Guest Post for S.J. Abraham

I have a guest post over at Geekly Writing. It’s where I pontificate about and educate youngsters (get off my lawn and get to coding!) about how to carve out a path as a software engineer. You can see it right here.

You Never Knew Me, But I Have Met You

I awoke yesterday morning, and the very first thing I saw in my RSS feeds was news of Jay Lake‘s passing on SF Signal.

Jay didn’t know me. We were Facebook friends with the occasional “like” or “share” between us, but no real conversation or comments to talk about.

However, I met Jay. I met him through an interview he gave over at SF Signal. I met him through his writing, his short stories, his novels, and his non-fiction.

Did I know Jay? No. I can’t claim to have known him as deeply as other people in his life. Far from it. However, I knew him through his words. That’s the extent of my relationship with someone no longer with us. That will be the only kind of relationship I’ll have with Jay. It will never change as the only thing I have left are his stories on paper and his voice coming at me through my iPod.

I’ve met quite a few people that were touched by Jay during his short forty-nine years on this planet. Without exception, they related to me the kindness, generosity, love, and care he had for everyone around him. Even when busy with his own concerns (like fighting off the cancer that eventually took him on the next part of his journey), he had time to guide “Hugo newbies” through the process of what to expect and how to do things. From the tales I’ve heard, he put out an incredible amount of energy and concern into others.

Jay, you don’t know me, but I know you through your deeds, actions, words, and legend. You’ll be missed. I only wish we could have met on this side of things. Maybe we could have had a Hawaiian shirt contest (odds in your favor, of course). I hope to be able to meet you on the other side of this life and swap some stories while wearing hideously-colored clothing.

Thank you for the words… more than that really… that you’ve shared with the rest of us.

A Fear: Writing the Other

I’ve started work on a new sword & sorcery series. I have a map of the city. I have back story of the city. I have scant character outlines. I know how the two protagonists met. I’ve worked up key side characters and vital locations. I’ve outlined the plot of the first book as well as I can without actually writing the book.

Egan was a well-educated (thus well-spoken) child living in a remote area. The emperor took offense to some (as yet to be determined) slight (or maybe an attack?) by leaders of Egan’s village. The emperor (being the bastard he is) declared a rebellion brewing in the village and ordered all adults killed and all children to be enslaved. Egan was barely young enough to be called a child. He and his brother were taken back to the city and sold off. Egan was forced into life as a gladiator because of his size, strength, and intelligence. He did well for himself.

Stiles was raised in the warrens of the city, and was forced to survive through any means necessary. He never knew his parents and was more-or-less raised by communal efforts to groom him to be a thief. As a result, he became a stellar thief just because he knew he had to be valuable to someone in order to make that someone keep him alive. His drive to excel pushed him high enough in the hierarchy of the Warrens to the point where he was able to escape to the city proper. Once in the city, he was back on the bottom rung of society and had to start over. He’s known to the law as a relatively minor criminal, but always manages to slide past punishments meted out by the judiciary system.

There. We have a couple of character sketches and some background.

Sounds like I’m in good shape, right?

Not so much.

Here’s why:

Egan is a black man. Yes. I went there. I enslaved a black man to a white master. While this is an alternate reality story, it’s a reflection on history of our world. I hope to treat the outlook, attitudes, actions, and reactions of not only Egan, but also society, his master, those against slavery, and those for slavery properly. I’m a middle-aged white guy who has never been a slave. I’ve never owned slaves. Slavery (at least in the United States) was long gone before I came about. This means I have no personal experience with any of this. Egan, his past (and present) situation(s), this society, his master, etc. are all “the other” to me.

Stiles is gay. I had originally written him as a womanizer, but every time I had Stiles flirting with a woman, something felt off to me. The interactions were false at face value. I didn’t even believe them. As an exercise, I wrote a test scene where Stiles had an intimate (not sex, just close) moment with another man. Someone who was once a lover, but now are just good friends that still deeply care for one another. The scene worked. It felt (to me) to be plausible… believable…. genuine. This convinced me that the character that leaped from my brain was not who I originally imagined. He told me he was gay. Who am I to argue? However, I’m not homosexual. This means I have a second main character of the series that is also “the other.” I’ve had a few gay/lesbian friends over the years, and they are the people I’m thinking of when I write Stiles. I’m not planning on using them as examples or character sketches, mind you. I’m going to be thinking, “Will they approve? Will they like this? Will they ‘buy’ this scene with Stiles?”

So there you go.

I’m writing “the other” on so many different levels with my next project that I’m actually scared shitless about doing it.

Will that stop me?

Hell, no!

I’m all in.

I’m going to do this.

I just hope I do it well enough to make an entertaining story without forcing my middle-aged-hetero-white-guy perspective and attitudes onto my decidedly different characters.

Wish me luck.

PPWC 2014 Recap

I’m at a loss for where to start.

Our annual Pikes Peak Writers Conference has been the works for about 15-18 months. Yeah. It takes us that long to get everything ironed out and going properly. Now that the 2014 PPWC over, we’re focused on 2015, but not after taking a well-deserved break for a week or two. I won’t bore you with the logistics and planning that go into a conference. This means I’ll be focusing on what happened Wednesday through Sunday of this past week. I can’t really think of a better way to present things for you other than chronologically. This means some very cool stuff will have to wait until later to be talked about.

Here goes….


I hit Tri-Lakes Printing to pick up schedules, handouts, programs, inserts, and other goodies. It turned out our handouts weren’t quite ready, and this was entirely on PPW’s shoulders. Charise was in their lobby on their laptop hastily rearranging the PDF to get them a corrected copy. I applaud Charise for her dedication to perfection with our handouts. Well done! I picked up what was ready, and headed out.

I was about 90 minutes early for my meeting with Bonnie and Shannon at the storage unit, so I swung by the Colorado Springs Marriott to see about getting checking in early and offloading my bags into my room. This would make more room for unloading the storage unit. I was in luck! My room was ready for me, so I raced my goods from my car to my room and hit the road again.

Despite my side-trek to the Marriott, I still arrived at the storage units about 30 minutes early. After thinking about what goes where, I packed my car to the gills with the small-to-medium size boxes. This took all of 20 minutes, so I sat in my car with the A/C on and chilled out for a few minutes until Bonnie arrived. We moved more of the small-to-medium size boxes into her car and pretty much filled it up as well. Shannon texted to say she’d be a few minutes late, but arrived just in time to allow us to put the larger items into her Jeep, and off we were.

Once back at the Marriott, we offloaded what felt like a metric ton of goodies from our cars and into the staging area, which was destined to become our bookstore once we launched the conference.

