How to Put Your Best Foot Forward at Conferences

Navigating conferences can be rather tricky.  I collected five tips to help you get noticed, meet the right people, and make the most of your conference.

When I participated in the Tom Joyner Family Reunion Expo, my author friends asked how I got an invite! The truth is… I’m not really sure. It may have been the flyer I posted on their online community board or one of the connections I made during my book tour.  Either way, I decided to brainstorm on how I could capitalize on this opportunity.

1.     Prepare. Research what went on during prior conferences, find out the vendor table configuration, and what other authors are doing. I’m not real fond of business cards. To me, it’s more effective to have postcard-sized advertisement to hand out. Include your latest work, contact information, and social media information.

2.     Make the most of your visit to a new town. Contact local radio shows in the area and send your media kit and press release. Since I write inspirational fiction, I contacted some of the churches in the area and let them know I would be nearby and would love to give away some free books.  Yes, you must be willing to give something away.  Some of them posted my flyer on their website, while others wished me the best. 

3.     Stand out. Amongst a sea of authors or products, brainstorm how you can stand out. Stage time is key. Contact the organizer and let them know you would love to sit on a panel discussion (for free).  Communicate your expertise and be flexible on what they may ask you to do. 

4.    Step outside your circle. Resist the urge to stick with people you already know. Have dinner with new people, offer advice, assist in any way you can. My philosophy is give unto others and it shall be given unto you.  I once helped my neighbor with setting up his booth. Little did I know, he was a popular author and vlogger who had hundreds of thousands of followers. When he gave me a shout out from his twitter page, that meant all of his followers learned of me and my books.

5.     Strategize your schedule. Map out what sessions you want to attend.  Arrive early so you can grab the attention of the speaker. Don’t forget to exchange cards and let them know how you could assist them.  Maybe they are looking for someone who can take over their social media or respond to emails. Perhaps they need connections on how to have an event in your city. Either way, lead with how you can help them and they in turn will want to return the favor. 

Most importantly, relax and be friendly.  Be conscious of your expressions and the energy you give off.  Jump in there and meet all the people you can at your next conference and you’re sure to be a big success.

-Terri Whitmire

 

Ten Things In My Purse Right Now

 

1. Number one is no surprise. My cellphone. I remember the days when you could just walk out the house and whoever needed to contact you had to wait until you returned.  Now, I feel naked if I don’t have it. I absolutely love my cellphone. (It’s an Android, by the way.)  I can work from anywhere, check in with my teenage kids (who rather text than call… shocker!), and professionally answer my business calls thanks to Google Voice.

2.     A ginger chew. I keep these on hand to ward off a nervous stomach or that enchilada from my favorite Mexican restaurant. They also provide a nice sugar hit to push through those days when I’m teaching my after-school writing program.

3.     My lipstick pouch.  I have about nine different lipsticks, lip balms, and glosses. One of my good friends told me in no uncertain terms, “Yeah uh, you should keep lipstick on your lips.” Not sure what she was implying, but I listened and now I always have my stash ready for photo ops.

4.     A protein bar. When I’m super busy, I sometimes forget to eat. Also, when I’m sleepy, I forget to eat. When I’m nervous, I forget to eat. Notice the pattern? Not to worry, I make up for it! My favorite vice is pizza. Just set the whole pie in front of me, walk away slowly, and no one will get hurt!

5.     Hand sanitizer. Even before my daughter was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, I washed my hands frequently. Hence the reason my nails are so thin. But now, I make sure I wash and sanitize after shaking hands with people, handling carts in the grocery store, or just because. Our life is a little different because catching a cold will impact her more so than us, so I make sure not to expose her needlessly.

6.     A Tootsie Pop. I’m not sure how that got in there.  I teach an after-school writing program (www.FunCreativeWriting.com) and we give out a little treat at the end of our writing session. This little lollipop may or may not have found its way in on purpose…

7.     A Chinese fan.  Well let’s just say, I celebrated my 50th birthday this past May, and now I get to enjoy my own personal summers – year round.

8.     Tissues. I usually have a whole handful (which is the case now) or none. I had one embarrassing moment where I didn’t have any tissues handy. I sniffled so much while reading an excerpt from my book that the audience thought it was part of the act and that I was actually crying. Lesson learned.

9.     Pressed powder. Because some days, we all need a little mid-day touchup. Enough said.

10.  My wallet. It’s big, pink, and cute enough to carry like a clutch, but there is rarely cash inside. I have mostly debit, credit, and business cards inside. Unfortunately, cash and I don’t stick together for any length of time. Funny, isn’t it?

 

Inside The Mind of an Author

Do you really want to know?  Those who are not writers would expect to find insightful prose, sinister plots, and devious characters swimming around the cerebellum; and that could be the case. But most of the time, there is the constant cyclical question of “Is this good enough?” Don’t get me wrong, I have thick skin and it’s pretty hard to hurt my feelings. But when it comes to my writing, well that’s a different story. It took an entire log of convincing and positive Amazon reviews for me to believe that people actually enjoyed my work.  As writer, I can be so involved in my own story that I feel like I am writing it for an audience of one – me.  So when I poke my head out of my tortoise shell, I often wonder if others will enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it. 

