It’s been a little more than a week since I finished my first Futurescapes writing workshop. I’ve been meaning to do this write-up ever since, but I had a beta read to do, some admin work to catch up on for various groups I help run, and the Nebula Conference was this weekend. Needless to say, I’ve been busy and should probably spend some time refilling the well before I try to do my revisions, but I started on them last night because I really am excited to apply what I learned.
But first, my Futurescapes experience!
When I found out about this 10,000-word SFF workshop, it was February and I was in the middle of yet another revision of the space opera romance I’ve already rehashed too many times. I wanted to finish the revision so I could start querying it, but I also needed something to use for Futurescapes and did NOT want to use that same manuscript. The only other one I had in good enough shape was a SF erotica, and I didn’t feel like that was a great plan even if the sexy bits didn’t start until later. Part of what I wanted to know was whether or not my work is commercially viable via traditional publishing, and I already know that erotica is a hard sell for getting an agent.
So, what to do? Well, I had an idea I’d been thinking about for a couple months: take one of my old short stories and expand it into a novel, a sort of Handmaid’s Tale on the moon. I knocked out the first chapter and had my fellow Ubergroupers give me feedback to help me hone it for the application package. Then I went back to working on my revision until I found out I’d gotten one of the Futurescapes spots and dropped it (again) to finish my 10K words, synopsis, and query. Once again, my Ubergroup peeps helped me hone the entire package, and Queery Guru Patrick Hopkins (lovingly) took a metaphorical flamethrower to my original query draft.
My group had six members, so I had to read five 10K-word excerpts and ~800-word synopses in just over two weeks, which would have been no problem had I not also been doing two full beta reads for UG members. In the future, if I do another of these workshops, I’ll do a better job of clearing my schedule for the week before, which may mean taking a cycle off from UG entirely. The Futurescapes organizer sent us a sample edit letter to emulate, and I used it for both the excerpt and the synopsis since we only had a partial to go on and the synopsis to fill in the gaps for full character arcs, resolution of the plot(s), etc. A couple writers in the group also did inline comments in the excerpts, but I generally try not to get into the inline weeds when I’m doing a developmental edit. I want to try to stay “in the story” as much as I can and only make note of what’s pulling me out of the story. If I feel the need to leave inline notes, I don’t consider the MS ready for querying.
Because I was not already familiar with the work of my excerpt faculty, Elizabeth Bear, in addition to all the above reading, I also listened to Ancestral Night on a road trip I took at the end of April. I really enjoyed it, and that helped me get even more excited about the workshop!
My faculty for the query session was literary agent Kirby Kim of Janklow & Nesbit, and his only suggestions were to get a little more specific about what the MCs find on their way to the stakes sentence and to include my “writing citizenship” credits (mentorships, workshops, etc) in my bio. Otherwise, he said it gave him exactly the info he needed to decide whether or not he was interested. Considering how hard queries are, how much feedback others in the session received, and what a complete dumpster fire my first draft was, I was quite proud to get such a good response.
My faculty for the synopsis session was literary agent Jennie Goloboy of the Donald Maass Literary Agency. I was very excited about her response to my synopsis, which she also had very few notes on. While giving feedback on another writer’s synopsis, I mentioned my but/therefore/meanwhile synopsis method (inspired by Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s talk at Tisch) and Jennie agreed that was a great way to go about writing (or checking) a synopsis.
My faculty for the excerpt session was Hugo Award-winning author Elizabeth Bear. This is definitely the session where I got the most helpful (and just plain MOST) criticism because it was the weakest portion of my submission. I am so glad I took the time to write something new rather than using the same manuscript I’ve been rehashing forever. It really helped me see the progress in my development as a writer since I only started writing it in February. It certainly had issues, and the rest of the story doesn’t exist yet outside of synopsis form, but this very early draft is more polished than the versions my poor beta readers got of that manuscript I chose not to use. Writing the synopsis along with the early chapters also gave me the opportunity to dip my die-hard-pantser toe into plotting. As I wrote, I went back and forth between the chapters and the synopsis, rethinking and tweaking as I went. I found it exceedingly helpful without being the intense, plan-it-all-out direction many plotters take.
I have voice and character issues to work out, and some worldbuilding to rethink, but everyone said my prose is strong and the overall plot is solid. It was all very encouraging and gave me something to build toward, whereas trying to redo the older manuscript would have resulted in tearing down instead.
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN?
Absolutely, yes. Futurescapes is the most expensive workshop I’ve done, by far. I can’t afford to do that kind of thing more than maybe once per year, especially if I want to go to the Nebula Conference in person any time in the next few years (which I do.) However, if you have a manuscript that you think is ready to query, or are close but not sure what needs to change, I think it’s well worth the time and money.
That being said, one of the big things I took away from this experience was that I already have great resources in place to help me hone submission packages. Most of what I learned that helped me get my first 10k words of this project into such good shape came almost entirely from my experience in the Ubergroup.
So yes, Futurescapes is worth the money, but there are lots of free resources like the Ubergroup out there that can help you figure out how close you are to being query-ready.