In around April last year, I had just finished my first novel. At least, I thought I had. And then I attended the Kauai Writers Conference.
About ten minutes into the first presentation, I had a list of about twenty improvements. Then the next panelist threw in structure and story arc. A Best-Selling-Author talked about pacing and character development. And it turned out that even my ruddy punctuation needed some work (I’m British, what can I say? You Americans must have missed the quotations memo). My list got longer and the idea of imminent publication more distant.
That might sound a teensy bit depressing, but it was the best thing that could have possibly happened to me. The book just wasn’t ready. It was a prototype, a rough draft, a beginning, covered in scratches and bashed up at the edges. But the expert speakers were the balm it needed, a bit of tough love to straighten it out and make it fly again.
And the conference offered exactly the kind of support that I needed too. I’d been working away on the book in a little vacuum, emerging, bleary eyed, to bounce plot ideas off my husband who is mainly into zombie movies and therefore of limited help unless you want your hero’s throat bitten out. At KWC, there were dozens of people, going through the same thing as me; wrestling with their wayward characters and trying to rescue storylines that kept nose-diving off the Na Pali cliffs. Not only could the attendees nod sympathetically at these issues, there were real-live-published-writers who could tell you how they solved those problems, and agents who could advise you (in the nicest possible way), at which point they would have stopped reading your masterpiece and exactly why that was.
The speakers were also clear on the reality of publishing today. It’s no good sending off the apple of your literary eye to an agent, sitting back and waiting for the money to flood in. They will google you and you will be found wanting or, quite possibly, entirely absent from the web-o-sphere. We had seminars on setting up author platforms, self-publishing, social media and more. Being an author is no longer just about writing a half decent manuscript. Getting it out there is what it’s all about.
I’d like to say that I went home, polished up the book, whipped up a webpage and am now on track to be a best selling author, mixing with the Hollywood elite as I sell the rights to the movie script. Sadly, it would not be entirely true. The book is still a work in progress and my celebrity experience remains limited to spotting Pierce Brosnan on the beach at Haena. But I am so much further forward in terms of creating a book that actually works. (I do have a webpage though!)
I’ll be back at the conference this time – there’s still so much more to learn from the other writers and from the speakers. If you have the vaguest inclination to write, or a byte-marked manuscript tumbling around in your hard drive, KWC is the catalyst you need to make it great. I’ll see you there.
Author’s note: other key considerations - the muffins were really excellent; the coffee was unlimited; and did I mention the venue is on the beach? On the most beautiful island in the world? You should probably just book now.