Recap: Superstars Writing Seminars 2019

2018 Shannon thought her review of Superstars Writing Seminars was crazy delayed.

2019 Shannon said, “Hold my beer.”

Superstars Writing Seminars 2019 took place the first week of February.

It’s *cough* nearly September and this review is just now being published.

But I don’t think it makes sharing my experience any less valuable, especially since this year I was experiencing it as an alumni, not a newbie.

I still think this is the best writing conference I’ve ever been to. It’s by far the most encouraging, supportive, and positive experience around. I was talking to my friend K recently and we were both remarking how a lot of writing conferences can leave you feeling discouraged and a little beaten down by the process and the amount of luck that is required to get a book all the way to publication if you’re going the traditional route.

Which isn’t to say Superstars doesn’t tell it like it is. They absolutely do. They just reinforce the messaging with a heavy dose of encouragement and support.

I keep thinking of this quote from Game of Thrones: “A Targaryen alone in the world is a terrible thing.”

And I think the same could be true of writers. Though writing is a solitary endeavor, writers need community if they’re going to survive the process. There’s no other way. The odds are too heavily stacked against you to carry that weight on your own. You need people around you to wipe your tears, give you a hug, and cheer the loudest for you when you succeed.

That’s what Superstars is all about. Come for the knowledge, stay for the lifelong friends you’ll make and the tribe that welcomes you back year after year.

Though the details of this year’s event have gotten fuzzier with time, I do want to mention a few highlights from this year’s conference:

-Craft day continues to be the best investment in terms of learning craft that you can make. This year I got to listen to Jim Butcher talk about developing characters and it was mind-blowingly good. Also Jim Butcher is a great storyteller – and not just on paper. If you ever have the chance to see him talk, you should take it. 10/10 would recommend.

-The VIP dinner continues to be one of the highlights of the whole conference. Yes, it’s an extra expense. Yes, there’s no guarantee you’ll get to sit with your first or even second choice author or editor. But the people who come to Superstars are of such high quality, your evening won’t be a waste no matter whose table you end up at. Just make sure you study the faculty list before you go so you don’t *almost* end up asking Jeffrey Deaver who he is. Not that I know from experience or anything.

-If you can afford it, absolutely stay at the hotel. Again, this isn’t cheap. But Superstars is the middle of winter and after the conference ends for the day, the lobby bar is the place to be. Friendships are cemented, writers groups are formed, and books are birthed with the help of a cocktail or two. It’s worth it to be able to part of that experience and not have to worry about driving somewhere in the snow at night.

I’m planning to head back to Superstars again this year for the third year in a row! If you’re interested in learning more about the event and snagging a discount code, reach out to me!

Talk Triggers

Talk Triggers by Jay Baer

Word of mouth is directly responsible for 19% of all purchases, and influences as much as 90%. Every human on earth relies on word of mouth to make buying decisions. Yet even today, fewer than 1% of companies have an actual strategy for generating these crucial customer conversations. Talk Triggers provides that strategy in a compelling, relevant, timely book that can be put into practice immediately, by any business.

The key to activating customer chatter is the realization that same is lame. Nobody says “let me tell you about this perfectly adequate experience I had last night.” The strategic, operational differentiator is what gives customers something to tell a story about. Companies (including the 30+ profiled in Talk Triggers) must dare to be different and exceed expectations in one or more palpable ways. That’s when word of mouth becomes involuntary: the customers of these businesses simply MUST tell someone else.

Talk Triggers contains:
* Proprietary research into why and how customers talk
* More than 30 detailed case studies of extraordinary results from Doubletree Hotels by Hilton and their warm cookie upon arrival, The Cheesecake Factory and their giant menu, Five Guys Burgers and their extra fries in the bag, Penn & Teller and their nightly meet and greet sessions, and a host of delightful small businesses
* The 4-5-6 learning system (the 4 requirements for a differentiator to be a talk trigger; the 5 types of talk triggers; and the 6-step process for creating talk triggers)
* Surprises in the text that are (of course) word of mouth propellants

Consumers are wired to discuss what is different, and ignore what is average. Talk Triggers not only dares the reader to differentiate, it includes the precise formula for doing it.

Combining compelling stories, inspirational examples, and practical how-to, Talk Triggers is the first indispensable book about word of mouth. It’s a book that will create conversation about the power of conversation. 

While I’ve been making dismal progress on my Goodreads goal, I did manage to finish another book earlier this year that I never reviewed even though it was a good one.

I had the opportunity to see Jay Baer eighteen months ago at Social Media Marketing World. The talk he gave was the best one of the entire event. It was the most mind-blowing thing I’d heard at the time.

The topic?

Talk triggers.

