.”
This response on the part of the writer baffles me to no end. I understand it in regards to form rejections, those are not worth a follow up, you're best just moving on, but a one page typewritten letter with specific critiques? That's quite different. Here’s this hardworking agent, snowed under with piles of paper all around, who could have easily hit the “no” form letter and lighten his load, but instead takes the time to give some feedback, and what does he get? Nothing. No “Thanks, I’ll think about what you said,” no, “How about I rewrite those sections and you take another look?” or even just, “Thanks for your time, I love it the way it is, but should anything change I’ll take another look with your thoughts in mind.”
Detailed rejection letters are gold. They are often some of the first words from a professional in the industry about a new writer’s manuscript. You may not like them, you may not agree with them, but you should, at the very least, acknowledge them with gratitude. And my guess is, if you’re like me and strive to read the words with an open mind, you just may find some of them are correct. And if you do, just revise it, write a letter to the agent explaining that you took their words to heart, and ask to resubmit. Nine times out of ten they’ll say yes, reread it, and with any luck you’ll be on your way!
Another suggestion: if the detailed rejection comes right before Agentfest, and you know that agent will be attending, do your very best to acknowlege their work in person. It always helps to put a face with a name. A handshake and a "thanks for the letter. I'm looking the manuscript over with an eye toward your suggestions. May I send it again when I'm finished?" That's what Thrillerfest is about, meeting and greeting. It's a lot of fun.
I'd be interested to hear views from other authors and agents on this subject. Specifically, if you're an author who's been rejected initially, did you ever resubmit with success? If an agent, do you accept resubmissions? Am I leading the unpublished astray here? Thanks in advance!
Running from the Devil
Saturday, April 18, 2009
This year ITW will be honoring David Morrell, creator of the Rambo series, as 2009 ThrillerMaster – a title he certainly deserves. Last year’s ThrillerMaster, Sandra Brown, will also be on hand, along with the other special guests Robin Cook, David Baldacci, Brad Meltzer, and Katherine Neville. Where else can you find this level of talent in one location – other than sitting on the shelves of your local bookstore or library? My guess is nowhere. And yet, there is still more talent to be found lurking in the halls – often literally because ThrillerFest has been equated to summer camp and you never know who you’ll run into between panels, book signings, and guest author interviews.
Speaking of running into people in hallways, as I was leaving the on-site bookstore last year, I literally (almost) ran into Deborah LeBlanc. There was a panel I was eager to attend and was hurrying to catch it when Deb and I nearly crashed head-on beside the registration desk. I’ve been a fan of Deb’s work for a long time and even though we first met at ThrillerFest 2007, I was still a little intimidated by the fact that I could actually talk to someone I consider among my inspirational authors.
However, Deb’s from Louisiana and I’m from Mississippi so naturally two people with recognizable accents stop to chat. After lamenting the fact that sweet tea is all but nonexistent in NYC, I was feeling more at ease and our conversation turned to books and writing, as often happens when authors gather. We talked about her new book. We talked about mine. I never made it to the panel discussion but I had a great time talking with Deb, who introduced me to the founder of Circle of Seven Productions and creator of the book trailer phenomenon. A near collision turned into a great networking opportunity. Since then, I’ve kept in touch with Deb and am happily waiting to see her again this summer. (Hopefully, our meeting won’t result in a multi-author pile-up in the hallway.)
I tell this story to illustrate the kind of chance meetings that happen constantly during ThrillerFest. These are great opportunities to network or thank someone for pointing you in a new and wonderful direction. Of course not all meetings are by chance. There are some that are carefully orchestrated. Past attendees have friends they want to see and will arrange a coffee break or lunch. Some of the friends I’ve made are going to be there again this year and I can’t wait to see them. (You know who you are: Kelli Stanley, Rebecca Cantrell, Andrew Peterson, Carla Buckley, CJ Lyons, Karen Dionne, Julie Kramer, Don Helin, Matt Hilton and all the other ITW Debut Authors.)
