Lots of people take cruises to the Bahamas, and lots of people take writing workshops, but I just attended what might just be the first professional level writing workshop held on a cruise to the Bahamas.
It was a first for me, at least.
When I heard about the Sail to Success writing workshop, I had to go. Not only was the venue uniquely enticing (I’d never cruised before), but the line-up of faculty presenting to the small group was outstanding. Presenters included:
- The prolific and always helpful Kevin J Anderson and his wife, Rebecca Moesta,
- Legendary author Mike Resnick
- Top literary agent Eleanor Wood
- Novelist, instructor, and editor Nancy Kress
- Author and instructor Jack Skillingstead
- Author and teacher Paul Cook
- and Toni Weiskopf, head of Baen Books.
Wow. And the reality lived up to the expectation.
The workshop proved extremely productive, although one of the biggest challenges turned out to be the same thing as one of the greatest benefits: the cruise ship. It proved a little difficult to focus on class time while the ship was docked in Freeport or Nassau. The class schedule was intensive: from 8 AM to noon, and from 6 PM to midnight most nights. We managed to slip ashore in the afternoons, but lacked the time for extensive excursions like scuba diving (we had to return to the ship by 4:30). Luckily, my wife came along, and she vacationed for both of us while I sat in class.
But I didn’t mind. The classes were excellent. Not only did we deeply explore various aspects of the craft of good writing, but we learned from these long-time, successful professionals about the nuts and bolts of the publishing business.
The highlights of the class that proved even more valuable than all the rest of the excellent material were the critique sessions from Nancy Kress and Toni Weiskopf. Nancy reviewed samples of our writing from an editor’s perspective, and provided wondeful feedback to each of us. Toni reviewed other samples from her perspective as a purchasing editor. What a rare, excellent opportunity to sit with a publisher and see exactly how they look at your work. It proved enlightening, and a little scary.
Toni receives over a thousand manuscript submissions per month. When she considers those submissions, she’s not looking for reasons to like a manuscript. She’s looking for any excuse to stop reading, and to give that submission the dreaded ‘read mark of doom’. It might come in the first paragraph if she sees it’s not the type of story they’re looking for, or it might come on page two when she finds herself confused, or sees too many grammatical mistakes. If she can’t find a reason to throw the manuscript away quickly, then it just might be a work she’d consider reading further.
Of the fifteen students in the class, only three of us earned that distinction. It gave me a rare moment of validation to know that the opening two chapters of The Sentinel’s Call were strong enough to avoid the red mark of doom. Toni offered specific feedback which I’ll be sure to incorporate in the ongoing editing process, and I’m optimistic that the story is finally ready and we’ll find a home for it somewhere soon.
The only complaint about those critique sessions was the lack of time. Given the time constraints, feedback was limited to 7-10 minutes per manuscript. It just wasn’t enough time.
So overall, this workshop proved well worth the investment in time and money, and I strongly recommend the planned workshop next year to anyone who’s a serious aspiring writer. Now I’m back with renewed energy to complete the works in progress and send them to my agent, John Richard Parker so he can find publishers for them.
2013 is going to be a good year.