Recap: Superstars Writing Seminars 2018

Okay, so this conference happened at the end of January…yes, JANUARY! Better late than never on this review, right?

One of the reasons I did still want to do this review though is because this is the best writing conference I’ve ever been to. Seriously.

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Jonathan Maberry During a Breakout Panel

My neighbor has gone many times before and she was always telling me how would I like it and I should really come. I was resistant mostly because it’s an investment to travel to Colorado Springs where it’s held every year. What if I didn’t like it? What if I didn’t get anything out of it? It’s a long conference – it would be a lot of time off from my job and there was hotel, airfare, and meals.

But after the SDSU conference went on hiatus for 2018, I decided I would apply for the scholarship open to first year attendees. And after the application process, I was now so invested I had basically decided I was going to go even if I didn’t get the scholarship. I didn’t so I registered for everything in November.

I was excited about our hotel because the conference takes place at the Antlers. The Antlers is a historic hotel and while the hotel as it stands is not the original (it’s the third hotel of the same name on the same site), what’s notable about The Antlers is that Nikola Tesla might have stayed there instead of at the Alta Vista in 1899 if The Antlers hadn’t burnt to the ground the year before. You can read more about my Colorado Springs historic hotel research here. And while the Alta Vista has been gone for more than fifty years, I figured The Antlers would have some info about its history somewhere in the hotel. And I was right! They had pictures! I actually spent an hour one day walking around the hotel and photographing all of their pictures to file with my research. I didn’t expect to have much time to explore Colorado Springs  (and I didn’t) so it was nice to be able to get those photos.  I actually went to Colorado Springs a few years ago and took myself on a photographic research tour. You can see that story and photos here.

By the time January rolled around, I was pretty stressed. Superstars ended up being sandwiched between two horse shows and my birthday. I’d also picked up a couple clients and was trying to do that and my regular job beside it. I considered not going to the conference even though everything was pretty much already paid for because life felt very overwhelming. But I took a deep breath, told myself I would figure it out, and packed my bags for Colorado.

We flew into Colorado Springs which I have never done before. It was weird to be in my home state, but not seeing my family or any of my friends. I did have one friend I planned to go see in Colorado Springs, but as luck would have it, that didn’t end up working out so it really was a trip home without seeing any of the people who make it home.

One of the things that makes Superstars different is that there’s an emphasis on tribe and community. And that starts from the moment you show up because other members of the tribe that live local or are already in town volunteer to pick people up from the two airports. My neighbor and I ended up getting picked up with a guy from Texas who had also never been to Superstars before. We’re now all in a writing group together so if you needed a reference point for how well the tribe thing works, that pretty much tells you all you need to know!

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Branden Sanderson

My neighbor has been coming to Superstars for years so she knew tons of people which meant I immediately got introduced to tons of people. Everyone was very nice and welcoming even if I was a little overwhelmed. But after a few days, I started to remember people and made a few friends of my own.

Overall, what set this conference apart for me beyond the instruction was the people. So many friendly people. And so many people invested in making relationships, not acquaintances. I still talk to and interact with people I met at the conference beyond the ones that are now part of my writer’s group. And that is pretty darn cool.

Okay, so on to the instruction! I can honestly say I learned so much at the conference. It’s really a conference about the business of writing, how to make it a business, how to build a brand, and how to build a career for a lifetime. The first day is optional and it’s a “craft day” which is your traditional writing conference fare of topics related to the actual writing of stories. It was definitely good, don’t get me wrong, but the business of writing sessions were really life-changing for my process and my work.

I’ve always been very serious about wanting to write books. I’m also just pretty practical (at least in this sense, the rest of my life is debatable) and I’ve worked hard to find and create a career outside of writing. Because I love writing, books, and everything associated with being a writer, but I have no interest in starving for my art. That’s my personal line in the sand and you can say what you want about that, call me not a “real writer” or not dedicated enough because I don’t write everyday or because I’m not willing to be a starving artist, but I don’t care. I know who I am, what I was put on this Earth to do, and I also know how deep my dedication runs.