Even without the added benefit of seeing friends, like most authors, I’m also an avid reader and have a list of authors I admire. It’s always a treat to see and talk to Lee Child, Jon Land, Shane Gericke, D.P. Lyle, Barry Eisler, and David Hewson. A few of the authors I’m looking forward to meeting this year include Nate Kenyon, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Dakota Banks, and Lisa Gardner. I’m especially looking forward to meeting Lisa, not just because I love her books, but I have to thank her and here’s why...
While working on Crimson Swan, I discovered a problem but I had no clue how to resolve it. I was in a serious funk when I came across an old file regarding plot structure that I’d downloaded on my computer long ago when I first began to seriously attempt writing fiction. It wasn’t very long or very detailed – a few pages among a larger work regarding suspense novels.
The summary article was written by Lisa Gardner, one of the best known suspense authors and a personal fave. A light shone over me and a chorus of heavenly voices sang – Okay, maybe it didn’t happen that way, but I can honestly say I took a major hit from the clue gun because of the article. I surfed over to Lisa’s site and found a more detailed article on structuring suspense novels. Using her suggestions, I broke through my funk and resolved the problem I’d encountered. Lisa may never read my book and she may never really know how much she helped, but I’ll have an opportunity to thank her in person come July. It’s one I don’t intend to let pass me by.
Yes, ThrillerFest is fun. It’s a great place to network and make friends. But, it’s also a place to learn from and thank those who’ve inspired or helped along the way, even when they didn’t know they were doing it.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
A bit about myself, since I don’t quite fit with the wonderful authors contributing to this blog — I started as a literary assistant at a very, very large literary agency. I moved my way up to being a foreign rights agent, then bolted to become an assistant editor at Bantam Dell. While I miss the seemingly guaranteed massive commissions of agency work, I have gotten to work with the incomparable thriller-writer John Ramsey Miller, and that compensates for a lot of ramen. Seriously, read The Last Day or any of the Winter Massey books, the man can flat-out write.
As a literary assistant, agents would hand me manuscripts to get a second (or occasionally first) opinion on. A good portion of my career, I knew, was going to be dedicated to assessing manuscripts by that amorphous, personal criteria that agents and editors use. I reconciled myself to two things upfront, and hoped that I’d be able to stick to my guns when it came to following these two simple maxims:
1) Books I love will be rejected.
2) I will pass on a book that will become huge.
It was especially the latter that I could see myself having trouble with. All of the late-round draft picks that went on to become hall-of-famers plague my mind when I read a submission that is good, but that I don’t think has the potential to become great, and definitely not bestselling. The agency I worked for passed on The Time Traveler’s Wife — twice. I thought to myself that I would never let a book that inevitably popular slip through my fingers. I simply wouldn’t, though I tried to steel myself to the idea that it might.
One of the agents handed me a submission one day and asked me to take a look. I read roughly 100 pages and I thought it was a standard, paint-by-numbers thriller. It didn’t grab me. Clicking off my myopic publishing lenses for a moment, as I try to do with every book, I couldn’t see John Q. Public reaching for this on the shelf over the vast array of similar titles. I advised that we should pass and we did. I moved onto the next manuscript submission without a second thought.
I later saw that it had been sold by another agent to a small press. By this point I was working at Bantam Dell and I wrote to the agent, reminding him that we saw it. He shrugged over email (nearly visibly). Easy come, easy go. It was a small sale, anyway. I still maintained that small press / lackluster book equals mediocre sales.
I was wrong. Denver-sized wrong. Mile high wrong. Months later I saw a listing of regional bestsellers and high up on the Denver Post’s bestseller list was this book. It was a success.