I took this chance to run away from the Marriott for a few hours. I had to get food (and schlop mustard all over my “Super JT” t-shirt), do some last-minute shopping for goods for the conference (and a new t-shirt for me).

Once back at the Marriott, packet stuff, bag stuffing, moderator packet assembling, and bookstore set up was well underway. As president of PPW, I swung by all stations and checked in. Everything was under control as it always is. I stood around for a few moments just to catch my breath, before launching into telling people to tell me what to do. I collated packets, folded signs, schlepped things around the hotel, and did a handful of the small things that keep everything glued together. The energy and enthusiasm during prep time was outstanding!

During all of this, I caught word that our transportation director, Jason, had a sudden, personal emergency, and had to leave to take care of it. Ironically, he was going to be unable to pick up the agent he had scheduled himself for. Don’t worry, everything is fine with Jason. Someone else stepped up to pick up the agent, and then we found out the agent wouldn’t be arriving until fairly late due to flight delays. Jason’s backup had conflicting plans that evening when the flight was to arrive, so MB went in search of me. Since I was The Guy That Picked Up An Agent At Two In The Morning last year, I was sought out and when MB was halfway through explaining the situation, I interrupted her and told her that I was in.

I continued helping move things hither and to and stuffing things into envelopes, bags, boxes, and what-not. A few of us took a break from the work to hang out with some of the higher-ups of the Marriott and chat for a while. Since we do so much business together, it’s best to get to know each other better. We had a good hour (or so) of hanging out, eating a very yummy chocolate cake made by Ray, and drinking some really good wine.

Once that was over, the packing/stuffing was nearing complete when one of our volunteers fell ill. She’d gone too long without food, and her blood sugar levels crashed and burned. I have low blood sugar issues as well, so I spotted the symptoms and problems. She wanted to drive home, but I wouldn’t let her drive in that condition. I escorted Jade to the lobby where I bought her some protein and carbs to snack on.

When this mini-crisis was resolved, I took Jade back up to where the prep room was at and found that most everything was finished up.

That brought me to my next task: Getting to the airport in time to pick up Michelle Johnson. As usual for the day, I was early for picking her up, so I hung out at the airport and people watched. Normally, I’d mess around on my phone, but the battery was almost dead, and I didn’t want to kill the remaining 2% of my battery by playing Angry Birds. Michelle arrived, and we had a fantastic conversation about loads of different stuff while on the way to the Marriott. It mostly revolved around coffee, fantasy writing, and the various presentations we know how to teach.

Once I got Michelle settled at the hotel, I hit the bar and had a few drinks with some friends. It wasn’t too late when we all hit the sack because we knew had a long few days ahead of us.

However, I didn’t sleep well. I had some stress-induced dreams (which are rare for me.) In this case, I had this chain of logic going on in my head:

  1. We pulled things from storage.
  2. Everything is here at the hotel and ready to go, except the attendees.
  3. If the attendees are missing, we must have left them in the storage units.
  4. Therefore, the attendees are in the storage unit.

Yeah. That led to a restless night until around 4:30 in the morning when exhausting finally conquered the stress, and I got some decent sleep.


Thursday started off with me moderating a half-day session about how to do a pitch. Linda Rohrbough gave a fantastic session which received high praise from the attendees. I chose that session to moderate because Linda taught the very first PPW Write Brain I attended way back in August of 2008. I always love hearing her speak and teach. She is, quite simply, one of the best out there.

I somehow managed to end up late for lunch, but there was still a meal for me, so I scarfed down a turkey wrap while talking with some folks. I made a few new friends and reconnected with some old friends. It was a good meal with great conversation.

From there, I left the Marriott to get some PPW brochures printed up and run a few other errands. I got back later with the brochures in hand, and spread them about our area in the Marriott.

About this time, I sped (okay, I followed the speed limit) back to the airport to pick up Hank Phillippi Ryan and Chuck Wendig. Hank’s flight was a little early, and Chuck’s was a little late, so I had a good twenty-minute gap where I hung out with Hank and some of our other transportation volunteers that were early for picking up their folks.

When Hank and Chuck had their luggage collected, we tried to leave the parking lot, but between entering the lot and getting to the payment booth, I had lost my parking ticket. I know I had put it in my badge holder for the conference, but it simply wasn’t there. I had lost it somewhere along the way. I sighed and pushed the “Lost Ticket” button on the automated machine. The fees are $1.00 per half hour with a maximum of $8.00 per day. The machine mechanically intoned, “Your total will be -pause- one -pause- thousand dollars.” *gasp* With the price structure, and the pause between “one” and “thousand,” I was completely shocked at the amount it was demanding. Had it been $20 or something like that, I would have paid it. Instead, I had to back out of the slot and go to the attendant’s booth. I managed to get out of there (after paperwork and ID check and stuff like that) with an $8.00 payment. I safely got Hank and Chuck to the hotel, and immediately hit the bar to snag some food and drinks.

Again, I ran into friends, and stayed up Way Too Late with them before getting to bed.


Friday morning started with me moderating two back-to-back sessions.

The first was Fiction Genres by Linda Rohrbough. I already have a solid grasp on genres, but I wanted to moderate this one for my good friend. The session went over very, very well, and I always love hearing Linda enlighten the people in her audience.

The second session was a “Read & Critique X” with Beth Phelan. Basically, up to 11 people can sign up for an R&C X session where they get up and read their first page. The agent/editor then gives them feedback on that page. The entire interaction lasts five minutes, and the moderator there is basically for keeping time and calling people up in the proper order. I learned quite a bit from hearing Beth speak to people about their opening pages. Even though my first page was not on the line, hearing what someone has to say about another person’s work is educational.

Up next was lunch with our welcoming lunch, and after that were the two hours of speed pitch catching I had signed up for. Turns out that there were too many staff on hand for me to be required. I politely bowed out of the first hour and took that time to hang out in the lobby and green room. Getting that hour to myself was a blessing. Thanks to Debbie for letting me sit out the first hour. When the second hour of speed pitching arrived, I headed back down to the room it was in.

Here’s the set up for speed pitching. The attendee has two minutes to pitch their book. The staff member (always a qualified author or experienced writer) “catches” the pitch, and then gives then two minutes of feedback on the pitch. There are multiple catchers in the room, so the pitchers can get multiple sets of feedback. This repeats until the time runs out for speed pitching. The pitches I heard ranged from good-to-great-to-superb. I helped the good get great, and the great polish up a few things. I felt sorry for the ones with a superb pitch because I couldn’t help them out much at all. I listened to so many great stories during that hour. I wish all of them the best of luck with pursuing their publication goals.

