Tipsday: Informal writerly learnings, May 1-7, 2022

Ah, Tuesday. Monday has been endured/survived and we’re one day closer to the weekend. Fortify yourself for the rest of the week with some informal writerly learnings!

Lauren J. Sharkey is aimlessly acquiring and agent. Then, Adam W. Burgess helps you build your LGBTQ+ summer reading list. Gabriela Pereira interviews Jessi Honard and Marie Parks about using the “loop method” to co-write your novel. Later in the week, Mary Adkins suggests your best writing goal based on your enneagram number. DIY MFA

Five easy ways to get story ideas. Reedsy

Greer Macallister says you can’t do it all. Then, Sarah Penner talks about hiding your villain in plain sight. Donald Maass: it’s simple. It’s complicated. It’s a novel. Keith Cronin offers some tough love from a guy named Francis. Then, Liz Michalski says hello, village. Writer Unboxed

What’s wrong with Calanthe’s armour? Jill Bearup

K.M. Weiland explains the role of the antagonist in story structure (part 1 of 2). Helping Writers Become Authors

Brooke Warner says we all need to be protected against predatory publishing practices. Then, Kristen Tsetsi interviews Alan Davis about the benefits of MFA programs. Anne Carley: not a journal person? Post-pandemic might be the perfect time to start. Jane Friedman

Five things I got (very) wrong about writing craft. Shaelin Writes

September C. Fawkes shows you how to use crisis to reveal character. Writers Helping Writers

Lisa Norman explains what to do if you’ve been hacked! Or have you? Later in the week, Kris Maze explains how to create a powerful synopsis to sell your book. Writers in the Storm

Kristen Lamb discusses the mother wound and fiction.

Why has the majestic griffin been forgotten? Monstrum | PBS Storied

Tiffany Yates Martin explains how Rochelle Weinstein revises: building grassroots success. Fox Print Editorial

Chris Winkle reveals how to make your craft more pretentious. Oren Ashkenazi: no, social justice warriors aren’t reducing diversity in fiction. Mythcreants

The worldview genre: stories about maturation, disillusionment, and revelation. Story Grid

The quarter life crisis is more stressful than ever. The Take

Clara Pasieka: Cree author, David A. Robertson questions why Durham District School Board removed his book from shelves. CBC

How libraries became a quiet battlefront in the war on Ukraine. CBC

Ukraine’s national poet. JSTOR Daily

Thanks for taking the time to visit. I hope you took away something to support your current work in progress.

Until Thursday, be well and stay safe!

Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, Dec 9-15, 2018

Looking for your informal writerly learnings? Here they are:

Piper Bayard and Jay Holmes stop by Writers in the Storm: Know your firearms! Magazine or clip? A frequent error of less experienced contemporary authors, and a repeated question asked of the experts. Get the low-down from Bayard & Holmes.

Susan Spann shares some holiday copyright tips. Writer Unboxed

Sarah Callender explores how fiction challenges us to ask the tough questions. Writer Unboxed

Kathryn Craft wants you to welcome the darkest hour. Writer Unboxed

Robin LaFevers goes on an unexpected journey: creativity’s ebb and flow. “It is not unlike religion in that by engaging in it, we are forced to interact with the world on a deeper, more intimate level than we might otherwise choose to.” Writer Unboxed

K.M. Weiland shares her ten-step checklist to writing an above average novel. Helping Writers Become Authors

Jenna Moreci offers her top ten tips for pacing.


Jess Zafaris lists Writer’s Digest’s top ten sites with literary agents and resources. ‘Tis the season!

Chris Winkle answers a writerly question: when is it appropriate to dispel the mystery? Later in the week, she profiles five surprisingly successful characters and why they work. Mythcreants

Jami Gold visits Writers Helping Writers: we don’t need no stinkin’ rules.

Roz Morris has some strategies to keep in touch with your book when your writing routine is disrupted. Nail Your Novel

Beyond Crazy Rich Asians: a look at humorous fiction. Terri Frank on DIY MFA.

Gabriela Pereira interview Orson Scott Card for DIY MFA radio.