I read a book and thought that it had no potential to hit a nerve with the public, and I was wrong. It was a bestseller in a city that has all the same books to choose from that New York does. It was making a lot of money for the publishing house, and when the agent sells the follow up, it’ll make money for that person as well. I had it in my hands and let it slip through. While it wasn’t The Time Traveler’s Wife (yet), it has been the biggest success I have thus far avoided. It’s a not-so-subtle knock to my instincts, that maybe I (and, for that matter, all of publishing) have no real sense as to what the public wants. We anticipate, we plan, we scheme, and we ultimately champion projects that we love (and we fall in love very, very easily) but there’s no set formula for picking books out of the pile and determining their chances at success. There’s no formula even for determining what success even means. I can imagine that’s extremely frustrating for a writer trying to break in or break out.
Coming to Thrillerfest is a great opportunity to see writers I respect and admire and especially enjoy. Lee Child is here, and he is as accommodating as he is talented. Karin Slaughter told me a wonderfully nasty story about hotels once. Allison Brennan is as gracious a human being as I’ve met in my short time in books. I also love meeting the unsigned authors, though. They have an enthusiasm that could light bricks. Still hungry for that first book deal, that first appearance on a bestseller list, the unsigned authors seem to look at the system of how a book gets represented and later sold as being frustrating and Byzantine. It’s broken, isn’t it? Submissions to agents get put in stacks that increase in volume until a stiff breeze or intrepid assistant can tip it over into the rubbish. Submitted manuscripts get put behind editors’ doors (or under plants, or in the air ducts above one’s ceiling) until someone moves offices and it becomes someone else’s problem, right?
I think that I’m a good representation of how the system actually, in its Rube Goldberg-contraption sort of way, works. I passed on a book, but that doesn’t mean the author stopped trying. The author kept submitting and the book eventually got found — first by an agent that believed in it, then a publishing house that could focus its energies, then by the reading public. While frustrating for all involved, that’s a good system. It makes bestsellers in Denver.
And Audrey Niffinegger’s follow-up to The Time Traveler’s Wife got bought for a reported $4.5M.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
First, the good news: in my opinion, the agent wants to be able to say "yes." I realize this is not everyone’s opinion of the agents’ intent, and perhaps not yours.
“Sure” you say. “I’ve written sixty-four agents and not one has said yes.”
Okay, I agree, it can get discouraging, but let me tell you a story I heard from an extremely reliable source–my mother. My mother is an actress in movies. Successful movies, with Jim Carrey, Kevin Spacey, you name it- (her stage name is Judy Clayton). Along with the successes has come an endless series of rejections for an equally endless number of reasons. All bug her to a certain extent, but she continues going to auditions, because if she doesn’t audition she will never get a role- it’s that simple.
Once she sat behind a casting director while he conducted the casting for a major motion picture. As the various actors came before him to audition, she heard the Casting Director mutter under his breath: “Come on, you can do it. Okay, a little less motion, more depth, that’s good.” He was rooting for every actor, despite the fact that he knew only one could get the job and he’d have to reject the rest. She said it helped her to realize that Casting Directors, some famed for appearing outwardly unmoved, were sweating right along with the actors, and that it wasn’t the actor that was being rejected, just his or her suitability for the role.
I think it’s the same for literary agents. She (or he) wants to say yes and represent your story to a publisher. As you sit down, imagine her muttering “come on, you can do it,” while listening to your pitch. Keeping this idea in the forefront of your mind while pitching may help you get through that initial nervous stage. At least it did for me when I was engaged in the pitching process.
Now for the bad news, which is not news at all for most of us who have been on the writer’s side of the pitching desk: She may end up rejecting the manuscript. However, if she does, it is likely for a myriad of reasons, none of which may have anything to do with the merit of the work itself. Like the casting director, she may have a list of criteria in her head for the manuscripts that she wants to take on, and this one doesn’t match that personalized list. Fortunately, at Thrillerfest, there are a large number of agents attending the Agentfest portion of the conference. If one says no, just move on to the next and to the next, until you get the role of published writer. We’ve all been there, and we’ll all be rooting for you!
