Tag Archives: the business of writing

The Business Side of the Business: conferences and conventions #amwriting

If you are a regular here at Life in the Realm of Fantasy, you may have seen my two-part series on the business side of being an author. If not, and if you are interested, I will put the links to those articles at the bottom of this post.

Its a BusinessRegardless of your publishing path, you must budget for certain things. You can’t expect your royalties to pay for them early in your career – and many award-winning authors must still work at their day jobs to pay their bills.

But conferences and conventions are one way to meet agents and editors. Also, if you have a table at sci-fi and fantasy fan conventions (or whatever your genre), you will meet readers and create a fanbase for your work.

No author, indie or traditionally published, can live on their royalties at first, so attending conferences requires planning, possibly up to a year in advance. I suggest you work with your budget and set aside the money for conventions and seminars.

I do have some ways to keep your costs down.

First: Join the association offering the conference, as members get reduced conference fees and many other perks all year long. Take advantage of the early-bird discount if you can. I belong to three writers’ associations, and each one offers something I can use all year long.

Second: Does your library system offer occasional seminars by local authors? If it is a public library, these will likely be free.

Third: Use the internet – google “writers’ conferences in my area.” If you can find a local one, you can eat food that fits your dietary needs and sleep at home, which means you only pay for the conference itself.

Fourth: If you are planning to attend a large convention or conference where you will need to stay in a hotel, take simple foods that can be prepared without a stove, and which are filling. Being vegan, I tend to be an accomplished hotel-room chef, as most coffee bars don’t offer many plant-based options. While that bias is changing, I still go prepared.

road tripConferences are an extension of the self-education process. I have discovered so much about the craft of writing, the genres I write in, and the publishing industry as a whole—things I could only learn from other authors. I gained an extended professional network by joining The Pacific Northwest Writers Association in 2011 and going to their annual conferences.

This last weekend, I attended the first of three conferences I have budgeted for 2022. The Science-fiction & Fantasy Author’s Association held the 2022 Nebula Conference this last weekend. It was a virtual conference again this year, so my only cost was the conference fee itself. That cost was quite reasonable because I took advantage of both my membership discount and the early bird discount.

The Nebula Conference is normally held in Southern California, and I am not a happy flyer, so a virtual conference was optimal for me. I may not attend in person again. However, since SFWA is a global association of professional science fiction and fantasy authors, their conferences will also be available in virtual form from here on out.

The following two conferences I have scheduled will be in September and are in-person events. The first, Southwest Washington Writers Conference (SWWC), is local enough that I can commute from my home. The last one for this year is Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA) in the Seattle area. It’s a 70-mile commute, so I will stay in the hotel. September is the start of virus season, so I expect many people (like me) will wear masks at both events.

Me working in a starbucks, through the fishbowl, copyright Dan Riffero 2013

Me writing in a Seattle Starbucks, taken through a fish tank. I was the big fish in that tank! Photo by Dan Riffero.

As a small fish in a very big ocean, attending these two local conferences puts me in contact with other authors and industry professionals. The attending authors are people I don’t usually come into contact with as they hail from all over Washington State, Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia.

I always attend as many panels and workshops as I can fit into my schedule. I do this because the seminars offered at each of the three conferences have taught me as much about the craft as about the business of writing.

This weekend at the Nebula Conference, I attended many outstanding panel discussions by famous authors. All the authors on the panels were people who have achieved success, and they shared their insights on current trends in the publishing industry.

My favorite seminar out of all those stellar panels was the one discussing Speculative Fiction Poetry, which was held on Sunday morning. I have always written poetry and love reading it. Many spec fic poets are experimenting with sestinas, which (thanks to the pandemic) became my new favorite poetic form to write in during lockdown. Trying to adhere to a strict structural form challenges my creativity and forces me to grow in all areas of writing craft.

ICountMyself-FriendsSometimes I am invited to participate in panels or offer a workshop, and I can share my experiences with others. Either way, I learn things. In September, I will be on a panel with Lee French, Johanna Flynn, and Ellen King Rice at SWWC, talking about what we wished we had known when we first began writing professionally.

I feel honored (and a bit intimidated) to be a part of this group as they are award-winning writers. But more than that, they are women whose work I enjoy and respect. But facing your fear of public speaking is part of what growing your career entails – putting yourself out there, learning what you can, and sharing what you know.