K.T. Lynn shares five reasons to love all writing feedback. DIY MFA

Caroline Donahue: how the tarot cards point the way to your story. The Creative Penn

And that was Tipsday for the second week of December.

Come back on Thursday for a dose of thoughty.

Until then, be well.


Ad Astra 2015 day 2: Cutting contracts and shaking hands

The business basics of writing

Panellists: Greg Wilson, Monica Pacheco, Gail Z. Martin, Leah Bobet

Cutting Contracts Panel

Q: Do I need an agent?

LB: First, you have to ask yourself what you want. What will your career look like?

MP: If you want a Big 5 publishing deal, film rights, foreign rights, etc., you need an agent.

GZM: Can you do your own taxes or do you have an accountant? An agent has specialized knowledge that’s critical in the publishing industry. Their 15% commission is well worth it.

LB: I have to clarify my response: if you want to self-publish, no, you don’t need an agent. If you focus on short fiction, you don’t need an agent.

MP: Short fiction is excluded in publishing contracts.

GW: The stuff that used to be done by acquisition editors in the publishing houses has shifted to agents. There are many ways to achieve the same result. Having an agent can free up more time to write.

GZM: I don’t need an agent for short fiction, but if I notice something hinky with the contract, I can run it by my agent. He gets paid if I get paid, so he’s invested in my success.

LB: Agents aren’t interchangeable. It’s like a marriage. Fortunately, break-ups are rarely acrimonious.

MP: Your agent is also a buffer between you and the editor, you and marketing, etc.

GZM: My agent can play the bad cop.

MP: There’s an imbalance of power.

GW: A bad agent can be worse than no agent at all. You have to believe in what you do. Get the right agent for you.

GZM: I recommend the Guide to Literary Agents.

LB: Don’t take the boiler plate! [Mel’s note: a boiler plate is a standardized contract that frequently offers the worst possible terms for the author.] When it comes to long form contracts, it depends on the publisher, the genre, and the specific rights asked for.

MP: An agent will get a different boiler plate as a starting point for negotiation. Sub-rights depend on whether the agency has a strong film/foreign rights department.

GW: Also look out for audio rights and gaming rights.

GZM: Ebook rights are now a part of the non-negotiable rights a publisher can ask for. It will differ by house. A lot of authors are doing more hybrid work as their careers progress. Your contract determines what you can do (e.g. when rights revert to the author).

LB: Non-compete clauses are something to examine carefully. Looking at the big picture, publishing houses are figuring out how to proceed in the world of epublishing and publishing on demand (POD).

GW: Distribution wars can have an affect on your novel. When Amazon and Hachette were fighting it out, some authors lost out because their books were getting into the stores.

GZM: The sales of your current book will determine how many copies of your next book stores will order.

GW: Titans fight and the peons pay. I self-published and then I got a traditional deal. Publishing and writers are both more flexible. Hybrid will become the norm. You have to have more awareness of the “shape” of the industry.

MP: We used to search WattPad to find the next author. Now, established authors are publishing on WattPad.

LB: I’m interested to see if WattPad will be monetized.

GZM: How does free translate to readers (which translates to income)? Some people read a book a day. They can’t afford their book habit, but if they read and review, they become influencers.

GW: We now have multiple avenues to get our work out there. You can leverage multiple fan bases. The more each author is successful, the more all authors are successful. The rising tide floats all boats.

LB: YA rules are a little different. It’s flush with money. It’s a gold rush. I’m aware of my limits as a writer, though. 18 hour days on an ongoing basis would kill me. Publishing is built on interns. Books are great, but they’re not everything. You have a life outside of books. Your career is your choice.

GZM: Precarious is in the eye of the beholder. I have a life and I do work long days.

GW: Being a college professor is precarious. You have to learn how to work smarter, not harder.

LB: No one knows what the magic button is.

And that was time.

Next week: We move on to DAY 3 (!) and making a living as a writer.

How to get published

Once again, here’s some November catch up displaced by other priorities.

