Wrangling to Mastery 

The Society of Southwestern Authors aids writers—both novice and expert—at its annual conference

There are writers, and then there are writers who make money by writing.

Transforming the former into the latter is one of the main goals of the Society of Southwestern Authors (SSA). And it's arguably the main goal of the group's Wrangling With Writing conference, a yearly event held by the organization to allow local writers to network, improve their writing skills and hear talks by big-shots in the publishing world.

"Because our founders and focus have been professional writers, this is much less a creative-writing conference than it is a creative-publishing conference," says SSA Publicity Committee chair Mike Nicksic. "If you've got a book, and you want to get it published and make some money with it, you come to Southwestern Authors. These people are pros; they write for a living and pay off their houses with what they make."

Nicksic's point: You, too, can pay off your house through writing, and you can start by attending some of the nearly 50 workshops packed into the weekend-long conference, led by top authors, publishers, agents and editors.

The first step to getting published is, of course, having a good product to offer. The conference's author-led workshops will offer tips on writing in just about every literary genre you can think of (and some you might not have thought of)—including mystery, courtroom drama, romance, self-help, fantasy, memoir and even Pagan lit. There will also be writing workshops on skills applicable to many kinds of writing, from the basic "Weaving a Story and Getting It Down on Paper" and "Mastering Point of View and Narrative Voice" to sessions that sound too fun to miss, like "Create a 'Dossier' for Your Character" and a sex-scene tutorial called "Writing From Flirtation to the Sheets—Was It Good for You?"

Some of the conference's most useful activities will be the events that address techniques for selling work to an agent, editor, publisher and/or the public. "How Easy It Is to Be Published by a Traditional Publisher," led by Jane Eppinga (who just won an award thanks in part to the conference), will help bust the myth that being snagged by Random House is the publishing-world equivalent of making it big in Hollywood. You can learn how to find the right publisher, impress with a book synopsis, give a great query-letter book pitch and, of course, earn money.

Already a successful author? If you enjoyed your success thanks to the Wrangling With Writing conference, you already know how useful many of the other workshops can be— including sessions on selling a book online, using writing to market your business, publicizing a work on a budget and financing your travels with your pen.

And then there are the private interviews. For $20, you can schedule a one-on-one meeting with an established editor, agent or publisher, where you can pitch your latest project and possibly clear the first hurdle of publishing—earning professional interest in your work.

Playwright, journalist and novelist Carol Costa has gotten three or four new book deals through the conference and still uses an agent she met there. Though she now has 14 books in print—thanks largely to her involvement with the SSA, of which she's been a member since 1995—she hasn't forgotten her roots.

"We all remember what it was like when we were first starting out and didn't know what we were doing," she says. "And this will help people. The main thing about this conference is it's an opportunity, and it's tough to find opportunities nowadays, I think just because the publishing industry is so fast-paced."

Of course, beyond the insider information and the publishing opportunities, the conference—and the SSA itself—offers something critical to any writer's development: support.

Says Penny Porter, an SSA member for 25 of the group's 38 years: "I think many people love to write, but they're literally afraid to put their words on paper. I've always felt that paper listens. If you get something on paper, the next thing you have to do is meet other people who are doing the same thing. ... Friendship: That's the big thing that's needed."

And you can't find better writing friends in Tucson than the SSA folks, because as good as some of them are at making money through writing, they're not about the money.

"The Tucson conference is a labor of love, pure and simple," says Nicksic. "Once people get involved in running this conference, they go hell-for-leather to get these things off the ground."

That is, to help get you off the ground as a professional writer.

More by Anna Mirocha


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