By Todd Fahnestock
The Value of Collecting Quotes
I collect quotes. The habit started back in college when I was sleeping on a rough-cut wooden loft I got for free because its owner was headed home for the summer and didn’t want to store it. Every time my friends came over, they’d tease me about the fact that I hadn’t painted the thing yet. Finally, after months of making assurances that I would (and failing to follow through), one of my friends scrawled a quote from The Princess Bride on one of the posts:
It immediately became a thing. Whenever I or one of my friends blurted a clever, bizarre or off-color quip, or was charmed by some sweet dialogue in a movie, we would grab a Sharpie and emblazon our latest witticism on the unpainted loft. Within a semester, quotes covered it, such that finding space became a creative endeavor.
The Quote Loft got passed on to another lucky soul that following summer when I, too, refused to spend $75 to store a free loft bed. Years after that, I heard a rumor that the loft was still in circulation, and had finally been painted, though a few of the quotes still showed through.
Though the Quote Loft left me behind in its adventures, the habit stuck and has continued to improve my writing skills and provide inspiration. Quotes help me remember wisdoms I hear. They keep me sharp in identifying snappy, real-sounding dialogue. Above all, listening to how people express themselves is a window to character development. Like Salieri in the movie Amadeus, I hear the brilliance of people’s every day patter, even if sometimes they may not hear it themselves (or are embarrassed about the quirky phrase that just flew out of their mouth), and I quickly jot it down before it vanishes.
In early February, I had the pleasure of attending the Superstars Writing Seminars (SSWS) and, as usual, I brought my taste for quotes, though I had no idea what a banquet awaited. I was soon-to-be glutted with great quotes, both wise and amusing.
This was my first year at SSWS. I had heard the rumors that great things happen there, that it focused on the hard-nosed business side of writing more than the craft, and that it was for serious writers who had reached a certain level in their careers. Call me a typical Gen X-er, but I’m always skeptical about hype; I prefer to form my own opinions through immersion than to take someone’s word for it. So I while arrived with an open mind, I stood at a quiet distance.
That lasted about fifteen minutes. I quickly found myself running to catch up, furiously jotting down quotes and wishing that I could attend every session (which unfortunately I couldn’t), but also wanting to catch every interesting writer in the hall and talk with them one-on-one.
“When you really know what you need to do, and people see that in your eyes, they will find ways to help you.”
-James A. Owen
At SSWS, not only did the faculty have career-improving wisdom, but the attendees did, too. They touched on every subject: branding, marketing, serving/leveraging fan bases, digital books, audio books, and the advantages of self-publishing over traditional publishing and vice versa. Everyone had their area of talent, and stopping to listen to them was an educational cornucopia.
“I would just like to point out that: No one is boring. No matter how boring you think you are, you have an interest that will engage someone else.”
I started grabbing quotes in the first session, and I didn’t stop typing until the last. The entire atmosphere was a writer’s dream: rich with creativity, inspiration, determination and camaraderie. One of the founders of SSWS is a writer named James A. Owen, who signs his books: “Remember magic is real…and worth looking for!” Well, now I’m a convert. If you’re a writer looking for magic, you can find it (and a wealth of useful quotes) at SSWS.
In closing, I will share my favorite quotes from the sessions.
Quotes from Superstars Writing Seminars: Teaching You the Business of Being A Writer:
“Be nice to your fans. It’s the right thing to do, but it also makes money.”
-Jim Butcher, Author
“The hardest part is saying no to the deal that doesn’t take your career where you want to go.”
-James A. Owen, Author and Artist
“Your books are your product. Your brand is you.”
-Alexi Vandenberg, Director of Marketing and Promotions, WordFire Press
“When you’re posting (on social media), don’t be trying to sell your book. What you should be doing is making yourself interesting.”
-Kevin J. Anderson, Author
“I don’t pay attention trends. I take on books that I love, and I hope that other people will love them, too.”
-Kristin Nelson, President and Founding Literary Agent, Kristin Nelson Literary Agency
“When I reject a manuscript but I can see there potential in the author, I ask: What else do you have? That response is miles down the road from a straight rejection. Always have that ‘what else’ ready.”
-Lisa Mangum, Author and Editor, Shadow Mountain Publishing
“If you’re not actively developing your platform, you are shrinking your platform.”
-David Farland, Author
“A prologue is like a heart transplant. You should never have one unless you really really really need it.”
-Jody Lynn Nye, Author
“Know your market. Don’t submit something that isn’t appropriate (for your chosen publishing house).”
–Claire Eddy, Senior Editor, Tor Books
(In response to the question: What are the top 3 tips for writers to succeed?) “First, write It. Second, write it. Third, write it. Persistence is what will really pay off.”
-Todd McCaffrey, Author
“Any force that brings the reader and writer together is going to succeed. The future of publishing will be more collaborative.”
-Mark Lefebvre, Author and Director, Kobo Writing Life
“For your fans, their interaction with you may be the only interaction they ever have. The impression you make could be the only impression you ever get to make with them. Make sure it’s a positive one.”
-(Paraphrased from James A. Owen)
“On the traditional publishing side, discoverability is about getting those librarians and booksellers on your side.”
“You are performers. Your customers are your audience.”
-James A. Owen
“The best marketing you can have is writing the best book you can write.”
“With your closest fans, you shouldn’t be selling to them, you should be giving to them.”
“Keep making the right choices, even if everyone else thinks you’re a little nuts.”
-James A. Owen
“You might be having a bad day. But you’re on stage. You don’t get to have a bad day.”
-Kevin J. Anderson
“You build your audience one person at a time. Sometimes you’re not there for that building; it’s just your written word. But when you are, make the most of it. Invest your attention in people.”
“Do special things for your uber-fans.”
“Whatever the trends are right now, this is still a long game. Think of your career in those terms.”
-James A. Owen
“What editors are looking for are authors who can teach us how to sell their book to everybody else.”
“At the end of the day, you’re the one signing the contract, so you better read it.”
“Never sacrifice what you want the most for what you want the most at that moment.”
-James A. Owen
“The man with the sign says we’re done. So we’re all done.”
TODD FAHNESTOCK won the New York Public Library’s Books for the Teen Age Award for one of his short stories, and is the author of the middle-grade bestseller The Wishing World. Other books include Fairmist, Heir of Autumn, Mistress of Winter and Queen of Oblivion. Stories are his passion, but Todd’s greatest accomplishment is his quirky, fun-loving family. The Wishing World began as a series of bedtime stories for his children.