Two previous posts on the Business side of the Business:

The Business Sequence for Writers, guest post by Ellen King Rice #writerlife | Life in the Realm of Fantasy (conniejjasperson.com)

The Business Side of the Business, part 2: Inventory #writerlife | Life in the Realm of Fantasy (conniejjasperson.com)


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Guest Post: Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Plot by Suzanne Hagelin

This is the third in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writer’s Association. You can catch up with them at https://www.niwawriters.com/

Today’s guest post is by Indie author Suzanne Hagelin. Suzanne is a USA Today best-selling author of science fiction. I’ve enjoyed her work and look forward to hearing what she has to say!

What could be more delightful than a great story told well? Homer continues to gain “Iliad” fans after thousands of years and Shakespeare retains his reputation as a master playwright. How did they assemble the parts to create a satisfying whole? Is it possible to find a common denominator for all the successful plots out there? The approaches to building a story are so numerous and versatile that it could be daunting to pull out a basic principle that works for all, but this might be a good starting place.

A good plot cooperates with the way human minds process information.

The key to processing and digesting information is organizing it in a way our brains can use. Reading books is no exception. A simple narrative with few characters can get away with a scattered tossing of events and ideas, but the more complex a story becomes, the more essential it is to have a well-organized plot.

When we organize a plot, we’re creating a pattern of events, forming the basic structure of the story. The author’s success in weaving them together depends on how the pieces are coordinated. Ideally, authors lay out their stories in ways that make sense and don’t require too much guessing or backtracking on the part of the reader.


Reality happens in order—at least as far as we know in this branch of the multiverse—but we experience reality in complex ways because of how we process information; reviewing memories, comparing facts, dealing with trauma, struggling with questions. Our minds are existing in the present, and branch into the past and future as well, as we evaluate our lives. This is why we can enjoy stories told out of sequence and why breaking up the chronology of a plot can work.

In fact, it can be masterfully done.

“Memento” is a film about a man who can’t form permanent memories because of a traumatic incident that included the death of his wife. By showing only what he experiences and moving backwards, the movie captures what it’s like to be this man and shows us at the same time what is actually happening. It’s intense, tragic, and disturbing. The author set up the pattern very carefully so that, even as scenes were moving in reverse in time, our understanding of who the characters were and what was happening progressed in a logical way forward, building solidly. The viewer’s experience was sequential, like walking backwards in the snow, watching the ground so you can set each foot in the print you left on your way there, only seeing one at a time.

Most stories are told sequentially with occasional visits to the past.

Ways to organize the chronology of your plot

By characters

Take each of your main characters and jot down the flow of the story from their point of view. Let their motivations and personalities clarify gaps or redirect the plot. For example, “Joe” wouldn’t just be sitting there for seven chapters while “Mary” is battling a monster. Of course, you don’t have to write what Joe is doing, but you should know.

Once you’ve got each character’s thread, look at how they cross and interact. You may find some plot peaks and valleys this way.

By timeline

Take the space of time your story covers and place events on it. The most logical approach is to tell the story in the order it happened, within reason. You wouldn’t interrupt a scene to throw in what was happening at the same time somewhere else unless it were essential to tie the two events together immediately. You may want to interlace chapters that deal with different segments in order to preserve the forward momentum of the plot.

If you aren’t telling your story in the order it happened, why not? Memories and flashbacks happen within the mind. Whose mind are you connecting it to? It could be a specific character or the reader, as if they had found a historical resource to draw from.

Ask questions like:

  • Is there a good reason why this isn’t happening in chronological order?
  • Who is linked to this and how will I maintain the continuity of the plot?
  • Would putting this section back into the timeline make more sense or improve the plot?
  • Does this help the reader to know what I (the author) know or does it confuse them?

One of my novels was really suffering until I did this. I laid the scenes out on a timeline and realized how I had been botching it by neglecting the importance of chronology. Reorganizing the flow helped me regain momentum not only in the story progression but in my writing.

By key points

There are specific landmarks you need to get to, pivotal events in your book that are essential. Identifying those and placing them in strategic places will help you decide what should happen between them. I may not have decided how to accomplish this, but I know that about halfway through the book, that character has to be in this situation. Anchoring these might change the structure of your plot somewhat but that’s good. Now you know where you’re going.

The reader will sense that direction even if they don’t know where you’re taking them.


When composers craft a symphony, writing musical notes in patterns, choosing instruments and how they blend together, they are weaving a story with sound. The conductor interprets the notes, expanding or contracting tempos, creating highs and lows, excitement or calm, making it individual. The musicians follow the conductor’s instructions, but each one has their own level of skill, talent, and nuances of style.

Stories are compositions, like music. When authors sketch out a storyline, adding characters, locations, sequences of events, and dialog, they are composing a story with words. The style of writing fleshes it out, like a conductor, and determines the impact the plot will have.

