So, back in December, I asked you guys to ask me questions for me to answer. And I didn't forget about it--I mean, not really. Anyway, a month later: here's the answers!
Also: at first I didn't think this would take that long, but then when I was answering them, I realized this was a realllly long post, so I've got this divided up into three days. Also, also: I lost some stuff when I was cutting and pasting...I think I got all the questions again, but let me know if I missed one.
WRITING IN GENERAL
Susan Kaye Quinn asked What was your biggest writing craft "ah ha!" moment during those first nine books? Or maybe a series of ahas? Maybe aaaaahaaaaa?
I think my biggest "ah ha!" moment happened after I entered--and failed miserably--in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition. I didn't even get close. And I expected to win. After that, I was commiserating with some other authors on the Amazon forums, and we decided to read each other's works and figure out where and how we went wrong. We didn't know it, but we were forming a critique group, and learning to critique and edit is what helped me grow as a writer more than anything.
It depends 100% on what you want. If you're going to a con specifically to get an agent or editor, then (1) I think you're deluding yourself a bit, as this is rare, and (2) your best bet will be to go to a conference that has pitch sessions, such as the Writer's Digest conference (NY, near the time of BEA) or the SCBWI national conferences and some state conferences. It's very important to first check that there actually ARE agents/editors present there that you want to pitch to, and to realize that the chances are phenomenally small that you will actually connect with an agent/editor enough to sign based on conference attendance. It's not impossible, just rare. (Also, I've heard the Rutger's conference is good for this, but I've not been, so I can't really give an opinion.)
If, however, you're going to the conference to network with other writers, learn about the craft, develop new marketing/writing/editing skills, etc., then I think you've got a much greater chance at getting a good outcome for your money. If you're a children's writer, then I recommend SCBWI conferences. Personally, my state does great conferences, and I've heard from others that their states are great, too. I've not been to a national SCBWI conference, but I've heard that they're great, too.
In my experience, I've been to two major conferences, and I value each of them. The first was the Writer's Digest conference--I participated in the pitch sessions and came very close to getting an editor and book deal through that. But even though I didn't, I learned from the experience about pitching, queries, and the business.
The second was the state SCBWI conference. From that conference, I learned about the importance of networking, craft and writing, and made some valuable friendships and critique partners. I also participated in a pitch session--at which, the agent told me that my entire novel sucked and I should throw it out. So, keep in mind that pitch sessions are opinions, and that it really is very difficult to make a worthwhile connection.
Also: weigh your options and the cost. For me, I spent a lot of money to fly to NY for the Writer's Digest conference, and it was worth it for me at the time. I spent far less money going to the state conference--and that was worth it, too. I learned at these conferences--but I didn't get a book deal from them. If I had known I wouldn't get a book deal, I might not have spent so much money to go to NY.
If it serves the story, do it.
When it best fits the story.
I tend to concentrate on plot--but by that, I mean that I try to make characters vivid enough that I know what they would do in a given situation, then I focus on the plot to put them in a situation that's interesting to read.
Ironically enough, right before I queried AtU. I didn't think I could do better than AtU, and I sort of froze up a bit--it would have been easier to give up at that point, than to fail again. But I queried anyway, and I'm glad I did.
FIRST DRAFTS!!!!! SO MUCH!!!!!! It's fun to get the story down. It's work to make the story good.