I probably don’t have to tell you guys that I spend a lot of time consuming marketing content and thinking up new strategies and things to try. So it’s rare for me to get so excited about something and have that excitement last.

Talk triggers is that thing.

I picked up this book to read because a) I still hadn’t and b) eighteen months later and I still think Jay’s talk is one of the best marketing presentations I’ve ever seen.

But rather than telling you what Talk Triggers teaches and what you’ll learn from this book (which you can read in the back cover copy up above) let me tell you why I find the concept of talk triggers so unique and cool.

As a marketer, I love word-of-mouth and referral-based marketing. In my opinion, it’s one of the best ways to build a lasting business and it’s also the area I see business owners failing in over and over agin.

A talk trigger is basically something that ignites word-of-mouth marketing. It’s the differentiator your customer can’t stop talking about. It’s the kind of thing that they love to share on social media which translates to free marketing for you. It’s like pouring gasoline on a fire.

The best part? You can strategically create a talk trigger of your own to explode your business and create a lasting impression on every single customer you serve. And it doesn’t have to cost you a lot of money either.

If you’re ready to learn how you add more surprise and delight into every customer interaction, make sure you check out Talk Triggers.

Remembering Toni Morrison and Other Bookish News

Missed this series? Don’t worry, I’ve got lots of bookish news to share this week!

-Writers and thinkers pay tribute to Toni Morrison.

-Read Toni Morrison’s Nobel Prize Acceptance speech here.

-The 2019 First Novel Prize Longlist was announced. See the nominees here.

Afrofuturism is taking over sci-fi and I. Am. Here. For. It.

-The 2019 Booker Longlist was also announced – see the list here.

-All the new books coming out in the second half of 2019.

-YA Novel Aurora Rising to become a TV show.

Writing Updates: Congratulations and Write On

Two rejections.

That’s how my July went.

I could stop here.

But this blog post is, after all, called “Congratulations and Write On.”

Clearly, there’s more.

The first rejection I received was for a short story I submitted to a themed anthology. On the whole, I thought the story was pretty good and one of the better things I’ve written recently. I did get a little feedback about it and I know it had been in the “maybe” pile after all the submissions were initially reviewed.

Still, at the time, this didn’t make me feel any better. I was actually pretty down about this one. I tend to think I’ve desensitized myself to rejection. Small, low-stakes rejections that feel impersonal – like writing rejections. Yes this one made me mopey for three days.

A few weeks after that, I remembered that I’d submitted a flash fiction I’d written last fall to a contest and needed to check and see if there were any updates.

There were.

I didn’t win.

Nor was I a finalist.

This rejection didn’t both me as much. A flash fiction is kind of a weird entity. I’d written the piece originally for a prompt I did with my writing group and after it was surprisingly well-received, I started shopping it around, not really sure if I’d find a home for it.

Still, two rejections in one month is not the best for a person’s confidence in their art.

One night I was sitting at my computer working on something when I saw I had a new email from the contest I’d been rejected from.

The subject line?

“Congratulations and Write On!”

I clicked it open, figuring it was just marketing ploy to get me to open an email about submitting again. That’s the problem with working in marketing. You see all the puppet strings.

But rather than a sales email (okay they did encourage me to submit again, too) I received the following message:

“Congratulations to you on being selected as an Honorable Mention for ‘Uncanny’ in the ___ Writing Awards. We’re so pleased at the chance to read and commend this fine work!

The quality was high, and you should be proud of your accomplishment. Although your piece won’t be published, I hope you’ll be gratified to know that as an Honorable Mention, you placed in approximately the top 8% of our entries (or, as I prefer to look at it, your piece beat out 92% of the competition).”

You can bet I was happy to get that email!

After I got up and told the boyfriend about my bit of exciting news, I started thinking: this one little email had turned my night around. And my month, too, as far as my writing was concerned. But what if I never received it?

.

.

.

I’d still be beating myself about being rejected twice in the same month. I would still be thinking that I’d failed. That my writing showed no promise whatsoever.

I’d still be missing the big picture.

One contest took the time to send me and however many others (or maybe this IS all part of a fantastic marketing ploy, in which case hat’s off to you) this email about being in the top 8% of the entries. Top 8% is not failing friends. That’s coming pretty damn close. That’s the luck of the draw. That’s subjectiveness.

Which made me think back on the other rejection. I knew that in the final anthology selection, only one story out of all the maybes had made the final cut. Mine wasn’t the one. But it didn’t mean my story was terrible. It just wasn’t as strong as some of the other submissions in the eyes of the reviewer.

That’s not failing. That’s coming pretty damn close. That’s the luck of the draw. That’s subjectiveness.

What an incredible, incredible gift perspective can be.

So yes, I got two rejections in July.

I didn’t fail.

I just didn’t win.