During the afternoon break, I vanished. I ran off to my room for a few minutes just to veg out. Doing speed pitch catching always drains my brain and I needed a few minutes to myself.

The next (and last) session for Friday was a Read & Critique Author with Carol Berg. Like the R&C X, the R&C Author sessions are all about getting feedback from an industry expert. As you might expect, this time the expert was an author. Carol is one of my greatest PPW friends. She probably doesn’t know it, but she pulled me back from the brink of flipping the table on my writing career and walking away after some particularly harsh feedback. I’ll always be indebted to Carol for keeping me sane. Anyway, the R&C Author sessions are limited to 8 people, and there is no audience. Each person reads the first two pages of their work to the author, and the author gives them constructive feedback. These conversations last 8 1/2 minutes for each attendee. Like with R&C X, my moderator duties are there to keep an eye on the clock and keep everything running smoothly. Carol proclaimed herself to be more nervous than the attendees in case she gave them bad advice or misspoke. This just showed to me how much Carol truly cares about helping others.

Once the session was over, I hit the staff/faculty mixer, which is a closed door (and open bar!) event where the staff (folks that run the show) can finally meet, face-to-face, with the faculty (speakers at the show) that we’ve all been exchanging emails with over the past year or more. It’s only an hour, but I wish it were more. This is where I presented a custom-made, one-of-a-kind movie poster to Chuck Wendig. Find an Angry Robot podcast with him and Mur Lafferty, and you might have an idea of what it’s about. Many thanks to Patrick Hester for putting together the poster that Chuck loves so much.

(PS: I just shipped the poster to him today. Yes, that means I have Chuck’s home address. No. You can’t have it. It’s mine! All mine! I have the unlimited power to stalk Chuck now! Muhahahaahaha…. Shit. I can already feel him filling out the paperwork for a restraining order now.)

After this was a keynote dinner with Gail Carriger. She taught me that, as a writer, I have to remember that writing is as vital to my existence as breathing. It’s natural. It’s automatic. Sometimes it takes effort, but without my writing, I cease to be who I am. She was, of course, much more eloquent in her presentation than I am being now, but I think you get the point. While at this meal, I sat with Michelle Johnson again and we chatted more about her own writing, her agency, more about my writing, and all that good stuff. During the conversation, she asked for a full manuscript from me, which jazzed up the night quite a bit. I’ve already sent her the full manuscript, and I can’t wait to see what she thinks of it. In addition to the car ride and the meal, we hung out a few times here and there as well. She’s an awesome lady, and I would love to work with her. Let’s hope she thinks the same of me and my writing.

That cycled down the official day, but BarCon ensued after the meal. We all invaded the bar at the Marriott and downed a great amount of spirits, soda, water, wine, and beers. Goods times were had by all, and the end of the night rolled to a close for me at shortly after Midnight. However, as I walked down the hallway to my room, I passed by our Green Room and heard copious amounts of girlish giggling with a snort of humor interjected. I recognized the twittering voices and knew that Bonnie, MB, and Shannon were hiding inside having a good time. I knocked on the door (and almost growled, “Hotel Security!” but resisted). The door cracked open a bit, and when they saw me, they waved me in with a conspiratorial motion. That got my hopes up for some shenanigans, but it turns out we just had a good time talking, chatting, eating a few snacks (PS: Gluten-free crackers are not as good as regular ones. I must be in love with “gluten flavoring.” I wonder if they make “gluten-flavored” sno-cones? Anyway, I digress.) It was close to 2 AM when I finally hit the bed. I was beat, but in a good way.


Saturday is our Big Day at the conference. It runs from 8 AM until… well… sometime Sunday morning if you count the unofficial goings ons. I’ll try to be brief.

I slept in (by accident) because I apparently don’t know that setting an alarm for 7:15 on Friday will not wake me up at 7:15 on Saturday. Oops. That’s okay. I needed the rest, and I had no responsibilities until 9:20. I managed to drag myself out of bed right around 8:30.

My 9:20 responsibilities were to myself. This is the one personal thing I hold more important than anything else in conference, and I get selfish about making sure nothing interferes with my pitch appointment. Period. I normally shed all personal thoughts while making sure everyone else is having a good time at conference, but not in this case. Okay. Enough about me being selfish. My pitch appointment was with Carlisle Webber. I’ve lost track of the number of pitches I’ve done, but they’ve all resulted in a “Sent It.” This was my first pitch that I walked out the door empty-handed. Turns out that my sword and sorcery novel isn’t the type of fantasy story Carlisle is looking for. That’s fine. Please don’t send her hate mail on my behalf. She was incredibly gracious and polite when she informed me she would not be the best advocate for my novel. As an agent, they must 100% believe in the project and enjoy the project, or it’ll go nowhere. I’m really thankful to Carlisle for not stringing me along just to be polite. She’s a great woman, and if you write the type of stuff she’s looking for, she’ll be a wonderful person to work with.

After my pitch, I chilled out for a little bit to collect my thoughts.

Then I headed to my next moderation duty, which was Kris Neri‘s Super Setting Workshop. Man, she blasted the doors out of their hinges with great information. It was a great session! Well done, Kris.

Then we had lunch with Jim C. Hines where I sat with the always-smiling Amy Boggs. We had great conversation around the table about life, likes, dislikes, and our writing. At the end of the meal, Amy requested partial manuscripts from all of us at the table. She wasn’t doing just to be nice. We all mini-pitched our books, and (I was sitting next to her), I could see that she was genuinely interested in everything we were working on. She didn’t have to request anything from us, but she did. That shows how classy she is. Getting a partial request from Amy was not the best part of the meal, though. Jim’s speech on diversity in writing, publishing, and urging everyone to do their best to be all-inclusive and wholly-understanding of other people inspired me completely. I’d love to have the text of his speech. He’s a fantastic man that is advocating some vital changes to the way we do things.

After lunch, I attended Michelle’s session on Keeping the Unreal Real. She nailed it. Most of the session reinforced things I already knew and practiced, but there were many ideas and thoughts in there that made me realize I have some weaknesses in my approach of doing magic and the supernatural. Those are things I need to shore up.

Up next was a panel session (look for the recording on The SF Signal Podcast in the near-to-medium future) about diversity in writing. On the panel were Carol Berg, Jim C. Hines, Chuck Wendig, and Amy Boggs. Patrick Hester was the facilitator (or moderator if you wish) of the conversation. The panel was about diversity in writing and publishing. I’d love to sum up the massive amounts of wisdom dispensed during the session, but I know I’ll fall far short. Instead, I’ll just leave it up to you to find the podcast when it’s released. If you like, follow my RSS feed in your favorite reader program/site, and I’ll link to it when it’s released since I asked a question and got great answers, which should be on the podcast.