Consider your book from a musical standpoint. Where are your crescendos and decrescendos? Are there long, legato passages and short staccato ones? Have you built a rhythm and pace that conveys emotion? This approach can identify long dull patches or consistently tense ones that never have peaks or valleys.

When you’re sitting down to organize your plot, there are several things to look at. You want to consider:

  • The structure of the timeline in the story, what happens when
  • The flow of how you tell the story, which isn’t necessarily the same
  • Where your characters are at each point in that flow

This is helpful because:

  • You can identify transitions and make sure you handle them the way you want.
  • You can make a note of where support characters come in and how much the reader needs to know about them that hasn’t happened on the pages.
  • You can get a feel for the tempo of the book, where it’s dragging or when it’s rushing at a steady clip for too long, and choose places to add pauses or excitement, as the case may be.

Tools for organization

My favorite tool for organizing plots is Excel. I can track as many things as I wish through the plot because there’s always room for another row or column. Sometimes it’s basically an outline. Sometimes it’s a lot more.

There are times, though, where I can’t get what I need on a computer no matter how many sheets I have open or how big the screen is. I need something that can be moved around or scribbled on or torn up with bare hands. Then I turn to 3 x 5 index cards, sticky notes, torn pieces of paper. Laying it all out and sometimes marking it with colored codes, I can solve problems that can’t be tackled any other way. I can see at once where everyone is, everything that’s happening.

This rescued that book I mentioned, spreading it out made me realize I had approached the flow all wrong. The how and when of the story had to change completely. Fortunately, it didn’t mean a lot of rewrites, but it did alter the pace drastically. Chapters I had written that had a good tempo acquired more of a rushed feel, but since the plot as a whole wasn’t working before, the gain was worth the cost.

Talking about the plot out loud can be handy as well. Listing the sequence of events may reveal a hole. Talking about character motives may indicate scenes I left out. Maybe something I thought was great actually sounds dumb when I say it aloud.

Scene flow

Organizing your plot extends into the details and can be an asset to writing individual scenes.

Once a scene has been written, I always go back and look at the flow. I have a tendency to jumble my ideas together, associating them in ways that aren’t sequential—especially when I’m comfortable with them and already blazing ahead in my mind to what comes next. A painting can do that. It can present all the pieces of its image together and let you choose how you examine it. One person may prefer to consider the colors first, and another looks for faces, but authors are only giving a piece at a time and if we aren’t careful, we can lose the reader before the picture is complete.

This sounds obvious, but sometimes I have to remind myself that the reader is reading sequentially.

Present ideas in order

The woman enters the room and sees the wild animal before pulling out her weapon with a shriek. She doesn’t scream first, shoot, and then enter the room. This seems obvious, and the example is kind of simplistic, but the truth is I usually have to go back and make sure I’m not doing this.

“Shrieking and pulling out her Glock, the woman blasted the creature repeatedly as she entered the room where the beast had broken in through a window.”

Reorganizing the progression makes it easier to follow.

“Entering the room, the woman shrieked at the sight of the beast, covered in glass from a broken window, and within seconds had pulled out her Glock and unloaded over twelve plugs into its bulk.”

This isn’t beautiful writing, but it’s easier to follow when the sequence makes sense.

Organize the flow of action, then identify and fill in missing pieces.

Final thoughts

The reader has no idea about our story until we present it to them. They can’t see what we can see or know the characters like we know them. If we want them to enjoy the process of entering into this world so they can experience the adventure we’ve prepared, we need to assemble the parts in an easily absorbed way.

A story that sweeps you up into its grasp and carries you off into the sunset doesn’t happen by accident.

Someone laid a well-crafted snare.

Thank you for this highly detailed post, Suzanne! 

Her first post in this series was “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Mind”. You can read the second installment in this series here, “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Time”, and the fourth post will be on William Cook’s Blog next week.

Graphic made with photos by NASA Hubble and Christophe Ferron on Unsplash

USA Today bestselling author of hard science fiction, Suzanne Hagelin, lives in the Seattle area where she runs a small press, Varida P&R, and teaches language on the side.

Her Books. The Silvarian Trilogy Book 1, “Body Suit” is available for 99c in April only and the audiobook is Downpour’s current Editor’s Pick at $4.95. Book 2 “Nebulus” just released on audio, and Book 3, “The Denser Plane” is in the writing stage. The Severance begins with “Cascade” and will be followed by “Eclipse”.

LINKS—Suzannehagelin.com, Suzanne’s Blog, Newsletter, Twitter, FaceBook, Medium




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