The First Five Pages

My first exposure to When Words Collide in Calgary was the all-day workshop facilitated by Faith Hunter, an award-winning author of urban fantasy series.

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She opened with several startling statements about the world of publishing. In her experience, the Market is changing so fast it’s almost impossible to keep up with – mergers in NY, smaller, mid-size companies going out of business, Amazon advertising their own imprint – the incredible deluge of self-published books.

Almost everyone has a Kindle of e-reader on a device. The balance of purchases has shifted to about 80% for ebooks. Penguin Random House will be doing mainly trade paperback (print on demand), ebooks and hardcover (the top 200 authors) mass market imprints. Predictions are there won’t be many books in bookstores in the next 12 months.

Faith has a delightful Southern accent and an easy presentation style blending humour and sharp advice about how critical our First Five Pages are to the success of our books.

We owe it to ourselves to craft strong BAIT that will HOOK the reader to keep turning pages, because otherwise, the books will not be commercially viable and if we’re honest, that means we’re writing for the ego of it. Yes, there are hundreds of thousands of self-published books out there, but who is buying them, aside from friends and family?

She emphasized that writers should “respect the reader” by giving them good characters, plot, conflict, emotion and resolution. Use action words, don’t slow the pace with extraneous narrative or telling dialogue.

Even better – she’s retweeted my tweet about her workshop!

Author Readings

The upstairs meeting lounge of the Fish Creek branch of the Calgary Public Library (a stellar example of what can be done when creativity and finances are unbound from the prosaic domain of bean-counters) quickly filled with about 240 eager women and about 10 men, there to hear C. J. Carmichael, Daniel Abraham, Faith Hunter, Brandon Mull, David B. Coe and the featured speaker, Diana Gabaldon.

The room was steamy – Calgary is in the grip of a heat wave. The readings and the authors were engaging and interesting – I plan on checking out their books. I’ll post photos once I’m back at my desk with enough bandwidth to make it work.

Of course, Diana Gabaldon was the big draw. A local writers’ group had brought cardboard cutouts of Jamie Frazer and Claire Randall Frazer, the main characters in the Outlander series that has sold millions of copies and is now a series on ShowTime.

The actors who portray the books’ protagonists are gorgeous and perfectly type-cast. Do a web search and see for yourself.

Considering the broad sweep of her novels (600-800 pages, 40-55 hours of audio book listening) Diana is of small stature. She has an almost raspy voice and from what I heard from the man who picked her up from the airport, she is nervous about crowds.

It was amazing to be in the same room as this incredibly accomplished woman. I confess, I am a huge fan-girl. Starting in the 90s when she first published Outlander, I’ve read and re-read and listened to the series. She has inspired me to fine-tune my writing and focus on character and world-building – which is what Faith calls ‘respecting the reader’.

I’d have been glad to carry her purse, if she’d had one.