Monday, March 16, 2015

5 Tips for InPrint 2015

The InPrint Festival of First Books starts tomorrow, and I'm excited.  I wrote this post a day or two after InPrint 2014 and have been saving it for a year.   I hope my advice proves useful to attendees. 

Learn you a Books

Read the InPrint books, or if you don’t have time1  read the one in the genre you know best2 and then figure out what about it intrigues/bamboozles you.  If it’s something that raises questions, ask about it, if it’s something impressive, ask how they did it and try to use that technique.3 Maybe google the books and the authors,4 see if they’ve done any interviews or panels anywhere that might help you understand the books better, and ask better questions.
More Wreck More Wreck
by Tyler Gobble

By the spear of Odin, ASK QUESTIONS

You only get about an hour or so with these authors so mine their brains for every last bit of wisdom.  Ask yourself “What writing thing I worst at?”5 and then ask “How do you do the thing?”  It might seem like an obvious question, but the more basic it is, the more likely other people are wondering it too, and then everyone benefits.  Save more individual questions “What’s going on with this poem on page 45?” for after the panel or for the class visits.6 The best questions are ones that all the panelists can answer.  Even if you feel dumb, a dumb question is a better use of everyone’s time than awkward silence.

When you get to InPrint, don’t sit down.  That’s the worst thing you can do.  Go find the InPrint Authors, or the organizers and professors, anyone getting a lot of attention, and listen.  You don’t have to say anything, just soak up some knowledge.  If you’re the most talented person in the conversation, find another conversation.  Don’t sit down until you have to, and once the reading or panel is over get up immediately and find another good conversation.  This turns a 1½-hour event into a 3-hour event, assuming you stay as long as you can.  Alternatively, find an interesting-seeming stranger and make a friend.  Leave as late as you can. 

The Authors are People Too

It’s important to remember that these authors are people, just like you, and as such benefit just as much from praise and admiration as you would.  Showing that you’ve read their books enough to ask specific questions about them is a high form of praise.  I guarantee you, no amount of praise is unwelcome.8   It’s vitally important not to put authors on too high a pedestal, as the further you remove them from yourself the less you’ll be able to learn from them.  Remember, they were just like you less than ten years ago.9 The only difference is that they are published authors and you are (I’ll assume) not.  That said…

None of this “Real Author” nonsense

Everything I Never Told You
by Celeste Ng
Not to belittle the InPrint Authors (who all seem like fabulous people) but please don’t go around saying things like “At last I’ll get to meet a Real Author!”  I've heard variations on that theme all year, which I feel delegitimizes other Real Authors™, such as Cathy Day, Mark Neely, Sean Lovelace, Matthew Mullins, Deborah Mix, Peter Davis, Jennifer Grouling, other faculty I’m forgetting, any current students who have been published in the Broken Plate, and you, if you’ve shared your work with anyone, ever.  What I’m saying is, respect the authors, but don’t forget that your professors are probably published authors as well and probably would be delighted to give you advice if you ask nicely.  The value of the InPrint Authors is that they’re probably much closer to you in the timeline from Student to this fabled Real Author™10 than most teachers, and also are a perspective you can't get at literally any other time during the semester.

The InPrint Festival of First Books is in the Student Center Ballroom from 7:30pm-9pm, the 17th and 18th of March.  I hope to see a lot of people there!