Community Member Q&A: The Writers Workshop

“The best way to grow a book is to write it, and then get responses and guidance from other writers. It’s like an actor getting notes during rehearsals and then polishing the performance.”

-Ron Seybold

The Writers Workshop develops writers, edits books, and helps authors from inspiration to publication. Founded by editor and novelist Ron Seybold, The Writers Workshop is a resource that provides writing workshops for novels and memoirs, creativity groups, coaching, and editorial services. Ron, the author of the novel Viral Times, has been writing and editing for publication for 35 years. He is also a past finalist in the Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Contest in the Memoir and Historical Fiction categories.

In addition to developing and inspiring authors, the Writers Workshop is a proud Community Member of the Writers’ League of Texas. Read the interview below with Ron Seybold to find out more.

Ron SeyboldScribe: Tell us a little about why you founded the Writer’s Workshop and its mission.

Ron Seybold: I wanted to build a service with a full spectrum for authors, from creation to workshopping and then to editing for publication. After more than 25 years of writing, editing, acting, and podcasting, I trained in the Amherst Writers & Artists practices. I started to lead weekly Creation Nights, which soon led to workshops for authors writing books. From there, I transitioned into editing services as well.

Back in 2006 editorial services for authors were just starting to bloom. I’d been working in publications, helping writers improve their work. We editors are lucky to play our part to help hard-working writers get to publication. The Workshop gives authors the services and support to bring their books to the world. The best way to grow a book is to write it, and then get responses and guidance from other writers.

writers workshop logo.jpgScribe: In July, you spoke on a Writers’ League Third Thursday panel about writing and critique groups. Why is it important for writers to find writing/critique groups?

RS: You may be able to envision what you want your book to be, but other writers will see what a reader wants and needs from your story. You don’t copyedit a book in a good group—you learn what’s working in your story, what confuses a reader, and where readers may have drifted in your writing. All three of those notes are important. In a good group, the authors are both honest and polite, encouraging as well as specific while they critique.

A group helps you produce on a deadline for others to read. You also get better at understanding the components of stories by annotating responses to other authors. You become adept at naming the parts of the world. The podcast from that Third Thursday says even more about how to workshop well.

Scribe: You recently created an anthology of some of your Workshop participants’ writing, titled Small Packages. Can you tell us a more about this anthology and how it came into being?

RS: After being an editor all those years, it was my dream to start a small lit journal. Over the first nine years of Creation Nights, some amazing writing emerged. Creation Nights are 25-minute writing sessions, and during those sessions, some people created completed flash fiction, some have now had short stories published in journals, and others wrote the building blocks that became books. It’s a thrill to know that I was able to assist writers whose work is now for sale BookPeople and Malvern Books. I love those bookstores.

Scribe: What’s important to you about supporting the Writers’ League of Texas and being a community member?

RS: The Writers’ League of Texas is essential to the health of our writing community. I tell every Workshop member to join because WLT teaches us to write better and more easily, as well as making us aware of the business side of the publishing world and giving us opportunities to make connections. The contests lift up authors, too. Craft, community, and business savvy are a powerful toolset for any writer. A Saturday spent with WLT instructors always gives me something to take back to my editing desk, writing groups, and my own keyboard.

Scribe: Here at the Writers’ League, we love sharing book recommendations. What’s one Texas-related book that has come out within the past year that you couldn’t put down?

RS: Faking Lucky by Q.D. Perdu, who won the Writers’ League Manuscript Contest in the Romance category with the story a few years ago. Sweet, sexy, funny, wise, and set in Austin. How do you go wrong with a comic love story about a heroine named Desdemona?

Scribe: Anything else you’d like to share?

RS: Those Creation Nights are block-busters. Writing in them helps us stay in contact with our book projects. You never know where the writing will go. One writer worked her way onto the New York Times bestseller list. We have a new series starting in March, and a few seats open in our workshop groups, too.

 

Thanks, Ron!

Click here to visit The Writers Workshop website.

Are you a business or organization interested in getting involved?

Community Membership is a great way to connect with the Writers’ League’s membership base and share news and information about writing-related services and events. For more information on Community Membership click here or call our office at (512) 499-8914.

Meet the Members: Curt Locklear

“I believe in goal-setting, so I do not doubt that my books will ultimately take off and be sought after by all types of readers.”

-Curt Locklear

A member of the Writers’ League of Texas for four years, Curt Locklear lives in The Woodlands, TX.

curt-locklearScribe: In what genre(s) do you write?

Curt Locklear: I write in several genres: contemporary, mystery, and historical fiction. My published novel is historical fiction.