Up next was the afternoon break, which I spent roaming around and chatting with people.

Then I moderated a session for DeAnna Knippling about Genre Promises and How to Keep Them. Instead of puking out a list of genres and their rules/styles, she went through the types of genres (age, style, concept, etc.) and broke them down with key information about them. She came at it from the angle of “Here’s what you’re promising your readers with this genre, and if you do XYZ action within a certain genre, you’re breaking promises and will upset your readership.” Great information. Well done. She was supremely worried about going over time, but she nailed it. I stood up to signal the end of the session right as she finished with her last point. Well done, DeAnna!

Saturday Banquet

This is our Big Night, so it gets its own header.

We started the banquet off with some wonderful food, a few great drinks from the bars, and then got “down to business.”

2014 PPWC Volunteer of the Year Award

2014 PPWC Volunteer of the Year Award

After Aaron Michael Ritchey started us off, the wonderful Laura Hayden took the stage to award the Pikes Peak Writers Volunteer of the Year Award… To Me!!! I knew I had been nominated because the president of PPW is normally part of the selection committee for awards. However, they left me out of the loop on purpose. This tipped their hand that I was a nominee. However, we have such a wonderful group of volunteers in our organization, I was surprised when I was chosen. The kind words Laura said about my efforts for PPW damn near brought me to tears. I’m actually kind of surprised I wasn’t a wet, sobbing mess when I hit the stage.

After this, it was my turn to give out an award. Our Pikes Peak Writers Conference  Volunteer of the Year Award went to MB Partlow. She shared the award last year with Jen LaPointe, but stepped up her game for a second year in a row, and earned the award for a second year in a row. I’d have to check our archives, but I’m fairly certain this has never been done before. Congratulations to MB for a well-deserved piece of recognition!

Once I clambered off stage, Laura Hayden took the stage again to award Bonnie Hagan with the Pikes Peak Writers Legacy Award, which is earned by long-time volunteers that have gone above and beyond the call of duty year-after-year. Bonnie definitely earned this. She’s been (and still is!) a person that I’ve always looked up to within PPW. When she congratulates me for a job well done, I get all warm and fuzzy inside. When Bonnie received this award, I felt even more warm and fuzzy than ever before. Great job and congratulations Bonnie!

Then we brought all of winner of The Zebulon Writing Contest on stage and gave them a rousing round of applause. They deserve it. Here is the list of winners.

Once PPW wrapped up all of our official business, we got to listen to great stories from Hank Phillippi Ryan, and be inspired by her sage words of advice. I think I own Hank an apology. I was on Cloud Nine from my award, and I don’t recall much of her speech. Shock had set in about what my peers (and people I look up to) thought about my efforts.

When the evening was over, BarCon resumed and we hit the bars again. What a night. I talked to so many great and wonderful people throughout the night and into the deep hours of darkness. I felt like I didn’t move my feet a bit, but just floated through the throng. It was surreal with how many people congratulated me for my award. I’m still blown away. Thanks to everyone that nominated me, voted for me, spoke on my behalf, and to everyone else that shook my hand and congratulated me. It’s an honor to be so kindly recognized.

…. and you haven’t seen anything yet! I still have more plans for improving PPW and making us a stronger organization!


AAAAaaaaaahhhhhh….. The final day. Thankfully, it’s a half day for our attendees and most of our volunteers, but I still didn’t get home until around 5:30 PM. I’m getting ahead of myself, though.

I snoozed once too long, and was getting to the first session of the day as it started. I cracked the door open and found that Sarah Peed‘s session on dialogue was standing room only. I quietly closed the door and crept away. I really wanted to sit in on that session, but it was not meant to be. While I’m mentioning Sarah, I need to point out that she is one incredibly funny and nice lady. I talked with her a few times throughout the conference, and she’s incredible. I would love to work with her, but somehow never managed to get a chance to talk to her about my book. I guess I’ll have to query her at Hydra.

This downtime gave me a chance to mentally prepare for the last two sessions of the day, which was a good thing since I was moderating both of them.

The first of my moderation duties included moderating for Chuck Wendig in his theme session. The man is a dead-on, natural-born teacher. He did a fantastic job at defining advanced and complex concepts in a simple and easy to understand method. Great job, Chuck!

The last session before the going-away lunch was Becky Clark’s session on how to market and sell your own stuff. She talked about all of her tips and tricks that have (and some that have not) worked for her in the past. It was a great closing out session for me. Oh. Did I mention that Becky is a hilarious person? Yeah. She is. Love being around her for the laughs she gives to me.

Chuck’s closing out keynote speech was one of inspiration. He talked about trials, tribulations, successes, failures, and most of all persistence. He left all of us at the Sunday lunch with a great sense of, “We can do this!” …. because we can.

Once the conference was over with, I helped out a bit with the packing and moving (but not much) since I had to get my stuff from my room, get it to our temporary storage, and take care of my own stuff. Then later in the afternoon, I had to track down Carlisle and Gail to get them to the airport in time. There was some chaos around finding Gail because she was hiding out with Patrick and Chuck doing a podcast recording for SF Signal. Once we tracked her down, my blood pressure went down, and we all went to the airport. The ride there was hilarious because it turns out that Carlisle and Gail don’t know each other even though they live five minutes apart on the West Coast. They both had to come to Colorado at the same time to discover this fact. Weird, eh?

Once I got these two great ladies (Gail hugged me! SQQQUEEEEE! Okay. I’m fine. *deep breath*) dropped off at the airport, I headed back to the Marriott one final time for the weekend. I loaded all of my personal gear into the car, and wandered around the strangely quiet public areas for a few minutes. I reminisced about the weekend that had just rolled to a close and all of the great friends I’d seen, all of the new friends I’d made, and how much electricity we brought to such a grand hotel.

I got in my car and headed home with one thought in my head, “I can’t wait for next year….”

Guest Post: Chris Baca — Self-Publishing Marketing

Five Things I learned from self-publishing that apply to marketing in general.

By: Chris Baca

I’ve learned a lot from publishing my first short story myself. Of course, I’ve dealt with trying to drive traffic to my site, seeking ‘likes’ and ‘retweets’ and more. I’ve also had to contend with every aspect of publishing, from editing to formatting, to marketing, and beyond. My experiences in these roles have given me an interesting new insight into the world of marketing. I’ve learned a few things I’d like to share with those just starting their project. Although, I think even those who’ve been in the game for a while or haven’t been as successful as they wanted would benefit from this knowledge as well. Just remember as you read this list, a lot of us have been guilty of one or more of the things on this list at one time or another, so don’t feel bad. Learn to recognize the things that are harmful to the business that is you so you can market more effectively in the future. I’ll use a lot of references and analogies that have to do with publishing an e book, so I apologize, but that’s where most of my marketing effort has been expended. In other words, it’s what I’m good at.

