Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ronald S. Barak at ThrillerFest 2011

Two years ago, 40 years into the practice of law, I decided to see if I could write a novel. Why?

Because my wife and I love reading books, and I wanted to see if I could write one. Oh yeah, and maybe also because a "friend" dared me to do it, implying that I couldn't.

Did I think I could? Well, let's put it this way: I didn't quit my day job, in spite of the fact that a busy law practice didn't exactly make the task any easier. Nor did the fact that as a physics major before going to law school, I never took an English class, let alone a creative writing class.

One year later, I had a few copies of a "finished" political/legal mystery thriller that we shared with some friends, including the one who issued the original challenge. I had loved the journey, but figured that was it, I was done. I had done my best to meet the challenge. What more was there to do? Until friends said they liked the book and wanted to know where they could get copies for Cousin Sally and Uncle Joe.

But there weren't any more copies. So, I sent out some "query letters" to literary agents, you know, to see if one might get me a deal with some big publishing house and put copies out there for Sally and Joe.

Feedback on my novel had been great. Feedback on my query letters was...hmm, right, there was (almost) no feedback on the query letters. And what little there was was hardly encouraging. It hadn’t occurred to me that there was more to writing an effective query letter than I had done.

What did I do next, in the face of this next challenge, to satisfy those “legions” wanting to buy a copy of the book? I self-published, both in print and in digital.

Surprise, surprise. I've received 30+ flattering reviews. More amazing still, just this past week my novel reached a #1 bestseller ranking in Kindle Store's hard boiled mysteries! And it’s still there. Better still, I've started my second mystery thriller novel!

So, I figured I needed to do some homework and find a writing conference or two--where I could go and actually learn something about my new passion. And there it was, sitting right there in front of my eyes, on Google, just waiting for me. ThrillerFest, an annual four day conference sponsored by the International Thriller Writers. Held in New York every July. It was time for me to step out of my cave.

ThrillerFest turned out to be the bees knees, the cat's whiskers. If you're a thriller writer wannabe like me (and I'm guessing the other genres have their counterparts), then Thriller Fest may be just the ticket for you, just as it turned out to be for me. Here's why:

1. The first day and a half of the conference, CraftFest, is a series of interactive “how to” seminars on various elements of writing: Plot development, character development, point of view, setting, pace, rhythm, psychic distance, and more, actually much more, all taught by an absolute who's who of New York Times bestseller authors. Insightful, friendly, entirely and tirelessly giving of themselves, in the classes and after. Each one nicer and friendlier than the next, fully accessible. By the way, we’re not just talking about the art of writing, but the business of writing as well, and where's it's headed in the opinion of the top literary agents and publishers of the day, as well as the folks who run Amazon and Kindle.

2. The afternoon of the second day, AgentFest, is speed dating on steroids to try to find an agent. Three to four minutes per agent, among 65 to choose from. Enough time to work your way through the lines, first come, first served, and see maybe ten to fifteen before the session ended. A year ago, no reactions to my query letters. Here, twelve out of twelve agents either asked for several chapters of my book, or for the full book itself. Several also asked for the beginning of the manuscript of my second novel even though it’s just under way. Hitting #1 on Amazon certainly helped, but live access is night and day better than just a query letter.

3. The next two days is back to CraftFest, but now with superstar panels interacting first with one another, and then the audience.

4. The final night is the awards dinner, really hitting home the sense of community and camaraderie that pervaded the entire four days. 850 people in a grand ballroom setting like one of the televised film awards dinner, wannabe writers like me rubbing elbows with the creme de la creme of the writing community at intimate, friendly tables of eight. Not a case of the superstars gathered together in one part of the room and all of the others off to the side by themselves, left to gawk, and dream. At my table, for example, was a perennial New York Times bestseller, who won one of the major awards that night. Prizes for best debut novelist, best veteran in each of several formats, best in service to the writing community.

If you get a chance to attend ThrillerFest in 2012, or whatever and wherever the conference is that may be best for you, don't hesitate. Writing can be a very lonely profession or avocation, especially for the novice trying to make it mostly on his or her own. Participation in online groups help immeasurably, but for four days at ThrillerFest, the superstars of the writing community, made me, and others like me, feel as if I was part of the club. ITW makes this happen, not only for the four days of ThrillerFest each year, but also in committee activities and other programs and opportunities offered throughout the year.

Try it, you'll like it. I sure did. http://www.thrillerfest.com

Ronald S. Barak is the author of "A Season for Redemption" the #1 Best Selling Hard Boiled Thriller in Print and Kindle at Amazon

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