On November 6th and 7th, I travelled down to Humber College in Etobicoke (Toronto) to attend the How to get published workshop Hosted by Cythia Good and Jennifer Murray.

Humber Shcool For Writers Lakeshore Campus

About the presenters: Cynthia Good is the former president and publisher of Penguin Canada and current director of Humber’s Creative Book Publishing program. Jennifer Murray is the former director of marketing at Penguin and vice-president, marketing at Kids Can Press.

As with any of my transcribed sessions, discretion is advised. I fully acknowledge my humanity and there may be errors. If you see any, please be kind enough to let me know so I can make corrections, post-hasty.


You can’t make a living creative writing alone. (Mel’s note: It is possible to make a living writing, even in Canada. I know several people who do it, but it usually involves a fair amount of risk that most of us are not prepared to take. Do not lose heart if it is your goal to quit your day job. You just have to plan carefully and understand what level of risk you are comfortable with. As ever, do your research. /end rant)

It’s a brave new publishing world since the advent of digital publishing.

Publishing used to be a paternal system. Now it’s more like a partnership. Much more business and marketing knowledge is required of the average writer.

There have been a few big sea changes in the publishing world.

Two years ago Random House and Penguin merged (Mel’s note: officially, it’s Penguin Random House, or P/RH, but I still like Random Penguin). It’s a 51% to 49% balance of the controlling interest in the company and a shift from primarily German to primarily English oversight.

More recently, HarperCollins (HC) announced that it would be shutting down its Canadian distribution centre. This will mean the layoff of 120 people including the former president of sales, distribution, and administrative finance.

What does this mean for HC? They bought Harlequin last year. Another merger of sorts.

Another recent bit of news is that the government has disallowed new foreign publishers to set up operations in Canada. This is affecting Simon & Schuster (S&S) and their imprints, resulting in the departure of several key employees.

A Canadian publishing company that started up eight months ago may not be able to make it in this increasingly hostile publishing environment.

Will we see a HC and S&S merger?

The thing about mergers is that in order to support their infrastructure, publishers depend on authors whose sales will finance that support. Midlist authors are being dropped. Fewer chances are being taken on new authors.

These authors are going to small and boutique Canadian publishing houses.

In Canada, a bestseller is about 5,000 copies. Really, if you take into consideration returns, the print run should be anywhere from 7,500 to 10,000 copies and at least 5,000 of those must sell. 5,000 is the break-even point.

Why go for a traditional deal?

If you write non-fiction, there’s still money for public speaking. Though marketing and promotional budgets are disappearing, there is still some money to be had.

Traditional publishers are also branching out into digital. Hazlitt is an online magazine put out by RH.

They’re also getting into providing author services. Author Portal, through RH again, is much like Kobo Writing Life and offers similar metrics. Penguin bought Author Solutions (Mel’s note: BOO!) because selling author services ala carte is more lucrative.

Marketshare by format (Canada)

  • 18% ebook (24% in the US)
  • 58% paperback
  • 24% hardcover

Booknet keeps the statistics and only publishers and booksellers have access to that.

Ebooks have hit a plateau and are expected to hold. Pricing is not expected to hold, however.

Scribd, through HC, is billed as the Netflix for books. Amazon also offers a subscription-based service (Kindle Unlimited) whereby you can loan unlimited material.

In general, Amazon sells ebooks at a low price. Print prices are also falling.

Publishers in Canada can’t compete and can’t survive without government grants.

Three years back, in the battle between what was then the Big 6 and Amazon resulted in an Amazon win.

In part, it comes down to discoverability. How do readers find their books?

The traditional path between author and reader: author -> agent -> publisher -> distributor -> bookseller -> reader.

Now authors can go directly to the reader.

There are also book apps. Apps based on popular books. No one is making money on boo apps yet.

E.L. James’s success led to trends in erotica. Young adult and new adult are still strong categories.

Wattpad is a Canadian company and you can post your novels on there, chapter by chapter, for free. You can get great reader feedback that way. There are no stats currently on how releasing material on Wattpad may affect sales of ebooks or print books later on.