Running from the Devil--May 5th
Saturday, April 4, 2009
Yes, dear friends, whether you're wanting to know more about the craft of writing (character development, story structure, dialogue, etc.) or are eager to overcome the nerves you feel before pitching your work to agents and editors, CraftFest -- as these fun-filled days are officially titled -- is the place to be.
Last year's CraftFest was a huge success and marked the introduction of a special series of Writer's Digest Bonus Sessions to kick off the first day's events. This year, however, is shaping up to be even better. Here are a few examples of the high-caliber talent who will be on-hand, not to mention to valuable information they're willing to impart:
"Pitch Your Work to Agents and Editors." -- Presented by Kathleen Antrim and Steve BerryDescription: Nervous about pitching your manuscript to an agent or editor? Bring your concept to class, and learn how to pitch it to agents and editors in 25 words or less, starting with the words, "What if?"
"Living on the Ritz - How to Hit the Times List in Five Years or Less" -- Presented by Lisa Gardner
Description: While luck is always a factor in success, a good career plan also goes a long way. Join Lisa Gardner for a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into making the New York Times list--and how you can start building your career today.
"The Business of Writing." -- Presented by David Morrell
Description: Many authors dream about leaving their day job and becoming a full-time writer. But when does it make economic sense do so? It's important to write the best, most honest stories possible, but it's also important to know how to handle your income from those stories. Would a sudden large advance improve your life or potentially destroy it? Drawing on his 37 years as a professional writer, David Morrell (Rambo's father) discusses the business aspects of being an author.
"THE SCOOP! Using Television's Techniques For A Top Notch Thriller." -- Presented by Hank Phillippi RyanDescription: Here's what you need to do to produce a successful television news story: Develop memorable characters. Build suspense. Show conflict. Tell a compelling story. Create a satisfying ending. Find justice. Change lives. That's exactly what Boston's premier investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan's been doing for her entire career. But here's the scoop. Writing a successful thriller requires exactly the same things. And Hank's years of experience with journalism can now give your book a boost.
With her top-ten list of questions, journalism techniques, solid practical applications and even in-class exercises, this Emmy- (and Agatha-) winning reporter will teach you the secrets of television news. And then: she'll show you exactly how those skills can work for you to develop the novel you always wanted to write. Or to make your next book better. It's a never-before-presented workshop...and your chance to learn the inside scoop!
"Creating a Series Character: some readers want growth, and some don't. Where is the sweet spot?" -- Presented by Lee Child
Description: How to mine the unique strengths of the series format without succumbing to its fatal weaknesses.
"Writing the Thriller: 10 Points On Craft." -- Presented by Barry Eisler
Description: How you hook a reader from the first sentence -- feeding the reader the information that draws her into the story while simultaneously famishing her for more.
"Writing and Selling the Million Dollar Screenplay." -- Presented by Jon Land
Description: The course will cover the most crucial elements of screenplay structure and strategies to market the completed product. Included in the discussion will be the realities of selling a script in today's Hollywood and proven shortcuts to success.
"Plotting Evil: Creating the Baddest Bad Guys." -- Presented by D. P. Lyle, MD and Michael Welner, M.D.
Description: What makes real murderers tick? What drives their obsessions and actions? How do they plan and plot their crimes? In this calls we will learn what motivates the bad guys from an expert in criminal behavior.
"How - and Why - to Write Thrillers for Young Readers" -- Presented by R. L. Stine
There are even more great classes to be found during CraftFest. (To see a full list, visit the official ThrillerFest Programming page.)
Even though I came to New York last year as a newly signed author, I attended as many of the CraftFest sessions as possible. No writer knows everything about the craft. We are all constantly learning and evolving. We learn from one another, and where else can you possibly learn from some of the most easily recognized masters of the field? If you're serious about writing thrillers and suspense, CraftFest is well worth your time.
Check back in two weeks for my next posting on who I'm most looking forward to seeing at this year's ThrillerFest. The list may surprise you.