Take Breathe for Me, for instance, a story that resonated with thousands of people. Yet, the one comment I remember to this day is the one that said, “Whitmire squandered the opportunity.”  Even though all other readers rated the book 4.5 to 5 stars, this one negative review gave way to doubt that crept into my Medulla Oblongata and stayed with me, even as I wrote the sequel.

What other thoughts are roaming around my noggin?

  • Will this be the break-out book?
  • Will I be sitting on Oprah’s couch one day talking about when I used to blog about meeting her? 
  • What can I put in this story that people will connect with?

Without a doubt, my driving force is to create quality books that readers can relate to.  My mind often goes back to my readers while I’m writing. At the end of each chapter, I ask myself what I can add that will prevent them from placing their bookmark in the crease and closing the book for the night.  One reader told me the reason she was tired at work was because she stayed up after midnight, unable to put the book down. Success! That is exactly what I want. 

So yes, I love to come up with wonderful, provocative characters that make you pull your hair out or cause you to fan yourself because they’re just so all-that; but honestly, that is not what really consumes me.  Make it better, I tell myself. Add more emotion. Make them tear up or laugh out loud.  That is my goal. How do I know when I’ve reached it? When I reread my own stories and experience those same emotions. 

Why Businesses Want Good Writers

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How can improved writing skills get you the job you want? Inc.com reveals the trait that all employers look for.

"We know that businesses are spending billions each year on remedial writing training, and in a modern workplace that requires employees to spend hours each day sending emails, writing reports, and interacting with clients, weak writing skills can be a major hindrance to business growth (not to mention the damage poor writing skills can do to public perception of a business's brand.)"

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Who Are You?

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Every now and then, I Google my name just to see what comes up. Just to be clear, seeing your name pop up on the World Wide Web can be an inflating or deflating experience. Yes, it’s pretty cool to see your name appear, but it has it negatives. This past week, I looked at an old review a reader had left on Amazon for my very first book. It was pretty harsh; even though this review was more than four years old, it still bothered me. It was my only one-star review and I remember reading it back then and feeling crushed. All of my other reviews earned 4 or 5 stars, so what was the deal with this lady? I decided to respond to her review and “politely” communicate to her all the great people who benefited from the book.

While Googling yourself and allowing the list of results to affect you may be a torturing practice, there’s a lesson to be learned. As authors, business owners, and all-around go-getters, our web presence matters. If you don’t create your own narrative, someone else will.

So how do you show who you are? It starts with a great website. This is where you should spend most of your time and money developing. There are lots of free and easy templates to use when you’re starting out, but if you aren’t savvy enough, hire someone to do it for you (I recommend us ☺). Once it’s done, continue to make it better. Don’t let it grow stale. Search engines thrive on fresh content and your followers want to read something new. Include a blog, Facebook, or Twitter feed. This tells the search engines that the content is fresh via an RSS feed, thereby giving you a higher search engine ranking.

This one is very important. Add at least one form of social media. Facebook and Twitter are the highest and most universal ways to engage socially with other leaders, like yourself, and customers. But, more importantly, find the platform that works to communicate your message best, whether it be Instagram, Wine, Periscope, Pinterest, YouTube, or one of the many, many others. If you decide to open an account, remember the rule of thumb—two to three posts per day. Yes, I too believe this is excessive, but people check social media at different times. Posting multiple times throughout the day gives you the best opportunity to reach more people. And you don’t have to be on all platforms to succeed. Dedicate your time to 1-3 platforms that you can manage effectively to grow your following.

Post your press release and upcoming events on Eventbrite, PRweb.com, and Eventful.com. Don’t forget to visit your local radio station’s website to post to their free online community boards.

Be creative with your time. Remember to brand yourself and create a narrative that authentically communicates exactly who you are and why we should be listening.

How Long?

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Many of my clients ask how long their books should be and how many words to include in a chapter. There really are no hard-and-fast rules. It depends on your audience and how much of their life they are willing to give to your story.

Are you writing a novella or a novel?
A novella is a shorter version of a novel and usually has less than 40,000 words. A full-fledged novel can go upwards of 100,000 words. However, if you plan to publish traditionally, you may research various publishing houses for their preferred guidelines. Many readers are intimidated by large books and rarely have the time to complete them, so unless you have a solid following and a compelling multidimensional plot, your best bet is to cap your novel around 65,000 words.

Have you ever read a book and the chapter carried on seemingly endlessly?
Let's talk about chapter length. True readers never want to stop in the middle of a chapter (I know I don’t!). So I’ll keep reading until the end of the chapter. (Hopefully the author ends with a suspenseful cliffhanger that will draw me back in). Look for a natural break in the plot where a scene is completed before you end. Therefore, for an average reader, my guess would be that each chapter should be approximately 4,000 words. The worst thing to do is to make a chapter so long that the reader stops half way through and then has to reread it the next time they pick up your book. In addition, if possible, try to keep each chapter about the same length. The best way to determine if you are working with the correct length is to have a writing consultant, English professor, or avid reader, share their thoughts on the length and chapter breaks. Sometimes it’s just a feeling.

