A few takeaways from the Pikes Peak Writers Conference, shared for fellow authors:
Agent Sam Morgan agreed with a quote from Dean Koontz I mentioned (that you can have one big improbability in your story if you nail down all other details in reality) and added that, for any kind of thriller,"You get one coincidence. Just one."
Agent Donald Maass emphasized that in any interaction between people, there are always multiple levels of emotions at work, never just one emotion.
Maass also took issue with the pessimistic view of the long odds against getting published because you can change the odds. How many books you write,how many agents you query, how hard to work at your craft, etc. - it's not like a casino where a thousand to one guarantees you lose.
Author Jennie Marts emphasized the need to use every tool available on your Amazon author page and your individual book pages to make you look good, to tell your story, and to promote your other books.
Also Jennie Marts: You begin to define your "brand" with the first work you publish in any form. Keep the big picture of what kind of author you want to be in mind with everything you do. The "brand" you project is a promise to your readers about what they will get if they buy your books.
From multiple sources: While you should try to make your query letter and proposal perfect, one error won't kill you. One agent scratched out two whole paragraphs of my one-page query letter but asked to see sample chapters.
Multiple sources: In adult fiction, a white guy like myself can write characters from many cultures if you avoid stereotyping, but most publishers are not open to someone like me writing middle grade or Young Adult fiction including foreign or minority cultures. (Comment: I understand the concern, but it seems to me that that may be TOO sensitive: researching a book is one of the best ways to learn about another culture and introduce it to readers. See: Dana Stabenow.)
From author Laura DiSilverio: we under-use setting in defining characters. People decorate, not only houses, but cars, cubicles, etc. with things that can help readers understand them. Another good way to expose character is taking people out of their chosen or normal environment: how do they react?
Consensus of agents and editors: avoid prologues unless they are really good and can't just be part of Chapter One: it's usually best to avoid them even then. (Comment: William Kent Krueger is a brilliant user of prologues.)
Myself, at the costume-optional Friday night dinner, as wizard Harry Dresden, with agent Donald Maas (agent for Harry's creator, Jim Butcher, to whom he sent this pic).
Author Travis Heerman: Stephen King (not present :) ) says all first drafts can be cut 10 percent. Also, revision should genuinely be "re-visioning," not just line editing. Use beta readers, reading aloud, text-to-speech, or any other tool to ensure you look at it it in different ways. This takes time and you MUST be willing to commit to it for a good book.
Editor panel: Publishers grind everything through a profit-and-loss equation at some stage, but you can't control that: control what you can (writing a good book). Also, for fiction, a good enough book can make the cut even if the author doesn't have a major social media presence and followers: for nonfiction, it's much more important.
Thanks again for a great conference. #PPWC2017
See you all at 2018 Conference. One guest already confirmed: favorite author (okay, co-favorite with Dana Stabenow) Jim Butcher.