I'm paraphrasing Jane Friedman here, when I say:
"Success takes a million tiny steps."
People always ask me what's the hardest part of being a college fiction writing teacher. Is it all the tedious marking? Having to read beginner attempts at writing in genres you don't want to read? The long hours teaching at night, at the podium?
I don't teach that way (at the podium.) I'm a desk-sitter. But it's none of that.
By far, the hardest part of being a writing instructor is telling my students about the industry. And in particular, that they aren't going to knock it out of the park with their first book - the one they are writing in my class.
It's hard, because they don't want to believe me. Always, they point to one or two authors who make it to the bestsellers list on their first book. "So and so did it - why won't I?"
What they don't know is that the book on the best-seller list - that author's "debut novel" - is most likely NOT the first book the author wrote. Industry stats tell us it will likely be their 4th book written. (3.6 is the average, for a traditionally published author.)
My own story works as an example. My first novel published, Rowena Through the Wall, was a bestseller (yay!) But it wasn't my first novel *written*. It was my third. And before that, I had 24 short stories published, which won me six awards. (Six awards, students. Before I even tried to get a novel published.)
Each one of those short stories, each of those awards, was a tiny step.
About that first novel: it was horrible. So horrible that if anyone finds it on an abandoned floppy disk and tries to read it, I will have to kill either them or me. It was a Canadian historical/western/romance/thriller with a spoiled, whiny heroine who was in danger of being killed. No shit. Even I wanted to kill her. The second book was also horrible, but less horrible. It was a romantic comedy with a "plucky heroine" (gag) and several implausible coincidences that made it into an unintentional farce.
By the time I was writing my third and fourth novels, I got smarter. Apparently, I could do farces. Why not deliberately set about to write a humorous book? And while you're at it, how about getting some professional feedback? Take a few steps to become a better writer?
I entered the Daphne DuMaurier Kiss of Death contest. Sent the required partial manuscript. Two out of four judges gave me near perfect scores, and one of them said:
"If this is finished, send it out immediately. If this isn't finished, stop everything you're doing right now and finish it. I can't imagine this wouldn't get published."
One more tiny step.
That book was The Goddaughter. It was published by Orca Books, and the series is now up to six books. (Six steps.) The series has won two awards. (Two more steps.)
I'm currently writing my 18th book. It comes out Fall 2019. Last summer, for the first time, I was asked to be a Guest of Honour at a crime fiction festival. It may, just may, be my definition of success.
If you include my comedy credits, I have over 150 fiction publications now, and ten awards.
160 tiny steps to success.
Conclusion: Don't give up if your first work isn't published. Take those tiny steps to become a better writer. Take a million.
Monday 30 April 2018
Monday 16 April 2018
Perils of a professional Event Planner
By Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)
How do marketing and public relations professionals rate their events?
"It was a success. Nobody died."
You think I’m kidding. Hah!
I’ve been a professional event and conference planner since 1980, when I was part of the Bell Canada Golf Tournament committee. That’s a lot of years. In that time, I’ve arranged corporate promotional gigs, entire conferences, and classy fundraising dos.
The key to event planning is the second word: PLANNING. We try to anticipate everything that could possibly go wrong, and plan for it. Probably, we are the most anal, list-making people you would ever come across. Even so, and even with a ton of experience, I’ve found you can’t plan for everything. What can go wrong, you say?
1. You can have water…and well, water.
Note to self: never trust your new staff with critical functions, like – for instance – the bar at a reception for 500. She took care of the liquor license. The cocktail food. The entertainment. The security. The insurance. Everything, in fact, except actually hiring the bars plus bartenders plus spirits. One hour before the event-start, we were frantically on the phone with a nearby hotel, working a deal to borrow all the staff and spirits they could muster. They came through, bless their extremely expensive hearts. As conference-goers waited in the two interminable bar lineups, senior management sashayed up and down the line with lavish finger food to stall the riots. “It’s so nice to see all the executives get involved like this,” said happy munchers, blissfully unaware of their near-dry event.
Said senior managers took turns on the bottle behind the stage.
Lesson learned: ALWAYS put booze and the serving of which at the top of your checklist. People will forgive most everything. But not that.
2. But I thought Moose Factory was in the Prairies…
In Newfoundland, they have a nifty way to make a little extra money. Moose insurance. No, really. I used to work for a really big health care association that had conferences across Canada. The national conference was in St. John’s one year. It took a lot of organizing to get the main sponsor’s huge demonstration truck across to the island of Newfoundland. This was a million dollar vehicle filled with the latest scientific and medical equipment, for demonstrating to the lab manager attendees. Not a shabby enterprise, and the highlight of our nerdy conference, seeing all those state of the art goodies. That truck rocked.
Until it was totalled by a Moose on the highway.
Lesson learned: ALWAYS get moose insurance. Yes, this is a thing.
3. Bus 54, where ARE you?
Wine tour. Yes, those words should never be allowed together. People who go on wine tours invariably like to drink. As you might expect, so do their bus drivers.
It takes 45 minutes to get from Hamilton to Niagara Falls. A convoy of six buses started out. Three hours later, five buses made it for the dinner theatre. The sixth made a slight detour to a winery and never got out of the tasting room. Nobody there minded. They had a kick-ass time in the attached resto. I’m told everyone forgot about the dinner theatre in Niagara Falls. We tried to reach them. But ribald singing made it hard for people to hear their phones.
Lesson learned: Never *start* your event at a winery.
4. Dogs and dragons…it will never work.
Twenty years ago, I joined the PR staff of a major urban teaching hospital. Anxious to show our commitment to multiculturalism, we scheduled several ethnic lunch days in the cafeteria, complete with food and entertainment. You can imagine our excitement when the local Chinese community agreed to bring costumed dancers with elaborate twelve foot dragon into our facility.
So it was with great pride and a certain amount of smugness that we had news media standing by. Not only that, the local television station agreed to film the event. All good. Hundreds of people crowded in. The music started up. The dancers came on stage. The twelve foot long colourful paper undulating dragon was magnificent. Cameras rolled.
Cut scene to our blind physiotherapist on staff, who came into the cafeteria with his seeing eye dog Mack. Mack took one look at the huge dragon and took off, knocking over his master and a table full of authentic multicultural food. Dog went crashing into dragon: Rips, screams, people running, tables falling, and all this thoughtfully caught on camera for the six o’clock news. “Hamilton Hospital celebrates Multiculturalism”
We called in every favour banked from every media person in town, to keep this off the news.
Lesson learned: Okay, maybe not a success. But only the dragon died.