Scribe: What author would you most like to have a drink with, and what’s the first question you would ask them?

CL: Were she alive, I would like to have a drink, probably tea, with Mother Teresa. I would ask her how she was able to persevere and do  so much good for the poor, and indeed for the world, despite incredible odds.

Scribe: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what book would you want to have with you to keep you sane?

CL: I would have to have the Bible, but if I could bring along a fiction book, it would be Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier.

Scribe: What have you learned from your association with the Writers’ League?

CL: I have attended some valuable workshops. I believe the people who run it are a confluence of geniuses. You know what writers need, and I applaud you.

Scribe: Where do you see your writing taking you (or you taking it) in the future?

CL: I believe in goal-setting, so I do not doubt that my books will ultimately take off and be sought after by all types of readers. Although my first novel trilogy is a historical fiction, many of my most enthralled readers do not typically read historical fiction. What I hear the most is something like, “OMG, I love this book. I love the characters.”

Scribe: Here at the Writers’ League, we love sharing book recommendations. What’s one Texas-related book that has come out within the past year that you couldn’t put down?

CL: Anything by Anthony Whitt — sterling writing with strong characters. His books are about Texas cowboys facing incredible danger.

Scribe: Is there anything else about you that you would look to share with the world? An opportunity for blatant self-promotion!

CL: I am a retired educator, having been a principal at elementary, middle school, and high school. I am an accomplished education consultant. In addition, I give talks about the Civil War or other historical eras, always accompanied by my banjo and guitar. I tell corny jokes and make the learning memorable and fun. I’m available to teach on writing, brain theory, and more. www.CurtLocklearAuthor.com and email curt@curtlocklearauthor.com.

Finally, it’s my humble opinion that Writers’ League rocks!

Thanks, Curt!

If you’re a Writers’ League member and you’d be interested in being interviewed for our Meet the Members feature, email us at member@writersleague.org for more information. It’s a great way for other members to get to know you and for you to share a bit about what you’re working on!

Instructor Q&A: Deanna Roy

“Self-publishing is really about believing in the words you’ve put together, no matter what an agent or editor is saying.”

-Deanna Roy

Deanna Roy is teaching a class for the Writers’ League called “Succeeding in the Current Self-Publishing Market.”  This class will give writers a better understanding of what the self-publishing market has to offer, to help them make a better decision about whether or not self-publishing might be the right track for them.

Deanna RoyScribe: What is one of the best benefits of going the route of self-publishing? One of the greatest challenges?

Deanna Roy: Biggest benefit: Your success is completely on your shoulders. Greatest challenge: Your success is completely on your shoulders.

Self-publishing is really about believing in the words you’ve put together, no matter what an agent or editor is saying. Are they right that your book is not marketable? Maybe. But most likely they are only right that your book is not marketable by them.

Scribe: One appeal of the self-publishing route is the assumed quicker turnaround than the traditional publishing route. Is there any truth in this, or any unintended consequences that people often overlook?

DR: This made me giggle a little. Traditional: 18 months average. Self-publishing: 12 hours average.

The beauty of traditional publishing is that the system is all in place. Acquisitions, legal, editorial, then placement in a catalog and orders by bookstores. It’s a system that does what it needs to do for print. Ebooks are a bonus.

Self-publishing is really about preparing for an online digital market. Paperbacks are a bonus.

So if your book is written and edited right now, could you be selling it by this time tomorrow? You bet. Upload your Microsoft Word doc to Amazon, let it convert it, and go. (Sometimes it goes live within an hour.)

These days, I do about six months of marketing prior to the release of anything big. But I have done fast turnarounds if the market demands it. The fastest I’ve gone from “Readers want a sequel?” to “Here are buy links!” was seven weeks. Was it a terrible book? Maybe. It sold about 20,000 copies and has a rating of 4.3 out of 5 stars on Amazon. That’s good enough for me.

Scribe: In the spirit of supporting local authors and businesses, do independent bookstores play a significant role in the process of establishing self-published authors?

DR: Independent bookstores have evolved a little to help with local self-published authors who want to do book signings or have books in stock. They have consignment agreements and group signing events. It definitely happens. But self-publishing is really about digital books. That’s where we have taken publishing by storm. We market directly to our readers through online platforms using primarily email lists, social media, and virtual reader groups.

Scribe: What one piece of advice would you give to someone wanting to self-publish their work?

DR: PLEASE watch out for scams. With the rise of self-publishing, the opportunists have set up shop. They want you to think this is so hard that unless you want to “spend all your time formatting your book,” you should pay them to prepare your book for the market or (EEK!) let them upload it for you.

