Making the Most of Mentor Appointments
Before we get to Kat’s post, I just wanted to announce that the 2nd round of Alliance Award voting starts today! So, after you’ve read this post, hop on over and get your vote in!
At Realm Makers, there are three types of appointments offered: Agent/Editor, Paid Critique, and Mentor. They each serve specific purposes.
Agent/Editor Appointments are solely for pitching novels (or, in a couple of cases this year, short stories). For this kind of appointment, you should have a finished and polished manuscript, ready to pitch for publication. This is not a place to brainstorm or to brain-pick. This is the appointment you sign up for when you are far past the idea phase, past the writing phase, past the beta-reader phase, and are ready for contract-signing.
Paid Critique Appointments are for those who have paid ($30) for a critique of ten pages of a specific manuscript (which may be unfinished). Paid Critiques are given by industry professionals—at Realm Makers these may be agents, editors, or published authors. These appointments are for getting advice on a single manuscript, with more detailed, line-by-line commentary. The manuscript pages are turned in about six or seven weeks in advance, then returned to the author just a couple of weeks before Realm Makers. The appointment is meant for discussing the comments and suggestions. These appointments run longer—thirty minutes instead of fifteen—so the author and critiquer can dig deep. (Deadline to sign up for one of these is May 15, 2017!)
Mentor Appointments are a bit harder to pinpoint. They run fifteen minutes, and the focus depends on who the mentor is and what you, as the attendee, need. We have an accountant who can help you with business operations questions. A cover artist who can help with graphic design. Branding specialists who can answer your questions about building platforms and creating an online presence. Editors who can help you dissect writing issues or answer questions about the editing process. Published authors who can give advice on the various aspects of writing. These appointments are where you can brainstorm and brain-pick.
So, how do you make the most of Mentor Appointments?
First and foremost, research the available Mentors. It’s a bit of a no-brainer that if you have tax questions, you’re going to make an appointment with our awesome accountant, Chris Morris, or if you are struggling with cover art design, you’re going to meet with Kirk DouPonce.
On the flip side, the authors giving Mentor Appointments may have specialties, so look for those. If you’re writing epic fantasy, you want to find an author who has successfully published books in that genre and leave the space opera authors open for appointments with those working on space opera. Some have their strengths in characterization, or plotting mysteries, or writing for a particular age group. If you want the most productive appointment, find someone who has expertise in the area where you need help.
Remember your time limit. Fifteen minutes goes by fast, but if you stay focused you can get a lot of information in that time. Take a moment to introduce yourself and relax, but do settle in and get to business quickly so you can get as much information as possible. You won’t have to track your time yourself—there will be volunteers there with stop watches making sure no one goes over—but be mindful that your time is limited and there is likely an appointment after yours and that attendee only has fifteen minutes as well.
Prepare questions ahead of time. Don’t assume you’ll remember all the things you want to ask, so write them down. Think about what is most important and list those things first.
Be specific. The more precise you are with your questions, the more you’re going to get out of your appointment. If you are too general, time will be wasted as the mentor tries to hone in on what your needs are.
DON’T ask, “What advice can you give me on characterization?”
DO ask, “What tips can you give me for creating a compelling main character who is a telekinetic fifteen year old boy on a strange planet where he discovers his long-lost parents are being held prisoner.”
DON’T ask, “What advice can you give me on plot development?”
DO ask, “What tips can you give me on pacing a supernatural thriller, particularly as the climax approaches? How do I not speed through, but also not drag things out and frustrate the reader?”
Of course, if you run out of specific questions, asking something a bit more general might lead to a good discussion. Just think about the different aspects of writing—character, plot, description, voice, editing, etc. Don’t forget things like foreshadowing, point of view, planting clues in mysteries, dialog, showing vs telling. Jot down some general topics to help trigger idea as you converse, and write down questions that pop into your head to ask later.
Don’t bring pages for the mentor to read. If you need detailed critique on your manuscript, sign up for a Paid Critique. Mentor appointments are for questions and brain-picking that don’t involve handing the mentor printed pages. That said, if you have a paragraph or two that might help them understand why you’re having trouble writing description, or that would allow them to get a sense of your writing voice, bring that with you. Just don’t expect a line-by-line critique. These should be excerpts that can be read very quickly and are simply for giving your Mentor a place to orient him/herself so they can answer your questions and give proper tips.
Take notes. Bring a notebook or pad of paper, or a laptop or tablet, and take notes at your appointment. (That really goes for all appointment types!)
Give yourself some time after your appointment before you start tackling changes. It’s tempting to rush off to your hotel room or a quiet corner and start making changes right away. But you should give yourself a little time to let your Mentor’s advice absorb, particularly if you’re planning on talking to more than one Mentor about the same issue. Which brings me to…
It’s okay to ask the same questions of more than one mentor. One thing writers need to learn is discernment, and how to work through conflicting advice. Getting essentially the same answer from more than one Mentor lets you know it’s advice you really should follow. On the other hand, you may find that one Mentor tells you one thing and another tells you the complete opposite. Don’t let this frustrate you. Understand that everyone has different experiences and opinions, and ultimately you choose which advice to follow.
If your mentor turns out not to be a great fit, don’t panic. Maybe you have another WIP that is closer to their area of expertise—go ahead and switch gears. Or focus on more general writing questions. Chances are you’ll gain some nugget of helpful information no matter who you meet with.
Think out of the box. The above are suggestions you should take seriously, but they are not meant to be strict limits. We writers are creative, and we tend to approach things unconventionally. Some of our appointments will very much reflect that. For example, Carla Hoch is offering Mentor appointments focused on fight scenes and she’s let us know she needs some physical space for real-life illustration. Maybe you have some need outside of what normally falls into Mentor territory. You want someone to help you feel more secure that it’s okay to write Christian horror, so find a Mentor who writes dark fiction and ask them why they do so and how they reconcile it with their faith. Maybe you are trying to decide between indie and traditional publishing, so meet with an indie author and ask about their experiences. Last year, I had an attendee use his Mentor appointment with me to practice his pitch for a subsequent agent appointment—what I thought was a clever use of our time together.
Lastly, remember every mentor at Realm Makers has been exactly where you are. All the Mentors were at one point aspiring authors, first-time authors, authors seeking advice and guidance. Those Mentors signed up to take appointments to be there for you the way they needed someone to be there for them. Actually, we are all continually learning, we are all always looking for the next step in the journey and someone with experience to help us along. So we all understand that need and are here to help. We are giving this time because we want to, because we care. So relax and know we’re on your side!
Kat Heckenbach – Appointment Coordinator
Kat Heckenbach spent her childhood with pencil and sketchbook in hand, knowing she wanted to be an artist when she grew up—so naturally she graduated from college with a degree in biology, went on to teach math, and now homeschools her two children while writing. Her fiction ranges from light-hearted fantasy to dark and disturbing, with multiple stories published online and in print. Her YA fantasy series Toch Island Chronicles is available in print and ebook. Enter her world at www.katheckenbach.com.