1. It’s very easy to become a spammer

Ok, so you’ve already published, or are about to publish your first indie e book. Or perhaps you’ve started selling your knit crafts on Etsie. Whatever your adventure is, I’m sure you’re very excited about it and eager to spread the word. Just don’t let that eagerness go overboard. You can quickly become an annoyance to people on social networking these days if you post a link to your blog or site. People have learned to tune out spammers like this quick. Think about when you meet someone in public (if you’re actually interested in speaking to them, that is. If you’re not interested in speaking to your fans, then none of my advice can help you). You try to find common interests and relate to each other from a place of similar experiences. If you were to see someone at the supermarket with a paperback book in their cart for example, would you immediately say to them, “I see you like to read. Would you like to buy my newest science fiction novel also?” as you proceed to slap them in the face with your book until their nose bleeds and they lose consciousness.

In social networking, as well as in real life, you must develop bonds with people. Try to establish connections with your followers and the communities that hold interests similar to yours. If you join their discussion, people will be able to find out more about you, and determine if they like you and your product. It’s been shown that if people like you or your message, not only are they more likely to buy from you, but they’re more likely to tell their friends about your product as well. Besides, you may be pleasantly surprised at what you learn from your followers as well!

I have to be honest with you, I’ve been guilty of this myself. It’s just so easy to want to release your pent up energy and excitement after having birthed your creation upon the world, that it’s almost impossible not to. So I foresee that this problem won’t end anytime soon, especially with all the neat and nifty (not to mention FREE) analysis and optimization tools that exist.

One danger with this that I feel needs mentioning exists solely because of the easy ability to track so many different and varied statistics for little or no charge. This can create a tendency to post on social media links to your blog or website or whatever, and obsessively check to see how many page views or likes that you’ve gotten. I like to call it, ‘scoring points’. This quickly becomes a dangerous game where you risk alienating your fan base and friends by overloading them with your pitch. You’re generally treating them as a statistic for your meat grinder and not as a person.

All that being said, if you just engage in social media like you would any interaction with real people, you’ll get better results for your product. This is because these are real people on the other side of your monitor. We tend to forget that when we converse online. If all else fails and you suspect you may still be annoying your fellow social networking folks, you can always take a break! Step back from the computer/tablet/smartphone/etc. for a while and relax. Play some games, or make a snack perhaps. This is what I do whenever I think I’ve been spending too much energy on marketing, and it helps a lot. I encourage you to experiment with different ways of breaking away from marketing and getting back to what you do best: creating!

2. Stop marketing to your fellow authors (or your competition, in other markets)

This is sort of related to the first entry, but this particular marketing is not only spammy, it harms your fellow writers. Think about it; how much do you do in your average day? That’s just as much as your fellow entrepreneur has to get done as well. Unless your product is designed in some way to assist him (such as a book about self-publishing to assist writers) then there is no need to market it to him. To put it simply, he or she is not your target audience. Your efforts would be much better spent finding people who can relate to your product or message. This way you can be sure that you are maximizing the potential outcome of your campaigns and (hopefully) increasing response to and awareness of your product.

I see this a LOT on Twitter. I am followed by other writers and bloggers constantly. Many of them are following thousands of people, and it makes me wonder about the relevancy of their tweet stream. How can you possibly get any consistent conversations going with such a glut of information coming at you? Try to watch who you follow if you use Twitter. Some people will even use the tactic of following you to get you to follow them. They then promptly unfollow you and hope you keep following them.

When you do this, you’re only wasting your efforts. If you had to convince someone to agree to be bombarded with your message under false pretenses, they’re probably not going to buy anything from you. Again, you’ve just treated that person as another number and not as a person.

3. Cheap Ads Are Too Good To Be True

The area I have the most experience with this is Facebook ads. They make their ads seem nearly infallible, showing you how many thousands of people you will reach before you post the ad. If you’re just starting your Facebook company page, this can be frustrating. If you just want to send the ad to your friends and their friends, you may find that even at the five dollar level it isn’t worth it. It won’t reach very many people. In fact, I tried this early on and Facebook told me it would reach 3,800 of eleven people. That one made me laugh. Alternatively, you can choose keywords and demographics to market to. I selected an age range of 18-25 years old, with keywords like ‘science fiction’ and ‘alternate universe’ when promoting my e book. I got the number of views promised (almost 4,000 views) but no click through or engagement whatsoever.

What I’m getting at is this: in our day and age, most people are nearly completely immune to advertisements. They’ve been conditioned to know what to look for, and it’s a simple matter for them to ignore, avoid, and obfuscate attempts at being sold to. This is why it’s so important for you to find out where your target audience is already conversing, and join them there. Find people to talk to on social networking, message boards, communities, etc.

I originally underestimated the usefulness of Google+. But then I started using the communities and found how easy it was to keep track of the most important conversations. The Communities on Google+ allow you to easily join a group of like-minded people and quickly join their conversation. I particularly love that it gives you the option to turn on and off notifications for posts in particular communities. This helps you to remember to get involved in your industry and engage your customers. If you don’t respond to them or give them a reason to continue to engage with you, they’ll soon spend there time elsewhere on the internet.

With so many options for communication, and the instant gratification that the internet has brought us, people are quick to flee boring or useless sites. If your site or product can’t satisfy them with entertainment or information or something else useful, then you’ll lose them. You can also push people away by being lazy in your response time. People don’t like to feel like you’re too big or too important to respond to them. Once they’ve migrated on, it’s not likely that they’ll look back either.

4. Wait Until You Have A Product

Particularly when you’re considering running promotions or contests. I was hung up on when I could publish my story because I was running a contest to title the story. Whoever had the best title would win a free e book once it was published. I expected there to be a big response, but at first there was almost total apathy. As a result, I was forced to delay the publishing of my book by over two weeks.

It’s OK to run promos to get likes on your Facebook page, however. Something like that doesn’t limit your ability to produce, and doesn’t obligate you to do anything beyond marketing. In fact, I have a running promo on my Facebook page like this, and once we reach the goal I’m giving away free e books to three random followers.

I’ve heard this referred to as creating urgency in the mind of your customer. Basically, you want to make your promotions sound exciting, and make them limited offers. Things like the first twenty to comment on a blog post get a free sample, or giving your followers incentive to help you hit milestones are great examples of marketing. Just make sure you’re not tying your own hands with the promotion.