Learn what you need to know before handing your book baby over to anyone. Take the time you might have spent researching agents or querying publishers to instead figure out the steps you need to take to get it into the hands of readers yourself. The more you know, the more you maximize the return on your investment of time and creative energy (Your success is completely on your shoulders!)

Thanks, Deanna!

Click here to register for Deanna’s class.

Click here for our current online class schedule.

About the Instructor

Deanna Roy is the six-time USA Today bestselling author of women’s fiction, college romance, and middle grade books under three pen names. She is a regular speaker and instructor for authors who choose the self-publishing route for their books.

Meet the Members: Ginger McKnight-Chavers

“My first novel, In the Heart of Texas, was just released in October of 2015. It has helped me create a platform and gain the confidence to finally call myself an ‘author’ instead of a ‘recovering lawyer.”

-Ginger McKnight-Chavers

A Writers’ League of Texas member since 2015, Dallas-native Ginger McKnight-Chavers lives near New York City.

gmcScribe: In what genre(s) do you write?

Ginger McKnight-Chavers: I write in the genres of contemporary fiction, women’s fiction, and humor. I also do some essay and article writing in the areas of culture, law, politics, and parenting.

Scribe: What author would you most like to have a drink with, and what’s the first question you would ask them?

GMC: I am more of a white wine and margaritas kind of girl, but I would have Cognac with James Baldwin, since he relied on Cognac and coffee to keep him warm in the Paris cafe where he wrote Go Tell it On the Mountain. Once we were warm and cozy, I would ask him for the skinny on his beef with Richard Wright.

Scribe: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what book would you want to have with you to keep you sane?

GMC:  The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.

Scribe: What have you learned from your association with the Writers’ League?

GMC: I consider myself a Texan author, no matter where I happen to be in the world. The Writers’ League not only provides useful resources and workshops, but it keeps me connected with other Texan authors.

Scribe: Where do you see your writing taking you (or you taking it) in the future?

GMC:  My first novel, In the Heart of Texas, was just released in October of 2015. It has helped me create a platform and gain the confidence to finally call myself an “author” instead of a “recovering lawyer.” I plan to continue to write contemporary novels featuring interesting, Texan female protagonists. A second novel is already in the works, titled Oak Cliff, and it will focus on female friendship set in the rapidly gentrifying Dallas neighborhood where I grew up. I also will continue to write the occasional essay or article. I recently wrote an article about Beyonce for Essence.com that I hope will enable me to meet Queen Bey someday.

Scribe: Here at the Writers’ League, we love sharing book recommendations. What’s one Texas-related book that has come out within the past year that you couldn’t put down?

GMC: How to be Texan: The Manual by Texas Monthly’s Andrea Valdez. Perfect for a homesick Texan like myself.

Scribe: Is there anything else about you that you would like to share with the world? An opportunity for blatant self-promotion!

GMC: It was a very long road for me to have my first novel, In the Heart of Texas, published. In addition to a number of personal hurdles and challenges, the journey included praise by prominent agents (who still strung me along and never signed me), multiple rejections, a writing fellowship, a deal with a small press that folded, and finally a new home at She Writes Press, an independent publisher.

The silver lining of the struggle was that I learned a great deal about the business of publishing and promoting one’s self as an author, my writing improved immensely along the way, and, most of all, I was empowered by the fact that I never gave up on writing or myself.

In the Heart of Texas recently won the USA Best Book Award in the category of Fiction: African American, and it has received praise from Redbook, PopSugar, Bustle, Parade, BuzzFeed, Library Journal, RT Book Reviews, Brit + Co, and SoulCycle, among others. I am greatly enjoying meeting readers and sharing this labor of love with them.

Between promoting the novel and a part-time writing assignment with an online media group, I am finally living the writing life, after close to 20 years as a corporate and arts/entertainment lawyer. I am looking forward to being able to devote more attention to my second novel-in-progress, Oak Cliff. And I am helping my elderly mother, Dr. Mamie McKnight, write a memoir and family history. As a longtime educator and historian who is in the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame, and who is very modest about writing about herself, I want to make sure she shares her amazing Texan story with the world. Others can learn from her experiences in the way that I have, as her daughter.

Thanks, Ginger!

If you’re a Writers’ League member and you’d be interested in being interviewed for our Meet the Members feature, email us at member@writersleague.org for more information. It’s a great way for other members to get to know you and for you to share a bit about what you’re working on!

Instructor Q&A: Lindsey Lane

“Often writers think they have to add a bunch of characters and conflicts into their short stories, as if a very simple, inevitable story isn’t enough. That’s not true. What writers need to focus on instead is building the indelible richness of how that short story unfolds.”

