Family time wins in the year of virtual conferences

I always feel a tug at my heart when I leave for a writers’ conference. The further I drive or fly, the stronger it grows. The tug is most powerful when I am trying to fall asleep in the dry air of a generic hotel room, the night before the conference begins. It weakens some if I have met a fellow writer or two in the lobby or at the bar, but it is still there.

I miss home.

I miss my husband. I miss my kids.

But once I am immersed in the conference, their hold falls away. I am in another world, attending workshops on craft, marketing and publishing; discussing careers and expectations over breakfast, lunch and dinner with fellow writers; swapping stories and experiences that grow more intense with each glass of wine at the hotel bar when the day is over.

My focus improves because I am there, in person.

With coronavirus in the air, writers’ conferences have gone virtual this year. Leaders of the non-profit groups that host them have become technological pros. They are more than event organizers. They are big-time producers, bringing the show live into our living rooms and coaching reluctant reality stars in the art of virtual delivery.

With no travel expenses and reduced registration fees, some of those conferences have drawn more participation than ever before. They have suddenly become accessible to people who cannot afford to travel, are hindered by disabilities or are nervous about mingling with strangers.

But I have attended none.

Why?

The tug of family is too powerful at home. I spend an awful lot of time on my laptop, working my part-time job or writing. While I am working or writing, I have to resist the desire to play a game with my twins, text or call the older kids at college or go for a walk on the property with my husband. It helps that they are all busy as well during the week, my husband with his job and the kids with school.

But on the weekends, they are free.

The amount of time kids spend in our midst is short, about one-fourth of our life expectancies. I cannot bring myself to spend an entire Saturday online while they are here, available to me. I need physical distance and the in-person interactions to resist that pull.

I have taken part in one-hour sessions here and there, and they have been worth every minute. I almost feel that I get more out of a webinar, with chat features that allow me to ask real-time questions and get to know other participants, than I would an in-person event.  I can see myself tuning into more online workshops and presentations even after the pandemic ends.

But weekend conferences will probably have to wait.

Some people will see that as a weakness, insisting I prioritize my career, but life is a constant balancing act and the scales tip differently for all of us. We are all at different stages in our lives. For me, family time outweigh the benefits of conference time in this virtual life, but I am not giving up on conferences altogether. I am registering for three already in 2021, optimistic that they will be held in-person.

I hope organizers continue to provide some level of online participation after the restrictions lift for those who have benefited from the virtual experiences, but I am looking forward to the comradery of other writers, to the in-person dynamics that take me fully from one reality into another. I am excited for the year ahead and looking forward to seeing you all there.

Dread be gone

New years are a thrill, aren’t they? They are full of promises and possibilities. Peace, joy, happiness — all that stuff. This year should be especially exciting for me with three novels due for release, beginning this spring.

So why this lingering sense of dread?

I made it through the holidays, thanks to the kids. It was easy to stuff this intense uneasiness deep down in my gut with the older children home from college and the younger two on break from junior high.

So much to do!

But they are all getting ready to return now and that means I will be home alone with no one and nothing to distract me. No obstacles to prevent that feeling from rising to surface. I have to face it. I have to admit that I am afraid.

Terrified, really.

I started writing my first novel almost 20 years ago. That’s a long time. My imagination was free to go wild during those two decades, not only with plots and subplots, but also with dreams of becoming a published author, with plans for book events and more novels and more book events. And more books events.

Did I mention book events?

I love to talk about writing. I love to work with other writers. I love to encourage new writers, to help them see the world from new and interesting perspectives. I even enjoy the social media stuff — connecting, sharing, commiserating.

But now I have these products and I have to sell them and all that self-doubt is creeping back in. Should people buy my novels? Are they good enough? Am I going to put myself out there just to be made a fool?

I have to remind myself daily and nightly that two different agents felt my work was worth their time, that the editors at Black Opal Books had confidence enough to offer me a three-book contract, that this is real and this is happening, and that my husband and kids believe in me.

I am cool with being nervous. Nervousness can be a good thing, productive even. But I need to banish the dread. I need to fly with my imagination again, to go wild and have fun. Hence, my New Year’s resolution: to nourish confidence in the face of dread and to defeat it once and for all.

Happy New Year!

Preparing for publication is like planning a wedding: Lots of waiting, negotiations and more waiting

Accepting a book contract is much like saying “Yes!” to a marriage proposal.

The moment of commitment is overwhelming. You want to explode, to shout your news to the world. So you do. You tell anyone and everyone, infecting them with your giddiness.

And just like an engagement, the big announcement evokes big questions: When is the wedding (release) day? Do you have a dress (cover)? What are your honeymoon (book tour/promotion) plans?

Self-publishing is akin to elopement or a small, quick wedding. Plans are entirely in your control and either the release itself is over and done with by the time it’s made public, or the book is published soon after the announcement.

No waiting. Answers to all questions are readily available.

Not so with traditional publishing.

I signed my three-book contract with Black Opal Books in February.

I want so badly to answer those questions, to know exactly when the first book will be released, what the cover will look like, where I can do book signings and book discussions. But I can’t. This is the first lull, the time when committed couples meticulously compare calendars, settle on the size of the wedding and look for venues that will work for all.

The first of the novels, A DEAD MAN’S EYES, awaits that kind of meticulous overview. It sits in the Black Opal queue, waiting for an editor to review it for any major plot problems, inadequate research or facts that are incorrect. About four to six months later  (in June, July or August), the manuscript will emerge and the editor will likely request some changes.

My hope is that I will be thrilled with the editor’s suggestions, that I will quickly and effortlessly revise the manuscript and we will move on to the next stage of planning. But it is possible that, like couples planning a wedding, there will be a little back and forth before we settle on these big and important details.

Next comes the nitty gritty.

This is the final round of edits, when someone will comb though my manuscript, studying every chapter, paragraph and sentence for errors. If this were a wedding, Black Opal and I would spend this time carefully sampling the food of recommended caterers, reviewing photographers’ portfolios and listening to the music of various bands. The goal is perfection, a book that creates lasting memories, that moves people to recommend it to others, and makes them clamor for more.

But this isn’t a wedding. I made my selections when I wrote the book. Now I will have to wait another six months (until December, January or February) until the second-round editor has a chance to scrutinize my every choice, look for mistakes and give me feedback. It is not something I want to rush. This book has my name on it. I want to publish the best book possible.

Once that second round of edits ends, the process will pick up speed.

Black Opal will give me a release date and I will have a cover to reveal. I will suddenly find myself in a hurricane of preparations. I expect to hound friends and family for space on their basement floors where I can blow up an air bed and crash for a night in order to do promote my book in every city, village and hamlet I can manage. I will seek out bloggers for reviews. I will send out press releases to news outlets in every place I have where I have even the most remote connection.

While all that is happening, the second book in the mystery/suspense series, NEVER BROKEN, will enter its second round of edits in preparation for release five months later.  NO STRANGER HERE, a stand-alone thriller, will likely be published five months after the second novel.

So what do I do now? Twiddle my thumbs? Not a chance. The key to getting through this period with my sanity is keeping busy. I recently completed a second thriller and I have started writing book three in the mystery/suspense series. My goal is to have the third book in the series ready when the second one comes out.

Between writing, teaching and my family, I am hoping the time will fly.  So, please, toast with me to a happy, healthy and long-lasting relationship with my publisher, Black Opal Books.