That’s really all there is to this point, I just felt that it was really important to mention. I thought my promo for the free e book was going to make my blog take off. The fact that it didn’t, and subsequently delayed my originally intended schedule, greatly frustrated me. I hope by listing this here, other artists and entrepreneurs can avoid making my mistakes.

5. Don’t Settle For One Market

This is basically like the old saying, “Don’t put all of your eggs into one basket.” I say this because Amazon requires exclusivity in order for you to get the best benefits as an indie publisher. Their KDP Select program gives you greater visibility, but at the cost of forgoing any other market in which you could place your book. This just seems like a bad idea to me. Granted, the exclusivity provision lifts after three months, but that’s three months in which you could be making sales with other publishers at the same time. That’s why I published with Amazon (NOT in the KDP Select program, however) AND Smashwords, to ensure greater distribution. This ensures that I not only get more visibility to potential customers, but my customers can choose what kind of device they want to view my work on. They aren’t restricted from reading my story because of the device they use.

This applies to all of marketing. You want to give your customers the freedom of choice. Don’t limit the way you interact with them. Don’t limit the way they interact with you. If your industry warrants, make your product available in many formats, and let your customers know about each one. When a person sees the thought that went into making your products available to them, they will appreciate it. Nothing frustrates someone quicker than being amped up about a particular product only to be told they can’t use it. It’s like if I told you about an awesome new video game that came out and got you excited about it, only to tell you it’s exclusive to the Playstation 4, and you own an Xbox. Talk about a let down.

So remember, treat people on the Internet like you should: like people. Help your fellow entrepreneurs by sharing your experiences with them and discussing what works and what doesn’t. Don’t just bombard them with sales pitches. Be wary of ads that seem to good to be true, because they probably are. Just because you got 10,000 people to look at your page doesn’t mean a single one of them wanted to stick around. Develop and release your product or service first, and then run your competitions and marketing campaigns. Finally, never settle for exclusivity in marketing, engagement, or distribution, and beware those that ask for it.

Chris Baca is a 25 year old father and husband. He lives with his loving wife Audrey, and his amazing and intelligent daughter Ella in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Chris is the author of the recently published, “Day In & Day Out” This e book can be purchased at Smashwords here:, or at Amazon here:

Reading Now: Chuck Wendig

chuck_wendig_blackbirdsI normally post when I start reading a book. Sometimes, I do the post a day or three after I actually start. That was a mistake this time. I figured I’d have plenty of time to put up a post regarding Chuck Wendig‘s novel, Blackbirds.

I was wrong.

It took me all of three days to tear through the first novel about Miaram Black. I read on my lunch breaks, a little after work, and some during times when I should have been working on side projects. The book was not short by any measure. It weighs in at 384 pages, so I really busted my average pages per day on this one!

Here’s why:

Miriam is an endlessly fascinating character. Hell, all of the characters are so rich and deep and personal and raw and distinct that it’s impossible to get confused as to who is doing/saying what. The book itself is raw (definitely rated ‘R’), but in a somehow deeply insightful manner. I’m so incredibly happy I picked up this book. I’m also immensely overjoyed that there are two more books in this series. I’m already a decent amount through Mockingbird as I type this, and the story of this horribly broken young woman continues to fascinate me. I’m eager to find out what kind of pure Hell Chuck has in store for Miriam.

chuck_wendig_mockingbirdI’ll let you know what I think of Mockingbird when I get it done. It might not go as fast as Blackbirds… but it might! I just don’t know at this moment.

Thanks for writing these stories, Chuck!

PS: When I realized the book was written in present tense (a fairly quick realization), and that he scene/time jumps all over the place (took me a while to get this), I didn’t care. Normally, just one of these factors in a book will destroy my enjoyment of it and I’ll put it down. With two of them going on… I didn’t care. These two approaches at telling Miriam’s story worked so incredibly well. Again, I just didn’t care that I disliked these two technical bits. The story and characters hammered through my soul, psyche, and mind to the point that I was drawn along the fun house ride regardless of if I wanted to or not.

Five More Tips for Making a Conference Great

I’ve been thinking about my first post that contained five tips for making the most of a conference. I jotted down a few notes on adding five more tips, and I wanted to share them with you here.

1) Practice Your Pitch

If you’re going to be pitching your book to an agent or editor, then you need to know it inside and out. Depending on the conference, you only have a few minutes to “sell” the idea of your book to the person sitting on the other side of the table. They will have questions. You will have questions. Leave some time for those queries to flow across the table. As an example, my pitch takes roughly 70 seconds. That’s only a little over a minute, and I wrap it up by asking them what else they want to know about the book. Don’t get nervous about answering the questions. You’ve written the book. You know the book. It’s come from your soul, so you probably know it better than you own child. The questions are usually easy to answer. I’ve had a few people ask me if their manuscript needs to be completed before they pitch. I used to answer, “Yes, always,” but I’ve come to soften that stance a little. If you can finish the novel in a high quality manner in a professional period of time, then you can be close to done, but not quite done. If you can polish things off within a few weeks of the end of the conference, great. If you can send a full manuscript their way within a day or three of the agent/editor asking for it, all the better! Here are some resources from Linda Rohrbough and Delve Writing that may help. Check out the Delve Writing link sooner rather than later. It’s a class that happens very soon. What happens if you get a “Send It!” from the agent/editor? Well, I’ll cover that in the next day or two as it’s a large topic. It’s something you should be prepared for, so keep an eye out for that future post.

2) Plan Your Schedule

As soon as you can get your hands on the schedule of classes, look it over. Make plans. Combine the scant information in the schedule (the font can only get so small, and the boxes are only so large) with the expanded information in the conference program. Get the information online if you can. If not, get to the registration desk early. There will be lines. Plan on that. Once you’re through registration and have your hands on things, find a quiet corner to scour the schedule. Have a two different colored highlighters handy. Use one color (I usually use yellow) for the primary thing you want to go to. Use the other color (blue, for me) as a backup session in the same time slot. If you get to the primary and find all the seats taken or the doors already closed due to fire safety measures, hustles to your second pick. Near the end of the current session, quietly pull out your highlighter marked schedule and find out where your next #1 session is going to be. This will help guarantee that you’ll be one of the first in and will be able to pick a prime seat.