-Lindsey Lane

Lindsey Lane is teaching a class for the Writers’ League of Texas called “The Craft of Short Fiction: Telling the Story with Fewer Words and More Punch.” Crafting short stories requires great openings, vivid details, escalating tension, a tightly choreographed climax, and a perfect ten ending. This class is for all writers (beginning to advanced) who want to sharpen their short story writing tools.

lindsey-laneScribe: Some people consider short fiction to be a stepping stone for novel-length work. Do you agree?

Lindsey Lane: Short fiction can be a great way to practice and hone craft elements like plot and character development. In many respects, it’s whole lot easier to shape a story that is 2,500 words than one that is 60,000 words. But if you’re talking about a short work being a precursor to a long work, it definitely happens.  Sometimes a short story feels like it has more potential. In my own case, Evidence of Things Not Seen began as a series of stories. My critique group saw potential in one of the stories that featured a missing boy and suggested I expand that character (or lack thereof) and weave his story line through the entire town. There a lots of other writers who have expanded short stories into longer works. Stephen King and Chris Bohjalian come to mind right away. So yes, writing short fiction can be a stepping stone to writing novels both in terms of practicing craft and seeing a greater potential in a story.

Scribe: What can writers expect when trying to submit short fiction for publication?

LL: The good news is there are a lot of digital and print outlets for short fiction. The bad news is they are often understaffed. So we need to make sure we are patient and persistent. And organized. It’s important to keep track of your submissions.

Scribe: Do you ever come across stories that are simply too ambitious for short form fiction? How do you suggest writers go about making the decision to commit their story to short form?

LL: I’ve coached writers on trimming and shaping their stories so they aren’t so “rangey.” Short fiction has to be leaner. What’s common to both long and short fiction is that writers need to begin at a place where the story that follows is inevitable. In long form, that inevitability has to be sticky enough to sustain a whole world. In short fiction, the inevitability can be much simpler. Often writers think they have to add a bunch of characters and conflicts into their short stories, as if a very simple, inevitable story isn’t enough. That’s not true. What writers need to focus on instead is building the indelible richness of how that short story unfolds.

Scribe: Short stories have been growing in popularity in recent years. In your opinion, are there any specific aspects of the short form that might be more appealing than the long form to contemporary writers and/or readers?

LL: Most obviously, we’re all pretty squished for time so it’s easier to dip into short fiction and experience (or create) a bit of another world. Especially an emotional one. I love that about short stories, how they suggest a mood or a feeling. It’s almost like you get to step into a world with a delicate fragrance. Some short stories feel like a light kiss on the cheek. You can step into a suggestion of a world without having to plod through the whole mess of it. I love that brief interlude with short fiction. Also, as a reader, I suppose you could get a taste for a writer’s style by reading her short stories before you commit to reading her novel.

Scribe: Do you have any short fiction you’d like to recommend to readers?

Everyone should read Vonnegut and study how he does humor. Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women is outstanding for its richness. Sherman Alexie’s use of dialogue in his short stories blows my mind. And short fiction for kids? I love Tim Wynne-Jones’s Some of the Kinder Planets. It is excellent.

Thanks, Lindsey!

Click here to register for Lindsey’s class.

Click here for our current class schedule.

 

About the Instructor

Lindsey Lane is an award-winning playwright and children’s and young adult author. She earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her debut young adult novel Evidence Of Things Not Seen (Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2014) is a “unique, powerful novel,” said Francisco Stork, author of Marcelo and the Real World. Publisher’s Weekly said, that “offers a gripping and genre-bending mosaic centered around the sudden disappearance of physics-obsessed high school junior Tommy Smythe.” The Horn Book said, “Complex and rich, the story hints at Tommy’s fate, but with an open ending that is perfect for sparking discussion.” Lindsey is also the author of the award-winning picture book (Clarion) and iTunes app (PicPocket) Snuggle Mountain, illustrations by Melissa Iwai, which was named Best Children’s Book of 2004 by Bank Street College of Education. She lives in Austin, Texas with her family.

Online Class Instructor Q&A: Stephanie Noll

“When you choose a point of view, you are choosing the lens through which you want your reader to see the world you are creating.”

-Stephanie Noll

Stephanie Noll is teaching an online class for the Writers’ League called “Whose Story Is it? Playing with Point of View.” Choosing a point of view shapes how you—and your reader—experience any narrative. This class will give students the tools to determine how to best tell a story using point of view.