You Are Not Alone

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Writing is one of the few activities where you’re alone… but not really. If you’re a creative writer like me, then you will understand that we live in a world with hundreds of characters racing through our minds. For each new project, we get to decide who our characters will be, what they will look like, and how they will make it through the whirlwind of drama that awaits them. I’m here to tell you that my characters are real (to me), but it’s my job to make them real to you. So let’s look at three ways you can create well-rounded, believable characters that your readers will love.

1. Stop Trying The nature and development of your characters should seem effortless. Getting to know them should be a gradual process, much like when you first meet someone. Reveal who they are through their actions. Let their dialogue reveal past hurt, fears, and aspirations. Each time a minor character comes into their life, we should learn a different side of them. Show all sides of your character. Every interaction between your characters should propel your story forward, but make sure you incorporate backstory and those little nuances that we as humans can relate to. For instance: nervous habits, self-conscious behaviors, a struggle to do what’s right, fears, their true heart’s desire. You have the whole book to reveal these things. Stop trying to rush this glorious meeting between the reader and the characters. Let them flow naturally.

2. Perfectly Imperfect Readers love to see how imperfectly perfect your characters are. They should miss the mark, stumble, struggle, and hopefully eventually triumph. Take them on this roller coaster ride of failures and success. Show us how they respond to each. Each conflict should get increasingly difficult to resolve until they are forced to take the very action they’ve been trying to avoid.

3. What’s in a Name? Unfortunately, I’ve come across several manuscripts where I loved the characters, but absolutely hated their names. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to get to know a character and tripping over or being distracted by their name. I’ll put it like this: Have you ever been introduced to someone and his or her name was so complicated that you dared not repeat it for fear of butchering it? If you’re like me, the next time you saw them you steered clear of them because you couldn’t remember or pronounce their name. The same goes for our characters. When readers struggle with names, it creates apprehension and distance. Give each character very different but pronounceable names. If you have an international character, don’t let your reader try to figure it out. Clue us in on how to pronounce it. Here’s a sample dialogue. “Hi I’m Faranna. It sounds like piranha. But don’t worry. I won’t bite,” the Indian dancer teased.

Say What?

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Do you struggle with dialogue? There's an easy fix. It is so very important that your characters speak to your readers. Some say there should be dialogue within the first two pages of a book, but it’s really up to the author and the nature of the book. I’ll say this: When I read a MS and there is a long period without any dialogue, I feel it. Yes, I feel it in my soul that something is missing. Your reader craves real interaction and sometimes narration doesn’t do the trick. So, let’s go back to the basics. Dialogue is back and forth communication between two or more speakers. Here are some rules on how to make your dialogue more believable.

1. No words
So much can be said through body language and silence. We are humans and sometimes we don’t always have the exact words at the tip of our tongue. We internalize. We react with facial expressions, we grunt. All of these are forms of communication. Use them organically.

2. iRobot
We aren’t robots. Therefore, your writing shouldn’t read stiff. If you’re gifted in writing and eloquently speak the Queen’s English, bravo to you. However, this is not how most people talk. We use contractions and slang. We quip and unleash snide remarks. We talk through our tears and slur our words. Release this type of truth in your dialogue.

3. Move Your Body
The other challenge I’ve noticed with some client manuscripts is that they don’t incorporate action with their dialogue. As humans, especially men, we engage in some type of activity while dialogue is occurring: riding in the car, cooking dinner, preparing for some event, on our way to and from, at the dinner table while scarfing down a burger. Include action. Other more subtle actions include: nervous twitching, scratching head, rubbing chin, wringing hands. Loving gestures made while speaking may include: swiping hair from face, pinching chin, rubbing arm, biting lip, licking lips. Include actions that tell us more about your characters’ personalities and readers will immediately relate.

I Can't Wait

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One of the secrets to writing a great suspense novel is to never let your reader go. What do I mean by that? Don’t give them an opportunity to put your book down. This takes skill and what I like to call plot sensitivity. When I critique a manuscript, one of the things I look for is filler words. Filler words bore your reader and take them out of the plot. These words may or may not be pivotal to the plot, but the reader is so unengaged that whatever is revealed falls through the cracks. Why? Because there is nothing exciting occurring. I’m not saying that every part of the plot has to be climactic, but your suspenseful plot should keep your readers on the edge of their seats. There are a few ways to do this.

1. End every chapter with a mini cliff hanger

2. Increase your interaction between the protagonist and antagonist

3. Don’t introduce irrelevant characters

4. Foreshadow without letting your readers know that you’re foreshadowing

5. Delay gratitude and success as long as possible

Want to learn more about these techniques? Email us for your free evaluation sample.