But I came pretty damn close.

Congratulations and write on!

10 Things Most People Don’t Know About Me

While this blog has been often neglected in the course of starting my business, I was thinking recently that I’ll be celebrating eight years (!!) of book blogging this December. While my blog has changed a lot over the years, I’ve never fully put it aside and I’ve built a pretty good little following over the years. Besides Facebook, Isle of Books is my longest-running internet home!

As this blog has evolved slightly towards sharing more of my personal life, I thought I’d do a fun little blog post and share ten things most people don’t about me!

 

1) I Decided I Wanted to Write Books About the Same Time I Learned How to Read

My mom read to me a ton as a kid and supplied me with books so even before I knew how to read or knew that creating books was something a normal person could do, I was already deeply in love with stories. But it was mid-way through Kindergarten before I realized I wanted writing and stories to always be part of my life. It was around Christmas and we’d spent the first few months of school learning how to write and read. We were given some assignment, the details of which escape me today, which I dutifully completed. Then, the teacher pulled me aside. I instantly thought I’d done something wrong. But it turns out she just had a note for me to give to my parents about my assignment and how much she liked it/the writing. Something to that effect. But in any case, it was the first time a teacher ever made me feel special and also the first time someone ever complimented me on my writing. It wasn’t too long after that that I learned books were actually written by normal people and well, a destiny was born.

2) I’ve Been Riding Horses for Twenty Years

Not a secret in my regular life, but maybe a secret here on the blog. I’ve been riding horses for a long time – twenty years in fact as I realized recently. And in the last twenty years, I’ve been fortunate enough to keep riding continuously. The longest break I’ve had from horses was only about a month long. Even carpal release surgery, even spraining my hip (or maybe hairline fracturing my pelvis, who knows) wasn’t enough to keep me down for long. After the carpal tunnel release surgery, I actually rode one-handed for a few months. So obsessed with horses might be an understatement. And people are constantly surprised to learn that even with as busy has life has been with launching a business, I still consistently ride at least three days a week. I think it anchors me and keeps me sane and I hope I can keep riding forever as I don’t know who I’d be without horses in my life!

3) There Are Only Two Genres of Books I Generally Won’t Read

I’ll read pretty much anything, especially if I’m in a pinch. I’d rather read a book than sit somewhere, bored. But there are two genres I generally won’t read unless a trusted friend really, really pushes me to read the book and submits to extensive questioning about it beforehand. Those genres are horror and romance. I don’t mind elements of these things, but I typically don’t read books that sit squarely in those genres.

4) When I Write a Book, I Create a Playlist for It

This is actually my favorite part of starting a new project – creating a playlist for it! I usually start with just a few songs that fit the mood or tone of the book I’m working on and add onto it over time. I listen to the playlist on repeat while writing. I think it helps me get back to the space where I want to be for the particular book and helps me focus better. I’ll usually do a mix of songs with and without vocals.

Side note: would anyone be interested in seeing my playlists if I put them up on Spotify? If so, drop me a comment below.

5) I’ve Read Over One Hundred Books in a Year

I think I’ve actually done this twice in my life and let me tell you…one hundred books in a year is A LOT. For me anyway. Some people, maybe one hundred books is easy. But not for me. I really feel like I’m reading SO much when the numbers get that high. I think my sweet spot is about a book a week so fifty or so books a year. Sixty-five is probably a comfortable max. This year though has been abysmal (nobody go look at my Goodreads right now). But one thing I’ve learned through tracking my reading is that I tend to slow down when I’m going through a major life change. So hopefully in a year or so when I’ve fully adjusted to my new life, I’ll get back to reading more. Until then, thank you to all who continue to hang around and be a subscriber to this blog!

6) I Was Nine Years Old the First Time I Was Published

I actually found this publication recently. I had an acrostic poem about whales in a book called, Anthology of Poetry by Young Americans. The 1999 edition kids. But while it was cool that I got published in an actual physical book (that we still have!) I remember not being stoked on this poem. I think I did it as a school assignment during the year my school had a Gifted and Talented program and I think they either submitted it for me or showed me/my family how to do it. I just remember not really liking the poem then and now…well…let’s just say it  has NOT aged like a fine wine.