12418907_10207882495915523_8038592689268215250_o-1Scribe: Which points of view will you be discussing? 

Stephanie Noll: We will discuss 1st person, 2nd person, and 3rd person limited and omniscient.

Scribe: Why is it important to consider the different points of view a story can use? 

SN: When you choose a point of view, you are choosing the lens through which you want your reader to see the world you are creating. Each POV option has its advantages and shortcomings, so a writer should be clear on which POV they are selecting and how that choice will best support the story they are telling.

Scribe: In the class description, you ask, “What if Gone Girl had been told through a 3rd person omniscient point of view?” What would have happened?  

SN: Part of the success of a novel like Gone Girl is that the writer is asking the reader to consider multiple points of view and determine (or not!) what is reliable. The book is written in a way that allows the reader to draw their own conclusions, and had it been told using the 3rd person omniscient POV, some of that would be lost.

Scribe: Once you pick a point of view for a story, do you need to stick with it? Can you ever change it?

SN: When revising, you might determine that the POV you initially told the story from is not effective. But there are lots of books that vary the POV from chapter to chapter.

Scribe: Are there certain kinds of stories that are better off told through particular points of view?

SN: I think it can help to look at the genre that you are writing in. Young adult novels are often written in the first person, I think because that POV offers and immediate intimacy. Mystery novels or crime dramas seem to use a 3rd person POV–it’s escapist fiction, right? Using that POV really can allow for the author to create a character–one that might even be the fixture of a whole series of books. With literary fiction, it’s definitely anything goes, and I think it’s in that genre where you’ll see writers experiment with POV.

Scribe: What are some of the stories and novels that you’ll be using as examples?

SN: We’ll read excerpts from The Great Gatsby, Gone Girl, and ZZ Packer’s fantastic story “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere.” We’ll take a look at pages from Mary Karr’s Cherry to consider how to use the 2nd person POV, and we’ll look at work by Mary Helen Specht and Ben Fountain when talking about the 3rd person POV.

Thanks, Stephanie!

Click here to register for Stephanie’s class.

Click here for our current online class schedule.

 

About the Instructor

Stephanie Noll taught the Advanced Craft Workshop in Fall 2016. She studied fiction writing at Texas State University, where she earned her MFA. She is a frequent storyteller at The Story Department, a monthly fundraiser for the non-profit Austin Bat Cave, and has also told stories at Listen to Your Mother, Backyard Story Night, Hyde Park Story Night, and the Tellers. Stephanie has 18 years of teaching experience and works as a senior lecturer in the English department at Texas State where she recently was awarded an Excellence in Teaching award. Stephanie is the director of Old Books for New Teachers, an organization that helps first-year teachers build classroom libraries. She has written a novel about a standardized test cheating scandal at an inner-city Houston high school.

 

Instructor Q&A: Stephanie Barko

“It’s never too early to find the readers for your next book.”

-Stephanie Barko

Stephanie Barko is teaching a class for the Writers’ League of Texas called “Start Your Author Platform” on February 4 at St. Edward’s University in Austin, TX. This class will be appropriate for writers ready to promote their books and writers still working on manuscripts but thinking ahead. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.

stephanie_barko-4671-1Scribe: How important is it for authors to take an active role in promoting and marketing themselves and their work? Isn’t that their publisher’s job?

Stephanie Barko: Ha! An author would have to be at the top of an imprint’s heap to get much attention at all.

Many publishers don’t spell out in their contracts what marketing they agree to do, if any. It is always the author’s responsibility to promote their work, regardless of publishing track.

Scribe: What if writers have never done any marketing or promotional work–they’ve just worked in solitude and written their books? How difficult is it to begin promoting themselves?

SB: I would substitute the word “necessary” for the word “difficult” in this question. Considering how many books are published each year, I consider it necessary to build your following a year in advance of release date. It’s never too early to find the readers for your next book.

Scribe: How essential is social media to marketing? Is it one piece, or is it the whole thing?

SB: Social media is one element in the trifecta that is author marketing. Come learn the other two in my class.

Scribe: When you talk about an “author platform,” what exactly do you mean?

SB: A book platform establishes a forum and following for your book. An author platform defines your brand and who you are across your entire body of work.

Thanks, Stephanie!

Click here to register for Stephanie’s class.

Click here for our current class schedule.

 

About the Instructor

Stephanie Barko is a literary publicist whose award-winning clients include traditional publishers and their authors, small presses, and independently published authors. She has been shepherding nonfiction and historical fiction for American authors since 2006. This spring Stephanie will speak on the publishing industry as a SXSW Interactive Mentor/Presenter.