3) Don’t Bring Your Manuscript With You

There’s no need to have a copy of your manuscript with you. It doesn’t matter if it’s a copy on a thumb drive or a perfect-bound copy you had made at the local copy store. People interested in your novel will want you to contact them via their already established methods. Agents/Editors at a conference already have enough crap to haul back to their home. Many of them are from out of state and will be flying home. They don’t want to haul more paper back with them. “But a PDF on their laptop won’t make it heavier!” Yeah. I know. But that inadvertent virus on your thumb drive can destroy everything on their laptop. You don’t mean to do it. You might be the most cautious computer person in the world, but they don’t know that. They can’t risk their laptop (which is probably tied to their livelihood) when they already have an established manner for you to get your novel to them. Just bring a notebook and jot down how they want you to send it and follow the instructions.

4) Get A Room!

While looking at the published schedule, you might notice that things end between seven and nine in the evening. You think to yourself, “Self. I can just drive home after things and come back in the morning. Ah, the joys of sleeping in my own bed.” What you may not realize is that there are unofficial, after-hours events going on. Some of it happens at the public bar. Some of it happens in other attendees’ rooms/suites. Some of it may happen in a semi-official (or completely official) “con suite” where drinking, talking, networking, and other socializing goes on. These after-hours events can go until two, three, even four, in the morning. Wanna lose some vital sleep while driving home and back again? I think not. Getting a room for the night is a vital way to snag another hour or two of sleep that night. When you’re only getting three-to-five hours a night, losing two hours (or so) can be a direct path to coming down with ConCrud. No one wants that.

5) Attend BarCon

As I’ve said above, there are some after-hours events. Go. To. Them. Hang at the bar. Chill out (if invited) in someone’s suite where the party (and, sometimes, absinthe fountain) is at. While you’re in sessions, you’re learning. Your brain is being filled, but that social animal in you is being ignored. There’s hardly any time between the sessions to truly socialize and network. Meals are a great time to meet people, but you’re at a table with (at most) nine other people. You need to expand the chain of people you know (and that know you!) more than those nine people. Hitting BarCon is the way to go. The most powerful words to get someone’s time and rapt attention at a conference are, “Can I buy you a drink?” It’s not a cheesy pick up line. It’s a ice-breaker. It’s a door-opener. Maybe that door that opens is the one that will lead to a great leap forward in your writing career. You never know!

The Other Side of Fear

other_side_of_fearI friend of mine posted this image with a quote from Jack Canfield. For those of you that are somehow unable to read the quote, it goes, “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”

I couldn’t agree more.

I used to be afraid of almost everything important. I’m not talking about phobias or fears of “scary” things like snakes, spiders, scorpions, graves, darkness, heights or things like that.

I’m talking about fear of companionship, friendship, family, success, and giving over my heart to other people for them to do with as they wish. This fear paralyzed every relationship I had before they even started. The people I grew up with (mom, dad, grandparents, cousins, etc.) were already established in my heart. I had very little fear of them, but there was some. It was all on me, not them. They rarely gave me reason to be afraid, but I found reasons within myself to not want to be close to them. I couldn’t bring myself to trust them. Again, it was all on me.

Sometime in my sophomore year of high school, I met a wonderful girl a year ahead of me in high school. Her mother was our french teacher, and we shared that class together. She was always a friend to me. Early on in our relationship, I kept her at a distance. By this time in my life, my ability to do this was well-honed and sharp as a razor. I could easily cut someone out of my life without them even knowing what happened. Katie disarmed me with her kindness and warmth. My razor fell by the wayside and rusted so quickly, I didn’t realize it had done so. She brought me out of the iron casing I’d wrapped myself in. I was free of my protective, and restrictive, armor. I was vulnerable in the cold wastelands of high school.

This was not an overnight process. It wasn’t until I was near the end of my junior year (well over 20 months after Katie and I first met) that I peeked out the shell and found that happiness could be had. Sure, there was a chance to be hurt, but I had to take that risk. With it being the end of my junior year, I realized Katie was about to leave to go to college since she was about to graduate. Without her there to hold my hand in friendship and drag me through the painful birthing processes as I escaped the constriction of my armor, I felt lost.

I wanted to crawl back into my armor.

Then a girl I’d met through Katie called me out of the blue during summer vacation. She continued where Katie left off with kindness and friendly love. It wasn’t until years, perhaps decades, later that the glimmer of an idea popped into my head: Did Katie arrange to “hand me off” to Heather because they both knew I needed it? To this day, I’m not sure, but I like to think their secret conspiracy was for my betterment.

Heather introduced me to a whole slew of friends. I’d love to list them off here, but there are too many. I don’t want to do any of them the disservice of forgetting their names on my list of vital people that helped me grow strong after I cast off the internal supports of my distance from others.

During my senior year of high school, I made a decision. It was a hard one to make. I could still see my protective gear in the rear-view mirror of my past. It loomed in my shadow and demanded I return to its safety. My fragile, yet strengthening, psyche of what friendship meant wanted to flee to its protective coverings. I decided not to allow that to happen.

I turned my back on my past and swore to forge a new me.

I had moved past the barrier of fear that kept me from being the true man that I would eventually become.

The person you know today is nothing like the boy he was so many decades ago. The confidence I have in myself, the willingness to make friends, my drive to excel against all odds, and the compassion I have for others are due to the massive emotional efforts of Katie and Heather.

Almost everyone I’ve met since those distant days of high school has supported me and held me up.

The most important person in my life today that keeps me going on my path is my wife, Kimberly. It’s for you that I continue to strive to excel. It’s for our son that I want to make proud that I do what I do.

The point of all of this?

I’m certain you have fears as well. Again, I’m not talking about phobias or those strange things that go bump in the night. I’m talking about deeply internal fears of you build for yourself.

You can get past them. Perhaps not alone. Probably not alone. Find someone in your life you can trust and extend your hand. Ask for help. There are people out there willing to help you for as long as you need. It won’t be an overnight process, but you can do it. I know you can.

Work past your fears and get to what you want. Get to what you deserve.

Finished: Jim Butcher’s Cold Days

Cold_Days_HardcoverI finished reading Jim Butcher’s Cold Days this afternoon. I started this book way back in December of last year. Don’t let the time it took me to read the book suggest that the book was a slow read. I’ve just had lots of PPW stuff and personal stuff going on since that time. I honestly did not have much time/energy to get in as much reading time as I would have liked.

I always thought that Jim must hate, I mean really hate, Harry because of all of the shit he puts the wizard through. This book is no exception. If you think that the previous 13 novels (and handful of short stories) were examples of how to amp up the stakes and beat up a character, then you have another thing coming. The pure hell that Butcher drives Harry Dresden through in Cold Days is nothing short of amazing.

Every time I thought things couldn’t get worse for Harry and his friends, they did. Right up until the final scene. Now I feel even more sorry for a different character than Harry. I won’t say who the character is to avoid spoilers. That character has already been put through the ringer (who hasn’t in the Dresdenverse?), and they have been dropped into the thick of things even more than I thought imagined.

