Futurescapes: Workshopping the first 3000 Words

So on 5/2/23 I made a blog entry about the Futurescapes application and lead up to that workshop. Today I thought I would round out that with a post about my experience with the actual workshop. As a reminder I did the SFF 3000 word novel workshop. There are also KidLit, Horror, and longer 100 page excerpt workshops.

So it began with an email informing us which group we were assigned to and inviting us to introduce us to the other 6 people in our group.

They also asked you to exchange excerpts with your group-mates and provided a Futurescapes Guide on how to write helpful comments, what to focus on, and how to structure an editorial letter. This was a little geared towards reviewing a longer piece in my opinion, but nevertheless, I did use its structure, and ignoring the sections about longer character arcs etc, I did find it very helpful in structuring my responses.

In my group, there were three more traditional fantasy pieces (though not hero’s journey), two more future apocalyptic, one fantasy-like on another planet, and one Earth-history-myth re-imagining. I’m not doing justice to their work in those descriptions, I just want to point out that you end up with really different novel types in your group and really different writing styles.

Most of us were doing the traditional novel writing querying nightmare journey. However, there was one person who bought book 2 of a series with book 1 already self-published. Also, there was one person who had self-published various things but brought something completely different to the workshop. Some people brought novels the ink was still drying on the page from (though not first drafts), and some brought things they had workshopped through 20 readers already, and others brought things they had been working on for ten years. It was a real mix, but I was surprised I could honestly say I really loved every one of the excerpts. This was a talented group. You stay with this group but move to different faculty members depending what you are doing at that time.

The structure of groups is that there are:

A Group A Faculty Lead for reviewing your excerpts.

  • This is the heart of the workshop. In our group we did it Milford style where each person got to comment on the excerpt, finishing up with the faculty member giving their input. Each person tried to only comment on ‘fresh’ things, not repeat prior commentaries. This was incredibly helpful and I will say you should not underestimate the value of each group member’s contribution, not just the faculty member who brings a different and valuable perspective but is still just one voice. There were trends in the comments and I absolutely ended up editing my novel based on it.

A Group B Faculty Lead for reviewing your query letters.

  • This is the essential, how to get your foot in the door with agents. Despite reading a hundred query letters, blogs, and vlogs, about how to write them, having your own slowly dissected and put back together by a group and a faculty member is truly illuminating. This definitely changed my query letter for the better.

A Group C Faculty lead for reviewing your first page.

  • This one should have been good, and the faculty member was excellent, but I somewhat felt it would have fitted better had we opened with this and then gone to group A to evaluate the whole excerpt. Technically this one zoomed in on the first page to improve your first impression with readers and agents and editors. But many of the points had been made in Group A, so while there was some additional value, the main add came from the faculty member here who was a new viewpoint. Maybe it would have made more sense if we had re-written first pages based on Group A? Having said that, the schedule is a little bit of a whirlwind those first few days, so I probably would not have had time to do that.

There are also some breakout groups including social time, questions, some panels with themes and a closing ceremony. You also get a second round with Group A, which is good but the content of that second session depends on you and your leader. Most of us brought query letters revised after input from the others and the Group B leader for input from the Group A leader. Some brought unrelated query letters from other novels. I understand some other groups just did question time on anything that had come up in the workshop.

My overall impression of the workshop was that it was excellent. In no small part this was because of the group I was with who were all stars. Perhaps every group is. They do screen for a certain level and I think it shows. It is very high yield. The faculty are excellent, both those that led my groups, but also those contributing to the discussion panels etc, which were lively and informative. I also liked the ability to actually interact a little and see what agents I was applying to for representation were like as human beings rather than just on paper.

The workshop is tiring, and it certainly feels longer than the 4 days you do it for. But you get key insights to your novel opening and your query letter which are the gateways to getting an agent. It also expands your network. I loved my groups work and I hope we can maintain some form of communication/exchanges into the future, and also look forward to seeing their books on shelves. I would buy any of them in a heartbeat. And it makes you feel a part of a community. Suddenly surrounded by people who love the kind of things you love, who write, who struggle, who dream the same kind of dreams you do. That alone is inspirational.

I was not off put by the Milford style. I do know there is some controversy around this approach and Futurescapes, like other workshops, are looking at other models. But one thing I think Futurescapes did really, really well, in all their emails, all their guides, their faculty, and every time Luke Peterson the organizer got up to talk: they emphasized kindness. Constructive kindness, perhaps. But Kindness. And to me, that’s what made Futurescapes really special, and I would recommend it to anyone, even the less resilient, as a gentle entree into the world of workshopping.

Thank you Futurescapes! And thank you to my group and its leaders. 🙂

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