Of the Big 5 publishers, Canadian authors have access to three:

  • P/RH – both still take submissions seperately for the main publisher and all imprints. RH has Vintage, DoubleDay, Knopf, McClelland and Stewart, Tundra, etc. Penguin’s imprints include Viking, Allan Lane, Hamish-Hamilton. Collectively, they publish 100-150 books annually.
  • HarperCollins, which has recently acquired Harlequin.
  • Simon & Schuster, though they are, as mentioned, in the midst of transition.

There’s also Scholastic. They’re US-based, but Canadian authors can access them.

Small or independent publishers

  • Dundurn in Hamilton. Their focus in on history. They are in growth mode.
  • ECW publishes everything.
  • ChiZine is a niche publisher of horror.
  • Bundoran and Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Micropublishers, or boutique publishers

  • Biblioasis
  • Gaspereau
  • Freehand
  • Goose Lane
  • Pedlar Press
  • Bookthing
  • Tightrope
  • Insomniac
  • Mansfield
  • Groundwood
  • Pyjama Press
  • Second Story

How do you choose?

If you aim for a big publisher, you will usually get a better deal.

With smaller houses, you get more attention and they will take more risks on new authors. Smaller presses are more agile and have specialties.


It’s a matter of match-making. The editor needs to make money for their publisher. They have a lot to read and a lot of work to do for their current clients.

Make sure your first page is memorable.

A well-written book with excellent sales can make an editor’s career. They receive bonuses based on sales, awards, and word-of-mouth (reviews). They usually have “stables” of writers.

They curate their authors’ best work.


Do you need one? For the big publishers, yes. The best way to get an agent is to get a publisher (ironic, isn’t it?).

You can approach editors directly. They’re always looking for new authors.

Think about why you want an agent. They can offer:

  • Emotional support
  • Editorial support
  • Career counselling
  • Access to big publishers
  • The ability to negotiate a good deal
  • Contract review
  • Interpretation of your royalty statements
  • The ability to negotiate for marketing budget or cover input
  • Advice on next books

For all this (sometimes more, sometimes less) they get 15% of every sale. Foreign rights, television, movies, audio, etc. (all subrights) generally demand 20%.


  • Westwood Creative Artists
  • Cooke Agency
  • Transatlantic Literary (primarily children’s)
  • Anne McDermid
  • Helen Heller (commercial)
  • Rights Factory (experimental/literary)
  • Rick Broadhead (practical/non-fiction)
  • PS Literary
  • Beverley Slopen

Always check the agency’s submission guidelines.

Other resources that might give you additional information on agents are the Association of Canadian Publishers and the Writers’ Union of Canada.

Make sure that your manuscript (ms) is complete and polished. N.B. Non-fiction should be queried with a proposal.

Why might you not want an agent?

  • Control over your career
  • Direct relationship with editor or publisher

A Baker’s Dozen (things to do before you query)

  1. Perfect your manuscript
  2. Get feedback
  3. Attend writers’ workshops and courses
  4. Hire an editor (freelance). N.B. Humber is launching its own Publishing Services.
  5. Submit to journals and magazines
  6. Research and submit to competitions
  7. Attend conferences or conventions
  8. Volunteer for or attend literary festivals like Word on the Street (WotS)
  9. Read
  10. Get to know local bookstores and librarians
  11. Have a presence on the internet
  12. Be prepared to give it away.
  13. Learn everything you can about publishing (Publishers Weekly, Quill & Quire)

Preparing to write your query

Research your comparatives/competition. Market research.

Be professional.

Submit to multiple agencies. Have your A list, your B list, etc. It’s also good to identify what you’re not interested in.

Have a strategy.

Query letters

Start with the story. Make it compelling. Get to the facts (word count, genre, etc.) at the end.

  • Introductory paragraph – if you have met or been referred to the agent. If not, show your research. Why do you think you’ll be a good fit?
  • Pitch/short synopsis – be as interesting as possible. Don’t give away the ending.
  • Comparables – be realistic.
  • Biographical info – keep it relevant.
  • Closing.