When I saw what was coming to that character, I was in the lobby of my doctor’s office. I sat there mumbling and pleading with Jim, “No. No. Not them. Anyone but them. No. No. No! Don’t let it happen.” … and then it did.

Man, what a ride! As always, Jim has delivered. As always, I’m sad that the book has ended. As always, I can’t wait for the next book to hit the shelves!!!! Come on! Let’s see Skin Game already.

Well done, Jim. I tip my hat to you.

Five Tips for Making the Most of a Conference

Pikes Peak Writers recently hosting our second annual Write Your Heart Out Event, which is a free half-day showcase of what to expect at our annual Pikes Peak Writers Conference. Congrats to Shannon and her staff of volunteers for putting together a fantastic event!

I had prepared a series of interludes between the main speakers in which I was going to cover five tips for making the most of a conference. When we sat down to hash out speaker order, timings, and such, it turned out we were going to be over our allotted time for the event. My five tips was removed from the programming, so we didn’t go over.

So my humongous time and energy efforts don’t go to waste, I’m posting the tips here…. Okay… I can’t lie. My “humongous” efforts boil down to a single side of a 3×5 index card. :)

Here are the tips for you to use to get the most out of your conference experience:

1) Business Cards

PPWC has around 300 attendees, staff, and faculty movin’ and shakin’ through the rooms and hallways. You’re going to meet quite a few of them. You’re going to connect with some, and will want to maintain those connections long-term. Let’s assume you want to foster those long-term connections with a mere 15% of the people there, that’s about 60 people. In addition to meeting people, you’re going to sessions, meals, events, and BarCon in the after hours. That’s too much for your brain to take in and lock down tight. Everyone else is in the same boat. I don’t care how interesting and wonderful you are. If you don’t have something to hand to your new connections, they’re going to have a hard time remembering you in full detail.

To this end, you need business cards. Here are my rules for business cards.

  • Matte, white (or ecrue or eggshell or something like that) card stock. If it’s black or glossy, pens won’t work too well. If the other person wants to jot a mnemonic note, it’s impossible unless your base cardstock supports that.
  • Clear text with only the contact information you’re comfortable giving a stranger. I have web site, Facebook, Twitter, and email. My phone number is not on my business cards. If I want someone to have it, I write it on the back.
  • Be professional in the layout and imagery on the card. These are business cards after all.
  • An image/icon/logo/photo is fine, but remember to keep it simple. This will keep your costs down, and that “perfect” headshot of yours will look like crap scaled down to a small picture on the business card. Save your money and go with a logo/icon of something the recipient will remember.
  • Have a few in your wallet. Have even more in your briefcase/backpack/purse/messenger bag. Have even more in your luggage. Have even more in your room. You might run out of the “easy to grab” pile and will have to restock. I also stash a few in my Nook, my laptop case, and other vitals that I might lose track of during the conference. These “stashed cards” are invaluable at ensuring I have the best chance possible to have my item(s) returned to me.

2) Avoid ConCrud

ConCrud. Yeah. It’s real. You’re already taking vacation time to attend a conference. Don’t burn more of it while you recover from that mystery bug you picked up while shaking peoples’ hands. There’s lots of that going on, and with each handshake you up your chances of getting a bug. I’m not trying to scare you into a weird phobia of touching people. It’s just a fact you should be aware of. There are some things you can do to avoid ConCrud:

  • Hydrate — Water intake (especially at altitude) will help keep your immune system purring along smoothly.
  • Hand Sanitizer — A small bottle of this stuff can go a long way. Keep a stash of some spare bottles in your room or bag.
  • Wash Your Hands — I sometimes hit the bathroom just to wash my hands. I use lots of soap and get the water as hot as I can stand it.

3) 3-2-1 Rule

You’re going to be running around like crazy as you meet new people, find old friends, attend wonderful sessions, and stay up way too late at the bar and the after-hours parties in the rooms. It’s a wonder you’ll get any sleep at all. Well, it’s vital for you to take care of yourself. Nothing sucks more than paying for three, four, or even five days of programming only to bonk hard on the next-to-last-day and spend the last day commiserating in your hotel room.

To this effect, I have my 3-2-1 rule. I really don’t remember where I picked this up from. If someone knows the origin of this rule, please let me know, and I’ll gladly give credit where credit is due.

Three hours of sleep per 24 hours — minimum. (Get more if you can.)

Two meals per 24 hours — minimum. (Guess what? PPWC provides these!)

One shower per 24 hours — minimum. (This last rule is not for your benefit! It’s for everyone else!)

4) Note Taking Devices

I take tons of notes at conferences. I’m “old school” in that I use pen and paper. At the 2012 PPWC, I was in an all-day session with Donald Maass as a speaker. I had a brand new gel pen, and a brand new spiral notebook. There were about 40 minutes left in his teaching for the day when my pen just stopped working. I don’t know if it jammed, gunked up, ran dry, or what. I didn’t care. What I cared about was capture as much of Donald’s brilliance as I could. I jammed my hand into my messenger bag and come up with a writing device…. A Big Fat Sharpie. Crud. Well, the last 8-9 pages of my notes from that day were written in Big Fat Sharpie. Hah! My point? Keep two writing devices immediately handy and plenty of paper. I actually recommend having two pens per day of the event already in your bag. If you don’t go through them all, then you have some spare pens for the next conference.

If you’re the type that has to take notes on an electronic device, don’t assume you’ll be able to plug it in. Actually, assume the opposite. Power cords are trip hazards. This means they are generally not allowed within the sessions. Make sure your laptop, tablet, phone, or whatever, has the battery oomph to last 3-4 hours with continual use.

5) Relax

Now for the most important rule. RELAX! You’re going to be running at an engine’s equivalent of “red line” for many days without much time to stop and breathe. Force yourself to skip a session. Maybe you chill in your room for 20 minutes and you get to BarCon late. That’s okay. Endurance racers don’t spring (or red line their engines) for the entire race. It’s a pacing thing. Find your comfortable pace and stick with it. If you find yourself dragging a little, take a small break. It’s okay to miss a session or two during a 3-4 day event. Maybe more if the event is 5-6 days in length. It’s okay to show up late to BarCon. You also don’t have to shutdown the bar and be the last to stumble to your room. Different people have different endurance capacities. Find yours, and stick to it. There’s no need for you to force yourself to keep up with someone that has those abnormally huge energy reserves.

I hope this post helps someone out there get more out of a conference!

If you have any tips of your own, drop them in the comments. I’d love to see what folks have to say.