7) I Studied French for Nine Years

When I started taking French in middle school, I didn’t even remotely imagine it would lead me to taking college classes in the language! I actually picked French just because most people were signing up for Spanish and well, sometimes when people zig, I like to zag. (That’s also how I ended up in my school orchestra, not the band, playing the viola, NOT the violin) Anyway it turned out I liked French and I figured it would look good on those college applications so I kept with it through high school, even taking the AP Test my senior year. The AP Test though, and more correctly studying for the AP Test, kind of burned me out on the language. By the time the test was done, I was also done with the language. Or so I thought. Fast-forward about a year later to the spring of my first year at UCSD when I realized if I wanted to be a writing major (which I did) I needed to achieve secondary language proficiency to graduate. Basically what that amounts to is that a literature department at a school that’s known for science and engineering needs to get butts in seats. So they came up with a plan that if you majored in any of the literature department’s majors, you had to fulfill the secondary language requirement which involved taking a certain amount of upper division language classes. I had taken a year of Spanish in high school for fun and thought briefly of doing Spanish in college, but realized it would mean a lot of extra classes and time since I was much further along with French. So back to French I went. And it was great mainly because I met one of my dearest friends in French class the next fall and she is still one of my best friends today – love you K!

8) I Have Unusual Teeth

I have extra cusps on my top back molars. I think it’s called the cusp of carabelli, though no one has ever used the term with me. I recently went to see my dentist for my cleaning and the first thing he told me when he sat down is that he finally treated another patient who has teeth like me. Lol. Always fun to be one of your doctor’s anomalies…at least he remembers me! And this is very morbid, but I always think if my family ever had to identify my body at least I wouldn’t be lost because I’ve got some great dental records to go off of!

9) I Have Encyclopedic Knowledge of Dog Breeds

Growing up I really, really, REALLY wanted a dog. I watched endless hours of Breed All About It and The Eukanuba Tournament of Champions on Animal Planet,  and spent time scouring the internet to learn even more about the dog breeds I thought would be the perfect fit for our family. I never got my dog (not as a kid anyway), but in the process I gained an encyclopedic knowledge of man’s best friend.

I finally have a dog now. Can you guess what breed of dog I ended up going with after hours and hours of research?

A MUTT!

10) I’ve Never Taken a Formal Grammar Class

This one is maybe the most surprising on the entire list…am I right? Let me know in the comments below!

Everything I know about writing and sentence structure I largely learned from reading and doing. I never took one of those classes where they sat you down and said, “this is a preposition” and “here’s how you create a compound modifier”.

Another bonus fact a lot of people don’t know about me is that for a long time, I must have been an awful test taker because I constantly tested into the wrong classes. If any test was given in order to split a class into smaller groups based on skill level, I invariably found myself assigned to the lowest group only to be moved a few weeks (or months) later when my teachers realized a mistake had been made. On the upside, my self-esteem got a nice boost whenever that happened. On the downside, it created gaps in my education because usually the group I got moved into had already covered the stuff I actually didn’t know.

But I’ve learned a lot about grammar over the years through osmosis, observation, and being corrected by others. And now that I work on a computer all day, it’s easy for me to look up anything I’m not sure about. Still can’t tell you what a conjunction is without looking it up. But hey, there’s something to be said for being industrious!

 

Now it’s your turn…what’s something most people don’t know about you? Leave me a comment below!

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

No one’s ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine. 

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy. 

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

I’d heard a lot about this book before my book club decided to read it, not the least of which is that they’re making a movie out of it. So with all the buzz, I went into this book with pretty high expectations.

It did take me a few chapters at the beginning to get used to Eleanor. I didn’t immediately fall in love with her as other readers did…but I did eventually. And the book had just enough well-placed sentences hinting at a a mystery in Eleanor’s past to keep me turning the pages until I got over my initial hesitation with the character.

This book, like others in a similar vein before it, thrives from its ability to put the main character in situations where they are bewildered by the actions of others…yet are painted so clearly we as the reader know exactly why the other characters reacted as they did. A Man Called Ove and The Rosie Project come to mind.

What I liked about this story in particular though is that it isn’t afraid to take us to dark places both in the main character’s history and in their psyche. No spoilers, but Eleanor’s history is painful and her low moment in the story is about as low as you can go. And then we get to watch her to try to claw her way back from that.

If you’re looking for a page-turning read to tote along on your next vacation, give this one a try. For fans of The Rosie Project, A Man Called Ove, Where’d You Go Bernadette, Something Missing, and The Curious Case of the Dog in the Nighttime.

2019 Locus Award Winners and Other Bookish News

Missed this series? Don’t worry, I’ve got lots of bookish news to share this week!

-The 2019 Locus Award Winners have been announced! Click here to see the list.

9 New Books coming out in July.

Elizabeth Acevedo wins the Carnegie Medal, becomes the first writer of color to win the award. Acevedo is Dominican-American and won for her children’s book, The Poet X.

-Fresh off the rave reviews for Good Omens, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman stories are also set to become a TV series. Here are all the details.

Joy Harjo named Poet Laureate, becomes first Native American to hold the title.

-Something to look forward to in 2020: we’re getting a Hunger Games prequel novel. Check out the details here.

-And just for fun: what your favorite beach read says about you.