Anyway. Mini rant over. So, what was really life-changing for me was I really came around to the idea of thinking of each of my books as a product. It’s not a book, it’s a product for sale, and if the market does not want it, there’s not much you can do about that. You can attempt to fix it, but at some point you might need to concede defeat and try something else. That has been really life-changing in my approach to my process and goals. I’ve been working on Shadow of the Magician off and on since the spring of 2012. I wrote a couple drafts of another book called Haven’s Gate in the meantime that I never was able to get representation for. And I wrote an untitled draft of the first book in a sci-fi trilogy. But I have largely been consumed by this project at different points over the last six years and I’ve lost track of what number draft I’m on. I think six or seven because the story has had three huge development shifts that prompted complete rewrites. But my point now is that this is the last time around. If this doesn’t do it, I’m moving on to something else because life is short and I have more stories I want to write.

I took tons of notes during the lectures and really learned so much that I didn’t know about the way publishing works, whether it’s traditional or self-publishing. I met writers at all different stages in their careers, published and not. I got to hear from Branden Sanderson, Jonathan Maberry, James Owen, Dave Farland, and Kevin J. Anderson which was all really fantastic. I also had lunch with Jonathan and dinner with James a few times. Those are the kinds of experiences that Superstars gives you!

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Dinner With James Owen and New Friends

I also got to practice pitching my book and finally felt like I truly get the difference between the hook, the pitch, and the synopsis and how to create them. This is essential information for any aspiring authors and it’s an art all in itself. If you’ve ever asked me or someone else whose writing a book what the book is about and you got back a rambling, disjointed answer, it’s because writing the book is one thing. Being able to distill the 85,000 words that are in the book and the 40,000 that are on the cutting room floor and the 30,000 that make up your notes and the countless books you read while doing research and all the internet rabbit holes you went down into just a paragraph or a pithy sentence is a mighty tall order.

I am looking forward to heading back to Superstars next winter for the 10th anniversary conference! You can find out more about the 2019 Superstars Writing Seminars conference here and if you have more questions about my experience, just let me know! Also if you are thinking about going, I can get you a discount code for $100 off your registration! This discount is good until November 1, 2018.

 

2017 SDSU Writer’s Conference in Review

This is months and months overdue (I attended this event in January!), but I definitely wanted to review this event because it was awesome!

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The SDSU Writer’s Conference is an annual event in San Diego and one I’ve been trying (and failing!) to attend for the last 5 years. However, after the 2016 conference, I emailed the coordinators and asked if they could add me to their mailing list so I would know when to sign up. Problem. Solved. I registered for the 2017 event with no problem and eagerly waited to attend my first ever writing conference! UCSD had a writing conference in the fall of 2011, but I was sadly not able to attend any of the panels between my class schedule and traveling to San Francisco. So the 2017 SDSU Writer’s Conference was my first taste of the world of professional writing.

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Jonathan Maberry Speaking

It poured rain all weekend and since the event was in Mission Valley, we even got a flash flood alert during one of the panels that scared the bejesus out of all the out of towners. The San Diegans were quick to reassure the concerned that that’s just want Mission Valley does when it rains, it floods. Still, the bad weather could not dampen the energy and enthusiasm that this event had in spades.

It was divided between keynote presentation and panel events, which was nice because you could pick and choose your trainings you wanted to attend. The keynote speakers this year were Jonathan Maberry, R.L. Stine, J.A. Jance, and Sherrilyn Kenyon. We also had a special presentation on the final day from Marjorie Hart, author of Summer at Tiffany. Of the keynote speakers, the only one I was familiar with prior to the event was R.L. Stine because of course. All the keynote speakers gave wonderful and very inspiring presentations!

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R.L. Stine Speaking

The panel events were fabulous as well. They even had historical fiction panels led by author Gina Mulligan which apparently is relatively rare for writing conferences. As I’m still working on my historical fiction novel about Nikola Tesla, I made sure to attend all of these events. Also, Gina is probably the sweetest person ever. Seriously, ever.

Some other standout panels were the panel taught by agent Mark Gottlieb on how to write an effective hook and all of the panels taught by Bob Mayer. There was also a cool panel I didn’t get to attend where you could see real weapons and chat with experts from the FBI, CIA, police, and military. I did not attend one panel that was not fabulous and I purchased the recordings for several more (I still have not listened to these yet, but I am grateful this was an option and I have them when I’m ready).

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Panel With Authors J.A. Jance and Sherrilyn Kenyon

I met so many nice attendees, editors, and agents at this event! I only did one pitch which was okay because I’m not where I want to be with the book yet. But I walked away with valuable information from the editor I met with on how to fix my story synopsis!

I highly, highly recommend this conference. I am planning to attend again in 2018. If you live in San Diego and are a writer, you should really sign up. Yes, conference fees are relatively expensive, but this event is worth every penny!