Blogging Live From Maui Writers Conference – Retreat

Have you ever gotten one of those postcards that said, “Wish you were here.”

I’m guessing you wish you were here at the 15th annual Maui Writers Conference in Hawaii — so I’m take you here by sharing some of the highlights of this year’s conference and retreat.

I’m teaching the Business – Self Help book retreat right now. Participants have come from around the world to polish their manuscripts and proposals to prepare them to pitch to top agents and editors in a few days at the conference.

Participants in my workshop include the former Global Creative Director of Yahoo, a Guatamalan businessman whose company makes bread for McDonalds and ships it frozen to U.S. locations, the former Executive Director of Coachville, attorneys, professors, psychologists and an eclectic mix of others working on projects ranging from catapulting your business success to being a better parent.

A highlight of yesterday’s session was talking about how NOT to bury the lead when pitching your project. I told them a story of last year, when three days into our retreat, I was talking of the importance of presenting our credentials for maximum impact. I told the group:

“Now is NOT the time to be bashful or shy. If you have an achievement that will help position you as an expert in your topic, share it. Agents and editors can’t read your mind. They won’t know about your credentials unless you share them. It is NOT bragging to talk about your awards, accomplishments, or extraordinary experiences — it is simply telling the agent and editor that you have a PLATFORM that will establish credibility, visibility, and appeal for your work.”

I continued, “Don’t make sweeping, subjective claims. Back them up with names and numbers so agents and editors know your bio is factual. For example, don’t say ‘I’m a nationally respected speaker who presents to a variety of organizations across the country.’ We don’t know what that means. We have no idea if that’s the local Rotary Club and an adult education program on the other coast — or major associations and Fortune 500 companies.

Say, (if it’s true) “My client list includes Young Presidents Organization, National Governors Association, and NASA and I’ve presented programs to more than 50,000 people in 10 states and 4 foreign countries including Mexico, Canada, Ireland and Switzerland.” See how this line has “teeth?”

The participants then divided into smaller groups to strategize how they could introduce their credentials in order of priority to win instant buy-in from busy agents and editors.

A few minutes later, I heard a SHRIEK from the corner. Andrea gasped, “YOU HAVE WHAT?!”

Turns out one of our participants, a soft-spoken doctor, had been nominated for a Nobel in Medicine, had played a role in inventing the nicotene patch, and had the only patent for an anti-aging process.

Yikes. If you’re pitching something — whether it’s to land a book deal, win a contract or receive funding — START with whatever will get the decision-makers’ favorable attention. You want their eyebrows to go UP which means they’re intrigued and impressed.

As soon as their eyebrows go up, you’ve got your projects’ foot in their mental door — they’re already thinking positively about what you’re saying or selling.

I know this is getting long — however I’ll share one more tip.

I had the good fotune to interview New York Times best-selling author James Rollins over breakfast yesterday morning — while looking out at Maui’s marvelously blue ocean, sunny beach and majestic palm trees.

James is actually a Maui Writers Conference-Retreat success story. A veterinarian from Northern California, he came to the retreat years ago and worked with John Saul and the rest, as they say, is history. James thriller Map of Boneswas chosen by Publishers Weekly as one of the most likely to win over Dan Brown’s faithful audience.

In preparation for a presentation I’ll be giving this Sunday at the conference, I asked James, “Where do you get your ideas?” (By the way, many authors are tired of being aked this question because it comes up in almost every interview and at most book-signings. Still, it’s fascinating to hear the different systems authors use to kick-start their creativity. I’ve collected a variety of idea-gnerating methods from a variety of authors, screenwriters, and creative types and will be sharing them in my program.)

James said, “After writing a dozen books, you can’t rely on the ‘hand of God’ to tap you on the shoulder and deliver an inspired idea for a book. So, I subscribe to a lot of magazines ranging from Discover to Scientific American — anything to do with my interests which are animals, physics, inventions, you name it. I also read a lot of newspapers every day, looking for some interesting tidbit that makes it through my screen. If it catches my interest, it means it’s new instead of being commonplace. That means it has potential to be explored — because it will break new ground.”

“Keeping my antennae up for these types of ‘Hmmm: haven’t seen that before – didn’t know that — ideas . . . turns writing into a never-ending adventure for me and my readers.”

Great insight, James. Tomorrow, I’ll share some best-practice tips from Academy-award winning screenwriter Bobby Moresco (Crash, Million-Dollar Baby) and Pulitzer Price winning author Ron Powers (Mark Twain: A Life and co-author with James Bradley of Flags of our Fathers.)

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