Agents will not appreciate it if you do not state the word count, call your book a “fiction novel,” use poor spelling, and/or poor grammar.


This is not new. Virginia Woolf and Walt Whitman self-published.

Keep in mind that for every Hugh Howey there are thousands of self-published wannabes. Only 400 out of every 1.5 million books published sell more than 100 copies.

Consider your motivation. You may be:

  • An oft-rejected writer (this doesn’t necessarily mean your book is badly written, but consider the possibility)
  • Someone who wants to establish credibility
  • Someone who wants to help others
  • Disappointed with traditional publishing
  • Interested in establishing a legacy

If you self-publish print books, you generally need as many as 2,000 books for distribution.


  • Certainty/total control
  • Speed to publishing
  • Increased income


  • Up-front costs
  • No advances
  • Time consuming
  • Marketing and promotion are entirely on you
  • Distribution
  • Liability
  • Access to prizes and grants

Terry Fallis states he spent $1,400 for editorial review, cover layout and $2,000 for additional editing.

Use Wattpad to get reader feedback.

Use Kickstarter or Indie-go-go to fund your publication.

Check out James Altucher’s blog. Start with this post on Publishing 3.0.

Be prepared to become an authorpreneur.

Consider partner publishing with a company like Iguana Books.


As I said at the outset, my notes are not complete. I can’t write down everything said in the course of a day and a half. We also wrote query letters and critiqued them in class, as well as learning how an agent sells your book to a publisher. We also went over non-fiction book proposals, which I chose not to share with you here. There was a lot I couldn’t include.

That was the first day and a half. The last half of the second day was given over to Jennifer Murray to discuss marketing and promotion.

I’m sorry, but I didn’t take notes for the marketing piece.

You’ll have to register for the next session if you want to find out about that 😉 I’d recommend it if you’re in the Toronto area.

And that’s it for Writerly Goodness tonight. Toddling off to Bedfordshire.

CanWrite! 2014: Agent panel, June 19

Panelists: Sam Hiyate, Carly Watters, Marie Campbell

Sam HiyateCarly WattersMarie Campbell






Moderator: James Dewar

JD: What’s changed in the author-agent-editor relationship over the years?

SH: When I was studying English literature, agents were invisible. Editors shaped the work. Now, there is too much work for an editor to do. Some of that work has devolved upon agents. The leisurely relationship between author and editor is a thing of the past. Editors want a perfectly edited manuscript to they can turn around and sell it to their publishing house.

MC: Whatever golden age there might have been, ended just before I started working in the industry. YA is a big market now. Editors are not so much about developing talent, but about recognizing it. We need to be good “pickers.” Some agents have moved into this gap.

CW: Agents are also fighting against each other to get their authors placed.

JD: How much time do you spend developing authors?

SH: I couldn’t give you a percentage, but somewhere between three and five drafts.

MC: It varies with the client. It could be anywhere from one to twelve drafts.

CW: I spend between three and six months, not just editing, but understanding the vision for the work. The “revise and resubmit” letter might contain one to seven pages of suggested revisions. You have to find out if you can work together. Some agents won’t take on a client without doing an R&R letter. They won’t take the risk.

JD: What are some of the reasons authors don’t respond to your suggestions the way you expect?

CW: The author doesn’t take it seriously. They don’t understand how much work goes into reading and analyzing and preparing the R&R.

MC: I was at a conference last year on a panel reading first pages. The top three, as the prize, would be given consideration, moved to the top of my slush pile. Only one of them responded right away. I read and signed her. The second one just came in last month. Sometimes they’re scared. When you get the opportunity, jump for it. It may not be there in six months.

SH: The easy answer is that Canadians are afraid. Americans want to see the money. Adopt a professional persona. Andrew Pyper wrote five or six books. His agent asked to see what he was working on. He presented it to his agent and the agent asked, “do you have anything else?” It’s a conversation.

MC: I had a conversation with one of my writers who said he had so many ideas he could work on. It’s my job to say, “no, no, no, yes.”

JD: What is exciting you these days?

SH: Ask me when I’ve had a few cocktails.

MC: Because I’ve worked in children’s literature for so long, it’s exciting to see the new work coming in. Because there’s so much of it, the bar is set high. Picture books were dying out, but now they’re coming back.

CW: In the acknowledgements of her second book, one of my authors said that without me, she’d be a starving artist. I was thrilled. It’s the best part of being an agent, being able to grow with your authors.

SH: I can give you an answer now. There is a graphic novel about two girls coming of age in this one summer in cottage country. Canadian writers do this very well. The book was #8 on the New York Times, moved up to #7, dropped off the list, but now a review has come out and we’re waiting to see where it goes.

JD: When you look at a manuscript, what are you hoping to find?

CW: The book always comes first, but I look for potential for book cubs, translations, you never know.

MC: With kids’ books, you have to consider the age of your audience, and then look at merchandizing. Is there series potential? Having said that, I will never say the word “trilogy” again.

SH: It depends on the book. The first may be a distinctively Canadian book, but two or three down the line, it could be a whole different story. Look at Yan Martel. Pi was his fourth book. His first was a collection of short stories.

JD: So, the book is not the end of it.

SH: The moment Pi hit the mainstream, everyone went back to buy his other two novels.

JD: How are Canadian authors doing on the world stage?

SH: That’s a really big question. Ebooks are based around genre. It’s getting harder and harder to sell literary novels. The Luminaries is essentially a thriller written in a literary style.

CW: Canadian authors aren’t as ambitious. They’re too laid back. Literary is still a market. If you’re writing genre, though, consider your setting. An anonymous town that could be anywhere in North America won’t be as problematic for an American publisher.

MC: Writers have come to me and said, “I’ve been successful in Canada. Now I want to break into the American market. Canadian’s are good at problem novels. American’s love them too, but they don’t translate into the UK market. It can affect foreign rights and sales. Consider changing your setting to Detroit.

JD: If you had one piece of advice for emerging writers, what would it be?

MC: Treat it like a business. It’s my business and it’s hard work. It’s creative, but it’s also a business.

SH: If you think your manuscript is perfect, it’s probably not. Make sure you have readers, alphas and betas, and critique groups lines up.

CW: Define what success is for you. Plan for it. Implement the plan.

Q: Is there an art to selecting alpha and beta readers?

CW: You have to give some thought to who your ideal audience is. Find people who are better than you to work with. Read everything.

MC: One of the most successful, grass-roots groups I’ve heard of is a workshop run by an editor.

SH: There isn’t a formula. Getting criticism can destroy your work. Art is not created by committee. Have a conversation with your critique group and your readers. Be discerning.

MC: A book club does not trump an editor. Don’t try to defend your work by saying that your group loved it.

Q: Do books set in other countries, like Australia, do well in Canada?

CW: Good books travel.

SH: Catton (The Luminaries) is from New Zealand.

MC: Children’s books are not sold to or bought by children, but in libraries and schools (teachers, librarians, parents). It can be tricky. For every rule there is an exception.

JD: Is sex okay in a YA novel? We’re seeing a lot more of it.

MC: We call it content.

CW: It needs to be part of a character’s development and not gratuitous.

SH: Erotica is still on the New York Times Bestsellers Lists, but the market may be saturated until the next big thing comes along.

Q: Have you ever turned down something you later regretted?

CW: I haven’t passed on anything that became a bestseller, but maybe I failed to get a deal I wanted, or someone beat me to the punch.

MC: I presented a book to an editor who passed on it, but later, when that book sold and was produced by another house, she pointed to it as her “ideal” book.

SH: Agents compete all the time.

MC: On the adult side, I recommended a book to two colleagues. One passed and the other took it and ran with it. It ended up being on the Globe and Mail bestseller list for eight weeks.

Thank God Harry Potter never crossed my desk!


I’m just going to head right into the panels and sessions for CanWrite! 2014. I’ll give a little perspective in my wrap post at the end.

Since I’m away from home, I don’t have copies of the fiction and poetry I was going to post this weekend with me. I’ll try to get one of those posts up tomorrow.